It was the 26th of July 2010 when I flew back down to the lower 48 (or
Contiguous United States) after a very unsuccessful short stint in Alaska. I
lost my seasonal job in AK early June. My experience there was very sad and
often times, indescribably incomprehensible. Sad events in our lives will never
be purged out of our memories, whether it is a loss of a loved one or
simply becoming a victim of an emotional abandonment to satisfy one's
convenience. No matter how hard we try, it remains indelibly etched in our
hearts. But I do know that each one of us has a different way of coping with
our emotions. Sadly enough, depression never goes away. It gets worse over
time. Fortunately for me, I get stronger dealing and coping with it. One thing I learned
during times of hardship is that, the simplest things are the most precious.
Since then, I have been constantly travelling and have virtually become a
vagabond, a drifter, an itinerant, and a gypsy. I have met genuinely nice people
along my numerous travels in different towns and cities covering several states,
offering me a ride. I have always accepted the offer and in return, I shared stories
and experiences to break the monotony of boredomness driving through the heaps
of endless highways. Often times, I offered little amount of money but some refused.
I have walked countless numbers of miles, slept in National Forests, campgrounds,
emergency shelters, and in a few occassions, indulged myself in a decadent luxury
of staying at dorm style hostels. I have stayed in towns and cities anywhere between
3 to 18 days at a time. My constant need to move around is what makes me deal with
my emotions. But beyond that, I am on an endless quest to finding myself and my
journey continues as I do believe, wandering does not mean being "lost."
I would like to share one of my experiences along my journey. It is an amazing story.
I hope you enjoy reading it.
I left Flagstaff after 5 p.m. on the 30th of September 2010, driving a late
model burgundy colored Honda Civic heading north on highway 89. It was a rental
car. I really did not have any concrete plans, as my travels have been very
spontaneous, these last few months. Besides, earlier that day, after picking up
my rental for four days, I got into an accident.
It was a minor fender bender that left my vehicle with virtually no visible
damage. But for some odd reason, the older vehicle that I hit suffered a dented
rear bumper (made of metal and mine was plastic). I was very fortunate however,
as that day, I had purchased the liability and the damage insurance. I was not
sure what possesed me to get the add ons as I normally don't get them.
The rental rate was unbelievably good, considering that two days of my four day
rental were weekends; leaving me room for the coverage. I made enough money
working odd end jobs for several days in Flagstaff to be able to afford a little
On top of not having a plan, I had also lost the desire to drive anywhere
because of the incident that left me with a $148 ticket. Nonetheless, I have
been flirting with the idea of heading to Salt Lake City as I have been chatting
with this woman online. But there was nothing serious about the talks. I was
not sure if I would have driven all the way there if she had agreed for me to
visit. Chances are, I would have decided against doing that as it was getting
late and I was getting tired. Perhaps, it was just my defense mechanism kicking
in. But I am sure, it was clearly a sign that I will not be ready for a
relationship for at least, a very long time. Or maybe never. I decided to
drive aimlessly towards the north nevertheless.
On my way north on highway 89, I could not help but relive the moments last
year. It was a drive from Flagstaff to St. George. Of course, I got emotional
and recorded two short videos. Passed the towns of Cameron and Tuba City
heading north, was another little town called Gap. There, I had snacks that I
brought with me while I sat in the car contemplating on where to go. I was
there for 40 minutes and I was able to decide what to do. I decided to head to
the North Rim. Twenty six miles ahead is highway 89A, the turnoff heading to my
I left Gap with a decision to head to the Grand Canyon and I was getting tired
and I just wanted to park the vehicle at one of the viewpoints that was near the
turnoff. But I decided to push through. Along the way, I saw historical,
viewpoint, and areas of interest signs. But it was too dark to stop. I passed
the turnoff to Lees Ferry, the southwest gateway to the Glen Canyon National
Recreation Area. I also passed the Navajo Interpretive Bridge and the Cliff Dwellers
restaurant, to name a few interesting places.
Then I passed Jacob Lake and shortly after, I headed to this turnoff leading to
the viewpoint where the eastern portion of the North Rim could be seen. This
was a gravel road on the left side of highway 67 heading to the park. More than
likely, it was an area near or inside the Kaibab National Forest. But again,
it was already dark, and my plan was to just spend the night there. If I
remembered it correctly, it was a 6 mile drive from the turnoff and the road was
rough. When I got to the viewpoint, I decided to just turn around, get back on
the highway and head on to the park.
