Healing Time in Canyonlands

Rick Gunn/For the Appeal Ethereal rock formations reign over the landscape on the Queen's Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park on July 17.

Rick Gunn/For the Appeal Ethereal rock formations reign over the landscape on the Queen's Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park on July 17.

Editor's note: Rick Gunn, former Nevada Appeal photographer, is on a two-year bicycle journey around the world raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Updates and photos will be published in the Appeal throughout his trip. To donate go to www.wish.org.

My arrival in the Southwest was a rough.

Stunned by the one-two punch of heat and lack of sleep, I had pedaled for days operating from some back corridor of the reptilian brain.

Negotiating the spaces between empty bullets and beer bottles on the roadside, I was just short of Vegas.

That's when I clipped a construction cone and was launched airborne into oncoming traffic.

In the moment before the white-hot sensation of pain reached my gray matter, I watched the smooth flow of my elbow tip scrape against the asphalt like a flesh-colored Crayon.

Next I surrendered two measurable chunks of flesh from my leg, a shift lever and a sizable portion of my ego. Ouch.

I picked my scattered heap from the pavement, glared at the construction cone.

I cursed its mother, then its mother's mother. In fact I think I cursed the entire ancestry of construction cones before relinquishing my verbal assault, then made my way to pay phone.

After dialing, a familiar voice came over the line, "Brotherman?, is that you?" It was

close friend, and Las Vegas Review Journal photographer K.M. Cannon.

"Yes, its me," I replied, "I'm a mess, come get me."

I spent two days healing with the brotherman, then two more days pedaling to the western gateway of the Canyonlands - Zion National Park.

I set up camp in triple-digit heat, then set off hurriedly along the twisting banks of the Virgin River.

I came to large pool of measurable size and width, was filled by flowing white braids of water. I climbed atop a huge car-sized hunk of Navajo sandstone, stripped to my shorts, and dove in.

For the entirety of an afternoon I did nothing more than submerge and resubmerge into a million, or perhaps billions, of gleaming bubbles. When I was done, I climbed back on my rock and laid on my back, rivulets of water streaming from my body.

I tilted my head back and took in the spectacular blue sky and swirling canyon walls above me - this was abundance.

Several days later I had nearly cycled into the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park when I noticed a campsite awash in a sea of bicycles. I pulled in to take a closer look.

That's when I met Rodrigo Yanno.

Rodrigo was a free spirit with a ready smile; one of 25 John's Hopkins University students cycling from Baltimore to San Francisco.

The Hopkins 4K Ride, as it's known formally, raises funds, awareness and hope for the American Cancer Society.

These were my kinda people. Rodrigo and I hit it off immediately. I spent the evening with the group, hiking amongst the ethereal hoodoos along the Queen's Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon.

Later that night I cornered Rodrigo and asked him what inspired him to do the ride. A somber wave seem to pass through his body.

"I'm dedicating this ride to the memory of my godmother, who died of cancer last year."

I was humbled. Here was another cyclist, raising money for a good cause and dedicating his ride to a lost loved one. Yes. From the little I knew about the man, I like to think that Rodrigo had learned an important lesson about the preciousness, the power of the present moment and acting toward the greater good.

The sun came quickly the next morning, and they filed away on their bikes, I waved goodbye.

I finished my tour of the canyonlands through the haunting sandstone formations of Escalante, Capitol Reef National Park and Arches National Park, accumulating a wealth of spiritual power emanating from these sacred places.

One of the last nights in Moab, I was overlooking a formation of redrock, when I peered down to see the skin healing on my knee.

Suddenly there was a connection. It was time.

My mind raced back to the voice of a driver on a shuttle bus ride in Zion Nation Park.

He said, "The rocks you see here are the remnants of 3,000-foot sand dunes that were carved over 14 million years ago." Fourteen million years!

I looked at my family of hominids riding the bus with me. No one seemed to care. Wasn't it profoundly startling to know how little time man has walked upon this Earth.

My attention then turned to toward an illustration about man's extreme recentness to the planet in the book "Basin and Range" by John McPhee. In it McPhee asks his readers to stretch out there arms to their fullest extent.

This length, from fingertip to fingertip would represent the age of the earth. Comparatively, McPhee emphasizes, all of human history occupies the tip of a fingernail, and could be eradicated "in a single stroke with a medium grain nail file."

I narrowed my thought to to length of a human lifetime - 650,000 hours. A ridiculously short amount of time in the scheme of things.

On the last few moments of that bus ride, a realization prompted a smile. I was half-way done with this life. If all went right, I had 325,000 hours to live, learn, and most importantly, love well.

Where in the world is Rick Gunn?

Where: Canyonlands (Zion-Bryce-Escalante-Capitol Reef-Moab)

Mileage log: 1,252

Elevation: 1,200-4,500 feet

Date: July15-21

"Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on its way to becoming you. We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death...(that) we are all re-incarnations, though short-lived ones. When we die, our atoms will disassemble and move off to find new uses elsewhere, as part of a leaf, or a human being, or a drop of dew."

- Bill Bryson


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