Please read the Preface first if you haven’t yet done so–
If you can’t tell already, I love stories. So I am particularly happy when a special event in my life has an interesting story attached to it, even if it is a little embarrassing on my end (foreshadowing).
Setting: Summer of 2008. P’s family had left after a five-week visit. Meanwhile for months I had been desperately searching for an exit strategy from a job I really didn’t like, and had finally found a new position that was a lot closer to both our home and my field of interest. P, S, R and I had been talking about taking a trip, but the timing was never right, so I thought– hey, I can leave this job a week before I have to start my next job, P and S don’t have work for the summer, only R has to take off from work, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a crazy trip somewhere.
Our plan was to drive across the United States in 9 days, hitting as many highlights as possible. We knew that we didn’t have enough time to see anywhere in-depth, but we decided to embrace the “road trip” mentality and hoped for an interesting experience overall. The itinerary was as follows: Day 1: Fly from NYC to Los Angeles, rent a car, and drive up the coast on Route 1 to San Francisco. Day 2: See the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park and spend the night in Las Vegas. Day 3: Hoover Dam–Grand Canyon–Monument Valley–and stay in Moab, Utah (right outside Arches National Park… which I made sure was on the itinerary). Day 4: Arches, Salt Lake City, stay in Idaho. Day 5: Grand Tetons National Park, Yellowstone National Park, stay in Wyoming. Day 6: Mt. Rushmore, Badlands National Park, stay in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Day 7: Sioux Falls to St. Louis Missouri. Day 8: St. Louis Arch– drive to Cincinnati. Day 9: Cincinnati back to New England. In true “techy” S fashion he created an interactive website with GPS connectivity so that people could follow our road trip on the web and see live updates, pictures and maps (that’s why R is “Married to a Geek”)
Before the trip I had dropped hints with P that it would be quite romantic to be at Arches, this place I’d wanted to visit since I was in eighth grade, and who knows, hint hint, have something special happen there. Yet as time grew short, and there didn’t seem to be any discussion of it, I figured that P wasn’t ready.
And off we went… the road trip was pretty crazy– long hours on the road (our first day we left NYC around 8 in the morning, but we didn’t reach San Francisco until about 2am California time). S was taking many of the evening shifts (since he’s a night owl) and I was forcing everyone up at the crack of dawn to get on the road. I wanted to keep us on schedule so we could see everything we wanted to see, but it was tough when each individual destination was so interesting, and everyone wanted to stop and spend longer in each place. Most nights we didn’t reach our final destination until long after the sun had set.
On Day 3 we ate at an IHOP in Las Vegas before starting out on the road. P got up to use the restroom and then we met out in the car… we drove through Hoover Dam, and saw the Grand Canyon. My dad had visited the Grand Canyon the year before so after we left I called him up to let him know, “Hey Dad, just saw the Canyon. It was pretty neat.” The phone was quiet on the other end, then he said, “…And?”
“And what? Nothing much, having fun… the weather is hot.” I answered.
“Oh, okay… That’s it?”
“Alright then, be safe and have fun.” Then he hung up the phone.
As we got closer to Utah, we started seeing signs of the Delicate Arch everywhere. Prior to our trip I hadn’t realized it was such a famous landmark for the state. As we entered Utah near Monument Valley the “Welcome to Utah!” sign had a picture of the Arch. Many of the Utah state license plates had an image of the Arch. I learned later that the Olympic Torch from the 2002 Olympic Games even made a pass under the Arch. Going to bed in Moab, it was exciting to know that the next day I was going to see the Delicate Arch from my eighth grade postcard project.
After driving through Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Southern Utah I was starting to get worried about the heat. I knew the altitude out west was higher than what we are used to in the east, and that higher altitude, drier weather, and blazing sun were a ripe combo for dehydration. After my experience in Kenya I was terrified of another severe sunburning/dehydration episode. As R, S and P got ready in the motel room the morning of Day 4, I watched the weather on the morning news–it was supposed to be in the high 90s, maybe even the low 100s–and I was already sucking down glasses of water like there was no tomorrow.
Arches was beautiful. High red/orange rock formations with thousands of sandstone arches carved by the harsh elements of the desert. The four of us spent most of the morning climbing through various archways and trails, visiting some of the park’s most famous landmarks. I kept urging everyone to drink water because of the dry heat and slathering sunscreen on my pale mzungu skin.
After a few hours of driving and hiking through various parts of the park we finally reached it. The Delicate Arch. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting… it was way up on top of a large sandstone outcropping of rock. According to the map it was a 3 mile walk away. It looked so small from the lookout point, but it was there. The day was starting to get late and I figured for sure we didn’t have time to go.
“At least we had a chance to see it, even though it is all the way over there.” I said.
“What?” S exclaimed, “I didn’t come all the way to this park to see this famous landmark from so faraway. We are going up there!”
“S! It’s about 100 degrees out… a 3 mile walk on exposed rock in the blazing sun in the middle of the day is not a good idea. What if we get half way up there and something happens? 3 miles is really far to walk up hill in the hot weather, plus we have been outside already for so long… we don’t have a lot of water left!” I protested.
“I don’t care. I’m going up there. I already came this far!” S exclaimed.
“What if we get sick?” I said.
“Do you think you’ll get sick?” he asked. I had been pounding waters all day, but it was really dry and hot, and I was paranoid and scared from my previous experience. They all knew the story, but they hadn’t seen the delicate mzungu in action.
