The students at the San Diego Academy were let out for school vacation, and my girlfriend Frances and I decided to take our families to the Grand Canyon for a vacation--she with her husband and two children, me and my son Mike. We didn't do a lot of planning for this trip, it was more of a spur-of-the-moment type thing. We didn't have a lot of money, but with careful planning and wise spending, we should be able to enjoy our time and really have a grand vacation. We figured the children worked hard in school, and they deserved to have a wonderful time out in Nature to see one of the grandest reshaping of the earth caused by the Great Deluge.

The weather was perfect the morning we left San Diego. The crisp morning air was exhilarating; I felt like singing at the top of my voice. This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us, and we were all excited, we could hardly sit still on our seats. Everything was going as planned. The van was stocked with food, water, snacks to eat and drink along the way. We figured this would be cheaper and healthier than eating out. I was to pay for the gas for the whole trip. Everything, it seemed, was going smoothly until we reached our vacation destination and started on a trek that would take us to the bottom of the canyon.

The scenery was magnificent and breathtaking as we started out on foot. The fresh air, the gentle caress of the morning sun on our faces, the gorgeous scenes of intricately designed walls on peaks and valleys far and near, why, it couldn't get much better than this! The cameras were clicking. We took pictures of everyone and everything, even the sky. Some folk were on mules to take them to the bottom. Other folk, like us, were going on foot. The children were happy as larks that we took this trip. My plan was to go as far as the children could endure, no farther. Mike was six years old, Little Harold and Faye-Faye were probably around seven and eight years old.

When we reached nearly halfway to the bottom of the canyon, we were all dog tired, including the dog, Candy, which they brought with them. It appeared the children couldn't take it any longer. I suggested we turn back. Many in the group were turning back. Frances said No and suggested we continue; it would only be just a little bit and we should reach the Colorado River at the bottom. At that point, I had no desire to go to the Colorado River which still seemed so far, far away, so unreachable, so unappealing and uninviting. Looking down from where we were, it appeared like a long, narrow tan ribbon lying on the floor of the canyon. However, not wanting to be a killjoy, I went along with Frances' idea of going to the very bottom of the canyon. After all we were vegetarians and vegetarians are known to have good stamina and endurance not equaled to the rest of the population. We should be able to reach the bottom without any problems.

Many hours later with every muscle in our bodies aching and every cell screaming for oxygen, we reached the bottom. We were too exhausted to enjoy the scenery, too weak to even finish our meals, and too sick with attitude-itis to enjoy each other's company. I did not have good walking shoes on. When we reached the bottom, my feet were raw with large, open blisters, I wondered how I would make it up to the top. I knew I couldn't use the same shoes that I had on for they caused those blisters. And I knew I couldn't go barefoot either. I was between a rock and a hard place. I was not a happy camper.

We ate our lunches in silence. Instead of trying to make the best out of a bad situation, I moped and suffered in silence. I reflected on the fact that we should not have done this, that this was the craziest thing anyone could do, and that this was suicide. People train for weeks before tackling what we had just done. The vacation mood and excitement that I experienced at the beginning of this vacation dissipated like mists in the morning sun. We didn't stay very long at the bottom. We couldn't. If we were to make it to the top at a decent hour, we'd better leave NOW. We stayed only a couple of hours after we ate our lunch. However, a couple of hours rest for my tired, aching feet was not enough. I was in no shape, physically and mentally, to start the long hike up to the top this soon. I felt I should be carried out on a stretcher or with a helicopter or something. Oh, how I felt and empathized with the psalmist in Ps 55:6: And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. I wanted to fly away, not walk away.

The rangers were sympathetic with me, and they searched their cabin high and low for tennis shoes that would fit me so I could make the trip back to the top. Thank God, they found a pair that fitted me perfectly. I banished the thought of being carried out on a stretcher or a helicopter.

The trip back to the top was the slowest and most excruciatingly painful walking experience I have ever undertaken. The tennis shoes were a little more comfortable than the non-walking shoes I had on earlier, but even with the soft tennis shoes, every step I took caused existing blisters to flare up and new ones to pop up.

Soon, it was nighttime, and we were still crawling at snail pace up the trail of the Grand Canyon. The moon was full, and the night was spooky. We were all alone on the trail now. Many of the people who came down with us pitched their tents and camped out at the bottom. Others turned back before they reached the bottom. These folk were smart; we weren't. They planned; we didn't. They used common sense. We used non-sense. We went by the impulse of the moment, not weighing the consequences of the decisions and actions that were made. I could have kicked myself for not taking the time to plan this trip the way that it should be planned and sticking with it. Next time, if there was a next time, this nightmare would not be repeated.

