I sat in the middle passenger seat as the sun shone down on our white fifteen passenger van. The van was decorated with bright red and blue window paint declaring the names of those inside, their destination, and promulgations of their excitement, “Grand Canyon or Bust!” It was day two of our epic Grand Canyon crossing adventure.
WAIT! What? Back up- it was day two of an adventure and I sat in the van? As in not running? Yes, that’s correct, you read that right. Sigh. Here’s my story.
We pulled up to Becky’s house at 9:30 on Saturday morning and proceeded with the excited greetings and discussions of our pending crossings. The itinerary was as follows:
- Saturday: sleep on the South Rim
- Sunday: cross the Canyon via South Kaibab to North Kaibab and sleep on the North Rim
- Monday: cross the Canyon again via North Kaibab to Bright Angel, shower on the South Rim and go home
There was some nervousness (most in our midst had never done this before), crossing strategy discussion (run, hike, when to eat, etc), and a lot of excitement. We were ready to go.
My husband, Andy, offered to be our driver for this trip. You need to realize that this commitment entailed nearly 1000 miles of driving, and for approximately one quarter of this distance he would be all alone. He chose to do this all because he loves me and wants to support my running habit; good guy, right?
The ride north was fairly uneventful. We drove. We talked. We laughed. Some slept. I got tired of being cooped up in a van and got irritable. Eventually we made it to the Canyon, checked into our rooms for the night, and went for a walk.
On Elk and Canyon Wildlife: As we walked along the asphalt path to the rim we saw an elk. It just grazed and completely ignored us. In fact, all of the wildlife we saw over the weekend was either indifferent to human presence or was overly comfortable. The deer ignored us as the elk did, but the squirrels and crows were exceedingly forward and simply climbed on us to get what they wanted. It was disconcerting and made me feel like I wasn’t actually seeing wildlife.
The South Rim: I love the Canyon. Every time I see it, it takes my breath away. There are no words, no pictures that could possibly do it justice, so I won’t try here. It is worth the trip to see it for yourself. Go.
We spent some time wandering along the Rim and checking out the shops. We took selfies, we snapped shots for each other, and we took pictures for other people there too. The South Rim is extremely busy. If you sit in one spot long enough, it is not uncommon to hear a minimum of three or four different languages spoken as people pass by. People-watching on the South Rim is way more fun than doing the same at the mall!
Eventually we were starving (runners, you know) and since we had to be up early, we headed back to the cafeteria at Yavapai Lodge for dinner and then back to our rooms to crash.
Waking Up: The alarm went off at 3:45 am. Yuck. I’m pretty sure that is not even a time. Matt and I went about the motions of getting ready while Andy slept on. Lucky bastard. I groggily downed some oatmeal with a makeshift spoon I made from a ripped up paper cup (I’d forgotten to bring any spoons) and a Cinnamon Bun Scone (uh, yum! I can include the recipe if anyone is interested. Just say so in the comments below) and I was out the door and ready to go. Everyone else met us outside the room and we walked up to the Visitor Center to catch the Hiker’s Express shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead. There was some tomfoolery (as can only be expected) on the way to the shuttle and especially on the shuttle. I feel sorry for our shuttle driver. She was a very patient lady.
The crossers this first day were: Laurie, Becky, Shawna, Bubba, Ashley, Kathi, Matt, and me.
MOVE!: As soon as we stepped off the shuttle I was ready to run, but was informed we needed a pit stop first. Ack! Okay. I was antsy and waited. They came out. NOW I was ready to run! But no, I was informed we needed a group photo first. *Insert a string of expletives here.* Finally I was told I could go! Time to drop!
