The Grand – Act I – Introduction

“God said Time

Time belongs to me

Time’s my secret weapon

My final advantage”

Dan Bern, “God Said No”

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December 12, 2007—2:45 a.m. – Indian Gardens campsite, Grand Canyon National Park — The night is perfectly still. Forced from my warm down sleeping bag by a bathroom call, I was initially disappointed that the earlier starry sky had been replaced by a cloud bank; but now I stand still and just enjoy the rare perfect silence.

Suddenly, a loud sound, like a tarp flapping in the wind, crescendos loudly through the canyon. It takes me a few seconds to recognize the sound and settle my nerves, once I am sure the rock fall is nowhere near our camp. But the slide was loud enough to wake my deep sleeping hiking partner, Mark.

“What was that?” comes a slightly concerned inquiry from Mark’s tent.

“That?” I contemplated. “That was the canyon at work.”

At work indeed. One grain of sand rushing down the Colorado river at a time; one sliver of rock exfoliated by a frozen, expanding water droplet; one rock fall at a time. Geologists tell us that at one time most of the western portion of the North American continent was at or below sea level, and the ancestral Colorado River meandered over a large plain. About 70 million years ago, a 130,000-square mile area of the southwestern United States called the Colorado Plateau was gradually squeezed up thousands of feet high as the Pacific continental plate crashed against and pushed under the North American plate, close to the modern day California coastline, sending powerful geologic reverberations eastward that thrust up the Rockies. The Grand Canyon began to appear as the sediment-laden Colorado and its tributaries, aided by rain, ice and gravity, worked to deepen and widen the canyon to it’s present depth and width. One grain of sand, one rock fall at a time; repeat as necessary over 5 or 6 million years, until you have a grand canyon.

But I cannot comprehend this. Not now; not after having descended to the bottom; not after exploring only one of the countless box canyons; not after watching the sunset and sunrise from the Tonto Plateau, where the beauty and immenseness of the canyon is on full display.

Maybe when I peered into the canyon for the first time four days ago, it made sense on some logical basis. The strata of rock, each a different color, each representing a different chapter in Earth’s history, conformed to the textbook geological theories. I snapped a picture and said that’s nice.

No, the canyon did not stop me in my tracks or take my breath away upon first inspection; certainly not like the first glimpse of the Yosemite Valley through the Wawona tunnel did. Perhaps my mind was still in the textbooks at that time and I saw only the explained; or perhaps I had seen enough pictures of this overphotographed but never fully captured place that the suspense was gone.

On first visiting the Grand Canyon, few visitors are immediately able to grasp and appreciate the scene spread before them. The forms are unfamiliar and the scale too outrageous. In some sense the spectacle simply does not register in the brain; the eye records but the mind look away. The geologist Clarence Dutton, writing in the late nineteenth century, called the Grand Canyon “a great innovation in modern ideas of scenery” and said that “its full appreciation is a special culture, requiring time, patience and long familiarity for its consummation.” I was glad not to be simply snapping a picture from the rim and moving on; I was hoping to soak in as much of this special culture as I could over the next few days, and perhaps come to a deeper appreciation.

Earlier today, standing at Plateau Point, in the middle of the Canyon, with the river 1,400 feet below me and the rim 3,800 feet above me, only then did I began to grasp what is so obvious but so misunderstood from the top— scale. No photograph can ever truly capture the Grand Canyon. A 288 mile long canyon, up to 18 miles across, in some places over a mile deep. A living, breathing wilderness and an intact ecosystem. A crash coarse in Earth history offering up evidence that is almost 2 billion years old. A testament to the timelessness of creation.

I struggle to comprehend the scale of time on display here, despite my first person glimpse into canyon carving tonight. How do you contemplate the significance of the patience that created this place? How do you contemplate the briefness of our time here? How do you contemplate a million years, let alone the almost 2 billion years of rock exposed at the bottom of this Earth history window? Timelessness, the secret weapon of the creator, indeed.

Time seemed to escape me in 2007. I took a promotion to a very demanding position, and most of my time was devoted to work. I almost lost sight of my vow to every year visit a spectacular place, to reclaim at least a little piece of my soul lost to duty. By October I had resigned that I would skip 2007.

Then the president of my company, a healthy, vibrant man of only 57 years, suddenly died. At his memorial service I realized how little time I might have, and remembered my vow. The next day I made permit requests to backpack the Grand Canyon, a place I have always wanted to experience.

I originally planned to visit solo; not my first choice, but better than not visiting at all. Then I found airfare at a steal, and decided to bring the whole family out after my backpack. And then Mark was able to wrangle a week away from his job duties to join me on the trip. Everything seemed to fall into place.

I didn’t realize at the time what a blessing it would be to visit the Grand in December. True, I knew the crowds at the most popular US national park would be absent. But it certainly didn’t seem like a blessing when traffic on I-17 outside Flagstaff slowed to a crawl in a snowstorm. I worried about what the weather would do to our trip.

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The Grand – Act I – December 9, 2007

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December 9, 2007 — The cleanness of a fresh blanket of snow, the scent of ponderosa pine, the smoky haze of frozen breath, and the excitement of adventure tingling up our spines greet us as we step out of our hotel room on the south rim. The first glimpse of the canyon proper comes from the south rim outside the Bright Angel lodge; the striated bands of white snow and red rock creating a horizontal mosaic of colors, depth and time that I don’t even remotely understand or appreciate.

Mark and I board the hiker shuttle for the short trip to the South Kaibab trailhead. Since I had planned the trip as a solo trek, I had permits to traverse down the South Kaibab trail and back up via the Bright Angel trail, the two “superhighways” of Grand Canyon trail system. Had I known at the time Mark would be able to join me, we probably would have opted for a more remote trail. Sure enough, there are 25 people at the snow-covered trailhead with us.

As usual, our packs are the largest of any of the hikers heading down into the canyon, probably pushing 50 pounds and stuffed with two of everything – tents, stoves, water filters, first aid kits. But they feel light, given the adrenaline of adventure – here we were, embarking on exploring one of the wonders of the world!

The hiking down South Kaibab is easy, even with a couple inches of snow – the trail is expertly maintained and stepped. I wear yak-trax, too, which helps with traction on the steep sections. The hardest part, though, is to not stop around every bend and take a picture.

Our goal today is Bright Angel campground, 7 miles below. Weaving through the switchbacks, taking in the constantly changing canyon and sky, breathing in the fresh air – it doesn’t even remotely feel like effort. We stop when necessary, to take a picture or snack, to chat with folks along the trail, or to try to reclaim our breath, taken away by the scenery.

