Day 50 • April 20, 2012 • Grand Canyon to Cameron, AZ • 58 miles
Having lived in Phoenix more than ten years and traipsed through Cameron countless times on hang gliding trips, it’s surprising that my most vivid memory of Cameron prior to this trip was from when I was a kid about Zoe’s age. I was on a family vacation in the Plymouth station wagon pulling a Coleman pop-up camper. Somehow we wound up in an RV park in Cameron for the night. It was hot as an oven, dry as, well, an oven, and the wind was blowing like stink. I spent the entire night waiting for the camper to be toppled by the wind. We were spared that fate but I was pretty sleep-deprived by morning.
The next Cameron nightmare was hang gliding related. It was 1988 and Team Gator had just burst onto the cross-country hang gliding scene with a resounding yawn. We had the gliders, we had the truck and drivers, we had illusions of grandeur. It was only a matter of time before other pilots bowed to our greatness. On a flight approaching the Painted Desert, Rick and I were pulling together a big one until everyone—me, the driver, other pilots—lost sight of Rick. He was low and had flown up the Little Colorado river toward Cameron instead of taking a more easterly track like the rest of us. The last radio transmission from Rick was something like “I’m landing in a big dirt field with red cliffs all around.” Well, that described virtually every place in the painted desert, a very big place. I still had plenty of altitude and was well on my way toward awe-inspiring distances with Rick’s driver, Jan, and truck below me. It could have been concern for Rick or inability to simultaneously manage my flight and Rick’s retrieval but I soon found myself on the ground as well. Jan and I spent the remainder of the day and most of the night driving all over the Navajo reservation looking for some sign of Rick—alive or, as the night progressed we were fearing, hoping?, dead. By something like three in the morning we learned that Rick had landed with much fanfare among a sea of Navajo children, was taken in by a Navajo family who fed him and eventually drove him and his glider to Flagstaff where he hooked up with a local pilot and was at that moment snoozing peacefully in a comfy bed. Team Gator was making history but not quite the way we’d imagined. The accompanying picture shows Kurt and Rick with Biff the Wonder Roo in happier times. Driver Scotty looks on in disbelief.
Today we had no nightmares, just a stunningly beautiful descent into the painted desert, lit up by the setting sun. We met a French couple who was bike touring with a road atlas and helped them with some route information. Zoe had perhaps a bad dream when one of the Rock ‘em Sock’ ‘em thumb fighters she had acquired from a recent kid’s meal fell off the trike. We were pressed by the setting sun and didn’t have time to look for it. We met up with Rob in Cameron and pitched a tent in the same trailer park where our camper nearly toppled many years before. This night there was a light, cool breeze that made for peaceful sleep.