May 24, 2010

Rim-to-Rim and Home Again

“So, how was it?”

That’s the question I’ve heard repeated since we returned from the Grand Canyon on Saturday. I immediately reply, “Amazing!” but inside I wonder, how much time do you have?

Dan and I went to the Grand Canyon to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We planned to hike from the North Rim to the South Rim on a four-day backpacking trip. While this seems far from a vacation to some of you, it’s our idea of a grand adventure.

Of all the millions of people who visit the Grand Canyon each year, only 2% descend below the canyon rim onto one of the many trails. Only 1% hike to the bottom to Phantom Ranch. And fewer still hike from one rim to the other. I wanted to be one of the few.

Before the trip I prayed for four things specifically—
  1. That Dan and I'd survive
  2. That we’d have fun
  3. That we’d reconnect and reinvigorate our relationship
  4. That I’d have good hair days

God answered three of my prayers abundantly.

(Turns out, short of a miracle, going four days without a shower makes good hair a near impossibility. Maybe that’s why God created baseball caps and 'do-rags.)

With newly-filled backpacks we departed from the North Rim in the early afternoon last Sunday.
Ready to head out from the North Rim.
Besides Dan and I, our group included a father and his two twenty-something sons and our guide, Jeremy. (Who I may devote an entire blog to because we loved him so much!) As we hiked through the Ponderosa forest and caught our first glimpse of the Canyon, the views confirmed we’d made the right decision to take this trip!
First views of the Canyon. There was even still snow on the ground.
Each day of our trip brought new challenges, breathtaking views, fresh adventures and countless opportunities. The first two days were much harder than expected. About three-quarters of the way through both days I had to seriously “buck up little camper.” By the end of the second day my muscles were so sore and my blisters plentiful that I worried I’d be able to complete the uphill climbs on days three and four. Especially since our all-male (except me) group kept a far brisker pace than I'd choose. But, I didn’t want to look like a wimp, so I tried my best to keep up and keep my complaints to a minimum.

In the depths of the Canyon one learns a lot about herself (or himself)—about perseverance and fortitude. One also learns a lot about God. Every bend in the trail, every flower blooming, every newly spied vista and every sweeping landscape literally shouts the testimony of our awesome Creator. People may enter the Canyon as an atheist, but I don’t see how they leave as one.
View of the Colorado River taken from the "silver bridge"

Even in such harsh conditions, beautiful flowers bloomed.
The Grand Canyon is many things. None of which are possible to capture in a single visit or perhaps even a single lifetime. It is a place where stark contrasts co-exist in a delicate balance:
  • Life and death
  • Immense and tiny
  • Rugged and tender
  • Arid and aquatic
  • Ancient and contemporary
  • Desolate and abundant
  • Friendly and foreboding
  • Dusty and damp
  • Hospitable and hostile

When we were in the Canyon, one fact remained ever-present—it must be respected.

There were so many memorable moments on our trip that it’s hard to pick just one favorite. The third day—the one I was so fearful of—turned out to be the best day, filled with highlights from sun up to sun down.
On Plateau Point at sunset. Jeremy (to the right) is making our dinner!

However, for sheer exhilaration, nothing tops the feeling I had as we completed the last half-mile of the Bright Angel Trail and emerged on the South Rim. Tired and grungy, but oh so ecstatic! What a tremendous feeling of accomplishment to gaze across the Canyon to the North Rim and say, “I did it!”
Steps away from the South Rim!

I was so excited that I told any of the South Rim tourists who glanced my way what we'd done! Even those who didn’t speak English seemed impressed (or befuddled by the crazy, American backpacker). And during the rest of our time in AZ, I managed to work the words "backpack, Grand Canyon and Rim-to-Rim" into every conversation I had. (Have I mentioned I'm ecstatic over our trip?)

In the next few installments I’m going to write about some of the things I learned. The thoughts are still simmering so I’m not sure exactly where this will go. Stay tuned …

P.S. We used a guide company for our trip: Just Roughin' It. I highly recommend them if you're thinking about an adventure like this. 


Terri Tiffany said...

