Road Crew

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Grand Canyon

My parents called me in June with a plan to float the Grand Canyon.  Did I want to join?
Of course!  That is certainly the ultimate national park adventure, is it not?  When are you thinking?  Next year?
Nope.  Next month.
What can only be described as a miracle, there were seats available on a trip in July.  People wait for years for this opportunity and in 24 hours I was looking at a packing list for a week of rafting.  It took another 24 hours for it to sink in that I had just signed up for my worst nightmare: camping (the poop in a bucket and sleep under the stars type) on sand (I hate the beach) with a bunch of strangers (there is a reason I travel solo).
I also knew how very important this was to my mother.  I suggested that we take a tour of all the gorgeous historical lodges of the parks where there would be flush toilets and fine dining but this was her choice.  So I buckled my life jacket and prepared to be soaked.
Clearly Hollywood producers are not the outdoorsy types that have discovered the Grand Canyon because otherwise we would have a reality show about 32 strangers that decide to spend a week floating down a river, shitting in the same bucket and attempting to get along under primitive conditions.  The material would be rich and endless. 
First, you would have to contemplate the type of people that would choose this sort of adventure in the first place.  Athletic, nature lovers? As it turns out, not really.  From a well-known blue grass singer to a house cleaner and from families to singles, it spanned a remarkable range of backgrounds, ages and reasons for taking on the challenge.  They were not exactly the people I would choose to have should a true emergency occur and be forced to depend on their capabilities. Fortunately we had four grungy, bearded, alcoholic guides who I developed complete faith in to get us through.
Days were spent alternating between shivering from the cold water and baking in the heat.  There was no happy medium.  A shower consisted of a dunk in the dirty water.  Sand was ubiquitous: in your clothes, between your sheets, flavoring every bite. 
But for 6 days we rode a roller coaster Disney could never match. In between, there was 24/7 viewing of the most stunning scenery I have ever encountered. It is so hard to grasp what Grand means until you have experienced it at that level. I am beyond privileged to have the opportunity to see the Grand Canyon in such an intimate way. 
After a shower and with ice in my beverage, I contemplated the trip. We laughed and ate and let the world spin on without us for a week.   It was awesome.  I am so glad I did it.  I am so glad it is over.


Cancer

After two surgeries, chemo and radiation, my father had no evidence of cancer for a year but every three month check up we held our breath and hoped that our luck wouldn’t change. In June we received official word that my father’s cancer was back.  Like many patients and families with cancer, it was a hard dose of reality.  We did not win the cancer lottery.  The odds were never in our favor.
            I received this news in June sitting on the pier in Port Angeles, Washington while visiting Olympic National Park.  I was in the midst of an epic journey that I had given everything up for including my running and my job and the only place I really wanted to be was home.  In part, my father’s cancer had inspired and prompted the trip.  So many people I met along the way waited until retirement to do this but cancer had not waited for my father’s retirement so there was clearly no guarantees that I was going to make it that long. I also knew that the risk of reoccurrence was sooner than later.  I took my trip with some urgency hoping to complete it before cancer might make its appearance again.  I do a lot of racing but never before have I lost a race with such significant consequences.
            The reality was that there was no point in rushing back. There was a lot that needed to be done before any treatment could start.  My job was to be home in time to join my parents on a trip down the Grand Canyon, one last adventure before chemo threw our lives into uncertainty.  During the long drive home, I could already feel the anxiety creeping in, the same suffocating feeling I got before every shift.  The spontaneity and freedom I allowed myself on the road was wiped out as I considered where to live and work when I returned while supporting my parents.  There was no question that I wanted to be there for my parents but with it was a cold plunge back into the life I had tried to escape from.
            Doubt crept in that I would be able to complete my task.  I was stuck at 33 parks.  Would the remaining 26 remaining parks be mysteries forever?  I gave myself a deadline to see them all because I never wanted this goal to be left to “someday”.  I fought a feeling of failure.  My grand plan was crashing down.  With it, I lost my voice and my ability to write.  I could find no words sufficient to express my anxiety, frustration, and more than anything, my fear of losing my father. 
            Chemo has started.  With it have come complications, both expected and unexpected. I have spent a lot of time over the last month sitting, waiting, and thinking, not unlike how it was in the parks other than this time I am in a gorgeous place called Sedona and hanging out with my parents.  Oddly, I find myself feeling the exact same thing I felt in the parks: I am right where I need to be right now.