Thursday, May 24, 2012

Freezing at the Grand Canyon, Part Two

How in the hell did we lose the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide. Having seen it before, I was pretty sure it would be impossible to miss, even in the dark. Naturally, I was wrong.

Because of our late arrival, we had to make the pragmatic (if less ideal) choice to put our tents up and get our food from the market before visiting the rim. By the time we were finished it was after dark. Despite this, I was adamant that we visit Mather Point before going back to make dinner. We may not have seen much, but at least we'd get to see it.

So on to the visitors center parking lot we went. At first we parked in one lot, but it was fairly empty, and we thought it was probably farther from the canyon. So we left that lot and went to one closer to the complex of buildings. There were more cars parked there, so we decided that was a good place to be.

One thing to realize about the Grand Canyon visitors center is that there is no overhead lighting. There were some lights which illuminated paths, and the buildings had lights to show you where they were, but there wasn't a real good way to tell where the canyon was. Had this been Oconoluftee, Yosemite Valley, or Beaver Meadows, I would have been able to find my way directly. However, we had only been to the Grand Canyon once, and it was before they had completely rebuilt the Visitors Center. Suffice it to say we were lost.

Eventually, we stumbled around the complex for a while, before finally ending up in a deserted parking lot behind the main building. A bit confused we walked on the sidewalk around there for what seemed like a good distance, before finally reaching a building with restrooms next to a path that led away from the parking lot. A short walk through the dark and down some steps, and we were there. Despite not really being able to see that much, a 5,000 foot deep canyon is still very breathtaking even in the dark. We were there only five minutes or so, but it was totally worth it. We walked back a different path, which turned out to be a quicker way to get back. Naturally the first parking lot we came to was the one we had first visited.

Our little journey to the edge of the canyon over, we headed back to our campsite to fix dinner. After filling our water, we got set on getting the fire started. It took a bit of effort, but eventually Erin got the fire started. I helped by wrapping the potatoes in aluminum foil and put the beans in the pot.

It didn't take long for the beans to cook, which was good, as we were hungry. The hot beans were good on a cold night, and went well with the peanut bar. We eagerly anticipated the potatoes, which Erin assured would be delicious. Just another few minutes, we thought. Yep, just a few more minutes and we'd be in tuber town.

As we came up to the beginning of quiet hours, the potatoes were still not done. At this point, we accepted they were a lost cause, and resolved to try them again. So instead of throwing them away, we put them back in the car. Remember them, as they will show up again later.

Since we were done with dinner, and quiet hours were about to begin, we decided it was time to head to bed. We visited the bathrooms, and went in to our respective tents. It was already rather cold, and it wasn't getting any warmer for a while.

I have to say my mattress pad worked fine for the two hours I was in there. However, getting situated in my mummy bag was a bitch, and I never was quite able to get it right. I had forgotten all the little noises a tent made when even a little breeze hit it. Every time I heard it move a bit, I thought someone (or something) was trying to get in my tent. Unwisely I had read a warning by the bathrooms about javelinas in the area, so I got paranoid that wild pigs were about ready to attack my tent.

Above all, my problem was that the sleeping pad would move when I tried to turn over. Eventually I ended up against the wall of the tent. As it was a two person hiking tent, and I was a very big guy with questionable knees, situating myself comfortably was a problem. After a couple hours of that crap, I called in the towel. I felt bad about it, but I needed to get at least a few minutes of sleep, and that would be more likely sitting in my car.

Apparently Erin was unaware of me retreating to the car. She had a rough night of it, sticking it out to the end. She would be best qualified to tell her story, so I won't even try. I have to say that she thought I either was sleeping very soundly, or was frozen stiff in my tent. Glad to see she was concerned, but not enough to check on me. Oh well, I guess I should have given her my sleeping pad, which was much better at insulating than her yoga pad.

At one point I somehow lost track of my phone AND my keys, which was kind of a pain in the ass to find and keep from disturbing people. I made the switch from the driver side to the passenger side so I wouldn't have to deal with the steering wheel. I played my iPod quietly for a while, although not too long, as it was almost out of power. I went back and forth between being awake and asleep. oftentimes residing in the hazy area in the middle. The car smelled of wood smoke (from my clothing) and underdone baked potatoes (from the underdone baked potatoes in the back seat). In spite of that, I made it through.

Finally I woke up and had to go to the bathroom again. I stumbled along between our neighbors' campsites, reaching the relative comfort of the bathroom. I don't think it was heated, but the lights kept it somewhat warmer than it was outside. I spent some time in there, before heading back out into the cold. Instead of walking back through the middle of the campsites, I decided to walk the road out and back in, as it wasn't that far from where I was going. Through the chill I walked, keeping one eye on the starry sky, and another eye on any mountain lions that might be hiding in the trees. As if I could do anything if there was one.

