Arches National Park, Utah (Part 1)

July 21, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 68.7
Miles hiked: 3.8+

I took yesterday morning to get a few things done and spent the afternoon and part of the evening driving South to Arches National Park. I arrived around 5:30pm, which was just enough time to get to the visitor center before it closed.

Because this part of the state is so barren from normal societal things, such as Walmart, I had to get a brochure on some of the campgrounds in the area. I also got a map of the area where you’re allowed to just pull off the road and camp there for free. Since it was rainy, I decided to call it a night and camped at a nearby site for a mere 500 pennies. Normally it’s twice the price, but you get half off if you have the Interagency Annual Pass, which I do. Best $80 I’ve ever spent.

I awoke at 3am to discover the van batteries nearly drained. They were so drained, the inverter shut itself off; that’s actually why I woke up. Without the inverter, the AC power doesn’t work, which means the fan I had plugged in to stay cool stopped working. Upon awaking and discovering the batteries so low, I immediately hit the breaker for the inverter to ensure it didn’t kick back on, as converting DC to AC uses up extra energy. Of course, by ensuring the AC was off, I also sealed the fate of the few items in the fridge, which runs off AC (I don’t have a fancy AC/DC/propane fridge). Luckily all that was in there was a small amount of milk and some lunch meat. Almost all my food is designed not to need refrigeration for this exact reason.

I started the van to use the engine as a generator and charge the batteries up a little. Luckily I camped in the middle of nowhere last night, so no one was around for me to disturb as I had the van running in the middle of the night. The van’s lights come on automatically with no way to override them, so if anyone else was around I’m sure they wouldn’t have been too happy with lights blasted in their direction. After awhile, I shut the van off and went back to bed. The fan I have runs off eight D cell batteries for around 40 hours, as well as can run off AC. The batteries come in handy for situations like this and I was able to stay cool all night, despite the 80 degree temperature.

I woke up again shortly after 7am and headed back to the Arches visitor center to stock up on water and use the bathroom. The last time the van was filled up was six days ago and it took just over four gallons to top off the water tank. I’m trying to conserve water as much as possible and I’m slowly getting better at it.

I came to Arches back in 2009 on my first Wild Wild West road trip with Josh, but we were so pressed for time that we didn’t get to explore that much in each state and definitely didn’t have time for hikes. Now that I’m here again, I plan on doing the things I should have done the first time. Today I focused on the Southern section of the park.

My first stop was at Park Avenue, to hike the two mile, round-trip, trail down into the canyons. It’s an extremely beautiful hike surrounded by monumental cliffs jutting out of the earth on each side. I swear I was stopping every three feet to take pictures. This is the stuff I love about Utah and it looks so interesting and intriguing from every angle; I feel I need to try to capture it all.

As I was walking, I could see grey clouds rolling in with the crack of thunder every now and again. I knew my time was limited. Luckily, I made it the entire mile and back without getting rained on. I decided to press my luck and continue on.

Not too far up the road I stopped at the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint to get some pictures. By this point, the clouds were nearly on top of me and another crack of thunder sent one guy running back to his car. In the not too far off distance, everything became dense with rain. Since I wanted to get halfway decent pictures with some blue skies, I decided to use the morning to head into Moab to get gas and do some laundry in hopes that by the time I return to the park it’ll be blue skies once more.

It was around 1pm when I went back to the park. I stopped again at the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint to get more pictures without the crazy dark storm clouds.

Up the road a little further is the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint. From there, you can see Sheep Rock, Three Gossips, Tower of Babel, Courthouse Towers (obviously), and The Organ. This is also the pick-up location for hikers who hike Park Avenue as a one-way route.

Next stop was Balanced Rock, where I hiked the 0.3 mile loop around the base of Balanced Rock. I’d hate to be underneath that thing the day it finally loses its balance.

I continued on to the Garden of Eden, which although I realized is a biblical term, every time I hear “Eden” it only makes me think of the James Dean movie East of Eden.

