Chapter 26: Delicate Arch
We’d arranged a longer trip this weekend out to Arches National Park, its entrance just North of Moab. I was terribly nervous; I wanted this one to be extra-special, and the prior two weekend trips were already the highlights of my life. I’d set the bar high.
There’s only one official campground in Arches, the Devils Garden Campground, and its spots are usually reserved months in advance this time of year, but Kaitlyn was able to shake a reservation loose through her BLM contacts for one of the smaller spots. It was perfect for us: we only needed a base of operations this weekend.
Kaitlyn and I left work early because we wanted to get one special activity in early on Friday: we wanted to see Delicate Arch at sunset. It’s the most famous of the arches in the park, and maybe the most famous in the world. If you’ve ever seen a photo of a red sandstone arch, it’s probably Delicate Arch.
Our problem is that it’s clear at the back edge of the park from the entrance, fourteen miles in and fourteen hundred feet of climb to the trail head, then another mile and a half hike that’s pretty much uphill the whole way. I could do that ride and hike with no problem, but I wasn’t sure about Kaitlyn. She said she was up to the challenge, though, so we decided to go for it.
By leaving at 4pm on Friday, we were able to get to the arch at about seven, counting getting out of town, biking through the park, and hiking up. We’d timed it just about perfectly, and we’d gotten a lot of great photos. I wanted to get some nudes of Kaitlyn at the arch, but there were too many other tourists there, so I didn’t even ask.
Now, although Arches National Park is a wonderful place to vacation, the park wasn’t planned by Disney, so the only campground in the park was off in another corner of the park, almost two hours away on bikes!
We talked about setting up a tent illicitly somewhere in the park for this first night, but Kaitlyn thought that if we were caught it could get through channels back to her boss, and she didn’t want to endanger her job just to avoid a little exercise, so she decided we should get out to the campground that same night. It meant hiking a mile and a half back from the arch to our bikes — downhill this time, thankfully! — then riding almost two hours out to the campground. It was about an hour after full dark before we arrived, so we got a lot of use out of our bike lights. I think Kaitlyn was starting to see the value in her bright yellow and orange biking outfit, too.
When we finally pedaled into our reserved spot, Kaitlyn just let out an anguished “Aaaiiiggghh!” sound, dismounted the bike, propped it against the end of the picnic table, and lay down on one of the benches.
“Well, night night, then, Kaitlyn,” I joked.
“Tell my family the burial services will be next Friday,” she replied.
I laughed and got to setting up the tent. Dome tents are one of humanity’s greatest inventions. You can set up a small one even in pitch darkness, which was good, because it meant I didn’t have to disturb our neighbors at 10pm by running our bike lights down. I did a rough job, not bothering to stake it down or put on the rain fly.
I had to use plain old lung power to blow up the one big sleeping pad I’d bought for our use under our big shared sleeping bag; that was a fair bit of work, since they’re meant to self-inflate over the course of an hour or so in warm air. Still, I got it done.
I rolled out the bag, unzipped it all the way around, lay it flat, and then walked over and started stripping Kaitlyn.
She startled a bit at that, “Hey, what’re you doing? Out here‽”
I reasoned, “Why not? It’s dark, there’s no artificial light, everyone else is sensibly in their beds now, and it’s warm out tonight. Anyway, you’re not going to want to undress in the tent, not in your condition.” So she let me finish stripping her, right there on the picnic table’s bench.
I picked her trim but well-rounded 120 pound carcass up, lay her down on the ground outside the tent, then stripped down myself, throwing all of our things into the tent, not bothering to aim more precisely than “over there somewhere.” I then slipped into a trance and healed her.
“Oh, wow, Davie!” Kaitlyn breathed. “That feels so much better!”
“Yeah, now imagine how much better than if I’d waited until tomorrow to do it, when you were all sore and stiff,” I replied. “Not to mention it being daylight,” I added.
“You are a gem, Davie,” she said sleepily. I picked her up again, pulled a quick current of air across to blow the sand off her backside, and then lay her down on the open-faced bag directly over the sleeping pad. I could see her breathing deepen into sleep before I’d finished zipping the bag up around her.
I slipped back out of the tent, locked our bikes to the picnic table’s bench, removed the bags from the quick-release mounting system, carefully hauled them into the tent so as not to waken Kaitlyn, took a quick whizz, and then lay down on the cooling sand around the tent, framed up there by the park service for the benefit of tent campers. I slipped into a trance, healed myself, and just stared up at the stars for about 15 minutes, naked and at one with the universe. It was glorious.
I saw the lights of another late arrival to the campground winding up the road, so I rolled into the front of the tent, brushed the sand off my backside and onto the ground outside the tent with a quick swipe of my hands, and zipped the tent door up behind me. Then I quietly unzipped the bag and spooned in behind Kaitlyn as carefully as I could. Kaitlyn gave a bit of a wiggle into my arms as I zipped the bag up around my back, but I don’t think she woke up.
I woke the next morning with an elbow jabbed insistently into my ribs, then heard my loving girlfriend’s greeting, “I gotta pee!”
Not the way I was hoping to wake up today. I groaned, then unzipped the bag and rolled out onto the cold nylon floor without opening my eyes. I felt Kaitlyn sit up in the sleeping bag, reach forward with a grunt for her bike’s trunk bag in the corner of the tent, dress in a fresh riding outfit, and clamber out the tent’s “back” door.
This tent had two long-side doors, one facing towards the rest of the campground, and the other facing out into the desert. She’d chosen not to flash my nude self to the rest of the campground. Most considerate of her. I forgave her the elbow to my ribs.
I opened my eyes for the first time that morning and looked up into the lightening sky. The top foot or so of the tent was mostly mesh to let fresh air flow through, and without the rain fly on, it was all but open to the sky. I trusted that no one had walked into our spot and stared down at us sleeping naked together; there are just some things you don’t do in a campground, and walking into someone else’s spot uninvited is one of them.
I followed Kaitlyn’s steps getting dressed and out, managing to get down to the cinderblock restroom building just as she was coming out, her small bath bag in hand. Apparently she’d brushed her teeth and such while out. We kissed cheeks in passing, then I went and used the facilities myself. Actual flush toilets here…so fancy! I was used to camping a places so remote you were lucky to have a pit latrine serviced monthly by the US Forest Service.
I hadn’t thought to bring along my toothbrush and such. I preferred to brush after a meal rather than before, but this early in my relationship with Kaitlyn, I definitely felt the need to shave. Oh well, it wasn’t a long hike back.
By the time I got back, Kaitlyn had the still-damp riding clothes out on the picnic table and was pulling out the bags. I stopped her and set her to breakfast detail while I finished staking down the tent and putting the rain fly on, staking that down, too. I then poked through the bags and judiciously selected several things we could do without while away from camp and tossed them in the tent to save weight.
Breakfast was ready by that point: fire-fried sausage and hot oatmeal with fresh raisins.
I grabbed my bath bag and the water bottles we’d drained on the strenuous ride yesterday and went down to brush, shave and refill. By the time I’d gotten back, Kaitlyn had reassembled the bag systems on the bikes, so that once I returned the refilled water bottles to their cages, we were ready to go.
“So, where to, guru?” she grinned, stressing the rhyme.
“Out and away, Kaitlyn. We’re going to a holy spot,” I said softly, while looking abstractedly at the horizon.
“I thought you had no religion, Davie.”
“Only the one, and I’m standing on it. But some parts of the Earth are more special to me than others. We’re going to one of those today,” I replied.
She just looked at me speculatively, without a word.