Can I just start off this Grand Canyon 2014 Series by saying this?
My kids *ROCKED* the Grand Canyon!!
I don’t think I could have been more proud of how well they did. If you’ve never hiked all the way down to the bottom and back up, you can’t comprehend the scale of their accomplishment. What they did was not easy, and while the path we took was easier than my first trip there, I trained for months and went on several grueling practice hikes to prepare. Thanks to our busy schedule, they did this with virtually no preparation. We just threw them in the fire and they walked through it and came out triumphant on the other side.
When I returned to work yesterday, a co-worker asked me how it went. In the course of the discussion, she shared a conversation she had with another co-worker, an avid backpacker. The backpacker expressed shock and doubt that we had actually taken our kids with us. “And they went all the way to the bottom? With the kids?!” Her genuine surprise was so intense that my friend began to doubt her recollection of our plans.
My kids, particularly little Hal, impressed a number of people on the trail too. They would see him trucking along and smile, then ask how old he is. He’s tall so most people tend to think he’s a little older than he is. When we’d say he’s five, they’d look shocked. And impressed. Any my momma heart would swell with pride.
That’s not to say there weren’t difficulties along the way. Anyone who thinks a five year old can hike for seven miles in a single day, regardless of terrain, without whining at least a little bit or shedding a few tears, is quite simply delusional.
We arrived at Grand Canyon National Park after dark the night before we were to hit the trail. As a result, none of the kids had a sense of what we were getting into when we packed up our tents the next morning. We drove to the Visitor Center, parked the car, slung our packs on our backs, and ran to catch the bus that would take us to the trail head.
Their first view of the canyon came through the bus windows. Jane’s jaw dropped and she uttered a sincere, awe-struck “Whoa.” The Grand Canyon is indeed something on a scale that you cannot come close to appreciating through pictures.
Once off the bus, we checked everyone’s packs, loaded up, and started down the South Kaibab trail. The start of the trip was filled with continued exclamations of “this is awesome”, “this is so awesome”, “look at that!”, “do you see how far down it is?!”, “this is so awesome!”, “are we going all the way down there?”.
Within 15 minutes (yes, I was timing it), we got our first “I want to take a break!” from dear little Hal. No, honey, we can’t stop yet. We still have a long way to go today.
He accepted that and we continued on. You know, people with kids tend to get irritated when childless pet owners follow up their tale of something cute that Johnny did with a story about how Skipper did exactly the same thing with his water dish. But here’s the deal. I’m both a parent and a pet owner and I can tell you without a doubt: They really are almost the same. Seriously. The primary difference is that kids grow up and move out while pets stay dependent until the end.
Hal reminded me of a dog excited to go on a walk with his owner. He zigzagged across the trail, jumped down from the little steps built in to make it easier to descend, even waved his arms around, covering twice the distance of those of us just walking down the trail. He often did this while claiming he needed a break.
When we would stop for one of those breaks, the other two would sling off their packs and sink down on a nearby rock, grabbing snacks and water. I’d look up from the water bottle to see Hal, the requester of the break, the person who simply could not walk another step, climbing the nearby rocks. Getting him to sit down during the breaks was near impossible. I can only assume that he wasn’t tired so much as he was bored with the walking.
Eventually, though, his fatigue would show through. It would come as an explosive reaction to something seemingly minor and he’d continue down the trail in full-blown crying preschooler mode. There were several different triggers: Sissy is leading and I want to lead; Bubba just passed me and I didn’t want him to; I just stubbed my toe on a rock; and my personal favorite, I’m sweating which means I’ll have to take a shower tonight and I don’t want to! That one was easily solved once I determined he was afraid he’d have to shower. “No one is showering tonight Hal. It’s ok. No showers til we get back out. I promise.”
I always wondered what the people we encountered while he was in this state thought about us. I wondered if they thought we were bad parents for hauling this obviously too young kid down into the canyon. But he wasn’t too young. He had a blast. He would have had the exact same meltdowns at Disney World, just slightly different triggers. And it’s notable that he continued to walk while crying. He never once dropped down and refused to go on.
The day we hiked out on the Bright Angel trail was the true challenge for everyone. Jane and Daryl had rashes on their inner thighs, making it uncomfortable to walk. As we got closer to the top, the sun came out yet the cold wind blew. Everyone kept walking though. Especially Hal, who beat us out. He, with those short little legs, and his dad left the rest of us in their dust. The other two started stopping frequently and I’d encourage them to keep going. “You’ve got to push through. Don’t sit down. The more you walk, the sooner you are out. You can do this.”
I told Jane this morning how proud I was of her. She didn’t want to go on this trip, yet she didn’t complain. She stayed in good spirits despite the rash and the blister on her heel and the sore ankles and muscles. I told her she was a strong woman. “Not everyone can do what you did this week,” I said. “That was a significant accomplishment. It’s not easy at all to hike out of the canyon.”
“It’s not like I had a choice,” she replied. “I kind of had to do it.”
“True,” I said. “But it could have taken you a lot longer. We hiked 4 1/2 miles uphill in 4 hours. That was great. You knew you had to climb out so you got it done. It could have taken all day. You could have taken a 5-10 minute break for every few minutes of hiking. You could have sat on a rock and refused to budge. But you didn’t. You pushed through. You all did. I am so proud of you.”
And I truly am. Our trip went so much better than we even hoped for. My kids can do anything they set their minds to. They *rocked* the canyon.