I’d only been there a few minutes when I met up with another biker Leon – like Leon Russell. At that point I hadn’t even unpacked yet, nor seen any sights. He was in a hurry to get up the road, but I’d had a long hot day of riding and needed some time to unpack and shake the dust off.
About halfway through the 40oz I bought earlier I was ready. We rode up to Desert View overlook even though it turned out to be less than a mile. The bike was light compared to earlier and I felt free.
My first view was amazing. The shock of it all hit me pretty well too. I had finally done it; I had arrived. “Today is a turning point for me,” I thought. I rode my motorcycle to the Grand Canyon. My whole life had we, my family and I, talked about taking a trip there. Well, it took some years, but I did make it. Now it can’t be taken away.
With this confidence I really enjoyed the rest of the evening. It was nearly sunset when I walked to the rim. The sight was just amazing. To the left was an amazing view straight down one of the widest parts of the canyon. It was nearly due west and the sun hung just over the horizon. It was actually so bright and in my face that it made seeing far off in that direction difficult. Ahead, facing north I could see the other side, the Famous North Rim. But even neater than that, nearly a mile below was the Colorado River. From that height it looked only like a small stream; I learned later that it is wider than a football field is long. And the water is green too, filtered by the dams upstream. Beyond the North Rim and to my right I could see vast desert; hot dry expansive desert. How did this thing get here?
Only earlier that day had I been at Meteor Crater and thought, “wow, this is big”. Well, that was like the warm-up lab before a full sprint. You could fit several Meteor Craters in what was in front of me. They don’t call it Grand for nothing!
I made sure to buy some souvenirs before leaving the station that was settled into an old fire lookout tower. A Ranger program was setup for that night. It was to take place just up the hill still overlooking the canyon. We sat facing the sunset as Ranger Tom told us of the history of the National Park and the first people to tame it. As the sun went below the opposite rim I noticed for the first time smoke billowing up across and miles away. It was a natural fire and allowed to burn unless threatening humans.
Leon and I headed back to the camp area. There was one site between ours and it was a guy and girl from Dallas. They were heading home from a Hot Rod show in California and couldn’t miss the opportunity to camp there. I reopened my beer and started cooking. Leon came over and I offered him some of my food in exchange for beer. It was settled; we ate canned chili with crackers and cheese for dinner cooked over a sterno fire. We shot the shit till late with the Hot Rod guy and I slept in my tent for the second time in all my travels.
When I woke it was early. The camp ravens were about looking for food even before 6AM. Those buggers can make some noise. I packed a pretty good meal for lunch and heated up some oatmeal like I did the chili the night before. I also made sure to bring my dirty clothes as it had been long enough and even the Ravens wouldn’t come near me. Somewhere there had to be a laundromat.
Heading out, I learned I was in the far east side of the park and had to make my way west to see any more. So, having the whole day to myself, I planned to stop at every overlook and see what there was to see. And that’s what I did. It’s really amazing what you can see from so high up. Every bend showed the canyon from a different perspective and all were worth seeing. It was neat also to just sit at an overlook and contemplate just how small we humans really are.
Finally I made it to a place were cars and bikes were not allowed. The park is so heavily visited that parking was no longer possible and instead one must take shuttles that come ever 15 minutes or so. That way you could just ride the busses from one stop to the next. It was very well done although a little frustrating.
So I rode on in to the main headquarters to find some information and maybe wash my clothes. They pointed me in several directions. Being nearly lunchtime I decided to eat while the clothes were washing.
While I was there I met an interesting couple. They were about my age and had been riding from New Jersey on the way to California. The bike was a 600BMW and they packed it very tight. I can barely fit my own things, much less another person and their belongings too. Well, the bike was the girl’s, but she rode in the back. Seems his legs were too long to be back there, besides they had to fold the luggage around themselves like they were packing to move. Her name was Stephanie, and I remember that because as I explained to her, that’s the name of the bike I was riding. We exchanged emails and discussed maybe riding together. They’d be coming back through St. Louis maybe a short time after I went back.
