ok, so i, at best, have been phoning it in on this blog, and everywhere else in my life, for that matter; and yet i still possess the self-centeredness sit here and wonder why — while a 38 year old, straight, cis, white, male, fucking-part-of-the-problem, really — i have no audience, and why i’m glaringly not relevant to anyone or anything outside of my greater orbit.
well, in case i was wondering: that is why.
see, i, like a lot of dudes — in particular dudes from my particular generation — are sick and tired of a life we’re too PRIVILEGED to realize we’re PRIVILEGED to lead, and thus we have decided to manifest sick and tired.
that’s our issue.
we’ve all got it so good, but we’ve got to make it bad, so no one can have it worse, because we’re PRIVILEGED enough to do that.
so, when i say, the last few months have been tough and i say i don’t want to get into it, it’s mostly because i don’t want anyone to understand the reality of my PRIVILEGE.
so take all that with a grain. suffice to say, the outcome is that my PRIVILEGED dissatisfaction has, for the most part, gotten the best of me, and i am just parading around with a v PRIVILEGED dark cloud hovering over me.
my wife and i moved into a new house this last july, from a one bedroom apartment we’d called home for almost seven years; my wife, for almost ten.
now we live in a two bedroom house. not far, either. same zip code.
just, well, totally different.
and the move, itself, man, was a challenge for us, and we’re a couple who’s been through some shit, successfully — families have split up; beefs with relatives; trying, and failing, to have kids. and, somehow this move got the best of us.
like i said, none of these are really real problems that should result in, for example, languishing in my pajamas for days on end, or a half-empty bottle of tito’s in the freezer at all times, or snapping, apropos of nothing, at my wife, who’s only ever trying to help.
it’s just PRIVILEGE.
it’s just, “i’m mad because things aren’t the way i want them.”
now, my wife and i had a bunch of really constructive conversations, and i still didn’t totally get better, and i’d been knocking around the idea of getting back into therapy because, let’s face it, the car is always gonna need some maintenance when you’re putting lots of miles on it, and, in general, i knew i needed to try to get, you know, somewhat healthy; not just mentally, but physically as well.
classically, i’m an all-or-nothing guy, but at this particular turn of the screw, because i’m older, and because i think i have less energy, what i’m learning is that it’s also ok to strike a balance; an equilibrium is what’s going to make a feat sustainable, and, so, as you get older, sustainability is key.
and, so, while i’m on the topic of being all-or-nothing, i’ll just say that the point of this blog post is really to say that three weeks ago, i hiked across the Grand Canyon.
it was a trip that had been in the hopper for years —
my dad and i hiked the Canyon the first time four years ago, right before my wedding. we hiked from the South Rim trailhead, down the famous South Kaibab Trail, camped at Bright Angel, along the Colorado River, then hiked out via another famous rim summit.
it’s a lottery to get a permit, and we’d been trying to get back to it ever since.
my dad turned 70 this year, and my parents live in arizona, my sister and niece in colorado, and we’re here in LA, and sometimes, you know, it can just be hard to get everyone together at the same time when it’s not, like, a holiday.
but, we wanted to try to get us all together because, let’s face it, 70 is a milestone.
all my dad wanted to do was hike the Canyon.
and, this year, we won the lottery.
the permit was for us to hike Rim-to-Rim. it meant we were going to start on the North Rim trailhead — the famous North Kaibab Trail — and hike about 25 miles, or so, down into the Canyon basin, along Bright Angel Creek, through Cottonwood Campground, pass through Phantom Ranch, through Bright Angel Campground, and then ascend up and out the Canyon via Bright Angel. we scheduled it as a three night camp hike because, yes, we’re not young anymore, but, also, we wanted to take time and enjoy ourselves.
things at home with my wife were mending, but still slightly asunder, and i left after a long week of work, and nights away from home, and on the 8 hour plus drive to Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim, my wife and exchanged some very unpleasant texts.
i don’t know if you guys are prone to road trips alone. it’s a lot of time for rumination and thought, and i realized, on the drive, that perhaps my biggest problem — as a PRIVILEGED white, straight, cis, male, fucking-part-of-the-problem — is that i’m addicted to my misery. and not actual misery that’s inflicted on me, per se; not the real misery chronicled in myth and memoir, endured by large chunks of the world at this very moment.
i’m just addicted to the misery i invent.
my relationship with my dad is good, because he’s a great man and always sets the best of all possible examples. he’s loving, and fair. honest, also. like all our parents, some of the belief systems that are a byproduct of his age and generation sometimes seem archaic, but the reality is, whatever we believe, every generation will suffer the same affliction, someday, ultimately, when we, too, are 70.
