Crimson flames tied through my ears Rollin' high and mighty traps Pounced with fire on flaming roads Using ideas as my maps "We'll meet on edges, soon," said I Proud 'neath heated brow. Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

It was already dark when we reached camp. The group I was hiking with arrived at the canyon rim a couple hours after noon. We were hot and exhausted, after a grueling four-and-a-half days hiking. After a brief lunch of cheese and crackers, we piled into our two red vans and headed west, towards Los Alamos.

My muscles ached, and I walked heavily, carrying water and supplies into camp. My mood was dark, our collective success hiking out of the Rio Verde canyon was shadowed by personal failure. I climbed into the van to locate some belongings and cursed in frustration when I couldn’t hold back my tears.

The van door opened behind me, and my heart sank when I saw who stood in the door. It was Jeff. He must have overheard me curse because he paused, looking at me. “Oh. I guess I’m the last person you want to see.” I agreed. But he didn’t go away. Instead, he sat down next to me.


Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth "Rip down all hate," I screamed Lies that life is black and white Spoke from my skull. I dreamed Romantic facts of musketeers Foundationed deep, somehow. Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

I met Jeff after a January snow storm in Richmond, Indiana. It was mid-afternoon when the students began to arrive. I had been working for the last two days shopping for nuts, dried fruit, TVP, rice, oats-and in five, ten, twenty pound quantities.

The tables in the conference room were covered with boxes and plastic bags. Double-bags for the river, single for the desert. As other students began to arrive, they were recruited for food or equipment duty. Everything had to be sorted, students had to be fitted for canoe paddles, life-preservers, and last minute personal equipment.

It was five o’clock by the time we loaded the canoe trailers. The temperature was dropping fast, from the balmy 32 degrees (F) of the afternoon to about 10 degrees. We took turns tying the ropes. Since the knots had to be tight, one person would have to take off his or her gloves and work the rope quickly, before fingers became too numb. We switched off frequently. The snow was piled up, about two feet deep across the campus lawn.

I was unimpressed with Jeff when I first met him. He was about six feet tall, with short blonde hair. He brought an inordinate amount of equipment, deluxe REI luxury edition of everything. Need a gadget? Jeff’s got it. He also took up a lot of space.

Jeff was pretty quiet while we packed up to go. I ignored him. I had been working two days straight, after a harrowing drive through an Indiana ice-storm. I was tired, excited, and nervous. I was about to embark on a four-month adventure with thirteen strangers. Some I knew previously by name or face. Most I didn’t know at all until a month ago. We were going to drive down through Texas to the Rio Grande River. We would spend two weeks canoeing through upper Big Bend, and then take off backpacking and camping through the deserts of Sonora and Chihuahua.

During the long van rides down to Big Bend, Jeff revealed the side of himself that I had predicted (I knew a lot about people back then). His humor was rough and bigoted. He would make snide comments to provoke the female members of our group. What I chose to ignore, Sandra and Meg chose to confront. They had several confrontations before we even reached the river. Unfortunately, before the friction could be resolved, Jeff was gone. He left abruptly several days into the river trip, when he got news that his father, sick with cancer, had taken a turn for the worse. Jeff left for Michigan and the rest of us continued.


Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats Too noble to neglect Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect Good and bad, I define these terms Quite clear, no doubt, somehow. Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

It was early evening when we reached the village at the top of the canyon. We had seen several Tarahumara huts in our journey across the Rio Verde, simple huts built low to the ground, just big enough to sleep in, and maybe store a few possesions. This was the first time we were actually in a village. We had descended the far canyon wall two days ago. Meg got sick on the way up the other side, she was pale and feverish. Our guide was able to secure her to the back of his mule, as we trekked up towards the nearest village, and the only road that even approached this section of the canyon. Jeff had joined us again after the river. His father had died two days after he returned home. As much as I worried about his return to our group, I couldn't help but feel sympathetic. What would I do in his place? Stay at home, with nothing to do but grieve? No, I'd probably want to be away as well. Unfortunately he proved just as insensitive after his return as before. He did, however, have a steady pace and willingly pitched in when other members of the group showed signs of fatigue. For this, I was grateful-but as before, I preferred to keep my distance.

