Monday, May 24, 2010
Grand Canyon R2R2R
For many trail runners, the Grand Canyon is Mecca. There are few runs that provide the challenge, scenery, majesty, and sense of accomplishment that traversing the Grand Canyon does. Many runners make annual pilgrimages to the Canyon. Others find that a crossing is a once in a lifetime rite of passage. A box ticked. A goal met.
This past weekend I was invited by a group of friends and neighbors (AKA the Larchmont Drinking Club) to join them on their pilgrimage to the Big Ditch. I had run the Grand Canyon 20 years or so ago and at the time had considered it a box ticked. But I knew it was time for me to return, this time I wanted to run R2R2R.
My run began on the North Rim at 2:30am. I needed an early start in order to get back to North Rim in time to drive to Zion National Park to pick up a permit and be showered and ready for 5:00pm cocktails. Nothing like the prospect of a good Malbec and a hot date 15 hours in the future to get me to pop out of bed with just a few hours sleep.
There is something surreal about trail running in the dark. One’s senses are heightened. Sounds become more acute. Your feet and legs literally feel the trail, responding without the benefit of sight to undulations and obstacles. The smells vividly describe the terrain you are passing through. And for me, my mind is released to enjoy one of my favorite pastimes, daydreaming…
I amused myself for miles with the thought that it was very possible that while daydreaming I might fall off an exposed section of the trail. The amusement was based on the likelihood that media reports of my death would caution people with great exaggeration about the dangers of running in the Grand Canyon alone in the dark, rather than caution people against the grave dangers of daydreaming – the real cause of my demise.
By the time I reached the river I had categorized all my favorite trails based on a road system (e.g. Kaibab trail being the trail equivalent of an Interstate Highway), made a list of foods that I would not miss if I never ate them again (e.g. carrots, pork, white chocolate, turnips), and had mentally cleaned out my clothes closet with a list of items I would toss upon my return. Yes it’s true; nobody has ever considered me an intellectual giant…
After 14 miles of downhill running I was looking forward to the climb up to the South Rim. I actually prefer running uphill and I wanted to see if I could run the entire way to the top of the South Kaibab trail. As I began to climb up I could see headlamps, up and in the distance of other adventurers beginning their journey into the Canyon. The sun was rising as I neared the top and I was able to watch the first light spread across the Canyon. Magnificent!
I ran up the entire way without difficulty and treated myself to some dried mangos and a bagel at the top. I asked the first hiker I saw, a tall transvestite fully outfitted by REI (hmm??), to take a picture of me. She happily obliged and commented, “You must be a really good runner because you are so short.” Ouch!!
Head down, ego damaged and psyche bruised (manifestations often experienced by short people), I began the return journey. The descent back into the Canyon went quickly. With the exception of having to quickstep through the sections of the trail where erosion is being prevented through the use of juniper logs, the trail is a screamer. It was fun to open up the throttle and fly past the day hikers.
Once I crossed the river and hit the flats along the river my legs suddenly felt heavy. I wasn’t used to long pounding descents. I wasn’t used to this mileage. For the first time I felt the sun. I realized I had been neglecting my nutrition. The climb out was looking to be a chug.
As I began the climb up the North Kaibab trail I had to downshift a gear and go into economy mode. I was bonking and I needed to pay attention to nutrition, hydration and efficiency. I consumed a couple of gels, drank heavily at Phantom Ranch and plodded on. Fairly quickly I felt better, but the legs were still heavy. I just haven’t put the miles in this winter to comfortably run more than 40 miles in one go.
The last five miles were tough. I tripped several times on those God damned juniper logs and was covered in dust. Covered in dust and sweat, (fortunately no mule shit), I was not a good ambassador for trail runners. People likely assumed I was as miserable as I looked. SO NOT TRUE!
I had a most magnificent day and adventure. I can’t wait to come back next year and run R2R2R2R. And yes, in case you were wondering – I did enjoy that glass of Malbec before 5:00pm!