WESTERNER 2 2010

13/06/2010 – 26/06/2010

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Westerner 2 was a phenomenal experience. I apologise for using the cliché, but this trip was truly life-changing. Visiting so many places and doing so with like-minded, fun and inspiring people was the greatest feeling in the world.

It would be impossible to sum up or consolidate a Trek America tour into a short review. There are just too many details and moments to include to make this possible. Also, no amount of words can convey the euphoric feeling of travelling this way around places that are vibrant, varied and bursting with life.

Having said that, I do want to give you a small taste of what my experience on Westerner 2 was like. The following are updated and revised journal entries from back in 2010. I’ve saved the finer details for ‘Trek Reflections’ but I hope this basic narrative of events will be useful for giving you an idea of one Trek America adventure.

As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Saturday 12th June 2010 (Heathrow + Hacienda)

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I was up early on Saturday after having a brilliant night of uncontrollable bladder syndrome. It was probably down to the sheer excitement of embarking on an amazing adventure. Or maybe because I have the bladder of an ant. Or both.

The plan for the day was to be picked up by my mate (whom I was going on Trek with) and then catch a bus to Heathrow. Once at Heathrow, we’d contact Liz, a fellow Trekker that we met online by relentlessly searching for people who were signed on for Westerner 2. What wasn’t in the plan was the explosion that came from my nose around ten minutes before my mate was due.

Luckily, the nosebleed lasted around five minutes and no one would ever know about my panicked and escalated line of thinking. It looked a little like this:

My nose won’t stop bleeding.

It’ll bleed all day.

They won’t let me on the plane.

I’ll miss my flight.

I’ll miss Trek departure.

I’ll die from so much nose blood lost.

We reached Heathrow around nine in the morning and checked our bags in. My mate had all the holiday information packed neatly into a folder. All I had to do was smile and stay glued to him at all times. I bet he loved that. After this, we grabbed a coffee and met Liz.

Liz and I had spent the last few months exchanging messages and getting each other pumped up for Trek. This made meeting her extremely easy and natural as we felt we knew each other already!

It turned out that Liz was also on the exact same flight as my mate and I, so we spent our morning in the departure lounge chatting about Trek, joking that it would be freaky if there was another person from Trek on our flight.

There was.

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For Westerner 2, we flew to LA and then stayed in a hotel called Hacienda. This was the gateway hotel, the one where our future tour leader and trekkers would meet on Sunday. We didn’t have to stay there, but it made sense seeing as we’d be tired from the plane ride and we could roll out of bed and be in the lobby within five minutes.

The flight to LA was killer. I’d only ever flown once before, and that ride was only six hours. London to LA was a butt-numbing 11 hours in the air. What helped pass the time, however, was getting to know another trekker who was on our flight. He was called Malcolm and somehow Liz managed to sniff him out.

Hacienda ran a free shuttle that effortlessly took us from LAX to the hotel. I spent my first few dollars tipping the driver and then we all headed to the lobby to check in. The first thing I noticed about Hacienda was the Starbucks directly opposite the hotel. Now, I’m updating this journal in 2015, so mentioning a Starbucks isn’t a big deal, right? Well, in 2010, there weren’t that many coffee shops where I lived. Seeing a Starbucks was like seeing a tap-dancing unicorn. So I was giddy at the thought of grabbing a coffee in the morning before Trek. What I’d later learn is that Starbucks and other coffee chains were practically everywhere we turned…

The Hacienda was a brilliant hotel. Bright colours born from an orange-based pallette, an open foyer, sofas, a large patio area and heaps of quirky character. The only thing that bothered me was that our room had its hot and cold tap switched around for some reason. I nearly had another nose bleed from the panic of icy water slapping my half-awake self.

Six in the evening. With the exception of Malcolm, we all decided to get some dinner. As we made our way around the various shops surrounding the Hacienda, we noticed a large, white van with a blue trailer attached to it in the car park of a supermarket. As we approached, we clocked the Trek America logo and noticed a woman with long, blonde hair packing food into a cooler box. We greeted her and she introduced herself as Anniken, our tour leader and absolute legend for the next fourteen days. She was so laid back, easy to talk to and had a welcoming warmth about her.

We let her get on with finalising preparations (as she’d be seeing more than enough of us over the next two weeks) and we headed back to the hotel. Then, like a grandad after Christmas dinner, we fell asleep.

Sunday 13th June 2010 (Los Angeles + Big Sur)

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We were told to meet in the lobby of the Hacienda at 7.30am. In theory and in laziness, I could have woken at 7.20am and skipped my way to the lobby, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t stink of stale sweat and greasy hair. Only after some real trekking and camping would that be acceptable.

So, a 6.45am alarm pulled me out of a deep sleep and I got ready. We gave Liz a knock, grabbed coffee and then entered the lobby of the Hacienda.

