Driving alone, with a great view or not, is a great time for self-reflection, and I know that I benefited from that tremendously on this voyage. Having solitude and a quantitative goal (reading the odometer) is comforting to me, especially when it isn’t tied to a financial reward or any of the modern pressures of the “real world.” When I finally started to near Torrey, I began to feel antsy. I was seeing bars and restaurants to stop at, but I knew that I had to seek camping first. My first choice of campground was actually in Capitol Reef National Park, so I found myself in the park, driving through a beautiful red rock canyon as the sun was slowly setting. The views from the base of these wonders were astounding, and I became so excited for the following day. When I approached a sign for the turn-off to the campground, I saw “Campground Full” displayed clearly. So I drove for another five minutes or so, to a Visitor’s Center, where I hoped to find more information on available camping nearby.
There, I found a group of three guys, about my age, who were doing the same thing and were in the same situation. That was comforting for sure, because now I had companions, at least for the search. We drove back to Torrey, where we only really found RV parks. But that’d do, so we unpacked our tents, got set up, started a fire, and hung out for a bit. They’re from Ohio, but they had been traveling a lot, similarly to how they were at that moment. To see the beauty of the country and to seek spots for epic climbing all over. We shared a bit of common ground, having visited some similar places, both out west and near the east coast and mid-west.
The Ohio natives were really great friends (of each other) from back home, who went to school together, partied together, and adventured together. They had so many great stories as a team, and I could sense a strong presence of camaraderie between them all. I shared a bit about my experience(s) growing up and going to college in North Carolina, as well as my recent experiences in Pittsburgh, Toronto, and onward to Colorado and Utah. I had a couple of beers and shared the rest of a whiskey bottle with them. They then offered to share some smoke before they went to bed. Their plan was to wake up before the camp master awoke, so that they wouldn’t have to pay for their night at the campground. I, on the other hand, was planning to sleep in until as least 8:30 or 9:00 in exchange for fair rate.
When they retired for sleep, I stayed awake to write for this blog. It was a perfect atmosphere. The weather (at 11 pm) was warm enough for shorts and a hoodie, and I simply sat at the picnic table with my lap top and my relaxed thoughts. After doing a couple hours of solid writing, I smoked a cigarette and retreated to my tent for a night’s rest.
Onward to many places to watch the land. There were some viewpoints directly off the main Nat’l. Park road, but after the visitor’s center revealed a scenic drive with optional (even more impressive) hikes branching in all directions. My favorite was hiking through the narrows and natural washes at the end of the driving path. Beautiful canals of air and humans admiring such things. Met a nice older couple based in Phoenix, originally from Missouri. Meditated atop a single rock at the peak of it all. Lost track of time doing that, and...
Time to move on. I needed to get moving to make it to the Grand Canyon! Gas, food, and time are the only things that mattered in those last few days of the trip. The roads I used to exit the park were dirt roads. They weren’t incredibly dangerous, but it reminded me of how proud I was of Miley.
After the essentials, calories, caffeine, and gasoline (thank you, Subway gas station combos…), it’s further south around Escalante Nat’l. Forest and into Arizona. This drive was a bit longer - about 6 hours. After a long (half-)day of hiking, this was a task. Lake Powell was great. Basically, picture the red rock towering around you, but in the middle is a huge body of flat, clear water. The reflective beauty of Lake Powell met the hype for sure. I’ll always remember that Lake Powell was a "level" on a wake boarding Playstation video game I had growing up, and I still would like to go back one day and ride on that water.
I was much less prepared for the Hoover Dam, however. As I was driving, I began to cross a bridge. The bridge was not huge, but it was no small bridge either. I looked to my left, and there was water. I looked, conversely, to my right, and there was none. I looked again, craning my neck in order to look around and down if possible. I kind of knew but stopped to confirm. When I stopped, walked back to the bridge, and across the bridge to the other side, there it was. This was the first “holy shit” moment on the trip that I had while looking at a man-made wonder. Honestly, looking down at the Hoover Dam was more impressive than looking out at the Grand Canyon. The distance downward on the wall of smooth, seamless concrete seems astronomical. It seems fake, like, well, a video game. Like CGI. I was blown away. That thing is something I hope you (yes, you) see for yourself at some point, because I’m not gonna bullshit and try to capture how that thing made me feel. Gnarly.
About an hour later driving, I arrive in Cameron, AZ. This is the closest town in Arizona to the eastern border of Grand Canyon National Park. The plan was to wake up as early as possible the next day, tour the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and finish the drive to Long Beach that day. One of the first things you see when driving into Cameron is the “Cameron Trading Post”, which is slang for “tourist trap”. Restaurant, gift shop that rivals any Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, and hotels and campgrounds and jewelry stores and Native American story-telling shows.. The list goes on and on. It was late-ish, and I needed to sleep, so I went straight to the counter where you reserve a campground, paid for my stay there, set up a tent, drank two beers, wrote a little for this blog, smoked a cigarette, drank water, and passed out.
When I was writing that night, I was reflecting on the trip in a very positive way, but I was also looking forward to “settling down” at “home” in Long Beach, CA. I’d been on the road for about 7 weeks, and the last few days of the journey were without shower. I was proud, excited, and grateful but SO done. All that said, I was ready for my first time seeing the Grand Canyon.
The next morning, I naturally woke up around 7 am and proceeded to pack up and hit the road toward the national park. The drive to the park, even was amazing. This made for a really nice sneak peek of the scenery to come at the Grand Canyon.
Leaving the Grand Canyon brought on the real feeling of “last push of the road”. I knew that the trip to California would be over at the end of that day. Done. Fin.
I stopped in Williams, AZ (“The Gateway to the Grand Canyon”) for McDonald’s. Don’t judge; they have cheap food and Free Wi-Fi without a problem EVER. Did the essential email check and Instagram updates and moved onward with a full stomach. I drove for a couple of hours before making another stop in Kingman, AZ. They had a skatepark that looked fun, and the park would have been really fun if it weren’t for scooter kids unnecessarily throwing rocks and pebbles into the bowl and all over the street course. It was navigable, but not “shreddable” if you know what I mean. I couldn’t skate how I wanted to, but I did get the blood pumping and tried a new piece of concrete in a new state. Can’t wait for a long weekend trip to skate in Phoenix!
The vibe in that small town of Arizona was desolate and odd. Just as it is sometimes portrayed in the media, the young people I met were super bummed on living in “the middle of the fucking desert.” I wish those kids luck and hope that they keep positivity in their lives. It’s a good drive to any real city of opportunity (besides Vegas, if you consider it to be that). Anyway, I’m back on the road west. I was driving on I-40, which is the interstate that ends at Wilmington, NC where I grew up. So I felt this (mostly self-created) hype around that fun fact. As if I’d felt like I’d been on that road before. It’s also the road that splits onto Route 66 when it ends in Barstow, CA.
Onward to LA and then Long Beach. Seeing the city lights and cruising the freeways of Los Angeles at night was a good feeling, especially because I had never done it my own car before. It wasn’t a rental. I wasn’t going to stay with a friend or at a hotel. My life was now here. Going 80 mph down the highway. Soon to be unpacked into a small house in North Long Beach. Being within fifteen minutes of the final destination was so bittersweet. I was not ready to leave behind this personal saga and epic standard for constant travel. On the other hand, I needed long-term rest. The same bed each night, coffee in the morning, new friends in a new place. The epic was not over, but its cadence was about to change.
Begin: residence in California.