A long road trip requires little more than the following:
- Lots of snacks
- Good music and/or podcasts
- Joyful conversation
- Driving shifts
Some background: Hilary (my ex-girlfriend (current fiancee)) and I planned a trip to the Grand Canyon. It was AMAZING. But I’ll get to that later. First things first: the trip down. We live in Des Moines, Iowa. To get from Des Moines to the Grand Canyon, we spent a night in Lincoln, Nebraska (Hil’s hometown) and another in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- Des Moines to Lincoln: 3 Hours.
- Lincoln to Albuquerque: 13 Hours.
- Albuquerque to Grand Canyon: 6 hours.
Our plan looked like this:
- Friday: Des Moines->Lincoln
- Saturday: Lincoln->Albuquerque
- Sunday: Albuquerque->Grand Canyon; hotel at the rim Sunday night.
- Monday through Friday: Hike
- Friday: Grand Canyon -> Albuquerque
- Saturday: Albuquerque -> Lincoln
- Sunday: Lincoln -> Des Moines
Back to the start of the trip.
Hilary does not enjoy driving. I do enjoy driving. We discussed driving shifts. I was hoping to split it up around 60/40; she was hoping for 75/25; so we compromised and I drove the entire way.
The drive down was very uneventful: Lincoln to Albuquerque took us through southern Nebraska, Kansas (the worst state ever), some of Oklahoma’s panhandle, and finally into New Mexico. We were rather hungry in Albuquerque, so we went to a local eatery: Buffalo Wild Wings. There, I sampled a local beer: Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat. We did a great job leaving our comfort zone.
The next morning, we drove to the Grand Canyon and were simply blown away by the sights before our eyes. Pictures just don’t do the Grand Canyon justice. In my not so humble opinion, everybody needs get down there. You won’t be disappointed!
Monday morning rolled around. We woke up, drove to our 5-day parking spot, and caught a bus to the South Kaibab trailhead. A cloudy but clear day, low-to-mid 40s: perfect hiking weather. The ground was dry, the trail about 5-15 feet wide (for the most part), and the hike down was WAY harder than we anticipated. I mean, we knew that descending 6,000 feet over the course of 7 miles was going to be rough, but the impact of stepping down 18+ inches for 100 steps in a row really takes a toll on your knees and feet.
But the views. Nothing can beat them.
And now to the juicy part of our trip: Le Proposal (that’s French for The Proposal, not to be confused with the Rom-Com starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds).
We were about 2 hours into our hike on day 1. Initially, my plan was to propose at the base of the canyon on the second or third night. That way, I wouldn’t drop the tiny, expensive representation of my love thousands of feet to its demise. We stumbled upon (okay, walked directly into) a large rest area. I hurried ahead, claiming I needed to use the restroom. “OKAY BYE” my then-girlfriend called to me. Upon arriving in said bathroom, I grabbed a pair of socks that was buried deep in my Osprey 50-L pack. Inside that sock was another sock, and inside that sock was a small box, and inside that box was, YOU GUESSED IT!, a ring! So I placed the box in my pocket and made my way down to Hil.
She excused herself to use the restroom, and I scouted a nice place to casually ask her to marry me. And we were at the Grand Canyon, so we had a few scenic places to stand. I picked a spot about 50 feet from the edge, Hilary walked over to me after emptying her bladder; I started talking all serious and (as she puts it) started getting ‘mushy-gushy.’ She laughed it off as me just being me, then stopped as she realized I was actually serious, and as I descended to one knee and reached into my pocket, she asked “What are you doing. Michael. What. Are. You. Doing!?”
The rest is history, even though it was only 4 weeks ago. She said yes, some nice people took our picture, and then we continued on our adventure into the Grand Canyon!
Other than the beautiful views, the rest of the hike down was fairly uneventful. But don’t dismiss the views. Like I said, they were beautiful and breathtaking and can only be truly appreciated in person! We passed a few packs of mules, one almost licked my face (I licked it first so he had to keep moving), and neither of us fell.
We arrived at the Bright Angel campground around 5, found a suitable campsite, ate dinner (I don’t remember what we had, sorry foodies!), and called it a night.
The first night was rainy. We were in bed by 7 (it was dark and cold, don’t judge), but the next morning we had to pack up a wet rain fly, which meant that I had a wet rain fly attached to my backpack. NBD, for the most part. On our Tuesday hike, we set it out in the sun and it was dry by the time we reached Cottonwood.
Our Tuesday hike, along with Wednesday’s, was pretty fucking awesome. The beauty of hiking at the bottom of the canyon, striding next to the Colorado River and a stream that leads into it; and looking up, unable to even see the rim above, and doing it all with my fiancee could replace no beachside, lazy, drunken vacation. This was not just a vacation–it was an adventure.
