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I decided to call the rental company and see if they could switch me out. I knew I’d paid to reserve a convertible and that I probably wouldn’t get another one, but at least I’d checked the box on driving a convertible at all.
After a fairly long conversation going back and forth with a Hertz representative who called the local branch while putting me on hold, she finally told me, “The Flagstaff branch can give you a car, but…” she sounded so apologetic: “it’s a Nissan Altima. Is that okay?” I had a pretty big internal laugh. At this point I didn’t care whether I had to drive a tow truck, I just wanted to be back on the road. It was 530pm and I had less than three hours to get where I needed to be – about an hour and a half away.
Within 20 minutes a Hertz SUV pulled up and I piled my gear out of the Camaro into the trunk. The rep met with the manager to look at the tires and fill out paperwork to get it repaired the following day. Then we drove to the Flagstaff airport. “I’m third generation Arizonian. Over there you see the San Francisco peaks, with the highest mountain in Arizona. We’re currently in a ponderosa pine forest.” I told the rep I was lucky he picked me up and could serve as tour guide, and how unfortunate he hadn’t been on the rest of my journey.
Flagstaff was a tiny airport and he told me maybe 8 or 9 flights came through each day. We got in and went to the counter where I handed him my incident report and they began the paperwork to get me out of the Camaro – refunding my upgrade fee entirely – and into the Altima. They apologized again and I told them, “It’s okay. I’m not in the habit of renting expensive sports cars. This was my 30th birthday present to myself and the first time I’d ever driven a convertible so it was fun while it lasted.”
A young woman then came up from the back office. “Would you by any chance be willing to take a dirty car? We just had two Mustang convertibles dropped off at the train station. We haven’t been able to inspect or clean them yet, but if you would like a convertible, I can get you in it since we have two.”
This was the same train station JR would be going to in about 16 hours to start his new life in LA.
Of course I was willing to take a dirty car.
Laura gave me a final total on the cost to fix the tire – $60 less than I expected, so including dropping my upgrade fee, it ended up being a pretty inexpensive “incident.” She handed me the keys to the Altima and gave me her cell phone number since I would have to follow her to the station and leave the Altima there for the next client.
At the train station, she filled out the paperwork while I filled up my water bottle. It was the desert and I was pretty thirsty. She took a look at the car and pulled the rental child seats out, handed me the keys, and told me the best way to get back on the highway to get to the Grand Canyon by 8pm. I tossed my bag in the backseat, put the top down, and followed her out of the parking lot.
I couldn’t find the lights at first, but Graham to the rescue again, since his car is, incidentally, a Mustang (though not a convertible). Off I went up Highway 180 – not the road Laura told me to take but I missed a turn thanks to a traffic light that turned red before I could catch up to her – but it led me straight to the Grand Canyon entrance.
I missed sunset at the Canyon by about an hour and it was pitch black by the time I paid my fee, had a lovely conversation with the entrance gate ranger about how much fun convertibles are but how you have to be really careful not to get a sunburn like she did the time her friend invited her to ride in one (up to Page, where I’d be going Friday night, coincidentally). I sped through to the lodge to check in for my mule trip and arrived ten minutes before they closed. The lady at the desk wasn’t thrilled but did check me in and handed me a water bag and a bag for my change of clothes at the bottom of the canyon.
Then I sped back toward the campsite and the village general store to pick up some firewood, snacks, and of course, some beer. I got in the door three minutes before they closed. I found a local beer, a bag of firewood, some matches, a couple bananas, some pretzels, and some peanut M&Ms, and checked out. I knew the canyon was only a few hundred feet away but I couldn’t see anything in the dark, so I continued to my campsite.
The campground check in was closed so I slid a note under the window so they’d know I was there and grabbed a map of my site. I pulled in, took out my gear, put on my trusty headlamp, and set up my tent in the dark. I was glad I’d camped by myself before so I was able to do it in about fifteen minutes. It would have been faster but hammering stakes into desert rock isn’t easy. I went to the bathroom and filled my water, then settled in to build a fire. In an unusual move for me, it wasn’t a primitive campground, so my car was steps away and a restroom with running water was around the corner.
It took me three small boxes of matches but I got a roaring fire going. I slid down to the ground in front of the picnic table, my beer and M&Ms on the bench behind me. I was glad I always carried a knife while camping because the beers turned out to not be twist-off tops. The last thing I needed at this point was to not be able to open my beer, after the afternoon adventure I’d had. My hands, dry from the arid desert, were covered in black charcoal and red dust. They were cold and moved more slowly than usual.
I ate my M&Ms, drank my beer, wrote in my journal, stared at the cloudy moon, and watched my fire slowly shrink, wither, and turn to embers. I poured some water on it and stirred everything with a long stick to ensure it was out, then went to bed.
My thermarest sleeping pad wouldn’t stay inflated but I was too tired to care. I pulled my hoodie up, zipped myself in, and passed out. I woke up a couple of hours later because my toes were very cold, so I put on my ski socks which I’d had the foresight to bring, and went back to sleep until 530 came around.
I’d packed my ski socks to wear for the mule ride after reading a review someone had left online that the “stirrups kept bumping into [her] shins” during the ride. My ski socks are knee-high, made of SmartWool – Merino wool that resists odors and is moisture-wicking, and are also thicker in the front so that ski boots won’t cause bruising. Good enough for my multitude of ski trips this winter, good enough for a mule ride. I debated the gear I’d packed multiple times as weather reports changed during the week leading up to my departure. It even snowed on the South Rim four days before I arrived, so I had to plan for weather ranging from the 20s to the expected 70s or so at Phantom Ranch. I packed as lightly as possible while still ensuring I had enough layers, including my ski socks. I was glad I had them when, around 230am, I awoke due to cold feet. Not figurative cold feet; I was beyond excited for the upcoming ride, but actual cold feet. My torso was bundled in a SmartWool base layer, button down, and a hoodie covering my head. I was still wearing the jeans I’d flown in wearing and one set of Merino wool socks, but I was glad to be able to reach over and pull on the ski socks in the cold darkness. The deflation of my sleeping pad barely registered in my exhaustion and layers, but likely contributed to the cold as the ground temperature permeated my sleeping bag without the layer of air.