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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Impressive! I exercise and eat right for me - I'm a happier person when I feel well and fit into my clothes - I've found that's the secret , not doing it for anyone else but myself! Report
Thank you so much for sharing this - and of course, congratulations! You've given me yet another handhold on this slippery slope. Report
I completely agree with strengthening for life experience rather than a number on a scale. I grew up an asthmatic kid in a back brace with a fairly sedentary family, so I never knew my own strength until I participated in a College Outdoors program at my school in my early 20s. It was like, nothing could stop me. I went on countless week-long excursions, but my absolute favorite memory of all time in my entire 43 years of life was a 10-day trip with a random group of folks of all ages (60 to 18) river-rafting the goosenecks of the San Juan River in Utah. It ends up in Lake Powell from the opposite side that the Grand Canyon's river flows. Hiking side canyons bordering the Navajo and pueblo Indian land, hearing the canyon wrens and seeing canyon walls that change light through day and night was truly sacred experience for me. Being away from electronic civilization, nightly camp fires, and following wild animal paths by day - there's nothing like it! I am forever grateful to have had this experience, but so wish I had the funding to pursue another trek only with my daughter this time. Maybe some day - a girl's gotta have dreams. Report
Hiking the Grand Canyon is what I want to do some day! Thanks for sharing with us your amazing trip! It just reinforces my goal!

- Karen Report
I want to do some hiking in Hawaii, expecially Volcano National Park and to some waterfalls.
I am exercising to be there for my family in a more active, participatory way. I want to be able to go for a walk with my girls after a work day, bend down and talk eye to eye with my five year old for more than a second, and to have the energy to not just be there mentally, but phyically as well. Exercise is making these goals a reality one day at a time. Report
Good job! The Grand Cayon is amazing!
My dream and inspiration for losing weight and becoming more fit was to be on The Amazing Race! I hope my dream comes true someday. Report
Very inspiring!
Weight loss isn't just about the number, but a way to get back into living life. Report
This was an amazing article of someone living their dream! I used to hike with my family and one of the hardest climbs is Mt. Katahdin in Maine. It had poured the night before we went hiking and made the trails miserable to hike on, as some of it was flooded over, making it very slippery. I literally wanted to sit down and cry but as I needed to press on and make it to the plateau so that we could go down an "easier" trail. The scenery was incredible, and seeing the moose was as well, but had I been in the condition I'm in now, I would not have made it. I want to be healthier to do more hiking-although I'm sticking to the smaller hiking trails, thank you! :) Report
I LOVE the Grand Canyon!And Loved hiking part of it as well as seeing it! I am getting healthy and losing wt.and getting my cholestrol down to be here for my toddler,hubby and the rest of my family. Report
I want to live a healthy life so I can enjoy what time i have left not waste it just wishing. this was a really nice article. :)

I enjoyed reading about your Grand Canyon experience. I have been to the Grand Canyon twice on vacation, but never was able to experience what you did due to health reasons. I could almost feel your enthusiasm jump off the computer monitor at me. I wish I had been able to do the hike. But just seeing the Grand Canyon is an awesome experience. For me, it strengthened my faith in God. Thanks for the pictures and sharing your story. I do know since joining Spark People and doing all the exercising has greatly improved my mobility and made me lose a little weight. I am grateful for doing that. Thank you Spark People and all the coaches. Report
I used to exercise for weight loss only. Now I exercise for both weight loss and because I want it to be a part of my normal evert day life from now on. Report
I was in the best condition of my life when I trained bird dogs! Lots of walking to condition the dogs, and many more steps back and forth setting out pigeons or quail for the dogs to point. And walking on uneven ground in hunting boots work up a sweat and heart rate. Usually we trained several dogs and walked for at least 30 minutes with each dog, which sometimes was actually quick time to keep the dogs in sight. Report
Exercise started out as a means to loose weight. Now - as I have told others its like my prescription to myself - to feel good physically and about myself mentally. If I don't exercise I feel like crap, like something is missing. Exercise has become a part of my life! Report
I think the greatest reason I exercise is so that I can maintain mobility in my future. Now I can run 6 miles and take marathon yoga classes, however, more than likely I will not always be able to do that. I would like to always be able to be mobile enough to walk the grocery store or the mall when I'm 80 without feeling like my joints and muscles are protesting with every step. With mobility come independence and I want to claim that for as long as I possibly can. Report
I hiked the Grand Canyon at my heaviest weight! Did you go to Phantom Ranch and cross the swinging bridge??

We spent 5 weeks out west 2 years ago and hiked and camped in 14 National Parks. It was a DREAM VACATION!

My next goal for the Canyon is Rim to Rim! But first, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons! Report
Oh, Nicole - thank you so much for sharing this. The trip sounds incredible and has given me something to put on my To Do list. Also, I found this comment:

"...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..."

