First order of business in Page is to explore; it’s actually an interesting place to walk around.
While chatting with Ron, owner of a local coffee shop, I ask about The Steps, a hike Korey told me about last night. He insists on getting my family’s contact info in case I don’t return. I thank him but insist I can handle myself. Korey himself had told me it was a hardcore trail, and at the park ranger’s office they seem determined to deny the existence of this local legend. Intriguing.
The path just to arrive is arduous, and the trail itself takes a good hour to locate but finally I spot a cairn marking a path. Twenty minutes later, a very disappointed El Explorador makes it to the bottom. This was not the legendary Steps trail, it was too easy. I must have taken the Ropes trail instead. I’ve brought some nuts and berries and plenty of water along with my camping gear, but this place is uninviting. The dam has lowered the water recently; exposed algae and aquatic life suffuse the shores with a thick marine stench. I wander along the shoreline, hoping to see the steps trail from below and catch it on the return. The water comes from the frigid bottom of Lake Powell – too cold to play in. Clouds of gnats swarm and bother as I make my way to the dam, no sign of any path leading back up. Eventually I admit defeat. It sucks at the bottom of the canyon, I’m not staying here, The Steps has eluded me.
A crevice leading to the top seems to offer a way to save the day’s underwhelming adventure.
I hoist my backpack on my shoulders and begin. Last night Korey and I talked about the sandstone walls here and their tendency to shear off in large chunks. Thoughts of car-sized slabs of stone dislodging with me attached keep my moves conservative as I climb, pulling my bag up behind me by hooking my tripod through the straps. I have to analyze each route carefully before climbing, these ledges aren’t solid enough to stop me if I come crashing down on them. Beautiful hand and footholds reveal themselves to be treacherously unstable on closer examination, most of the way I’m shimmying up the crevice instead of climbing the slick face. I have to deviate at one point when I find myself at an impasse, massive sandstone flakes tempting me to test them but the commitment is too final, their stability uncertain.
This looked way easier from the ground.
The route to the next ledge is sandslick and uncertain. I’m tired, and out of water. Muscle twitches in my legs indicate I still require more hydration. The sun is getting lower on the horizon – even if I make it past this, I can’t see what lies ahead. If I get stuck too much later on I’m going to have to climb down in the dark.
It’s a rough call to make, but there’s no question that as close as I’ve been playing it with margins of safety to get up here, to try and make it any farther is a crosses that thin red line past merely challenging myself.
I gave it my best shot; the canyon can win this one. With a sigh I begin to head down, the awkward positioning necessary for downclimbing even more precarious with my load. After descending to the first ledge I decide to just toss the backpack over and meet it down there. Thud. Silence. THUD. Silence. The moment stretches, and with a final resounding impact my bag reaches the bottom. The sound reverberates up the canyon walls. That’s exactly what a body would sound like, I can’t help thinking.
The sun no longer reaches into the canyon when I make it to the bottom. I make swift tracks to the easy path, which is looking harder and steeper as the last of the light slips away. The rough texture of the rocks underfoot is losing definition in the dim light; I have to be careful to avoid tripping. By the time I make it to the top darkness has fallen. Bighorn sheep scramble around me and one stands proudly on a bluff, dramatically silhouetted against the cobalt sky.
I’m completely disoriented, so I aim for the power station, deciding to play it safe instead of bushwhacking through the desert at dark. Safer, anyway, I remember the refinery incident in Louisiana and decide not to use my light. Nobody bothers me though, and I jump a gate to the main road. I’m lucky to get a lift to town, where I stop in at the only game in town open Sunday evening for some much needed revittleization. While waiting for a table, I have a conversation with a guy who ran a hundred miles over 28 hours. Suddenly I feel less tired. After being seated I order the cheapest thing on the menu and have a chat with the Ali, my cute waitress, about my day. She returns later, “I told the other servers about you, we’re going to buy you dessert since you’ve had a hellacious day”. Well all in all I thought it was fun – but I’m not saying no to free pie, which is heavenly, warm, and served with ice cream.
Nourished by the adventure and the kindness of strangers, I walk over to the ridiculous golf course. I think of the conversation I had with Kenton about how much need there is in this country, and how regardless every suburban house sinks resources into utterly useless grass maintenance. Wonder how much water it takes to keep that lawn green. I tie my hammock between two posts demarcating the border, and lie down to reflect.
It’s been a good day to be stranded in Page, Arizona.
The next morning I visit Beans coffee, just to let them know I’m alive, and they treat me to a fantastic pancake for the accomplishment of waking up not dead.
I use most of those calories on what is to become my daily trek to bathe in Lake Powell. After washing, I approach some Mormons in their late teens and tell them I’ll hurl myself off a cliff for a ride to town. They bite, and we fling ourselves into space again and again from higher points each time. The highest point is apparently 90 feet to the water. The empty sound of rushing air after our lungs run out of screams is engraved in memory, a moment entirely captive to gravity and momentum. I almost break my nose from the force of the water. 90 feet is high. After climbing a massive metal chain back to the top, Justin tells me he’s broken his nose twice off this one, then invites me for a burrito.
Seems falling is the thing to do around here, the next day I run into another group, one of whom turns out to be named Blake as well. I declare a Blake-off, only the most radical of us will keep the name. The inevitable cliff-jumping contest ends in us wisely calling it a draw. After talking with him and his friends for some time they try to offer me money. I refuse, telling them that they should keep it for their own adventures – I live like this by choice, if I wanted more money to live on I could earn it, and even then I would probably just save it and stick to my budget. Regardless the argument culminates in them stuffing five bucks in my shoe, and gifting me another dollar folded into a triangle. Keep this in your wallet and you’ll never go broke, they say. I gratefully accept the token, rethinking my reluctance. I value independence, but it is rude to refuse the generosity of others. People may be charitable to reinforce a self-image or as part of their values as much as anything else – it’s not all about me. I give them a crazy-looking spiral bone I found as a token of appreciation.
I’ve managed to be pretty frugal here, but still need to tighten my belt to undo the damage this stator is doing to my cash buffer. Conveniently the tourist setup here provides an excellent opportunity for the creative forager – hotel morning buffets . The food is pretty decent, and the price is right – I just walk in, sit down, and eat like a regular guest.
For a few days of waiting I just wander around, trying to subsist off as little as possible during this unscheduled detour. My internal alarm does a good job of waking me with the first hint of dawn to break camp before my nest is discovered. Breakfast, chill, wash up in Lake Powell, explore, hang out around town. The stator does come in eventually – Angela from the gas station sees me hitching out the post office and gives me a lift, invites me to come out and play “antelope” in the evening. The engine thrums, and I bid an excited adieu to the wonderful people at Page Honda whose charitable assistance I won’t soon forget.
I’ve enjoyed the relaxed pace these past few days… but now I am reborn. Getting to the lake takes mere minutes now, I find a new friend and we enjoy the lakeside together.
I stop around town to prove to everyone I really did have a bike and wasn’t just another hobo with a good story. Korey suggests I use my newly regained mobility to check out this cool hike nearby.
I do, and it is, once again, one of the most gorgeous and unearthly places I have ever had the privilege of visiting.
Words can’t do this place justice. The Wave, Arizona.