“…Well, let’s just see if we can get a permit/cheap room/ticket/campsite and then we’ll make a decision from there…”
This sentence starts at least two conversations daily.
Somewhere in Michael’s computer is a very large, detailed Excel spreadsheet which plots our two-year trip to the day. Mileage, cities where we might spend the night, distance to parks and sites, names of friends and family who might be nearby – all of this information is painstakingly noted on this sheet which we look at from time to time and shake our heads. Planning ahead was a useful exercise, but is impossible in practice.
Since we rarely know where we are going to be or how long we will be there, and since Michael for some reason is staunchly opposed to reservations, our trip is shaped and sculpted by first-come, first serve opportunities. Sometimes this works; sometimes it doesn’t.
Hiking the Grand Canyon does not seem like it would lend itself to a spur of the moment decision. We have heard stories of lotteries for limited campsites and reservations made months in advance for trips into the Canyon. As we approached the North Rim of this very big hole, we resigned ourselves to a few nights looking in from the outside but secretly held onto the hope that Ranger we met at the Badlands would be right – we just might have a shot at obtaining a hiking permit in October.
We were still an hour away from the North Rim when we saw a very bad sign, actually two: DeMotte Campground - Closed for the Season. North Rim Campground - Full. With heavy hearts, we trudged into the National Forest Visitor Center in Jacob Lake, AZ to ask for advice. A quick phone call from a kind clerk resulted in this response:
“If you two get out of here right now and haul *ss, there might be a spot left at the campground. Now git!”
We paused only to shake his hand, ran to the ‘Tima and began our mad dash to the North Rim. An hour and several passed cars later, we were the proud occupants of the last available site. We pitched the tent, did a celebratory dance, and went in search of the Backcountry Office. Heck, if luck is on our side, why not push it?
The “Office” was a little wooden trailer the size of a closet. Two Rangers were inside: one young and easygoing, one older and a bit manic. Both told us the same thing, if we were willing to wait a day or two, there might be space at the bottom. They took our names and told us to be at the office the next morning when it opened at 8 am. “Maybe a little earlier,” whispered the younger Ranger.
Back at camp, we took a short hike, explored the historic Grand Canyon Lodge, made dinner, built a fire which wouldn’t stay lit, read books, did crosswords, anything to make the night go faster. A monstrous thunderstorm which echoed through the Canyon and pelted us with ice (More ice??) did not help.