Last night in the car park, Anniken had mentioned the fact that we’d need to give her food money and any hotel money before we set off. Food kitty was just $10 a day and is a great idea to give the money in one go before Trek starts. This way, if you gamble all your money in Vegas, or tip an attractive server just that little bit too much, then you know you can at least eat everyday.

As 7.30am approached, we began noticing our fellow trekkers. Most were solo travellers, except for two girls who were cousins. It was almost an equal mix of male/female (7/6) and some trekkers I recognised from a few Facebook message exchanges prior to departure. It was refreshing to know that we were all from various parts of the world, such as Norway, Australia, Germany, Czech Republic and the UK.

Anniken arrived and we sat in the lobby together as she took our travel insurance details. We filled in forms, had emergency contact cards and were given an overview of the Trek to come. This itinerary came in the form of a piece of paper with a few words about each day. For example:

Grand Canyon – Sunset – Camping – IMAX Theatre.

After a brief morning introduction, we set off in the Trek van! Now, let’s take ourselves back a wee bit to yesterday when I mentioned my ant bladder. This, plus the large Starbucks, meant that I needed to make the trekkers wait while I went to the bathroom. During this time, everyone else was getting comfy in the van. I had to take the last seat available – the front passenger seat.

This was fine, however, for the first day, I wouldn’t recommend choosing this seat first. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a great time. I had a wonderful opportunity to get to know Anniken better (and her me) and I was in control of the tunes. The only downside was the fact that it was difficult to chat to the trekkers behind me properly.

Setting Off

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We journeyed through LA and headed towards Beverly Hills. Being a cheesy sod, I had Weezer’s Beverly Hills blasting through the van’s speakers. The weather wasn’t great at first. Pretty fog-tastic and dull. That didn’t phase us as we took in the bustling, urban jungle. Anniken pointed out the posh shops where celebs would buy their bits and bobs, then we stopped near the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.

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The Hollywood Walk of Fame was packed with tourists taking pictures of their favourite entertainers. It was also busy with prep for the Toy Story 3 premiere!

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As our official first stop as a group, we mostly kept together and explored the area as we continued to get to know each other. We then made our way (via the van) to a beautiful observation spot that overlooked Downtown LA. We had our first group photo here. Poor Anniken had to snap the same photo on 13 different cameras!

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Our LA tour didn’t last that long as we made our way to Santa Barbara. We pulled up near the beautiful coastline and ate lunch on a patch of grass nearby. The sun was out full force, and my suncream the same. We introduced ourselves to everyone properly and then walked around the pier.

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We set off again, but it wasn’t long before we needed to make a stop at a gas station. You’ll either learn to love or hate gas stations on Trek. I loved them. Why wouldn’t you? Toilet stops and a place to grab snacks or coffee? C’mon!

Although Anniken wanted to make it to Big Sur in good time, she still wanted to make sure our travel time was filled with some entertaining stops. One such stop was at a small beach that was occupied by sea lions. They just blubbered about on the beach, chilling and stinking. It was a stench that no amount of nasal spray could relieve.

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Big Sur

We entered the campsite after a while of meandering lanes and sinister weather. The campsite was surrounded by trees and sheltered us from any unwanted rain or wind. Anniken briefed us on how to correctly set up the Trek tents, then we split into pairs. As I travelled with my friend, we shared a tent and any rooms in hotels en route. Solo travellers were buddied up and stayed together for the rest of the Trek.

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We were also divided into four groups. A, B, C and D. The group you were in determined what your duties were each day. For example, on the first night, A were in charge of washing up, B in charge of cleaning the van, C in charge of cooking and D had the night off. The first night saw us all cleaning, but afterwards we all stuck to our groups whenever we were camping. As for cooking, Anniken treated us to some beautiful Sloppy Joes.

We were pretty much given the opportunity to do whatever we wanted at the campsite. First, we all headed for the campsite’s bar to use their wifi to book our Alcatraz tickets. After this, some stayed at the bar and some went to bed. Due to jet lag and the excitment of the first day, I grabbed a much need rest.

Monday 14th June 2010 (San Francisco)

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I woke up at six in the morning inside a tent in Big Sur. It took me a good five minutes to realise this fact. I wasn’t even hungover. The months leading to Trek America seemed long and drawn out. I’d spend most of my waking hours thinking about some aspect of Trek. I could barely hold conversations. When I did, I’d always find a way to relate it to Trek.

I was finally here.

I was lying down on a thin mat inside my sleeping bag. A true camper! A true trekker!

I scrambled out of the tent. The itinerary mentioned some more travelling in the van before we hit San Francisco. I imagined this day would feel as long and eventful as the last, so I headed straight to the washroom to get myself sorted. The showers were occupied, so being the disgusting sod that I am, I settled for an old school ‘flannel and armpits’ job. I didn’t have time to wait for the person inside to finish. I needed breakfast, then the tent was to be dismantled pronto.

