Going to the Grand Canyon was the final item on my 30 Before 30 list. This is the first post of that entire trip.
I landed in Phoenix around 9am after a sunrise flight west from JFK. As usual, I was asleep before the plane even began taxiing, and aside of a few minor twitches, I didn’t wake until I felt the altitude change on the descent. I found the rental car shuttle and got to my counter. People were waiting and I was told the wait for my reserved Mustang would be about an hour, but if I’d like to upgrade to a Camaro, I could be on my way immediately.
You only turn 30 once, so obviously I upgraded. Thank you USAA (military bank) for the half-price discount on upgrades.
I’ve never driven a convertible so I had to drive it over to the desk to get the agent to help me put it down (I had to pull a cover across the trunk before I pushed the button) after about 20 fruitless minutes on my own. I also couldn’t find the auxiliary cable to plug in my phone, but a friend with a sports car (Graham – the tall one) texted me back with a possible location – inside the console – and I was on my way, with phone plugged in for music and navigation.
Getting out of Phoenix was easy. I steered myself toward Sedona – a slightly more scenic route, but my good friend Garrett, whom I’d met in Georgia and had lived in AZ for about a year shortly before I moved back to NY, told me I’d love it and should check it out. Wind in my hair, sunscreen on, music loud, and driving on fast desert roads, I felt an incredible sense of freedom. I had absolutely nowhere to be, except by the rim of the Grand Canyon by about 730pm to check in for my mule ride and pitch my tent for the night. I had nobody to ask to stop here or there, and I got to be completely alone with my thoughts.
I stopped in the village in Sedona – in the area of the red rocks – to get an ice cream and eat it on an open-air porch facing the mountains. My unbraided hair was a mess but I didn’t care – I was on an adventure. After ice cream it was back on the road for the final two-hour push to the Canyon. I wanted to see it at sunset if possible.
The mountain roads in AZ are much like mountain roads anywhere else. The temperatures vary and the roads crumble. They are narrow and winding, with blind corners and steep inclines. Remember, I was driving a veritable submarine with a very low ground clearance. You can see where this is headed.
About half an hour into my trip up to Flagstaff, following the mountain roads, I took a turn and the tail of my car slid off the crumbling shoulder with a sudden THUD and I knew I had a flat tire. I calmly slowed to a stop, put it in park with my flashers on, pulled my wallet out, and consulted my phone to call the aforementioned-USAA for my emergency roadside assistance.
Of course, this was in the middle of the mountains. There was no cell phone service.
I took a few deep breaths and weighed my options. Attempt to crest the hill before me and hope I ran into some kind stranger who could help? Turn back and drive ten miles on a flat tire to Sedona village? Then I remembered I’d passed a few small day-use hiking areas with ranger stations, so I slowly pulled back onto the road and rolled back down the hill. I found a small hiking area with a ranger station less than a mile back and pulled in.
The ranger was about 80yrs old with a shock of white hair, hard of hearing, and more interested in his book than answering the questions of this young girl in a sports car. I again asked to borrow his phone and he finally understood I needed to call for assistance.
Camaro convertibles don’t come with spare tires – the engine takes up too much room, and the top takes up all of the room in the trunk. They do, however, come with run-flats, so upon first glance it didn’t look like I was running on a flat, which explained the poor ranger’s confusion.
I got in touch with roadside assistance and the rental company, then settled into my (really nice) car with my book to await my rescue. Despite my inability to actually go anywhere in it, I still felt really cool in the sports car, and I imagined I looked pretty cool (or pretty weird) to the park-goers. I was expecting to receive a tow in about an hour.
An hour and a half in, I was still in my car. I approached the ranger station to ask to call roadside assistance again. I noticed a young lady counting her money for the entrance fee – which I hadn’t had to pay since I wasn’t actually leaving my vehicle – and the ranger told her she was short. I handed her the money she was short. I’d been so touched by the ranger’s kindness toward me that I wanted to pay it forward somehow. I hope she enjoyed her afternoon.