The Grand Canyon (Day 3 Morning): “Happy Philosophers” by Shelby Seals Foster

They call me “Light Pack.” That’s my trail name. I earned it because Kyle offered to carry some of the weight in my pack. I hated to allow Kyle to carry more than his current over-burden, but it did seem like the best idea. Hiking and climbing are one thing, doing it with 40 lbs on your back is another, and I was struggling. So I loaded a 5 lb stuff sack and handed it over, and he let me dump half of my 4.5 liters water since conditions were cool and wet and we could refill later in route. What a difference! Although carrying their usual weight, both boys remarked that their packs felt lighter this morning. Evidence of the quick adaptability of their strong, young bodies, already used to the new, grueling exercise, and reminding me that I, too, was here to celebrate a milestone accomplishment for a milestone birthday, many years beyond theirs. Perhaps next year I should consider celebrating in a cabana beachside somewhere. Ahead, we had 10 miles to cover. We had to get up off of the canyon floor, two hours back up the dry creek bed we came down (in one hour), then up onto the Tonto Trail, an undulating footpath that takes you over the plateau plains that are the “middle layer” of the canyon. Kyle promised us all that the 10 miles would be a long day but much easier, with better foot quality once on the trail. After a breakfast of coffee, granola and powdered milk in Fat Man’s Food Court, we packed up our wet camp and headed up and out. My choice for drying clothes was a poor one, as everything was soaked from the blowing rain. I knew the clothes would either dry quickly or be wet from rain again soon, so I put them on anyway. I was feeling much better after the extra rest, meds, and lighter pack, and I felt like all was good in the world again. The weather looked as though it was clearing, and our wet clothes were dry by the time we were out of the creek bed, which was quite harder going up than down. We passed back by the Monument and Monument Creek, where we all topped off with water in every vessel we had, (hydration bladders, Gatorade bottles, and sports bottles), including me, because we were headed for a dry camp over night with no water available to boil or filter. Our first glimpse of the Colorado yesterday, a wide, raging river often hidden by the canyon folds, had been of a bright green creek in the distance. But we slept next to a 100 ft wide river, whose depth we weren’t tempted to investigate. As we walked away from her this morning, she was an angry, deep muddy brown from the heavy rain last night, evidence of the easy erosion in action that created this particular wonder. The next “little canyon” over was Salt creek, a naturally occurring radioactive dry creek bed where we stopped for peanut butter and jelly bagels for lunch. After lunch we finally climbed up onto the promised “Tonto Trail,” and we all kicked into high gear. We were all cruising, the boys and Christy even further ahead than usual. They would be several buttes in front of us and I would wonder how the piece of land I was on would ever connect to theirs. But it always did. Distance and depth are very hard to perceive in the canyon desert. And sound doesn’t travel far, in open canyon you can’t understand someone 15 feet away, can’t hear any noise at all a little further away. We knew our distance in miles, but we measured our next stop in minutes. We usually measured distance in time, not miles. Walking a mile in Tennessee can be done in 15 minutes easy. Traveling a mile in the Grand Canyon can take 30 minutes to an hour and a half or even two, depending on terrain and elevation gain or loss. I finally grew tired again, and I began to move more lazily. At one point I decided it was easier to swish by a cactus rather than side step out of the way. I was rewarded by picking 15-20 long cacti needles out of my shin. I didn’t repeat that mistake. Walking the plateau offered wonderful views of the canyon in every direction that you could enjoy continuously since you weren’t dreading, I mean measuring, your next step. We were all happy philosophers this afternoon, impressed with both the canyon and ourselves, already discussing our favorite memories. And just as the afternoon began to heat up, it rained. God turned the air conditioning back on.

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