The Trek van wasn’t in the campsite when I woke or when I returned from the washroom. Anniken had taken a few of the guys to explore the nearby beach before breakfast. This option was offered to everyone before we settled for bed last night, but my tired body said no. I regretted it in the morning because I had so much energy and wanted to take advantage of every waking minute!

A cup of coffee and peanut butter on toast. That’s all this guy needs to function. I ate the last of my toast and then put the tent away. I was surprised by how well I had slept in my portable bedroom. It did get a little cold in the night, but I blame that on my cheap sleeping bag and lack of muscle. The only reason I bought a cheap sleeping bag was because I planned to bin the thing on the last day. It only cost me £6, and the way I see it, £6 and a few semi-cold nights is worth that space for me to bring back a box of Lucky Charms.

Anniken returned shortly after our morning munch and we packed everything back into the trailer. The loading and unloading of the trailer became standard whenever we set up shop somewhere. At first it seemed a hassle, but the bore of the chore disappeared once it became routine after the first or second time.

Anniken requested a different person to be in the passenger seat each day so she can get to know everyone one to one. So, for the journey to San Fran, it was back seat city!

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Our first stop, no longer than two minutes into our journey, was at a local gas station for a fill up, both in terms of the car and our stomachs. We bought snacks and then cruised along the Cali coast. The sky and sea mirrored each other’s azure appearance. It was such a stunning ride, and about two hours in we pulled over at a nearby beach for a toilet break. I didn’t need to go, plus the toilets were pits – literally holes in the ground – so I didn’t fancy that. I, instead, sat on the beach and waited for everyone to finish.

The gorgeous coastline soon faded as we neared San Francisco. Trees, sand and sea turned into buildings, junctions and bustle. This wasn’t a bad thing at all because San Fran is such a beautiful city. We ventured along steep streets with houses resting neatly on the high-angled roads. We passed a few cable cars that simply screamed ‘cute’ and the vibe so far was laid back and carefree. As Anniken gave us a verbal guide, all we could do was look around, mouths open and cameras out, and take in as much of the city as we could. It wasn’t long before we parked up and had lunch out of the coolers. Our backdrop as we ate? The Golden Gate Bridge.

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After lunch (bagel and cheese), we were left to walk the bridge. It was so misty and windy! Anniken drove off and planned to meet us at the other end.

The first thing you’ll notice when walking the Golden Gate Bridge is the fact that you’re walking the freakin’ Golden Gate Bridge. The second thing you’ll notice is the noise. The bridge was in constant use. Cars were zipping by as we plodded along. A few occasions I couldn’t help but peer over the edge of the bridge. It was ridiculously high above the water. My hands were gripping the railing for dear life as I became mesmerised by the sheer drop.

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We conquered the bridge and took another group photo. Next we headed to a park for a walk around, then off to Steiner Street to see the house where Mrs. Doubtfire was set. Everyone got out and took a picture of the place.

The reason for the stop was down to the fact that I mentioned to Anniken (on the first day) how Mrs. Doubtfire was my favourite film of all time. That was it. I didn’t hint or suggest to her that we go to the house when we hit San Fran. This was why she was such an amazing tour leader!

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Once we were Doubtfired out, we shortly arrived at Layne Hotel. This would serve as our home for the next two nights. The hotel was small yet cosy. We were given a quick talk by the manager about which areas to visit and which to avoid. We were also given an induction in elevator usage. The elevator at the hotel was pretty quirky. A simple, metal box with a cross-hatched door that you had to manually open and close. The elevator would only move if you held the button until you arrived at your floor, and it was just big enough to hold two people. There was fourteen of us (including Anniken). My mate and I took the stairs.

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We freshened up (FLANNEL AND PITS) and then let San Francisco know that us trekkers had arrived! We caught a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf – AND MIGHT I ADD – this was the best way to travel, like, ever. It was such an authentic treasure. I loved it!

Fisherman’s Wharf was breezy and saw the return of moaning, stinking sea lions that lazed about on the docks. We were led around the docks to a small boat that had other tourists on board.

We were about to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge!

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The boat bobbed and bounced along the sea as we circumvented Alcatraz. The prison looked so lonely yet enchanting on its own. The wind repeatedly slapped my face. I felt completely energised, absorbing every moment on the boat. Some trekkers stayed inside, while others came outside and braved the crazy ride.

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Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge was a beautiful treat. It was amazing to think that just a few hours ago we were walking along it. Now we were given a completely new way to see such an iconic structure.

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After the ride, we hailed taxis and split into small groups to return to the hotel. Anniken took us to a fantastic Indian restaurant and then some of the gang made their way to a bar. I turned in for the night, exhausted yet exhilarated, empty yet excited for the next day to come.

Tuesday 15th June 2010 (San Francisco)

So you’ll be pleased to know that I woke up and had a proper shower. There. Happy?

