The scene: Southwestern Utah’s expansive desert. 98 degrees. Dry. Canyonlands, between Burr Point and Angel Point Plateau. Pothole water only. Mostly dehydrated food. The players: two leaders—Kayo and Elissa—and ten students.
The issue: Everything is misfiring. Imagine the worst trip you’ve ever been on, and put it in the hot, dry desert. On day one, the water jug spilled at the trailhead. The group got lost and stranded on a slab of Navajo Sandstone. On day three, they are two days behind schedule. Tanner is sick. Evacuation plans set. Bus stuck during evacuation. Hike into wrong canyon. Maps are wrong. Drive to Moab Regional Hospital, but don’t make it before dark. Camp at a “no camping” rest stop on the side of highway. Left by Kayo at rest stop. Drive Tanner and all belongings to Moab. Only have dry ramen noodles with peanut butter. Run out of gas on drive home.
Now you have the evidence. If you were a player in this case, what would your reaction be to such a trip? Want to know my reaction? This trip was probably one of the best desert backpacking trips I’ve ever been on, and I’ve been on six. Crazy right? Here’s my evidence for why.
This trip was challenging beyond the everyday challenges of life. It was the epitomized example of when life “lifes” you. Parents and relatives advise us to learn from mistakes, to take challenges for what they’re worth, and to never give up. The recipients of the advice often roll their eyes, feeling admonished and bossed. Well, after this trip, I came to a crazy conclusion. Their advice was right. I apologize in advance to any readers with inner streaks of rebellion.
This trip taught me to be flexible when things go awry. It taught me to pay attention when things go wrong so that I can prevent the same issues from plaguing me in the future. It also taught me to be humble; the desert is a powerfully omniscient force not to be fussed with. Respect the desert and know its boundaries and limits before hiking into your first canyon- hopefully your topographical maps will be correct, too.
I pin this trip in the catalogue of my life’s memories as the instigation of my love and awe of the desert. Five excursions later, I think I’ve managed to complete my itineraries all with less than two major setbacks. If you plan on taking a trip to the backcountry in the desert, plan for all possible outcomes, learn from your mistakes, and let the desert treat you to its many wonders. It won’t disappoint.