Shade becomes more plentiful, up here in the canyon, a few thousand feet above the sea. It’s a welcome respite, but my brain is already scrambled eggs. I set my pack down in the slanted shadows of the canyon wall and wilt onto the sand beside it. Check my map. The spring is still two miles away. Normally, that sounds like nothing at all. Right now, that sounds impossible. At the rate I’m going, it’ll be almost an hour until I reach the spring. Without water, an eternity.
There’s this overwhelming urge to curl up and close my eyes, but I fight it. Press my palm into the sand to steady myself, stand up slowly. Shoulder my pack and keep going. As I walk, I try my hardest not to think about water. This is futile, of course. I can think of nothing but. My map tells me this creek bed is dry, but still I scour the scorched landscape like a ravenous critter, hopeful and just a little insane. Tufts of green! Dark patches of sand! Black flies! I plod back and forth across the wash to investigate any sign of water. Alas, there are only more rocks, more gravel, more dusty animal bones.
Eventually, the sparse flora becomes more verdant. Dull green darkens. And, by god, I can smell water. I smirk, walk faster. Push my way through a thicket of waist-high grass, then, ever so softly, the sound of voices in the distance. I round a bend in the wash and there, half-hidden behind yellow-green tufts of Princesplume and Desert Broom, are my friends! I drop my pack beside them, fill my bottles from the glorious desert spring. The water is clear and cold and tastes like rainbows and unicorns and happiness. I lay my sleeping bag out on a flat slab of granite beside Carrot and Chance, climb inside. They’re already in their bags, too, bundled up in down jackets and beanies and wool leggings. The desert, I think to myself, land of extremes. What a weird and wonderful place.
We sit in our sleeping bags and eat our dehydrated dinners, curse like sailors and tell stories about our day. Chance says that today she was the thirstiest and hottest she’s ever been, that for a while out there, she was afraid. It’s a relief to hear. Not that her suffering fills me with some sick pleasure, but that hours before, when I was out of water and scared as hell, I wondered if maybe I was in way over my head, that I had no place being out here at all. But we all fuck up sometimes/nature is more powerful than we will ever be/water is magical. We finish our dinners and pass around a ziploc bag of gummy worms, sweaty and congealed from the heat. Plan out, tentatively, tomorrow’s miles. Behind us, the sun sets over the desert, sky flames neon orange, electric blue. In front, Telescope Peak is awash in the alpenglow, all spectral pink and lavender perfection. It’s almost more than I can bear.