Some runs break you down.
Some runs make you push yourself.
Some runs change your outlook on life.
And some runs teach you important lessons.
Part 1 of this epic adventure is available here.
From the North Rim and Beyond
NORTH KAIBAB TRAIL TO PHANTOM RANCH, 14 miles/5,734 feet – My pre-run plan was to avoid a long pit stop on the North Rim. I wanted or so I thought to turn and burn as fast as I could. Figuring the more time I lingered on the rim the greater the chances of calling it a day. As the day played out, I never once thought of ending the run but I also was in no hurry to depart the rim until I got some real food into my belly. I took the extra time to dig into my pack and break out the trail mix, jerky and M&Ms. There has to be a better way to pack this vest, was the dominant thought as I wasted a ton of time trying to access and return my food items. I want to tell you the food tasted great, but I had to force it down. A cup of applesauce, and a diet Mountain Dew (my normal 24 hour pit-stop food) would have tasted so much better.
With a belly topped off and water bottles ready to go the group was ready for the second part of our canyon adventure. Before departing I did take a look around and wondered to myself how many ever get to see this less famous side of the Grand Canyon? We learned the right to look one last time but we still had work to do so down the North Rim we went.
My legs felt liberated as we ran downhill. My cadence was quick and light as we rambled down the narrow trail. It felt great to run free of the uphill climb that was shackled around our necks for the past few hours. After only a few minutes and a few switchbacks that familiar soreness in my left thigh popped up its ugly head. As we were making our way down the North Rim it became obvious that the required braking action for the switchbacks and the erosion control stair stepper down hill was adding up.
As the day wore on and the miles from the North Rim grew greater it was getting harder to clear the 6″ – 8″ logs and 6″ – 12 ” rocks used to protect the trail from erosion. A new tactic had to be deployed. I would run in-between the logs/rocks then half walk as I crossed over them then run to the next transition. After my fall early in the day, I no longer trusted myself to run fast over elevated rocks/steps. If the downhill section looked overly technical, or had unsure footing, I hiked over it vs. risking another crash to the trail. My slower pace and cautious nature had me falling behind the group.
Being alone for much of the descent began to wear on me as I made my way to Coconino Overlook, and Supai Tunnel. Although I knew everyone was running their own
race adventure I tried hard to catch up. I ran all the flats, downhills and once off the deathly switchbacks I tried to run right up to the climbs. On occasion I got to see members of my group just ahead, but I could not close the gap. At Roaring Springs I finally caught up to them as they took a break. I tried hard to get in and out fast in hopes of departing with the group but I needed more food, more than the GUs and Gatorade I had been living on since North Rim. I broke into my vest and pulled out the trail mix. The real food felt good but when I went to put the food back in my pack it took much longer than I had hoped. Eric offered to stick with me, but I did not want to hold him up or slow down the group. Again I was alone as I departed approx. 10 minutes behind them and made my way to Pumphouse and Cottonwood Campground.
(One part of running that I have always enjoy is crossing bridges,
the Grand Canyon offers some of the best crossing I have ever seen)
A few times my mind played tricks on me in the afternoon heat. The temperatures in “the box” section of the canyon got up to 97 degrees. I thought for sure I saw members of the group waiting for me around turns, sitting on rocks and high up in the canyon to only figure out it was a tree, or a unique shaped rock. Then I saw someone sitting alone on the trail. It’s Joshua…I thought to myself. Guilt overcame me, he must be the one who drew the short straw to wait on the old guy. I felt bad someone gave up on their goal time to wait on me. I felt like the old man who slowed down everyone and it eat at me as I closed the gap after all I was the experienced Ultra Runner of the group.
“Joshua are you the guy who picked the short straw?” I cried out as I approached him. I was poised and at the ready to argue why he should NOT wait on me and run his own adventure. Joshua then said something that changed the day for me.
“No I’m sick, I’ve been throwing up and very nausea.”
I told myself from that moment I would not leave him alone, we would work together to get both of us out of the canyon. It was at this point that it hit me…you do not simply DNF a Rim2Rim2Rim run. The canyon has you until you work your way out of it.
I sat with Joshua for a few minutes then asked him if we could get moving, reasoning that he might feel better if we moved on. Once moving we were able to pick up the pace, and after a short while we were back to running the flats, the downhills and making our way best we could to Phantom Ranch.
WHAT I LEARNED:
- Better to run smart than to run fast and risk another fall, hard on my ego, but it was wise.
- Somewhere it was written that at halfway you should have 2/3 of your energy reserves left…if I had a fuel gauge, as I left the North Rim I was a bit under half.
- I should have taken more pictures.
- I need to train for the erosion control steps.
PHANTOM RANCH TO BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL (SOUTH RIM), 9.5 Miles/4,380 feet – When we arrived at Phantom Ranch the Cantina was closed. I “guesstimate” the time was around 5 p.m. but I’m not really sure. The only time hack I can establish is that the Cantina was closed (4 p.m.) and they were serving their reservation only dinner.
Joshua and I made our way around the ranch trying to find Eric, Jami, our lunches and more importantly the water source. I found the water fountain around the front of the dinner and made a beeline to get some refreshment. In a very tired state it was difficult to bend over, hold the faucet open and position my bottles to be filled. Thankfully a gentlemen saw my struggle and offered help. During the process he asked what we were doing. I explained that we were running Rim2Rim2Rim. I filled my bottles and proceeded to stick my arms and head under the faucet. After a short time Jami came around from behind the ranch and found us.