At the end of the road is a large parking area that circles around for access to “The Windows Section”, featuring the North and South Window (arches), Double Arch, Turret Arch, and Parade of Elephants. I was a little disappointed not being able to get photographs of any of the arches without large gaggles of people climbing all over them. I’m sure this is one of the places you have to go out to really early or really late in order to avoid the hordes. There’s a couple different trails that total up to 1.5 miles to see all the arches, so make sure you do them both.

Side note: Because I don’t English good, I had to look up the correct usage of “hoard” vs. “horde” and I absolutely love that the site defined “horde” as being a “crowd of people … or a gang of rabid zombie kittens”. Ha ha. Jokes.

As I was walking away from the Double Arch, it began to rain again. I felt happy with today’s progress and decided to call it a day and headed back into Moab to do some interneting. I’ll probably camp out on the side of the street here tonight, as it looks like there’s no parking restrictions.

Hiking, Art, and Music

July 17, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

We began today by heading out to a local hike called the Adams Canyon Trail shortly after breakfast. We had a quick drive over to the town of Layton after getting directions to the trailhead, which is located in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. The hike started off pretty sandy and gradually progressed more into rock as we got further up the mountain. Although it was described as fairly steep, I didn’t think it was that difficult of a climb. We were also told it would take a few hours, but we reached the waterfall at the end within an hour. Granted, I may have been a little amped and didn’t stop the entire way up. The waterfall was pretty cool, both to look at and to the touch. Off to the right was a small, rocky area that I climbed up to enjoy the view more. To the left was a much taller rock area that looked pretty steep, but some guy climbed up to the top. I was not inclined to follow.

After the hike we took a couple hours to walk around some stores and then found a Flying J truck stop to shower at before meeting up with Carolyn and her friends to head into Salt Lake City. There was a small art showing for a local artist that was being held by some of Carolyn’s friends. And by small, I mean it was a tent. And by tent, I mean a canopy. Most of his work was African safari type stuff; elephants, a giraffe, all that. There were a couple abstract pieces, also. We didn’t stay there long, maybe 15 minutes at most.

From there, we headed to a nearby town called Draper to attend a music event that was part of their Draper Days celebration. It was packed and looked like it was part flea market and part fairground. We settled in at the far side, away from the majority of people and spent the evening talking about nonsense. My stubbornness was pointed out a couple of times in the difficulty of answering a simple question, like “what did you want to be when you were younger?” Apparently “nothing” was not a normal response, but that’s seriously how I’ve always felt. I’ve never wanted to be just one thing. I’d be just as happy building furniture as I would doing electrical or programming computers. As long as I can find creativity in what I do, that’s all I need. So much of what happens in my head is difficult for me to explain. As someone once told me several years ago, I am a contradiction. If I like something, then I probably also like its opposite, but expect to find both in one thing… which is almost impossible, except when dealing with people and even then it’s quite rare. Now I’m rambling.

It was a pretty good day. I enjoyed getting to do what I felt was a real hike for the first time in this trip and spending the evening with interesting people.

Oh, and I may have gotten bored and wrote something in the dirt on the back of the van…

Northern Utah

July 16, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

I woke up this morning undecided on the plan for today. The original plan was to just drive down to Grand Teton National Park after doing Yellowstone, but I really didn’t want to have to drive back into Yellowstone to get there, as the South exit for Yellowstone is the primary way to get to Grand Teton from where we were. Instead of thinking about the plan for the day, I read an amazing article about the Last True Hermit a friend had sent me. It’s honestly an amazing story and you should read it. Yes, YOU. Stop reading this garble and go read that story. It’s way cooler. The dude lived for 27 years in the woods, undetected!

Anywho, after I finished the article, I had decided it was time to leave the Yellowstone area and we headed South towards Utah. We stopped off in Rexburg, Idaho, and watched the Minions movie and then continued on our way. I think we arrived in Northern Utah right around 6:30pm.

Once in town, we met up with the lovely Carolyn and her roommate Camie to do a hike. I “met” Carolyn maybe a month or so ago after I messaged random people on a travel website about doing some hikes in Utah, since this was the state I planned on spending the most time in. We met up at a local coffee shop here, then headed off for the trail.

