Our trip had been fun, but started with a few disappointments. Our flight the first day was delayed, which meant we landed in Vegas at 2AM—excellent for a bachelorette party, but not so great with an 11 and 9 year old. Our planned time at the pool the next morning was delayed a few hours because another family who braved Sin City with children had let said children leave a deposit in the pool—what life guards called a “bio,” an impressively elegant term for poop that I still find myself appreciating days later. And for various reasons, our RV rental was delayed just long enough that we had to pass right on through our first planned National Park and had to view Zion as we cruised through at 30 mph. Beautiful, but not the soak-it-all-in experience I’d imagined to kick off our 8 day, 6 park RV dream trip.

Several things had gone right, though. Anyone who’d asked about our trip ahead of time—family, friends, acquaintances, the strangers who booked me into our scheduled RV stops over the phone—knew my biggest fear was that our RV and the man we were renting from didn’t exist. My husband thought this fear was illegitimate. We had rented it through the legit VRBO-like site, Outdoorsy. But to be fair, we’ve all heard fraud nightmare stories about AirBNBs before. And to be extra fair, our rental owner is a skydive instructor…and a NASCAR driver…and he starred on ABC’s Castaways in 2019. So you might be with me in wondering if poor Matt Jaskol’s identity had been stolen and we’d be pulling into a suburban Vegas house, knocking on a door to find a confused old woman who would rather be on her way to her Thursday slots stop than having me sobbing on her shoulder, telling her I knew it the whole time.

Relief of all reliefs, we pulled in and there was Matt, my favorite professional racecar driver of all time. After gushing to him that in my fears about his fake identity, I’d binge-watched his show, we toured the RV and got the most thorough description of how RVs work (and bonus juicy reality TV production behind the scenes intel!). Our RV, Mia, beautiful baby that she is, got us to Bryce Canyon and we were raring to hike the next day.

Our kids had never hiked, so because of their inexperience, we planned a hike that could be flexible—one small loop if things weren’t going well, with an option to extend it to a full day hike when we got near the end of that first loop. The thrill started, though, when the shuttle dropped us off at the rim and we got our first view of the valley from above, filled with orange and white stacks of hoodoos that look like rock melted from the sky and solidified into goopy towers. Huge pines blend from above into delicious green splashes of contrasting color.

I was torn between taking in the view and looking at the kids’ faces, which were glowing with anticipation and awe. We hiked a flat half-mile along the rim, and I tried to impress on the kids the reality of the day—we are going down in there, and then back up. I think their Midwest-grown minds were too busy processing the fact that the world could be this beautiful to hear me.

At the start of the hike—a slow descent into the canyon, we stopped at almost every bend to take pictures. It made me wonder how a photographer could ever make it very far on a hike in a place like this, where every angle of every step offers a new most amazing thing you’ve ever seen. Eventually we realized our pictures all were doing the same job of placing us in this indescribable place and not actually capturing the extent of the glory. We started putting one foot in front of the other and making progress.

Before we left on the hike, our dear friends the Knotts helped us out with planning. They have 2 daughters who happen to be my favorite teenagers in the world, and spend every summer hiking the National Parks together as a family. They asked what kind of hiking we thought our kids could handle. I said I imagined they could do 5-10 miles easily—after all, at Disney several years ago they put in 17-20 miles a day. The Knotts (lovingly) laughed at me and said that distance doesn’t matter nearly as much as elevation, a concept we’d fully grasp by the end of this first hiking trip. Because their daughters are older, they set us up with Camelbacks their kids had outgrown—the most essential item we probably wouldn’t have thought of ourselves—another marker of our hiking naivety.

An hour or so into this hike, WallyBen asked me what the difference is between hiking and walking. “It’s the same. You’re just putting one foot in front of the other,” he argued. I tried differentiations throughout our hike—nature, intention, beauty, trails—but debater that he his, he kept putting up roadblocks to my reasoning. I’d ponder the thought the rest of the week.

The trail we were on was about 3-4 feet wide and wound around the hoodoos until it reached the base. We started the day at 50 degrees, and it heated up to the 70s over time. We stripped off our long sleeves and had a family meeting. There, we were about 2 miles in, and had gasped at the beauty every twist and turn. The family had not had even close to enough, so we unanimously voted to add on the longer loop and make a whole day of it.

