I’m glad our first shower was in a rented room. The boys and I all burst out laughing after sharing an elevator to our room with a business man who looked at us with kind pity in his eyes. We clearly appeared to be a homeless family, each smelly one of us holding nothing but the contents of our turned-in pack in a thin, white garbage bag.
Earlier, after a short victory celebration of hugs, pictures and “we’re safe” texts to family at the summit of Bright Angel, we walked – who could take the shuttle at this point? – over to the Maswick Lodge for a big lunch and quick souvenir shopping. And yes, yes I did – I bought the tacky vacation t-shirt that says “I hiked the Grand Canyon.” I also bought the bumper sticker, the Christmas tree ornament, and I almost got the coffee mug too. I need proof, a reminder, that I not only survived, I conquered.
When we said goodbye to Kyle and Christy, it was surprisingly hard. It’s amazing how fast you bond when discussing nightly how to “squatty potty” and finishing each others meals to avoid packing out leftovers. We exchanged email addresses and promises of pictures, and I gave Kyle a well-earned tip, and vowed to leave him and the guide company “Just Roughin’ It” the stellar reviews they deserved. Our trek was tough, and I was woefully under-prepared mentally and physically, but the trip had been well planned – going from hardest to what should have been easiest, with well placed breaks, excellent equipment, and unexpectedly-good meals. Kyle was supportive, encouraging, entertaining and informative – a quiet confidence-giving force hiding within the tall, thin, surprisingly strong 24-year old. Kyle taught us about “type 2 fun,” not necessarily fun at the time, but creating fun memories. Christy, our unexpected companion, was a God-send and an inspiration. Her stories will stay with me forever, and are only absent from this journal because they are her stories to tell.
Bathed, fed, boys asleep before denting the bed, the unsalvageable thrown away and the rest sealed in garbage bags and luggage repacked, I sat down and began to shake. I would never intentionally put my own, much less my sister’s children, in harms way. I have an adventurous spirit, seldom turning down a challenge. But I live in a safe world, where good healthcare is close by, warm meals are easy, clean beds a given. It is easy to be “brave” in my world, not so easy a so-short distance outside of my comfort zone. I had a constant commentary, and usually a song, silently going through my head. I frequently thought about how what I was experiencing, in some simple ways, could be loosely compared to that of homeless people, both in developed and undeveloped countries. Knowing if I got hurt that I would be a burden to others and medical care far away; in terms of distance for me, in terms of cost for the homeless. Cleanliness became a notional idea, safety not a promise, and survival depended on getting to the next safe place to lay our heads, all of our belongings a necessary burden to carry. Yet, my plight would end as long as I could summon the strength to keep going and I would return to the world of table napkins – something I unexpectedly missed. Their escape is not so simple. And I had the luxury of clean underwear and socks under my dirty clothes each day.
As I’ve told, I thought this well-meaning adventure would get the best of me. I had bitten off more than I could chew, err, climb out of. And in case you were wondering, the song in my head most often was “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” sometimes Bette Midler’s “Over the Shoulder Boulder Holder” from Beaches. Don’t judge, the mind goes where it will. I planned this journey to grow the boys in body, mind and spirit against a rocky backdrop of God’s wonder as they enter their always-rocky teenage years – to give them a firehose dose of life lessons they can draw from, to find the reservoir of strength I know lives inside them. I did not expect the boys to quietly demonstrate how strong, how adaptable, how mature, how capable and how dependable they already are. As I silently fell from brave adventurer to panic-stricken rear-bringer, the boys took care of not only themselves but also each other. I hope they remember the sights – unbelievable vistas, endless varieties of cacti, amazing sunsets and stars; the sounds – the Colorado rapids, the deep silence at night, campsite stories; and the smells – the dust and the powerful scent of the desert plants after the rain. More importantly, I hope they remember hard things are worth doing. Two short plane rides home and Allison and her daughter met us at arrivals, happy hugs all around and roses and a thoughtful pedicure gift card for me, for when my toenails regrow. Back in Vanntown, my own sweet daughter wrapped her whole self around me, buried her face in my neck and said she missed all of me and the smell of supper every night. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Am I forever improved? For sure. Do I recommend it? Everyone should absolutely see the Grand Canyon. Would I do it again? Let’s rent a mule and stay at Phantom Ranch.