Friday, November 7, 2014

Left Behind……..

The hikes in the Grand Canyon were something that Fred and I had really looked forward to. Hiking is our ‘thing’ and we have often said that we like to see a place ‘on our feet’. Having hiked the Canyon’s corridor hikes (Bright Angel Trail and the Kaibab trail) as well as several other hikes in the Canyon, we felt that we knew what to expect. We trained to get into shape, anticipating that the hikes might be a bit strenuous.  What we found was a whole new level of difficulty than we had expected.

The difficulty of the hikes surprised both Fred and I (and I am sure some others on this trip). We were expecting to be hiking up the canyon – but we never expected every hike to be as demanding as they turned out to be - with ‘boulder hopping’ and exposed ridge lines, narrow ledges to navigate, very steep up and down sections, and some sections that did not even seem to follow a marked trail. Even the relatively short trails had some aspect that was challenging.

It was on our second day on the river that we took our first real hike- up a little side canyon named Rider Canyon.  It was a quite do-able hike for the first short section, then the trail ended unexpectedly and Matt, our trip leader, tried to find another way through the canyon. When it looked like the new trail was going to be particularly challenging (scampering up a rock slide and walking a narrow ridge), I panicked and decided that I would ‘sit this one out’  Becky, whose knee was not up to the climb, and I enjoyed a bit of quiet time sitting in the little slot canyon, but it felt odd to be left behind as the group headed off on an adventure, and odder still to be watching and waiting for their return.

Our next big hike, that same afternoon, involved a pretty good climb up North Canyon. Matt noted that this hike could be used as a bench mark to discuss the difficulties of future hikes. I completed this hike, but I really felt that I had to work to keep up with the guide.  I really do not like to feel pressed on a hike. I prefer to take the time to take pictures and to just enjoy the views. Hiking fast always leaves me wondering “What’s the point? ” Despite that, I did enjoy the sense of accomplishment at having done the hike.

Our next opportunity for hiking came not the following day, but the day after….the hike up Eminence Break to an overlook. The night before, Matt, made a point of telling all of us (and very pointedly, the slower hikers) that this hike would be short, but very steep and challenging. (Oh – that is another thing, Matt was TERRIBLE at describing the hikes. He always underestimated the time and distance, and never described the actual hiking conditions!) That description of the Eminence hike, plus the fact that I do not particularly enjoy such steep hikes, led me to decide to sit out, again.

This time, Becky and I, and Pricilla (who had been struggling on the hikes) and Deanna (who had sprained her ankle) stayed behind while Fred and the rest of the group (including the 78 year old couple, Nancy and Tom) started out on the hike. Nancy and Tom, enjoyed the hike at their pace, and only went a short ways up – while the rest of the group completed the hike, taking about 2 hours.

Though the hike was tedious, and the overlook not that impressive, their sense of accomplishment was evident as all the hikers came down talking about their experience. That night I laid awake, bothered about my decision to not go on the hike.........

Even though it had been my decision, and I wasn’t even sure that I had wanted to do this hike or would have enjoyed it, I was not happy with the feeling of being left behind. And I REALLY was not happy with the feeling that maybe I was not capable of doing this hike, or I was too afraid to try.

When I looked at the pictures that Fred and others had taken of both of these hikes where I had sat out, I realized that I could have handled the challenge….but it may have taken me a bit longer……and, I felt self conscious about slowing the group (especially Fred) down. And, perhaps, I would not have enjoyed the more tedious or challenging parts of the hikes, anyway.

It is a real dilemma – trying to decide ahead of time – whether tackling a challenge, and the success of accomplishment, will seem worth it in the end; and trying to discern whether it is my fears that are holding me back, or an honest assessment of my abilities and/or my desire to participate.  The group dynamics definitely played a role in my decision making. People were left out, or actively discouraged from attempting a number of hikes. And rather than fostering a sense of team work and camaraderie on the trip, the overall atmosphere was ‘each man for himself’.

I feel like I was in pretty good shape, but I know that I am not as strong a hiker (and certainly not as fast) as some.  I am pretty good on the uphill sections, but I am slow and deliberate on down hills. I can do some pretty challenging stuff, but I like to be able to take my time. Also, I am a bit afraid of heights, so some sections of trail present me with additional challenges. Fred, on the other hand, is a strong hiker, seemingly without fear, He enjoys the challenge of a difficult hike, but he, also, would rather take a bit slower pace and enjoy the ‘journey’ rather than rush to get to the destination.

The problem with these hikes was, that on almost every hike we were rushed….always with a feeling that we needed to ‘get the hike done’ so that we could put the miles in on the river. In addition, our trip leader, Matt, would set a blistering (to me) pace. He would take off, almost before everyone was gathered up, and would just HIKE, pausing only occasionally to let the slower hikers catch up before setting off again. If Matt did have some interesting facts or information to add along the way, only those in the immediate front would be able to hear him.

The hikes were difficult….and the pace was intimidating. To top it off, everyone else seemed to be managing the hikes better than I was. I found myself particularly self-conscious on this trip (as I also had been on our Galapagos trip). I usually see myself as pretty strong and active. But when I compare myself to the people that tend to go on these ‘adventure trips’ …..well that’s another story! And to make matters worse, even the older couple had hiked parts of all of the hikes, rather than just sit out!. Let’s just say that I suddenly felt like a real ‘wuss’ and I did not like that feeling!. 

The overall experience of the hiking was  disappointing. We had chosen the date for the rafting trip to be able to take advantage of the cooler weather and a slightly extended time frame that was supposed to allow for a more” leisurely pace and more hiking opportunities”. Instead, we felt like the hikes were rushed and that we were not able to enjoy them as much as we would have liked.

 Dealing with the feelings that the hiking had generated, has been the most difficult aspect of this trip for me to wrap my thoughts around and put into words. I do have a sense of pride in what I have accomplished, but I find myself grappling with issues of self consciousness and/or embarrassment, realistic self assessment, aging issues, the role of fear/anxiety in my life, and issues of dependency as well as the fear of being left out and left behind

After the Eminence hike (the 4th day of our trip) I made a decision – I would not be left out again! I was going to keep up - if it killed me…… After that, Fred and I hiked every hike - together - though not always to the very end of each hike. We worked at hiking a pace that was somewhat faster than we would have liked, but slower than most of the group. I kept up……and I kept going….despite my fears and my self doubt. I did feel a great sense of accomplishment – I hiked a number of hikes, including a very demanding 4 hour hike up Tabernacle that left me with a real sense of pride.

When I think back on the hikes on this trip, my feelings are mixed. The hikes were awesome…….and the destinations well worth the effort……. But they came at a cost..........

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