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By eight the next morning we were fed and ready. Babbitt was dressed in the black downhill ski pants he would wear for the next three days. He probably traveled the lightest of any of us (and got rest-stop handouts from most of us). "It's terrible how you're so pampered as a chief executive," he said with a crooked smile of indecent enjoyment. "It's been years since I carried money."
Babbitt, 46, could go light because his brother Jim, 37, who works in the family business in Flagstaff, packed his food. Jim is tall and deceptively laconic, except late in the day when arguing for a more distant camp than wherever we sat exhausted at the time.
Another in the party, Bern Shanks, 45, a former ranger and smoke jumper and former professor of resource management, has lived in 10 Western states. A mild, wry man, he is now the chief of planning for Arizona State Parks. He has written two books on the outdoors, This Land Is Your Land and Wilderness Survival.
Our ranger was Joe Quiroz, 35, a quiet, earnest man who had served in the Navy during the Vietnam war and in the Peace Corps, and who could ski rings around the rest of us. Charlie Warner, blond, strong and apprehensive, was the aide assigned by the DPS to see to Babbitt's security. He carried a two-way radio, so we wouldn't exactly be without resources.
Heinz Kluetmeier, just in from shooting the Alpine World Skiing Championships (SI Feb. 18, 1985) in Italy, traveled the heaviest, with all his camera gear. That made six. I was seven, not a dedicated or even regular skier but, as a marathoner, presumably active enough to keep up.
There were four others—Jack Dykinga, Chuck Bowden, Don Bayles and Dave Baker—who would accompany us for a day and a half, then peel off to go on the Bass Trail to the North Rim and then down to the river and up to the South Rim.
This would not be a trip with just a few hours a day of travel, more of camp and talk. At dinner the night before we set out, Babbitt announced that he'd love to make Kaibab Lodge on the first day. That was 22 miles away. Quiroz let his eyes widen, but he said only, "Well, we'll see how the snow is."
We clipped on our skis, slung on our packs, ducked under a gate and stepped onto the snow. It was ice. The morning was sunny, but there had been no fresh snow for more than a week, and the surface was solidly frozen. We set off at a modest pace, with Quiroz up front. I charged up a few hills to assure myself I could handle this, then dropped in behind Babbitt and Warner. My pack was already heavy.
None of us could glide, only shuffle. Babbitt, who grew up a downhill skier in Flagstaff and had been introduced to Nordic skiing by singer and songwriter Dan Fogelberg two years ago, understood this and never wasted energy. He got into a gently rhythmic stride that would carry him for hours. "I work out during the week," he said at our first stop. "But more than that, there's an emotional thing that keeps me going." That seemed to involve both his return to country he's loved since childhood and his escape from the clamor of his executive job.
Babbitt seemed a dichotomy, being part "loner," in his word, and part the possessor of a social conscience who has accepted politics as a necessary instrument to get done what that conscience demands doing. That acceptance came late. He had been studying the geology of the Bolivian Andes in 1962, when the problems of the people on the rocks began to seem more vital, more resistant to solution than the problems of how the rocks came to be. "It was a summer of discovery," he said, and it led him to leave his science for Harvard Law School. In 1974, he became Arizona's attorney general. He hopped up to the governorship in 1978; Raoul Castro had resigned in 1977 to become ambassador to Argentina, and his successor, Secretary of State Wesley Bolin, died in office five months later. The new Secretary of State couldn't succeed Bolin because she had been appointed, not elected, and Babbitt was next in line. He has won reelection twice.