By Ken DeLaat
“I can almost see it
That dream I'm dreaming
But there's a voice inside my head sayin'
"You'll never reach it"- The Climb, Miley Cyrus song, lyrics by Jessi Leigh Alexander and Jon Clifton Mabe
First, my take on the Park itself.
Way, way, way too many people and equally way too few dining options.
LSC Lil and I visited the canyon briefly circa 1977-8 when we left our jobs, piled our belongings and a black Lab named Molly in a somewhat converted ( a raised bed in the back) Chevy Van and traveled out West until we later returned some time later (no one in the marriage seems to remember the timelines) to settle in our bipeninsular paradise.
As I recall we stayed a night or two in a cabin in the park for about 10 bucks a night and explored the area along with what seemed to be a few hundred others.
The room at a non park hotel was merely a few fins beyond 20 times what was paid back then. Of course that was a tad over 4 decades ago, but people in my age group are always fascinated by the dynamics of inflation so...
And while complaining to Lil about the crush of humanity, she informed me of her chat earlier that day with a guy familiar to GC who spoke to the relative reduction in the crowds due to international travel restrictions.
Well, I suppose if one considers inflation with regard to the overnight rates one can surmise that with the population of the planet increasing from 4.2 to 7.8 billion in the years since we last visited more folks are likely to be out and about.
And thank heaven for the bar and grocery store at our end of the park since the other dining options where reservations were likely to be required a few years in advance, the wait for a table ranged from 2-2/12 hours.
I give a lot of credit to the poor folks whose job it was to relay this bad news over and over again eliciting reactions ranging from stunned awareness to hunger-abetted anger. They generally had one of those ‘deer in the headlights’ look to them. With one exception.
We’ll call her Dianne to protect the not so innocent..
You have likely known this person in one form or another. I know I certainly have.
Dianne seemed to absolutely revel in delivering the hope shattering message to those unfortunate enough to encounter her. Armed with a look that dared you to challenge her or even begin to show displeasure she swatted away criticism with a sneering smile that beamed with self righteous authority. One could easily have pictured her saying “What we have here is failure to communicate”
Into the Canyon
Lil has long had a goal of hiking down into the canyon.
“We don’t need to go far, I just want to hike down a ways.”
How far? Like, more than a couple hundred yards? You know there's that whole hike back up thing right?
“Not far. Just as far as you want to go. How’s that?”
“Not an inch farther.”
Knowing this was coming a couple months beforehand most would begin a rather rigorous regimen of preparation to make the upcoming hike more doable.
My prep for the Canyon hike was an occasional stroll around the lake near N3 World Headquarters.
It wasn’t enough.
Not nearly enough.
We got to the trailhead and peered down to where the trail made the first switchback.
It looked steep.
And far more narrow than I imagined.
Just as far as I feel like going, right?
“Yes. Though I might want to go farther”
I didn’t like the sound of that because I knew above all I was not about to have her continue down what looked like a daunting trail alone. I couldn’t bear to be That Guy.
We mounted our packs and started down.
And down and down and down. Passing folks who were on the way up and not exactly looking like they were having a great time. Switchback after switchback we descended until I was convinced we were nearly at the bottom.
How far have we gone?
“Not that far. Why, do you want to go back?”
“I just want to keep going for a while, ok? But if you want to turn back..”
It’s ok. Just not too far, ok?
We shuffled on being passed by younger hikers and twice by the mules. One seemed to be nudging his pack up against me in a way that somehow reminded me of Dianne.
At one point it was announced that we had reached a mile down. Though convinced it was at least 3 times that distance I was elated that we had possibly reached a milestone and could begin the arduous trek upwards.
“There’s a rest stop with a bathroom up ahead. Mind if we go there?”
How far is it?
“Just another ½ mile or so.”
Feeling emotionally deflated and yet swept up in my ego driven need to prove my mettle I hitched the pack back on and we continued. When we finally arrived at the rest stop it became time for the return.
A younger me may have had an easier time but on this day I identified not with Rocky who trotted up the steps of the Philly Museum of Art, but more like Frodo and Sam using their last bits of energy to scale Mt. Doom.
Dramatic? Perhaps but being on the cusp of septaugenarianism every injury from the remote past to my knees, legs, feet and hips returned to haunt my body. I recalled my friend Charles Chandler telling the story of having to drag his hiking companion up the trail which conjured up visions of Lil doing the same as a line of hikers looked on trying hard not to laugh.
With a multitude of breaks and rests along the way and Lil pushing snacks and water to me I labored on.
How far to the top?
“Umm maybe a quarter mile”
I questioned the sincerity of this estimate since she seemed to be smiling a bit, but mustered up the energy to follow her across what seemed to be innumerable switchbacks until we finally reached the corner with the end in sight.
A final push got me to the top. It was over at last.
“Aren’t you glad now that we did it?”
I was too tired, too sore and too aware of my inability to filter my responses to answer, choosing to simply nod while attempting to bring my lungs back to some semblance of normal breathing.
For what it's worth the 3.5 mile distance isn’t exactly grueling for those who might be in better shape. Lil, who works out frequently and hikes far more often than her sedentary husband, seemed to have a significantly lesser struggle. In fact that afternoon she decided to take another hike along a rim trail for several miles.
I went to the bar and ordered a beer while I wrote this.
A rather large beer at that.
When she returned she talked about hiking down in the canyon on another trail the following day.
A shudder of terror went through my body before she added, “But it’s supposed to rain tomorrow so we should maybe consider a rim hike.”
And praise be to the weather gods, it did indeed rain.
And rain on a vacation never felt quite so good.
“Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb”- The Climb
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