By this time, the children were crying for they were pushed beyond their limits of endurance. They were tired, sleepy and hungry. I was tired, sleepy, hungry and upset. I was upset that I allowed myself to go contrary to what I had believed to be the right thing to do. The right thing to do was to stand firm and not go down with the children to the bottom of the canyon. I started having a bad attack of my-way-or-the-highway syndrome, and inside I was getting furious by the minute. What is Frances trying to prove--that she is superwoman or something?  I asked myself. I knew Frances was healthy and strong and physically fit, but why didn't she consider the situation with the children--that they might not be able to endure this trek? I was an adult and having a bad time enduring. I felt that if I had mentioned anything about how badly I was coping, Frances would tell me that I needed to eat more carrots. So I didn't say anything. I tried to endure and encourage the children to push on. I told them we were almost there.

Almost there? I heard one of the children whine. You said that ten hours ago, another one piped in. I know I said that ten hours ago, but this time, I think we're ALMOST there.

That night we were hauling our lunch trash--apple cores, orange peels, banana peels, empty juice bottles and cans, and uneaten food--with us for we couldn't leave them behind. Garbage trucks couldn't go down there, you know. I had an uneasy feeling that the smell of the food we were hauling out would attract all the wild and ferocious animals in the surrounding regions. I was not familiar with this area and did not know what kinds of wild beasts were lurking out there just waiting to prance on us and maul us and possibly kill us. We didn't bring any flashlights to see clearly what was in front of us, behind us, to the sides of us, or what we were stepping on. I feared greatly we would step on rattlesnakes and get bitten. I tried to review in my mind what to do if someone is bitten by a rattlesnake. It had been a long time since I read something about rattlesnake bites and what to do. I wasn't sure I know how to care for someone bitten by a rattlesnake. In fact, we didn't bring any first aid kit on this trip which showed how unplanned this trip really was.

The night was awfully quiet. Every now and then, the silence was broken by a cry of an animal I couldn't identify. In my mind I was asking: Is that sound coming from a hungry Gila monster, a starved coyote or wolf with sharp fangs, a famished tiger, a starved lion, a hungry mama bear with hungry cubs? Even the sound of broken twigs would cause blood racing from my heart. Then I thought of Big Foot. What a time to be thinking of Big Foot? Are Sasquatch real? People have seen them in parts of the country they told me. The night was getting more eerie as the minutes and hours went by. I feared Big Foot would show his massive presence. I had never been so scared in my life. I tried hard not to sound scared for the sake of the children. We dragged our heavy and tired legs half a step at a time, slowly, slowly, oh, ever so s-l-o-w-l-y. On and on we trudged. Gravity was relentless and unmerciful, defying and mocking us.

Then, we saw faint lights in the distance. We were nearing the top of the canyon. It was 11:00 p.m. when we finally reached the top of the canyon. It took 15 hours for the round-trip trek to and from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, a feat that, I know, I would never attempt to do ever again as long as I live.

Our vacation money was fast dwindling so we had to forego sleeping in a motel that night. At this point in our vacation, motels were luxuries that needed to be dispensed with. The money we had left was enough for food and for gas to get back to San Diego. So, we all slept in the old, small van--three adults, three children, and Candy, the dog. Candy was such a sweet, adorable little dog, quiet as a mouse the whole entire time. Thank God she wasn't a German Shepherd or a Great Dane or we would have been in deep trouble space-wise.

I was so tired, I'd thought I would be fast asleep in no time, but I couldn't go to sleep that night. There was a hump right in the middle of my bed in the van where either the van's engine or tire and other accessories were housed. I couldn't turn or find a position that was comfortable. There were tired and sweaty bodies all over and getting in the way. And I kept smelling gasoline and getting a headache from it. I needed air. I thought I was going to pass out.

The sunlight streaming in through the cracks in the curtains on the van told me that morning had come. I slowly got up, rubbed my eyes, and muttered softly: How am I ever going to make it in the time of trouble?

Why is it that when I, a lover of Nature, see beautiful pictures of the Grand Canyon, instead of exclaiming Oh, how grand and magnificent they are!  I get flashbacks of a vacation nightmare?



Down the Sawdust Trail Midi