Living the List: The Grand Canyon

I have this list of brave and bold adventures I do in honor of my late husband, Mitch. My list has evolved since his death in 2009 and with my marriage to my husband Keith it has become even more adventurous than before. This list is a way I honor my past while moving boldly into my future. By completing this list, I claim my life as my own and live with a desire never to give up after a devastating loss. I also use the experiences as a chance to show my kids who their Dad in Heaven was. I also use these moments to show them what LIVING can look like for those of us who ar10416925_10202201014086846_493221585_ne still here on this earth. My Mitch loved life and by living his list, and more importantly MY list….I pay tribute to that love.

October three years ago we set out to hike Rim to Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon. We trained for the strenuous 48 miles (round trip) hike, and we carefully planned hotels and gear.  Each day would be close to 25 miles and while I knew it would be a mental test more than anything…the physical aspect did have me slightly concerned. We planned to go regardless because fear is not something I let stop me in my life. We checked in at the Yavasupi Lodge, and the gentlemen behind the desk asked us our plans.  We told he we were planning to hike R2R2R and leave the next day, and he informed us that there was an excellent chance the park would shut down the next day due to the government shutdown.

I laughed.

Seriously?

The government does not shut down the Grand Canyon and certainly not when I am completing a bucket list dream.

I was wrong.

We watched the news late into the night and when we awoke the next 1381287_10200704626198084_2003384613_nday we realized the government had shut down indeed, and the Rangers were sweeping the trails and making people turn around.  I was devastated. How could all of this planning and dreaming end with this?  It didn’t seem real or possible. After about an hour I decided I was not going to give up my chance to Live the List for that year, and we jumped in the car and drove to Durango Colorado and ended up hiking our first 14er, Mt. Sneffles. It was on the long car ride to Colorado that in the silence I ended up hearing the words “Live the List” and the idea of our nonprofit was born. It seems my bad luck at the Grand Canyon and the ensuing drive gave me the clarity of mind to figure out something I had dreamed of doing for so many years. I believe through every unfortunate circumstances we can find growth and a new opportunity for life.

Fast forward to last week when we headed back to the Grand Canyon for our second shot at the Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim hike. This time, the government was not threatening to shut down, and I trained even harder than three years ago and felt somewhat prepared for what was next, even though I’m not sure you can ever really be completely prepared for the vastness of the canyon. I was determined to check this adventure finally off my bucket list and experience the Canyon from Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim.

Just like three years ago, the universe had other plans for us, and I’ve learned sometimes we have to learn to take our lumps and keep on going anyway.

Despite our best-la13139321_10208413510068682_5594780891780432732_nid plans, we ran into another set of speed bumps that would prove to be somewhat problematic. We shipped some of our gear ahead of time because we had a conference in Austin the week before and we didn’t want to travel with all that stuff. The stuff didn’t show at our lodge in Arizona. We probably could have pushed forward with the gear we did have, but the next roadblock was the weather. On one hand, the weather could not have been more desirable for hiking the canyon. The day we set off it was forecast to be 55 degrees HIGH at the South Rim. While that sounds cold, it was very favorable canyon hiking conditions as often the bottom is 25-40 degrees warmer than the rim. However, the North Rim and the South Rim were forecasting snow for the day 13139342_10206510702906373_8933359760297355622_nwe planned to camp, and we were NOT prepared for winter camping. We thought about renting or buying more gear, we thought about waiting another day, but time was not on our side, and we opted to try Rim to River instead.
The South Rim to the Colorado River is still a fantastic feat that many don’t recommend you do in a single day. I had hiked it with my Dad twenty years ago, and I remember how difficult it can be. We knew the weather was definitely on our side, and we knew our fitness level was up to the task, so we switched our plans. We packed a fair amount of water, lots of snacks and went to bed ready for a full day of hiking.