They called the hike Waterfall Canyon, but that’s not the actual name. I can’t remember the actual name, but it’s a hike part way up a mountain that leads to a pretty tall (easily a couple hundred feet high), but pretty dry waterfall (more of a trickle). I guess the winter was pretty mild here, so there’s not as much water on the mountain as usual. It was still a really nice view. The hike was fairly short, maybe around 20 to 30 minutes to get to the top. We all sat up there for a few hours just talking about random nonsense, waiting for the sun to go down before hiking back to the cars.

While talking with Carolyn and Camie, we got some good tips on places to see and things to do in the area so we’re probably gonna hang out here for a few days. There’s supposed to be a Farmer’s Market on Saturday we’ll be checking out and some concert on Sunday. We’ll hopefully get some more hikes squeezed in there, too.

It was pretty awesome meeting up with Carolyn and Camie. They’re both really young, but are quite outgoing and motivated people. I was really intrigued by Carolyn, who I spoke to the most, as she seems highly driven to live life outside of the box and I think that’s the most fantastic thing ever. It’s hard for me to even imagine myself at age 21, because of how different I was. I definitely never imagined myself gallivanting across the country in a van. The main thing I was thinking about back then was getting out of the military and getting a contracting job in Maryland to make the big bucks. It took me almost a decade after that before I finally did get out. It’s amazing how things change.

We’re camping out at another Walmart again tonight. Tomorrow should be a good day.

Day 9: Appalachian FAIL

March 25, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

I have conceded. Damn you, mountains. You are better than me. With my knee still sore and the next two back-to-back obstacles being Rocky Mountain (4,017 ft) and Tray Mountain (4,430 ft), both of which are steep and rocky, I have decided to admit defeat. I’m sure I could make the climb up, but the rocky climbs down are what worry me. I don’t want to wreck myself at the top of a mountain where no roads go.

I’m far too stubborn to go somewhere if I don’t think I can get back on my own accord. I don’t like relying on other people. I have other adventures I wanna go on, anyways. Like, living in a van and driving across the country going to places I’ve yet to be. Or driving Route 66. Or both. Or neither. Who knows? That’s for life to decide.

Day 8: Zero

March 24, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

I didn’t hike today. In hiker lingo, I took a zero day. My left knee was bothering me a lot this morning and it was painful walking up and down the three flights of stairs at the hotel to do laundry. It has swollen and feels warm to the touch (like, it has noticeably more heat coming from it than my other knee) and kinda spongy when I push on the knee cap.

Before I left town, I bought a knee brace and some ibuprofen but they don’t seem to be doing much. Funnily enough, it was difficult finding a knee brace in the small hiker town and I had to walk quite a bit to find a store with one available. The Rite-Aid had everything except knee braces and the pharmacy/first aid area at the grocery store didn’t have any braces that I noticed. I ended up finding plenty to choose from at a small medical supply store that seemed to cater to senior citizens.

The group I was with yesterday is already back on the trail, though they said they were only gonna do a couple miles to the nearest camp. Some of the people I saw at shelters days ago have caught up to me here but most of the people are all new to me.

Anyone know why a knee would feel warmer than usual? Or what would make it spongy?

Day 7: Low Gap to Unicoi Gap

March 23, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

Miles hiked: 9.7

Today was spa day. No joke. I ended today in the hot tub.

Last night I accidentally pitched my tent on a slight slope and spent the night trying not to slide off my sleeping pad. If it wasn’t for the rain, I would have fixed my tent positioning but didn’t feel like getting soaked. I started the day at 8:15am, trying to push out of camp before the big rush of other people. Only a couple people packed up and got out of there ahead of me. It was 9am before the sun peaked it’s head through the clouds, though the valleys were filled with a dense fog long beyond then.

The terrain today was fairly flat for almost the entire 10 miles. Nothing eventful happened on the trail and I spent the day alone until I took a break at a shelter around mile 7.

My left knee has been extremely sore all day, and has been like that since Blood Mountain. Today it was very noticeable for some reason, despite the flat terrain. I’m in town tonight and walking around without a pack I’ve still been limping.

