What goes down, must come up!

  1. When something isn’t working for you, switch to something that does – use whatever is available or presents itself in that moment. 

Day one was a 7-mile hike down to the floor of the Grand Canyon. I had worn my hiking boots many times before so they were good and broken in. However, about 5 miles into the hike, I started to experience pain on my right inside ankle bone. The angle of the descent, and my unusual stride due to muddy, sometimes icy and slick terrain had my boot rubbing on my ankle in such a way that it became bruised. Before long each step was unbearable.

I tried re-tying my boots in several different ways. Taking breaks. Even slipping my foot partially out of the boot and hiking with my heel flattening the back side. That option offered my ankle bone relief, but quickly caused issues in other areas – my back, knees, calf and quadriceps. All of which I needed to finish that day’s descent, let alone the 9.5 mile hike out the next day.

When I couldn’t take it anymore, I sat down, removed my 40-pound back pack and considered my options. There was only one really. I had packed a brand spanking new, shiny, unblemished pair of running shoes to put on once we reached camp – as a respite for my feet.  They had insufficient tread for the terrain, and little to no ankle support. But it was either that, debilitating pain, or bare feet.

My choice was clear.

If it wasn’t for the “what you pack in, you pack out” hikers pledge and Grand Canyon policy, I might have hurled my mud and clay packed hiking boots over the edge of a cliff.

So tempting!

But instead I beat my wretched boots together incessantly, removing as much debris – and weight – from them as I could. And strapped them to the back of my pack. I christened my pristine, sparkling new running shoes by strapping on a pair of YakTrax to ensure sufficient traction, and continued my descent.

One way to know you’ve clearly made a great choice: it solves a problem – and feels so damn good! 

I wore those tennis shoes the rest of the way down and all the way out of the canyon the next day. They received a rigorous washing when we arrived home. And they are officially my favorite shoes!

The irony is that I had spent the entire week before the trip lecturing my son for not breaking in his brand-new hiking shoes – he needs new shoes about every 3 months due to his exponential growth!  He had ZERO issues with his shoes. (Don’t think he didn’t make that point known.)

    2. Figure out what you want most – in that moment – and do whatever it takes to get there.

My son did have his own challenges however. To be expected, considering he was a 14-year-old young man attempting something that only 1% of the 6 million people who visit the Grand Canyon each year are brave (or crazy) enough to attempt.

He was a champion the first day, descending 4,780 feet in elevation, covering 7 miles. Just to offer you some perspective, there is not a single flat surface from the rim until you reach the bridge that crosses the Colorado river at the bottom – exemplifying the phrase, “It’s all downhill from here.”

And if you’ve never hiked, walked or ran at a steep decline, you should know that it’s much harder on your joints and muscles than climbing at an incline.

That evening at camp, it dawned on me as my own muscles started to tighten and ache, that rolling out of our tiny beds in the bunk house the next morning could prove to be interesting – and maybe even a game-ender for my son.

There’s nothing quite like taking that first step the day after you’ve asked your body to perform some enormous physical feat. It usually involves some element of shock and crying out loud or cussing. Followed by a desperate attempt by your brain to make sense of how you’re going to even live through that next day, let alone take another step. Or how about thousands of steps, with a heavy pack on your back for 8 to 10 hours straight.

It’s in those moments that you have to have a real heart to heart with your brain – reminding it that it is in charge of your body and has the power to determine what happens next.

We had no choice but to hike up and out of the canyon the next day, gaining 4,380 in elevation over the course of 9.5 miles – not for the faint of heart.

A holiday weekend, rangers were not on duty, and a mule or helicopter rescue could take up to 3 days – information we learned from another hiker who was contemplating any other option but painfully hiking out that next day.

Luckily, after a quick breakfast to fuel our minds and muscles, my son was all too anxious to get started. So we set off on our trek before the sun had even risen over the tallest walls of the canyon.

The terrain on the way up and out of the canyon was a little more shaded and gradual, covering less incline over more miles. We made several stops along the way – taking in the scenery – constantly reminded of how fortunate we were to be having this experience – and more importantly, having it together.

It wasn’t until the last 2 ½ miles of that day’s trek that my son started to both mentally and physically break down.  It’s at this point that the trail really begins to climb. We scaled the canyon wall on switchbacks that slowly but surely release you to the top rim of the canyon where other tourists look at you in horror – as they realize you just came from the bottom of this monstrous, gaping hole in the ground.

Several times in that final couple of hours he sat down – holding back tears – ready to be done. Verbalizing his distaste and anguish out of frustration and exhaustion.

I’m not as brutal of a mother as I may seem. My son actually requested to make this trip when he was 11 years old. We were visiting the canyon, hiking just a mile or two in and out from the south rim. He saw the hikers with their packs as the continued on down into the canyon, beyond our view and he was hooked. I promised him we would come back and do it someday.

When he was 13, I decided it was time. But when I called to reserve a space at the only boarding at the bottom of the canyon, Phantom Ranch, I discovered they were booking a year out in advance.

So here we were, a year later. As I looked at my 14-year-old son – understanding his pain and mental battles in that moment (because I had put myself through them so many times before in my own life) –  I knew the time had come.

My young son was now a young man. And he was about to learn a really important lesson.

Sometimes your only choice is to put one foot in front of the other and keep on moving.

“Nobody can carry you this time – namely me. There’s no one to come rescue us. You can’t just quit and sit there. It’s going to get dark, and cold as the day moves on – and we don’t have the gear to survive those conditions – on the open face of windy canyon wall – for very long.”

As we sat on a huge rock – my son gathering his composure and determination – I assured him. I was in this with him until the end. We could stop, stretch and rest as often as he needed. He could cry, cuss, bitch, moan, laugh, sing – whatever it took. And he could set the pace. But the fact of the matter was, the only way out of that canyon was to walk ourselves out. And the more we kept moving, the quicker we would get to the top.

I used the promise of food (specifically a cheeseburger), a hot shower, foot rub, a comfortable bed and sleeping in as long as he wanted the next morning to entice him.

At a certain point, what my son wanted more than anything was to be off his feet, out of that canyon.

And I wanted it for him too.

But the only way to get what we wanted was to do what had to be done.

So after 8 hours of hiking that day we reached the top rim of the Grand Canyon.

My son learned – and I was reminded – that no matter how much you want something, it’s not yours for the taking unless you know how bad you want it and you’re willing to put one foot in front of the other and do what it takes to get it.

What do you really want – at all costs? Share in the comments below. Naming it is the key to making it happen. And then it’s just a matter of taking one-step and the next, and so-on.

Don’t get caught up in obstacles. They may exist simply to make the path you choose more clear. The importance does not lie in HOW you get there. Only that you do!

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