Lesson #1: Cell phones are extremely unreliable in the middle of nowhere.

Our previous night ended with a long drive along the rim of the Grand Canyon. We came from the western edge, heading towards the “south rim” to meet our friend (and fellow Hollywood hopeful), Tim. We were going to call him when we got to the main Visitor Center.

Unfortunately, we lost cell service as soon as we hit the park.

How do you find someone at the Grand Canyon? Someone would ask us later. Looking back, it does seem rather problematic. At the time, however, Ten and I laughed and kept our eyes peeled for a white car toting a U-Haul. Keep calm and Carry on.

Lesson #2: The Internet is even more unreliable in the middle of nowhere.

We finally found Tim in Tusayan, the little town just outside the Grand Canyon’s gates. It was good to see a familiar face after a long day driving through the desert. After gabbing a bit and hearing about his own road trials and tribulations, Tim made a face and said he could do with some dinner. Well, Ten and I were on a roll with our “authentic, local cuisine” finds, so we looked around…

“How about that place over there?” I offered, pointing across the road. The building looked like a big ranch house and we could hear western tunes blaring. The boys readily agreed.

Yippee-Ei-O! Steakhouse turned out to be more comedic than authentic. The waiters all dressed in tight jeans, cowboy boots, and ten-gallon hats. A birthday at the table next to us led to the whole group of servers singing and dancing a jig. I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity. I looked across the table to see the guys salivating over the menu. It was pretty simple: steak, burger and rib dinners. It’s a man’s world out here…

Lesson #3:  Never wear white on a hike into the Grand Canyon.

We set up camp for the night. The boys in their tent, me all alone in my (slightly bigger) version. Tim had brought a book on constellations, so we spent some time trying to decipher the heavens. We found it ironic that it was more difficult to pick out constellations when there were so many stars in the sky. The sliver of a crescent moon only served to accent the beauty of the night.

We planned to get up early in the morning and start hiking in the canyon as soon as it opened. I awoke to the sounds of the guys packing up their tent… at 5:45am! That’s how excited there were to start hiking (Tim) and take pictures (Ten). A chill still lingered in the morning air, so I put on a pair of light-colored capris for the day.

This turned out to be a terrible, terrible choice. As soon as the sun rose, it got hot. Really hot. And we learned midway through the day from a park ranger that the temperature actually increases as you descend into the canyon because there’s no wind down below. We also found ourselves being slowly coated in the deep, red earth that kicked up as we traversed the trails. Between sitting down for brief respites, posing against rock faces for pictures, and kneeling to inspect geologic layers, my poor pants were tie-dyed with streaks of red and brown and gray.

Lesson #4: Never try to conquer your fear of heights by climbing a rock face in the Grand Canyon.

I don’t like heights. That’s not to say that I hyperventilate when I drive over a bridge or have dinner on the top floor of the Hancock. I just get a little paranoid around edges.

When I was fifteen, I was fearless. Across the street from my house was a looming cliff made entirely of sand. Small children would build castles in the loose sand at the base. More daring, older kids would climb up the face to carve their names. My sister and I decided to take this one step further: we climbed above the face. Unfortunately, sand is not so sturdy. I got a little too close to the edge and whoosh, an entire shelf broke underneath me. With nothing to grab a hold of, I fell a good thirty feet. Thankfully, only my wrist broke. But, to this day, I can still remember the helplessness of falling.

Now, here we were, following the mule trails that wound down the canyon walls. I stayed close to the cliff face, convincing myself that millions of people had done this before me. I walked fast, trying to reach the landmarks as quickly as possible. Every time I looked back, though, Tim was bouldering down a wall or trying to find a handhold in a flat part of the wall. Ten was following close behind, snapping awesome shots. I looked at the canyon’s side, then down at the path, mentally measuring how much ground there would be to catch me if I fell off. I knew I wouldn’t get very high, but my paranoia wrapped me tightly.

We made it down to Ooh Ahh Point, then further on down to Cedar Ridge. The trail had taken us away from the wall and down a tongue, into the center of the canyon. Three hundred and sixty degrees of rock surrounded us. Blue sky overhead. It was simply overwhelming. We sat for a while, trying to soak in the enormity of this formation. Thank you, God, I whispered, over and over again.

The hike up was more strenuous, and the heat was intense. We made a game of it: we could stop for water and a rest whenever we found a shadowed stretch. During one of these breaks, I took a look at the canyon wall and my mind began picking out handholds and footholds. I took a deep breath and began scaling the rock. A few feet up and I started running into difficulty. Where should I put my right hand? Will this ledge hold my foot? Tim came over to help, making keen suggestions for forward progress. I was getting nervous, though.

“I don’t know if I want to go any higher,” I said, looking at the smooth face ahead. I really wasn’t that high, but my nerves were getting the best of me.

“It’s okay,” Tim said. “I’m right here if you fall.”

Fall? Please, don’t say that word right now, I thought. I reached up for another handhold, placed my foot and…

Slipped. There was no ledge to catch the toe of my shoe. I slid down, digging my fingers into holds but feeling the momentum of my body carrying me down (I really need to work on my upper-arm strength…).

Tim made sure I didn’t fall backward off the mountain, but I scraped myself up a bit on the wall. And my pants got even filthier. And my nerves got even more tightly wound. Not the best idea I’ve ever had.

Lesson #5: Podcasts are the best thing for a long car ride.

After our hike, we packed up our cars and high-tailed it for California. It was a long, boring drive through the desert. Ten was riding with Tim for a few hours, so I was left to my own company for the first time in over a week. What to do…?

Two of my friends, Tay and Becky, had each recommended some of their favorite Podcasts to me when they heard about my epic roadtrip. Now, I’d never really listened to Podcasts, preferring the radio or a book on tape. But since they were free and available on my iPhone, I thought I’d give them a shot. It turned out to be a fantastic idea. After sampling several different shows, I latched onto “The Nerdist” (interviews with celebrities/interesting persons about all things nerdy) and “Here’s the Thing” (Alec Baldwin hosts meaningful conversations with notable artists). Hours passed in minutes. And soon we reached the border…

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