Fate, oh enigmatic Fate, what curious winds you cast to me!
To send my heart into such sudden and untamed frivolity!
The holy words once stumbled ‘cross again rush to my side,
and in their simple, lovely text my soul again takes flight!
When my own shadow raised its fist above me, dagger firm in hand,
I opened wide my eyes and found my Poet’s Soul gone mad-
Then Fate, you spritely nymph, seduced my sight to trace your form,
and in your gorgeous curves I saw my tale had just begun.
My family, friends, and lovers past- they all are intertwined-
in subtle and most misty ways they shape my life through time-
But when- oh when! will any two the myriad lines make one?
To this I say, “Perhaps someday, when Fate decrees it done.”
–On Fate, by Adam
The next morning I awoke at nine, tent still shaded by the large boulder I’d moved my tent to the previous day. I immediately sat bolt upright, wide awake, heart racing, adrenaline pumping through my veins.
Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon! I thought giddily. My deer, sweet Grand Canyon is waiting for me!
I changed my shirt and walked over to Jon’s spot, where we shared breakfast and coffee together. Carl and Pam drove by to say goodbye as we ate. I met seven new people over the past day and a half, and I’ve barely started my journey, I thought as we bid farewell. Who else is waiting for me out there, now that I’m suddenly ready to talk to any stranger I meet?
Carl and Pam soon drove off to continue their own adventures. Memories of the Grand Canyon were swirling around in my head, and I couldn’t contain my excitement, taking every opportunity to leap and bound from nearby rocks like an over-caffeinated child.
Jon graciously helped me pack up my mess of a tent and all the unnecessary things I was keeping in it. What a bro. Once my car was packed, I pulled out a selfie stick I had purchased with some reluctance before leaving town. Selfie sticks are lame, right?
Naw- turns out, selfie sticks are rad. I’m traveling alone, and there would come a time when I wanted a photo of myself with nobody around to shoot me. I was once turned off by them- the world “selfie” had long made me shudder with an elitist distaste- but who judges something based on its name instead of its utility? Not me- well, not anymore, anyway.
I hooked it up and took a couple shots with me and Jon, my new best bro, before saying farewell and exchanging contact information. Then I jumped in my car, frantically fiddling with my car charger. I was so eager to get going that I tried to plug in the USB cable upside-down no fewer than three times before realizing I was an idiot.
Then, heart rising in my chest- Grand Canyon, AAAAAHHH!- I left my campsite and headed to the north exit of Joshua Tree National Park through the community of 29 Palms. I stopped at the visitor center to get the first of many, many National Park stamps in my journal and park passport. I also talked to the rangers to be sure I went the right way- the GPS app Waze was showing a ridiculously circuitous eight-hour route to the Grand Canyon, which made no sense when I checked it against my atlas. The rangers set me straight, and I switched back to Google Maps, which showed the correct six-hour route. I immediately uninstalled Waze and would never trust it again. Its forced social media aspects were getting on my nerves anyway.
Not long on the road, I stopped at a gas station in the tiny “town” of Amboy, nervously pulling up to a rusted, ancient pump. Is this place open? I thought. It looks abandoned. These pumps… there’s no way they still work. I was ready to pull away when an old man with a scraggly beard stepped out of a nearby dilapidated shack, the windows broken and boarded over.
“Need ga’as?” he shouted, his accent lengthening and warping the “a” sound.
I really didn’t need any… but it was going to be a long stretch before the next town and I wanted to top off just in case. I was paranoid about hitting empty on some desert road, and I had a tendency to get nervous if the needle ever dropped below half a tank between towns.
Plus, I was suddenly afraid of saying no to this guy.
He hobbled over, and with a drawling voice said “No 87, only Pre’emium.” Figures. He pumped the gas himself as I sat in the car, feeling weird. I’d always pumped my own gas, and felt strangely powerless letting this creepy old guy do it.
Somewhere in the back of my head, I wondered if I would leave Amboy alive.
I asked for two gallons, watching the faded analog counters on the pump flipping lethargically. How could those things possibly be accurate? I thought. I looked for a Department of Weights and Measures sticker, but wasn’t able to spot one before he finished and walked up to my window, peering into my car with a twitch in his left eye.
“Te’en bucks,” he said curtly. I passed the strange withered man a couple fivers through my window. I didn’t want to think about what would have happened if I’d tried to pay with a credit card.
I hastened out of there back onto the highway with a sigh of relief, heading northeast towards Arizona.
Soon after leaving Amboy, cruising down the long road, I reflected on where I was, on what I was doing, on the epiphany and lesson that Joshua Tree had taught me. A grin spread across my face, a glorious realization rising within me.