It was nearly dark as we gathered in our familiar circle, Meg bundled in blankets and propped up against a tree. The mood was somber. Meg was recovering, but still weak. There was a pick-up truck scheduled to meet us, that could transport her along the twenty miles of dirt road back towards the local ranch where we had started. The reason for this meeting, however, was for the rest of the group. We only had a day and a half to get back, and the second leg of our trip was equally as grueling as the first. It was exquisitely beautiful country, the vistas and vegetation were dramatic and wild. The farmland was tucked in patches against the canyon walls, barely visible until one literally stumbled upon it. One of the leaders, Jake, started speaking in his calm, unassuming voice. He commended all of us on our perseverance and cooperation, especially when Meg became ill. He spoke about the trail ahead of us, and how difficult it was going to be. He also spoke of the limitations of our time, and the risks of traveling so far out in the backcountry, especially when already fatigued. He asked us to decide whether or not we thought we would be able to make the trek, of if we wanted to go back on the truck when it arrived in the morning. It was to be an individual assessment. He and the other instructors would, however, have the final say.

One by one, we were taken aside by one of the instructors. The three of them had met for several hours over the course of the day. We knew that for many of us, the decision had already been made.

When I told Jake I wanted to continue, he nodded. “I think you should.” He told me that Sandra and Alison had decided to go back in the truck with Meg. Two of the guys were also going back. That meant I would be the only woman on the trail. Normally, this isn’t something that would bother me. Admittedly I feel more competitive (when it comes to physical endeavor) with my male counterparts than with female. When hiking the more important factor is the movement of the group as a whole. With half of the group dropping out, I could potentially drop from a strong middle to the weakest member of the group. I looked out across the soft pine-covered woods and nodded. I was up for the challenge.


A self-ordained professor's tongue Too serious to fool Spouted out that liberty Is just equality in school "Equality," I spoke the word As if a wedding vow. Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

“It’s okay. It’s been rough for all of us.” Jeff said gently. I must have looked skeptically at his six foot frame that never seemed to break a sweat. He shrugged and glanced away.

“You were great back there. I can’t believe you made it all the way. The only woman to make it.” Was this supposed to be helping? Besides, it wasn’t entirely true.

“That’s bullshit. I lost it out there.” He stared at me, as if he sincerely disagreed. This made me want to cry again. I resisted.

The path along the rim had turned abruptly towards the edge. The rocky wall to the right gave way to a gravelly incline ending in a sharp drop into the canyon. The path itself was angled, the gravel loose and slippery. Heights have always bothered me, even as a child. I used to push myself to the high limbs of our neighborhood trees, in hopes of making it past my fear. I learned a semblance of comfort, as long as one hand was able to rest lightly on a solid surface. That’s where the trouble started. There was no wall here. The wind was blowing lightly, and the cliff-edge exposed. I clenched my teethe and began to walk forward. I couldn’t do it. The fear reached out from my chest and melted my knees and clamped down against my lungs. I sank to the ground.

“Come on, for God’s sake you’re afraid of heights.” He must have seen the stiffness of my shoulders, the humiliation in my face.

“It hasn’t been easy for me either. I know you and I are very different; we don’t exactly have the same beliefs. But some of my conceptions about you-well, they don’t really fit. I mean, you are one of the first ones on the roof, unloading packs. You are always finding what needs to be done and not complaining about it. I think you underestimate me as well. When I joke and stuff-it’s just how I am. Back home it’s not seen as offensive. The women know it’s all a joke. I don’t really mean it.” “You gir-women don’t even give me a chance. It pisses me off.” It was my turn to look at him. The box I had put him in suddenly seemed cramped and awkward. For God’s sake, this boy had just lost his father. Here he was constantly under fire by a couple of pissed-off college women. And me with my silent disapproval.

“I’m sorry Jeff, we don’t give you much slack, do we? Or time to grieve.” I didn’t bother stopping my tears this time. Neither did he. He pulled me towards him, wrapping his arms around me. Shoulders are, after all, the best place to cry.

One hundred and twelve days after our snowy departure, we arrived back on campus. Four days later I would leave campus for the last time. I had new rivers to run, new mountains to climb. I was excited and more than a little bit nervous. After all, I knew so little about people.

Songs Lyrics from Bob Dylan's song "My Back Pages"

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