Disclaimer: The traveling partner described here is a fictional character. Any resemblance to a real person, even to a person named Kurt Repanshek, is purely coincidental.
The outbound leg of this particular Dumb & Dumber trip has brought Kurt and me to Canyonlands National Park. We've left the main highway a long way back and we're on that lonely road that goes and goes and goes until you can hardly stand it, but eventually brings you to the visitor center of the park's vast Island in the Sky district. Kurt is driving his trusty Subaru, and it's packed to the bursting point with camping gear, food, and other crappe. I'm riding shotgun.
We're approaching the entrance now, and it's time to get out Kurt's annual pass, which is in the glovebox. I hand it to him and watch as he tries to insert the little card into the slots of the rearview mirror hanger-thingie. He fumbles it, and it disappears into that narrow space between the dashboard and the windshield.
"Damn," says Kurt. "Happens every time. I'll have to take the dashboard apart again when we get home. By the way, Bob, did I remember to tell you to bring along your own annual pass so we'd have it available in a pinch?"
No, Kurt; you did not.
We learn that the seasonal at Canyonlands' Island in the Sky entrance will charge you the full daily fee to get in, even if you swear that there's an annual pass lodged somewhere in your dashboard.
Beyond the Island in the Sky visitor center are miles of scenic road that we're eager to explore. I remark on the isolation of this place and the profound scarcity of visitor amenities. There's no lodging. There's no place to buy a meal or even a can of beans. We are tens of miles from the nearest gas station.
"Can you imagine," I ask Kurt, "what it would be like to run out of gas way out here in the middle of nowhere?"
Kurt says "Whoops!" and points to the gas gauge. The needle is hovering a hairsbreadth above Empty. "Bob," says Kurt, "I meant to tell you that it's your job to make sure we have a full tank of gas when we get to Canyonlands. I tend to forget things like that."
We learn that the good rangers at Canyonlands' Island in the Sky District have an emergency stash of gas and will sell you two gallons for only nine bucks.
Early the next morning, we've polished off a damn fine breakfast at a Moab diner and now we're loitering over coffee and pondering some route options for the rest of the trip. I offer to walk to a nearby gas station to buy a Utah highway map (Kurt having left his own map on the kitchen counter back home). Kurt says that this would be a fine idea. Five minutes later I return, toss the map on the table, and complain that it cost me $3.95, plus tax. "Darn," says Kurt, "I forgot to tell you that they give 'em away free at the information center here in Moab. That's our next stop, you know. Let's each get us one of those free maps."
We're in Arches National Park now, and Kurt and I have just finished what is, hands down, the scariest hike of my life. (The trail we took is eerily similar to the one that Kurt Repanshek described just this past Friday in his Traveler article Trails I've Hiked: Arches National Park's Primitive Trail, Via Landscape and Double O Arches.) My knees are knocking, my heart is racing, and I struggle to catch my breath. It's a warm afternoon, but still I shiver as I reflect on the experience. This was my first-ever encounter with dangerously steep slickrock, and I have just spent several hours lurching and leaning, never knowing quite where to put my feet or how to maintain my balance. Suddenly, Kurt slaps his forehead. "Darn," he says, "I plumb forgot to tell you to always keep your nose over your toes. Nose over toes, Bob; never forget it. If you don't keep your nose over your toes, you might take a nasty fall."
We're now setting up our little tent at the Squaw Flat Campground in the Needles District of Canyonlands. I'm looking forward to the evening meal, but most of all I'm looking forward to having a drinkie-poo or two while gazing into a flickering campfire.
"Where's our firewood?," I ask. "Those signs over there say you have to bring your own."
Kurt scratches his head. "Didn't I tell you to buy some firewood at that store back there?"
No, Kurt; you did not.
That evening, I find some paper towels in the back of the Subaru. Have you ever noticed that a roll of paper towels looks like a log? It doesn't burn very long, though.
It begins raining cats and dogs. (Of course it does, we're camping, aren't we?) I'm too tired to care. This backpacking tent is unfamiliar to me, but I finally manage to zip myself in, take off my shoes, and get into my sleeping bag. I'm soon fast asleep.
What the hell?! It's one o'clock in the morning and I've just sprung wide awake with excruciating cramps in both of my legs. Gotta get out of this frapping tent! Where's the zipper?! Grappling, clawing, I eventually find it and give it a yank. Instantly, an unbelievable amount of cold water cascades into my face and drenches me from head to toe. I walk off the cramps, crawl back into the now-soggy sleeping bag, and spend the rest of the night in sleepless misery. I can hear Kurt softly snoring.
It's morning. Kurt makes the coffee, hands me a cup, and strolls away. I take a sip and then spit it out, but not quickly enough. "Watch out for that coffee," says Kurt, "It's scalding hot."
About midway through breakfast, Kurt says: "By the way, Bob, I meant to tell you to be real careful when you unzip the tent flap after a heavy rain like we had last night. You always want to unzip that thing from the bottom. Rain water collects in a fold at the top of the flap. If you were ever to unzip it from the top after a heavy rain like that, an unbelievable amount of cold water would cascade into your face and drench you from head to toe."
Two days later we are headed home, nearing the end of our five-park, 1,200-mile long trip. I'm working on a crossword puzzle. Kurt is making conversation, a bit of chit-chat to help while away the time. "Say, Bob, did I ever tell you that I have a real hard time staying awake at the wheel? Don't ever let anybody tell you that airbags don't work."
I pinch myself. Yes, I am still alive. Don't ever let anybody tell you that you can't survive a game of Russian roulette played with one in the chamber and eight in the clip.
We're finally back at Kurt's place, where we busy ourselves cleaning and storing gear. Hard-working Kurt takes care of everything except the cooler, which I volunteer to stow in the attic. The next day I am winging my way back to South Carolina. It was, all in all, a most excellent adventure.
Postscript: It was downright careless of me to stow that cooler in the attic without first cleaning it out. As I recall, it contained a dozen eggs, a quart of milk, two pounds of ground beef, and two salmon fillets. I've been meaning to call Kurt and tell him about that cooler, but I keep forgetting.