This summer I decided to do a second season working as a tour guide. At the end of April I headed up to our base in New Jersey where I got my van, trailer + gear ready and then picked up my first group in Newark. This trip was called a Southern Sun and hit places such as DC, Nashville, NOLA, Austin, Santa Fe, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion and Vegas before dropping off in LA. The trip lasted 3 weeks and we got to do some awesome activities along the way like a bike tour in DC (well, I had to go find parking while they did this), white water rafting in Tennessee, watching one of our passengers try to eat a 72 oz steak PLUS sides in under an hour in Amarillo (unfortunately he didn’t finish), eat Navajo tacos in Monument Valley, hike Angel’s Landing in Zion and go on a partybus in Vegas.
At the end of this trip, I had about a week off before starting my next trip so I drove from LA over to Phoenix to visit my friend Jaimie and her hubby Andrew. I initially had big plans to drive up to Utah and possibly Colorado but after driving the 7 hours from LA to Phoenix I thought to myself ‘why do I want to drive on my time off from my driving job?!’ so I decided to stay in AZ. I drove up to Sedona for a couple days of exploring which was beautiful and lives up to its name of Red Rock Country. Even just in the immediate area around where Jaimie and Andrew live there are tons of hikes and even a forest. Did you know Arizona has 3 ski resorts? I didn’t.
Too soon it was time to say goodbye and I headed back to LA to pick up a group of 4 passengers. I was nervous at first about the small size but we quickly became a tight knit group and had a fun time. This trip we headed down to San Diego, over to Joshua Tree NP, up to Grand Canyon and over to Vegas. On this trip I got to go in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon for the first time (perks!). It was amazing because we were flying over the forest and then all of a sudden the earth just disappeared and thousands of feet below us was the Colorado river. I also discovered a game called Spot It on this trip, which is actually a kids game for 5+ years old BUT I DON’T CARE IT’S FUN.
In Vegas, we lost one member of our group and picked up 5 more to form a new group of 8. This part of the trip was through the Utah parks and it was awesome. We hit many of Utah’s ‘big 5’ parks — Zion, Bryce, Arches as well as Monument Valley and Lake Powell. We hiked in the river in Zion, attended a cowboy dinner and show in Bryce (and tried unsuccessfully to stargaze that night), rock scrambled in Arches, enjoyed a sunset picnic dinner at Deadhorse Point, spent my birthday overnight in Monument Valley with wild horses running around all night and explored Antelope Canyon which I’ve been wanting to go to for ages.
I then headed back to LA where I picked up a group of 6 chicas and did the LA to Vegas loop again. This time I continued with 3 of my passengers on to San Francisco. Along the way we visited Death Valley where it was 114 degrees F and all we did was melt and run back to the van for AC after walking for 5 minutes outside. Then we spent the next couple days in Yosemite, one of my favorite parks for its beauty, but it’s overcrowded and isn’t equipped to handle the number of visitors it receives in peak season. We finished the trip in San Fran and I headed up to our base in Santa Rosa to turn in my van.
That was my last trip for about a month. I had originally planned to finish my season there but my company needed guides in August quite badly, so I said I would go back to lead a trip then. But for the meantime, vacation!
I flew out of San Francisco to Denver and made my way out to Crested Butte. I stayed with my friend Alex from high school who has lived out in CB for a few years now. I had been anxious to visit Colorado in the summer since I’ve only been in the winter. Crested Butte is stunning in the summer when the snow has melted and the wildflowers are blooming. There’s a lake just outside of town with rope swings which is a popular hangout spot in the summer, and I ended up there two days in a row. I also went white water rafting with some friends on the Taylor river and the water was still freezing but it was a beautiful day. Alex and I hiked up a mountain called Red Lady and tried to take a short cut on the way back which got us lost for a while. But we found the trail again and when we got back into town treated ourselves to a well-deserved steak dinner.
It happened to be bike week during my visit and for the most part the events were for serious mountain bikers. They had a couple events just for fun that I participated in like the chainless downhill, where you tie your pedals and race down a mountain pass. But mostly people use it as an excuse to party, dress silly and instead of racing just enjoy the scenic gently sloping ride back to town. The other event was a 24 hour charity event where you do laps through town from noon til noon the next day. After dark, lights are illuminated along the path as well as on people’s bikes and it turns into a party-hopping bike ride, with people biking around in groups blaring music while good samaritans along the course are handing out free beer. The visit was (too) short but sweet- it was great being back in the mountains and seeing friends from the winter.