Tuesday was our free day in San Francisco. This meant that Anniken had the day off from taking us around and we could do whatever tickled our pickles. A handful of the group wanted to check out Sears Fine Food, a restaurant famous for its cute, Swedish pancakes. If you ever check this place out then I recommend the eighteen Swedish pancakes with extra bacon! It was delicious! Imagine the tastiest thing you can think of. Now quadruple it.

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After we were pancaked out, the group dispersed until we were to all meet for our Alcatraz tour in the evening.

I walked around San Fran without any real plan. It’s my favourite thing to do when I explore a new city. I sometimes have an idea of what I want to see, but for most part I just like to make it up as I go along. It’s more exciting that way!

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After a stroll through the effortlessly enchanting Chinatown,  I grabbed a coffee and found myself strolling towards Lombard Street. Famous for its hairpin turns, the street looked beautiful in the summer sun. Flowers and bushes line each side of the curving road. A gorgeous sight and well worth a quick visit if you’re in the area.

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Last night we took taxis from the boat ride to the hotel. When we split in smaller groups, my taxi took a standard route back. One group, however, had a much more exciting adventure. They asked their taxi driver to go back via Lombard Street. He obliged, and ripped down and around the sharp turns, making a roller coaster look like a pram ride.

After a few more hours of navigating the steep streets and absorbing the stunning surroundings, it was nearly time to meet the rest of the gang at Pier 39.

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We all shared stories of our day so far as we set out on a small ferry to Alcatraz. On the island, we were greeted by a speaker who gave us a quick introduction to Alcatraz. We were then given headsets which acted as our personal walking commentary that guided us through the whole of the prison. Actual audio from inmates was used in the commentary. It give the tour an spooky yet authentic touch.

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Walking along the corridors where some of the most dangerous criminals were kept was an unusual experience. As fascinating as it all was, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of melancholy. This wasn’t a bad thing, but the whole tour did an amazing job of transporting you back to when the prison was in full swing.

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I’m a mug lover and a hot drink enthusiast, so I bought a Alcatraz metal cup replica from the gift shop and then caught the ferry back to the pier.

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A $2 tram ride and we were all back at the hotel. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Wednesday 16th June 2010 (Yosemite)

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The hotel owner provided some tasty pastries and coffee for us before we left San Fran behind. The last two whirlwind days had come and gone, and San Fran was now a memory. I loved every minute in that city. Its optimistic and carefree character made for a heck of an enjoyable visit. Alas, no time to reminisce quite yet, for we were packed up and roaring to go at 8am.

Yosemite was on the cards today. But before we could make like Kerouac and get on the road, we needed supplies to last the next few days. We stopped at the first Target store that we spotted and loaded up with food, beers, water and anything to help us with our hiking. A few of us also bought pillows which helped a great deal when it came to camping.

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One last stop at a local farm shop to grab some veggies and then we were truly on our way.

As today included a lot of van time, there wasn’t much else that went on before we reached our new campsite. Some trekkers took naps to pass the time, others chatted or listened to music. I found the long journeys to be a great time to write in my journal and process the crazy amount of new experiences we had in such a short amount of time.

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We had a lunch stop at Knights Ferry and had a quick wander around the place to stretch our legs. We explored the arid area and walked along the Knights Ferry Bridge, the longest covered bridge located to the west of the Mississippi.

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Legs all stretched. BACK IN THE VAN.

It was early evening when we finally hit the campsite. The road leading here granted us a tremendous scenic route that included towering trees, vast greenland, intriguing rock formations and the brilliant Nevada Fall.

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The campsite reflected this awesome environment. We were surrounded by smaller trees that left enough sky for the sun to illuminate the whole of the quiet camp. We pitched our tents and one group began cooking. The rest of us relaxed, explored the camp and washed up.

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As the light faded, we created a small fire and gathered around it for s’mores and stories. It was a gentle and calming way to end a busy day on the road.

There happened to be another Trek America tour staying at the same campsite as us that night. The tour leader came over and joined us briefly as we mushed melted marshmallows into our faces. He soon left, and Anniken went away for a while too. She then came back with a dog! Turns out, she met a couple who wanted to go and take a shower. She offered to look after their dog while they did so. Amazing! The couple also joined us around the fire and we chatted to them for a while before the night fizzled out.

Thursday 17th June 2010 (Yosemite)

5.10am. Wake up. Wash. Pack backpack full of hiking supplies. I’m coming for you, Yosemite!

We made a packed lunch the day before, so we were all ready for the day ahead. Breakfast consisted of granola bars and coffee.

We parked the Trek van at 6.15am and then caught a free shuttle to Yosemite Valley. It was pretty early yet there were so many people here ready to tackle a trail or two. After grabbing a coffee at the visitor centre, we started our climb.

