I laced up my hiking boots and stepped out of the tent. As I fully stood up for the first time that day, I felt the quaking nervous feeling shaking within the pit of my stomach.
The day, was finally here.
This faithful November, Saturday morning that I will be hiking out of the Grand Canyon along the more difficult rated Hermit Trail. A hundred years ago, this trail was full with the hustle and bustle of tourists being carted up and down the route. Now, as the more popular trails of Bright Angel and South Kaibab attract the tourist attention, the Hermit Trail has been abandoned in the Grand Canyon’s elements, slowly eroding away. While not completely forgotten, this trail isn’t as well maintained meaning, less crowds and a more challenging hike.
It seems not so long ago in August on a bright summer morning, I casually opened my Gmail and began robotically scanning my emails when the subject line of “Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit”, caught my eye. I read the first line, “Congratulations” and thought “I need to start getting in shape.” Our permit had been accepted and if everything went to plan, we would be heading down the Grand Canyon in a few months.
At this point, due to COVID-19, I had been working from home for the past five months. Sitting solitary at my desk for hours, except for random visits to the pantry to swipe some snacks. My normal routine for the past few years of meal planning, prepping nutritious lunch and snacks, along with my daily half hour workout at the gym, now transformed into staying put indoors and eating whatever I felt like eating whenever. My stress levels were high. My anxieties grew. Sickness and death seemed all around. And with being out of my normal routine, I feel into this unknown territory.
I repeatedly told myself to get back on track. “Get up early and go for a jog!” I would tell myself before bed. But when there’s a pandemic and daily outrages being put in my face by either the news or social media….one can find themselves in a state….where relaxing and eating salty and sweet food …is the only sense of comfort you can bring yourself.
A more disciplined person may find refuge in working out but summer time in Phoenix, when it reaches over 100 degrees every day…my desire to want to work out lessened even more.
So, when I got the news that in November I really would be hiking down the Hermit Trail to Monument and Hermit Campground, I celebrated with a beer while thinking, “training starts tomorrow” and then popped another pizza roll in my mouth.
But of course, routinely everyday, “tomorrow’s” came and went. And with that were the excuses I told myself. “It’s too hot outside.” “I’m too tired.” “I went to yoga class, so I don’t want to overdo it.” And so on, and so on it went.
It went like that for another 2 or 3 months, until October.
By this time, I now felt physically sluggish.
Disappointed in my lack of self-discipline. Knowing, this was no-one’s fault…but my own.
As I would talk and check in with my hiking partner, she had been up and hiking on the trails by 5am, before going to work. She did this at least two times a week while also hiking down and up the Grand Canyon in two separate trips with other friends. All this while I continued to stay in and claim to be “too tired” to hike my local mountain trails.
I was in a funk, and even knowing this trip was coming up….I didn’t actually become that motivated until I was ultimately force to, which was about three weeks before…
So with a deep inhale in….I gave out an even deeper exhale and found myself standing at the base of Phoenix’s South Mountain, upon my old stomping grounds, where I’ve spent so many years before this year, becoming a stronger hiker.
Only now, I struggled to catch my breath up inclines, where normally I would have no problem going up. I found my legs hurting and this was not even with my backpack on yet. “I’m in worse shape than I even thought” I thought to myself. At this moment, more aware of this realization, the real anxiety began and I allowed it to cling to me.
But there was no turning back.
Not everyone is lucky enough to get the permit and if I willingly choose to not go…I knew I would regret it with a burning a deep fire in my chest that would live in there for years to come.
So, as I said, there was no turning back.
Now, here I am, the day of hiking out of the Grand Canyon.
An hour ago, tucked into my warm sleeping bag within the confines of my tent. Now that warm and toasty sleeping bag stuffed into the pack on my back. In the early morning darkness with the stars fading away above, under the beam of my headlamp, I laced up my hiking shoes to hike out of the Grand Canyon.
I felt nervous. When I feel nervous, I become sick to my stomach and lose any appetite. This meant I had to force my oatmeal down only because I knew I needed to count on the energy it provides in order to reach the rim.
