Friday, October 23, 2009

Grand Canyon: Day 2, Part 2

After hearing Carol’s story, I realized that she did not just need my help for a little way, she really needed my help for the entire hike. I had prayed to G-d for someone to hike with, and he had provided me with an opportunity to serve.

I borrowed a pen and paper from Carol, and while she sat and rested, I ran the half mile to catch up with Marian.

“Do you need us to get a ranger!?” she yelled as I approached.
“No!” I shouted back, “But she is going to need my help the rest of the way, so I wanted to get your and your dad’s email addresses because I think you are very interesting people.”

I got her to scribble down the addresses, and began to head back down the trail as her dad called from around the bend for her to catch up. That was the last I saw of Marian and her father.

I spent the rest of the morning hiking with Carol, stopping every hundred yards for her to let her heart calm down. We talked about all kinds of things that morning. She told me stories about her daughters, and her ex-husband. She told me about her eccentric friend Ken, who lived in Ashville, NC and owned a motorcycle, sail plane, and a goat. She told me about her desire to go to Africa, which she did, and about how she had just signed up for the Peace Corps after being laid off from her job.

Before we new it, it was 11:00 and we had made it to Indian Gardens, a beautiful micro-forest where the NPS located a pump house which actually pumps water up hill to the rim lodges. Indian Garden is a much busier location than Phantom Ranch, so I spent several hours just sitting in the shade by the water fountain, talking to different hikers as they came through.

I started to get really excited as I talked to a spread out group from Intel. There were 28 of them doing their second rim to rim day hike in the last week. They started out on the South Rim, and hiked across to the North Rim a few days before, and after some resting and a little partying, they were crossing back to their vehicles on the South Rim.

Each of the hikers wore fancy synthetic cloths, a green wrist band, and some tags to identify them. They also carried radios and an assortment of snacks in their lightweight Camelbacks, miniature backpacks with built in drinking bladders. Most of them had hiked the Grand Canyon before, and were trying to meet personal goals as far as hiking time, which ranged from barely over five hours to about fourteen hours to make the rim to rim crossing.

I wanted to hike out at that point, but I was not willing to leave Carol behind, and I already had a permit to camp for the night, so I made do by enjoying the creek for a while, finishing Searching for G-d Knows What, and hiking out to Plateau Point where another hiker found a small rattlesnake. Indian Gardens was a very friendly place, and I was able to talk to a lot of cool people including Christine, a 40 year old geographer from Colorado/Wyoming.

Finally it was time to sleep, so I made my way to my campsite for the worst night of sleep I have had in weeks. There was a very cold wind blowing all night. For those of you who don’t know, wind passes right through fleece and almost completely negates its effectiveness as insulation, which is probably why there is such a huge market for “wind-stopper fleece”. In addition to the unexpected cold and wind, mice crawled all over my sleeping bag throughout the night. At least, I assume they were mice. They could have been tarantulas…

To Be Continued…

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Grand Canyon: Day 2, Part 1

I woke up early the next morning. My little fleece mummy bag was more than warm enough, and I slept well after making a pillow out of my shirt. I am not a breakfast person, but I somehow managed to force down four delicious packs of strawberry oatmeal before setting out on the trail around 6:30.

Before I even made it out of Phantom Ranch, I found my first bit of company on the trail. Two does and two fauns blocked my path for about ten minutes as they casually grazed just ten paces away from where I stood. There is something extremely peaceful about mornings at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The weather is warm, but not hot. The people camping next to me barely stirred as they slept off last night’s revelries. I could really feel the presence of the L-rd in that quiet place.

Shortly after crossing the Colorado River on Bright Angel trail, I encountered another pair of Hikers, a father and daughter hiking the Grand Canyon together. The father is a surgeon, originally from the Middle East, but now living outside Washington D.C., and the daughter, Marian, is a fifth year senior, studying physiology in Los Angeles. It was the daughter’s first serious hike, but as we walked she asked my advice about other hikes in different national parks that I would recommend. She talked about forcing her friends to do more of this kind of thing, and also about a triathlon that she wanted to compete in with her friends.

For the next mile and a half we walked together, discussing travel, bikes, jobs, and anything else that came up. Her father had a lot of good advice about not wasting time.

“If you don’t know what to do, just try something. Then you will know if you want to do that or not.”
“Time is the most precious thing that we have.”
“Life is like a one hundred dollar bill. If I gave you a hundred dollars, you would spend the first ten carelessly, but you would be very careful about how you spent the last ten. You should spend the entire one hundred as carefully as you spend the last ten.”

I was really enjoying my new hiking companions, not to mention Marian was very beautiful, but it seems that G-d had a different hiking companion in mind for me. After about a mile and a half, we met up with Carol, a lady that I had met in the campground earlier. Carol looked like she really needed some help, so after talking to her for a moment, I offered to help her carry her bag for a little way. Carol is in her sixties, and was having a very hard time forcing herself to eat and drink so the going was slow.

After a short time, I told Marian and her father to go on, that I would catch up with them later. Me and Carol continued to hike for quite some time while she told me her story.

