Canyons of our Emotions

One participant’s personal reflection on the emotional growth opportunities during and after a TSX experience.

Backpacking on the Grand Canyon's Tonto trail at sunrise.

It was supposed to be just another trek in the Grand Canyon. I had said yes to a friend who was looking for someone to join along. Little did I know that it would become more than a mental and physical achievement. I have done several strenuous treks in the past. While I’m no longer as fit as I used to be, I was mentally prepared for the physical pain. We decided to sign up with the TSX (Trans-Sierra Xtreme) Challenge after I was rejected by REI Adventures as they did not believe I could backpack the Grand Canyon, it being their Level 5 trek. I was sure that the TSX would also reject me, but Chris, who also happens to be one of the founders, assured me that I can do it. At this time I had not realized that Xtreme captured the essence of extreme emotions of wonder, fear, pain and joy all at the same time.

It was our first day on the trek down Hermit Rest to Hermit Creek, a 3000 feet descent over 8 miles and each view was just more breathtaking than the next. I was slow and cautious. We came to a steep downhill by the edge and my body literally froze. I was not ready to move. My mind was alarming big sirens as I was scared of the unknown outcome of continuing on this path. I told Chris that I am scared of heights and will be slow but I will do it. He did not say much but assured me that it is ok to be at my pace and he was around if I needed help. This vote of confidence from someone who has taken hundreds of people before me on such treks was all I needed.

The next few hours were just slow and steady downhill while fighting the fear of dying. What if my ankle twists or I faint and fall down the canyon? I probably will die. I asked myself why I am scared of dying? Am I worried about my son and hubby, the two strong rocks in my life? I know they love me a lot, but they will be fine. Is it the responsibility I feel for my older siblings after my parents death? Is it that I feel guilty about leaving my parents and siblings behind when I made a choice to settle in the US? Or is it the feeling that I could have done more for them? These were the canyons of my deep emotions that I had avoided exploring for so long. These thoughts came in and went by between my focus on the trek and totally lost in my internal dialog. Soon we were close to Hermit Creek and I was feeling a bit relieved and proud. I was also happy to close the door on the emotional canyons my brain had started exploring.

We were all settling in our tents and Chris was preparing dinner for the group. He got up as he saw me coming, gave me a hug and said – “good job, today was the toughest day”.  It meant a lot coming from someone like him. Growing up maybe it was a cultural thing but our parents did not show any emotions and I never received a hug or felt that they were proud of my accomplishments. I had to again shut the doors tight to not go in these lanes of memories from deep down past. Night Sky was amazing and we enjoyed a nice warm dinner in the middle of nowhere with a group of strangers we had just met.

Over the next three days, the trip offered enough moments to explore both the Grand Canyon and the canyon deep inside me that was more scary for me to visit. I felt connected to these most amazing people who were strangers a few days back but gave me company even though I was behind the group (thanks Dirk!!!), made space for me in the shade, shared water, fig bars, conversations and the claps to keep me going. This introspection and the cathartic experience gave me courage to explore my own emotions and have the conversations that I was avoiding.

I finally visited my country of birth after 5 years of finding excuses to not do it, met my older siblings who suffer from schizophrenia and every conversation with them is hard and most importantly this time I did not react to every demeaning thing they had to say about me and be ok with it. Today, for the second time this year I felt proud of conquering the deep emotional canyon inside me.

The above was shared by a participant on a recent TSX Grand Canyon Challenge trek who provided permission to repost, but requested to remain anonymous.