I woke up before dawn to load my pack. The night before I had prepared 12-hours worth of food and water: a few apricots and apples, trail mix, 2 avocados, rice cakes, chocolate and 3 liters of water in a camelback.
When I braved the outside, I was greeted by a treacherously windy darkness. What if I ran out of water? Was I really going to do this by myself?
I cinched up the hood of my rain jacket to protect my face from the wind. I caught the very first shuttle of the day, and was alone on it with a tired bus driver who looked like he just rolled out of bed.
“Where you going, miss?” he asked.
“Down to South Kaibab, please.” I responded.
“Which hike are you doing?”
“Down and back,” I replied, trying to be nonchalant and hide my nervousness.
He immediately turned around and looked me over head to foot. He sighed. “Every day I worry about people like you. Tonight I’m going to bed wondering, did that girl make it up again? Tell me, how much water do you have?”
I was neither a novice hiker nor an idiot; I had an excessive amount of water and food in my pack.
Only one other person joined me on the shuttle that morning, a solo Dutch hiker who was hiking to the bottom to spend the night there.
Oh great. I’m the only person crazy enough to do this.
When I started down the trail it began to lighten up. The early morning sun danced on the cliffs as I descended down, down, down into the deepest canyon in North America.
As I continued downward, I sped up, feeling good. That feeling came over me, the one where you know you are in the right place in the right time; that everything will work out. I passed signs with hikers collapsing, warning people not to do what I was doing, but those just made me laugh and I trekked on.
A few hours down, I saw two people hunched over, pointing and looking at something next to the trail.
“Hey guys, what are you looking at?” I asked.
Giggling, they pointed to a weird chimpmunk scuttling across the landscape. We started chatting, and I learned that Courtney and Paul were planning to do the same hike as me that day. Yay! I wasn’t the only insane person.
Both from Los Angeles, Courtney and Paul were travel and adventure addicts, like me. We had a lot to talk about, and I hiked with them for the rest of the day. (Courtney later came to visit me in both Santa Barbara and Japan.)
When we reached the bottom, we stopped on a sandy beach to share our snacks and watch the river rafts drift by. We joked with a group of sun-drenched pirates who were on the water for a month, and this was just two weeks into their trip.
After our break, our jaws dropped at the vertical cliff jutting up in front of us.
“We have seven hours to climb this before dark, guys,” I reminded them.
Talking and laughing with my new friends made the rest of the hike go by without any problems. The most beautiful part was the Indian Gardens, where the Native Americans used to live. The shady oak trees and meandering stream felt like a safe haven from the harsh canyon heat.
The last mile was the toughest. With 17 miles down and one to go, and the sun descending, we didn’t talk much as we trudged up the final mile.
When we finally reached the top, I didn’t feel any huge accomplishment. In fact, I knew that I could do it all along, despite what the bus driver said.
While adventures like this may seem intimidating at first, when I complete them I feel stronger, like I am capable of anything. I felt these bursts of confidence often while I was traveling for 2 and a half years in New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia. I would set goals – I want to volunteer on an organic farm! I want to live and work in a foreign city! I want to attend a traditional Thai massage school! – and when I completed them, I felt like I was ticking off points on my bucket list.
It’s not just about checking points off a list, though. It’s about the feelings and emotions that I associate with those things. It’s about what I learn and how I grow that makes these fulfilling experiences.
Next year I will go and teach English in Japan through the JET program, which is a dream I’ve had for several years. After being rejected the first year, I applied again and was accepted.
I know it won’t always be easy, but these are the times when I learn the most: when I am out of my comfort zone, and challenging myself.