Friday, April 21, 2017

Day 52. April 21. Bright Angel Camp to Bright Angel Trailhead

Day 52. Friday April 21. Bright Angel Campground at bottom of Grand Canyon to Bright Angel Trailhead at South Rim. Walked 9 miles, up at least 4800 ft 

Dear Trail Friends,

Life is funny. Yesterday evening I was puzzled and annoyed by a flyer that warned against light pollution ruining others' view of the night sky. Then as I settled into my tent last night the four campers in the site beside me all seemed to be wearing headlamps. White beams shot across the sky at various angles, moving as the campers walked about.  No chance to look out from my tent at the stars. I put on my nightshades so I could sleep through the light show, and realized that the intent of the flyer I had seen was to encourage campers in high density campgrounds to use red lights or hold their white lights low to the ground so they wouldn't bother their neighbors. I learned my lesson. In the morning I did everything at my campsite with red light, only turning on my full power white light when I was on the trail, and being careful to keep my head straight (and beam on trail not on adjacent campsites). It was fun to have life "explain" the flyer to me. 

I started hiking at 4am. The trail of course is well constructed and not dangerous to hike in the dark. In fact walking the footbridge over the Colorado was much less scary at night than in the daytime probably because I couldn't see below me. 

Maybe you'd enjoy seeing a photo of the bridge (in daylight). 


The river is pretty fierce right now, both its motion and its roar. The bridge "floor" is made of bars with gaps so one can see through to the tumult below. Speaking of which, I learned from another hiker that Bright Angel Creek is usually as clear and sparkling as I imagined it. Right now there is a lot of snow on the north rim melting and making the creek wild and muddy. Interesting that I assumed what I saw was the nature of the creek, rather than, as the expression goes, a phase it was going through. Not sure how all that relates to the pilgrimage. Not sure I need to be sure. 

I feel deeply content with the pilgrimage today. Proud (and grateful) that I was able to complete it. Feeling changed by it but of course not knowing exactly how I've been changed. Meanwhile I have so so many beautiful photos from today's hike up the canyon that I want to share with you - and as usual I cannot share them all. So shall we all get together for a potluck and slideshow? Wouldn't it be fun to celebrate face to face with all of you. 

Meanwhile there's the blog to write. Let's start with the one photo I know I want to share. It's a composite of a photo of me at the top of the trail at the end of my hike and the one of my father. I think it says a lot about time and place and the generations that I don't know how to put into words. 


I really feel as if I connected with the Poppa Bear (as we call my dad) and his passion for the canyon on this walk. I feel deeply at peace about that connection. Again, proud and grateful. Maybe the apple didn't fall so far from the tree. Now why is that making me all teary?
Maybe you'd like to see the beginning of my hike in the dark, under a crescent moon. 


I had the hike all to myself until almost 7am, which was wonderful. I took two long breaks and I ate lots of calories (I actually bought myself the archetypal junk food - Snickers bars - when I realized that sugar makes it much easier for me to climb steep trails. ) By the end of my hike (around 10 or 11) the trail was very crowded with people. Almost all of them, day hikers and back packers alike, with big happy smiles. The interactions with people were sweet. Like a young German couple, doctors from Munich, with whom I bemoaned recent election results. Or the sweet young woman (also a doctor) who took the photo for my Poppa Bear composite. Or the couple from Ontario - I think I mentioned them yesterday - who I saw on the trail again today. The people interactions were not separate from the vast natural wonder all around us. They were part of it. 

I couldn't choose so you get two collages. One is more from the lower part of the hike, the solitary morning part. The other is more from the later part as I got higher up the canyon (and people became a big part of the trail. ) 



I'm in the laundromat near the Yavapai Lodge where to the horror of my Scottish ancestors I am once again indulging myself in a room. I love sleeping in my tent. I also love sleeping in a comfortable bed, having a warm bath, being cooked a hot meal. 

I am so reluctant to bring this blog to an end. To acknowledge that this whole rich and difficult pilgrimage - of which you and the blog have been such an essential part - is over. 

Let me put my clothes in the dryer and we'll see if I'm more ready to bring this to an end. 

I seem to have lost my laundry bag. A great white plastic bag with a drawstring and "laundry" written on it. I lost my earphones for my iPhone too sometime in the last day or two. Endings are another kind of loss because they also involve gain. Maybe all loss does, but I do think endings are a funny combination of death and birth. 

But on the other hand maybe I don't have to end yet. Suppose for instance tomorrow I go to the geological museum and have some deep thoughts about time and the canyon. 

This might be the last entry for the blog but then again it might not. 

In any case, thank you for walking with me on this difficult and beautiful walk. I have been warmed and sustained by your company, your caring and your shared passion for the places and the walking. I feel very honored (albeit a bit puzzled) that you have wanted to come along and also very proud. Forget the potluck and slide show, what I want for our celebration is to make you a gourmet dinner and to serve you great food, great drinks, in a beautiful place - and to do so without attachment to outcome. In a place where all the stories - redemption, tragedy, heroic journey and even the story of human cruelty - can dance with one another for our entertainment until, as Leonard Cohen might say, its closing time. 


