Als ich wisse das Morgen der Erde enden wuerde, immernoch wurd ich mein Apfelbaum pflanzen.

Even if I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther

"Factory work's easier on the back, and I don't mind it, understand, but a man becomes what he does. Got to watch that. That's why I keep at farmin' although the crops haven't ever throve. It's the doin' that's important." Madison Wheeler in Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Down to the Bottom and All the Way Back Up

Don't wait.

View of South Kaibab Trail from above.

Even if the idea seems crazy...

Trail at Phantom Ranch.

... and the path seems long

Moon Rise at the bottom of the Canyon.

... and the way seems dark

Farmer Dan - halfway out of the Canyon on Bright Angel Trail.

... and the going will be hard, hot and out of your comfort zone. 

View of Bright Angel Trail from the top!

You will make it to the top, and it will fill you with a confidence that you didn't know you had.  A belief that you can conquer any task.  Thankfulness for the time spent - with yourself, with God and with others.  You will be filled with beauty from without and within.  The world will seem like a different place.  Forever.

Dedicated to the fine folks, and our fearless leader Melanie, who went down the the bottom and back out with us!

How we got there....

Three years ago Farmer Dan convinced me to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  At the time I thought he was completely crazy.   I had given him a coupon for a father/daughter back packing trip.  I thought he would pick somewhere in our mountains.  When he suggested the Grand Canyon I immediately dismissed the idea.  He was a looney.  We know a lot about backpacking, and being out in the wilderness - but we knew nothing about hiking in the desert.  At the time my kids were three and five and I couldn't even begin to imagine leaving them for a week's time.  I'd never been away from them for more than one night.  Finally, neither of us were in the kind of shape it would take to hike out of THE GRAND CANYON.  The old man would just have to let that dream die - there was no way we could go. 

But, I love my father deeply and truly.  When I saw how much he really wanted to complete this trip I decided to do some research.  Maybe there was a group we could join?  We really lucked out - there was a opening in a mule assisted backpacking trip with the Grand Canyon Field Institute.  We were going.  I still thought it was a crazy idea.  I don't even like heights.  I'm terrified of heights.  I'd been to the Grand Canyon before and thought that it was wonderful and majestic, but best enjoyed far, far back from the edge.  How in the name of all that was sane was I going to hike down into this monster? 

I decided that the best way to deal with my fears was to become really well prepared.  So, I picked all of the highest mountains near us and started logging 20 plus miles a weekend, and at least four miles closer to home every night.  By the time I went to the edge my body was ready, but my mind was still in agony.

Leaving my kids was so difficult.  I felt as if my heart were being ripped from my chest.  My brain knew that it was only a week, but my heart felt like it would be forever.  We slipped away before they were awake so I kissed their sweet faces in the dark, and crept out of the house leaving the Woodsman, my babies and half of my heart behind.

Finally, the much anticipated day of descent came.  I became increasingly nervous as we approached the edge.  I'm not a quitter.  I finish almost everything I set out to do, but I was so eager to walk away from this trip.  I was queasy and jumpy.  I kept imagining my lifeless body at the bottom of a cliff.  ( Note to reader:  Do not read a book about how people have died at the Grand Canyon the night before embarking on a trip down into the Canyon.) 

Mercifully, once we started  I was over taken by the grandeur of the rocks and the vistas opening out before me.  I was also finally calm enough to see the shine of joy coming off of my Dad.  I'm not sure I have ever seen him look so eager and excited. 

The hike down was hot, dry, fascinating and stunning.  It had been an especially wet winter and spring so there were many flowers to enjoy, lots of facts to learn about the Canyon and the majesty of creation in which to revel.

Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the Canyon, may very well be my favorite place on the planet.  I dream about returning there and could happily see myself spending part of the year working there once my birds have flown the nest.  Yes, it was blazing hot ( one day it hit 103 in the shade!).  Yes, there are rattle snakes and scorpions (they're bioluminescent).  But mostly the bottom of the Canyon is filled with a peace like no other.  Talk about going off the grid.  Phones don't even work down there.  The people at the bottom are different too.  I guess it takes a certain type of person to want to hike all the way to the bottom and then return to the edge.  It was sort of like being in a hippy fraternity where all of the hazing to join happens on your trip out.

The trip back up to the top was strenuous, but not nearly the impossible task I had envisioned.  Mostly I was stunned by the beauty of the Grand Canyon, and thankful for the training I'd done.  To say I hiked out with my father would be stretching the truth.  He was so far ahead of the rest of our group that I would only catch glimpses of him on switch backs several cliffs above me.  He booked out of that Canyon.  I did eventually catch him and convinced him to slow down his pace slightly so we could finish together. 

I found out later that he was nervous about being unable to finish, and the best way to deal with this fear was to get out as fast as he could.  In contrast, I wanted to savour every moment.  I knew that I probably wouldn't get to return until my children were grown, and I wanted every detail locked in my head.

The trip was good for all of us.  I became more confident.  The Woodsman became more confident - he and the kids had a fantastic week together, and he's been better about doing household tasks since then.  The kids survived quite well without me, and I was richer for knowing that everything ran smoothly even when I wasn't around. 

I'm so glad my dad is crazy.  Without his far reaching imagination we never would have gone all the way to the bottom and back to the top.  It's a bonding experience I will never forget.  We have memories that only the two of us share.  I'm so glad I helped my dad fulfill his dream.  Who knew that I was fulfilling my own dream too?

Next trip?  Hiking in the Swiss Alps?  Sounds like I have more mountains to climb. 

"The Long Up" 

by Kay Ryan

You can see the
land flattening out
near the top.  The
long up you've faced
is going to stop.
Your eyes feast
on space instead
of pitch as though
you'd been released.
The measured pace
you've kept corrupts
with fifty yards
to do - fifty
times as hard
against the blue.

The New Yorker  April 11, 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment