"it didn’t stop my clumsy feet so sore inside my boots from tripping over rocks or my pack from getting heavier as we trudged on"
24 hours ago Matt and I were laying on a rocky sun-bleached pathway in the dark inside the Grand Canyon our packs under our backs in the dust. The moon had lit almost all of our last 8 miles through the narrow canyon and now we faced the switchbacks. We stopped part way up to catch our breath and in the deafening silence we felt the magic in this moment of the vastness in front of us. Not wanting to forget this I stood up and took my shirt off Matt’s eyes widened and he laughed “your turn” I said. The cool breeze blowing up from the valley dried the sweat from our skin and made goosebumps form over our sunburns. With outstretched arms I turned my face to the moon and breathed it all in.
There was so much magic in Havasupai that I need to write it all down here now before it becomes unreal in my memories. All of those moments, all of that amazingness made each step up the side of the canyon wall no easier. We could see the amber beacon flashing in the dark at our destination and I was sure I could hear people if I listened really hard but it didn’t stop my clumsy feet so sore inside my boots from tripping over rocks or my pack from getting heavier as we trudged on. Every step up made my legs burn, my lungs too and every switchback took us another layer closer to our car- where hot Gatorades, the apple I forgot and a big bag of salt and vinegar chips were waiting to be demolished.
Matt, who was always ahead of me made it to the rim first and I heard him say “we’re here” but I didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. The Hualapai Hilltop- the parking lot which even at 11pm was still a bit bustly with people arriving late looking for a parking spot, some people packing gear by the dim light of their vehicles and some standing admiring the view, possibly in anxiousness of what lay before them. There was no celebrating, no one to congratulate us on making it- just a sloppy high-five (I think we missed) and a relief that we had scored a parking spot right there 3 nights ago. We popped the hatch and I crawled inside and crashed on the folded down seats of the rental. Upon realizing how unsavoury a hot can of beer actually was in reality Matt avoided his “Champagne of Beers” he had been waiting for and shared the warm litre of cherry Gatorade with me as we spilled chip crumbs all over the car while trying to eat them laying down. At some point I fell fully asleep and woke two hours later to my sweaty pants freezing against my skin – the windows open and Matt looking super cozy inside his sleeping bag on his thermarest – how the hell he had the energy to do all that was beyond me. It was almost 3 and I decided that I might as well start our drive. We had a noon flight to catch from Vegas and by now I was wide awake.
"what was all this talk of training hikes and squats and incline treadmill walks with a full backpack. I had done none of that…was I going to need to be airlifted out of the Grand Canyon!?"
As I started the cautious 60 mile trek on Hwy 18 my mind wandered back to our last 3 days. It already felt like a dream. I remember having seen the magical land of Havasupai on a website last year and I was hooked- I wrote the name on a sticky note and stuck it to my computer to remember to look it up further. That note disappeared and I forgot about it- until we were planning our travel for the year in March. We looked at photos and videos online and while it seemed like such a huge hike we both agreed it was what we wanted. I had read that getting a permit was next to impossible – I think the word was “elusive” nevertheless I tried one of several numbers I found on the website and got Leah on the phone right away. We had a week to work with and I asked for dates between a Monday and Friday and before I knew it we were booked and paid for! We spent the next couple of months following the Facebook Community page- researching and getting our gear dialled. Lightweight this, compact that and then we were on a plane to Vegas and in a rental towards the Grand Canyon.
I read a lot of posts, hours worth on the Facebook page. Questions about gear, food, temperatures, wildlife, directions and so on. The questions I focused on the most were the ones about levels of fitness and difficulty of the hikes. Some posts made me want to turn back – what was all this talk of training hikes and squats and incline treadmill walks with a full backpack. I had done none of that…was I going to need to be airlifted out of the Grand Canyon!? I don’t sit on the couch every day but I’m certainly also not in the gym every day. I worried secretly up until I read a post by someone who said just take your time! Enjoy the ride- if you want to hire a horse and ride in like a cowboy do it! If you want to take a helicopter ride in and enjoy the scenery – do it! How ever you get there it doesn’t matter just do it your way and enjoy it- or something to that effect. It changed my brain on this one… of course I could do it. It wasn’t a race and I only had my own ego to contend with – so there. It was just a long walk, a long beautiful walk to magic.
"Highway 18 is a road that they could charge admission for as a wildlife viewing trail"
It was Monday afternoon and we were headed along Route 66 past Kingman. We thought we would drift along stop in Hackberry at the cool little shop grab some dinner and hit the parking lot before dark so we could do the final arrangement of our bags- get a good nights sleep and be on the trail by 4am. We had been watching the weather and knew that there were some clouds predicted but when the wind started picking up and creating dust twisters in the fields we weren’t sure what we were in for. As we got further along 66 we realized that we weren’t going to find any decent dinner – we had been convinced that the Hackberry store was a café- but they sent us back to the Outpost Saloon ‘if you’re starving’ she said…which seemed an odd way to put it.
Starving, we turned back and arrived at a middle of nowhere watering hole that was certainly an experience. When she brought us Styrofoam plates for our dinner I knew it would be a meal to remember. While we were there the rain hit, it was intense. I ate my (I’m sure it was a frozen supermarket) pizza and Matt had his burger and we were on our way. Dramatic sky, high wind and a beautiful sunset carried us past Truxton and Peach Springs and we finally found the sign for the Old Indian Road 18- which was clearly marked. As we turned in we noticed that it was 60 miles- Matt, worried that we didn’t have enough fuel turned us back around to find some gas. It was getting dark and the rain was getting heavier- I was calculating sleep hours and we were losing them fast. By the time we got back to Peach Springs we had decided to look for a hotel so we could shower and get a few solid hours of sleep in a bed. We pulled into the lot of the Hualapai Lodge and inquired about a room- but at $160 USD a night it was not in our plan. She was however able to sell us a $12 hot shower provided us with towels and soap- SOLD!
We each showered and used the time in the lot to organize our gear and make a bed in the back of the rental. By the time we were done it was after 9 and we were exhausted. As we passed back by the front desk I asked about the gas station – it had closed. Luckily we were still able to get to the station in Truxton just in time. Travellers take note- be sure you fill up in Kingman or Peach Springs before 9pm! Finally, finally we were back on the 18 to slay those last 60 miles to dreamland- or not...
Highway 18 is a road that they could charge admission for as a wildlife viewing trail. In the dark it was terrifying as desert hares hopped out of nowhere, herds of cows grazed right at the shoulder, enormous elk ran from ditches we even saw a coyote and a skunk! By now it was after 11pm and even though cars were lined up at least a mile long I stubbornly drove all the way into the lot convinced we would find a spot. Luck was on our side- we set an alarm crawled into the back and were out like lights.