I woke up, and the room was still dark but my husband wasn't in bed anymore and I could hear him moving around in the kitchen on the VRBO condo we stayed at in Brianhead, Utah.
The green numbers of the clock at my bedside read 4:40.
We were supposed to leave at 5 a.m., and yet I hadn't heard Nate's alarm go off at 4:30.
I got up and went out to the kitchen, where Nate was already dressed and was zipping up his backpacking bag.
"Did the alarm go off?" I asked.
"No, I woke up early."
I quickly moved to put on my hiking clothes, eat a bowl of cereal and drink the Sumatran coffee we had found at the grocery store the night before.
We got in the car while it was still dark outside and found the GPS directions to Bryce Canyon National Park. I quickly slid down the directions and noticed one of the roads we needed to get to was called Fish Hatchery Road.
That's funny, since we live near a fish hatchery.
It turns out, it was good that I quickly looked through those directions and logged them away.
Because soon, we were driving through the mountains and lost cell service. We still had the directions up on our phone, but it took us to a gravel road which we didn't want to test with the brand new Camaro that we had rented, so we continued on the paved road.
Which meant that our original directions no longer worked.
So it was now up to me to use the map that was still on the phone to somehow guide us to the direction that we were going. Which is easier said than done in Utah, because when you're driving through the mountains, roads don't go straight.
The roads that were going east to Bryce Canyon actually started out going south, and then curved west, and looked like they were going the wrong way, until they started to curve south and then east again.
I found where Fish Hatchery Road was and kept us going toward that destination.
Curves, darkness and hopes that I was right. That's all there was.
Oh, and jackrabbits.
But we did find the right road, and the GPS once again found a satellite as we came a bit closer to civilization, or at least as close as Utah gets to civilization in the mountains.
The sun started peaking over the horizon, and made a beautiful picture behind the plateaus that lined the road. We followed the signs to Bryce Canyon --- now clearly marked --- and stopped at an overlook to get a picture of the first glimpse of sunlight that shone over a plateau.
We pulled into Bryce Canyon, and few people were awake at 7 a.m. We passed a bunch of mule deer, which I exclaimed over in delight, and then we went to the lookout that Nate had found online to start our first trail.
The colors were brilliant. Oranges of all shades created the hoodoos that make Bryce Canyon unlike any other place.
We hiked our first loop and were quickly back out.
At 8:15 a.m.
An hour? And we're done? There has to be more.
So, we went back to the map and found a loop that no one had written about online --- the Fairyland Loop. It started at a trailhead just north of the Bryce Canyon park entrance and appeared to be segmented into a couple of chunks that totaled about 8 miles.
It turned out that Fairyland was beautiful and quite deserted. One couple passed us within the first 20 minutes, and they appeared to be quite used to such hikes because their pace was about twice what ours --- mine --- was.
We did leave the trail at one point --- shhh, don't tell anyone --- and climbed up about 30 feet to a little hill that gave us a clear view right down the center of the canyon. The morning sun was lighting up the orange rock like it was ancient times and no one had ever entered this desolate yet beautiful place before. You could see for miles in the distance, straight down the center of the canyon.
We kept hiking, weaving in and out, up and down, and my stomach started to growl. It was going on about six hours since we had eaten our cereal breakfast, and we had purchased MREs to eat for lunch but had left them back in the car to eat when we got done hiking. We figured our hike would take us until about noon.
It was still early, but we found a gorgeous spot high above everything else and we figured we were close to done.
"This would have been a perfect place to eat," Nate said.
"Yeah, I'm hungry. Oh well, we can eat when we get back."
But that turned out to be much longer than I had anticipated.
When I thought we were reaching the culmination of our hike, we went back down a slope to the bottom of the canyon and came across some people coming from the other direction. There was a sign pointing them to a cross-trail, and then a sign pointing us to the direction out of the canyon.
My heart kind of dropped.
I thought we were almost done, and I was tired. 1.7 more miles to get out?
But then the worst part came.
We started hiking uphill.
And more uphill.
And more uphill.
I mean, I knew that we were in a canyon but the fact that our hike would end with us hiking out of that canyon hadn't really crossed my mind, and I was pooped. My calves began to scream at me, and my throat tightened up.
