How Backpacking The Grand Canyon Changed My Life
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller
I remember saying, “Let’s challenge ourselves and do something different. I want to have an experience that humbles me.”
Have you ever heard of the overview effect? It’s when an astronaut sees Earth for the first time from orbit and has a cognitive shift in awareness.
“Intellectually, I knew what to expect. I have probably looked at as many pictures from space as anybody…so I knew exactly what I was going to see…. But there is no way you can be prepared for the emotional impact… It brought tears to my eyes.” (Astronaut Don L. Lind, STS-51-B Mission Specialist)
“It was like drinking from a fire hose of information… I had heard of the Overview Effect but, having done many extreme things in my life… skydiving, mountain climbing, visiting the Titanic and Antarctica, I didn’t think it would greatly affect me… That is until… I got into space! My life has changed because of my space experience.” (Richard Garriott, Space Tourist)
Science has shown us that our environment shapes our behaviors and who we are as people. The experience of seeing Earth from orbit is an experience that literally changes a person’s life by shifting their perspective.
I wasn’t about to schedule a trip to space but I had a desire to feel that sense of awe and connectedness. I wanted an experience that would shift my perspective. I believe it’s important to push yourself to explore new experiences, especially ones that might humble you and give you wisdom.
Actually Doing It
We had some days off scheduled already for early September and decided that we wanted to go backpacking. Like so many people, we always talked about it but never did it. Not this time. We committed and were actually doing it.
Wildland Trekking rates their trips by difficulty and solitude. We wanted to challenge ourselves and have more solitude. We decided to do a trip called The Hermit Loop. Difficulty was a 4 out of 5. And solitude was a 3 out of 5.
It was locked in and we were pumped! We had to buy gear and actually train for this trip. We would load up our backpacks with books, about 30-40 pounds, strap on our new boots, to break them in, and do stairs in our building. It was 12 flights and we would usually do 6-8 sets (up and down is one). That was brutal but we were up for the challenge. Or we would go for hikes around the city and through the parks but it was awkward to have boots and backpacks on. Anyone thinking about going hiking, this training is essential.
Have You Met The Grand Canyon?
At the time, I had never visited the Grand Canyon. Neither had my wife.
Finally, the day came when we got there and walked up to the edge and looked out across the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon.
What an incredible view and feeling. No picture can do it justice. Actually, it’s so big that humanity has not even explored the whole thing yet.
It was time to get serious.
Day three was an eight-mile hike and started at 3 am in the morning to try and avoid the worst of the heat.
This was an incredibly tough day because it was a big hike, tough terrain and our first time putting in this many hours during the Arizona heat.
I had about 50 pounds on my back and soon enough that Arizona heat was giving us all a beating.
After 8 of the most challenging miles in my life, my feet had blisters and we reached camp only to find out that there was no shade! The five of us set up our tents and decided to lay down for a bit in the shade of the tents. After about 10 minutes my wife and I realized that was an awful idea because it was basically a sauna.
“What am I doing out here and how am I going to get through the next two days.” That’s what I said to myself as we laid there in pain. I thought, “this is how we decided to spend our vacation, wonderful.”
LESSON 1: PERSISTENCE REALLY DOES MATTER!
My wife and I decided to take a quick walk to the creek just 50 yards down the path so we could soak our shirts in the water and cool down a bit. It was only ankle deep and since it was way too hot to sit around camp we decided to take a walk further down the creek to see if we could find a deeper pool of water. We found a small waterfall that had a pool about 2 feet deep which was like finding gold.
We decided to keep going and to our surprise, it became the start of an adventure. One that became something we will always remember and talk about.
Waterfall after waterfall the stream ran deeper into the canyon like a stairway to heaven for us who were trying to cool down.
Before we went any further we got the other four people in our group to join us.
Our guide explained something that I found to be truly amazing. That water has been running there for millions of years and over that time it created that canyon. Let that sink in. Water takes the shape of whatever it touches but over time it can even reshape the hard rocks of the Grand Canyon.
There was no strategy or help. All it took was persistence.
LESSON 2: DISCOVER WISDOM
“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” – Marcel Proust
We all hear things like, “persistence pays off.” But does it really resonate?
