Pi vs Macbeth: The Triumph of Comedy Over Tragedy in Grand Canyon

The Lighter Tale is Heavy Enough

Our hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon evoked the tragedy and despair of Macbeth but also the comedy and hope of Pi. For Macbeth, the tragedy of life is its meaninglessness so his tale is dark and heavy. Our adventure was marked alternately by despair and wonder. The steep arduous trails with endless switchbacks made our destinations seem to recede and recede … in a daze, Jeff donated his heavy wool Pea Coat to the ghosts of the Canyon. But there was always an amazing view just around the turn and we forgot our troubles for awhile.

For Pi the horrific slaughter of his mother and the terrible vengeance he exacted on the cook led him to construct the lighter tale for telling. The dark truth he discovered about life in the desperate condition of nature was transformed by Pi through the symbol of the adult Bengal Tiger into a better but no less-true story about life. For us, playing below the rim forced us to reckon with bare naked nature and the ravages of age. Not exactly like Pi, much less Macbeth. But death is death and we could have met a meaningless demise a thousand times. A little colder, a little more wind, and we may well have not made it back to the rim that dark night of ascent. With that, there are things we can’t tell and things we can …

When we made it back to the South Rim that night we remembered that the trail’s end feeds hikers right to the entrance of the Bright Angel Bar but Jeff and I clean missed it and wandered around the dark grounds for 10 minutes before stumbling inside. We had become delirious at the only safe moment to be so. We sat in the Bright Angel Bar for 3 hours with a thousand yard stare trying to figure how we made it back alive. About midnight, we got up to move but couldn’t. Our bodies had locked-up and we could only hobble in excruciating pain. It’s called the “Canyon Crawl” and we had it bad. For the next 5 days getting dressed, stepping into a tub, or up the stairs was next to impossible. The only thing we could do well was laugh. There’s no accounting for Jeff and I hiking to the floor of the Canyon and making it back alive. But we did.

Unless you’re under 30, in tip-top shape, and you respect nature, you shouldn’t do what we did. There are shorter, safer, sane-er hikes all over the North and South Rims. Should you decide to ignore my advice and survive to tell about it, you’ll walk on billion year old dirt and have the adventure of a lifetime. But like Jeff’s coat, some things are better left in the Canyon. The lighter tale is heavy enough.

PvM 3
Jeff came sauntering around the turn sans his heavy pea coat – the Canyon got it

Grand Canyon, January 27th – 30th 2014

Author Notes:

This was my first time to hike the Canyon though I had seen it from the rim a few months back while on a cross-country motorcycle trip … I assumed the trails to the bottom and back were as smooth as the trail heads you see from the rim so the arduous difficult barriers of logs, rocks, and dusty red sand were a total shock as well as debilitating

My friend Jeff had hiked the Canyon several times in his younger years – the last when he was 40-something but this time he was 60 and so was I … it’s fascinating how our memories play tricks on us … Jeff suffered mightily this time and I became terrified for his well-being on the afternoon of the first day … we should have turned-back right then … I’m glad we didn’t but we got lucky … real lucky

When we left Grand Canyon on Thursday, January 30th, the weather took a sharp turn for the worse … had it looked like that when we arrived on Monday we wouldn’t have been able to do what we shouldn’t have done

Jeff and I have hiked the Canyon for the last time

I may never go back … I can’t imagine returning to Grand Canyon and not walking through the ancient wilderness

You won’t believe your experience in Grand Canyon … but you’ll never forget it

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Publishes Steel Wheels - The Tao Of Motorcycling: http://steelwheelsblog.com

5 thoughts on “Pi vs Macbeth: The Triumph of Comedy Over Tragedy in Grand Canyon”

  1. Those who seek extreme adventure can be classified as fools, foolhardy, or hardy. These boys are most assuredly of the HARDY classification. Their faith in the outcome of the adventure most likely was a result of a realm of guardian angels.


    1. We the parents of the author of Steel Wheels were privileged to be the first to review the adventure on HDTV with narration by him. Should anyone think there was some exaggeration in the story, be assured it could not be. Hopefully some way can be found for distribution to all those who have viewed the canyon from the rim and fantasized on hiking to the bottom.


    2. There is no greater praise than that from completely, 100%, like totally, unbiased sources. I love you Mom & Dad. I guess we’re “The Hardy Boys” now.


  2. … bet you were hoping that you wouldn’t have to be packing Jeff out of Phantom Ranch and back up that thing! You and Jeff’s escapade jogged the ‘ol cranial cells and I had to re-visit the way-back machine to 1976.

    I think Paul and I fell somewhere between the fool and fool-hardy on our Mt Popo adventure back in 1976. We left the Hostel (@ ~13,000ft) early in the am (not before sunrise) planning on making the edge (~17,000ft+) and back down later that afternoon – turns out, this out-‘O-shape flatlander almost had to haul Paul the athlete off that sucker! … on to Googlin’ Mt Popo! I’ll e-mail U some tid-bits! … Glad you and Jeff made it out OK!


    1. The thing about Jeff is in spite of all the challenges he faced over the course of our adventure he set a pace for himself and stuck to it. And stuck to it. And stuck to it. Without that we wouldn’t have made it. He’s my hero…at least until he comes up with his next bone-headed idea.


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