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Thu, Oct. 17

Johnson: Breaking out the survival kit and sandpaper
Hiking Arizona

As the tour guide for my parents hiking into Havasupai Canyon, I wanted to get it right. My Mom had never backpacked and my Dad had not done so for many years.

Which pack was right for each person? What should they carry? Then came the proverbial “survival kit.” I thought hard about what to include, “just in case.”

Survival items are prized if they are more versatile. A bandana can be used in first aid, as a pot holder, as a signal device, as a water filter, as a patch for clothing, as a hat, as a game board etc.

Now that is valuable!

What about sandpaper? I had never included it in a survival kit but it could be used to…. Perhaps it would help me… Well, I couldn’t think of what I might use it for but I was bound to use it for something.

So in it went along with all the “normal” things like matches, signal mirror, whistle, etc.

With our gear loaded, we began the long drive to Hualapai Hilltop. While still in the forest south of the trailhead, we heard a loud clunk as the car made sudden lurch. My Dad, the expert mechanic of 35 years, pulled over.

Something was wrong with the wheel. The wheel bearing had seized up. My Dad hitched a ride and a wild one at that, to a mechanic in Seligman.

My Dad returned with the mechanic and the spare parts within a couple of hours. But the new bearing would not fit over the axle since part of the old bearing had created a bulge where it fused with the axle. The mechanic looked at my Dad and asked, “Do you have any sandpaper?”

Of course we did. It was part of my survival kit. No one seemed surprised but everyone was glad that another drive to Seligman was unnecessary. I have never put sandpaper back in my survival kit. I was surprised. Who knew?

Now that we were late, we had to hustle down to Supai to get our permit before the Tourist Office closed. This was no problem for my Dad, since he habitually left everyone in the dust.

Mom, on the other hand, had a naturally slower pace, forever struggling to keep up.

But we made it in time.

We finally found an open spot, except for one young man, just sitting on a rock starring ahead. My Dad was quick to strike up a conversation with this stranger, sharing the story of our trials and tribulations. Dad told him about his expert son who had guided them this far.

The young man listened for a few minutes, then cut my Dad off.

He asked, “Do you know what an expert is?” Before anyone could speak, he said, “A drip under pressure!” Another surprise, this time in the form of a vocabulary lesson.

Recent rains had turned the normally turquoise water a milky brown color. Disappointed, we packed up early the next morning.

Additionally, Mom would need a little more time to reach the rim. As she approached the rim, she passed Dad!

Odd, I thought, until I saw Dad vomiting over the side of the trail. A little poetic justice seemed to be working. Dad soon recovered and reached the rim, behind Mom, a hiking first in our family.

Next: What if you encounter a rattlesnake on your next hike?

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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