Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It took two days and 52 miles to run to the other side of a big hole and back.

Our R2R2R two-day Grand Canyon Crossing.

The Grand Canyon

After a few hours at work on Friday I headed over to Kata and Nick’s house to depart for our little adventure. I met them there around 1 pm and we transferred our supplies into their SUV. We were in good spirits, but really had no idea what we had signed up for. Last year Mary had talked about how tough her one way crossing was but yet it sounded like she had a blast. Kata, Nick, and I were all invited in on the adventure 6 weeks out. Rooms on the North Rim sell out almost a year in advance and we were only able to sneak in when someone else from the group dropped. We set off on the five hour drive chatting about what we are about to attempt. I found reports of the mileage being 20 to 24 miles each way. Our group was made up of triathletes not ultra runners so we were not really sure what to expect. We stopped for some gas and then made a final push to the Grand Canyon National Park entrance. We got the chatty guy and it took us over 30 min to get through the line. Damn, we should have picked the middle lane.

The group setting up camp.

We met up with Dan and Mary at the campground. Spirits were high and we watched as Mary ran around like a little kid saying hi to all her friends that were in town just for this one adventure.

Kata was much faster then Nick

 We set up camp and enjoyed a few beers and then headed to the cafeteria for dinner before we hit the tent. This is the first time I got a chance to meet some of the others in our group. I’m horrible with names but they seemed cool and I figured I would not see them much since we would probably break up into smaller groups.

No they didnt come in adult sizes. Boooo

A few S’mores and then I was off to bed. This was my first time being the person out camping that was actually trying to get a good night’s sleep and I don’t think I’ll go drink in a campground again. I could hear everything the people around me were talking about. They weren’t loud, but when your nerves are already in a fritz, any little thing can keep you up. I crawled into bed around 8:30 and finally got to sleep at about midnight.

The plan was to rise at 3 and leave by 4 for the short drive to the trail head. It was freezing but by far the coolest sky I have ever seen. Crystal clear, pitch black, and more stars than I have ever seen in my life. You could even see the Milky Way cut across the entire sky. I could have left then and been content with my trip. Of course that’s not how it ended. 4:00:03 and we were ready to leave. There must have been some miscommunication because all of the sudden all the cars except for Mary and ours were gone. Mary had done the drive once, a year ago, so we had a short, mini panic attack trying to find a map and figure out where we were to go. Problem solved and at that point we made a pact to just enjoy our weekend and not worry about what everyone else was doing. We parked the car and started the mile or so walk to the trail head.

Hold me Nick im scared.

It was 29 degrees and we were all filled with excitement.

After a quick check of the supplies we headed down the trail. It is seven miles or so of downhill switchbacks and the plan was to walk them. It would serve as a warm up but also save our legs for the long weekend ahead. It’s hard to run downhill and the consequences of catching a toe and falling were not an option.

You could just start to see the GC as the sun came up.

As we walked down the trail the views got better. Dan climbed on every rock like a kid. I had to pee every 20 minutes.  Kata, Nick, and Mary tried to prepare themselves for two full days with Dan and I. As the sun rises you are treated to some views that I’m sure are pretty hard to come by. I’m not a big nature person but I was pretty impressed.

This was a couples pic but Mary doesnt like heights

About halfway down the trail we shed some clothes and got ready for the final push to the bottom of the canyon. After about an hour we could see the Bridge crossing the river which would lead us to our first main stop, Phantom Ranch.

You can see all the switchbacks we had to run down

We walked through the tunnel and onto the bridge feeling like we had accomplished step one of our goal. The next thing I hear is Mary yelling “mule’s run” and I took off.

The first bridge

I wasn’t sure if it meant turn around and run for your life or let’s try to beat them across the bridge. They have a mule train that you must pass one time each day and they have the right away. Once we realized that we could not make it we turned around and ran for the tunnel to get back to where we could let them pass.

"Do you know what a Mule is?"

After they cleared us we did a short jog to Phantom Ranch and fueled up with one of our many snacks. We topped off our water and started across the canyon. It’s eight or so miles across and we planned to add the extra mile or so to stop by the waterfall. It was cool but not something you could swim in. It did however make a great place for lunch, at 9:30 am.

Lunch time

We ate and chatted and just enjoyed each other’s company. Then we packed up and headed back out on the trail. The next section was five miles or so of running along the river; a real fun place to run. We took turns leading and at times ran hard or just decided to walk and enjoy it. No one really cared about the pace, we just kept moving forward.

