Thursday, November 01, 2007

Day Three -- And then we climb...

Yes, downhill was harder. I still maintain that. But I didn't get much sleep at Phantom Ranch. In fact, by Tuesday I'd had about 4 nights in a row with very little sleep, so that 4:30 am wake-up call on the day we hiked out of the canyon came pretty early.

My hands were tender, right at the base of my index fingers (from the new hiking poles) so the wonderful Kristi taped up my hands with duct tape while we all got ready to leave our dorm. Sure, the tape kept the blisters from getting worse, but I swear the main advantage of the taped hands was feeling like a boxer, ready to take on that 10 mile and 5000 ft assent. (Not that boxers hike... but do you get what I mean? Fierce.)

When we started out that morning, it was getting a bit light in the canyon -- the sky was turning from black to grey -- but we'd been hiking at least an hour before we started to see signs of the sun hitting the very tops of the canyon walls. (See photo above. Actually, in that photo, I'm pretty sure it was 8 or so and we're looking at sun hitting an inner bit of the canyon. No way is that high enough to be the main canyon. And the sides of the main canyon aren't nearly that close to the river.) The sights were pretty incredible. In fact, the first few miles of the hike -- actually almost everything about that day -- was incredible.

So sick of walking downhill, my legs were thrilled by the uphill thing, and my lungs were finally getting used to the altitude. (And, of course, the altitude's not so bad at the bottom of the canyon.)

The scenery down in the canyon is amazing, too. And I'd been too shaky to enjoy it the previous afternoon in the final few hours of the descent. Creeks with this odd red weed growing at the sides, Century and Prickly Pear cacti, and countless beautiful sights as the sun rose. A few hours in, Craig, one of our guides said something like, "Look at the grin on your face." And it was true. I couldn't stop smiling. Sure, my heart was beating a bit too fast as I walked uphill, but I couldn't help thinking: this is why I'm alive. This is the sort of thing I live for.

I decided about that time to pack some of the happy I was feeling away, in case I needed it later. Of course, I was half-way thinking I'd could save it until February when the sky would be gray and the days short... No way would I need it in the Canyon! I mean, I was feeling strong. My legs hurt but were glad to climb. My heart rate and breaths were fast but under control, and after the steep bits, stopping for a minute or two brought my heart rate back down. On top of all that, I had boxer tape on my hands. This climb was going to be great.

Little did I know at that point, that I'd be seriously needing my stored up happy later that same day.

Dinner that night was at the El Tovar. A fabulous restaurant at the South Rim. And our reservation was at 5:30 pm. By about 3:00 pm or so, the group I was hiking with started to realize making it out in time for dinner -- especially if we wanted to, oh, have a shower or even take off our dusty boots before going into the restaurant, was going to be a big challenge. (Did I mention the way the pink dust in the canyon sticks to everything including your legs so we all looked like we were wearing nylons? Everywhere? Those mules can kick up a lot of dust.) The last 2-3 miles of the assent, I think we were barely going a mile an hour and were stopping at the end of almost every switch back trying to catch our breath in the thinning air, or will our legs to keep moving, or our feet to take the pressure of another painful step.

About 3:30, Kristi -- already checked into the hotel, showered and way too perky -- walked back down the last half mile or so from the top to meet us. Did I mention I love Kristi? The best thing about Kristi -- there are many -- is that we stragglers finally did get to the top, she let us rest and have a beer in the bar while she ran to the hotel to pick up the van and our room keys. Then she drove us to the hotel, waited 20 minutes for us to grab a quick shower and then drove us to dinner. I tell you. Not having to walk that quarter mile to the hotel, or the half mile to dinner saved my life. (As did the happy I'd stored in little ziploc bags nearer the bottom. Used every one.)

The gang who'd made it out of the canyon earlier in the day were already drinking wine on the veranda of the El Tovar when we stragglers got dropped off in the van. But we all made it, had a fabulous dinner and got a ride back to our very welcome beds.

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