As SOFLETE’s Moab retreat approached, I was prepping both mentally and physically for all the fun things that I wanted to do and all the amazing sights I wanted everyone attending to experience. In short, I was stoked about shredding the gnar and sharing the stoke. And though everyone’s specific roles and responsibilities were not set prior to the trip, I did have a loose understanding of what would be expected of me. Like any mission, specifics would change slightly once we had “boots on the ground,” so I wasn’t particularly stressed or letting my OCD get the best of me. Since I knew I would be charged with guiding the backcountry camping portion of the event, I focused on that. I picked a place that I had been before and was familiar enough with to provide options to participants. But in a move that I thought at the time was selfish, I picked a location that would ensure I would still be able to do all of my “fun stuff.”
What I wouldn’t realize until sitting down to actually write this piece is how I wasn’t being selfish in picking a place that suited me. In fact, sharing a place that was very special to me and activities that fill my soul with others was an act of selflessness.
While the location isn’t a secret per se, it is a nice little nook of land, off the beaten path where you can lose yourself and find yourself all at the same time. And I think, in at least a small way, we all did.
If you’ve seen any pictures or videos of the Moab area in the “Adventure” section of your local YouTube or Instagram library, you’ve probably beared witness to the wonder and grandeur of Southern Utah. The views and beauty are just like the possibilities: endless. And the best part about it is that you don’t have to go very far to get your own personal fill of this incredible region.
However, if you have the time and know where you’re going (or have a well-versed personal guide like myself), you can easily get to a place where the only other person you will see is your reflection of the Green or Colorado River and can camp on the edge of a five-hundred-foot cliff with fully unobstructed views of both sunrise and sunset. Welcome to your own little slice of heaven.
I chose to take the crew to an area about forty minutes north and west of Moab proper called Mineral Bottom. Located off of Utah Highway 313 and Mineral Bottom Road is a section of land that was carved out eons ago by what is now known as the Green River. It’s quiet, peaceful, incredibly picturesque, and gives you tons of area to explore and enjoy. While hiking out to the first camping location option, I was sure to caution everyone to look where they were going, as cliffs appear out of nowhere and can cause obvious problems if you’re not paying attention.
It was only about three minutes into the hike when I heard, “WHOAH, look at this!” and I glanced over to see someone had found exactly what I was talking about. Peering over a four-hundred-foot cliff at the Green River below, the rest of the group converged to admire the sight. I acknowledged the view with a short, “Yep, there ya go,” allowed everyone a moment to enjoy the view and prompted the crew to continue on with a promise that there was more where that came from.
The spot that I had chosen as the first campsite option was a slightly sunken depression of flat rock and sand mix surrounded on three sides by large swaths of red sandstone with one side open, looking north towards the Green River. As I walked around and pointed at prospective spots for tents and campfire, the excitement in the collected voices grew. It was almost like Christmas morning or the first look at the perfect dream home.
Exclamations of “Woah! Look at this!,”“Here’s my spot!”, and “DIBS!” were abundant. I was eager to get the site setup, as sunlight is limited this time of year and I had a time- and light-dependent photo project in mind that I had been working on for quite some time. Camp went up pretty quick as everyone was excited to explore the area as much as possible and claim their spot on the canyon rim to watch the sunset. I grabbed my gear and headed out to one of the more choice spots for sunset watching as well. It also happened to be a great spot to take a long walk off a short cliff.
As I began to don my gear, I was reminded how my sort of activities are not exactly commonplace and that being able to watch them live and up close can be quite visceral. As I walked towards the edge of the cliff, I could almost feel everyone’s hearts beating harder and their breath being held. Keeping things light, I gave them all a big smile and told them to be careful walking back to camp and off I stepped. The jump went well, obviously. It felt good to be back in the air and in such a special and familiar place.
I had another rig packed and ready to go. By this point, it was pitch black (with a little help from the now rising moon), so I decided to give it another go with a wearable LED setup that I would wear for the photo project (think stick figure man of LEDs). I’m sure there was a lot of head scratching and second guessing going around (hell, I even I was wondering what I was doing). At the exit point, the only light was from the glow of my “suit.” The darkness had fully consumed us by this point.
