Vince is my best friend from college. After our graduation we both went to grad school, Vince to Indiana and me to Seattle. Since then he’s lived in Texas, Arizona and Washington. Despite all that distance between us, he and I manage I go backpacking once or twice every year. Mags usually comes too and Vince’s wife Kylee joins us as often as she can.
In August 2009 we hiked through Death Hollow, a tributary to the Escalante River in south-central Utah. Death Hollow is a slot canyon, meaning that the walls are too steep to climb out in most places, and it has a good size stream (huge by desert standards) flowing through it. There is no trail so instead of fighting your way through the tamarisk and willows, you just walk in the stream where you can, and swim where you can’t. Over the years, we’ve perfected a method for keeping our equipment dry. We pack everything we want to keep dry in river bags then slide the river bags into our packs. When we come to a deep pool we just take off our packs, throw them in the water and swim behind them. Our packs get soaked but our equipment stays dry. No matter how much I do this I am amazed every time how what feels like such a heavy burden on my back can stay afloat in the water. I always hesitate for a moment before throwing it in the pool, but our packs float every time. In fact, they float so well that Mags prefers using hers as a raft more than swimming behind it.
Like most desert streams, the water in Death Hollow is muddy, like coffee with double cream. Walking downstream the way we were, we couldn’t see where we were stepping. We were walking single file with me in front in water was about ankle deep. We were probably talking about Andy Skurka, whom we had med that spring on a trip in Hackberry Canyon when I stepped into a hole. This was no normal hole. Mags says she watched me completely disappear under the water. I never felt the bottom. Fortunately my buoyant backpack brought me to the surface, but unfortunately it was forcing me facedown into the water. Thinking quickly, I unfastened my hip belt and tried to wriggle out of my pack, but my sternum strap was still fastened. Quick thoughts are not always wise thoughts and the result was that my pack floated higher and pushed me deeper into the water. My sternum strap slid from my chest up to my neck and I struggled to breathe and flailed wildly to keep my head above water.
Without hesitation Vince dropped his backpack and jumped into the pool. Mags says that he also disappeared under the water. When he came up he pushed me and my pack closer to the edge where Mags was able to help me get my pack off and then pull us both out of the water. It was over as fast as it started and we all sat on the bank catching our breath and wondering just how close I had come to drowning.
In hindsight, jumping in after me was probably not the smartest thing Vince could have done. It's possible that I could have become so panicked that I drowned him and me both. Instead he might have been able to pull me in from the bank. But we'll never know, and that is not what this story is about anyway. Vince jumped in without hesitation. Without any thought for his own safety. He didn’t take time to analyze all of the possibilities.
In a few days I’m going to become a father. Want proof? Check out this photo of Vince, me and a visibly pregnant Mags backpacking in the Grand Gulch two months ago—Vince and I carried all of her gear. Throughout Margaret’s entire pregnancy I’ve been telling people that I’m feeling a mixture of equal parts joy and terror. Undoubtedly my life well never be the same, but how much of it will change? How far will those changes reach? Another friend says I'm terrified because I care. I want to be a good dad and I tend to be overly analytical in my decision making. My analysis and tedious preparation are just another form of hesitation. Maybe Vince is on to something. Maybe when it comes to being a dad I just need to just drop my pack and jump into the pool without hesitation.