I was disappointed but unlike three years ago I’ve grown and learned so much. I’ve learned that just because things don’t go as planned does not mean I don’t Live the List or honor Mitch. It just means life had other plans for me, and even greater dreams can be born from disappointments.
We woke up at 4:15 k13139221_10206510702106353_3866958056430293951_nnow that the sun would come up around 5:22 am.  We walked from our room to the visitor center about 1/2 a mile away on the South Rim.  After a short shuttle ride we headed down the South Kaibab Trail. It was cold when we started, around 39 degrees and I was layered up. We opted to start on South Kaibab because it’s shorter than Bright Angel and offers the best views of the canyon. It’s always wise to go down South Kaibab EARLY as the trail offers little to no shade, no water stations but some incredible vistas. We enjoyed our way down taking a ton of photos and moving quickly but still trying to enjoy the journey. With our plan to only do Rim to River, I’m not sure why we were moving so fast, we had plenty of time. The switchbacks down South Kaibab were intense and a little hard on the knees. I have a particularly bad left knee and was feeling the pain by the time we reached the river.13118879_10206510700666317_5359054285038656894_n

As we came around the corner and I saw the mighty Colorado I had a few tears swell up in my eyes. I revisited the two times I had rafted the canyon with Mitch and recalled just how much he loved that trip and this canyon. Healing is not neat and pretty, and it’s not linear or perfect, but it’s an entirely human experience of personal growth and deep reflection. Here I was, all these years later LIVING just like Mitch would want me to do. He’d tell me to get after it, to get busy and to leave no stone unturned. I do this for Mitch, but more importantly, I do this for our children and for me. I also do it for my new love and to honor the life I have created. Early in my relationship with Keith I often felt like I was living in parallel universes but sometime a few years ago that shifted and I feel as though I reside happily in today (more on that in another blog).  The lower we sank into the canyon, the more reflective I became but also, the more empowered to do the things in life I’ve set out to do.

13071971_10208428597965870_8415416526673160940_oWe arrived at Phantom Ranch, the famous hotel at the bottom of the canyon around 9:15 am. The weather could not have been more perfect and at this point we both felt great. We talked to the gentleman inside the lodge, and he encouraged us to see if we could make it to Ribbon Falls. I’ve seen countless photos of Ribbon Falls, and it was one of the sights along the trail that I was most excited to see. We rested about 30 minutes and after a little deliberation, we opted to try and make it all the way to Ribbon from Phantom, approximately 8 miles each way by the time we got all the way up to the falls. We set a turn around time for 12 pm and headed into the “box” part of the canyon. I’m going to be honest; I did the math in my head, and I knew that if we made it to Ribbon Falls, it was going to make for a VERY long day back.

The tra13165834_10206510705066427_6783412997507383161_nil between Phantom and Ribbon Falls is gorgeous and on any typical day would have been miserable due to heat. However, we were experiencing nearly perfect weather for the bottom of the canyon and the landscape that laid out before us was exquisite. It’s in this part of the canyon where you become
boxed in, and the well-maintained path made it an even better experience. I’ve hiked all over, and I must say that the trail system that runs the Grand Canyon, from South Kaibab to North Kaibab to Bright Angel is some of the best around. I give so much credit to the trail crews that maintain that beast of a trail. This was the part of the hike where it hit me that we needed to slow down and enjoy the journey more. We were moving at such a rapid pace and with nightfall as our timeline we couldn’t risk slowing down. Our goal at this point had been adjusted, for the third time in as man13139100_10206510705386435_1370041072521683334_ny days, from Rim to Rim to Rim, to Rim to River and finally to Rim to Ribbon Falls to Rim.

We had set a turn around time of noon, and our goal at this point was to see those falls. We figured that noon would get us back to Phantom by 2 and out of the canyon just before dark around 7 pm. Noon came, and we found ourselves about 3/4 of a mile to Ribbon Falls. Neither Keith nor I were prepared to stop just shy of the falls so we quickly pressed on knowing we may risk hiking out in the darkness. We were equipped with headlamps and both Keith, and I are pretty experienced hikers, so why this may not have been our smartest choice, we weren’t about to back down. About 20 minutes later we arrived at the falls I and I knew at that moment we were in for a VERY long afternoon. At this point we had hiked over 18 miles in just around seven hours and my knees were starting to feel it. The total hike day one of South Rim to North Rim would have been 24 miles so to say we were attempting a feat is a major understatement.

13166080_10206510705586440_2461843825878019712_nThe falls were GORGEOUS and worth the time and energy it took to reach them. I don’t regret the choice we made, my only regret is that we didn’t get to stay longer and enjoy them…. take the beauty in. If you ever get the chance to see Ribbon Falls, I suggest you either do a day hike from the North Rim (at this point we were 13139221_10206510708666517_314727096702049846_nMUCH closer to the North Rim than the South Rim) OR hike to Phantom and stay and do a day hike from the ranch. Incredible beauty…the entire hike is stunning. My photos don’t don’t the falls any justice!

