Day 3: The Grand Canyons

June 25, 2010

There’s a saying I had the pleasure of taking to heart on my trip: “Stop the world and let me get off.” I had so many highs and lows while visiting the Grand Canyons, but I would eventually find a middle ground to where I could clear my mind and enjoy everything around me.

After leaving Flagstaff I was looking forward to seeing the South Rim of the Canyons and going for a hike. Little did I realize I was entering a glorified outdoor resort. Grand Canyon National Park was a tourist hot spot. I was going to have look hard to find a place with peace and solitude. I quickly skimmed the guide after finding the Backcountry Information Center. It came to no suprise that they were booked for overnight backcountry permits.

I think it was the mix of not getting to do some real legit backpacking (thanks to my poor planning) and being extremely overwhelmed and annoyed by all the tourists that my mind sunk into frustration and madness. I like to call this place frustration nation.

Nonetheless, my first view of the Grand Canyons was stunning. I had just got done helping an elderly couple find their cabin, then I saw the trail to walk to the rim. Getting closer and closer I thought I was looking at a mirage.

The sight of the Canyons brightened up my spirits and I was eager to find a trail that was secluded and challenging. I grabbed the guide out of my bag and reviewed the hiking trails.  I read:
Rim Trail (mostly flat, many sections suitable for wheelchairs)
Hell to the No
Bright Angel Trail (steep, but popular)
I didn’t want alot of people
South Kaibab Trail (steep with expansive views)
ehhh maybe
Hermit Trail (steep and rocky)
I like it, I like it, I read on
This rough, unmaintained trail starts 500 feet west of Hermits Rest. Recommended for experienced desert hikers. Hiking boots recommended.
BINGO!

So, being stubborn and refusing to use the shuttle bus to head to the Hermit’s Rest trailhead I decided to hoof it. A shuttle bus!! Seriously!! What happened to the good old fashioned trekking by foot. I had bit my tongue. After wasting 20 minutes walking I remember I had only several hours of sunlight left and after talking a good look at the map, I realized it was 7 miles to trailhead. Whatever, I’ll ride the stinking shuttle bus.

While waiting for the shuttle bus I started to get discouraged about this visit and worst of all, homesick. I was surrounded by families, friends, and couples, and then there was me. What the hell was I thinking trying to go alone, I won’t have enough time to get a decent hike in before the sun goes down, where the hell am I sleeping tonight? SHIT.

The shuttle had arrived and a large group of people unloaded. I stepped inside the bus and quickly went to the back and sat by the window to find a good seat and hopefully get lost in my own little world. All of the sudden I hear this calming voice welcome the new passengers on. It was as soothing as listening to a grandpa tell his grand children a bedtime story.

On that ride to the trail head, I was in the right place at the right time listening to the right words. I had the impression I was in for a cheesy touristy guide, nope. This guy was genuine. I even busted out my journal and started to write down some of his comments. I took his words to heart.

He would talk about life in general. “Just remember your on vacation, there’s no sense in hurrying. We live in a hurried world where day to day people always feel rushed. Why is it that we need to keep ourselves constantly busy? Take time to stop and relax.” I kind of felt like I was in therapy or something. I needed that calm voice to tell me to basically take a chill pill. From then on I didn’t care about the tourists, or being on a stupid schedule, or how much I was going to accomplish on this trip. I mean, I knew in the back of my mind that this 6 day road trip wouldn’t do justice in regards to enough time to any of the destinations that I was visiting. So why even go to these places like the Grand Canyons when I didn’t have the time to see everything? I don’t have a great answer for that. All I know is I wanted to go and see new things.

I finally arrived at the trailhead. YES! I had one of the most amazing times venturing on the trail by myself. The only people I ran into were two couples who didn’t get very far and headed back up. The Hermit Trail was steep, it was rocky, and there were times I was terrified for my life. Instead of following a switchback down  I had veered strait off around a bend not even noticing the original path. I went farther and noticed the trail would disappear every so often. The trail became more and more dangerous to where I was walking closely to the edge, grabbing to boulders by my side, looking down the steep 7,000 ft canyon. I think it was when I had to climb over a tree I started questioning if this was the real trail. You’ve got to be kidding me. How the heck would backpackers get across this?

I asked for a challenge, then came the point when I  froze with fear. I was scared. I was walking on boulders and I had to get across this chunk of rock that slanted downward past 45 degrees. There was nothing to grab on to. There was no grip what so ever, one slip, and I would take a long fall into the ravine straight below me. I got down on my butt and scooched across little by little. Then halfway I froze, my hands shaking, I couldn’t get myself to move. I just pictured my self plunging down into the abyss of the canyon like a rag doll. I gathered myself and eventually made it across. Yeah, I don’t know how a hiker carrying at 40 plus pound backpack would casually get across this one. I would go another 15 more yards and realize I didn’t want to jump across a gap, because who knew if I’d freeze again and not make it back across. I turned around and found my way back to the trail and the switchback that I had missed. I was so glad to be back on trail, but I also enjoyed the perils of being off trail. I didn’t get enough time to go all the way down to the the bottom of the canyon, but I made the best of my time with the sunlight, took some pictures, and pretended I was Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. The sun started setting leaving the canyons with a cool and foggy cover. I had my introspective moments watching the sun go down and then walked back to the trail head to wait for the last shuttle out.

That night I planned on staying in the park, but didn’t want to be disturbed with everyone. I got in my car and told myself I would just drive as far as I could because my next stop was New Mexico. It didn’t take me long–less than an hour, to get tired. I was spent for the day. I pulled over at a Flinstones Bedrock City Campground and fell asleep.

At the Grand Canyons I had some meaningful realizations. I was content in my own abyss of travel.

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