Birthdays always bring on a need for a special event. However, this crazy year, I wasn’t remotely motivated to plan a 2020 socially distanced dinner party. The pandemic seemed a perfect excuse to simply ignore getting older. That being said I was secretly aching to do something spectacular to make up for a less than stellar year. The good news is: post COVID-19 quarantine re-openings had gotten me back into the groove of nature and hiking. The bad news is: with many film productions having been shut down I had no job and a lot of time on my hands. I had to do something just to keep from loosing my mind. Though I never, in my wildest dreams, would have guessed that I would make a bucket list-esque journey across The Grand Canyon and recover at the Southwest’s #1 rated spa Enchantment Resort, Sedona. Perhaps it was fate.
It was at my visit to Canyon Ranch, Tucson that I made an incredibly rash decision to hike the entire span of the Grand Canyon. I blame my hiking guide Mark. One morning, as we meandered a moderate 5 mile hike through the Saguaro desert, he mentioned that he and Mike, head of Canyon Ranch outdoor activities, were leading a “Rim2Rim”, 1-day, 23 mile trek across the Grand Canyon. North to South down then up Bright Angel Trail. #Rim2Rim/North to South/Bright Angel meant nothing to me having not hiked more than 10 miles in a day ever. I had only been on the edge of the Grand Canyon once to take a photo on the way to somewhere else. Mark said he was doing it for his birthday. Nice I thought. “When is your Birthday?” I asked innocently. “October 13th” he replied. I stopped in my tracks. That was my birthday too. The conversation went something like this: “Want to come along?”… “Yes – but give me 24 hours.” 5 hours later I said, “I’m in.”
It seemed simple enough. Walking – just longer. I had only recently been able to get back to a basic this level of activity after a complicated bone spur surgery. For many years I could not do much beyond short walks and barefoot yoga because of the pain in my Achilles’ heel. Then after the surgery in 2018 I couldn’t do anything because of an infection that caused 2 more surgeries and 5 months down time, with an implant in my chest for IV antibiotics, well into 2019. I was finally getting back to strutting in my sexy shoes and taking on regular workouts when the coronavirus hit. I didn’t think of hiking the Grand Canyon as a fearful prospect. I just figured I was making up for lost mileage. Mark suggested getting in at least a 13 miler to know I could cover some major-distance and sent links to an upgraded shoe. No problem. I already had a Zion National Park trip planned and our birthdays were still 6 weeks away. Plenty of time, I thought, to train for the Grand Canyon. Besides I love a good reason to go shopping. So I traded in my stilettos for the latest Sportivas.
A couple of weeks out, I got an email with a list of things to bring on the Grand Canyon trip. Mark said not to go out of my way to get anything…blah, blah, blah. He could supply me with poles, rain gear if needed, a headlamp, a bigger pack if I wanted, and would sign me up for mandatory helicopter emergency insurance through a the membership in The American Alpine Club. Rain gear? Wait. I do not want to hike 23 miles in the rain. Why would I need a headlamp? Emergency helicopter? For the first time since saying yes to this adventure I was scared that I was in over my Louboutins. To shake it off, I put on one of my recently purchased sporty outfits and fancy Italian boots and went for a hike to help put my mind at rest. One-foot-in-front-of-the-other. Just like everything else in life. Don’t think. Just move forward.
After a couple of 5 milers in the Hollywood Hills, a Cliff’s Notes version of Zion at Red Mountain Resort, UT and a current negative COVID-19 test, it was time to pack my bags for a road trip to Flagstaff. The autumn Arizona climate was the opposite of my Labor Day trip to Tucson. Instead of 90 degrees and cacti it was puffy jacket weather and woodsy. I stopped to gas up and get a bite before dark in Williams, AZ, known as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. The South Rim, I discovered, is located 60 miles north of Williams and 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff. The Grand Canyon lies entirely within the state of Arizona. Founded in the early 1900s, I noticed a sign about Williams being the last town bypassed by Interstate 40, commemorated on October 13 – our birthdays of course. There are no accidents.
