Of the millions of visitors to the Grand Canyon every year, 1% make the hike down to the bottom, where the Colorado River carves through the limestone rock. If I am going to be the 1% of anything, I’m glad it is this.
Because it means I spent hours hiking, jumping, tip-toeing down the trails of an ancient landmark, it means I saw this breathtaking, natural phenomenon from a hundred-thousand different angles, and most importantly, it means I spent many miles walking, talking, laughing, and making memories with my dad.
Bright Angel Trail is only slightly under 10 miles long, but between snack breaks, which are inevitable for the Meccas, holding on to the last few minutes of service (Dad, you need to stop working so hard) and a three-mile detour out to Plateau Point, it took us most of the daylight hours to reach the Colorado River. The extension out to the plateau comes about half-way down the trail, at Indian Gardens, and although our feet were starting to hurt and our packs were over-packed, it was a necessary diversion – I mean, where else was I going to get pictures running #inappropriatelyfast on dangerously unstable rocks and questionable terrain (see: cactus)?
You know that feeling when you know you have absolutely no choice but to keep going? I get that feeling when I’m in the middle of my five-hour drive home and I’m fighting to stay awake, and I suddenly realize, wow, I have no choice but to keep driving. I could pull over and get coffee, take a nap, even do jumping jacks, jump in the snow – whatever – but halfway through my trip, I inevitably have no choice but to keep going, I have two and a half hours of driving left anyway I cut it. Anyway, my Dad and I started to get that feeling about ten miles into our journey down the canyon. For me, it wasn’t so much that the hike was hard, it was more about feeling aches in muscles I didn’t know existed, and breaking in my new hiking boots (again, in typical Mecca fashion), and also the way that the trail twists and turns, giving you the illusion that you are almost there time after time; you think you made it, you hear the rushing water, but there are always more steps to take.
Surprise, surprise: we made it. Nearing the end of the journey, we crossed the metal bridge that spans the Colorado River. The bridge was very steady, albeit swaying, but I couldn’t help wondering, with each step I took, if I fell, would I live? How about now? How about now? Even toward the end of the bridge there was no relief, only a big patch of cactus. Regardless, we made it across the bridge, another mile on foot, past the mule corral and Bright Angel Campground, to Phantom Ranch.
Phantom Ranch is the only lodging below the canyon rim, and consists of a handful of cabins, four dormitories, bathroom facilities, a canteen, and an eclectic group of hikers. Meals are hearty – beef stew, steak dinner, or vegetarian chili – and served family style, so when you go back to your bunk at the end of a long day, you are well-fed and you have a few fellow hikers to call your new friends. The people you pass the potatoes to, play a late night game of rummy with, and lay your head down next to at night come from all walks of life – a lone female traveler from New Mexico who hiked the whole way down the canyon in the dark, a group of college kids on January break, a “hiking” couple who left their less-outdoorsy spouses at home, a rowdy group of young guys from Michigan, and a father-son dynamic duo all stick in my mind. We may not have anything in common in our everyday lives, but in the moment, we have everything in common; we each took time – whether one night or one week – out of our routine to disconnect, to cleanse our minds of stress, worry, relentless responsibilities, and use our bodies to move down trails, up hills, across bridges, but always forward, to accomplish a physical goal, and to spend quality, quality time with the people around us.
Work life is full of email notifications and project deadlines, one number off on a report, and countless hours in front of a screen, but life life is full of so much more – more interesting, loving, eclectic people I have yet to meet, more perspectives, more stories, more hearts, more memories.
Hiking the Grand Canyon with my Dad may have only taken a few days out of our busy lives, but it reminded me to never stop exploring and more importantly, gave me the necessary dose of more I constantly crave, holding me over until my next adventure. Did someone say Canadian tobogganing?