Things I Learned in the Grand Canyon

Self portrait with blue rock. Grand Canyon, Arizona. April 24, 2016.

Self portrait with blue rock. Grand Canyon, Arizona. April 24, 2016.

Either at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon or somewhere near the nadir, I realized that I find hiking boring.

This shocked me. For years, I’ve believed that I like hiking. And frankly, it seems like I should like hiking. I like spending time outside. I like exercising. I like physical challenges. I like to push my limits.

So… Leslie likes hiking. Right?

In this I-like-hiking conviction, I’ve mused about great hiking locales and have even planned and taken hiking trips. I’ve hiked with a close friend in Glacier National Park over a long weekend. I’ve hiked numerous sections of the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico, near where my father has a house in Alto. I’ve hiked here and there over the course of many years.

And recently, I had a friend talk me into—without trouble, mind you, because until halfway through this trip I believed I liked hiking—a day hike down into the Grand Canyon, an overnight in bunks near the Colorado River in a camp called Phantom Ranch, and a subsequent day hike back to the rim.

Aside: If you like hiking enough to go without sleep for forty-eight hours, I’d recommend this particular Grand Canyon experience. As for me, I consider the learning that I don’t like hiking my valuable takeaway from the trip.

Along the trail, my friend called out the names of plants and birds. He commented on the weather patterns, geological changes in the cliffs, and the chemical makeup of rocks (lots of different types of metals, of course). We stopped to marvel at vistas along the way. (Without question, the Canyon is far more beautiful looking up from the inside than you could ever imagine when looking down from above.)

We had a lot of hiking time.

We had two entire days and one sleepless night to contemplate life and the experience of hiking.

And during these contemplative hours, I realized that I don’t care what humans call rocks or geologic formations or plants or birds or most wildlife.

Further, I realized that the other people we encountered interested me a heck of a lot more overall and in general than the rocks and geologic formations and plants and birds and other wildlife.

We met a couple from Orange County who seemed about as out of place as I felt and who wondered over dinner at the bottom of the Canyon how long it would take it get out of there—equally as ready as me to have it over and done. We met a couple celebrating the husband’s sixtieth birthday by hiking all over the Canyon for a long weekend. We passed a quantity of French speakers and a few people speaking Chinese.

I talked for quite some time with the Orange Country couple. As for the foreigners we passed, I wanted to know why they had come to the Grand Canyon. I don’t know what compels Americans to do it, other than a sense of patriotism and appreciation for the natural wonders in our immediate midst. So what does the Grand Canyon signify for people who’ve originated elsewhere?

To me, signs of life mean signs of human life.

Yep, as I trudged around the Canyon, I realized that I really like observing people-animals. And seeing what they’ve built and done.

When I scanned my hiking memories to test this hypothesis, the people with whom I traveled and the human life we encountered stuck out the most—not vistas, flora, or fauna.

In the Lincoln National Forest, I got lost in the rain with my boyfriend and the hiking stick he found and we held petty arguments due to ongoing relationship tension and stress over whether we’d ever find our way back to civilization. On that same hike, we saw a high-in-the-sky aerie for a park ranger and got to look out her windows and talk about her life.

In Glacier National Park, a nearby bear forced a good friend and me to talk loudly while quickly hiking down the trail when neither of us felt quite like chatting, given disagreements caused by the friction of travel and the difficult places we’d found ourselves in our lives. On a jaunt later that same weekend, I remember finding our way into a hippie commune and getting a glimpse of alternate lives lived in the wilderness of Montana.

And although I like the outdoors, I like the outdoors in civilization most of all. Watching the runners on the Grand Canyon trails, it dawned on me that I don’t particularly like to run in parks. I don’t even enjoy the paved trails in dedicated urban exercise areas. I prefer to run on city streets.

So I faced it: I like the great outdoors. In the city.

I may rank as a confirmed introvert, yet I haven’t a misanthropic constitution. I find people fascinating. (I just don’t want to interact with all of them.)

After all, I majored in history. More specifically, I majored in intellectual history. If history tells the tales of people, intellectual history tells the tales of how people have thought over time and from whence their ideas sprung. And my favorite classes, other than history? Psychology. Anthropology. The people subjects.

Case closed.

Tell me about your last epiphany.