The Stuff of Life—Flagstaff (Mile 573.2) to Tusayan/South Rim (Mile 680.2) Day 35-38

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about “stuff.” By that I mean material things and man’s relationship to them. The more stuff one has, the more complicated his life becomes. Thru-hiking reminds me of life’s simple pleasures—it doesn’t have to be so complex, you know? For the real “stuff of life” is not acquired with dime or dollar but in our simple experiences with nature and the people around us.

Christopher McCandles, one might recall, was the well-educated societal dropout who pursued pure independence in remote Alaska and inspired the movie Into the Wild. His emaciated body was later found by a hunter in an abandoned Fairbanks school bus. Although foolish in numerous respects, McCandles was a seeker who searched beyond earthly constructs. He knew there was more to this life than material possessions. While I am not one to go and light my money on fire or live as a vagabond for my remaining days, there is much to be learned from Chris’s story. The material stuff of life will pass away. A hearse is never seen hauling a U-Haul trailer. You can’t take it with you, and that’s the hard truth. It’s time to invest in people. It’s time to look at our portfolio of life experiences and our relationship to the God of all creation—for this is richness beyond measure.

Switching gears now, the new hiking sneakers I had sent to myself back in Pine (2nd pair of Altra Olympus) are holding up great! Two pairs for 800 miles is pretty good as far as “shoe mileage” goes, at least on the AZT. After a cozy stay in Flagstaff, I took the AZT Urban Trail out of town rather than the Equestrian Bypass that goes around the city. Flagstaff has a whole network of these urban dirt hiking/mountain biking trails that allows one to get anywhere around town easily. Mount Elden is a prominent feature in the Coconino National Forest and rises above Flagstaff with a commanding presence. The ski area outside of the city—known as Snowbowl—was also a thrill to hike through with Humphreys Peak still capped with snow. The Kaibab National Forest was quite special as the woody scenes of creation unfolded. In this passage, I managed to hike my first (and only) 40-mile day. Also, I hit 600 miles, which was an important milestone (literally!).

One water source on this stretch was very unique—a wildlife water system that collects using these long metal panels and drains into a concrete storage tank. After wiping away the algae, the water filtered fine and made for a refreshing beverage on a hot Arizona day. Shannon—my trail angel from Pine—drove all the way out with some trail magic in a stretch of dusty road in cow country. The middle of nowhere can be a special place!

Thru-hiking is such a remarkable activity. I’ve always said that the hardest part of a thru-hike is not getting to the finish line; rather, the hardest part is getting to the starting line. Once you line up your ducks and get out here on trail, things just kind of fall into place. Someone once asked me what my worst fear was on trail. Bears? Mountain lions? Rattlesnakes? I replied, “My greatest fear is dropping my iPhone down a pit toilet!”

As I’m writing this post, I hear the reverberation of helicopters over my head heading to the Canyon. Tomorrow’s the big day! Tonight I will be staying at Mather Campground at the South Rim and tomorrow I will hike the treacherous trail across the canyon—the much-awaited rim-to-rim experience. Many people have driven to the edge or flown over the Grand Canyon but the opportunity to hike to the bottom is truly a privilege of which rich memories will surely be made.

680.2 down, only 99.1 remaining!

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