Afterword: Tonight at Yavapai Lodge Restaurant, I drank Four Peaks Kilt Lifter beer. I drank this first at the Kearny Inn early in my hike and loved it. I hiked through the Four Peaks wilderness area after Roosevelt Lake. And now I meet this beer again in the Grand Canyon. The playful Scottish name of course makes me think of my father and his pride in being Scottish - not to mention my intellectual/spiritual father Sigmund Freud who would point out with a sardonic smile that the name evokes both that primal desire to lift the father's kilt and seduce him, and so to become the primary and only object of his affection, and the conflicting desire (since our desires do inevitably conflict) to steal the paternal penis and all the phallic power it represents in order to become the primary and only beloved of the mother. 

That said, one could imagine the Grand Canyon as the ultimate (great/grand) mother symbol, and this pilgrimage as learning at this late stage in life that there is more joy in sharing than in trying to conquer. Yes, it was wonderful to sleep alone at Clear Creek Overlook and feel as if I had her all to myself. And yet - the glowing faces of all the people moved by the wonder and majesty of her immense presence - that also is precious. 

Now I'm all tangled up on what kilt lifter beer is supposed to mean to me. Let's just lift those Scottish kilts and do an Irish jig (perhaps in honor of my Irish stepfather who won my mother - but lost her in the end to her sheer determination to be herself and live her life fully - funny that I should interact with two young women doctors as I climbed out of the canyon and that my mother was a young woman doctor back when women doctors, especially married women doctors with children, were rare and surprising. Enough do that a judge in a bitterly conflicted custody case could say "I don't believe in women doctors. I don't think a woman should be a doctor. I find for the father. ") 

Ah - there are so many stories we can weave around this beautiful pilgrimage. I think it's enough to just lift the kilts (lift them just a little - in spite of my nude photo I think that a little bit of mystery is a good thing) and just dance our jig. Hike our own hike, lift our own kilt, and dance our own jig. 

Before I say goodbye for now - I want to mention that my next hike I hope (if I can get the logistics done in time) will be a summer hike of the Oregon coast. This will not be a pilgrimage or task-oriented in any way. It will be, I believe, more a meandering, a wandering, a return to a little girl who loved to walk on the beach and discover what the waves had washed up, before she discovered the adrenaline surge of goals and tasks and competition. It will be about tides and small treasures (especially beach glass which my sister Judy collects) and I very much hope you will want to join me on it. Thank you ahead of time for your support, which makes everything possible. 

Day 51. April 20. Clear Creek campsite to Bright Angel Campsite

 Day 51. Thursday April 20. Clear Creek Campsite, 2 miles off AZT, elev approx. 3600 ft, to Mile 698.5, elevation 2637, to Campsite, mile 697.7, elevation 2470. 

Dear Trail Friends,

Right now there is a very strong wind blowing that has been blowing on and off most of the day and spreads a gritty sandy red dust over everything (my air mattress, stuff sacks, clothes, skin). I do not like this wind at all (to be spoken to the "tune" of "I do not like green eggs at all.")

In fact I am feeling a little on the miserable side. I went over to Phantom Ranch today to treat myself to a beer (a special Bright Angel IPA) and have felt sick-ish ever since.  Not to mention the worry that kicks in about feeling sick-ish. 

On the other hand, this morning I felt grand. I sat in my tent with the netting unzipped so my whole tent front was an open air window and gazed at the canyon around me changing as the sun rose. I was alone in a big quiet beautiful spaciousness and loved just sitting and looking. Photo 1 is a collage of my view as the sun rose and there was more and more light on the canyon walls. 


When I packed up after a leisurely morning and started walking I was pleasantly surprised that the trail was nowhere near as difficult as it had seemed in my exhaustion the night before - when I had attributed sadistic motives to the woman ranger who suggested I camp there. 

About half way down I could see Phantom Ranch below me. (Photo 2). I thought a lot about our friend Magda Mische who once managed Phantom Ranch and loved this canyon. I thought of her living and walking here and loving this place. I wondered if anyone working here now remembers her - decades since she was manager and now I think five years now since her premature death. Thinking of her - I think she was in her 50s when she died during a scuba dive - reminds me that none of us knows how long we have to live. And profoundly grateful that I can live my life the way I want to, doing things I live. 


If you look at the trail you may see several small buildings with dark roofs that blend in with the green around them. From the same overlook, in the opposite direction, was a stunning view of the Colorado River. For some reason I remember a teacher I had back in the 70s when I took offset printing at a community college and dreamed of starting a poetry press. When I told him my name was River he wanted to know which river, and when I had no answer, he began to call me Colorado. I don't always get humor. Especially (to make a gender-alization) male humor. 
Anyway photo 3 is a view of the Colorado, who,I dare say, without being task-oriented has accomplished a great deal more its life than I have in mine. 


Photo 4 is a view of the back of my campsite. 


Photo 5 is a genuine Grand Canyon rattlesnake that crossed the campground path. The only reason I saw it was that everyone was standing around taking photos of it. 


"He really moves beautifully" I said to a man beside me. "How do you know it's a he?" the man responded. "I guess I think of all rattlesnakes as male" I said. The man guessed he thought of them as female. 

Just before dark I realized that the gentler trail up the canyon, the Bright Angel trail, is not part of the AZT and so not part of my app. And here I am planning to start early tomorrow in the dark having no idea where the trail is. So I asked the couple I had chatted with over beer (lovely couple from Ontario - she's originally from Tennessee but moved to be with him. He's a paramedic and she's an accountant. They talked about how different Canada was in its willingness to have government provide needed social services. ) They pointed me in the right direction and I followed the trail across the bridge over the Colorado (a different bridge from the one on the South Kaibab trail) and saw where it turns. So now I feel confident I can find  my way. 

