Editor's Note: This column first appeared in the Metropolis Planet on March 29, 1984.

Backpacking in the Grand Canyon is:

A. The most horrible form of suicide.

B. An unforgettable experience.

C. Very dangerous.

D. A quick way to lose weight.

E. All of the above.

Having just completed a trip which included five days of backpacking into and out of the canyon, I would have to say: All of the above.

If vacations are supposed to get you away from your everyday life, this one was great. I got away from newspapers, television, hot water, a soft bed and regular meals.

I got into beautiful scenery, totally exhausting work, an opportunity to interrelate with 14 strangers, a chance to experience wilderness on a personal basis and an appreciation of the smallest luxury.

n n n

The trip of which I speak was through the Touch of Nature center at SIU-C. I joined 11 other hikers and three leaders for this rare adventure.

The group included people of all ages and background, from 18-year-old college students to a 50-year-old retired man. The group of eight males and seven females came from all areas, southern Illinois, Chicago, India and Japan. So, we were not only diverse in age, but also in culture and language.

Some members of the group were experienced hikers. Others were as inexperienced as I. The retired man had done both hiking and hiking (along bike trip last summer). The boy from Japan has twice climbed Mt. Fuji.

One of the best inexperienced hikers was a 40-year-old farm wife from Anna. She has spent a lot of time walking during the past year on her way to losing 50 pounds and I just could not keep up with her when it came to hiking.

n n n

As anyone with half sense knows, in order to explore the Grand Canyon, you first have to get there. For a while we did not think we were going to make it.

Flying out would have been nice. Going on a bus would have been acceptable. But for this low-budget operation, we put 15 people into what is called a 15 passenger van and threw the gear into a trailer.

Unfortunately our SIU van had over 80,000 miles on it and did not particularly want to go to Arizona. It would run for a while, then quit. But it always started up and went some more.

After leaving Carbondale at 2:30 p.m. Friday, we finally got to Springfield, Mo. just before midnight. There we had a new fuel filter installed and headed out again.

The van ran better after that, at least for a while, and as the sun came up we were passing through Oklahoma City. We then made "Amarillo by (late) morning" and stopped for a real treat" lunch at Wendy's.

That afternoon as we approached Tucumcari, the van went on the fritz again so we pulled into San Jon, New Mexico for repairs.

Now San Jon is a place everyone ought to go " once."

The small town is just off Interstate 40 and has apparently gone to the dogs since the new highway re-routed the traffic.

There are business buildings scattered along a wide four-lane main street. The only trouble is many of the buildings are falling down.

We stopped for repairs at what looked to be a combination garage and auto graveyard. I guess if they could not fix it for you, they would at least provide you with a place to abandon it. Luckily, the mechanic was able to get the van going again and we were able to leave that quaint little village.

At 8 p.m. we dropped into a valley and the lights of Albuquerque looked as if they went forever.

From Santa Fe westward was new territory for me but both going and coming were in the dark. I wonder what it looks like in daylight?

Continuing on in the van we ate apples, sandwiches and passed around a water jug so we did not have to stop for meals. .... Some of the younger people were able to sleep in various positions as we drove, but others of us were not getting much shut-eye. Packed in like sardines, there was no hope for comfort or privacy.

After riding approximately 39 hours we made the Grand Canyon just before daylight on Sunday.

It may seem crazy but we jumped out of the van and went to look over the edge. Of course, we couldn't see anything but a big black hole. But, we could feel a vast emptiness before us and hear the wind blow up the canyon.

We could also feel the wind blow. And, at 30- 40 mph plus about freezing temperatures, the edge of the canyon was a very cold place to be.

We quickly jumped back into the van and headed for the campground there on the South Rim.

I shivered as I spread out a sleeping bag between patches of snow. After riding in the van, I thought anything else would feel good but crawling into a cold sleeping bag sure made me long for a nice warm waterbed. ; ,

Rolling around in the cold bag trying to get comfy also gave me time to wonder "what am I doing here?"

Next week: Down in the big ditch

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