It was on the flight back from our 5-day trip to Utah that I cracked “Living Abroad in China” from Moon Guides. The Utah trip was a pricey birthday present for my adventurous girlfriend, the kind of woman who would have looked confused and possibly cheated if presented with one of those long, thin jewelry boxes that make TV models fling their arms around their fake husbands. Instead, we had just left Zion Canyon, where we spent sub-zero nights camped on the unspeakably beautiful West Rim, cross-country skiing in dry Western powder and burning through gas canisters to keep the hot chocolate flowing.
Camping on snow at -5 degrees Fahrenheit does some of the same things to your relationship that it does to your body, jarring it with the cold reality of survival. Lacey and I had 18 months of relating under our belts, but on that first cold morning our frosty demons crawled right out of our sleeping bags with us, Lacey needing coffee that our gas canister wasn’t up to (frozen, forgot to sleep with it), and me ignoring my body’s rumbles for blood sugar while I tried to get the water pump working (also frozen, slept with it unsuccessfully). Most of all we needed the sense of physical security that our malfunctioning equipment and bodies were denying us.
In under 20 minutes we went through a full-cycle argument: mounting expressions of discomfort and anxiety, tentative “friendly” suggestions, snappy retorts, bitter replies, the subject of turning back before our trip was finished, and finally, alternating haughty trips to the “bathroom,” an 8-inch hole dug under the snow 30 cold steps from our tent. Finally, we got a newer gas canister working. With its comforting hiss our good humor gradually reasserted itself: the demons warmed up and crawled back into hiding, leaving us grinning, foolishly, as we stood facing each other and sipping warm drinks in the sun behind our tent.
Our decision to stay out on the rim was rewarded with one of the most gorgeous days I have ever seen, all sunshine and snow and red canyon walls descending in every direction. Our conversations that day covered two basic topics, how lucky we were and how you had to ski over here quick to see this new view that might actually be more jaw-dropping than the one we just left. It ended with hot cocoa and brandy and a noisy game of cookpot Yahtzee, after which we fell asleep to a little inter-sleeping-bag snuggling (think Marshmallow Man and Michelin Woman trying to get cozy as they doze off).
Two days later, flying back to Philadelphia, Lacey thumbed through her worn (and long overdue) library copy of Lonely Planet Guatemala, while I began the early chapters of “Living Abroad in China.” Our plan is to spend August-December 2007 volunteering in Guatemala, return for the holidays, and then head back out to China in January 2008, where we hope to earn a living teaching English. I will stay in China at least through the Olympics, while Lacey may need to leave earlier to begin grad school. The whole plan doesn’t quite seem real. But while the guidebooks are a start, our grins on that first cold morning on Zion’s West Rim might just be the key to our survival.
Check out more Zion photos!
Next post: A series of descriptions and links to volunteer opportunities in Guatamela, with registered users getting to “vote” via comments on which opportunities sound the most interesting and mutually rewarding!