On the way back I saw a notice posted on a bulletin board saying not to use white headlamps and cause light pollution of the night sky. The notice said to use red light (which I know my headlamp has it I have not figured out how to turn on, and which I find does not especially help me to see in the dark) or failing that to hold the headlamp low in your hand pointed down toward the ground. Also hard to do given that I use trekking poles and again does not allow me to see and follow the trail ahead. But I am thinking about it and how I might comply with the intention (to avoid light pollution)and still hike in the dark. 

That I think is all for now. I wonder if my feeling sickly today is related to the loss and disorientation involved in finishing a long walk (or completing any long term task or project, or giving birth to a baby). Once someone said (or quoted) to me "The cure for post partum (depression) is looking." Today I read a lot of my posts (my iPhone couldn't go back further than Day 27. But I read most of those it had) for this trip. Which is maybe a little like gazing at a baby?  What was once inside one's own body and being is now  separate. Leaving one empty. But if one can look, one can start to know it as its own being. A little like Ribbon Falls, after all, and the people emerging from the darkness into the light in which they can see one another. 

Thank you. And goodnight. 

Day 50. part 3. April 19. Grand Canyon Village to Mile 690.6 (South Kaibab Trailhead) to 704.1 (Trail to Ribbon Falls) & back to Mile 698.5 (Clear Creek Trail) to campsite

Continued from Day 50, part 2. 

Day 50. Part 3. Wednesday April 19. Grand Canyon Village to Mile 690.6 (South Kaibab Trailhead) to 704.1 (Trail to Ribbon Falls) & back to Mile 698.5 (Clear Creek Trail) to campsite. Walked 13.5 on trail northbound plus 5.4 southbound plus 2.2 road walking from Yavapai Lodge plus 2 on Clear Creek Trail - in all walked 23.1 miles. For the 13.5 northbound on trail, 1895 up, 5269 down, total grade 535.7 ft/mi. For the 5.4 southbound in trail, 463 up, 1557 down, total grade 377.2. For the last 2 miles on Clear Creek Trail the app won't calculate but there was an overall elevation gain ( though with some ups and downs) of 1000 ft, so total grade at least 500 ft/mi. 

Let's see, trail Friends. I've talked about the last unexpectedly steep two mile stretch (which did not seem nearly so formidable this morning going downhill, and fresh). And about the early morning hike down into the canyon. And about Bright Angel creek. 

But I haven't yet talked about the final stretch of the pilgrimage to the broken bridge across Bright Angel creek, preventing access to Ribbon Falls and symbolically to the stories of transformation and redemption that it has come to embody for me. 

I had a fantasy (that I was not aware of until it was contradicted) of a dramatically broken bridge, snapped or torn loose by wild winds or flooding waters or a falling tree. In fact, the bridge was suffering from undramatic old age. The wooden walkway across it had grown fragile from exposure to the desert sun. It was splitting and fraying and in some places broken through. Obviously the concern was that a hiker might step and the wood give in a way that could lead to serious injury. Photo 11 is a collage: the top shows the bridge as I approach it (looking intact), lower left shows a hole in the bridge tread, lower middle shows the whole tread (maybe if you look close you will see some fragile areas), lower right shows the sign forbidding crossing. Though I am sure I could have crossed cautiously and safely, I was already stretching my day by going that far and chose not to disobey. 


One could wax philosophic about the worn down, closed bridge that crosses the rushing muddy river of our bright spirits and personal fates to a place where the people can emerge out of darkness into light. For me I think it was enough to have completed my pilgrimage. The task-oriented part of me smiled like a Cheshire Cat and licked her lips. In this world where we control and understand so little, where completion is elusive, what a joy to conceive of and reach an achievable goal. The illusion of being master of my fate. Even as I bow to the fact that the bridge across the river is closed!

The hike to (and back from) the worn out bridge was beautiful. It reminded me of gorges that Chris and I have hiked in Crete. More dramatic, but beautiful in a similar way. There's a helicopter again and I wonder if it is doing search and rescue. 

So photos 12 to 14 are my picks for that part of yesterday's hike. 




It is hard to believe my Arizona Trail hike is over. Today I rest (hard to do: I want a task to give me all those false reassurances of control and predictability I so cherish), tomorrow early I hike up the canyon. Then a day or two relaxing on the south rim, back to Flagstaff to visit Tim and Melody, and heading home to Orcas Tuesday April 25. 

Thank you for making this pilgrimage with me. 

Day 50. part 2. April 19. Grand Canyon Village to Mile 690.6 (South Kaibab Trailhead) to 704.1 (Trail to Ribbon Falls) & back to Mile 698.5 (Clear Creek Trail) to campsite

Continued from Day 50, Part 1

Day 50. Part 2. Wednesday April 19. Grand Canyon Village to Mile 690.6 (South Kaibab Trailhead) to 704.1 (Trail to Ribbon Falls) & back to Mile 698.5 (Clear Creek Trail) to campsite. Walked 13.5 on trail northbound plus 5.4 southbound plus 2.2 road walking from Yavapai Lodge plus 2 on Clear Creek Trail - in all walked 23.1 miles. For the 13.5 northbound on trail, 1895 up, 5269 down, total grade 535.7 ft/mi. For the 5.4 southbound in trail, 463 up, 1557 down, total grade 377.2. For the last 2 miles on Clear Creek Trail the app won't calculate but there was an overall elevation gain ( though with some ups and downs) of 1000 ft, so total grade at least 500 ft/mi. 

