November 2, 2014

Being Lucky, R2R2R: The Sequel

"O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith" - Natalie Merchant

     I'm sure I am taking Natalie out of context when I listen to this song, but it reminds me of how lucky I am. I can't help but feel that Fate & Destiny have smiled down on me. I am constantly reminded of how precious this gift of life is. As I get the chance to do some amazing adventures, and take advantage of this precious gift, I can't help but feel blessed. I'm the lucky one. 

"These are the days"

     On a Thursday evening after work, I met with some friends to set off for adventure. Mandi McBride, Gustavo Flores, and myself met at Ryan Price's place to load up his RV, and start the long drive to The North Rim of the Grand Canyon. After a short stop for fuel, and one more to pick up Carl Grimaud, we were on our way. Having detailed my last R2R2R trip, I'll just add that although some of the players may have changed, this was an incredibly fun way to travel. The excitement and anticipation we all felt is indescribable. 

Carl, Mandi, RP, & Gustavo

     Despite a couple hold up's, by Friday afternoon, we had reached our destination.

Some controlled burns left a lot of smoke in the air

     Far down in the bottom of this big ditch behind us, was the trail we would be on in the morning. It was fun being on the North Rim in daylight for a change, and to be there with no snow on the ground. We spent most the afternoon just hanging out.

     Before making sloppy joes for everyone, Mandi and I went for a short run to see how far the trail head was from camp. The buck above ignored us when we went by. Despite the fact that the trail was only 1/2 mile from camp, we managed to log 2.5 miles, not counting our mile walk in search of camp. I was actually wondering if I was asleep in the RV, having some crazy dream about being off course, and not being able to get back in time for the next day's run. I'm still not completely sure if I did that run or if it were a dream. I guess the next photo shows I was at the trail head some time that evening.

Just seeing the start of this trail stirs my blood.

"These are days you'll remember"

     After a short nights sleep, that had very little sleep for any of us, our day arrived. By 3:30am, we stood outside the RV. The plan was to run from camp, across the Grand Canyon to the South Rim, and back, hopefully by sunset. Our added distance was my idea. I wanted to run my age in miles (48). This would be plenty difficult for me anywhere, but in the Grand Canyon, you add about 22,000' of elevation change to the equation. Yes, my friends and I have a twisted definition of "fun". We got together for a group hug and a moment of silence, both in appreciation of what we were getting a chance to do, and thinking of those that are not currently able to be doing something like this. Then we were off into the dark night, our headlamps illuminating our way. It was unseasonably warm, which I liked, and there was a bit of a breeze. Conditions were perfect. 

Mom, ignore above photo, and following paragraph

     I have still never seen this section in the light of day. I have always ran down along the edge of those cliffs in the dark. I'm not sure if seeing the edge in daylight would ease my mind at all.

     It only took me a minute of running down, to remember why I called this the most physically challenging thing I have ever done. Even the going down beats on you. I spent the rest of the day being overly conservative, knowing that the climb out would be there waiting for me. By the time we reached the Pumphouse Ranger Station, it felt good to stop for a minute, and to be off of the steepest of the downhill. We had already dropped about 3650' of elevation in about 5.5 Miles. We all shed our warm clothes here. Although it was still dark, down in the canyon, it was warming up fast. The temperature in the corridor had reached 91 on Friday, and was expected to be in the 80's this day. 

The sign reads: “Warning DO NOT attempt to hike from the canyon rim to the river and back in one day. Each year hikers suffer serious illness or death from exhaustion.”

     By the time we reached Phantom Ranch, over 14 miles into our adventure, I had consumed 3 Gu and 2 granola bars. I had started the day off with plenty of coffee, and a bagel. This was on top of a huge meal the night before. I really wanted to avoid having to crawl out of the Canyon this time. I was a little surprised at how many people we met crossing the Canyon already. Evidently, it was a great day for adventure. We took another short break, then headed across the Colorado to climb the South Rim. I was getting hungry, and looking forward to a good meal. We were glad to have RP stay with us. He had planned all along on turning back at the river, but was feeling pretty good, and decided to go on. We never would have tried to talk him into that. However, we knew he was in good enough shape if he decided to try.

Carl & Mandi

     With more light now, I finally started getting some decent photos, but you just can't do this trail justice in a picture. It is so much more beautiful, and so much steeper in person.

Gustavo, Mandi & RP

     Shortly after Indian Garden, we suffered our first casualty. Carl was making the tough decision to turn around. I can not possibly express how much I admire him for doing this. Carl was having a rough day, and knew things just weren't right for him. To go on would have put himself and others at risk. I know after, he felt as if he had failed, but he still ended up covering 40 Miles in the Grand canyon on a beautiful day, an amazing feat. The rest of us had filled our packs at Indian Garden, and now continued on up Bright Angel Trail.

