A typical Sunday. After the morning church service, I arrive home for lunch prepared by my beloved wife. Then later that afternoon, I leave my wife in a fair state of health and well-being as I make my way to a pub where I was to meet several friends. Then I returned home a couple of hours later - to find my wife talking to an out-of-hours doctor over the phone. The conversation ended with her assurance that an ambulance will arrive at our address within the next couple of hours.
Oh no, not again!
And I guessed right. Another case of infection. The ambulance arrived and its gentle-natured crew members whisked my beloved away, leaving me alone in the house for the next four nights.
|Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon.|
Visting her at Frimley was straightforward. A fast, direct bus service linked the bus stop near the Leisure Centre to the hospital. As a senior citizen, the possession of a magnetised bus pass allowed me a free ride. However, it's a pity that such a service runs only up to lunchtime, with no more direct buses during the afternoon or evening - the time of day when visiting numbers start to increase. Therefore, the return journey later in the day takes twice as long and entails a change of bus as it winds its way through housing estates. But at least both out and back journeys were free.
While Alex was in her inpatient ward, at another part of the same hospital, one of our church leaders was very ill with both heart failure and Covid as he lay in his bed, gasping for breath. It was while Alex had fallen asleep that I crept out and asked the main receptionist where I can find this particular patient, that I had gotten a chance for a quick visit.
When I entered his side room, a well-decorated and fully-equipped private bedroom with music playing at a gentle volume, he looked at me as if surprised. Whether he actually recognised me or not, to this day I will never know. For just two or three days later, he passed away. However, I have no regrets about finding time to pay a quick visit. And quick it was, no more than ten minutes spent praying silently for him, whether to return him to us or be called home.
Those last few days for him were very sad, tragic, really. Unable to talk, all he was able to do was let out grunts as he struggled to breathe. Yet he was more than a mere church leader. A former maths teacher, he entered full-time church ministry as a pastor whilst he was still living in London. He then brought his growing family to live in Bracknell where he became one of four elders of the leadership team at Ascot Baptist Church, later to become Ascot Life Church. Furthermore, it was he who married us in 1999, and since then, he was an excellent Bible teacher.
His passing away occurred just a couple of weeks after my grandmother-in-law, or my wife's grandmother died while asleep. Despite my beloved's initial weeping, we both knew that she is now in Heaven in the Lord's arms and enjoying eternal rest at such a glorious place.
And so, alone at home I sat and pondered on the demise of these two, yet feeling grateful that the antibiotic treatment she received was beginning to take effect, and soon she will be back home with me. But as I sat alone, I was also feeling very low. And when I browsed through Facebook, and up scrolled a beautiful snapshot of the Havasu Falls, I gasp in amazement! The falls are located at the Havasu Creek Canyon, the stream, itself a tributary of the Colorado River, is deep within the Grand Canyon. The natural turquoise pool in front of the waterfall is also an ideal bathing spot where tired hikers can strip down and find refreshing coolness in the warm sunshine, with the turquoise water contrasting vividly with the green shrubbery nearby and the brown sandstone layers of the towering canyon walls surrounding the area.
As I gazed upon this picture of such a beautiful paradise, I felt a longing to be there, far away from all life's troubles, combined with a feeling of deep regret that, while I was at the Canyon South Rim, I never had the chance to visit the falls. Not only was I unaware of them at the time, but even if I was aware, a car would have been necessary to transport me over 112 miles, 182 km downstream to the Havasu trailhead, or walk the 46-mile trail from the Village in between 15-23 hours. Dear me! It goes to show just how big the park really is.
As I gazed longingly at the photo, I felt my emotions sink even lower, even as I acknowledged the power of God in his creation and how the Creator loves aesthetics. Then, as if God was reminding me, not everyone who visits the Canyon has the ability or the privilege to hike down to see the River.
|Mule Cargo Train at Phantom Ranch, taken 1995.|
Therefore, to settle my rising curiosity, I ploughed through the Internet to find out the percentage of visitors who actually hike down to the bottom. According to one official website, the exact number of total park visitors in 2017, well before the Covid pandemic, was 6,254,236 people. In 2018, it was 6,380,495, and in 2019, it was 5,974,411. What gets me, is how on earth they keep such accurate counts when it was expected to approximate the last three digits of each of the annual counts to zeroes? By finding the mean average, the number comes to 6,203,047 visitors a year.
