Monday, October 12, 2009
about a month or so ago, i threw out an invitation to a few friends to run the Grand Canyon, rim to rim to rim. several folks responded, and we started calling it the R2R2R. The tentative plan was to run the North Kaibab trail, cross the river near Phantom Ranch, and either run the South Kaibab trail or the Bright Angel trail to the south rim and then turn around and come back to the north rim. One friend, Mark, wanted to start at the south rim and run to the north and back. i kind of wanted to run the South Kaibab route, because it is shorter and i've done it before, but the friends who wanted to run with me wanted to do the Bright Angel route.
i gotta tell ya, i was not prepared for this run. but after talking several people into joining me, i started to feel the pressure to get out there and at least try. i could always bail out at the river at mile 14 and turn around and go back, without going up the south side. i haven't been running regularly for the last 5 years, actually since i dropped out of wasatch 100 for the second time at mile 75. i ran the last 25 miles of wasatch 100 this year with a couple of friends and i thought it was going to kill me. that was about a month ago. i managed to put together one 40 mile week in early september, but it was slow and i was just trying to build up some miles again.
yet here i was, at 5:45am on the north rim with a couple of friends, sick to my stomach, cold (it was 25 degrees) and wondering what the hell i'd gotten myself into. i figured on about a 14 hour effort. i would be a little off in my time estimation.
my friends started out fast downhill, and i did not try to keep up with them. i wanted to conserve energy, because i knew it was going to be a long day and i didn't want to burn myself up in the first 4 very steep miles down to the canyon floor. it was dark, and my black diamond prototype headlamp lit up the night like a beacon. i reached cottonwood camp, mile 7, in 1 hr 45 minutes. perfect timing. i reached the river, mile 14, at 3 hours 15 minutes. still right on pace. my stomach was tweaking hard the entire way, and i kept thinking "once the sun comes up, my stomach will turn around". but it never really did until i reached the south rim. more on that later.
i met up with my friend Mark and his group, who were running the opposite direction, just south of the silver bridge across the river. they had started an hour later than us. they said they had seen my friends who were ahead of me and that they were doing well. all smiles. we took some quick pictures, exchanged a couple of introductions and early stories, and then were on our way again. i called this section "the beach" because it was deep, soft sand. then i started to climb.
the climb up the Bright Angel trail is thankfully mostly in the shade. it was only 9:30 in the morning, so it was still quite cool. i reached Indian Gardens, about halfway up, and was feeling pretty good despite my still tweaky stomach. i was able to eat GU and GU chomps, and had nuun in my water bottle for electrolytes. i had a 32 ounce reservoir in the nathan vest pack that i borrowed from my friend Mandy. it was just the perfect amount of water for the day. i love the nathan pack because you can stash your tunes and camera and a fair amount of snacks up front in the little pouches. i was also able to eat a probar on the ascent as (a healthy 380 calories).
i saw my friends coming back down from the south rim. i still had about a mile or so to go until the top. i gotta tell ya, it was so good to see their faces. i had been staying focused on my music and keeping a steady pace uphill, and it was so great to get a little encouragement, especially since i was feeling kinda sick the whole time. it's nothing new--i've been dealing with a tweaky stomach for years, so i pretty much expected it, and deal with it the best i can. i don't let it get me down, but sometimes i just wish it would be normal, my stomach.
i got to the top and took my friends' directions to go to the lodge. i knew what i needed--good old fashioned coca cola. i filled up my nuun waterbottle with coke, and ate a handful of pretzels that i had brought with me. instant relief. i was revived. i used the port-a-potty on the rim (the flush toilet restrooms were being commandeered by a tour bus that had just arrived), shook the sand out of my shoes and socks, and started the run down. my stride was getting to be more of a shuffle at this point, but i was feeling good, and in good spirits. i took my headphones off for a while to listen to what the tourists had to say. "Didn't we just see you coming up?!?" to which i would reply, "i left my car on the north rim this morning!" and also listened to the german teenagers who were worked hard by the conditions. it was about 90 degrees and bluebird skies.
about halfway down the south rim, i was overtaken by a group of four guys, one from iowa, one from arizona, and two from colorado. they were also doing the double cross, and had stopped for lunch on the south rim. they would become my "friendly strangers" on the run. we leap-frog passed each other many times that afternoon, and they always checked in on me. they passed me just before the silver bridge at the bottom of the Bright Angel trail, they said, "see you at phantom!" and yes, indeed i would.
