I can’t believe I’ve been wandering for six weeks. To be honest, I never thought I’d make this journey a reality. It was more than six months in the making, and plenty of times, I thought it would never happen. (I’ll always remember a friend sending me the meme of the unicorn lying on her back in a psychiatrist’s office; “You have to believe in yourself,” the doctor told her. Thank goodness I surround myself with people who believe in me!) I feared I might chicken out a week or two in, yearn for the comforts of home, and call it quits then go right back to doing what I was doing; even if it wasn’t satisfying, it was familiar. But I didn’t; I’m still going!
Yesterday I made my way from the Petrified Forest to a campsite north of the Grand Canyon, then I headed to the North Rim of the park this morning. All the people in the know say the North Rim is the way to go, since 80% of tourists visit the South Rim. The views there might be slightly more spectacular, but I won’t know the difference, at least not this time around. We’re looking at a canyon a mile deep after all; it’s bound to be incredible from any vantage point. Plus, after Yosemite, I prefer to avoid the crowds!
First thing the gal at the Visitor Center suggested I do is look into taking a mule ride down into the canyon. I’d heard of this, but I never expected to do it…and I had all kinds of questions and concerns. Is this humane? Are you kind to the mules? Do you take good care of them? Do they get to run and play in a pasture? Do they live a happy life? And are we taking advantage of them by riding them like this? I just don’t want to be unkind… I hoped she’d be honest and understanding, even though her job obviously depends on selling tickets. I was completely sincere, and, fortunately for me and my conscience, so was she. She put my mind at ease…and I followed up by reaching out to a vegan friend to get her perspective. When she fully supported my ride and even said she’d do it herself (“Those mules are working for their dinner, just like the rest of us.”), I gave myself permission to fully embrace my excitement about the adventure.
I haven’t ridden a horse in years (I’ve never ridden a mule, but I’m told it’s easier). I rode horseback with my aunt a couple times as a kid then went on a trail ride in college, but this ride was legit. And the guide and “wrangler” didn’t really give us much in the way of instruction, just trusted we knew the ropes (and reigns). The trail was steep and rocky and full of switchbacks, and I wondered what the heck I was thinking when we started going down. It definitely took some time for me to settle in (I just kept telling myself Relax into the experience. Look around. TRUST.), and once I did, it was an incredible vantage point from which to see the sites! Someday I hope to hike the canyon rim-to-rim (maybe in the moonlight…and definitely not by myself), but this time around, I was happy to let Ally (my mule) do the leg work – and grateful for a fun wrangler and a great group of fellow riders.
Good companionship makes beautiful places all that much more special.