Grand Canyon Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim Recap Part II

If you missed day one of the Canyon in which I crossed the South Rim to the North Rim, check it out here.

As a refresher of what I had just done, I started at the South Rim and ended at North Kaibab. The following day, our plans were to cross the Canyon and finish at Bright Angel.

Day 1: South Kaibab to North Kaibab. Day 2: North Kaibab to Bright Angel.

Day 1: South Kaibab to North Kaibab. Day 2: North Kaibab to Bright Angel.

When I got to the top of the North Rim, I was a zombie. No really, I was a walking zombie. I was so exhausted, dirty, hungry, sore, exhausted, and exhausted. And sore. Really, really sore. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long for a ride back to the lodge where I could shower, eat, and collapse into bed.

Any place you touched me, you’d inflict pain. I really couldn’t think of any place that did not hurt. Walking hurt. Sitting hurt. Eating hurt. I think even blinking hurt. I ate my dinner chatting with my buddies but in my head I was thinking about what I was going to do. Would I cross again the next day?

I called my husband.

I gave him a brief overview of the day and described how I felt. All things considering, I had done well. I had finished around the time I’d expected. I had had enough food. I didn’t injure myself. I was just normally fatigued. What was expected after crossing a huge canyon in the Arizona heat.

I really wanted to do it. Really, really wanted to do it. I knew mentally, I was capable of crossing again. I knew, or hoped, I was in good enough shape to cross again. The soreness I felt couldn’t get any worse the second time right? Ja!

Once I was back in my room, I re-packed my hydration pack and took out my clothes for the next day. I had made my decision.

Sleeping wasn’t happening. You’d think that after all I’d done, I would immediately pass out but nope. Too sore. In addition, you could hear the winds howling outside. The windows whistling with each gust. My roommate got out of her bed and pulled the curtains to take a look outside. The trees were moving. This definitely was not making us feel better about the next day. A few minutes passed when I whispered to her, “If you just close your eyes, you can make it seem like you’re hearing–”

“A tornado?”

“Well, I was going to say the ocean,” I said, laughing.

We woke up earlier than usual, I think because we hadn’t really slept anyway. On the bus, our leader took a head count of those making the second trek. About half of us were giving it another go.

Jill, Angel, and I decided we’d go across again together. I was so happy that it worked out that way.

If you recall Day 1, towards the end is where we had to really ride the inside of the trail because of the wind. This was what we started with on Day 2. It wasn’t as windy, thankfully, but we still made sure to take our time as the cliffs were pretty scary.

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Drop off to the left.

It was a little past this major danger zone where I’d lost my hat the day before. We joked about how funny it would be if I found it along the trail. But with the winds, I knew there was no way I’d ever see it again.

And then I hear Angel exclaim, “I see it!”

I couldn’t believe it, but there it was, lodged between stones a ways up a cliff. It seemed climbable, and I started to give it a go, but then I decided it was too risky. If I lost my footing, I would slide down and keep on going–it wasn’t worth it.

If you look closely, you can see my black hat with the tiny, white Nike symbol

If you look closely below the dark hole, you can see my black hat with the tiny, white Nike symbol. (Click to enlarge pictures)

We kept moving. Surprisingly, the soreness I had felt before had actually dissipated. As I continued to walk, I wondered if adrenaline or wanting to get to the other side as fast as possible was what was keeping me going. It did seem like we were going faster. To be honest, I think we all just wanted to get the hell out of there at that point. Beautiful views be damned. Lol!

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See that mountain waaaaay over there? All we wanted to do was get there.

There wasn’t a whole lot of talking or picture taking. We stopped to refill our water packs, ate, and moved on. Before I knew it, we were at Phantom Ranch, almost 7 miles in.

I decided another lemonade was in order and I drank every last drop of it. While I really wanted to rest, sitting actually made me feel worse and we all agreed it was best to just keep going. Even though stops after this one would be longer in coming with the next big one 4.7 miles away, I knew the faster we walked, the faster we’d get there.

While Day 1 we battled winds, Day 2 we battled heat. We could feel it as soon as we stepped out of the shade onto the trail. Going the opposite way this time around also meant being exposed more. We knew this but again, nothing can really prepare you for it.

