R2R2R in the Grand Canyon. Rim to Rim to Rim in 17 hours.

JonRoig.com | Posted: 2006-10-09 01:41:41 | 5286 hits | View in Hi-Fi Mode

"We don't have to climb that whole thing, do we?" I asked some random Australian as I forced myself up Bright Angel trail. After dragging my ass over almost 40 miles, looking up at the Grand Canyon's giant cliff faces was more than a little intimidating. I'd been hiking uphill for what seemed like hours and I still had 2 or 3 miles to go.

"Yeah... we kinda do," he said, chuckling as I groaned.

I'd begun my journey at 9:30 the previous night, hiking down the South Kaibab in the darkness. Every step uphill hurt. I couldn't stop and sit down for fear that I wouldn't get back up, so I continued my slow, steady march up Bright Angel.

"Don't ever do this kind of thing," I told him. He assured me that he wouldn't. "It's really a monumentally stupid thing to do."

I'd fallen in with a bad crowd.

If you think that you're a reasonably serious trail runner and you live in Arizona, eventually you start to think about doing a rim to rim run in the Grand Canyon. In my case, I ended up joining the ultra list to learn more about the logistics of a r2r crossing. Eventually, I decided that I'd do a solo r2r sometime in October, when the canyon cooled down a bit inside... but, at the gentle suggestion of Elizabeth, I posted a message to the list, looking for someone to go with.

A Phoenix Firefighter/UltraRunner responded and invited me along with his group of 7 or 8 people, most of them firefighters. Sure, you can do it, Rayne assured me after he heard that I'd been running marathons. Obviously, when you're attempting something as insanely stupid as a Rim to Rim to Rim run in the Grand Canyon, it's nice to know that you're rolling with trained paramedics. He was an excellent guide in terms of what to pack and what to keep in mind on that kind of adventure.

As we left the South Rim on Friday night, the sky cleared up and the rain clouds disappeared. The moon was bright enough that we didn't really need lights for most of our descent and crossing of the canyon bottom.

There are all kinds of weird people running around in the canyon in the middle of the night.

Along the way, we encountered a bunch of strange things, including Maverick, an 80 year old dude doing his 80th crossing of the Grand Canyon. This year.

I hope that I'm that badass when I turn 80.

Besides a random assortment of other maniacs on the trails in the middle of the night, we also stumbled on some freaked out looking middle age woman, roaming around in the dark by herself, without a flashlight. Don't know what that was about, but she didn't say a word to us as we passed.

I'd practiced wearing a headlamp around the house, taking it out for runs and whatnot, and was really worried what would happen to my brain after many hours of use. My experience was actually really good -- it's actually kind of amazing how used to wearing a light on your head you can get, particularly if you're relying on it to keep you from falling over a cliff on the ascent of the North Rim.

Now, THAT was a crazy climb. Terror kept me motivated. It was pitch black and the outside edge of the trail was shrouded in darkness, making it pretty scary when you had to get at all close to the edge. Every dropoff looked like it went thousands of feet down. (Seen later in the light, it turns out that they really do drop that far.)

The darkness turned out to be a blessing as well as curse. Since we couldn't see the canyon walls, just a bunch of lights from people's headlamps way up above, we were able to shield ourselves from the true height that we had to climb. "Cool, there's only 6 miles left to go," I enthused around Cottonwood.

I am a friggin' moron.

It was tough going, but we did pretty well, I thought. Keith and John, my teammates -- we were the "slow" group -- made pretty good time up to the top. We made it to the warmth and comfort of Keith's Dad's SUV right before dawn, giving us a nice chance to warm up, suck down some real food, and prepare ourselves mentally to do the second half of that run.

Maybe "run" is stretching it a bit. Power walking might be more like it. We made it from the South Rim to the North Rim in about 7 hours total. I'm sure there are people that do that whole thing running, but since it was my first time doing that kind of thing, the companionship was an awesome motivator to keep moving.

At dawn, I was feeling surprisingly good. We made the descent down the Rim as the sun came up and when we hit the bottom, I decided to start running. I'd played it conservatively on the way out... and although my travel companions were a lot of fun, it seemed kind of torturous to hike slowly back, particularly since we still had a nice little window before the sun was going to shine directly into the canyon.

Basically, I ran about 10 miles from the base of the North Rim beyond Cottonwood to the foot of the climb on Bright Angel.

At water stops, people were very curious what I was up to, as I dumped Perpetuem into my hand bottle and refilled the Camelbak with water. It turns out that the ultra runners are right -- the whole hand bottle full of nutrients/backpack full of water thing is perfect for a long sustained effort like that. The Ultimate Direction hand bottle is incredibly well designed.

I really bonded with that water bottle.

In fact, I had tremendous luck with my gear: a Camelbak M.U.L.E., a Petzl headlamp, several bags of Perpetuem, Endurolyte electrolyte pills, some really cool Adidas running shorts with embedded biker shorts, an REI long sleeve running shirt, and a good tank top style running shirt for the day. I also had some basic survival gear, just in case -- a pocketknife, a space blanket, an extra flashlight, several packs of gu (for quick calories), matches, spare contact lenses, backup batteries, and some running tights that I didn't end up needing since it wasn't that cold. Nor did I end up using my wool hat, gloves, or rain shell, thank God.

Doing that in the rain would've been horrible.

I was relentless about sucking down Perpetuem and making sure I was getting enough calories, electrolytes, and water. Staying on top of that kind of stuff for the first half of the trip left me in incredibly good shape to do the second part.

From the time I left the North Rim, I didn't stop moving until I reached the top of the South Rim.

I couldn't stop. I'm not sure I would've been able to get back up if I sat down.

The running part went fine... the weather was perfect for a leisurely jog. The climb up Bright Angel was... insane. Being able to see the top just made me want to cry, but what choice did I have but to keep going?

One foot after another, one step at a time, I made my way up the trail. After awhile, it caused me too much pain to push off with my left leg, so I had to use my right leg to do all the hard stuff. I gave up on avoiding mud, since my legs and shoes were already caked in dirt from an earlier encounter with a part of the trail that the rainstorm had turned into a swamp.

That part of the trail was packed with people, a lot of whom didn't look like they were prepared for any kind of hike. I got some weird looks, but no one got in my way. I'm sure that by that point I looked pretty grim, but I talked to a bunch of nice people along the way up the hill.

Lots of foreigners on the trail, including the Australian. (Hope you enjoy your recovery in Vegas, mate.)

I reached the top around 2:45 in the afternoon, pretty much out of my mind. I wandered into the Bright Angel lodge and got some ice cream. It was the best ice cream I've ever had.

Today, I am very sore, but didn't suffer any permanent damage. The wet socks gave me pretty good blisters on my little toes, but that was the extent of the wounds.

44.3 miles in 17 hours... not too bad, for my first time out with this kind of thing. 'Course, it wasn't a race, so it was a nice, low-pressure, introduction to UltraRunning. I'm sure I'll see ya'll out there on future adventures!


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