When I first thought about being away from everyone I know on my 33rd birthday, I wasn't quite sure how I felt about it. Then when the CYOP road trip really started to come together and I saw an opportunity to celebrate by finally seeing the Grand Canyon, I was completely sold.
I could celebrate my birthday alone—right? No big deal.
Well it was a big deal, but in the best ways possible. I found solitude. I gained perspective on stopping to appreciate my surroundings. I listened to my body when I reached a few limits. I did exactly what I wanted to do at the precise time I wanted to do it. In short: it was pretty glorious.
If you've ever wanted to celebrate your birthday alone at the Grand Canyon, here's how (in 31 simple steps):
1. Wake up hours before the sun rises because you've got some strange road trip version of jet lag and your body hasn't realized that you're almost back in California after 5-ish weeks on the road. Also: because you want to find a good spot to watch the sunrise over that beautiful hole in the ground.
2. Hydrate. You are now at 7000+ feet above sea level, you're prone to elevation sickness and you'd like to go on a hike. Drink. That. Water!
3. Leave your hotel with multiple bottles of water and snacks long before the sun rises.
4. Enter the park via the south entrance and turn right onto Desert View Drive. This takes you to the eastern portion of the South Rim, which is less inundated with tourists.
5. Keep an eye out for elk crossing the road. Do not speed. I was thiiiis close to hitting a giant cow (female elk) when she decided to leap directly in front of my car to get across the road. Not only would that have bummed me out big time, but a run-in with that beast could have also totaled my car. On my birthday. In a place where it is very difficult to get a tow truck before 6 a.m.
6. Find a place to park (my first stop was Pipe Creek Vista), get out of the car and marvel at one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
7. Take pictures as the sun begins to rise, but please don't forget to put down your camera and just be in it.
8. Cry and smile at the same time when you think about how far you've come, both figuratively (over the last year) and literally (over the last five weeks).
9. Wipe away the the tears and look around. Realize that you're alone on a cliff overlooking the Grand Canyon. Smile some more.
10. Get in your car and head east on Desert View Drive toward Grandview Point to both take in the beauty now that the sun is up and to start the Grandview Trail.
11. Get out of your car at Grandview Point and stand up only to immediately sit back down with a serious case of dizziness. You are most definitely not acclimated to this altitude! Drink more water and eat a few of the snacks you packed.
12. Make your way to the trailhead and read the signs. Let bold phrases like "unmaintained trail," "do not hike this trail alone," "beware of snakes," and "loose gravel" soak in for a minute.
13. Decide this is not the trail for you. Take in the scenery and head toward one of the more well-maintained trails on the western side of the South Rim.
15. Get started only to keep stopping every few feet to take in the view. It's amazing what a difference going down into the canyon can make—you'll get a different perspective of the canyon by going below the rim.
16. Watch as backpackers return up to the rim from the canyon floor, which is nearly 4400 feet down. Step aside on the narrow parts of the trail and give them the right of way. They've earned it. Pulling over for uphill hikers and all mules/horses is also a good trail etiquette!
17. Oh. And watch for mule manure. The Bright Angel Trail is mule-friendly.
18. Get about one mile into the canyon and turn around to look up at where you've just been. Let the realization that you now have to climb back up the trail wash over you.
19. Keep walking for a little bit longer until you realize you've consumed all of the snacks you packed and most of the water. Considering it's not yet 10 a.m., you decide to turn around and head back up the trail.
20. Pass hikers who are wearing jeans and silently wonder how that's working out for them.
21. Make it back up to the trailhead and decide 10:45 a.m. is, in fact, not too late for a hearty breakfast.
22. Find said breakfast in the form of a breakfast burrito and a pitcher of water at the restaurant inside the lodge.
23. Stuff your face like nobody's watching only to have the friendly waitress inform you that the gentleman across the restaurant (who is also dining alone) would like to pay for your meal.
24. Smile and decline the offer while being slightly annoyed that people (men, mostly) seem to think you must be lonely/in need of assistance/available if you dine/hike/travel alone. Remind yourself that he could have just been trying to be nice to a fellow hiker/traveler, smile again, pay your own bill and leave the restaurant.
25. Walk outside to find this burst of colorful flowers and decide that Mother Nature must know it's your birthday because she sure is showing off.
26. Decide it's time for a hot shower, a long nap and, probably, more water. Head back to your hotel.
27. Wake up from your birthday nap just in time to order dinner from the hotel restaurant.
28. Return phone calls and texts from loved ones. Listen as some sing out-of-tune renditions "Happy Birthday" on your voicemail.
29. Eat dinner and drink more water while researching another hike for the following day.
30. Read a book under the covers even though it's still light outside.
31. Drift off to sleep: a.) completely content with how your solo birthday adventure at The Grand Canyon turned out; b.) proud of your accomplishments in the last year; and c.) excited about the adventures that await.