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.

Gratitude Trip: Grand Canyon – Day Two

Cottonwood to Bright Angel Camp Through “The Box”


I slept like a baby last night at the Cottonwood Campground. From inside my tent, I could see the star’s shining bright up in the unobscured night sky: It was magical. I woke very early and watched as twilight started and a blue silhouette arose above the red rock cliffs all around me. The sky turned slowly from black to blue and then the sun came up with beaming rays of pink and purple, before turning to an unobstructed blue sky over Cottonwood and the Grand Canyon.

After our grilled bacon, egg and hash brown breakfast, we packed up and set out at 6 a.m., for another day of hiking along the Bright Angel Creek. The only way I can describe the cathedral like red-rock walled canyons surrounding Bright Angel Creek is spiritual. The area is known as “The Box”.   Being in The Box felt like attending a mass or sermon in a beautiful natural cathedral. I felt as if the rock canyon was speaking to me.  Being here reaffirmed my belief in a power greater than myself.  Some call that a higher power, others call it God and still others call that the Creator.  For me, I spent many hours communing with the Creator as I made my way through this spectacular place. Towards the end of our hike, we pass the world-famous Phantom Ranch as we arrived at our next campsite: Bright Angel.

Cooling off in stream near Phantom Ranch


We anticipated a 90+ degree day and lots of sun. It turned out to be 106 degrees!  The heat was exhausting but both Cottonwood and Bright Angel are near creeks with ice cold water.  I got in the creeks as frequently as possible to avoid overheating. It’s an all-natural form of air conditioning and cooling and worked perfectly well.

I’d always heard of Phantom Ranch and was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to see it in person. The Ranch is a 1930’s retreat with cabins and dorms. The Ranch has become an icon of a bygone era. It’s like going back in time. It’s limited number of accommodations are in high demand. The only way to stay at the Ranch is to win a lottery or like us, stay at the nearby Bright Angel Campground along the creek.  The camp is full of adventurous, sunburned, outdoor enthusiasts, most of whom are having the time of their lives. No alcohol is allowed in the camp-sites so the environment is not loud and crazy.   The lack of alcohol also has a lot to do with the fact that you’d have to pack it in and pack it back out.   Carrying alcohol adds lots of weight to your pack so you’d have to be a real alcoholic to bring a large amount with you. The Campground is peaceful and contemplative. I’d describe it as an oasis of serenity surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty.
\


Some in my group decided to head to the Phantom Ranch. I decided to turn in early and enjoy the relaxing sound of the creek, review my amazing photos from the day and put together my gratitude list. Here it is: I’m grateful for: the natural beauty of the red-rock canyons that mesmerized me today: my wonderful guide Julie and fellow hikers who I laughed with continuously throughout a challenging day; getting to visit Phantom Ranch, which I’ve heard so much about and never thought I’d get to see; the cool water of Bright Angel Creek that made 106 degrees bearable; my lungs which have now permitted me to hike many miles from the North Rim to Bright Angel Camp without difficulty and a fifty-pound back on my back; the twelve steps and sober activity community which has inspired me to push myself and always do more rather than less; overcoming my fear of heights and not letting fear keep me from hiking here; the absence of internet, text messages and emails that would distract me and take me out of the present; and, a willingness to live a life outside my comfort zone.

As I climb into my tent after one of the most rewarding days I’ve had in my entire life, I get excited to put self-care first.  I went to bed at 7 p.m. rather than heading back to Phantom Ranch to hang out until late.  I’m also excited to look for the Big Dipper through the screen on my tent and enjoy looking at all the other stars without city lights or pollution. I’m excited to wake up tomorrow which wasn’t the case when I was in active addiction. I’m truly blessed and smart enough to know it.  I’ll have sweet dreams given the beaming gratitude emanating from my heart. Good night!

Tom Shanahan is the author of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery. You can purchase Spiritual Adrenaline on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble.

