I’m not quite 25, but Clio is, and though she’s probably the worse driver, we decided to rent the car under her name since there’s a $25 surcharge per day for drivers under 25. To save more money, we named our own price on priceline, and got a car for $16 a day. Then Clio lost her drivers license card before our trip started, and we had to cancel that booking. Since it was Thanksgiving weekend, other companies were out of economy cars, so we rented a no-name car from some no-name company, for closer to $60 a day, under my name, and got extra insurance. T’was just a minor speedbump in our roadtrip plans.
We left Vegas Thanksgiving day in our shiny-red, brandless hatchback and headed to St. George, Utah. We drove through deserts, canyons and red rock scapes that made me feel like we were pioneering an expedition through the wild wild west. From inside the car, the sun looked scorching. But when we stopped for pictures and got out of the car, it felt cold enough to snow. We took a jumping picture by the “Welcome to Utah sign,” and made it into St. George by sunset.
Everything was closed except a few gas stations, but the Cracker Barrel restaurant was open and serving Turkey dinner for $6.99. Our couchsurf host Mason worked there so we asked to sit at the bar to wait for his shift to finish. “We have no bar” said the host.
“Oh, but you serve beer?”
“No” she said, with a sneaky smile that meant she knew we hadn’t been in St. George long enough to learn how rare liquor licensed establishments are. The turkey dinner was still delicious, and the pumpkin and pecan pie desserts included with our meal more than made up for the lack of beer.
We spent our evening having deep philosophical debates, talked travel, and discussed complicated medical terminology. Mason was a retired mormon, and shared his PBR’s with us at home while explaining only a couple bars exist in the city of 73,000. The highlight of the visit was a little off-road experience, when he “jeeped it up” in his yellow truck and almost crashed the car only because I grabbed his steering arm while he was trying to get the car back on the road. Silly me.
We visited Zion National Park the following day, a beautiful canyon tucked between the Colorado Plateau, Grand Basin and Mojave Desert. We drove the 15 mile scenic road through the canyon, stopping for 3 hikes to an emerald pool, a weeping rock, and a riverside trail. The sandstone cliffs were red and beige, and all the deciduous trees were half way between turning colours and losing their leaves, creating a picture perfect autumn day.
We had another turkey lunch at Mt. Carmel Junction, then visited Jacob Lake, a small community at the northern entrance to the Grand Canyon. We assumed the road was closed to the North Rim, but when we got there, realized it was still open, despite the ice-covered patches and snowy, skeleton forests. We drove 45 miles to the park entrance, when we realized we were out of gas and all services in the park had been shut since October 15. But, a ranger saved our butts when he told us about a self-service gas station we could use.
We got to the North Rim in time for sunset, and had an incredible view over the canyon. It is so much bigger than you can imagine, so immense and far-reaching that you can’t really see it in three dimensions. It looks like a painted picture, without any scale or point of reference to understand its depth.
The following day we visited the South Rim and had a similar experience. We spent the whole day there, getting as many different perspectives of the canyon as we could, taking too many photos that couldn’t quite capture what we were seeing with our naked eyes. There was no snow at the South Rim, but I was still cold under my toque, gloves and Cintamani layers.
We had company at both rims. In the North, a couple Russian-speaking tourists followed us around with a crazy canon lens, taking pictures on the ends of cliffs that made you feel like you were floating in a space above the canyon. In the South Rim, our couchsurf hosts joined us, one being a tour guide for the park that snuck us past some ropes and down some unmarked trails to have more intimate canyon moments.
We stayed in Flagstaff, Arizona, couchsurfing with a couple different hosts. Sam and Carl were a couple living in a house with a revolving door of awesome young folk coming in and out, including another couchsurfer from France. There was room for us all, and it felt totally normal to show up as strangers and then feel like regulars seconds later. We also stayed with Jack, a local brewmaster and outdoor enthusiast. His house was heated by a wood-burning fireplace, had a kitten curled up beside it, and 4 or 5 strewn bodies on the wrap around couch who became our second group of local friends. We heated ourselves some more in his hottub, and realized we had to come back for some of his tourguiding expertise, as we learned more about Havasupai falls and the local skiing mountains he regularly frequents.
This is a common ‘problem’ with travel and couchsurfing alike – I never seem to stay long enough in the places I visit, as wishes of extending my trip constantly tempt me to postpone my next travel plans. I never stay long enough with my stranger-turned-friend host to feel like I’ve gotten to know them well enough, and invitations to stay longer make me feel rude to turn down. I used to think of traveling as a to-do list to tick off – go down the list til I’ve been everywhere. But, every place I visit, I leave with the intention of going back, so my travel list grows bigger the more places I go. And the more couchsurfers I meet, the more people I have to visit, and to host, so I’m not sure how I’ll manage being in two places at once to visit and host all these new friends.