Hearing something doesn’t make a lesson resonate the same way a life experience can. Has that ever happened to you? You have an experience and then you think to yourself, “Now I really see why people say that.”
The experience allows a person to discover new found wisdom about life which is different than intelligence. For example, a child can be intelligent but have very little wisdom. Or a person may be intelligent about fixing computers but that does not mean they are wise about life.
In this particular case, being out there, away from all civilization, feeling the cool water on our skin, and smelling the air created a setting that really impacted how we felt. It’s a whole different type of learning experience. Reading about glaciers melting and going to visit one first hand will impact you very differently as it did Billy Parish.
During this trip, I learned a lot about myself because I was pushed way out of my comfort zone and gave me a deeper understanding of some fundamental lessons in life. Lessons that truly resonated at my core now because I “felt” them.
Get out there and challenge yourself, explore places and people off the beaten path, get inspired. It’s the best education you can get.
LESSON 3: SUCCESS REQUIRES COURAGE
Remember, this was my first ever backpacking trip and it was a level four difficulty in the Grand Canyon. Whether you’re branching out and backpacking or pursuing a passion in life it requires courage because you need to break out of your comfort zone, face the unknown, and have the willpower to push forward no matter how hard things get. It’s those experiences, good and bad, that give you wisdom and take your life to the next level of personal growth.
Change Creator Magazine is my second business and like all entrepreneurs, I have and continue to face many ups and downs. But, even during the most difficult times, when I questioned my path, I could never really imagine not waking up and doing what I was doing. Now, we have amazing people like Arianna Huffington and Tony Robbins on the cover of our magazine.
Quick example— Milton Hershey of Hershey Chocolate went bankrupt several times! Most, if not all people, would have stopped after the first time. Definitely the second time. But not Milton. He believed in his vision and persisted.
Many people quit because the little voice of rationalization starts talking and convinces them it’s too risky or foolish to keep going. Or they just don’t try at all. You ever hear someone say they would love to do one thing or another and when you say, “so do it,” they laugh and say, “yeah like I’m actually going to do that, don’t be crazy.” It always makes me sad when people don’t believe in themselves and decided to settle in life and play it safe.
Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
The number one regret was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Escaping the Grand Canyon
Every corner we turned was a new jaw-dropping view and experience. Never again during that trip did I question why I was there. We made great friends with our small group, camped out on the beach of the Colorado River, showered in waterfalls, laid under the stars in awe, pushed ourselves in ways we never have before, and saw parts of the Canyon only days of hiking could offer.
The last day was an eight-mile hike out of the Canyon and the toughest day of the entire trip.
I was leading that day and took us way off course because I couldn’t tell where to go and to be fair nobody else noticed either. We ended up with two options. Backtrack and go the right way or scramble up the rocky side of the canyon about 250 meters. This was not a vertical climb but it was pretty serious and not part of our trip at all. My wife was horrified but we all made it. She didn’t talk for 2 hours after that.
The last couple miles were so tough I didn’t think I was even going to make it. I just knew I had no choice. Blisters were the least of our worries at that point, we learned to push past that pain. Our guide kept saying, “almost there, “ and we never were. But the camaraderie of the group was great and spirits were high.
Finally, we made it to the top and we all had the best Gatorade of our lives. Soon followed by a hot tub, beers, and lots of reminiscing.
If you love what you’re doing and have a vision for your future self, persistence and courage are essential ingredients to finding success. There are no overnight successes, it takes time.
While this story was about persistence the other important lesson is about shaping perspective. Pushing yourself and exploring the world will give you perspective or wisdom which then shapes who you are as a person and the actions you take moving forward.
This world is an amazing place and we must protect it. We are not just here as part of it because that implies we are separate— we are it. If we harm the environment we only harm ourselves. If we protect it we protect ourselves.
My passion for social entrepreneurship, the reason for Change Creator Magazine, stems from my passion to protect this world and make it a better place. At least 80 percent of the social entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed have all been inspired to create their social enterprise due to a travel experience.
Go explore, the best investment you can make is in experiences. Don’t think about it, do it!
Have you had any experiences like this? Please share with us in the comments as we’d love to hear about it!