So I left Lake Powell and hit the road thinking I was going to Flagstaff, Arizona but I knew I had to stop at Horseshoe Bend which is just 20 minutes outside the city. You park in a little lot on the side of the road, walk 15 minutes to the edge and boom. You are hit in the face with this miraculous view. There is no guard rail, no fence, and you instantly think of how many people have fallen over. But you also think, wow, this is beautiful. The whole land in Northern Arizona is pretty spectacular and I kept wondering how many places remain hidden and how it must have felt to be the first one to discover landmarks like this or Lower Antelope Canyon. And how many remain undiscovered throughout the depths of the dessert.
I got back into my car and began the 4 hour drive to Flagstaff. I was on the road and making good time but then I passed a sign that said “Grand Canyon” with an arrow going the other direction of Flagstaff. I thought ‘I have been there once so I guess I don’t really have to go.’ Then I realized how dumb that thought was. I immediately pulled a U-Turn and went directly to the Grand Canyon. That idea is like saying ‘yeah I’ve seen Jaws once so I don’t have to see it again’. Except it’s not Jaws. It’s the Grand F*cking Canyon.
I arrived at 9pm and the problem with a last minute change up like this is of course all the campsites were booked and every visitor center was closed. I wasn’t sure what to do, it was late at night and pitch black outside plus I had no clue where exactly I was. I drove out of the park and thought there has to be a campground for the overflow traffic… and I was right, there was. And they were sold out as well. So, I drove to the nearest hotel and as I walked in, I instantly recognized this place from some photos. Oddly enough, my friend’s family owned this hotel. I thought I was saved for sure. But of course, every room was sold out and my friend was in Mexico and unable to be reached.
By now it’s like 10:30pm and the guy at the desk kind of saw in my face that I was, well, screwed. He nicely called the bartender and they gave me a fantastic cup of Jameson for free. I used the wifi and learned you can actually camp on any Forest Service Road for free! I googled the nearest one and it was 2 minutes away, so I thanked the Canyon Resort and drove off. At first these roads looked like a scary movie, pitch black, off roading, deep forest. I kept hearing the dueling banjo of Deliverance in my mind… and then I saw a camp fire. People! I breathed a huge sigh of relief and found a little random spot on the grass, set up my tent with no rain tarp so I could see the stars which were beyond incredible at 8,000 feet elevation. I laid down and laughed at how I seem to get in these random situations and yet they typically work out… This morning I woke up on an island and tonight I was going to sleep on a canyon.
The following morning I explored the Grand Canyon and walked along the Rim Trail and then did a 3 mile hike down into the canyon. It’s breathtaking and while you don’t need a ton of time there, it is such a sight to see. I left after a few hours and headed to my original destination of Flagstaff. I spent the night at a KOA campground across from a Best Buy and Safeway. KOA means Kampgrounds of America (thanks Google) and they’re basically glampsites with free wi-fi and playgrounds, showers, laundry etc. It was so bizarre to have all these amenities coming from vault toilets and no running water… But for one night it was kind of great because I could watch LOST in my tent.
The next morning I drove to Scottsdale and this was the only city in my entire journey that I had been before. It was Monday night and I had some friends who lived there so we went to a bar for football, beer, and wings. It was actually really nice to be social after so many nights alone in my tent. The next day I walked around and checked out ASU’s campus and Mill Ave which is a street like all colleges have, the one filled with bars, restaurants and little shops. It was really cool to explore the college campus but it made me nostalgic for Colorado University, for youthfulness, and just college life in general… almost too nostalgic. I had to get out of there before I went to the admissions office and enrolled… After all, ASU was my backup to CU… Go Buffs!
The next day I left Scottsdale and drove 5 hours to Joshua Tree. I’ve heard amazing things about J Tree and have been wanting to go for a while. Once I arrived, I set up my campsite, got the fire going, and was enjoying a night sky fluttering with stars when out of nowhere… A massive thunder and lightning storm hit. Growing up in the Midwest storms were pretty common but in LA we never get this type of weather. I had grown to miss the thunderous booms and bright flashes that bring momentary daylight into the darkness. I went back to the urban legend of counting the seconds from seeing the flash to hearing the sound and tallied that number which meant how many miles away the thunder was… well urban legend or not, this thing was close and it was angry.
First I had to scramble to my car and find the rain tarp which I had grown accustomed to not using so I could have a clear view of the stars (my tent is just mesh on top). Once assembled I looked out the tent flap/window and thought, ‘Man, that lightning is really close.’ Then it got closer. Then I got a weird sensation of hairs standing on end… I am not sure what you’re supposed to do in these situations but I did know that sleeping on the ground with a 1 mm thick tarp above me wasn’t going to do much for protection. I thought of my first Locals Only episode and the visual diagram we displayed before I went surfing: You are more likely to get struck by lightning than attacked by a shark… And in that moment I grabbed my keys and bolted (no pun intended) to my car. I know the rubber of the tires is supposed to act as an insulator but I also know my Jeep is a lot of metal and pretty big, but it seemed like the right thing to do… The clock read 2:38 am. I closed my eyes and survived the night, I wouldn’t say peacefully, but albeit safely.
