Day 51 – 58 USA Road Trip!

Day 51 01.05.18

Every now and then I have one of those “Dam, I’m really doing this” moments. Today was one of them. Pinch me, I’m sitting here in a tiny pub in Kennedy Meadows surrounded by hikers and mountains. We’ve all walked here from Mexico over the last 7 weeks, and we’re only just a quarter of the way through this amazing trail. There is so much more of this crazy experience to come.

Grumpy Bears Tavern knows it’s audience, I ordering the hiker breakfast and for $12 I get a meal that has scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon and all you can eat pancakes that are the size of a plate. Just one was enough for me with Four Eyes finishing half a pancake, but most of the guys gave a second pancake a red hot go.

Through on and off rain we waited out the cold grey day inside the tavern, considering our options for the horrendous snowy conditions ahead. At midday the wifi died but was due to be fixed by the morning so we put off making decisions until we could speak to the hikers ahead who had experienced the Sierras but chosen to exit.

Putting the rest day to use I pick up my packages. I’d sent myself a resupply containing maps and food before I started, and Anti Blister Socks in Australia had contacted me and sent me some anti friction ArmourSkin socks to make the hike more comfortable.

I packed my food resupply into the new bear canister which will keep bears out of our food while in the Sierras. The container weighs almost a kilogram and the lid is tricky to get off, especially with cold fingers. Bear cans are a headache for all hikers, but necessary to keep us safe from bears, and bears safe from plastics and human food.

Sorting the hiker boxes of unwanted gear and food for other hikers I found a power bank the same as mine. This is perfect and relieves my concerns about power consumption for the longer legs in the Sierras. Our phones are the main source of navigation using a trail map app called Guthook. Here the GPS shows if you are on trail or not, distance to points (water or camp for example) and allows you to comment on the condition of water and sites. It’s extremely useful…if you can power your phone. I also have the paper maps and a compass posted ahead to key towns. The Sierras is a leg I will definitely be carrying a paper version.

After pizza for dinner we retreated to bed in the paddock where we’d camped for free outside Grumpy Bears. Once all settled in and relaxed we hear Ray let out a long loud fart from his tent (yes I can now recognise when it’s Ray, even in a field of hikers). Four Eyes says from her tent “Dear god” and I loose all control breaking down in a giggle fit that Four Eyes then catches. Gandalf laughs at the two of us from his tent and combined we were probably four of the most disruptive campers there. Sorry to everyone who had to listen to how pathetically entertained we are by Rays dairy intolerance.

Day 52 02.05.18

Waking up on another frosty morning my tent fly opens stiffly like a solid door. I carefully remove the fly so not to shake ice off on the tent to melt and wet everything, and drape it over a nearby bush to defrost and dry.

As promised the wifi was working again and I’d received messages from four hikers ahead advising not to enter the Sierras. The storms had dropped a lot of fresh snow resulting in constant post holing, making navigation hard with no tracks, and extremely cold temperatures. With that the decision was made to take two weeks off the trail to let the snow melt and conditions settle. Road trip!

Before long plans of a road trip to see the National Parks of the South West USA were underway. Another hiker from Sweden, Emma, had a car with no plans, so invited us to join her for a week exploring.

Speedy from South Korea rolled into Kennedy Meadows a few hours before we left so last minute he decided on waiting out he snowmelt on the sidetrip as well. Jerry has spent the last 12months travelling and makes friendship rings out of thread for everyone he meets. At Kennedy Meadows he made mine and gave it to me; such a lovely way to make a lasting impression on the people you meet.

Before long Emma arrived and myself, Gandalf, Speedy and Ray packed ourselves into the car along with all our gear. We dropped Ray off at a bus depot to head home for the 2 weeks and the four of us carried on to Vegas.

When a Swed, an Israile, a South Korean and an Australian spontaneously decide to road trip, amazing things happen. We spent hours in the car talking about our home countries landscapes, animals and cultures. We learnt of each other’s hobbies, previous travel and epic adventures. We spent days exploring national parks, all with a common love, respect and admiration of the great outdoors. I couldn’t have planned a better trip simply because I wouldn’t have yet met these wonderful people.

Our first stop was Las Vegas. It was a hard adjustment coming off the trail and into such a huge city. We still felt the need to drink beverages through our water filters, noted cowboy campers in the back streets and felt the need to resupply at every convenience store we passed. We got strange looks carrying our packs through the casino to the hotel lobby, and I’m disappointed that no one stopped to welcome the PCT Hikers to town. This town only gets two out of five Hiker friendly stars.

Still in trail mode we were tired by 9pm, and more interested in chatting to each other than partying. We walked around through the Fremont Strip then totally overwhelmed by the lights and crowds and lack of nature we retreated to our hotel room to continue drinking and talking all night.

Day 53 03.05.18

“It’s day 53 out here but something doesn’t feel right…”. We are lost without the trail.

With lots to see we stopped for a photo at the Vegas sign as we passed through the city. Deciding to have our packs and ice picks in the picture we soon became the attraction with the vegas model wanting photos with us and everyone asking about the PCT. VEGAS BABY!