Ah, the sweet descent into the Canyon. As Kathi, Matt, and I dropped below the Rim, I settled into an easy pace. While watching out for the logs placed in the trail to prevent erosion, and the random rocks and holes, I marveled again at the beauty around me. Last year I did this same crossing, only I hiked the whole way. This year I ran through it and the experience was exhilarating. *Let me breathe in the glory around me. Let me dance down the trail.*
Since I had some hard miles ahead of me, I made sure my breathing was easy. I didn’t want to go out too hard and fast and putter out. Anytime we saw hikers ahead, we slowed to a hike. These Rim to Rim crossing have received a lot of negative attention lately- either from runners being rude, or from the extreme difficulty of what we were doing (there are signs EVERYWHERE warning people not to do exactly what we were doing which is going down to the river and up in one day), and we didn’t want to give anyone any reason at all to be upset with us. We came upon a mule train who graciously made room for us to pass by, again, at a walk!
Insert Impressions Here: Hmmm… my impressions. What can possibly be said about this enormous hole in the ground? It is so multi-faceted; the views are beyond astounding, it is a cornucopia of smells (both delightful and vomit-worthy), your sense of touch is stimulated from your toes to your head, and the sounds of the birds and the wind are a sweet patter on your ears. Perhaps the only sense not touched upon is taste, though that’s arguable: I’m not sure food has ever tasted as good as when I’m running and conquering elevation (7000 feet above sea level at the start, 2400 feet at the bottom, 8000 feet at the end). But there’s more to the Canyon than just how you experience it! It is an incredible drop through history. The millennia are present in each layer, quietly presenting their events for anyone to see. I think running is epic; the Canyon is a freaking study in epic. Time has very little meaning because there is so much of it. I am a whirlwind of life and passion quickly skipping across its depths, never to be seen or heard from again. Amazing.
Uh-Oh: Remember how this blog began, with me in the van? Well, that began here. Upon entry into the Canyon, I felt a very slight twinge below my right ankle on the outside, but not a real anything. It was just a spot to watch, but nothing painful or major. I figured it would work itself out, as most twinges do. I ran all the way to Phantom Ranch (seven miles) just fine.
Phantom Ranch: We paused at Phantom Ranch just long enough to refill our packs (that is my rule in the Canyon, especially in the summer, if there’s water, fill up, even if you don’t need it) and eat a quick couple of bites, then we moved out. Our next stop was Ribbon Falls.
The run along the bottom of the Canyon is fun. The trail follows Bright Angel Creek which is burbly and cold. From Phantom Ranch the trail is all gently uphill. I had trained and was feeling great through here except… my foot. Something weird was going on. That slight twinge had turned into a dull pain that was sometimes a sharp stab. What the hell?
Ribbon Falls: At the turnoff for Ribbon Falls, we met some other runners heading the opposite direction, wearing the same cooling arm sleeves as I was! This was exciting because these arm sleeves are from the last Aravaipa Insomniac Night Trail Run, the Sinister Night Run, at which I volunteered. It’s fun to run into local runners at random places!
Last year I didn’t go to Ribbon Falls. I was under the impression that it was a mile or more off the trail and so was out of the way. I didn’t want the extra distance. Thankfully Kathi made Matt and I take this turn. The falls are only about half a mile off the trail! As soon as I saw the falls and the pool at the bottom, I took off my shoes and was in the frigid waters. The cold water numbed my sore foot and felt wonderful all over me. I stood at the base of the falls and looked up into the cascade that fell elegantly over the verdant moss. There is a cave at the base of the falls so I passed under the water into the cave. This little side trip was refreshing and fun and it took maybe half an hour. It was so worth it!
As soon as the feeling returned to my numbed feet, the pain in my right foot was worse. Much worse. Shit. This was not good. I was on the bottom of the Canyon and the only way out was up, so what to do? On I went. Originally I’d wanted to run all the way to the Pump House Ranger Station (or Aiken’s Pump House, or Aiken’s Place). I decided to walk the rest of the way, no more running.
