A few times we thought about leaving early because of rumors of bad storms coming, but we decided to stay and I’m glad we did. On our last night we ate dinner as rain rolled in, we packed up as much gear as we could and retired to our tents with another 3am wake up call. By the time we woke up our Swiss neighbors were already gone and the rain had stopped. Their gear waiting with heaps of other gear for the mules to carry at the edge of the campground. As we walked by the loads of backpacks and duffle bags waiting to be strapped to the mules I thought about what would happen if I just shoved my big green pack in the middle of the pile and played dumb when they reached the top later that day. We can all dream... or just pack lighter packs next time.
The way out was a lot like the way in, though this time we walked through Supai in the dark. Dogs from the village would walk along with us for stretches and disappear off into the darkness. We hiked with a group for a while, a family with a young boy and a few couples, but this time the tables had turned. Everyone left us in the dust, the difference was they only had day packs on. The whole way out we did not see another backpacker, every single person had little light packs on and clearly used the pack animals to carry their gear. A few people I saw didn't even have packs, just bottles of water! Despite being slower than the other hikers our time was still right on track. I was in a groove and it felt great to just go. Until three quarters of the way out the terrain suddenly became steeper, and steeper. My pace slowed, my breathing increased, my shoulders began to burn from the straps of my pack pulling down on them. My mind grew panicky thinking about how tired and sore I was becoming and we still have the last section to go, the switchbacks. This is when I decided I preferred hiking in the dark. I kept thinking I could see them ahead, I kept looking for the signal light at the ranger station at the top of the hill as an indication that “the end was near," but couldn’t find it.
Then a mile or so later, we were upon them, the switchbacks. It was brutal. I would round a few corners, and tell myself “one more before you stop,” sit, rest, pant, drink water, find my boyfriend down trail and make sure he was ok, get back up, round two more corners, repeat. Then it was every corner, then it was every 50 steps, then every 20 steps… I would stop and feel myself becoming choked up between weezy breaths. Overcome with emotion and frustrated at my lack of “toughness” and athleticism. I thought I was in better shape than this. Granted I did have a 65L pack on my back full of water and heavy camera equipment that I insisted on bringing with. But still… People would walk by and say encouraging things to me, and I just remember making breathing noises in response. I couldn’t muster words. Slowly the hilltop became closer and closer until I could hear the murmur of the people gathered around the ranger station waiting for the mules to arrive with their belongings. I recognized almost all of them from the trail or camp. I could see the Swiss family there. Finally, after what seemed like hours I made it to the end of the trail. The small crowd let out a few cheers and someone I had spoken to earlier said “Yeah, go Philly!” I just looked over, smiled and almost jogged over to our car (now even more thankful for the close parking spot we had). Even those last steps from the edge of the trail to the car seemed like the length of two football fields. In reality it was less than 50ft. I Dropped my pack off my back and let a few dramatic tears well up in my eyes wondering if I would ever catch my breath again and wondering if I would ever be so thankful to finish a hike in my whole life. Not before turning around and jogging back down the trail to find my partner. Still unable to catch my breath I found him rounding the second to last switchback. I unclipped his and carried his sleeping bag and we finished together. The ranger could see the lack of skin on my shoulders from my pack and made a comment about it. I laughed it off and felt like a goofy newb. It had started to rain, the wind was stronger at the top and the temperature was now noticeably colder than I remembered. Sweaty, dirty, and shivering I could only think about the peanut butter and slices of bread we had lifted from the hotel continental breakfast four nights prior. It was glorious.
We drove away while everyone continued to wait in the cold and rain for their gear, it was then I was thankful I opted to carry my pack out. We headed towards the Grand Canyon’s South Rim laughing, delirious and recounting our whole experience. A few hours later we stopped at a little touristy spot along Route 66. When we wandered inside my boyfriend was delighted to find bathrooms and free coffee, I was excited about the two dogs with the older man working the register. I asked to pet the dogs and he asked if we were coming form Supai. “Yep! How could you tell?” I asked sarcastically. We stuck out like sore thumbs amongst the throngs of retirees and families who had just come out of tour busses shopping for postcards and key chains.