The views at every turn are unbelievable and the highlights are many. We stop to admire the view from a very exposed section of trail with a couple hundred-foot drop off just a foot away. A raven perches in a juniper snag against a blue sky and the red rocks. A snow-covered amphitheater studded with full-grown trees that are dwarfed by the grandeur of the canyon, completely disguising the scope of what we are looking at.

The first good view of the main architect of this canyon – the Colorado river – comes from a rock outcropping just below the Tonto platform; we’re still about 1,400 feet above it. Due to recent rains, the water is milk shake muddy, loaded with canyon carving sediment, the way the river used to look before the Glen Canyon dam upstream trapped most of the sediment and turned the river green. There is a group a rafters stopping at the Bright Angel beach for lunch; we can also make out stables, a heliport, and a suspension bridge at the canyon bottom.

But the most striking feature of the Bright Angel/Phantom Ranch area is the bright yellow leaves of the cottonwoods that grow in the riparian camp. They add even more color to our already overloaded visuals.

It’s only another hour down the steep trail on the inner gorge; soon we are walking through a tunnel and across the Colorado river on the black Kaibab suspension bridge. There is a sandy beach on the other side, were the rafters lunched, and the remains of an Indian pueblo, where perhaps three or four families lived hundreds of years ago. We pass the stables and cross another bridge, this time over Bright Angel creek, and pick out a campsite.

The Cottonwoods are even more impressive from under their canopy. They are maybe 80 feet tall, and shimmering yellow; when the sun pokes through the clouds, it’s like they are plugged in, aglow against the dark rocks of the inner canyon. I expected to be appreciative of the rocks, but I did not expect the impressive presence of trees and forest in Grand Canyon national park. The Ponderosa pine forest of the south rim is as beautiful as a Sierran forest, especially tinged with snow. The gnarled junipers, scattered throughout the canyon, beg admiration for the sheer audacity of their attempt to survive in such an inhospitable environment. But the cottonwoods take the prize for top tree in the Grand Canyon, and I’m ecstatic to sleep under their welcoming golden branches.

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Camp is set up quickly, followed by a dehydrated meal of rice and beans that falls far short of the grandeur the place. But that’s fine, we’re not here to eat. To make up for our less than stellar meal, we make for Phantom Ranch, less than a 1/4 mile from our campsite. Phantom Ranch is a collection of cabins, built in 1922 to provide visitors with food, lodging and comfort against the austere backdrop of the canyon. Most of the folks we started the trek with this morning are staying at Phantom Ranch; mules carried their gear. Other folks rode the mules themselves down to Phantom Ranch. While Mark and I are probably just as comfortable in our tents, the ranch does offer one amenity that even we can’t carry – beer.

So promptly at 8 o’clock, we are lined up outside the Phantom Ranch mess hall for happy hour, to wash down our dinner. The Tecate beer is refreshing, and playing cards and conversing with people from around the world is a great way to spend a couple of hours. Most folks we recognize from the hike down, but others are here, too.

Returning to camp, we spot a gray fox hunting in the meadows. Deer graze the grasses, their eyes glowing yellow in our headlamp beams. And the ringtails are practically crawling over us in camp; obviously they’re used to people, and the crumbs they leave. Mark and I sip a bit of whiskey, and the flowing conversation shifts from the timeless canyon to the mysterious soul, to the comfort and bliss of this trip. We retire tired but content.

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The Grand – Act I – December 10, 2007

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December 10, 2007 – The rains move in overnight. Of course, it wouldn’t be right to go on a trip with Mark without rain! It’s still spitting in the morning as we make coffee and breakfast, so we put on our rain gear in preparation for our day hike. The plan today is to explore the Bright Angel canyon up the North Kaibab trail, to a place called Ribbon Falls.

We set a fast pace, since we are free of the heavy packs, and to ward off the chill. God it feels great to be hiking here, feeling the blood pumping through our veins, senses fully receptive and alive! The North Kaibab trail cuts through a narrow box canyon carved by Bright Angel creek. It’s impressive, and once again we snap pictures regularly. We cross four bridges back and forth over the creek; the trail is sometimes carved right into the vertical rock. Rock wrens and juncos flit through the scrub, and we stop to watch a loggerhead shrike hunt, its steely gray, black and white feathers in sharp contrast to the dark rock of the inner canyon. A dipper pumps his tail before diving into the rushing water, foraging for aquatic insects.

Three hours later we arrive at Ribbon falls; I was not expecting much, maybe just a trickle of water, but the falls is impressive. The water cascades from an unseen plateau maybe 100 feet above, through a crack in the red rocks. It crashes onto a travertine that is covered with mosses of brilliant green. The scene is breathtaking – the red rocks, the blue sky, the sparkling water, the bright green moss – awesome!

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We make our way up and behind the waterfall and have lunch there, watching the sun play hide and seek with the puffy white clouds. After lunch we explore a nearby alcove, and get another perspective on the waterfall and just a little more understanding of the relationship between water and rock that makes this place so special.

We set a good pace for the return 6 miles back to camp, knowing that we don’t want to miss dinner tonight at Phantom Ranch. Yes, no dehydrated food tonight, we splurged and made reservations at the ranch. It spurs us on despite our tired legs.

About a mile and a half from Phantom Ranch, we enter the narrowest portion of the canyon, appropriately called The Box. Coming around a bend, we surprise two desert bighorn sheep ewes, down at the creek for a drink. They quickly run down stream upon spying us. We grab our cameras in hot pursuit, hoping to get a picture.

But when we round the bend, the surprise is on us; something downstream must be an even bigger threat to the ewes, because they are running up the trail at full speed – directly at us! Mark and I have only a few seconds to ask whether it’s better to head down to the stream or hug the mountain. We don’t have enough time to answer, however; Mark makes towards the creek, while I try to make myself as flat as I can against the canyon wall and hope the sheep run past me.

But in an amazing display of agility, just before the sheep get to where we are on the trail, they somehow scale the vertical canyon walls in a full sprint! Within seconds they are 25 feet above me; I’m focusing my zoom and clicking pictures before I realize they are directly above me and are kicking down rocks. One lands within a few feet of me before I wisely head down the trail. Wow, talk about excitement on the trail!!!

