Monday: following rapid tests and a jump-starting of the 5-6 bus (long story, for another time), we hit the road, following 40 west toward Utah. Students took off masks for the long ride, and were therefore able to look each other in the full face, as a group, for the first time in over a year. Surreal, and well-deserved. Lunched in Vernal on the soccer field of a deserted high school; arrived to County Rd 125 late afternoon. Van made it over the train tracks, but we couldn’t progress all the way to the trailhead without compromising integrity of the axels, so we established camp on a bluff midway to the river. Windy in the evening, though we all found comfortable nooks and enjoyed a group dinner of burritos. Slept well.

Tuesday: awoke at sporadic intervals, the group eventually finding its way to the top of the bluff for breakfast, discussion of plans, dispersal of meals, and advice for using the wide expanse of nature to one’s digestive advantage. Set out on trail by noon. Crossed two ridgelines and didn’t find the river where expected, so headed up to a third crest to overlook the greater expanse. Clear, calm and optimistic perspectives juxtaposed nicely with the terrain: dusty, dry, multi-colored, and ancient. We saw few signs of human existence in the surrounding miles; could hear the sounds of distant birds, gusts of wind. At the next crest, we again could not see the river, but had a good notion of where to find it in the valley below. Partners checked in on each other’s general health and water consumption, and we headed down into the unknown. Found the river at the last turn, and spirits raised as we began the actual trail adjacent. Conversation was light and cheerful, which helped to alleviate the weight of packs as we walked roughly in the direction of the afternoon sun. High cliffs and fields of loose shale dominated both sides of the canyon, which may well have looked the same millions of years ago. Made camp at the base of a sheer cliff around a horseshoe turn in the river. Dietze and Jed tried their hands at fly fishing, though the salt deposits on the banks suggested an alkaline tincture to the green water – or at least that explanation gave them a reasonable excuse for no bites. Good to throw some casts, in any case. Students made their own dinners. Built a campfire in dry wash under the cliff, and students explored the surrounding terrain. Attempted Jiffy-Pop over the fire, to some success.

Wednesday: following breakfast, we packed up to head back. Retracing yesterday’s route offered context on length and pacing. Stopped for a dip in the river where the trail ended; ate snacks to substitute for lunch; contemplated ancient geology. Made new accounts of individuals’ health; some moleskin was applied, though there were no major injuries, and hydration levels remained high. Everyone filled up at the river before the trek back to the first site. Low 60’s and plenty of sun during the final stretch; spirits remained high, too, and we made it back to the first bluff by 3:00. Following downtime, we debriefed with compliments offered, then agreed to delve a bit deeper into class dynamic around another campfire. More Jiffy-Pop experiments as the sun set, and we settled into thoughtful discourse. The wind died down as the discussion gained momentum; we addressed peer tensions, were candid with one another, and reestablished our larger collective perspective. Gaby offered needed and thoughtful insight from a relatively outside vantage point: that, as a whole, the students’ genuine care for one another is admirable, that they’ve progressed substantially since the fall, and that their general competency on trail – in decision making, care for each other, self-reliance – display the array of skills they have refined and that set them up for future success. I went to bed feeling refreshed and hopeful for the remaining weeks of the semester.