I think everyone should take a big road trip at some point in their lives. There's something about the uncertainty of things that I really enjoy, but more than that I feel like it really puts you more in touch with the world around you.
A few years ago there was a Superman story arc where he winds up facing the possibility that he's disconnected from everyday Americans. Superman chooses to walk across the country (rather than fly over at super speeds) to put himself back in touch with those around him. I have little doubt that a good road trip has that same affect on just about everybody.
This goes for people as much as it does for places. It's easy to have a pre-conceived notion of a place and its people, especially considering these days we can read stories by those people and see pictures of these places with little effort. Before going somewhere it's not entirely unusual to build expectations in your mind about what you'll see and who you'll meet.
Utah blew away my expectations. On the first leg of our trip back in May, we drove from San Diego to St George Utah on the first day. St George is a stone's throw from Zion National Park, and while Zion wasn't our final destination, we knew we would have to stop for a hike there. We stayed the night in a little right on the road motel and set out for the north western most entrance to the park, Kolob Canyon, the next morning.
We get it...you're gorgeous.
The plan was to find a short hike, maybe 4 to 5 miles round trip, and then hit the road right after. So naturally we spent the whole day on a near 15 mile hike instead. Don't worry, we didn't dive into it totally unprepared. We both carried plenty of food and water. In fact the only way we weren't prepared was having an accurate expectation on what such a hike would feel like. It was mostly my fault for seeing that there was a natural arch at the end of this hike and figuring it'd be worth doing just for that. I was wrong...so very wrong.
If we had stopped here and turned back it would have been the most perfect hike ever...
When I think of natural arches...photos of grand vistas viewed through a natural rock window pop into mind. I think of places you'd go to catch a sunrise or see an amazing starscape. I'll never forget the exchange we had with some other hikers around mile 7.
Rich: (huffing and puffing, having just climbed over ((under?)) a downed tree) Is it worth it?
Random Hiker : ...ehh? *shrugs*
At that point there was no way we were turning back...but that last half mile (which felt like 10 on its own) was a bit harder then we bargained for. When we finally got to the end of the trail...well we found ourselves surrounded by tall trees. No arch in sight. There was a sign that read "Further travel not recommended...," and some kind soul had scrawled underneath the official typeface "Arch. Look up" Complete with an arrow. I slightly regret not taking a photo of the view you'd see with human eyes, because it was wholly unimpressive, but here's what the arch looks like through a zoom lens.
It was so close to the adjacent wall you could barely tell it was an arch at all. It probably looked much cooler from the top, but I'll let the lady show you how we felt looking from the bottom.
We stayed in the clearing for a few minutes to have some water and a snack before beginning the task of getting back to the car. This was where we may have slightly overestimated our grit. I would say it was around mile 12 or so that I was feeling dead tired. We were stopping way more than we were on the way into the canyon and it was beginning to look like rain on top of that. However, we girded our loins and powered through. This is where I can't possible accurately describe how invaluable it is to have a great partner with you when you feel like you can't do something. In the last mile or so I hit my foot on a rock and a combination of pain / numbness shot all the way up my leg. It felt like I wouldn't be able to walk on it. We stopped for a minute and she looked at me, more seriously/tired than I had ever seen, and said " I can't carry you out of here..." This was all the motivation I needed to suck it up and keep going. A few more miles and a wild turkey later and we were out of there. I don't think either of us will be attempting so far a hike in one day any time soon, but the feeling of "holy shit we made it" is pretty hard to beat. With the car in sight I nearly fell to my knees and hugged the red dirt kissed road, and shortly after we jumped in the car and drove to Salt Lake City.