I was sad to see my quick walk end, but happy to see what the time was. As it turned out, it was almost 5:00 am. Shortly thereafter, the sky started to get slightly brighter. We had made it. Now it was time to see the sun rise at the Grand Canyon.

Although I was excited to see it, getting Erin up was a bit more difficult. Reluctantly she got up and around, and we headed back off to the visitors center. Amazingly, it was much easier to find the canyon in the light of day. We stopped at a small overlook first, but eventually settled on the Mather Amphitheater. We stayed until the sun rose above the canyon walls. It was quiet and it was beautiful. From the changing colors as it grew lighter out, to the remnants of snow left high in the canyon, it was great. In short, it was what the Grand Canyon is supposed to be. Erin might disagree, but to me it was worth the cold night.

Of course, that wasn't the end of our Grand Canyon visit. We still had to eat some breakfast and strike the tents, tasks that we accomplished concurrently. Breakfast was malt-o-meal cooked over the fire and served in a plastic cup. I had my multiutensil with me, but for the twenty-fours I needed it I thought I didn't, so I mixed in water and drank it like it was a really thick drink. It was warm, and it was delicious, especially with some "craisins" mixed in.

Finally we had filled our bellies and emptied our campsite, packing it all back into my car. After returning our permit to the office, we did the usual Grand Canyon stuff, complete with a trip to Hermit's Rest for some hot chocolate (it was still cool in the shade) and a return visit to Mather Point. Not surprisingly, there were many other people there with us. We left at about 1:30 PM MST and headed towards Barstow. There were a few times my lack of sleep caused me some problems on the drive. However, some Powerade and beef jerky fixed that problem. Late that evening we made it to California, home of In n Out and some nifty blankets at the Roadway Inn there. But that is another story.

In the end, that was our only "real" night of camping, as we spent the rest of the trip in either motels or a tent cabin with blankets, beds, and a pizza deck nearby. It was chilly at Yosemite, although much better than the Grand Canyon. Although it wasn't my best night of sleep, it certainly was one of my more memorable nights. I can now say I camped at a National Park, which is something I intend to do again. As soon as I get warmed up.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Somewhat Fun Thing that I'll Probably Do Again: Camping at the Grand Canyon

I've made a huge mistake.

As I sat beneath my sleeping bag in the passenger seat of my car, I couldn't escape from the words immortalized by Gob Bluth. The temperature outside my car was in the mid 20s, if that, and the sleeping bag, along with a fleece vest, a sweatshirt, a jacket, and my coat were barely keeping me from freezing. I checked my iPod for the time.

Well shit. It's only 1:15

It had been all of thirty minutes since I gave up on getting any sleep in my tent. I figured 5:00 was good enough to call it. Besides, the sun would rise early and that would be a good time to see it. Still, those three hours and forty five minutes figured to be long. Erin, a braver person than I, continued to fight it out in her tent. I, however, took the coward's way out, although it wasn't all that much warmer in the car.

How did we get in this mess?

It all started when I decided to take a trip out west in a spontaneous burst of desperation. I was out of work at the time, I had a few bucks in the bank, and I just felt the need to go to Yosemite. As my sister Erin was in a similar situation, she would join me on the expedition. Since we had camping equipment that had yet to be tried out, and because camping was several times cheaper than a hotel, we decided to camp as much as possible. Since it was (almost) on the way to Yosemite along I-40, we thought a quick jaunt to the Grand Canyon was in order. Hell, why not try our tents out there? I made the reservation a few days before we left and we were set. I made the reservations for Yosemite that same night, making sure to check the weather as we would be staying in an unheated tent cabin at Curry Village. Strange thing is I didn't check the weather at the Grand Canyon. We had been there before, and it was warm, so I'm sure we wouldn't have any issues. It was mid-April, after all.

Our reservation at the Grand Canyon was on Sunday evening. We left late Friday afternoon, about six hours early so we head south through Arkansas around the storm system traveling across the Great Plains. After a late arrival and early departure from Blytheville, AR we headed on towards Amarillo, TX, our stop for Saturday night.

It was here that I finally checked the weather and found out what awaited us. Turns out that the storm system that was causing problems across the Midwest also brought snow and cold temperatures to places to the west, including northern Arizona. Turns out that Sunday night, while not as cold as Saturday night, would be well below freezing. Despite being a rather warm winter and spring for most of the country, we picked one of the few nights that were the opposite to camp.

