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Are the underinformed happier?

Clair and me in Havasupai, Grand Canyon, 2003

Where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise.
                                              Thomas Gray

I made the decision to go with my buddy Clair on a Rim to Rim Grand Canyon hike almost instantly. When he (more accurately, his sister) proposed back in April that a group of us do this trek, my thinking went:

  • I've hiked the Grand Canyon a number of times at the Havasupai Reservation and enjoyed it.
  • My calendar for September is open.
  • I have frequent flyer miles to use.
  • I need a physical challenge and it would be fun to spend some time with one of my best friends.

And here is what I found out only after doing just a little research and letting life intrude ...

  • The Rim to Rim Trail (Kaibab from the North Rim to the Colorado River, then the Bright Angel Trail up to the South Rim) is a four-day, 25 mile trek. (Havasupai was two half-day hikes separated by a couple nights camping.)
  • There is a 5,000 foot elevation loss (500 flights of stairs) over the first two days of hiking; there is a 4,000 foot elevation gain the last two days of hiking. (Havasupai elevation change was 2,000 feet down and back up.) People commonly lose all their toenails on the downhill jaunts. And I am guessing many lose their will to live on the uphills.
  • The temperature in the Grand Canyon area varies in September from below freezing on the North Rim to well over 100 degrees down in the Canyon.
  • One guide book of "classic hikes" rates the Rim to Rim a three on a scale of one to three in difficulty. It rates the Inca Trail a one. The Inca Trail nearly did me in.
  • People die of dehydration on this hike. And hypothermia. And snakebite. And abrupt deceleration that comes at the end of falls from great heights.(It's not the fall that killed him; it was the sudden stop.)
  • I realized that I am six years older and probably 20 pounds heavier than I was the last time I hiked the Canyon.
  • I've had three speaking engagements come up and a book draft to review this month. And I am program chair for the state library/tech conference. Oh, and that pesky day job seems to be keeping me busy.

So I ask myself, had I known in April what I know now, would I have so readily forked over the substantial deposit for this little adventure? Are we humans happier in our ignorance than we are in our knowledge?

But then would we do anything in life if we knew all the facts ahead of time?

I've continued my three-mile noon walks, but now wear hiking boots and carry a 25lb pack in training. The hike begins a week from this coming Sunday.

So far I have kept all my toenails.

(One encouraging thing is that in the book Hikernut's Grand Canyon Companion, hikernuts are recreation enthusiasts, not a medical condition.)

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Reader Comments (5)

What an awesome trip and I think it is worth doing! Life is too short to wish you had done something! My hubby and I tried to hike in the canyon last spring. We hiked down 2 different south rim trails on 2 different days but halfway down, my hubby got light headed and dizzy so we gave up hiking in the canyon and continued our exploration of the west coast by car. When we finally got home and he saw a doctor (both of us thinking he had a brain tumor), the doctor diagnosed him with low thyroid. Now that he takes a tiny pill each day, he is back to his old self and now we want to go back to the Grand Canyon and try again. I say, Go for it and have fun! Please share about your trip when you get back because I can't wait to hear about it!

September 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPat

(One encouraging thing is that in the book Hikernut's Grand Canyon Companion, hikernuts are recreation enthusiasts, not a medical condition.)

I could not help but comment on this one - I have experienced hikernuts, and it is most definitely a medical condition, although woefully underreported, mostly due to hikers' shame and embarrassment.

On a more serious note - I too have suffered from uninformed bliss. I have also volunteered to do something that I had later wished I had not agreed to do. However, and I think this is the mark of good character; I followed through on my commitment, even though I could have backed out. Good for you Doug! You are taking steps (ha!) to ensure you will have a positive experience, even though you have learned that your original commitment was probably not the best idea.

I have noticed lately that more and more of my friends and colleagues have become flakes - they commit to something, then back out at the last minute, usually because they got a better offer.

Pat is right; if you agree to something, follow through - you will probably regret NOT doing something much more that you would regret doing something!

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlpbryan

Have fun! It sounds exciting, albeit VERY challenging. I would say I've jumped into some of my most rewarding experiences without too much forethought, and I tend to be someone who plans/considers to death...

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLibby

If you ask me this sounds like an awesome opportunity. Go ahead and have a terrific time. Have confidence in yourself and it'll make the hike that much easier.

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Pass

Hi Pat,

I will certainly share my adventures. Hope you and your husband get back to explore the Canyon. In my experience, it's truly one of the world's most amazing place and worth going back to again and again.


Hi LP,

I hope the medical condition was only temporary.

My observation is that cellphone seem to have enabled more people to be flaky. If someone is running late, a phone call seems to excuse the tardiness!

All the best,


Hi Libby,

Yes, I tend to like to plan my spontaneous moments.


Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the words of encouragement. I have no doubt it will be fantastic. Just hoping it won't also be painful!

All the best,


September 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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