Phantom Travel and Wanderlust

Paul was gone for four days. Driving home from work Sunday night, my head was full of ideas. Ideas about where I could go in four days. I didn’t want to go back to our apartment…I wanted to go somewhere else.

Let’s see…

I could drive to Florida! It’d only take 20 hours. I could probably do that straight, right? I could camp on the beach for two days before I’d need to make the 20 hour drive home. It was probably 70 degrees and sunny in Florida. It would be so nice to be warm. But 20 hours there, 20 hours back, alone? No, that wouldn’t work.

West was out of the question. It was too far.

What else? I could go visit someone, but I wasn’t feeling very social. In fact, I was feeling very antisocial. I wanted to go somewhere where I could be alone, all by myself, for the first time in a very long time.

But I couldn’t go anywhere. I only had four days and four days wasn’t enough time. So I went home and I traveled virtually.

I booted up Google Earth and set out on a hike through Buckskin Gulch. Buckskin Gulch is one of the longest and deepest slot canyons in the world, cutting through the empty desert between Arizona and Utah. It’s considered one of the more dangerous hikes in the world. Permits to hike the gulch are tightly controlled and grudgingly distributed to a few lucky groups a day. It’s perfect.

But I couldn't find the coolest section of Buckskin Gulch.
But I couldn’t find the coolest section of Buckskin Gulch. You can’t Google search for something like that.

Next, I rafted down a section of the Rio Grande, where the river divides the US and Mexico in Big Bend National Park. The muddy Rio Grande entertained me by running up and down the sides of the gorge instead of staying in the bottom, like it was supposed to.

The gravity-defying Rio Grande.
The gravity-defying Rio Grande.

After being chased off the Rio Grande by a group of gun-wielding Texans, I headed over to the Grand Canyon. My aim: to find the road that runs out to Cape Solitude, a point on the rim of the Grand Canyon, and to mark it on my map so I could find it again later. I traced dirt roads backwards through the wilderness, choosing from ever-diverging options, trying to find the way back to the main road. I traced the thread until it got wider and stronger, or until it petered out. I found the turn, a small, inconspicuous road branching off 64. I marked it.

To celebrate, I switched to ground level view and jumped off the edge of the Grand Canyon, gracefully sailing down to the Colorado River, far below.

The view north from Cape Solitude.
The view north from Cape Solitude.

By then, I’d had enough of the desert. So I found a deserted island in the Caribbean and I stood on the beach and stared at the turquoise ocean for a few hours. I could almost hear the waves, taste the salty spray, feel the warmth of the sun.

The view from my Caribbean island.
The view from my Caribbean island.


By the time I was done phantom traveling, the wine was gone and I was in the full throes of wanderlust. Phantom travel doesn’t sate the bug. It’s like looking at pictures of food: they don’t satisfy your hunger, they only make you want more food. This wanderlust is a preexisting condition that I will carry around with me for the rest of my life. Every time I drive to work, or go to the grocery store, I’m going to dream about taking off. I’ve got to accept it and embrace it: it cannot be defeated.

Anyway, I don’t want to defeat it. Let’s go!

1 thought on “Phantom Travel and Wanderlust”

  • Did Buckskin via Wire Pass sevral years ago. 3 day hike. Once in, not a soul around. Bring guidebook to find water, ruins, etc. Great memory.

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