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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Southwest, 2018 (Part 4): A "Grand" Adventure

A canyon almost a mile deep.

A canyon so large it is considered one of the seven wonders of the natural world. 

So vast that it can be known only by one name: 


I knew that we'd visit the Grand Canyon at some point during the trip, but I was surprised at how quickly the day arrived. I never really paid much attention to where we were going until we got there, but the night before the Grand Canyon I remember someone casually saying, "The long hike is tomorrow." I immediately began to hydrate, and found myself slightly intimidated. I mean, I was moderately fit as a relatively fresh veteran, but I really hadn't worked out since my separation from the Navy, and I found that the hikes of the trip thus far were taking their tole on me. 

I'd been to the Grand Canyon before - to the South Rim - and the majesty of the place had inspired me to name my daughter after the state which held it. Arizona is three now. My trip to the South rim had been less of a vision quest and more of a photo op. I'd been assigned to Ft. Huachucha for a month of training, and had made a quick trip to raft a calm section of the Colorado and see the canyon itself. The day had been rushed and I'd missed the opportunity to climb down deep into the belly of the beast. I would not miss that opportunity again.  

 Prior to our departure to the Southwest, we'd been briefed on the forth-coming opportunity to hike the Grand Canyon - up to 16 miles of it. We'd been warned that, if we weren't ready physically, we shouldn't go.

 Nothing could've stopped me. 

There were 5 others who felt equally thrilled about the hike. We called ourselves "The Fellowship of the..." Wait...never mind, one mustn't plagiarize.  

Among those who hiked the canyon were myself and the Gypsy, our friend Lydia (who was pursuing her PhD; congrats on achieving it), and a number of students from Cumberland County, TN and the surrounding area. I won't write much about the students because I don't have their explicit permission to, but each of them had a distinct personality, and I remember all of them fondly. A photograph of the group (which has already been publicly shared) can be seen below.

Amanda and I hiked a fair portion of the way down with Lydia (left side of the group), who is a much more experienced and capable hiker than I am. I've always enjoyed my conversations with her, and consider her something of a kindred spirit. I've learned to recognize and appreciate when I'm around people who are smarter than me, and she's definitely one of them. She's a person that I can learn something from, or at the very least consult in matters of perspective. If I had to guess her Myers-Briggs, I'd go for INTJ or possibly an ISTJ. (Lydia! What's your MB???)

Lydia, Amanda and I opted to jog down, slowing occasionally for photos or to enjoy the scenery. We wanted to get the easy part out of the way and give ourselves the maximum amount of time for the return trip. One of the students had already surpassed us at a near sprint, and the other two were lagging behind; their intent was to enjoy the day, not to hike to a particular destination and back. As hours passed, it was surprising just how far down it felt like we had already traveled, but the canyon descended further still. There were incredible flowers hidden away in the dryness, and our eyes eventually adjusted to seeking them out. 

We also found...well, I'm not really sure what to call it. Just look at the pictures below. A nest?

It was obviously an incredible day in the outdoors, but even climbing down was terribly exhausting. My mentality that day had been the same as it was for the entire trip..."I'm doing this." But when, around 5.5 miles into the hike, Amanda started experiencing some light dizziness and cramping, we decided to separate from the student sprinter (who had stopped and waited near the Roaring Springs pictured below) and Lydia. 

After Lydia and the sprinter continued on, we rested, ate, and re-hydrated. 
We hiked a small side trail, and then decided we should probably start the journey back up. I think I would've continued my descent if Amanda had felt better, but in hindsight it would've been an absolutely terrible idea. The best path was the one we chose together, which was to slow down and enjoy where we were at as we began the treacherous 5.5 mile journey back up the canyon. The difference in elevation was over 3000 feet.

Here are some of the photos we captured that day. 

In a dozen moments like the one pictured below, we thought we saw the top of the canyon, only to reach that point and see that we had multiple tiers left to climb. It was so defeating to think you'd done it only to see that you were possibly half way to the top. 

Each time we stopped to rest (which was eventually every five feet or so) it became more difficult to continue on. By the time we finished the hike, I wanted nothing more than to pass out. We were beyond thankful for our friend Steven's arrival with the van and some snickers bars. I didn't think I was going to be able to get out of the van when we got back to camp, but we managed to get a quick shower and eat some chili before we completely crashed.

That climb was the closest event in the whole trip to describing what the previous year had been like for me. It was as if each tier of the canyon represented an obstacle I'd overcome. My relationship with religion was one. Coping with my father's cancer, another. Giving the foster children I'd grown to love so deeply to another family. My transition from the military. My divorce. My daughter moving away from my home. My loved one's perception of me changing. Depression. PTSD. Trying desperately to rid myself of multiple mortgages. Tier after tier presented itself and I climbed over them, thinking each time that I had nothing left.

Each of them loomed before me, an obstacle impossible to overcome. Looking back from the top though, having defeated the challenge, was the closest thing to what I feel like now, having found happiness following my many years in the dark deep. 

Later that night, Lydia arrived back at camp with the one student who had gone the full 16 miles. While even Lydia was exhausted, the student was borderline hypothermic, so before Amanda and I crashed out, the medic was called to action. She prescribed warm food, a blanket, and some time by the campfire, and also suggested he remove his dripping wet cotton clothes. 

Amanda and I have agreed to return to the Grand Canyon one day for a rim-to-rim hike. Following the obstacle we overcame together that day, we slept in a hammock right on the canyon's edge. It was one of the best nights of sleep I have ever had. One suggestion, though: before you begin your descent into the Grand Canyon, be sure to find time for a proper poo. It'll just make the second half of the day much easier for you.

Ah, humanity. Overthink it as I may, it always comes back down to the basics. 

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