I’m doing it. I’m really doing it! I thought, gazing lovingly at the road ahead of me. My road, my road! My world! Oh God, yes!
I’m the most introverted person I know, yet I made half a dozen friends and a soul-brother at my very first stop! So much, so much more is waiting for me! I have no idea what will happen, but it’s going to be so amazing! It already is so amazing! An incredible feeling of power welled up from my gut, a slowly intensifying vibration spreading through my veins. When the feeling reached my head, tears suddenly poured from my eyes, cascading down my face in thick rivulets, and I began laughing uncontrollably. It was an ecstatic laughter, almost maniacal, perhaps the truest laughter I’d ever experienced. My body shook as I wept, then laughed, then wept, then laughed.
“I did it!” I shouted gleefully. No more sales, no more worrying about the ‘numbers’ for my department, no more office drudgery, no more under-appreciated overtime, no more trying to hold the weight of an entire company on my back while coworkers goofed off around me!
It took me two years of soul-sucking labor to prepare and save for this trip, and now I was finally doing it!
“I did it! I escaped!” I continued cackling like a loon as tears ran down my neck and soaked into my shirt. “Finally, after so many years, oh God, so many years of wondering what the fuck it was all for! So many years of wondering if I would ever get the chance to follow my own heart! Yes! YES!”
I could feel the road and the desert and the sky laughing with me, congratulating me, sharing in my ecstasy.
“I’m finally completely fucking free!” I shouted at the top of my lungs, pounding on the sides of the steering wheel and bouncing in my seat. It felt so good, so good! I felt a dozen years of stress falling off of me in wave after wave, each rolling release making me feel lighter and lighter. I’m free, I’m free, I’m free!
The space those stresses had once occupied became a conduit, and I felt divine energy rushing into me to fill the new rooms in my heart. It was a spiritual orgasm, the most intense I had ever experienced. It was like mating with the Goddess herself, becoming one with the entire Universe. I’d gotten tastes of this feeling in the past, while hiking or meditating, but this was on a totally different level. Suddenly, I was in the Garden of Eden. There was no right or wrong to the world, no judgments, no connotations, no words, no thoughts- just pure, perfect is-ness.
Once again I saw everything that had ever happened to me in my life- all the joys, all the terrors, all the heights and all the traumas. I saw myself hiding in my room from my mom’s first boyfriend after the divorce, finding any excuse I could to leave the house and explore the nearby river, a place where my love of nature and extreme hiking grew and grew. I saw myself wandering around the sandbox in elementary school in endless circles, alone and friendless, unable to relate to the kids around me and their still-intact innocence. I saw myself meeting a kid who lived across the street from my mom’s place, a kid who put up with my unceasing nerdy videogame talk long enough to introduce me to my first friend-group. I saw the crazy shit those friends and I got into in high school- gnarly adventures and legally-dubious explorations. I saw my first brave kiss with a girl I liked, and I saw my heart being torn to shreds by her months later, falling into such a dark place that I suddenly understood the once-mysterious compulsion for self-harm and suicidal thoughts. I saw my personal bubble strain and pop as I ventured into the realm of psychedelics in college- not too deeply, just enough to wake me up to the lies of society, just enough to make me understand that the only gateway to Truth was through personal experience instead of the words of others. I saw some of my best friends disappear into the world of heavy drugs as I tried in vain to hold them back. I saw every person I’d ever met, every lover I’d ever had, and their every effect on my growth as a person. I saw all this and more- and I saw that everything had happened exactly the way it was meant to, the way it had to.
As if watching the whole of my life from a great distance, I could see the curves of Fate as she molded me over the years, sometimes with pleasure and sometimes with pain, all part of a beautiful, infinitely complicated plan to bring me to that very moment of pure nirvana as I crossed the Arizona border, finally free to be my true self for the first time in my life, free from all social and societal pressures.
Call it Fate, call it God or Goddess, call it Shiva, call it the will of the Universe, call it the Ten-Thousand Things- it really doesn’t matter, these are all just words trying to describe the same divine experience. In that instant, I was one with the nameless Truth behind all of those words. My heart pulsed in time with the heartbeat of creation, the past and the future and the present became one, and any regrets I had ever had at that point in my life left me forever.
It was the peak experience of my life.
…So far, anyways. 😉
The intensity of the feeling soon faded to a blissful afterglow of inner peace, and I drove onward through Arizona with a serene Buddha-smile on my face.
A shimmering on the side of the pavement soon caught my eye. I regarded the road ahead curiously. It looked… damp. That didn’t make any sense. I hadn’t seen rain in ages with the drought in California. I soon saw what appeared to be puddles, but surely it was just a mirage, or some kind of shiny salt, or something. I didn’t accept it was water until an hour later, when I saw lightning flashing from large, dark clouds ahead.