Then for the Corridor hikers only, that is, those who hiked either the Bright Angel Trail (as I did), the South Kaibab, the North Kaibab or a combination of two of the three trails, I found out that the maximum capacity of Phantom Ranch Lodge is 90 guests. Nearby, the Bright Angel Campground has 32 sites. Assuming that there are two people in each tent, as when I was walking the trail, nearly all other hikers were in pairs, let's say that there were 64 sleeping at the site. This, along with the 90 at the Ranch, would total 154 sleepers at any one night. To allow for error, I'll say 160 people sleep near the Colorado River every night of the year, including Christmas. Annually, that is 58,400 altogether*
Also, I recall the 1978 hike down into the Canyon on the same trail. After spending the night at Phantom Ranch (very lucky then, as it was due to a cancellation) I was hiking back up the next day when I was overtaken by three mules (and yes, I think I wrote about this here, fairly recently). The first mule was ridden by a park ranger, the second mule carried a rucksack, and the third was ridden by an exhausted and distressed female hiker.
This brings me to further statistics. In 2018, for example, there were 165 search and rescue incidents between May and September inclusive, out of the 265 for the whole year. In addition, there were 254 minor injuries on the trails and 17 fatalities. Even I didn't escape. On the 1995 hike, right at the last section of the trail, I went down with hyponatremia. This is a condition when the salt content in the bloodstream reaches a critical low, especially after drinking a lot of water. The symptoms of this malady are painful leg cramps. However, after a night spent alone at the 1.5-mile rest station, I managed to complete the hike successfully without aid, after completing 23 miles, of which 21.5 miles in less than two days. At the trailhead, I was met by a ranger who took me to the park clinic, where a nurse gave me a cup of electrolyte drink and told me to rest for an hour.
This goes to show that utter respect for the desert environment is so necessary for survival. As I had already said recently, in comparison to others, I'm not a very strong walker but one who is weaker than others of my age, even back in 1995. However, by having a strong sense of determination, I was able to fulfil what Paul wrote, that I can do all things through him who strengthens me.** I have found that having faith in God through Jesus Christ is a tonic, a help when in need, a source of comfort when feeling troubled, and also an antidote for fear and depression. And through this faith, I can be grateful for what I have achieved and be thankful.
Therefore, I could take comfort that, despite missing out on the Havasu Falls and its turquoise pool, I'm one of the 0.94% of all visitors who dared hike to the bottom and looked up at the fascinating display of the Milky Way and all its stars directly above!
As I sat alone on the sofa, I began to feel better emotionally as I reflect on the past. How I would love to do it all again! But knowing how much my physical prowess has diminished over the years, I realise that it would never be. Instead, I have memories, wonderful memories, of past experiences, and I can say, indeed, how much God has blessed me. And that includes the strong sense of curiosity and determination behind such endeavours.
Yes, you can accuse me of boasting and acting like a braggart, but if my experience with depression has any worth, then sitting on your own and thinking back on your achievements may indeed pull you out of your rut, as it did with me. Then again, you may have some regrets, like I have in missing out on a visit to Havasu Falls. But, instead, you may be a parent who had raised your children to the level of graduating to a degree level, and who are now raising their own kids. I have once read a story about a poor, uneducated couple who not only raised their children successfully but among their children, grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren, there were doctors and engineers.
|Plaque at Grand Canyon Village - Psalm 104.|
We will never have such a privilege. Instead, it's hoped that Alex and I will grow old together. The main blessing, however, is that we will both die in Christ. Death is a sad reality, something that is so unnatural. Rivers of tears flow freely over the centuries since Adam rebelled against God, and therefore, all of us inherit a sinful nature. But the good news is that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, buried, and three days later, he rose physically from the dead, according to the Scriptures. Therefore, the righteousness of Christ is imputed or credited to everyone who believes.
For God the Father to see you and me in exactly the same way he sees his only begotten Son! Such a wonderful truth is the guarantee that one day we will all be reunited in glory forever. And these include our late church leader and Alex's grandmother.
*Guests at Phantom Ranch would have included mule riders. Before the pandemic, there could have been as many as 20 riders sleeping at the lodge and quite likely even more. Taking this number into account, the number of hikers asleep by the Colorado River would have been 140 per night, or 51,500 a year. This would bring the annual percentage down to 0.82% of all visitors.