I can't do this.
I have to do this. There's not really a choice at this point.
I hadn't hiked before, other than going for a walk in parks as a kid, but this, this I hadn't experienced.
Nate jovially continued on, the calf muscles tightening on the back of his long legs with each step and I jealously watched as he climbed without as much of a puff.
Every switchback it seemed like I could push through, but I reached the turn and I couldn't make my legs move anymore, and I was out of breath. The sweat was pouring down my back at this point, and I tried to smile as people passed so I didn't look as out of shape as I felt.
Each time I stopped, I could feel Nate starting to get annoyed. He always called Novie a fat kid when she would hurry up and then stop for a breather, hurry up and then stop for a breather when we were on a walk. That's about all I could muster though.
"I would rather we just sit for 20 minutes and break and then continue on without stopping so much," he said. "Did you know that when your body tells you to stop and give up it's actually only used about 65 percent of its energy. It just wants to conserve energy."
Ok, I'll try.
So I sat down and tried to regain my strength. I drank a bunch of water, and when I felt replenished I started again.
I can do this.
Ten steps in.
Oh my gosh. I've never been so exhausted in my life.
It's hard to even recount here, but this was a trying moment in our lives. Nate was annoyed at my lack of strength, and I was incredible embarrassed that I was dragging him down. I could feel myself getting emotional each time he looked back and I was lagging behind once again.
I'm giving this literally everything I have. Lord, please help me through this. Help me to do this for my husband without whining. Give me the strength to finish this!
We made it to the top. It seemed like the longest climb of my life, and then we reached Sunrise Point, the observation point just one down from the Fairyland Loop point that our car was parked at.
A sign was along the trail.
Fairyland Point --- 2.5 miles.
Noooooooooooooo! I can't do this!
"Do you want to stay here and I'll go get the car?" Nate asked.
I can do this. I'm not going to quit.
We started walking, and about 200 yards in, we saw a shuttle leave from a parking lot.
"Do you want to take the shuttle?" Nate asked.
"No, it's fine here."
The trail started to curve upward.
"OK, let's take the shuttle."
So we hopped off the trail and headed through a campsite and to the visitors center to hop on the shuttle to our parking lot, only to find that our car was parked just north of the entrance, where the shuttle did not go. Walking on the road was just as along as walking on the trail.
"We have no choice," I said dejectedly and we headed back the way we had come. "I just wish we had known that so we didn't walk an extra half-mile to and from the trail. We could have at least saved ourselves that."
Nate tried to pick his way through the unbeaten trail to find a shorter way back to the trail to Fairyland Point. He was doing his best to be kind to me, but I still felt awful about how terribly this hike was going. It was all my fault.
We found the trail and started in once again, and about 500 feet later the trail went straight up to the rim of the canyon. We walked 20 feet into it when I snapped.
I bent over and about yelled. I was so frustrated, so mad at myself, so embarrassed. I took a few more steps and then stopped and told Nate I needed a break.
I looked off into the distance, facing away from him like I was just enjoying the breeze for a second when I actually was trying to not let him see me cry. I knew that he was just shake his head and think Crying isn't going to solve this. I didn't want to cry, but my emotions and my strength were about at their limit. But tears were coming fast, and my sight began to blur. The sharp rocks in the distance were smudging together as I blinked back tears.
They started to spill over, so I breathed deeply, wiped them away in a way that looked like I was just wiping my face of sweat, pulled myself together and moved on, keeping my head down so Nate wouldn't know what had just happened.
That actually did turn out to be the last hill. From the top of the rim, it was still a long walk but it was pretty much flat the rest of the way so I didn't have quite the tough time.
The black Camaro finally came into view, and we had done it. We had made it.
Lessons were learned though. I learned that I can push through more than I thought. I learned that it was a mental game that I wasn't prepared for, because I had thought the hike was ending early my brain shut off early and gave up. If I had more mental stamina, I could have gone much farther much easier. And Nate said he could have been a little more compassionate. I thought he was sweet, because he could have been way meaner to me but he was patient with me, and I appreciated that.
I always knew canoeing was a marital test and provided plenty of lessons in teamwork, who would have known that hiking could be a marital strengthener as well?