This is the first installment in a series of memoirs on the intersection of technology and daily life.
When my fraternity brother Grant and I began a drive from Arkansas to Los Angeles to visit friends on the West Coast, I believed it would be the greatest road trip of my life.
I was wrong.
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Hiking the Grand Canyon was the main goal of the drive out, but because we had spent too much time in New Mexico looking at the world’s largest pistachio the day before, we didn’t arrive in the park until almost 2 in the afternoon.
We decided on a 6-mile hike so as to experience as much as we could with the limited daylight left. As we entered the trailhead, we read a sign that celebrated our hike’s great views as well as warning that “it is the steepest section of trail in the entire park.” Never ones to back down, we entered the slaughterhouse.
We passed a sign about two hours into the hike that said “radiation area, keep out,” and it should’ve been a clear warning to give up on the adventure and go back, but we marched on.
We ran out of water about 5 miles into the hike, which was also approximately the time it dawned on us that we were still hiking downhill and hadn’t turned around yet. Unless the Grand Canyon defied the laws of physics, or had an elevator at the bottom, we were confused as to how we would be back at the parking lot in 1 mile. But we’re not scientists, so we just trusted and plodded on.
Eventually it dawned on us that this was 6 miles down and 6 miles back, rather than the 6-mile round trip we’d expected. Aside from being baked by the sun, the views we were greeted with at the bottom were the most spectacular I’ve ever seen and it all seemed to be worth it.
As we began our trek back up to the top, we assessed the situation.
- It had taken us four hours to reach the bottom. It was now 6 p.m. and about to get dark.
- The four-hour trek was all downhill, and now we were headed back up.
- We had no water.
We joked about getting trapped out in the canyon and dying from dehydration and then having a really cool movie made about us. Grant said Jake Owen would have to play him; I tried to explain that Jake Owen was a singer, not an actor, but Grant wouldn’t budge.
I demanded that Ryan Gosling play me strictly because of our uncanny resemblance. In retrospect, this conversation was probably the first sign that dehydration had set in.
About an hour into the hike, the joking turned into very serious conversation. It was 7 p.m., beginning to get dark, and we were miles from the trail head, slowly crawling up the side of a mountain without water. We wondered how many hours we’d be able to survive, because a movie titled 10 Hours, about us dying on a half-day hike, didn’t seem loaded with box-office potential.
Maybe it could be a Netflix original.
At 8 p.m., hallucinations set in. It was nearly dark and we hadn’t seen another human in two hours (because who would be dumb enough to be 3 miles into the canyon at dark?). Then a kid who looked about 14 years old hiked up behind us, passed us, and continued on with only a head nod. To this day we don’t know if he was real or not, but if I ever see him again, I’m going to punch him in the face because he had tons of extra water and didn’t give us any.
By 9 p.m., it was completely dark and we were still a mile from our car. We spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how we could light our path for our final ascent. We tried rubbing sticks together to create fire. I wandered off trying to find a phosphorescent plant I’d heard about in a movie or something. And Grant said he could use the light of the moon to catch a bush on fire and use that.
As we were about to give up all hope, we remembered we had our iPhones in our pockets and pulled them out and turned the flashlights on. (This is when we officially realized we were dehydrated.)
We spent the final hour climbing up the steepest trail in the entire Grand Canyon with only the light from our iPhones.
When we finally arrived at the top, it was 10:30 p.m., pitch black, and I was conflicted on whether we’d actually made it out or if I had died somewhere on the trail and this was heaven. We drove directly to the nearest convenience store (which happens to be like 45 minutes away) and I bought three bottles of grape juice and an industrial-size Gatorade. I don’t know why my first pick was grape juice, but it just felt right. Perhaps connecting with Steinbeck in a way I never thought possible.
When I look back on this experience, I’m met with two primary feelings: an irrational fear of the Grand Canyon and an eternal gratefulness to Apple for the iPhone’s incredible flashlight. Some may say it was a simple innovation, but those people have never been to the Grand Canyon.