When I got news from my sponsor Got Chocolate Milk that I would be competing in Ironman Arizona, Joe and I decided to travel the week following the race. I got some looks from the boys’ school, but most teachers understood travel is learning on steroids. They gave us the work that had to be done, and we set off to the desert.
On Tuesday I booked a half-day climbing trip with 360 Adventures. My boys, especially Dreamer, are crazy about climbing and are constantly tempting fate – both theirs and the tree they are on. The climb was not cheap, so Dreamer gave up hosting a birthday party when he turned nine in October for the chance to climb on a real rock. We live in Miami, with no rock in sight only a climbing gym and trees, both of which we do often. You can check my Instagram feed if you need proof!
The excitement Tuesday morning was palpable as we drove to the Tom Thumb trailhead near Scottsdale. By Miami standards we were in the middle of nowhere, and would need to hike up about a mile to get to the rock the boys were climbing; something my post Ironman legs did not appreciate. Yet Dreamer was so excited I couldn’t help but smile and pretend I was as limber as a ballerina.
I liked our guide Bill from the moment we met. In addition to helping us get organized, he was extra patient when, after everyone finished going to the bathroom, Fearless finally decided he better go too … and took his time pooping.
Bill talked to the boys about climbing, the desert, and animals. He asked questions and treated them with respect. He cared about what each one said and answered all inquiries with equal importance.
Turns out Bill was an engineer … a rocket scientist really. He did work for private companies, NASA, the military and such. He began hiking as an adult when his son, then eleven, got into rock climbing. Though his son eventually lost interest in the sport, Bill kept on climbing and apart from his guiding at 360 Adventures he is also the Lead Volunteer at the Arizona Mountaineering Club. It’s easy to see Bill does not do this kind of work for the money.
Bill brought out the best in Dreamer. Let’s just say my third grader hasn’t been a walk in the park lately, as any of his teachers can attest to. And though he is incredibly smart and filled with potential, it’s hard for him to stay focused and excited about something for any length of time. He would rather be outdoors than inside, and up on a tree instead of on the ground. Dreamer was in heaven.
He listened to everything Bill had to say as a monk would’ve listened to the Buddha himself. As he soaked up the day he asked Bill:
“Do you have anything challenginger? I want to test my limit.”
My ears stood up, and not because of challenginger.
“Yeah, I want to know how far I can go.”
That was music. I haven’t seen that drive in him for a while, and if there is one thing I want my kids to be are boundary pushers.
Athletically speaking, I have been confined most of my life. Whereas I was never fearful of changing jobs, starting organizations, or taking leaps in my career my limits were reached rather easily when it came to anything physical. Running a marathon? Too hard. An Ironman? Impossible. These things weren’t safe, they didn’t directly relate to any sort of “success” in the life model I was brought up in. Even my mother tells me she is not sure where “I got it from.” She says she wasn’t raised with ambition, and she didn’t raise me with it either.
But there must have been something in the water then, because I thrive on challenge and whither in complacency. I am at my best when I set a goal just over my reach; and after each adventure my reach is higher.
Therefore to sit there (because I wasn’t moving much two days after Ironman Arizona), and listen to my son ask his guide to make things harder for him was validation.
In order for me to test my own limits, as a family we make sacrifices. I don’t have a steady job with an income stream, and I often miss movie night so I can wake up at 5:00am to ride my bike. But my hope is I am teaching my boys to look at seemingly impossible goals, shrug their shoulders, and rather than question their ability to reach them just smile and get to work.
Bill told me my boys were learners; he was as impressed as I was with Dreamer’s determination. He doesn’t know Dreamer in a school context, but he caught my son doing exactly what he is passionate about. He saw the best version of Dreamer.
We were heading to the Grand Canyon next, and Bill suggested a hike through the South Kaibab Trail to the appropriately named “Ooh Ahh Point.” And then go a bit further to Cedar Ridge for a total of three miles that would take us close to five hours to complete.
I have to admit I am not a fan of heights, and this hike is as straight shot down as you can get without a rope. The path is about five feet wide, plenty for a reasonable person to walk down without falling into the abyss. But Fearless was particularly jumpy, and I was unsure those five feet were enough to safely contain my firecracker.
Warning signs were everywhere. They said not to go to down to the river and back the same day or risk death by exhaustion. They warned there was no water on the trail, take more than you need or risk dehydration. And the one that got to me: “Remember your trip with joy or regret … the choice is yours.”
Unfortunately, I saw a book as thick as an 1800s Russian novel about deaths on the Canyon. Every year, hundreds of tourists die doing stupid things … including falling off while taking selfies!
We started down the trailhead with caution. In fact, Fearless was in awe of the Canyon and had a respectful fear. He hugged the wall as much as he could and we all walked carefully down the mile to Ooh Ahh Point.
We stopped for snacks and careful picture taking. Yet Dreamer wanted something “challenginger” again. He wanted to get down to the next level, Cedar Ridge. However, the path to get there was more narrow and less maintained. Fearless was not convinced he wanted to go, and we all knew it took twice as long to go up than to go down.
I remembered: “joy or regret?” To whom would it matter how far down the Canyon we would go? Getting to Ooh Ahh was beautiful enough and gave us a joyful experience. Did we have to push it and go just a bit farther and risk ending this in regret with whiny, tired boys or worse, adding a page to the awful Death on the Canyon book?
“Dumb Miami Family Plunges To Death” could be our title.
Yet, I wanted to encourage Dreamer’s new found gusto for pushing himself so we decided on something in between. Dreamer and I would hike down further, to where the layer of soil changes from Kaibab to the beat red Toroweep. The trail also turned a bit and we would get a different view of the canyon. We promised to be back in fifteen minutes while Joe and Fearless hung out at Ooh Ahh.
We headed down, and instead of worrying about Fearless jumping off the canyon as he skipped down, I had to worry about an overconfident Dreamer billy-goating as if he had grown up in the mountains.
I stopped him on a bend on the way down, with the different soil and a spectacular view. We took a picture and began the hike back up.
Dreamer walked ahead … confident, focused. He said hi to every person cautioning “the way back is a lot a harder.” By the time we got to Ooh Ahh, his face was beat red and sweaty. It was a strenuous climb but I didn’t hear a peep. In fact, both boys headed up the Canyon as if they were on springs. I had trouble keeping up with them, resorting to shouting “hug the wall” as often as I could.
The path was not wide enough for hikers who were going up to pass those who were coming down at the same time. Therefore, when facing someone there is a momentary pause while the other party passes. At each encounter Dreamer chatted a storm: “how far down are you going today?” or “where are you coming back from?”
It was watching my kids at their best. I wrote Bill and mentioned our hike and Dreamer’s desire to push himself. He replied “He’s in that great age range when he just gets better and better. I have to warn you that it doesn’t last; remember those teen years? However, with patience, you will be absolutely amazed at the wonderful person he will grow into. How can you not respect and honor children!”
He’s right. How can we not respect and honor the spirit inside each child? I forget that in our day-to-day stress of school, activities, homework, meals, etc. That is why travelling and having new experiences are so important. That’s when you find out what you, or your children, are really made up of.
And you might just be pleasantly surprised.
If you are in Arizona and would like to book a hiking trip contact 360 Adventures, if you would like more information on the Arizona Mountaineering Club feel free to reach Bill at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I was not compensated nor asked for this review, it was just a wonderful experience I wanted to share with you.