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Two worlds apart

Published: 
Friday, September 18, 2015
Dirt Under the Nails
Welshman Colin Fletcher.... man who walked through time

I write this today with a somewhat heavy heart. I never knew the Welshman Colin Fletcher, but had read his book titled “The Man Who Walked Through Time.” It was about his experience as the first man to walk the length of the Grand Canyon contained within the 1963 boundaries of the Grand Canyon National Park, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. He was a pioneering backpacker, having walked the entire length of California alone, among other impressive feats, resulting in another book called “The Complete Walker,” a bible to backpacking enthusiasts. 

On my most recent trip to the Grand Canyon earlier this month, this time to its North Rim, I was ignorant of the fact that Fletcher had passed away in 2007. Having recently read “The Man Who Walked Through Time” in preparation for my trip, I somehow assumed that he was still alive; at least it certainly felt so as I backpacked into the Canyon. 

Time stands still in the Grand Canyon. A million years is but a mere minute in geological time, and so it seemed as if our 7 hour hike was over in as fleeting a moment as the ephemeral breezes that blow through the Canyon. The sunset-coloured textured landscape engulfs the backpacker as she descends into this huge crevice of the earth.

Around each corner on the precipice-edged trail, the walls of the cliffs would open, like curtains in a Cirque du Soleil production, to expose a performance of Mother Earth at her most supreme—and in those moments, I could understand the philosophical ramblings of Colin Fletcher, and what the Canyon could do to a person who allows its impressions to infiltrate her sensibility like rainwater seeping into the desert sediment. It was as if the human world above the rim of the Canyon did not exist, and I felt immersed in what Fletcher saw and felt on his journey, as if I were also doing it with him. 

Alone on this seldom traveled 10 mile trail, except for the occasional unaccompanied backpacker, the Canyon is tranquil, free from the intrusion of human voices and noise, yet filled with sounds of the wind blowing through brush, the occasional bird surfing an air current overhead, and the gently labouring sound of my breath, almost in unison with my feet as they trudged along the dirt trail.

The solitude is healing. Inevitably, this “major order of experience” as described by a river guide in the Canyon, provides an overwhelming reminder of the trifling existence and insignificance of man and his irrelevant affairs when set against the grandiosity of nature’s power in geologic time. 

I re-entered the world above the rim and left the Canyon grudgingly after 3 days to go to a place that could not be more opposite in every form and fashion…Las Vegas. From black to white; from Ying to Yang; from peace to invasive chaos. In Vegas, I felt the materialism and unhealthy lifestyles of sleepless nights and addiction, void of any physical activity save pulling the levers of slot machines and bringing cigarettes and booze to mouth, fence me in like the slamming of a prison cell door.

The freedom and peace of the Canyon gave way to frustration, noise and the babel of frenzied party-seekers and gamblers. Inspiring natural beauty was replaced by artificiality…man’s failed attempt to create an “oasis” in the middle of the Nevada desert. Las Vegas encouraged every vice and nasty quality humans possess…addiction, materialism, intrusion, obesity, money…madness. Unfortunately, in many ways, it reminded me of a certain island in the Southern Caribbean. 

I was glad to leave, as I am sure Colin Fletcher would have been as well. While I was saddened to hear of his death, despite not knowing the man, his words and experience live on in his books, and in the experiences of anyone who succumbs to the lure of the Grand Canyon. That’s my addiction…and I shall return, next time to transect it. But I will not return to Vegas. It is not the view I want. As Fletcher himself wrote, 

“Dedicated urbanites "know" beyond shadow of doubt – because doubt never raises its disturbing head - that civilization is the real world: you only "escape" to wilderness. When you're out and away and immersed, you "know" the obverse: the wilderness world is real, the human world a superimposed facade... The controversy is, of course, spurious. Neither view can stand alone. Both worlds are real. But the wilderness world is certainly older and will almost certainly last longer. Besides, the second view seems far healthier for a human to embrace.” — Colin Fletcher in River (1997).

Carla Rauseo, DPT, CSCS, ATRIC is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Certified Aquatic Therapy Rehabilitation Instructor at Total Rehabilitation Centre in San Juan. http://www.totalrehabtt.com

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