regardless, time together with my dad is time i look forward to, so rolling into the South Rim campground at 4pm on a saturday to meet him at his very cool airstream trailer put me in one of the better moods i’d been in in a long while.
the plan was this: we spend Saturday night in the trailer at the South Rim Campground, wake and prep early the next morning for breakfast and catch a 4 hour shuttle ride around the enormous chasm at the north end of the Southwest, to the North Rim.
now, the North and South Rims of the Canyon are very interesting to traverse because of how different they are. first, the North Rim, and the North Kaibab Trail, only get about a tenth of the visitors that the South Rim, South Kaibab Trail, and Grand Canyon Village get. mainly, this is due to lack of easy accessibility, but also because the North Rim is over 1,000 feet higher in altitude, and so supports a different eco-system that includes cold temperatures and heavy snow, and is thus closed almost 7 months of the year.
we took the afternoon shuttle ride to the North Rim, out of passed the state line, through Navajo Nation, and arrived at the North Rim Campground, where we set up camp for the night, then, at dusk, hiked a mile along a transept trail that led to the South Rim’s only lodge. we had a quick bite and a beer, and at sunset, we stood at rim’s edge, taking in a view of the vast Canyon floor, and, miles away, on the other side, we could spy our gleaming destination.
early next morn we broke camp, filled our water, and headed out.
the thing about the Canyon is, there are no words for me to use that could possibly due the treacherous beauty of it any justice. it has been and always will be everything that’s expected.
what further awaited us, below, was not difficult, necessarily, and we are avid hikers, but it always prompts a challenge. though a brisk 50 degrees at rim top, in the Canyon, with the arizona sun is at its apex, temperatures push 100 to 110 degrees this time of year.
one thing: this particular trip, the basin trek had also experienced a massive main break — incredibly difficult to repair — and, so, the ready availability of potable water became unpredictable.
but i could not have anticipated the turn of events at mile 2, the first of a 7 mile leg — part of a 25 mile trek — when my dad muttered, “huh.”
“my knee feels funny,” he said.
by mile 7 he couldn’t walk. we hobbled into Cottonwood Campground, dripping sweat and out of water, our mood tense. and my father — reticent and determined, always — struggled to admit to me, as we set him down at a bare campsite with a bit of shade:
“i don’t think i’m walking out of here.”
the reality, is this: in those conditions, when temps are high and thirst is frequent, an injury limiting mobility — however minor — slows one’s pace, and causes one to funnel more energy into that physical injury to accommodate the immobility.
to clarify, it took us 4 hours to go 7 miles, when it should’ve naturally taken us 2.5. that extra hour in the sun can cost an extra liter, or so, of water.
also, my dad is 70 years old.
on top of that, a number of other hikers who’d made it to that point on the trail — coming from both north an south — panicked to discover the absence of potable water.
like i said, as avid hikers, my father and i weren’t concerned. Bright Angel Creek runs through this campsite, and along the trail actually all the way until it connects with the Colorado River, actually, and while we were additionally equipped with a purification system, the Creek’s source is only a few miles upstream from camp, so its water is probably as drinkable as it gets.
but, the mood between my dad and i had got tense. it’s hard to reasonably describe how difficult an interaction as simple as one man saying to another man, “i’m hurt. i can’t go on,” and the other saying, “ok. let’s stop here and figure out what to do,” can be, especially between a father and a son, but, well, that’s just the mystery of human relationships.
i pitched our tents, set my dad up with plenty of fresh water and sunscreen, fixed his camp chair underneath a twisted umbrella of a desert tree, then proceeded to purify another 10 liters of water, and then we limped to an uninhabited ranger station where we found an emergency telephone.
a destination like the Canyon has a little bit of magic to it, because although you’re never alone, you’re totally alone. it’s one of the most visited national parks in the country, drawing novice and expert alike, and although your never really far from civilization, there are points on the trail when you might be 7 miles down, and 20 miles away, and the sun is hot and you’re tired and stressed because your father can’t give you a single straight answer about the state of a joint in his leg because he’s too proud and too determined and too set to finish what he starts and, yes, getting older is hard for all of us and men tend to be all-or-nothing, like i was talking about, and all that is incredibly understandable, but holy hell you just want to know what the fuck is up so you know what to do so you can get started on the path to a solution and that’s when even the Grand Canyon can feel like the most remote place you’ve ever been.
so we got on the emergency phone with an operator from Search & Rescue — we’ll call her “kim” because that’s her name, and she deserves to be recognized — and she could not have been radder, nor sounded more like this was a usual workday.