We make it to dinner on time. Fueled by 12 miles on the canyon trails, it is the best trail dinner ever – steak, potatoes, vegetables, chili, salad, cornbread, wine, and chocolate cake for dessert. Wow, as far as you can get from dehydrated! We sip a little whiskey back at camp around our tea light “campfire” (no campfires are allowed in the park), returning to Phantom Ranch happy hour for some more wine and cards, and then back to camp, where I sleep like a rock, despite more rain again overnight.

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The Grand – Act I – December 11, 2007

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December 11, 2007 – It’s still raining in the morning, but we enjoy a hearty, warm breakfast at Phantom Ranch, a great way to start the day. Today we have to pack up to move to Indian Gardens, our next camp halfway back up the Bright Angel trail. Mark comes up with the brilliant idea to move our stuff down to the group shelter area, and we pack up out of the rain while chatting to a soloing kiwi boy (who gave me excellent tips for my upcoming dream trip to New Zealand!) and a crazy guy who has been living in the canyon for two years.

We are soon on the trail again, in a light rain. The pack is full weight again, and my legs are tired from the two previous days hiking, but I love it. I love having my complicated life boiled down to just one foot in front of the other. I’m truly enjoying this trip, even (especially?) the “hard work” of the heavy hauls.

The Colorado is especially turbulent after all the rain, frothing underneath the silver Bright Angel suspension bridge. After crossing the river, we traverse west along the river trail, enjoying the spectacular inner gorge. It is here, at the bottom of the canyon, that the oldest rocks exposed by the canyon are found. The dark formation of the Vishnu schist is almost 2 billion years old, some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth. Here at the bottom, I finally begin to grasp the vastness of the view from the top. But it’s still beyond my grasp to truly understand that these vertical rocks are almost 2 billion years old. One foot in front of the other, the mind in contemplation, the senses in awe.

The climb up to Indian Gardens starts where Garden creek meets the Colorado. We’re now climbing steeply up the gorge carved by the creek, but again, it does not feel like work. I’m conscious again of being happy, truly happy, as I trek up the canyon.

The overhang of the Tonto plateau seems too far away, but step by step it gets closer. Soon we are entering the cottonwoods that thrive in the riparian sections of the canyon. As in Bright Angel campground, they are brilliantly yellow, welcoming us to our Indian Gardens campsite after only 3 hours of hiking.

We set up camp leisurely, hoping that the weather will clear and dry things out. And the sun keeps trying to help us, poking out of the blue holes and illuminating this idyllic setting. We can see the rim from here, and the rain we’ve been enjoying down below has been adding white to the upper reaches. Three sides of our camp are dominated by the immense walls of the canyon, striated in white at the top. The view to the northeast, however, opens up above the Tonto Plateau, the most beautiful and expansive view of the canyon we’ve enjoyed so far.

The campsites at Indian Gardens, like those at Bright Angel, have more creature comforts than wilderness sites, such as steel critter boxes so we don’t have to hang our food, poles for hanging our packs away from the critters, not to mention pit toilets and running water that doesn’t need filtered. And with no one else in camp, we enjoy these extras without the bothersome crowds. With the extra time, we brew up some tea to ward off the cold after setting up camp.

We decide to trek the mile and a half down to Plateau Point for the sunset. The sky is clearing, and big puffy clouds filter over the horizon. The trail to the Point is welcomely flat, a true desert habitat studded with prickly pear and barrel cactus, banana yuccas and Utah agave.

But it’s hard to appreciate the desert plants, because the technicolor spectacular of sunset is beginning. The expansive plateau gets swallowed up in the painted mesas and buttes, the highest stripped in white. The rocks and clouds seem to blend together, making it hard to discern where earth ends and sky begins. And both rocks and clouds change color with the setting sun. Beautiful. Amazing. Spectacular. Sitting on Plateau Point, legs dangling 1,400 feet above the darkening Colorado river, watching the show – this is the Grand Canyon of my dreams!

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As an added bonus, we have cell phone service on the plateau, and I’m able to talk with my family, who will be joining me tomorrow on the rim. And later, back at camp, we’re able to get Tom-ass on the phone – damn, he should be here! We settle for a promise of a reunited hurricane brothers trip to Colorado next fall, though.

Back at camp, our dehydrated beans, rice and cheese dinner disappoints once again. But we still have some whiskey for sipping, and soon the night sky is speckled with countless stars. What a beautiful night! We can even make out the silhouette and lights of the Kolb studio 3,000 feet above us. We retire early, anxious to get into our warm bags for the expected cold night.

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The Grand – Act I – December 12, 2007

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December 12, 2007 – The rock fall during the night added to the epic ness of this trip for me, and I awoke early, as planned, hoping to get out to Plateau Point for the sunrise. Mark was still snoring loudly, so I make off solo for the point. Again, I want to pay attention to the desert community just waking up, but again, the show starting in front of me is too spectacular. Again the rocks and clouds change color, this time with the rising sun; and this morning there is even more snow on the upper canyon, mesa and buttes.

Cheops Pyramid, directly north of where I stand and over a mile away, is the star this morning. It’s brilliantly lit in blazing red, backed by the white stripped frosting of the far away north rim. The desert scrub and deer below the butte add green and life to the scene. Wow, one of the best sunrises I’ve ever witnessed. On the way back to camp, I do have some time to take in the wildlife. This has been the most pleasant surprise of the trip for me; I simply did not expect the amount of wildlife in the desert as we’ve experienced. This morning a family of deer, 4 does and one 8-point buck, graze in the scrub under the blazing mesas. A strikingly beautiful black throated sparrow perched atop a yucca for a full five minutes, allowing me excellent views thru my binos. Rock wrens and juncos flit at my feet, while ravens circle overhead, riding the thermals. I keep hoping to turn one of the ravens into a California condor, but that’s not to be on this trip, and leaves me with another reason to come back.

Today’s our last day in the canyon, and I’m in no hurry to leave. I don’t make it back to camp until 9:30, and I leisurely sip coffee and eat breakfast, enjoying the setting, the camp, the views. Mark has already started packing up, but I’m hoping the sun and wind will dry my tent. Finally I realize it won’t and try to flap it dry, but in the process I startle a mule and rider heading down towards Phantom Ranch. Geez, I certainly didn’t want to do that, and no harm was done, but it was a little bit of payback for all the acrid dark brown piss puddles and green dollops from the mules that we have to dodge on the trail. I won’t miss the pico de gallo, as we’ve dubbed the trail mule droppings!!!