Oh dear, Trail Friends,

Making choices and dealing with finitude is truly hard for a greedy person. Which photos do I share? What if I forget some of the stories that made this pilgrimage meaningful?

Suppose I forget to tell you about the man I met coming up the South Kaibab trail as I hiked down. He was covered in sweat. He had hiked down the Bright Angel trail - the 9 mile trail with gentler grade - and was now hiking up the South Kaibab with its greater than 10% grade. "I'm Irish" he said. "We Irish have to do things the hard way." I said that maybe that fit with the Irish writers I loved. He said "That's what we're good at. Writing and making war."

Or the man I saw running up the North Kaibab trail toward the north rim. "Are you an ultra runner?" I asked (proud that I'd learned the term). "Not really," he said. "Just seemed like a good day for a suffer-fest."

Or the young man I walked by when I was heading for the Yavapai Lodge front desk. "You look all ready for a wilderness hike," he said, as if he thought it an awfully fun joke. When I didn't laugh he repeated it (patiently),but I still didn't laugh. Afterwards I found myself thinking up rejoinders like "I've just come from 680 miles of a wilderness hike" - but the more I thought about the less I could guess what his joke was about. 

I wasn't prepared for the Grand Canyon to be the desert in bloom all over again, only this time against the backdrop of the majestic canyon. Majestic is the best word I can think of for this place. Vast. Awesome. And the quiet. Especially the vast awesome majestic quiet when I camped out alone or when I sat and watched the sky darken and the stars come out. 

I made a collage of the flowers for photo 6. And yes the middle photo is not a flower. He's the first lizard on the whole walk willing to sit still long enough for me to photograph him. 


The hike down was the great joy of the hike. I said to myself that if the whole hike had been suffering, it would have been worth it for this. It helped me realize, or formulate into words, my belief that moments of beauty (including the beauty of human kindness) can out-balance even long stretches of pain. (As a child I believed just the opposite. I am grateful for the change. )

I started at the lodge st 4:20. I decided not to take the shuttle to the Trailhead. I wanted the solitary quiet encounter with nature. So glad I did. In the first early predawn glimmers of light I could vaguely make out the canyon beside my walk. It was so unimaginably steep and deep in that darkness. It set the mood perfectly for my hike. 


Because I cannot bear to choose, and cannot accept the fact that no photo can give you the experience of walking into this canyon in the changing early morning light, I made another collage. 


The mule train picture reminds me that a woman mule rider informed me that mules are badly spooked by umbrellas. So every time I saw a mule train coming I unfastened my umbrella, removed it, and carefully collapsed it. 

Speaking of which here's the photo of me with umbrella attached that shows the silver on the outside. (Chris has been requesting this). The umbrella has been very helpful in the unshaded heat. 


Usually I take my sun hat off when the umbrella is up. Great to feel breeze on my head. 

A lot of the walk I was imagining coming back again and bringing my whole family. I even imagined a family thanksgiving in the canyon (though the weather is probably prohibitive). There was such a longing to share all this beauty. I was happy to be hiking in imagination not only with my father (of the past) but with my family (because realistically it can probably never happen except in imagination. And happenings in imagination can be very powerful. I imagined Chris, my brothers and their spouses, my sisters, my nieces and nephew and grandneice (I imagined her in a backpack carried by her dad). The more unrealistic it seemed the more vividly I imagined it. Everyone loving the place as much as I did, each in their own way. I imagined all of you too - but we had to spread out a bit so we could all experience the solitary joys as well as connectedness. 

When I reached the bottom and decided I wanted to complete the pilgrimage, I was hiking along Bright Angel creek (which I am camped beside on my rest day as I write). It wasnt exactly disappointing, but it wasn't what I'd pictured either. I guess the term "Bright Angel" and the way I made it a metaphor for the shining spirit within each of us, I pictured a crystal clear creek that sparkled in sunlight like diamonds. 

Instead, Bright Angel creek is muddy and murky but it plunges along with vitality and vigor and ferocity - its music is almost a roar, and its movement - white water waves swirling and heaving around rocks and curves - is powerful. I began to think of our "bright angel" spirits not as clear and transparent but as muddy and murky, plunging energetically toward our fates be they redemptive, heroic, or tragic. That fits with my love for Freud and the notion of the unconscious as the source of most of our choices and motivations. Not crystal clear transpstent sparkling rationality but a complex and conflicting mix of instinctual desires that heave us forward, will we or nil we. So photo 10 (a collage of two) is a tribute to Bright Angel creek and to the strong and inscrutable forces that shape all our destinies. 


