Friday April 15

5AM. The sound of Andra moving in the tent rouses me, and I roll over to find her with the tent flap open, staring at the stars up in the sky. She steps out into the warm night and I follow, barefoot in the soft sand. We stand for a moment admiring one of the least-obstructed star-views in the continental US, then go our separate ways for a quick potty break before piling back into the tent. I release the shutter hold on my camera as I lay back down. Asleep instantly.

7AM. I awake to the dim glow of daylight. Outside, the sun is only just touching the tips of the highest sandstone domes to the east. The sight of sun on sandstone exhilarates me, and I immediately lose all drowsiness and head out, buttoning my shirt as my boots hit the sandstone. Andra rouses only long enough to squint at me and hear me say, "Iíll be back in an hour". I head upwards over the rock, never once leaving a footprint in the islands of sand and cryptobiotic crust. This is always an entertaining goal to strive for. I roam across the petrified dunes, composing photographs and admiring the desert flora: Claret cup cactus with blood red blooms, yellow fleabane, evening primrose in brilliant white, along with the non-blooming juniper, gallant ephedra and prickly pear cactus. I soak in the magnificent feeling of total solitude. I own this plateau for the morning, and am confident I will encounter no other human. Really, that is grand. Not just knowing you are alone, but knowing that you will continue to be alone for quite some timeÖthat there is no risk of intrusion. Somehow that sets my mind at ease. Misanthropic? Not really, for I am always courteous to others I meet in the wilds. I think of it not as hating people, but absolutely loving solitude. 

After an hour, as promised, I return to camp. Andra is awake, reading, sniffling. Clearly she is not feeling well. Damn virus. I cart my pack down the hill to the meal area and set up for oatmeal, retrieve a pot of clear creek water to boil, then return to the tent to help pack up more items. Breakfast commences in the cool of the alcove shade. An electric blue sky shines above. Delicious oatmeal. We load up and leave camp at 9:25. Not 300 yards later, we stop again near Mondayís camp and I go force another 3 quarts through our decrepit water filter. I note in my journal the necessity of purchasing a new filter element. The day is clear, bright, beautiful. Back to the trail. We plod on, Andra miserable from her cold, upstream into thinning vegetation. Every thirty feet the sound of a lizard scurrying for cover draws my attention. We stop at the waterfall only for minutes, then to make Andra a sandwich 40 minutes later. In general we move pretty quickly through vegetation ever-diminishing in density. The water level drops, as do the canyon walls, and the sun rises higher and proportionally hotter. Soon the water is gone from the creek bed, then later even the mud is dusty. Irrevocably, the desert reclaims the lush Eden as we head upstream. Near the fork with Red Wash we pass the last Big Hollow Washsentinel cottonwoods and enter open sand under the open sun. Agonizing on the legs, for 3 more miles we trudge through powdery silt, sinking with each step. The sand and sun conspire against us. At noon we pass the Red Well junction, ruefully imagining that for 10 ft of mud on the Hole in the Rock Rd, our hike would be over here. We pass through 3 sets of entertaining and shady narrows, and this provides respite from the heat since the air, funneled through the slot from the wide wash, moves quickly and evaporates the sweat. 

What follows is perhaps the most miserable hike Iíve ever completed. In the sun, sans breeze of any kind, in the tractionless sand, with no shade, and 50 lbs of gear, we march silently up the gulch in the stifling heat. We stop once in a pathetic slice of shade 4í wide by a wall, then move on. We drain our canteens of all water, and yearn for the car and the gallons of warm water stashed in the trunk. Every curve of the wash, barren rock and sand, becomes a hope for the road, the car and the end. But time after time, the hope is dashed. Of course, ultimately the road is reached, probably in much less time than it seems, whereupon we find it has been graded and is perfectly passable now, even to babystrollers. Not surprisingly, ourís is the only vehicle in sight. We pop the trunk and rummage for water and food. A quart of water cascades down my throat. I grab an orange and ravenously tear into it. Andra does the same. I down a granola bar, lots of Doritos, jerky , more water, goldfish, more water. Didnít realize I was so hungry. After the feeding frenzy subsides, we hop in the car, windows down, and roll out towards blacktop 20 miles away. 

Ten minutes later Andra begins to vomit in the empty Doritos bag. Bad orange? Heat stroke? Who knows. We drive into Escalante for cold medicine and drinks, then on to Boulder, 18 miles away. Just before we hit Boulder, Andra finishes ridding herself of whatever caused the stomach discomfort, and is ready for pleasant travel again. We stop for a quick leg stretch, then drive 55 miles north through thousands of hectares of solid aspen trees to Torrey, where we gas up and have a Subway sandwich at the GasíníGo. East through Capitol Reef in the glaring afternoon sun, then north from Hanksville to Green River, and room 230 of the Holiday Inn, which offers a shower, a bed and a continental breakfast from 6 to 10 oíclock.