Thursday, December 29, 2016


North Rim is absolutely stunning.  Chelsea carving upward.   
just keep running and running and running and running.............

It never ceases to amaze how incredible our bodies and minds are.  The capacity for pushing physical and mental challenges is endless!!  For me, physical activity is a gateway for better understanding who I am, what I am capable of, and how I react in the face of adverse conditions.  Managing the internal chatter ---the "I should quit, its too hard, I am bored, I am not challenged, I am too challenged" dialogue that pervades my daily thoughts.

This small glimpse continues to improve me.  When I take the time to listen to the bickering in my head, ponder where it comes from why my first reaction was so, its learning at its finest.  I can transpose fear into motivation.  I can morph anger into compassion.  I keep learning and trying harder not only at other physical endeavors, but in my relationships and in my work.  This mindfulness is hard work.  I still succumb to the "easy" way out--complaining, crying, giving up...but I always regret those moments.  

This spring I put one foot in front of the other for 22,000 feet of elevation gain/loss and about 45 miles.  The Rim to Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon took us about 12 hours CTC with stops and snacks and stretching breaks and jaw dropping views.  This endeavor had been on my list for many years but just never a priority.  I find I make many outlandish goals but sometimes struggle with self-accountability.  If I drag a friend in the mix not only do I have someone to learn from, I have someone to keep me from excessive wanderlust.

I mentioned the Grand Canyon to a longtime friend, Chelsea Van Horn, and she said yes! Chelsea is an incredibly capable and dedicated runner and overall athlete.  She was much more reserved and thorough about the whole affair, a little bit nervous about the enormity.  A fair concern and good grounding for me.

 I should do some longer runs, I shouldn't be so caviler with running 22 miles across a gaping crevasse away from our only vehicle in the middle of March with a pending snow storm.  ;)

Chelsea provided much needed training perseverance, which I needed as my IT band had acted up after a mega-run in El Chalten (Patagonia) a few weeks prior.  Every run thereafter I had pretty awful pain during any downhill stretch or after 6 or so miles.  This pain was new to me and quite unwelcome.  We nabbed hobbling a few 10-14 mile days over a three week stretch before I departed on the road.

My March calendar not only had the Grand Canyon mission but some climbing goals with my friend Libby.  Luckily the timing for the two events lined up perfectly.

Thank you both for being flexible with my over-crammed tick list. 
Libby and I climbed for a few days before I detoured outside of Sedona to pick Chelsea up.  She flew into Phoenix and hitched a ride north via her father.  Together we drove to a hotel Chelsea had booked just outside the South Rim and in the afternoon scooted to Park to suss out the trail head, parking situation etc.  Libby had run the Grand Canyon a few months prior, so it was awesome to bounce logistical questions of her...and relay to those to Chelsea too.

Use trekking poles, she says.    

Our alarms rang at 330 am.  Bananas consumed, car seat heaters on and to the South Rim trail head we drove.  After a quick bathroom stop, the watches were started just after 4:30am on March 11, 2016.  The dark made negotiating the log steps and steep mule packed divots a little dicey on the ankles.  The cool thing about partnering with Chelsea during this run, is that our fortes are different.  I can bust downhill fairly quickly and I love the lung burn of a steeper uphill  Chelsea on the other hand can set a solid pace on the in-between.  On moderate uphills and moderate downhills this woman runs a steady 8-9 minute mile not matter how long the day!!  I knew I would be pulling her down the first 7 on the South Rim and up the last 5 on the North Rim (as its steeper again).  She would be pulling me most of the mid course, the 8-9 miles of gradual up and gradual down on the North side of the river.

The first 7 miles is a 5000 foot down hill, like running from the top of Longs Peak back to the trail head.

Run a little slower down the hill, you won't loose Chelsea and you will have time to be more precise with your feet.  YOU ARE NOT RACING!!  Cripes, where does that need come from!?  Protect your knee.  Long day.  Its dark out, this portion will go quickly, like it doesn't exist.  There is no pain, it doesn't exist.  Thank God Libby suggested your use trekking poles!  Once you get to river and daylight, it will be like your run just started!   

Once we reached Phantom ranch, we paused for 20 minutes or so to stash layers and food.  Chelsea wasn't feeling exceptional but both of us unwilling to turn around.

Shit, I thought.  I really don't know when I will set aside time to do this again.  I don't want to turn around just yet.  

Thankfully, Chelsea piped in "We would be back to the top before breakfast, lets just run out towards the North Rim as far as we feel, see if I feel any better."

Awesome!  See, I knew she was the perfect gal for this.  No quitting, baby steps.  We can run together and I will distract her with jokes or the views!

Chelsea took over the lead for the first 9 miles or so, we walked any steeper sections initially.  We were in this together!  Next thing you knew a bend in the canyon brought us to a ranger cabin, like 9 miles up the North Rim.  We stashed a half liter of water each that we had run with from Phantom ranch.   Miraculously the spigot had a trickle of water, even though not supposed to be on during yet this season.  We would have been desperately short.  A 10-15 minute stretching and regroup about our progress and we were off.  The scenery became dramatic and the incline increased.  I pushed on ahead of Chelsea, the mind chatter getting louder and louder.  The last 2 miles of the North Rim seemed to take forever.  The trail became snowy and icy...some sections we post holed.  I was ahead of Chelsea, alone in the forest, alone in my thoughts.

Fuck, when is gonna be there?  I can see the trees have changed, the layers in the rock aren't orange sandstone, they are yellow now.  Shit, post holing snow means we are close.  I hope! I hope.

