Finally, we have begun our reentry into polite society. After 92 days on the road, we have landed in the welcoming embrace of Scott’s Auntie Jo and Uncle Dennis in Park City, Utah. For a time, we can go to sleep without deploying our tent, run an errand in the truck without packing up the tent, drink a cup of coffee without setting up our kitchen, and answer natures call without a shovel.
We arrived late, per usual, and were greeted with hugs and a home cooked meal including salad! We have not had many fresh greens because they take up too much room in our fridge and go bad with a quickness. Our over-reliance on cabbage and broccoli to stave off the scurvy left us really appreciating a fresh salad. Anyhow, we absolutely loved our time in Park City. We were finally feeling liberated from the precautions we had been taking while hiking around in bear country. Scott was excited to run fast through the wilderness without shouting and shaking bear bells. Jo and I dropped him off at one of the ski hills to run long and fast on the trails that zig-zag over the countryside connecting the different resorts (mostly for mountain bikers).
We, on the other hand, decided to find a more mellow walk/hike and take in the first signs of fall. We got a little derailed by the lure of lunch and found that we could enjoy the signs of fall just as easily from a table on the patio of a delightful restaurant. Scott was getting enough cardio for all of us.
I did eventually go on a run with Scott on one of the days that followed. We ran a leisurely four miles in the mid-day heat and came across one giant bull elk who was out and about looking for the ladies. That was exciting! We also went to what we thought was a gentle yoga class at the rec center with Jo. It turned out to be quite vigorous yoga that kicked our butts! All of the exercise (followed by easily accessible showers), delicious meals, fresh coffee at the push of a button, and a soft cloud of a mattress had us wanting to stay indefinitely. Despite all of the creature comforts that we enjoyed being reacquainted with, our favorite part about our time in Park City was being able to check in and enjoy quality time with family. The hardest thing about this travel style is the isolation from the people we love. We eventually had to tear ourselves away from that comfortable cocoon and continue down the road.
Before we left Park City, Dennis had shared his recommendation for our route south optimizing beauty with efficiency which is exactly what we aim for in a route!
We took a combination of back roads and freeways to lead us into Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. We found a campsite off the side of a side road just as the golden light of sunset faded to purple. The air was warm and we were so far from any light pollution that the stars were distractingly bright. It felt good to be back out in the wilderness. The next morning, I woke up early and made our coffee in the warm desert sun. We didn’t dilly-dally too much because we wanted to sneak a hike in before heading over to Zion to visit my dear friend Drey. We were camped very close to the trailhead of Zebra Slot Canyon Trail which was reported to be about four miles round trip and very beautiful. When we pulled into the trailhead parking area there was a couple there who had just finished the hike. They warned us that we were in for a bit of a swim in the canyon. That was exciting news! They, like us, were on a mission to get to Ushuaia, Argentina except they are skipping Central America and shipping their rig from Boston to Colombia. It is always fun to find other overlanders and trade information. Anyhow, in the interest of time (and Scott’s happiness) we decided to run the trail up to the canyon.
I slowed down toward the furthest extent of our hike because the trail got hard to follow, it was pretty hot out, and I was getting distracted by cute grasses. If you’ve ever encountered fluffgrass (Dasyochloa pulchella) in its natural habitat you know what I mean. Fun fact; the fluff on the fluffgrass is secreted mineral salts that are washed off when it rains.
Seemed like good enough reasons to walk! At the entrance to the slot canyon we met up with a couple of other hikers. John and Bonnie from Virginia were already wading into the murky water. I didn’t want to have to hike out in wet tennies so I made the difficult decision to wade in barefoot. I have a wee phobia of being in water where I can’t see my feet. Add that to mild claustrophobia and I was a bit on edge as we went deeper into the canyon. Scott commonly runs in wet shoes (he is a fan of river crossings) and had no qualms about plodding forward with fully clad feet. Lucky for me, the floor of the canyon was smooth and sandy. Large bullfrog tadpoles led the way as we explored the twists and turns of the canyon. Tiny lizards skittered along the striped sandstone walls watching us descend into pools deep enough for water to lap at my chin. The Shel Silverstein poem about being swallowed by a snake kept running through my mind. “Oh heck, I’m up to my neck.” Eventually John and Bonnie decided they had gone far enough and the four of us had an absurdly intimate moment as we crossed paths through the very narrow canyon. The path eventually led out of the water and started to climb towards the upper rim. I was still barefoot and lobbied to turn around and head back the way we came. On our return, we shared another couple absurdly intimate moments with one hiker from Israel and another from England.