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I can barely climb stairs without pulling a muscle, so the day was going to be pretty entertaining for anyone around me. We started slow, but the trail rapidly turned into a game of How Much More Can My Heart Take Before It Fails?

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The healthier of the bunch powered on, but me and a few others decided to take our time and go at a steadier pace. I found that once we broke off from the group, the pressure to hike to Nevada Fall was taken off, and we began to actually enjoy our surroundings and take in ALL THE NATURE. We even stopped to chat to a few fellow hikers along the way.

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We were following the John Muir Trail that would lead us to Nevada Fall. The waterfall lies near the Liberty Cap, a huge granite dome with a peak elevation of over two thousand metres! As we reached the waterfall, I sat down at its edge and got snapping. The view is truly phenomenal, and especially worth it after a few hours of hiking. I couldn’t think of anything more calming that the rushing sound of the waterfall as it gracefully glided over the edge.

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I could have easily spent the remainder of the day sitting at Nevada Fall. But, a few trekkers wanted to make a descent, while others powered on and tried to tackle the beast that is Half Dome.

The majority of the group returned to the main visitor centre around 1pm. Anniken and two others were planning to be finished with Half Dome around 5.30, so we spent the next four and a half hours wandering around the place and relaxing. It was a beautiful, hot day, so it was rewarding to bask in the sun after an early morning hike.

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Anniken bought us all pizza to share and we devoured every last slice. We were all sat around picnic tables which were attached to a restaurant and bar. The place was filled with tired trekkers and enthusiastic groups of travellers who had, like us, a productive and invigorating day in Yosemite’s glory. The atmosphere was killer, and everyone was in high spirits! This was, by far, the best day of Trek.

The beer levels were running low, so the group stocked up and grabbed extra firewood before heading back to camp. We showered, and then befriended a group of middle-aged bikers who were staying at the camp. They each had stunning motorbikes, told us that they came to Yosemite at the same time each year to “get away from the wives.”

“There’s more of you here than us, and we’re the ones making the worst noise!” said one biker. “You should come and join us. We got whisky!”

They looked menacing at first, but they were actually the friendliest guys you could imagine. Most of the group went over and drank the night away under the stars.

Friday 18th June 2010 (Leaving Yosemite)

I woke at 7.50am. As if looking like carrots wasn’t enough, my legs were also stiff from the hike. I distracted myself with some tea and breakfast and then dismantled the tent.

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While I waited for everyone to finish washing and packing, I went over to the bikers with a few of the guys and we chatted to them again. Really, I just wanted to sit on their bikes and pretend I was as cool as them.  I think they felt sorry for me, or sensed what I wanted to do, because they asked us if we wanted to sit on their bikes! I hopped on this blue beauty and made pretend motorbike sounds in my head. Easily pleased, me.

That wasn’t the last we’d see of the bikers. They offered the girls in the group a ride on the back of their bikes to our next stop to see some giant sequoias. I’ll admit, I was jealous it wasn’t me having the wind blow my ridiculous hair as I held on for dear life to the leather jacket of an old biker. Fingers crossed for a second chance on Mountain Trail!

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We parted ways with the bikers when we arrived at Mariposa Grove near Yosemite’s South Entrance. We went for a gentle two-mile stroll amongst the ancient sequoias. They were incredibly thick and earned every right to have the word ‘giant’ associated with them.

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Our view at lunch was the snowy peaks that surrounded Olmsted Point. A scenic stop that granted a welcome change from the constant greens and browns of Yosemite’s natural beauty.

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The drive to our campsite wasn’t a long one, so our tour leader filled the day with a calming cruise through deserts and small towns. As the heat intensified, Anniken stopped at some natural hot springs for us to take a dip. It was refreshing to wade in the cooling water and waste away the day.

We arrived at the campsite (Bishop, CA) around early evening and set our tents up. As one group cooked, the rest of us went to a small store to stock up on beer for the next day to Vegas.

We had two options for the evening. We could either attend a Rodeo at the Mike Boothe Memorial Arena, or wash our clothes. Keep in mind, we were six days into Trek and none of us had washed a single thing. So, what did all but two people opt for? THE RODEO!

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The town felt pretty small when we entered it, so I was surprised to see so many people at the rodeo. The stands were packed and the atmosphere was electric. It was well worth sacrificing clean clothes over.

We came to the rodeo a little later than the start time, so we weren’t there that long. We then headed for a bar in town and waited for Anniken to get us at the arranged time of 10.30pm. Most of us then headed to sleep soon after.

We’d need our energy for Vegas.

Saturday 19th June 2010 (Las Vegas)

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I woke up at six and managed to get packed and ready by sevenish. Spirits were as high as a firework’s peak explosion, half down to the fact that we were going to be in Vegas in the afternoon, half because we would be sleeping in hotel beds for the next two nights. BLISS.

