«Think we should even try?»
From having traveled around the Canyons before, I knew just how bad the roads could get. Sitting in jacked-up pickup trucks, I had seen the river crossings, bad bridges and rock slides over some already treacherous terrain. Therefore, I had asked repeatedly how the road was, and made a clear point of explaining to everyone I was NOT driving a souped-up off-road machine, but a standard city van.
«If it's 4x4, you'll be fine.»
«Just take it slow», said Sweeney, half-convinced.
I released the brake pedal and let the impulse move us forward. Immediately, the van started bouncing left and right, up and down as we rolled from one boulder to the other. I tried to keep the low parts between my wheels, aiming the tires at the highest protruding rocks.
|Can you feel the tension?|
The bottom scraped against a rock. Luckily, the lowest part of the van was the cargo tray, a metal carrier plugged into the hitch shaft. The last thing I wanted was to repeat a painful experience we had two days before, when I drove over a rock on the road and hit the oil pan, effectively punching a golf ball-sized whole in it and losing all the engine oil, leaving us stranded for hours.
I let go of the brake again, even slower, allowing only half rotations of the tires before braking again.
|A nicer segment.|
God damn it.
We finally reached the top of the hill and I released a deep sigh. In front of us, more bad road was stretching, only interspersed with cleaner segments of maybe 200 feet. At that point, the best idea would have been to turn around, leave El Capitan behind and seek a ride with a bigger truck, but what would happen to all the donations we were carrying? And how would I get back to my van after the event, and to go where? So we just kept going, slowly, in a tense silence.
|Turn right at the tree, then...|
I wanted to bang my head against the steering wheel. The idea of backing out broke my heart, and the path was so narrow and bad I wasn't even sure I could actually turn the van around. Even by doing so, we were facing an hour or more of very bad driving that could cause a breakdown in an instant. I took another breath and tried to empty my mind. Out of the blue, someone popped into my head; Christy Little Wings. Her presence was so vivid that I could actually hear her voice. I repeated out loud what she had told me, maybe a year ago, while running rough trails in upstate New York.
«The only way out... is through».
|Yeah. Through... that.|
The next several hours were spent clenching the wheel, worried sick about the road and angry at whoever had told me this road was drivable. I felt bad for dragging my friends into this, and responsible if anything happened to us. We were full to the brim with donated material, which was now screeching and scraping over canyon rocks, riverbeds and all sorts of nasty road hazards.
We crossed other trucks on the way, vehicles way more suited for that kind of driving which had blown their differential spinning and skidding up treacherous rocky hills. We saw people stranded on the trails with oily parts taken out of their engines, trying to achieve a quick fix that might take them out of this mess. At one point in the steepest of climbs, going no more than 2 to 3 mph, I could smell El Capitan's transmission overheating and I felt its blistering heat seeping through the floor. I decided to stop half way up, park for half an hour and cool things down, including myself. Maria took Guadajuko for a walk, Sweeney strolled around and I fell into an instantaneous, deep sleep that felt like a single minute.
«Flint. Wake up, man.»
|Clench. Worry. Repeat.|
The drive went from crazy to ridiculous. When we hit the lowest point in the valley, the stream was over a foot deep and rushing down with enough force to move the van. Every time we went in, I had to guess where the highest path was and hope not to hit a hidden rock on the way. After several crossings, one of which was so deep it actually made the exhaust gurgle, I stopped the van again.
«Now where the fuck is the road?»
No one had an answer to offer. The rocky path led straight down to the river, which was about 25 feet wide and rushing over rocks way too big to try to drive through. On the other side, a forest with not even a footpath between the trees. Baffled, we looked at each other, suddenly considering the possibility that we'd taken a wrong turn, hours ago, and now had literally reached the end of the road.
Sweeney jumped out the van and walked down to the river. He turned around, looked at me and threw his hands in the air. I stepped out and joined him. Even from the edge of the water, there was not a single clue if the road went anywhere from there. He stepped in the cold water and started to cross, to get a better perspective. I took off my jeans and did the same. The water was extremely cold, but in that moment, this was the least of my worries.
We reached the other side and realized the road did continue. To get there, however, we would have to sink into the stream, maneuver between sunken boulders we couldn't see, make an almost 90-degree turn around a huge cliff side rock and climb back onto the path through a steep, unfriendly muddy bank.
We were neck-deep in stupid.
|... And it takes only one rock |
to break down.
That's what the madness had come down to. Two bug-eyed gringos listening to a third one in his underwear, shivering from the biting cold of the river, making doomsday scenarios about every available option there was. Whichever way we went, I thought, we were not going to make it. No way.
Nonetheless, we all got back into the van, and everyone held their breath as we dropped down into the stream. The van moved sideways, so I gave it more gas to move forward. It bounced on the rocks and the cargo tray screeched and banged against the bottom, but we made the turn and headed for the muddy bank that would take us back into relative safety. The wheels hit it and the van stopped. Panicked, I stepped on the gas in a last-ditch attempt to get out of the river and the wheels spun, but eventually took grip and nudged the van back into movement. When all four wheels got to the other side, I let out yet another sigh. We'd made it.
|The Bridge. Zoom in on this picture. It's really worth it.|
Just as the last light was stretching overhead and we started looking for a spot to safely move away from the rocky path, we crossed a truck. I rolled down my window and asked if we were still far from Huisuchi. «No! Very close! Half a mile».
... An hour later, we are still trying to make progress through the rocks, with Sweeney providing extra light by holding a flashlight in front of the van to spot the safest path. At very long last, we saw a series of white-painted rocks that led to the last treacherous rocky slope, and a long-awaited arrival.
But I had long run out of sighs to release.
|Huisuchi at long last, a gorgeous Canyon gem |
that we received as a treasure.
Ce n'est pas l'impossible difficulté du chemin qui m'a le plus dérangé; c'est d'être forcé de briser ma promesse, de revenir sur la parole que j'avais donnée de ne rien tenter de dangereux pendant mon voyage. C'était bien contre mon gré, et je n'y vois aucune gloire, même après en être sorti relativement indemne.