Grand Canyon Part 1: Getting Ready

I started writing this while on my early Christmas vacation. It went a little longer than I thought it would so I decided not to overwhelm myself, or more importantly my readers, with a super long chunk of text so I broke it down into four* parts. I will be posting the rest over the next week.  Enjoy!

February, not my ideal time to go for a hike, or even camping for that matter. However, I was at the Grand Canyon! I wanted to experience everything I could while I was there. I was spending two weeks in a classroom for job related training but the weekend was mine to do what I wanted. I spent most of the first week in my “off hours” reading over brochures thinking about what I wanted to do on my upcoming weekend. I spent some that time walking around the dormitory and going to some of the nearby overlooks. I fell in love with the snow covered desert while I was there.

There were so many options in those brochures; however, I felt like I wouldn’t get to really experience the canyon if I did an interpretive program or a “day hike.” What I really wanted to do was a rafting trip on the Colorado River but it’s kind of hard to do a two day trip and really experience all the rapids and the amazing geology. I was still planning and re-planning my weekend when the training instructor said something like, “Although, it’s wintertime, we did secure some backcountry passes for anyone who wants to do an overnight in the Grand Canyon! The good news is once you get down below it will warm up to the mid-sixties. We have it set up for two groups, a long one that will overnight at Phantom Ranch and a shorter one to Indian Gardens.”

“Could I make it down to Phantom Ranch?” I asked myself while staring down at my feet. I was thinking about blisters, pulled muscles, and sore calves but I could touch the Colorado River. However, my internal voice piped up with, “No, your chunky butt would explode; if you’d lay off the damn cupcakes and ran a mile a day you might make it but you’re so out of shape you are a shape.”

My internal voice isn’t very nice sometimes.

But it was right, I couldn’t do a 17 mile hike overnight and keep up with the group. Not without severely injuring myself in some way. I got lazy over the last year; I started graduate school and slipped back into the bad habits I had in college. Snacking while I was studying, not managing my time well so workouts went the way of the dodo, and stressing myself out because of it, which in turned caused me to eat those delicious cupcakes…

In reality I had only gained twenty pounds (bad but not as bad as my internal voice made it seem) and wasn’t as out of shape as I thought. I wouldn’t be running marathons but I could still handle hiking at my pace. After the weekend I realized the weight issue or even the out of shape issue wouldn’t have been a problem. It was holding back my stride going down and coming back up that caused my calves to cramp. Although, I’m sure if I had been hitting a stair stepper it wouldn’t have hurt so bad.

We had a meeting after that day’s training and the instructor and about twenty of us were debating going down. I was still on the fence but I was determined to go even if it was the shorter hike to Indian Garden and back. While looking at the map and scale, my internal voice said “Hmm, almost five down and five back spread out over two days, you would probably live through that.” I concurred; but I wanted to see if anyone else would go.  While I felt confident doing it by myself I wanted at least one other person on the off chance I slipped on the icy parts of the trail. I was starting to get a little worried, everyone else wanted to do the overnight to Phantom Ranch, but once the dust cleared there were three of us willing to do Indian Garden. Two newbie backpackers and an experienced guy.

While I do have a little experience, I still think of myself as a “newbie” or a “wannabe,” I know the gear, I understand how to pack the backpack, but I’ve never spent a weekend, or even a day, doing a backpacking trip. The reason I know the information and how to pack the gear is because I’d always planned to backpack the Ozark Trail. I just never got around to doing it before I left for college or leaving for my job in Nebraska. I’m the queen of procrastination, but I plan like crazy for the “future” trips. I also had to be a familiar with backcountry trips, even though both places I worked at didn’t really have established backpacking communities. The Ozark Trail is a big thing where I’m from; but I never really had to deal with it while working for Ozark National Scenic Riverways; everyone was more interested in the rivers than in taking a backpacking trip.

I also got familiar with ultra-light equipment because I would keep it in my day pack when I was out on a quick hike, just to be on the safe side. I always figured I would be the person that managed to fall over a root, break something, and be stuck outside overnight. I figured with my line of work I should be familiar with the equipment; I even took a backpacking class so I would know the basics.

We had a mini meeting before we raided the gear room. Since I was an EMT and had a little more experience than the other lady going; I would handle the medical gear for the trio and a tent for us girls. I decided to go light on the medical gear; just a basic first aid kit with the usual stuff, two Sam Splints, and needed splinting materials.

I remember looking at the gear laid out on the shelves. The first thing I grabbed were crampons and hiking sticks; since it was winter, the first mile or so down was covered in snow and ice. I’m a klutz, I can fall “upstairs” just as easy as down, and while I’m usually pretty agile on trails and high places I was hedging my bets.

The pack I found wasn’t really made for someone of my diminutive size; if I had been thinking I would have grabbed the pack I received as a birthday gift in college after one of my ramblings about becoming a backpacker, and brought it on this trip, it’s a perfect fit for me. It also would be great for weekend backpacking trip or ultra-light trip.

