Gratitude Trip: The Grand Canyon – Day 1


It’s 4:30 a.m. and I’m in a van heading for the northern most point in Arizona to begin my four-day, three-night, hike from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim.  The sun is coming up over the horizon. There are no buildings or other traces of modern “civilization” for as far as the eye can see.  As we enter the Navajo reservation, I cannot help but think of how blessed I am to see the beauty around me and to be getting started on this magical adventure. I am getting quite emotional as I am overcome with gratitude, for the gift of health that permits me to be here to enjoy this experience. 

It was only eight years ago that I had difficulty walking a city block without wheezing. My lungs were damaged from twenty-four years of smoking and eating unhealthy foods. My lower gums were bleeding from putting cocaine on them. I had constant chest pains from the cocktail of deadly substances I ingested as well as the processed and comfort foods that comprised my active addiction diet. I was so sick in May 2011 that on the way to Conifer Park, a drug and alcohol rehab in upstate New York, I had to be taken by ambulance to the cardiac unit at Ellis Hospital near Albany. I spent two days there for observation before being released and transferred to Conifer. I stayed at Conifer for twenty-eight days. Fast forward eight years and I’m on my way to hike across the Grand Canyon. Last year I hiked to the Mount Everest Base Camp and before that to Machu Picchu, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Rainier and other smaller mountains. 

Tom along the Day One route to Cottonwood Camp.


My trips to these places are called “Gratitude Trips”. When I go on vacation, I try to focus on places I’ve always wanted to go, but only talked about and never followed through.  I focus on celebrating my health and embracing the recovery process: A process of health, hope and healing. My gratitude trips reinforce the radical change in my physical and mental health that happened once I let go absolutely of old ideas that led me to dark places. The lifestyle I lay out in my book Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Nourish & Strengthen Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press, is the plan I followed. It incorporates the twelve step into what I eat, how much I exercise and my spiritual program. I’ve learned that self-care is the opposite of active addiction. In my book, I share with you the tools that I utilized to radically transform my life and got me started on my journey.    I invite you to join me for the next four days.  


Day One

We arrived at the North Rim, our start point after a four hour van-ride through the Navajo reservation and rolling empty dessert hills as far as the eye can see. Fear always tries to exert itself when I am starting a hike.  Fear starts to tell me “you shouldn’t go, you’re not going to make it”, “your too old for this” and “turn around before its too late”.  I usedto listen to fear and believe its self-limiting message that sabotaged me on so many levels.  That has changed over the last eight years.  Given all that I have accomplished, I tell fear to go f*?! itself and I push on down the trail into the Grand Canyon.  Fear no longer has the power it used to have. It’s been replaced by the confidence that comes from succeeding one day at a time for the last eight years. As we descend into the Canyon, the landscape looks more like the moon. The rocks and cliffs in the distance give you perspective on the millions of years it took to create this place. It’s awe inspiring no matter which way I turn. I also realize that I am not getting calls, receiving texts or emails and am totally present right here, right now. No external distractions from back home and my professional and private life to interrupt the spiritual connection I am having with nature and my creator.  I have my phone in airplane mode, which I write about in Spiritual Adrenaline.  To me, airplane mode is a spiritual tool that enables me to practice mindfulness. As we carefully head down seven miles into the Canyon, I focus on my breath and how my lungs feel so strong, without any wheezing. I focus on my steps and think of something I am grateful for each time I take a step. I meditate on how radically different my life would have been if I had not gotten sober. I realize I’d probably have had a stroke by now and maybe COPD.  You cannot hike the Grand Canyon with an oxygen tank!  These meditative practices always bring me back to my breath.  My breath brings me back to gratitude.

The spectacular view along the hike.


Today’s hike was no walk in the park. It was exhausting with the sun shining and temperatures hovering around 100.  The sun heats up the rocks, making the terrain even hotter and more challenging.  I had high expectations for the beauty of this place.  They were not only met, but exceeded, on my very first day. The color of the rocks and the vegetation come together in a kaleidoscope that had me mesmerized. The scope of the place also had me in awe. Geologists confirm that for every foot of sedimentary rock is equal to 10,000 years of earth’s history.  We started at the North Rim, where the rocks are 250 million years old. We camped at Cottonwood Campground for the night, seven miles down and surrounded by rocks that are 1.7 billion years old. The scope of this place is almost impossible to comprehend.

I made a short gratitude list at the end of the day to memorialize how I was feeling. I am grateful for: my health, my sobriety: my family: my sense of adventure; friends who are wonderful and extremely giving; people in my life who inspire me and challenge me to be a better person; the amazing people who I’ve gotten to know from Spiritual Adrenaline; nature; god; and, being born in the United States.

Tom Shanahan is the author of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press. Spiritual Adrenaline is available on Amazon or at your local Barnes & Noble Store.