We have only 4-1/2 miles to cover today, but over 3,000 feet of vertical. Again today, it does not feel like work to me, and again, I’m totally enjoying the hike, feeling completely happy. Despite the cold, we hike in just a long-sleeve tee, our exertion more than keeping us warm. I put on the yak-trax as the trail becomes more snow covered, but again, the snow has added immeasurably to the scenery. The cold has eaten the last of my camera batteries, so I just try to take it all in and enjoy it.

Soon enough we are at the top of the south rim. Tourists from around the world are snapping pictures; this will be their only canyon experience. I look down into the canyon. I can see the golden cottonwoods of Indian Gardens; the trail leading out to Plateau Point; the walls of our campsite, culminating in the Battleship. It looks so different from the view I first took in four days ago. Not that anything noticeable has physically changed; even “our” rock fall was an inconsequential blip. No, what changed is a deeper appreciation and a little bit of understanding of what I am looking at. True, even a lifetime of exploration of this canyon and its environs can’t convey a full understanding to the forces and time it took to create it. But four days and 36 miles of travel through the canyon has awakened me to this treasure. I’ll surely return to this spectacular place…

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Post Script — Debbie, Jake and Trevor joined me at the south rim, after a long and tedious flight from Pittsburgh and a 5 hour drive. After a late evening meal, we retired early, a slight case of jet lag, but underlying joy at all of us being here.

The next day at the rim is magical. A deep freeze has set in, and a frozen cloud mists everything, forming crystalline patterns on  everything and tingeing the forest in silver. We explore the views from the rim, and I can sense real appreciation for this view, this canyon, from everyone, even little T. We duck into souvenir shops when we’re cold, and enjoy the enchanted forest. Deer and elk graze along the rim, and we’re entertained by the snow, the tourists and the spectacular views.

The next day I rouse everyone (grumpily!) from their slumber for the sunrise—and it is worth it. The morning is cloudless and the canyons mesa and buttes are lit up layer by layer. The colorful rock layers are more vibrant than I’ve seen them all week. Wow, these are the memories we’ll keep forever…

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The Grand – Interlude

“In order to live free and happily, you must sacrifice boredom. It is not always an easy sacrifice.” – Richard Bach, Illusions,

I’ve had a lot to time to think about the Grand Canyon, creation, time and our place in it. I’ve read more from geologists, mythologists, philosophers and mystics (are they all the same?), but time on a large scale is still an obtuse concept. I’ve found it easier to consider other, smaller scale things that take time and patience to create – like soil.

First the barren rocks are thrust up out of the sea by the movement of tectonic plates or molten lava. The rock interacts with the atmosphere and the wind, and lichen appear, followed by mosses and other lower plants forms. Over time, the remains of these pioneers create the right conditions to support higher plant forms, and grasses and shrubs appear, followed by trees and forests. The soil that supports the plants supports animals, again, starting with the simplest cellular organisms but gradually supporting bigger more complex animals. Eventually an entire self-supporting eco-system stands where there was once only barren rock. All you need is time…

I can see the simple beauty and truth of Darwin much clearer now, after witnessing a glimpse of the earth scale of time in the Canyon. The diversity of life on earth seems totally possibly when viewed thru the spectrum of time. Maybe all things are possible with enough time. Maybe Dan Bern is right.

What I don’t understand is why Darwin, or geology or even science, causes such a controversy when viewed through a religious prism. Why can’t natural selection, the movement of the tectonic plates, the big bang theory, or even the universal creation myths, peacefully co-exist with the concept of god or a creator? After all, wouldn’t even god need a mechanism for creation, too?

There are many things that I don’t understand about contemporary religious thought, and there are many things I don’t understand about my own spirituality. So many theories and philosophies, so many customs, so many blinders on our thinking. I think I am ready to admit I don’t even know the true nature of reality.

But I’m asking the questions— which is not easy. It is so much easier to just accept what you are told, to accept the dream of the planet, to accept the reality imposed on you by your upbringing, family and culture. And I really feel I’m learning. I’m learning to undo some of my learning, learning to trust in myself, learning that I have so much to learn. I feel I’m on the right path…to what, I don’t know yet, but I do know that it’s towards something, down a different path…further down my path.

My path (well, that and cheap airfare!) is pointing me once again to the Grand Canyon…

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The Grand – Act II – February 19, 2008

“The real journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

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February 19, 2008”It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” And indeed it is a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a gloriously sunny day to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood (according to the NPR report that woke me up.) Somehow, hearing that soothing voice, with it’s calming message of belief in me, is exactly what I need to hear this morning.

The neighborhood this morning happens to be Flagstaff, AZ, a fantastic mountain town tucked under the San Francisco peaks, perfect cylindrical volcanic cones that rise over 5,000 feet above the Mogollon Rim on the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Mt. Humphrey’s is the highest point in Arizona, topping out at 12,633 feet, a beautiful mountain, and a mecca for snowboarders and skiers this time of year, mountain bikers in the warmer months. The town is dominated by Northern Arizona University, student population 20,000, and percolates with a fresh buzz. Young people in shorts pedal to through the cold and snow on bikes, on their way to the coffee shops, bike shops, art galleries and brew pubs that dominate main street. I’m sure I could really get to like this town, and I’m glad I have a night here after my hike.

Yesterday was a tough travel day, though; a long flight from Pittsburgh to Phoenix, followed by a long, cramped shuttle ride from Phoenix to Flagstaff. I have every detail of this trip planned out, and it’s mostly going according to plan (except for the inability to get a bottle of whiskey at duty-free in the airport while I tried to kill 2 hours waiting for the shuttle—oh well, I found a package store in Flagstaff that was open late night.)

But traveling alone, especially embarking on a big adventure like this, is not fun; the nervous tension of unfamiliarity, usually shared amongst traveling partners, is yours alone to bear. It tired me out; that, and the lack of sleep due to the freight trains that went by my hotel, whistles blaring, every hour or so throughout the whole night. But if parenting has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t “need” sleep.

Lying awake at night on the eve of a big trip, I thought about why I’m here. In between specific thoughts about details, like how to pack and what supplies I still need, I superficially wonder why I do things like this. But there is an underlying confidence this time, a feeling that I’m supposed to be here, like I’m here to learn something. Indeed, so many people and events have helped me get this far—I think about the jet boil fuel waiting for me at the hotel front desk, delivered there free of charge by a complete stranger (big shout out to Galen from Aspen Sports!)

Maybe I just need to work on my confidence, to learn to trust myself. Maybe I just need to accept a little more of what Fred Rogers is preaching…”I like you just the way you are.”