“I read all of the literature before I came out here. Everything that I read said that normal people can make the hike down the Grand Canyon and back. I figured, I am in good shape, why couldn’t I do that? So I spent some time talking to different people who were doing the hike, some overweight, some very old, and I thought, surely if they can do it, I can do it, so I set out with my backpack, some snacks and water, a jacket, and my hat.

“Twelve hours later, I was finally in sight of the bridge crossing the Colorado River, but I absolutely could not go on! I sat there, in sight of the bridge, for a long time until a couple came by. Their names were Angie and Jake, and they gave me some water. Then Jake helped me to walk, while Angie force fed me trail mix. Finally I arrived at Phantom Ranch where the rangers put me in a bunk house.

“I slept all of Saturday and Sunday, occasionally trying to eat a few bites of whatever they were serving in the canteen. Ranger Mandy asked me what I had been able to eat, and I told her I was able to eat the eggs they served at breakfast, so she scrambled me a bunch of delicious eggs, then later, ranger Ed gave me a bag full of snacks and Gatorade, and told me that if I could stand and talk, I could hike out.

“Ed told me to start very early in the morning and to hike as far as Indian Garden where he would give me a place to sleep, and a camp stove so I could have a hot meal. He told me not to worry about the hike, that he would pass me on the way up, and that there would be 180 other hikers out that day who would help me. And here I am”

To Be Continued…

Monday, October 19, 2009

Grand Canyon: Day 1, Part 2

If the South Kaibab Trail is a desert, Phantom Ranch is paradise. The Ranch is located in a long valley, shaded by trees and covered in lush grass and cattails. The campsite is kept green by a series of shallow irrigation ditches, and the main channel of the creek is full of small dams and pools for hikers to “swim” in. There is also an impressive array of wildlife for such a small area including a grey fox, mule deer, skunks, rats, scorpions, ravens, and fish.

The strangest thing about hiking the Grand Canyon so far has been the huge amounts of “forced relaxation”. The climate is such that you have to take a long break in the middle of the day, from 10:00 till 4:00, to avoid heat exhaustion. I am used to having more down time when I hike, but 6 hours was downright boring!

I spent much of that time reading in the creek. I got most of the way through Searching For G-d Knows What, a book by Donald Miller that is vaguely about evangelism and the message of scriptures.

If I met Donald Miller in person, I don’t think we would get along. I think that he would strike me as lazy, politically inflammatory, and kinda stupid. On the other hand, I love how Donald Miller writes, and I think that most of his work is very good in that it makes people think and it brings spirituality into real life. Even though I doubt we would get along, I highly recommend all of Miller’s books that I have read, including Blue Like Jazz, Through Painted Deserts, and Searching For G-d Knows What.

When I was not reading that book, I was reading Psalms. I have been working my way through Psalms since I left the JH Ranch, and reviewing my Wilderness First Responder handbook.

Man’s Search for Meaning

I have been wrestling with my future for the entirety of my road trip. Every place I go seems to reveal something new that I want to pursue. It is amazing to me that G-d can give me so many different interests!

Through my experience with the druggie in Vancouver G-d showed me an entire world of poor and homeless people who have no one to listen to them and actually care what they have to say (as incoherent as it often is). I really want to love them.

Reading Donald Miller’s work reminded me of the kinds of missions work that I feel passionate about. I want to help people in areas with severe need, such as the sex slaves of S.E. Asia, the AIDs patients and orphans of Africa and South America, and really any kind of pressing need anywhere.

Passing through Eugene, OR made me realize how much I want to go back to school and get a PhD.

Traveling through the National Parks, and talking to ranger Ed and ranger Mandy have really showed me how much I need to work in nature and have a flexible job. Talking with them has me considering seasonal work with the NPS (National Park Service). There are actually many people who work for the NPS seasonally and draw unemployment in the off season (a practice that I find unethical). I have always been under the impression that it was extremely difficult to get NPS jobs, but talking with Ed and Mandy has me very encouraged. I would love to work for part of the year and do missions work for the remainder.

A Mule and a Shot Block

One thing that you quickly learn while hiking the Grand Canyon is that most people are extremely friendly. For example, the people camping next to me invited me over to hand out and enjoy a drink with them, for no reason other than that I was backpacking alone.

They were really interesting people, if a bit sketchy. They came from all over the U.S. but currently they all live in Flagstaff, AZ. The guy who sat directly next to me is a cab driver, and spent most of the evening drunkenly telling me about hunting, cooking elk meat, and how I should not travel to third world countries because of the land mines.

I was amused to learn that, not only had they brought down a ton of food and alcohol, but they purchased a block of ice at the ranch so that they could make their own shot block, a sort of ice slide for your alcoholic beverage of choice. Even though I am a very moderate drinker and have not been drunk, I still find drunken people to be entertaining, especially when they are located a mile deep in a crack in the earth.

I sat and talked with these guys until 7:30 when a short interpretive program, lead by ranger Mandy, got my attention. It was mostly a question and answer session, which was surprisingly interesting, but the best part was the scorpion hunt at the end. Apparently, all of the scorpions at Phantom Ranch glow green under a black light. It was fun to see all of the little eight legers running around just before I went to sleep on the ground with no tent.