Miles 312-1394: Shifting Gears

I know it’s time to get up, but I linger anyway, staring blankly out the window of the Airbnb we’ve been ensconced in for the last week. I know what comes next, and I just want to enjoy this one, tiny moment, all to myself, before the rest of everything. The rest of the year.

The last five days have felt like a shot – moving into storage, meeting after meeting with a half a dozen folks in the office, packing the car, and what I can’t help but think of as resupplying for the next week at the grocery store – and I finally think we’re ready to head out into the field. Maybe. Probably. The people currently upstairs seem animated about it, but this bed feels so, so nice, and while I know my last shower in goodness knows how long is gonna feel nice too, I put it off moment after moment, until there are no moments left to use without throwing off the entire day. So. Here we go.

Back we go, back to our apartment to turn in our keys, pick up Spesh’s car, say goodbye to the wonderful, lovely lady who runs the apartment office. I don’t do much of that, because I’ve got a tooth that’s been bugging me – there’s a deep-seated pain that flares whenever I put my heel to the ground in a certain way – and I’ve managed to snag a short-notice appointment at the dentist. Lucky for me, that tooth is just sprained1. Unlucky for me, another tooth has a cavity that’s been pretty successful at sneaking towards my nerve. If it hits the nerve, it means finding making time to get a root canal on the road, and I am 100% uninterested in that prospect. The scheduling gods smile upon me, and I manage to get another appointment to get it filled next week, when we make our way back through the Front Range on our way to our first official stop in North Dakota.

But first, it’s off to the Ragnar Trail Relay, just outside Zion National Park.

with brief stops to ooh and aah over Utah’s scenery

The race itself is 24-odd hours of running – there are three different paths of varying lengths the coordinators have set, and teams of eight, one at a time, have to run each track once2. One’s 3.5 miles, the second’s 3.9 miles, and the last is 7.3 miles. It sounds super intense – I don’t know that I’d want to run through the night, even if I managed to pull the night shift on the shortest of the three, and as I’m still recovering from what the PCT did to my body, I don’t know that it’s for me. But then, it doesn’t have to be, as over 2500 people have shown up to join in the fun, and the grounds, when we arrive, are bustling with many teams of seven, busying themselves while their eighth runs.

As latecomers arriving when the race has already started, we have to offload our gear and then shuttle the car to the parking lot about four miles away; our first test as n00bs to car life is to figure out what we need for the next two days, because going back will be a more-than-hour-long process. Spesh decides we need the entire kitchen, so the Mormon handcart we’re given to lug our gear to camp is too heavy for me to drag by myself; while he shuttles the car, I spend a good 15 minutes with the gear just staring stalwartly into my phone. It’s a belated realization that I’m being anti-social, having gone so far as to don ye olde resting bitch face, and once I change my posture and my outlook, I rapidly find new acquaintances to talk to. Spesh comes back, and our personal relay continues; while he stays with the stuff, I’m off to find Team West Central at the Leave No Trace booth, which is recognizable mostly by its height. Well, that’s convenient.

We check in with the team in charge, and then our fellow trainees, Team West, show up, and we begin the surprisingly arduous process of two full days of boothing. I mean, it’s not all that arduous, except for the standing, the standing while the Utah sun attempts to blind us and wind throws a tantrum, howling and kicking dust into our eyes ears throats. While we invent reasons to sit, to walk, to stretch, my shins aren’t quite used to all this standing – working from home, hunched over a computer, has made me soft – and they ache whenever I leave them in one position for too long. Despite the pain, I learn the ins and outs of boothing, of talking about memberships, of commiserating with making new friends with other companies’ reps, and eat not a few ice cream sandwiches to boot.

The real fun begins when the event is over; we can’t stay on site the last night, so we toss everything into our roving homes and make our way out to some BLM land near Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, between Mount Carmel and Kanab. Ponderosa Grove Recreation Site is a designated campground, and the camping gods have smiled upon us: one of the group sites is open. The teams cook individually, and as Spesh is obsessed with making sure we eat well – a trend I hope lasts – we eat last and late and I wonder if that’s a failing or us just falling into our groove. Once the sun goes down, the wind that’s followed us here pushes us quickly to bed, and getting comfortable in this enormous tent would be a cold prospect if not for my delicious 3F down bag.

The morning is for town chores in Kanab; for us, that means the opposite of going to town, at least for an hour or so – we slip off to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park to enjoy the coolness of the sand below our feet.