Joshua and I sat at a picnic bench after Jami offered to get us our lunches. (Thank you, so much) Upon opening them I was starved and not in the mood for food all at the same time. I forced myself to eat some of the craisins, half a bagel and all of the apple. My mouth was so dry nothing tasted good…I wanted to flood my mouth and stomach with water, but I knew that would be counterproductive. Up to this point I had not lost my stomach, had no GI issues and I did not want to test fate now.
As we sat their eating our lunches I could sense that we were being watched. As I looked around the dinner crowd had been let out and a small group of people kept looking our way. Two elderly ladies finally walked over and asked us what we were doing. We told them that with three other friends we were running the canyon and we were on our way from the North Rim headed to Bright Angel Trail. One of the ladies made the statement “You can’t do that…” Both Joshua and I chuckled and told them that in a few minutes we would continue on our way. We chatted with the group but finally had to break contact to get moving again. The group wished us well with one gentleman telling us that we would be in his journal entry for the day. I raised my hand into the air with a thump up, gave him a fist bump and continued on to begin our climb up South Rim.
Joshua and I fast hiked and even ran some to the entry point of Bright Angel trail making our way to the final bridge crossing of the Colorado River. I’ll be honest, I was never really scared during my double crossing, but crossing this grated bridge scared the pooooo right out of me. Running on the steel grates with nothing below my feet but a long fall to the river gave me a very uneasy feeling during the entire crossing. While making my way all I could think about was a safety incident where a floor grate came loose causing a employee to fall through the opening. Needless to say I was happy when my feet were on solid ground again…even if it was a sandy trail.
Sandy trail…where did that come from? My mind may have been in a fog but I had no idea that our run would travel over a sandy trail. As we made our way to the River Resthouse Joshua’s legs began cramping. At the River Resthouse we made a major mistake. We could not find the water supply location and when we asked a group of young girls who must have hiked over from Bright Angel Campground they had no idea. With half filled water bottles we took off and headed to Indian Garden and points beyond.
It was at some point on the way to Indian Garden that I realized the little building across the small creek/stream at River Resthouse must have held the water stop. It was too late, it was to far to go back and we were running out of water. Another error was made as we worked our way up the South Rim. My mind was fading and my ability to perform math functions was failing faster. Somehow departing Indian Garden my mind reasoned we had around three miles remaining to our adventure. When I saw the sign that we had 4.5 miles to the South Rim I nearly lost it. I used to curse like a drunken sailor and in recent years I’ve left that habit behind. Upon the realization that we still had a lot of work in front of us my language returned to its former fashion.
With nothing to do but get it done Joshua and I hammered away up the trail. His legs were cramping badly and my heart rate was spiking as we made our way up the staircase climbs. When simply going up an incline I could make good time and my heart rate did not suffer. Add in the stair step inclines and I needed a break about every quarter-mile to regroup. Still with all the suffering we made each 1.5 miles in an hour. With all out determination to finish we made the 3 mile Resthouse and 1.5 mile Resthouse.
As we made our way past the last rest house I remembered prior R2R2R runners recalling that Bright Angel Trail leading up to the rim played havoc on your mind. With each passing switchback you believe your getting closer to journeys end when you actually have a good deal to travel. Adding to this challenge was the visitor center lights stationed high up on the rim. These lights reminded me of just how far we had to climb. In the pitch black of the night this weighed on my mind and tried my resolve when at times it felt like we were getting no closer.
As we made our way around switchback after switchback, I thought I heard something foreign off in the distance. Snake, bear, an elk, or BIGFOOT? What was that? I think Joshua was the first to figure out what that foreign sound was. Then it became clear, we could hear the voices of our teammates on the rim calling out to us and cheering us on. This provided the extra motivation I needed to get up on my toes and run it home. Exiting the canyon and being welcomed back to the world was a very emotional ending to a very trying day.
Joshua and I finished our Rim2Rim2Rim run in 19 hours and 30 minutes.
NOTE: I’ve been asked many times did you really run the entire way? What qualifies what you did as running the canyon vs. hiking it, or walking it? My only answer is not to justify what I accomplished to anyone. I moved as fast as I could at every given moment while in the canyon. Some have run the canyon faster, some slower and some have not finished nor attempted it. To me I ran the canyon the best I could…I know this, and more importantly the canyon knows this to be true.
OBTW the Fastest Known Time for a Rim2Rim2Rim run is 6 hours and 21 minutes by Rob Kar. View a short video of his run here. FYI, I’m not really sure if this video is from his FKT attempt but man is he moving fast.
WHAT I LEARNED:
- Relentless forward motion is key. Keeping moving at all costs.
- I made the right choice to not leave Joshua in the Canyon, may be it cost me a better finishing time, I could not have lived with myself if he got hurt.
- A voice in the night can be very motivating.
- Water is key, the only time I felt really low about making it out was when we nearly ran out.
- No matter the length of the race/run, no matter the amount pain…in a relative blink of an eye it will all be over. Live in the moment, look around and enjoy the day.
For more information on running/hiking or visiting the Grand Canyon click here.
Thanks so much to Eric, Joshua and Jami for allowing me to use the photos they took…I got next to zero photos, I had GoPro battery issues.
Enjoy these awesome videos by Eric:
(Full lenght 36 minutes)
(Condensed video 13 minutes)
Enjoy some more Photos from our run: