Friday, December 10, 2010

Wild Western Adventures

    So many stories to tell I don’t know where to begin.  I walked amongst the old growth coastal redwoods, drove down the extremely windy coastal roads of the California northern coast, hiked all over the hilly streets of San Francisco, camped in a foot and a half of snow in Yosemite, and saw the giant Sequoias that inspired the idea of protecting land for beauty’s sake alone.
    Probably an even more adventurous journey was the one I went on most recently.  After driving through a couple of California’s red headed step children (Fresno and Bakersfield) I ended up in the Mojave National Preserve.  This is really the first desert I had been in, so I didn’t know what to expect.  It reminded me of the Badlands some with its scattered tan rocky hills.  I drove into the campground there in the evening and there were only a few RV’s.  I ate dinner and set up my tent, only driving in a couple of tent stakes as the weather was fairly calm.
    Shortly after I lay down to go to sleep, the wind started to pick up.  I had played this game with the weather before and knew it would be best if I went ahead and hammered in all the stakes so I didn’t get woken up several times throughout the night by my tent fly flapping around in the wind.  All was well until around 11:30 when the wind really started to pick up and even though everything was staked down, the tent fly was wildly flapping around.  Frustrated, I got up and decided to move my tent out of the open and next to my car for wind protection.  This task was a little difficult to carry out because as soon as I unstaked the tent, it started to fly away even with my lantern, water bottle, and sleeping gear in it.  Hammer still in hand, I dragged the tent next to my car and staked it down again.  It was so close to the car that I actually closed the door on one of the ropes instead of staking it down.
    I figured that I would surely be okay now.  The wind died down some and I curled up in my sleeping bag and went to sleep.  A few times I was awakened by the wind, but I knew the tent was really hammered in, so I just covered my ears and went back to sleep.  Well, at around 3am, the desert weather turned on me.  Somehow the wind found a way to get past my car and was relentlessly pounding on my tent.  I unzipped my sleeping bag and put my hand on the side of the tent and it felt as if someone was pounding on the tent as hard as they could.  My keys and pocket knife fell from the mesh shelf on the ceiling of my tent and the whole tent shook as if I were in the middle of a hurricane.  For what I think was the first time in my trip, my mind detected a survival situation.  Stakes be damned, I imagined myself and my tent rolling uncontrollably through the cactus filled California desert to who knows where.  I scrambled to find my keys in the dark and then ran into my car which was also rocking in the wind.  I slept the rest of the night there and in the morning, somehow, my tent was still there.  When I took it down, the main poles of the tent were plastically curved which, not to get too technical, means the tent took waaay more load than it was designed for.
    It was definitely the kind of experience that could traumatize someone new to camping, so thankfully I didn’t have anyone along with me who I was trying to show what fun camping can be.  Even so, I could still hear the shrieking roar of, “I AM NEVER GOING CAMPING AGAIN,” from whoever it was I might have brought.
    I went on a short day hike loop that included a fun ascent through a canyon involving climbing up some rocks using drilled in rings.  Initially I was thinking about going straight to Flagstaff to regroup and then head to the Grand Canyon, but then I was hit with the desire to do a backwoods hike into the Grand Canyon.  Once this though entered my mind, I couldn’t get it out and it’s what I wanted to do most at the time, so I decided to go for it.  After a quick call to the National Park station there to inquire about the availability of backwoods permits and the “wind situation”, I headed toward the famous big hole of Arizona.
    I camped the first night on the rim and got my gear together the next morning.  My plan was to hike down one day, spend a day roaming around the bottom of it, and then head back up the next.  On this backwoods hike I decided I would bring all “real food”.  No trail mix, no granola bars, no meals in a bag.  I stocked up with ham and cheese sandwiches, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, hot dogs, bear claws, cookies, and chips.  Food is the thing I usually miss most when I head out of civilization and I was determined to try to prevent that this time.
    Being young (something I learned not to mention much on this hike due to the contentious emotions it stirred up, especially amongst the people who took breaks every mile to put their feet in the air), the hike down hill wasn’t so bag.  I tried to make it down quickly because there were warnings about potential hour and half delays due to helicopter deliveries along the trail (more on this later).  I made it down in about four hours and was surprised to find a typical front woods campground set up there.  Every campsite had a picnic table and there was a bathroom with running water.  I was a little sore, but decided to explore the area and checked out the lodge and canteen there.  I walked into the canteen just to see what it was about and was blasted with civilization that I didn’t really want to experience then.  They had steak, beer, bagged lunches and an assortment of other things.  There were about twenty people sitting at tables there, and I turned around and left almost as soon as I came in.
    There were about six other campsites being used, one of which containing a group of probably retired men from Louisiana.  I gave a Go Tigers or Who Dat chant as I passed them depending on what hat I saw.
    My day in the canyon was really the first time I got to leisurely explore a wilderness area without having to move from one site to another and I really enjoyed it.  I went on a couple short hikes and checked out the gorge that the Colorado River flows through.  There were many mule deer in the area and they were quite used to people.  Shortly after I pan fried some bear claws on my first morning, a female approached a little bit too anxiously and I banged a pot against the picnic table to let it know it was not welcome to breakfast.
    There were quite a few mule trips that brought supplies to the canteen that the helicopters had delivered.  It didn’t make for the truest backwoods experience, but I was glad I didn’t bring any money so I wasn’t tempted.
    I got up pretty early on my second morning and headed out at around 7:30.  Usually I try to hike uphill too fast and get exhausted, but I did a fair job of pacing myself this time.  I passed a couple of lodgers wearing day packs.  The man was rubbing his face saying how groggy he felt since he hadn’t shaved that morning.  The woman replied how unkempt she felt for not even having lipstick on.  I thought and maybe should have said, “I haven’t showered in a week and I feel fan-freakingtastic!” 
    I made it back to the rim in around seven and a half hours.  Near the top, I was ogled at by many day hikers who were concerned about how much farther they should go after walking around half a mile, knowing they would have to hike back up however far they went.  “You hiked all the way from the bottom?  With that huge pack?!”  I had my winter coat and fleece jacket in my pack (it got down to the thirties at night) so my pack looked heavier than it really was.  I was pretty tired when I got back, but it wasn’t as bad of a hike as I thought it would be.  I think from now on I’ll assume every hike will nearly kill me and I will continually be pleasantly surprised.  I stuffed down the ritual post-adventure grease ball meal and then headed to Flagstaff.
    I knew the last two weeks of my trip would fly by.  Before my trip, I know two weeks of traveling would have seemed a near eternity, but now they seem like two days.  Another big change is how driving around in new places seems perfectly normal.  I experience zero anxiety about how I’m going to get somewhere even when I’m somewhere where I’ve never been which is almost always.  I’m looking forward to the remaining part of my trip, to getting back, and to the journeys that lie ahead.


Anonymous said...

Good to hear from you again, Ryan, and to know you're still doing well. I hope you still plan to publish something about your travels. You mentioned two more weeks of traveling. Does that mean you'll be back by Christmas?

Mr. M (Lynchburg)

Ryan Fuller said...

Hey Mr. M, good to hear from you too. I hope everyone in Lynchburg is doing well. I do plan to be back before Christmas and plan to give my next move some thought once I get back but it is likely that writing will be involved.

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