To be continued in Day 50, part 3

Day 50. part 1. April 19. Grand Canyon Village to Mile 690.6 (South Kaibab Trailhead) to 704.1 (Trail to Ribbon Falls) & back to Mile 698.5 (Clear Creek Trail) to campsite

Day 50. part 1. Wednesday April 19. Grand Canyon Village to Mile 690.6 (South Kaibab Trailhead) to 704.1 (Trail to Ribbon Falls) & back to Mile 698.5 (Clear Creek Trail) to campsite. Walked 13.5 on trail northbound plus 5.4 southbound plus 2.2 road walking from Yavapai Lodge plus 2 on Clear Creek Trail - in all walked 23.1 miles. For the 13.5 northbound on trail, 1895 up, 5269 down, total grade 535.7 ft/mi. For the 5.4 southbound in trail, 463 up, 1557 down, total grade 377.2. For the last 2 miles on Clear Creek Trail the app won't calculate but there was an overall elevation gain ( though with some ups and downs) of 1000 ft, so total grade at least 500 ft/mi. 

Dear Trail Friends,

Today I hiked down into the Grand Canyon and then, deciding I would like tomorrow to be a day of rest and contemplation, chose to also hike as far toward Ribbon Falls as I could. I clearly misunderstood the location of the campsite the woman ranger assigned me for tonight. I thought it was an easy short level hike. It turned out to be very steep, and full of loose rocks. On the other hand, it was a stunningly beautiful hike and gave me a chance to contemplate my reaction when I believe someone had deliberately hurt or harmed me. Since I talked to this woman about my difficulty with ascents, especially steep ones, it seemed odd at best that she suggested this site ( and failed to warn that it was a steep climb) and it was easy for me to move into a slightly paranoid (well, slightly would be an understatement here) frame of mind where I imagined it as deliberate cruelty. For awhile as I struggled with the climb I was mentally composing letters to her and her supervisor. Then I thought of the Ribbon Falls story in which people in darkness spit on, urinate on, step on one another because they cannot see each other. As my mind obsessed with revenge fantasies (letters), I also told myself this woman was living in that world of darkness. She could not see me. I began to think this tough hike at the end of a very long hiking day was part of the pilgrimage. I have thought about the pilgrimage in relation to different stories: redemption/transformation, tragedy, hero's journey. But the story of human cruelty is another story (the pre-story to the redemption one) and perhaps the story that had troubled me most in my life. 

As I walked up the steep trail and wondered if I could climb two steep miles before the sun set and it got dark (and feeling this trail would not be safe in the dark with a headlamp, nor could I see well enough to find a tentsite) I kept thinking this is part of the pilgrimage. The important thing is not whether this woman intended cruelty, or how to retaliate. I thought of aikido: receiving the energy of the attacker and flowing with it, not opposing it, but going with it and gently guiding it in a direction that protects both self and attacker from harm. My challenge for this part of the pilgrimage - to receive the energy that directed me to this campsite. Not fight or oppose it. 

Slowly I realized I was hiking through great beauty to a campsite where I would have a solitary experience of a very crowded Grand Canyon. 

Photo 1 shows my tent at the campsite. 


Photos 2, 3 and 4 show the stunning views as I approached the campsite. 




Oh trail Friends today was a very full day. So much happened as I walked this beautiful canyon. I can't imagine how I will tell you about it or how I will choose from the 50 or more photos I took a few to share with you. 

Tomorrow is a rest day (mostly - the hike down these 2 steep miles, full of loose rocks, will not be quick and easy. But basically it is a short hike to the other campground and then I have a day for rest and contemplation. I am curious whether I will spend  it here in beautiful solitude or if I will be in a hurry to go there and choose a site and get my tent set up. 

Let's end this part 1 - which is all I will try to write tonight - with a picture of three hikers I met early yesterday morning at god backcountry office (they were the one group that arrived before I did.) they were warm and kind from the start, directing me to a restroom and watching my oack while I was give. We encountered each other at least three different times on the trail today (the North Kaibab - the one that leads to the north rim and also to Ribbon Falls). They are from LA and before that Guatemala. The two men Hernan and Percy went to high school together in Guatemala. Lorena is Hernan's sister. Hernan has hiked the Grand Canyon many times but this was the first time for the other two. He was sharing his passion with them. Warm kind people- always a pleasure to encounter them. Hernan is on the right, he is Lorena's brother. I guess it's pretty obvious. 


I will write more tomorrow. Sweet dreams and happy dream trails. 

To be continued in Day 50, part 2. 

Day 49. April 18. Mile 682.1 (junction to town of Tusayan) to Mile 687.7 (junction for Grand Canyon Village) to Backcountry Information Office to Yavapai Lodge

Day 49.  Tuesday, April 18. Mile 682.1 elev. 6599 ft (junction to town of Tusayan) to Mile 687.7 (junction to Grand Canyon Village) to Backcountry Infirmation Center to Yavapai Lodge. 

Dear Trail Friends,

The numbers that prove so satisfying to the task-oriented me, who wants life quantifiable and predictable, something I can "count" on, are becoming a little meaningless now. Rather than try to find my way back to the trail in the dark (starting as usual a little before 5) I chose to walk on Hway 64, the main road through Tusayan, knowing the trail crossed it in about a mile. I was walking merrily along when I checked my gps and discovered I walked past the crossing. So I walked back. Ah ha. It was an underpass. No wonder I didn't see it. The trail went through a tunnel under the highway. So, I'll just hike down this steep embankment to the trail...uh oh. There is barbed wire fence on both sides of the tunnel. Hmmm. What do I do now?  Isn't there supposed to be Trailhead parking near here somewhere? So I hike back a ways. Quite a ways. Well, that didn't work. Now what?  Maybe the other side of the highway?  Barbed wire fence there too. Both sides. No gate. But. Doesn't the fence look just a little bit low on that side? So I step over crotch-high barbed wire fence, wearing a backpack (me, not the fence), in the dark, on a steep incline (they don't call us lunatics for nothing), for the very first time in my life. And come away without a scratch. 

