I was sitting atop the Waterpocket Fold, high above the lonely promontories of Tarantula Mesa, thinking about Einstein. I also was thinking about the luminescent shade of orange that varnishes Utah at sundown and about my hiking companion's delicate emotional state and about whether I might be developing an immunity to the active ingredients in Red Bull. But most of all I was musing over the wild-haired physicist's theory of time dilation--the little gem of relativity that postulates how time actually slows down when you near the speed of light. Up there, as the moonscape flushed with color, I could almost perceive the seconds warping and stretching. It was not the kind of thing I would've tried to explain to the Canyonlands ranger who would later pull me over for speeding, but it felt real nonetheless.
Let me slow down for a minute. This trip was hatched--like so many great adventures--late one night with a baby and a bottle on one knee, a road atlas on the other. The idea sounded so elegant, so enthralling in that den of sleep deprivation. Visit 7 national parks in 7 days--and camp in the backcountry in each of them. The ultimate backpacker's road trip! Rent a convertible, pay the damage waiver, load up the iPod and a pack, and hit the open road. In that moment of inspiration, with Similac dripping onto my thigh, I could not fully get my head around how relentlessly this crusade might play out. Surely someone would have to pay for my shortsighted enthusiasm.