Now that all the happy hubbub of being Fresh Pressed for my first Grand Canyon post has subsided (blush, blush, Mad Queen straightens tippy crown), I’ve got a few stories about the place, the trip itself, hiking overall, with maybe a little helpful life stuff on the side and a couple pretty pictures. Are you ready with your adult beverage? Sit with me.
Hikers are friendly, happy people. Being around friendly, happy people made me a friendly, happy person.(!) I couldn’t smile, nod, or laugh often enough during interactions with passers-by. There are no strangers, just people walking through your story. This is a universal truth whether you are hiking, riding in an elevator, or wheeling a cart through a crowded grocery store.
Who’s left across the pond, specifically in Germany? During our long weekend there, we heard English spoken rarely. Friday and Saturday found us surrounded by German visitors while Sunday was comprised of China, Japan and India. “Hello” seems universally understood, though, and eye contact among us spoke more than our words could have. I photographed an elderly gentleman, and his backpack’s hiking patches, who looked like he could have walked straight off the Ho Chi Minh trail, and whose only English was “Malaysia”. When Mike speculated that the origin of the mule might be Italy after passing a train of the animals, a dark-haired woman beamed broadly at us and declared, “I’m from Italy!” (No word about the mule’s origin, though.) After watching one evening’s sunset into the Canyon rim, I was surprised and touched as Japanese tourists quietly applauded the sun’s performance. People, everywhere, are so cool.
Almost universally, hikers are polite and helpful. I would like to point out, though, that the poor saps panting and trudging back up the hill have right of way over those walking down. This was also the first time I’ve been blown past by people running a trail of this type. Now that’s a fitness program! But I don’t think it relieves them of an “on your left” or “excuse me” on going by. This should also be a universal truth no matter what the activity.
Tee shirts are excellent ice-breakers; Mike’s Texas Longhorn shirt testified to that. (Mike is a Texas A&M graduate and the shirt was a gift, so we are models of open-mindedness.) I did cringe at the sight of a sweaty tourist trying on tee-shirts bare-chested in a gift shop, though. Eeuw. And I never expected to see a man hiking without a tee-shirt, a man whose love of beer showed by the barrel of his belly hanging over his (only) hiking attire — a pair of black underwear. I was thankful they were not a thong style. Fashion sense varies widely.
Who knew mules were so robust? They are used to transport supplies and people to and from the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon. They also have the right-of-way on the trails. A train of mules was resting mid trail, leaving us to wonder how to get past them. The lead rider waved us to go around the back of the animals, which prompted my dubious response using the great line regarding horses from Sherlock Holmes Game of Shadows: “Dangerous at either end, and crafty in the middle,” earning me a laugh from the wranglers. Most of the time, a common mule will do just as good, if not a better, job than a Thoroughbred. Ability trumps appearance and lineage.
It’s easy to become focused solely on the hiking itself, and forget to look at the surroundings. I touched the rock walls, watched birds wheeling above, followed the clouds’ shadows across the Canyon’s features, inhaled the dry silence. There’s no camera made that’s ever going to capture the essence of that place, so I clicked quickly and often without trying for a perfect photo. There is no perfect photo. There is only the moment. Don’t miss the moment trying to get the photo. Actually, don’t ever miss the moment.
When I started hiking years ago I wore sneakers and my arches began suffering from them. Mike wanted me to have good hiking shoes so I bought a name brand, sturdy outdoor shoe. After a while they felt like cement blocks and my toes suffered from them. I wore multi-purpose sandals at the Grand Canyon and had not a twinge of pain. Mike had my best interests in mind regarding the shoes, but our feet function differently. Sometimes, you just have to find your own shoes. Once you find them, you can own your path.
We carry identification when hiking. My driver’s license took its own hike one day, which discovery initially made me lightheaded with panic. How would I get back on the plane? We spent an hour or so backtracking and searching for it with no success. I weighed my options — search for the license, or hike the Grand Canyon. I made the right choice. And the license resurfaced the following day in a pair of pants. I’ve stopped trying to figure out how it got itself into that pocket. Some things will always be a mystery.
Our return flight out of Phoenix trundled onto the runway, then trundled back to the gate when a ground stop was announced in Charlotte due to weather. The plane didn’t have enough gas to idle on the tarmac and run air conditioning. We were ordered off the plane while the situation was considered. A few hours after being told we would board in a few minutes, those who hadn’t jumped on alternate flights trooped back onto the plane. The pilot then announced we had all missed our connections in Charlotte and if we wanted the airline to buy us a hotel room, we needed to get off the plane there in Phoenix since the Democratic National Convention had booked every hotel room and we would be forced to sleep at the Charlotte airport. Something looking like a pillow fight exploded as passengers snatched their bags and raced off the plane. The rest of us (some of us, anyway) drank our way (for free) to Charlotte, where we footraced across the entire airport to our next gate on discovering our connection had not been missed but would depart in 10 minutes. We arrived to find passengers lolling about and heard the news that a goose had goosed the plane. Maintenance gave the aircraft a failing grade and we were sent to the other end of that terminal to board an as-yet-to-arrive plane. Like a soldier sleeping on arms, I settled onto my backpack for another wait. A small, noisy plane finally pulled in to the new gate and we completed our journey. Sometimes, it’s best to let matters sort themselves out. Let go, and enjoy the ride.