By Matt Keibler
“Do you want to go to the Grand Canyon to see the sunrise?”
Now, I am one for adventure. Hiking Mt. Baldy, snorkeling on the Atlantic shelf, walking alone through a Moroccan market, traversing the hills of Scotland through sleet storms – I have no trouble with getting outside. The real issue is getting friends to go with me. Happiness is only real when shared, no?
So, when I asked my dear friend Rachel to spend her one day off on one of the last weeks of Summer 2015 to drive seven hours across the Arizona desert in the middle of the night for a few dawn hours on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I was nervous that she would say no. After all, this was the last thing on my summer bucket list before senior year. Who knows where we would both be next year? I warned her. It would be an exhausting task. We would need coffee and Clif bars and maybe some 90s throwbacks to get us through the night. And I knew that she was the only one crazy enough to say yes to this.
And she did.
“Great. Go take a nap. We leave at 9:30pm. Sun rises at 6:37am.”
She did not realize the immediacy of my question and yet, she took it in stride. Within a few hours, we were packed, caffeinated, and midway to Barstow, where we would leave the traditional route to Las Vegas, instead opting for the 40 freeway and another 4 hours of desert. Musically, we had moved through The Great Boy Bands of the 90s, and into 90s alternative rock. Blink-182 was a better vibe for a midnight drive through the California desert anyways.
Now, I am a boy from Florida, and I thought I knew heat. Summer nights are a balmy 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a light breeze, if you’re lucky. My best memories are sitting on the beach after midnight in the late summer, watching the lightning from a far off storm illuminate the ocean. The flash of blue mirrors itself on the water, and for a split second, you can see the beach around you. Sometimes you could see a boat far, far in the distance. Most of the time, you saw the horizon of blueish black meet the stars. But only for a second. In that consuming darkness, you are left with nothing to do but sit down and bask in its awe.
This desert? It was a much different story. 97 degrees Fahrenheit at 3 o’clock in the morning. Not a storm in sight for miles around. The only thing these pictures have in common is the immeasurable darkness around you. On the 40, there are no street lights. The headlights of Rachel’s Prius were all we had. And yet, we made it through the desert, into the Grand Canyon National Park.
What a change of scenery that was – from harsh desert and thick fog to luscious firs and morning dew. Deer were walking steadily along the road, their shapes outlined by a fast approaching dawn. It was 5:45am, and we were still half an hour out from the South Rim. Driving had to be swift and precise on this road where a random deer crossing at an untimely moment would be devastating to our 7 hour journey. Rachel’s car would take a hit, too.
With 20 minutes to spare, we had parked the car, and ran to the rim. I had never been to the Grand Canyon. Neither had Rachel. Both having no idea what to expect only made these last moments more exciting. That, and the three coffees we had at 3am. We were not alone, either. Other people were sleepily drifting from their campsites to catch the first light of day. Though exhaustion could be felt all around, there was this palpable electricity of anticipation in the air.
As we settled into a nook in the rocks to wait for the sun, I recall a smile creeping across my face. 2015 had been quite a wild year up to this point. I left the country for the first time (destination London!) and, of course, broke my ankle only weeks before leaving. I went to Africa. I survived drama school. I traveled Europe with my high school best friend. I made new friends. I lost touch with old friends. I was technically homeless twice. I swam with sharks. I chose classes for my last fall at USC. Now, I was watching the sun come up over the Grand Canyon with one of my closest friends. Sure, a lot of it was great, but a lot of it took me through the gauntlet, too.
And yet… if I thought too much on the past or the future, I would lose this moment. So, I sat back down, and did the only thing left in that situation: bask in its awe.
Featured image from Wikimedia Commons
Matt is a USC graduate and a former ALI One-on-one Partner. At USC, he studied Theatre with a minor in Cinematic Arts.