Pause & Reflect

9 05 2012

The pain from my right foot was getting harder to ignore. As I approached Indian Garden, I knew it was time to take a look and survey the damage. I found a quiet section of the creek to stop and rest and take off my shoes and socks. Sure enough, it was a blister on one of my middle toes and it was a big one. So I soothed my foot in the cold creek waters and tried to calculate just how much daylight I had left.

I had made it from the rim to Indian Garden in a little over three hours, but the return trip would not be as quick. I would be hiking up a mountain some 3,000 feet in the late afternoon hours — with a nagging blister no less. This is where the real work begins.

At the Three Mile Reststop, I encountered a fellow hiker who I had met upon my arrival to Indian Garden. He was a middle-aged man, overweight and with a huge backpack. He was hiking up from the river and had stopped for food and rest at Indian Garden. I remember asking him about the trek to Plateau Point and he offered a less than enthusiastic reply.

“It’s ok, you can see the river, nothing too special,” he said.

I’m so glad I didn’t take his review to heart.

But here was this man again, resting and browsing through his backpack. I had already hiked to Plateau Point, witnessed the awesomeness of the inner gorge and majestic river, communed with a baby California condor and caught back up with him.

“Are you alright?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, rather defiantly. “Why does everyone keep asking me that? Do I look that bad??”

He looked a lot like the late English comedian Benny Hill and his backpack had to weigh 100 lbs. There was, without a doubt, an air of misery about him.

“Just checking,” I said.

I unloaded my pack inside the covered rest house, gulped down some water and took off my shoe again to examine the blister. It was still there and getting bigger.

“Got a blister, huh” the man said.

“Yeah.”

“I may have a bandaid for you,” he said, as he began to pillage through his pack again. Then he began to get incredibly honest.

“I’m carrying too much weight,” he said. “And I’m old and weak. I should’ve let the mules haul some of this up. They didn’t tell me about that until it was too late.”

I began to have sympathy for the man, knowing the hike ahead of him and the dwindling daylight hours.

“You have a flashlight, right?” I asked.

“Yeah, got one of those,” he said.

But he didn’t have a bandaid. I thanked him nevertheless for the thought and decided to continue onward and upward toward the rim.

“You going to be alright?,” I asked one more time before departing.

“I’ll make it,” he said, again with an abrupt tone. “I’ve got my own pace.”

Continuing on, I passed several more hikers coming up through what the locals call the “evil coconinos” —  a geological rock formation found near the rim of the canyon. Along the Bright Angel Trail, the coconino is home to a series of tight switchbacks which can and will take your breath away.

I finally climbed out of the canyon around 7 p.m. just before sunset, completing a 12-mile journey covering 3,100 feet in elevation. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel too worn out. The blister hurt, but the adrenaline of having accomplished such a strenuous hike kept me moving toward the Bright Angel Lodge where I sought to reward myself with a steak dinner.

No such luck.

The lodge was packed with tourists. There wasn’t even a seat to be had in the bar. The hostess said they were running at a 35-minute wait. That would not do. I needed fuel pronto, so I took the bus to Maswik Lodge and devoured a chilli burger and fries at the cafeteria in record time.

With a full belly and only a nagging blister for the effort, it was time to pause and reflect. I was pretty darn proud of myself. Four years ago, just after my spectacular crash out of journalism, I could barely walk around the neighborhood back in Panama City.

Now I am climbing mountains.

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One response

17 05 2012
Margaret Webster

I like the inspirational ending and the sense of accomplishment to this post. And your blog is making it clear to me that we are woefully unprepared for the vacation we have planned this summer. We won’t be hiking to the bottom of the canyon since walking around our 18 feet above sea level Florida neighborhood won’t get us up and down 3000 feet anytime soon. We had already kinda figured this out but you are making it much more clear through your blog. Thanks and I look forward to the next post.

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