I cannot begin to explain the plethora of emotions felt leading up to and during the Cystic Fibrosis Xtreme Hike last Saturday at The Grand Canyon. My anxiety was relatively high since my experience on long hikes was very limited. You can only read so much and ask hike guides so many questions to prepare. I’m pretty active overall and enjoy a good workout challenge, yet hadn’t specifically trained much for the 25 mile hike. MY POOR FEET!
We heard so many stories and met so many affected by Cystic Fibrosis. Brittany unfortunately lost her very best friend to the disease early in 2018. I went on this hike in large part to support Brittany in her fight to help others impacted by CF. So many hikers on this trip have lost loved ones, or still have children or grandchildren living with this dreaded disease. Our nearly 70 thousand footsteps are symbolic of the approximately 70 thousand people living with CF today. So much research has helped extend the life expectancy drastically over the past several years, thanks to money given by generous donors! A common theme throughout our weekend was how much the group looks forward to CF no longer standing for Cystic Fibrosis, yet eventually standing for CURE FOUND! What a great cause to be a part of! What great people we met along our journey!
We started our descent at 4:42 AM on Saturday morning via the Bright Angel Trail on the edge of the South Rim. Headlamps and all, the 23 hikers and 6 guides looked like little fireflies weaving downward through and along the cliffside. Literally the first hour was pitch black! Step by step we carefully moved through the chilly morning as the anticipation of the next 25 miles wrestled within my stomach. I was excited for the adventure, yet just wanted to make some progress toward lessening the steps that remained. Dawn broke and we continued our 7-mile descent while intentionally holding back our pace to lessen the structural burden on our knees and backs. The guides warned us over and over not to rush on the way down, as often times this comes back to haunt hikers physically as they battle up the other side.
We reached the brown, yet free flowing, Colorado River around 8:30 in the morning. We made our way over the water via our first of a few suspension bridges we’d encounter on the trail. Our first major pit stop was a campground called Phantom Ranch about 10 miles into our trip. They actually have little lodges you can stay nestled within the canyon! This spot really symbolized the end of the downhill portion of our journey.
We managed to take a group picture at the bottom before spreading out to conquer the remaining trek at our own pace. By this point my toes and feet were throbbing. No matter how much you plant your heels on a 7-mile descent, toes inevitably smash into the tip of your shoes leaving them either throbbing or numb. We used a product called Skin Glide on our feet and anywhere else chaffing could happen from repetitive movements throughout the 25 miles. I’m happy to report I made it out of The Canyon without much chaffing and with ZERO BLISTERS! Although the throbbing within our feet and joints were still plenty painful!
We then walked 8+ miles through the bottom of the canyon at a pretty mild, yet consistent elevation increase. About 12 miles through the hike I noticed a man who looked familiar heading toward me. One of my absolute favorite pastors, who preaches in the Southeast Valley (Phoenix area), was seemingly strolling directly toward us. I quietly asked Brittany- “is that Chad Moore?” She chuckled in disbelief, probably assuming the combination of heat and mileage were making me slightly delirious. As the man approached he looked at us and simply said “good morning,” with a faint smile on his face. Immediately I looked back at him, recognizing the voice, and said- “are you Chad?” He stopped and said- “yes I am, with a perplexed grin.” I have looked up to Chad for many years. I’ve heard countless sermons and can without a doubt report that he has been a key to my deepening relationship with God. We spoke briefly and introduced ourselves. I told him I’ve been a long time appreciator of his messages and we said our goodbyes. He was heading from North to South, and we were headed from South to North, so we both still had long days ahead.
The next few miles Brittany and I reflected on the “irony” that we saw a pastor whom we both look up to in the middle of The Grand Canyon on a “random” Saturday. Brittany said it almost seemed like Chad was an angel on our path. His presence alone seemed to bring a deeper peace to the journey. I’ve had my personal challenges over the past few years, and often struggled with the idea of meeting Chad during a period I often found myself wrestling with God. I ended up moving pretty far from the church and now listen to many of his sermons via the church’s app. Meeting him seemed far fetched at this point, and yet we happen to literally CROSS PATHS!
