Something to Do in Every Place

Lately I’ve been trying to think of something I can do everywhere I go. Some people do a funny dance. Some people get led around by their girlfriend.

If it makes you feel any better, they all fell off into the water right after this photo was taken.

Years ago while visiting Scotland I thought it might be fun to eat McDonald’s in every state of the US. Despite what you may think, McDonald’s is bound by culture and it doesn’t taste the same everywhere. I know for a fact that there are a couple menu items offered in Texas and Montana that aren’t available anywhere else. The problem is, I stopped eating fast food a few years ago as a way to save money, and after a while I stopped wanting it. I don’t think I’ve been to a McDonald’s or Burger King type establishment more than five times in the last three years. I’m already going to be engaging in some gastronomical challenges on this adventure whether I like it or not. The thought of eating McDonald’s every week for four months doesn’t sit well with me, or my stomach.

So I’ve been trying to think of other things I could do to boil down my trip into an easily accessible montage of experiences. One thought I had was to take a picture of the view from my bed every night. In theory I’ll be staying at a lot of different campsites and in a numbers of different homes, so I think that might be a cool collections of photos. I’m a bit worried about taking photos of private homes when couch surfing, but should my hosts object I think it would be acceptable to skip a night or two.

I suppose photos lend themselves to this kind of concept. The problem is, so many of the first things you think would make good photos have already been done, or overdone. One of the first strangers to take note of my blog was Toemail (I’m likely to contribute to them, but if I take too many feet photos it just feels like copying). I could have a little traveling stuffed animal pose in my photos, but that seems too common. The fact is, having something to do in every place you go is just a fun idea, and it’s no surprise so many people had the same thought before I decided to hit the road. But my trip will be different than theirs no matter what I do, so it shouldn’t bother me that we chose the same way to commemorate it.

But it does bother me.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve enjoyed taking pictures of people taking pictures. It happens whenever I visit any kind of tourist attraction. I arrive at the attraction, look at it with whatever mix of awe or curiosity or reverence is appropriate, and then I turn around. It has always fascinated me to see a bunch of strangers all crowding in next to each other to stare and some object or location that they traveled so far to see. I rarely bother to take photos of the attractions themselves, unless I see a particularly interesting angle. It just seems too expected, and therefore overdone. I’m not a professional photographer and I don’t have a professional camera and there’s no way I’m going to take a picture of the Trevi Fountain better than what I will find online. But I can take a decent photo of the hundreds of people standing around looking at it. I suppose I prefer to take that with me, since the crowd speaks more to my experience than the actual fountain ever will.

So I suppose technically I already have a thing, and this is it. I love taking pictures of other people as they enjoy their trips. I worry that it won’t be enough, since a big part of my plan is to visit lesser known attractions and roadside stops, where in theory there won’t be so many tourists. But I suppose it is America and it is the summer. I can’t be the only one out there on vacation.

I can’t wait to show you my Grand Canyon shots.

I had so many opportunities to photograph tourists at the Vatican, I almost forgot to look at the church.

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Who Knew the Grand Canyon Was So Popular?

It has occurred to me from time to time that I can’t do this whole thing flying by the seat of my pants. While many who have come before me have encouraged me not to over-plan, even they will admit that sometimes reservations must be made. While different sources will tell you different things, most will agree that making concrete lodging plans about two weeks in advance is usually enough. My guess is that will be the case for most places I want to stay on my trip. Except of course, for the biggest one.

Not long after my blog was public, my sister emailed me asking when I was going to the Grand Canyon, and how important the “solo” part of my solo road trip was.  We quickly hatched a plan for her to take a few days off work to meet me as I pass through Vegas, drive to the Grand Canyon, and hike the length of it as a team. I knew hiking all the way to the bottom and back was no small feat, but I also knew that hundreds of amateur hikers do it every year. I figured as long as we were prepared, we’d be fine.

I asked my sister to look into lodging at the base of the canyon (you can’t go down and up in a single day, so you must either camp or get a room in the Phantom Ranch hostel at the bottom). Meanwhile, I was listening to ranger podcasts and reading up on the “must pack” lists to ensure we wouldn’t get heat stroke or lose all our salt by sweating. The more I navigated the national park’s website, the clearer it became: if you want to hike the full canyon this summer, you should have been planning last spring. Phantom Ranch makes a point of opening reservations no more than 13 months in advance, and tells people to expect the phones to be busy the first few days of every month due to the mass of reservation calls they get when next year’s beds are opening up. So of course, Phantom Ranch was full.

Though the thought of lugging a tent and sleeping bag up a vertical mile sounded abismal, I was willing to try for a camping permit. My sister sent in the request form, and I resigned myself to the thought that it would never happen. I started thinking of alternative plans. A week went by.

Then one day I’m at work and see that I’ve got a voicemail from my sister. I play it and the first thing I hear is her singing, to her own invented tune “We’re hiking the Grand Canyon!” Apparently even the man who booked it was shocked that they still had a spot open. Our camping permit allows us to pitch a tent at the base of the canyon, and now we’ll try to get a reservation for duffle service. Explained to us as “half a mule,” duffle service is a way to get a small amount of luggage down and back up the canyon without strapping it to your own back. If we can swing that as well as a few meal reservations at Phantom Ranch, this whole thing just might work out perfectly.

This may seem strange, but somehow I after hearing such fantastic news, I ended up with the song “Sixteen Bars” stuck in my head. In subject matter it’s from out of left field, but by the end of the song I feel like the sentiment of trying so hard to get something impossible is spot on to how I feel right now. We’re doing this.