Crossing the Canyon floor was a blast

On the way down the South Rim I had recognized Katie from American River 50 and Facebook. She was with a group of four from the Coyote running team from Cali. We ran with them for a mile or so as they offered some great ultra running advice. I didn’t recognize Jimmy Dean without his facial hair but could tell this was a group of pretty strong ultrarunners. They were faster than us but we used this as motivation to move forward. We played catch-up up the entire North Rim with them. Just as we would finally catch them, off they went.

One last push, six or so miles of steep climbing, one mini meltdown, and I heard the clapping of people as I hit the top of the North Rim.

There were at least 15 people in chairs hooting and hollering for us. They even had a cooler of beverages and anyone who does endurance sports knows what a cold coke can do to bring some life back into you. We were all beat and just ready to get a shower and dump our packs. Oh wait we had a 1.75 mile jaunt to the room and through snow, ahh crap.

Please let this be the top!

 We walked some, we ran some, and I paid Mary $5 to walk the last bit with me; I was done. After checking in we reached our room and the GPS said 26.2 on the dot. Day 1 turned out to be a marathon. I can’t describe my true feelings when I finally dumped my pack and stinky clothes, without losing the PG rating of this report. We had no hot water and I had to wash each body part at a time as it was far too cold to stand under the ice cold water for more than seconds at a time. You also learn real quickly where you missed the bodyglide. Since we had to carry everything it was back on with the stinky clothes and off to grab a beer.

We are off to get some beer

We had made pretty good time so we decided to hit the Saloon for that beer we had been talking about all day.

Our bar for the next few hours

We chatted about our adventures that day and really just enjoyed each other’s company. After round two the legs didn’t hurt quite as bad and we commented on the effects of alcohol at elevation. Each time someone new walked through the door we all cheered and invited them to have a drink with us. Most just looked at us like we were crazy and went one their merry way. Well we ended up at five beers and two shots each and decided it was time to head over to our dinner reservations.

Lets get it on

 The North Rim seemed to be the meeting point for senior sightseeing so we did get lots of weird looks running around half tipsy (ok we’ll just call it drunk by this point) in compression gear and running shorts. We were shown to our table and with a quick slide down the hand rail I was ready for some grub. When our waiter showed up I quickly realized this wasn’t my normal type of restaurant. Bow ties and slicked back hair give me the creeps. He was a very nice young man and did everything he could to keep us happy.

Its funny the looks you get when you tuck your running shorts in

 We ordered some more drinks and chatted with the other four girls who had done the crossing as a separate group. Dinner took around 90 minutes to arrive so with my A.D.D. I was off to find things to keep me occupied. I met a younger couple from Canada at the table next to ours and sat with them for a good twenty minutes. They had the happiest baby I have ever seen. You could poke him and he would giggle like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. They asked if I had children and I explained that I was not a big fan of kids. Next thing I know she hands me seven month-old Ben and I’ve got some stranger’s kid in my arms. They both warned me that he likes to grab onto things and pull. I reminded them I don’t have any hair so I should be ok. She reminded me that I still have lips and ears so just to be careful. After a few minutes I handed Ben back, as I didn’t want to be the tipsy guy who dropped the kid on his head, and I was off to find some more fun.

Thats Ben with his Kung Foo grip. He's got moms hair.

 I found our Coyote running group outside and pulled up a chair for some great conversation. Sounds like it was a good conversation but I cannot remember any of it. Maybe we drank a little too much. I saw that the food had arrived so I ran back inside, slid down the banister one more time, and scarfed down my food. I can’t really tell you if the food was any good because by that point all I wanted was pizza. We finished our conversations, paid our bills, and all headed back to our rooms for an early bedtime of 8 pm.

Our dinner group

We hopped in bed and I heard a knock. Mary needed to grab some of her stuff out of my bag and we all jumped up like it was time for round two. Luckily Nick played the parent as Kata and I were ready to go streaking. Man, did I say “maybe” we drank a little too much? Kata lost a contact and just as I was getting ready to get up to help them find it I was out. I woke to a weird slurping sound and wasn’t sure if I should play dead or make a smart ass comment. I sat up to see Kata drinking out of her camelback. She reminded us that we had a return marathon in the morning and with the amount we had drunk, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get some water in our system. So all night we seemed to wake each other up slurping up all the water we could find.

Lets do work son!!

