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The Common Ground: Best Laid Plans

... aren't plans at all

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Everyone knew I was committed. Everyone, except me. In a year that featured a pandemic, homeschooling, and breaking my leg, I was burnt to a crisp. Like many of us, I talked the talk of work-life balance, but in lieu of walking the walk, I kept crawling to the next item on the to-do list.

When friends suggested meeting up in Sedona the day after Christmas to camp and ride, I did the math: 26 hours of driving in exchange for a scant 72 hours to cram in as much riding as possible. I needed the windshield time as much as the ride time, but the weather forecast had shifted from balmy sunshine to: “Snow? Really?”

And the truth is that after spending the past year rushing from one moment to the next, the idea of sitting in my house doing absolutely nothing sounded downright splendid. I said the weather was looking bad, and I probably wouldn’t go. I said I was exhausted from putting together a pandemic-era Christmas for my boys and reduced my odds of making the trip to 23 percent. I said I was scared because I’d never driven this far on my own, and the chances of getting caught in a winter storm were definitely non-zero. On Christmas day, I said to no one but myself that I’d regret it if I didn’t go. “We knew you were in,” they responded when I asked where we were meeting. “You’re always in.”

With my car chock-full of camp boxes and a duffle bag leaking winter ride clothes, I introduced my 14-year-old hound dog, Boudreau, to his puffy-princess backseat travel palace, outfitted with a dog bed, a bone, his own pillow, and several extra-fluffy blankets. Together, we started our 13-hour journey to a little pin on a map somewhere on the outskirts of Sedona.

Truck Camping
Photo: Satchel Cronk

The thing to know about Boudreau is that he doesn’t much care for car trips. So he spent the first 12 hours standing, panting, and farting. By the last hour, he’d deemed that there was enough historical evidence to presume the situation safe (for today anyway, he’d reassess again tomorrow). Finally, he curled up into a little ball where he slept and farted in peace. After several miles driving down dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, the digital arrow overtook the pin just after midnight. I rolled up to my faithful adventure partners lounging under a string of lights beneath a moon that was struggling to be full. Two border collies wiggled about while the cheers echoed from their mouths to somewhere deep into my bacon-and-chain-lube scented soul. I’d barely stepped out of the car before a jalapeño beer was in my hand and my camp boxes were being ushered from my car.

This is why I always say yes. Doing nothing leaves no memories, but the image of their smiling faces when we realized we’d actually pulled off this silly, ad-hoc adventure is etched in my memory, filed away under ‘Family’ next to grandma’s tiny, powerful hugs and the smell of freshly cooked Hamburger Helper. It’s an image that still floats to the surface sometimes when I least expect it, and often when I most need it. As the dominos fell from a decision that felt last minute, even if it never was, for the next three days time slowed to that perfect, sauntering pace of camping. With alarms an artifact of the lives we’d left behind, we woke each day to the sun lazily cresting over the spires of rock. This was our cue to begin guzzling enough caffeine to flip the switch from 0 to 11 and rattle off ride plans like kids mapping out their day at an amusement park. Each short day, new layers of red dirt made their way from the desert to our tires.


This is why I always say yes. Doing nothing leaves no memories

Nights were long and cold, which meant my hound dog and I snuggled in the back of my car until our backs or bladders could no longer take it. I don’t know how much longer I have with my droopy-eared boy, but watching his tail turn into a propeller as he glued his nose to the ground made me appreciate these moments where time rewinds to reveal the excited pound puppy I met long ago. Each night was punctuated by Boudreau and me curling up together and falling asleep to the sweet sound of nothing.

The snow that was predicted with near certainty never came. With only a chance of chilly rain that wasn’t slated to hit until afternoon, we rolled out to check the notoriously exposed Hangover trail off our list.

Admittedly, around halfway through the trail, I would have been thinking about how much I regretted that decision had I not been rather pre-occupied by the blustering winds threatening to flick us off the slickrock into the canyon below.

We crawled along the most exposed and windsocked spaces. At one moment, I death-gripped my wispy carbon bike while laying against the slab hoping the wind wouldn’t rip it from my hands. I’d never wished so badly that I’d brought an early-2000s 45-pound downhill bike instead.

Our usual adventure-soundtrack of situationally inappropriate giggling and staccato banter was overtaken by silence as our eyes oscillated between each other and the next foothold down until we’d descended back into the trees. Just as we rolled back to the car, the skies opened up. And then we got burritos. Because that’s just how these kinds of days on these kinds of trips work. Sometimes the best plans are the ones that can’t ever be written down. They’re the plans loosely sewn with threads of ambition and the willingness to get it all wrong.

On the drive back home, I watched the sunset projecits changing colors onto rock carved by eons of changing winds. For the first time since I could remember, my mind was quiet. Whatever I needed when I started this trip five days before, I got it. And that was the plan all along.