It would be an auspicious way to start the day if the day hadn't got started earlier when I woke up in the wee hours (even wee-er than the ones I get up for, so we are talking 1 or 2 an) to discover my watch had stopped. Too late to order a new watch from Amazon before hiking the canyon. It feels a little uncanny to be doing this hike through time, through geological layers that chronicle the epochs of our earth (long before humans, or mammalian or even cellular life) and suddenly to be separated from the watch that tells me what time it is. Am I stepping out of time as I know it? 

I have been thinking about time because IFPE (international forum for psychoanalytic education) chose time as its theme for the fall 2017 conference. And I haven't had time to write a proposal for a presentation. But also because when I reached Tusayan and wifi I had a bunch of text messages from brother Scott (trying to clear some of the family memorabilia out of his garage) that included a photo of my father (mentioned in yesterday's post) and a photo of one of my grandfather's columns. I was struck by time - Dad was roughly my same age (one year younger) in the photo, taken about 30 years ago. And grandpa Malcolm must have been about the same age too and that was also about 30 years earlier. Grandpa was writing about caring for his young grandchildren (4 to 10) for a fortnight and reflecting in the column he'd been writing for 30 years - how when he began it, his own boys had been the age of these grandchildren. I thought of my brother (the former 4 year old) now so actively engaged as a grandfather of his own grandchildren. I felt as if I was looking into a "canyon" of time as awesome and Grand as the one I will hike tomorrow, that of the Grand children, of the cycles of generations. 

I imagined my father walking beside me today. He said he loved the Grand Canyon because it put everything in perspective. It was so vast spatially, it exposed layers of time so vast, that it put his small lifetime into perspective. It was like looking up into the night sky. He saw in it a beauty and order on a whole different scale from the human and it helped him put both his achievements and his failures into perspective. He spoke to me about his regrets that he had been vindictive toward our mother and damaged our relationships with her.  He knew I had always wanted him to acknowledge his mistake, he said, but it was too painful. He could not bear the thought of the suffering he might have caused not only to her but to the children he cared for most in all the world. He wondered if our lives would have turned out differently if he had been capable of better decisions. I affirmed our lives as what they are. (The "it is what it is" philosophy. ) and I thought about my need to accept my niece's life too. 

Time. Part of the mystery of time is this thing about mortality and generations. What would it be like to talk with my father and with my grandfather now that I've lived through these various changes of life?

The one time I've been in this canyon before - a few years after my father hiked it - we joined him on a raft trip. We celebrated my Uncle Ian's (my dad's younger brother) 70th birthday that year. I remember Chris and me composing a very long and silly series of limericks to celebrate him. This fall I will turn 70. 

So somehow the canyon is about time and the mystery of the generations for me. And also about time on another and vaster and more impersonal scale that makes all the stories - the redemption and transformation stories, the tragedies, the epic journeys all seem like fireflies in the night. 

I didn't really take photos today. There's one of me nude in the mirror to show Chris how skinny I've gotten. I'd actually like to post it though it's probably even more indiscreet than posting my poop. Aren't I the one who got myself in all kinds of trouble at 21 when I participated in and later became a spokeswoman for a nude protest against Playboy magazine for commercializing and depersonalizing and objectifying women's bodies? My scrapbook of that era is full of a single quote from Walt Whitman: "If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred."  What does this particular free association have to do with the Grand Canyon I wonder? Perhaps that tangle with the legal system (just as I came of age and became a citizen) - which left us convicted of indecent exposure despite our appealing all the way to the Supreme Court (funded by ACLU; they saw it as a freedom of speech issue) and despite the fact that any rational person could see we were not in violation of state law which required lewd and obscene intent. Which seemed incidentally to be in plentiful supply among the prosecuting attorneys. 

Nudity is no more obscene than wilderness. It is the body unclothed, freed of civilization. A long thru hike is a lot like nudity. It's amazing how frightened people are of wildness. It seems so clear to me (and other hikers) that dangers - violent criminal humans, vehicles that injure and maim when they go out of control - are concentrated in urban settings and on freeways. We have learned to fear the nakedness and wildness in ourselves, I think. We work so hard to twist ourselves into shapes that can bear the strait jacket of civilization. Fried would say we are right to fear our own wild instincts and drives. I don't disagree with him. I just think we are beautiful too. 

So here's the irony. People ask me what is the most beautiful place I have seen on the trail. It isn't only my memory problem. It is an amazing trail. But do you know what the most beautiful memories are? (Forgive me if I've written this before and just attribute it to my memory problems). The most beautiful moments - besides meetings with Gila monsters and singing hallelujah to the mountains as loudly as I could - the most beautiful moments were encounters with trail angels and glimpsing their beautiful souls in their stories and faces and bodies and homes. 