3 am and I hopped into the shower. A 30 minute, warm shower was just what I needed. Kata and Nick got up and we repacked our bags, threw on some warm clothes, and headed out to meet Dan and Mary. Our group of five was going to grow by two with the addition of Rebecca and Kallie (two of the four girls we had dinner with). As we walked to the trail head there was that familiar aurora of excitement. We all knew that we were in for another hard day but there wasn’t anything we could do about it. We finally hit the trail head and just kept going. We walked the first half just chatting away. It was still chilly but we just seemed to really enjoy each other’s company. Each of the four runners from the Coyote group went flying by and this day we were in no hurry to try and run anyone down. We shed some clothes and then decided it was time to do some work.

Yes we have to run down that

 I had taken the following day off from work so I made myself a promise that if I was going to sit around and do nothing all day that I would be damn sure I had a reason too. We ran the second half of the North Rim decently. I’m sure we were holding sub 8 minute miles and our only concern was not to trip. We reached the first water stop quickly and stripped down to our warm weather running clothes.

Dan cant read

 Mother Nature unleashed the furry on us with a bug smack down like I’ve never seen before. Ever tried to balance on a shoe, naked, trying to get your shorts on, without stepping in the bushes, while you were dive bombed by 1000's of gnats?

The super fast but very nice Coyote Group and Nick

 It was not a pretty site. We regrouped and then held a pace line for the next eight miles or so to Phantom Ranch. This was our last meet up with the Coyote group and Jimmy made sure to tell me to try the Lemonade. OMG it seemed to be the perfect mix of sour and refreshing. After two days of bland bars and gels it was a mouth orgasm to say the least. FYI one glass is perfect; two makes your tummy hurt. We ate lunch and took a few group pictures and were back on our way.

Our day 2 group

 A short mile hike to the final bridge crossing and a four hour climb lay ahead. The smiles and laughter were all but gone. Rebecca had been pretty excited about her M&Ms and that was about the last smile we would see for hours from anyone. We walked and walked and walked and walked and finally I heard Dan yell “this is the halfway point”. We had all kind of split up and were making the assent up the South Rim individually. It was just one of those times where we all needed to dig deep and find something to get us up the hill. Switchback after switchback we just kept climbing. About ¾ of the way up we stopped for some food and a quick rest. I almost blew chunks when I took my last gel. Sometimes they just don’t seem to sit right. One last 45 minute push to the final rest spot. Dan and I reached it first and we cheered for each person who came around the corner. We were lucky to get a grunt or wave since EVERYONE was exhausted. We had one final regroup; we refueled, and started the final two miles to the top. The last mile is a very steep set of around 12 switchbacks and Dan and Mary were climbing like champs. I heard someone yell “the finish is right here” and it gave me a boost; just enough to get to the spot where Dan had said the finish was. I was later told he was pointing at the finish when he said it so I kept walking and saw Kata and Nick start running. I’m smart enough to know that if you’re running at this point it must be for something good so I took off. I made the turn and saw the four of them. I took off running as fast as I could and was finally at the top. Rebecca and Kallie were seconds behind me and the climb ended with one of Kallie’s patient hops over the final step.


 We all hugged and congratulated each other. We had someone take our group photo and it is by far the happiest any of us had been all weekend (well maybe other than the Saloon). We sat and enjoyed our accomplishment for a few moments and then made the mile and a half walk back to the car.

We were all DIRTY

I don’t know if I have any desire to make this journey again. I’m not a person who really is all that into nature. I love to be outdoors but at the end of the day, we ran across a big hole in the ground. I had only gone for the physical challenge but I can tell you a few things for sure.

I have a bond with those six other people now that many will never experience. At some point every person was weak and at some point they were strong. We didn’t need to prove anything to each other yet we used each other to push ourselves. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with some motivation.

The three hours we spent in the Saloon will rank in my top 5 most fun memories. We did nothing special but hung out and had a few beers. I don’t think anyone who wasn’t there will ever understand but any outsider would have surely thought we were a family.

This trip was an adventure. It had highs and lows and everything in between. It was physically difficult, but was by far more of a mental test. It took everything we had to keep moving forward and finish the day. It reminded me of my childhood when I was able to run all day. Somewhere along the trip to adulthood we lost something. The ability to head out the door with some supplies and only a time to be home by. As children you don’t know that you are supposed to rest, or worry about nutrition. You didn’t cut your workouts short to get home to watch TV. I can remember more than once where I even changed the time on my watch to prove that I wasn’t late. (It did work two times before my mom caught on)

If I could sum up what I learned from this entire trip in a few words they would definitely be: get out there and experience life.

Until my next adventure…..


  1. I love it! What a great report. I so enjoyed the entire weekend and would happily journey anywhere with you!

  2. dude, just think how easy that next ultra will be after this.