My faith and relationship with God has reached a depth that only leaves me craving more now. I took Chad walking on that path almost as if God was winking at me. I felt a transformational peace after seeing him in the canyon. I have no other explanation of this encounter other than The Divine at work. This hike stood for something, as I wrote in my most recent blog post. I made the decision to say YES because I’m committed to living through a lens of: “I AM THE GOOD KIND OF CRAZY!” God has continued to show me that He matters most, He has my back, and if I trust in Him my life will fall into place! I believe I have a divine calling in this world and I believe every other human being does as well. I have a strong gut feeling that seeing Chad 1/2 way through our hike, right before I started my ascent, was God saying “KEEP GOING MY CHILD, YOU’RE ON THE RIGHT PATH.” I don’t know how else to explain it! I also feel inclined to share Chad’s often quoted belief about life: “No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter what has been done to you- God loves you just as you are, not as you should be…” What a blessing to have these words resonate within me in the canyon on Saturday! Chad- if you ever read this, I hope you know that you’ve made a great impact on my life via your ministry, and I’m forever grateful.
We eventually hit our next major milestone, which was the Cottonwood campground on the base of the north rim. At this point we had already hiked about 18 miles over a span of just over 8 hours. We knew the next 7 miles were practically straight up, yet felt ready to tackle the final challenge. The canyon was also becoming extremely windy, which made teetering on a narrow cliff-side path with tired legs even more daunting. Britt and I found it within ourselves to take only two more breaks over the next 4 hours, each lasting only a few minutes for snacks. I can say with certainty that I’ve never had more Uncrustables in a given day!
I made the mistake of frequently looking up to gage our progress, each time disappointed as the path was seemingly never ending. Our leg muscles felt on fire, many toes were numb, and our backs strained after a day carrying twenty pound packs. I finally paused to look behind us. Right then I finally had an appreciation for how far we’d come…
Sometimes in life I find myself looking forward in search of clarity or answers that don’t come on my timetable. I have such high aspirations for the future, yet realize that looking beyond today only makes the future seem daunting and often creates anxiety. I finally tried to stop looking up at the steep cliff-side we were hiking, and instead focused on each individual step along the way. I usually try not to focus much on the past, yet on Saturday I did, and it helped! I looked back at the PROGRESS we’d made with GRATITUDE and APPRECIATION. I was proud of our progress, which made each continued step more bearable. I feel like reflecting and recognizing that the journey is hard sometimes is okay. Doing so can bring appreciation for the tough times because this is often where we grow closer to what really matters- GOD! Life isn’t perfect. That hike out of The Grand Canyon wasn’t easy. Yet the satisfaction of knowing that we persevered through all of the pain as we continued our ascent was special to me. It’s CRAZY to think of the parallel of our hike to the path of life. Hiking up toward Heaven isn’t always easy, in fact it’s often filled with heavy winds and pain. We press on however and appreciate the journey for what it is. We can have gratitude for our past, regardless of what our path looks like, as long as it brought us closer to Him! We can also focus on staying present with each step we take today, instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. We can have faith that God will give us the strength to get through our future steps when the time comes. What an analogy that 25 mile hike was on Saturday!
I love the depths of spirituality and my faith. I’m not surprised that hiking one of God’s most beautiful creations had a resounding impact on me. I’m so thrilled we decided to hike our first Rim 2 Rim. I’m grateful for the journey of life. I’m grateful for joy. I’m grateful for evolving faith. I’m grateful for His GRACE! I guess I’m just grateful overall.
MAY GOD BLESS YOUR JOURNEY!
I look forward to taking my next adventure sometime soon! In the meantime, I look forward to writing about my first “LIGHT DIMMER” later this week- Alcohol.
For more pics and to fully experience the journey follow @surrender_project on Instagram!