Friday, September 30, 2005

The Canteen, The Spray Jacket, and My First Look at the Trail

I'd never been to the Grand Canyon before.  Other than having flown over it once while going cross-country on a 747, I hadn't really seen it either.  So, once we checked in and got our stuff to our room, it seemed a good idea to check out the large gaping work of nature waiting just a few feet behind our hotel.

It's big.

Really, really big.

I mean, it's turn-your-head-and-look-both-ways-and-there's-still-canyon-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see big.

Over the next few days, I would hear various descriptions of its size (in acres and miles) but the one that really did it for me was when I learned about the shuttle bus running from the South Rim (where we were) to the North Rim (other side) and that the trip took five hours.  I mean, five hours was longer than it took us to drive to the canyon from Phoenix.  This sucker was, if not actually state-sized, certainly half-state-sized.  What I'm trying to say here is that I was in no way prepared for the scope of the canyon.

Once we ooh'd and ahh'd over the sheer majesty of the thing, we walked over to the corral (where we would meet our mules the next morning) and took a look at the start of the Bright Angel trail, which we'd be riding the mules down.

I have to say (and I, in fact, did say it a couple entries ago) that I had been somewhat nervous about the prospect of riding a mule into this thing.  Especially with all the talk of "sheer cliff walls" and mules who "like to walk on the outside edge of the trail."  I stopped being afraid as soon as I saw the trail.  (Well, not the WHOLE trail, obviously -- but the first set of switchbacks.)  It was wide enough for a couple hikers to walk abreast.  It wasn't a ramp downward -- it was like a bunch of stairs, only the steps were marked by logs or railroad ties.  It was really well maintained with a little curb of rocks running along the outside edge of the trail.  Whew.  To someone imagining a mule balancing precariously on a thin dirt path running along the side of a cliff, this was a wonderfully calming sight.  Who cares if the mule prefers the outside edge of the trail when there's still that nice stone curb between you and the drop?  All of a sudden, the mule ride seemed totally do-able -- so now I just had to get all my gear in order.

When we checked in, they had given us each brand new canteens (which would be ours to keep).  The canteens came with a little packet (like those packets of ketchup you get at fast food places) of lemon juice.  We were directed to fill the canteens with hot water, drop in the lemon juice, and let them steep overnight.  This would loosen the canteen, we were told.  While Kathy started unpacking, I started preparing the canteens.  I screwed up in opening the first packet of lemon juice and dumped about half of it on the bathroom floor.  Kathy saw all the fun I was having trying to fill this thing in the bathroom sink, and she tried to fill her own canteen.  She, too, messed up with the lemon juice, although her pile of misfired juice ended up on the toilet seat.  Between the two of us, it looked like someone really had to use the toilet and had badly missed.

We'd also been given spray jackets.  These were not brand new items that would be ours to keep afterward.  They were big.  They were yellow.  They were a men's size LARGE.  They were dirty.  They were torn up.  They were disgusting.

(They also had the words "MULE RIDER" written unnecessarily in big black letters on the back.  "Unnecessarily" because if you were sitting on a mule while wearing one, you would be, quite obviously, a mule rider.  And I couldn't imagine any circumstance in which you'd want to wear this thing if you were not, in fact, sitting upon a mule.)

Each time I picked mine up to put it down someplace else (generally someplace further away from my bed), I'd run into the bathroom and wash my hands.  I asked Kathy, rhetorically, why was it that every time I touched this thing I wanted to wash up.  Kathy replied, "Because it's been on a mule."

She had a point.  Of course, in about 12 hours time, *I'd* be on a mule too, and I hoped we'd survive the ordeal rather better than the jackets.


mom23nca said...

I hope you took a picture of you wearing the jacket.  I got a good chuckle over that.  I have wanted to do a rafting trip at the Grand Canyon, maybe some day.

dcs523 said...

Just a note to let you know my husband and I wrote the mule to Phantom Ranch on June 27th.  I was scared to death.  The wrangler kept telling me to calm down that I would be all right after 30 minutes.  He was right !  Glad I did it think I would like to do it again!

Love reading about your adventure.

dcs523 said...

I mean rode the mule not wrote.