Flagstaff to Grand Canyon: This is the Story About How I Nearly Died

Written by: Greg Cayea

November 23, 2019

I showed up to the Grand Canyon to meet Kevin

Kevin was a timid kid in his early twenties from Tennessee that I had met at a hostel in Santa Fe a couple days back. I asked if he wanted to meet me in Flagstaff to hike the Grand Canyon and he was like yeah.

Okay… So, I’ll see ya there, yes?

Yeah man, see ya there.

The next day he showed up with some kids he had met at the new hostel he had checked in at in Flagstaff: this annoying nineteen-year-old know-it-all dutch kid, and some chick from Germany that he’d met at the new hostel in Flagstaff he was now staying at.

It was 2pm and 10 miles down to the bottom on Bright Angel Trail. By estimation we should reach the bottom by roughly 10pm assuming we were hiking a little over a mile an hour. For some fucking reason I put on basketball sneakers that were a size too big for me–mind you I don’t play basketball–and filled up a backpack full of shit I didn’t need, like a Course in Miracles (as if I’d ever read that damn book).

So, we head out to hike this little trail.

Two hours into the hike…

…deep enough so that when I looked up all I could see were walls of rock imprisoning me below the earth’s surface, I tripped on my ankle and hyper-extended my knee.

You all right dude? The kids asked me.

I was like 29 or 30 at the time and I didn’t wanna be that older dude that couldn’t keep up with the kids, so I was like, yeah I’m fine. No problem. Let’s keep going.

I kept hiking as my knee became more and more inflamed. The sun began to set by mile 4. By the time I got down to the bottom, my knee was throbbing with pain so intense that the thought of having to climb out of that big fucking hole the next morning at 4am, five or so hours from the time we arrived at the campsite, legitimately concerned me that I might die. I could barely move.

Oh yeah, we never reserved a campsite. We had no permit to actually camp down at the bottom. The park ranger asked for our info and I said we had none. He said we’d have to leave. Lol. LEAVE? How? I can’t even fuckin MOVE! You want us to hike another 10 miles back up the damn canyon at midnight?!

I nearly lost it.

Okay, you can stay. But if the people that were supposed to be at this campsite show up, you gotta leave.

My misery increased as we setup my tent at a campsite that might not be ours for much longer.

We had one sleeping bag and my tent.

And my hammock. But there was nowhere to hang the hammock so all four of us slept in one sleeping bag. We laid it out like a blanket and slept uncomfortably for a few hours.

As I closed my eyes, I tried to work out a game plan for how I would make it out alive in a few hours. Don’t think about it. Just go to bed. God will take care of you. God? You don’t believe in God. You’re talking to yourself. Stop it. I was hallucinating in my dreams.

At 4am I awoke.

The fucking Dutch kid was all jacked up on adolescence and ready to get a move on. Even though Bright Angel Trail was the easier hike up, everyone wanted to take South Kaibab back, one of the hardest and dangerous hikes in the United States… at least to me it was.

I took ONE step and felt my knee give out.

Shit, I can’t even type this story. I don’t even know what to say and can’t explain what the experience was like. The kids kept hiking then waiting for me. Damn. I was so cool to them hours ago now I’m fuckin old. I told the kids to just fucking leave me cause I couldn’t take them hiking and waiting and hiking and waiting. I was a burden. Plus I wanted to fucking kill them. If only they knew the immense pain I was in.

I was alone in this huge hole with seven miles left.

I kept climbing. Climbing out of a giant desert canyon hole with a backpack that was way too big stepping all over mule shit everywhere and balancing my weight through narrow rocky paths along the side of mile-deep dropoffs.

The sun emerged. Heat blossomed.

I couldn’t take more than twenty steps without collapsing under rocks that gave me enough shade to catch my breath.

Fuck it. This’ll never work. It’s time to call 911. I started to see the crazy scene I’d be making as the helicopters were dragging me out. Then I wondered how would I even call 911? The next emergency phone wasn’t for like three miles. I had no service. I was running out of water and had no more food.

I reached down to the ground and scooped up a bunch of rocks and dirt and put em in my pocket. I needed something to show for this. Plus my newest PR client asked me to get her a rock from the bottom of the Grand Canyon and I couldn’t forget…

There were all these glamorous looking unique rocks that I would never see again, but I was so mentally fucked and physically dying that I just reached down to the dirt and without even looking scooped up whatever my hand could find and shoved them in my pocket.

Nobody was around. I was alone for a million miles. I collapsed and prayed to a God I didn’t believe in. I thought happy thoughts. Then I saw rangers.


I asked them for water and told them I wasn’t doing well.