We took it slow on the way back until my shorts were dry (chub rub is real), then ran back to the truck with a few stops for photos when something cool caught our eyes. We have been continually telling ourselves that the southwest is in our backyard and we can return so easily as a way of talking ourselves down from a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out). Every direction we looked was begging us to explore. If we didn’t have Latin America calling our names, I’m sure we would still be tucked up in a canyon in Escalante right now. On our way to Drey’s, we managed to sneak a peek at Bryce Canyon National Park. I’m definitely putting this one on my list of places to explore further. I remember my grandparents telling me that Bryce Canyon was their favorite park. Having visited, I think it might be because it is high elevation and therefore cooler. Plus, so much beauty can be seen from the scenic overlooks. I like to imagine them peeking over the edge and then retiring to their motorhome to play skip-bo with a dish of cashews and a cold glass of white zinfandel. I miss them.
We pulled into my friend Drey’s place just outside Zion National Park in time to check out her space before our stomachs started ringing the dinner bell. We shared a lovely dinner and settled in for another night of comfort after having spent only one night out in the wilds since our Park City respite. We shared only one full day with Drey in Zion, again using the backyard excuse for moving quickly. Scott spent the day running on the East Rim Trail and I spent the day flopping around in the creek with Drey, soaking up some much-needed girl time.
Too quickly, we left Zion promising each other that we would return sooner than later. We had intended on skipping Las Vegas altogether but made a pit stop to meet up with one of Scott’s favorite people from Butte College, Cassidy. She had recently relocated back to her Utah stomping grounds and happened to be in Las Vegas exactly when we were passing through. Kismet. We met at a little brewery in the Arts District called Hop Nuts. The beer was fabulous and the company was better.
After hugging Cassidy goodbye, we hightailed it out of Las Vegas and headed straight to Death Valley. Neither Scott nor I had ever visited Death Valley National Park before and were really excited to check it out. Let it be known that if you enter California at Death Valley you are not subject to any agricultural inspections. At least we weren’t. Yay! We got to keep all of our delicious veggies Drey sent us off with without lying to the authorities! We still had a sour taste in our mouths after sacrificing our limes to the Alaskan border guard all those months before. Anyhow, we arrived in Death Valley after dark in a hot wind storm. One cool thing about Death Valley that is unique to my experience of National Parks is that camping is allowed outside of designated campgrounds. There are certain areas that are off limits but overall camping is allowed if you are at least a mile from the main road. We headed up a huge broad dry riverbed that google maps showed as a road. There was nothing road-like about our route. We promptly lost the tire tracks we were following and the shadows cast by our headlights made every nuance of the riverbed exaggerated and dramatic. Eventually, the little blue dot that represented us on our phone screen was a mile off of the road so we found the most level spot to stop and put an end to the madness. Upon opening our doors, the wind immediately stole Scott’s hat. A few panicked moments were spent with the mag light in the dark scouring the nearby bushes for Scott’s hat until we found it crammed into the roof rack of The Joan. She always has our backs!
When morning came we were so enamored by the now cool and gentle breezes that we contemplated just spending the day in that riverbed. Luckily, we decided to push on. Those breezes turned hot and nasty before we were fully packed up and ready to go. We toured Death Valley with the same attention to detail that we gave Yellowstone. Not much.
We visited the Artist’s Palette, the Devil’s Golf Course, and the Badwater Basin. The latter sucked enough life out of us so fast that we were compelled to leave before Death Valley successfully mummified us. There was a sign that warned us not to venture onto the salt flats after 10:00 am. We headed out into that fiery abyss at 1:30 in the afternoon. We aren’t ones to let silly little warning signs get in the way of our park experience! Our bodies, still getting over the shock of a chilly Canadian summer didn’t quite know how to handle Badwater Basin. Run away!