I finally arrived inside the park without paying a fee as the sign indicated
"Pass on through". I drove heading west all the way to the visitor parking by
the lodge, passing cars parked in turnouts close to the trailhead. So I turned
around and decided to park behind a couple of cars parked at the side of the
road. It was shortly after 11 p.m. I did not waste time and immediately wrapped
myself in my sleeping bag.
The next day shortly after the sun came up, I headed back west to the
Grand Canyon Lodge to see the majestic wonders of this park. I stayed there for
at least an hour to charge my phone and listened to my Ipod (I found this device
with its shiny back side facing up on the ground while I was walking from the
Lamphere Campground to the Monkey Rock Pavillon back in August during the 70th
Annual Sturgis Bike Rally in South Dakota. I worked there for a week as an
Event Staffer). A little over an hour of just hanging out at the lodge and
admiring the divine beauty of the majestic canyons, I took my phone off of the
charger and took a few pictures.
Then I headed to the Backcountry Information Center to get a map. I was not
sure if I needed to get a permit as I had not decided yet whether to spend the night at
the primitive campground. A block away from the backcountry information was the
regular campground where the general store, laundromat, and showers are located.
I headed there and took a nice coin-operated shower for only $1.50. It was only
7 minutes but was well worth it as the water was hot and the pressure was
strong. At that facility, I started getting ready for my hike. I did not get a
permit as I made a decision to just hike down to the Cottonwood Campground (the
primitive campground without showers) and back. The distance of 13.6 miles both
So I drove to the North Kaibab trailhead parking lot and I started my hike at
approximately 10:45 a.m. I brought enough food and water consisting of 4 cans
of soup, 8 breakfast bars, at least 4 liters of water, and 2 bottles of vitamin water.
And there were drinking water stations along the way.
My pack was considerably light as I only brought with me the essentials. I
brought matches, a headlamp, a pair of gloves, jacket, and an extra shirt. I
was carrying a weight way less than a third of my weight. It was just a
little over 40 pounds which was very light considering that my internal pack is
almost 4000 cubic inches.
As I headed down the trail, I noticed huge piles of mule dung along the
trail and there was this wooden sign on the left side indicating that the trail
is shared by hikers and mules. I did not see any mules as I am sure, the rides
started early in the morning. It was a little challenging, to say the least, to
avoid big clumps of mule excrement along the first 2 miles as they were
scattered all over the sandy trail. Also, the abhorrent foul reekness and
avoiding the flies just nose-diving for a feast into mounds of would-be
fertilizing agents, were also a bit of a challenge.
I took pictures along the way as I was just in total awe and mind boggled by the
immensely scenic rock formations and geologic structures that continue to
inspire travellers like myself. I stopped before the 4 mile mark and chatted
with an older hiker who was just leaning back against a boulder. I did not need
a rest at this point, nonetheless, I spent about 25 minutes talking with him.
His name is Pete, a Japanese American who is a seasoned traveller. He is a
member of the Sierra Club and he gave me his website: www.petesthousandpeaks.com
. I have not checked out the site yet but his travels
and mountaineering adventures sounded interesting.
I took another break, and this time, I followed the Roaring Springs trail and
sat on a small boulder to have my lunch. I had a can of chicken and rice soup.
A few steps up the hill was a cabin looking structure that had huge padlocked
double-doors and around the back were three regular sized doors. I figured
those were cabins that they rent just like in National Forest. So I decided to
open a couple of doors, just to find out, they were outhouses. The smell was
almost unbearable after a few hours of fresh air enjoyment.
So I left and headed back to the trail leading to the Cottonwood Campground.
On my way to the campground, I stopped by what looked like a resting area near a narrow trail
alongside walls of molten lava rock formations. And across those formations,
just on the other side of the tribulary, was a total contrast, the simply
stunning Muav Limestone formations that looked like symmetrically designed
pyramids. There was drinking water right in that area but I did not replenish my water
supply as I still had enough. And just a few yards away, was a ranger residence.
