With so many of you lovely Trekkers joining us on the road each year we have decided to publish some of your stories right here for past, present and future Trekkers to read all about. We share with you their worries, their memories and their passion for adventure. Today, Craig Lidbury shares his experience on the Westerner 2. Enjoy!
I first heard about TrekAmerica from a friend I had met whilst on a gap year in Canada. Up until then I had never travelled as part of a group before. In fact, I'd been very much a solo traveler, so the thought of trekking around with others was a little alien to me.
The reason I looked into TrekAmerica in the first place was that I had been quite lazy. I was six months into a gap year living in Canada and hadn't found the time to plan a trip down to the West Coast as I dreamed, and I only had a short space of time to fit it into. I browsed the website for a while and, once I found the right tour, it was booked in a heartbeat. Though the first part of the Trek started before I'd even set foot on the plane...
I had been browsing the forums and had been talking to my fellow Trekkers a couple of weeks before the Trek had begun. Through this I arranged to meet up with a couple of guys in LA the night before of the official 'meet'. This definitely released some anxiety pre-Trek!
In the morning I grabbed my bags and made my way to the reception area of the hotel. There were hoards of people. Some from our Trek, some from others. We were all called up and met our Trek tour leader (aptly named 'Jesus'), and were handed out itineraries of what was in store for us for the next two weeks. We all got to know each other and jumped in 'Beth' to set off to our first destination...
Beth was beautiful. Clean, comfy. Sure she'd been around for a while, but that's what added character. If you hadn't guessed already, Beth was our ride for the fortnight!
There were 13 of us packed into this roadie, covering hundreds of miles at a time. Once you're inside....yeah, it was pretty snug, but this wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It meant everyone got talking, which was good considering our first leg was a 350 mile trip from LA to Big Sur. The first experience of American life was driving along the Pacific Coast Highway. It doesn't get much better than that, right? We arrived at Big Sur in the late afternoon, had some dinner, picked our tent buddies for the trip and set up camp for the night.
As with all our mornings, it started early. This was to get on the road as soon as possible and make the most of the daylight hours. After a brief pit stop in Monterey, we had made it to San Francisco.
The biggest highlight for me here was being able to walk the length across the Golden Gate Bridge. We dropped off our bags, then hit a couple of bars on the night time at the expense of a very thick head in the morning. We spent the next day sightseeing. You know, taking touristy photos at Pier 39 and, for the most part, being very hungover! Another highlight I feel I need to talk about, is the sunset boat cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge. This was nothing short of spectacular. Sipping on wine and chowing down on buffet food while taking in one of the best scenes you could ask for. Bliss.
Another early start (and another thick head), we set off on our way to Yosemite National Park. I'm not sure about anyone else, but I'm a big fan of hiking. Luckily for me, that was exactly what was on the agenda. Roughly two hours or so down into the cliffs and we were back in the van, on our way to Bishop.
I feel this is a good time to talk about how the evenings usually went down. There was a rota set out for cooks and cleaners each night. We sat around the campfire with a couple beers, good food and even better company. I'm a big fan of camping, and this was one of the best experiences of the whole trip for me, personally. I couldn't go on a trip without roughing it in the outdoors a little!
I did manage to get out of the cooking/cleaning rota though. My duty for the trek was to load/unload the trailer every day. This was by no means an easy feat, but I'd like to think my many childhood hours spent playing Tetris helped me somewhat.
We're now at the half way point of the trip. This is the moment most people have been waiting for. I know I had. It was time for LAS VEGAS!
Apart from blowing around $200 in Caesars Palace, the stay here was a huge success. Everything from pre-drinks in the leaders crib, the party-bus, the night time Bellagio fountain display and rooftop parties at VooDoo. Our first night in Vegas was a blast. We spent our next day exploring. Vegas is huge, and I mean HUGE. We only barely scraped the surface on what Vegas has to offer, but if there is one thing I can recommend about Vegas, is the pulled pork burger at the Cheesecake Factory. Utter perfection!
After finally managing to get the last of our trekkers out of bed following a heavy night, we rallied along the famous Route 66. Finally making it to our next destination, the Grand Canyon. One thing that made this so special, was that 'Jesus' made us wear paper bags over our heads whilst we walked towards the viewpoint. This definitely made my first glimpse of the canyon special! I don't need to explain how big the Grand Canyon is, or what it represents, but I can definitely tell you how much of an amazing experience it was to be there. One of the additional activities we could do was the helicopter ride into the canyon. Now, when presented with this option, you can't not do it! This was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best part of the entire two weeks. The crème de la crème of the Westerner 2. Being able to do that was a once in a lifetime experience and is something I will remember forever.
I had seen the Canyon from outside looking in, it would only be right to see it from the inside out, right? So the next day we got up at the crack of dawn to watch an amazing sunrise over the ridge, then headed down into the Canyon. The long hike was made harder by the blistering heat, but it didn't take anything away from it. The views inside were just as good.
The contrast of the bright lights and busy streets of Vegas, to the vast open Grand Canyon and desolation once you're inside of it. It was bizarre and incredible at the same time.
We headed back up, jumped back into the van and drifted off to Lake Havasu where we would spend the night. As this was near Hallowe'en, we dressed up and had our own pumpkin carving content. We won, of course! That night, as it was quite warm out, we all slept outside of our tents.
Nearing the end of our trip, we took a long drive down to San Diego, where we spent most of the day at the zoo. It was a quiet, chilled atmosphere where we were all still taking in everything from the trip so far. After a quick recharge of batteries we packed up to head onto our final leg of the trip back to LA.
We did all the touristy things as you would expect to do in LA. See the Hollywood sign, walk the Hall of Fame and wander along Venice Beach. A TrekAmerica trip wouldn't be a trip without one big final blowout, and that's exactly what we did! We got back to our starting hotel, packed up our things and headed out into town! I'd be lying if I said I could remember all of what happened that night, but I do know for sure that it was a great end to a great trip.
We all said our goodbyes and went back to reality. Well, not me. I headed back up to Seattle and into Canada to finish up my gap year. This trip has definitely opened my eyes to travelling in a group and I have made some life-long friends in the process. It's quite a daunting prospect, booking a trip like this on your own, but these two weeks were the best part of the year I spent away and I have taken many, many memories away with me.
It's not just about the places you go and the things you see, it's also about the people you do it with.