Kyle and Dylan scanned the darkness as the Mustang slowed to inch-by-inch progress. The high beam petering out a few feet off the road, engulfed in night––a hint of moonrise over the ridge only accentuating the lack of artificial lights. There was a good chance they had already passed the turn-off. Kyle squinted hard as a hint of tracks veered off the road. “Shit, I think that was––” the car shot into reverse across center-ridged divider as Kyle flailed for something to hold onto. He lurched forward as the brakes screeched in assertion of control over an engine seeking alpha. Holding the sides of his seat tightly he readied himself for lift off––Dylan was clearly set on reasserting himself in the most reckless way possible. Instead, there was an awkward clearing of the throat. “Sorry, I’m not used to putting this thing into reverse."
Dylan eased the Mustang onto unmarked track with excruciating slowness, as if expecting the worst––the sort of disintegration that had occurred after Beatty. The car’s grip on the road holding surprisingly firm as they skirted the edges of the ridge. Dylan gradually accelerated, trusting that the road would allow steady progress. After a quarter mile there was a significant rise, larger rocks and areas of erosion causing constant jitter. A sense of anticipation building with each successive bend. It was not simply the idea of reconnection with herb under a star-brushed sky. There was also the prospect of friendship unearthed at its most primal foundation––the reestablishing of connections submerged over time in a staccato of jobs, girlfriends, self-inflicted deadlines.
“What are we looking for again?”
“A boulder, some rocks….”
“I reckon. I forget.”
“We must be getting near––”
After a couple miles of free association, the track widened. The boulder, as advertised, was large and round. It looked as if it had been there for aeons––was too solidly set in place to be otherwise. Cutting the lights, Dylan was the first out. Kyle stopped him from charging ahead, “Let’s gather a few things out of the trunk. Some water and a sweater. If this is anything like the outback, it gets bloody cold.” They rummaged around, putting together a backpack full of essentials. “And let’s take it slow––there is only one car and a big vast fucking desert.” Letting his eyes adjust and registering that his advice had been accepted without rebuttal, Kyle probed the first line of rocks. Half a minute in, keeping the shadow of the car within view, his eyes adjusted fully and he came across three rocks balanced on a boulder. “Here, I think I found––shine a light.” Dylan came huffing in his direction, pointing a light from iPhone. In the absence of connectivity, the device was relegated to a flashlight.
About 10 feet past the stacked rocks, elevation started in earnest––the rock face sheer and high. At first glance there was no way up. “Do another sweep, slowly.” Kyle walked along the rock face, his shadow lengthening as the light shifted behind him, scanning for sign of a break. Nothing. A lizard emerged from somewhere, skittering down a crack and out of the light. Continuing for four or five paces, Kyle caught himself. Where exactly had the lizard come from? Could be from a ledge, a fissure, could be… backpedalling, he took a close at that section of the rock face, running his hand across grainy rock. There, obscured from vision, an unexpected gap––a pathway cut at a sharply oblique angle. “Shine a light…” Then they were within narrow crease, in near total darkness, a thin band of stars guiding them. A growing sense of claustrophobia––there was no room to turn, no way of escape. Steep, rudimentary stairs. Hands groping ahead, gaining elevation, yearning toward an expanse of stars anchored by incipient moon. There could be only one reason for this tortuously constructed crease, Kyle thought––the way to Cowachunga was designed to be hidden. He navigated the final set of stairs through sandstone and emerged as if through spiral staircase winding to the turret of a lighthouse. And then they were out, following a wide path through broad wash to a plateau, set against another, gentler rise. Dylan reached the top first and stood motionless for a moment before turning to Kyle, “Mate, you gotta see this.