After my complimentary breakfast at the hotel, I meet Cliff from Flagstaff Express shuttle service at the train station for the 2 hour trip to the south rim of the grand canyon. He takes the scenic shortcut, up AZ highway 180, weaving through the beautiful white-barked aspen and ponderosa pine forest, under the glistening San Francisco range. Excitement builds with each mile, and Cliff gets me to the Bright Angel Lodge fifteen minutes early.

Wow, I’m back! I sneak a peak at the canyon before grabbing a bagel and banana at the Lodge. I just finish the banana when my taxi driver Sue arrives. I enjoy the bagel and Sue’s tips for future canyon backpacking trips (Deer Creek on the North Rim is filed away for the next $62 airfare special!) before I’m abandoned at the remote Hermit’s Rest trailhead.

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Suddenly alone at the rim, my perspective shifts dramatically. The hustle and bustle of the travel, cities, shuttles, and planning, is replaced with—nothing. Nothing; no sounds, no people, no deadlines, no agendas. Wow, I feel the impact immediately, and smile—yeah, this is right.

I snap a few pics and a self portrait under the trailhead monument, and then shoulder my heavy pack—another drawback of going alone. There is no one to share equipment with, so you’ve got to lug everything yourself. But I feel freer now, even under the 55 pound weight, than I do most of the time stuffed in my beige cube, and I sail off the rim and down the Hermit trail on wings of excitement.

The Hermit Trail is unmaintained, the ruins of a pathway that hasn’t seen a trail crew in over 80 years. The NPS warns that the Hermit “represents a major step up in terms of physical difficulty and potential hazard” from the Corridor Trails of Bright Angel and Kaibab. I suppose these words registered somewhere in my planning, but they didn’t become real until my boots hit the ground. A mile down—”the upper section of the Hermit is steep and sustained, dropping almost 2,000 vertical feet in the first 2.5 miles”, warns the NPS—and I understand what the warnings mean. There is ice and packed snow on the north-facing sections, and loose rocks litter the trail. My attention is distracted by the views, of course, and I’m not fully concentrating on my footing. This costs me about a mile and a half into the descent—I have a nasty fall, painfully twisting my left ankle and bloodying my right shin.

Shaken, I take a few minutes to asses the ankle. It hurts, but I’ve twisted my ankle so many times it’s more like a stretched out rubber band now than the tight tendons of my youth. It gives out the first time I attempt to put weight on it, almost causing a second fall. But no way will I let this ruin my trip. I remove my pack, lace my boots tight to keep any swelling down, and resolve that it will be okay. More importantly, I also resolve to concentrate more on my footing.

I continue down, more slowly now, making sure I put on the Yak Trax in the icy sections. It’s a pain, putting them on in the shadows and taking them off in the sun, but better safe than sorry. I’m also bummed I have to constantly look down at the trail instead of enjoying the views, but I have no one to rely on here but myself. My perspective shifts from the wide open space of the immense canyon, to an inward focus as I step deliberately.

Needless to say, the going is slow. I make Santa Maria spring, 2.5 miles in, at 12:30, almost two hours since I embarked. There I meet Steve and Mary, a couple in their 50’s from Iowa. They’re amiable, friendly, talkative—and painfully slow. They hit the trail at 8:30—four hours to make 2.5 miles! I bid them adieu with a warning that the worst is still to come, according to the NPS. “The descent becomes unrelenting at Cathedral Stairs” followed by “an endless series of rocky switchbacks.” Steve and Mary disregard my insistence and lounge a little longer at the rest shelter at Santa Maria springs, but promise we’ll meet up again at Monument Creek, where we’re both scheduled to spend the night.

As I’m finding out, the NPS descriptions are very accurate. After the springs, there is a maddeningly long traverse along the contour lines of the Hermit Creek canyon, an endless series of ins and outs but never dropping any further towards my goal, which is always in sight—the Tonto Plateau. And the rock slide areas are challenging, especially where they wipe out switchbacks. It requires careful route finding to not lose the trail, and picking slowly, each foot placement needing to be thought out to avoid another fall. Again, my focus is forced internal, and I’m left with my thoughts and concentration.

After a nice break at aptly named Lookout Point, I do eventually make the Cathedral Stairs and begin the descent. It is tough, although after having experienced the Wiggles in Zion National Park and the 99 switchbacks on Mt. Whitney, these are hardly “endless”. Once through the switchbacks, there is a long descending traverse towards the junction with the Tonto. It’s here that I meet a father and son team, again from Iowa. We chat briefly; they are camping at the Hermit Creek camp, so when we hit the Hermit-Tonto junction, they are only a half mile from camp. I have almost two miles to go still.

I know it’s late afternoon and there’s not a whole lot of daylight left, so it puts some urgency into my steps. The Tonto is much easier hiking than the Hermit, and I make good time. I get my first glimpse of the Colorado River from the Tonto as I round the bend and enter the Monument Creek drainage, but I’m anxious to get camp set up so I don’t dally. The plateau fissures into the erosion channel of  Monument Creek, and I begin the descent. Here the trail is marked by rock cairns, which are sometimes hard to see; I wonder if Steve and Mary will be able to find the route in the dark, since it’s now apparent they won’t get into camp before then. Again, the going is slow as I pick my way down into the box canyon. I also keep listening for water, but the drainage seems dry, fueling concern.

But after 20 minutes of rough, rocky descending, I round a bend guarded by the impressive 100-foot phallic Monument Tower, and look down on camp. Tom-ass would like this location—it’s a real “tucker-in”, a shrubby bowl guarded by vertical stone walls on three sides. I can hear the cascade of running water, too—ahh, home.

I have company in camp. A brightly colored tent is tucked in a alcove along the western side of the canyon; clothes and equipment are strewn about the campsite. A young woman is down at the creek, bathing or doing dishes, while her companion lounges in camp. The trail into camp doesn’t take me close enough to them to say hello, so I continue in search of my own campsite.

Further into the wooded glen, I meet Randy, a 40-ish solo hiker from Annapolis, MD. We chat about trail conditions, camp amenities and the beauty of the canyon. I tell Randy to be on the lookout for the after dark arrival of Steve and Mary, if indeed they do make it this far. Although I anticipated and prepared for solitude, it’s comforting to know others are here.

