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grand canyon

The temperature plummets during the night and I wake to icy rain. I cook breakfast under the inadequate shelter of my fly and pack my wet things onto the bike. The road surface on the last ten miles to the highway is good and so I am soonback on tarmac with only fifteen miles to cover to Tusayan, a small village just outside the Grand Canyon National Park.

It is still raining and icy cold. I have a huge hankering for pancakes and I need to restock my food pannier. Tusayan is big enough to fulfill both these needs and, on arrival, I head straight for the first café that I see to order a stack of pancakes. With wi-fi an added café bonus, I check the weather and discover that snow and night time temperatures of -9 to -12 Celsius are predicted over the next five days. I linger in the café for as long as I can and then move on to the general store.

The produce is limited and overpriced but I grab what I can. I have spread my purchases out on the ground to organise and pack them into my pannier when a girl passes by.

“Are you camping out in this weather?” she asks.

“Yes!” I reply.

“You can come and stay at my house,” she offers.

I look up from my packaging.

“I’ve got the day off and I’ve rented some videos – I’m going to spend the afternoon watching them. It’s 67 degrees (around 20 degrees Celsius) at home.”

I’m almost sold.

“We call it Casa de Cougar. It’s a trailer in the RV park – we all work as trail guides. Just turn right up there. You can’t miss it – it’s at the end of the road and ours is the only one with bikes.”

How can I refuse? I tell her I’ll be there as soon as I’m organised; a warm comfy house, within striking distance of the Grand Canyon, filled with people with an intimate knowledge of it seems like a stroke of good fortune that would be extremely foolish to refuse.

I soon join Jess on the couch and spend the afternoon watching videos. As dusk draws in Jess suddenly exclaims, “Have you seen the Canyon yet?”

I admit that I haven’t.

“Well, let’s go and see the sunset then!”

We jump in the car and effortlessly drive the seven miles to the edge of the Canyon. It is cold enough that there are only half a dozen people to be seen on one of the most visited points on the South Rim. I have forgotten my camera and so I watch the sun set without distraction.

My second glimpse of the Grand Canyon.

My second glimpse of the Grand Canyon - the following morning.

We shop for food at the Grand Canyon Village store and head home to make dinner. Tank, another member of the household, arrives and we eat, drink and talk. Tank has maps and advice about day walks and I resolve to get up early and explore.

In the morning, as snow drifts gently down, I set off on my bike to ride fourteen miles to Hermit’s Rest at the west end of the South Rim for a eight mile return hike to Yuma Point.

A dusting of snow in forest on the way into the Grand Canyon National Park.

A dusting of snow in forest on the way into the Grand Canyon National Park.

The road to Hermit’s Rest hugs the rim of the Canyon and I stop constantly to admire the views.

Grand Canyon views.

Grand Canyon views.

The wind is icy and I am glad to descend into the Canyon where it is sheltered and the temperatures are warmer. I met a few weary people on the Hermit Trail, making the ascent, but once I turn onto the Yuma Point there is not another soul to be seen all day.

Heading down into the Canyon.

Heading down into the Canyon.

It's big!

It's big!

Walking in the Canyon is strenous but very worthwhile.

Walking in the Canyon is strenuous but very worthwhile.

I was particularly taken by these plants.

I was particularly taken by these plants...

...from all angles.

...from all angles.

Loads to see on a small, as well as grand, scale...

Loads to see on a small, as well as grand, scale...

Lichen in every colour.

Lichen in every colour.

The Canyon is mesmerising and I walk further and further, glancing from time to time at my watch to check I have enough time to make the ascent before dark but pushing back my deadline, time after time.

The Colorado River runs far below - beckoning... but that's a walk for another day.

The Colorado River runs far below - beckoning... but that's a walk for another day.

Eventually I turn back, motivated by the fact that if I get caught out after dark my new-found friends will have to come out and look for me.

I make the ascent as the sun sinks spreading golden light over the rock faces.

I make the ascent as the sun sinks spreading golden light over the rock faces.

Golden light at the rim of the Canyon.

Golden light at the rim of the Canyon.

As I reach the rim of the Canyon I re-enter the icy gale and stand waiting in rapidly coagulating darkness for a shuttle bus to take me back to Grand Canyon Village. Once there I still have the seven miles to ride back to Tusayan and as I haven’t managed to replace my headlamp yet I realise that I will have to ride on the highway without lights. The bus driver drops me off at a strategic location in the village and gives me directions for a short cut to the highway.

The roads are totally unlit and I can’t see anything at all unless a car passes me from behind. Cars coming in the opposite direction blind me completely and the cars can’t see me at all. I stop when I reach the highway and decide to try my luck hitch-hiking. After several pick-ups speed by I get a lift with a some Native Americans and sit huddled with my bike in the tray of the truck freezing but safe for the seven miles ride to Tusayan. I reach the house at about 8pm, just about the time when people start to worry but before anybody was motivated to come looking for me.

Tank, a Canyon guide and resident of Casa de Cougar.

Tank, a Canyon guide and resident of Casa de Cougar.

Tank pointing out the Jackalope.

Tank pointing out the Jackalope.

Three days pass: walking, talking, eating and staying warm at night. Jess tells me I can ride to Flagstaff on forestry tracks and so I go to the Ranger’s Office in search of maps and information. The man whose job it is to sell me maps is enthusiastic about the idea and spends twenty minutes making photos copies to save me $10. He gives me a compass, as well.

I could happily stay at Casa de Cougar for a long time but eventually I manage to repack my belongings into my panniers and load my bike. Tank cooks a huge breakfast to send me on my way and and then I set off into the forest towards Flagstaff.

A mega breakfast to send me on my way - a big fry-up of eggs, potatoes, sausage. My first experience of Southern biscuits and apple butter. Yum! Good cycling food.

A mega breakfast to send me on my way - a big fry-up of eggs, potatoes, sausage. My first experience of Southern biscuits and apple butter. Yum! Good cycling food.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. eric | June 13, 2010 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    ha, you met a good one with Tank. Not you rtypical southeren boy. Good luck on your ride.

  2. anna | June 13, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Hi Eric, you’re very right. Tank is a good one!

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