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Red Dust at Morning: Ten Things I Learned on Our Havasupai Hike

Originally published in The LLLI Alumnae Association’s Continuum, 2003. I took the September 2002 hike with 36 women into the Grand Canyon.

1. I could train myself for something hard. As I lengthened my twice-daily walks around my neighborhood parks and streets, I wasn’t sure I could really train well enough to prevent soreness and stiffness. A few months before our hike, I added a 30-pound pack to my regimen, gaining the comments and admiration of fellow walkers at the park. As it turned out, the long hours in the car made me much stiffer than anything the canyon could dish out.

2. I am part of a community. I have only lived in the Salt Lake City area for a little over a year and know very few of my neighbors, but I found that one close neighbor was also training for a hike into the Grand Canyon in September. Naoma and her husband were planning a hike rim to rim. She and I walked together, carried our packs together, and discussed hiking equipment, training, and strategies on many trips around Willow Creek and Flat Iron parks.

3. It’s the journey that’s important. Although I was anxious to see Supai Village and Havasupai Falls, those destinations paled in comparison to the camaraderie, love, and caring between the LLLI Alumnae hikers. I have two brothers and no sisters, but, with so much in common in philosophy, values, and life experience, it truly felt like a group of sisters journeying through the red dust that September.

4. Life changes. When I signed up for this hike, my mother was alive. Not well, but she was alive. When she died in January, I found myself questioning many decisions I’d made about the year ahead. Should I rearrange my travel time to see my brothers in California nd Colorado? My cousin in Minneapolis? My son at college? How important was ths hike with so many strangers? I finally decided to do this hike for me, for my friends, for women who weren’t in good enough shape to go, and for my mother who will never hike again.

5. The weather changes. When we hiked into the canyon at 9 AM on Thursday morning, it was hot, still, and we were guzzling water as we descended the switchbacks. When we hiked out of the canyon on Saturday morning at 5 AM, it was breezy and cool and then cold and blustery when we reached the end of the switchbacks six hours later. A huge thunderstorm descended on our heads within moments of the last person getting out.

6. Relationships change. The 37 strangers who started out from Havasupai Hilltop on the morning of September 26 didn’t feel much like strangers once we’d podded back up the switchbacks several days later. My roommate Teresa Carpenter from North Carolina had packed down to the Lodge her coffee maker–with glass carafe–and we talked into the night about families and hiking expectations . . . and that darned coffee maker! I talked with women from all over the country on the trail, at the Lodge, at the falls, and then on the trail again.

7. It’s a small world. Even though I wasn’t exactly close friends with many of the hikers and indeed lived far away from most, it was such a joy to discover how much we had in common. I laughed with Alice Edwards about the three-hour long talent show she’d emceed at the USWD TEAM Meeting in 2000. I talked with Edna Kelly about choices in putting out USWD publications. And a special treat was discovering that Nancy Fako had used my grandfather’s book The History of Music in Cleveland to help her research a book she was writing.

8. Grandmothering isn’t for wimps. I’ve known grandmothers in my own family and throughout La Leche League, but I heard many more stories on the trail, at the falls, and in the village about conflict, love, and overcoming difficult odds in family relationships. As much as I’d love to become a grandmother, I’ve got some getting ready to do for the important motherwork of welcoming new members into our family.

9. La Leche League creates its own family. I had a “blind date” with Grace Jackson in Las Vegas. She was a hiker from Hawaii who needed a ride to the Canyon and I had agreed to pick her up. We had a wonderful two nights at an Egyptian-themed hotel, sharing buffet and natural foods meals, and driving around Las Vegas for last-minute supplies. We then drove on to see Hoover Dam before meeting with the rest of our party. As we talked about our families and the passing scenery, we quickly felt at ease and comfortable in the bosom of our shared organization.

10. I could do it. My husband Tom is an experienced mountaineer who usually does the planning, the packing, and the driving on our family outings. This time he wouldn’t be there. This time I was the one doing the planning, the packing, and all the driving. And I found out I could do it all. I drove slower, packing with less finesse, and planned much farther in advance than Tom usually does, but I did it in my own way, my own style, and reaped my own success. It may be a while before I clean–or every try to clean–that red dust off my hiking boots.

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