Welcome back. Fresh out the Grand Canyon, a family vacation like we used to. It gets no more traditional a USA summer time adventure than piling in and camping out at such an iconic venue. True fact: I recommend the North Rim of the Grand Canyon! A very different experience than the crowded and day-tripper-ridden South Rim.
In a week's worth of camping out family style, there is an overnight to be had solo. It's good for everyone's morale. I had packed my bike, and my sweetie's bike (which fits 2 of 3 childrens as well, these days), in hope of joining forces with some AZ's finest. That didn't happen, but I was able to roll away from the public campground to look for some realer real.
Plan B was some poring over the map(s) with an eye to easily accessible dirt. This revealed a potentially fun destination, and just like that, it was on. I rode out into the unknown. As such, it is always the same- the distance out, being unknown, seems much longer than it is. Plus, my map sucked and showed several roads branching from my route where there were in actuality only 2. Lessons learned and relearned= a map is not the territory. Ceci n'est pas un blog entry.
I rode along a quiet forest service dirt/rough road and savored the (surprising to me) alpinity of the Kaibab Plateau. I thought about canyons and erosion and drainage. The landscape is all about drainage over there.
Over here on the west side, we gets no lightning. I used to live places where the good storms rolled through, but (Cali drought notwithstanding) these days there's no drama in my skies. Fog is just drab. We'd had quick and refreshing weather blow through each afternoon thus far, so I was packing my rain gear.
When I arrived at the end, it was crowded with people even though I'd only seen 2 4x4s go by on my approach. Lesson 2= there is no backcountry in a highly visited National Park, dummy. Duh. I waited them out, perhaps drove them out with my smelly dirtbag lurking. Perhaps it was the imminent thunderstorms. On the edge of the GC there, I watched the storms as they moved about the place. You can see for miles. When it became clear these storms would likely put in an appearance at my own point, I worked to quickly set up my beloved tarp. I used one of the 2 picnic tables as an anchor, and my bike frame as an anchor with the front wheel off to serve as another anchor, and situated my shelter in the lee between a small fir tree and a large sage bush. I had the Kelly Kettle along (of course) and it served as a weight along one of the sides, tied to the grommet. It was a very jury-rigged set-up. As a tarp will be.
Then I walked back down to the very edge and marveled. The 3 main storms, which had been quite separate, were converging to the Southwest of me. I watched multiple lightning strikes taking place simultaneously in different spots. Like, 4 strikes at a time in one storm and 4 strikes in a different storm location all go off together. It was AMAZING. One strike came down below the rim and then arced sideways back to a cliff face. I've never seen anything like it. All this time the rain was coming closer to my point. When it became scary (and it did) I thought about the fact that my tarp was anchored with a steel framed bicycle to steel framed picnic table under the tallest tree at the pokiest outest end of a high point, and I got scareder. But, what are you going to do at that point, with the wind whipping the rain closer and the thunder right overhead? I reckoned that neither the tables nor the tree showed lightning damage, and literally ran for cover. The sound of the thunder was so immense I cowered beneath the tarp with my wool shirt wrapped around my ears for fear the sound would cause damage. I'm sure the storm was centered 2' above my tarp. Then it began to hail.
With the hail, the thunder ceased and I was able to unwrap my head. This was good, because the water and ice were threatening to flood my "floor" (a tarp on the dirt). I got to work and spent the next 20 minutes or so constructing and shoring up earthen walls along all 4 sides of my shelter. I reached as far out as I could and dug run-off trenches away from the walls to encourage drainage (that whole place is about drainage). When my hand got too filthy, I simply held it under the main run-off spot of my tarp and it was soon clean. There was so much water, I filled and drank my coffee cup 6 times before I stopped bothering. It tasted strongly of fir.
By that point the rain had settled in and lessened somewhat. My dams held, and I was snug and dry (nice that the overall temp was balmy) for the next 2 hours or so of steady raining.
When it stopped entirely, the sun came out and so did I.
I spent the afternoon sitting in different places on the rim looking at the Grand Canyon. You could spend a lot of time doing that. I had a thermos of Booker's and got drunk as an owl, mixing it with splashes of piney rain water. I call this cocktail a "Point Sublime." But you can only get it the one place.
More folks came out. That place is crawling with people. Several folks stayed out to watch the sunset before driving off. I had taken my sleeping gear down to the rim, figuring if it stayed clear it was a win and at worst I could again run for cover.
The sky remained clear all night. I saw a shooting star that flared like none other I've ever seen and it's trail lingered for a good 3-4 seconds before fading away. The Milky Way loomed. It was fantastic until the motorcycle yahoos showed up (at, like, 2AM?!?) and made a lot of noise setting up their own tent above me and then clambered down where I was with their flashlights. That place is crawling with people. I don't know what I was thinking expecting to get away from them with no knowledge of the place except that gained from briefly looking at a map.
Totally worth it. That storm was incredible. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, though next time I'd be more careful with shelter choices. Also, at this point I've toured a fair amount with the 29+ tyre size and I say: it works. It works very well and is a low cost, low tech, low maintenance way to soften up your ride. It really smooths out the wrinkles. You like offroad touring? You should check it out. Full stop.