While at the shelter for lunch, which was a couple fruit snack packs and a Snickers bar, I ran into a couple guys headed into town. I was already planning on getting off the trail due to my knee, but sharing a hotel with a hot tub sounded better than staying in a cheap hostel. We spent about an hour at the shelter before hitting the trail and doing another 2.4 miles to Unicoi Gap. It was 1,000 ft elevation drop over the course of a mile at the end. It was not enjoyable. By the time we reached the gap, we ended up getting a total of six guys to go in on a room, costing us about $17 each. It’s a fairly large room and can easily sleep six people.

The town of Hiawassee is about 14 miles from the gap, so we had to hitch a ride into town. It took about 30 minutes, but eventually we managed to get a truck to stop and they were cool enough to let all six of us jump in the back. I can tell you first hand, six guys and six fully loaded backpacks in the back of a pickup that has one of those big toolboxes is a very tight fit. Totally worth it and honestly one of the best and most fun parts of this trip so far. I’m with a group of guys I just met getting a ride from complete strangers into a small town in the middle of nowhere and every one of us were having a blast in the process.

We got dropped off at the edge of town and walked until we found the hotel. We pretty much just dropped our gear and hit the street again walking to a place called Big Al’s Pizza Buffet. After walking the wrong street, I looked up directions and we had a 17 minute walk to get there on the outskirts of town.

Upon arriving at Big Al’s, we were all greeted with disappointment to find out they’re closed Sundays and Mondays during the “off” season. Big Al, you bastard. Another 17 minute trek back into town. Yay.

We ended up going to Daniel’s All You Can Eat Steakhouse and each had multiple platefuls of food and desserts. The food wasn’t the greatest in the world and I was disappointed not to get pizza, but it was quite fulfilling nonetheless.

After going back to the room and taking a shower (separately, of course), we all hit the hot tub. The 10 mile day on the trail and miles of limping back and forth across town took a toll and it felt amazing to sit down and relax in the hot water.

My knee is absolutely killing me. I’ve been limping across town and I’m pretty sure I need a brace or something. I dunno, I’m not a doctor. This is the same knee I had x-rayed before I left and the one that “popped” when I was headed to Iraq in 2009. Not sure if I wanna hike tomorrow. My body is not used to all this “exercise” stuff.

The best moments of the past week have been hanging out in the shelters talking about nothing, complaining about feet pain, and spending time with strangers in the middle of nowhere. I don’t even care about the hike anymore, it’s 1,000 times more fun just hanging out with weirdos. I can see why Christopher McCandless enjoyed his travels so much (look him up if you don’t know who he is). Hitchhiking is a very interesting experience that I hope to do again.

Day 6: Neels Gap to Low Gap

March 22, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

Miles hiked: 11.5
Pack weight: 34 lbs

Today was rebirth. I got a late start today as I spent the morning switching out my shoes for something bigger. I ended up going from a 10.5 to a 12 and it made a world of difference; I’m no longer smashing my toes. There was a girl in the hostel taking a day off who I was talking to for a few minutes and both her big toes were completely black and bleeding. I wasn’t nearly that bad, as my right toe was just starting to get black.

Between yesterday and today, I also managed to drop a lot of weight from my pack, essentially ditching anything I hadn’t used since the first day. While I was at it, I upgraded my jacket and bought a belt. Sorry trail ladies, you will no longer be able to see half my ass as I walk. I’m sure you’re all disappointed.

After my gear changes, I grabbed a Powerade and hit the trail at 9:53am. I immediately questioned whether or not I was following the trail as I went 17 minutes without noticing a white blaze. They say of you go 1/4 mile without seeing one, you’re probably wrong. Luckily I kept going and within a minute a finally saw the little white stripe telling me I’m in the right place.

I hiked part of the morning with a guy I started the trail with six days ago. His name is Black-out (Matt) and we’ve talked about him at a couple shelters because of his story. When he arrived in Georgia last Monday, his pack did not arrive with him. Immediately, his mind went to the worst possible scenario – “my pack is gone.” He started hyperventilating and ended up blacking out, smashing his face against the counter at the Greyhound station.

