I woke up this morning under a canopy of Ponderosa pines outside the national park. As I watched the tops of the tall trees sway back and forth with confidence in the wind, I couldn’t help but think of the strength of their roots and wish to tap into their tenacity.
All the noise I heard in the night came from nature – the wind, the rustling of trees, birds chattering, insects rattling and chirping, deer making their way through the woods… I’d made reservations 60 miles north on some Hipcamp land, but the Kaibab National Forest beckoned me to stay within her quiet confines. It’s funny for me to think back on the first time I “boondock” camped on public lands. I was just this side of terrified and thought every noise was an animal or – worse – a human coming to menace me…but I was determined, finding peace in Grandma’s moon outside my window. By now, these secluded spaces are my favorite finds and offer me the best night’s sleep. (I look for the moon in all her phases keeping watch on me from above.)
Later this morning than I would have liked (darn that tricky border between the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones!), I set out to explore the scenic drive along Cape Royal Road, stopping to take in vistas along the way and hike the Cape Final Trail. It was a tranquil hike, for the most part, flowing with rolling hills out to the rim of the Canyon. I was frustrated by the grumpy faces of nearly every single hiker I met but grateful they were relatively few and far between (excepting the group of 20-some of the unfriendliest hikers I’ve ever met, spread out along the trail but identifiable by their matching shirts proclaiming “I don’t know these people”). For the most part, I hiked alone, in quiet contemplation. Visiting the Grand Canyon and looking out upon her majesty felt like something of a dream to me.
I’d been thinking of Karen last night and into today. She was one of the other riders on my mule outing yesterday and was traveling with her daughter and grandsons. The whole group of them made me smile and feel like I was a part of something on our ride, and I’m so grateful for those moments of connection out here. There was something about Karen specifically that reminded me of a couple of dear women I’ve been lucky enough to call friends in this life, and I wished I’d gotten the names of her daughter and the boys (who, by the way, were much better at riding mules on the side of a canyon than me!).
Wandering toward the last of the look-outs, I heard someone call my name and looked up to see none other than Karen and her family. I surely lit up at the sight of familiar and SMILING faces!! The North Rim isn’t as ginormous and crowded as the South Rim section of the park – at least that’s the impression I get – but I was still surprised to run into someones I “knew.” We caught up on our day and shared stories then went our separate ways, or so we thought…then an hour later, as I was heading into the Park’s public showers, I met them again, and we knew we were meant to share dinner together. The Universe must have brought us together again and again for a reason!
It’s not very often I treat myself to fancier dinners on the road, but the occasion called for a splurge. I’d been debating about where to spend the night (in my reserved spot up north or back in my secluded spot in the forest) and was grateful to Karen for making my decision for me – we’d eat and then I’d boondock nearby. We managed to snag a table at the restaurant at the Canyon Lodge, where visitors apparently make reservations months in advance, sharing a dinner of trout and venison and pork and chicken and playing my favorite high-low game (What was the lowpoint of your day? What was your highpoint?), which they call “Thistles & Thorns.” We drank wine and shared traveling stories and even talked a little politics (carefully, of course) and splurged on rich desserts. I felt like I’d encountered kindred spirits in Karen and her daughter, Bridgette, and something tells me we’ll keep in touch. And as far as kids go, I found Anders and Carston delightful and entertaining (even when their mother didn’t).
Once again, the greatest beauty of my trip comes not in solitude but in connection.