Monday, September 26, 2005

Hiking the Grand Canyon - part 6 - Down the trail

Breakfast under our belts and our packs on our backs, we tested each other for pack stability; a shift could cause a fall. Smile, it's the "before" picture. We clasped hands, prayed, and said together the two rules of the Canyon, "Never look down and never give up." With shade on our path, we put one foot ahead of the other, Donna first.

My walking stick made the hike possible. The 21% grade is steep. The narrowness, loose pebbles, puddles of water, mule dodo, and water bars (logs across to slow traffic and erosion) held my attention. Over and over and over I said, "I think I can."

An hour into the hike I felt enough adaptation to the groove to notice the wall on my right. Donna's words came to mind, "Don't touch the wall. A snake might be hot-rock napping on a tiny ledge." That made sense. Our cats like a warm nap place in the morning and a cool nap place in the afternoon.

Hiking down knees don't lock. Mine trembled, progressed to whining, and within two hours screamed pain. The longer we walked, the further apart our feet spread - the Grand Canyon shuffle. Hikers and mule riders look the same at the end.

I heard a scrunching noise, stopped, turned, and saw a mule train approaching from behind. My heart raced. I stepped to the outside without looking down, faced the mules, and stood stock still. The leader tipped his hat. Six mules with riders passed. My heart in my throat, and my knees shaking, I stepped back on the trail adrenalin soaked.

Needing to fix my eyes on something solid, I paused and studied the wall. Like a magic cupboard the layers of strata hold shelves of fossils. I finger-felt seashell fossils wondering when they were alive. About eight feet below I finger-felt flower fossils. Back and forth the contents of the shelves changed proving the world's axis have shifted many times.

The hiking a little easier, I nibbled an energy bar and thought of home. Today Nebraska is farmland. Thousands of years ago it was under water and it was desert. Near Orchard, Nebraska, people could have safaried until an Idaho volcano erupted with more force than Mt. Saint Helen. The sky fell and took the air with it - the end of the world as they knew it.

Something wasn't right. The trail was getting steeper, the puddles wider, the rocks bigger with slanted rocks sticking up, it felt haunted, and ended. NO!!! I'm miles from the bottom. This can't be the end. Everyone that passed me had to go somewhere. Where's Donna? But not a hint of trail was visible in the distance. My heart pounded and I broke out in a sweat. I couldn't make tea like the English do in times of stress, but I could think like a Marine: adapt, overcome, and improvise. I sipped from my canteen and thought.

Deep-breathing I contemplated options. One misstep would tumble me over the edge. Don't look down. I couldn't do it on hands and knees. On my booty I scooted inch by inch around the puddles, flicked off the loose rocks, dismissed the ghosts, but wondered when the people went over the edge. At the end of the trail I leaned over my knees, peeked around the corner, and saw trail. Thank God! I stood up, brushed off, and stepped out with confidence saying aloud, "I know I can."

(more later)

copyright 2005 Red Convertible Travel Series

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