To The Falls And Back Again
Day #4 – The Final Ascent
I awoke on my own, not knowing what time it was, desperate for water and the bathroom. I grabbed the water and took a big gulp.
The wind was howling but the tent was very comfortable.
I found my flashlight and shoes, tucked my roll of toilet paper in the cleavage compartment of my bra (my girls do a fine job holding things that I need when I need them), and I scooted out of the tent.
Once again, the stars were a magnet to my gaze. Gillions of stars – #startreknextgeneration
I had attended a Saturn viewing at the Challenger Space Center once, and the lecture was mind-blowing: The stars you see right now, do not exist anymore – You are seeing something that was shining millions of years ago, but the light takes that long to travel to our eyes. I actually developed a headache from mentally grasping that concept.
The temperature had dropped quite a bit, and it was windy for sure. I made it to the bathroom and back in one piece – hooray. I returned to the tent, not knowing if it was time to wake everyone up. I didn’t want to do that if it was only 1 or 2.
I nudged Captain Amazing and asked him what time it was. He reached for his phone – 3:20 – so I lay back down and stretched and listened to the wind until I felt an appropriate amount of time had passed.
I left the tent and woke up Mr. Luge and Mr. Julie McCoy first.
“Good morning, Boys – It’s time to wake up,” I sweetly cooed.
I then went over to Mr. Bobby’s compound – “Hey – Wake up!!”
He’s my brother – I don’t have to be sweet.
Captain Amazing was aroused by my beginning to pack up my gear.
Did I just say “aroused” out loud??? he he he! #onetrackmind
We all worked diligently to deflate sleeping pads, stuff sleeping bags into stuff sacks, pack up clothes, assemble backpacks, and then take down the tents. We were all efficient teams.
I was the first one done and very proud of that. My goal was to not have anybody waiting for me and my girly habits.
“You’re done already? Gawd, you always smell so good,” Captain Amazing said to me.
We ate our final meal at camp – oatmeal and coffee – cleaned our dishes, packed our food gear, cleared our camp sites, and headed out – our final ascent.
Just before sunrise, we were on the road. Our first obstacle was the very, very steep hill adjacent to Havasupai Falls, the one we were dreading – because when we went down it, it felt much steeper than the initial climb into the Canyon – shorter but steeper.
Mr. Bobby’s pack was still way too heavy – He still had the MASH unit, kitchen sink, and probably the entire outdoor section of Bed, Bath & Beyond in his pack – We would eventually fix this.
I’ll get there, if I leave everything but my bones behind.
As we approached the village of Supai, the sky grew darker. There were some hikers waiting for the village store to open, and we asked them to take our picture.
We passed through the town, and then it started to rain. We attempted to cover the packs, but then it didn’t really matter since we were heading home.
There were many gusts of wind, especially as we trekked through the flash-flood areas – wind tunnels.
I put my scarf over my head to cover my ears. It was chilly.
There were many hikers coming down, and we gave them the same friendly message we had received on the way in:
“Almost there…maybe another hour and a half.”
We kept a fairly steady pace between the rest stops for Mr. Bobby, whose legs were giving out on him from the weight of his pack.
An executive decision was made – we took apart his pack and divided it up among the 4 of us. I stuffed some clothes in the little empty space I had and placed a day pack around my shoulders to my front – so I had a front-pack and a back-pack.
The terrain became a little tricky with the front-pack because I couldn’t see my feet anymore.
The air was cold, but we were sweating, diligently marching until we reached the bottom of our final ascent – The Big Daddy – the mile and a half uphill. We couldn’t see the top.
We took a break at the same placed we broke on our way down – ate a quick snack, watered up, made any adjustments we needed to make. A train of mules passed by, so we let them pass before we moved out.
The mules stop for NOBODY – and they come very quickly. They will run you over and not think twice about it – and the driver probably won’t care either – so you are warned. Do not wear headphones on this hike or you will die. #deathbymule
When the trip was initially planned, we had talked about taking the helicopter out – which would have been cool in its own right. Helicopters are a fun ride.
But as the emails were going back and forth and the trash talk that accompanied them – the gauntlet was thrown – and we made a pact to climb out with our gear.
We took a collective deep breath and solidified our fortitude to get this challenge done, with every intention of reaching the top together.
You don’t climb mountains without a team; you don’t climb mountains without being fit; you don’t climb mountains without being prepared; and you don’t climb mountains without balancing the risks and rewards. And you never climb a mountain on accident – it has to be intentional.
We couldn’t see the top from where we were. Mr. Luge led the way on the path. There was a fork in the road: To the left appeared to be steeper but a straight shot – To the right, less steep but greater length with an extra switchback.
The left fork was taken – steeper and shorter. #harder #faster #onetrackmind 🙂
Captain Amazing was behind me, and I heard him slip. I turned around and found him sitting on a rock.
“Are you sitting on purpose or did you fall? Are you ok?”
He said that he had, in fact, slipped but caught himself and was ok. There were rocks to climb over, railroad ties, and other obstacles, as well as having to move when the mules came up behind us and avoid the hikers coming down.
I couldn’t see my feet, so each step was deliberate. My mantra was: Step, breathe. Step, breathe. Step, breathe.
The wind was cold on my face, making my nose run and making the sweat all over me cold – there was a lot of dust and because of the difficulty of this climb and my runny nose, I was breathing heavily through my mouth – like a train – inhale, exhale – with deliberate purpose. My heart was pounding in my chest, and my throat was burning.
One hiker passerby told us that he had driven through snow flurries on his way to the trail head. Great!