You’ll be okay, just take it slow, they told me.

They gave me water and pretzels and kept going.

I was too prideful to beg.

Finally it was late enough in the day that other hikers on their way down started to appear. They looked at me like I had blood dripping out of my soul. I couldn’t talk and could barely breathe. I had no idea if my knee would ever recover and hobbled step by step to the next foot of distance.

Then started the questions:

Are you okay?

Do you need water?

Are you coming from the bottom?

Can I offer you an orange?

Do you need help?

If you know my story you know I was locked up at this boot camp when I was a teenager–one of the worst places on Earth–but I swear this was one of the the most challenging times I had yet to go through.

One thing was certain. People died in the Grand Canyon. Every year, people die. And I was going to be one of them.

I had to keep going. One more step. I looked up and had to twist my neck to even see where the next twenty steps would take me. It was like each foot I hiked was equal to seven meters of height. I still had five miles and wasn’t even halfway there. Shit I said meters. I’m talkin metric system. I’m losing it.

I collapsed at a shady spot after the mule train passed me.

It was about 90 degrees. By then the kids were long gone. I waited for my fatigue to pass and my knee to stop throbbing and then got back up and kept going and going and stopped. Waited. Then kept going and going then










Think about good sex.

About food.

My grandma.

No, think about a hotel.

Think about a bed.

Keep going.

Don’t drink too much water, conserve.

I can do it.

Am I okay?

You’re okay.

This is the Grand Canyon. Look at the views.

HAH! Fuuuccckkkkkk yyyooouuuuu the fuckin views I’m DYING here!

I started praying.

Praying to God harder than I had ever prayed. My knee was destroyed. Fuck it, it’s gone anyway… I’ll get a new one. Huh?

I don’t know.

People were passing me with all types of concern written all over their faces. They wanted to help, but how? Pick me up?

I was scaring people with my face, I could tell.

Are you okay? They kept asking me.

Uhh… yeah.

Are you sure? Do you need water? Here take the water. Take this granola bar. Here’s an orange. Take it. Eat it.

Fine. Give it to me.

Then I met a woman. A Canadian woman in her early fifties.

She looked at me and SHE asked if I was okay. Another person worried for my life.

I said no.

I’m not fine. My knee is exploding and my ankle feels twisted and I can’t put any pressure on my left foot and my skin is burning and my shoulder is fucked up and I’m a mess. I can’t make it up.

She smiled.

Oh sure ya can. Here. Take these

And she offered me codeine.

No codeine. I’m sober.

Here, take my hiking stick and take this Advil.

And she gave me her hiking stick and Advil.

My husband disappeared anyway, she told me. Let’s go up together.

She was on her way down but turned around to try and save me.

I looked up at the last canyon ridge. No way. I can’t.

Don’t look at the top like that! Just look at the step in front of you!

I took one step.

And don’t worry we’ll take as much time as you want. I’m in no rush so just take you’re time. So, where you from?

Uhh… I guess LA. But from New York. Now–uhh. Fuck. I can’t do this.

Well I’m from Alberta. It’s in Canada.

Yeah I know. Canada. Alberta. Calgary. Yeah.

Yes that’s right!

Uh huh.

She said words about things but I stopped hearing them and couldn’t talk anymore. My breath was gone.

You okay? You’re falling a bit too quiet back there, ey?

Yeah. Okay. I’m okay.

Okay just checking. Why don’t we take a rest.

So we rested against the rock wall with my backpack pushed up high against the wall to take the weight off my lower body.

Let me take some weight for you.

So she grabbed the fucking Course in Miracles book I brought for no reason and my propane which I also brought for no reason and she threw it in her day-pack.

Somehow. I made it that last step. She saved me. I asked for her email as I wobbled.

The kids waited at the top and paid each other money. They had made bets about my health apparently. I went by them without a word and found my car. I had to drive with the other foot. The driving–my left foot–was out of commission completely. It felt like a root canal gone bad but in my knee if that makes sense.

I stopped at McDonalds and paid twenty dollars or whatever it cost for chicken nuggets at the drive-through. I couldn’t believe I was alive.

I got to Flagstaff and got a hotel room.

My knee was gettin worse and I had to hobble to my room, which I had not realized was upstairs… Another major obstacle. Cleaning staff looked at me funny as I used my arms to pull me up the stairs.

In my room I somehow managed to get my pants off and that’s when I saw it.

My knee was a balloon. It was so fucked I took photos of it. It was like an art exhibit. Inflamed like a blimp and red as hell.

I couldn’t move and ordered pizza for two days to the hotel room.

But I’ll tell you this: that was one crazy fuckin experience. Glad it happened.

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