Sleep In The Dirt

Road Tripping 101: Across the World and the American Southwest

Essays From the Field

We stood slack-jawed at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Our toes gripping the edge of the rock as eagles screams echoed through the canyon. The wind whipped our faces and slapped against our tent. I looked over at Rami, a friend of nearly a decade, and said, This is truly unbelievable.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this.” He said as he popped from behind his camera lens.

When I met Rami in the clean streets of Singapore back in 2010 I never thought our friendship would take us to the edge of the Grand Canyon. We met via the Couchsurfing network where I  stayed on Rami’s couch to slip into Singapore for a quick visa renewal while working in neighboring Malaysia. Flash forward nine years and we headed out on his very first American road trip.

We left from Denver, Colorado for a two-week adventure across Arizona and Southern Utah. Complete with a night backpacking on the rim of the Grand Canyon, dusty roads, car troubles, and the little camper that could, we embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. The trip involved a lot of “firsts.” Rami had never been camping before, and newly-immigrated to the US, he wanted to taste all of it. Although I’ve spent plenty of nights under the stars, I had never taken someone new out camping – so I thought I could share a few big lessons learned for your own Summer road trip.

Make a (flexible) Plan

Before we hit the road, we had several discussions about gear and objectives. As a Type 2 fun aficionado, it felt easy for me to get carried away. There were so many objectives I wanted to do, but I was hurt, recovering from a double-knee injury. Not to mention, Rami lacked the experience to engage in some of the bigger objectives safely.

Planning involves assessing your level of risk and creating an itinerary suitable for the whole group. Instead of going after the “biggest” or “baddest” trails, we chose activities that suited both of our abilities. Together we developed a list of trails, viewpoints, and scenic drives that filled our days with plenty of chill time for relaxing at camp in-between. We kept our objectives on the easier side, but still had elements of adventure.

I helped Rami get the gear he needed for the adventure. A few road trip must-haves included:

                          • Cozy camp chairs
                          • Sleeping bags and pads suitable for our Grand Canyon backpacking adventure
                          • A yoga mat to stretch after a day on the trails
                          • A larger cooler that holds ice for at least 24 hours
                          • The ten essentials (water, snacks, headlamp, fire starting kit, first aid kit, extra layers, a small emergency bivvy sack, map/GPS and compass, a utility knife, and plenty of sun protection), plus a hiking bag to store them in
                          • A large, refillable water can (you can fill up at gas stations if you ask)
                          • Our favorite salty snacks for some post-adventure noshing
                          • Camp socks and camp shoes or sandals. 

Team Work – it really does make the dream work!

Despite our differences in experience, Rami and I worked like a well-oiled machine. I was often in charge of backing up the teardrop trailer to the perfect camp spot and navigating dirt roads. As an avid camper, I taught Rami how to spot a previously established dispersed campsite using Google Maps.

While Rami would organize our base camp with everything we needed to transition from life on the road to life at camp. He brought a few luxuries to the equation, such as washing up with warm water and indulging in a foot soak. He cooked up creative meals such as instant Indian curries wrapped in a tortilla.

Assess Your Impact

Whenever you go into wild spaces, you’re impacting the land. As a newbie camper, it’s important to learn about Leave No Trace. As a frequent traveler to the desert landscape, I explained everything about responsible desert travel. We discussed everything from avoiding cryptobiotic soils to the complex nature of land conservation in the highly-contested Bear’s Ears National Monument.

Rami was a sponge, and we were soon letting our imaginations transform the landscape in front of us, creating stories about what it must have felt like to live here before modern technology, and pointing out the tiniest bugs living on the desert cacti. These conversations led to deeper connections with our lives and society as a whole.

Avoid the Crowds

Of course, on any southwestern road trip, you’ll want to catch some bigger destinations. As a photographer, Rami desired to get some clicks at the famous Bryce Canyon, while I had dreams of visiting the Grand Canyon. However, neither one of us wanted to contend with stuffed busses and crowded parking lots. In today’s pandemic climate, avoiding crowds is an essential part of any road trip. This helps stop the spread not only to yourself but to the small communities you travel through.

Instead, we opted to see the lesser-visited (but just as spectacular) North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We avoided over-touristed areas and instead chose quieter trails. We even snagged a permit to sleep on a single backcountry campsite along the rim. When we didn’t have the choice of avoiding crowded spots, like Bryce, we simply got up before dawn. Our sunrise hike through Bryce Canyon was one of the most peaceful memories of the trip. We took the extra effort to wake up early and plan accordingly in order to find some solitude in some of the nation’s most crowded outdoor spaces.

Alternatively, we spent plenty of time off the grid in lesser-known desert locales. The best way to find these spots is to simply search around. Use a website like AllTrails and select “show nearby trails” to find other areas that people don’t frequent. Combine that with Google Earth to see if there’s free dispersed camping nearby. Another way to find those secret spots is to search “alternatives to XX location” and see what pops up. Lastly, the USGS National Geographic foldable maps of an area can be a fun way to have a spontaneous adventure, just be sure you’re ready for rough roads and remote navigation without cell service.

Not If, When the Plan Goes Awry

Some of my best adventures have been when everything falls through and the southwestern road trip with Rami was no exception. Whenever you’re traveling on a road trip or taking out an RV or camper on an adventure, it’s important to be prepared. I never leave home without:

                          • Jumper cables
                          • An axe
                          • A hatchet
                          • Duct tape
                          • Wire nuts
                          • Zip ties
                          • A ratchet set
                          • A multi-head screwdriver
                          • A spare RV or camper tire as well as one for your vehicle
                          • Wire cutters
                          • Dikes or side cutting pliers
                          • Mallet
                          • Buck knife

When someone flagged us down on the road to tell us the wiring harness for our teardrop was dragging on the ground, we knew we needed to fix it. And just as Rami engineered a new wiring harness, I immediately broke it when I had a snafu unhitching the trailer. Of course, I got upset at myself for immediately undoing all of Rami’s hard work. We were miles from help, but we managed to work together to get the harness fixed again, mostly thanks to our handy tool kit and Rami’s engineering expertise. Let’s just say, I did the cooking and the dishes that night!

Even though I didn’t climb any great mountains or undertake a huge, challenging objective, I still had one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken. Together, Rami and I embarked into the unknown and developed a closer friendship through our journey. Sharing my love for the outdoors with a close friend is an experience I’ll never forget. As for Rami, he fell in love with the outdoors. We can’t wait to hit the road again.

About the Author: Meg Atteberry’s mission is to empower others to get outside and have an adventure. When she’s not writing for awesome outdoor brands, you can find Meg swinging leads on multi-pitch climbing routes across the country, finding the best sunrises around the globe, or snuggling up by the campfire with her fiance and adventure-pup. You can learn more about Meg and get the inside scoop about Colorado’s best outdoor adventures on her blog, Fox in the Forest. She’d rather be dirty than done up. Follow her next adventure on Instagram: @adventuresoffoxintheforest

Comments (1)

One response

  1. Mark Eller

    Great post — appreciate that you included a plug for LNT.org!

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