I USED TO TRAVEL SOLO: hitchhiking alone up the windy coast of Wales; lost in the baffling alleyways of Barcelona; watching the fat African sun slip down over the savannah. When my now husband and I started traveling together, I had to factor in his agenda for the day, instead of just looking at my own. I couldn’t just skip the museum because I was tired — I had to remind myself that it was his adventure, too.
I also had a husband with whom to share meals, navigate sketchy hostels, or find a rumored beach. When we pulled off the highway for one weird night in Las Vegas, the two of us oohed and ahhed at the Bellagio fountain. None of those little perks made me realize the value of my travel buddy husband more than when I was dragging myself up the switchbacks of the Grand Canyon.
If you’re planning on hiking the entire depth of the Canyon, read the signs that greet you at every curve: “Going down is an option. Coming up isn’t.” Prepare yourself better than I did.
The Grand Canyon was our mid-way point on a two-week road trip of the Southwest. I figured I had a pretty good handle on things, with my pencilled outline of the journey, our little camping wine glasses, and my clip-on spikes for my hiking boots — in case we ran into snow in the canyon.
The hike down the South Kaibab Trail was filled with stop-in-your-tracks moments of beauty and wonder. There was so much to look at, it was hard to take in. Every switchback brought with it some amazing canyon vista — both distant and up close — to gawk at. As my calves and thighs began to quiver with the constant effort of walking downhill, the emerald Colorado River came into sight and I forgot everything.
That evening, after pitching our tent at the Bright Angel Campground, I laid on top of my sleeping bag and melted into sleep. What felt like a few minutes later, I woke to the sound of people walking past our tent. It was daylight and the last few campers were leaving the site, ready for the trek up and out of the canyon.
We had accidentally slept in. We hurriedly packed our gear. We knew we wouldn’t make it to the top before dark. My legs were still jello and my back ached, but I steadied my pack on the picnic table and clipped it on. I was dreading the climb back up the Bright Angel Trail. Nervous about the tight schedule — and my inadequate hiking condition — we began to make our way to the foot of the Bright Angel trail.
My partner is an experienced hiker and is comfortable in all kinds of wilderness. The hike was something he had dreamed of doing his entire life, and there was no way he was going to let my sour mood ruin that.
As we started up the switchbacks, he let me swear to my heart’s content, while he quietly marveled at all the tiny wonders. I began to complain about my pack being too heavy, so he took our camping wine glasses out of my pack and put them in his. And as we hair-pinned back and forth, he even managed to find a hiking pole for me on the side of the trail.
At some point, his optimism began to reach me. The day was nearing its end, there were still no signs that we were close to the top, and my body grew exhausted with every step, but somehow, I felt lighter. His lifeline had reached me and was slowly helping to drag me to our end point. As the February weather began creeping back into place, far different from the heat at the bottom, I knew it meant we were getting close. I clipped on those spikes and trudged along the icy path with renewed spirits. By the time we made it to the top, I was fully aware that I needed my husband’s quiet optimism just as much as I needed the hiking pole or the clip-on spikes.
There is no replacement for the things I learned while traveling with only myself as a companion. Those lessons are embedded within me, and I feel thankful every day that I got to experience them, but the gratitude I felt toward my partner in the Grand Canyon was almost too big to contain. Suddenly, I realized that I had found my adventure-seeking soulmate.