After picking Rocket Girl, Legs, and Dorothy up with Santa from Baxter State Park as they concluded their Appalachian Trail thru-hikes atop Mt. Katahdin, we headed back to Boston, spending a night in Maine to break up the drive. In order to make things easier going forward, I'll introduce this crew to you by their real names... It's funny to think that you've known them for all this time simply by their trail names, but to make writing easier I'll have to switch to real names. Santa is Sean, Rocket Girl's name is Anna, Legs is Kelly, and Dorothy's more appropriately masculine birth name is Justin. Parting ways with Sean at his family's summer house on the ocean the rest of us headed on towards Boston where we spent a few days before beginning the cross county drive. Kelly and her puppy Naila were reunited after a month of separation, and we spent our first night watching the Pixar movie 'Up!' which was commonly referenced on the trail. With a gorgeous summer Sunday afternoon spent wandering around Boston's Back Bay and Public Gardens we were packed up and headed south shortly after breakfast on Monday. Our trip to California, originally intended to drop Anna off at her house in Berkeley, transformed into an adventure across the US, which first required dropping the 75lb puppy off at home in North Carolina to free up our responsibilities during the trip.
One thing that is going to take some getting used to with the continuation of blogging is to pick and choose what I go into detail about. Having spent 114 days blogging about precise details of every day, I'm going to try and summarize some things and go into more detail with others... bear with me on this.
Our travels turned west around 1600hrs on Tuesday the 5th of August after a great afternoon spent in Chapel Hill with Canary, one of the hikers we had summited Katahdin with just a few days earlier. We would end up driving for 29 hours straight, taking shifts between three of us at the wheel. Passing through North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and well into Texas on Interstate 40. A cheap motel was our home for the night, and we were asleep early after the long stretch of being in the car. The plan for the next day was to make it up to Colorado Springs where Justin's friend was a guide at a white water rafting establishment. The next morning after an early start and a few hours in the car, we were being fitted for life jackets and waterproof booties, then shuttled 15 miles or so to the launch site of Royal Gorge where a two hour rafting adventure would begin. Paddling in a boat with us four hikers, Justin's friend Savannah, and our pro-guide Kyle, we traversed through class 3 and 4 rapids with names like the Boateater, Sledgehammer, The Narrows, and Wallslammer. Having never been rafting before the afternoon was physically challenging and scenically gorgeous, including at one point padding through rapid sections in the middle of a rain and lightning storm. Rock cliffs towered 1,000 feet above us at some points, shooting straight up from the riverbed with thousands of years of stories etched into their walls by the water and men alike. Train tracks curve their way through the gorge, home to a tourist railway exposing people to views otherwise unvisitable (rafting and the train are the only way into this gorge due to private land ownership), and remnants of old water piping installed by prisoners in the early 1900s are still visible in the rock walls. The hours flew by, and soon enough we were packed up and on our way further north into Colorado where we would tour through Garden of the Gods, then spend the night with another of Justin's friends on base at Fort Carson. Ultimately Justin would decide that it was best for him to stay in Denver and head back to school in Georgia without finishing our drive with us leaving Anna, Kelly, and myself to carry on.
In the next days we drove more reasonable mileage, camping in tents in the desert alongside the highway when we decided to call it a night. Friday the 8th we traveled a few miles out of the way to traipse around the stunning Arches National Park, just minutes outside of famed Moab, Utah. Having never been to either place before, it was absolutely indescribable how beautiful the scenery is. Rock formations jut out of what is otherwise flat desert, with a thousand shades of red stone decorating the skyline. We drove through the park, stopping at the main hi lights (Balanced Rock, The Windows, Garden of Eden) before parking the car in a full lot and hiking the mile and a half in to see Delicate Arch, arguably the most photographed and famous of the Arches formations. It felt absolutely amazing to hike here, unbelievably opposite to any kind of hiking done on the Appalachian Trail, and more of a taste of what the Continental Divide Trail would be. Having arrived before 8 AM, we were back on the road by 1300hrs, having made another quick detour to the site of dinosaur footprints from another millennia. Located near to the famed a Poison Spider of Moab, I was practically drooling while watching a half dozen modified Jeeps venture out of the desert. Someday I'll come back with my Wrangler as well, plans might even be in the works to take the Jeep club that I'm president of out to this area in the next year or two. We got back on the road and drove on towards California, exhaust by hiking in the direct heat but ready for the west coast.
Due to our seemingly scatter plot style route across the US, we ended up somewhat north of most highways that are main arteries between the east and west. As such we found ourselves on Route 50, aptly nicknamed the 'Loneliest Highway in America', which we would end up driving from one end to the other. With a road that was perfectly straight for as far as the eye could see, we ventured on through Utah and Nevada. Sunset swept over the valley and painted the sky with vibrant colors, and our headlights led the way as dusk settled and the full moon crept up into the sky. Stopping to photograph the moon, we swapped drivers and I drove us another half hour into a small town where another cheap hotel room in a century old saloon became our home for the night. The next day brought us through to California, and after reuniting Anna with her parents at their second home in the Sierra Mountains, Kelly and I ventured on to Sacramento where we spent the night with my good friend Kim. A delicious barbecue dinner with freshly made salad, prepared and cooked by Kimberly herself, we enjoyed drinks and dinner on the back patio before moving inside for music and card games with her friend Amy until the early morning hours.
A few hours of driving on Monday landed Kelly and me in Berkeley, California, where we met up with Anna, her parents, and another A.T. hiker named Garrett at their Bay Area home. We had met Garrett in Lincoln, NH when staying at Chet's Place Hostel back in early July. At 19 years old he spent a month on the Trail before heading to California with a one way plane ticket. Not ready to go to college without deciding on what it is he'd actually like to do in life, his plan is simply to travel and work where possible to see where he'd like to be in the future. Having been inspired by my blog (he reminded me of this frequently) he started his own and has been video-blogging, editing together 30 second clips of his days venturing around.
The week is slated to include visits with Anna's family and friends, adventuring around San Francisco (Kelly and Garrett have never been here before), visiting with my family and local friends, and hopefully photographing a sunset or two between the Golden Gate Bridge and recently renovated Bay Bridge. I'll save the week's activities for another blog post, in the interest of keeping this one from getting any longer, and breaking everything up to try and keep it interesting.
Insert new trademarked closing remarks... Does 'onwards and upwards' still seem relevant?
P.S. A week of photos is a lot to post at once, so I'm going to try arranging them in a gallery style. You can click individual photos to enlarge them and see a caption.