As I was approaching the campground, I noticed wicked clouds and felt a slight
shower. I arrived at the campground and walked a few more steps heading
south before turning about as that was the plan; to just go as far as the
campground and turn back. I turned back and after a few minutes, sat down on a
rock to take a break. I broke out my jacket just in case it started raining and
while resting, I ate a couple of breakfast bars. While I was sitting down, I
met a ranger named Silas who works at the campground and lives in a
house nearby. He was heading north. We chatted for a few minutes and I decided
to change my plan and head farther south as the sky all of sudden, started
clearing. The time was 2:45 p.m. according to the ranger, when I
continued south, heading to Ribbon Falls.
I arrived at the falls and what a sight to behold. It was a peacefully soothing
place just witnessing the waters flowing down the stream. There were a few
hikers relaxing on flat layers of rocks and experiencing priceless moments
of serenity and pure calmness, while they let their feet soak in the steady
stream of pure spring water. Looking up above, I saw a couple of people taking
pictures. So I climbed up about 50 feet to capture that spectacularly breathtaking
gushing stream of water as it cascaded down below a wall of rock covered with
green moss. I did not spend a lot of time there as it was getting late. I stayed
enough to take a couple of video recordings and a few pictures, one of which,
taken by a fellow hiker.
I headed back to the trail on my way north. For some reason however, I crossed
three bridges that did not look familiar. Nonetheless, I still followed my
instincts thinking that it might just be a switchback or an alternate trail.
Then after a little over a mile and a half, I started to feel the urgency of
turning back as it was increasingly becoming obvious I was heading the wrong
way. At this point I had not been aware of the time as my phone coverage was
out of reach and I did not have a timepiece on (I have not owned a watch in more
than 25 years). There were no mile markers posted so the distance
was determined on the map based on location. The distance from the trailhead to
the falls was 8.3 miles one way. I did not know where I was but I knew it was
not the trail I had hiked heading to the falls. As strange as this may sound, I
kept going although it was clear that following the waters downstream would lead
me to the bottom, which was heading south. Then after closer to two miles based
on my estimation, I turned back. Shortly after I turned back, I saw a hiker
heading the opposite direction. I asked him if he were heading south and he
answered with a laconic “yes.” My decision of turning back was a little late. It
was the right decision nonetheless despite putting more mileage on my hike. It
was better than ending up all the way at the bottom and hiking back up. I felt there
was this twisted energy that magnetically drew me towards the south (ironic).
Then I stopped and looked back. And at a distance, I saw the magnificent silhouette
of the south rim beautifully craddled in between the gaping canyons. Then I continued
heading north and promised myself, one day, I would be able to stand right next to the
south end of the rim and see the real aesthetics behind the picturesque outline.
After a little over a mile, I experienced this excruciatingly painful cramping
in my calve muscles to where I had to sit down with my thighs and legs flat on
the ground perpendicular with my body. I began massaging my calve muscles at
the same time, shaking my legs to release built up tension. From there on, the
series of my mandatory rests started. I regularly stopped to rest after 2000
steps. At one point close to the Ribbon Falls trail, I sat on a rock and
contemplated on just spending the night there when I saw 4 hikers heading north.
We had our exchange of verbal courtesies. I said to them that I am good and I
jokingly added, I was just waiting for my cab. Then it became a mental
challenge. The pain however was still overwhelming when I decided to follow
those four hikers and stay within a striking distance behind them. I was following them but I was
getting farther and farther behind to where sometimes, just a few steps away
made me experience cramping again. Now the pain is all over my lower body
including my thighs. I did not have a choice everytime this hapened, but to just
lean up against a rock or sometimes lay on the side of the trail itself, using
my pack as a cushion device. It was beginning to get dark when I passed
cottonwood campground. I saw the four hikers in the camp. I figured they would
spend the night there. From the camp to the North Kaibab Trailhead is 6.8 miles
and a few miles from the camp, I was passed by the four hikers again as I was on
one of my numerous stops heading back. Obviously, the four hikers just recharged
at the campground. I would always turn my headlamps off while I rested to catch
a few minutes of rest time and turn it back on when I see moving lights
I was tired and exhausted but at the same time, cognizant of my surroundings.
