Gratitude Trip: Grand Canyon – Day Four, the Final Ascent…

Indian Garden to South Rim

Twilight at Indian Garden

We woke at 3:30 a.m. on the final day of our hike with the goal of getting started by 4:30 a.m., to beat the sun and allow some hikers who were having trouble more time to ascend.  I packed up my tent and camp for the final time and was excited to embrace the challenge this day would bring.   I said my final goodbye to Indian Garden and The Plateau and silently thanked this place for hosting me for the previous night. I recognized the privilege I had been given as I embarked on the last major portion of the hike.  I decided to break with my group for the day and challenge myself to ascend as fast as possible.   I still have a heavy load of about fifty-pounds in my backpack.  However, I want to see just how hard I could push my heart and lungs and what they are capable of.   

The final ascent was harder than I anticipated.  I had seen many-out-of-shape day hikers come down into Indian Garden and then head back up and thought to myself if they can do, it must be a piece of cake.  However, I hadn’t realized I saw them after they came down, not after they went back up. The ascent is a consistent incline and continues all the way up.  I pushed myself and continued to motor up.  As we started out so early, I did not pass any other hikers who were on their way up.  I also didn’t pass many hikers who were on their way down until I was almost all the way to the South Rim.   I felt amazing!  My body was still able to perform after four days to rigorous activity.  I could feel my heart pounding. I thought to myself how blessed I am to have a heart capable of such physical activity at the ripe old age of 51.   My lungs never failed me and I kept breathing deep, in an out, without any wheezing like eight years ago.  I kept thinking to myself how miraculous the body truly is and how it can heal itself with self-care and time.   

View down into Canyon from Bright Angel Trail near South Rim.

This got me going on a full-body mediation.  I started with my toes and made my way all the way to my head.  As I hiked up the switchbacks, I tried to pay close attention to how each body-part felt, the work each was doing to help me ascend and to identify the other parts of my body that were working together to make all of this possible. For example, I really focused on my how my calf, quadriceps and hamstring muscles all worked together to permit me to lift my feet.  The more attention I paid, the more I realized that each-and-every-step is a miracle.  How each and every breath is in-and-of-itself a miracle. I was sofocused on how my body was functioning one step at a time, one breath at a time, that when I looked up, I was almost at the South Rim.   Hours had seemingly turned into minutes and I was very close to my goal.  Just as I was about to reach the South Rim, a young man who I gotten to know over the last couple of days of passed me and said: “Ha, ha, I’m going to beat you up!”  I was so impressed by the fact that he beat me, I bought him breakfast.  Turns out, he is also in recovery.  His drug of choice was crystal meth and he has been sober for two years.   I then met his Dad, sister and nephew who were hiking with him.   His Dad had twenty-years in recovery from alcohol.  I thought to myself, what a small world.  I also thought to myself, miracles are all around us if we chose to recognize them.  I have seen so many miracles over the last eight-years and know that by continuing to live the Spiritual Adrenaline lifestyle, I will be blessed to see many, many more.  

My Final Gratitude List and Reflections

As we drove back to Flagstaff, my brain was overwhelmed by the sensory overload that is the Grand Canyon. It’s a lot to take in and I think it will take me a long-time to truly digest all of what I experienced over the last four days.  I am grateful for being in the natural splendor of the Canyon, which reaffirmed my belief in a higher power.   I am grateful for the people I met in the Canyon and shared the journey with.  I met a father and son who were hiking together and enjoying an experience that neither would ever forget.  I could sense their love for one another and that each recognized the opportunity to share this experience together as something incredibly special.  I’d have given anything to have the same experience with my Dad, who passed away fifteen-years ago.  In a way, watching the two of them allowed me to imagine what it would have been like for me to have been able to do this with my Dad. This was a very special and unexpected gift.

Tom at South Rim after four-day hike.

I watched members of my small group struggle to get through each of the days but never quit.  I watched as things got tougher and we all supported one another.  What became important was not that Imake it to the South Rim, but that we, collectively as a group, make it to the South Rim. The power is in the collective, rather than individual experience.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have been of service on two days, and carried the backpack for another hiker who was struggling.  I am grateful to have met other members of the recovery community along the trail.  This reinforced my belief in the power of combining exercise and nutrition, a/k/aself-care, into an addiction recovery program. Also, the power of being in nature and way from the concrete and crowds of the big city.  Lastly, I am grateful to no longer have my life confined to a small and unhealthy comfort zone.  I’m grateful that I now recognize that life truly begins outside of my existing comfort zone.  

People, places and things matter. I am grateful for all of the people, places and things, I experienced over the last four days!  

Tom Shanahan is the author of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press in January 2019. You can purchase Spiritual Adrenaline on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. For more information, visit www.spiritualadrenaline.com.

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