Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, Miranda…
No. Let me go back further.
When I was a kid I loved watching nature shows, particularly with my dad. TV was kind of our thing. Maybe it was just his thing and I joined in. But we loved National Geographic Specials, Unsolved Mysteries, and Rescue 911—hosted by one William Shatner.
(Really, FoMoCo, really?)
Somewhere along the way in our viewing I must have seen something about the dangers of mountain flashfloods. No doubt it recounted the carefree day of adventure gone horribly array when a distant mountain storm sent a raging river of death spewing down a debris-jammed canyon. The reenactment probably included a neon windbreaker (cuz this is 94’) used as a tourniquet, fruitless cries for help, a distant group of picnickers suddenly called to action, a life-flight helicopter, and a charming follow-up showing the now wiser dummy and his dog playing the front yard. If memory serves, Rescue 911 usually ended with a helpful list of how to not be the idiot who ends up on the show next week.
This episode may have recommended:
1. Never hike alone.
2. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
3. Always dress appropriately for the weather.
And the warning signs for Flashfloods:
1. Thunderstroms—even in distant places connected to your hike.
2. A drop in water level, indicating an upstream blockage of debris building up to kill you.
And How to know if you are in a Flashflood:
1. Muddy, debris-filled water
2. Quickly rising water level
3. Roaring sound of oncoming watery demise
Other than ‘get to higher ground,’ and ‘don’t die ‘ I don’t really remember tips on what to do if you are caught in a flashflood.
This sums up what I knew about Flashfloods back in August of 2011. But I’d fallen in love with a new hike, and love has a tendency to cloud the best of judgment. (Foreshadowing analogy!)
See, about a month before, a couple of my friends and I had done a brilliant 10 mile decent from Cedar Breaks down to Cedar Canyon. It was a gorgeous day. We laughed, and talked, and took pictures, and scrambled in and out of the water in the slot canyon. I peed outside for the first time, and we ended the day with good pizza. What could be better!
A couple weeks after that, I took a couple of different friends on the bottom leg of the hike. Starting at the base of the canyon we hiked up as far as we liked, even taking a different fork and finding a pretty little waterfall before turning around and ending where we began. Another great day! I was pretty much a pro at this hike now.
The next weekend I wanted another go, but knew everyone else was busy. “Tosh”, says I, “I will have a transcendental day! I will go into the woods alone and walk deliberately.” For there was yet another fork in the canyon that I wanted to check out. If my calculations were correct it would hook up to another hike that I’d been meaning to try for a few years. This second hike was really beautiful and more popular than the first. I thought I would be able to find a sneaky shortcut from one to the other. And walking with authority into places I’m not technically allowed has served me pretty well at libraries, museums, and theatres, so, I justified, ‘why not with Mother Nature? After all “blind confidence is the better part of valor” Shakespeare said’ never. (Discretion, he said. “Discretion is the better part of valor.” And, ps, Falstaff was a drunken coward. Don’t quote him.)
Allow me to narrate the events of the day in my best Shatner voice:
Miranda woke up that fateful morning and checked the forecast: 30% chance of thunder storms building through the afternoon. “Great! I’ll strap on my hiking sandals and be home before 2.” She said to No One. So, after telling No One of her plans, she jumped into her flimsy tee-shirt, favorite hiking capris, and silver sedan not equipped with four-wheel drive.
By 10AM Miranda was parking her car at the base of the hike she thought she knew well. She left her cell phone in the car, having told No One, not a soul, her plans for the day. “It’ll just be a quick jaunt, Nobody. You know how I like alone time in nature. And I don’t have reception here anyway, so stop looking at me that way.” She said to her reflection in the car window.
Beginning her loosely planned 3-5 mile hike, Miranda began to notice a few important things. “My, those big puffy thunder clouds drifting down from the mountain I’m hiking toward sure are pretty. I probably didn’t need to bother with sunscreen today!” she thought brightly. “And it’s strange how the banks of the creek look damp, but the water is flowing at least a foot below the water line. Huh. It’s almost like the water level has dropped pretty quickly. I wonder if that’s what it would look like before a flashflood in this canyon?” But despite these big ears and big teeth, this Red Riding Hood, just kept skipping toward her imminent doom.
Yes. The words flashflood had actually crossed her mind, more than once during what would be the first and only mile of her hike that day. In fact, she was remembering how she had told her wise friend Josh, a native to the area, that she had been intrigued by the frequent stories of flashfloods that plagued Southern Utah canyons in the summer, and how she had never seen one. Wise Josh told her being stuck in a flashflood was not something she should add to her bucket-list, lest it be the final item. Josh was wise.
The semi-familiar trail she followed required Miranda to make frequent crossings from the north to the south banks of the creek. Temporarily out of the water as she rounded a bend, she sang aloud in celebration of the fact that she hadn’t yet run into a single other hiker. “Oh the glory of solitude!” she crowed as a few light drops of rain began to fall on her head and arms.
As she crested a small clump of boulders within view of the fork of the creek she had intended to explore, she stopped in her tracks. Dumbfounded she stared at the chocolate brown water, littered with chunks of logs as big as her hefty torso and legs, that suddenly surrounded her on three sides.
“But, I didn’t hear any roaring warning sound…” she said stupidly. With no particular sense of panic she realized that she was in fact caught in a flashflood.
As an overly benevolent God would have it, Miranda was on the southern, hyway facing, bank of the river. On her right and up the steep canyon wall ran highway 14. Had she been on the north bank, she would have been trapped by the water until it ran its course (which would not be for many, many hours). Amazed by her unaccountable good luck at not actually being in the water when the flood began, she began to weigh her options.