Even when my eyes were shut I could still sense voices and hikers approaching
with their moving lights. I knew I was passed by the four hikers but I was not
sure if it were just my imagination that I actually saw lights and heard voices
about 100 yards below me. I saw two moving lights but they never passed me.
Perhaps these people decided to just camp out along the side of the trail.
From the campground, the next marker indicated on the map is Roaring Springs, a
distance of 4.7 miles from the North Kaibab trailhead. I could not see the
falls but I knew I was getting closer as I could hear the powerfully roaring
sounds of the waters. I kept pushing my steps to sometimes way over the 2000
step limit to get to where I started. My body condition was getting worse and I
was beginning to lose my balance. Occasionally, I would kick my legs forward
before I plant my foot on the ground to take the step and to keep my calve
muscles from locking up. However, that could only be done when the trail is
flat. When it is inclined, calve and thigh muscles would do most of the work,
putting more strain on my already sore lower body muscles. Unfortunately, I did
not have hiking poles that would have enabled me to use my upper body strength;
helping me on my steep ascends.
At a distance looking up, I saw yet again, four headlights descending upon the trail.
That could be the the four hikers heading back down. But that was nearly
impossible as heading north, the hike picks up in elevation. So it would take
time to climb up. Then I heard a short echo from the hikers coming down. And it
dawned on me that they just crossed the Supai Tunnel. This is a very small
"tunnel." Sort of an ancient rock precisely chiseled by powerful winds millions
of years ago, resembling an arch that is just a few feet from one end to another. As we
crossed paths, they asked me how was the temperature down below. I told
them it was comfortably cool. Those were four hikers, two men, two women, and
not the ones I had met before. And although the echo without a doubt in my
mind, came from the tunnel, I was still worried about my body condition as the
tunnel was still up the distance and I would still have to battle the steepness
of the climb.
After a series of rests along the way, I finally crossed the elusive Supai
Tunnel. That indicated I was within two miles conquering the end of my strenous
climb back to the top. Just a few hundred of yards away from the tunnel, I
stumbled upon the four original hikers. They were resting on flat boulders. My
body was desperately trying to convince me, as I kept enduring the strikingly
painful ascend, to join those men and rest to recoup a little amount of energy.
But I decided to just say hi to them and kept going. I guess in my mind, that
was my opportunity to pass them as obviously they needed that rest as the last
two mile climb was the most difficult.
I was wrong as it turned out. Shortly after I passed them, I gave in and rested
on a flat rock just a few yards away from where the four original hikers were.
There I took my pack off and set it aside while I laid under the stars,
blissfully enjoying the wilderness around me. Of course, to capture the magical
effect of undisturbed darkness, with countless numbers of stars watching me, I
had to turn my headlamps off. The mystical power of nature surrounded my entire
being. I felt so alone yet embraced by the togetherness of nature. I closed my
eyes and let the ancient structures, the sandstones, the forest, the brilliant
stars and the rest of the wilderness, watch over me as I experienced a kind of
peace I have never felt before. For a short period of time, I had felt that I
was part of nature and there was this satisfying moment that I had wished would
wipe out all my miseries and sufferings. There was genuine happines that was
soothing my broken heart and soul. I knew it was temporary but I cherished
every second of that moment and be closer to the Divine. I smiled and asked the
Lord to take me, if it were my time to go. The pain and exhaustion I was
battling uphill were considerably non-existent compared to the sufferings I have
been enduring throughout my lifetime.
After my short spiritual moment of retreat, I noticed lights moving towards me
from a few yards below. I knew right away that those were the four original
hikers that I had just passed. As I saw them quickly approaching, I turned my
headlamps on and broke out a can of soup, a breakfast bar, and a bottle
of water. I saw the hikers and they were singing a song while a bagpipe music
was playing simultaneously. The music was either coming from a listening device
attached to speakers or it could have been coming from a small boombox as I was
positive, neither one of them was carrying a bagpipe instrument. As they were
passing me, one of them said to me, "as soon as you see a cab, let us know.”
After I ate, I tried to get up but I could not set my balance. It felt like I
was just learning how to walk. I wanted to step forward but my legs refused to
head that direction. Then I tried again and suddendly, I started sliding away
from the trail. Then I found myself clinging to a tree. It happened so fast
that I then realized, the tree saved me from plummeting down the cliff. I
paused for a brief moment and I began thinking about my existence. Perhaps, I
pondered, there must be a greater reason why I lived other than my endlessly tiring routine of
drifting to survive.
