on April 3, 2007
"Any of you expect this to be an easy ride?" wrangler Marilyn asks our group of about 40. We’re gathered around the corral where mules are being readied for day rides to Plateau Point and overnight rides to Phantom Ranch. There are negative murmurings from the crowd. Apparently not enough of a response for Marilyn. "Any of you expect this to be easy?" she queries a bit more insistently. From beside me the voice of my husband, ever the tease, "Yeah, I expect this to be real easy". "No… no-no-NO!" Marilyn is reeling us in. "It’s not an easy ride. You’ll be sore and tired. This is NOT an easy way to see the Canyon; this is hard. We want you to understand there’s nothin’ easy about the mule ride. We want you to keep that in mind this afternoon when your knees are hurtin’, your rear end is hurtin’, your back is hurtin’, your feet are hurtin’, and you’re dirty from the dust and stink from these mules." In our scrapbook of our 1988 trip to the Grand Canyon is a brochure showing a mule train making its way up Bright Angel Trail, captioned "This is how we’re going next time". Back then, mule trains passed us, toiling and sweating up the endless switchbacks of Bright Angel Trail in the dry but lethal July Canyon heat. And it looked much easier than what we were doing. Now, almost 18 years later, we’d been lucky enough to secure two last-minute spots on the day-long mule ride to Plateau Point, two days prior to the ride itself, due to recent cancellations. Cost for two: $284.42. Due to the weight restriction of 200 pounds fully clothed, we’d worried that Bob’s weight of a wee bit over 200 would disqualify him from the ride. The big scale at Bright Angel Lodge Transportation Desk was kind, though, and weighed him in at exactly 200 pounds. Registering for the rides the day before, we were handed rain slickers, bota bags, packets of lemon juice to flavor our drinking water, and an activity ticket instructing us to arrive at the stone corral no later than 6:45am. So here we are, bright and early at the corral on the South Rim of the Canyon, next to Bright Angel trailhead, listening to wrangler Marilyn with a mixture of excitement and slight apprehension. Neither of us ride, we couldn’t even recall when we’d last gone for a horseback ride but it was decades, not years ago. Marilyn is instructing us how to use our motivators, 3-feet long leather whips, to keep our mules going, but more importantly, to prevent more than a 5 feet gap between mules. Apparently mules have the propensity to take off at a run to catch up to the mule ahead if they find themselves too far behind. Grand Canyon would like to maintain their perfect record of no deaths by mule on their rides; therefore, the use of motivators is emphasized and encouraged.
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