So here is the skinny nude River. Exhibit one for the defense. Exposure is not indecent if there is no lewd or obscene intent. If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred. The setting is my hotel room in Tusayan. I am tormenting my Scottish ancestors - who had almost reconciled themselves to my passion for fear and stopped turning in their graves - with this new wave of self-indulgent stays at what I regard as very expensive hotels. 


The next photo was taken at the Backcountry office waiting for my number (10) to come up. Some people had numbers from yesterday when they came but couldn't get the campsites they wanted. The rest of us, using the honor system, got numbers according to order of arrival. I was second, arriving at 7:15 before the office opened at 8.  And while I did not get what I most wanted, I do get to camp a little beyond Bright Angel camp (at the bottom) in a "use" area that is not a formal campground, called Clear Creek. That's the first night. The second night I camp in Bright Angel. So really I am pretty lucky. I don't qualify for thru-hiker privileges because I'm not hiking to the north rim. "But I've hiked all the way from Mexico" I whined. "A lot of people have come a long way" the ranger-lady said. That shut me up. We actually made a nice contact later when she asked me the most beautiful part of the trail and I told her it was the people I met. 

But photo 2 is of an exhibit warning about how many people have died hiking the canyon. I found it sobering and realized all those helicopters I heard could well have been rescue, and not tours. It is not a hike to take lightly. One poster showed a beautiful athletic young woman (who had run the Boston marathon) who died of heat exposure and dehydration in the canyon. All quite sobering. 


I also took a photo of the map of the shuttle system here which continues to elude me. How I long for a gps app to guide me through civilization. If the orange line, which goes to South Kaibab Trailhead (not shown in photo - to the right of Pipe Creek Vista) has its first shuttle leave at 4:30 am going in the direction of Mather Point and the Museum, at what time can I catch the earliest shuttle headed in the other direction (toward Pipe Creek Vista and South Kaibab Trailhead)?  I can't tell you how many people were confused by this. And how confused I  by every little thing about civilization. Where is the lodge front desk - it's got to be somewhere? Where are the ordinary candy bars in a grocery store (it's a good thing I don't try to resupply in stores - I get so overstimulated and confused by the light and aisles and stuff I go into an altered state that couldn't make a decision no matter how simple if my life depended on it). 


Although I came close to having to do that today. My resupply box had not arrived. I contacted Chris for the tracking number. I was in an absolute state of panic and depression trying to imagine putting together 3 days worth of food from the store. Though resolved I would do it if I had to. Fifteen minutes of inverted pose calmed me immensely. But what really calmed me was when they found my box. 

One more - the view from my room at the lodge. Why I think it's so special to have a view of trees (with by the way a parking lot just beyond then) outside my expensive window when I can camp among them for free, I cannot explain because I don't know. But the truth is that it is sweet for me to be here, a real gift to myself. Maybe trees seen through the window of civilization represent some kind of peaceful coexistence of opposites? I don't know but I'm happy to be here and happy that you are with me. 


And what about this riding a shuttle to the Trailhead?  You're not going to road walk back to where you got off the trail and hike every precious mile of trail? What kind of a thru hiker are you? Oh I know the backcountry office told you to hike only before 10am and after 4pm so you don't end up dying of heat and dehydration (it's April, River, for pity's sake, not August) and something about this trail has cured you of your thru-hiker purity. Purity and impurity. Civilization and wilderness. 

It is what it is. And tomorrow we walk down 4800 feet into what is probably the grandest canyon in the world. (No wifi in my room so cannot google that. ) by the way I did google tank etymology (and despite the added complexity of those military vehicles known as tanks and the verb to tank, there is at least some evidence and some sources that see it originating in a word for reservoir with the notion of a man made container coming later. So let's hear it for Purple Pants, the physicist with a very fine feel for language. 

And let's get some sleep now. The best guess was that the orange line shuttle will completed its loop to the west in 15 minutes and be back at the starting point to head east toward South Kaibab Trail around 4:45. So we get up around 3:30am, leave the room around, 4:20 and head for the Grand Canyon Visitor Center to catch the shuttle to the Trailhead. See you bright and early. That part of you and me that shines like the stars, that beautiful soul that had so moved me on this trek, the bright angel we all are underneath. (I'm not saying we aren't scary demons, too, just that we are also bright angelic spirits.)

Thank you. 

Day 48. April 17. Mile 669.8 to Mile 682.1 (junction to town of Tusayan)

Day 48. Monday, April 17. Mile 669.8 elev. 7382 ft, to Mile 682.1 elev. 6599 ft (junction to town of Tusayan).  Walked 12.3 miles, 345 ft up, 1086 ft down, total grade 116 ft/mi. 

Dear Trail Friends

Here I sit tucked between clean white sheets on a queen-sized bed at Red Feather Lodge in Tusayan. I had no coverage (strangely) for days and when I turned on the hotel wifi my AT&T appeared out of nowhere with 4 bars (after days of "no service"). I had wanted to call around and find a room (as well as keep checking the Grand Canyon Yavapai Lodge for availability (it was booked fully for tomorrow night and the next, but they do have last minute cancellations sometimes. 

I think I mistook this lodge for the inexpensive one mentioned in the app. I was in shock when the man in the Libby quoted me the price but I suspected that rates might be high because of the proximity of Grand Canyon. In any case I did not want to hoist my backpack again and walk from hotel to hotel checking rates. I even accepted paying $40 more for the room for a bathtub (I really seem to prefer baths to showers when I come off the trail. Showers feel like work, baths feel like ... utter and complete self- indulgence. 

