My husband tried to prepare me more than once, “You’ll leave something there, but you’ll take something far better out with you.” As we started the trek from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at 5:30 a.m. with two of our five kids, his advice kept repeating in my head. Yes, I anticipated nature’s splendor, expected physical discomfort and was counting on reaching the opposite rim before dark. What else could possibly happen in THE canyon that would be so impactful?
Let’s get this straight – I was showing up to prove I could hike this beast of a canyon – rim to rim for 25ish miles in spite of the altitude challenges, hydration and heat issues. And, yes, I also wanted the four of us to share in this gutsy glory and grandeur together. Although there were warning signs advising of the potential dangers of taking the full hike on in one day, I was convinced that was for all of those other people.
Months later, I’m still transfixed by the experience And, as usual, my husband who was no stranger to the canyon having run rim to rim to rim a few years ago, was spot on. These take-aways are a few of the treasures that came out with me, yet could never describe what happened that will sacredly stay there.
Control what you can, understand what you can’t, and lean into the unknown.
There was a complete surrender to the conditions that were out of our control – the heat, the terrain and the altitude. We could only control the training undertaken in our preparation and making sure we consumed sufficient water and nutrition the day of the hike. Having never trained in these exact conditions, we weren’t sure how our bodies would react. We found out quickly. The temperature variance was 50 degrees in about 4 hours and the elevation difference was about 6,000 feet for both rims. We absolutely knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
When in unfamiliar territory, instead of resisting or questioning, it’s much more effective to dance with the experience, learning along the way while being fully present in each moment.
Two of us paced ourselves early on, allowing an energy reserve for the hardest part of the hike during the 8-mile climb out. Those who didn’t pace themselves struggled the most with heat stroke and cramps. (We agreed the details of this part of the trek would always stay in the canyon!) There’s a reason this is touted as one of the “ten most dangerous hiking trails.” The heat in the box can reach over 120 degrees and the unexpected dozens of switchbacks invite a treacherous fall. Heat strokes are common. Dehydration is familiar. If you stop to rest a few minutes each hour and take in nutrition, you allow your body to pace, reserving the most energy for the most challenging part of the climb out.
When we treat too many areas with the tyranny of the urgent, our energy and impact may be diminished for those things that ultimately matter. If you’re not pacing yourself, you’re negatively impacting and throwing off the rhythm of your team, increasing the potential for yourself and others to struggle on the most trying parts of the team’s shared path.
Nature is cathartic – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
In the canyon I became intimately present with myself and my Creator. It was transforming to experience the diverse and breathtaking beauty, the connection with nature and to hear only the internal beat of the drummer. The many proven benefits of connecting with nature were illuminated.
Here is just a handful:
1- “Group nature walks are linked with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental health and well-being” (The University of Michigan, with partners from De Montfort University, James Hutton Institute, and Edge Hill University in the United Kingdom.)
2- “Those more immersed in natural settings are more generous, whereas those immersed in non-natural settings are less likely to give. In other words, autonomy and relatedness encouraged participants to (in this study) focus on their intrinsic values for relationships and community rather than on personal gain.” (Weinstein, Przybylski and Ryan: University of Rochester)
3- “Early research found that in the act of contemplating nature, the brain is relieved of ‘excess’ circulation (or activity) and nervous system activity is reduced. … restoring harmony to the functions of the brain as a whole. This is a technical explanation of the process that occurs when people ‘clear their head’ by going for a walk in a natural setting.” (World Health Promotion)
There was no perceived stress. I was and am beyond grateful. My head is refreshingly clear.
We can’t always hike the Grand Canyon for our next life-changing adventure. We can, however, go for walks in the park or on a local trail, the glorious Overland Park Arboretum, or grab some much needed vacation time in a natural setting.
Because you never know what will happen “in the canyon” that you’ll leave behind or take away that will forever change you.