The alarm was set for 4am, but after spending hours NOT sleeping, I got out of bed at 3:45. Struggling to shake off the drowsiness, I prepared my tea and small breakfast in silence. It was 19 degrees out, but it would warm up to 80 by the afternoon. I quickly dressed in layers, and Jeff and I headed down to the hotel lobby, to meet the rest of the runners. We nervously joked about the temperatures and the physical challenge we were about to undertake.
We set out to run the Grand Canyon.
Arriving at the Bright Angel trailhead, the 9 of us turned on our headlamps, donned our gloves, took a few pictures, chatted nervously in the dark, muttered something like “Holy FUCK, It’s COLD”, and off we ran- beginning our descent into the biggest hole in the USA.
Six of the nine quickly disappeared into the abyss, as they were the elite athletes, embarking on a 50 mile “Rim to rim to rim” run. Jeff, Shane, and I had our sights on 20-23 miles. As any of my running buddies will tell you, I am a bit of a whiner on the trails. Before attempting this crazy ass adventure, I hadn’t convinced myself that I even REMOTELY liked trail running. So, what the heck was I doing? Too late to turn back! I pushed the button on my headlamp, and started down the trail. Visibility was limited to the beam from of our lamps and obstructed by the eerie swirling of the trail dust. I had no idea what lay beyond the small circle of light as we silently barreled down those first miles of switchbacks. Of course, I would find out later that most of the trails had shear cliffs and deep drop offs just outside of our sight.
The first signs of light began to glow within an hour of our start, and as morning broke, the views opened before us. The reveal of the Canyon’s layers, as the sun rose provided a dazzling show of rainbow colors against the massive walls surrounding us. We stopped to photograph the moment.
At the 4.5 mile mark, we came upon Indian Gardens campground, nestled in a valley, with colorful trees and a stream. It was only when we approached this area that we saw the first signs of other people. We mistakenly took a wrong turn, which turned out to be a 3 mile detour and ran the Tonto West Trail. This lead us to a gorgeous rock platform overlooking the Colorado River. Gorgeous, but in the wrong direction.
We turned around and found our way back to the correct trail. What’s a few extra miles, anyway? The terrain was mostly flat for these few miles, so we ran comfortably and took in the sights. It’s indescribable.
Before long, we found ourselves navigating steep and technical trails, with extreme switchbacks, so we slowed our pace considerably. The trails were now crowded with people hiking in both directions, but as far as I could tell, we were the only one’s actually running. I got some wonderful comments from people of all ages, showing encouragement and awe at what we were doing.
As we rounded a corner and saw the Colorado River, I was blown away by it’s power and history. The sound was mesmerizing. We stopped for a while, just to experience it and stare. Here was the 17 million year old river, with the power to cut a 277 mile, 6000+ feet deep canyon. The mighty Colorado River.
At this point, Jeff’s calf was giving him trouble, so he decided to start the trek back up the canyon, and Shane and I continued on to find Phantom Ranch. As it turns out, it was only a few more miles and one metal, grated bridge crossing. SCAREY!
By this time, we were 4 hours into our run and I felt incredible. I had energy to spare and wanted to keep running forever. Shane and I found Phantom Ranch and took a break to snack and refill our water bottles. There is a US Post Office at the ranch, and the mail is brought out on mule train, so Shane sent some post cards to his family.
I was THRILLED to find that the small cafe served Tazo English Breakfast Tea-my favorite!!! I sat down outside and thoroughly enjoyed a cup with my snack of peanutbutter energy bars. At that moment, all was right in my world.
A short time later, I took this
The first 6 miles of the ascent felt great. I had energy to spare and I powered up the hills, sweating, but thoroughly enjoying the challenge. I met people from around the globe, and shared encouragement with them all. It got quite hot though, so I started dunking my head in every stream crossing, to cool off.I kept looking up at the cliffs and started feeling a bit overwhelmed with the long, steep climb still ahead.
Once back at Indian Ranch, I thought about the 4.5 mile 4600 foot climb and realized that I had to do it without stopping or I would get miserably discouraged. It was approximately 8 hours since we started, and I knew I didn’t have several more in me. I told Shane that I would meet him at the top and headed off. This excruciating climb took me 1:21. This was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done. I can’t even convey the degree of difficulty, putting one foot in front of the other, all the while looking up at the grueling switchbacks and knowing I still had miles to go. I sweat like a pig and stunk worse than one when I reached the top. I could barely walk.
Jeff met me at the car and we went back to the hotel to shower and submerse ourselves in the glorious hotel hot tub. The pain was incredible, but nothing like what we would experience in the next few days. We drove back and met Shane and the rest of the group and then gathered to have dinner and celebratory drinks. I ate almost an entire gluten free pizza by myself.
The next morning, we all stumbled down to breakfast and shared our stories. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone and sharing this epic experience with them. Late that day, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Phoenix for our last night. Getting out of the car was hilarious. Our legs didn’t work. Checking into the hotel, I was informed that the room I reserved wasn’t available, so they upgraded us to a Jacuzzi suite! YES!!! I think we stayed in that tub for an hour.
Over the years, I’ve traveled the globe, and seen some amazing things. There’s a reason why the Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Go see it. If you are crazy like me, go run it. You will love it. Every beautiful, sweaty, stinky, sucky part of it.
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