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.