At this point, it was around 1 pm, and we decided we’d better hurry back. We started down more like trail runners than hikers. In fact, we ran into a group of women runner who were indeed running Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim all in one day. I have incredible respect for anyone attempting that monumental task! The hike miles back to Phantom went quickly at our pace and we arrive back around 2:30.  We rested and talked to a few people for about 20 minutes and then we decided we’d better get going so we could beat the darkness.

When you hike the canyon most people will tell you to hike down South Kaibab (like we did) and out Bright Angel due to shade and water availability. Bright Angel is approximately 10 miles from the river, 3 miles longer than South Kaibab and in hindsight we would have been fine going out South Kaibab on such a chilly day, but we opted to take the longer, less steep route out given how far we’d already hiked that day.

I’m not sure that was the best idea!!

13177209_10206510708426511_2024040846066306146_nLet me start by saying the two trails are VASTLY different. South Kaibab offers stunning canyon views and is pretty steep. Bright Angel is more shaded, less extreme, longer and equally beautiful in a very different ways. We followed the stream most of the way and usually had nice tree cover. The Indian Garden part of the trail is so pretty. I wish we could have sat for hours and just enjoyed the view. Time was not on our side, so we didn’t have that luxury. We kept a solid pace, and the weather was cool but we clearly had not had enough calories given the hike we had undertaken. We started to slow down and even had several moments of dizziness and extreme fatigue. At 4.5 miles from the South Rim it was 5:30 pm and we ran into a ranger. She talked to us for several minutes, and she seemed to be evaluating our health and ability to make the last stretch of the canyon. She felt we were fine, and we pressed on.13164412_10206510706026451_9111514545847697518_n

Let me tell you right now that the next 4.5 miles were the LONGEST 4.5 miles of my entire life. Keith and I are AVID hikers who live at elevation, and we hike often, we LOVE hiking and at that point, I NEVER wanted to hike again…EVER. Heck, I’m not sure I ever wanted to see the Grand Canyon again! We hit the 3-mile marker (3 miles to go), and I nearly cried. I figured we had already gone three plus more! We continued, putting one foot in front of the other, even in considerable pain (talk about a metaphor for life and grief) and with 1.5 miles to go we had lost the sun, and it had started to rain/sleet on us. It was miserable, excruciating and humbling. Finally, we came around a switchback and saw the light of the Ranch that sits above Bright Angel. I’ve never been so happy to see the light in my entire life. The light gave me the extra power I needed to finish and we finally emerged from the canyon at 8 pm, a little battered, bruised and depleted.

As we walked to the bus stop in the cold and rain, I felt such relief that we got out of the Canyon safely AND that we accomplished such a big hike in just one day. I always tell you guys that your mind will give out long before your body ever will, and I proved that to myself yet again with this adventure. 38 miles was a test of my will and my spirit, and I survived to become stronger and better for my next big test.

One thing I continue to learn in this life is that for me I need to slow down and focus more on the journey rather than the destination. This life is not a race. We don’t have to ARRIVE quickly at our destination especially if it means we don’t take in the beauty of our surroundings. The journ13087651_10206511726011950_3437572734243084651_ney shapes the traveler and with any luck, the traveler just might cause a ripple that shapes those around. I also relearned the importance of staying flexible with plans in this life. We can do everything right and still have a curve ball thrown our way, but if we make the most of the moment and keep our attitude strong it will make the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.

My guess is we will go back a third time and try again. This time, I plan to make it a week long trip with several night of stops at Phantom, Cottonwood, and the North Rim. What’s the hurry? Seeing something that beautiful should take time.

 

In total, we ended up hiking/moving just over 38 miles (over 80,000 steps) for 15 hours and burned over 14,000 calories!  Phew!

Disclaimer: Hiking the Grand Canyon, especially in one day to any turn around spot can be incredibly dangerous. Please do ample research, take plenty of water, understand the HEAT is what kills people and take plenty of food. Be prepared to be stuck overnight, just in case and please enjoy the journey. It’s a stunning one.

Michelle

More about Live the List Nonprofit

The Live the List Nonprofit (formally the One Fit Widow nonprofit) is a 501c3 organization dedicated to helping widows and widowers live well after a loss.

To donate go to https://www.livethelistnonprofit.org/donate/

To apply for a wish to be granted go to https://www.livethelistnonprofit.org/live-the-list/

If you have questions you can email: info@livethelistnonprofit.org

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