I find a perfect little tent site under the welcoming branches of a mesquite tree, and quickly set up camp. I can hear Randy preparing dinner not too far from my camp; meanwhile, the young couple on the ridge have taken the cue from the beautiful natural setting, and either don’t notice or don’t care that others are in camp as they run around au naturel. Wow, boobies in the backcountry.

I’m tired from all the traveling to get here, and sore from the long hike down; it feels good to lounge on my camp chair. Dinner is great, spinach tortellini with olive oil and parmesan cheese. I’ve got everything within arm’s reach, not having to get up during or after dinner while darkness overtakes the canyon. A few sips of whiskey while waiting for the full moon to crest the canyon lip is the evening’s entertainment. First the west walls of the canyon behind me are illuminated, contrasting with the black walls that I face. Finally, the near full moon crests the lip, and it’s like someone turned on a glow light. A great horned owl hoots over his nocturnal domain. Peace and drowsiness overtake me, and I retire for the night.

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The Grand – Act II – February 20, 2008

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February 20, 2008 – I slept great, despite waking up on a deflated mattress. I can’t find a hole when I blow it back up—maybe I didn’t close the valve tight enough, whatever. Oh yeah, my beach ball pillow died overnight, too, an unpatchable hole. But my ankle sure is inflated this morning. The top part of my foot has developed a big baseball sized balloon. It’s uncomfortable, but doesn’t really hurt. I take a couple ibuprophen to reduce the swelling.

Lucky for my ankle, I’ve planned to spend tonight at this camp, too. I’d planned to do a day hike, either down to the beach and river, or up into the remote off-trail reaches of Monument Canyon. Given my experience hiking on the rocks yesterday, I opt for the easier trek down to the beach.

The father and son from Iowa pass through camp early this morning, and tell us that Steve and Mary were camped on the Plateau just beyond the junction with the Hermit. Obviously we knew they didn’t make it to Monument camp, but I’m relieved to hear they were okay. Randy is leisurely breaking camp, hiking west to Hermit camp

today, and the young couple from the ridge cruises through our part of camp while I’m enjoying my morning coffee. Turns out they are from the canyons of New York City, and are heading to Indian Gardens tonight, 11 miles away, so they are on the trail early, too. Wow, the young lady (I never did get their names) is beautiful—it looks like she’s even wearing lipstick in the backcountry.

The sky is overcast and threatening rain, so I pack my rain gear and kitchen to make lunch at the river. I bid Randy farewell and hike down to the river. The hiking is easy in the wash, just what my ankle needs. It only takes an hour to cover the 2.5 miles to the river; once there, I enjoy the energy of the Granite Rapids, explore the inviting beach campsites, climb to a bluff overlooking the river, watch a Say’s Phoebe hawking insects over the river, and generally just decompress. I can feel the stress just melting off of me. That’s why I love days like these in the backcountry.

The din of the rapids is overpowering, so I opt to walk back up the wash to find a lunch spot. It’s spitting a light rain, so I look for an alcove to tuck under. A mile up the wash I find the perfect post, and set up my lounger and kitchen. Hot soup, cheese and jerky wraps, some goldfish crackers and dark chocolate peanut M&Ms—yum. Why does such “ordinary” food taste so extraordinary in the backcountry?

I’ve brought a couple of good books with me, by Don Miguel Ruiz and Richard Bach, and I settle into their pages under the rocks. The slot canyons limit my horizon and the books compliment my inward explorations. I’ve decided to start this week practicing some of the techniques I’m reading about, figuring I’d start easy, since I won’t be around many people this week. It feels right —good and peaceful—to be spending this time on myself.

A family of four—mom and dad, two daughters seemingly of college age – walk down the wash; we exchange pleasantries. I pack up and head back to camp, leisurely taking artsy pictures of the Monument and whatever grabs my attention, like the white heart-shaped rock stuck in cubby-hole in the black, 2 billion year old Vishnu Schist rock layer of the lower canyon. I think that Tom and Jenny would appreciate the heart rock, and allow myself other silly thoughts, like naming my next band The Vishnu Schist.

The family that passed me in the wash has taken the NYC couple’s spot under the rocks, but no one else is in camp. Dark clouds are pressing in, and rumbles of thunder are in the distance. I notice there are some caves behind my camp, and climb up to explore. Wow, they are perfect, and the exploring reminds me of the exploring I did as a kid with my friends back in the woods of western Pennsylvania. Soon the storms explode, thunder rumbling and echoing over and over through the canyon, seemingly amplified a hundred times louder than normal, but I enjoy it all in the protection of the caves. I vow to bring my tea light candles up to the caves to make dinner here, protected from the weather.

But since it’s a lazy day, I brew up some chamomile tea in prep for a late afternoon nap. I’m just about to retire to my tent when I look up the southeast cliff, and, horror of horrors, here comes a big group of people! No, surely they’ll just be passing through, maybe on the way down to the beach—I came here for solitude, remember? I busy myself with camp chores while keeping a watchful eye on the group, and within 15 minutes they are in camp—all 8 of them. We exchange pleasantries, and they scout for a campsite, of course choosing the one right next to me. Ahhhh, no! I retire to my tent.

I try to sleep, but my new neighbors are busy setting up camp, and 8 people make a lot of noise. So I settle into my books again. “Every person, all the events in your life, are here because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.” Wow, the passage changes my perspective about this recent turn of events. What if the book is true, and we really do draw people into our lives for a reason? Are these trespassers on my solitude here for a reason?

When I get out of my tent to make dinner, I notice that the caves I thought I’d be lighting with tea lights and making dinner under are now occupied by the new arrivals. Oh well, there’s another smaller cave just north of theirs, and I bring my kitchen equipment and dinner into the small cave. The thunderstorms have returned, and I’m thankful for the discovery of the caves—I’m nice and dry. Plus, I can do my dishes in the rain dripping off the cave roof. It’s gets darker during the height of the storms than it was last night with the full moon, and there’s even a bit of hail.

I can hear the sounds of laughter and joy coming from my neighbors cave, and their stoves light up the canyon during the dark storm. Is that a bit of jealousy I feel? True, I’m enjoying my solo trek, but I do miss the camaraderie of campfires and sharing dinner and conversation with others.

