What happened in Vegas can stay there
The sign on the airplane seat read: “Las Vegas, 310 days of sunshine a year.”As an editor at Rock and Ice magazine, I’d been asked months ago to make this trip to an annual climbers’ gathering, with instruction and a trade fair. The Red Rock Rendezvous fell smack between another work trip and a family trip – but it’s always easy to say yes to things that are months away. Attending would be good for work. Vegas would be warm. I would wear shorts, and desert winds would blow my hair. I hoped to climb a bit.Vegas for a weekend: It had a jazzy ring.I packed tent, sleeping bag, Thermarest, dishes, clothing, headlamp, rope, harness, hardware: 50 pounds’ worth. I asked to borrow an EZ Up, a portable 10-by-10 tent canopy on a metal frame, to protect our display table from sun or possibly a passing rainstorm. I expected a parcel maybe the size of a tent.The cylinder was six feet long and 60 pounds. Stooping, I dragged it across the parking lot at the Grand Junction airport, my “mule bag” duffle over the other arm, and backpack on my back, periodically stopping to try not to keel over.In Vegas, I wrestled my bags off the luggage belt and across the terminal, and pushed and pulled them through the car-rental line, then out the door and across six lanes of curbs, taxis and limos to the shuttle stop. I heaved them, in installments, up the shuttle’s steps, then dropped into a seat and a briefly comatose state. In watery sunshine, I labored across the tarmac to my rental car, where I sat for slack-jawed moments before turning the key.At the host ranch, at Red Rocks, 20 miles outside of Vegas, I dragged the EZ-Up across a gravel lot and down a stone stairway, then, with help, set it up and tied guy lines to small boulders.I plopped into a chair: The fun could start. But thin gray clouds raced over the sky; a freshening wind kicked up red dust. I hurried back to my car to dig out fleece and a raincoat as the first drops hit. I was to introduce Jeremy Collins, an climber-illustrator who would create a painting that night on stage. Whipping winds blew my notes sideways, except for the damp words under my finger pads. Jeremy leapt up and painted furiously to the sounds of Moby, struggling to see the wet canvas under reflected stage lights. By the time the featured slide show came on, the crowd had thinned to clusters huddled under heat lamps (one lamp blew down, flames trailing), with many massed beneath a main tent. I was now wearing nearly every item of clothing I’d brought.It was drizzling the next morning at 7 a.m. when the climbing-clinic instructors, expressionless, headed off for their gigs. After lunch, the rain abated. We all dared to hope.I was in the buffet line at dinner when the first splats hit. More heat lamps blew down. The evening headliners soldiered on, speaking as cascades corkscrewed off the stage awning. The light bank crashed down.At midnight, the winds gathered into mighty, shrieking gusts. Those camped in the upper field cowered sleepless as flapping tents bowed down to slap our heads. Meanwhile, down at the fairgrounds, 500 feet away, over a dozen straining EZ-Ups began to launch. The hapless few camped there ran around saving what they could, dodging flying posters, magazines and tables. One giant tent vanished completely into the black tumult. By morning, metal frames protruded from a nearby Dumpster like dinosaur ribs, white and bright and broken.I was still wearing all the clothes I’d brought, and the wool thug cap I hadn’t taken off since Friday night.Vegas! The sun finally broke through as, the picture of glamour, I lugged my broken canopy home.Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com
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