Saturday, 26 October 2013

Rest day 3 - I breathe the air...

A good friend, Mickey, said to me about today 'live every minute, breathe every breath and take in every heartbeat of scenery'. I hope I did and will try to describe the experience adequately but I fear I will fail...

But first start at the beginning...
I woke up early as usual, keen that today would live up to the expectation. I had everything ready, water, cameras, prayer flags, first aid kit (well it would be typical of me to have come this far and then trip over the edge) and waited for Louize and Mark to come and pick me up. I used to work with Louize and they had moved out here a year ago. On hearing about my trip they had offered to be emergency contacts and we had arranged to meet up. They had kindly offered to take me on a day trip to the Grand Canyon, the point I had been cycling so hard to get to on time to enable me to have a day off for a visit.
Whilst waiting I caught up with facebook, read, played bejewelled,  anything to keep me occupied. I felt like a child again, who had woken up too early on christmas day and had to wait to open presents!
Slightly before the agreed time, message of we are here, filtered through and I went out to greet them, in my cycling shorts no less. (My shorts were not fit to wear any more due to having no backside to them whatsoever!) I find it difficult to say how fantastic it was to see someone (technically) from home. Almost as good were the shorts, (and I have just had an oh shit moment as I have realised, in the excitement of the day, I forgot to give them any money for. Louize I will pay you back!) which fitted perfectly and are going to be great to cycle in.

I took them to the diner in which I had breakfast yesterday, and felt almost like a regular. I probably spoke to much and babbled on, due to the fact that I havent spoken to too many people since being on the road and it was soooo nice to see them. We argued over the cheque,  I lost that one, before heading to the car and settling in for the shortish drive. It would have taken me most of the day to get there by bike, but the miles whizzed by, with me still talking 19 to the dozen! Sorry guys!

Before long we pulled up to the park entrance, I won that one, and we drove through to the car park... the weather was glorious, bright blue skies, sun but not too hot, mild breeze... couldnt have been any better. I briefly popped into the visitor centre but seemed funny to be standing there when just outside I could go and see the real thing. We strolled over and suddenly there it was....

It was funny, it didnt hit me at that moment really, but there I actually was. After all these miles....
The first thing I noticed was the beautiful colours in the rock, like the painted desert, perhaps more green in the colours. This stretched down and down and down to the canyon floor, which had more deep gashes in it, presumably where the rivers run, though you couldnt see them.  It was so big, the mind cant really comprehend the scale. Between the south rim, where we were and the north rim, were many individual peaks jutting up creating mini canyons within the whole. A sense of the millions of years passing as this canyon was carved out could be felt in your bones.
Now as I was a tourist too, what im about to say is slightly hypercritical, but we were surrounded by people and I think that is why it didnt have the initial impact that the painted desert had had on me.. we decided to head down into the canyon on the bright angel trail, which starts off as a reasonably minimal gradient but gets steeper as you go down... it was here that we gradually lost the crowds and descended to a more peaceful place. Here is when I found it hit me, where I was, the significance of how far I had come and more importantly what it meant to me to be taking the flags here.
The flags,  on which there are now many names on, have become tied to me and this journey. Many of the people whose names are on these flags, I have never met, but they have become tied to me now as we have shared this journey together.  Some are of family who have supported me in this crazy wonderful adventure and some are friends. All are important to me, and I never realised how much until now.
I have carried the flags tied to my bike up until today, when I took them off and carried them around my neck. I was petrified of them blowing away or falling off and continuously was checking that they were safe. I found a good spot and took photos of the individual flags with the words Love Hope and Strength.

With every step down into the canyon I felt more and more the enormity of this place, it dwarfs everything and everyone in it and around it. The walls start to rise up above your head and the drop below still seems a long way down. The strata in the rock mark the passing of millions of years and yet we have barely touched the surface of exploring this place.
I feel pulled downwards, even as I know we must turn back sometime, the trail pulls at my soul, calling me to lose myself in the trees and the rocks below. One day I am determined to come back, with a tent, and keep descending, maybe cross to the other side on foot, but today I must turn back.....

We went slowly back up, it was steep, I was not wearing good walking shoes and the altitude made itself felt. In fact I was wearing the kind of poor quality footwear I often criticise others for wearing up mountains. On top of that I had jarred my injured foot and it was now hurting again. However none of this could take away the magic of this place and when stopped, and the gaze turned once more to the view, it was like seeing it for the first time again, like a reminder that it was still there.

We eventually crested the top and after a well deserved coffee, decided to walk along the rim. At one of the viewing points I stood on a rock with my hands held high, facing the canyon for the photo below. Wham ... it's hit me then, where I was and once again another little piece of me broke away and remained at that spot.. not literally obviously.. dont worry!

The sun was much lower in the sky now, casting shadows in the canyon,  giving a greater sense of depth and perspective. If possible it made it look grander, more ancient, more timeless than before. Breathing in the fresh air, smelling the pine that surrounded us amd fixing my eye on the view to imprint every moment on my brain, before the bus drew up to ferry us away and back to 'civilisation'.

It was time to go back to Williams but it was not with regret for I am certain that I will come back here to explore and discover more...
We soon found ourselves in an oddly quaint restaurant,  with a Swiss chef where I got pasta for the first time in this trip and is of note mainly for the exquisitely prepared apple strudel!

Too soon it was time to say goodbye to Louize and Mark, and face forward, westwards, to LA and the final phase of my journey. I once again had a pang of homesickness for family and friends but restlessness to get going on the road. In williams I have found kindness and friendship and thanks to louize and mark have had a day that will be cherished in my memory.....

So as I prepare for tomorrow I ask that you keep sharing this blog, spreading the word and donating if you feel you can. Your support will propell me the final 500 ish miles as it has carried me to this spot.
If you donate dont forget there is time to add a name to the flags for the final leg to Santa Monica Pier and help support the fantastic work of Love Hope Strength Foundation.. www.justgiving.com/Route66LHS

Mickey's words ring in my ears as ones to continue to live by and as I turn my eyes to the road tomorrow, I will start with a breath of the fresh air around me.