I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve taken him to the Emergency Room…how many admissions…the surgeries…the spinal taps…the tests…all the diagnoses.  I do remember the ambulance ride he took, when his blood pressure and other vital signs were so low, that they told us to “prepare for any outcome”.    We weren’t told that he was a fighter, or that he was strong.  Repeatedly, we were told his limitations.

Noah had a rough go, and it showed in his personality.  He was painfully shy.  Day after day, I would go to pick him up from school, and he would be at the “crying table” because he said he missed me.  He was afraid of everything. 

As I sit in this hotel room now, listening to him sleeping soundly, I can hardly believe it is the same person.  Yesterday, we finished our rim to rim to rim (R2R2R) hike of the Grand Canyon.

I didn’t want to take him.  I had planned on it being a solo trek, but he had other plans.  He INSISTED.  Gone is that shy child.  When Noah wants something, he says it.  There was no way I was getting on that plane without him, regardless of my protests that it would be challenging for him. 

And, challenging it was, although the beauty was breath taking.  We saw colors we didn’t know existed.  We saw nature completely ignore us.  During the night, we were the only hikers returning from the North Rim….we had the canyon to ourselves.

I learned more about my son during those 20 hours of hiking than I had in the past 18 years.  I saw him struggle, over-come, creatively problem-solve, suck it up, become frustrated, show kindness, and persevere.  We talked about everything…the conversations were organic and free flowing.  I got a glimpse into the man he is and how he will handle life’s challenges when he is on his own.   

The struggles of the hike were real.  The temperature went from 30 to 80 back to 30 and back to over 80.  We had 21,000 vertical feet of climbing.  We under-estimated our water needs, and having pumps turned off, that we planned on being on, compounded our situation.  Noah became very dehydrated.  We had planned on hiking straight through the night, but by midnight, Noah was struggling.  I worried about his health.  “Mom, I let you down.  I told you I could do this, and I can’t”.  We had to stop.  Not having a camping permit (winning the lottery is easier than getting one), we had to be resourceful.  With the temperature dropping, as well as the multitude of wild life (we were sure not to pick up any sticks that rattled), we could not just find a comfortable looking rock and rest.  So, we found a restroom at a campsite and slept for a few hours.  A new low for me. 

When we woke, Noah told me he was done.  He wanted to take a mule ride up to the South Rim.  Ok, I said and looked into it.  $900 was the going rate.  An obvious way to dissuade people from taking the easy way out.  Okay, time for plan B. 

We had two choices.  We could hike up Bright Angel, which would be an easier hike, but 2.5 miles longer or take South Kaibab, which we descended the day before.  We knew it was rugged.  I gave Noah the choice.  “Okay, so my choices are less suck for longer or more suck for shorter”.  He wordlessly turned down the South Kaibab trail.  It would be the roughest thing he has faced in his life so far. 

His thoughts got pretty dark and he was beating himself up.  I would hike ahead of him and get to a landmark to set up food and the little water we had left.   Then I would wait…and worry.  Each time, it took him longer to reach me, but each time, he would get there.

Finally, we had 1.5 miles to go.  The area was full of tourists and Noah was not amused by their glee at seeing the canyon.  “Noah, I’m going.  What you are feeling now will pass, but what you will feel in a mile and a half will stick with you forever.  Don’t let negative thoughts take it from you” is all I could think of to share.  After leaving him that last time, when I was out of his sight, my eyes had tears in them.  I wanted his hurt, both physical and emotional, to end, but there was nothing I could do to make it happen.

At the trailhead….I waited….and waited.  Finally, there he was.  Arms raised in the air and a smile on his face 100 years couldn’t make me forget.  He looked at me told me he loved me and asked where we could get ice cream.  It was the proudest moment of my life.

Noah, you are a fighter and you are strong.  Life will give you limits and challenge you, but I firmly believe you will find a way around them.  Thank you for being a pain in the butt about coming on this trip.  I love you boy.


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