Featured image BLOGS GrandCanyon hike
By Rebecca Gau

I’m breaking in some hiking boots this morning. Hiking boots that I took to the Grand Canyon with me a few weeks ago but decided not to wear because I wasn’t sure they were broken in. I wore them for about 30 seconds around my family room and decided that they fit fine and I didn’t need to send them back but never had a chance to actually test them on my feet. Then, the morning I was gearing up for my first ever hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon with my sons, I made a last-minute decision to wear my trail running shoes instead of my new boots. Yes, I panicked.

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My favorite outdoors blogger, Daniel Winsor, author of the book Crunch about hiking the PCT in the snow, shares a key lesson — trust your gear. 

I wasn’t sure I trusted the boots not to hurt my feet on a 5 mile round-trip 1700 feet (a third of the way) into the canyon. And since I was with my sons on their first hike into the canyon, the last thing I wanted to do is show any weakness. They can smell fear. 

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Joke was on me – as we headed down the trail my youngest son, who is 18, was wearing something called bare foot shoes. He said his alternatives were some massive snow boots and he thought somehow I would read his mind and bring his hiking boots for him. He goes to Northern Arizona University and we picked him up on the way north from Phoenix. After days of asking my children to make sure they had the gear the needed and to let me know if they needed anything somehow that didn’t get translated. So after the first half mile he and I were both very much feeling the rocks under our feet and starting to get cranky. At that point I decided that I probably should’ve worn my hiking boots, regardless, and that I would definitely break them in for the next trip. 

So here I am, breaking in these boots, on a path, near my house, taking my dog for a walk. So far, so good. 

It’s really hard to know where to begin with our Grand Canyon saga. There’s just so much that went into the preparation, the research, the gear, deciding what trail to go down, the hike itself, the aftermath. But I think the best place to start is what I think is the most important lesson I’ve learned in the last few years. It’s a Shakespeare quote, and one you’ve heard a million times. 

“Know they self.”

But it really struck me when we were down at the bottom of our hike at Santa Maria Springs, that there was a non-zero chance I was the oldest person on the trail.  I turned 51 in July. I don’t think of myself as over 50. I don’t think I act over 50 but I do have one thing that being over 50 means. I’m at a point in my life where I’ve learned my limits and I’ve learned where not to let any limits stop me. 

A few years ago I could never have done that hike. A few years ago I could barely walk throughout the grocery store without being in excruciating pain. But like many of us over the pandemic, I had some opportunities for soul-searching and knew that I had more life to experience, and I was going to figure out how to do it. Long story short, I now run a desert trail near my house five times a week, 3 1/2 miles, 500 ft elevation gain with my dog. The mindset around having overcome that limit was instrumental to my mindset going a third of the way away into the Grand Canyon. I’ve learned what I can and can’t do. And honestly, with proper preparation and training, both mental and physical, and a little research I feel there’s very little that I can’t do. It just might take a little more time and a little more gear and a little more preparation than when I was younger but gosh darn it, I’m gonna hike to the bottom of that damn canyon. 

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So, today, the boots are feeling OK. They’re Merrell’s that I got through REI. I’m hiking with a hands-free leash with Cody, my dog. I got from a brand I like called One Trail. I actually got two of the leashes and link them together so that he can get a little more mobility without yanking my arm when he’s excited on a hike. I like the little zippered pouch for keys and treats and doggie bags. I also used this on a hike in Prescott that had a lot of bouldering. Well, it was pretty mild bouldering, but I spent quite a bit of time on my hands and knees, or hiking with my hands, so holding onto his leash was truly not an option. And actually, that’s another hike where I did a short trial run, learned a bunch of things that I needed to do differently and went back later with the proper gear and the proper amount time to do the whole 6-mile hike. (More on that in an upcoming blog) 

So, I guess that’s the second lesson – in order to know yourself and (safely) test your limits physically and mentally you have to start somewhere and just try. If you get a few miles in or a few feet in and have to abort because you need to do something a little bit differently, then then do it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you learn something and you get to go back and do it again right.  I guess that’s the definition of resilience and that’s something a lot of us have had to dig deep and find lately, haven’t we. 

And the next time I go back to the Grand Canyon, hopefully this spring, I will wear the right pair of shoes. (And my son will too!)

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