I don’t write to brag. I don’t write to motivate myself. I don’t write because I think people will find what I say particularly interesting. I maintain this site to try and express myself. To have a way to record memories. To show my kids that dad might have been kind of cool. To look back over the years and see that I had many moments in a well lived life. There is so much that running has to offer. Trying to distill it down is a task that seems futile. Trying to describe the pursuit of a goal. Expressing the relationships you develop over the miles. The shared experience of running is challenging enough, let alone the attempt at explaining a solo endeavor.
Which makes writing this particular piece difficult. I want to motivate people. I seek a way to show people what I have done. I crave the ability to have these memories recorded. For this particular day I am incredibly proud of what I did and want to share it. On the other end, it is incredibly personal. I have wanted to do this run for almost seven and a half years. I didn’t really know what I was doing. My style in running the Grand Canyon was nothing special. My time somewhere around average. But do you know what? It was mine. An experience to attempt to express by me alone. There were others along for this ride and I hope they see this and agree with what I have to say and how I say it. If you want a true trip report with logistics and a step by step account of the Grand Canyon, there are far better sources for you to seek out. Putting our Rim to Rim to Rim attempt into accurate, and appropriate, words without sounding cliché will be a task. Enjoy the attempt.
I am no running novice. But this was way beyond my skill set of local trail races and marathons. Some years ago I found myself visiting a sister in Las Vegas. With some work conflicts on her end, I had some free time. Took a side trip to the Grand Canyon. Consulting some locals and getting an idea on what I should do with 36 hours and wanting the best Canyon experience possible put me on a Rim to Rive to Rim hike. I was a strong runner and hiker, sounded like no problem. Ignoring the signs warning people to not do what I was about to do, I set off down the trail. Sitting on a sandstone shelf 6 miles along the South Kaibab trail, I saw two individuals ascending some steep switchbacks toward me. As they approached, I could tell they were worked. The dusty, vacant-eyed stare. The sweat ringed shirt. You could see all the trademarks of serious time spent in the backcountry. Making small talk like you do with strangers on the trail, it came out that they had been hiking all night from the North Rim after having travelled from the South Rim. Without knowing it, the idea of the Rim to Rim to Rim was planted in my brain and began to ferment there even before I had any real experience in such matters. The run would have to wait.
Fall of 2015. I get an email from a trail/ultra friend named Jason. He knows I have been wanting to complete what is quickly becoming a classic run, the Grand Canyon South Rim to North Rim to South Rim. Having giving an ill-fated (and thankfully very short-lived) attempt in July of 2013 and seeing the out-and-back referenced in a number of publications had inspired me to keep looking for a chance. Jason was going to provide. Donating some airline miles to a needy teacher/coach, we set a date in April 2016. He was pseudo-getting ready for a 100 miler in Wyoming (now abandoned with life getting in the way), but had also been wanting to get down to give the run a go. Even better it wouldn’t be just the two of us.
It is a unique facet of running that no matter how prepared you might be for an effort or how many times you have done a certain distance, you still don’t know what the result will be until you get into it. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, looking four thousand feet and nine miles down to where the Colorado River was hidden by the Inner Gorge, the feeling of being unprepared that many of us have on starting lines all over the world was compounded. Jumpy nerves, goofy small talk, and plain quiet was shared among our little group. This wasn’t even a race and were trying to get psyched up.
With a pre-dawn start we set off down Bright Angel trail. We chose this route for the water stops and the fact the trailhead was a quarter mile from our hotel room. It turned out to be very accommodating, despite our flatland quads not really having the experience of the long downhills and elevation. We quickly made our way through the signature features of the various sandstone layers, Indian Gardens, the Devil’s Corkscrew, finally reaching the rare flat stretch of the trail along the river over four thousand feet (and two and a half hours) below our starting point.
Passing through the smells of bacon and coffee at Phantom Canyon Ranch we began the thirteen mile ascent to the North Rim of the Canyon. Moderate running brought us past Ribbon Falls and into Cottonwood Camp. From there the steep climb past Roaring Springs and Supai Tunnel began to humble us. A snowy, windy, and quiet trailhead at the North Rim greeted us as we dealt with altitude, hunger, and the marathon plus we had ahead of us. No sag wagon, no shortcut back. Left foot, right foot.
The ultra experience of Jason and Tim began to show itself as they separated away heading back down the trail. Now every step brought you closer to being done. Trying to stay moving and take in the perspective shattering scenery. Old rock quickly surpassed by even older rock, it was too easy to get philosophical and cheesy. Hard not to though. I separated from Matt at Ribbon Falls on the way back, catching Jason and Tim. Spending a short-lived group run halfway up the South Rim. Altitude and exhaustion took its toll. With the rare experience of a sunrise and sunset in the canyon and the welcoming headlamp and voice of Tim, I topped out after 54 miles and 13 hours of moving. Could I have done better? Absolutely. Would I change some things? Of course. Who doesn’t say that after a hard effort? Do I feel odd now that I completed something that had been on my mind for years? Yep. But running has a way of bringing you other challenges and endeavors. We’ll see what comes.