Behind the Glasses: Mitch’s Solo Hiking Trip Through Utah

Each month, we’ll be going beyond the glasses to get a glimpse of the personal experiences of our fab employees here at Whereoware. For February, we get to know about Mitch Phillips, our User Interface Designer, outside of the office a little better.

WHO:

What’s your name? Mitch Phillips
Job title: User Interface Designer

THE ADVENTURE:

Where did you go?

I flew to Salt Lake City, rented a car, and explored 4/5 National Parks in Utah. I visited Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, and Bryce Canyon over a ten-day span and hiked close to 100 miles in that time. I lived off of peanut butter sandwiches to save money, but every once in a while, I’d splurge on some deli meat and have the meal of a lifetime.

What inspired you to go on the journey?

I’ve always wanted to take a solo trip to a location I’ve never been where I could get immersed on an adventure through nature. Utah is dense with National Parks and amazing wildlife, so it was a no-brainer. It also got bonus points for having a desert climate, which I’ve never experienced before this trip.

How did you prepare for the journey?

I planned the route I wanted to take driving so that I could be as efficient as possible in the ten days I was there. Time-efficient. Not just fuel-efficient. Some days I only had to drive 2 hours, but some were closer to 7 or 8, so planning was vital in order to see everything I wanted to see. Finding places to stay and making sure I had enough water and food for each day was the most stressful part of planning.

Once I landed in Salt Lake City, I went straight to Target and loaded my car up with about $200 worth of groceries and utilities to survive the next week. Non-perishable cheap foods (did I mention I ate a ton of peanut butter sandwiches?), toiletries, trash bags, jugs of water, emergency gear, and laundry detergent filled my cart.

What was your greatest challenge during the journey?

A few miles into the so ironically named “Devil’s Garden” trail in Arches National Park, I got lost. It was a “Primitive Trail” which means there’s no obvious path besides the nature markings the rangers leave. That day a thunder storm rolled through (and I luckily found cover under an arch), and the heat + humidity after it was very intense. I kept trekking, but the wind-ravaged trail and the dark clouds made a lot of people turn back. After about 15-20 minutes of hiking with no one insight, I lost track of the trail markers.

I was alone, lost, exhausted, and in what felt like 100-degree heat. Red rock surrounded me in all directions, when I slid down a 15 feet slope. The dusty face of the rock was too slippery to easily climb back out. I was wasting energy trying to climb slowly, but I knew there was no way else to remove myself from this situation. I took a breather, focused, and with a running start, I got just enough to speed to grab the top of it with my hands and pull myself up-and-out.

Now, I was extremely tired, and probably still 3 miles away from my car (water). After about 45 minutes of walking and trying not to lick my lips, I ran into a group of three. I said hi in English. And they said hi in English. But when I asked if they knew the way back, all the sudden they all started speaking in a language I could not understand. I stood there, feeling mostly defeated, but realized they were lost too.

We worked together, with eye contact and hand signals to find the quickest way back to the non-primitive trail. Many times we’d reach a dead end, collectively sigh and laugh out of pain, and circle back to where we were. Through body language and emotion, we were able to communicate with each other and it was one of the coolest experiences of the trip.

When we finally made it to the non-primitive part of the trail, we gave each other a high five. While that was all fun-in-games, I still had a whole mile to go to get to my car. Obviously, I made it.

What was your favorite part of the experience and how has it impacted you?

Climbing Angel’s Landing. Absolute adrenaline rush and some of the coolest views in Utah. I have a fear of heights, although a lot of people don’t believe I do, and doing this hike was a fun challenge to help confront that fear. At one point in the hike I was about 1,000 feet above the ground on a rock ledge that’s only about 5 feet wide. I didn’t look down.

What advice do you have for anyone looking to embark on their first solo hiking trip?

Traveling alone can be very expensive especially when renting a car.I made an excel sheet tracking my budget and where all my expenses were going while planning my trip. Hey! I majored in Finance (it’s only nerdy if you didn’t study it in college, right?). This was useful because it alerted me that yes, my instinct was right, I pretty much had to live off of very basic foods in order to make this trip happen without breaking the bank.

But, the most important piece of advice is that you need to remain flexible. Delays happen, dehydration happens, bug bites happen, nature happens. You need to take care of yourself first, and the fun comes after. Everyone once in a while, I would need to slow down, maybe skip a trail if I needed to, in order to rest and regain some energy and focus.

The times alone on the trail are extremely fun, and if it’s very isolated, are a great time to refocus, think, pray, breathe, meditate, or whatever you want to do. It’s just you out there (and maybe some hungry animals) so enjoy it.