The drive from our campsite to Vegas was 275 miles, so we wasted as little time as could. We made three short stops along the way for gas, snacks and lunch, then blasted some dance music through the van to get excited for the wild nights ahead.

After a long drive through the badlands, we started to see the Vegas skyline grow bigger with each approaching metre. My first impression was how massive everything looked. The colossal buildings were as big in capacity as they were in character. The whole place felt wonderfully exuberant. You couldn’t help but feel its energy and let it lead your smile.

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We were staying at one of the coolest hotels on the strip. Famous for its Arthurian theme, the Excalibur Hotel and Casino was going to look after us trekkers for the next two nights. We unloaded the trailer and then dropped our belongings off at our rooms. Much like with camping, we shared a room with the same person we had a tent with.

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With a few hours to kill before meeting for the evening’s shenanigans, my mate and I decided to branch off and hit the strip.

There was always something weird and wonderful to look at in Vegas. It was delightfully tacky and ridiculously refreshing. I loved the place already and we’d only been there an hour!

I went back to the hotel and changed into the only smart clothes that I brought with me. The rest of the group then met in one of the rooms and we had a mini party before heading out for our limo ride around Vegas.

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We all felt on top of the world. The limo was thundering dance songs as we passed the bright lights of the city. It felt incredible! For some reason, we had to switch our limo halfway through for a bus. This wasn’t a bad thing at all. It meant we could stand up and dance!

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Anniken wanted us to visit Fremont Street, the second most famous street in Vegas. It was just as bright and dazzling as the strip, but more compact and bustling. We watched an Aerosmith tribute band and popped in and out of a few casinos.

We eventually ended up at the famous ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada’ sign and had a group picture with it. There was actually a couple who had just got married trying to have a romantic picture underneath it. We joined them and crashed their pictures (with their permission!).

We then broke into smaller groups and visited various casinos and hotels, such as Caesar’s Palace and the Bellagio. Then it was off to sample the fine bars and clubs of Vegas!

Sunday 20th June 2010 (Las Vegas)

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The last few days of early starts left us all pretty lazy on our first and last full day in the city of sin. My mate and I woke up around 10am and made no attempts to rush out of the hotel. We washed and grabbed a coffee from the Starbucks in the casino, then made our way to the Las Vegas Outlet Centre for lunch and a spot of shopping.

We returned to the strip and met a few of the trekkers to go to the Luxor Hotel and Casino to see Bodies: The Exhibition. This was such a gem. It’s an educational and oddly fascinating exhibition that shows off human bodies, along with their organs, in a preserved state. I’d recommend this attraction if you’re interested in science of the workings of the body. Or if you’re weird.

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We met up with the rest of the gang as the evening hit. First stop was New York-New York for a roller coaster ride along the roof of its hotel and casino. This was an exhilarating ride that gave you some unique views of the strip and its surrounding casinos. The ride also did a great job of cooling you off in the hot, desert air.

Much like the night before, we split into groups and went our separate ways. I’d tell you the rest of evening’s events, but you know what they say about what happens in Vegas…

Monday 21st June 2010 (Grand Canyon)

Vegas, man. What a ride. It’s everything you expect it to be with an added slice of cheese. An effortlessly entertaining playground that’ll grab you and make it hard for you to let go.

That’s the only thing with going on a trip like this. You can’t get too attached to a place. You’re there for a short time and then you’re off. But that’s also what makes Trek special. You appreciate the short time that you have and make the most out of every extraordinary second.

We bid Vegas a friendly farewell and then piled into the van. The plan was to reach the Grand Canyon so we could watch the sunset. Of we goooo!

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Today’s travelling wasn’t too taxing. Low peaks in the distance watched us as we rocketed through the blistering heat inside our air-conditioned beast. We made a few short stops, topped up the beer box, then reached our campsite that was a hop, skip and a jump from the GC.

Unlike previous campsites, this one was spacious yet dry. It was also, by far, the hottest day of the trip. My sun cream was clotting before I could even rub it into my poor, delicate skin.

Although it seemed like our campsite was in the middle of nowhere, it was interesting to find that the small stretch of road that ran adjacent to our camp was home to an IMAX theatre and a McDonald’s.

It was my group’s turn to cook this evening, and it was going to be a knockout. Was, that is. Turns out, the meal I had planned was quite ambitious and we needed time. The sun was almost setting and we had to get to the Grand Canyon. I ended up tossing out most of my potatoes that took ages to cook and we settled for scrambled egg and salad.

With tents already pitched and stomachs half-empty, we set off. Anniken instructed us to put grocery bags over our heads. As you do.

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We were all completely oblivious to the outside world. All we could hear were the sounds of the engine and the intense and excitable breathing of the trekkers. The van eventually stopped and Anniken led us us in a straight line. We held hands with the person in front and behind us and slowly inched our way over rocks and tarmac. My only wish was to be an outsider watching thirteen people with Whole Foods bags over their heads gingerly making their way to one of the world’s most beautiful attractions. After a few minutes of shrieking and giggling, we lined up and were given a countdown before being allowed to take our bags off.