At an open creek, we stopped to dip our shirts to cool off. By this time, we were at the bottom and I told Jill and Angel that it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. Like if someone had just dropped us off in the desert and were were trying to find our way out. I might have been hallucinating at that point lol.

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Relishing the shade.

We kept walking and then we reached one of top spots I’d been excited for–the see through bridge that takes you over the river.

View from afar

View from afar

 

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It was pretty cool. Scary too because as you walked, the bridge would squeak with each step. Def not for anyone who fears heights. In fact, R2R2R is absolutely not for someone afraid of heights. I’m not, and there were still moments where I thought I’d have a panic attack. Mostly the day before when we had cliffs + 30 mph winds.

Like I mentioned earlier, we didn’t stop a whole lot to take pictures. We were seriously on a mission to get to the other side. Plus, it was so stinkin’ hot that we just wanted to keep moving. Stopping meant melting.

Before I knew it, we reached Devil’s Corkscrew–the winding uphill of switchbacks. Basically, hell.

I had no idea where my energy was coming from, but I was attacking that Devil with each step. I might have actually been snailing, but in my head I was in an intense battle with that trail–and I was winning.

At the top. Looking down at the Devil.

At the top. Looking down at the Devil.

We were getting close to Indian Gardens which was our next big stop where we’d eat, use the bathroom, refill our packs, and rest. Finally.

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The sign under the temperature reads, “This is your brain on sun.” (click to enlarge picture)

Indian Gardens meant that we were 4.8 miles away. But we knew that that really didn’t mean much. We were still hours til the end.

But we kept trucking. We had a steady pace and I felt good. I was hot, and that was my biggest complaint, but my body was cooperating with me and I was able to keep up with Angel and Jill. Since the day before, Jill kept reminding us to eat, drink, and take salt. I think it made her feel better to take care of us and by the end of the trip, she was Mama Jill to us 🙂

Unlike last time, we stayed together to the end. When we were near the top, we turned around and there was the other side. The other side, the starting point, where that morning we had taken a picture of the mountain we were now standing on. Our goal–reached 23.5 miles and 10 hours later.

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We started the last climb and could hear our group cheering us on. Angel said from behind, “Let’s run it in!” And we did.

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Jill in front, me in pink, and Angel in red–finishing strong.

I did it!

I did it!

Accomplishing something you never knew you were capable of doing is life-changing. My life is changed having crossed the canyon. R2R2R is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was tested in so many ways, physically, mentally, emotionally–and it was those tests that made me climb up the mountain a different person. Many times during the hike, I would become emotional at the fact that I was doing something so incredible, seriously, something hard to believe. But I did it. I did it twice. I don’t know if it’s a 5k, a marathon, an ultra, or whatever, but doing something challenging, something you’re scared of, something you say you’ll never do–those are the things that you need to be doing.

 

Thank you so much for reading and following my running journey! Your interest and comments make this experience even more special.

❤ helly

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Grand Canyon R2R2R Recap

So I’m still recovering lol!! Just kidding. Kind of.

It’s not that I underestimated R2R2R, but I’m just not entirely sure you can ever be fully prepared for something like that.

We left Saturday morning by bus to the Grand Canyon. I was doing this with my running group (many readers asked if I had gone with a group) and it was so much fun experiencing it with  people you’ve been training with for months. There were a lot of veterans, with our two leaders having done it 10 times, and quite a few of us rookies. I think 12? There were 56 total.

We arrived at a touristy spot of the Canyon where we took some photo ops. Here’s one of mine:

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Click on photo to enlarge.

This was the first time I was able to see the vastness of the canyon and what I was in for. Some of the veterans began pointing out certain spots and I just kinda nodded in disbelief that I was actually going to attempt this.

We arrived at our lodge at the South Rim and unpacked. We took a group photo, were given some last minute instructions (and our R2R2R shirts!), and then headed off to the cafeteria for dinner.

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After dinner we headed back to our rooms. I wanted to make sure I had everything ready for the 4:00 wake-up call and 5 a.m. departure. I knew what I needed to have packed but wasn’t sure the long list of items would fit. Thankfully, I was able to comfortably squeeze things in. (I’m obsessed with my Ultimate Direction hydration pack by the way–I plan on doing a review very soon.)