“I’m a little worried.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” He said, “Let’s go.”
So we started hiking. Uphill. On the exposed rock. In the noontime heat. It didn’t take long until R and I looked like we were wilting. We passed other tourists coming down the hike, their faces red, but they all assured us it was worth the difficult hot hike up. When we got about halfway, there was a meek little cactus type tree that R and I tried to sit behind for a bit of shade. We shared a juice box, sweat beading up on our faces. S looked at us, and looked up the hill and I’m sure he started wondering if this was a good idea or not. By this time we had already made it half way so it didn’t seem to make sense to turn back, queasy sunstroke-y feeling or not. Because at this point I wasn’t feeling quite right.
We started out again into the strong sun, up the red rock hill, and after a few paces I was hit with nausea. I ran up to a cliff edge and promptly threw up a stomach full of water. R and S were surprised and P gently scolded, “If you weren’t feeling good you should have told us. Is it the sun? Do you need to get out of the sun?” But usually right after you vomit your body feels better, like it has rid itself of what was ailing it, and I genuinely felt recharged. S started apologizing for dragging us up the mountain, but I took a minute or two to catch my breath, wiped the sweat out of my eyes, and said, “Let’s go… we are almost there.”
As you climb up the rest of the way, the path at the top is obscured by a rock ledge, so you don’t realize the Arch is right there until you emerge from around the edge of it, and then bam, it’s right there… beautiful and unique and picturesque. It truly is a sight, and was definitely worth the hike… nausea or not.
When you first see the Arch you are on the opposite side of a rounded rock outcrop that has largely been eroded into a steep drop off. To get from the path to the Arch you have to carefully walk along the edge of the outcrop. S told R, P and I to run over to the other side and stand beneath the Delicate Arch while he took pictures.
After taking so much time to get up there, S wanted to make sure we got our money’s worth. So he snapped lots of pictures then called out for someone to run back over so he could be in a few pictures. P ran back to take control of the camera, and S came to pose. We took a breather in the shade, and then I started to walk back towards P on the rock ledge in the sun. He started walking towards me, his hand in his pocket, but at that moment I could feel the sun effecting me again, and a wave of queasiness made me rush by him to run back toward the shaded rock ledge close to where S was originally taking our picture. P called out and told me to wait, but I said, “I have to get out of the sun for a minute.”
He followed behind, and found me standing with my back to the shaded rock ledge, out of view of the Arch and S and R. He walked up to me and put a box in my hand and asked, “Will you be my life partner?” My head was still swimming a bit from the sun, so at first I was confused. P wasn’t one for big surprises like this. I opened it up and saw an engagement ring.
“I can’t believe you actually did this!” I exclaimed, “You had this hidden the whole time?”
“And my dad, did you ask my dad?”
“Yeah… I called him yesterday morning, from the IHOP in Vegas.”
“Did R and S know?”
“No, they didn’t. I’m glad S argued with you to get you to come up here… otherwise I’m not sure what I would have done.”
“How should we tell them?” I asked.
“I have an idea… ” he said, and took a picture of the ring on my finger with the camera.
So we emerged from the back of the ledge to find R and S still posing for pictures near the Arch. We walked over to them and P said, “Something interesting happened over there” and gave R and S the camera to look at. They scrolled through a few pictures of the Arch, and then saw the picture of the ring. R looked up with wide eyes and yelled, “Is that what I think??” and they both congratulated us, and took more pictures…
As we made our way down the trail S started joking, “We went up 1 engaged couple and came down 2!” and “Good thing P proposed, otherwise C would have been mad at me the rest of the trip for forcing her to hike up in the sun and making her sick!” and lastly, “How cute… the delicate mzungu got engaged at the Delicate Arch!”
We got about three-quarters of the way down the path when I started feeling woozy again, and moved off the path to vomit up more water, and after that I didn’t feel as good as the first time. S’s face turned serious and he volunteered to run the rest of the way back down to the car to grab an extra water (we had since run out on the hot hot hike up to the top). I insisted I could make it down, but I wanted to get out of the sun as soon as possible because the direct sunlight was making my head swim.
S caught back up to us as we were nearing the end of the trail and I drank a bit more water. We climbed into the car and headed to the park Visitor Center. I felt better out of the sun, but still wasn’t feeling 100%. In hindsight I think I was so scared about getting dehydrated that I actually over hydrated and that was what made me sick combined with the direct intense sun. Hopefully I never get shipwrecked on a desert island, I probably wouldn’t do so well.
I called a few of my family members before we left Moab and the cell connection died. My dad said that he thought P was going to propose at the Grand Canyon (“That’s where I would have done it…”) and that was why he was confused the day before when I called but had no news. Apparently P had called him when he left the table to “use the restroom” at the IHOP and said to my dad, “Um… I wanted to ask you for C’s hand” my dad probably didn’t know what P was talking about and said, “You want what?” so P (a little flustered, and already intimated) changed tactics and said, “I wanted to ask if it is okay if I ask C to marry me.” to which my dad said “Sure.”
I spent the next few hours before we reached Salt Lake City passed out in the back of the car, recovering from either over hydration, sunstroke, or some bizarre combination of both. Luckily I was good to go for Day 5.
So there’s the story. I don’t know too many people who throw up both on the way to getting engaged and on the way back (I promise I’m not always so “delicate” the sun was just not my friend in either story)… but it was a memorable experience and Arches will now always have a special place in my heart.