What I learned during a week-long road trip and back-packing adventure in The Grand Canyon.
Ft. a questionable mini-van, a lifetime supply of Clif Bars, and ten 20-something year olds who started out as practically strangers.
Lesson 1: Anything is possible if you’ve got 10 drivers.
We left on a Friday night for the 18 hour drive to Moab, Utah. Zaka and I took the graveyard shift (3 am - 6 am) And after a bleary sunrise gas station stop, I konked out for a couple hours and woke up in the Colorado Rockies. Around lunch time, the snowy granite faces slowly gave way to towering red rock formations of Eastern Utah. Excitement + wonder + sleep deprivation = Meagan crying about mountains. It was a wild time.
We had 2 cars - Big Blue: an ancient mini van with over 250,000 miles on it, a broken left turn signal, and automatic doors that had long since refused to open without significant manual force. And a a Hundai Tuscon with backseat leg room about 4 inches too short if you're over 5'5" (Sorry Zaka). But believe it or not, we drove the full 26 hours back from the Canyon to Minneapolis in one stint.
Lesson 2: CDs and Paper Maps have not gone out of style
Here I was, thinking that my phone had everything I needed in life. A truly unfortunate position to be in. Turns out the entire state of Arizona does not have AT&T service (if you know otherwise, feel free to correct me). So shout out to all the traditionalists on the trip who brought analogue forms of navigation and tunes.
Lesson 3: Pack Light
Packing light means a whole new thing when you realize that everything you need, including food, sleeping gear, and tents, must be carried around on your back for 4 days and over 10,000 ft of elevation change. I'm not going to lie - I wore the same pair of leggings for the whole trip. Standards for personal hygiene really shift when your group leader declares that deodorant is unnecessary weight (I did not heed this advice, sorry Joe) and you don't have access to running water.
Lesson 4: Dry Socks
Regardless of my previous statement about packing light - nothing can replace the value of clean, dry socks. Don't skimp on this one folks.
Lesson 5: Cacti don’t mess around.
Turns out Cacti grow in the ground too, not just in terracotta pots in my window sills. And friends, let me tell you, they mean business. I managed to avoid pin-cushion hands and ankles, but some members of our group were not so lucky.
Lesson 6: Hunger is the best seasoning
I never thought my new favorite food would be instant Aldi alfredo with sweet chili tuna packets, but I gotta say, after a full day of hiking, that stuff tastes like a $50 steak dinner. The only thing I could have probably done without is a week of clif bars for breakfast.
Lesson 7: Beware the Jackalopes
Speaking of food. I found out you have to put anything edible or scented in a chain mail bag and suspend it above the ground because the rats in the canyon are so savage. Other hikers we passed told us stories about ring-tailed weasels climbing into their tents at night. However, all I saw of these fabled rodents was a single mouse the size of an egg. So believe what you will about the Jackalopes of the Canyon, but I left somewhat skeptical.
Lesson 8: Your body is capable of more than your brain thinks it is
Let it be known that I would not recommend a couch to grand canyon fitness regimen. Let it also be known that I did not heed that advice. There were a solid two hours climbing out of the canyon (Bright Angel Trail - 8 miles, 4300 ft climb) where I did not think I could take another step. But some way, some how, I am no longer in that canyon. I would like to thank my legs for not giving up on me
Lesson 9: If you want to go far, go together.
In addition to my legs, I would like to thank my fiance for not giving up on me. He literally held my hand and dragged me up the trail. What a guy.
Lesson 10: If you want to build relationships fast, endure 50+ hours in the car and several days in the wilderness together
This trip threw ten 20-something year olds in different stages of education (undergrad, grad school, working), relationships (single, dating, engaged, married), careers, heights (4'10" - 6'2") and interests (farming to accounting to theology and back again) together and I cannot believe how well we got along.