Facebook reminded me today that last year at this time, my wife and I went to the Grand Canyon, and then up to Zion National Park. That prompted me to pull up the pictures and videos from the trip, and we spent a half hour laughing about various memories from the trip. Somewhere in there it occurred to me that my memories of the trip aren’t about all the things that went right, or smooth, or without unexpected challenges. My memories are in all the things that were bizarre, or tough, or painful, and things like that. I remember the adversity, and how we got through it.
For example, I don’t really remember much about the hotel rooms we stayed in that were nice, normal, clean, well-regulated-temperature rooms. I do remember the two, in one of which I almost froze to death in hypothermia-induced shock, and the other was just a disaster that you would only expect Clark Griswold to find in a National Lampoon movie from the 80’s. However, the normal hotel rooms did not give me anything to tell stories about, or reminisce about.
For you to understand the room I almost died in, I have to tell you about the entire day leading up to our arrival in the room. That was the day we hiked to the Kolob Arch up in the north end of Zion. If you don’t know anything about Zion National Park in Utah, I recommend that you do some research on it, as it is one of the most incredible places in the United States. The north end is for serious hikers only, and gets far fewer visitors than the south end, where anyone can ride the tram up to the various points of interest without walking more than ten feet. Naturally, as physically active introverts, we found the peoplelessness of the north end to be quite appealing. But I’m rambling.
The trail to the Kolob Arch is rated as Strenuous, and is about 14 miles round trip. Once you leave the parking lot, there’s no bathrooms, no water, no power, no cell phone signal, no people. It’s as remote as it can be. We were parked before the sun came up, as we knew we would probably need the entire day to make the hike. 14 miles is a serious walk on flat ground, and this was anything but flat. The La Verkin Creek Trail starts off with a 1,000 foot drop down into the Kolob Canyons portion of Zion, which means that when you come back after a really long day of walking, it ends with a 1,000 foot climb back up. The scenery is just unbelievable, and I won’t even attempt to describe it other than to say that everything is overwhelmingly big and just absolutely stunning. Total sensory input overload. Also, there is a stretch of bottoms that smells like the best cup of tea you ever smelled; as if you were an ant walking through a potpourri dish. Amazing.
Anyway, we made the hike out, ate our peanut butter and honey sandwiches, noted that the honey had spilled all over the inside of Erica’s backpack, took a thousand pictures, had an amazing time, and made the hike back. It rained several times that afternoon, but we were hot from the exertion of the hike (remember this: when a trail is rated as Strenuous, it fucking means it) so we didn’t bother putting on our raincoats. We got back to the rental car just before dark, and we were soaked, exhausted to our very cores, starving, exhausted, soaked, and exhausted. Also, I was worn out, in case I didn’t express that clearly.
We drove about thirty minutes south to the hotel we had picked out the day before. We dragged ourselves and our backpacks to the desk, checked in, and got our room keys. A brief glance around the lobby turned us right back to the clerk, asking for directions to the elevator, as our rooms were on the 2nd floor, and we had just hiked 2,000 miles or so. NO ELEVATOR!! No elevator? What hotel (and this was a modern day hotel, not a holdover from another era) doesn’t have an elevator? I didn’t even know you could build a hotel with no elevator these days! We climbed the stairs under the extreme protest of our bodies, as the thought of trying to find another hotel was too much to consider. We still hadn’t had supper, and I’m the kind of guy that has to eat on time or I get hangry.
We staggered to our room, opened the door, and walked into Antarctica. It may have been colder than Antarctica, but I couldn’t think clearly enough to make a proper comparison. Our soaking wet clothes froze solid instantly. I stared dumbly at the controls on the ac unit, but my brain locked down to the point that I could not function. I’m pretty sure that if Erica hadn’t been there to rescue me, I probably would have died while standing in front of the ac. She managed to find the power button and turn it off, and got us pointed at the bathroom. We were both shivering violently as we undressed, and climbed into a warm shower. I don’t remember a whole lot, other than my fear at my inability to think. I was in dangerous territory there for a few minutes.
We finally warmed up enough that hunger started surpassing the other ailments. Before we left to find food, I determined that the thermostat was turned down to its lowest possible setting, and the fan was on high. We set it to something more reasonable, and went out to eat. We stayed in that hotel for two nights, as we wanted to explore the area more the next day. The second night, when we returned to the hotel, (dry and much less exhausted this time) we found that it was again the coldest place on the planet. I know, I was stunned, too! What in the hell is that about? We determined that the housekeeper is either trying to murder people, or trying to punish the hotel with really high electricity bills for some transgression. I’m pretty sure it was the latter, and we were victims in their feud.
