Are You Fit Enough for Life's Grand Adventures?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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Congratulation! I live at the Grand Canyon and even had the pleasure of being able to work at Phantom for a while and it is an incredible place to be. I love hearing stories from people who are doing it for the first time. Even though I have hiked it many times, I still share that same sense of gratitude you described each time I do for being able to be in this awe-inspiring landscape. Report
Thanks for sharing such and inspirng journey. Report
I like you perspective--exercise is life--congratulations on you amazing journey. Report
An adventure of a lifetime! Congratulation!! Thank you for sharing.

One of my dreams that drove me to get in shape was looking up a mountain while we sat and ate, on many different visits. I wanted to get in shape to be able to do anything, but I wanted to climb Chimney Rock one day, and guess what? I did it last Fall. It was exhilirating and beautiful beyond measure being way up there. The accomplishment meant more than anything to me, and I'll keep on striving. Grand canyon is on our bucket list, but I never thought about seeing it in the way you did. I know I want to raft at the bottom, but never thought about climbing. Awesome!! Report
Congratulations! What an incredible feat! One that is most definitely on my bucket list. So happy for you that you really got to marvel and enjoy're amazing! Report
Nicole, thanks so much for sharing this blog! I read it not long before we made a road trip out west to tour some of the national parks. Hiking to the bottom of the canyon had never occurred to me - I didn't know it was possible. After reading your blog, when we went to Grand Canyon I told my husband I wanted to find the trail and hike part of it - just to see if it would be possible for me. You see, I have a terrible fear of heights and I just didn't know if I could do it. But I REALLY want to do this - I loved reading about your experience. Guess what? We hiked to the 1-1/2 mile rest area (of the Bright Angel trail) and back up - I had no problem at all. During our trip (we also went to Sedona, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Arches National Park and Canyonland National Park) I hiked a number of trails that I would never have even TRIED before - because that little hike gave me the confidence that I COULD overcome my fear! So thanks again for your blog - it led to a life changing experience for me! We are already planning to hike the whole thing next year - I can't wait!! Report
I haven't been to the Grand Canyon but I've read a book called In The Heart Of The Canyon by Elisabeth Hyde. It was an entertaining book. I really wished I was there. Thus, I've surf for the GC on the web. Wow, it was amazingly, grandly beautiful! Nobody I know would want to accompany me there. I'm still wishing there would be someone to go with me though. Best if it's my loved ones. Honestly, I'm a beginner runner since early Jan. I'm still in my beginner routine as I had caught up flu for a week & sprain my foot 2x due to excess walking/trekking. Both times were due to the fact that I did not start of with a warm-up. But my sis said it was because I was wearing my new running shoes & they have not "warm-up" to my feet yet. It wasn't really fun at all not being able to run during those times as I had to rest. I hope to finish my running routine schedule as a beginner a.s.a.p! Your blog has given me much motivation to train hard & still hope I am healthy & fit enough & still living so that I can make my dream to hike up The Grand Canyon one day! If Allah wills (Insya'Allah). Beautiful article. I give you 10*!!! :) Report
My husband and I intended to go last year (2010) but I had some health challenges to deal wit so we had to put it off. Maybe we can go late this year or 2012.
Thanks for the article Report
Nope, nothing would be as fun as going to the bottom of the Grand canyon and back. I love the Grand Canyon. I'd take a donkey down, due to knee problems, and hike back up. but I do need to be healthier first so that's why I exercise. I've had the dream for 40 years. since I first saw the Canyon. Report
Looks like a great adventure
It sure looks like you had a great time! Thanks for the reminder of WHY we take care of our health. Report
I was lucky enough to get to visit Lake Tahoe, NV last year - I too experienced the same excitement and pride that I could make it through a week of hiking, biking and swimming with out worring about my health or being too tired or weak from the day before. Good for you, may you have many more adventures! Report
The Grand Canyon really is the trip of a lifetime. My profile picture is one we took at the bottom on our way back up. I was SO out of shape but so glad we did it. I do not recommend going in July - it was so hot. If you have a chance to go, please do! You need permits, there are camp spots and lots of trails. Report
I went to Yosemite with my husband & son 2 years ago. I was able to do a couple of hikes that I wanted to do but they were hard for me and I was not able to do as much as I wanted. So I have been working on adopting your attitude this year! I now have a picture on my vision collage of Yosemite as a reminder that a long term goal for me is to go back fitter & healthier and more able to enjoy the experience! Report
Wow, 6 days of hiking? Impressive! I wish I can do the same thing, sounds great!