I had a long bath, did my laundry, hand washed what I wore while doing by laundry (well, the socks, underpants and merino long underwear top - not the rain skirt), thoroughly washed my filter and decided it was probably fine. Okay,a stickler would probably rinse it with chlorine (or visit the website for how to clean it if the clean water end becomes condzmjnated), but the multiple rinses with clean water were enough for me. If small exposures can cause illness (guardia again, I would assume) then I'm already in for it. I am surprised at how calm I feel (sort of "que sera, sera" or "it is what it is") except for the fact that after such a long period of GI inflammation and distress (after the year of 4 antibiotics, including 2 for guardia) I have been amazed to see my bowels regain healthy function and equanimity apparently because of my drinking aloe Vera juice. (If you have intractable GI problems and nothing is working, you might try it. Lily of the Desert brand aloe Vera juice. 1/4 cup a day or two "shots"  before meals. They make a powdered form I have used on the trail. It's got an artificial lemony sweet taste but I've come to not only tolerate but enjoy it. I almost took a photo of my poop this morning. Well formed healthy poop of a good consistency really seems special after living years with watery shards and lack of voluntary control (frequent seepage). But even I - and let's face it I'm a little more prone to self-exposure than the average freak on the street (or trail) - thought that might be just a little bit indiscreet. Though I do find it refreshing how freely hikers discuss poop on the trail. Taboos change with settings. 

I've done what needs doing. I also went to the Mexican restaurant next door and had an exceptionally good dinner. I notice when I look in the mirror that I'm thinner than I've ever known myself to be. Not emaciated but definitely thin. Guess this trail needed more calories than the PCT. Makes sense. 

This morning I - as I was writing that I recalled having trouble with my tent bag and accidentally cutting the draw string (which had gotten all tangled up with very thin strong threads that the bag, which is an ultra light high tech fabric called cyber fiber - just like my tent, back pack, etc. - starts to shed in a process called demyelination as it wears out, which is soon - these ultralight gear are wondrous but fragile and short-lived. Lessons in transience. ) Anyway I just took a break to try to repair the bag which involved finding a way to pull both cords through the little thingy (cord lock) - I used a needle and thread to pull the cord through. 

So, back to my day. I had a scrumptious Mexican dinner at the restaurant virtually next door. Small soft corn tortillas with pork, onion, cilantro, grilled pineapple (!) and good fresh salsa. And beans and rice that looked like beans and rice at any Mexican restaurant but tasted much much better. Tasted divine. I don't think it was only that I just came off the trail. 

Despite my slowed down morning due to stiff sack de-threadings and unravelings, I started hiking before 5 am with by the way my wonderfully powerful new headlamp (300 lumen - whatever that means - to me, it means I could see). I still lost the trail sometimes in the dark but quickly found it again. I am getting better at using the app to guide me when I go off trail. I've learned a lot on this trail. 

Photo 1 is the sun rising as I make my way toward Tusayan. 



Photo 2 is of a couple of elk ahead of me on the trail. They all ran away (6 or 8 of them) a few seconds later. 


Photo 3 is a place in the trail where the rock started to remind me of bones and I had the odd thought that I was walking on bones. Right after I took the photo I realized I'd taken a wrong turn and hiked back a quarter mile to get back on the trail. 


Photo 4 is some lovely rock formations just before Tusayan. 


Photo 5 is one of the many noisy low-flying helicopters flying by here. I sssume they are not emergency vehicles, or border patrol hunting immigrants, but rather tours of the canyon. 


Sorry I can't provide you with sound effects. (Lucky you. )

So tomorrow I will hike into Grand Canyon Village To the Backcountry Information Center where I will - I hope - discover what options I have for camping that might not be as beyond my abilities as my current reservations, alas, are. I will also pick up my resupply box at the lodge and bring it to the campground to sort since there is no room at the lodge. In the best of all possible worlds, I will hike down into the canyon Wednesday April 19, to Ribbon Falls (or rather the broken bridge and trail closure) Thursday April 20, and back up Friday (actually in the very best but I'm not aure a possible world I would get a third night at a campground halfway up and do the climb in two days, Friday and Saturday. ). Then I will head back to Flagstaff probably Saturday or Sunday the 22nd or 23rd and head home the 25th. 

It's almost over. Although the climb up out of the canyon will likely be the most challenging day of all. My wonderful brother Scott sent me a photo of my father, probably just before (or just after?) his Grand Canyon hike in 1985, the year I decided to go back to graduate school (in the program he founded) and become a therapist. Dad was one year younger than I now in this photo. I sure will be thinking of him when I'm hiking the canyon. 


Just an aside, trail angels Melody and Tim have one of those Mercedes Benz camper-vans that are the only true successors to the VW campers. Their van is named Henry IV - Tim says after his dad who loved to camp. Dad had a BW camper called Poppa Br - complete, like Henry IV, with vanity plate. I decided if I ever get that van I dream about, and if I ever do that road trip I dream about to see all the people I might otherwise never see again, it's going to be named Poppa Br. 

My father was a wonderful man. I loved him a lot and I know he loved me a lot. He'll for sure be walking with me in the canyon. 

Thank you for walking with us.