DJ River (me) kept us pumped for the 5hr drive to the Grand Canyon National Park, arriving just in time to go to the visitors centre before it closed. Armed with maps and information we find a free campsite just outside the park and join another carload of hikers who are also road tripping. Here we chat and laugh all night. I introduce The Frenchies (French couple Charlotte and Kevin) to Vegemite and they share wine with the group.

Day 54 04.05.18

Getting up at 4am we broke camp and drove to the canyon lookout to take our positions facing the glow on the horizon. In silence we sat for over an hour absorbing the magic of the sunrise. Without having yet seen the canyon we could still sense the size of the drop before us. It sat dark and bottomless, leaving our imaginations to decide what filled the space. As the sun comes up I soon realise we have drastically underestimated the size of this place. For kilometres valleys cut through the canyon, and layer upon layer of red stone glows brighter as the sun gets higher.

After sunrise we grabbed breakfast at the bike hire cafe and decided on our movements for the day. Emma stayed back to do some shorter rim walks and relax for the day. Myself, Speedy and Gandalf all went to hike the South Kiabab Trail, River Trail and Bright Angel Trail looped together to make a 27km (16.5mile) trip with 1,400m (4,595 feet) elevation drop then climb back out.

The trail had us climb down into the Grand Canyon all morning, showing us the canyon walls from all perspectives, and making us feel tiny at every new turn and viewpoint. Tour groups on mules passed us as we stood aside, squirrels ran around curious and we soon found ourselves covered in a layer of the fine red dirt as we climbed down switchbacks onto the canyon floor to meet the Colorado River.

There it was, the river I’ve been intrigued with long before I knew of the PCT. Dipping my toes into the icy water was a dream come true. Am I really here?? Dreams of rafting the Colorado River had led me to finding the Pacific Crest Trail and then pursuing that instead, it was absolutely surreal that I could visit where ideas of an adventure had started.

Rapids rushed past me as I sat by the water edge consumed by the beauty of my surroundings. Large valley walls tower over us, the sun is blazing and raft groups float past down the river. I am so content, my heart is full with gratitude for this gorgeous place and amazing people.

After almost two hours of lunching and lazing by the river we start the climb the 12km (7.5 miles) back up to the canyon rim. We feel strong, racing up the switchbacks without our packs, overtaking most hikers and even two running groups. We collect water from a small river next to the trail and Speedy notes it’s good flow, and that we should leave a comment on guthook for other hikers on the trail… We’re getting desperate pretending to still be on the PCT.

I knew I’d gotten stronger but with the group strengthening together I hadn’t noticed until walking with everyday people again. What a boost.

Getting back to the visitors centre we meet Emma and were approached by the cafe staff offering us free wraps and sandwiches which was due to expire in a day and they didn’t want to see go to waste. With arms full of food we chat to them and it turns out one of them hiked the Appalachian Trail last year, which is a thru hike along the east coast.

We drove to a lookout along the rim for the sunset and again admired in silence as the colours changed through the canyon until we were eventually left to just feel the size of the place in darkness again. We were left star struck, reflecting on our day, and our time along the PCT so far. We laugh as we find happiness in our PB&J sandwiches. After simplifying our lives it’s amazing to realise this is the least we’ve all ever had, but it’s the happiest we’ve ever been.

Day 55 05.05.18

After waking up in the same campsite as the night before we packed up and head out on the road to Horseshoe Bend. DJ River kept the car entertained while we drove for hours across desert flats and passed random old RV’s parked in the middle of nowhere.

Arriving at Horseshoe Bend we were overwhelmed by the number of people. It’s great to see so many people enjoying the outdoors, but we miss the solitude of the trail. We stayed for almost an hour looking at the River from many angles, enjoying the sun and the views.

In the heat I note “It’s not a good day for my thermal top”, so while doing the groceries I buy a $2 singlet to wear for the rest of my 2 weeks off. Trail clothes can only go so far between washes…

Moving on we returned to the car and arrived at Monument Valley with an hour until sunset. Camping was just $10 and had the best view I’ve ever seen. We faced the iconic landmarks, sleeping flyless to see the large silhouettes in the distance through the night.

Day 56 06.05.18

Waking up at 5am I watched the sunrise over Monument Valley from my tent.

It was so relaxing, a warm morning with so many colours in the sky as I made a coffee and ate my granola and instant breakfast. Wanting some actual rest during our rest we stayed at the site until midday each doing our own thing. I spent the time drawing, something I’d wanted to get into on the trail but hadn’t yet found the time.

We drove the Monument valley loop then spent another 5hrs driving while eating our weight in stale wraps till we reached a campground in a small town outside Zion National Park. We have become impressively efficient in setting up our tents with onlookers noticing how quickly we settled in and started on cooking dinner. Practice makes perfect 😉

Day 57 07.05.18

Entering Zion National Park we head to the visitors centre and decide on our walks. We checked out a few waterfalls, aided a fainted hiker, then started on Angels Landing. Angels Landing is another hike I’d always wanted to do, it takes you along a high exposed ridge with the aid of chains along the last half mile. Taking steep switchbacks we climbed to the Scout Lookout, where we were entertained by baby chipmunks.