The next morning, I awoke before my alarm. I was so excited for what was to come and not really knowing what to expect was exhilarating. We piled up into the bus and headed for the drop off spot where we then walked to the trail that would take us down the canyon.

I made sure to use the restroom at the top, many of us did. It was here that people broke off into groups and some went solo. I wasn’t sure who I wanted to stick with but I knew that I wanted to be near someone and not go down alone. It worked out that a buddy of mine, Angel, who also likes to take pictures (I took a billion the first day), was going the same pace as me. As we hiked down, we also caught up to one of my favorites, Jill, and the three of us begin our trek. We paced back and forth with three other AZTNT members and we all laughed at how 6 first-timers were going down together.

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Me, Angel, and Jill

From the very beginning, I was met with views that were absolutely unbelievable. I kept saying to Jill and Angel that it looked fake. There was no way beauty like this can exist in real life. That I was walking amongst it, becoming a part of it.

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I wasn’t feeling fatigued or hadn’t really noticed the elevation change as we went down. I think I was just caught up with my surroundings to really feel anything. The more we we got closer to the bottom, the more I couldn’t believe how far we’d come and how far we had left. There was just so much to see for miles and miles and miles.

And as we continued to hike mile after mile after mile, I wanted to take pictures of everything. As if somehow documenting what I was seeing could capture what I was experiencing in person.

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At one point along the trail, we were met by a ranger who asked us if we had sufficient fuel and water. They were backed up on air evacuations from people needing medical attention. She suggested that any creek we found along the way, we immerse ourselves in it to cool us off. We took her up on that at several spots, taking off our shirts and hats and dipping the in the water.

Around 7 miles in, we stopped at Phantom Ranch which was the biggest stop as there were actual things you could purchase there. The little store had drinks, snacks, tables to eat, even a post mail bag. I had filled out a post card for my husband and kids and put it in the bag only to realize later I had forgotten to write our address 😦 major fail.

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Everyone kept gushing over the lemonade they sold there so I had to buy one and yep, it tasted delicious. Nothing against the Tailwind Nutrition I was drinking, but I welcomed the tartness of the lemonade and gulped every last drop of it. Some people asked me what I had packed to eat. People packed different things but I went with tortillas, nuts, a cereal bar, pretzel sticks, an orange, a Honey Stinger waffle crisp thing, some gummy fruit snacks, and beef jerky. I didn’t eat all of it in one setting but snacked as we went and at each stop.

We filled up our water and continued on our way. Our group decided to take a detour to see Ribbon Falls. The waterfall was less than a mile away from the trail so we figured it wouldn’t take much out of our time and we had heard it was a must see spot. It was.

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We left Ribbon Falls and remembered that once we reached “Aiken’s Place” that that was when the marathon really began. You know how people say the last 6.2 is when the race really starts? Well that’s what this was like. This was where we started going back up.

There wasn’t a whole lot of picture taking going up. Not only was I really feeling it at this point, the wind was blowing so hard it was actually causing you to sway. Making sure you were paying attention to where you were going took precedence over any photo ops you thought about taking. No matter how pretty the view.

We were climbing up a rather significantly narrow spot when we really felt the gusts. I just put my head down and pulled my cap closer to my face and kept going, making sure I stayed as close to the inside of the path as I could. The drops were pretty intense. For someone not afraid of heights, they made me nervous.

We took our time and as we were inching away, I felt, and heard, a whoooosh!!! And before I knew it, my hat was in the air! Instinct made me reach out for it but luckily I had the wherewithal to draw back and just let it go. I kept moving, my head down, trying not to get dirt in my contacts. The last thing I wanted was to be blinded on a cliff at the Grand Canyon.

Once we made it past the danger zone, it seemed we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. We knew we were getting closer but even being close in mileage didn’t mean we were close in time. Each steep mile was about 30-40 minutes. Four miles meant 2 hours. So close, yet so far.

And by that time, I was ready to be done. I was dirty. I was exhausted. And most of all, I was hurting. My quads hurt from the downhill and my hips and glutes ached with each step going up. My shoulders were sore from carrying my pack. I was just a mess.

