Water in the Desert by Ashley Manning

Water in the Desert by Ashley Manning

I open my eyes after what felt like a lifetime of silence and solace to a desert view complete with twenty story tall red and sandstone walls. It’s still dark out, but the sky is no longer black but a nice light hue that hangs over the canyon that we are comfortably tucked away in. My feet are cool in the sand and my muscles tell me, “Stretch, please, stretch!” 

My Lunar Solo shelter flaps in the slight breeze behind me. 

The water in my bottle sloshes as I tilt it up to take a swig from my bottle. The liquid hits my dry lips and coats my dehydrated throat for the first time since last night. 

I’ve been up for about half an hour and I can hear Caro stirring. 

My eyes scan the campsite to see if any of the other backpackers are coming to life yet. 


Just me, my co-staff, and the canyon are awake. 

Campers getting out of their tents

Caro unfolds out of their tent and walks to me. They give me a quiet good morning and I smell the wild on them. There’s something about the bond of outdoor professionals, we quickly became friends on our first trip out here into this crack in the Earth. I’m happy to say that we’re easy to pick up where we left off. This makes for a good bond for our guests, they need to see that–how easy it is for us to be out here and to be together. Although, none of them seem to be struggling too much. 

We have our plan in place on where we were going that day and I was excited. The river had run dry, so I had a bit of water fear. We are to hike to our next campsite, drop some equipment, then to the river destination and then back to our basecamp. There’s no part of a beginner’s backpacking course that should be about pushing heavy miles. 

Hot take, I know. 

However, I think that our clientele should be taught how to do certain things before diving headfirst into big mile days. Personally, I don’t even like cranking out miles like that. I much prefer to saunter. 

Hikers walking down a trail

I see the first of our guests begin to move around in their tent and before long the next few start to crawl out of their Six Moon Designs tents. It was most likely due to Caro and I speaking. Even though we whispered and spoke softly, the cavern we were camped under carried sounds and echoed about like a theater. We begin the process of breakfast and make conversations. The conversation turns into questions and we take a lot of this as a learning opportunity to teach some of the girls about different aspects of backcountry and wilderness. One of our lessons that morning was over pooping in the woods and the many different ways to do it and then how to ensure you’re clean afterwards. The next lesson was over water filtration, although there wasn’t much water to filter. 

We begin our walk.

Deeper into the canyon we went, the walls rising ever so quietly above us. 

I have to remind myself that this is real at times. Not only am I overwhelmed by the beauty and glory of this chasm but by the fact that Caro and I were really on this trip. This was a body positive specific backpacking trip. I must’ve looked pretty goofy if you were to catch me smiling like I was. There wasn’t a lot of support when I first began backpacking and there surely wasn’t an entire trip built around loving yourself as you are. It’s a lesson I had to learn while I was deep, deep in the wilderness. 

The chances that Caro found me and then invited me to help run not one but three body positive beginner backpacking trips were so slim… 

But the trail provides. 

Caro owned a company called The Desert Song that ran for a few years until they decided to move on. However, when that was part of my reality, it was delightful. Just like a river in a desert. 

Which, again, was our ultimate destination. 

Hikers relaxing in a creek

That day we hiked to the river was a long and rough day. Again, we had beginners with us. Most of them came from more humid climates and I don’t think they anticipated how mouth-wateringly dry it was going to be in Utah. Hell, I even knew how bad it was going to be and I was having a difficult time. There was also the issue of my GI track being out of control, a classic trail experience. At one point our only source of water was a small, brown pond that was difficult to get to. There was so much silt that it broke one of our client’s water filters, but they had water. That was important. 

When we did make it to the river, it felt like God himself had blessed us with it. I smacked my lips as I readied my water filter to begin pouring into my water bottles. Honestly? If there weren’t so many new backpackers, I might have just opened my mouth and drank straight from the river. 

Ahley standing by a creek

I sat in the cool water and filtered into my container as quickly as I could. 

Down, an entire bottle of water.

I filter again.

Down, a second bottle of water. 

Hmm. I don’t think I did well at hydrating today. I think to myself. 

Obviously, as I lay in the river. 

My co-staff joins me in the water and so do our clients, aka our new friends. We giggle and laugh and splash in the water. It’s moments like these that make everything else fall to the wayside. There’s no care in the world at this moment except for us and the water. It feels like falling in love or winning a prize, all the pleasant feelings in the world combined. They run up your spine and throughout your sand and dirt covered body, down to your fingertips and toes. In these moments I could live forever. I crave moments like these and that is why I do what I do: Encourage and educate people on how to get outside.

That is why I’m thankful for Caro for doing the same. 

Skyscape Trekker pitched on sand using rocks


Several of the clients that we took backpacking in Escalante have driven further into their outdoor passions. They have found themselves in the wild more often than me, at times. I am so proud of them and cannot hide the happiness in my heart. The important part of these backpacking classes and trips is to instill confidence and show people that the outdoors is experienced by finding your own way to feel those magical feelings.

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