Particularly meaningful. Even though I have an ultimate weight goal in mind, it's really all about the journey, how I feel and what my body can do for me. Report
Back in November, DH & I went to Grenada for my birthday. I have a friend from high school that lives there. On my birthday we decided to go into the rain forest & try to find a waterfall. We found a place to hike down to one. They had never been there before so none of us had a clue what we were in for. It's certainly not the Grand Canyon, but it was more than I had ever done. There were many steep spots with muddy rocks. I was terrified of slipping & falling off the edge to my death. We were given walking sticks & they were a tremendous help. Had I not had some of my upper body strength from training with weights, I'm really not sure I could have made it to the bottom & back. Glad I did make it as it was one of the most magnificent scenes. I tease my friend that she tried to kill me on my birthday, but I was really proud that we all did it. Report
I love this! I used to think of exercise as a means to an end - a smaller frame size. Now I see it in a similar way. A NEED in life, just like food and water, to sustain myself in daily life. I don't like feeling winded walking up the stairs and need some stamina to keep up with my little ones. Thus, exercise is now just something that I see as necessary, but in a fun way, to keep me feeling the best I can!

Thanks for posting this! Report
i ll go to grand canyon on 26th may for my 30th wedding anniversary!
if you are some information, could you give me please
i am french and i dont speak very well english but i understand.
thank you Report
Funny to read this, in that I have had the VERY same thought in mind when I am out doing my HIKES. I LOVE the scenery, the flowers, mountains, and feel grateful all the time, that I AM healthy and fit enough to enjoy my hikes. I don't think I would do what I do, if I was just going to endure it!

In that, I am ALOT older than you Nicole, I am even MORE grateful! As a nurse, I take care of MANY YOUNGER than I am, who are never going to be physcially able to do what I do. Just amazes me how people of the same age, can be so very different in their aging.

I agree, that exercise is not just about weight loss or appearance, as it DOES make me feel so great, and proves to me that it is all worth the effort I put into it ! I AM inspired to greater challenges. The Grand Canyon is one I do want to do in the future.

Today on one of my "training hikes" I found myself at a point I could NOT do, as I don't have the upper body that has to be a goal! Don't know when that will come in handy! Report
We only walked around the Lodges the first time we went, and gawked down at the trails to the bottom. Good for you, hiking the whole thing, what a great memory to have the rest of your life too. Report
Sounds like so much fun. I have just recently joined a hiking club so I am not there yet but hopefully at some point I will be up to doing this type of hiking. Your doing so great! Report
Wonderful blog...sounds like an awesome adventure! I've been looking for some motivation to get me exercising more. I will definitely remember your mantra: "exercise is a tool for living the life you want to live...". Thanks for sharing :) Report
Wow! This is so inspiring. Thanks for sharing. Report
Thanks Coach!

I want to take long llama walks up and down my precious Kettle Moraine Hills where I live in my own Little Prairie Homestead paradise. You inspire! Report
I just wanted to let you know how much I love this blog! It is inspirational. My husband and I dream of hiking across the Grand Canyon when our children are grown. Thanks for reminding me that there is much more to working out than losing weight. Thank you for sharing!!! Report
I agree so much with what you have written here. My real motivation for fitness is to participate in life. In June, I'm scheduled for a six day supported biking event in the Colorado Rockies. I certainly could not have done that six years ago. Woohoo! Report
What an awesome experience! I have many goals to accomplish and now I will have to add this one to the list. Very inspiring..... Thanks for sharing! Report
OMG Coach Nicole what an experience. I went there about 20 years ago and saw people coming up we were only there for a day so not enough time to enjoy it as much but my husband and I are planning to hit as many National Parks as we can. I have a denim long sleeve shirt I am patching up to show all of the parks we have visited as well as states etc. I just want to have something that shows where we have been and hiked. I love to hike, it is the one exercise that doesn¡¦t feel like exercise and there is always beauty along the way to admire, nature, the solitude and time you have to think as you are walking it clears the mind in a good way. I hate exercise; I know if I do more the weight would come off sooner. Although lately I have been inspired to exercise more and your story really made me think of how much more hiking I would love to do. My husband used to backpack a lot in his younger years and he tells me that he would love to do it again but I have to lose more weight and get more in shape, this drives me to do it because if there is anyone I would love to share that experience or something similar it would be my soul mate. So thank you and yes that feeling is always good because last year we walked part of the Pacific Crest Trail which ran through the campground we were at we got up about 1 mile shy of the view and had to stop because of some tree that had fallen (it was huge so we could climb over it but it was the best feeling I had to get up that high we hiked switchbacks for at least 2 miles we ended up walking a total of 5 miles that day back and forth and I felt good that I could keep up yet I was at the back of the line with my hubby. That feeling of success is a major high to do something you didn¡¦t think you could and did. I will not give up and continue to exercise with a note to myself that as I exercise it is just conditioning me for those major hikes :) Report
Soooo motivating! I hope to do this next year! Report
This is the thing I miss the most now that I am lucky to be able to walk to my car from the office without keeling over (only a slight exaggeration). I use to walk all the time and I loved to hike. I traveled the world and experienced up close and personal because I did it from my feet instead of a tourist bus.