For me, the most proud I did that involve walking in nature was walking to Niah Cave (somewhere near in Miri, Sarawak or Borneo Island) with 3 friends. Nearly half hour, exploring some caves and it was so exciting! Report
What a thrill for you! I hope to see the Grande Canyon someday, too. I plan to be in shape for it, too. Thanks for sharing your adventure. Pam Report
What a thrill for you! I hope to see the Grande Canyon someday, too. I plan to be in shape for it, too. Thanks for sharing your adventure. Pam Report
What a thrill for you! I hope to see the Grande Canyon someday, too. I plan to be in shape for it, too. Thanks for sharing your adventure. Pam Report
Thanks for sharing! Exercise is so important. I had a stress fracture in my foot earlier this year and had to stay off it. Once the doctor gave his approval, exercise and PT helped me regain strength in my foot. It will be put to a test in a couple of weeks when I go on a vacation that will require a lot of walking. Report
That is so awesome. The grand canyon is beautiful. we went there when our kids were little. we hiked down to the first water stop, carrying my daughter in a baby backpack she was a year old and the 2 boys were 4 and 6. the boys wanted to go further down when my husband tells them to look up the canyon, and they realized that was a long way to walk back up. so we headed back up the trail. they had a blast. it was amazing the people going down wearing flip flops and no water. we had a great time and hoping to do it again someday. Report
What an amazing trip and accomplishment! Report
Nicole! What a wonderful trip! And thank YOU for the explanation of why getting fit is so important. I never thought of it that way, before, only as a means to an end. One of my goals is to see the Grand Canyon! I have never been but my husband HAS, and is not too anxious to go again, so, maybe I will have to go with a group of friends! Exercise was something I took a long time to get going with on this program....................... Report
I would love to go on a trip like your Grand Canyon Adventure. I used to do a lot of hiking and right now I'm too out of shape to do anything but a very easy hike. I'm just starting out on this journey & I have a ways to go, but I'm really looking forward to climbing mountains again. Report
Marvelous blog - the Grand Canyon is so inspiring. I have a little bit of height issue but I really admire your hikes and travels. I would love to try it. Report
This is exactly why I want to lose weight. My hubby and I went to Vegas with a large group a few years ago, and I was so out of shape I ended up needing naps in the afternoon, or going to bed way too early. I wasn't in good enough shape to fully enjoy my holiday, and it was frustrating. My goal is to be in good enough shape, and with good enough endurance to go back to Vegas, and to someday go to Greece, and to enjoy it to the fullest. I need to find a few good pictures of Greece I can hang on my wall to see every day for inspiration :) Thanks Coach Nicole for the reminder of what I'm working for! Report
I really enjoyed this blog! Interestingly enough, yesterday I spent the day outside with my fiance doing yard work. It was hard work and you bet I'm sore today, but I was able to haul big bags of mulch around and crawl around on the ground for hours. I've finally come to the realization that it's all in the way you look at it! Thanks! Report
This article is so encourageing. It makes me want to come up with creative and adventuresome ways to exercise and enjoy life. I think that we get too busy at times and don't stop and enjoy the opportunities to experience nature and beauty that is right under our nose. Thanks for sharing. Report
thank. you. for. this.
(so much) Report
Great article! Very inspiring! One of my goals is for my boyfriend and I to start being more active together and I really want to start hiking. I hope one day we will be able to experience the Grand Canyon the same way. Report
Ha, ha, this reminds me of a (very different) trip I took to the Grand Canyon when I was about 20 years old. I thought it would be fun to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, so I loaded up my old-style aluminum frame pack with canned food (making the pack about 60 lbs with everything else I had in there) and headed down. At deep dark I was at the river, and started to make camp. A Ranger showed up and told me No Camping Here. The only campground near enough to consider was full, so I just headed back up the trail to the top. On the way back up that pack full of canned food seemed heavier and heavier so I started taking frequent rest (and cigarette - yikes!) breaks and eating one can of food on each break, to lighten the pack. It took me until late afternoon the next day to reach the top, and I'd eaten about half of the canned food and taken a rest break every few feet near the end. I was overstuffed and ready for a long nap! Plus, you should have seen the looks on the faces of the tourists up top as I kept extracting empty cans from my pack and dropping them into the trash can near the gift shop. That was my poorly planned and even more poorly executed Grand Canyon trip - but it was still an awesome two days and a night. Nothing beats the secenry at the GC. :) Report
I want to be able to go hiking with my husband in the Adirondack Mountains. He's hiked many of them mountains in the area where we camp (Eighth Lake between Inlet and Raquette Lake, NY) but I have never done that. I want to be able to enjoy those amazing views with him. Report
A completely different way to look at exercise!! Thank You Nicole! Report
What an adventure! My energy level is so much higher since I started to exercise regularly! It is such a blessing, AND you get to lose more weight and/or get more fit as you continue to be active at the fun things you want to do. Life is good. Report
