Road Schooled

Lessons from the Road to Somewhere

Too Fat to Ride the Mules

Posted on | June 22, 2009 | 3 Comments

Grand Canyon Mules

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life... as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed. - Booker T. Washington

For years I thought about hiking the Grand Canyon. Last summer I went to the south rim of the Grand Canyon and decided not to hike down because I was feeling under the weather and wasn’t sure if I would make it back up in the scorching heat. So I looked into riding the mules and found out that – I am too fat to ride the mules.

Never in my lifetime did I think I would be told that I am too fat to ride a pack animal. Not being in good enough shape to hike up the Grand Canyon is one thing, but being too fat to ride a mule – that is downright embarrassing. So I left the rim without descending into the canyon determined that I would come back someday and hike down into the canyon. Someday.

Someday came this spring when I went to back to the Grand Canyon. I trained for 6 weeks prior, but I was still too fat to ride the mules by about 10 pounds so I had to hoof it myself. Screw the mules.

I packed up my backpack with water, Gatorade, Clif bars, and trail mix and took the classic pre-hike solo traveler shot before descending down the Bright Angel trail.

Pre-Hike Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon

As I descended down into the canyon I was passed by teenage boys who were running down to the river. And I passed teenage girls who were already complaining about their calves hurting. After 6.1 miles and 2938 feet drop in elevation I made it to Plateau Point overlooking the Colorado River.

View of the Colorado River from Plateau Point at the Grand Canyon

Amazing view!  I could even see some rafters in the Colorado River rapids below.

Colorado River Rafters as Viewed from Plateau Point in the Grand Canyon

Now all I have to do is hike 6.1 miles back up.

The hike back up started with the leader of the high school group complaining about how it was going to step after miserable step once everyone hit the switchbacks. I stopped for my last chance for water at Indian Garden and headed for the switchbacks. And when I got to the switchbacks a mule train came by.

Grand Canyon Mule Train on the Trail Up

I have never been so tempted to grab a mule tail.

But like I said earlier, screw the mules! I’m going to make it to the top by myself.

After passing and being passed by the same few people over and over again I finally made it to the top just before sunset. I celebrated with my new trail friends for the day. We did it! 12.2 miles with 2938 feet change in elevation. We all felt high on accomplishment.

There were several people at the top who came up to us and wished they could do what we did. They saw our sense of accomplishment and wanted to experience the feeling and the inner canyon. Someday, they said. Someday.

I wonder how many people who say someday actually come back and hike down into the canyon. It is easy to make excuses – not in good enough shape, too fat to ride the mules, etc. But the fact is that many people who hiked the Grand Canyon overcame what many would consider too big of an obstacle to overcome.

I met a guy on the trail who had a double knee replacement. I met a 67 year old lady hiking with a full overnight pack who wasn’t sure if she could do it, but in the end she made it to the top. I made it to the top despite the fact that I was too fat to ride the mules. Not only did I make it to the top, two days later I hiked down and up again on a different trail (South Kaibab) and captured some of my favorite photos from my trip to the Grand Canyon.

All of us overcame our excuse and pushed limits. I don’t advocate hiking into the canyon unprepared – you should hike within your limits and heed safety. But when faced with an obstacle resist that first urge to say – But [insert obstacle or excuse]. Instead think about what you can do.

Rehab your two surgically repaired knees. Train for 6 weeks wearing a full pack. Do whatever it takes without excuses. When faced with an obstacle sometimes you just need to say —

Screw the mules. I’ll make it to the top myself.

And then do it. No excuses.


3 Responses to “Too Fat to Ride the Mules”

  1. Harlen
    February 22nd, 2010 @ 8:49 pm

    Great Story! It just goes to show that weight is by far not the only indicator of health. Anybody who hikes to the bottom and back in one day is healthy no matter what the scale says.

  2. Road Dog
    August 13th, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

    Getting to the river and back in one day (if indeed you took South Kaibab down to the Colorado) is a decent effort especially for someone at your weight. I’ve run rim2rim at 137 lbs. plus a 7 lb. pack (24 miles in 9:17 taking pics and detours along the way) and I can’t imagine going into the canyon over the 200 lb. limit for riding a mule. I’d be on blood pressure medication for sure.

  3. kat
    September 9th, 2010 @ 6:41 pm

    WoW! What an inspirational article! Way to go.