Grand Adventure – Lousy Plan

Daniel, Peyton, and I arrived in Mather Campground close to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park late in the evening of May 20 and set up camp in near dark once again. At least this time it wasn’t hailing on us like in our previous one night stop in Santa Fe. After a quick camp stove meal, we planned out how we would experience the Grand Canyon the next day and then retired to get the best sleep we could on the hard, cold ground. Our idea was simple enough and was actually a suggestion from a book I read: we would hike down the Bright Angel Trail, 8 miles into the canyon to the Colorado River, eat our lunch, and hike back up.

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The Grand Canyon from a viewing point along the Rim Trail, South Rim.

We were all in fairly good shape, so we judged that with approximately 30 pounds of gear on each of our backs we could make the hike in about 8 hours. Looking back now, that assumption is hilarious and a little embarrassing.

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Nearing Indian Gardens Campground, Grand Canyon.

After parking and receiving directions from an old cowboy with an appropriately horseshoe-shaped mustache, we made our way to the trailhead. With a cautious skip in our step, we eagerly began our walk into the canyon with barely a pause to actually appreciate its magnificence from the top. Our first few hundred yards of hiking were marked by a zealous reprimand from a park ranger who saw Daniel stepping up onto a worn path to a restricted “Dangerous Overlook.” Daniel unfortunately missed the Do Not Enter sign just before being sternly instructed to stay off the rocks.

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Canyon walls tower above rough vegetation.

Despite several areas under trail maintenance and a hectic, crowded pathway, we reached Three Mile House, a rest stop and water refilling station, rather quickly; I think I spent a majority of that section of twists, turns, and switchbacks with my mouth gaping and my head on a swivel. Viewing the canyon from even just inside offers a perspective that the Rim just can’t provide. It’s difficult to describe the vastness of the Grand Canyon at all, but it’s even harder to describe the feelings that arise from looking up at its walls while also peering into its depths.

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Taken approximately 2.5 miles from the Colorado River on the Bright Angel Trail.

We hiked on at a level pace, passing through the Indian Gardens campground and beginning our final 3.5 mile descent to the Colorado River. Three miles from the canyon base, we came across a sign warning that a down-and-back hike should not be attempted in a day due to exhaustion, but we had come too far to turn back without seeing the river that cut such a massive expanse into the earth. Daniel, later regretting his comment, said something about the sign being for people who weren’t young and in shape.

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The Bright Angel Trail nearing the Colorado River.

About two miles from the bottom, my right shoulder and Daniel’s as well had nearly locked up from soreness, but we pushed on and arrived at the Colorado 3.5 hours after entering the canyon. It was a great feeling sitting on the rocks, eating lunch, and watching the mighty river rush by. It was a great feeling until we began looking back toward the Rim and thinking about the return back up.

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Colorado River from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Frequent breaks—including one long rest on an upturned wheelbarrow in a shallow cave—characterized the ascent back to Indian Gardens. The weight we were carrying nagged and slowed us more than ever. After resting on a bench in a crowded clearing near some too-bold squirrels, we refilled our water supplies and lumbered out of the camp towards the steep uphill climb out of the canyon.

I began struggling first on the way out. I knew how tired I was, and I made the decision to not push myself too hard. Instead I slowed my pace and began taking breaks again. Daniel and Peyton would move on and take longer breaks while waiting for me to catch up. Then Daniel, plagued with knee pain and hip pain that began on the trip down, started to hang back with me. Peyton was in the best endurance shape of the three of us, and we lost sight of him pretty quickly.

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Various rock formations stand out within the Grand Canyon.

Daniel and I trudged headlong up switchback after switchback trying not to stare at the rock walls towering hundreds of feet above us. We kept an efficient system of pace where I would walk slower while he moved ahead; then he would have to stop and take a break. I caught up and took shorter breaks before we moved on to do it all again, over and over, for what actually was hours. Then, when we thought we were getting close, the Three Mile House showed up to tell us how we had not even hiked halfway from Indian Gardens.

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Grand Canyon nearing sunset.

I’ve blocked most of the rest of the hike from my memory, but I do know at one point, I saw Daniel swaying and his eyes shifting in and out of focus. I remember telling him to walk closer to the inner wall and stay away from ledges at that point. Then a mile from the top, a Good Samaritan stopped and gave us a Clif Bar (we had eaten all of our food), an energy gel, and a Gatorade. Those gave us enough of an energy boost to get to the Rim without another rest. We found Peyton waiting at the top—where he had been for about an hour and a half—with snacks from the gift shop. It took a total of 11.5 hours for Daniel and me to hike down and back, not including the time spent for lunch. We descended about 4,500 feet and ascended the same to get out. Needless to say, our bodies were wasted from exhaustion and sore for the next 4 days or so. Yet despite our poor planning and obvious ignorance about the difficulty of the hike, we made it and saw one of the most amazing landscapes in our country in the process.