I love this! This is exactly what got me off the couch. I love to be active but it is HARD to do with a lot of extra weight. "Hiking the Grand Canyon" is on my bucket list so I will be there too, fit and ready to go. Report
One of my goals is to become fit enough to enjoy short mountain hikes again. Thank you for reminding me that exercise will provide me with the tools to reach that goal, rather than something I "have to do" because I want to lose weight. Report
Wow. Makes me really want to go to Puerto Rico for Vieques! Report
Thanks for this great travelogue. Reminds me of the wonderful times I've had traveling and hope to do more in the future. One of my adventures I treasure is going to Tepoztlan (near Cuernavaca, Mexico) when I was studying Spanish in 1996. With some fellow students, we climbed up to a small "pyramid" on top of a high cliff. Most of the climb was up a boulder strewn steep path, but the last part (highest) was climbing a completely vertical iron ladder about 15 feet! Had to come down the same way. On the way we passed others like a local grandmother wearing a dress and climbing up with extended family members, and a runner leaping from boulder to boulder with his dog right alongside. I want to always feel strong and adventurous enough to do things like this again. Report
Love it!! My husband and I like to camp in the Gifford-Pinchot National forest and hike and then make a river run on our raft with family. It is breath-taking in some areas. I have never been to the Grand Canyon but I have heard that unless you experience it dircetly pictures are just like looking at any other picture. Here's to really living. Report
Great blog! I too have hiked the Grand Canyon and have taken pictures in the same places you have. It is such a great accomplishment and I am so proud of myself anytime I tell someone that I've hiked it. As you said, the pictures definitely don't do the scenery justice. Great job and welcome to the small group of people who have completed this huge task! Report
That's wonderful! And you just reminded me that working out regularly means that when I finally take my Grand Canyon trip, I'll be able to enjoy it in all its glory! Report
Thank you for sharing! What an inspiration! Report
wow--this is something i've been wanting to do for some time--well, maybe not the whole canyon all at once but definitely hike some part of it. my boyfriend and i are hoping to get out this year after the summer crowds. however, i AM looking for some cool hiking spots in lake tahoe since we will be heading out there the end of june. Report
Great blog and pics. Thanks for sharing - very inspiring! Report
I know that for me, and others who have never really led an active lifestyle before, that this is the key to permanent weight loss. We MUST change the way we think about exercise, that it isn't a means to an end, but an enjoyable activity IN AND OF ITSELF. Report
What a wonderful article… I agree wholeheartedly. My husband and I hiked the Inca Trail in Peru… it is a four day trek through the Andes to Machu Picchu. It was the experience of a lifetime. Seeing it from the perspective of the ancient Inca people is indescribable. We went out to Vancouver Island and hiked the coastal trails in preparation for the trip, and I practically wore out the walk paths in our town for three months leading up to the trek. All of these things I would never have done, or been able to do, if I was not in decent shape. We are now looking forward to other trips and experiences where we can see things from a different perspective… other than the front seat of a car. This world is a glorious place, and we are meant to explore it! Report
Thank you for reinforcing the idea that being fit and active is more about living and not just about a dress size or number on the scale. I had a mystery illness years ago that left me with many medical issues (weight gain and metabolism problems included) for years afterwards but through it all I kept up my exercising and healthy eating habits. I have learned to plan for the future by making sure I work on my flexability, muscle tone and endurance and override the stiffness and pains of today. Making exercise a part of your daily routine certainly is the answer, like riding the bike for errands or walking to the store or post office.
My only Grand Canyon exercise experience was having to shovle a foot of snow at the North Lodge in order for our family to get a discount on a cabin. Being from Wisconsin we had the warm clothes and knew how to use a shovel and we cleared all those sidewalks in no time flat. Only got yelled at for throwing a snowball at my sister, missing her and it went into the canyon .... hope you weren't down there! Report
Thanks for this blog. I have been to the Grand Canyon but in a car! It was beautiful. More important for me is your message about be sure not to exercise as a means to an end. This is where my head has been. Now, I need to shift it to exercise as a means to open up my life to endless options. Thank you. I have been on this program only a month and a half and find my goals and motivation changing because of people like you. Thanks and enjoy your wonderful life! Report
I did this trip last March with my 60 year old father, brother and 10 year old nephew. We all want to do it again, saying we know we can do it better and acting all macho, but the real reason is that the Grand Canyon is awesome and making it in and out a life perspective changing experience. Just make sure you're shoes are old, your sunscreen is new and you are not battling any kind of illness that makes it hard to breathe. Report
I.'m working out to prepare for my hip joint replacement in January. I'm hoping to make my recovery period easier. Report
Now that is inspiring! What a wonderful opportunity! And thanks for sharing! Your pictures are truly breath-taking! Report