89 Days – The Grand Canyon, Rim to Rim to Rim

“Lets just lie down here and take a nap until the others catch up,”  Erich said, as he lowered himself down onto the trail, on his back, using his pack as a pillow.

“On tonight’s episode of  ‘I Shouldn’t Be Alive’…”  I said in a deep announcer-like voice.  Erich shot me a dirty look that I could feel, even in the dark.

It was hard for me to object, mid summit of the Bright Angel Trail, leading up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  But I wasn’t quite as brave as Erich, having earlier seen on this trail a snake, several scorpions and a million spiders.  I waved my flashlight over both sides before choosing a rock, to make sure I didn’t sit on one too close to one of the many drop offs.

Before too long, I started to get cold.  “We need to keep moving,”  I sighed.  So 16+ hours into our journey, we continued on…

 

When you tell your ultramarathon friends who have done it before that you are running Rim to Rim to Rim at the Grand Canyon, they all say how much fun you are going to have, how beautiful it is, and how long it took them, but as a disclaimer state that they were taking their time and enjoying the views.  What they don’t tell you is how hard it really is.  When Alexa told me that her boyfriend Mark, 2nd place finisher at the Javelina Jundred, and elite level runner, had done it in 14 hours (even though he was ‘taking his time’), I knew we were going to be out there for a while.  David had predicted 14-16 hours.  From experience, I felt it would be longer than that.

“What is your over under?” A new term Mark had taught me on the way up meaning our predicted finish time.

“28 hours,”  I smiled.  He laughed and yeah, I was exaggerating.  But I knew this was going to take a while.

We left from the Team CrossFit Academy parking lot at 6:30am on Friday morning to begin our journey to Arizona.  There were 7 of us there,  6 team members (David, Mark, Bob, Dawn, Raquel and me) plus a team friend, Melody.  From here we would drive to the hotel to meet my good friend Erich, who I have had many of these type of adventures with.  Although we originally met while he was living in California, he now lived in Arizona, so this was a perfect meeting ground for a great adventure.  I was excited to introduce him to the team.

On Friday night, we drove to the canyon and got our bearings, since we would be taking off in the dark.  After a nice hearty dinner in the hotel restaurant, it was bedtime.  Alarms were set for 3am.

We had planned to leave the hotel at 3:30am but logistics, aka getting 8 people in the same place at the same time, caused us to take off a bit later, and we still had to orchestrate the car drop off.  It was close to 5am before we hit the trails, but in my opinion, the timing was perfect.  The sun had just started to rise as we started our first descent into the canyon.

Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to cover it.  The views that awaited me were unlike anything I’d ever seen before.  I felt like I was in a great amusement park, designed specifically for people like me, lucky enough to have the capability to travel long distances on foot.  Melody ran ahead, but the rest of us chose to stay together.  We were all having some mini challenges.  Because this run was completely self supported (other than a few potential water stops), we were traveling with much more weight on our backs than we were used to.   Raquel (AKA Rocky) and Dawn were also experimenting with their new trekking poles.  So we ran together, talked, laughed, took pictures.  At the risk of sounding a little over dramatic, those moments that I shared with my friends, in that unbelievable place, are what I consider heaven to be like.

A few hours in, we arrived at Phantom Ranch, a little over 7 miles into our 46 mile journey.  Everyone was feeling great so far, and we filled water, had a few snacks and were back on our journey.  The valley was very runnable, but my allergies kicked in and my nose started to bleed.  I pulled back the pace a bit and Mark kept me company.  The rest of the team was still in view right ahead, but I was worried how this would affect the rest of the journey.  Although I anticipated that all of us would run into some kind of issue today, I kept thinking how bad it would look if the ultra coach couldn’t even keep up!   We all regrouped before heading up the climb to the North Rim.  I was glad that I would get to do some climbing since that was typically my strength.  But as I got out of the area I was apparently allergic to, altitude kicked in.  My lungs were burning badly from the earlier stress of the new environment.  David, Bob and I tackled the climb together and David suggested that every 3/4 of a mile we take a short break.  “You don’t have to do that for me, David.”  I said.  “I don’t want you to stay back if you are feeling good and want to go hard.”

“Are you kidding me?”  he smiled.  “After what you did for me at Mt Disappointment?  Besides, I’m doing this for me too.  This will keep us fresh.  We still have a long way to go.”

Even through the pain of the climb, the three of us couldn’t help but gaze and comment on the amazing views!   8 hours into our journey, David, Bob and I summitted the North Rim.  The team was resting and waiting for us, still filling packs and getting some snacks in, as we made our way to the trail head.  Erich took a quick team photo for us, and the others descended as David, Bob and I rested.

“Thank you,”  I said to both of them.

Bob smiled.  “Of course!  That was not an easy climb.  I was happy for the breaks too.”

