When I was a very young lad, I remember thumbing through a couple of old books which one of my aunts kept, based on steam trains of the world. When looking through those black and white photographs, apart from the trains, what grabbed my interest were the varied world landscapes that these trains were passing through. In particular the tortuous routes that these steaming monsters took over the Rockies fired up my imagination; trains crossing magnificent terrains. In my teens I came across some stupendous North American landscapes by that great photographer Ansel Adams. Such images have remained in my memory since childhood, but I never thought I would get to see them for real.
In latter years I have read several books which rekindled my fascination in the Rockies. John Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley", tells of how he commissioned the construction of a special sturdy truck on the back of which was mounted a cabin in which he could sleep, cook, and work. The book then relates his solo 10,000 mile journey around America with his pet poodle, Charley. This account provided me with a greater appreciation of the vast variations in the terrain and peoples of the contiguous states, and germinated the idea of a long trek in America. I did three long treks around Europe in the 70s, but an American trek taking in the Rockies would be an extra dimension.
Travel writer Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail", describes his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail with his friend Stephen Katz. This book sowed the seeds of an idea for a walking holiday in the US.
Another book that stirred my imagination was "Adventures in the Rocky Mountains" by Isabella Bird, a nineteenth-century English traveller, writer, and a natural historian. Isabella was the feeble daughter of an English clergyman who would one day be described as "the boldest of travellers". She began life in the cold north of England. A sickly child, she spent her childhood dreaming of travel and planning her domestic escape. Just after the mid 19th century this intrepid author was exploring the magnificent unspoiled wilderness of Colorado, ascending the highest mountains, observing the abundant wildlife, and life on the remote frontier in all its phases. The story is told through a series of letters she wrote to her sister. A fascinating read giving a glimpse of how the west was being opened up.
It was a book given to me one Christmas by my daughter, Katie, that really got me fired up to explore the outback. The book, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" by Aron Ralston, a twenty-seven-year-old mountaineer and outdoorsman, describes his love of the Rockies and his ambition to solo scale all Colorado's highest peaks during winter months. The bulk of the story then covers one of the most extraordinary survival stories ever told. Aron gives a searing account of his six days trapped in one of the most remote spots in America, the remote Blue John Canyon in Canyonlands, Utah, and how one inspired act of bravery brought him home. In one of the myriads of narrow slot canyons, Aron found himself trapped by a falling rock that pinned his right hand and wrist against the canyon wall. On top of that, he hadn't told anybody where he was going, and this was very remote country. After six hellish days he found himself facing a lingering death, and took the only option left to him, to amputate his own arm.
Despite this morbid account, my interest in these huge mountainous and remote outbacks was really stirred up; I was determined to see and experience these mountains and wilderness areas for myself, and fulfill my passion for mountain walking by cramming in as much walking as time would permit. I made the commitment to travel down the Rockies in 2008. However, family issues necessitated a two year postponement, but all good things come to those who wait.
The overall plan is to fly to San Francisco, get over the jet lag and take in a few sights before heading up to Seattle. There I will purchase a people carrier, convert it so that I can live in the rear (in a similar vein to Steinbeck's approach) then move on to Vancouver. From Vancouver, across to Jasper, then down the Rockies to Arizona before heading via a circuitous route to the Pacific coast. This long leg will take three months to cover, amongst other sights: Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Arches N.P, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde N.P, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion N.P., Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, the Gold Country, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the Big Sur and Santa Barbara. I will be travelling alone for that long leg, apart from the company of fellow travellers who I meet along the way. Travelling alone will have its dangers which I am acutely aware of, but at the same time I will be able to travel at my own pace, be totally open to serendipity and walk long distances (around 800 miles in total) without compromise. My soul mate would have been an admirable companion for such a trek, but alas that was not meant to be. It will be hard not having someone to share and discuss the trip with as it unravels, but this blog will go some way to sharing it with my family and friends, and for that matter anyone else who is interested. After the three months I will be reach Los Angeles where my son Dan will join me on 12th August after flying over from New York. Dan and I will then travel down the coast to San Diego and visit Tijuana in Mexico. We'll then wind our way across to the Grand Canyon via Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam. We'll then head back to San Francisco involving some very long drives. This will allow Dan to spend a few days in San Francisco before he heads back to the UK on 28th August. I will have another 10 days or so in San Francisco during which time I will sell the vehicle and extras before heading home after a four month stint.
One of the links at the top/bottom of the page leads to map and route information. The index, as its name implies, gives shortcuts to various locations visited and other points of interest. The diary provides links to a day-to-day log. Not only does it cover where I have been, but will also give information about where I intend to be over the near future, and also provide an address/location of where the website was last updated from. These latter points are very important in case anything goes wrong; I want my family to know the exact location of where I last was plus where I intended to be over the following few days. Such information is essential, I wouldn't want to find myself in the same predicament that Aron Ralston found himself in or some other dilemma. With careful planning and due diligence, hopefully, all will go well and I'll have a memorable trip of a lifetime.
Enjoy the adventure as it unrolls!