Captain’s Log. Denver, CO. November 18th, 2017
First, the ship’s crew: Captain Jimmy Nelson, the son of a Virginia dentist, formerly a teacher, currently a drifter— Captain Ally Hyatt, the belle of Encinitas, his wife and the family’s breadwinner, a science teacher and manic-depressive intellectual— Captain Sawyer Huff, a bombastic Minnesotan, plenty to say and nothing to show for it, unemployed— Captain Caitlin Sullivan, his partner and source of income, a San Franciscan dog mother and upwardly mobile design manager— and Captain Hyatt’s dog, Sasha, an frightened dachshund with the habit of ramming her penile body between Hyatt’s legs to dull the world’s roar. The captains were sailing from Denver to California in Captain Nelson’s skiff to air themselves out before the hellfire of their destination: Thanksgiving in Southern California.
And so, the log begins with the crew stocking up the ship at Trader Joe’s. Captain Hyatt had been stricken with scurvy from curry and overwork, and walked the earth in a sick fog; Captains Nelson and Huff were full of verve for what was ahead; Captain Sullivan, ever pragmatic, was planning what to buy and what medicines Captain Hyatt would require for a swift recovery. Liquor, food, vaporizers having been purchased, the crew set off through the Rocky Mountains to Moab.
The journey passed quickly— conversation flowed, Captain Nelson’s smooth piloting rocketed the ship through the snowy mountains. In Glenwood Springs, after eating turkey sandwiches dressed with stolen mayo packets, Captain Huff took the wheel. He steered them through the plains outside the back range, through an explosive sunset over Grand Junction, through to destiny, the darkness of Utah and the end of America.
On the road to Moab, the ship came to a dead halt without warning. The crew predicted that a head-on collision had blocked the highway. Anxious to move, captains ate hummus and stared into tail lights while the minutes dragged on. The message eventually trickled through the parked ships that six were injured and one dead in the pileup, and the helicopter needed was an hour away. Captain Huff, following Captain Hyatt’s earlier advice, turned the ship around and drove onto a narrow side road that wove through sandy cliffs. She was a steep, pebbly monster. By chance, other ships were going around the wreckage, so Nelson’s skiff was not alone in piercing the rocky Mormon night. After some forty minutes of maneuvering, they returned to the highway, wretched death and stinky road behind them.
The crew’s first Bnb was a crisp little apartment outside town, strewn with handmade soaps and paintings for sale. After deliberation, they decided to dine at Zax Restaurant, at which they partook of a voluptuous feast of pizza and beer. Captain Huff went back for several rounds of the inexpensive and delicious salad bar, which featured cottage cheese and bacon bits. Back at the apartment, they drank and vaped themselves to sleep.
Moab, UT. Nov 19th
The crew woke to Moab’s stark grandeur. Captain Huff rose in the wee hours of the morning and reconnoitered the property while Captain Hyatt expelled the wrath of Zax from her quivering bowels. Captain Sullivan was slow to rise. Captain Nelson, having found the ship’s elevation the previous day with complex formulas and highest erudition, chose this morning to theorize upon the origins and nature of man. Over eggs, the captains concluded that the human world was born out of Moab’s cosmic vagina.
After eggs, Captain Huff drove the ship into the howling church of Arches National Park. Driving slowly, the captains beheld the sands of ancient time frozen a thousand feet in the air in the diminishing shadows of the late morning. The crew stopped to poke their heads through arch-holes, attempting to be born, slimy and gasping, into new dimensions.
Foiled in this attempt, the captains still fondled the ineffable. Relations between the ship dog and Captain Huff remained poor. To foster trust, Huff offered to carry the dog out of an arch, but was met with a squealing scuttle-bark. Captains lunched on sweet Mormon beer and chicken, after which Captain Hyatt took over the ship and began the long drive through Navajo Nation.
The ship sailed through the tumultuous seas of southeastern Utah; the captains entertained each other with music and tales of familial woe. Captain Hyatt’s right glute began to smart, which she blamed on Captain Nelson’s driver’s seat, who defended the seat with futile valor. Passing through Blanding, the crew contemplated #rescindbearears, a group of local white rubes trying to wrest a national monument back from the federal government. The rubes’ arguments were strong; among other things, they claimed that the establishment of a national park was unneeded because they already “checked on” Bear Ears themselves.
Captain Sullivan later took over, steering the ship directly into the setting sun. At this point, Captain Huff consumed a THC gummy and became increasingly paranoid. Captain Sullivan stopped at a Shell gas station in impoverished Kayenta, Navajo Nation, where other cars cut her off in three attempts pull up to gas pumps. After she got the ship in front of a pump, Captain Sullivan argued with Captain Huff about who would step out of the car; Huff, in a state of mounting terror, did not feel inclined to assist Sullivan, but gave in. He got out to refuel and tried to look confident. High and sorry and frightened, Captain Huff had a vision of pilgrims taking chieftains to Imax theaters and outlet malls until they agreed to sign perplexing treaties, which stripped them of their property. Captain Huff considered removing the gas pump from the ship and placing it into his mouth. Tank full, the crew sped away into the night.
Captain Huff determined they should learn more about the tribe in whose land they found themselves. Their search for a podcast didn’t go very well; captains switched off a sprawling episode of Native Opinion after twelve minutes. As it turned out, the world of NPR think pieces and podcasts did not often engage with American Indian issues. The crew arrived at the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel, where they were forced to switch rooms due to a dysfunctional heater.