Being able to walk comfortably again is my main goal, my main reason, for wanting to lose weight and get fit again. Report
I too hope to accomplish this someday with my Hubby. We both strive to be fit to do just this type of thing. A few years back we hiked to the top of Idaho's tallest mountain Borah Peak, that by far has to be the hardest hike I've ever done, the downhill being the hardest as it was steep and my legs were worn out from the uphill and lack of oxygen. When I made it to the top I felt like I never wanted to do it again, but Now I do want to go back even though I do remember how much it hurt I also remember the Joy and wonderful things I got to see and feel on this trip. And I look forward to every summer when we get to do another great adventure such as this. Report
sounds like a great time, i hope to do that some day. Report
That canyon really is Grand... My sweettie and I hiked across with friends last time I was in shape (before the kids came) and being fit enough to take my older daughter was one of the motivating factors in my losing weight and getting fit. Now I'm more fit than I was then and have to keep that way until she's old enough to enjoy that hike! Report
My husband and I went to Pisa, Italy and climbed to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We were amazed and saddened that many others on our sightseeing tour could not join us because of health or other reasons, but could only stand outside and look up at us. I am proud to say that I have lost over 35# and feel great because of it. Report
3 year ago I visit the Grand Canyon by myself, could not get anyone to come with me, but reading your blog was very inspiring to me, the Grand Canyon is so beautiful. thanks for sharing. Report
Great blog, great pictures, what an amazing adventure you and your friends had. Wish I was their. Report
I love LOTS of stuff...but I'm particularly excited about riding in a Diabetes cycle event in June. :) Report
After reading your blog I have decided that 2 years from now on 4/16 - my 60th birthday this is what i want to do. Thanks for the inspiration! Report
I love walking outside ! I love riding my bike ! I love teaching aerobics classes ! I exercise because it's something I really enjoy doing.

So, what have I accomplished since I decided to become a healthier person ? Last year, I did the Walk for Hunger in Boston. that's a 20 mile charity walk. I did it in under 4 hours and 40 minutes. not bad for an over 40 old lady like me ! LOL !!! This year, I'd like to meet or improve on that time. we'll see....

I recently came back from a trip to London. I walked everywhere. Had I been overweight, I'm sure I wouldn't have gone to as many places. At least, I probably would have paid an arm and a leg to take the tube instead of walking.

I'd love to go on a grand adventure. One day, I'd like to hike up a mountain like Kilimanjaro. If I don't hike, I'd at least like to go on a bike tour of Greece or Europe.

Thanks for the article Nicole. One of my goals on this site was to read something inspirational on a daily basis. It's easy to get lost in life and forget about all the wonderful things to enjoy around us. Your discription of your trip to the Grand Canyon was a reminder to me to look around and enjoy and be inspired. It's all around us. I live in Alaska, a state people either love or hate to live in. Alaska has some very awsome adventures to be had. Thanks again for a great article. Report
Great blog! The outdoors and travel are two of my motivations for becoming healthier. I will retire before long, and want to continue to do all of these fun things. Report
More than 20 years ago I saw an article in SHAPE magazine about a bicycle trip in Vermont - a country inn-to-inn trip. I wanted to do it so badly, even though up to then I was lukewarm about bicycling (my husband was a bicycle enthusiast). He readily agreed, and I was determined to train for the trip so that I could really enjoy it. This is what got me started on both fitness vacations as well as a passion for bicycling. Now I ride 75, 80, even 100+ miles in a single day! Report
Thank you Coach Nicole and congratulations. I loved the pictures. I can't be at the edge of anything or my head starts spinning (ladder, steps, even sometimes looking out a window!). But I love the open spaces and every bit of our beautiful country and world. What I can't get too close to, I enjoy through pictures and applaud and cheer those that have gone and taken them. Thank you for taking me to the Grand Canyon. Jean Report
That's awesome! I love the Grand Canyon. It is one of my very favorite vacation spots. Congratulations on your accomplishment! I'm walking the 3-day 60 mile Susan G. Komen walk this fall for the first time. I am pretty excited and have begun training. It's going to be a challenge, but I am motivated! Report
What a wonderful story. I am proud for you!! Report
Where's all the guys? Report
Last summer I went to Colorado with my mother for a week's vacation. While there we did so many different things but the most amazing for me was going to 7 Falls. For those of you who don't know it, there are stairs climbing to the top - 224 stairs to be exact! I never would have done this a few years ago, but with losing close to 100 pounds I felt very confident that I would be able to make it, and I really did! Report