Nearing the top of the South Rim

     We hit the South Rim at the perfect time, just as they were finishing serving breakfast. I ordered the meal that seemed to have the most calories, and although I knew it would make for an interesting run back down Bright Angel, I ate every bite. I had scrambled eggs, hash browns, biscuits with sausage gravy, a fruit bowl, and chased it down with 3 cokes. I still felt somewhat hungry, but was smart enough to not eat more. Now for my favorite part...

RP & Mandi headed down

     On the way down off the South Rim, you get to pass all the people that you have already passed once. Many of them were climbing out and some were headed down, when we passed them the first time. The shocked looks, questions, and words of encouragement are incredible. It's sure to put a smile on your face.

Lovin' the downhill

RP, Mandi & Gustavo

     I heard many people talking about my friends as I passed them. The most common comments had to do with Mandi's smile, and how much fun she was having. Then there were a few comparing the contrast of her smile to that tired looking guy in front of her (RP). 

...doesn't look that tired to me

     Like life, somehow this day seemed to be slipping by too fast. In the blink of an eye we were back down to the Colorado River.

Along the Colorado River

     We stopped at the bridge for a couple photos. I was more than just a little nervous. This is exactly where my problems started last year. A quick check eased my mind some. Breakfast had settled, I had been drinking all day. I had been eating at least every hour, other than since breakfast, and I felt good. Don't get me wrong, it felt as if I had ran almost 34 miles already, and I knew the hardest 14 miles were yet to come, but feeling good is relative. 

Our traditional photo

     We filled our packs again at Phantom Ranch, drank some ice cold water that they had in the cafe, and headed off at a conservative pace back to the North Rim. We reached Pumphouse Ranger Station feeling exhausted (42 Miles into our run). Here we took a last break, filled our packs and bellies with water, shot blocks, M&M's, Swedish Fish, and anything else we thought we could stomach. The sun was setting fast, but we would get to see the next mile or so before we had to go back to using headlamps. Our day had been filled with laughter, bad jokes, singing, and a pure joy that can not be described. Now is when the real work would begin. RP started out ahead of us, knowing it would be a slow climb out. The rest of us followed shortly behind. I led, Mandi stayed with me, and Gustavo brought up the rear. He didn't want any breaks on the way up, but settled into a slow pace he could maintain. I would climb at a pace that felt comfortable until I would get a minute or two ahead of Gustavo, then I would stop for a much needed break. Mandi would stay with me, while looking out for all of us. I'm sure she was tired too, but I also knew she could pound up the mountain if she wanted to. That girl is amazing. A couple Miles up, I started to feel my stomach go. I was drained of energy, but still slowly made my way up. Gustavo thought my breaks were just to let him catch up, but I needed those breaks badly. With a couple Miles to go, I puked a little. I knew we were close enough to the top that it would not be as bad as last year, but my energy was all gone. It felt like a snails pace moving on up the trail. Gustavo had now gone ahead, and I couldn't seem to keep up. Mandi held back with me, but was disappointed in my lack of humor now. We passed a group of back packers that had crossed the Canyon and were planning to camp on the North Rim for the night. It was nice seeing other people on the trail, and knowing that mine was not the slowest climb out of the canyon.

Dirt & Sweat
Bringing some of the Grand Canyon out with me

     After what seemed like forever and a day, we hit the trailhead to find RP and Gustavo waiting for us. I convinced them to get back to camp and shower, while I took one last break on a rock. After they left, I puked some more, leaving a piece of me in the Grand Canyon. I felt great (relative) after that, and Mandi and I started back to camp. The laughter, bad jokes and singing even started back up. We were going to come up short of my 48 Miles that I wanted, but I wasn't about to add a quarter mile at this point. This is where it pays off letting Mandi lead the way. When she stopped at an intersection and asked which way was our camp, I realized we were on the wrong road. Back to the trail we went, and I got my 48 Miles.

     It is next to impossible to describe how hard, how fun, and just what it means to go Rim to Rim to Rim in one day. So I hope RP won't mind me using a quote from him.

     "I was telling my Mom this morning about it and had to fight the tears off. I can't believe I did it." -RP

     I feel the same way, Ryan. It's a special thing. I love that adventure, and those four friends I got to share it with.

     Maybe next time I will get around to telling about the fun trip home.

"These are the days.

These are days you'll remember. 
Never before and never since, I promise, will the whole world be warm as this. 
And as you feel it, you'll know it's true that you are blessed and lucky. 
It's true that you are touched by something that will grow and bloom in you."