i couldn't believe i was doing this. i reached phantom ranch and my elapsed time was about 11 hours. when was the last time i had been out for more than 11 hours? i couldn't recall... maybe 2004 at wasatch 100? maybe. i filled my handheld waterbottle with lemonade and ice, as recommended by the group of four guys. they had stopped for another snack. i dumped the sand out of my shoes at a nearby picnic table and kept my forward motion going so that my legs would not seize up. a man at the picnic table called me "an amazing woman". i smiled.
my goal was to keep a steady pace. i had about 13 miles to go, and figured i could walk at least 2 miles per hour. at that pace it would take me about 6 hours to get to the top. 6 hours is a long time if you think of it all as one chunk. but i knew that if i broke it down into manageable sections, i could get it done. cottonwood camp was 7 miles (about 3 hours) away. i could do that. that's what i decided to focus on. at this point, i was really unable to run anymore. my run was such a shuffle (i tried a few times) that i think i was hiking faster than i was running.
the group of guys passed me after about 3-4 miles and gave me some more words of encouragement. i was doing it! i had no choice; i had to get out of the canyon.
i saw Mark and his south-bound group a couple of miles from cottonwood camp. they had just seen my friends and said they were looking strong. good. he said they might try to hitch a ride to kanab to get dinner before everything closed. momentary internal panic--what?!? after running all day on my own, i was going to have to drive 2 hours in the dark back to kanab? but i didn't let myself get drawn into any drama. i didn't have the energy to waste on it. i would deal with whatever was in store for me at the rim when i reached the rim.
i ran into the group of four "friendly strangers" again at cottonwood camp--7 miles to go. quick refill on the water bottle and i kept going. "you're not stopping?" they asked. "nope. gotta keep moving," i replied. i really was starting to feel very stiff and i knew that i had to keep moving or it would all be over.
i kept a strong pace out of cottonwood camp. i had 7 miles to go. i knew the next 2 would be fairly easy up to the first bridge. i turned on my headlamp at dusk and pushed the pace up to the bridge. i had about 5.5 miles to go. next landmark, the pumphouse. one member of the group of four caught me, and i asked him to tell my friends i was not far behind if he caught them on the rim. he said he would. i was so encouraged by his positive energy. "you're making great time!" he would say. it really kept me going. we both agreed that if we just could make it to the 'rock tunnel' landmark (2 miles from the top) we would be home free.
i made it to the pumphouse. next, i made it to the roaring springs trail junction (4 miles to go). i crossed the second bridge and gave a hoot, as my new friend had done several minutes before. i couldn't count the switchbacks, but they were endless. each time i came around a left hand turn i was certain the rock tunnel landmark would be there, but it was not. the little bugs on the ground sparkled green in the light of my headlamp. moths flew into my face occasionally, and black beetles and spiders were blinded by my light and shocked by my footsteps. a little desert mouse ran along side me for 10 yards, then dove down off the rocks. i hope he survived. then--the rock tunnel. *hoot!* two miles to the top!
i was able to eat a GU and a honey stinger and even a couple bites of probar. i refilled my handheld waterbottle at the tap. one foot in front of the other. like a treadmill. keep moving. don't stop. okay, just for 10 seconds stop, but just this once. heart-rate down. okay now keep going. pass a couple of hikers. give them words of encouragement. you're doing it! pass three more hikers. great job! we're almost there!
there is a strange metal table on the last right-hand switchback on the north kaibab trail. each right-hand turn i made, i hoped i would see that landmark, but i did not. i didn't let it phase me. i just kept moving up the treadmill. i tried not to look at my watch, but i knew i was well past 14 hours, and moving into the 16th hour. i kept moving, and then, magically, as magical as the day that had just passed, the last landmark--the metal table. a quarter mile to the top. i passed a woman hiking down, whom i'm sure was crewing some of the other hikers and runners that day. she said something to me but i did not hear her. i no longer felt the pain in my feet and the stiffness in my legs. oh, let my friends be there at the top...
i reached the top. *hoot!* 16 hours, 43 mintues. 47.2 miles and 10,500 ft of elevation gain.
i crossed the parking lot to the car. note on the steering wheel, "we're at the lodge--come meet us for dinner!" tears in my eyes. put on my patagonia puffy coat and started the car (the keys were under the rear bumper, and retrieving them was probably the most challenging task of the entire day). i drove straight to the lodge. after wandering around in the dark for 5-10 minutes, i found them. they came across the dining room to greet and hug me. "we did it!!!" sit down, eat some fries with mayo (i still couldn't convince my stomach to cooperate) and recount the tales of the day.
what an amazing day.