Cottonwood: Just a little past the turn-off for Ribbon Falls is the Cottonwood water and bathroom stop. This is a wonderful place to stop for a quick lunch and to refill your water, both of which we did. Matt and I run together a lot, so I can usually read how he’s feeling pretty accurately. I’d had my suspicions before this, but at this point, he didn’t want to eat. His stomach was pissed off. We still had nearly seven miles to go, and the last five of it were a BEAST. It was not a good time to be feeling ill. But same as with my foot, the only way out was up, so on we went.
Pump House: We refilled our water again and doused our clothes with cold water too. At this point I knew the trail became STEEP. Only five miles were left, but they are a very difficult five miles, characterized by sharp switchbacks and steep, deadly drops. And there’s no shade. Last year when I climbed this it must have been cloudy because I had in my head that the North Rim climb was shaded, silly me. It’s not.
The Climb Out: Upon beginning the ascent, I was immediately grateful for the hill and heat training I’d put in over the previous months. I felt great; my muscles felt solid and strong and the heat actually felt good and was not oppressive. The only issue was my f**king foot! It continually got worse and I was forced to compensate, and that never turns out very well.
The climb up was a slog. I had my foot issues and Matt was having what were likely nutrition related issues (Kathi was going strong!) My foot issues were manageable (if shitty), but I was extremely concerned about Matt. I had only seen him in that state one other time. That time we only had about 1.5 miles back to civilization, and we were in a well trafficked area anyway. This time we had five miles and we were not in a populated area. We haltingly made our way, pausing in the meager shade. Kathi and I were bossy, and managed to force-feed Matt a few bites of something here and there. His stomach was severely upset, but amazingly he didn’t puke. Some weird things started to come out of his mouth… shrinkage? Wait, what?
On Pooping (what post of mine is complete without it?): At the Supai Tunnel water stop, I stopped to use the toilet. I marveled at how wonderful it felt to sit down over an open, stinky, nasty hole in the ground, and be able to poop in peace. I was desperately grateful for this putrid toilet, which gently wafted its noxious fumes upon my exposed rear. It is interesting to find out what things you are grateful for after climbing a few thousand feet in a couple of short miles in the blazing sun. I think being in the wilderness puts the things of our civilization into perspective.
From the Supai water stop we only had 1.7 miles left, but, I think, they are the most difficult of the entire trail. They are the steepest, and the terrain underfoot is a thick, loose dust. If you are already feeling ill the smells emanating from the pools (literally, I’m not exaggerating) of stagnant mule piss and the smells of, and flies buzzing on, the mule crap are likely to make you toss your cookies. Or Cheezits. Or beef jerky. Or whatever else you’ve had to eat that day. However, this is also where the trail FINALLY becomes shaded. We went on up, knowing we were almost out. Matt was trooper, only telling me to leave him four or five times until I told him to shut his face. I also may have choked him, just a little, though since the alleged incident occurred on the trail, it cannot be confirmed. I’m such a loving friend.
At each bend I kept thinking it was the final turn and we’d see the trailhead. At each turn it wasn’t, until it finally was. At that point I ran. I needed to be off the trail. I didn’t even look around, I just went straight to the water. At the start of the day, we’d heard that the road to the North Rim was closed and it would take my husband a few extra hours to get there with the van and our things. But then I saw the van in the parking lot! Hallelujah! He was sitting there calmly at the trailhead, reading a book!
Matt, Kathi, and I got in the van (I almost wrote that we hopped into the van, but that would be highly inaccurate) and Andy drove us to the lodge, which is about 1.5 miles from the trailhead. He’d already checked into two of our rooms, so we were able to get to showering right away. My foot hurt, and had in fact, caused me to limp the last bit out of the Canyon (Andy gave me ibuprofen once I got out). The shower felt amazing though. When was the last time you were indescribably dirty? So dirty you had to viciously scrub to get the dirt off of your skin? That’s how dirty I was, how dirty we all were. We’d had some issues, but still, it was a good day. One to be tremendously proud of.
