The Man Who Walked Through Time
I owe my thanks for my book Deep Trouble to three books that I scoured for details about the Grand Canyon. (Read on to find out how to get a chance to get into Deep Trouble….or at least win a copy of it. )
Those books that helped me are mentioned in my dedication page. But the one I wanted to talk about today is The Man Who Walked Through Time.
Colin Fletcher is to many the spiritual godfather of the wilderness backpacking movement. He struck out into the wilderness compulsively for years. And never did he find a greater wilderness to back pack through then when he became the first man to hike the length, south to north, of the Grand Canyon. He went on his journey in 1963. It took him two months. And it provided a description of the Grand Canyon in a way it had never been presented before.
The writing he did is part travelogue, and part spiritual journey. In The Man Who Walked Through Time, he talks about leaving civilization behind as if he strips it all away and reverts to a more primitive time as he walks deeper and deeper into the wilderness.
Well, there aren’t many wildernesses deeper than the Grand Canyon. I found this book invaluable because it was one man’s opinion. One man’s reaction to the canyon, told in first person. Reading it gave me details that I couldn’t find anywhere else, but it also gave me a lot of freedom because I realized as I read that Colin Fletcher’s experience was completely personal and my characters could respond personally, too.
He talked about a mountain goat materializing out of the fog. He talked about small horse hoofprints and the legend that miniature horses could be found in the canyon. He talked about abandoned villages and terrible heat and thirst. The utter aloneness. A simple blister that he feared might end his journey.
Fletcher was really knowledgeable about backpacking and survival in the wilderness. he prepared carefully for his trip, there was nothing spur of the moment about it. He arranged to have packs of food dropped at two different spots because he knew he couldn’t carry enough to make the whole journey. The book is considered one of the 100 greatest adventure books of all time.
Here is a scene in Deep Trouble that I wrote, inspired by a personal reaction of Fletchers to the vast canyon and the lure of it, at the same time he knew the risk he was taking by starting on his journey.
More time elapsed as they stood, five in a row, their horses behind them. They breathed in the extravagant splendor, the impossible depth and breadth of what lay before them.
Finally the vastness of it forced Shannon to speak, thought it felt like sacrilege. “How can we ever find anything down there?”
“There’s nothing to find, Shannon.” Gabe, on her right, reached over and took her hand. “Surely you can see that this is a wild place. Too rugged. Who would go down there? There’s no city to be found. And who would build a city of gold in there. Gold would be a pale insult in the midst of that.”
She heard pity in his voice. That broke through what was a blissful moment. She had to almost physically tear her eyes away from the depths and rock sculptures, the layers of color, reds, browns, grays, whites, blues. Impossibly majestic.
“You have to give it up, Shannon.” His words weren’t so much bossy as they were a plea to her. She remembered his arms around her. Remembered how close they’d come to being married.
“If I was one of those bishops, looking for a place to hide and protect sacred objects,” she looked back at the terrifying wildness, the staggering beauty, “I would know the moment I saw this canyon, that I’d found the perfect place.”
Gabe shook his head. “I see no trail. This can’t be where your father’s map leads.”
“Give me a few more minutes to look at that…” Her hand swept wide to encompass what lay before them. “Then I’ll find the place where we can descend.”
He nodded but didn’t speak. He clearly doubted her but she could see that he would stick. He had committed to this search, although with that snippy notion that he was on a fool’s errand and his main job would be to dry her tears. He had no hope of finding what Shannon knew her father had discovered. It hurt that he doubted her. But along with the hurt was pleasure that he was willing to help. She thought of her father. Her thoughts were too much with him, she knew. Her mother had so many times begged Shannon to let go of Delmer Dysart’s obsession and get on with a more conventional life.
It was right now, as they stood on the edge of eternity that she finally truly saw why she was out here.
She’d been rejected by her father all her life. Coming in a poor second to his work.
At the sight of this Grand Canyon, she felt that maybe her father had picked something worthy over his daughter.
If his work had meaning—if it had profound historical value—then maybe it was all right that he’d had no time for her. As she looked down into the canyon she understood how a person could become obsessed with something this magnificent to the detriment of his wife and child.
And somehow that didn’t comfort her one bit.
She had to admit that she’d come in second to a wonderful thing, but nothing should be more wonderful than love, than a child. However worthy this effort, she was still unimportant in his eyes.
She almost told Gabe they could go. There was nothing for her to prove anymore. She finally grasped the truth and it was a terrible thing.
But she didn’t say the words that would set her on a path to a calm, peaceful life in St. Louis.
And not because of her father or treasure or pride. She stayed silent because the canyon called to her.
“I want to go down there.” She turned to Gabe. “Don’t you? How can you not want to descend into that wild land.” And while she became part of this canyon, she would do her best, whether she found a city of gold or not, to let go of her last questions about her father and his poor love.
“Get your map out.” Gabe drew in a deep breath as if he could absorb that view into his lungs. “Let’s see if we can find a way down.”
Shannon looked at him, grateful for his generous willingness to go and was surprised to see a smile. “You’re looking forward to it. You want to go down there.”
“I find that I do indeed.” Gabe smiled
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