Wednesday, June 10, 2015

One Year Left

What would you do if they only gave you a year to live? That’s the situation I’m faced with right now.

You might spend some time coming to grips with it, then plan out an epic year full of family and friends and parties and eating and drinking.

I can’t do that.

You see, the news of my impending demise didn’t come from a doctor. It came from my rather adventurous mother-in-law, who called yesterday to tell me the “good news.”

“I just booked us for a mule ride down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon next June!”

That momentarily sounded like fun until I did a little internet research on this non-refundable adventure that I’m now contractually and familial-ly obligated to go on.

The mule ride company’s website started out sounding great. There is no Grand Canyon adventure more rewarding or more unique than a mule ride.  The overnight rides go deep into the canyon, staying overnight at Phantom Ranch. If you think the view from the rim takes your breath away, wait until you experience the Grand Canyon from within.

Then I found the You Tube videos from former riders capturing the experience. After watching the videos, I assume the cameras were found by hikers at the bottom of the Grand Canyon near the bodies of the riders and their mules. I now assume that the overnight spot is known as Phantom Ranch because no one ever actually gets there, and it doesn’t actually exist.

The trail appears to be about half a mule wide, and carved by God-only-knows-who into the side of the actual rock wall of the actual Grand Canyon, which, as it turns out, appears to be about nine million feet deep.

When my bowels recovered from the videos, I made it back to the company’s website and found out the really good news. Riders must weigh less than 200 pounds (90 kg), fully dressed.

I immediately weighed myself. I weigh 210 pounds naked. I wonder how much 90kg is?

I called my mother-in-law to break the news to her.

“Quit complaining. You’ll be fine. Just lose ten pounds.”
“Fully dressed!” I reiterated.
“OK, fifteen. What are you worried about? You have a whole year. Suck it up.”

As I hung up the phone from my super-helpful pep talk, my wife came home from the doctor’s office with even better news.

“I just had my physical. They weighed me on their scale, and it turns out our scale is about five pounds off.”
“Well that’s good news.”
“No, the other way. You’re heavier than you think.”

I re-read the website. Yep... fully dressed. Do you think they mean what I’m going to wear on the mule, or just dressed enough not to be arrested?

I kept reading.

Our mules are thoroughly trained, and are well adapted to the unique environment and work situation at Grand Canyon. Although we have over 100 years of experience working with mules, they are animals and not always predictable. The restrictions we place on our rides are intended for safety and to avoid distracting or disturbing the mules. There are always elements of risk due to trail conditions, other trail users, and sudden appearances of wildlife native to Grand Canyon. While serious accidents or injury seldom occur, risk is minimized by carefully following the trail guide’s instructions.

I’m not sure if any of that paragraph was intended to put me at ease, but if so, it failed. Here are two problems I see right off the bat:

Problem Number One:
You have over one hundred years of experience with this? That’s great and all, but that does nothing to make me feel better about the trail. Long trains of giant, heavy mules have been plodding up and down this trail for over one hundred years. That’s a lot of wear and tear. When was the last time a trail on the side of a cliff got wider with age?

Problem Number Two:
I have to assume that you cannot “thoroughly train” a mule to go up and down a tightrope-width trail at a thirty-seven degree angle on the face of a cliff without having him or her do it a bunch of times. That first time seems like it would be dangerous and scary for everyone involved. So, that being said, would you, as the mule owner, want to train a bunch of new mules all the time, or would you want to use your “thoroughly trained” mules all the time?

You see where I’m going with that? In a year from now, I’m going to get on a mule that either, A) is new to all this, or B) has done this so many times he or she has lost the will to live.

Either scenario is not good, but the slight edge goes to Molly the suicidal mule for being the scarier option. (Side note: “Suicidal Mule” would be a good name for a rock band.)

The suicidal mule problem puts even more pressure on me from a weight loss standpoint, because I’m very sure that I don’t want to just barely make the cut off.

“Good morning, Molly. Thanks again for doing the same thing every single day for the last twenty years. Here’s another 199.6-pound tourist for you to schlep down into the canyon while he kicks you and tries to give you orders that mean absolutely nothing to you. When you get down to the bottom... well, you know the drill. Have some oats and a nice nap, and then as a reward for your patience and service to the company for all these years, you get to carry him back up here. Then we’ll do the same thing again for the rest of your life. Have a great day!”

So now, based on how far out of whack my scale actually is, I really need to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty-five pounds in the next year. So what will most likely be the last year of my life is going to be spent not eating pizza, not drinking beer, and running a lot. Super.

There was one bright spot for a moment. If I don’t lose the weight, the mule guys won’t let me go, so I won’t die from falling into the Grand Canyon.

That bright spot faded quickly, however, when I considered it further. I’d better lose the weight, because if I can get skinny enough, there’s a very slight chance I’ll survive the trip, but if I don’t lose the weight, there’s a one hundred percent chance my mother-in-law will kill me.

I’m between a rock and a hard place here, which, ironically, is where I’ll be on the mule, too.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

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