For five nights and four days, I wandered through White Canyon in Utah with a group of 11 other people — nine military veterans, like myself, and two guides. We talked about our lives as veterans and humans. We listened to each other. We mulled over life questions we chose with help from our Outward Bound guides.
And we let the canyons remind us of truths about ourselves.
Here’s What the Utah Canyons Can Show You
1. The canyon walls show you everything. Or maybe it’s just the desert in general. The rocks are stripped bear by wind and rain. There just isn’t a way to hide anything.
Living life honestly and simply with the people we love — the way we are trying to teach ourselves to do through this blog and through our upcoming big life change — is the only way to be really happy. I’ve tried hiding my flaws. It doesn’t work. The only way for me to live with success is to live with the barren simplicity of the desert.
2. The canyon doesn’t know what’s on the ridge, but the ridge knows what’s in the canyon. You walk into the mouth of the canyon, a low point from the highway in southern Utah, north of Lake Powell. Coming through it, large boulders may block your way. You must scramble over, under and around them all while hauling your pack. And then there are the rock fields — speckled with boulders but made-up mostly of fist sized rocks that are the perfect tool for twisting your ankle if you step on them incorrectly. Sometimes a canyon would simply dead-end into a 15-foot ledge. Our team used a hand-line to climb those, grasping for the occasional foot hold as we ascended.
When we made it to the top of the canyon on our final day, an about 1,200 foot climb in 90 minutes, we could see where we had been. We could see the path from the last few days, the areas we had negotiated. But it seemed so simple from that vantage point. A 15-foot drop near the canyon floor is inconsequential when you look at it from above. A 100-foot boulder field that took you 20 minutes to work through looks, from the top, like a tiny break in the river bed.
And so it is with life. When we look back, a lot of the obstacles that seemed wearisome — not insurmountable necessarily, but definitely difficult in the moment — seem much smaller in scale. What was a really big deal 10 years ago is now something I can handle without thinking.
The canyons reminded me to remember that in each, new challenging moment, this is all just for a season.
3. The canyons remind you of where you have been. Like all great outdoor adventures, the sun and the shade and the rocks and the air held memories for me of past moments. During our hike out we gained quickly in elevation, and the wind carried a scent of pine in the desert.
I had an instant flashback to 2004. I had been on a road trip across America with my three best friends. We were in the high Sierras near Lake Tahoe, doing day hikes and horsing around. We were 21 — we hiked at a breakneck speed, carrying almost nothing, seeing everything. That pine scent in the high Sierras is a part of every breath. On summer days the there air is warm but crisp, fresh and full of life.
And as I smelled that pine in Utah, I was reminded of all the things I felt and wanted and dreamt of during those hikes with my buddies. I remembered all of the now unfulfilled promises I made to myself, all the things I wanted to do and accomplish and be.
The canyons reminded me that I still have time to do them.
And you have time for yours, too.
Life is a gift – precious, beautiful and sometimes ugly and painful. But still a gift.
So get outside.