A monsoon! I love monsoons!
Actual weather! I thought. Oh how I’ve missed thee!
Sure enough, droplets were soon smattering my windshield, and I welcomed them. I drove peacefully through the rain, lightning arcing gracefully overhead, the hours passing as if they were minutes. After all, I was the calm center of the Universe- Time had lost its hold over me.
Soon the rain abated and I pulled into Mather Campground among a forest of Gambel oak and ponderosa pine near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There was a ranger at the check-in kiosk turning people away, repeating “Sorry, reservations only” over and over again. I pulled up and confirmed my three night reservation with a smile, and suddenly realized three nights didn’t feel like enough time. I asked if there was an extra night available for my spot, and the ranger checked his computer, blinking in surprise as he confirmed that there was. Score! I quickly added another night.
Four nights at the Grand Canyon! Enough time to set up a comfortable camp, really explore, and really relax.
I got to my spot, passing a few massive elk wandering through the campground, and set up camp. I spent a little extra time preparing my tent- my magical mobile apartment- turning it into a mini-palace with a carpet of yoga mats and towels to keep my knees comfy while rummaging. Clothes duffel, book box, and gear box arranged deliberately and conveniently. I hung a flashlight from the top of the tent, which shone light straight down, ideal for privacy. So comfy, so clean, so perfect! A massive improvement over my tent-organization at Joshua Tree.
Across the road from my site I noticed a middle-aged woman sitting in a chair reading a book, with a cute white puppy leashed up nearby. Jon’s words echoed in my head: If you don’t talk to anybody, then nobody’s going to talk to you. I had a feeling I should approach her, and as I tried to work up the courage to interrupt her reading, she stood up and passed by my site, taking her pup for a walk. She stopped and we chatted for a brief moment before she carried on.
Damn, I didn’t even ask her name! I thought. What else should I have said differently? Talking to random people is hard. Waaaah.
Fortunately, she appeared again on her way back and we got to have a real conversation. Her name was Kira, and she was an author. She was out here camping in part to help soothe the pain of her parents’ recent passing. I told her about my journey.
“That sounds wonderful, how long have you been on the road?” she asked. I could tell by her impressed tone that she was expecting me to be a seasoned traveler.
“Three days,” I replied with a sheepish smile.
“Oh my goodness, so you’re just getting started!” she exclaimed. She quickly walked back to her camp and returned with a book, handing it to me. “Call this a good luck gift to commemorate our meeting!” I looked at the cover. Rapid Descent: Nightmare in the Grand Canyon. I looked at the author’s name- Kira Holt. I did a double-take.
“Wait, this is you? You wrote this?” I asked as I scanned the back cover.
“Yup, it’s a dramatized fiction based on one of my thirty-day rafting trips down the Colorado River,” she said.
“You did what!?” I gasped. This lady was cool as fuck. “Did you say one of your thirty-day rafting trips down the Colorado?”
It was true- she’d done two multi-week expeditions down the incomparable Colorado River, where she, her husband, and some friends braved rapid after rapid, camping on secluded shores, and exploring hidden hiking trails that can only be accessed from the river. She alluded to interpersonal drama as well as she tapped the book in my hand- strange things can happen when a group of old friends are completely isolated from civilization for so long in such a unique and stressful environment.
I took the book appreciatively, gave her a big ol’ hug, and pet her fuzzy puppy before we parted. She would be my neighbor for the next four days. I whispered a thank you to Joshua Tree and Jon. At this rate, I’d have more travel-friends than hometown-friends in no time. How worried was I about getting lonely when I first left?
God, traveling is amazing.
The sun was starting to set, and the clouds above were all pink and wonder. I wanted to catch at least a glimpse of the Canyon before dark. I didn’t have much time.
So, I started running.
My hair flew out behind me as I ran to the mouth of the campground, glancing at the nearby shuttle stop- no shuttle there, no time for wait for it- and dashed across the road into the woods along a trail I knew from past visits with the family. Trees and stones passed in a blur. Speeding around a corner, I nearly knocked over a sweet-looking couple walking the other direction, but leaped and spun around them just in time, leaving them blinking and dazed. The path seemed longer than I remembered- but no matter, time was mine, speed was mine. My arms pumped hard to my sides in perfect time with each confident step. My feet would barely touch the ground before taking off again. I was flying down the trail. My Canyon was waiting for me, and I would not make her wait any longer, no! The thrill of the chase urged me ever faster. My muscles protested, and I pointedly ignored them, propelled by sheer will. Up ahead, I saw my first glimpse of the Canyon peeking shyly through the trees, and a sudden upwelling of tears flung off my face as I ran. Yes, yes, yes! My heart raced. My vision tunneled. My spirit prepared for liftoff as I sprinted the final hundred yards.