Climbing up the two way chained section we often step aside and cling onto trees or rocks to let hikers coming down using the communal chain. It’s a scramble in parts and I often used both my hands and feet to get up. There are steep drop offs each side and stunning valley views.

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From the top we each climb the small peak for a photo and chance to take in the view. It was epic, another one off the bucket list on this side trip. We repeat the scramble back down this time with people clinging to trees and giving way to us, noting it seems much shorter on the way back. Like children in a park we thrive coming back down the switchbacks without our packs, running the whole way to the car park where we briefly bump into the other PCT hikers who are about to start the same hike.

Heading back towards the West Coast we stop off at Las Vegas again for our final night. After calling a big campsite chain we learn they are RV only and camping isn’t allowed within the city. We end up staying at the Circus Circus hotel and quickly decide that wherever designed the place was a sadist. Sad we couldn’t just follow Guthook to our room we instead took a maze of elevators and corridors through casinos until we eventually arrived.

With the others tired from all the driving I head out to explore the strip on my own. Taking in all the flashing lights and statues and water fountain shows. I find myself in a western bar with a dance floor full of locals line dancing and doing the cowboy cha cha. I have a drink while I watch for a while then move on to see more.

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Las Vegas was such a stark comparison to the places we’d just been, I found I was almost sad to be in such a place. The final straw was walking past a fake tree at Cesar’s Palace that had a birds call playing from it. Really??! I hear this authentically every night, plant a few trees and this city could too.

Day 58 08.05.18

Today was Emma’s day. Back home she works at a Dam in Sweden, and today we visited Hoover Dam. I personally had little interest so waited at the lookout while Emma explored the visitors centre. Once back out she explained how the dam worked, pointing out various features and shared fun facts. A staggering 96 people died in the construction of the dam.

We spent our last few hours in the car together, watching the snow capped Sierras appear in the horizon and then get closer and closer. Arriving in Bishop we met up with Kyle and Just Scott who had also been side tripping together. We stayed at the mountain view motel while the rest of the car split up to various accommodations they had booked.

The plan is to stay in Bishop for a few days before heading back to Kennedy Meadows and returning to the trail.

Day 59 09.05.18

We slept in for as long as our bodies would let us, then got up at 7:30am for breakfast with Scott. Kyle head off with Scott to check out some local hot springs while I took the day to go through my gear, food and maps to prepare myself for the upcoming snow section.

I spread out 8 days of food for the next carry and strategically packed it into the Bear canister. Almost everything fits…though I’ll have to eat lots for the first few days before we hit bear country.

I pull apart my first aid kit to re-familiarise myself with its contents and clean off the cream which had leaked everywhere. Nothing has been used yet, and there’s no items which I can shed, it really is the basics.

I take a roll of toilet paper and packet of shampoo from the motel and replace the tired ziplocks holding my electronics, first aid kit and water filter.

Checking out of the motel I walk to a hiker friendly hostel, do a load of laundry and chat with other hikers fresh out of the snow. Two groups arrive all pumped to be in town, feeling safe after what they describe as running off adrenaline for the last 5 days. We talk for hours about what to expect (lots of post holing) and what worked best for them.

Jed, the hostel manager comes out offering to pay for groceries if someone cooks a vegan dinner for everyone. I put my hand up and offer to make stir fry so go with him shopping and together myself, Kyle, Jed and Speedy spend an hour in the kitchen chopping and cooking multiple pans worth of vegetables while blasting music and sharing Jed’s home brew beer. The outcome was an amazing huge dish of stir fry and rice, feeding 13 hungry hikers and still having leftovers. What a memorable night.

(7) Comments

  1. Mike B says:

    Love your description and photos. What a great choice you all made to go exploring. I know it’s not Vegas and I had only hiked the JMT, so it was only 13 days on trail, but walking through the lobby of the Grand Sierra hotel in Reno was interesting. Mostly because I hadn’t had a shower in 2 weeks.

    1. Ahaha yes you get it then!!

  2. Diana Weston-Williams says:

    Love hearing of all your adventures! I was at the Grand canyon last January. Such a beautiful place and you have really captured all you have seen in your photos! Say hi to Kyle, Eli, Sabine and everyone else I might know. Is Emma and Daniel still with you?

    1. Ah Hello 💕
      I will pass on your hello to everyone 🙂 Emma and Daniel were ahead for a while and they are now off waiting out the snow. I hope you are well, is it getting nice and busy with hikers in Wrightwood?

  3. Meg says:

    I have finally got to your blog.
    You have confirmed what an extraordinary young woman you are.
    I thought of you when I read, solitude will lead you to some mighty realms.
    I am in awe!
    Love Meg

    1. Aww thanks so much Meg, your experience and encouragement played a big part in my decision to do this. Xx

  4. Enjoyed this blog entry so much! I was just at the Grand Canyon a few weeks ago and enjoyed the South Kaibab Trail. Your pictures are amazing, and I can’t wait to read about your adventures in the Sierras.

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