5/22 - Spending a Night in the Desert with a Stranger for an Impromptu Photo Op While in an Alternative State of Mind.
I left the phoenix area around 11am saying goodbye to Troy, Katrina, Anne, and Mya. I was still a bit drained from the prior day’s jaunt up Echo Canyon in the 100-degree heat, so my goal was to reach the Grand Canyon and take some night photography without too much exertion.
I noticed a few people with some nice 500mm lenses pointed towards part of the cliff face and saw a rare endangered condor nested there. A then saw a fellow solo traveler and photographer also taking in the sights. I was simply looking for hiking and/or photo spot recommendations so I said “Hi.”…and that one friendly outward interaction opened the door to the following 16-hour encounter that felt like another world.
As a preamble, this night was by far the most positive, creatively interesting night that I’ve spent with someone I’ve never met before. I decided to trust them for no other reason than to let life guide the way and maybe glean some food for thought.
The traveler’s name is Talor (Taylor without the "Y"), and she hails from Vermont. A former OCIS officer of the Air force (think NCIS and Law & Order SVU combined), she is now a veteran and a manager of social media influencers. Alongside being a fantastic photographer, Talor is preparing to begin her PHD study of neo-liberal economic trends impacting third world economies (the stuff I dig a lot in economics and business). Atop of all of this, 2 months ago, her husband’s years of infidelities were revealed to her through extortion efforts by one of his multiple lovers. This prompted her to take a spur of the moment 5-month cross-country trek across the United States.
I learned these pieces of her life throughout the remainder of that day and the following morning. And now I will recount the 16-hour encounter that followed this happenstance of adventure.
4:00pm (Hour 1)
6:00pm (Hour 2)
As we headed back to my car parked at the bridge, we discussed more of where we had traveled so far on our journeys. She had been traveling the opposite direction as I had, so she was headed for some of my stops as she continued north towards Canada.
She was lucky enough to witness a blood moon at the White Sands Monument in New Mexico. She passingly mentioned how she really would have liked to trip while the red moon soaked into the glittering sands, but doing so alone in a desert isn’t a smart idea or as fun without someone else. I said that would be a great experience to share with someone. We laughed about at first, then decided that’s what we we’re going to do; Alter our minds in the desert with a stranger while taking photos. We hopped in our cars and headed north as we knew that was where we both were originally headed, we decided we would figure out a plan for that evening along the way.
8:00pm (Hour 4)
10:00pm (Hour 6)
The photographs we took were amazing, especially when our altered states actually made the stars dance and trail visually in the sky and also on our camera screens. We nerded out over passionate technical and academic topics as the night continued (her undergrad was sociology, part of mine in psychology). We grabbed more blankets and relocated my vehicle closer, continuing to share our pasts, as we both are open and talkative people.
12:00am (Hour 8)
She mentioned she only has 6 CDs in her car to listen to on her 5-month journey (as she left without much preparation), and began listing them off. One artists she prefaced as “someone I likely hadn’t heard before”. It was Damian Rice. He’s one of the artists I discovered during a low point in my life and helped me through it. I've been in love with his raw acoustic music and the incredibe power of his emotional voice.
I had to laugh at her mention of him and got up to grab my guitar. I proceeded to play 9 Crimes and Blower’s Daughter on my acoustic guitar. Trying to whisper sing as quietly as possible in order to not disturb the people around us in the near pitch black while in a non-sober state of mind was more difficult than I anticipated, but fun none the less.
1:00am (Hour 9)
We continued to exchange stories. I learned about her article 15 administrative reprimand in the air force (Preventing her from ever receiving another promotion). Because she come forward with a group of women about being assaulted by a male officer and he denied it, her military career had ended. Sadly he didn’t stop those actions towards women and was shot and killed while assaulting another woman years later in self-defense…a sort of satisfying vindication for Talor after being denied justice so harshly.
