A close brush with death… to facing my demons

15 years ago, I did a 3 month road trip across the US. It was fun, it was warm, I saw a few states – Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California, and then did the same route back across the country to get some warmth in Florida as it was cold in California!
I saw a lot of sights, the Alamo, bright lights of Vegas, cemeteries of New Orleans, NASA in Houston, cowboy bars of Amarillo, Death Valley, Hollywood… and the Grand Canyon. I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. It just looked so amazing in pictures in magazines and so I went to see it. To see it unfold in front of me was breathtaking. Absolutely breathtaking.

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I camped at the top that night and had a pass to camp at the bottom of the canyon the next night. Which meant hiking down the Bright Angel trail. I set off, drinking plenty water, I’d had a good breakfast so was fueled up. Got to the 1.5 mile rest stop and refilled with water, got some shade and started off again. Just before the 3 mile rest stop (to get to the bottom is a 9-10 mile hike dropping 6,800 feet via a series of switchbacks. Paths are narrow, you have to fit into the wall of the canyon when a packed mule comes down or up the same path, and there are no barriers to stop you falling off the side and down a 400ft drop) I got ill. Very ill.

So..I’d been drinking water and lots of it (this was the height of summer.. well over 40 degrees celsius and a demanding hike), you’d be stupid not to be drinking water. I was really hungry so made something to eat, except I couldn’t eat it. I couldn’t force it down, even though my body was telling me I was hungry. Then I felt really sick with the thought of food. Water wasn’t helping. A group of 4 guys running up the canyon (yeah, crazy, I know) very kindly stopped to see if I was ok. Having seen that I wasn’t, they used all their water to soak me, to try and cool my body down as it wasn’t doing it itself. By this point, I couldn’t feel my arms or my legs. At the canyon wall, there was a tiny shelf that the guys managed to slot me into. This got me out of the sun. There was no shade from the brutal sun on the path. One guy ran up to the 1.5 mile rest stop to get a ranger, and the ranger came down and got me to the 3 mile rest stop which had shade etc. I had to lie out for 4 hours, sipping water, in the shade, and eating saltine biscuits. I needed salt, as what had happened was that although I was drinking enough water, as soon as I sweated, the harsh sun was taking away the salt in my sweat so that it couldn’t be reabsorbed by my body. My body had been running out of salt. Once your brain realizes this, it starts shutting down your extremities so it can protect your vital organs from harm. (hence I couldn’t feel my arms and legs). This is not a good place to be in. I was then getting to the stage where I was irritable and starting to forget where I was. Apparently next stage is coma, then death.

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Thankfully, saltines saved the day and I recovered somewhat. I wasn’t allowed to carry on my journey to the bottom, just in case it happened again. You really don’t want to be down there sick and have to wait 4-5 hours for a ranger as they patrol the higher canyon, not so much the lower one.

The facing the demons part..

So, you’re probably wondering why I spouted all that above. Well, this is about facing your demons. Well, me facing my demons, and giving myself a challenge. And I do like a challenge!! 4 months of American food and cocktails is all well and good (and fun!!) but it can’t go on forever. And I need a challenge to focus on. And I still haven’t made it to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I swore I would go back and do it. But that was before. Before I realized that since that episode, my body has problems regulating its temperature when it gets too high, or its too humid, or I’m on a packed train crushed up against other people and can’t breathe. My body reacts. My body gets sick like in the Grand Canyon.

I’m going to go back. I’m going to go and hike to the bottom of the Canyon. Past the very same place where I was in trouble years ago. I’m scared. I’m not in good enough physical shape to do it… yet. Mentally, I’m going to have to overcome my fears that still linger. But there’s the challenge. How many people fail something and just give up on attaining it? I have a chance to spend the next 16 weeks getting in good enough shape to hike to the bottom of the canyon and out again. To spend time taking photographs of all that I didn’t get to photograph last time. To see the Colorado river run through the canyon up close. To go out in the dark with a blacklight and see the scorpions light up fluorescent on the ground. To finally say I did it.

 

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