I’ve just returned from a trip to the Grand Canyon with my sisters. For part of the time, my younger sister, L, and I hiked to the bottom down a strenuous 7.5 mile trail. After two nights in the Phantom Ranch bunk house, we hiked back up a 10 mile trail. Our companions on the hike were two experienced guides and three other hikers. The guides were incredible — knowledgeable, funny, and all-around great guys, exactly what you’d hope for in this situation. The surprises were our other travelers – an 82 year old man, his 70-something wife, and their 64 year old friend.
If I had seen these three at the rim of the Canyon, I’d never have looked twice. I would have assumed they were with some bus tour, checking out the Canyon from the top while waiting to eat the Early Bird Special. Instead, I had the pleasure of their company for three days and had the opportunity to learn their stories. I learned the 64 year old has been everywhere. Every time an opportunity comes along, she seizes it with both hands. Her 70-something friend is an avid tennis player. The 82 year old enjoys mountain biking and his IT job. Oh, and I should mention that last year he hiked to the bottom and back in the same day!
We began our hike out at 4:30 am in the pitch dark. By 8:30, the thermometer read 115 degrees. For much of the trek, the 82 year old was in the lead. For the last three miles, he walked with a broken shoe – the glue holding the sole to the rest of the shoe failed in the heat. I assure you the hike was tough enough with intact boots, I can’t imagine doing that last stretch in a broken one. But our elderly friend didn’t utter a single word of complaint and kept moving forward. When we reached the rim at 2:15, we all hugged each other tight, overjoyed at our accomplishment and our pride in each other.
L and I said our goodbyes to the group. The man told us we were “kick a** hikers and good girls.” I told him he was an inspiration.
We walked away and I began to contemplate how powerful an experience this trip had been. I am proud of rising to the physical challenge of it all but also learned so much else in those three days. As K begins high school in the fall, I’m hoping I can impart at least some of this knowledge to her.
Some things can be summed up by the classics – “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is one. “Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” (especially in 115 degrees!) is another.
But there were new lessons:
“Down is optional. Up is mandatory” – from a sign about a half mile down the Bright Angel trail warning would-be hikers of the challenges that lie ahead. K is reaching the age where I can’t fix her mistakes for her. She needs to learn that if she goes down a path she’s got to be able to handle the consequences.
“Reclaimed waste water, do not drink” – from a sign over a toilet at the top of Bright Angel trail. You’d think a sign like this one wouldn’t be necessary but our guides assured us if there was a warning about something, it was because people had actually done it. I’d like K to realize that people, smart people, can do really stupid things so it’s important to stop and think before following along.
“Hiking the Canyon is like eating an elephant. You take it one bite at a time” – said by one of our guides as we trudged to the top. I hope that K also learns the pride of taking on a challenge so big that you can only accomplish it by taking one bite at a time.
“The typical profile of someone bitten by a rattlesnake here at Grand Canyon is male 18 to 25 and there’s usually alcohol involved” said by a Park Ranger. I think that one speaks for itself, K.
Lastly, I want her to know that even though she may think her mom can be embarrassing and boring, there’s a 82 year old superstar out in Arizona who knows that her mom is a kick a** hiker and a good girl. And her mom is proud to be both.