Monday, June 19, 2017

Ryan's POV: At the Grand Canyon, everything is awesome

What a sight.
Hiking is awesome (lots of exclamation points). Hiking the Grand Canyon is awesomer (even more exclamation points) because it lends itself to epic challenges – the kind myths are made of: Humans versus nature; Humans versus gravity; Humans versus mortality; Humans versus humans with selfie sticks.

Our Grand Canyon trip had all the major elements of a classic heroic tale that Joseph Campbell outlined. He’s the guy who figured out that myths across different cultures -- and even modern epic stories such as Star Wars – have the same key plot points. Now we can add “Ryan and Elizabeth’s Grand Canyon hike” to that canon.

First, the call to adventure

Adventure awaits!
Naturally, for us, it was seeing the enormous gorge that plunges more than 6,000 feet. It’s obviously meant to be trekked or climbed or somehow experienced – not just seen from a distance. Otherwise, it’s just a “big hole with lots of rocks,” as Gena and John’s daughter Ellie described the Grand Canyon when she was three.

Granted, it was supposed to be 109 degrees down in the canyon on the day we decided to go. And yes, the trail is steep in places. And the occasional misstep could drop you several hundred feet. So there might have been some initial hesitance on Elizabeth’s part. But that’s what has to happen for heroes – an initial refusal of the call to adventure. It’s like when Luke Skywalker first ignores the instinct to help Princess Leia because he feels obligated to help Uncle Owen with the harvest.

Crossing the first threshold

Nevertheless, a reluctant Elizabeth and I set off from our cabin and down the Bright Angel Trail on Friday morning. The plan was to walk a couple miles down, then turn around -- and not to go the full six miles to the Colorado River, which the Grand Canyon folks strongly discourage doing in one day during the hot season.

But not even a mile into our hike, Elizabeth made it clear that she was not impressed. I think her exact words were: “OK, can we turn around now?” This was a bit worrisome because, at that point, we were still going downhill.

Initiation and road of trials

We pushed on. There were pictures to take.

Long way down. 
And all kinds of people of all ages were working their way up and down the trail. One guy was running it. Presumably he was going to run back up, but I really didn’t want to stick around to find out. Heroes don’t get lapped.

We did have to dodge other trail-blocking tourists with their selfie sticks, which really should be sold with companion self-awareness sticks to protect others – and sometimes the users themselves. One lady told us a ranger said 34 people died at the Grand Canyon the first year of the selfie stick and eight already fell to their deaths this year, she said. Those numbers don’t seem to be accurate, according to a review of news articles and a FiveThirtyEight analysis of Grand Canyon deaths.

In fact, it seems that environmental factors, such as dying of dehydration or extreme heat, is a bigger concern than falling, according to the authors of a Grand Canyon death book called “Over the Edge.” (What else would it be called?)

So it’s a good thing Elizabeth had us pack four bottles of water.

On we went, forging ahead past the 2-mile rest-stop. We had gone far enough that the condors that circle the canyon were now above us, though I couldn’t seem to figure out the camera’s manual settings fast enough to get decent snapshots of them.

But there was other wildlife to capture.

This little guy posed for the camera.
This bighorn sheep ran down the side of a cliff across the canyon from us.  Yay for the zoom lens. 

Woman as temptress

Elizabeth: Can we please turn around now?!?!?

Ryan: Just a little farther.

More trials

A few twists and turns beyond the 2-mile mark, Elizabeth’s cheeks began looking flushed. So we started heading the two-and-a-half miles back up. Straight up at some points, although we somehow were passed by a few people in their 70s because we kept stopping to rest. (I’m not complaining, I’m just sayin’ …)

Yep, that's a sign with a dude puking.

The ultimate boon

We achieved the goal of the quest and finally made it back to the top. We were not lapped by the runner. And we did the five-mile round trip in three hours.

Temptation away from the true path

OK, this one really doesn’t work if you take it literally. Neither of us was tempted to walk/fall off the trail.

Figuratively, though, Elizabeth did suggest several times that we should take a shuttle bus (a shuttle bus!?!?!) to one of the western points to watch the sunset.


This, according to Campbell is the point in which the hero realizes a greater understanding. For me and Elizabeth, I think it was the realization that flatter, shadier paths are a happy compromise.

So we agreed to start walking the rim path and perhaps catch a shuttle to the farthest lookout point.

Happy apotheosis!
The magic flight

After walking about three miles around the rim trail, we settled in to watch the sunset at the second-to-last watch point. That’s where I finally got my condor action shots (after about 40 tries).

I have a lot of crappy, blurry far-away shots, so this was the best I got. 

Without any clouds, the sunset was kind of a monochrome gold, rather than a burst of magentas, blues and lavenders, but overall it was good.

Refusal of the return

Elizabeth: Should we take the shuttle back?

Ryan: Nah, the line’s too long. Who wants to stand around like cattle. Let’s hoof it.

The crossing of the return threshold

Clearly, heroes aren’t always smart. We started walking the three miles back in the fast-fading light with the wildlife (coyotes?) lurking in the darkness. Shuttle buses kept passing us. And we returned to the village just as the final hues of twilight disappeared.

Freedom to live

This is where Campbell says the hero learns to live in the moment. No regrets. No fear. Just an epic blog post to write.

Also check out Elizabeth's more tragic take on our epic Grand Canyon experience. 

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