Well, at least I’ve got some whiskey, and a few sips ward off the chill of the post-thunderstorm evening. The rain is steady now, and mesmerizes with its insistent patter. But in a page right from desert hikes past, when I stand up quickly in the cave, my head brushes the roof, filling my whiskey cup with sand. Ahhh, is this worse than our sandy dumpling dinner in Zion 3 years ago??? Being a trooper, though, not a crunchy drop is wasted…

The rains stop sometime after sunset, and I retire to my camp, sitting in my lounger basking in my tea light campfire. Hmmm, what if the book is right about drawing people into your life? I decide to venture over to the neighbor’s camp. The response to my offering of a nip of whiskey is a group chuckle—turns out, they are just breaking out the shots of tequila, complete with lemons and salt! There’s even a few cans of beer floating through the group. The group is on a trip as part of their outdoor club, organized through McMaster University in Toronto, and includes a couple of exchange students from Austria and England. There are four guys and four girls, two of whom are coupled.

We ease into conversation, despite our generational differences; talk flows freely between politics (discussing our mutual disgust with the Bush administration, but also curious about Canada’s new elected conservative prime minister), the environment, past adventures and future plans, and of course sex, always a topic whenever the sexes mingle over some spirits. Wow, it’s great to be amongst my tribe!

But the most impressive spirit tonight is in the sky. Almost as if we wished it, the sky clears, and we are left with a radiant starry sky. Wow! Someone in the group is pointing out constellations, but then there is a spontaneous silence that lasts a couple of minutes, as we collectively appreciate the universe and the visible Milky Way. Peace.

The shows not over, though. Right on time the moon breaks over the canyon walls, but tonight is a special celestial event—a full lunar eclipse. That’s why the stars are so bright tonight. We are treated to the dark orange silhouette of the fully eclipsed moon, followed by a slight silver crescent of the returning brightness. We watch, mesmerized, as the crescent grows. Wow! Does it get any better than this? Watching a full lunar eclipse from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, while swilling whiskey and tequila with a group of co-eds from my tribe? What a way to end the second night in the canyon!

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The Grand – Act II – February 21, 2008

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February 21, 2008I’m awake at 5:30, refreshed but annoyed at my flat sleeping pad. Obviously I’ve got a slow leak somewhere. But that is just a minor irritant— I’m in the Grand Canyon, not my cubicle! I enjoy the sunrise while sipping hot coffee, but it’s not leisurely today. While I’m packing, the family from the ridge passes through camp, they too on their way to Indian Gardens campsite. I’ve got the same big day ahead of me today, so I’m packed and ready to hit the trail by 8:30. My pack actually feels heavier with the wet tent, but I’m energized and eager for adventure.

I bid farewell to my just waking Canadian friends, and I’m off. It’s a steep 500 foot climb out of the Monument Creek canyon, but I fly up it, watching the camp get smaller as I climb. I’m grateful that the morning was dry; it’s never fun to pack up in the rain. But there are big storm clouds on the horizon, and you can see the rain coming down in sheets a few canyons over. This spurs me on, too—I’d love to find a little alcove along the trail for a rest or lunch spot, and I know my best chances of finding one will be in the next slot canyon.

Back on the trail, my attention again focused inward, I think about what I’m reading. I’m thinking about how we imagine our own realities; I’ve never realized that I had any control over it before. But the eclipse party with kindred spirits was exactly what I would have written if I were writing a fictional account of my trip. Could there be something to this? Could I be a messiah, too? Could I make a few miracles?

I know my answer that day on the trail was “Yes!” That’s part of why I’m writing this down, because I’m afraid time will dull the memory. But my first imagining was that the clouds would roll away. In the Zen of a fast paced walk I push my wish to the background. As I enter Salt Creek drainage, I am so sure the rain is eminent that I stop and put the rain cover on my pack and put on my rain hat. I press on into the slot canyon, and actually catch up with the family that left before me this morning. It turns out that the older couple is from Boulder, but the two girls are college exchange students from Germany. We make small talk before I press on.

As I leave the slot canyon, it takes a few seconds to realize that the rain and clouds have dissipated!!! The last of the rain that I was so sure was eminent is vaporizing in front of my eyes, replaced with a gorgeous sunny sky full of white puffy clouds! Wow, how can this be?!?! I snap beautiful pictures of the landscape, marveling at the sights, and wondering, “did I do this???”

Brimming with confidence now, I imagine that the irritating game of passing and getting passed by the German family will end—and it does, we somehow time our picture and rest stops to not overlap.

My camera batteries are just about dead, I imagine that they last until I stop for lunch, and they do. I imagine the perfect lunch spot, and – well, here’s the pictures from the most scenic trail lunch I’ve ever eaten.

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After lunch I’m tired, so I imagine the boundless energy I had this morning, and it returns. So is this really happening? Dare I really test my new-found “powers?” I put it to the test—I imagine seeing a California Condor. There are only about 300 California Condors left in the world, the majority in a captive breeding program. There are about 30 in the Grand Canyon; I didn’t see one on the last trip, a real disappointment. But maybe now I will…

Hiking along the Tonto Trail in the Grand Canyon is like following a contour line on a map; there is little elevation gain, but it is maddening how many hidden folds there are in the trail, especially when you can see your destination across the wide vistas. My latest fold is into the Horn Creek drainage. I know I’ve read that condors have nested in this region in the past, but they are very nomadic in winter. Even so, I stop often to peer through my binos at all the caves in the upper Redwall limestone layer—but no condors.

I stop to rest at Horn Creek; there is a pretty little campsite next to the creek. I thought about camping here when I planned the trip, but the water is radioactive, spoiled by one of the purest uranium mining operations in the world at the top of the drainage. I cringe that we’ve left such a lasting mark on a national treasure.

Before shouldering my pack, I verbally ask to no one, “Where’s my condor?” I clearly see in my mind my bino case falling to the desert floor in my haste to get a view of North America’s largest bird…and sure enough, fifteen minutes later, my bino case is in the dirt as I raise my glasses to spy a majestic California Condor! I banks left, its outer primaries spread wide apart, the bright white patches under its wings. It sails majestically on the canyon thermals, just as they have since the days of the dinosaurs. I watch for five minutes before it disappears over the horizon.

Wow, I’m awestruck. Not just at the condor, as impressive as it was; but also at the shift in my perspective, in my unlearning. Wow, I feel alive, happy, amazed, miraculous. And fortunate—so many teachers have led me here. I’m grateful, thinking of them a lot on this trip. I send some of my peace and contentment their way…

Back on the trail, I imagine a black-throated sparrow perched upon a yucca stalk, and sure enough, a sparrow-sized bird pops up on a yucca. Again, the bino case is dirty, but this time the bird is not my imagined prize, but an ordinary junco. I laugh, wondering if the universe is keeping me honest.

