Walking On Air

I LOVE hiking. But most of the time, I feel like hiking doesn’t like me. I don’t hike very often, just in small spurts. Every few weekends I might go on a seven-mile hike (short, but long enough to feel like an actual hike), or a three-day-long camping trip where I hike every day. In between, though, I don’t get out much. My exercise consists of regular old weightlifting and (very) occasional cardio. Of course, this is a recipe for suffering on

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The trail that I never wanted to end

the easiest of hikes, but I think there’s something more because I felt this way even after a summer of working on a farm.

Imagine my surprise, then, of realizing on mile eight of the ten-mile hike out of the Grand Canyon that I hadn’t felt any of the usual strains on my body or the constant mental battle that afflict me on every hike. The Bright Angel Trail, which connects Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon to Grand Canyon Village on the rim, revealed to me that there is one hike that doesn’t hate me.

I set out of Phantom Ranch at about 9am a mix of emotions – wanting to cry because I

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didn’t want to hike out, wanting to cry because of the pain I anticipated up ahead, and a tiny hint of excitement at the challenge. The first part of the trail was pebbly and ran along the Colorado River, and I admit it felt a little monotonous – not the greatest start to a four-to-five hour hike. But as I moved on, I started walking throughmini canyons and trickling brooks, and a strip of lush oasis that I didn’t know could exist in a desert.

It was incredible. The sun was shining down, blue skies were up above, and on both sides of me were walls of red stone that had the most fascinating ridges and terraces. The sun was beating down in the dry heat, yet I was mesmerized by the (imagined?) cool breeze that seemed to waft off the brook running down below.
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I stopped in Indian Gardens for a quick lunch, but was out of there as quickly as possible. Unheard of for me, as I love to eat and I love to linger. Yet something was pushing me forward, telling me that to continue moving didn’t necessarily mean to overlook the minutia of the beauty that surrounded me.

I’ve never felt more weightless, with boundless energy, on a hike before. Looking up at the rising rocks above, I didn’t feel any fear, just the hope that they would remain that high above me so that I could keep on hiking in this cloud of bliss.

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This dream did have to come to an end at some point, though. The last mile or so was the only point at which I felt fatigued. The switchbacks and sudden increase in other hikers made me acutely aware of how far I had hiked and how close I was, yet how much more time it would take. This was the only time that my pace started to slow, that the usual thoughts began nudging the edges of my thoughts (though they never managed to push their way completely in!).IMG_2016

When I got to the top at around 2pm, I collapsed onto a benchin a daze. It felt so surreal, to have been down at the bottom of the canyon several hours ago to being surrounded by hundreds of other tourists milling about. Where was that oasis that I had just been in? The abundant greenery, huge canyon walls close enough to touch, the small secludedbubble that I seemed to be in as I hiked along, that at the same time seemed to expand endlessly into the landscape aroundme?IMG_2007

I tried to retreat inward, to grasp at that feeling of weightlessness that I had been wrapped up in. It lingered, it really did, but then I had to let it go. To acknowledge that the place I was in now was no longer that moment. But I’ll always remember that feeling I had.Just me, the trail ahead that I never wanted to end, and the act of walking – which to an onlooker might seem to have had the purpose of reaching the end, but which to me was a goal-less yet immensely purposeful act.

 

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Looking back
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