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The Grand Canyon of self-perception, ha ha

I had a thought this morning while at the mirror brushing my teeth, that made me laugh. I wondered to myself, why is it that the inside me is the same “I am” that it’s been all along, (hopefully better), that what looks back at me in the mirror is OK, yes it’s still me with some added wear and tear. But that which peers back at me when I’m looking down at the phone and inadvertently go to selfie mode looks like an advertisement for a planet inhabited solely by weird looking old people? EEEK! Where did I go? We go along being our essential self, and the outer expression changes and morphs when we’re not looking.

This brings me to a tale that is iconic in our marriage. The planet reference is pertinent.

My darling and I had tried two separate time to get to the Grand Canyon and were foiled, once by a freak snowstorm and once by a catastrophic car event. I actually told that story in an earlier blog, it’s a great story. Anyway, we made it on the third try, I think about 12 years ago. Our intention was to backpack in from the North Rim, and camp overnight at the Cottonwood campground, about 7 miles in.

We camped at the North Rim the night before this hike, and that itself was a pretty good adventure. We pitched our tent as the rain began to fall, and finished in a full bore, pier six hailstorm complete with lashing wind, and alarmingly close lightning and thunder. In our hurry to get pitched, we put the tent’s rain fly on backwards so that the hail and rain funneled directly into the tent. This necessitated one or the other of us standing on our knees holding it shut until the storm passed.

As we dried off and reorganized, we came to know that it was also hunting season. We became aware of this gradually, tipped off by random gunfire and the sounds that accompany excessive alcohol intake. You know…screaming, obscenities, fist fights and so forth. We went to the large and well-equipped shopping facility on grounds to buy some food, and came upon a group of these individuals watching something on a TV mounted high on one wall. From the expressions on their faces I assumed it must be something possibly pornographic in nature, but no. It was a film about hunting and all the fun stuff associated with. Sneaking up on things, killing, gutting, guns, knives, bows and arrows, the lot. Well, define pornography. Everyone has their obsession I guess, but seriously. These guys were almost drooling, staring fixedly in fascination. Whatever. It was a bumpy night.

In the morning we drove to the rim, shouldered up our full packs, and ignoring the sign that said

“Please start your hike early, it gets really hot down there”

we set forth.

To say I learned a lot on that hike is a gross understatement. At least we had the good sense to wear broken-in hiking boots, unlike one young woman that we encountered who was going to lose all the nails on both feet do to new boots and wrong socks. There is a syndrome called “black toe” that is peculiar to mountain climbers and hikers of the Grand Canyon, that is due to repeatedly smacking your toes to the ends of your boots for miles and miles of going downward. I only lost one toenail, I think she completed her hike in flip-flops.

It is a remarkably beautiful and hostile environment. The rock formations are different at the north end, we were reminded of the famous temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Alien and dramatic. We saw water shooting straight out of a rock face, cactus in bloom, and the odd lizard, small rodents, and snakes. It was fascinating.

We encountered a group of three that were power walking the entire 24 miles from rim to rim. That, frankly, is bordering on the insane. We did meet the woman of the group coming back the other way, alone, and looking pretty raggedy. We didn’t ask.

Somewhere along the way I noticed that it was getting hotter. Really hotter. Yes we saw the damned sign! But it was October! Surely it didn’t get all that hot in October? It was 67 degrees at the top. Very pleasant. Oh innocent children. It turns out that there’s some natural circumstance that allows the bottom of the canyon to be as if shone upon by the sun through a magnifying glass. I don’t do all that well with the heat anyway, and this was the real enchilada. The temperature at the bottom when we reached it, was 115 degrees. Fahrenheit of course.

I also discovered something about myself, that when being fried alive in full pack, my mileage limit is 6. The campground was 7. By 6.5 I was lurching along, no longer sweating or thinking, simply in survival mode. My companion looked truly alarmed at my appearance, which was marked by a the deep purplish red of an heirloom tomato. I know he was thinking,

“I wonder how much that helicopter is going to cost to get her airlifted out of here?”

We did in fact reach the campground and John had the great good fortune to locate a spot, the only spot in fact, with a big tree and a picnic table. I dropped everything and collapsed on the table, stretched out full length in the blissful shade. It was still hot, but not the hot that boils your blood. My thought was,

“Well this is it. I have absolutely nothing left. I’m done. This is a perfect time for a real spiritual experience, an epiphany.”

And fell asleep. Soundly. I had a vivid dream, that I was visited by the administrative team of the planet Boozork. I kid you not. Boozork. They gave me information that I remembered for about 30 seconds upon waking, and went back to their planet. What’s funny is I think I’ve had a couple of other dream visits from the team, so there may very well be a Boozork somewhere in the gazillion star systems of the Universe. I woke up and laughed aloud, a lot. There’s your epiphany sister! God laughed too, I’m thinking.

In time, I felt enough better to get up and hydrate, and walk around a bit. There is a pretty good sized river there, and restrooms that compost everything. A park ranger came through and talked to us. Now there’s a fitness job for you, he must hike that bloody thing every day. We told him what we had experienced, and he said in addition to being a hair away from a full heat stroke, I also had what he called water intoxication. That’s where you drink and drink water, thinking it will hydrate you, but you’re actually washing away all your electrolytes. These are apparently vital to survival in an oven environment. It turns out that ramen noodles, the entire opposite of health food, are ideal for this trail. Fat, salt, and calories. This dear one also said, glad you didn’t need the helicopter, it’s really expensive, and next time read the signs please. Right.

It was actually a beautiful night, with a full moon lighting up the rock-scape around us. So quiet. Once the great laser beam went away it was cool and soft. We had a glass of wine and dinner, and I fell asleep, trying not to think about the trip…..up.

There are times in one’s life where it really just is one step at a time. One more step. One more steep incline, one more usage of muscles that were done before you started up. I will be honest with you, we left two Tacate Mexican beers on ice in the trunk of the car, and it was the thought of that ice-cold delight going down my throat that pulled me up out of that canyon. We did make it, I did live, and it’s an incredible memory.

Where self-perception falls in all this is, I must have thought that I was actually a 30 year old guy in peak fitness, when I was actually a middle-aged lady maybe a tiny hair beyond peak fitness. I mean I was in pretty good shape or I’d have never attempted it, it was just an adventure that I hadn’t planned on. What great adventure is, really?

Would I do it again? Sure.

Kristin Strachan

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