Vaya Con Dios

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At least for a while, until that point when the rim was clearly within reach and suddenly the mind began to allow the fatigue of 25 miles of hiking to become the dominant thought, making each step progressively heavier.

We regrouped at the 1.5 Mile Rest House and were met by scads of tourists who had dropped in from the South Rim for a day hike.

The top was now within sight, and we spread out, each of us lost in his own world. Joey darted up the canyon's face, and I soon lost sight of his head, now covered with a broad-brimmed hiking hat, his skating ball cap stuffed into his pack.

I reached the top, and Joey welcomed me with a loud whoop. We embraced and started laughing. Jeff came up next, thrusting his arms in victory while wearing a Grateful Dead tee shirt depicting the Lithuanian Olympic basketball team.

Jed, burdened with a heavy pack he carried throughout the trip with never a word of complaint or waver, crossed the threshold a couple of minutes later. We exchanged high-fives in a joyful celebration of what we had accomplished in under 36 hours. A Japanese tourist took a group photo using my cell phone camera.

We all gazed across the canyon to the other side.

We had traversed one of the World's Great Wonders. The experience forged an ever-lasting bond between us.

I was filled with hope.

"Hey, man," I said to myself. "I just hiked from there! If I can do that, I can do anything."

A few days after the canyon hike, I set off on a solo tour of the West. I crossed the Navajo Reservation with a spectacular sunset at my back. I darted through Four Corners into the San Juan Mountains, twisting past Durango and Silverton and down to Ouray, Colorado, and its soothing hot springs.

I was being drawn somewhere, for some reason, but I did not know where or why. I was just happy to be on the road.

"Just do what you want to do," I kept telling myself. "Move forward, one step at a time."

Into Wyoming I ventured. Through the great vast rolling hills near Medicine Bow and down, down, down to Jackson Hole — where I found a campsite at the base of my destination 22 years earlier, the Grand Tetons.

It was late when I set up my tent, and I wondered what dawn would bring to my eyes. It was miraculous!

The Grand Tetons' majestic peaks jutted from the horizon. At their base stretched a vast meadow bisected by a river. Buffalo wandered across the horizon. Timeless.

I had made it to the spot that became forged in my heart so long ago — on that day when I had ventured there from my Virginia home with Bear at my side.

And the mountains spoke to me.

They said it was time to move on, move on from the comfort of a job, from the fat paycheck and the notoriety. It was time to look around. Wait. Be patient. Listen. Rest. Recharge.

And then attack like never before.

That was an awfully big command to follow — leave one of the best jobs in American journalism at New Times for no guarantees in the future.

So I continued my journey hoping the thought would go away. But it grew stronger with each passing day.

I picked up the Lewis and Clark Trail near Bozeman, Montana, and followed it across the Lolo Pass of central Idaho, down the Columbia River Gorge and to the Pacific Coast to Fort Clatsop, where the Corps of Discovery spent a dreadfully long, wet winter in 1805-06 before setting back to "the States."

I marveled about the incredible toughness and determination of the members of the corps. I was in awe of how the young Indian woman Sacagawea carried her infant son across half of North America through an unspoiled and wild landscape.

My mental wrestling match over whether to leave the paper seemed absurd when compared to the trepidation that must have gone through the minds of each member of the Corps of Discovery as they set off in 1804 from St. Louis and headed up the Missouri River into uncharted territory.

Inspired by the hike across the Grand Canyon with my sons and my dear friend, I thought, "What the hell? I can take a bit of a risk and venture into the unknown and see what happens.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty