At the end, I cried. Not because of what I had achieved. But because of what I hadn’t. In reality, this Grand Canyon trip wasn’t what I expected. Ascending the crest of the South Rim on Day 2 wasn’t the experience I imagined. I wasn’t hand in hand with my friend, sore and triumphant. I hadn’t traversed the return path back. But in the end, the reality was far more enriching than even I could have hoped for.
There was a great amount of discovery. That I know my body well enough to tell when it’s not doing so well. That no matter how many times you ask a San Diego Firefighter to give you back your pack, she’ll carry it until she almost drops. That an amazing, virtually bionic woman, with two bum hips, can tow another person across and up a mountain, never faltering. That I’ll never hear Beyonce’s “Put A Ring On It” without imagining myself trekking up a mountain in the dark. That I can climb up 6000ft of vertical gain, with sheer drops on the side, in the pitch dark. That headlamps are your best friend and I’ll never walk anywhere without a trekking pole again. That the following day you walk as if you actually had a trekking pole. That I’m not really so afraid of squirrels, but I still don’t like moths. I discovered that world class adventure racers eat like crap, and that hiking that long, and that far, is definitely one of the most tedious activities I could imagine. That when I’m feeling sick and angry I don’t want to see the scenery, and that wildlife, of almost any kind, holds absolutely no interest for me. That people hold a great interest for me. Their ideas. Their lives. Their feelings. That you can care for virtual strangers with the love of lifelong friends. I discovered that it’s easy for me to forgive but hard for me not to remain angry. And that there’s a fine line between self righteousness and true understanding. There was a great amount of discovery.
There were hard moments on this trip. The stretch between Phantom Ranch on the South side and Cottonwood on the North is a 3 hour walk in over 100 degree heat, with no shade and no facilities. And lots of cactus. I like to refer to this as “The Valley of Hell”. When we left Phantom, one in our party was already in trouble, and by the time we reached Cottonwood, she was in need of an IV and some medication. In the midst of this, I started to feel really bad. I could feel myself overheating, and kept an eye on my pulse which had started to rise. Around 1.5 hours into the valley, I started getting a little freaked out, as no amount of liquids or food could get my heart rate down. Along with one of the other women who was also starting to suffer from the heat, I sat down in the shade of a spindly little tree (and of course sat in thorns that I would keep trying to pull out of my butt for the rest of the trip) and tried cool down. The amazing Stacey took my pack and I was given water (which was so hot we could have made tea) and some salt pills. Without my pack on, I mustered the rest of the way to the stream, which truly was one of the most heavenly experiences I have ever encountered. See, there was good! My heart rate dropped nicely, and after some expert blister bandaging with masking tape, we carried on to Cottonwood. I had expected that my friend would be at Cottonwood. I imagined she would be concerned that we had taken longer than predicted, and would anxiously be awaiting me. I saw myself telling her that I had felt so bad. But that I was feeling so much better. And that I was so grateful for the incredible group of people who had pushed me through. But there was no friend at Cottonwood. She had decided to ascent the North side without me, and I wouldn’t see her again until 10:30pm that night. There were hard moments on this trip.
There was a lot of disappointment in this trip. Disappointment in myself over the times where my mental fortitude couldn’t overcome my physical needs. Disappointment in my friend because she didn’t have the care and concern I felt befitted the situation. Disappointment that even after the first day, she chose to again satisfy her own needs to prove herself, albeit in a different way, but not by helping and supporting me, her long-time friend, but rather by finding it more important to show others that she could be helpful to them. I know that she feels bad about what happened. And I believe she recognizes the consequence of her choices. It makes me sad, and it will have an impact on our friendship, but I will always be her friend because I understand that this is what she’s like. Several people mentioned that if my friend had been more supportive of me, perhaps I would have gone the second day, and I think there is a great amount of truth to that. But that wasn’t the situation, and I made the choice that I felt was right for me. And right it was.
Because at the end, there was great achievement. I crossed the Grand Canyon, in one day. I walked 24 miles, descending down the 5000ft Bright Angel trail and up the 6000ft North Kaibab, where we walked for several hours in the dark. And I am immensely proud of what I did. I learned that for a city girl who pretty much dislikes nature, I actually coped just fine. I learned that I need my friends more than they can imagine. I learned that people think I’m strong, and that I’m not afraid to show that I’m weak. I learned that my husband and family support me no matter what I’m doing. There wasn’t a moment that I didn’t think of them. And I was reminded that I have the most amazing, incredible friends, whose outpouring of support and unbelievable generosity made me the highest fundraiser of the trip. I am overawed by their support. A huge achievement that I could not have reached alone. And of course with the great achievements came the moment at the end of the two days, standing at the edge of the Grand freaking Canyon at sunset, realizing where I was. Because even though I didn’t cross back from the North to South Rim, I was there at the very end. With ice water and smiles, and yells of encouragement, and strong shoulders to happily carry an additional pack. And with the honor to stay with Rod as he faced his final climb, and the grateful knowledge that even if just for a few miles, I got to be the Trail Angel that from here on out I shall always plan to be.
To the AMINALS:
Robyn – I just want you to know that Pop Tarts are not a food group and that a toaster does not qualify as cooking.
Stacey – Skinny, you can carry my pack any time. Even though I don’t trust your directions, you really are always right.
Jack – Arguably the smartest man on the trail. I have a feeling you guys saved my life, and I will never forget the image of you pushing Lisa up that hill.
Jeff – don’t throw gravel at old ladies.
Kris – it was an absolute delight to spend time with you, perhaps the greatest gift in not climbing the second day.
Andrew – I’m going to say it again, “I dropped something”. That rocky outcrop would never have been the same without you – great company and an amazing experience.
Allison – I had such a great time trekking with you. I think we really did cover the bases of girl talk!
Holly – It was a joy to meet you. Is that you in the red wig?
Maria – strike a pose, Louise!
Deaune – I can’t wait for Arizona. We are going to Rock!
Patti – I am astounded by your strength. And I can’t imagine that you’re still afraid of heights!
Rod – it was a pleasure and an honor.
Jonea – You have the most incredible tenacity and patience. It’s an inspiration.
Lisa – next time you’re wearing pink spotty underwear, just remember that headlamps shine through tights!
Joe – I’ve never enjoyed a Burger and Pina Colada more.
And to Heather – always my friend.