For literary effect, I planned to follow that easy interlude with a killer hike. Yet somehow, even getting to the Grand Canyon proved formidable. The delays were pure comedy: We lost an hour waiting for someone to open the Petrified Forest gate, another hour as I searched Winslow for a practitioner of the apparently dying art of the straight-edge shave, and 15 precious minutes taking a complimentary dip at a Flagstaff luxury hotel.
The Grand Canyon has a way of crushing the best-conceived literary effect. Just hike into the maw with 9 liters in your pack, and you’re humbled by simple, staggering truths. The shifting colors of geology descending from the deep red Supai formation into a world of gray limestone. The endless web of canyons and side canyons. The shock of coming face-to-face with your beet-colored companion when she tells you she’s drained another hydration bladder despite your pep talk about conserving water. We approached Hermit Creek just as darkness swallowed the canyon. I threw up the tent and fired up the stove and tried to fire up Jackie, too. But she was exhausted, her knee throbbing and her confidence shot. The descent was harder than she had imagined, and I tried to remind her that the climb out, with lighter packs and less direct sunlight, would be easier. We tossed and turned for 5 hours, then loaded up for the hike out.