For me a true adventure must be an extraordinary experience that shakes my world off its axis. There has to be an element of risk that come from the potential for real danger associated with venturing into the unknown and even unknowable. There has to be challenge, both physical and mental, that forces me to draw upon depths I hoped were there but could not know without starting forth on the adventure.
It’s not enough for an experience to be only risky, or only a challenge, though. A true adventure is one that allows me to become a new person for the duration. Hopefully some of that will stick with me afterwards. Hopefully I will find myself changed forever, a little or a lot, for good or for bad.
I’ve done Grand Canyon twice before and it did that for me then. Grand Canyon 2019 was still true adventure for me.
Now, just a week from having last seen it, the impact of that incredible view has faded. That’s not too surprising, because unless I’m actually looking at it my mind shies away from its immensity. Photos simply cannot convey the hugeness of it, whereas being there and standing literally on the edge of the rim and looking out to the enormity of size and age is mind blowing.
My human mind is just not capable of holding onto the enormity of the Grand Canyon any more than it can hold onto an instant of pure bliss. These are transient states of extreme intensity, and to dwell in them unprepared would fry my poor brain.
Part of what delivers the intensity of Grand Canyon is the extreme contrast. The south rim is nearly a mile higher than Phantom Ranch. In January it’s deep winter at the top but already on the cusp of spring at the bottom. Restaurants and room service and crowds and traffic at the top, hours when you might see no other human being on the trail and then only a couple dozen fellow trekkers at the bottom. All the amenities of civilization at the top, primitive, even survivalist, conditions at the bottom.
The Grand Canyon is rich with nuances of earth tones but the deep shadows confuse the eye. One moment the sun glares off the snow and it’s time to put on sunglasses and remove gloves and hat and scarf. The next, after stepping down and around an outcropping, it’s too dark to see and it’s winter again.
I go down and down and down and the river is never getting any closer and I know I’m going to be out on the trail forever, but suddenly it’s there, a brown, roiling mass of water that feeds me the energy to shout over its roar.
A couple days later I’m slogging up the trail, each step a stab of pain, my lungs burning as I try to suck in enough oxygen to keep going, and I look up to see crayon-colored hot-air balloons sailing through the clear blue sky above. I pass a velvet-antlered buck that placidly chews spears of green grass , unperturbed as I walk by him just a few feet away.
I stare at the colors, the distances, the age, the amazing extraordinary beauty, and try so very hard to hold it in — but like a deep breath I soon must let it go.
Now, a week later, Grand Canyon is a fading memory. I learned some things: I was more prepared to do this hike than the first two times, but I was not prepared enough. I didn’t need to hurt so much. I didn’t need to forget so quickly.
And yet now I’ve healed and find myself stronger than I was before. I’ve been nudged off center — not far, but enough that I’m forced to find new balance in my life.
It’s a good thing.
So yeah, Grand Canyon was a true adventure for me. I can’t wait till I get to do it again!