Just when you’re almost to the top, a mule farts.

Not quite ten years ago, my husband Chuck and I walked rim to rim in the Grand Canyon. That’s seven miles down the South Rim, seven miles across the canyon floor, and seven miles back up to the North Rim, which sits at 8,000 feet. We trained for about three or four months (it seems like longer because we talked about training for at least a year), and yet still, it was physically the hardest thing I had ever done.

My pack was too heavy and my boots were too tight. After quaking and sweating in our tent on the first night through a wind squall with 1,000 degree wind balls continuously roaring through Bright Angel Creek canyon and into our spindly tent, we nearly gave up. After not getting far enough off the trail to take care of some personal business, crouching behind an inadequate scrub bush while an entire troop of Boy Scouts walked by, I wanted to give up. After watching Chuck’s toe turn blue when he dropped a big rock on it, I wanted to give up on his behalf. After drinking hot Gatorade and eating cold dinners, after my ankles broke out in a mysterious rash, after meeting hiker after hiker who looked as if they were making the journey in a much easier fashion than we were, I wanted to give up.

Walking across the Grand Canyon is a great metaphor of life, love and business. We wake up each day with expectation and anticipation of a lovely adventure. We look forward to the scenery, the challenge, and the experience. We may have anxieties as well. Scorpions and rattlesnakes are very real threats. The heat of a moment saps our energy and crushes our will to take one more step forward. Yet, we do. We want to get to the top – wherever that may be.

Back in our not-so-real life, we find that Facebook can turn fetid and Twitter toxic. It seems as if someone is always stinking up the place. Your spouse gives you the silent but deadly treatment. The person in the next cubicle cuts one and you’re expected to be a grownup and maintain your dignity. A friend or family member is constantly tooting their own malodorous horn, making you want to run out of the room holding your nose. Yep.

Even in the Grand Canyon, there’s no escaping the sometimes putrid impediments as you struggle toward the top. Imagine our third day, and we are crawling – I mean hiking – out of the canyon. The day is spectacular and the temperature is cooling as we get further and further up. There are fresh, cold water sources which means no more hot Gatorade. And despite the blisters and aching muscles, we are happy. Really, really happy. We’re going to do this thing. We’re going to make it to the top. Just when we can actually see the top, through three more switchbacks and the tall trees (the North Rim has alpine flora), we have to stop, and stand to the inside of the trail for a guided mule train tour coming down. It’s the rules. The head mule driver person will yell at us if we don’t stop and wait. So we do. We actually wait and wait and wait, because right in front of us, they all come to a halt for a little orientation speech. We can see the top, but we can’t get there yet.

Finally – finally! The mule driver finishes, and the beasts and their burdens start to slowly amble along. Some people say hello. Some people just stare in disgust and disbelief at our dusty, dirty selves. And about mid-way through the train, as we are still backed against the wall, captive until they all pass, a mule raises its tail, and farts. Right on us. Never in the history of the world has their been a more noxious, vile blast of malodorous gas. All the oxygen is sucked out of the already thin air. We gasp and sputter, unable to speak. Tears pour out of our eyes and make dusty tracks down our cheeks. The mules keep coming and we cannot escape. We are blocked from the top by an equine blast of fumes fraught with deadly funk. We fan the space around us to no avail. We have to wait for the very last mule, and then we shoot up the trail, escaping at last into breathable air.

A few minutes later, we are at the top. We’ve made it down, across, then back up the Grand Canyon. While a lot of people do every year, most people don’t try. We did. We made it. We celebrate, dropping our packs, hugging, whooping, rejoicing.

We often experience the same things in real life. We sputter and fume our way toward the top, only to be felled by a deadly stench that comes out of nowhere and unexpectedly. Our eyes water from the affront. (Someone might even mistake those tears for crying.) We must then wait for our next chance, hold our breath, and be patient, waiting until the felonious fog clears and we can make another attempt to the summit.

Whatever you are going for, in life, in love, in school, in business, or even in marketing, keep in mind these lessons I learned in the Grand Canyon:

  • As Lyle Lovett says in one of his songs, “The harder it is you know the hotter it gets.” Walking down the canyon is hell on the knees and gets hotter at the bottom, to the tune of 105 degrees when we were there in May. But you sometimes have to experience the bottom before you’ll drive yourself up toward the top.
  • The journey itself may try to demand every last ounce of your energy, leaving nothing for anything else. Don’t let your focus on the top keep you from taking pictures or listening to the wind blow around ancient walls.
  • Observe people’s M.O. We met people walking rim to rim in a day. But one of them had a bloody nose.
  • Yes, there are rattlesnakes and scorpions. Try not to step where they live and keep your thoughts out of there.
  • Hold on to an extended hand. Later on the day I hid behind the inadequate bush, the Boy Scouts actually helped us make a difficult creek crossing on a side trail to a waterfall. They assembly-lined our packs just as if we were one of their own. Accept kindness with graciousness.
  • As much as you may want, don’t throw your blister baking boots off the precipice. The trail is rocky and rough, and sometimes you must deal with comments, conversation, people and family that rub you the wrong way.
  • And remember, just when you  think you’re almost to the top, a mule may fart. After gasping and coughing, you’ll find the foul fumes will clear, and you’ll walk on to the top – wherever that may be.

And most likely, in the very next minute, moment, month – or for some of us, the next millennium – you’ll be ready to shrug your pack back on and say, “Okay, what’s next?” But for the rest of your journey, you’ll always remember the mule fart.

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3 Responses to “Just when you’re almost to the top, a mule farts.”

  1. Kelly Langston Says:

    Hilarious…and true! I love this, Aprill. God certainly knows how to keep us humble. How ingenious His addition of bodily functions. Whenever we get too haughty…well, you know.

    Keep posting. Loving them.

  2. Chia-Li Chien Says:

    Aprill, LOVE it!! Someone recently told me in the interview that “entrepreneurs are not patient and only persistent works.” I guess it is not different than the hike in this blog. The difference is you know when you’ll finish the hike. In business, you don’t know and just keep your head up high and keep going. Love it! Thanks for sharing. Chia-Li

  3. Chuck Says:

    You know I’ll never forget this. Great account…and excellent analogies!

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