Sunday, 27 July 2008

What a grand Canyon, but it's still a desert

Since the last update i've been to the Grand Canyon, one place i'd always wanted to go and finally i made it. Spent a fair time on the drive there as i couldn't resist going into a couple of towns on "Route 66" (and getting my kicks !!! as per the Stones song). Best value feed i've had so far was an old fashioned Route 66 Diner at Kingman, $7.99 for a steak, mashed potatoes and salad, shame it didn't leave room for one of the massive sundaes (people behind me had one between 3 children and were still struggling to eat it all), place was a real throwback to before i was born with Elvis, Marilyn and the Beatles featured prominently (no Stones and i'm pretty sure none of the aforementioned sung about Route 66).
Arrived just before dark and found i could only get a campsite for 3 nights as the place was booked out after, little frustrating but all i really wanted to do was put the tent up before dark (it was then i discovered i had managed to lose my headlight and torch somewhere between Badwater and here !!!).
Very cool night, dropping to around 50 degrees, but the morning come and a glorious day was dawning. I'd had vague plans of doing Rim to Rim but wanted to check what was available so headed to the info centre for maps and details. Eventually discovered Rim to Rim (South Rim to North) wasn't a goer as there is only one shuttle bus per day (and whilst 23 miles by foot over 200 by road !!), and really doubted the logic of Rim to Rim and return as with no headlight i could have been struggling with no fallback option (body felt recovered from BW but frankly a 46 mile run in heat is not something i was going to casually do).
Ended up just walking the Rim Trail and gazing in awe (with a million other tourists or so it seemed at the view and also realising i'd never get a picture as good as my memory would take).
In the evening went to watch the sunrise and was initially blown away to see a Californian Condor flying overhead (i am a big fan of Large birds of prey, really love my Wedge Tail Eagles), especially considering there are barely 200 in the world population. Well that was nothing when further along to Kohls Cottage ??? and found 8 of them on the ledges eating, quite incredible. After this headed off to look at the Bright Angel track as i'd decided that tomorrow i'd do this down to the river (with all the signs telling people to not do the track to the river and back in one day and over the top signage about 250 healthy males aged between 25 and 40 being rescued each year after all how could i resist !!!!).
Being near dusk saw even more animals, a family of long horned sheep and an elk, really you couldn't get many days better than this.
Funny thing here i was basically in the middle of nowhere and not a bit of mobile phone reception but sure enough internet booths everywhere ($2 for 7.5 minutes so type quick !!!).
Early night (with no headlight or torch, it was pretty much a case of eat at the cafe and then off to bed) and was woken by daylight (still reckon the best sleep you can get is a sleeping bag in a tent out in nowehere), and i was off by 7 for the walk to Bright Angel Trail (a couple of miles down the road).
Thankfully hit the trail before the mules (plenty of evidence of them via droppings) and was down the bottom within a couple of hours and soon hitting the mighty Colorado River. Was bemused as i saw no evidence of being able to cross it (massive river swimming not exactly an option), but seeing i was down so easily and quickly thought i may as well follow the next trail and sure enough found a bridge.
This ultimately lead to the Phantom Ranch, where i then filled up my 500ml water bottle (i had filled the 2 litre camelbak with Gatorade and assumed i still had a fair bit left) and i found that rather than returning the way i'd left it was possible to return by the South Kaibab Track.
Now with water every couple of miles on the 10 mile track i'd done i assumed that i'd have the same on the way back (i had memorised the track names but didnt bring the map, was carrying enough food and really couldn't see the point as the tracks are well marked). Well this is where it started to go wrong, soon after crossing the bridge from the Ranch i'd finished the camelbak and by 11 it was low 100's in the Valley so it was heating up. Steady climb up and other than the odd person going down, pretty much a track to myself. Incredible views all around, but probably will not capture quite the grandeur in my pics (we'd had Helicopter tours going down the river at various points, would have been great). Still with 5 miles or so to go i was out of water, so it was a case of eating some more and just slowing down (still assuming water was ahead) and finally made it to a set of restrooms around 1.5miles from the finish (and a sign saying no water available). As luck would have it, had a ranger taking a group down (this was a noted Vista, just can't think of the name) and he had a box of water, so filled the bottle again (and kept his group entertained with stories of Badwater and other races, they were suffering and resting under the shade of the building). This was enough to get me going again (had stopped around 20 minutes) but by now we were on a very dry, steep, unshaded trail and i think the time without water had knocked me about so was taking a rest on most switchback corners (not good for the ego being repassed by people i'd passed on the way up from that Vista). One funny occurrence, was sitting on a rock and a one eyed squirrel (obviously one of natures great survivors) deciding to run all over me, i think it was attracted by the smell of trail mix in my pack or maybe it just thought i was a nut ??? (there will be a number of tourists photos of this man with a squirrel all over him - yeah that would be me !!).
Finally squirrel-free i had the last mile and was rapt to see a tap at the top, me a man never excited by water !!!.
Now really the idea was to do this "Old School" (walk to trail head, do trails and then walk back to tent, no soft mechanised options !!), but the South Kalbai Shuttle bus was to much of a temptation as it turned up soon after (i was still working out just where i needed to walk to get back anyway mapless !!), funny enough met an ex Gold Coast Girl there (living in the US last 3 years), strange to hear an Aussie accent (off hand %90 of the people at the Grand Canyon were non English speaking, many German and Japanese as well as other nationalities i didn't get).
Back to the Visitor Centre and a bottle of lemonade, finally feeling human. Then walked the mile back to the tent, not good timing as the showers shut for their hourly daily cleaning at 3!!!, so just rested (and still felt pretty sh*t to be honest), and then bought some stuff so i would have the 8 quarters required for an eight minute shower (no shorter options !!).
Finally a shower and just to get that caked on dust off me was magic (and water did sort of have some outside undehydrating effect) now it was time for lunch (dinner whatever, trail mix, nuts, GU, and granola bars sort of don't cut it as a main meal). Certainly returned to the Soda Fountain a few times (free refills) and was finally feeling decent so headed off for another evening jaunt along the rim. No con dors tonight, but a beautiful sunset as rain fell heavily over the North Rim, had a quite a few chats with some friendly locals (typically i gained a bit of fame as people recognised from the full shuttle trip back from south Kalbaib), as to the common statement "you must have enough for a book by now", well i have enough problems doing this blog without anything else (any cheap ghost writers out there ???).
Bit of a storm that night (at least my $20 Super K Mart tent proved itself waterproof) and was up at daybreak, think the body had had enough of severe heat i was ready to drive back to the beaches of LA.
75 Mile speed limit in Arizona (120KPH !!), so was back to the border quickly and then into California (in theory a 70MPH limit, but Caltrans works on very long stretches so the first hour was only 60), was thankful i hit the outskirts of LA early enough to avoid the worst of the Friday arvo rush (off hand that's 3 Friday nights i've got in LA not really a great time to hit those damned Freeways).
So here i am back, relaxed in Hermosa Beach (a place made infamous as the scene of AFL Star Ben Cousin's 5 day cocaine binge last year, but really just like back home to me).
Finally a long post (no idea when the next one will be), sun and surf awaits, but after a 15 mile run this morning (Veterans Pathway to El Segundo and then running the back streets and finally finding the beach for the run back.) back to normal, reckon Trans Gaule will be good for me.

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