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Getting the Blood Flowing

Posted Aug 07 2009 7:17pm

Nigel and Aidan come from a long line of national park enthusiasts. When I was a child, my family combed the western states, visiting nearly every national park from Yosemite to Mt. Rushmore (technically, that’s a national monument, but you get the idea). We went to the Grand Canyon three times. My mother has been a ranger at Lassen in California and is currently a ranger at Crater Lake National Park here in Oregon. For many years she was a tour guide in Yellowstone. I have taken Nigel and Aidan to all of those parks and several others.

And so, my sons were looking forward to our recent trip to the Grand Canyon (their first) as much as I was. Along the way, we stopped at Hoover Dam, per Nigel’s request. He insisted on walking half-way across the dam so that he could stand on the border of Nevada and Arizona, as you will see in the photo below. It was hideously hot, well into triple digits. We slid into our (mercifully air conditioned) rental car and connected with I-40 all the way to Flagstaff, where the boys were only too happy to leap into the hotel pool. We rose early the next morning to head to the busiest national park at the busiest time of year.

Having been to the GC before, I knew that the best way to experience it is to get down in it, even just a little. There are two trails along the South Rim that you can take. One, Bright Angel Trail, is more like a thoroughfare. You’ve got tons of people like me who want to hike into the canyon, and you’ve got the mule trains going forth and back. Not ideal conditions for two boys with sensory issues. So I took them on the Kaibab Trail, which is far less crowded and - according to a website that turned out to be wrong -not used by the mule trains.

So we get to the trailhead, strap on our hydration pack, and head out, or down, I should say. Nothing like a good hike to get the blood flowing! We have barely begun, are only fifty feet from the trailhead, and Aidan, with his vestibular hypersensitivity, stops short. “I don’t think I can do this, Mom,” he tells me. “It’s okay, honey,” I assure him. “We’re not going to be near any cliffs.” I put my arm around him and try to gently lead him forward. He does not budge. “I can’t do it, Mom!” We are five feet below the rim, and he is having an attack of acrophobia. This I had not planned for. Nigel is barreling on ahead, and I call out to him to slow down for Aidan. “Can’t I just wait at the trailhead for you?” Aidan asks. I tell him I don’t want him waiting alone for an hour and a half. Then I put him on the inside of the trail, and I explain to him that we will walk together slowly and that I will switch places with him whenever the trail switches direction. He reluctantly complies.

At every switchback, Aidan complains a bit, but he walks with me, staring down his fear. I tell him how well he’s doing and how proud I am of him as we catch up to Nigel. We are five minutes into the Grand Canyon, and Nigel has the mother of all bloody noses. As he usually does whenever he gets a bloody nose, he has smeared it all over his face. We have been on countless family hikes, Nigel has been hiking with Scouts for almost five years, and he’s never had a bloody nose on a hike. Of course now I don’t have any tissues. Of course. One small stroke of luck is that Nigel is wearing a navy blue shirt, so the blood will not glare as much, and I tell him to use his shirt to wipe his face. The blood is pouring out of his nose, it’s a proverbial faucet, so I sit him down and instruct him to pinch the sides of it. Aidan sits down next to him. I try to wipe more blood with the blue shirt.

At this point, people -other hikers - have started stopping and asking if Nigel’s okay. I mean, it looks like a rock landed on his face. I tell them he’s fine, it’s just a bloody nose. Two different parties of people stop to offer us tissues, and I couldn’t thank them enough. Who goes on a hike and doesn’t bring tissues?! Good grief, you’d think I’d never been on a hike before. So we lost about a half an hour with that. Nigel would get antsy from sitting, say, “I think the bleeding has stopped,” and we would start walking. Seconds later he’d be bleeding again, so we’d stop and sit and blot and pinch. Then we’d get up and keep walking and sit down again when he needed to. Finally the bleeding stopped for good.

And Aidan, acrophobic Aidan, continued on alone up front. I guess he realized that the trail was actually pretty safe, or maybe he just got used to it. I was shocked but knew better than to make a big deal out of it. We met up with him at Oo-Ah Point (yes, it’s called that because of the view), which he quickly surveyed, unimpressed, and then turned around to head back up. I snapped a few photos and headed back with Nigel, pacing ourselves. Aidan must have felt much more confident going up, and he was quickly out of sight.

Aidan at Oo-Ah Point

Nigel at Oo-Ah Point, with his blood-soaked shirt and tissue-stuffed nostril

About half-way up, we ran into a mule train coming down, maybe eight of them. They were in training, with blocks of wood on their backs. We stepped to the side as they passed, and I hoped that Aidan had managed okay. Soon, we reached the top and found him waiting at the trailhead. I couldn’t wait to praise him again for being so brave in the Canyon, but before I could, he said, “I thought you said there would be no mules on this trail!” I told him that I had been misinformed, and then we headed straight to the lodge for ice cream. Because really, that’s our favorite part about national parks. Bring on the heat, acrophobia, bloody noses, and mule trains. Just don’t forget the ice cream.

After ice cream, Nigel meets a new friend

at Wupatki Indian Ruins the next day

a centuries-old ball court

Boys and sticks in the desert

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