Totem Pole Eye

In a sacred moment, in a sacred place, everything is inexplicable in its purpose, irreducible in its parts, uncontainable in its power.  At the same time, the sacredness is elusive; it is made manifest in things, but it is not contained in things.

—Sacred Places

Some of the places you’ll visit in Road Trip :

Late that night, when I closed my eyes and drifted into sleep, I relived just how it felt to get a finger lock in the thin crack of “Slow Children,” to lay back against a sharp arete, step gingerly into a delicate stem, have my feet hold, and take just one second to look across the valley at the splendid north face of Mount Index and the quicksilver ribbon of Bridalveil Falls tumbling through the forest of Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and Alaskan Cedar.

—The Point of the Game

Mount Index
Out of the Blocks

My favorite pastime, sprinting, exhibits a Sisyphusean pointlessness that might appeal to the sort of mathematician who enjoys a Koch Snowflake. Consider, for instance, the 400-meter dash: what could be more pointless than running around in a circle? The 400 is a perfect exercise in both futility and masochism: the point is to end up exactly where you started, but in as much pain as possible. What could be more fun than that?

Crossing the Distance

I plunged my head into the icy waters of Icicle Creek. Spray from the cascading water split sunlight into slivers of rainbow. I stripped out of my damp clothes, put on some dry shorts, found a sandy patch between granite boulders along a turbulent stretch of creek, and fell almost instantly asleep. When I woke, I couldn’t remember where I was, how I got there, or what was supposed to happen next.


Icicle Creek

Sometimes there are signs when these things are about to happen, but I didn’t yet know how to read them. I was not yet attuned to language of snow—the muffled whump! that precedes a separating slab, or the delicate shift that precedes a sudden snap over a twinkling of loose sugary crystals. Before I knew what was happening, the crust gave way like a trap door. My stomach lurched into my throat. Quicker than thought, adrenaline flooded my body. Instinctively, I splayed my arms.

What Is Not Seen

A slot canyon is a world of curves. Rapelling into a slot, one sees neither the top of the canyon nor the bottom—only bowls, scoops, hollows, grooves, waves, ridges: an infinity of perfect curves, swirling in all directions at once. These curves bring joy to both the fingers and the eyes. In Bear Canyon, the creamy buff-colored Coconino Sandstone is cool, gritty, pleasing to touch. Nestled into small niches in the stone are delicate moss gardens, testament to the seeping moisture that finds its way from the porous soil above, through jointing in the rock layer. In some places, I can feel both walls at the same time, tracing each parallel ridge and groove carved into the stone by raging flash floods.

Three Arizona Canyons

Bear Canyon
Fishing Boat

I will eschew the over-wrought description of great struggle. Suffice it to say that in the moment just before the fish broke the surface of the water, just before I could hook it with my gaffe and hoist it into the stern, in the time it takes for an ego to go from full to flaccid without comprehending the shift, the line went slack and the shadowy creature slipped, without fuss, away. A single Chinook of that size is worth a lot of money and a lot of glory. I don’t know what galled me more—the fact that I didn’t get the fish, or that no one was there to witness the epic saga. No one saw; no one knew.

What Is Not Seen

We trudged and slipped down muddy switchbacks with Mike’s trombone until we found a place where the Redwall Limestone formed a vast horseshoe-shaped amphitheatre. Mike began with scales and arpeggios, which vaulted from cliff to cliff until it seemed there was a chorus of hidden trombonists perched on ledges throughout the canyon. We took turns playing the horn. We played Brahms, hymns, jazz standards—alternating soaring golden tones with delightfully fat and brassy-edged low notes. The music swirled through alcoves and spilled over ridges until it seemed to come from the sky itself.

The Point of the Game

Canyon Tree
Grand Falls

The second song brought me down peacefully beside a firepit near the river, at just that moment before the sun slips away, when the chocolate brown flow of the Little Colorado River turns to burnished gold. I was there, again, wrapping a rainbow trout in foil, with some butter and lemon and onion, and placing it in the hot coals. Then eating it with my fingers, as the last light of the sun tinges the mare’s tails in the sky the same color as the flesh of the trout. Waiting for the stars to come out.

On the Road to Grand Falls