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A mule ride to push your travel limits

“This was all your idea,” said my mother for the second time to double check I had heard her.

It was indeed my suggestion we take the time-honored mule ride down the Grand Canyon this past spring. Although my mom was never a big fan of heights, I felt convinced the miraculous scenery of the canyon would distract her of that fact. We weren’t off to a good start.

I turned around to see my mother staring intently at the ground instead of the wide-sweeping vistas all around us. I reminded her that the whole point of the ride was to enjoy the scenery.

“I have to watch her feet so I know she won’t walk off the edge,” she said clutching the reins tighter.

Although I suggested that our sure-footed mules Jan and Leslie could walk down the dusty North Kaibab Trail in their sleep, the vertical drop into apparent nothingness at the next corner had my mom yanking on the reins to convince Leslie to turn early. The mule continued to plod around the outside edge of the trail as it had been trained and stiffly pivoted itself around the sharp switchback, causing my mother to scream in alarm.

Clearly, my mom was out of her comfort zone. I waited for her to stop imagining terror around every turn and to start looking around at the spectacular view of striped peaks, plunging cliffs and vast empty spaces.

You would have never guessed we were related watching my mother’s grimacing face and my grinning face on the ride down. I let Jan do all the navigating while I took a constant stream of pictures until my saddle started sliding sideways from leaning too far.

When we reached our turnaround point, I began to think I had failed my mother by bringing her on this adventure she could now tolerate, but not enjoy. However, when the mules started lumbering back uphill, the slow pace seemed to work magic on her mood. I caught her smiling and lifting her chin high enough to gaze at the immense grandeur surrounding us.

Travel often pushes our limits. Whether you are nervous of heights or insects, everyone knows something that makes them hesitate. Overcoming that fear can be a reward unto itself. On the trail that day, my mother earned not only bragging rights, but also a realization that maybe she was braver than she thought.

At the end of the trail, my mom even thanked me for talking her into the ride – a statement I had to hear twice to believe.