I was surprised that nobody really grabbed the mummy bags; which made me happy. Thinking, while during the day the interior of the canyon would be nice and toasty, the night would get cold, I was right on that. Into the pack the mummy bag, mummy bag liner, a couple of dry bags, the two person tent, and a ground tarp.

I thought about taking a little MSR backpacking stove but since I was already carrying the tent and during our meeting we were doing are own food I decided to bring stuff that wouldn’t require heating and thrifty so I could eat at El Tovar without wincing at the bill later in the week.

Once we had grabbed all the gear we thought we would need, we huffed and puffed it back to our respective rooms to pack our other essentials; for me that was mainly food and water.

A quick trip to the general store had me stocked up and ready for the overnight. My menu was Bumble Bee tuna snack packs, hard boiled eggs, granola bars, and peanut butter oatmeal bites. Later, I would regret not bringing the stove; a cooked meal (even if it had been oatmeal) would have been heaven and hot tea would have been lovely on Sunday morning but live and learn. I tossed in a two full sized Snickers bars, a handful of mini 3 Musketeers, electrolyte packets, and New-Skin (the only thing I didn’t wind up needing). My special treat: one bottle of Gatorade that I planned on drinking at the bottom of the canyon. I’m weird, I know.

Side note on the weird part; I’m a big water drinker…now. I annoy my fiancé, Wade, with how much water I drink and my many bathroom trips. However, I used to not be that way; all through high school I despised water. I lived on Coca-Cola and beef jerky; why my kidneys didn’t fail or I didn’t drop dead I’ll never know. But now it’s like my body is making up for not drinking water during that time. I think the majority of weight I carried was from water; three full water bottles plus the Gatorade.

Once I was back in the room the packing commenced. After packing all the needed items, I decided to bring my Kindle (I was reading In a Sunburned Country at the time), my phone so I could take pictures, and extra socks. I was only going for an overnight and figured my clothes would keep. I finished putting everything in, and decided to test the weight.

I had a problem.

The weight wasn’t the issue; the pack was made for the Jolly Green Giant. Even after pulling in the straps all the way in; it would still gap on my shoulders pitching the weight back to around my butt/upper thighs. So I got creative. I had compression straps from packing two weeks of clothes into a little carry-on. Tweaking the chest strap by adding the compression straps to frame and tying them off on chest strap, it closed the gap; it wasn’t comfortable but it was doable. It would shift and bug me but it wouldn’t cause stress to my back and hips at least.

I was ready.

Or at least I thought I was ready.

Link to Bill Bryson In a Sunburned Country: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=bjpennington-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=0767903862&asins=0767903862&linkId=9d27dc1c7202d11af9d34cdd56519081&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

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Finding my stride

So this is a new world for me, writing about my adventures. Usually, I just tell the stories to my friends and family. It was just such an occasion that lead me here. I was telling a friend of mine about the first backpacking trip I ever took in the Grand Canyon, among other stories. Once I was done he informed me, “You should write a book!” I’m pretty sure he was drunk off his gluteus maximus but the idea stuck with me.

However, what would I write about? The stories are great but would they transfer over to written word and actually have people enjoy them? Even more important, can I write well enough that people can understand what I’m saying?*

I started playing around with different formats and couldn’t really find a great way to write a book with what I had. Stories about camping are great, if you can toss in a little horror, hiking is wonderful but after the first ten subheadings all beginning with “I hiked (blank) trail and saw this…” Long story short, I bored myself.

So I started reading about people in the outdoors. I got my first taste of writing about hiking and backpacking from Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods; I tried to channel Bill in my writings but I just didn’t have his humor. Cheryl Strayed was an informative book, but not really where I was going. Then I stumbled onto blogs; I honestly never thought I would wind up here.

A blog would give me the freedom to pass on my thoughts, rambles, and stories without having to write a “book.” It will also let me see if people are interested, because who knows maybe someday I’ll turn this rambling mess into that book. However, there are a lot of outdoor writers out there; would I just get lost in the shuffle? Would I be like the plants I hiked through in the canyon; “grow by the inch and die by the foot?”

But then I had an idea; I’m still getting into the world of backpacking. Sure I’ve done a lot of hiking, camping, and kayak camping, etc. but never actually took a “pure” backpacking trip. Although, the Grand Canyon trip would be my introduction to the world of backpacking it was only an overnight; but it got me interested. It was also the story that got me interested in doing a blog. So why not base the blog around my wannabe hobby? Because I’ve been saying I would try this out since I was in high school, I’m now 29.  I just never had the time (was always my excuse) “I’ve got to work.” “I’ve got classes to finish.” “I’ve got to get my EMT license, I don’t have time for it right now.”

The list goes on but now that I’ve gotten that taste of the adventure that is backpacking and have a bee in my bonnet to write about it. I’m going to commit to becoming a backpacker. Maybe someday I’ll be doing a thru hike somewhere; instead of just a wannabe backpacker doing a day hike.

*Please leave feedback about spelling, grammar, or other glaring flaws I might have missed during editing. Thanks