Indian Garden appears in front of me like a mirage. An oasis of smooth water and lush greens 3000 feet below the rim, far away from the crowds, the noise and the camera flashes. Sitting by myself at one of the wooden picnic tables next to a little creek that is surrounded by trees and extensive tufts of grass, my thoughts get carried away with the sound of water, smoothly caressing and shaping the little rocks that lie in its path, the leaves that softly swing in the breeze and the low buzz of wings too delicate for me to see.
I close my eyes and listen to the orchestra of different bird songs vibrating through the air. When I look up I am no longer alone. Unrestricted of my presence or as if to impress me personally, a lizard pushes his fragile body up and down on a tree trunk across from where I sit. I hold my breath and watch him, his body vehemently moving against the bark, his head stoically lifted towards the sun. Yes, I admire you, I want to say to him and smile.
The previous night seems like a distant dream now. While I should be coming up with ideas on how to fight the cold and stay at least halfway warm in my tent tonight, I can’t get myself to picture the nightly chill now that I am literally hiding from the midday heat. If anything, I would have to replace the food I had finished last night – not necessarily because I was hungry but utterly frustrated. While I had camped in the cold before this seemed different. For one thing, I was by myself. And though I tried not to compare myself to other hikers, my equipment was nothing compared to theirs. Voices of doubt started to disturb me in my sleep and left me restless, tired and awake. Had I underestimated the force of nature I had willingly exposed myself to?
I hear his footsteps before I see him. Another young hiker approaches the table and asks whether he could join me for a few minutes, and I realise that I haven’t encountered a single soul for quite some time now. Chewing on a handful of nuts we talk about the journey down and laugh at the realisation that neither one of us thought that we would actually make it this far. Maybe it’s what the canyon does to you, I wonder as he puts his water bottle back into his bag.
He will turn around and head back, he tells me soon and we say goodbye. I’m not ready to leave yet. Mainly because I haven’t decided which way I am going. I think of the many signs I encountered so far: Down is optional, up is mandatory…
The thing about hiking into the Grand Canyon is that at a certain point, there is no going back. You keep walking and walking, your eyes fixed on the ground and your mind on the destination, and you find a determination you have never felt before. Your knees and legs start to ache, the heat becomes almost unbearable. You look up and see the mountains: dominant, majestic and utterly still. You start to feel hopeless standing in front of them. Layer after layer they strip you down to your purest form with deliberate slowness, crushing every thought and self-esteem and leaving you raw, vulnerable and in complete awe.
The path towards Plateau Point becomes rocky again. A few times I stumble but catch myself in time to find the mountains watching over me. It is in moments like these that I become painfully aware of the tiny significance we hold in this world.
At Plateau Point I forget everything. All the effort it took to get here, the many times I thought about turning around, the many times I counted to ten only to start over as soon as I got there. 1300 feet above the river valley, I overlook the Colorado River. I am inside the canyon. A tiny cliff I had laid my eyes on in the morning; a place I had visited in my fantasy.
I want to scream into the vastness of space and listen to my voice thunder through the mountain ranges. I want to be swallowed by the monumental force of this moment in time. And as I picture myself being carried into oblivion, coming undone in the wild water of the Colorado River, I am everything and nothing. And in that moment, I feel infinite.