Midway up the incline, we still couldn’t see the top. The only way to identify the switchbacks was by the hikers on them. It was here that the temperature really dropped.
Mr. Julie McCoy and I kept our pace steady – step, breathe; step, breathe. He is a marathon runner and I am a workout junkie – I have also walked many thousands of miles just because I can.
Step one to running a marathon: You run.
There is no step two.
Because of the weight Mr. Bobby had started out with, his legs were cramping, so he, Mr. Luge, and Captain Amazing formed a team of three, taking breaks when they needed to.
Mr. Julie McCoy and I would take pauses to look back and make sure they were ok while they were resting – looking down in awe of how high we had climbed – and would start up again when we received the thumbs up.
We marched ahead, not really knowing how much further we had to go.
I feel like I’m this close to death –
– but that much closer to really LIVING.
There was a group of teens hiking up at the same time – we would pass them, and they would pass us when we stopped.
When we caught up to them, I asked how old they were – 18 – and I said they were doing so great, gave them a pep talk – “We’re almost there,” even though we still couldn’t see the top.
I rounded a corner, and there it was, the top! WOOT, WOOT – we did it!!!
I stopped there and Mr. Julie McCoy caught up to me.
“Let’s wait here so we can all cross the ‘finish line’ together.”
We looked down and saw the rest of our fellowship, not too far behind.
There were light snow flurries. It was astounding that we had just been wearing swimsuits the day before, and we only WALKED to this change in weather.
The other three caught up to us, and the five of us hiked up the last hill together, threw our hands up, and cheered for ourselves.
Stepping onto the blacktop of the parking lot felt like walking on pillows. It was crazy.
We found the car and dumped our packs. Captain Amazing got out his scale and took a final weight of each pack. Roughly the numbers were something like this: His was 40, Mr. Luge 45, Mr. Julie McCoy 35, Mr. Bobby 35, me 27.
We stripped off our sweaty clothes and put on our clean – COLD – clothes that we had left in the car, grabbed snacks, and began our drive home.
We stopped at a little town about an hour or so from the trail head. I knew getting out of the car was actually going to be the hardest part of the day –
My legs don’t work. I have ridden the subway twice from end to end. I’ve been where it turns around. Ted, you don’t ever want to see where it turns around.
We parked at the little gas-station store – similar to a Circle K – Captain Amazing was the first to jump out of the car – His legs didn’t work and down he went. #jello
We all laughed really hard, until it was each our turn to get out of the car.
UGH! We hobbled like 90-year-olds and grumbled just as much.
We used the bathroom, freshened up, bought snacks, and forged ahead. Next stop: Flagstaff and burgers.
As we drove, Captain Amazing had this spectacular aha-moment:
“Maybe you guys are right. I might have slept in the car on our way up. I don’t remember any of this.”
He was riding shotgun, studying his “Hikes of Arizona” book, categorizing each hike by difficulty and prioritizing the order in which we would tackle each of them. He worked diligently until we reached Flagstaff.
There were signs along this section of highway put up by Burma Shave – They were poetic advertisements incrementally placed along the side of the road, so you could read each line as you drove.
I don’t recall the signs we actually saw, but here’s an example of a Burma Shave “poem.” Each line was its own sign.
TREAT HIM RIGHT
We arrived in Flagstaff and refueled at a place called “Granny’s Closet” which was actually a sports bar, not a closet, nor was there a Granny in sight. Nevertheless, it was on the main road, and they had a menu – with burgers –
Mr. Julie McCoy and Mr. Bobby split the “The Heart Attack Burger” – Described as – “Call the Doctor!! Grilled burger topped with Monterey Jack cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, ancho mayo, and smashed between two grilled cheese sandwiches.”
Mine was not quite as exciting – my typical bunless burger – and Captain Amazing ate my fries. 🙂 I took a sip of his beer.
Why were we still sharing food and drinks??? We each had our own dishes. I didn’t even think about it at the time – It’s just a hindsight observation. #friendswithbenefitsforeverremember
Mr. Julie McCoy rode shotgun the rest of the way home. As we drove, Captain Amazing talked to me about the hikes he wanted to do. He pointed out a couple of the hikes along the drive that he found in his book – hikes he wanted all of us to do next and showed me the work he had done in his book, with the numbers and the accompanying legend he created. #ocd
Mr. Luge and Mr. Julie McCoy looked at each other and snickered.
The rest of the drive remained uneventful. We arrived at our destination, unpacked the car, and reloaded our separate vehicles. The trip was over.
I wasn’t really ready for it to be over.
We said our goodbyes – hugged.
Captain Amazing grabbed my face and gave me the best kisses – He’s really good at that – I’m very lucky, indeed! #bestkisser
My brother dropped me off at my apartment – STAIRS – UGH!!
Our EPIC journey was over – but the high from it lasted for days…even though I caught a cold that laid me up – I originally attributed it to inhaling dust, but it was probably just a cold.
Let me tell you about a little thing I like to call ‘mind over body’… You see, whenever I start feeling sick, I just stop being sick and be awesome instead.
Nevertheless, the laying up allowed me the time to write out our tale – Our Fellowship of the Falls – and I cannot wait for the next adventure! #justbeawesome
I saw my brother, and he agreed – the BEST time with the BEST people!! We want to do it again this weekend!!
Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.
So take the photographs, and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time
Tattoos and memories and dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth it was worth all the while
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.
Quotes above are by JRR Tolkien from “The Lord of the Rings;” Mark Udall; Barney Stinson from “How I Met Your Mother;” the 18-year-old girl on the trail; and the Greenday song “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life).”