1977: Lillian and I were joined for a hiking trip down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon by my sister Teri, brother Dan, lifelong friend Gary, his girlfriend of that era Carol, and Gary’s sister Katie. Our goal was to camp out at Porter Ranch and soak our feet in the muddy Colorado River. Lillian’s and my parents made the ten-hour trip to the South Rim from Los Angeles to encourage us. Gary and Katie’s Mom came along as well. I’m sure it was mostly for Katie’s sake. I remember everyone waking up early for Easter Service and looking out over the rim as the sun came up. “you mean we’re going down there? Holy S.. . “
Only Gary and I had any hiking or camping experience. After all, we were Boy Scout graduates. Among other exploits, in our High School Junior year, along with four other teenagers, we hiked the 213 miles of the John Muir Trail in the Sierras.
While Gary and I spent our school summers hiking, nobody else was up for the mental challenge of watching their own feet as they traveled almost straight down. The Grand Canyon’s Kaibab Trail is just over seven miles long and all almost straight down. If you think going down is easier than going up, just try it on a steep decline looking down over the edge into a mile deep hole. The Kaibab Trail is narrow, I mean really narrow. On the wall side, the millennium of time and geography is easy to see. You can reach out and feel it. The dust kicked up by the donkey’s teams ensure you taste the history lesson as well. Sharing a narrow trail with a team of burros is a bit of a challenge. At least they take the downhill cliff side. The animals walk right on the edge. Often their hooves slip and rocks tumble down the steep embankment! The tourists who chose this way to the bottom quickly re-examine their choice. The cliff side has no guard rail, but the view is spectacular! Spectacular for anyone brave and/or foolish enough to look. When you do look, you are rewarded at a glimpse of the Colorado River. Eventually you get closer. After a full day of having your pack push your feet faster than you think is safe to walk, you’re at the bottom.
In case you don’t know the difference between your ass and a mile deep hole in the ground, here’s a refresher:
Burro: A burro is the Spanish word for “donkey”.
Hinny: A hinny is the result of breeding between a female donkey and a male horse. Jack: A jack is a term for a male donkey. …
Mule: A mule is the result of breeding between a male donkey and a female horse.
Once at the bottom, Gary and I quickly set up camp. My younger brother Dan, who must have been all of seven, made the trip down in six or seven hours faster than the rest of us. Oh, the folly of the young. Upon reaching the bottom, Lillian and Teri crawled into their sleeping bags and were fast asleep. Neither moved, spoke or showed any sign of life until we woke them in the morning. I remember only a few other things from that trip but mostly I remember Lillian and Teri’s creative use of the F word.
Seems like for some reason they directed all their anger towards me. “Never a F-ing again!” What the F where you thinking?” “I’m dead! I’m F-ing Dead.” –“So are F-ing you!”
The trip back up was via the Bright Angel Trail was almost 10 miles. This trail is longer but less steep. It also took us two days. Two days to hear about how much everyone was enjoying their adventure. I remember racing Dan up to the top on the last day. He wasn’t so smart back then, and I had a plan! His youth made him more trusting. I challenged him to a race. After passing me and running to the top, he did what I really wanted. He dropped his pack and cruised back down and grabbed Teri’s pack. Somewhere on his second trip out of the canyon, he passed me again. Now the race was on again! He made it to the top over half a mile ahead of me. He dropped Teri’s pack and began to go back down. Somehow, I caught him and raced back to meet the rest of our party. Upon reaching Lillian and Katie, I reached out for Lillian’s pack. “Don’t F-ing touch me!” Big Dan grabbed her pack and made his third and finally the last trip up out of the Canyon.
1974: A few years before hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Lillian and I enjoyed a few days there as well. We got married in November of 1974. I was eighteen, and Lillian had just turned nineteen. In place of a honeymoon, we headed from California to Arkansas to my first duty station in the Air Force. This was our first of countless trips along Interstate 40 and old Route 66. Lillian’s car was loaded down with wedding gifts and all her worldly possessions. For our wedding, thankfully, many family members and friends had given us cash. Having little to no money of our own, this cash-bought gas for our trip and paid for a few rundown hotel rooms as well. Looking at the largest roll of twenties I’d ever seen, I did what any newly rich honeymooner would do. I splurged!
I love the Grand Canyon. I’d hiked it as a Boy Scout. I photographed it like I was Ansel Adams. Using the entire wad of cash, I purchased a 45-minute helicopter flight over the Canyon. At that time, Lillian had never been in an airplane, let alone a helicopter. If you don’t count the swings at the park, her feet had never been off the ground. On the flight, her face was glued tight to the window. She was captivated by the beauty of the Grand Canyon. All I remember from the flight was being more interested in watching her than looking out the window. My eyes were stuck on her. I remember the sunshine on her face. I remember her hair.
We really should have saved that cash for more practical things. It wasn’t clear we could make it to the next pay day. So many of our best decisions just didn’t make much sense, but they made all the difference in the world.
2013: On our quest to see all the National Parks we relayed the following updated trip to the Grand Canyon. Oh, the places we’ve been and how the years have changed us.
(G) Lillian and I just finished a grueling four-day hike to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and back! It was an intensive time of both of us, running downhill to drink from the murky Colorado River and a brisk jog up both sides of this impressive mile-deep hole. Overall, the trek was eighteen miles of either steep up or steep down. While we could run down into the sheer gorge, we could only manage a jog back up. Carrying Lillian on my back I was forced to pace myself.
On the hikes of my youth, as Boy Scouts, we carried eighty-pound packs on our backs. This time Lillian and I carried all our extra weight around our mid-sections. Yes, I’ve found the secret of preparing for strenuous activity in old age. Instead of food, pots and pans, sleeping bags, tents and stuff; we just packed along all the memories of glorious meals from our past. For us, those memories began many years ago during our cruise on the SS Heart Attack. There we ate 64 oz steaks, baskets of onion rings and washed it down with a stout as thick as bread! Yes, now we have all those memories packed neatly away under our clothes. Instead of a sleeping bag and tent, we slept under the stars and kept warm by remembering the 30 minutes we spent in the lobby of the Waldorf. Instead of all those facials and fancy spas from Lillian’s past, I now treat her to a paste of eucalyptus leaves I chew myself! Yes, I’ve found the secret to preparing for strenuous activity in old age. Make it all happen in your mind!
(L) Sorry, everyone, Gary suffers from desert dementia. His condition will improve once we get to the beach.