It was on the flight back from our 5-day trip to Utah that I cracked “Living Abroad in China” from Moon Guides. The Utah trip was a pricey birthday present for my adventurous girlfriend, the kind of woman who would have looked confused and possibly cheated if presented with one of those long, thin jewelry boxes that make TV models fling their arms around their fake husbands. Instead, we had just left Zion Canyon, where we spent sub-zero nights camped on the unspeakably beautiful West Rim, cross-country skiing in dry Western powder and burning through gas canisters to keep the hot chocolate flowing.

Camping on snow at -5 degrees Fahrenheit does some of the same things to your relationship that it does to your body, jarring it with the cold reality of survival. Lacey and I had 18 months of relating under our belts, Chilly morning tent on Zion Canyon's West Rim.but on that first cold morning our frosty demons crawled right out of our sleeping bags with us, Lacey needing coffee that our gas canister wasn’t up to (frozen, forgot to sleep with it), and me ignoring my body’s rumbles for blood sugar while I tried to get the water pump working (also frozen, slept with it unsuccessfully). Most of all we needed the sense of physical security that our malfunctioning equipment and bodies were denying us.

In under 20 minutes we went through a full-cycle argument: mounting expressions of discomfort and anxiety, tentative “friendly” suggestions, snappy retorts, bitter replies, the subject of turning back before our trip was finished, and finally, alternating haughty trips to the “bathroom,” an 8-inch hole dug under the snow 30 cold steps from our tent. Finally, we got a newer gas canister working. With its comforting hiss our good humor gradually reasserted itself: the demons warmed up and crawled back into hiding, leaving us grinning, foolishly, as we stood facing each other and sipping warm drinks in the sun behind our tent.

Our decision to stay out on the rim was rewarded with one of the most gorgeous days I have ever seen, all sunshine and snow and red canyon walls descending in every direction. Our conversations that day covered two basic topics, how lucky we were and how you had to ski over here quick to see this new view that might actually be more jaw-dropping than the one we just left. Sunny day on Zion's West Rim.It ended with hot cocoa and brandy and a noisy game of cookpot Yahtzee, after which we fell asleep to a little inter-sleeping-bag snuggling (think Marshmallow Man and Michelin Woman trying to get cozy as they doze off).

Two days later, flying back to Philadelphia, Lacey thumbed through her worn (and long overdue) library copy of Lonely Planet Guatemala, while I began the early chapters of “Living Abroad in China.” Our plan is to spend August-December 2007 volunteering in Guatemala, return for the holidays, and then head back out to China in January 2008, where we hope to earn a living teaching English. I will stay in China at least through the Olympics, while Lacey may need to leave earlier to begin grad school. The whole plan doesn’t quite seem real. But while the guidebooks are a start, our grins on that first cold morning on Zion’s West Rim might just be the key to our survival.

Check out more Zion photos!

Next post: A series of descriptions and links to volunteer opportunities in Guatamela, with registered users getting to “vote” via comments on which opportunities sound the most interesting and mutually rewarding!

14 thoughts on “Snow Demons and Big Plans: Utah, Guatemala and China

  • January 24, 2007 at 11:00 am
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    hey ethan! nice site. question: if thirty is the new twenty, then what is twenty? the old twenty? the new thirty? i personally think thirty is the new fifty, but that’s just me. i’ll check back to follow your travels . . . have fun.
    love,
    jess

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  • January 24, 2007 at 12:11 pm
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    Sounds lovely. I think I was busy taking cabs that weekend. How I wish for a girlfriend with the “adventerous spirit” that Ethan speaks of in Lacey. And some money. Damn. Look out for a visit from me in Guatemala or China. Maybe I can find money and an adventerous girlfriend in either of those places?

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  • January 24, 2007 at 1:30 pm
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    Good to hear from you, Jess! I think twenty must be the new eighteen. Leaving us twelve youthful, carefree adult years to play around in. Wait, what have I been doing this whole time?

    Josh, if you come visit I will guarantee the adventurous girlfriends. Not so much the money.

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  • January 24, 2007 at 1:40 pm
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    I love the blog, Ethan — especially the part about the adventuresome girlfriend. That’s just how I like to picture you both, marshmallow man, michelon woman. I’m saving up for a visit somewhere near you next year.

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  • January 24, 2007 at 3:58 pm
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    Hi Ethan,
    Wow, I know a blogger personally now- Demie leaps into the 21st century! I’m very interested in the possibilities of a blog and really look forward to your observations on the world, and next year on Guatemala and China!- also more good pictures!
    Love, Ma

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  • January 24, 2007 at 5:25 pm
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    The site looks lovely! This “adventurous” girlfriend thanks you for not going too much into that desperate first morning or the mountain lion hysteria (we saw prints…pouncing prints!). I’m glad you started here in Zion with a foot of snow and our string of “lucky” days.

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  • January 24, 2007 at 5:53 pm
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    Great idea Ethan! I can’t wait to track your adventures around the globe. Post pictures and don’t forget the little people u left behind when you become famous. You’ve inspired me to do something fulfilling and crazy. Way to go pal.

    Amir

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  • January 25, 2007 at 1:25 am
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    Ethan,
    I am very excited to read and participate in this blog. I wish I had at least kept a journal when I lived in Lebanon. And I’m glad I get to hear about Guatemala and China from you! Good luck with the Inquirer, you may try The Daily News because it is more of the “peoples paper” if you know what i mean. Or ooh you could be the Metro corespondent. Anyway, I am proud of you for taking such a risk like this. Its really awesome.

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  • January 26, 2007 at 7:40 am
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    Hi Ethan, so good to get back in touch, thanks for the invite to your blog, flash site and the pics of Zion in winter look fab, Im feeling cheated I visited there in the stinking heat! Best part is the honest script, keep writing and making me feel jealous over here in London. My vivd memory of Guatemala – a gentle wave to people as I drove through the hillside and they waved and whistled back with pure glee. A great welcome. All the best with the travels!

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  • January 27, 2007 at 2:36 pm
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    Put me on the guest lists in G and C, with accomodations fit for the avuncular. You may get so many visitors that you’ll think you never left home!

    Your writing is a pleasure to read.

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  • January 28, 2007 at 9:48 pm
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    Looking forward to reading your blogs E! Hello Birchards! Hope all is well.

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  • January 29, 2007 at 6:30 pm
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    Thanks for the support, everyone! Good to hear from old friends and young-at-heart family. Knowing that you guys are reading will make it a lot more fun to keep writing. Stay tuned!

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  • February 2, 2007 at 3:29 pm
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    shoulda kept the beard, but we all stumble at times. lord, yes we do. nice photos of zion, looks cold.

    noah

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  • February 19, 2007 at 3:32 pm
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    Great design and blog entries! thanks for giving the rest of us the opportunity to armchair travel.– Babette Jenny

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