Our bus arrived to the dusty clifftop in the late afternoon. The heat of the afternoon passed as we ate trail mix and sandwiches made with Wonder Bread. I was fearful of the trail ahead – I was young and not particularly strong. I ran track that year as a freshman but still found intense physical activity intimidating.
Eleven miles in, eleven miles out. Water for the hike down and a week’s worth of supplies on my back. Sixty-five pounds to be exact. I felt like a turtle, moving slow with my hard, heavy shell peeking up over my skull.
Once the heat of the day passed they sent us down in sets of four or five onto the first leg of the trail, a mile of switchbacks. As we hiked further, the groups dispersed more so that eventually we paired off with someone at the same pace. A few cross-country boys with wiry legs kept a fast pace alone, competing to make it to the halfway point first. As for me, the hiking was about as hard as I expected. The most surprising thing was walking downhill and the stress on my joints. It’s like the whole sixty-five pound pack and my clumsy body weight rested on my ankles alone. Around mile two or three I found a comfortable, steady pace alongside a girl I just met. She was three years older, and obviously very cool in my freshman eyes.
Along the trail was dirt and dust and rocks everywhere. The red, brown, dusty colors all blended together down there in the canyon. The rocks varied in size. Some were large and flat, meant for climbing. Others were tiny and worked their way into my shoes. The innocent looking rocks became most dangerous — I could hold one in my hand if I wanted. I stepped on one and tripped.
Before I realized what happened I was on the ground. Flat on my back with my legs and belly up, I felt even more like a turtle. The older girl was kind, she helped me climb onto my hands and knees so I could push myself up. But in the process of tripping I rolled my right ankle, now weakened and beginning to swell.
I dusted myself off and continued onward with Older Girl.
But my ankle was frail and puffy. Silently I swore at my ankle for betraying me — we needed to finish the first half of the hike today and the second half tomorrow morning. And we were only four miles in with at least two miles to go before the halfway point.
The sun was setting and darkness settled over the already hazardous trail. Within the next hour I must have tripped another three times. My ankle grew weaker and my hiking boot tighter by the minute. To this day I’ve never heard such harsh self-talk in the corners in my mind.
You can’t do this.
Told you so.
Why’d you even think you could try this hike?
Why’d you even come?
You are not strong enough.
You won’t even make it to the bottom of the canyon.
You are weak and alone.
The embarrassment was the worst in the beginning, then the fear and shame as the pain in my ankle increased. Fear that I would not actually finish the hike. Shame because this morning I thought that I could. I cried silent tears as my own thoughts sabotaged me.
Then I heard Older Girl’s voice. I fell for the fourth time, twisting my ankle yet again. She grabbed my hands, looked me in the eyes and said steadily, “You can do this, I am here with you.” She became Mama Bear, set on protecting me. I did not put a voice to the fearful thoughts but she must’ve seen them in my steady stream of tears. As we walked she continued speaking words of truth over me. I nodded my head slightly in agreement, then later vigorously in agreement until we were both smiling and laughing. My ankle still hurt like hell and I almost tripped again, but she held my hands and guided me along the slippery trail next to a stream. And then we sang. We sang songs about faith and strength and love and a good God who walks with us every step of the way.
That evening was a dark night of the soul. Then my new friend, like an angel, walked alongside me. She couldn’t take away the pain or reverse the injury to my ankle, but she flushed hope, strength, joy, laughter and music into the frightful night air until the stars were glowing and we were singing.
I never felt more relief than when we arrived at the halfway point, pitch black with only flashlights in front of us. I pitched my tent and ate a snack. A small, cold stream divided the campsite – the tiniest finger of the Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon. The leaders looked at my ankle and said not to remove my boot for fear the swelling wouldn’t allow the boot to fit in the morning. But the darkest part of the night had passed. I removed my boot, placed my foot in the cold stream and looked up at the sky. Inhale. Exhale. If I made it this far tonight, I would surely make it the rest of the way.
Photo Credit: Cosmic Timetraveler via Unsplash
Continue with Big Mystery Part 2: Stargazing with Gloria, Transgender