S. got up to use the bathroom around 1:30am and woke me up as we were in a very small tent. 15 or 20 minutes later, I realized I was wide awake. So I dressed, grabbed my flashlight, left the tent and stopped at the car to exchange my boots for sandals as I figured they were easier to store in the tent and went to the restroom to take a leak. While there I realized that I didn't feel remotely sleepy and had the idea that I might wander a bit until I felt drowsy again.
Heading back the short distance to the campsite, I grabbed my light waterproof windbreaker and started walking.
I believe the moon was full, it was incredibly bright. So bright, in fact, that it cast marvelously strong shadows. I walked down the campground road past the RVs and tents of sleeping campers. The moon was so bright I didn't need my super bright LED flashlight so I kept it off so as not to disturb anyone.
Walking felt good, so I kept on going.
Once I reached the entrance to the Mather campground, I switched on my flashlight but kept it pointed directly at my feet, out of my field of view; not to illuminate my way, but instead to indicate to any late night drivers that I was there. I turned left onto a main park road (I believe it was to an exit) as that's where the full moon was in the sky and I figured that 20 minutes of exercise and reflecting on the brilliant ball and the stars would be nice.
I hiked on the left side of the road, just as I learned in Boy Scouts, so that both oncoming traffic and I would see each other quickly and easily. At one point a ark ranger in a big white pickup drove by and I lifted my hand gently in acknowledgment and greeting.
As I strode on I was glad to have the windbreaker as the temperature was quite cold and the wind surprisingly strong. The moon was simply gorgeous; so bright that it blotted out some of the neighboring stars. As I walked I enjoyed the quiet muted sounds of the slumbering park. This hush seemed to softly echo the way the moonlight muted the colors of all it touched.
I don't know for how long I walked, but later the next day I looked at a map and figured it to be about a mile or two before I turned around. I didn't reach anything, I just simply stopped, turned, and started back; taking heed to cross to the left side of the road. At one point I came to a small hill cleared of any trees or brush. I walked up it, thinking I might sit on one of the big rocks and just look at the moon. When I got to the top I saw it was at the edge of a small cabin's lawn. I left immediately as I didn't wish to alarm or concern anyone.
As I walked, my mind wandered, touching lightly on a variety of subjects. I read an article (a long one) 3 or 4 weeks ago on the topic of foot health and how bad most shoes are for our feet. One thing it mentioned was that heavily padded heels and soles prevent the myriad of nerves in our feet from feeling the ground which interferes with our natural sense of balance. Apparently, this artificial insensitivity causes many people (me included) to step too firmly - smacking our feet into the ground so we can feel it. This constant source of added punishment over a long time causes various foot and back problems. While thinking about all this, I started paying attention to my feet and how I was walking. I realized I was stepping down onto my heels with too much force, and suspected that this behavior might be responsible for the mild heel pain I've suffered for a long time now.
Wondering if I could walk lightly, I tried it. It was actually awkward at first until I shortened my stride so that my heels didn't have to absorb all the impact. I began stepping more lightly and tried to eliminate the impact more or less. After awhile of fiddling around with this, trying one thing and another, I ended up with a shorter but quicker stride. I believe my pace actually increased. It felt good, walking this way, and my feet felt great.
I continued in this way for some time, reexamining how I walk and thinking whatever random thoughts entered my head. I noticed that when I began to think more intently my old stride would return with the clunk clunk clunk of my heavy footsteps. When I realized this, I would just chuckle at myself and go back to the shorter steps.
As I write this I find myself wondering in what other areas of my life (mental, emotional, or spiritual) that I have muffled in the name of protecting from feeling pain and whether or not some of my choices and behaviors I've made over the years have been the equivalent of slamming my foot down so I could feel and keep my balance. This thought feels important and I intend to reflect on it more in the future.
I reached the entrance to the campground and just kept going down the road. Crossing the parking lot for Market Square, I came to a shuttle bus stop and looked at a map of the South Rim area of the park. It showed a dotted line to the canyon rim trail and indicated that it was only .4 miles to get there. I thought it silly to hike down a large road surrounded by trees when instead I could be on a path next to the lip of the Grand Canyon.
Mistakenly, I followed the wide sidewalk and ended up walking along a long series of lodges. I got turned around for quite a while but finally navigated my way back to the map in front of Market Square.
Looking closer, I realized 2 things: 1) that it wasn't the best of maps, and 2) that there were printed instructions down the side! Basically, they told you to go to the main ranger office just down the road and start there. I chuckled at myself and supposed I could be excused my poor navigation since it was late and I'd only had 3 hours sleep. Once again I headed out.
The asphalt trail was quite nice as it was through a lightly wooded area and lined on both sides by white stones. It was a big darker among the small trees as the path was narrow and the trees crowded out much of the moonlight. The strong gusting wind caused lots of interesting shadows. For a while I wondered if I would see any wildlife and began to worry as to what I'd do if I encountered a bear. After a couple minutes I realized that thinking that way, "what if a bear sees me?, what would I do?, how would I protect myself if he attacked?" was causing me to begin to be afraid. I chuckled at myself yet again and started paying closer attention to how well the trail was maintained and thought about how professionally the park was run and then the fear melted away. I began enjoying myself again.
Finally the path opened up into a T and I was at the rim trail. I turned left (West) with the thought that I might come to a place that faced West or Northwest out across the canyon so that the moon would be staring back at me across the gulf.
I walked quite a while and was amazed at the strength of the wind. I was so strong that I wondered if it could topple me over. A couple of times it actually pushed me over a step or so to the side. The frightening thing was that the direction of the wind over the edge and into the canyon.
