I will be on vacation for the Holiday Season and will return with new posts on Monday January 8th. Meanwhile, enjoy this rerun of one of my favorite blog series on the lessons that travel has to teach us…
**For more hiking adventures, check out Boot Bomb’s Top 50 Long Distance Hiking Trails in the USA!**
As we meandered our way down the second half of our descent, my Dad and I found ourselves walking alone together. Just then, a slightly disheveled-looking twenty something man with a contagious smile and a spring in his step began coming towards us from the opposite direction. As my Dad caught his eye, the man stopped to tell us his tale.
He’d come down into the canyon the previous day without a camping permit, just missing the park’s cutoff date to obtain one. As his eyes twinkled, he told how he’d nevertheless spent the night off-the-beaten path with some other campers who also lacked the proper credentials to sleep amidst the canyon’s stars. As he’d been taking a jaunt that morning to grab some water for boiling, a ranger had chased him down. He shared with us how the man had sent him packing back to the top when it was discovered that he had no park pass.
Rather than being upset by this turn of events, the renegade backpacker happily advised my Dad that it was best to slip off to the side of the path into a brush area for the next half an hour or so if we were also without a permit, as the rangers were just a few feet behind him checking everyone’s passes. He also gave my Dad a conspiratorial wink and quick directions to the hidden campsite in case we needed a place to crash.
As we confirmed that we were indeed part of the lucky group who had our paperwork in hand, the man expressed his glee for us, and we all said our goodbyes amidst some good-natured laughter.
At some point, everyone in our group just couldn’t hold it anymore, and had to heed the call of Mother Nature. My turn came just as we reached a point on the path where hiker traffic was coming from both directions. People who had started the hike around the same time as us were walking up from behind, and those taking the trip back up from the bottom were coming from the opposite direction.
My sister and a cousin began plotting where the best spot was that would be hidden from both upward and downward trekkers. Then my sister ran forward and my cousin backtracked to ‘stalk’ other climbers in order to calculate when we thought they’d make it around the bends. Just in case our calculations contained flaws, they each were posted as lookouts.
Twice I had to stop what I was doing as the code word “HIKERS” was yelled as a warning to gather my decorum and pretend I was just checking out some random canyon plant (“Isn’t that pretty” I’d say amid nods and quizzical looks). But the third time was a charm, and we were soon on our way again.
Just past mile eleven the heat became so intense and the journey so long that I moved into a state of physical misery and wanted nothing more than for the whole hike to be over. I tried lots of mind tricks to get myself out of this mood: I make note of the unique and beautiful desert plants surrounding me, poured water from my canteen onto my face to ease the warmth, and reminded myself that there wasn’t far to go now. At some point though, none of these hacks were working anymore.
As I was looking down at my feet dragging tiredly across the dusty vanilla sand path, I noted how they were moving me forward one step at a time despite my fatigue. This jolted up from my subconscious a long-ago childhood memory, and I began singing in my head ‘Just put one foot in front of the other, doo doo do do, and soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floo oor OOR…just put one foot in front of the other, doo doo do do, and soon you’ll be walking out the door.’
Maybe it was the longing for some cold snow to ease my skin from the blazing sun, or my love of all things Christmas, but this little ditty from the childhood cartoon classic ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ got me through those last few tough miles of the trek to the canyon floor.
That evening at the delicious home-cooked dinner that the dining hall provided for us, we heard some unexpected advice: double salt our meals, go crazy on dessert, and don’t forget to ask for second helpings of pancakes with extra syrup the next morning at breakfast. The extra minerals and nutrients would help replenish our bodies and propel us back up the path to the top.
After gorging ourselves on the one of the most appreciated meals of our lives, we rested a bit at the cabin, then made our way back outside. With swimsuit on, I headed into our backyard to enjoy the cold, Soul-refreshing waters of the Bright Angel Creek.
For a moment in time I was all alone. The sun was showing its last full breadth of shine before starting its slow sinking below the horizon. As the water massaged my sore muscles and my burned skin began to cool down, I experienced the pure perfection of having pushed past my limits to experience the bliss of nature’s healing divinity.
Some family members soon joined me and we all played in the water for a bit. Then we went to hear a presentation put on by the park rangers about the region and its storied past. As they were concluding their talk, they told us that only a tiny percentage of park visitors ever make it all the way to the bottom of this grand and ancient beauty that we now had the honor of dwelling in. Then they told us of their great respect for us and our accomplishment.
To be continued…
You can check out more stories about what travel has to teach in our latest book by a diverse team of writers:
Featured Image Courtesy of Mateus Neves at FreeImages.com.