Obviously, my body was giving me a clue that it was about to shut down. So
without hesitation, I spent a few more minutes resting on that boulder.
My journey continued after my much needed rest and after repleneshing my
depleted energy with food. I then started pushing and pushing, and moments
later, the air began to fill with the whiff of a foul odor. And sure enough, the piles
of manure started reappearing along the trail. Now it became more challenging
as I have to watch my steps to carefully avoid the waste scattered all over the
last mile and a half or so. My steps were getting increasingly smaller, almost
like baby steps, and sometimes the steps I took did not even gain any ground and
in a few occasions, my steps pushed me back as a result of stepping on lose
Approximately half to three quarters of a mile to go, I saw the original four
hikers heading back down. As we crossed paths, they gave me words of
encouragement by saying, "you are almost there.” Then I asked them how much
longer. One of them responded, "one more switchback and you come to
a straightaway.” So I pushed myself harder and steadily to reach the trailhead,
get into the vehicle, and go to sleep. But my body was just begging for me to
stop. So I rested. I leaned up against the side of the trail and turned my
lights off. It was dark, however, the canyon peaks were visible as the moon and
stars provided the natural lighting, accentuating on the grandeur beauty of
these canyons. As I was about to sit down, I heard voices and saw outlines of
two individuals just a few yards in front of me, right above the trail I was on.
And across the canyon, I also noticed from a distance, a couple of people just
standing by the tree. I could hear the people, who sounded like a male and a
female talking. I could not make out what they were talking about but I heard
one word that was clearly audible, "barbeque.”
That did not make any sense as it was getting late at night or possibly, very
early in the morning. With my lights turned off, I still was very aware of the
surroundings by openings my eyes and just being alert. I did not want my mind to
start drifting again and become unaware of my steps and slide down the cliffs.
I figured, the two people just a few yards away from me were
employees prepping for the early morning mule rides. So I got up and continued
my trail uphill. I looked at them as I was getting up, to stay focused and to keep
my eyes on the prize, if you will. As I passed them however, they did not say
a word to me, nor did I see them. They just disappeared. It was really strange. I looked up and I
might have said "hi" to them . Then, the strangest occurence happened, I started hiking
downhill. I got really frustrated, trying to figure out what just happened
there. Yet, just like what had occured previously after Ribbon Falls, I trusted
my instincts. So I kept walking that direction. But at the same time I knew
something was wrong so I rested again. It was a very short rest as I had
quickly realized that my state of mind and my mental faculties were deterioting
as a result of extreme exhaustion. There was fear but I conquered it by not
letting my illusions take over me. It was mind over matter at this point as the
mental challenge was becoming tougher.
It was at this point that I began to realize, I was hallucinating. So I quickly
turned around and hit the trail uphill, exerting everything I had. A few minutes
later, looking up to my right, I saw wooden signs. I hurriedly ran up to the
steps, enduring the menacingly sharp pain all over my body, just to see if it
were the sign right at the entrance of the trailhead. I read the sign and sure
enough, I made it back. The sign did not exactly indicate "Mules have the right
of way.” I could not remember the exact words on that sign but it meant that
hikers will have to yield to mules.
I was so excited that when I reached the trailhead parking lot, I jubilantly
consumed the remainder of my water by tossing the empty bottle high up in
the air. But of course, I picked it back up and lamely walked back to
my vehicle. I got in the car and drove a few yards away heading west, across
from where I had spent the night before and pulled all the way up the turnout.
I parked the vehicle past two cars already parked. I took my shoes off, covered
myself in my sleeping bag and comfortably fell asleep.
My experience at the Grand Canyon was such an eye-opener. It made me closer to
my inner self, it opened the threshold to reconnecting with my spirituality,
and it defined my true essence. It also made me reevaluate my emotional state
as my emotions weave every fabric of my being. This part of my journey also allowed
me to strongly reinforce my firm belief that being alone should not be a
trepidation. Above all, it made me appreciate the unpretentiously grand beauty
of God's Architectural Creation.