So when we had the opportunity to hike to the bottom of the Canyon with my stepdad, stay two nights at Phantom Ranch, and climb back out of the Canyon, I jumped on it. Our 10-year-old hikes a lot with me, and my husband runs marathons, so I wasn't too worried about our ability to make the hike. My stepdad had just done it in March, so we knew he was able to make it. I thought we were golden...
We got up very early on the day of our trek down, grabbed an expensive McDonald's breakfast, and got to the trailhead. We were "all optimism" at this point, looking forward to the 7-mile hike to Phantom Ranch. The beginning of the trip was cool, quick, and fun.
It got hotter, of course, as the sun rose in the sky. It also gets hotter as you descend the canyon. In some places, the rock walls are darker in color and radiate heat in addition to the sun's. We got a bit tired, rested regularly, and continued down. About 4.5 miles down, I began to feel exhausted. I slowed everyone down. Finally, my stepdad took off to drop his backpack at the bottom, planning to return to carry my backpack for me.
The footing was very rough along the South Kaibab trail. I began to have difficulty staying steady. I was drinking regularly and eating as much as I could. I didn't feel sick or cold, both signs of heat exhaustion. I was just exhausted, I thought. My husband lagged behind a bit because of the unsteady footing, as my daughter and I struggled down the canyon. We were getting low on water and were trying to conserve.
About 5.5 miles down the trail, I was suddenly and completely unable to breathe. I gasped in, trying to get air, and made a whistling squeak. My daughter laughed and said, "Who's making that funny sound?" I collapsed on the trail, grabbing for my inhaler as I realized I was in the midst of the worst asthma attack I'd ever had. I couldn't even breathe in enough air to breathe in the medicine. It was terrifying for both of us!
I continued to try to inhale the medicine, getting a little improvement each time. I was able to avoid totally blacking out, but only barely. By this time, I had crawled into a small piece of shade, and my husband had caught up with us. He told me to stay in the shade while he took our daughter to Grandpa, dropped his pack, and came back for me. I had to promise that I wouldn't try to stand up, not that I felt capable of such a thing.
I crawled a little farther down the trail to some deeper shade, leaving my pack behind. There were three people in the small circle of shade, but they welcomed me. In fact, they brought my pack down and arranged it so I could put my feet up on it. I immediately fell asleep or passed out; I honestly don't know which. The people were still there when I woke up. They said they were staying with me until my husband arrived. I thanked them and we prayed together. We all rested for another stretch of time, with time being so distorted for me that I don't have any idea of how long.
Eventually, they saw my husband down the trail, running our way. They took off, saying they would give three whistles when they met him so I would know how long it would be. Hearing those three whistles was awesome! My husband had brought water with him, which I drank thirstily. He had left our daughter with Grandpa, who had also gotten exhausted.
It took me two hours, ten doses of medicine, and a lot of assistance to reach the bottom of the canyon. I wheezed the entire way and collapsed into the creek to cool off. The trip, which was supposed to have taken 4-6 hours, had taken a total of more than 10 hours for me.
I had learned a lot: First, I did have exercise-induced asthma, even though I'd always thought I only had allergy-induced asthma. Second, the first symptom of my exercise-induced asthma seemed to be a feeling of complete exhaustion. If I used my rescue inhaler at that point, I could probably avoid the extreme asthma attack. Third, this was my first and last hiking trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
I had spent a lot of time praying during that hike. I had spent a lot of time thinking while I sat in the shady space with my helpers. It seemed to me like this hike was a lot like the slippery slope of being captured by sin. The place I had found myself, completely at the mercy of my asthma, had seemed like such a surprise. I had no idea why my body was struggling so, just like we often have no idea why our lives are becoming increasingly difficult as we slip into sin. It's only when our whole lives collapse that we recognize the signs that marked our sin problem.
There are signs, both of asthma and of being overtaken by sin. We have to watch for them! We must stay awake and be ready! (Luke 12:35) For me, knowing the signs of my exercise-induced asthma opened my eyes to many times when I had been experiencing asthma symptoms without realizing it (over the course of several years). As Christians, we must pray that God will open our eyes to the signs of our slippery slide into sinfulness. We must be diligent in our examination of our lives. And we must act when we see signs of sin.
Because I was aware of the asthma signs, I was able to hike out of the Canyon after a day of planned rest. It took a long time, 14 doses of medication, and some help with my pack, but I made it without any collapses or acute asthma symptoms. Even though it rained for about 3 miles, making us really cold, and the trail was almost twice as long (but mostly less steep and more shaded), we all did it!
God is good.
PS I will be seeing my doctor in about a week to discuss managing my asthma better.