We headed off to the relative cool of the Eastern Sierras. Bishop provided us with dinner and a brewski and then we headed up into an area called The Buttermilks to camp. When morning came we were surrounded by Sprinter vans full of boulderers form Los Angeles. We enjoyed visits from each of their dogs (LA boulderers all have nice dogs). We didn’t linger that morning as we were on a mission to get to our friend, Cadence’s, house in Reno. We did make one pit stop on the way to soak ourselves in one of the many hot springs in the Eastern Sierras. We went to one called Crab Cooker. Three grad students from UCSF were sitting on the edge of the pool daring each other to get in when we arrived. Apparently, the pool had just been emptied and refilled with boiling water about an hour prior to our arrival. I have a very high tolerance for hot water and it was too hot for me. We chatted as the water cooled and eventually I felt like it had dropped to a nonlethal temperature. I slid into the water as the grad students gasped in horror. My experience in that hot spring consisted of a series of short dips as the temperature slowly became saner. Within a half hour of our arrival, we were all soaking together.
We left them to it after a spell as we had to get to Reno! With one more pit stop on the way at the Whoa Nellie Deli for a snack because god forbid we arrive anywhere on time! As we found a seat to await our food we happened upon our new friend Scott Jones who we had met this spring while competing for glory in the illustrious, world-renowned Skyeland Games. We chatted for a bit but had to tear ourselves away as the day was escaping us.
We rolled into Reno just before Cadence gave up all hope of eating dinner at a civilized hour. She had whooped up a delicious, vegan and gluten-free pizza that came out of the oven just as we darkened her doorstep. We resisted the urge to chat the night away because we had big plans for the next day! Our alarms went off before the sun deigned to peek over the horizon. This was not a problem for us because Cadence had made coffee! Dark, strong, life-giving coffee. Anything is possible with that elixir of the gods on our side. Our plan for the day was to rendezvous with some of Cadence’s friends and ride mountain bikes down the Tahoe Flume Trail. The trail starts out at around 7000 feet in elevation and proceeds further uphill (torture) for about 4 miles followed by 10 miles of undulating downhill (bliss) with spectacular views of Lake Tahoe far below. We had ridden this trail with Cadence and her then-sweetie-now-hubby Dave about 5 years ago. So, I knew what I was getting into. I ended up walking my bike for the last stretch of the uphill section with quivering calves. Last time, Dave came to my rescue and carried my bike up the last stretch for me. In my enthusiasm for coffee that morning I had given short shrift to thoughts of breakfast. I would have begged some sustenance off of Scott but he had opted to run the trail while we biked. I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him since he left the peloton in his dust at the first whisper of a hill. Cadence came to my rescue with gifts of dark chocolate and goji berries at the highest point of the trail. Feeling fortified by such antioxidant-rich delights I felt emboldened to actually loosen my death-grip on the brakes once or twice on our way down.
When we arrived at the café conveniently located at the bottom of the trail Scott was already into his second pint of IPA and had made about 6 new best friends. One of Scott’s many superpowers is running downhill, so this trail was made for him! We all ordered some much-deserved lunch and then, once cars were picked up from the trailhead, we headed for the lake for a swim.
We followed that swim up with a delicious Thai meal. This day was the last real adventure of the northern leg of our journey. It was such a pleasure to get to cap off this stretch with an outing with Cadence. She has been a partner in crime for some of my wildest adventures in life and I’m sure we have a few more up our sleeves for the future!
One last stop in the Sierras at Scott’s Aunt and Uncles house in Donner to catch up with Scott’s Aunt Barb and his cousins Mike and Jill and their youngest, Naomi. To our delight, Barb had kindly prepared a much-coveted salad special for us! The visit was sweet and too short but Chico was calling us pretty loudly. We were anxious to head down to the valley to visit our family and friends… and reorganize The Joan Wilder!