The first loop was more popular, so on the second we got to experience more solitude, the sound of cicadas clicking in the pines around us. The cicadas, when they make their appearance in Illinois, make a horrible buzzing racket that sounds like construction work happening just outside your door all day every day. But in Bryce Canyon, where nature decided to focus all of its attention to beauty in every sense, they click like they are sending you gentle morse code encouragements as you go along.

We spent the rest of the morning working our way up and down and way up and way down and so on, all the way to the Wall of Windows. Although all of Bryce Canyon is beautiful, certain parts have names because they stand out as spectacular. A couple snuggling into the shadows soaking in the view offered to take a shot of our whole family before they moved on. Just past that point, we enjoyed a lunch of PBJ and what we decided to call Chee-doos the rest of the trip. No need to explain.

I noticed throughout the trip that overall, hikers are the best. They were patient with pictures and passings. They made way when the situation called for it. They encouraged the kids toward the end of hard hikes.

There were some groups that weren’t having as good of a time as we were, though. A family we kept yo-yoing with on this day looked like ours would in 5 years or so—teenage kids with a mom and dad. The dad was very gung-ho for moving fast and hard. (Or at least, he dressed the part of moving fast. The determined look, the walking sticks…in reality he moved about as fast as our group.) When we rested, he charged past us. The mom was clearly struggling to keep up—she trailed behind the dad by a good 100 yards every time we caught up to them. The poor teenagers were rushing back and forth between parents, unsure where they belonged. At one point later in the hike, the dad blew by us, the kids followed shortly thereafter, and we slowed our pace a tiny so the mom could do the same—go by and join her family. The thing was, she didn’t. She hiked right behind us, making herself the rear of our group. By that point, I believe, she was sick of the dad’s antics and decided we were her best chance at enjoying the day. She was our family now. (She had to reluctantly rejoin her family 15 minutes later when they stopped to see where she was. I imagined their conversation and feelings at the end of this hike that they were doing together but not together. Not many smiles at that campsite.)

If that really was her thinking, I get it. Our family was learning to hike, but we had the important bits down. Enjoy the view. Enjoy each other. Husband Wally (who also could have blown by everyone and been the first done with the hike) set a pace that worked for us all. He helped Vivvi down the larger steps and jumps—he’d offer her his hand, and at one point she remarked, “I feel like a princess!” Vivvi sometimes led and energetically kept us going. WallyBen was a basket of cheer, and he kept turning around to check on me where the gravel was slippery or where the elevation gain was extreme. I liked to hike in the back so I could see all my ducklings.

We accomplished the second loop and had only about a mile to go when Vivvi went silent. It had been an exhilarating but exhausting day. We saw the sign that we had .5 miles to go and we’d be done. After the first 7.5 miles, it felt like nothing! But Vivvi had had enough, and instead of complaining or crying or sighing or yelling or yodeling her pain, she went internal. We all stopped and let her know the good news. Only .5 miles! Clif bar. Water. Rest. Then you can do it!

We walked through an incredible canyon and admired the closed in space with the light filtering through. Then we went another hundred yards or so and saw it— the last .3 miles, affectionately titled Wall Street. Somehow we hadn’t realized that we were at the bottom of the canyon, and it ends at the top. So switchback city it was—back and forth at an angle about 1 million times and we’d be done! (Zoom in on this pic to see the tiny people at the top.)

We looked at each other. We grasped our amazement at what we were facing and tipped it into energy. We took a deep breath. No way to go but up! We paused at the end of the switchbacks to rest and look down the way we’d come. At each one, we couldn’t believe that moments ago we had been way down there.

When we were done with the hike, Husband Wally showed me this picture of that beautiful canyon-like space at the bottom of Wall Street—every time I see it, my heart fills so full that my eyes well over. I’m not sure if it’s from the beauty, or from pride that the kids made it this far, or from the idea that none of us have any idea what is around the corner. Or maybe it’s just that we did this—together.

A few days later, on another hike, Husband Wally finally landed on the best answer to WallyBen’s question. Hiking is walking, with adventure. Here’s to many more in our future.

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