They settled into what happened to be a classier, warmer room. Captain Huff went to the general store for nut butter, jelly, and bread for dinner. They vaped away the evening; at one point, Captain Huff wanted to return to the general store for six bags of beef jerky, but Captain Sullivan dissuaded him. Captains fell asleep early.
Tusayan, AZ, Grand Canyon Natl. Park. Nov 20th
In the morning, the crew went to the Plaza’s adobe dining room to enjoy a buffet breakfast among their wheezing countrymen. Captain Hyatt, by this time over the scurvy, decided on a southwestern omelet, while Captain Sullivan ate a pile of sugary gelatinous cream and granola, for health. The captains departed early for the Grand Canyon.
They lucked upon a good spot in the harbor and approached the canyon. It was a big, old hole. The crew beheld it in awe. Upon learning its dimensions, Captains Huff and Hyatt reformulated their plan to hike into and back out of the canyon that day. This, according to a plaque, might result in death. Another plaque implored hikers to examine their distended senses of self in relation to the canyon’s “vastness.” The captains did just that, walking along the Rim Trail and pausing at vistas to ponder the vastness, betwixt camera-wielding families, the canyon’s ruddy petticoats, and trail’s rumbling tour buses. Captain Nelson asked whether the world contained enough weiner dogs to fill the canyon; the captains speculated that it did not. On the hike back from Hopi Point, the ship dog vomited with an elegant cough before she resumed shuffling. Captain Hyatt asked that Captain Nelson finish meditating on the vastness so they could get back to the car.
Captain Huff steered the ship out of Grand Canyon national park and through Arizona’s high desert. The crew stopped in Williams, Arizona, “The Gateway to the Grand Canyon,” to refuel and coffee up for the long drive. On this leg, the crew listened to Invisibilia, a podcast about the invisible forces that shape human behavior. Over several episodes, they discovered the power of emotional frameworks over perception, and learned about a new emotion, called “liget,” which was a blend of cosmic rage and mass frenzy.
The Saguaro Palm Springs was by far the crew’s most luxurious accommodation. Captains went to the pool, where Captain Huff lost a battle with an inflatable cactus while the rest warmed themselves in the hot tub. The crew abandoned an earlier plan to attend a drag show in town, choosing instead to dine at El Hefe, the mediocre but shiny Mexican restaurant attached to the hotel. There, they discussed the events of the day and plunged the depths of the human psyche over margaritas.
The captains’ vaping and liquor intake increased after dinner, and they spent more than the recommended amount of time in the hot tub. At a certain point, Captain Nelson lost hearing in both ears and Captain Huff lost the ability to speak entirely. Captains retired, dropping off the sleep as Captain Huff viewed an episode of Cupcake Bakeoff without understanding it.
Palm Springs, CA, Nov 21st.
The captains awoke in a fog. They had now learned that things out in the world were a simple tangle of their projected emotions; and yet, they were less able than ever to separate any one thing from another. Ice cold Rocky Mountains on tap, scrolling through Arches on the car window’s touchscreen, institutionally sanctioned Navajo destruction, the gleeful commodification of the vastness, the beer and cannabis oil, driving and barking and booting and rallying— it was all mixed up in the bucket, and baby, they had a stew going.
Captain Nelson had a startling hangover, Captains Hyatt and Huff were as dreary as any morning, and Captain Sullivan felt bloated but otherwise normal. Captains drove downtown, where Captain Huff missed every green light and was cursed at by a lesbian in a new Range Rover. They breakfasted at a French café called L’Atelier and took off through the California desert to Joshua Tree, their final chapter.
Fear of rush hour on the 5 hurtled the ship through Josh. A group of go-getting day hikers filled the parking lot at their planned trailhead by the time they arrived, so they drove up to Key’s View, which they pondered, loins stirring, until a tour bus of iPhone-wielding teenagers overtook them. Continuing through piles of incomprehensible rocks and J-trees, Captains Sullivan and Hyatt tried to conceive of what force had made such beatific piles. Captain Huff had already jammed rocks into his god-shaped hole, and asked Captain Nelson to google the geology. There was no service.
Captains stopped at one such pile called Skull Rock. Captains Nelson and Huff decided to climb the heap with some effort and, at the end, decreased confidence in their fitness. The crew ate their final ham sandwiches at the base of skull rock on a foldout table. They re-embarked and steamed forward; they warbled Bohemian Rhapsody’s pulsating nihilism out at the J-trees; they said things they were thankful for; they feared the trip’s end; they thirsted for California’s warm suburban milk. Joshua deposited them onto Highway 10, where the fog cleared and the ship barreled down the road to heaven.
Captain Hyatt, eager for light, took the helm once again. California driving calmed her down and the crew was tired. The ship roared through Anaheim Hills, the charred entrance to Orange County, and descended into smog. Captains Sullivan and Huff jumped ship, landing in a pile of laundry, wet bathing suits, and trash in the driveway of Sullivan’s childhood home. Captains all exchanged warm goodbyes, as Captain Sullivan’s parents looked on in horror at the fray. The ship sailed out of Newport Beach and down towards Mexico, glittering in the dusty heat.
BIO: Sawyer Huff was raised in Minnesota and attended New York University, where he received a degree in English. He has since worked in retail, sold software, taught, and worked as a technical writer. When he’s not writing or working, he enjoys spending time in nature, cooking, and traveling with friends.