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The sun is creating very dark, short shadows as we travel south and then southeast on Red Rock Canyon’s Pine Creek trail. I turn when Jodi commands, huffing and puffing as she glides effortlessly along the route. The trail looped back on itself as it hugged the canyon and then turned southward where, by staying to the right, we transitioned onto Knoll. After more turns than I have kept track of I become convinced that without Jodi as a guide someone in the distant somewhen might have found my bleached bones somewhere along Arnight, Knoll or Oak Creek Canyon trails.

“This is great, isn’t it?” she asks, turning back to me as we come to a particularly lovely vista.

“It is,” I agree, breathing hard and nodding. “Do you know what the elevation is here?”

“No, sorry. We can look it up. Vegas is like two-thousand feet.”

“Is that all?” I reply, shaking my head. “Guess we can’t blame my labored breathing on thin air, can we?”

“You’re doing great, John. Thank you so much for coming. You’re the best,” she adds as she turns to me and raises her head for a kiss.

“Thanks,” I reply after a lingering kiss. “For both. And you’re a bad liar.”

Jodi shakes her head and we hike another half-hour on Knoll until Oak Creek Canyon trail intersects our travels. At Jodi’s urging we turned left, heading north-east until we arrived at the North Oak Creek visitors center where we refilled our water bottles. I sat on a bench for at least sixty seconds before Jodi declared, “Rise and shine! We got a deadline!” and has us head north by north-west on the Arnight which brings us back to Knoll/Pine Creek where, after again hugging the canyon, we retraced our steps. I glance at my watch, 4:04 and my heart twinges. Eileen’s birthday was 04/04.

“These shadows of ours are gettin’ purty long, compadre,” I drawl. “Are we gonna be back at the ranch afore sundown?”

“No se, amigo,” she replies, “but we’ll be back before it gets dark. We’ve got until five or so before it gets really dark. Plus it’s a full moon tonight. Look,” she says, hooking her thumb to the east, “She’s already shining big and bright. We’ll be okay. Unless the coyotes get us,” she added, howling a forlorn yowl.

We hike onward and Jodi has us zig-zag around a figure eight before we t-into Pine Creek, our shadows now twice as long as we are tall. “This is the trail we started on, isn’t it?” I asked after we’d snaked along the canyon.

“Yep,” Jodi said. “We pretty much did a square. Or maybe a triangle with a squiggly string? Know where you are?”

“With you, oh great guide? Nope. Other than knowing to follow Pine Creek back to the car. Without you or this sign that tells me the way back I’d be completely lost. Reminds me of a bike ride I did with Eileen way back in our BC days.”

“BC?” Jodi asked. “And I assume Eileen is a flame from the past?”

“Eileen was my wife. She died about two years ago. Killed in a car crash. And ‘BC’ was our term for before children,” I answer as the tiny men’s and women’s glorified outhouses appear in the distance to our right.

“Oh, John. I’m sorry. That must have been terrible.”

“It was,” I say very quietly. “Joe’s a widower too. It’s rough. Hey!” I add, “Race you to the end!” I declare, not waiting for a reply before sprinting the final two-hundred yards to the parking lot.