Conversation had ceased and quietly, we continued the climb.

As somewhat of a reward, we reached a spot that let us see how far we’d come. How much we’d accomplished.

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This was the last picture taken on Day 1.

At this point, I still had about a mile and half to reach the top. Our group began to distance ourselves as some had found energy to finish strong, and some, like me, consumed with fatigue, could only shuffle along the trail.

I carried a radio with me and I could hear names being called as they reached the top. I heard Jill and Angel’s name and then I saw one of our group’s leaders who then said into his radio, “AZTNT North Rim, Angelica is on her way.” When I heard this, when I saw him say those words into the radio, my eyes welled up and I could start to feel my body tremble with emotion. I was on my way. Finally.

That last mile and a half were harder than any race I’ve ever done. My body was trying its hardest to convince me to stay right where I was. I knew I had to keep going but I also knew it was around 45 minutes til the end. To think that I could run a 5k faster than what it took me to climb that last mile and a half. That thought didn’t help me at all. But when I heard my name, and knew that I was this time really almost there–it was the extra push I needed.

Almost 11 hours after I’d started and 22.5 miles later,  I finally climbed up those last steps. I was met with cheers and applause from my running group and their happiness at seeing me finish put an instant smile on my face. I knew they knew exactly how I felt.

Except any happiness I had about being done was erased with the thought of having to do it all over again the next day. Would I be able to make it? No matter how badly I wanted to do it, would my body let me?

I knew deep down there was no way I was going to let myself miss this opportunity.

Day 2 of my Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim journey will continue tomorrow. Thank you so much for reading and being a part of this special moment in my life!

~helly

 

Yes, Runners Are Crazy (But Oh So Awesome)

Last night, I met up with my running group for our Wednesday workout. A little over 3 miles of hill drills. Fun, fun.

But what I was really looking forward to was our guest speaker afterwards–Jamil Coury, founder of Aravaipa Running (that’s our local trail and ultra running series). Jamil has done over 50 ultra races and this past March he attempted the practically impossible (no, really) Barkley Marathon.

Have you ever heard of the Barkley Marathon? Not many people have and I hadn’t until our running group cheered him  on when he started. Apparently, this 100 mile marathon is not designed for people to know much about it–which is exactly how it’s race director and according to Jamil, even the runners, like it. It’s not a race you can simply go to a website and register. You get information only by word of mouth and there is a secret application involved. Jamil wouldn’t (couldn’t?) divulge the specifics of how he got in.

The Barkely Marathon takes place every year during spring in the mountains of Tennessee–the high point being 3300 feet with total amount per loop of 12,500 feet and temperatures that range from freezing to sweltering. Jamil recounted how the first day was non-stop rain. The 100 mile race (which really is more around the 130 mile range) has a 60 hour time limit and participants are not given a course map nor are the trails marked. The runners do not know the exact start time but must camp out the night before and wait for the start signal–the race director lighting up a cigarette.

The race consists of five 20 mile loops, the first two clockwise, the next two counter clockwise, and the last loop with different runners going opposite directions. Those completing 3 loops, under a set time limit of 40 hours, accomplish what’s dubbed the “Fun Run”. Jamil was one those people this year. It took him 13 hours to finish the last loop.

There are no aid stations, runners carry with them their own food and water and whatever equipment they can carry (although, no GPS are allowed). Throughout the race, to prove runners are not cheating, the runners search for 10 books hidden along the way. Once found, they must tear out the page number that matches the number on their bib. (ETA: There were 13 books this year)

Jamil's bib

Jamil’s bib

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The book titles reflect the conditions of the course (and/or perhaps even some of the thoughts of the runners?).

During our question/answer session with Jamil, one person asked what the winner got–you know, what were you running for?

Nothing.

That was Jamil’s answer. You weren’t running to win anything.

Yet, people who’ve been unsuccessful in finishing the Barkley Marathon return again and again and again. Of course,  Jamil’s plan is to return.

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–Have you heard of the Barkley Marathon? (It’s funny because when you look it up, you get the same information every place you go. It’s like people only divulge certain things. It’s this mystique I find so intriguing.)

–Would you ever do a crazy race like this? (In a different lifetime, yes.)

This is a great site with pics from the race.