Ever since I began travelling overseas as a single lady (now put your hands up!) six years ago, I’ve had many people warn me about the dangers of travelling alone. However, no one has yet said anything I haven’t already considered myself, as I’m ridiculously conscious of my vulnerabilities and simply don’t put myself in situations that could go awry.
Except, of course, for that time I accepted an invitation from a guy I’d just met in a bar to be picked up and driven an hour out of town to go hiking in the depths of Zion National Park where, I quickly discovered, my phone had no reception.
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
At the top of this post you can see, Where’s Wally-style, the amazing fellow who generously spent a day showing me glimpses of Zion. We shall call this fellow R, because I can’t think of a nickname that adequately encompasses his astounding wilderness prowess, his overall awesomeness, and the fact that he was very polite about my constantly interrupting our conversations with gasps and exclamations of “this place is breathtaking!”
Zion really was breathtaking. The colours, the colours, the blue-shining-blue of the sky and the red-copper-red-burnished sandstone cliffs shimmering with gold here and trees-green there, the myriad different patterns in the rocks around us and the cool shadows in almost-caves and solid firm earth as I stopped to take a photo and then slipping sand as I leaped to catch up and everywhere, everywhere a sense of undulating expansiveness, of air and world and beauty and space, endless space without emptiness, and birds and lizards and breathing and living and the colours, the colours.
R took me off the main road to show me petroglyphs, and for a moment I couldn’t think beyond the knowledge that ever-so-long ago, someone stood right where we were to engrave life stories onto the rock. (And yes, I may have had the gorgeous yet haunting music from the cave painting scene in Ice Age also running through my mind.)
We moved on, and lo! wonder of wonders!
R led me to a Ponderosa Pine, a tree with bark perfumed like vanilla, and it was sweet, fresh, wonderful. Hey there, nature! You’re spectacular!
Lest you think I had nothing to teach in return, though, I’ll have you know that I imparted unto R the knowledge that one must always enact the pivotal scene from Picnic At Hanging Rock whilst hiking.
(It was my duty as an Australian.)
Treading more well-worn trails, we later found ourselves looking down from above on birds who were themselves circling valleys far beneath their own wings, and I learned that I truly don’t like standing too close to cliff edges. At least, not until I can fly myself.
Being a Master of All Things Outdoors, R soon took us off-track again, and I remember cool water swirling around my ankles as we walked down a river, an apple split perfectly in two with nary a utensil in sight (I still don’t know how he did that), burning sand beneath my feet as I squealed and hopped about like a mad laughing thing, and the split second it took R to spot, swoop, then hold out for me a tiny little frog from the river.
Oh, and there was also a Shoe Tree. That happened.
The moral of this story is: Always travel safely, but never forget the value of taking a deep breath and trusting your instincts.
You might just end up with a brand new magical soul-shining friend.