She had never flown before in her life. Her first experience with the airlines, at the tender age of twelve, was a ten hour ordeal with three connections. Yet she took it all with stride and I watched this young woman of twelve walk off the plane and into our lives for four weeks.
She was living in the desert southwest of the United States at the time. Her parents had just gone through a sloppy divorce and she was almost a thousand miles away from her closest family. The last year had taken a toll on her and had transformed this girl into a young woman. She was complete with her armor and self doubt, and full of worries about things that a twelve-year-old shouldn't have to worry about.
She had no idea she was going on a three week trip through ten states, hiking over one-hundred miles, and visiting some of the finest treasures in the continental United States. She had never camped, hiked, rock climbed, or mountain climbed before so she was dumb founded by the gifts of hiking equipment, and boots, and clothes. It didn't sink in until the second day we were traveling that we were truly going on an adventure of epic proportions. The cynicism she developed over the last year had her wondering when the big joke would be over and we would return home.
In three weeks she saw more then most people in their life times. She hiked the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park, skimmed across the waters of Big Horn Canyon in Montana, relaxed in the hot springs of Lava Hot Springs in Idaho, hiked the frigid Virgin River in Zion National Park and walked the South Rim Trail of the Grand Canyon. Despite all of this she was still a woman and not a child of twelve. When you looked into her eyes, there was a hollow look of sadness of a person who had experienced too much failure in their life.
The trip was coming to an end as we rolled through the Arizona desert. When we reached Petrified Forest National Park the searing daytime heat made it impossible for the family to hike, so disappointed I decided to go it alone. That evening I offered to change our plans, to spend an extra day in Arizona and get up in the cool early morning hours so everyone could share what I saw.
It happened that next morning on the Blue Mesa Trail. The sun was climbing into the sky and it was already over 90 degrees by 9:00 AM, yet she was transformed by that mystical place. It's stark beauty, littered with fossilized wood and agates, gives it an otherworldly atmosphere unparalleled on this earth. She marveled at all of it and seemed determined to examine every single fractured piece of brightly colored petrified wood that laid on the desert floor.
She hiked up a deep wash solo through a large field of jagged agates scraping her legs on the warm rocks. She kept hiking upward following everything she had learned about climbing and leaving no trace, placing each step of her small feet carefully so as not to leave a mark on the frail clay formations surrounding her.
Finally she stopped out of site of the rest of the group. I don't know what she was thinking at that moment in the hot Arizona sun looking down on the mesa, but she was different when she came back. The hollow look was gone with a glow that only personal success on the trail can bring. She fought terrain, heat, and fear with only the shear will to move forward up the wash to see what was up there. To go where no one else had gone and to look down in the loose soil and see only her footprints, and stand alone.
In that moment she was transformed from a woman, to the twelve year old girl that she should be. Her only worry now was the next destination, and what laid waiting at the next trailhead. She had learned the joy of ignoring your mind's demand to stop, and to follow your heart's will to move on. It is a powerful lesson to learn at twelve, and I think she is ready to move on with her life.