I can’t believe I’m at Indian Gardens before 3 o’clock, covering 11 miles in six hours, including a long lunch break. Of course the German family took the campsite I wanted, scouted out the last time Mark and I were here.

But that’s okay, there are plenty of other good ones, and I quickly settle into my home for the night. Camp is set up quickly, and I brew up some chamomile before settling in for a brief nap. Light rain begins to fall, and the clouds are pushing in. I was hoping to take my dinner and whiskey down to Plateau Point for the sunset, but the clouds are getting heavier and lower. Looks like there will be no repeat of the fantastic sunset I enjoyed the last time I was here.

I’m bummed about the sunset, but also tired, so in a way I don’t mind not hiking another 3 miles tonight. I settle into my comfy rock kitchen and cook up a fantastic meal of cheese tortelini with olive oil and parmesan cheese. Dark chocolate M&M’s are desert, yum. Wow, does it taste good in the afterglow of today’s long hike! A rufous-crowned sparrow joins me for dinner, looking for crumbs. I light a tea light behind me, and settle into my books after dinner, my sore back recovering in my camp chair, whiskey at my side.

It is peaceful here; camp is about 50% full, not enough to be irritating, but enough to force everyone to be quiet and courteous of their neighbors. My nearest neighbors are silver haired older folks, probably in their late 60’s or 70’s; I’m impressed they’ve hiked in—I hope I’m still able to do this at their age! The first of their group retires for the night in the full daylight of 5 pm, and the others all follow within an hour. Me, I enjoy just sitting, reading my books when I feel like it, watching the camp activity when it’s interesting, or just reflecting on the amazing events of the day. My only visitor tonight is a striped skunk in search of some wayward crumbs.

Soon the only light that is left is from my candle; the wind is picking up—rain is coming, so I retire early, but content…

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The Grand – Act II – February 22, 2008

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February 22, 2008 —The rain becomes steady but light overnight. Between the irregular patter of raindrops and my deflating mattress, I don’t get a great night’s sleep. I’m still hopeful I’ll get a nice sunrise, and I hope to make breakfast and coffee at the Point, but once out of my tent I realize the sky is even lower today than it was last night. The rain is coming, but right now it’s dry, so I quickly tear down my gear and hang it from the covered shelter; at least it will drip-dry some before packing it up.

I make a quick breakfast in camp, again joined by my sparrow friend, and then decide to leisurely venture to the Point anyway—maybe there will be wildlife, or I’ll get that black-throated sparrow. The deer are grazing the plateau, and western bluebirds add color to a dreary day, but that’s about it. The Point is not the spectacular sunrise of my last trip, but it is still good to just be outside in this place, and I suck up the humid air, taking it all in.

The rain starts again on my walk back from the Point; most of the campers are already packed up and on the trail. I pack up camp while eating lunch; I’m thankful for the shelters, it sucks packing up in a steady rain. Wrapped in Gore-Tex, I’m on the trail by 11 am.

The rain is coming down harder, and the trail is a red muddy mess splashed with wet, green mule shit—yuck! But I set a good pace for the steady uphill march, enjoying the exertion. I pass and re-pass a number of folks, and soon I’m engaged in a sporadic conversation with a girl from Montreal whose hiking up from Phantom Ranch at the same pace I am. She’s also doing a solo trek, down South Kaibab and up Bright Angel—good for her. We swap stories of solo travel while passing slower hikers on the trail as if they’re dial-up and we’re DSL.

At about the 3-Mile rest house, 1/3 of the way up, the rain begins to change to wet heavy snow. The higher we climb, the harder the snow comes down. Reports from hikers heading down indicate a lot of snow at the rim. It’s actually really pretty, the white snow contrasting with the red rocks and dark brown mud. I slip on the Yak Trax, and as the visibility drops to about 50 feet, I start to fatigue from the fast pace. I find myself wondering when we’ll be at the top, a sure sign of tiredness.

Soon we begin to pass tourists in jeans, and I know the top is near. I pass a familiar landmark where we took a Flat Stanley picture for Jake. Smiles, thinking of my family and the great time we had here at the canyon. As much as I enjoyed my solo trek, I can’t wait to get back home.

At the top, it’s near blizzard conditions, with about a foot of snow on the ground. I press a stranger into taking my picture at the trailhead, revealing a lot of snow on my hat and pack. I’m soaked to the bone and cold, but soon the welcoming fire at the Bright Angel lodge warms me and dries out my soaked clothes and pack.

“Civilization” and deadlines quickly crowd out my canyon experience. I’ve got little time to change and grab something to eat before catching the shuttle. And the shuttle ride is cramped and longer than usual because of the snow. I wish I could be at the canyon rim when the weather does break, I’m sure the sight would be spectacular. So glad I had the time at the rim in December…

But Flagstaff and my train runs through it hotel room arrive soon enough. While packing for the flight home, I finally get to talk to Deb and the boys. I miss home, and I’m anxious to return tomorrow. But tonight I want to toast my adventure.

I think of the sandwiches and Polygamy Porters on a sun-drenched patio in Zion Canyon. My mouth still waters recalling the best tasting pizza and beer ever at a little dive just outside Sequoia National Park after two weeks in the wilderness. I can still taste the Rainier lager, enhanced by the views of The Mountain at the Glacier Lodge in Mt. Rainier NP. And the stops at the Medix after Moshannon, sitting on an open deck in between majestic wooded ridges, an occasional elk grazing in the meadow, a pitcher of Yuengling, and greasy fries; well, they all epitomize satisfaction. True, my Blackbird Porter at the Flagstaff Brewing Company is top notch; the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction is there, too, and the peace and adventure I crave so much was fulfilled. But not sharing that beer with friends while reliving the trip, or regaling family with tales of adventure— well, that’s by far the worst part of traveling solo.

But I reflect on the trip—the near-flawless planning, the perfect food, doing it all (airfare, transportation, hotels, permits, food, supplies and souvenirs) on an unbelievable budget of $501, getting back to such a spectacular place—wow, it was a great trip!

And I learned so much on this trip, lessons I know I will continue to explore beyond the canyon. Many of these lessons stemmed from the inward time I enjoyed in the canyon, a gift I did not expect to be so pleasant. Hey, I liked the time I spent with myself! I toast my traveling companions; Bach philosophizes that “Your conscience is the measure of the honesty of your selfishness—listen to it carefully,” Don Miguel Ruiz teaches “We have to be who we are, and Bill Deasy sings ”We are who we are.”  Cheers!

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