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We collectively let out the most goosebump-inducing ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ as we laid eyes on the vastness of the Grand Canyon. Photos can’t do it justice and words can’t possibly prepare you for the sheer beauty you will behold.  It’s overwhelming. Its size and scope will leave you breathless. The intricacy of the rock formations is outstanding and you’ll never want to peel your eyes away.

Darkness began to fill in the Grand Canyon as the sun’s rim dimmed below the horizon. We made a toast and sat in silence, speechless.

Originally, we were only planning to witness the sunset at the Grand Canyon. Anniken suggested we get up earlier than planned for the next day and watch the sunrise. Without missing a beat, we all agreed we’d love to see the sunrise. This meant one of the earliest starts to our Trek days yet, but there was no way we could miss this opportunity.

We headed back to the camp and some of us watched an IMAX movie about the history of the Grand Canyon. This finished quite late, so we went straight to bed for our early rise.

Tuesday 22nd June 2010 (Grand Canyon)

Grand Canyon. More like Grand Can ya get me a drink because I’m dehydrated! Water is your friend in the heat, I learned. I woke up parched and also utterly cold. Nothing could have prepared us for the freezing morning (except, you know, a little research). I ran to the toilets and ducked under the hand dryer. I kept its blowing heat on my head in order to survive the horrible chill that we didn’t anticipate.

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We huddled inside the van for warmth and drove back to the Grand Canyon National Park to watch the sunrise. It was just as beautiful to watch the rise as the set. The insides of the Canyon gradually filled up with light as the sun peered over from the East. It eventually warmed up once the sun was high enough in the sky. We then went to the nearest cafe and massaged coffee into our mouths along with bagels and pastries.

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The group split up and it was another free day for us trekkers. There were many things on offer today, such as a hike into the Canyon, white water rafting or simple walks along the perimeter of the beautiful bowl.

I stuck with Liz and a few others. We had a long breakfast and started to feel a combination of Vegas and little sleep hit us. I wish I had hiked into the Canyon, but we were so tired. We decided to take it easy and walk around and take some pictures.

We stayed for a few hours and then decided to grab a bus back to the campsite. It was a very slow day due to the early start. This was a welcome change of pace compared to the last few days.

Back at the campsite, I took full advantage of the fact that there was a washer and dryer. I read a book as I washed my clothes, then I plodded to McDonald’s to grab a drink and cool off in their air-conditioned restaurant.

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It was one of the trekker’s birthday today, so once everyone was back at the camp, we threw a party! We had picked up a cake from Walmart, so we tucked in to that and drank and celebrated and filled the birthday boy’s tent with a silly amount of balloons.

Us merry lot then walked to a local bowling alley and had some wholesome fun bowling, playing in the arcade and generally making fools of ourselves.

We settled for the night at silly o’clock.

Wednesday 23rd June 2010 (Cowboy Ranch)

A ride through Arizona and then a stay at a cowboy ranch was on the cards today. We swiftly left the Grand Canyon behind and charged through to get to our new surroundings by late afternoon.

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We had a recreational stop halfway through our journey at Lake Pleasant near Phoenix, Arizona. Everyone got their swimwear on and took a dip in the refreshing lake to cool off. I was about to head in, but a lovely wasp decided to sting me in the centre of my back. I kept cool in the van while the others splashed about. Gutted!

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We soon arrived at a place we only referred to as The Cowboy Ranch. The place was home to a real life cowboy, Rusty, whose age was not known. He hadn’t a birth certificate, so it was anyone’s guess as to how old he was. He packed an impressive, white beard and had a cowboy hat balancing on his head. His home was located in the middle of some badlands. The odd cactus would peek above shrubs and dry bushes that surrounded the main grounds of Rusty’s home. Sand and rocks were the only things to stand on as we unloaded the van and made ourselves at home. The ranch had a few sheltered areas, such as an empty barn, so most of us placed our mats inside and that acted as our room for the night.

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The ranch was complete with chickens loitering and screaming every few minutes. There was a shy donkey who would pass every so often, and also some horses that we would make friends with in order to ride through the desert.

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We were assigned a horse and were given a guided ride during the cooling sunset. The horses were tame and were extremely pleasant to sit upon as we made our way through the curving route that eventually looped around the ranch.

Once we were back, we fired up a barbecue pit and grilled some homemade burgers. Rusty joined us with his wife and we listened to him tell tales of his extraordinary life until the fire, along with the night, died down.

Thursday 24th June 2010 (San Diego)

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Our alarm was the sound of a rooster trying to bust our eardrums. It felt like such a short visit to Rusty’s, but we had to get moving for our long stretch to San Diego. The drive to SD was the longest one of the trip so far. Argh!