On my way to the Grand Canyon, I stayed the night at a motel just off Route 66 with my pre-packed for the night Louis Vuitton duffle. I was clearly a city-slicker-fish-out-of-water at the 2-star check in desk and headed straight to my clean, but non-descript, room. I was to meet the group, a total of 6 including me, the next day at The Flagstaff airport, where I would leave my car for the duration. I looked forward to handing the reigns over to the people who knew where to go and what to do. I settled in for the night and reviewed the itinerary.
October 11th NOON pick up at the Flagstaff Airport. October 12th wake up 2AM. Hike the Grand Canyon starting at the trailhead at 4AM. Return to Flagstaff on October 13th by 1PM.
Wait. Wake up at 2AM. HOW DID I MISS THIS? So that is what the headlamp is for. Hiking downhill, on the edge of a cliff, in middle of the night darkness. What was I thinking? This is a nightmare! Ok. Don’t stress. Just get some rest.
I woke up freezing, dressed accordingly and warmed up with a brisk walk in search of caffeine. I was thankful to be blessed by many mountain creatures along the way. Mark had recommended the local Late for the Train Coffee. I had been taking it easy the past couple days as to not start out sore. However, I wanted to move a little, to not be inevitably too sore in the days to come. I began to worry as my chilly morning walk progressed. I will surely get blisters. What if I lose toenails like Cheryl Strayed in Wild? I will no doubt have sore shins and quads and hammies for weeks. Why am I doing this? Breathe in 2,3,4, out 2,3,4… I will also gain a memory of a-once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I will receive a much-deserved official Rim2Rim T-Shirt as my birthday gift. Plus, I had my reward in sight: a spa day at Enchantment, Sedona.
I Googled that the average time spent looking at The Canyon is 17 minutes. That would not be me. I would not be average. I would pull up my big girl (Smartwool) pants, enjoy the journey and celebrate another trip around the sun. I pushed the fear into the shadows and envisioned a magical heaven on earth within the depths of The Grand Canyon.
I rolled into the tiny Flagstaff airport just before noon. There wasn’t a person, or even a machine, to take a ticket. I simply parked in one of the many open spaces and hoped I was in the right place. I was not at LAX anymore. I had organized the gear down to my carry-on Louis, plus the matching zip up travel handbag, of course. It was my monogram vintage set – my version of rustic. Just as I turned off the engine Mark called to say they were 5 minutes away and the other 2 hikers, who just happened to be on the same flight from Dallas, had landed. Perfect timing. It’s all happening with the ease and smoothness that let me know I could leave the over-thinking behind. Mark pulled up in a big, shiny rental SUV. I was re introduced to Mike who I had only met briefly. I don’t think he recognized me without my designer eyewear and Gucci fanny pack that I had traded in for my sport sunglasses and Patagonia vest. As I recall, when I met Mike in the Canyon Ranch office, with Mark vouching for me, he said something along the lines of, “So you’ve done a couple hikes at The Ranch and think you’re ready to hike The Canyon?” I looked him square in the eye, over my Tom Fords, and said, “Yes. I do.” So here I was. I liked Mike. He was no nonsense. His wife Carrie was a mother earth beauty who would be dropping us off, tracking our route, delivering our bags, and most importantly meeting us with room keys to warm beds on the other side of our ordeal.
They loaded me in the truck and drove what seemed a mere 100 yards to the one and only terminal where we met Jim (a rebel businessman Brit, now living in Texas, who had hiked Rim2Rim with Mark a few years back with his wife), and Shannon (an uber in-shape blond, from Gulf Shores Alabama, that I soon learned had traveled on her own to Peru to hike Machu Picchu). They were inspirational athletes to be sure. We were masked and social distanced for about 5 minutes before we discussed testing negative for COVID-19 with no symptoms. We would all be breathing each other’s air for the next several days of travel, meals, and of course the grand hike. So we would just have to trust that we were going to be ok. We became fast friends by the end of the drive to the North Rim where we checked into our little cabins and had a hot meal at the lodge. It was a lot like camp for grown ups and I felt lucky to have my experienced but motley crew. By 7pm we were back to our rooms to prepare for the main event. We had stopped at a natural food grocery to pick up some snacks for the road. Fruit. Nuts. Electrolyte chews. Chocolate covered espresso beans. Instant coffee. Energy bars. My pack was basically a sugar filled Halloween trick-or-treat bag. I was not counting calories though. I was hiking 23 miles after all. Mark brought over the poles he had promised and I laid out my layers so I wouldn’t have to scurry in the wee hours. As I nestled into bed my head started spinning again. What happens if I get down but can’t get up? Now, that I am a card carrying American Alpine Club member, will they helicopter me out if I twist an ankle? What if I run out of chocolate covered espresso beans? What if…? Don’t psyche yourself out Kira. Just sleep.