I then flew up to Calgary to meet Meredith and Ellie. We rented a car and headed to Banff and Jasper. This year was the 150th anniversary of Canada’s countryness, so all the national parks were free. This meant that they were packed with people. Thankfully we spent a fair amount of time in the backcountry to get away from the crowds. Meredith and I headed out on a four day backpacking trip through Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, which borders Banff. The four days here led us through some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever found myself in, and besides a terrifying encounter with a grizzly on the first day (where we found ourselves within 100 yards of the bear who was walking up the trail towards us as we were in the middle of the backcountry with probably only 6 other humans within a 5 mile radius, but luckily he wasn’t interested in us and cut off through the woods), the rest of the trek passed without incident.
Ellie picked us up on the other end of the hike and we treated ourselves to a nice dinner that night in Banff before heading north to Jasper the following day. Jasper as a town is, as someone put it, “the smaller, uglier cousin of Banff.” It is a bit smaller and (only slightly) less touristy but we found it to be just as charming as Banff. The park seemed less crowded as well and there were black bears everywhere which was cool. The 3 of us set off on another 3 day backpack trip this time along the Skyline trail. Even though we had booked our sites back in February the sites along the main route were already booked out then so we did a slight variation which led us out a very muddy and often hard-to-find trail on our last day, so all 3 of us were happy when we finally reached the car park at the end of that one. It was a nice trail though, and I loved the second day which had us above treeline the whole way, but I preferred Assiniboine. Also, the mosquitoes were killer throughout our whole trip, but especially in Jasper for some reason.
We then headed back to Calgary for the stampede. None of us really knew what it was or what to expect, just that it billed itself as the ‘Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.’ It’s basically just a big fair. We drank at a beer tent, got fried food, watched a dog show and then made our way to the mane (ha) event — the chuckwagon racing. Again, none of us knew what it was. It’s a horse race where a team of 4 are led by a guy in a wagon around a racetrack. It’s meant to symbolize the early days of stampede where after breakfast the cooks would race back to the farm… all I can say is that I’ve seen it and don’t feel the need to go back. This was followed by the most bizarre and over the top spectacle which tried to encapsulate Canada in 150 years and it was all just a bit too much. All in all it was a fun experience, but like I said: don’t need to go back.
I spent the next week exploring BC; one of my passengers from last year – Shelley – graciously hosted me in Vancouver, then I headed to Vancouver Island where I hung out with my friend Courtney – who I met in Nicaragua – for a couple days, before heading to Whistler. (If you’ve spent time around Vancouver you will realize that itinerary didn’t make any sense logistically.. goes to show I don’t plan my own vacations as meticulously as I have to plan the trips I lead). Ian, a passenger from a trip earlier in the season, was in Whistler at the same time so we mountain biked and hiked together and laughed at how I almost shattered my kneecap when I fell off the bike trail into a bunch of rocks.
I headed back stateside and spent time in Washington with my aunts Maggie and Katie near Seattle, and with my friend from high school Emma on a 3-day -turned-2-day camping trip when we ran out of fuel. The Cascades region of Washington state is jaw-droppingly beautiful and a place I will definitely return to for more hiking + camping. I spent 5 days in San Francisco with Bridgette, one of my roomies from college and then returned to the office to get ready for one last trip of the season.
This trip was the longest I’ve done – 29 days starting in LA and ending in NY, taking a northern route. I explored some new territory (South Dakota/Illinois/Ohio) as well as re-visited some places I hadn’t been in years (Montana & Wyoming). I had a fun group and we got to take over the official Trek America snapchat for 2 weeks, so we shared our journey with about 1,000 other people (I bet 90% of them in the U.K.). Some highlights were sandboarding in Oregon, bringing my group to dinner at my aunts (“so American!”) which they talked about for the rest of the trip, white water rafting in Golden BC, hiking in Glacier National Park, seeing wolves & getting caught in multiple bison traffic jams in Yellowstone, visiting Chicago and Niagara for the first time and riding some of the world’s tallest and fastest roller coasters at Cedar Point (where I’ve been wanting to visit since I was 10).
It was a jam-packed and awesome summer, which saw me visit a new country and a couple new states, as well as see a bunch of friends and family and meet passengers from all over the world. However I struggled some with the pressure of the job and for a couple weeks wasn’t really enjoying it because I was missing the stability and community of being in one place, which I had had over the winter in Colorado. So we’ll see if I do this job again next summer or if I decide to spend the summer in one place (most likely Crested Butte). That being said, I recognize the awesome opportunities this job has afforded me and don’t take it for granted. I’ve been fortunate enough to see so much of this amazing country and to make a living by being outside instead of behind a desk.