This post from Kalen Thorien was originally published on her own website.
Kalen is one of Kate’s ambassadors – a skier, writer, and an adventurer. Her words are a thoughtful accompaniment to her rich photos.
Now take a deep breath, sit back, and enjoy…
Notes from the Road: Week 1
“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried… We but half express ourselves.” – Emerson
School may have been a slippery, uninspiring time in my life, but it had its moments – most with my favorite teacher, Dr. Mooney. On a daily, he would repeat part of that quote “..we but half express ourselves” in hopes of inspiring something new in his students. It stuck with me, and fitting that I would stumble upon it during one of my first nights, alone, in my trailer. Emerson’s essays have always been a great source of inspiration, and his chapter “Self-Reliance” was the obvious choice for encouragement during a traveling low.
The reason for the sudden uproot was my mental livelihood had been seduced by repetition and consistency – an internal reservoir of normality where the occasional refresh of thought would find its way, but overall a stagnant body of trivial practice lay barren, still, waiting until the evaporative effects of societal commonplace whisks it into the setting sun. It was time for a change and with a bit of coincidence and personal drive, I had moved my things into a 17ft trailer and hit the road.
The adventure began with a place I hold dear – Escalante. The impending doom of winter had already brushed the mountainsides, so naturally the desert was the perfect retreat for the last breath of warmth. But unseasonably cold and wet weather had plagued Southern Utah for most of October, starting my adventure off on a shaky note. My arrival would be greeted with muddy, impassable roads forcing me to find residence at the local RV park. $30 a night to stay in my own camper felt like robbery and my first evening in Escalante was spent in a dimly lit trailer, falling asleep to the sounds of generators and yelping lap dogs – far from the romantic picturesque desert solitude I’d been searching for.
This night would lead to a whirlwind of questions and self-doubt. What did I get myself into? Was this really the best idea? I felt impotent and completely deflated. I had no desire to explore…just wanted to stew in my ambiguity while listening to the rain patter on my roof.
Eventually night gave way to the light of day and regardless how sad and pitiful I may be, the obnoxious internal optimist took hold and hit my reset button. Coffee in hand, I puttered along. The morning sun had already helped the condition of the roads and soon I found a spot worthy of the Bigfoot. I could now finally properly set up the trailer how I had hoped. My books lay neatly on their shelf, my rocks – displayed proudly. The camp chairs perched under the awning, overlooking the desert expanse, and even Francis (the Land Cruiser) had a autumn glow about her in her new parking spot. Things were shaping up and a tingle in my toes told me it was time to wander, and wander I did!
Checking out my new backyard. Sight courtesy of Goal Zero.
On my way to a few slot canyons, I came across a proper campsite. If you squint,
you can see the tiny blue mid-tent almost dead center of the photo. Kudos to those humans!
Moqui Marbles! I love coming across these. These stony spheres are concretions — sandstone
balls cemented by a hard shell of iron oxide minerals that occasionally liter the sandstone ground.
Roughly 2-5 million years old, these oddities are babies compared to the
190 million year old sandstone from which they form.
A week’s worth of rain left normally dry slot canyons – full.
Needless to say, I had to swim.
Very welcomed warm-up post slot canyon shenanigans.
Another day would take me down the Escalante River which was bathed in stunning fall colors.
The Escalante River was home and refuge to the Anasazi tribe thousands of years ago.
Dwellings and art can be found scattered throughout this 87 mile long canyon.
An enticing overhang in the red rock led me to scramble up a steep, Russian Olive (very spiky bush
that I hate!!) filled hillside to take a peak. I found what appeared to be a ruin mostly destroyed
by rockfall as well as old pieces of corn, left intact by the dry desert heat.
Almost impossible to tell this was ever a dwelling or granary, but a few pieces of
cemented slabs of sandstone give light to the mystery that indeed, someone once lived here.
It’s hard to tell, but this is Cryptobiotic Soil (with recent rain hence the green) and it’s all
over the desert. Harboring mostly cyanobacteria, but also lichens, mosses, and green algae,
this soil is essential for life in the desert. Cryptobiotic crusts increase the stability of otherwise
easily eroded soils, increase water infiltration in regions that receive little precipitation,
and increase fertility in soils often limited in essential nutrients. So watch your step,
because this incredible natural wonder can take 200-250 years to regenerate!
Notice how the water is clear in this photo? Beginning of my hike you could see
to the bottom, end of the hike the mud had taken over.
Usually a good sign that rain is on the way…
And indeed it was! Next day the storms came back and the desert was alive
with running water! And more water means…
…really cold wet canyons! After this photo, my footing disappeared and treading
water was mandatory. Luckily, the camera survived.
It’s been a week now and I’m happy to report my friends, the desert has once again provided. The cleansing of the internal soul has began and my days are quickly being filled with new sights, sounds, and ideas. Waking up to chilly mornings, scouring my maps and sipping on coffee, eventually setting out down a new canyon or wash. Every turn leads to wonders that transfix for what feels like eternity. Staring at the different layers of stone, feeling their slight variances with the tips of my fingers and absorbing the energy it harnessed for millions of years. Digging up pebbles in search of crystals, picking fresh sage to dry, bathing in waterfalls…all movements a child would naturally make, but things we as adults tend to forget. Simplicity overshadowed by complication, then re-discovered by merely exploring.
Unpredictable the future ahead may be. I’ve put myself in a situation where the security of a city and home are in the rear-view, but ahead is something greater. This journey is about becoming MORE. To not sit idly by as the decay of time slowly overtakes me. I want to understand and discover a greater version of myself, to cultivate my own ideas, to cherish moments that could be perceived as irrelevant, to harness the power and beauty of the world around me until I’m filled beyond relief. That when I die, I know I did the best I could with every ounce of passion and life bestowed upon me. We each have the capability to do so, in our own right, and all it requires is trust in yourself, your decisions, and the ability to say yes to the horizon ahead.
“And now at last the highest truth on this subject remains unsaid; probably cannot be said; for all that we say is the far-off remembering of the intuition. That thought, by what I can now nearest approach to say it, is this. When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;—— the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new.” – from Emerson’s essay ‘Self-Reliance’