“I know it’s a longshot, but I’m wondering if there might be a camping spot at Bright Angel at the end of June,” I ask the nice park ranger.
She looks at me. I look at her. She smiles.
“Not a longshot at all,” she says. “Nobody wants to camp there once I tell them it’s 140 degrees.” She watches me intently, waiting to bask in the expression of horror sure to sweep across my face.
“That sounds great!” I exclaim. “Afternoon in the creek,” Mo adds.
We work nights. We go out for our jaunts each day at 11 a.m. We are students of knowing how hot it is as we walk out without having to check the temps. 105, I will guess. 110 easy, Mo says. I am skeptical till I step into the sun. 110 indeed.
140? Just another day in phx. Maybe we’ll have to tote a sweater down, but that’s negligible weight.
The ranger seems vaguely disappointed at our enthusiasm, but grudgingly gives us the permit, a bittersweet escape to a place a day earlier we had no idea we’d be.
So now we’re at SCC at 11 a.m., doing the big loop. It’s an open-the-oven-door kind of day. We make the big dirt-road loop and come around to the track’s Secret Door. Longtime readers will recall they have closed the track forever, but the little gate next to the restrooms has been open for a couple of days. We saw it because we were hiking past it. But how do other people discover this? The track is an odd place.
We ask the groundskeeper guy for the 100th time if it’s OK. He tells us for the 100th time it’s the “schizo” security guys who close it and it’s our damn track and we should call someone and ask why we’re paying taxes for stuff they don’t let us use and hell yes we can use the track. I think I know who’s accidentally leaving this gate next to his shed unlocked.
We step onto the little oval where the temperature is a few degrees cooler because the heat doesn’t reflect. An oasis. And there they are.
Three guys. Serious Guys.
The first one flies by us, a blur. He has calves that would make Mild Sauce blush. He’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt with a nondescript Cardinals logo. He’s clutching a football. NFL guys? Would pros work out here? Don’t they have their own joint?
He’s with two other guys. One has huge dreads on top that he covers with a cap when he runs. He’s also in long sleeves. Did I mention it’s 140? The third is shirtless with long pants, revealing a body that would appear to be worth $2 million a year or whatever average NFL players make these days.
They’re engaged in some sort of playful torture. They run 400 relays, then 100s, then a fartlek sort of game where one runner takes the lead and the others catch him, then another takes the lead, etc. The shirtless guy is clearly the fastest, running with the grace and power of a sprinter who hasn’t even bothered to kick into the fast gear. The other guys hang on for their lives. It’s good TV.
The guy in the white shirt ends a blurry lap right next to us. Too hot to be that fast, I tell him, and pat him on the back. The good thing about being old is that you can pat guys on the back. The bad thing is he’s very sweaty. He just smiles. He doesn’t ease up on his vice grip on the football.
But here’s the thing. They have brought their kids. They’re maybe 6, 8, 10 years old. A pack of them are playing some sort of baseball game on the “Stay off the grass” field. Baseball? Traitors. There’s a big wagon with water gallons in it parked on Lane 9. They will run over now and then for a drink, then back on the field. It’s the pro athlete version of a picnic, I guess.
We finish our 2 miles and walk off, envisioning where we would be if we were on the South Kaibab. Hiding under a scrawny tree for shade, I imagine.
I remember for the millionth time why I love this track. It’s a community, a place for people who love nothing more than 400 meters of heaven, even when the thermometer says hell. All speeds, all ages, no judgments. I’m glad it’s open again, even if it’s only till Someone Important finds out.
I hope the groundskeeper guy doesn’t get fired. And I hope the guy in the white Cardinals shirt never lets go of that football. Always hold on to your dreams …