I was not an adventurous traveler until I turned 70 years old. My husband and I took road trips and visited national parks. I went on a group tour to China and walked the Great Wall—but that’s a story for another day, and I never considered it a great adventure. Well, except for when I was stranded in Tiananmen Square. Again a story for another day. Today is a story from my colossal experience.
In 2011 I turned 70, and I felt I needed a grand adventure before that momentous birthday.
My immediate family, including my late great ex-husband, took trips down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in wooden dories. These were the boats that John Wesley Powell used when he first exploded the length of the canyon. It was now my turn for that adventure. The outfitter —OARS (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists), offered three options for riding the river through the canyon. One could begin the trip at the beginning and hike out of the canyon from Phantom Ranch (a rest stop at the bottom of the canyon). Another option was to hike into the canyon to Phantom Ranch to join the group, or one could take the entire trip from Lees Ferry to Whitmore Wash (14 days). I had hiked to and from Phantom Ranch in my early 30s, and it was a challenge then. This was not even an option, so I signed up for the entire trip down the Colorado. A grand adventure indeed.
Obviously, there are many stories about this trip, but there is one memory I have often shared with friends.
The canyon has some special significance for my family, and I had been given some must-see hikes. All of them were challenging, and I sat some out, but there was this one I had to do. It was a particular cliff one must climb. I was determined.
As the group set out, I immediately fell behind. I would be so sad to not achieve this goal. One of the guides stayed behind with me. I kept apologizing and told him to not stay behind because of me. Then I realized I had paid for him to be there and be my guide. It was his job to get this older woman up that cliff. He was very patient. He carried extra water because he knew some of the guests would not have enough water with them. We rested often. He showed me some of the plant life and interesting rocks. We kept walking. (And walking and walking.) Finally, the cliff was in sight. I could see our head guide and the folks who had taken on the challenge of this hike.
The head guide was learning to play the flute, and the notes reverberated through the canyon. I felt the music was just for me—celebrating my victory of getting this far.
But it was not done. I still had to join the rest of the party. With the help of my guide, some guests, and lots of gumption, they hoisted me up that cliff. We celebrated. And then it was done, and it was time to go back.
I have the picture of me being lifted up to the pinnacle. It was a triumph for me and a hike I will never forget.
As a footnote: why is that trip so important to me? My late great ex-husband did the trip several times, and my daughter and son-in-law took his ashes to the Colorado River on their journey. But best of all, as my grandson tells everyone: “My name is John Wesley. I am named after John Wesley Powell because my mommy and daddy found me in the Grand Canyon.” See why I had to go?