To top things off, we checked out the visitor center the next morning and found a list of hikes and their difficulties. Just the hike down to the river was labeled as very difficult; down and up was labeled as “Not a day hike.” Long story short, had we seen a sign at the top of the canyon warning against day-hiking the Bright Angel Trail to the river and back, we probably would have only gone a few miles and come back. However, thanks only to our ignorance and sheer determination, we now have this crazy adventure to remember for the rest of lives.

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Travelling Wall-e poses by the Grand Canyon at a viewpoint along the Rim Trail, South Rim.

Couchsurfing Dallas

If you’ve never couchsurfed before, I suggest you give it a try at least once in your life. It seems like a complete toss up on what kind of experience you’ll have, but if you use the system correctly, I believe that you will be rewarded in some way for stepping out of your comfort zone.

By couchsurfing with the right host you will gain an enthusiastic guide for the city you’re visiting and receive a look into their personal beliefs and perspectives—all for the low cost of maybe buying them a meal or something.

When Peyton, Daniel, and I pulled up to an apartment just north of downtown Dallas, we had no idea what to expect. Frankly, we were all a little nervous to couchsurf for the first time. Sleeping at stranger’s house in a city you don’t know is not something most people think reasonable, but it is adventurous and free. When the guy stepped out of his house two others with backpacking packs followed. It just so happened that he had been hosting a couple from France before us, and they were leaving as we arrived. This was a good sign; if he frequently hosted people, how bad could it be?

Chris introduced himself to us and let us bring our stuff inside to put it where we would be sleeping. He had a couch and a futon in his living room that would be ours for two nights. Chris told us to feel free to use anything in his home and then asked if we wanted to grab a bite to eat, which was a great idea to us after 8 hours on the road. After trying to figure out what kind of food we were in the mood for, we decided on a nearby Vietnamese restaurant that we would have never found on our own. Chris even drove us to the place in his own car to save us the trouble. We had an amazing meal, and then he asked if there was anywhere else we wanted to go that night. Again he drove us—this time to The Wild Detectives, a small bar and coffee shop that doubles as a book store. We sat out on a gravel patio under dim incandescent lights at this extremely hipstery joint in Oak Cliff, Dallas while deliberating what to do next and talking about this newly popular and developing area.

Although it was late, Chris wanted to show us the Dallas skyline from his “secret spot” that was actually in a very wealthy neighborhood. The view of the city was brilliant; we couldn’t have found one like it by ourselves. Then he took us on a tour of all the significant JFK locations throughout the city while explaining his conspiracy theories—all at about 2 a.m. He actually had Peyton, Daniel, and me fairly convinced that it couldn’t have been Lee Harvey Oswald, but who actually assassinated John F. Kennedy is anyone’s guess.

The next day we went out on our own and found a park to mountain bike in. Chris had lent us his keys, so we could come back to the apartment anytime we wanted. After mountain biking we parked at his place and walked around downtown. We took the elevator to a lookout floor in Chase Tower where we could see the entire city for miles and miles. Later, back at Chris’s apartment, we cooked dinner in his kitchen while he was at the airport picking up another couchsurfer who arrived a day early. When he got back, he was followed in by a young, boyish Ukrainian guy who would be working in Dallas as a lifeguard for the summer. Sasha or Alex—he didn’t care which name you used—immediately took out a can of Ukrainian tobacco and began rolling his own cigarettes which he neatly filed away in a tin case.

With one more night to kill, we found ourselves driving to Deep Ellum, a popular hangout spot in Dallas full of clubs and bars and overflowing with people. We ended up in another little coffee bar (Sasha/Alex was only 19 and couldn’t enter most places) where we learned in detail all about Chris’s unorthodox and complicated spiritual beliefs while listening to a dirty-sounding musician who covered Sublime, Rehab, and Pearl Jam. The next morning we awoke and found ourselves sad to leave. We also found Sasha/Alex standing outside on the second story patio smoking a cigarette in his underwear. Our entire experience in Dallas would have been much different and definitely less memorable had we opted to stay in a hotel or even a hostel. Plus we now have a great new friend and a place to stay anytime we visit Dallas again.

When couchsurfing, it’s important to take a few steps to ensure your safety. First, I recommend only staying with members who have paid to be verified by couchsurfing.com. This means they are serious about the experience and taking care of their guests. Then, research the people who you plan to request a stay with. What is their personality like? Is it a good fit with yours? Do you want a host who will hang out and show you around the city or one who will be cool with you doing your own thing? Where is their place located? Is it in a (relatively) safe area? Also be sure to read their references. This can help you understand what kind of host they are and what they can offer. It lets you feel them out and be sure you are at least confident you will be safe in their house or apartment. My last tip is to include in your request what interests you about them and their city. Hosts will not accept you if they think you are only looking for a free place to crash. They open up their homes because they enjoy meeting people and learning about them. Ultimately there is a slight risk in using couchsurfing, but there is a risk in anything you do, so why not try something new and see what kind of memories you can make?