Run some more.

URG.  I want to stop and walk.  Don't stop and walk, it will make it feel longer.  Keep running!  I want to turn around, this is close enough, yea?  You can't turn around now dude, your like 9/10ths the way there!  The top is coming, just keep running. 

The trees broke and a small flat white expanse spread before me.  A sign indicated I now stood on the North Rim.
YES!!!!!!  Ok, snack it up and stretch to stay warm while you wait for Chelsea.  

I listened.  Chelsea arrived 15 minutes later.  I didn't want to ditch her but I was starting to get pretty cold.   I encouraged her to eat and stretch and mentioned my wishes to boogie.  She was on the same page, "No worries, if I stop for too long I probably wouldn't start up again." She said cramming food in her mouth.  

On our way back down we posed for photos once below the snow line.  I took the lead for the steeper portion on the North Rim back to the ranger cabin, refilling our waters.  Chelsea took the reins from the cabin back to Phantom Ranch, pulling my very present IT band down hill fast.  I tucked in behind her.

Don't let her get too far ahead, if you stay with her you can keep this pace, ignore the pain, this is just how it is now--its not forever.  Just make it through this stretch and its a 7 mile hike up hill. HIKE!  that's all you have to do.      

 We arrived at Phantom Ranch at 2pm or so.  I took my shoes off, we both ate and stretched some more.  We shared jokes with a few day hikers from the South Rim.  Mostly we chatted about food and hamburgers and beer.  Motivating to reach the rim before restaurants were closed.

We ran together away from Phantom Ranch and across the bridge.  When the terrain turned upward is when Chelsea and I parted ways.  I turned around often to make sure she was still making upward progress, but chatter took over.

Ok, you can do this.  Hike 20 minute miles.  Push hard, don't look at your watch, phone battery is almost dead.  Don't ask anyone what time it is until you can see the rim.  Jog the flats.   
The trail wound upward.  Having little memory of its turns and terrain in the dark only 9 hours earlier, I guessed at distances.  One particular never-ending switch back section had me pouting and huffing.  Daylight was closing down, people were still on the trail but there wasn't a significant teller of how close I actually was to the top.

Seriously.  It has to have been at least and hour, so half way.  Maybe its been half of half, so I am 3/4 the way there...oh I think I remember this spot.  I think it means 20 more minutes and then 20 more minutes and 20 more minutes.  Oh this part is flat, give the old truffle shuffle.  
My thoughts were diminished to repeating numbers and rationalizing distances in half of halves in half.  Yea, I don't know.  The swimmer in me deduces everything to minuscule time allotments.  I turned a sharp left and saw the rocky rim to right.  It looked like it could be the actually real South Rim.  I finally asked two men what time it was.  Four o-clock they responded.

YES!!  My timing is right-ish.  I should have less then 2 miles.  That's like Mills Lake to Glacier Gorge Parking lot.  You got this.  Keep hiking, keep pushing.  Can you see Chelsea back there?  

Another flat spot and significantly more people.  My legs ached, my triceps were throbbing (from pushing with the trekking poles so damn hard).  I ran again.  The trail switched back a few times and I could see the top.  I ran the last bit, adrenaline coursing.  

BooM!  A parking lot, people waiting for a bus.  4:30pm.  Just about 12 hours earlier I had stood in this spot with Chelsea in the dark.

Holy!  We did it!  So cool.  I can't believe it.  My legs want to fall off.  Tomorrow is going to hurt. Where is Chelsea?  I hope she finished before dark!  

I wandered around at the top a bit, then found a rocky flat spot that overlooked the entire canyon.  From my stretching rock I also had a view of the last 1/2 mile of the trail.

Oh, that's Chelsea, heck yea!

"FUCK YEA!"  I exclaimed loudly, "CAW CAW!!!"  The person I thought was Chelsea did not acknowledge my calls and waves.

Mmm, ops.  Not Chelsea.  Shit, I hope she is ok.  I wonder if I should wander back down a ways?  

After 30 minutes of stretching and staring down the trail, I finally spotted the real Chelsea and gave her a proper holler.  She proudly jogged the finishing stretches.  We hugged.  We laughed.  We watched people load the bus back to the main parking lot while walking ourselves another mile to our car.  

What an incredible day.  What an incredible partner.  What an incredible thing to do!!   

I like the gear pile photo, seriously I pack like this for big trips to make sure I have it all.  

4:30 start.  We ran the road a mile or 2 to the TH, as we didn't think a bus would be running at this hour  

Chelsea sprinting across the bridge...and the Colorado River!

Daylight and across the river.  

Headed uphill...for the next 13 or so miles.  

North Rim is absolutely stunning.  Chelsea carving upward.   

To the top!  Snowy North Rim.  

Handstand across 'Merica
OH SHIT, we have to go back over there!  

Chelsea heading down hill.  She kept an incredible pace for the downhill 13 (like 8:30/mile)

Stretching it out on a bridge, down hill North Rim 

Took the shoes off and munched stashed snacks at Phantom Ranch.  

North Rim trail.  7 miles, 5000 some feet.  Beautiful in the daylight....long as hell feeling too.  

The beginning of the end.  Chelsea's last view of my ass.  

We got incredibly lucky with weather.  Not too hot, not too sunny and no snow! (it snowed 10 inches the following morning)

Ladies finished the run!  Back to the South Side with daylight to spare!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Another awesome post, you are a true inspiration! Have a great, safe 2017, hopefully we will cross paths again.

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