Eventually I quit looking for a west facing clearing and went to the rim of the canyon. I was just about 50' or so through a few trees and I was there at the edge. Because of the wind, I didn't want to stand so close to the edge so I crouched down and approached the last few feet on hands and knees. I sat tailor fashion on some big rocks, making sure my feet were well lodged against another rock. Looking over the edge I saw a ledge about 10' below me and about 20' out further than where I was.
Good, I felt better.
I sat up straight and put my hands in my lap and looked out across the canyon. The stars were incredible. The big dipper was so close it was nearly in my lap. The moon was further back off to the left; hiding stars within it's silvery glowing shroud. Facing north or northwest turned out to be a good thing because the brilliant moonlight hit the far wall and lit it up in a contrast of silvers and greys and washed out blue.
I closed my eyes, took a breath, opened my eyes, and slowly exhaled. As I looked out over the sea of moonlight I tried to clear my mind and just breath. My brain didn't cooperate well and time after time I "woke up" to the realization I was chasing some idea or memory or plan or other. Knowing that to fight the thinking wouldn't work, I decided to employ an anchoring word. I chose the Hebrew word, RUAH, an ancient word for wind - one that also means spirit.
I wish I could say I broke through and felt a deep sense of fulfillment or ecstasy or had some lasting epiphany, but I can't. No, my brain kept playing tricks and I kept trying to let things go. I guess in one way, that's an important think about meditation - to do it is the thing. Insights and epiphanies and deep senses of interconnectedness do sometimes occur, but maybe they're not the most important point or facet of the activity.
The night wore on as I sat there amidst all my silly circular thinking and tossing about old words like someone who knows something. Eventually, I did realize something - I was getting quite cold in my shorts and sandals and thin Wal-Mart windbreaker. I also noticed the horizon over the far canyon rim was lighter and that the high contrast of the moonlit rocks and trees was becoming fuzzy. I realized that dawn was coming.
I pulled my knees up and put my arms around them and thought about my sleeping bag and the tent and also about how rare an opportunity it was to see the sunrise at the Grand Canyon. I resolved to wait and see.
I'm not sure how long, maybe 20 minutes or more later a pretty large group of people passed by me on the rim trail. After they were gone I thought to myself, "hmmm...I bet they're going somewhere in particular to watch the sunrise." A short while later another smaller group passed and after a moment's debate I hopped up and went to the trail and followed them. After a couple minutes the couple (there were 3 people, all in their 60s) turned around quite suddenly. I said, "hi." They stared a bit. I said, "I hope I didn't startle you. Are you going to watch the sunrise?" They nodded and we all started walking again.
It seemed that the couple wasn't really interested in me and so I moved forward to the other gentleman and asked, "Do you mind if I tag along?" He assured me I was welcome.
It turned out that this 3rd person was a tour guide who lived in Phoenix and took people on tours at the Grand Canyon and other places. We was very talkative and friendly and interesting. After just a bit he stopped and spoke to the couple sort of apart as they had waved to get his attention. After much agreement, he turned and started walking briskly, motioning me to follow. It seemed that he had a group and had been lagging behind with this particular couple as the wife was having a little trouble walking very fast. They had told him to go on ahead as they knew where to meet him and the rest of the group.
His name is Larry. He through his last name as well, but I can't for the life of me recall it. Larry is a brisk walker. He kept checking his watch to make sure we'd make it to Yavapai Point before sunrise as we had about 2 miles to go. He's led tours to the canyon hundreds of times and watches the sunrise every time. He's been in the tour business for 18 years; before that he was an interior designer - a business he learned from his parents. He's been to most of the national parks and monuments and many state parks as well. He knew all about them and kept giving me advice as to where S. and I could go. He seemed impressed that I had been up hiking since 1:30 or 2:00am and seemed to interpret form that act that we were kindred spirits. Maybe we are, I don't know. He spoke quickly and changed subjects rapidly. At one point he suddenly asked if I had read "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac . I told him that I had and loved it. He shared that when his son wanted to go on a cross country road trip with friends he worried like any father would but gave permission on the condition that he'd first read that book.
We got to Yavapai Point about 20 minutes before sunrise and continued to talk softly until the lagging couple showed up. When they arrived, Larry looked at me and I suggested he go and take care of his group. He smiled and bounced off.
I went down the first flight of stairs from the road and sat on a very large stone that was part of the guardrail / wall and watched. This afforded me a great view of the canyon and I was above all the people standing on the observation platform and stairs. There were maybe 3 dozen people there of all ages and nationalities with much jostling for position.
As I watched, the sky got lighter and the far rim of the canyon began to yellow. Soon after there was a lovely progression of darker yellow to bright yellow and finally the disk crossed and was visible. A big hush fell over the crowd and rather than applause a great buzz of camera shutters went off.
I hung around awhile and when the crowd had thinned asked someone to take my picture, after which, I was off. I went to the Yavapai Point shuttle bus stop and waited awhile but when I started shivering uncontrollably I decided to walk. After a couple minutes of brisk hiking I started to warm up and feel better. I still wished I had any of the following: socks and boots, long pants, and/or a sweatshirt under the windbreaker.
Boy, was I tired.
Once in the campground I realized that the crows in the Grand Canyon are the biggest and loudest I'd ever seen. I walked down campground road by campers who were just waking up or were starting to make breakfast. It was a cheery sight with a funny combination of tiptoeing around and clanking of pots and pans. Finally, I made it back to camp #20 and sat on the picnic bench and started writing in this journal. I didn't get far as S., who was awake (not from me - from the noisy crows), got out of the tent and we started getting ready for a hike into the canyon.