Bucket Lists & Breaking Points

Me at the Grand Canyon...playing it safe by the guardrail!

Me at the Grand Canyon…playing it safe by the guardrail!

This week, I crossed something off of my bucket list–visiting the Grand Canyon. This spectacular natural wonder of the world did not disappoint. Even on a cloudy day, it was an amazing sight to see. I never felt so alive and so small at the same time. I was excited to take in this beautiful place and it was fun to find the points where the Colorado River flowed through the rocks. I was the first one in my family to spot the bridge that leads to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. I viewed it all from a safe distance behind railings and rock walls. It was my husband’s idea—God bless him—for all of us to take a mule ride around the rim of the canyon. At the time (in the safety of my home office), I thought it was a wonderful idea. It wouldn’t be my first time. I rode both a mule and a camel in a desert in Israel so I didn’t think twice about doing it again. I was wrong. So wrong! Our journey started out with a kind, but fast talking and heavily accented cowboy who explained how to handle the mule. Hold the reins like an ice cream cone with your less dominant hand at the base of the mule’s neck with one hand and hold the saddle knob thingy with your other hand to maintain your balance. Pull the reins left to go left and pull to the right to go right. Pull back to stop. Use the mule motivator (a whip-like strap) on his behind to make him go a little faster. Easy enough? At least, I think that is what he said. He spoke so quickly and there was no test to take prior to mounting Tin Man–a handsome, milk chocolate colored, 5 foot tall mule. When you add me to the equation, I was over 10 feet off the ground which already made me nervous before we even left the corral. I can’t drive a stick shift, so how am I supposed to handle a mule? Still, I was game. I went over the safety instructions in my head and again with one of the ranch hands before we ventured forth towards the rim of the canyon. It was a foggy day and I basically let Tin Man do all of the driving. After all, the cowboy said mules have a master’s degree-like training when carrying passengers. I took some comfort that one of us knew what they were doing. The Tin Man was a mule of all heart–taking great care not to go too fast while keeping up with the rest of the tour. My son and husband were in front of me while my daughter (riding the diva mule named Cher) was lagging behind. “Are you okay?” my husband yelled out to me. I informed him I wasn’t speaking to him right now as I was concentrating on my balance, my breathing and my fast brewing, impending anxiety attack. And then we arrived at our first stop at the edge of the canyon. I’m not typically afraid of heights, but there I was two feet away from the Grand Canyon with no guardrail or rock wall between us. I didn’t care if my mule had a master’s degree from Harvard! I couldn’t get it out of my head that one false move and we would both be goners. Once this negative feedback loop was in my brain, I could think of nothing else. The guide informed me that all stops would be like this and I asked for the nearest taxi cab back to the corral. Does Uber work out here? I had seen enough. Thank you very much. This tour was over for me only a quarter of a mile after it began. I dismounted the mule and waited for my ride–a Polaris 4×4 to come and pick me up. Before dismounting, I apologized to the guide, my family and fellow tour mates and to Tin Man. I let my mule know it wasn’t him…it was me. I had stepped way too far from my comfort zone and hit my breaking point. The Grand Canyon was on my bucket list. The mule ride–terrifyingly close to the edge of the mile down depth of the canyon–was not. I realized I didn’t need to have this experience to make my life complete. Funny, I remember having the same inner conversation with myself in Israel as many of my friends rappelled down the side of a mountain. No thanks! To my chidren’s credit, they stayed on the tour with my husband and had a great time. I waited patiently back at the ranch for their safe return. They came back exhilarated. Several people on the tour, including my husband told me it was a wise decision to go back. If I was having a panic attack seeing the canyon through the fog, imagine what it would have been like when the skies cleared! I think it is good to know our limits. I would have preferred to know my limits before I got on the mule. But that’s okay, at least I can say I tried.  

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