After camping at Cottonwood, Hilary and I woke up, had some breakfast (oatmeal with some berries, with coffee and a Clif bar — our daily morning meal) and headed back towards Bright Angel Campground. Another 7ish mile, relatively flat hike, heading back towards the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The sky was clear — by clear, I mean there were exactly 0 clouds in the sky. Hilary and I could not have asked for a better day. The temperature was comfortable, probably high 40s or low 50s; but with the sun shining down, it could not have been better!
We took a detour on Wednesday; a detour that was recommended to us by other hikers. About a mile and a half south of Cottonwood was this small sign that simply read: “Ribbon Falls Across Bridge” (or something like that). We took this opportunity, being in the Grand Canyon and all, to explore a little. I won’t go into details here, but after a hiking about a half mile down a partially-worn path, going across a small stream and around some boulders, we came across the base of Ribbon Falls. And we were NOT disappointed.
The rest of the hike was, much like the rest of the trip, mind-blowingly beautiful (duh, I was there). As we approached Bright Angel campground (our night 3 sleeping spot, same as night 1), we first approached Phantom Ranch (Phantom Ranch is a place where you can rent a room or a bed in a bunk-bed type room; they also have a mess hall that serves meals, has a small convenience store, and sells beer).
Day 3 of our trip, Wednesday, the same day I’m talking about right now, was my 25th birthday, so Hilary and I stopped in the mess hall and had a few brewskis. They were delicious.
As we were discussing dinner on night 3, a few topics came up: how happy we were that the Cubs were reigning World Series Champions, our engagement, and our hike out of the canyon. I’d say our hike out is the least important, although that’s what we discussed the most. For those curious: I won’t divulge the topic that has had the biggest impact on my life. Editor’s note: It’s the Cubs World Series win.
Our original plan was to wake up on Thursday, hike halfway up the Bright Angel trail, camp at Indian Garden, sleep, and then hike out on Friday. Meh, we thought, let’s be badasses and hike 6,000 feet of gain over 9 miles all in one day. We’ll get a head start heading home, won’t really miss anything on the hike, and have ourselves a nice little hiking challenge!
But it wasn’t just a ‘hiking challenge’. It was exhausting. Not as difficult, in my opinion, as hiking down, but much much more exhausting. Imagine climbing to the top of the Sears Tower. But doing it four times (about). I know, it’s not the same because we also covered 9 miles as we hiked up, but still, it was hard. Our legs were sore. And the last mile and a half was covered in snow. Which made it a little slower — but we had Yak Trax, so we didn’t slip and fall or anything. Which is good, because we would have fallen really far and I probably wouldn’t be writing this post at all!
About half a mile from the trailhead, we started to see some more people. Day hikers, families on vacation, people with their dogs (which was our personal favorite), and others. One kid asked me if ‘the trail was really really icy’. I was pretty exhausted, so I looked at him, looked at the icy trail we just hiked out of, and said ‘uhh…yea’. I don’t think he liked my answer, because his mom wouldn’t let them hike down. This was probably for the better, because they were in tennis shoes and definitely would have slipped on the ice.
In total, the hike took us 5 hours and 20 minutes (left Bright Angel campground at 7:20 a.m. and hiked out just before 12:40). Although exhausting, it was a fantastic hike, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
After hiking out of the canyon, Hil and I took one more look at the beautiful canyon, the blue sky, and agreed to find a nice bench and rest. When we sat down, Hilary quickly called her mom (hi, Jill!) to let her know of our amended plans(remember, we hiked out a day early so nobody was expecting contact for another 24 hours.). Just as my fiancee and I had discussed, she would break the news to her family in person–the next night (Friday) when we arrived in Lincoln. So naturally, one of the first things she said was “WE’RE ENGAGED!”. Which lead to many happy phone calls, text messages, smiles, and screams. The latter belong solely to my mom and each of my four sisters.
All in all, this was truly the trip of a lifetime. From exploring a national park, to getting engaged, to being completely disconnected from the rest of the world (it was wonderfully relaxing to have a phone that was only good for taking pictures — put yourself in that situation for at least 48 hours sometime). The stars in the Grand Canyon are clearer than anywhere I’ve ever seen, and they ignite the sky in a way I’ve never seen before. Whether your hometown hides them behind pollution or you’re simply too busy to look, the Grand Canyon will help you appreciate the night sky once more.
The best part of the adventure, by far, was the fact that I hiked into the Grand Canyon with a girlfriend and hiked out with a fiancee. Moving forward, Hilary and I have about 4 or 5 more national parks on our list to visit over the next few years (I’ll write about them here, too). Editor’s note: We’ll see. Writer’s note: I will.
Our adventure list will surely grow; there is way too much to see on this earth, but if there is one thing I know for sure: WHOEVER YOU ARE, GO TO THE FUCKING GRAND CANYON.
After all, it has “Grand” in its name for a reason.