It was pretty bright when I was standing on the red rocks. But once I stepped off, the proverbial lights went out. I knew it would happen, my night vision would be wrecked by the lit up foreground of the lights I was wearing, consequently making everything else around me an abyss of anthracite air that I was accelerating through. While I had just jumped from the same cliff a half-hour before and dozens of times in the past, it was one of the most uncomfortable moments I had put myself in in quite some time. I pitched my pilot chute and in an instant, go-go-gadget parachute. The chaos of the previous moment was over and I was now calmly cruising through the air towards my landing destination (I had placed a few LED beacons on the ground to provide me with some depth perception for a better landing). I gathered up my gear as well as my wits and headed back to the campsite. There were a few high fives and even more inquiry as to “how it went” and “what I was feeling,” but honestly I don’t remember my answers. Probably because I didn’t really have any. I was still processing.
I eventually shifted the conversation to the rest of the group, who they were, what they did, and what they enjoy doing. This is when the storytelling, the commonalities, and the laughter starting happening. Relationships and community were forming before our eyes.
I asked about everyones’ experiences with SOFLETE and with the SOFLETE events, what they were enjoying thus far, and what they think they would like to see more of. Listening to their answers, the common theme seemed to revolve around the shared experiences with others in unforgettable locations. The adventurous and challenging activities is what attracted most people to the event but it was the connection to the people and the land that everyone seemed to enjoy the most.
The conversation made me reflect on my own experiences, adventures, and travels. Of all the places I’ve been and all the cool, fun things that I’ve done, it wasn’t the “thing” or activity that kept me daydreaming months later. It was the feeling, the emotion, and the connection to the place and the people that would fuel my intrinsic motivation to return or explore more.
I decided to wake up the next morning for a quick BASE jump before continuing with the day’s activities. As late as we stayed up the night before, I was pretty surprised that everyone was moving around so early and efficiently. I got breakfast sorted out for everyone and the stove was busy boiling water for morning coffee. I made the decision that I would leave camp set up for the day, as the rest of the crew would be coming out for another fireside night under the Southern Utah stars. Once all the bellies were full and energy levels were topped off by some bean- charged caffeine, we set out for the day. Some chose to mountain bike, some chose to do a bit of meditation, some tried their luck a bit on climbing, and others even opted to choose their own adventure.
That there is no shortage of options is one of the things I love most about this area. And whichever activity you choose, it’s nearly impossible for it to “suck.” I had a few event responsibilities to uphold throughout the day before meeting back up at the campsite. I cracked the whip a bit on everyone to make sure we got back with at least an hour of daylight left, as I had a little spice that I wanted to add to everyone’s canyon rim sunset views. So once they were settled, I drove the truck down to a small airstrip alongside the Green River, laid out my wing, primed my paramotor, grabbed the throttle, and pinned it to win it.
A paramotor is essentially a 2-stroke backpack motor/fan combo that you use to fly around under a paraglider wing. Some people call it a “butt-fan.” Regardless of what you call it, I’m a big fan of the butt-fan. I climbed up off the canyon floor and while everyone else was glued to the canyon rim watching the sun retire, I was enjoying a completely unobstructed, three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of the show that mother nature was putting on. I had the best seat in the house, albeit a bit noisy. As the sun set behind the horizon, I set my feet back on the ground and packed things up to get the fire and dinner started for what turned out to be some pretty happy campers. The conversation continued as it had the evening before as we learned a bit more about each other and continued to build the community of inherently different but still like-minded, like-hearted adventurers of life.
As the mountain biking, climbing, yoga, meditation, and cliff-jumping silliness continued throughout the rest of the weekend, I kept this notion in mind as I conversed with the rest of the crew. And as I sit here, weeks later finalizing my thoughts, it is the same things that have me looking forward to and planning my next adventure to Moab and several other places: the connection to the outdoors and the people we choose to share them with. It is this connection that takes an ordinary, superficial activity and transforms it into a visceral, lasting, cathartic experience.
While none of this is necessarily meant to get you fired up or interested in SOFLETE events, it is meant to share my awareness and acknowledgement of these happenings and experiences and to challenge you to do the same. Be in the moment and reflect often. Take these moments, thoughts, and feelings with you throughout your life and build upon them. And finally, share them with others and enjoy the compounded, positive effect they have on you and the experience itself.
Zach Carbo is a former member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and a sponsored SOFLETE athlete, living life to the beat of his own drummer in the PNW. Follow him on Instagram: @zachcarbo