I shot up in a cold sweat before my 2:30 a.m. alarm and filled my CamelBak with 3 liters of icy water from the stand-alone sink. Because I had opted for the smaller pack I struggled to fit all my supplies. So I figured I’d eat the bulkier fresh fruit for breakfast. I had been extra hydrating for days and needed to pee as soon as I got all my gear on. I was informed there were port-a-potty type restrooms along the way but was not looking forward to it. I chose this adventure, I reminded myself, and soldiered on redressing. When the SUV pulled up I staggered out in delirium with my headlamp around my neck upside down. I crawled into the back with just my hiking pack when someone said, “Kira where’s your luggage?” Oops. I had packed for the South Rim lodge but forgot all about it. I am grateful they didn’t let me leave my Louis behind. After a semi-conscious ride to the edge of the canyon I wearily rolled out of the truck.
Mike got my headlamp on straight while Mark reminded me how to hold a hiking pole. I obviously could not have made it this far without a team of wranglers. Mark led the way and Mike was caboose right behind me. I could not feel my toes and my fingers barely held the poles in place. The descent was dark and dusty with my hiking buddies ahead stirring up dirt. I was warned ahead of time this was the easiest place to twist an ankle. We were moving fast, I thought, for all the caution we were supposed to be taking. “Don’t look over the edge, Watch out for sliding rocks. What was that noise? Are there mountain lions in these woods? What about serial killers?” I make scary movies for work. I don’t like fearing for my life for real.
Somehow, in a rush of dust, we made it 3 miles. Together we took our first rest stop. As the sun started to peek over the cliffs I began to feel my fingers and toes again. I switched my gloves and wool hat for a cap and neck thingy, that I learned was called a gaiter in hiking speak, which would also serve as a mask when we met with others on the trail. I looked back on the steep terrain I had safely navigated and felt a sense of relief and awe. I was hiking the Grand Canyon and it wasn’t scary anymore. It was spectacular! The only way to see it was to walk or mule in. There were no shortcuts. I knew I had a long road ahead of me but I was looking up and smiling.
We were making good time, my guides informed me, even with plenty of photo ops. I became the “diva” stopping and posing for someone to take my picture. Unbeknownst to them it was all a show so I could catch my breath. We were happy to have plenty of water when word on the trail was that a pipe out and no water was available until Phantom Ranch where we had planned to stop for a picnic table lunch. I was not a fan of a carrying a soggy sandwich and having real food weigh me down. So, I stuck to my Halloween candy snacks and kept my on eye on the prize of a well-deserved, white-table-cloth-sit-down-Birthday-dinner at the world famous El Tovar.
Halfway thru the basin, now known to me as The Box, as in “hot-box”, my feet were starting to throb. I could feel a blister coming on and wanted to stop to assess. I was sweaty and needing to shed some layers and shake the sand out of my shoes. I got “are we there yet” impatient as Mark led us a few more miles across the Colorado River and around the bend. However, as fate would have it, the cold-creek destination ended up being the perfect place to soak our sore peds. My feet were red and swollen with blisters bound to break through, but my skin was in tact, thanks to the ointment Mark gave me that I had smothered on my toes that morning. I was ever so grateful “a change of socks” was on my packing list. It’s the little things, I am learning, that are most appreciated on these big adventures.
As we headed up Bright Angel Trail the pressure on my toes gave way to my knees and quads taking the load. My heart and lungs were also beginning to feel the burn. This ending uphill part was what I ultimately feared the most. I knew I was healthy. I just had a physical and underwent all my cardio tests. I was in great shape for my age with no warning signs on paper. Tell that to my ticker now. I think I can. I think I can. Onward and upward I trod. Take a break. Take a photo. Take a sip of something but don’t stop for long. Was it too late to hitch a ride on the mule train?
I started humming Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” to keep my spirits up.
