Friday, May 20, 2011

The Big Ditch R2R2R

“Just go ahead, I know my way back.”

After 40 ounces of lemonade at the Phantom Ranch, I stopped having chills despite 90 degree temperature. With 2 liters of water in my pack, gels, dried mango, I figured that I was finally correcting my fluid and energy deficit and working on correcting my electrolyte imbalance. However, every step that I tried to run, I felt nauseous and my muscles started to cramp. Greg and Jay looked great, as they pulled away, I didn’t want to spoil or prolong their run back to the North Rim.

From the moment we started the day I was off by an hour and that was the way the day would finish. Arizona is an hour behind, Utah. I guess they don’t believe in daylight savings. The Jacob Lake Lodge opens at 6:30. The order of business was coffee then run. At 6:20 Greg, Jay, and Adrienne were leisurely sleeping. The day was going to be hot, we needed to move, I nudged Greg because we were approaching 6:20. I was getting nervous. It was 5:20 in Arizona.

By the time we had coffee, the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary contingent had arrived and made the drive with us to the North Rim for their run across the Grand Canyon.

Having never been to the Grand Canyon, I had expectations of pulling up to a spectacular vista. The North Rim takes a while to reveal itself, starting in a forest of ponderosa pines with not so much of a view. Slowly the ponderosas gave way to a few aspens, and before long it was definite red dirt and desert foliage with a long gorge leading to the Colorado River. Greg and Jay made a quick pace down the trail. I stopped to take a few photos and ran fast to catch up. My stomach wasn’t quite right from a viral gastroenteritis earlier in the week (perks of being a pediatrician), but my legs felt good. I thought that as long as I could keep hydrated things would be fine. The first 7 miles of descent flew by in a about an hour. The next 7 miles to Phantom Ranch the temperature started to rise. We kept a steady pace running even the little risers. Greg and I were entertained by Jay’s stories of travels to Munich, Washington D.C., and his interests in long distance biking. I wasn’t much of a travel companion, already feeling the effects of the heat, I was only able to ask an occasional feeble question.

At Phantom Ranch (mile 14) we stashed some gels, filled our hydration packs and set out for the other side of the big ditch. As we crossed the Colorado, it was clear that Jay had fresh legs and was ready for the long ascent. The South Kaibab trail is an exposed, spectacular and hot 5,000 foot climb. We all pulled out our BD ultra poles and started the climb. I watched in awe as Jay lithely ran the initial pitch. I suspect that Greg could have gone with him, but was trying to save himself for the way back. It wasn’t long before Jay had a 5 minute gap, but as we approached the first mesa, Jay was waiting with his shirt off, with good news that we were ahead of “Krissy’s pace”. We climbed the second section together, and picked up a day hiker who seemed intent on staying with us. The winds were intense enough to blow a few hikers hats off and make a few huddle behind rocks. There were a number of folks that had full burqa’esque face gear to beat the wind and dust. While the winds made it feel more comfortable, the water loss accelerated. We continued to pass people on our ascent, but the day hiker drank from a milk jug of water and pulled away even from Greg and Jay. Clearly he had not been out in the sun for so long. I arrived at the South Rim in 4 hours and 24 minutes a few minutes after Greg and Jay. I filled my pack with 2 liters of water, and we made our way back down the South Kaibab trail. Jay invited me to lead the way in my new Hoka Bondi B’s. Despite exceptional trails, encouragement of hikers telling us that we were “crazy”, new shoes and the knowledge that I had an opportunity to run downhill for 6+ miles, I could not get much going. The Nuun no longer tasted good. I was sore tired and worried that I bit off more than I could chew. I once again pulled out my poles which proved to help counter the downhill work on the quads, and helped hopping over all the bars on the trail. The corners were a little easier to turn with the aid of a pole. In the tunnel leading to the bridge across the Colorado river, I slowed down and enjoyed the short time out of the sun. My pack was empty, and I needed water. Greg and Jay headed to retrieve our stashed goodies. By the time we got to Phantom Ranch, I was cooked.

The cantina was a welcome stop, with tables of people drinking Tecate, lemonade, ice tea, playing poker, talking, resting. Greg, Jay and I sat outside and drank our iced “lemmy”. I started to feel better, and figured another “lemmy” might replenish the tank. The dollar refill seemed like a bargain, but I should have had two more.

As we left the Phantom Ranch, Greg and Jay effortlessly pulled away. Over the next 7 miles to the Cottonwood Campground, I tried to run. I had a good internal laugh over the “Central Governor Theory”. I was experiencing the peripheral governor theory... run and cramp, or puke. My brain was happy to tell my body what to do. The body was in full revolt and in full control. I walked. By the Cottonwood Campground I must have been a fine bit of entertainment for the people taking a break in the shade. I sat by the water spigot, 15 meters from a bench and picnic table, both with sensible people sitting out of the sun. I sat drinking water, eating dried mango, and gels for what seemed like an eternity or at least long enough that one of my observers came over and asked politely to wet her towel, but reassured me that I need not move. When the crows started to settle a tree above me, it was time to move. Not far down the trail, I had one of those moments only the seasoned runner can appreciate. My stomach stopped protesting, and went into full revolt. The water, mango and gels were now on the side of trail. Almost immediately I started to feel better. The water was now going in and I was again eating.

My gut and mind were now clear. There was shade, the temperature seemed to drop, I was able to start to fuel and hydrate again. Now all I could think about was Adrienne, Jay and Greg waiting at the car for my sorry soul to climb out of the big ditch. They were probably hungry and ready to go. The wind was now at my back and I started to look at my watch for the elevation change. While I appreciated the scenery as I climbed, I still didn’t have the energy to pull out the camera.

When I got to the car, despite the dropping temperatures I was warmly met by Jay, Adrienne, and Greg. We traveled 42 miles, 10,666 feet of ascent. Greg and Jay were almost an hour faster over the last 14 miles.

Thanks to Jay for planning yet another great adventure.

Thanks to Greg for sharing his photos.


Missy B. said...

way to hang tough, Peter. Jay and Greg are two tough dudes to keep up with, and despite your stomach troubles, it sounds like you still had a really strong result. it's a beautiful thing, the double cross. congrats!

jun said...

Great report. Oddly enough, we had considered driving down this weekend for a shot at it, but figured it would be too hot. We may have been right, although our alternative trip on Wednesday may have even been more epic. Way to get it done.

Jay said...

A most "Grand" adventure

Peter, I'm feeling some responsibility for your stomach. I shouldn't have pressured you to partake of a pre-run McFlurry. Whether is was the McFrankenstein concoction of chemicals, or the shame and emotional distress of having gone to McDonald's can be debated. None-the-less, let's blame Ronald for the off day.

Perhaps a return visit this fall - sans McFlurries...

Christian said...

Great write up Peter. I know that feeling all too well. I would go ahead and blame it on Micky D's, they're an easy target.

peter said...

I wasn't going to publicly out myself about the McFlurry or the late night Burger King chicken sando and fries(only open establishment Sunday night at 10:30in St George near the La Quinta). The shame....

I will be more careful before the Pokey 50 this weekend.
And Missy, Greg and Jay are always difficult to stay with even on a good day.

Erik said...

If some lady can get millions from McDonald's after spilling coffee on herself, I'm positive you can get some sort of settlement form the emotional duress caused by a McFlurry/Grand Canyon combo meal.

peter said...

If I had only spilled it in my lap