At what point does a walk become a hike? C. and I often ponder this when we find ourselves on a dirt path or crossing a parking lot. We’ve decided it requires a bit of an incline and enough time to demand a granola bar.

We have interesting discussions when we wander into nature. If dehydration became life-threatening, would you rather drink your own urine or someone else’s? The car was still in sight when this question came up. Or if starvation was on the table, would you rather eat your own finger or a stranger’s? This inspired some lively debate. On the one hand, we know where we’ve been and what we’re made of, but God only knows the ingredients of a stranger. Then again, consuming oneself has an ouroboros quality that feels demonic.

A few years ago, our friends dragged us on a hike through a New Hampshire forest, and they moved with terrifying urgency. We sat down at the first scenic viewpoint and let them continue crashing through the trees so they could exorcise their ghosts and satisfy whatever hunger was pushing them onwards.

But now that we’re in the desert, we want to engage with the scenery beyond the windshield. So we drove ten minutes to Red Rock Canyon and suddenly we found ourselves hiking. We leapt across creeks, shimmied up ledges, and at one point, we clung to the sheer face of an action-movie boulder over a canyon that plunged into the center of the earth. I can’t believe the government allows its citizens to risk their lives like this.

Vista of Vegas from the Calico Tanks

At first, I hated everything about it, this scrabbling across the rocks like an animal. Everyone else wore grippy shoes and backpacks stuffed with equipment I couldn’t even guess at, and as I scrambled after C., who was weirdly talented at hopping from rock to rock, I was convinced I was about to become a local news item. When we finally reached the summit, we were rewarded with a view of Vegas that reinforced my theory that this city is a mirage. Then I needed to sit down as a bout of vertigo took hold.

On the way back down, I moved more confidently. That sheer drop into the center of the earth was actually only four or five feet, and I felt surprisingly good and accomplished. Like I’d satisfied a hunger I never knew I had.