Grand Canyon Challenge

Please Note: This blog post is a teaser for the book, Straight: an ExGay Prodigal Story.

The year was 2001.  9/11 had just happened.

Morning after arrival for a family adventure, Dad and Mom, Aunt Bob and I ate breakfast in a lodge atop the Grand Canyon.

Having hiked the Canyon previously – down one day and out the next, Aunt Bob had gathered information to present to the group.

‘The hike to the bottom on South Kaibab Trail is 7.4 miles (11.9 km). Back out via Bright Angel Trail is 9.9 miles (15.9 km). So the hike in and out is 17.3 miles (27.8 km) total. Most people hike down in one day, stay at Phantom Ranch at the bottom and then hike out the next day. But there’s one problem. There is no room at Phantom Ranch.’

Peering across the table at one another, the group processed the information, ‘Hmm…’

‘They say you shouldn’t hike the Grand Canyon in one day. People have died doing it…. But I think we should do it!’  inspired the ever adventurous Aunt Bob.

‘People have died?!’ verified Mom.

‘Yeah, mostly from heat exhaustion and dehydration, but we can take loads of water and I think we’re all pretty fit,’ strategized Aunt Bob while leaning over the breakfast table from the edge of her seat.

‘That’s what Bob always says. She’ll take 87 gallons of water, and we’ll end up carrying it,’ I predicted.

Dad chimed in, ‘Yeah, where’s your pack?’

‘I don’t have one. You’re gonna carry my water. You guys can carry it!’ chuckled Bob.

Measuring this mammoth undertaking against hiking the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, Dad and I both had some reservations.

‘I don’t think they realize what we are getting into,’  I later shared with Dad.

Aunt Bob probed, ‘What do you think, guys? Hey, who knows if we’ll ever get back here? May as well do it. Don’t you think? Let’s do it!!’

‘You know, Matt, a old buddy a’ mine used to say, ‘Just do it.’ Did you ever hear that expression?’ rhetorically questioned Dad.

Playing along, I replied, ‘Nope, never heard of it.’

‘No, we never heard it before,’ bantered Mom with a playful roll of the eyes.

Had we just made the biggest mistake of our lives? Who knew? But adventure was guaranteed.

Beginning the lengthy descent, everyone was fresh. Aunt Bob had stories to share, ‘Pack mules are used to carry food and supplies to Phantom Ranch. Sometimes they are also used to bring a tired trekker up over the summit.’  She then relayed tales of people falling off these pack mules down cliffs to their death.

In my rebellious teen years, wrestling strange desires, I found it increasingly difficult to relate to family. Moments of desperation together could be just the relationship builder the Great Physician ordered.

Soon we were introduced to the infamous Grand Canyon “switchbacks” – paths that quickly change direction to maneuver up/down a mountain that is too steep to climb vertically.

431 The "Chimney": South Kaibab Trail Grand Canyon
< from the National Park Service, >

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1-2). Later He sent a Great Flood – an unparalleled cataclysmic, catastrophic destroyer that covered the earth and undoubtedly revolutionized landscapes (Genesis 6-9). The Grand Canyon’s terrain is full of rich history and object lessons.

Deeper within the canyon, various points in the path were very narrow passes. On one side was solid rock. On the other side was a steep cliff. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, there was nowhere to go but straight.

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”    Matthew 7:13-14

D2604 South Kaibab Trail - Grand Canyon National Park
< from the National Park Service, >

Along came pack mules. To make way, I stepped against the rock as much as possible. ‘What they’re doing with mules you could never do with horses. They would go their own way. They’re just not surefooted like mules,’ stated Bob from experience, ‘Be careful. People fall off these cliffs and die.’  (2-3 annually on average, according to

For miles, terrain gave the appearance that we were steps away from the bottom. Finally reaching Phantom Ranch, we removed shoes to reveal blisters and bloody toenails. Aunt Bob located clippers and went to work.

There was so much more to cover, and we only had until nightfall. None realized this as much as Dad. ‘Ok, let’s go! We gotta be up over that peak before dark!’

About a mile into the uphill climb, delirium kicked in. Laughing uncontrollably, Bob playfully taunted between gasps for air, ‘Hey, aren’t you guys glad we came down here? Isn’t this awesome?! Haha!’

We documented the endeavor on video for Gram (my grandma). Intent was to make her feel like she was along for this venture (hopefully more on Gram in an upcoming post).

‘Gram, I’m sweating like a stuck pig down here!’ barked Aunt Bob.
Mom mothered, ‘Maf (Matt), are you ok? … Ok, I just want to make sure, honey.’

As time ticked away, Bob’s enthusiasm waned. She began to fall back.

About that time, a ranger coming down the trail advised that we eat remaining food, ‘It’ll get you up over the top!’

‘Hey, we gotta get up out of here. Go! Go! Go! Come on, Pork (his nickname for his sister), let’s go!’ coached Dad periodically.

‘Oh, sweety, look at you. You’re doing sooo well!’ a passing older woman remarked in pity. That was all it took to breathe a second wind into Aunt Bob. Competition drove her over the crest of that mountain.

With a sunset backdrop, severe blisters as battle scars and no fire left in any of us, we staggered across that summit finish line and solemnly declare victory at dusk.

After all was said and done, we agreed – It was something we wouldn’t take back for the world. And all but Aunt Bob agreed we would never do again.

Praise the Lord!

To find out how these stories end, Click Here to Buy the Book!

Dad & Mom, Grand Canyon Hike
Dad & Mom, Grand Canyon Hike

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