The next couple days I explored Joshua Tree. I hiked, walked, drove around… and spent a lot of time at my campsite appreciating the quiet moments (between thunderstorms… they continued for 48 hours). I knew this was it. My time was coming to an end. Los Angeles awaited me, with congested traffic, smoggy air, and ultimately, reality. Well, sort of since how real is LA?
I don’t mean to rag on LA, I have lived here for 5 years and I do enjoy it, but I feared the authenticity of everything. The conversations of fabricated lives, movie stars, and Hollywood talk which can seem so artificial. I had grown to love the solitude and the quiet moments shared between strangers and land. Where you sit and don’t speak but simply take it all in. Silence is a way of measuring how close you are with someone – when you’re able to sit and be comfortable without filling the void through lyrical woes. You just sit. So that is what I did. I sat. I looked at the landscape, I wrote, I read, I tried to enjoy the moment, knowing it was a fleeting one.
The following morning I packed up, had one last coffee and oatmeal and drove the couple hours into downtown LA. My first stop was Cole’s French Dip. It was a bucket list place of mine and while there is a debate if they are the ones who truly originated the French Dip, the fact remains they are known to make one of the best ones in California. I went to the bartender and ordered the Prime Rib Beef Dip with Spicy Garlic Fries combo ($9). And then… my fears came to an ironic debut as the bartender turned back to his two friends after typing in my order and continued his sentence, “so yeah I am producing the short and also directing, and then I am going to put myself in it as the roommate character. We are trying to get funding but I am good producer so it will be awesome”. This conversation ensued the entire duration of my meal and payment.
I couldn’t help but sense the irony, after all, I do Locals Only so I know this language all too well, but the kicker is… as I stood up to leave the Bartender asked how everything was. I reply, “It was awesome. This place has been a bucket list of mine for some time.” Now mind you, I am wearing an REI t-shirt, cargo shorts, and I have not showered in 4 days. He replies, “This place is a bucket list, man you need change your list up. Go skydiving or hike a mountain or something.” I turned back to the man, who has so much promise as he bartends a French Dip establishment on a weekday at 2PM, and say “I in fact do a food and travel show and just got back from a 7-week road trip. But yeah, I guess I’ll reorganize my bucket list.” Then I slipped my Locals Only card with the title Producer on it, smiled, and walked away. Welcome back to Los Angeles.
Now I know not everyone is a douche bag in LA, but I had to laugh. Anyways, I drove the 7 miles from downtown to my apartment in Hollywood, and when I arrived 4 hours later from traffic, I unpacked, showered, and then got drunk at a bar with friends. My road trip was officially over.
I have been home for almost a week now and am slowly adjusting. I am left with the desire to explore. To keep going. But at the same time I feel my previous world slipping away into the normalcy of a sedentary life. Since I have been back I have probably walked less than a total of 10 miles. I don’t think what I am feeling is uncommon, but a normal condition of change. I am sure in another week I will have adapted fully, but I must not forget what I have learned and experienced in those 7 weeks on the road.
I traveled over 4,000 miles. I went to over 22 cities, 7 states, 2 countries, and 2 provinces. I hiked along mountains, kayaked through lakes, and jumped off cliffs. I pursued a dream and a goal, I pursued happiness. And I didn’t just find it… I lived it.
There is a quote I came across the other day from Billy Joel (I know, random) but it’s so serendipitous to this whole blog.
“As [people], we need to know that we are not alone, that we are not crazy or completely out of our minds, that there are other people out there who feel as we do, live as we do, love as we do, who are like us.”
It was incredible to receive feedback along this journey of other people who respected what I was doing. Who had once done it themselves, or were hoping to one day in the future. The older we get, the quicker the years go by and the less we have of them. I hope this resonates with those read it, and that maybe it changes a decision in your life you were scared of making. As people we owe it to ourselves to explore the vast and beautiful planet, to meet strangers and call them friends, to make memories that feed the stories of our lives. And if need be, to have the courage to do it alone.
I thank every single one of you for reading. You have no idea of the appreciation I felt between messages in all social platforms. So now I will reflect. I will let the journey slowly steep into my mind and fill it with memories. I know most of which are untranslatable in their full effect, for you had to be there, but maybe one day you will be. I will continue working on Locals Only as we gear up to shoot a couple segments in the next few weeks. I will also continue writing, for myself and a few other companies that have reached out. I will push forward and knock on every opportunistic door. I know what I want, and now I am going after it.
Thank you all.
Keep eating. Keep drinking. Keep reading.
Till next time.
- The Grand Canyon is 277 miles in length, 6,000 feet deep, and often considered one of the seven wonders of the world.
- It took 3-6 million years to form from the Colorado River.
- Joshua Tree was established as a national park on Halloween, 1994.
- The park is around 790,000 acres.
- In the US, Billy Joel has sold more albums than Michael Jackson.
- There are more Subway (26K) food chains than McDonalds (14K) along major highways.
- Disneyworld and Yellowstone are the 2 most popular road trip destinations.