This passage contains content that may not be suitable for all audiences. Read at your own risk.
I woke to eyes watching me. It was still dark, but there was a glow to the sky that was enough to see by. I unclipped my water bottle from my ridgeline and rinsed the staleness out of my mouth, but before I could do more than shift my legs out of my sleeping bag and sit up a little, the zipper on my bugnet was pulled open. He climbed in and joined me, the warmth from his body curling around my legs and staving off any shivers. I reached around him and drew the net closed again, and in the same motion, kissed him.
He melted into me.
When we came up for air, there was a soft smile on his face, and I felt one on mine as well. It was rare contentment and a haze of happiness.
"How far is Moab?"
"Six hours to Moab?" He tasted the time with his tongue. "What's the rush?"
"There isn't any."
"Camping there too?"
"Yeah. I have a reservation for a week starting tomorrow night."
"Yeah. I gave myself an extra day to get there. But it will be loud and crowded. Not much privacy."
"What are you going to do with the extra day?"
I stroked his face. "I was thinking about staying right here."
He kissed me again, and we let our hands wander.
The sun peeked over Swan Mountain in the late morning, and we ignored the glowing sky until my stomach grumbled. He scowled at me.
"If you're eating more of that slop, I'm going back to my hammock."
I smiled and fished a snack bar out of one of my pockets, waving it under his face.
He slapped it out of my hand, and it tumbled out of the hammock and down into the slack in my bugnet. "You've had that this whole time?"
"Supposed to be for emergencies only. I have a lot of the powder. I only have so many bars."
"Do you need me to fish that one out again, or do you have another one in your pocket?"
"What about your stomach?"
"If we're just going to stay here and lounge around all day, it will quiet down eventually."
His fingers dug into my sides and left me shaking, gasping. "You should probably keep your energy up."
"Don't do that again. I hate being tickled."
"Do you really? Or do you hate the side effects?"
"That's what I thought." He leaned over the hammock and fished out my snack bar, then handed it to me. "Eat up."
ate slowly because I
stayed full longer. Eventually, though, the bar was gone, the wrapping
was tucked away where it wouldn't become litter, and we descended from our hammocks and climbed further up the road.
The path southward was more worn, but we chose it anyway; northward would only lead us back to Frisco after a mere half mile of forest. South would go all the way to Breckenridge if we had the mind; I certainly didn't, my mind was on Arches.
We were alone, but we weren't. We received smiles and nods and the tipping of hats from people who passed us, either travelling faster than our lazy gait or going the other way, but they passed around a turn and were gone in a few minutes, and didn't try to make conversation or match our pace.
These were the strangers that I loved. If I were injured or struggling, they would stop. If I paused one to ask if they could call back home when they got to the bottom to say that I'm alright, they would take the number and pass on the message. We were all in this together, in the peace and the wild, without malice.
Arches was fairly commercialized, though not as badly as the Grand Canyon or, even worse, Four Corners. I would be surrounded by kids and parents who took deliberate steps to avoid the wild, either in their RVs at base camp, or their hotel back in Moab. Few would be tent-laden, and I would probably be the only hammock, especially given there was no-where to hang at basecamp. My compact stand was disassembled in the back of the car.
They were very live and let live too. If I... no, I'm not going to just think about it.
I bit my lip and glanced at him slyly, then started drifting off to the side of the trail. He followed, curious and eager, hand in mine. I pushed him against the nearest tree and kissed him, hard. I could hear the smiles and footsteps of passing hikers, but nobody catcalled or objected. I lifted his hands to my shoulders and unzipped his pants.
I just teased him, holding to a dangerous edge, but went no further. After a few minutes, I pulled away, and he scowled. I returned to the trail and continued walking, instead of waiting for him to straighten his clothing. If I had, I don't doubt he would have dragged me deeper off the trail and finished what I started; I would have done the same.
He had to jog a bit to catch up. "You are evil."
I grinned, and we kept walking.
The problem with walking a long straight path is there comes a point were you have to turn around. That moment found us seated on the ground off to one side of the path, a few trees and a little undergrowth away. I was steeping pine needles into tea, my miniature camping stove chugging away on a small patch of recently cleared dirt.
He watched me, dubious. For all his time on the road, this was a first.
"It tastes better with dried marigold, but I don't have any."
"I'll take your word for it."
I let the fire burn out while it finished steeping, and sieved out most of the needles. I picked up my pot gingerly, but the sidewalls were still cool to the touch, and sipped carefully. My eyes widened, and I passed him the pot.
"Don't touch the plate on the bottom. That's still hot. But it's not as fragile as it looks."
He took a careful sip, and then a larger one. "That's not the flavor I was expecting."
I smiled, and he passed it back. We traded swallows until it was gone, and then I cleaned out the pot and folded it back into my pack. Before I could stand, he hauled me back down to the ground and repeated to me what I did earlier.
I growled as he pulled away, grabbed onto his arms, and pinned one of his legs under mine, before bucking and rolling. I finished unfastening my pants, set my knees on his shoulders, and made him finish what he started.
We walked back slowly. He kept glancing at me furtively, on guard against further teasing.
I fixed a batch of powder for dinner, drinking it while leaning against the car, and brushed my teeth before retiring back to the hammocks.