Rain was now falling steadily from the puffy grey clouds that didn’t look as pretty as they had an hour before. “Well, how long do flashfloods last, eh Shatner?” Miranda asked the invisible narrator of this story. Knowing no one would be wondering where she was for many, many hours, and not feeling a sense of imminent danger, she decided to her best option would be to sit down and wait for the torrent of riling, chocolaty looking, mud to run out. Just as she had the day she got separated from her mother in Target when she was 5, Miranda would sit down on a shelf and wait to be picked up.
This became too boring after about 10 minutes, and, watching the muddy waters slowing creeping up the side of her embankment, she began to think about that ‘seek higher ground’ idea. She also began to worry about her car, so close to fully paid off, and without flood protection insurance, parked downstream, just a few yards above the creek/ugly chocolate fountain.
After briefly considering just jumping into the flood and riding it, or a passing log, the quick way back to the start of the hike, or perhaps all the way to town, Miranda decided it might be best to try and continue upstream to the mystery fork and make her way up to the point where the trail ran within view of the highway. A solid plan, but Miranda would quickly discover that her hoped for shortcut trail did not exist. She clawed and scrambled her way through the lush greenery of that untamed creek fork for what felt like hours (but was probably only 15 minutes) making next to no progress. She battled the nagging fear that at any moment this creek too could also become a dangerous deluge of notchocolate.
Returning to the embankment, Miranda reckoned it had now been about 2 hours since she had set out on this hike, and the flood showed no signs of letting up. Now thoroughly soaked with rain and rather out of ideas Miranda turned to her last resource. The granol… no. She didn’t even pack a granola bar.
Commercial Break: Domino pizza delivery and the Energizer bunny.
That was more than enough Shatner for one post.
But, yes. I finally did what I should have done in the first place. I knelt down and prayed.
I laughed with God at my own stupidity and pride for ignoring all the warning signs he’d given and thanked him for how well things had gone so far, really. I was just a little tired and wet. I asked him to tell me what to do next and then I sat down and waited.
And I began to think. This kind of thinking is what I like to call personal pondering, or revelation. This time it took the form of a Gollumesque conversation with myself, where one side was being enlightened by the Spirit and the other side was a drowned rat stuck, alone, in a flashflood. It went something like this:
Wet Me: Alright, God. I’ve been sitting here for a while. But you know, I deserve this, I was an idiot. So I’ll just wait til you want to tell me what to do.
Enlightened Me: God doesn’t work like that. He doesn’t want to you sit around in the rain and a flood and catch pneumonia.
Wet: Well, yeah, but sometimes when you make your own bed you have to lay it in. Just like I did with my last relationship.
Light: Yeah, it’s almost like this whole day is an analogy for the last three years of your life.
Wet: Say what?!
Light: Well, you made a mistake, right? You got engaged even though you knew it was a bad idea. You saw all kinds of warning signs about why the relationship wasn’t going to work out. In fact, I told you “Don’t get engaged” very clearly. But you justified your choices because you were in love. Just like you did today with this hike that you love. You knew what you wanted and you thought that if you were strong enough you’d be able to change everything and get what you wanted.
Wet: Yep. I was a total idiot. Can’t believe I did that. Thanks for the reminder. This is a pretty good analogy for my life. I think I’ll sit here and cry about it again. (Cries for a while.)
Light: Hey, Dummy, stop that. You are wet enough. What are you going to do now?
Wet: Duh, I’ve been asking. You tell me. I can’t go down stream and I can’t go upstream. I’m stuck here. Somebody or something will come along and tell me eventually.
Light: Or you could just go.
Light: Well, You know where you want to end up, right?
Wet: Yes. I want to go back at my car, and preferably later I would like to go to dinner with my pal Carrie for some coconut shrimp. And then after that I want to get my life back moving. I want to get out of this town, start a new job somewhere, meet someone new, get married and start a family. That’s what I want.
Light: So get going. You’re not going to get anywhere by sitting there feeling bad about everything.
Wet: (Thinks for a while longer…) This is a pretty meta moment. It’s like my immediate circumstances have caught up to a perfect summary…
Light: Yeah, whatever, just go already.
Wet: (Gets up turns around and stares and embankment leading to highway, somewhere.) Ok. I’m gonna climb this boulder and see what I see, ok? I’m going to do it. Ok? You’re gonna have to stop me if this is the wrong choice. Cuz I’m gonna do it.
Light: (Rolls eyes and walks away.)
So I started climbing. My first attempt to get over the boulder was not the right way. I slid back down the hill, but then I tried a different way around it. I kept climbing and eventually found a sort of game trail that ran parallel to the creek. I followed that for a while, keeping an eye the chocolate fountain below me. The rain passed and the water turned a more reddish color. At last the trail ran out, and I was about to head back down toward the creek, thinking I could probably get across the water now if I needed to, when I heard the sound of cars passing on the highway about 30 feet up the steep embankment on my left.
Time to climb. Being within ear shot of civilization was a big encouragement. Holding onto roots and branches and digging my sandals (the kind that let every rock in and never out again) into the mountain side, I pulled my way out of that mess. I pulled myself up and over onto the highway, like freakin’ Indiana Jones. I was just in time to wave at a passing group of motorcyclist. I couldn’t help laughing at what I must have looked like, a dirty, damp, sweaty mess. I followed the highway back to my car, maybe a quarter mile from where I had emerged, avoiding eye contact with passing motorists. (I wonder if there were any Bigfoot sightings reported on the highway that day.)
My car was fine. The water had risen only a few feet above normal. It could have been much, much worse. I drove back to where I had climbed onto the highway and took some pictures to show how far up I had come. It was impressive. This was the kickstart of Year Without Fear.
A few hours later I showed off my pictures to Carrie over coconut shimp.
Six months later I was dragging myself up another steep embankment, but this time at least I was in Italy. Sweet.