We discovered that both of us experience Synthesesia; a condition where sound triggers additional senses, in our case it takes the form of light across our visual field. That was the first time encountering someone else with this condition. Her Synthesesia manifests as angular and sharp images in relation to any jolting or continuous sound (like a water drip or a door being slammed) making it hard to ignore, whereas mine are fuzzy like visual static and I can usually ignore it.
2:00am (Hour 10)
Our conversations continued, and around 2am, bright headlights swept across the lakeside and blinded our eyes. A couple pick-up trucks were off-roading up the side of the canyon about a ½ mile from the campsite. At first we were confused and couldn’t believe people were being so rude as their high beams and engine revving were very prominent in the otherwise quiet night scene. They did this on and off, cresting the canyon ridge for over an hour, it got really annoying.
3:00am (Hour 11)
4:00am (Hour 12)
We continued to chat and laughed at the whole situation of spending an evening with a complete stranger in the desert and the trust we put into life to guide the way (I’m sure she could have kicked my ass with her military background). The happenstance of seeing someone on a bridge, choosing to say hello, and the metamorphosis into a night of enjoying each other’s company and nature was so coincidental it seemed ironic.
She used the word serendipitous when describing the whole situation, as her grandpa Pat Patterson had a sailboat by that same name. Serendipity is one of my favorite words along with “sonder”. I hadn’t heard another person use that word in conversation before and I have been keeping that word in my head for writing a song someday…It may be a sign that Its ready to be used...
One of the last notable conversations we had involved laughing over how I would try to describe this night to anyone else. Being a romantic at heart, “of course I would find a chick who I didn’t sleep with but still managed to spend a night in the desert with under the milky way taking photos, nerding out, and cuddling on a blow up mattress in the back of a hatchback.” Our mind altering had peaked around midnight so we were descending the stairs of overstimulation. Our conversation waned and we peacefully passed out around 4:30am for maybe 30 minutes of sleep.
5:00am (Hour 13)
We realized our bodies were in serious need of sustenance and that we should probably take a photo of the sunrise (hanging out with a fellow photographer is dangerous for slacking off in these parts of the country). So we got ready to face the chilly desert morning, packed up our cars, and headed for the entrance to grab a few photos on our way out.
6:00am (Hour 14)
8:00am (Hour 16 - The Final Hour)
Shortly after 8am our journey concluded. Talor had to find a way to sleep enough to go on her all day hike to Rainbow Arch and I needed to get the Grand Canyon portion of my trip underway. We exchanged multiple forms of contact info and both left knowing we would remain a special type of acquaintance in each other’s memories. That serendipitous encounter added to a small chapter to my journey and I’m happy that it all happened the way it did.
After we said our goodbyes, I returned to Denny’s for another few hours as my body, soul, and mental capacity replenished thanks to the free coffee refills (I was able to show my receipt and continue to receive refills from my earlier breakfast, I gave the first server and then the 2nd who replaced her a nice tip for my being there). I probably consumed 2 pots of coffee.
While in Denny's I wrote down most of the outline for this blog post, finished my post about Zion, and edited a bunch of photos. All the while I considered the encounter of coincidences I had just undertaken and recognized that it was a highlight for my trip in the sense of living life in a new way. It was simply and wonderfully platonic. Taylor and I coming together as travelers sharing our stories and exchanging life in a way I’ve never experienced before with a stranger. By the end I sensed an almost familial bond similar to what I share with my sister and close friends in life. This incredibly refreshing moment is one of the many staples repairing my faith in humanity.
Around 12:30pm I exited Denny’s and proceeded to take a 30-minute nap in my car in the hot desert sun. I couldn’t manage to sleep anymore due to the heat but I felt fairly alert considering the lack of sleep so I headed towards the Grand Canyon. Though now I would only get to spend ½ a day seeing the South Rim instead of the 2 full days I had originally allocated, I felt like the trade-off had been more than worth it. =)
I will leave you with the words of a song that touched my soul as soon as I heard it. I have found it to be more and more true as life passes by:
"Its not a matter of time, its not a matter of timing." ~ Motion City Soundtrack: Timelines