This wouldn't have been an issue if we were better equipped. Neither of us had a sleeping bag rated below 35 degrees. I had a sleeping pad and a blanket with me, but Erin had only a yoga pad with her. In retrospect, it was rather reckless of us, as we were heading into higher elevations at a time of year when they still can be rather cool. Nonetheless, we thought we'd be dealing with 40 degrees, not 20 degrees.

Erin was really reluctant to continue, wondering if we should do it. I said it would be a interesting experience, which didn't satisfy her at all. It turns out she thought I made the reservation that night after I had checked the weather. Looking back, her level of contempt towards the enterprise made more sense after that revelation. I wasn't too keen on losing the $18, and even less keen on finding somewhere else to stay that night, which would be at best $120.

Despite her sane reasoning, she assented, and we set off early Sunday morning on our long journey to the Mather Campgrounds. We made a quick stop at Petrified Forest National Park, but only got a few pictures of the actual petrified logs, as we had to dash away towards the Grand Canyon before sundown.

About an hour before dark we arrived at the registration building at the campgrounds. We retrieved our parking pass and our assigned camping spot, and headed to the campground. Our spot was the first one on the left of the loop, with nothing but trees to our north. We set up our tents and I set up my sleeping pad, taking advantage of the little remaining daylight. It was already chilly out, and it was just now getting dark. Practicality trumped tourism, as we knew we had to get food before we could see the canyon.

Therefore we set out to the village market. I have to say I was surprised at the market, as it was more of a supermarket than a camp store. We were able to find plenty of food, including canned beans, peanut bars, hot cereal, firewood, and other supplies. The main course of our evening meal would be two baked potatoes, wrapped in aluminum foil and cooked in the fire. We had our food, and now it was time to see in the Grand Canyon. Even if it was dark out.

To be continued...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Journey: Weeks 5 and 6

Dates: May 3 to May 16

Weight Change (Period): -3.6 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -8.0 lbs

Not much to say about the past two weeks. With a few exceptions I have continued my daily morning walk, which has certainly helped me keep my weight down. I went golfing one day during the period, walking all nine holes, which was good exercise. From now on I'll walk the course, unless it is in the dead of summer when a cart would be justified.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to get any hikes in since I got back from the trip. As I move forward, I'm hoping to get at least threes hour of hiking in every weekend. During the week, I intend to continue my morning walk, and supplementing that with other exercise throughout the day.

On the ever important diet front, change is at best glacially incremental. I have begun drinking more water, which is a good thing. I made some better choices throughout the week, even eating carrots instead of something less healthy for a snack one night. I've also eaten less fast food, which I'm sure has played a big role.

1.8 lbs per week isn't my ideal rate, but at least it is still going down. Here's hoping I can make another small leap forward at my next milestone.

Until Next Time,


Friday, May 4, 2012

The Journey: Weeks 2, 3, and 4

Dates: April 12 to May 2

Weight Change (Period): -6.0 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -4.4 lbs

As you can see, this is the first post in over three weeks for The Journey. The biggest reason was I was away from home on a trip to the Grand Canyon, Sequoia, and especially Yosemite. Since my scale is rather bulky, I didn't take it with me, so with no way to record my weight change, I just decided to skip a couple of posts and merge them into one giant post.

As you can see from the results, perhaps I should skip posts more often (yeah, I'm sure that's the reason). I chalk the success of the past three weeks up to an increase in physical activity for the most part. We took some walks and a couple hikes on the trip (stay tuned for posts about these hikes), which I'm sure played a part. Since I returned from the trip I've walked every weekday morning save for May 3, and I mowed with a push mower that day. I still need to add even more activity than a 20-25 minute walk every day, but it definitely has helped.

On the other side of the equation, I can't say I've done as well as I could. I guess we did keep from overdoing the snacks on the trip, and I have added more fruits (if not vegetables) to my diet. However, I'm sure my total loss would be greater if I hadn't indulged in In n Out (ANIMAL STYLE ALL THE WAY), Whattaburger, and some unholy omelet concoction at Denny's that had five different types of meat in it. Nevertheless, this still marks an improvement over Week 1. I expect Week 5 to be better.

One thing from the trip I wanted to add to this is about the nutritional values being shown in the menus at IHOP and Denny's. I don't know if that was a CA regulation, or just the restaurants getting ahead of the curve, but it was interesting to see the calories in some of my favorite foods. I can't say it changed my choices, as the five meat omelet was obviously not on the healthy side of the menu. However, it did make think twice about ordering my overstuffed breakfast, and made me a better informed consumer. I shudder to think what some of the values for things I eat at other restaurants are.

Until next time,