I am one of those percentages that walked to the edge, oohed and ahhed and wondered how anyone could ever hike down there:) SO happy I know someone who did now! Glad it was everything you hoped it would be!

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

Honestly, were you raised by a pack of wolves? This is an incredible accomplishment that I cannot fully imagine nor appreciate, as I would never undertake such a journey. I suppose, in some small measure, my life is a rim to rim climb with many detours, hazards, peeks and valleys along the way. Oh, and tons of bad hair days to boot!

Can't wait to read more about your heart learning. This is just amazing.


Kelly Combs said...

I am so proud of you! You rock!!!! That is an amazing journey and you should feel so proud of your accomplishments... not only the rim to rim, but the 20 yrs marriage isn't too shabby either!

You are full of perserverence!


Dan said...

Kelli alludes to lagging behind the group. Don't believe her lies...she was a TROOPER from the first step to the last! OK, there were a few time on Day Two where I found myself pondering, "Is there room for Kelli and her stuff inside my backpack, or do I just strap the whole lot on top?" Those moments quickly passed - that girl can flat-out hike and, like a great NFL running back, I swear she got stronger as she went!

What a phenomenal trip. Every turn of the trail was more spectacular than the last and we were truly sorry to see it end.

Oh, and was wolverines. They're way meaner.

Cheryl Barker said...

Congrats, Kelli! So glad you guys survived and had a great time to boot. From Don's many excursions into the Canyon, I know what you mean by the fact that it must be respected. So happy for your accomplishment!

Laura said...

Welcome home, Kelli! You guys rock! What amazing pictures (see? I said it too--AMAZING!) What a great thing to celebrate your love with. It looks like you made some beautiful memories.

Carmen said...

Well--I'm impressed! What an incredibly wonderful experience! I can't wait to read about the rest of it because you know I won't ever do that. Oh no sirree...and I guarantee you nobody would consider putting me in their backpack if I did go. What a wonderful husband you have!

Analisa said...

I love that you and hubby did something you really wanted to do. You would be perfect for the Amazing Race. :).

Looking forward to reading your insights.

Sue J. said...

I thought I saw snow! Welcome back, little camper!!

Your pictures are stunning, and I'm guessing you have tons more. I keep going back to that picture of the flower. If it were me, I would be wanting to linger back at every speck of flora and fauna; but, there were miles to go before you slept! Ah....a girl can dream. Maybe one day.... (It's on the list--a visit!)

Glad to know that you were not only safe and alive, but that you thrived. That is what marriage is all about, yes? God is good!!

Looking forward to whatever tumbles forth next....

Kelly said...

Oh, Kel, I'm so happy for you! What a great journey and celebration of not only your relationship with your hubby, but of our God, too!

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

OK... brief moment of divine inspiration (at least I like to think so) while out jogging (I use this term lightly) my pitiful 4 miles...

"Living God's Rim-to-Rim: and every winding trail in between"

A book of reflections from your perspective... your unique experiences where you've felt the pulse and witness of our Father's heart. Not just in the mountains, but in all of your life experiences (mission trips, prison, coming to faith later in life, etc.). We're in need of some great devotionals in book format (trust me on this one; I'm a devotional reader).

Now before you say "no", just ponder it a bit. Allow the Lord to speak to you about it... truly, what does living "rim-to-rim" with God mean to you? The forward picture, the backward glance, etc. Start writing down ideas as they come, maybe even a tentative outline of 30 to 40 reflections. Don't think from an obvious teaching point of view (there's enough out there like this... just ordinary); think from a less obvious perspective... things that others wouldn't think about.

For what it's worth, I think there's something there. This happens to me every now and then... I think of great book ideas for other writers to write, but here's the deal:

Only you can write your life; I'll never hike rim-to-rim, at least not literally, but I imagine that I could find myself somewhere in the story and have it apply to my faith journey.

If you ever seriously consider something like this, I'd love to talk it through with you, be a sounding board. In the meantime, pray about it and see what emerges in your heart.


Melanie said...

I would LOVE to do this!
And I think Elaine's book idea is fabulous.