Some of us grabbed breakfast from a nearby McDonald’s and then we entered our last big van ride of the trek. The next time we’d drive would be a short trip from San Diego to LA.

Our Trek itinerary stated that San Diego would be camping nights. Anniken later suggested getting a hostel by using the leftover kitty money and contributing a small amount towards the cost. This was welcomed by all trekkers and we opted for this. That meant no more assembling tents or flannel and pits washes! We also had to pretty much eat whatever was left in the food boxes.

Challenge accepted.

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We reached the hostel around early evening and we split into groups to share the different rooms. We unpacked, put on our dancing shoes and then tackled San Diego’s nightlife.

I found the city echoed the same laid back atmosphere as San Francisco. Pavements were wide and spacious, and people roamed the streets with patience and a welcoming smile. There was a sense of safety in San Diego and navigating the area was a thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable experience.

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I didn’t know much about San Diego (apart from Anchorman references) so my expectations weren’t as high as the other cities we visited. It turned out, my night in San Diego was one of the best nights on Trek! We made friends with charming locals in bars and Irish pubs and learned a lot about the area and the way of life here.

It ended up being a late night but we didn’t mind…

…except for when we had to wake up early the next day because we forgot we agreed to go to Sea World.

Friday 25th June 2010 (San Diego)

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I was so close to writing off Sea World. I was exhausted and I had no idea what source of energy my body was trying to run on. Reminding myself that Trek was going to be over in 24 hours gave me just enough energy to put some clothes on and zombie my way to the hostel lobby.

This was yet another free day, so us trekkers split up and went about our day in smaller groups. One group rented a car and tore up the streets and highways around the city. Another roamed the streets and visited various tourist attractions. My mate, myself and Liz went to Sea World via the Trek van.

Anniken dropped us off and promised to pick us up again later. We were all so tired and kind of drifted and glided around Sea World. We ended up watching a delightful show with some entertainment involving whales and dolphins and penguins. We soon perked up after a coffee and some water, and then we tackled as many corners of the park as we could before we were picked up. I bought a souvenir cup because I LOVE CUPS.

Before coming on Trek, my mate and I decided we would try and buy an iPad if we found one. The device was released in April, and it was still tough to get hold of one back home in the UK. So, we asked Anniken if we could be dropped of at a mall or something similar. She obliged and we had absolutely no luck. We were fortunate, however, to observe the grand opening of a new Microsoft store (near the Apple store) that had John Legend performing live! It was a nice treat and lessened the blow of not being able to take home some iPad goodness.

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We later regrouped with everyone and Anniken took us out to a restaurant for our last supper together. We went to Kansas City Barbeque, a restaurant made famous by its loaded servings of BBQ flavoured food and for having the bar scene in Top Gun filmed there.

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It was a fun and easygoing night. A delicate end to a phenomenal two weeks.

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Saturday 26th June 2010 (Los Angeles or ‘The End’)

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Saturday 26th. The beginning of the end. We washed and packed, then met everyone in the lobby before getting into the van.

There was an optional activity available this morning that I didn’t choose to take part in, but I wish I had. Anniken planned on taking us for a spot of surfing at the beach that was located just a tad further Northwest of the city. The girls in the group were the only ones who took Anniken up on her suggestion, so the rest of us explored the quiet, coastal area where we parked for the surfing lesson.

My mate and I walked around the shops, had some food (a massive breakfast burrito!) and generally just relaxed until the surfing lesson was over.

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As we officially began our journey to Los Angeles, one of the trekkers was noticeably in pain. Her foot was hurting, and she thought something might have stung her in the sea. Turns out, she was right. She’d been nipped by a stingray and we immediately went to a nearby hospital for her to receive treatment. She was okay in the end (phew!) and we resumed our journey.

Anniken gave us postcards for us all to leave messages for each other and share some inside jokes and memories from the last fourteen days. It was tough trying to cram my favourite memory in such a small space, because each and every one of the trekkers left me with a million fond memories of them.

Anniken also handed us each a framed picture of our second group photo at Yosemite. It was a beautiful shot of all of us with Nevada Fall in the background. It was a thoughtful gesture, and I still keep that photo on my desk.

We arrived at the Hacienda late afternoon, an hour or two after our planned end time. Our Australian trekker had to make a swift exit. He was the only one who had booked a flight that left on the day Trek ended. We said our goodbyes to him and he was on his way to LAX. The rest of the group had a night’s stay at the Hacienda. Anniken offered to take us out to a restaurant for some pizza, a post-Trek supper. The majority of us were extremely keen as we didn’t want Trek to end. The ones who didn’t join us had crazy early flights the next morning so they caught up on two weeks of sleep.

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The pizza place was full of character. Musical icons and album covers decorated the open beer garden where we ate. The serving sizes were immense and we devoured every bit before gingerly walking back to the hotel.