Dan T.: The Spiritual Adrenaline Challenge

Dan T. is in long-term recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.   In a couple of months he will be celebrating ten years sober.  However, his current lifestyle prevents him from optimizing his physical health.  Dan is looking to get past “the wall” he has hit and has agreed to follow the Spiritual Adrenaline program for the next six months.

One of the recommendations in my book, Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, before embarking on a journey of change, is to write a letter to yourself about where you are at the present time, the reasons you’ve decided to embark on your journey and what realistic goals you hope to achieve.   

If like Dan, you’re looking to get past the wall holding you back, check out our blog at www.spiritualadrenalilne.com, visit our social media platforms and, pick up a copy of my book, Spiritual Adrenaline, available at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.   

Here’s Dan’s letter to himself incorporating his reasons for embarking on the Spiritual Adrenaline program.  

Dan T. in Central Park.

*************

Dear Dan

I’m writing you this letter at the beginning of your program with Spiritual Adrenaline. As of today, you are 9 years, 5 months and 12 days sober. This is unbelievable. It has been an incredible ride and you truly have a life beyond your wildest dreams, just as they promised. But, as they also told you, you have the disease of more. And although life has gotten so good and the cash and prizes have come, in other ways you continue to give over to your addictive ways and character defects. Workaholism, fiances and food have often gotten the better of you. You are aware of this. You contemplate it. You talk to fellows about it. Like drinking and using, you’ve sworn you’ll change and that it will be different a million times over. As I sit and write this to you, I’ll remind you that over the past months, there has been a lot of acceptance that has grown up around these issues. Not a resignation that this is how it will always be, but more of an acknowledgment that in spite of these things, you have managed, with your higher power, to build a vibrant, full, and happy life. That is sobriety!! And it’s awesome!! But you are always thinking about what life would be like if you could tame these obsessions, the way you have drugs and alcohol.

In regards to this Challenge and dealing specifically with nutrition, relationship to food and exercise, this is something you think about on a daily basis. To the point of obsession at times. Even before getting sober, diet and exercise could be an obsession. But you’ll remember that a few years ago, when the workload was so intense, you gave yourself permission to eat whatever and whenever you wanted and to exercise whenever you could. It brought you comfort to fill yourself up with comforting food. You told yourself that when it was time, you would get back on track with consistent exercise and diet and lose the weight you gained. That has yet to happen. And right now, you are heavier than you’ve ever been and your exercise regimen is the most inconsistent it’s ever been. You aren’t wondering if you can change. You’ve done it before and you know you have it in you. The question is: How? And whether or not you can an adopt changes that will become a way of life, and not down the road put the weight back on in the midst of what turns out to be another 18+ month food bender. 

Dan T. is taking the Spiritual Adrenaline Challenge.

What you want from this Challenge is simple. To lose 40 pounds. To have a consistent exercise regime. To feel the fantastic feeling you feel from a clean diet. To not literally feel dirty inside from eating crap and sugar. To look great in clothes…and out of them. And, at least from time to time, feel that really great feeling when someone you find physically attractive feels the same way about you. You’ve been on both sides of the equation a few times. You’ve been the overweight one in your group that friends will occasionally make a joke or two about. And you’ve had the type of health and body that have people asking about your regime. 

As you read this, know that your 6-months-ago-self was excited to start this process. He’s known for a while that he had gone beyond the point of being able to do this by himself. He knew this was a win/win/win scenario and at the very least, he was going to learn a lot about himself. People are often telling you that you’re a bit hard on yourself. So remember in this Challenge, and in life, to take it easy…….but still take it!

With Love, 

Dan

Amanda W.: How She Uses Exercise to Manage Anxiety

Meet Amanda W., who is a member of ROCovery Fitness in Rochester, New York.  Like me and so many others in addiction recovery, Amanda suffers from anxiety.  In this interview, she shares about how she helps to manage her anxiety with dietary modifications and exercise.  For more information about ROCovery Fitness, go to their website at www.ROCoveryfitness.org.