At the height of his heroin addiction, Aaron D. couldn’t gather the mental, physical or emotional strength to walk from his car to the grocery store, let alone contemplate a 21-hour hike through The Grand Canyon.
However, with six months sobriety under his belt, Aaron just completed one such hike, doing a so-called rim to rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon. The trip brought Aaron and his hiking partner, another young man in recovery, over 44.5 miles and nearly 20,000 feet of elevation changes as they walked from the southern rim of the Grand Canyon to the northern rim and back again.
For Aaron, 25, the trip was a way to challenge himself after spending 15 years fighting for sobriety.
“I’d gotten to the point of addiction where I thought this is what my life is going to look like, I’m going to die an addict’s death,” he said. “Coming to Back2Basics was the last shot. That’s made it a different experience. I got to the place where I was really ready to do this, because all other options had been seen and tried and failed.”
During his six months in rehab at Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Therapy in Flagstaff, Arizona, Aaron had done trips into the wilderness each week as part of the program’s hybrid approach to treatment. However, he knew that taking on the daunting task of the rim to rim to rim hike would prove to himself that this time he—not addiction—was in control of his life.
Aaron and his hiking partner were dropped off on the southern rim of the canyon at 9:30 p.m., and began their hike in darkness. Surprisingly, Aaron said this actually made it easier to get started.
“At night you don’t have to see what you’re up against,” he said. “You don’t have to look out and see how far you still have to go.”
Aaron couldn’t ignore the parallels between that outlook and the “one day at a time mantras” that are central to a life of recovery.
“Going into this program I wasn’t thinking about the long term,” he said. “I was just focused on what I had in front of me and what I needed to tackle. There was a way bigger mission, me being sober long term, but to make it through I knew I had to focus on one thing. With the night portion of the hike, I was thinking ‘I’m just going to get through this until dawn.’”
Although Aaron was hiking with a partner, he says that for most of the trip they were quiet, each reflecting on his own journey. Challenging his physical and mental fitness helped Aaron connect with his higher power and spiritual side.
“I was praying quite a bit on that hike,” he said. “It definitely played a piece in that. There was some spiritual practice and program going on there.”
Despite the lack of chatter, Aaron was happy to have shared the experience with someone else in recovery.
“It’s pretty cool to do things like this together,” he said. “It touches on the fellowship aspect of the 12 steps, to get up and do stuff and experience life with other people in recovery.”
In addition to testing his own resolve, the hike reminded Aaron that he can always lean on others in recovery for support.
“I was practicing not letting my head get to me. Throughout the hike there were 2 or 3 times I was questioning finishing it, or really struggling, when I couldn’t wrap my head around the heat or the pain,” he said. During those times, he drew strength from his partner. “What made it convenient is he and I went through those periods at different times, we were able to support each other through the tough spots.”
For Back2Basics founder Roy DuPrez, the trip that the young men organized themselves and executed together was a sign of how the program prepares its clients for living a fulfilled life in recovery.
“We’re just setting the platform for these guys to challenge themselves,” he said.