Grand Champions

26 12 2012

The final section of the trail was brutal, people were moving at all kinds of paces. Desmond was clear out of sight. My knee was killing me so I stopped and sat on a rock. It was dusty just like me. The wind was whipping now and earlier I had gotten an eye full.

Previously, we had stopped at the last rest area to escape the high afternoon sun and its covered benches were packed with people — many who were not budging. I found that a little odd. Could they not tell we were distressed?

‘They are coming from the other side, John,” Desmond said.

Some of them looked familiar from our time at Phantom Ranch, others had trekked down from the rim. We stood under the middle of the shelter, hoping for someone to give up their seat. Fat chance. After a while, I retreated outside and found shade under a nearby cottonwood tree. Desmond followed, but did not want to rest. He signaled for me to continue up the trail. I signaled back that I needed a break. He then began hiking without me.

At this point I started to think why was I here. What possessed me to do this and why oh why had I moved across country and placed myself into extreme isolation? Jokingly, I had referred to my time in Grand Canyon as a period of exile. But was it really a joke? Having made the leap from journalist to politician, my career was indeed at the crossroads. I saw the Canyon as an opportunity for a fresh start in an environment where I would have no trouble clearing my head.

Whenever I would feel depressed, all I had to do was take a short walk up to the rim and gaze into the grandness of nature. No pharmaceuticals could take me away like a look into the vast and magnificent Canyon. I was sure there was someone up there right now looking down at me … a tourist, park ranger perhaps or even the All Mighty. Slowly, I began to climb again, placing more weight on the good knee as I hiked into the evil Coconinos.

The stops became more frequent, just to catch my breathe and rest my knee. It was at this before mentioned rock where I would have my last chat with a fellow hiker. Here I was sitting on this rock, dusty and damn near beaten, when all of the sudden an energetic Canadian appeared. He was a little older than me; a family guy on vacation from somewhere north of Spokane. I told him I worked in the park and this was my first rim to river and back excursion and he, seemingly unimpressed, asked why I had come to work in a place like this.

“How can you move so far away from your home?,” he asked.

“Work,” I replied.

We then went into the inevitable political discussion to which I listened much more than I spoke. You know the lines. America is going to hell and all that crap and I’m from Canada so naturally I am superior to you. Finally, he hiked on. I waited for him to get a lengthy head start and then followed, dodging mule poop and chomping on the last of my power bar. Surprisingly, I found Desmond waiting at the final water stop a long with a hearty company of hikers, many I had seen throughout the climb. I mustered a smile and continued to hydrate. I was glad Desmond waited for me. It clearly demonstrated his patience.

We hiked the last part together. In stride and overjoyed. The closer we got to the trailhead, the more people would stare. We were exhausted and disheveled, but seeing the trailhead and its bustling tourist activity gave us that final incentive to sprint to the top. We did it. Almost 12 hours and 18 miles of intense mountain hiking that no park ranger would recommend. It was my greatest athletic achievement. I was never good enough to play football, basketball or baseball in school. My body was undeveloped in those years and my confidence hidden behind chess pieces.

The pain from my knee was almost forgotten as we declared victory at the trailhead. There was a group of French tourists posing for pictures nearby and I asked them if they would please take our picture — as evidence of this amazing journey. A nice woman happily agreed and I was sure to say, ‘merci.’ An incredible feeling of accomplishment came through me as she took our picture. The fear and uncertainty I felt as we barely caught the bus earlier that morning had been defeated by a successful hike to the river and back. It was then that I truly believed there were Bright Angels amongst us.

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One response

3 01 2013
Margaret Webster

Wow, what an amazing true story! With much admiration both in the accomplishment and in the telling, I thank you for sharing this. I will never be able to do what you did but it was amazing to walk along with you in words from the top to the bottom and back again. Thank you for finishing both! You are a very good writer and I have enjoyed this journey with you. Keep on writing – you have a unique voice. And we would love to get together again and share food and hear the other stories you have. Let us know!

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