So, I get the laundry and take the $2 minute long cold shower they give you. I’d have been better with a garden hose sitting in the sun, but at least I was clean and so were my clothes. While the clothes were drying I had an interesting conversation.
Something bird related was on the news and I remarked about how birds don’t have much going on upstairs if you know what I mean. Well, the guy to my right took offense to that. He at some point had rescued a broken sparrow from his yard and took it inside to live with him. Well, according to him that bird would tell him, through song or dance, if it was hungry or wanted out of the cage. He even proceeded to show me what he meant by all that. The guy could do the bird whistles. Well, if that wasn’t enough another man, on my left chimed in. He was a bird enthusiast and had had at one point parrots. My remark, having been about how parrots just repeat what they hear and don’t actually think about what they say upset him also. So, being chastised from both sides I had to sit in that somber laundromat on those hospital green chairs listening to two men tell me just how wrong I was about birds.
During that little episode something struck my attention. The guy on the left had a rather long nose and narrow head. He was actually quite tall and his features made him look like a big bird. I shook it off and concentrated on what the other on the right guy was saying. Well I couldn’t help but notice his glasses, short nose and legs and belly. So when he did that little sparrow dance it struck me that this man, if he had wings and feathers would look a lot like a little bird. That was too much. Here I am, between two bird men listening to how smart birds really are, and while getting visual demonstrations I started to laugh – one of those where you don’t want to laugh but it comes out anyway laughs. First it starts as a smile but becomes uncontrollable. Maybe I was just tired, but those guys might as well have been chirping at me because I didn’t get any more of that conversation. That laundry didn’t dry fast enough.
So with that on my mind I packed up the bike and walked to the shuttle stations.
After seeing everything on one line I decided it was time to do a little hiking. One ranger said “Ooh, Aah” trail was the best to visit and I should get down to the point. Turns out that that trail is the best one for getting views as it doesn’t follow the walls but rather a rare point in the middle. He was right.
I got off the bus and asked a volunteer where some potable water was I had been told about. The man lied and said no drinkable water was available and besides that I didn’t have enough with the one empty liter bottle I had anyway to go down into the canyon. I politely pointed out that I had no water at all and surely wouldn’t go down into the canyon without any. His job as a volunteer was to help people hiking; so I understand his concern, but he wasn’t pleasant. Finally he gave me an empty bottle of his own but begged me not to go down into the canyon as I didn’t have enough water. Of course I was standing there with two empties 😉
He left and the next person showed me the faucet with which to fill my now 2.5 liters of water bottles. Now I was ready. the hike down was pretty easy. I descended over 2000 feet with no problem and only consumed a small part of my water. It was hot and each step down was hotter than the previous. Someone told me that at the bottom it’s 20 degrees higher than at the already 100 degree top. I didn’t make it quite so far to see if he was right or not.
Finally I made it to my destination, Ooh Aah point. It was right in the middle. I had a great view both east and west. The whole canyon was around me, above and below on all sides. I could see for ever. Well, during my break I found a shady spot on the side of the trail and talked to a couple guys from New Mexico also there. They had already that day hiked nearly 25 miles across the canyon and were beaten, sore, and sun burnt. Their group had been 5 or 6; some went ahead others fell back. It is against park policies to do that, and they wouldn’t have been permitted had the told the truth earlier.
Well, those poor fellows hadn’t carried enough water and were just about to finish their last drops when I showed up. So rather than carry 2 liters back up with me I shared it with them. They would have made it without me, but it would have taken longer. Their friends that had gone ahead went to get Gatorade and water to bring back down to them. They had already finished the 27 mile day of one mile down and another back up. So the three of us climbed back out swapping stories and generally having a good time. Their friends arrived shortly before we were out and gave them much appreciated cold fruit punch Gatorade.
Well, it was getting late so I headed back to the bike and made the leisurely journey back across the park. I arrived in time to see the sunset and make some dinner before stargazing and subsequently passing out from being tired. I still had water left over!
Here are the pictures to go with the story. Enjoy! Flip through to see them all. Don’t forget to click the photos for larger images.