I burst out of the trees and my body skidded to a stop on the edge of the most incredible canyon on the planet.
My spirit kept going at full speed, and my consciousness went with it.
I soared out over the canyon, rising above the vast rift, swirling down and around her beautiful tiered temples, dancing among brave trees clinging to her steep slopes, weaving through her endlessly diverging colorful hallways, diving a mile down into her depths to skip along the shimmering surface of her master-carver, the mighty Colorado River. As I flew, I drank in a billion years of geologic history laid bare in a hundred subtle shades of red, orange, and tan.
Back on the rim, my body was still, unmoving, silent tears rolling down my cheeks.
I stood there for a long time, experiencing a feeling only those who have stood on the edge will ever understand.
Eventually, I sighed, peaceful and content. I walked slowly westward along the Rim Trail, keeping my eyes to the right, watching the massive shadows lengthen with the setting sun.
The Grand Canyon. My home for the next four nights.
I came across a young British couple on the darkening trail admiring the view, and stopped next to them to share in their perspective. I was in such a blissful state that there was simply no room for my normal social anxiety to exist.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” I said. They turned to me and heartily agreed, introducing themselves as Jared and Ingrid. Jared made music for TV commercials, and Ingrid was an artist for magazines and stuff. Neat!
“It’s amazing,” Ingrid said, “In Europe, it’s buildings everywhere. You have such vast spaces in America, such long roads between cities. There’s nothing like this back home.”
I smiled with something akin to pride- though patriotism had nothing to do with it. For the most part, I think patriotism is a heinous belief in one’s cultural superiority based on which arbitrary lines in the sand one happened to born in. I’m not proud of the fact that I was born in this country- but I was proud that I knew this Canyon like an old friend, and was glad to share the experience with people who had never seen her divine beauty.
We quickly developed a rapport, and as the darkness descended upon us, we headed to Grand Canyon Village to have dinner together. As we ate, they peppered me with questions like:
“So in America is it normal for people to buy big trucks?” and “Exactly how popular are guns in America?” and “Isn’t the crime rate really high in America?” and “What is the drinking age in America?” and “How exactly does tipping work?”
I answered their questions as best as I could, stumbling over my half-answers, marveling at their curiosity, and wondering how the British media portrayed Americans to lead them to ask such questions.
When the check came, I was horrified to discover I didn’t have my wallet with me- I hadn’t planned on buying anything when I’d dashed out of camp to the Canyon earlier. I asked if they could cover my meal, promising I’d pay them back if they came back to my camp afterwards. They glanced at each other before answering, and I detected a moment of heavy suspicion. Then, perhaps against their better judgment, they agreed.
I took them back to my camp while they no doubt wondered if I was going to murder them instead of giving them ten bucks. They visibly relaxed when I got my wallet out of my car and paid them back, and we sat at the bench and continued chatting for the next hour. Eventually the topic of marijuana legalization came up, and they explained it was considered a serious crime back home. I countered by explaining the growing legalization movement in the States, teaching them about medical use and the places where recreational use was becoming legal or decriminalized.
Then I taught them how to smoke out of a pipe- they had never seen one before, and they marveled at it. In Britain it’s all about rolling fags, apparently. I stifled my laughter as they sputtered and coughed, doing as well as anybody could be expected to for their first time. They were adorable.
After another half-hour of friendly chatter, they wandered off to the shuttle stop arm-in-arm and giggling, to catch a ride back to the lodge where they were staying the night before heading off to Los Angeles, and then, San Francisco. As I watched their silhouettes disappear down the road, I smiled at the unique experience I was able to provide them with. They’d be telling their friends back home about the ponytailed American they met at the Grand Canyon, I was sure of it. The legend of Adam Morsa is heading overseas, I thought.
It occurred to me that the people I met on the road weren’t just special experiences for me, but that I was a special experience for them, too. Somehow, that thought made me feel stronger.
As custom demanded, I brought out my lovely green journal and logged the events of the day, finishing the entry with: “I don’t know what time it is, and honestly don’t care to. I know it’s been dark for quite a while. It’s cold, quiet. I’m full. Sleepy time!”
Then, in bold capital letters: “-END OF THE THIRD DAY-”
Only three days so far. So many people. So much beauty. So much revelation.
I’d had more noteworthy experiences over the past three days than I’d had in months of my old life.
I crawled into my wonderful tent and curled up in my cozy sleeping bag, once again falling into a deep, worry-free sleep.
Tomorrow, the Grand Canyon explorations would really begin.
Read next: Ch. 3: Life on the Rim, Part 2