Now I’m walking on sunshine, whoa
I’m walking on sunshine, whoa
I’m walking on sunshine, whoa
And don’t it feel good!
I found out my singing and gasps of “Oh momma”, which I thought were under my breath, were quite out loud. The last 4.5 miles pretty much kicked all of our asses. My guides were used to it and knew what to expect. “Take smaller steps on the up slope… Keep sipping water… Have a piece of licorice… Just a bit further…” they coaxed. We stopped at each mile and a half marker breaking it down to more manageable increments. The end was in sight. I could see the hikers at the South Rim taking photos at their finish. However, with all the switchbacks, it was much further than it seemed. We couldn’t give up now. We were so close! Step-by-step, moment by challenging moment, we made it all the way up to the top.
I could not believe I did it. At the same time it was only my bullish belief that I could that got me through. I peeled of my dirt filled socks to find a couple of bruised toenails and newly formed blisters on my big toes. Not bad for an epic day’s work I thought. Bonus: I had a hot shower that, quite to my delight, was also bathtub… and I had brought Epsom salts.
Later that evening, at El Tovar, we gregariously feasted, air dropped each other’s photos (thank goodness because I only took 6), divulged the secret horror stories that had spun in our heads during the trek, and all agreed that the whole trip could not have gone any better. As Mark and I blew out the candles on our twin flame birthday cake it was hard to think of anything to wish for because everything felt just as it should be. So instead I said a silent prayer of gratitude for this wonderful moment. As we walked back to our rooms, under the Milky Way sky full of stars, I was made very aware of my tiny place in the vast universe. I was happy to be born on this day and be alive here now. As I fell into bed I didn’t have to calm my thoughts to drift off to sleep. I was already gone.
The next morning I was so sore I could barely stand. I managed a few stretches and got dressed to watch the sun rise over The Grand Canyon – from the top this time. I was content floating along the edge watching other hikers making their way up and down. When I met my group there was talk of the next mountain climbing trip and perhaps doing a Rim2Rim2Rim. I’ll have to think on that later because, without question, I’d had enough for now.
After a tourist trip through Flagstaff we said our goodbyes at the airport and exchanged warm hugs for the road. As I drove the scenic route to Sedona, on the last leg of my Birthday adventure, I was excited to have entered this next phase of my life, checking hiking one of the Seven Wonders of the World off my bucket list.
“Moving on” as they say in the movies. I was on to my next gig. Enchantment Resort, Sedona home of Mii amo Spa, one of the World’s Best Spas, was awaiting me. Set on 70 acres of panoramic terrain, Enchantment is located in the spiritual heart of Sedona, surrounded by the towering red rock walls of Boynton Canyon. Enchantment Resort combines the rugged grandeur of the Southwest landscape and Native American culture while the newly designed one-story guestrooms draw inspiration from Sedona’s iconic natural beauty. All rooms feature a private patio overlooking Boynton Canyon with cozy fireplaces & authentic furnishings. It was comforting to open cards from friends and family that I had brought along to remind me I was loved, even if alone, for the wind-down leg of my auspicious birthday trip.
Mii amo, named the #1 destination resort spa by Travel + Leisure, is the best place to recover from any Southwest adventure. Being there, on my special day, I felt Enchantment was the perfect place to recoup my energy. I effortlessly arrived and enjoyed a long swim and Jacuzzi soak overlooking the famous Red Rock formations followed by and a personalized therapeutic massage before bed. Life was indeed good.
I woke up still stiff but not surprisingly so. It was nothing a stretch class, morning meditation ritual at Mii amo, and a leisurely hike around Enchantment Resort’s vortex couldn’t fix. As I wandered the nearby trails, getting ready to go back to reality, I realized it was at this time last year that I was in England shooting Amityville Witches. The movie was out for Halloween 2020 …well now!
By the time I got back to L.A. the fantasy horror flick would be digitally available everywhere in time for scary season and I would be back to the red carpet-movie promotion I adore. However, it sure was fun to take a break from the glam, get dirty, take risks and gain a fresh perspective of this thing called life. I’m not sure what’s next on my to-do list. However, I do know, there is no mountain I can’t climb. I’m not making any big plans just yet though. I am practicing letting go and leaving my future up to fate.
P.S. So far all my toenails are intact.