There's this thing people do at the Grand Canyon. Every morning they gather along the south rim to watch the sun illuminate the great big black void in front of them into a million raging colors.
No one organizes this ritual. There are no signs saying, "Watch the sunrise here!" Visitors are just drawn to the edge, eager to enjoy every second of precious daylight at one of world's natural wonders.
They do this in near silence. That's what gets me every time. The unspoken keep-your-mouth shut code is a well-deserved reverence to a place that's been called a million cathedrals.
We're rendered speechless at this obvious reminder that we're all just tiny helpless humans one step away from being dashed to bits on the rocks below at the dawn of a new day.
And so, it was clear to me what the message was: This Canyon is bigger than any of us. We are not in control.
It was my fourth time there and my second time hiking to the bottom and back up, something only a small percentage of canyon visitors attempt, and for good reason. This beautiful place can be unforgivingly deadly. At least a dozen die annually in the park and 250 are rescued.
I knew I "could" complete the hike. After all, I'd done it before. And I trained, traipsing up and down the hills around Lake Del Valle, the Pleasanton Ridge and Mount Diablo. But I was unprepared (or had conveniently forgotten) about the assault this upside down mountain would make on my mental state.
The challenge of walking 5,000 feet up 9.6 miles in 90-degree heat cannot be underestimated.
There comes a point when, around another curve, another towering cliff rises up and you're just alone there, plodding step by step through soft sinking red sand, littered with rock after rock after rock. It seems as if it will never end.
"What?? There's more of this? It's THAT steep? No (expletive) way!"
Anger gave way to defeat, and even a few sobs stuck in the back of my throat. But I tried my best to make mental peace with the painful nature of the journey. I thought about other difficult painful physical things I'd done (giving birth was about the only comparison) and fantasized about an icy cold drink at the top.
Resting helped. I had to give in to the Canyon. I had to slow down my pace (I pridefully wanted to beat my six-hour time to the top from 14 years ago). I had to admit that just moving forward and through it would be the only thing that would get me to the top.
This trek definitely reminded me that in our daily lives we don't have that many challenges that force us to really dig deep and hit our limits.
I knew, of course, that the hike would end, eventually. It would be transformed from hell to a victory to be enjoyed. And my crappy attitude wouldn't change a single thing.
To drive home the point, as I neared the top, seven hours after I departed from my camp at the Colorado River, dark distant clouds clapped thunder and a solitary bolt of lightning shot down amid buttes with names like Brahma, Buddha and Osiris. A massive brief swirl of wind wrapped dust around my face and suddenly disappeared.
And then it was over. One step at a time got me out. And it always will.
How do you challenge yourself out of your daily routine — physically and/or mentally? Have you ever been in a situation where you've thought you couldn't make it? How did you push through?