Getting an early start and in no rush, I take my time during the climb up the canyon.  The trail ascends over 1,200 feet in just a mile and ½ span and doing it with a 35lb pack certainly doesn’t help. I get a flashback again from when I backpacked down in the Grand Canyon and how gnarly that hike up was. I’m not sure what the best or ‘right’ way to approach steep terrain like this is, but what I do is pick something out ahead in the trail, such as a rock or tree, I push myself to make it to that spot, then stop and take a breather before doing it all over again.
      After almost an hour, I finally make it to the top of the canyon where the trail levels off and I am pumped! Knowing that I have an easy but very pleasant 3 mile hike back to the trailhead, I pull out my camera to get shots along the way back, as I didn’t take many on the way down. Just as I’m throwing my backpack over my shoulder, I feel a shooting pain in my foot. Shit, I forgot about that, I thought while wincing from the pain. I realize that I haven’t even thought about my foot the entire day, even though it’s continuing to get worse. 3 more miles, I got this.
       With only a mile or so left, I make it to the part of the trail that runs along the edge of the canyon. Still riding the wave of my good spirits that are seemingly going to be impossible to break, I take my time and checkout the views from the overlooks along the trail. I notice the sky is now primarily covered by a blanket of haze, but the weather couldn’t be much better for hiking, which is something that has been consistent this entire trip. I always say that there is no sugar coating or way to spin your camping experience when it’s raining - it just sucks. Very thankful for the near perfect weather throughout my trip.
       Before finishing up the hike, I walk over to the side of the canyon, close to where the final view point is. While I usually prefer to be on the move and pressing forward, I’m just not ready to finish my amazing hike. I take off my pack, pull out a Clif Bar and water, then sit with my legs hanging over the sheer wall of the canyon. As I’m looking down in the direction of where my camp was with my legs swinging over the edge from my probably not recommended vantage point, I am overcome by another feeling of accomplishment. I’ve been thinking and wanting to do a solo trip for a long time now and am proud of myself for finally making it happen.
      After my unrushed final pitstop, I throw my pack back on and complete the last leg of my hike. My first and only two solo backpacking experiences have been very different, but also similar in a lot of ways. I have learned a lot, including some valuable ‘what not to do’, but one thing has made itself very clear. I’m back.
        Regardless of how great a hike is, seeing your car in the near distance after backpacking is one of the best feelings there is; not quite a good as taking off your hiking shoes, but close. I make it to my Jeep and my first move is to grab another camping essential; Teva flip flops. Wow, I smell like shit, I thought as I slowly peel off my socks. I then look up and see my reflection in the window; Wow, I look like shit. Realizing I’m in no condition to be in a close vicinity of other human beings, I throw my gear in the trunk and make my way over to the nearby campground for a desperately needed shower.
        I grab a fresh change of clothes and toiletry bag, then walk inside not knowing if they would let me in after seeing a sign that reads “Shower: $5 - Canyon Campground Campers ONLY”. Feeling confident in my sales skills and my urgent need to bathe, I step up to the counter. “Hi Jim, how’s your day going so far?” I ask the friendly faced older gentleman behind the counter after glancing at his NPS name badge. “Oh not so bad. Weather’s been great but we’re starting to get a little worried about the fires and all the haze coming from the north.” he responds before asking, “Did you just get in from the backcountry?”. “Indeed. What gave it away - do I really smell that bad?”  I reply as we both have a quick laugh before he responds with, “It was actually your limp when you walked in.”
       We talk for a few more minutes about my overnight and our shared passion for how awesome the 7 mile hole trail is. “So, what can I do for you Alex?” Jim asks. “I’m heading out of the park today and could really use a proper shower. I came from Glacier and am about to start my long haul to Denver after a week on the road. Happy to pay the $5.”  I answer, hoping he would break the rule posted on the sign. “It’s slow right now, go on ahead” he responds while I reach for my wallet with a sigh of relief. “This one's on me, always like helping our backpackers.” Jim says with a smile as he handed me a fresh towel and washcloth. “Thank you Jim! Much appreciated.”
       I proceed to take an extra long shower, which is exactly what I needed. As I’m brushing my teeth, I look in the mirror and cringe at my sorry excuse for a beard that is now at the peak creepy level. After a brief internal debate, I couldn’t handle the embarrassingly patchy stubbles and uneven neck hairs which made for what I’m very generously calling a beard. Not wanting to completely stray from my 8 day no-shave ‘challenge’ given by my friends, I opt for the debatably more creepy option and shave everything with the exception of my mustache. Hide yo kids!  I thought while chuckling to myself as I pack up.
        As I’m walking out of the locker room, I see a chubby middle school aged kid with no shirt and a beach towel over his shoulder handing a five dollar bill to Jim. I make eye contact with the nice man who hooked me up and gave him a nod of appreciation in which he returned with a smile and wink. Good juju to start the day, I thought as I get back in my car and begin my journey south.
       Before leaving Yellowstone en route to the Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival, I decide to make a quick stop at the famous Old Faithful Geyser. The festival is a 2 hour drive and the music starts at 5:00pm, so I don’t have a whole lot of time but felt that it would be a sin to drive past one of the most famous natural wonders in the country. Before arriving, I make an uncharacteristic move and pull off at what’s clearly a tourist hotspot. Based on the hundreds of cars lining the road and completely full parking lot, I’m thinking this is where the rightfully famous grand prismatic geyser is, so I excitedly grab my camera and make my way to the walking bridge.
        After quickly realizing this is not the location of the world’s most beautiful hot spring, I reluctantly continue on the wooden walking bridge. My foot is still killing me and I can’t even hide my limp but I have some music to jam out to so I start weaving in and out of the oblivious tourists at an unapologetically yet admittedly aggressive pace. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been spoiled with some of the best scenery imaginable the past seven days, if it’s my now rushed mindset, or annoyance for all the people getting in my personal space, but I am becoming increasingly underwhelmed as I walk through the trail and past the geysers. I make it to the ‘Blue Geyser’  located in the Norris Geyser Basin, which is a vibrant shade of blue with unique copper colored patches on the outside. Finally something I can shoot, I thought as I looked through my camera at the geyser.
       I only stay for the time it takes to get the shot I want and pass the fun facts that are posted along the bridge. I get to another geyser where a bunch of tourists are standing. “Excuse me, can you take our picture?” asks a teenage girl who is wearing an awkwardly short skirt and is caked with makeup that is kind of giving me the creeps. Always happy to take pics for strangers, I happily accepted (even though I didn’t agree with their dull backdrop choice). I take a few shots of the family of seven and hand the girl her phone back. She immediately looks and the mother asks how they turned out in which she replied with, “eh they’re OK I guess.”  I gotta get out of this place before I snap, I thought as I roll my eyes before pressing on.
       After a few hours since leaving the Canyon area, I finally make it to Old Faithful and the place is PACKED. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised as it’s probably normal for a Friday in August but the parking lot is a zoo and reminds me of something you’d see at a Broncos tailgate. After giving up searching for parking spots, I make my own by driving up onto a curb, which was level and covered with grass. I won’t be here long, what are they going to do? I thought as I grabbed my camera and started my walk towards the main attraction.
       Included on the short list of shots that I wanted to capture was one at Old Faithful, but I specifically want to feature the tourists in the picture. The first thing that pretty much everyone thinks when Yellowstone is brought up is how busy it is, and I figure it could make for a good picture if I can capture that. Before going over to the historic geyser, I have to make a stop to continue my new favorite post-backpacking tradition of getting an ice cream cone, which I admittedly have been thinking about (salivating) ever since I hit the road after my shower. I get my well-deserved scoop of ice cream and head back outside. As I’m walking it hits me how I must look to the people around me. A guy in his late twenties with a frightening mustache and walking with a limp while eating an ice cream cone is probably not the best ‘look’. I have no shame and proudly embraced that character but may or may not have scared some of the kids along the way.  
        As I’m walking up towards the geyser through the sea of people, I hear a cheer and see the steam shooting up towards the sky. Showtime. I get about fifteen-feet back from the edge of the fence and as all the other patrons are pulling out their phones and selfie sticks to get a picture that they’ll most likely never look at again, I crouch down to setup the shot I was envisioning, which ended up better than I imagined. Old Faithful erupts about every 90 minutes so it quite literally couldn’t have been better timing (more good juju perhaps?) and after watching the brief explosion which had everyone freaking out, I turn around and start making my way to the car. Content with my sweet tooth fix and getting the shot I came here for, I pull out of the busy parking lot and get back on the road.
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