In our rental car driving late one night from Bryce Canyon to Moab, Utah, I sat in the darkness thinking of the beauty of the day I'd just lived. Earlier that morning my mom and I had run 13 miles down through Bryce Canyon in the Bryce Canyon Half Marathon. Hot and dry, we ran down a channel that water had carved from the canyon's top to the town lying in the valley at the bottom. The entire city was surrounded by tall stacks of orange rock outlined by the sun peaking over the tops of them.
After the race we caught a bus headed back to the start line, and walked the remaining distance, maybe a mile, back home to our motel room. By that point, it was almost afternoon, but wanting to make the most of every minute, we decided to squeeze in one more hike before we got on the road for good that evening. We packed up as fast as we could, with all the rest of our belongings thrown messily in the trunk of our dusty silver Hyundai Santa Fe rental. The hike itself was beautiful and we stayed there for the remainder of the day, playing in the rocks, taking pictures and tracing where other hikers had traveled before us. When it started getting darker we turned back towards the trailhead. I remember thinking on the walk back, how much I was looking forward to sleeping while my mom drove the next three or so hours to Moab.
I tried to close my eyes that drive, but as we traveled further away from the faint lights of the last small town, the light from the stars began to keep me awake. At one point they grew so bright I could see the outlines of the canyons surrounding us across at the other end of the valley. My head still pressed against the glass of the window; I heard the audible rush of the wind outside the car roaring around us. Aside from some animal whose silhouette crossed the road far ahead, we were the only living things in sight. Going 80 down the freeway, it felt like we were flying.
My mom, at some point during the drive, asked me if I’d like to play some music, seeing that I was still awake. Unsure of what would fit the mood or time of day, I just hit shuffle on some disco music, and softly beaming out of the speakers sang the band Chic, followed by some KC & the Sunshine Band and Donna Summer. We each took turns dialing up the music, song by song, until it was suddenly blaring out of the speakers. My mom opened the sunroof so I rolled down the windows. Then for the rest of the drive, as were cutting our way out of the last stretches of the canyons, we were singing every word together. I do not even remember arriving in the next city, but my mom and I both remember every moment of that drive together. That night kicked us both off on a new chapter in our relationship as best friends and adults.
I did not realize it at the time, but I would come to savor that night and the relationship with my mom it left me with. The carefree events of the day encapsulated what had been the theme of my entire life and childhood prior and served as a wonderful conclusion to that chapter of my life. When we got home from that trip everything would soon be different. What I did not know that night was that my Gran would die just a few months later of a cancer that we, at that time did not even know she had. Her death would send both my mom and me into a series of emotional hardships that, while we could not have survived without each other, still led me to transfer schools in the middle of a semester. I was also inspired by that trip to stick with distance running and the peace it gave me. My mother is still my best friend.
In my life now, I still think daily about the blessings I received from my time in the canyons. When I hear disco music, I am reminded of how the person who I was when I entered the canyons trail was not the same one who left them. Concealed in darkness across hundreds of miles of the most beautiful part of America, I thank that section of Utah for that serendipitous moment and the joy, freedom and friendship it brought me. The place gave me a joy I knew would be waiting for me again. In hindsight of it all, the blessing from God given to us in the canyons gave my mom and me the gift of each other and still gives me a moment to root into when I feel disconnected from the important parts of everything else.