Long story short, Greyhound somehow forgot to put his pack back on the bus at one of the pitstops but were able to get it to him by the end of the day. The black eye he got from smashing his face on the counter, that was just a bonus. For anyone thinking “so what? It’s just luggage,” imagine if you had $3,000 in the bank and had to live off it for six months. When you go to take money out, you’re told it’s not there. It’s gone. All of it. Now what do you do for six months? Even “cheap” gear can cost $2,000 or more. My gear is closer to $3,000 and some people spend as much as $4,000.

Anywho, after about an hour, Black-out stopped to rest and snack and I kept on pushing. I didn’t want to stop until my halfway point for today’s goal, right around mile six, which I reached around 1pm. I rested on a rock, took off my boots and socks, and sat there enjoying the quiet while eating a CLIF bar. Just as I was finishing, Black-out and another guy (“Chimney”) came chugging up the hill so we all walked together for awhile. Not too long after, a forth (“Too Loud”) joined our little train.

After about a mile, our train started splitting up and it ended up being me and Black-out walking the rest of the way to camp together. We arrived at 3:45pm and I had just enough time to set up my tent before the rain started. I’ve pretty much walked alone every day until today. It’s nice finding people that walk about the same pace. Tomorrow I’ll most likely be alone again, as I intend on doing 13 miles. And again the next day.

Today was the first day of hiking so far that, frankly, hasn’t sucked more than a cheap hooker on a Friday night. The new shoes and reduced pack weight has significantly improved my moral. That, or maybe it’s because I was able to get my ninja turtle recharge on with a delicious and nutritious pizza last night. It’s hard to tell.

I’m hoping tomorrow is a dry day.

Day 5: Wood’s Hole to Neels Gap

March 21, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

Miles hiked: 4.0

Today was rocky. With yesterday’s push, today was a short one that only consisted of tackling Blood Mountain, a mere 4,461 ft high bump on the earth.

It was a cold night and no one in the shelter wanted to get up, including me. I awoke before 7am and laid in my bag until almost 8:30 when my bladder forced me to finally get up. I left the shelter at 9:15.

My clothes were still wet from two days prior so I started the day wearing my long underwear and rain suit – by the top of Blood Mountain, I realized this was a bad idea as the temperature had increased significantly.

The climb up Blood Mountain was much easier than expected. I stopped at the top and took a few pictures, but they don’t come close to accurately presenting the view.

I also took a minute to change into a t-shirt. The climb down was extremely rocky and I noticed the impact on my knees a lot today. I reached Neels Gap at 11:45am. At Neels Gap, there’s an outfitter store as well as a hostel, which is where I’m staying tonight.

First task: getting a room and some real food. For $20 I got a room and some detergent to wash my clothes. I then grabbed two microwavable cheeseburgers, an apple juice, and a coke. After claiming a bunk, I sat down and immediately ate both cheeseburgers and a couple bags of chips that were left at the hostel by a church group. This was the greatest meal ever.

Second task: shower. It felt so great to wash the wretched gargoyle stench off. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any clothes to change into so I jumped back into my rain suit.

Third task: laundry. All of my clothes were soaked from the rain and sweat and smelled like monster funk. After washing everything and changing into some fresh, dry clothes, it made a world of difference. Not as much as eating real food, but still pretty nice.

I took the afternoon to organize everything in an attempt to drop some weight from my pack. The hostel has an oddly large collection of old VHS tapes so there was a series of old school movies being displayed on a gigantic 19″ screen. It was fantastic.

Day 4: Gooch Mountain to Wood’s Hole

March 20, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

Miles hiked: 12.8

Today was pain and that pain began at 8:19am. I had no intention of hiking over 12 miles when I woke up this morning. My original goal was to hike to Lance Creek and camp out like most of the people from the shelter last night were doing, as it’s only 8 miles. I didn’t take any pictures again today as it was misty almost all day.

