The magic began when I blinked at the clock and saw 2:10 AM — I’d woken up twenty minutes early. I’m like Jack Reacher, I can set an alarm in my head and wake myself within five minutes of any given time. The only traffic on the 250-mile journey north were the big rigs dragging milk and lettuce to local stores. To avoid self-incrimination, I won’t specify my travel time.
Pushing through a herd of elk, I caught The Hiker’s Express bus from the parking lot to the South Kaibab Trail. It’s a ridge trail that provides high-contrast vistas and warm sun along its 7.5 miles as it drops 4780 ft to Phantom Ranch. There were few hikers, so I took several side-hikes up boulders and out along the narrow ledges. Great fun.
Phantom Ranch is a nice clutch of cabins set among the cottonwoods where Bright Angel Creek pours into the Colorado River. I stopped for lunch and had a precocious squirrel try to steal my lunch. While they’re cute, they’re rats with fancy tails, they bite, and they spread disease. As much as I wanted to feed the little beggar, it’s a bad idea. After a good rest, I washed my feet in the creek and changed my socks. A soothing practice I learned from my friend and fellow writer Louis Kirby.
The Bright Angel trail, 9.5 miles and 4,380 ft up, was empty until I reached Indian Gardens, the halfway point. Many day hikers go down to that point and turn around. I hiked back up with a couple boys taking a gap year before college. I kept up with them for three miles or so but … they were teenagers.
After eight hours in the big ditch, I finally crawled out. I expected a congratulatory crowd with a cake–and maybe a couple Rockettes–but not a soul acknowledged me except to say, Move it buddy, you’re photobombing my shot.
My first stop was the shower in the camp grounds to remove a layer of grit that covered every inch of me, including all the nooks and crannies. The post-hike shower is the best. Exhilarating!
Last stop before getting home was Diablo Burger in Flagstaff (best burgers in the world served on English Muffins). The “tired” portion didn’t kick in until the last hour. When I finally hit the sheets around 10:30PM, I was out instantly and slept in clear ‘til 5AM.
If you ever want to make the hike, I’m always up for it.