Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"One Step Closer..."

It's my own fault really. Sometimes I take on more than I can handle. So it was on a recent one day trip to Sedona. I originally wanted to make it a two day camping trip - but the campsite I had my eye on wasn't taking on any more campers - and so I chose another trail to walk - so to speak. I had been on this trail before - but it was many moons ago - and frankly - I was younger then and in much better shape. So as I started out with a heavy pack - my intuition clocked in and nudged me that I should maybe NOT do this...but did I listen? Nope. I trudged on. And on. And on. After about 4 hours of hiking - and getting low on water with no water to be found in the canyon I was in (I carry a water purifier) my intuition yelled at me to "Turn around!" This time I was listening and did exactly that. Now I was looking at another 4-5 hours of strenuous hiking - most of it uphill - and I remember thinking "This is a nightmare!"

Luckily I had two large grapefruits with me - so before I started the trek back I took a break and and gobbled one quickly - I also had plenty of food and peeled a hard boiled egg and devoured that. I then hoisted the heavy pack and started up once again - my shoulders crying out from the weight of the pack. My leg muscles shaking with the effort...

I knew it was going to be brutal - but what else could I do but continue. I remember once before while hiking in the McDowells in the Fountain Hills, AZ area - I sort of ran into the same thing. I wasn't truly prepared for the 16 mile hike I had set out on - and I was wearing new hiking boots and with 4 miles to go my feet were screaming bloody murder from the blisters developing but the only thing I could do was to continue. It is at these times that we come face to face with who we are and the strength of our will to live. How far will one go to continue living? As far as is necessary.

There was a film on public TV a few years ago called "Touching the Void" - about two mountain climbers and how one falls down a chasm after breaking a leg and how he literally crawls back to camp over the course of a couple of days - the film is mesmerizing and all the more so because it is a TRUE story. The will to live is quite the taskmaster.

Now I want to make clear that at no time was I ever in REAL danger. I knew I had enough food and water to make it back to the trailhead - I just knew it was going to be brutal - stop and go hiking. You know...go a few steps - stop - rest - and continue like that - especially on the uphill parts of the trail. It's important to reward oneself for working hard, and so I planned to reward myself with a big rest when I knew that I had traversed two thirds of the trail. Indeed - I told myself that I would stop at the next big rock that presented itself when I reached that point. So imagine my delight when a big ol' rock, large enough to lie down on, presented itself to me AND was shaded from the heat of the Arizona sun. The universe at times DOES cooperate!

I gleefully shucked the heavy pack and broke out more food. I wet my bandana and wrapped it around my head - sheer delight as the evaporation started cooling me immediately. I checked my cell phone - which oddly enough was working and sent my sister a picture of myself so she would know I was OK. I drank more water and electrolyte replacement drink - ate two more hard boiled eggs - and lay down on the inviting rock. The hard surface was surprisingly comfortable and I almost dozed off with the sound of the wind, the birds, and the cicadas.

The rest, food, and water revived me - and as I started on the last leg of the journey - I remembered my trip to Havasupai years ago. The Havasupai reservation is a desert oasis here in AZ - the reservation is on land which is part of the Grand Canyon - and the beauty of the place is magical - clear turquoise blue/green waters and absolutely gorgeous waterfalls. BUT the tribe voted years ago not to have any roads built into the main village of Supai. So the only way to get to this Arizona paradise is to either hike the ten miles in or hire the locals to give you a horseback ride. It took me 6 hours to hike the 10 miles to the Havasupai campground. It took me 9 hours to hike out - and as I was hiking out I saw a family on their way back to Supai starting the long trek in. I smiled and said to them, "How are you doing?" The woman with her two children looked at me and simply said, "Getting one step closer." And those were the words I kept repeating to myself as I struggled to end my own private hell - feet and shoulders screaming for relief. With each step I took I knew I was getting closer.

I would like to think that everyday, in everything we do, we are all getting one step closer.