I was making great time today and was very happy when I passed the 5 mile mark in 2.5 hours, only 3 more miles and I could be done for the day if I wanted to. I was double pleased that about an hour in I caught up with and passed the four Dartmouth girls who left camp almost 30 minutes before me. They are a group of hardcore ass kickers. I met up with them again at the 5 mile mark, where I was resting and taking a quick snack break. I took their picture for them and pushed on into the Chattahoochee National Forest.

The next few miles went a little slower, as I could feel my feet hurting. Oddly enough, I was able to ignore the pain as long as I was walking. It’s only when I stopped to rest or get a drink of water that I noticed how much they ached.

I arrived at Lance Creek around 12:30pm and foolishly decided to push on and try to make it to the shelter, which was more than four more miles. It was rough and slow going. It took me another hour and 20 minutes to reach Jarrod Gap, indicating I was halfway there. Most people avoid camping in this area because you’re required to have a bear canister between Jarrod Gap and Neels Gap, due to higher bear activity, and most people don’t.

After Jarrod Gap, I was pretty beat. I wasn’t looking forward to the next two miles, but it was far too late to turn around. I felt like I was taking baby steps, slowly but surely making progress. Finally, at 2:43pm I saw the sign for the shelter. I may have said some explatives out of joy at this point. I began walking the trail to the shelter, not realizing how far it was. The book says it’s 0.5 miles, but the book is a damn liar. It felt longer, though I may have just been tired.

It took me almost 15 minutes to actually reach the shelter. I immediately sat down and began changing into dry clothes. I also inspected my feet and noticed some new blisters (yes, plural).

Since I had the shelter to myself, I decided to stroll off, strip completely naked, and attempt to give myself a half-assed “bath”. The inside of my thighs were (are) chafed raw and bloody. My junk smelled like a rotting badger. After not showering for five days, I’m not too surprised.

I waddled back to the shelter (my feet REALLY hurt) and began to cook dinner (chicken pasta and tuna). I followed dinner with some pop-tarts and followed that with peanut butter crackers, dipped in peanut butter. Then I had some fruit snacks. I was quite hungry.

It took three hours before anyone else showed up at the shelter, a small group of four people just out here for a few days. They were at the shelter last night, but left to spend the night in a hostel instead since it was so packed.

Tomorrow is Blood Mountain, the highest peak on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. Frankly, I’m not looking forward to it. But Blood Mountain is all that stands between me and Neels Gap, a mere three miles away. If I can’t get new shoes there, I might be out of the game. I can’t keep going with these shoes.

Day 3: Hawk Mountain to Gooch Mountain

March 19, 2015 Categories Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking

Miles hiked: 7.7

Today was wet. And cold. And miserable. I only took one picture today and that was from inside the shelter.  I’m sitting here now in thick socks, long underwear, a jacket, a hat, and I’m inside my sleeping bag and it’s still a little cold out. Most of what motivated me today was anger.

I started this morning at 8:15am, after packing up all my gear in the rain. It started raining around 2am, I think, as that’s when I first heard drops on the tent. It rained all damn day.

The first three hours were tough climbs in the rain, though I heard they were tough even when dry. I thought I was making really good mileage until around 11am when I saw a sign that indicated I wasn’t even halfway through today’s goal. This was a huge downer.

My feet were killing me and I was so pissed off about the mileage that I just started going as fast as I could, ignoring how much my feet didn’t want to walk anymore. I didn’t even stop to eat today, I was too angry and just wanted the day to be done.

There were six people already at the shelter when I arrived around 1:15pm. I immediately claimed a spot before they were all gone, because I did not at all feel like setting up my tent today. After claiming my spot, I sat down and ate to stop my stomach from screaming at me.

I’m not happy. The slightest touch on my right big toe feels like someone is smashing it with a hammer. My left foot hurts like there’s two thorns stabbing the ball of it. It’s 12 miles to the next shelter and I don’t at all feel like walking it in the boots I have.

The only nice part of the day is sitting around with everyone else at the shelters and listening to people complain about the same things. “I’m cold, I’m hungry, my feet hurt.” Yep, I feel ya.

I want a pizza. A large one. And I want to eat it all (if you can’t tell, I’m still hungry).