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  • Sonya Leigh Anderson

Braver and Stronger

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

I wasn’t so sure about hiking the Grand Canyon. It was my husband’s idea. His bucket list. A dream since we’d been there when the kids were small. The same trip as Yosemite, when Grant was ten, and father and son hiked Half Dome, not quite making the top. That same trip we’d also stopped by the Grand Canyon for a brief visit. No hike. Just three small children scampering too close to the edge; a mom holding for dear life to the hand of the baby. A rather frightening memory. But for my husband, a dream.

Five years ago, give or take, Kyle and Grant finally reached the Half Dome summit. Bucket list #1…and done. Which left the Canyon—BL#2. (I did ask at dinner last night if our next destination might be selected from my own little pail.)

It was somewhat spur-of-the-moment. We’d actually planned to be in Iowa, visiting our newlyweds. But then Jimmy called Dad from college, saying it’s Spring Break, and do we have plans? Jimmy who’s every bit as leery of heights as his mama, and just as skeptical, too, when Dad mentions hiking THE CANYON. But before you know it we’re all boarding a plane—along with Jimmy’s Sidney—new hiking boots packed in a shared suitcase, and ready or not, that massive hole-in-the-earth is our destination.

And three of the four of us are not so sure.

Not sure we CAN or we OUGHT TO. Every piece of advice, printed or otherwise, advising us NOT. Down and back in a day is only suggested for the highly skilled and super-hero-types. They use words like “grueling” and “dangerous” and best to consider a “2-day”—overnight.

And that’s not mentioning SNOW and ICE.

But Kyle assured us—checking the 10-day forecast and noticing those big flakes Thursday into Friday—it’s only at the town where we’ll be RV camping, but not the Canyon. No snow at the Grand Canyon in the middle of March.

Which is how “No snow at the Grand Canyon” became the tagline for our icy hike. Yikes.

No doubt about it. Three of us would never have set a big toe on that iced-over path if not for the determination of our fearless leader. (No wonder there’d been so many parking spots to choose from at the visitor’s lot; and the only other passenger on the shuttle looked like a guy who’d done this before.) But there we were: two small-college athletes, a recreational runner, and a pickle-ball player with a titanium hip. Trying to look like we knew what we were doing. For a fact.

I would have never done it. I wouldn’t have dreamt it. Wouldn’t have planned it. Wouldn’t have attempted.

Even though, I do like hiking. Love it, even. I’d choose a mountain vacation over anyone’s beach. Rather hit the trails than doze in a lounger, any old day. And truth be told, I was game to try it. (My husband might be persuasive, but I’d never let him take me by force.) And so, hedging my bets on honest-to-goodness guardian angels, I stepped out on that path.

And never looked back.

One foot in front of the other, slow and steady, no mistakes, no hurry. Every once in a while reminding myself to look up from the path to enjoy the view. A breathtaking view. One mile, then two. Ice and snow gradually turn to slippery mud. Three then four. Pausing often for snacks and water. Mile five. We take advantage of a rest stop to remove unneeded layers. Six. We’ve passed the point of no return. Mile seven, and we reach the bottom. Cross the footbridge over the Colorado River. One foot in front of the other.

Another long mile to the ranch where we buy lemonade and bagels, sit for a while for a late-morning breather. Compare stories. And aches. Sore toes and stressed knees from three hours of downward pounding. Sid’s relief over crossing that bridge. Jimmy’s concern about the long ascent. Each of us knowing, there’s work to be done.

The route back is longer. Less steep, more miles. We trade the ridge line of our descending trail for the wider landscape of the inner canyon. My family breathes a sigh of relief, while I surprise myself by saying out loud, “I enjoyed those heights, and the startling views.”

Our return pace is considerably faster than expected, thanks to Jimmy’s determination to have us back on level ground by sunset. A goal we meet and then some. But it’s not easy. Blisters form, glutes burn, fingers swell. We stop often, for water and trail mix. I pray. The last four miles we endure endless switchbacks on blistered feet and wobbly legs. The ice returns. We’re weary.

It’s late afternoon when we make our final ascent, one slow step after another. And we know we’ve made it. Jimmy hugs the canyon walls, not risking a misstep so close to the top. I am bone-tired, but stronger than I’ve ever felt.

And braver, too.

We made it. A stranger sees our exhaustion and knows we did the impossible. She takes our picture. It feels like she ought to be handing us medals.

We take one last look at where we’ve been, where we’d come from. We hiked eighteen miles through the freaking GRAND CANYON.

Kyle tells us, “I never thought we’d do it.” And the three of us look at him like he’s crazy. “What choice did we have?”

But we feel like heroes. We did it. We endured, and we conquered. We are brave and strong.

A couple of days later, we’re back home to Minnesota snow, recuperating from our vacation. I’m reading my Bible, the first chapter of Joshua, God’s preparation for an epic journey. And it hits me. How many times God repeats these words:

Be strong and courageous.

And I think to myself. I was—and I am.

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