On the North Rim: Andy drove Matt and Kathi back to the trailhead to wait for the rest of our group. I was famished and could only think of food, so I headed to the Deli and had a Pulled Pork Sandwich and lemonade. Holy shit, never has slightly stale bread and mediocre meat tasted so unbelievable. I wolfed down the whole thing and wished I had more to eat. But I didn’t. I decided I should wait to eat more until I was sure I needed it.
I hobbled out to the Veranda. This place is stunning. The Veranda is precisely on the edge of the Canyon. There are wooden chairs there on which to relax and enjoy the view. I did so, putting my feet up on the edge of the Veranda and soaking in the perfect heat of the sun. I know I started to fall asleep a few times because I randomly kicked. I do that.
Eventually I got bored on the Veranda and hobbled to one of the rooms and sat in a rocking chair and relaxed on the porch there.
Then I got bored there and went inside and lay down on a bed. And I got bored.
Finally, everyone else showed up! Everybody made it out safely and had done really well! They would have, in fact, been out sooner, but there was a guy at Supai Tunnel who was having some major heat and water related issues, and they’d stopped to help.
For the rest of the evening, we all just kind of hung out. I ate a piece of pizza and some ice cream.
I was mostly positive I wasn’t going the next day, which was a huge let down. I just couldn’t understand what had happened with my foot. I hadn’t done anything to it, it just started hurting. Andy said something about it and I got really angry. Then he explained that what he’d said was from concern and I understood and wasn’t angry anymore. I have a really hard time reading people and understanding motivations, I don’t know why, but there it is.
Matt’s alarm went off at some god-awful hour. I got up and was immediately hit with pain. I was not crossing this day. I was sleeping in. So I did. I really enjoy sleeping in with my husband!
The crossers this second day were Laurie, Becky, Kathi, and Matt.
After I got up, Andy and I got our things together. My limp to the van was excruciating. I started crying, and the crying was a combination of pain, anger, sadness, and disappointment. I had so looked forward to this trip, was in fact completely ready for it, except for whatever the hell was going on in my foot. But, the pain made me feel better about my decision not to cross again. I have other things I want to do, big things, and I don’t want to be injured for them, or worse, have to stop running completely. So I tried my best to be mature and not feel sorry for myself. It mostly worked. Sometimes it didn’t.
Back to the Beginning: So here we are, back at the beginning of this epically long blog, with me sitting in the middle seat of the big van. I enjoyed the sights. I had never taken this drive before and had never seen the Vermilion Cliffs. I would really like to go back there and explore some more.
Andy dropped those of us in the van off at the Bright Angel Trailhead so we could be there when the crossers came up. Matt and Kathi came up first- they’d had a much better crossing than the day before! Yay! They had fun stories to tell of their adventures, such as dunking themselves in the creek. There was also something about seeing Kolb Studio and it being, “About f*cking time.”
Then Laurie and Becky popped up, hiking strong and looking good. They too were filled with stories, such as f-bombs at every single erosion control log put in the path (they’re exhausting to lift your leg over for the millionth time).
If it’s one thing a double crossing can do, it can cause people to become exceedingly creative with their curse words. Novel strings of words, those that are normally curse words and those that are not, will be strung together into innovative designs.
We headed to the room reserved for showers and everyone got cleaned up. We “hopped” in the van and headed home, only stopping at the Chipotle in Flagstaff for dinner. We were exhausted after our great adventure. And I just want to say thank you to everyone who went- thank you for being my friend even after seeing me at my worst! I had so much fun with you!
On a side note, I saw my chiropractor after returning home. After he messed around with my foot quite a bit, he feels fairly certain the issue is just some strain and not bone. He said the area where the pain is at is the weakest part of the ankle, and since I didn’t have any moment in which I can pinpoint injury, it is likely simply due to the repetitive stress. So I just need to rest it and I’ll be fine. Phew!
* Most of the pictures in this post are not mine. I stole them from my friends.