We took about 20 minutes before heading off again.  I was feeling much better.  “Lets try for about a 12 minute mile on the down,”  David said.  He lead the way but in moments, his ’12 minute miles’ turned into about 8 minute miles as we watched him fly down the switchbacks.  Bob and I weren’t running quite as fast but were still making pretty good time and could see we were starting to catch the earlier group.  Dawn was being conservative. protecting some knee issues and I think everyone was getting a little tired.  Everyone except maybe Energizer Bunny David!  He was doing a great job keeping us all accounted for and helping out whenever someone needed something.  By the time we reached the ranger station, 5.5 miles down from the rim, we caught up to them.

Erich hadn’t realized I’d run into issues earlier, thinking I was just staying with my teammates, and quickly apologized, and promised at that point to stay with me until the end.   “I’m fine,”  I said.  “Just some allergies.  Plus I’m glad you are making friends with my team!”  We ran together and decided to take off from Phantom Ranch a bit earlier than everyone else in case I ran into the same issues climbing that rim that I did on the other side.  But my endurance training was starting to kick in and suddenly I started to feel good again.  We passed over a spectacular bridge and began to make our way up the Bright Angel trail just as the sun was starting to fade.  Erich said my pace was strong and I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing my earlier thought of the entire team waiting hours for me to summit the South Rim probably wouldn’t be a reality.  I hiked along, enjoying the warm breeze and the views when suddenly I looked behind me and Erich was quite a way back.  “Are you ok?”  I shouted back.

“I don’t feel good,”  he said.  He lives at very low altitude so the change was starting to affect him.  I let him take the lead.  Erich and I had both been in these type of situations together before and knew how to push each other without over pushing.

We stopped for a short break 4.5 miles from the end.  The sun had almost set when we heard someone coming up behind us.  And suddenly we realized, it was Melody!  We thought she had already finished.

“Where did you come from?”  I asked.

She explained that she had run into some heat issues and laid down at Phantom Ranch for a while, we just didn’t see her when we went through.  The team had helped her and then she had headed out again.  She stayed with us for a little bit before heading up on her own and said that everyone else was about 10 minutes behind us.

Erich and I kept glancing down the trail and it wasn’t too long before we could see 5 little lights, working their way up.  “That’s them.”  I smiled.  “We are all going to finish around the same time.”

“We aren’t done yet!”  Erich said.

“We will make it,”  I said.  “You and I have been through worse!  But I will say this works much better when only one of us has completely detonated.”

We slowed down a little and took more breaks, hoping they would catch us and we could all finish together.  At the same time, it was getting cold and stopping for too long brought on the shakes for me.  About 1/2 mile out, Dawn and Rocky appeared.  Rocky wasn’t feeling good and had run out of her baby food on the climb up, something all of us girls had used that weekend.  I gave her some of mine and it perked her right up.  They blew past with their trekking poles and I was suddenly starting to feel very jealous of those little contraptions!  Being able to see their lights head up, showed us how close we were so we opted to just finish with no more breaks or slow downs.  When we hit the top of the rim, Dawn and Rocky had just finished so we made our way back to the car, turned on the heat and waited.

Dawn told us that Bob had run into some problems but that David and Mark were staying with him.  Mark was able to call us when they were about a mile out.  There was a big part of me that wanted to head back down the trail for the teammate that had stayed with me when I had issues, but I was afraid at this point I might be more trouble than I was help.  Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before we saw 3 headlamps heading towards the car.  Success!!  We piled 8 people into David’s 5 person SUV, drove to Mark’s car and arrived back at the hotel long after any restaurants were open, but we were too tired to care, still eating our race fuel.

“Still laughing at my over under?”  I said to Mark.

“Nope!”  He smiled.

When we arose the next morning, we headed out to our last meal, all 8 of us together.  Everyone limped gingerly from the cars to the restaurant, and not being able to help myself, I put my arms out in front of me, imitating a zombie.  Rocky started laughing, understanding the reference right away.

We all sat down, most of us with 2 plates of food, silently gulping down as much as we could.

“So, is everyone ready to PR at the Mt Wilson Trail Race in a couple weeks?”  Rocky said, a little overly enthusiastic.

We all burst out laughing.

Saying goodbye to Erich was a little sad.  That weekend reminded me of how many awesome adventures we had shared with each other when he was local.  But I am so lucky to have the teammates that I do.  There were tons of obstacles to overcome, from my allergy issues, to Dawn’s knees, to Rocky’s emotional ‘Fuck the views!  I’m sick of this shit!!”  outburst, to Bob’s final ascent to the finish.  All of us had something to work through, but all of us were able to accomplish this amazing feat because we did it together.  Every person in the group made it 46 miles, Rim to Rim to Rim.  I am so incredibly lucky to have these people in my life.  And I leave this weekend with only one question…

What’s next??

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Steve Crane May 7, 2013 at 12:49 am

Awesome Summer! Congrats to you and your crew. No trail will ever look the same again.

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