It’s fitting, then, that the landscape here is mostly arid, dusty red rocks. Because, for me, vacationing here — in a place where getting out and getting fit is the whole idea — is like vacationing on Mars. That’s true right down to the gear. For this trip, I have spent $300 on otherworldly, plasticky clothing with multiple zippers and detachable legs and vents for air circulation. I’ve also invested in a backpack that holds water, which you suck out from a hose like a scuba diver breathing from an oxygen tank.
I’m still adjusting to these weird accoutrements the morning after my arrival at Red Mountain, when I head out with a small group of men for what is described as “an invigorating three-hour hike.” We walk right alongside a small waterfall, then down into canyons and up and down red-sand-covered hills. It’s beautiful. Life affirming, even. But I don’t know about “invigorating.” I’m built for scaling barstools, yes, but not for hiking for hours. On every uphill climb, I’m panting. Embarrassingly so. I’m also out of sorts without a map or marked trail. As we top a hill halfway through, our guide, a fireplug of a man named John, points out the rest of our planned path. “We’re going to follow the ridgeline over there, all the way back down to the reservoir where we started,” he says. I have no idea what he’s pointing at. Actually, I don’t even know what a “ridgeline” is. So I pull out my phone and Google the word. That doesn’t help.
I have other issues as well. And they come to light as the sun goes down in the desert. Red Mountain’s new “mancation” offerings, which I’ve come here to sample, include the hiking and the canyoneering and some kayaking and even some local beer tasting. That’s all very appealing guy stuff — but it’s also physically demanding. So the resort has customized spa treatments for their active mancationers. That’s a challenge for me. Despite my propensity for primping, I’ve never been much of a spa guy, mostly because I prefer being clothed in front of strangers. But I try the Man on the Run treatment anyway. For this, I am rubbed all over with mud, wrapped in foil and hot towels like a burrito, then bathed clean.
The promised benefit is to “reduce adiposity in the abdominals.” I also have to Google “adiposity.” Roughly defined, it means “fat.” And, unfortunately, I can make out my adiposity a whole lot better than I could make out the ridgeline of that mountain. Because of this, I seriously consider offering my spa therapist $300 and a water-filled backpack if she’ll conduct the treatment with her eyes closed. In the end, I just shut my own and hope the tiny towel at my waist stays in place.
The next afternoon out in the canyons, my adiposity is the last thing on my mind. Our guide today is Chad — a muscular, tanned, wind-whipped fellow who might want to consider life-coaching as a second career. He’s using a blend of positive affirmation and gentle mockery to motivate us. “Take a deep breath and go fast, and you’ll make it up that wall,” he’ll say. “Then, you can go back to the spa and get a pretty manicure.”
This works. Chad has successfully convinced me to do things that I would have thought to be nearly impossible for me. Things like prop my feet on one canyon wall, then fall face-first toward another wall, several feet away. At the last second, I catch myself with my hands, then scoot crablike across the divide between the two walls. Such maneuvers are the only way to climb through these canyons without breaking your ankles, or worse.
Chad delivers helpful, lifesaving advice at our first rappelling stop with nonchalance, like a waiter warning you that a plate is hot. This is simultaneously reassuring and frightening: Either this rappelling stuff is no big deal, or we’re already doomed and Chad knows it. I’m not really sure which until I stop at the top of the canyon. Chad is chatting with one of the other mancationers as I start to step backward. He’s not even looking in my direction. But he is connected to the same orange rope that’s my lifeline, and he feels me slacken the rope at the very moment it should tighten up as I step off the edge. “Lean back, man,” Chad says. “You got this. Just step right off.”