Last week, I went on the vacation of a lifetime. I traveled out west and spent six days hiking and camping in one of the most awe-inspiring landmarks in the United States: the Grand Canyon. With three friends, borrowed gear, and a lot of trepidation, I ventured to the very bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up, all while wearing a 42-pound backpack.
By taking various trails each day, I saw the Canyon from so many angles and perspectives (that's me enjoying the view in the photo to the left), each one beautiful and different from the next. These images are seared into my mind and I hope to never forget them. Although I took a lot of photos, they don't come close to capturing the scale and feeling of being there in person. Step after step, one thought kept returning to my mind: gratitude. In the midst of it all its spectacular beauty I felt grateful that I was healthy and fit enough to enjoy this experience—not just endure it.
Our longest and most challenging hike took us from the very top of the Canyon to the bottom in around six hours. On a couple rest days, we traveled by foot without our heavy packs for short day hikes. But every day, we were on our feet and active for the majority of the day. It was more exercise than I had ever done in such a short time, that's for sure! (I accumulated more than 1,100 minutes of exercise in five days.) Sometimes it was easy: To my surprise, walking uphill was much easier than going downhill. Other times, when the terrain was especially steep, I felt my heart pounding and my breathing getting heavier. But all the while, I was never uncomfortable or too physically challenged to reach the day's goal, whether it was up, down, two miles or seven. I saw people of all ages, including a couple of female seniors who kept pace with our young group most of the time. Each person we passed gave a nod and friendly greeting, applauding the others. We all had the same goal. Not just to come out and be able to say that we had hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back, but to really experience it in a way that far fewer have and only hard work would allow.
Plateau Point, about halfway up (4.5 miles from the top)
As we reached the final mile during our ascent to the top, we started to encounter larger crowds of tourists who were casually walking down the trail. They were very intrigued by our heavy packs and hiking poles. They cheered to us, "You're almost to the top!" and encouraged us with every step, often shocked when we told them we had come all the way from the bottom. As we saw the head of the trail a few hundred feet away, my friend and I ran as fast as we could to the top, packs and all. That was the most challenging task of the entire trip but it was worth it! We had made it! It was an indescribable feeling, much like finishing my first 5K race, although this felt like a marathon in comparison.
We made it!
Exercise is not just about weight loss or appearance. For me, it has always been about the way it makes me feel and the abilities it instills within me thanks to my consistent efforts. If I didn't already train for strength and endurance, I would have never experienced what ended up being the greatest adventure of my life. It has inspired me to reach new heights and take on greater challenges that I will no doubt have to continue training for in order to keep up.
In my experience, viewing exercise as a tool for living the life you want is far more motivating than thinking of it as a means to an end (something you have to do just to lose weight or look better in a bathing suit). Maybe you want to play with your great-grandkids, go on a white water rafting adventure, or join an adult basketball league to relive your high school glory days. Perhaps you just want to feel better each day and no longer feel winded when walking up a flight of stairs. Maybe like me, you want to experience amazing adventures that wouldn't be possible if you weren't fit and healthy. No matter what the end goal, exercise has something to offer everyone.
What reason do you have to exercise? What is the greatest adventure you've experienced or benefit you have received since improving your fitness level?
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