The other hotel that I will likely never forget is the Grand Canyon Motel in Fredonia, Arizona. (Look it up, it’s worth a gander!) We actually stayed at this one before the first one I told you about, so things are a little out of order here. Anyway, back to the Grand Canyon Motel: It’s rated 2.6 stars on Google for a reason. It’s very visually appealing to the adventurous ten-year-old boy inside me, as it’s a series of tiny log and stone cabins rather than a traditional motel, and it was probably built in the 50’s or 60’s. It’s the only game in town, and if you are on the North Rim side of the Grand Canyon, there aren’t a lot of choices. Again, this is the remote side of things, and that comes with a price. We walked into the office, and it was stacked to the ceiling in junk, like an antique store that collects a lot more crap than it sells. The junk was the second thing we noticed though; the first being the overpowering smell of ammonia and cat shit. We should have seen that coming, in retrospect, as they had a colony of cats outside that was impressively large, and obviously lacking in any sort of spay and neuter program. Even Erica, who is a crazy cat lady, was horrified.
We attempted to take small sips of air through our mouths and smile politely as we filled out the paperwork as fast as possible (no computers here, everything is the exact same way it was in 1960). We got our key and fled to the parking lot, eyes burning and stomach churning. It was only about $40 for the night, which seemed great initially, but I was starting to worry about the level of mistake I had made in this decision before we ever even got to the room. As we carried our backpacks inside, I could tell that the group of people drinking canned beer in lawn chairs in the common area were permanent residents, and some of them had probably been there for decades. Yeah, that kind of place.
It turned out that the cabins were in far better shape than the office, at least in terms of the smell. The cats didn’t go inside the cabins, so we had that going for us. I actually found it rather appealing, in my odd way of appreciating things like this. The furniture was a hodgepodge collection of mismatched things from decades gone by. The recliner was so stained up you couldn’t tell what color it was, and it sagged badly. The armrests on it were worn shiny, as only happens with thirty years or more of hard use. The small table had a wooden straight-back chair on one side, and a dirty, white, plastic patio chair on the other side. The mattress was probably bad when it was brand new back in the 80’s, and it was only a full-size. Erica and I are used to sleeping on a king size bed, and having our own space to sprawl, so that was interesting. I didn’t sleep more than ten minutes at a time before waking up with either a lump in the mattress poking me in the kidney, Erica’s knee in my back, or her trying escape my knee in her back. Good times!
We left about 4 am, which is 7 am Florida time, and cruised down to the North Rim Lodge of the Grand Canyon to watch the sun rise. It was absolutely incredible. It was also freezing! The sign on the side of the road told us we were over 9,000 feet in elevation (our house in Florida is about 70 feet, by comparison) and the rental car told us it was 31 degrees (it was 88 when we left Florida). The funny thing is that I really have to stop and think about that sunrise to remember it well, or look at the pictures. The same thing goes for the unbelievably beautiful trails we hiked for a week. In contrast, I remember both of those motels like I stayed there last night, instead of a year ago. I remember all of the challenges we had on that trip; Erica’s fear of walking on trails on the side of the cliff with a 1,000 foot drop only inches away, and how we managed to get her through those moments, me underestimating how much food I needed to consume in a day to not have a meltdown, how awesome it was that Erica and I rose to every one of those adversities and made the best of them, rather than making it a bad experience. I remember all of those hard moments with great clarity, and with great fondness. Those tension-moments that turned into triumph-moments that made the trip more exciting, and made us tighter as a team, knowing that we can rely on each other when the going gets tough.
When I apply this concept to my other trips, the same thing rings true. I don’t remember the amazing views, the great rooms, the flawless execution of a well-laid plan (oh yes, I am a planner!). I remember all the stuff that went awry, and how we handled it, and how we look back on those moments with joy, rather than exasperation. For me, life happens smoothly most of the time, and that’s the way I like it, but the memories are in the adversity. What’s the lesson here? To always make adversity into a positive thing when at all possible, because that’s what I’ll be reflecting back upon. I need to look at adversity as an opportunity to make my future self proud, to seize the moment and be the hero that I try to be for my wife (and the ten year old kid inside!). Embrace the challenge!