We stay just long enough to coo over the tiny beetle tracks in the sand, and, when we spot them, the beetles that make them, just going about their business.

tiny beetles / on the hillside / tiny beetles / with their feetsie weetsies

As more of the beetles begin to wake up, we feel the time beginning to shift away from us, and we do have things to do in town. So it’s off to Kanab and the laundromat, and the copious 4G LTE we’ve missed out on the last few days. It’s so engrossing that I nearly forget to call Momma for Mother’s Day; it’s a short conversation, because we’re headed back to camp for more training, and I feel terrible until I lose myself in shooting video, posing shots, script editing. It’s all more fun than I remember it being, but then, the last time I did something like this was high school.

We eat dinner and I’m excused from dishes to take Donielle back to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes for sunset.

This morning, I didn’t know why the park was called the Coral Pink Sand Dunes – but as the sun dips in the West, it’s readily apparent to me now. We go barefoot and walk out to the dunes formerly colonized by ATVs, nearly get run down by two women trying to snap sunset photos, snipe some of their shots from different angles.

We take pictures of each other in the fading light, talk about the job, the work, the life.

It’s a conversation I’ve needed to have, and well after the sun has set and we’ve returned to the car and almost the campground, we park it outside and continue to talk until we lose track of time. On my eventual return to camp, Spesh is alone and understandably sad and frustrated where I’ve left him – honestly, it didn’t even occur to me that he’d need to load stuff in the car before bed, the perils of such a drastic shift in lifestyle – but the situation does spark a necessary conversation about needs and desires that, living on top of other people for the last three weeks, we haven’t found the space for.

The following morning, I see improvements in the both of us already, probably helped by the fact that we’ve pretty much got the day to ourselves. All three teams split up, but all three teams end up in Zion; we take our time on the east side, climbing up rocks and wandering through washes, before parking in Springdale on the west side to explore the canyon via the shuttle. Hidden Canyon, a canyon-within-the-greater-canyon, is what we make our way over up to, and the steepness of the climb doesn’t seem to make it any less popular3.

teasers for the post to come

The weather starts to look dicey on our way down and through and back to our campsite – there’s just a bit more to learn, but once we’re done fighting the wind and the oncoming sleet to complete what we need to complete, the cold chases us to Kanab, where there are restaurants with food inside. The whole experience of picking up and deciding to be in a car, let alone inside, is a wonder to me; it’s so nice to be able to have community in bad weather that’s not just yelling amicably at each other through tent walls. I feel a way about it, like we’ve grown soft or something, though neither of us are interested in a motel; it’s back to the tents once the storm has passed, resting up for our last day of training.

Our last morning is another lazy one, into Kanab for the technical part of our training, but that’s not until 11a; just like on the PCT, I’m an early riser now, though PCT-me would be scandalized that I think a 7:30am wakeup is early. Still, we have plenty of time to explore both the coffee portion and the gear portion of the coffee-and-gear-shop in town. I find so many adorable postcards and stickers and holy shit pants that fit me, and I have a momentary freakout that I’m going to spend all my money on stationery and gear4. Then it’s off to the library where we’ve got a conference room reserved for video editing and learning how to do awesome things with Adobe After Effects; I come away with more theoretical knowledge than practical knowledge, though I feel like I just need to play around with the programs to push the former into the latter. I’m glad we have people who know what they’re doing and, more comfortingly, have our backs.

After training, I get sO MUCH DONE HOLY SHIT – I almost feel like I’ve got a handle on what the workflow’s going to be like, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll actually thrive in this job. There’s still a lot to do, a lot to learn – but we might make it through. Maybe. Probably. Then it’s back to the campsite, where the present teams toast to our new family and argue like siblings over our shared nerdery until late, and I’m so content that sleep comes easy.


[1] Apparently, there are ligaments around teeth that can get thrown out of whack. And apparently, they heal up by themselves, because I’m feeling a lot better now. Who knew?

[2] Alternately, you can have teams of four, where each member has to run each path twice (an Ultra), or, what I didn’t hear about, teams of two, where each member has to run each path four times (a Super Ultra).

[3] An in-between update will be a more in-depth examination of our trip to Zion; my intent is to make all of our one-day/overnight non-work experiences into their own blog posts.

[4] I really wish I had literally any evidence thus far to disprove this theory; for myself, I’ve literally bought stickers and postcards to send out. I stayed strong on the pants, though. (Kind of regret it. They were pretty cute. Q-Q)

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