“can you call me back in two hours?” she asked. “i’m working on an extraction from zion national park, and three other simultaneous extractions from the canyon, near you.”
“sure,” we said. “no problem.”
“yeah,” my dad said, “this is not a crazy emergency, so –“
i gave him a look.
“it’s just that we don’t need a helicopter or anything.”
two hours later, we were back on the phone with kim, and she said, “i can get you out of the Canyon tomorrow morning. but, how do you feel about a mule?”
“into it,” said my dad. without hesitation.
mules are how most water, food, gear, supplies, and a ton of tourists are shuttled in and out of the Canyon. they’re a hybrid, the seemingly perfect result for what’s needed of them by cross-breeding donkeys and horses.
kim arranged for a mule wrangler from the North Rim — Miss Kitty is her professional name — to meet us at the Cottonwood Campground corral at 9 the next morning, and she would take my father back to the top, where he’d catch a return shuttle at the North Rim Lodge, and be back at the South Rim Campground by nightfall.
two days later, i’d meet him at the South Rim.
the thing that really surprised me was my father, and i think i learned a valuable lesson from him that trip.
normally, i’d say that my dad is the type of person who could’ve been ruined by taking that mule out of the Canyon, and not finishing the hike. giving up, heading back, calling it quits, whatever you want to call it, has always, in itself, seemed like a kind of failure.
but he just looked relieved.
the rest of this story is not interesting.
i hiked solo 7 miles to Phantom Ranch, a cabin, campsite, canteen, and mess hall that has been the Canyon’s main intercept for decades. i stopped for a beer and snacks before setting up camp at adjacent Bright Angel Campground, where i sought shade, soaked my clothes in the Creek, and stayed hella hydrated to endure the hot afternoon.
that evening i smoked some weed and silently watched the night sky go from 5 pm to 9.
at 4am the next morning i broke camp and hit the trail. it pitch-black, but already 90 degrees, and for a stretch, while i had maximum energy, and a lot of vigor, it was the most epic my inner self had ever felt. i crossed the Colorado, and as the trail that runs along it rose above, just before it turns into Stove Pipe Creek Canyon, winding into the hell that is the South Rim ascent, armed with a single hiking pole, and a head lamp, i navigated the blackness, swatting at fluttering bats, listening to the roar of the river.
and i said to myself, “i am a novel right now.”
the temperature got no cooler, but i made it halfway through those last 10 miles before 9am. as i said, though, even as i gained altitude, the temperature kept matching itself, and, so, i kept sweating. the weight of my 70lb rucks growing heavier by the step.
the last 4.5 miles to the North Rim is switchbacks, and its also sort of a mindfuck, because it’s where you start to encounter the largest mobs of people. see, at the North Rim is Grand Canyon Village — Bright Angel Lodge and the famous El Tovar Hotel, several restaurants, bars, gift shops — so you see not only day hikers, making their, perhaps, downtrail to the Canyon bottom and back, but even just tourists, meandering down to catch a selfie in their flip-flops, with nothing more than half a bottle of Dasani.
meanwhile, you are covered in blood, and dirt, and red clay and silt, dripping sweat.
“i see a lot of people hiking up the trail,” one tourist i met from italy said, “and you all look miserable.”
“is it bad?” he asked.
admittedly, the hike, overall, is moderate. but, for me, the last 4.5 miles were hard. physically and mentally. my quads started to cramp, and i couldn’t stay hydrated enough. i drank almost 8 liters of water that day by myself, and i didn’t urinate once.
also, i missed my dad.
also, i missed my wife.
i don’t know if it was because i went at it alone, because it’s an experience my dad and i had so looked forward to sharing. or i don’t know if it was because of the incident of his injury, the result of time and age, or if it was his surprising relief in being able to get out.
i don’t know if it was that was fucking me up.
when i was about a half-mile from the top, i saw him at Rimtop, taking photos of me. when i reached him, finally, we collapsed into a hug, and we both cried.
just a couple of old white men still trying to find some thrill even as we gets sicker and more tired to do so.
that night we ate and drank so much, and caroused and laughed, and despite the fact that we’d missed a little over 24 hours together in a trip we were supposed to share completely, subsequently that was some of the best time we’ve ever shared.
things at home have been great.
it’s weeks later, and i still feel the experience in my bones.
i know it’s a melodramatic thing to say, because maybe i’m giving it all more weight than some might think it deserved, but that’s what personal experience is all about.