Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Canyon Grand

Pre-coffee Liz:


Post coffee Liz:


As you can see, once I had my coffee the day got off to a good start. Departed Phoenix by 7 am heading towards the Grand Canyon. Perhaps it's on your life list of things to do. It's always been on mine. Set out to marvel at the impressive force and beauty of a canyon carved by time. Luckily Thomas and Chris agreed - it was something we simply had to do.

What would you see if you drove through the wilderness of your mind? Imagine yourself in the backseat of a car at 85 mph looking behind at your life. Mountains of dusty memories weathered by time rolling across a desert-like landscape. I spent hours looking out the back window thinking thoughts about life. At some point I turned my eyes forward to see the road continues upward into the greenness of what is to come. Or, the greenness that led upwards to Flagstaff.

At 7,000 feet we arrived in Flagstaff. The morning was just awakening, the air thin and crisp. A cup of coffee at Late For The Train before we took our time enjoying a few shops.



Thomas explains how everything looks better with Beer Goggles.



Chris likes life shaken not stirred.


And I've got bling-bling in my eyes.


As you can see, we enjoyed playing dress up at a few stores (which also happened to sell cool hats - above - and sunglasses).

Even after a short visit in the town I have decided you could leave me in Flagstaff with a pair of running shoes and pick me up in the next life. Good coffee, unique shops and a runner's paradise where world class runners call Flagstaff their training ground. Incredible trail systems, peaks and altitude. We visited A Runner's High and as we exited the car Thomas told us all to quickly make up new 10K PRs because we were in a real runner's town. I've never been more proud to have run a 32 minute 10K.

Onward from Flagstaff towards the Grand Canyon. Our destination - the South Kaibab Trail. A trail that descended from the South Rim to the Colorado River and eventually connects to the North Rim. We had about 4 hours to make the most of our time so we set out towards the trail.

The canyon itself is something that words cannot describe. I could paint a picture of layers of sandy rocks lined with burnt reds and rusty browns set against the most beautiful expanse of blue sky. Or I could just show you the pictures themselves.


In our time on the trail we descended 2500 feet in 3 miles through a series of steep switchbacks with sandy steps and rocks. Descending is always more difficult than climbing. Each step was careful, slow and awkward. On one side you could see the steep drop off to the canyon below. In front was rock or sand. There was nothing next to us but scrub or rock to hold. And you can't really hold either.

But the vistas were spectacular and the quiet of the canyon was so full that it completely emptied my mind. It was the essence of the word quietude. Or even solitude. I spend most days alone surrounded by a quiet that numbs you with its loneliness, a quiet you want to fill. The quiet in the canyon was stimulating. As soon as my mind emptied it filled with words that connected into clear thoughts. Each step brought clarity. The canyon was big but I was not alone - I felt connected to something bigger than me, something purposeful.


Thomas and Chris descended much quicker and for once I enjoyed the process of taking my time. Of stopping to take in view. Of breathing in the clean air. Of getting lost in my own thoughts. In a place like this you find perspective. Thoughts that loosely scattered in your mind for months weave together into something meaningful.
Meaning. Purpose. What we do with our time and ourselves - and why. For each answer I asked myself another question. 7000 feet, 6000, 5000, each foot I descended further into what felt like the basement of my mind. As I descended further, things became more clear. It is easy in life to get so caught up in the selfish pursuit of ourselves. We make our problems bigger than they are and place too much importance on ourselves. It is easy to feel too big. When you put yourself into a natural setting you realize how small you are. The complication of your problems or life become small compared to the immensity and beauty of what surrounds you.


Today I reconnected with the joy of being outside. In doing so, I finally got outside the frustrations of my inside world. Sometimes you find yourself circling in yourself for so long that you cannot see a way out. Today it was clear - one step forward, one step closer to finding my way. Each step made sense. Hikes like this no matter how painful or hard are refreshing. They fill me with a sense of renewal and clarity of thought. They remind me I need to do this more often for peace of mind.


Time and circumstance have an interesting way of finding each other when you need them the most. I found myself today in the Grand Canyon - something I had always wanted to do but had no plans of doing any time soon. But today there I was. As athletes we worry so much about time. Sometimes it's not about time - it's about the timing. You will find yourself in the right place at the right time. What will you do when you are there? Will you be brave enough to descend into yourself to find your way out? So many things did I find today.



From the mesa before Skeleton Point, we turned back towards the butte and up towards Cedar Ridge. You can see how far we descended - from the top of that mountain down to this mesa. And then we had to climb back up. The climb up was harder but quicker. Yet even our fitness did not prevent the burn in the quads nor the wheezing as you gain altitude. Finally at the top I was tired. A good tired - a feeling that was complete.

I felt complete today. It was something I had not felt in quite some time. But today the timing was right. I looked at life inside what could have been the canyon of my mind and it was...grand.

6 comments:

Karen said...

COOL!

I managed to visit the canyon myself just in October but by helicopter from Vegas, so not quite the same!!!

Would love to go back for a hike/ camping expedition some day.

Fred Doucette said...

Hey great blog. Sounds like you are extremely fast!
Keep up the great blogging work.

Anonymous said...

Did you get to walk on the new lookout that extends over the canyon? Been there twice and will never forget it.
Mom

TRI-ROB said...

Man. Getting sick before this race was the best thing that could have happened. Super cool.

Breathe...

Kim said...

Nice, Elf, Nice. Really enjoyed the pictures and the thoughts about the hike itself. You are so right about us "letting ourselves get too big sometimes," we view one race or one training session as the begin all-end all instead of one small experience on the way to a greater purpose about why we are doing this and finding out more about our own character. Thanks for sharing and glad you could get some "perspective" out there among the rocks!!

Brenda O said...

Great blog. The Grand Canyon is still on my list of places-I-need-to-see soon....