I published this short piece on my first blog, Dough, Dirt, & Dye on August 24, 2011, shortly before I met my brother for our third and as it turned out, final Little Grand Canyon 10k near Price, Utah. Our plans to drive together to meet friends in Wyoming afterwards fell through and we ended up heading further west, into Nevada, and hiking in Great Basin National Park. The photos here are from that trip – photos that were on my brother’s camera and only recently “discovered” by me. After hiking we took a dusty, skinny dirt road – Utah State Route 159 (which I also wrote about, here) – talking non-stop, listening to music, and admiring the starkly beautiful landscape before spending a night in Wendover, Nevada. I hold every moment of that trip as precious. That trip, those moments together, are fore in my mind today as I reflect on my brother’s passing two years ago today.
I keep thinking of him as just being on a trip. He was always somewhere else. Toronto, Chicago, hitchhiking to Alaska. So to me, right now, Mark is simply away. On the road. Doing a job somewhere on the other side of the globe. I’m waiting for the late night when I get a call. I’ll pick up the phone and hear the long-distance hum. It will be a collect call from Mark. He will speak first. “Hello, sweet. I love you.” And I will answer, “The charge is reversible.”
– from Pictures From A Trip, by Tim Rumsey
My mother gave me the book after she’d read it. It was around the same time that we were deep into Edward Abbey, especially Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang. With a little convincing we would’ve taken up chain saws to slay a few billboards and filled the gas tanks of a bulldozer or two with Karo syrup and sand. This book was completely different, yet with a shared spirit. It’s about a road trip; a certain time in one’s life – after college but before the weight of real responsibilities ties one to place and routine. The ending is given away in the prologue, but when you get to those last pages, it still hits you like a punch to the stomach. It’s a joyful, funny book and one of the saddest books I’ve ever read.
I’ve kept a copy of the book through my various wanderings and it’s yellowed around the edges. I recently reread it. It’s held up well. It meant something to me back when I first read it but it resonates with me now with a painful keenness. The narrator’s brother could be my brother as a young man: free, impulsive, vibrant, careless, funny and sensitive. The brother’s relationship to each other reminds me of a sisterly version of mine with my brother who over the years has been protector, role model, sounding board and confidante. When he moved to Utah for college I was heartbroken. When he got a job and excelled at it, I was proud. I envied the ease of his physicality, a natural athleticism I lacked. I always thought he was the handsomest guy I knew. In short, I adored (and adore) my oldest brother. His friendship, love, humor, orneriness, goodness and guidance, I cherish. As the eldest, he forged the rough path upon which his siblings walked with relative ease. His independence is his hallmark, his soft side an oft-hidden, unpolished jewel. Now he lives with something for which I possess no real understanding, though when alone with my thoughts, I try. I struggle to make sense of what is happening to him, but I lack the right experiences. I can only work with the rudimentary tools that I have. Nevertheless, I understand enough to balk at the the story’s ending.
In September we will meet in eastern Utah to run our third annual 10k together. It’s a quiet and peaceful race – we have long stretches of it to ourselves – that winds through Buckhorn Wash and terminates at the San Rafael River under a large tent. We walk – sometimes run – on the red dust, near petroglyphs scraped casually into the stone walls that guide the road and past thick stands of cottonwoods that choke the dry river bed. Ribbons of dusky color flow across the surface of skyscraper-high rocks and dark magenta stains drip towards the ground. Walking the dirt road, walking through and past eons. The sky blooms from pre-dawn black to robin’s egg blue. In bright morning sunshine, we will sprint downhill for the finish line at the river, collect our medals and feel good.
Afterwards we plan on extending our road trip together, heading north to Wyoming to spend a few days with two good people and a friendship born of bad news, tentative hope and empathy. I’m looking forward to being on the road with my brother, talking, listening to music and to seeing our friends. I know that my brother will be impatient for home – life has always moved at an accelerated speed for him, now especially so – and the Type A in me chafes at the time away from my home. But the sister in me pleads for more time with my brother, more miles on the road, more conversations and shared memories.