We walked out of the campsite, rounded the bend out and looked up at that long trail outstretched ahead of us. “I feel so nervous.” I finally admitted out loud. “Do you think that’s normal?”
The silence hung in the air, until a few seconds later, when Pete (the best hiker I know) spoke.
“Yea, on Sunday, I’ll probably be feeling nervous too.”
Pete met up with us, last night. He’s here to cross off some rock climbing summits which involves actually crossing the Colorado river with some other friends in a portable boat that he’s carrying on his back. This guy, has been hiking the Grand Canyon for over 20 years and is the fastest and strongest hiker that I personally know. How could he feel nervous?! I know he’s capable of everything and to hear that he would be nervous too?!t surprised me, yet also made me feel comforted. It made me feel okay, with being nervous.
At that moment, I had no doubt that Pete will get through his climbs and that I needed to believe in myself in the same way I believe in him Who knows, maybe feeling nervous is a good thing. And with that, the butterflies mixed with the heaviness in stomach, felt a bit lighter. Not completely gone…but lighter.
Soon after that, once we approached the junction for Hermit Rapid, we parted ways from Pete, who was just beginning his adventure, while we were about to end ours. I left knowing that we would see each other again only likely back in the real world. But for now, we were two adventurers going on two separate journeys. Nature would be testing not only my physical strength but my mental strength as well.
As the saying goes, “hiking down is optional, hiking out is mandatory.” And with that, I started the real hike to get out of the Grand Canyon.
Hiking out of the Grand Canyon, is a funny thing…
You stop and look around at all the beauty surrounding you, but you also don’t fuck around. It’s the type of hike, you want to just get over with as soon as possible. You find your groove, your traction and you just keep going with it.
The last mile, was the real struggle for me. Looking up and seeing that light brown layer of the rim so close yet my legs are so tired, wishing the ground was flat. We’ve been hiking out for about 4 hours, and this last little section was the longest. I had to take breaks every 5 minutes or so….but eventually, we got to the top. We emerged out of the forested area of the twisted juniper trees and emerged back onto the flat surface along the rim.
Back out, once again out onto the surface world. And while I was relieved to be done hiking knowing that I was capable of doing it…my heart sank with sadness being back up amongst the surface.
It’s a strange thing, when you hike down to the Grand Canyon, it calls you back. Even now as I write this…I feel it still calling me.
Below the rim you have no option other than to relay solely on yourself. Only you can get yourself out. Which caused me so much anxiety and suffering from thinking I wasn’t going to be able to do it. Now, being back up among the surface, sitting in the tailgate of the pickup truck, drinking our well-deserved, cold beers out of the cooler, I felt victorious yet also sad to be out of the canyon. It felt like a tug of war game with my heart.
Silently, reflecting on this trip at the trailhead, watching the other tourists and hikers emerge out from their own hike I couldn’t help to feel foolish. Foolish for having doubt myself. In fact, it made me a bit melancholy for the trip, and while I was down there because I allowed my fear of not being able to get out, to somewhat consume me. And there was no need for it.
This trip taught me that I should have had faith. Had faith in myself, in Mother Earth and that I could do it. Instead of fearing the challenge, I should’ve embraced it. Because the outcome was that although not being in the best of shape…I still dominated it. You’re a lot stronger than you think you are. And, I’m a lot stronger than I think.
Looking at the Grand Canyon, you can’t help to feel as if persistence is the theme of the place. The rushing rivers and creeks, that are alive and has carved out all of these canyons for over millions of years. Persistence. Strength. Patience. These feelings and energy enter your soul and you begin to truly feel alive with the Canyon.
Reflecting on it now, I can’t help but to wonder if Mother Earth intentionally guided me towards the Canyon. It broke me out of my funk and since the trip I’ve settle back into my healthy routine of living. Ultimately nature heals. You just have to go out and experience it in order to feel its powers and re-awaken your soul.