Thursday, September 23, 2010

Road Trip 2010, Part 2

It was only a couple of hours ride from Page to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I was held up from getting into the village because of road construction, but I finally did and met up with my parents who were already there for the Grand Canyon Celebration of the Arts, a plein air painting event with a number of invited artists. They were staying at the parks service's training "dorms," more like an average motel, and had arranged to get me a room next to theirs. Nobody was in the office, however, so I couldn't get into my room right away so we went to my parents' room for a little while before going into the nearby town of Tusayan for a luncheon. The luncheon was held at a brand new Western museum (they had their grand opening later that day) with Grand Canyon and Old West history, as well as a very nice collection of Grand Canyon art. The art was probably the real reason for getting the group there, and the man whose collection the art is from gave a little rambling speech about art. After lunch I got checked into my room and dumped all the stuff off of my bike. I went with my parents for a drive along the south rim west of the village. The road is normally closed to private vehicles, but artists were given special permission for the event. After stopping and checking out a few overlooks, my dad set up to paint and I went for a little run. I ran about 2 miles along the unpaved south rim trail, which was fairly level, well maintained, mostly shaded, and of course had spectacular views. My mom picked me up down the road and we went back to the room for a little bit while my dad painted. Later on, we all went to one of the lodges to meet up with some of the other artists for pizza.

Right around sunrise on Tuesday I rode south toward Flagstaff, to the Arizona Snowbowl, which I had briefly stopped at a couple of years ago (but didn't hike to AZ's highpoint). It felt like a decent temperature standing in the parking lot in Grand Canyon Village, but I was soon glad I was wearing my chaps and heavy jacket- a sign in Tusayan said the temperature was 47, which I didn't entirely believe, but it was pretty cool. It warmed up as I went south and into slightly lower altitude, but it started cooling off again as I climbed again into the San Francisco Peaks. I arrived at the trailhead parking area (around 9,000 ft elevation) and changed from riding gear to hiking gear. The very start of the trail crosses a clearing that, in the winter, is a ski trail, then it goes through the woods up to tree line. My first stop was in a switchback right next to a very rocky slope that might have been a nice ski run except that the ski area is on Agassiz Peak, and I was climbing Humphreys Peak. My second stop was right at tree line, just before the trail reached a saddle, where in one direction the trail went to Humphreys and in the other direction went up some subsidiary peaks. I had passed three people who were also going up on my way up, and just above the saddle passed a woman descending from the summit. The end of the trail was all rocky, and in a couple of places a bit hard to follow. The air was thinner up top, but not nearly as bad as Elbert was (being almost 2000 feet shorter at 12,633 ft). However, right at the summit the strong wind brought a lungfull of smoke from the many (hopefully) prescribed burns in the area, which was rather unpleasant. Fortunately it didn't stay too smoky, it was mainly that initial blast right as I summitted. I ducked behind the rock wind shelter, where there were already two women from Indiana resting from their climb. One woman was a fellow highpointer, and she had done some I haven't yet, and she hadn't done Rainier yet, so we chatted and traded notes. It was her friend's first highpoint, and had been sort of dragged along for the trip. I took some pictures from the summit (and had the women take one of me), but visibility was pretty low because of the fires, then started down just ahead of the two women. They caught up to me when I took a long break partway down to air my feet out, retape my blisters (from Elbert), and put on clean socks. Feeling refreshed from the break, I started jogging down, at least over the dirt sections of the trail, and slowing down over the rocky sections. I passed the women again, as well as a number of people going up, and made it back to my bike around 1:30, roughly 5 and a half hours after I had started. I changed back into riding mode, and headed on my way- but naturally I didn't take the most direct route back to the Grand Canyon, I went through Flagstaff and stopped at the Harley shop west of town for a t-shirt. They also had a roadhouse-style restaurant on their property, and since I was hungry I went in for a hamburger. The place was almost deserted and it was "grill your own" meat, but it turned out okay. I got back around 4, got cleaned up, and a little later went to dinner with my parents at the El Tovar Hotel in the village. It was a really nice place and the food was delicious- I had a pork chop, my dad had duck, and my mom had a shrimp dish. After dinner we met up with some of the other artists in the lounge area back at the training center. At one point, it was like back in school with yearbooks, with the artists passing copies of the event catalog for the other artists to sign by the work they submitted for the show.

Wednesday morning I went with my parents to Yaki Point to watch the sun rise. The Grand Canyon is pretty spectacular from pretty much any point and with any light, but it felt extra special at sunrise. We went over to the South Kaibab trailhead, where my dad set up to do a painting and I started on a hike down into the canyon. My mom went with me a very short ways down the trail, then watched as I shrunk away down the switchbacks. It only took me about 25 minutes to get down to Cedar Ridge, which I had confused myself into thinking was as far as I had intended to go. When I realized I had confused the 3 miles roundtrip to Cedar Ridge with the 3 miles one way I had intended, I continued down into the canyon until I got to Skeleton Point, 2,000 feet vertically below the rim, around 8 am. Just below that point was the first view down to the river. There are rapids at the point of the river that is visible, and I could hear them 2,500 feet below. The view was spectacular, and a completely different perspective than looking down from the rim. I probably would have gone a little further down, but I didn't want to keep my parents waiting since they were expecting me to take about 3 hours. I probably wouldn't have tried to go all the way to the river, since it is highly discouraged as a day hike, and the temperature that far down was still over 100 degrees, even though it was so pleasant on the rim. When I started planning this trip, I briefly considered doing a "rim to rim," hiking from the north to the south rim, but what I read didn't recommend it, and the high temperatures down in the canyon dissuaded me. It will remain on my list of things to do "some day" for now. I started back up the trail charging hard, until I had to stop to catch my breath. I took a longer break once I got back to Cedar Ridge, then started the charge back up to the rim. There were quite a few people coming down in the other direction, which made me think "if this is the less popular trail, I'd hate to be on Bright Angel Trail." I got back up to the trailhead around 9:30, just as my mom was coming over thinking she would see me coming back up the switchbacks. We loaded up and went further east to Shoshone Point, which is sort of a narrow peninsula into the canyon from the rim and giving a panoramic view. I of course rushed out to the end, while my mom could barely stand to watch me. It was a really nice spot, and hard for most tourists to get to, so it was quiet and not surprisingly there were a few artists set up in the area. We headed back to the village from there, and after lunch I zonked out and had my only nap of the trip. That evening I went with my parents and the other artists to dinner at the park superintendent's house in the village, along with some other park employees and sponsors of the event. It was informal, with heavy hors d'oeuvres instead of an entree. I enjoyed the whole thing, but especially getting to talk to the superintendent and assistant superintendent. Being pretty high up the food chain of the parks department, they've both traveled all over to various National Parks and I always enjoy talking about the parks. The Grand Canyon superintendent, Steve Martin (no relation), was previously superintendent of Grand Teton National park and has climbed Grand Teton several times, so I was able to talk climbing with him as well. I really could have talked to him all night, but obviously he had to socialize with everybody. Later on, back at the training center one of the artists gave me and my parents a preview of the work he'd been doing as well as that of his roommate. It was all spectacular, and I arranged to purchase one of Cody DeLong's plein air paintings he had done that week. If I had stayed longer, I might have purchased some from other artists as well, but the road she is a harsh mistress.

I got the bike all packed up and left Grand Canyon right at dawn on Thursday. I was dressed warmly at first, and it was cold again in Tusayan, but it warmed up quickly and I packed away the chaps and jacket at the first gas stop, somewhere on I-40 east of Flagstaff. I cruised along the interstate all the way to Albuquerque, NM, where I made a little stop at Isotopes Stadium. For anyone not a big Simpsons or baseball fan (myself being the former), the name for the team (unofficially) comes from an episode of the Simpsons, where the Springfield Isotopes threaten to move to Albuquerque. My favorite thing about Albuquerque (and I can't say I know much about the city) is that the people chose the name Isotopes. I've always thought about going to a game when they're visiting the Round Rock Express, but never have, so since I was already going through the area, I decided I'd stop in for a visit. Since their season is over, the place was practically shut down and I had to find somebody to sell me a t-shirt, and they didn't have much selection in my size. I took I-25 from there to Santa Fe, where I got the coveted picture of my bike with the Capitol. I went in to look around, even though I had already seen the inside in February. When I got back on the bike, it was not happy. It was popping, sputtering, and just plain running like crap. I tried pulling over and shutting it off, to see if maybe it was just in some funky mode and needed to be reset or something. When that didn't work, the only thing I could think is that maybe it was overheated, so I pulled over and parked under a tree for fifteen minutes. I was really worried, and was thinking I might have to get it towed to the local Harley shop or something- but at least I was in a major city and close to a shop. I tried starting her again after 15 minutes for both of us to cool down (it was actually not that hot in Santa Fe, it was hotter in Albuquerque), and whatever Gremlin had been fouling things up had moved on, and the bike ran just fine. I headed a pretty good ways north from Santa Fe, almost to Colorado, before turning east toward Texas. When mapping out the route, I found that if I just added a minor detour, I could add a few new New Mexico counties, so of course that's the route I took. This would have been a perfectly fine strategy, except that it was getting dark, and this was a rural area. I was pretty relieved that I was able to get gas in the tiny town of Roy, even if it was low-grade. It was really dark when I headed out the small road back to the US highway. It wasn't long before I saw one of the most dreaded country sights: the glow of reflection of an animal's eyes. First, there were a whole bunch of deer, and later I saw a solitary deer. I almost locked the wheels up stopping for the first bunch from ~50 mph, but kept my speed down closer to 40 after that. I was glad to make it back to the highway intact, and even though traffic was very light, a few cars felt better than no cars. I stopped for the night just short of the Texas border in the town of Clayton, some time after 9.

I got going a little after sunrise, had the pretty decent breakfast, and headed for Texas. As ever, I didn't take the direct route home, I wound my way through the last 5 counties in the panhandle I had yet to ride through. The riding was pretty standard for a second straight 700 mile day- my back was not happy, I was pretty much sick of my iPod, and I mostly just wanted to be home already. There were a lot of clouds in the sky as I approached Llano and the sun was setting. I could see there was rain in the area, so I pulled over and got on my rain gear just outside of town. Fortunately, I didn't run into any actual rain, but did go through some spots of wet pavement, so it was definitely nearby. I got home around 10 but didn't wind up going to sleep until almost 1. I didn't do much of anything over the weekend, just tried to get caught up with the postal mail and my work email. I would have mowed the badly overgrown lawn, but it sprinkled on and off both days.

The final tally for the trip is 3866 miles in 10 days. Good trip, but too much in too little time, as always.

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