Tuesday, April 30, 2013


"The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail." --John Wesley Powell

"It's like trying to describe what you feel when you're standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or remembering your first love or the birth of your child. You have to be there to really know what it's like." -- Jack Schmitt

(April 25-28, 2013)


Seven years ago, long before I was a runner, I drove out from Las Vegas to check out the Grand Canyon.  I remember standing on the South Rim looking out at the Grand Canyon thinking It certainly is grand!  It sounds silly to say that the Grand Canyon is grand.  But, it is just that.  Grand.  It is hard to describe for those who have not seen but it is an immense sight to see.  The expanse of it and it's depth are grand.  It is a spectacular sight.  I can understand why it is considered a natural wonder.

Back then, I was a not a runner.  Not really an athlete in any way.  I was a regular tourist just checking out the Grand Canyon.  I remember looking down wondering if I would ever get down there.  It seems crazy and maybe too much of an adventure to ever do so.

Flash forward to now.  Now, I am a runner.  A trail runner.  As a trail runner, I think I see and experience the world differently than before.  I think I have a greater appreciation of nature than in my non-active days.  I love how you can run on trails and it can take you places where you cannot otherwise see.  In just the canyons in Auburn, I love where the trails can take you and the views you see while on those trails.  I see places in a different way than I did before I was a runner.  I get to see places where the only way to see them is via foot.

Sometime last year, I heard about the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim run that some people do.  It intrigued me.  Knowing that the Grand Canyon was spectacular to see as a normal non-runner tourist, I could only imagine what it would look like getting down inside of it.  And when I saw the pictures of some running friend's trip to the Grand Canyon, I knew that is I wanted to run the Grand Canyon and that it is a most definite bucket list run.

Fortunately for me, I have an awesome running friend named James Barstad.  He is well known among the local running community for organizing lots of fun events including a group running trip to the Grand Canyon.  So, when he set the Grand Canyon trip for this year, I knew I had to go.

The Grand Adventure

James' plan for the trip was:

Thursday April 25
5:00 AM - Carpool from the Sacramento area to the Grand Canyon South Rim.
5:00 PM – Arrive at Mather Campground and set up Camp

Friday April 26
Relax and enjoy the views
6:00 PM – Group dinner – meeting to discuss the run

Saturday April 27
5:00 AM – Start the run!
5:00 – 9:00 PM – Finish the run

Sunday April 28
8:00 AM – Group Breakfast
Relax and recover and drive back to Sacramento

Thursday, April 25 - Carpool from the Sacramento area to the Grand Canyon South Rim

The first day of the trip involved a long day in the car driving out to the Grand Canyon.  I had not gone a long road trip for sometime now so it was fun, especially having the fun company of Bruce and Bill.  James had the three of us drive one of his vehicles down to the Grand Canyon.  It was a nice car and was stocked with good road trip snacks (beef jerky, nuts, pretzels, fruit, water, etc....).  James is pretty good about taking care of people.

Road tripping with Bruce and Bill was a lot of fun.  We had many amusing conversations, lots of laughs, and a occasional scare from Bruce and his "aggressive" driving.  =P

Arriving at the Grand Canyon, we first went to look at the canyon, of course.  And, it looked as stunning as it did the first time I looked at it.  Grand indeed!  Bruce got a closer look than some of us by hopping over the fence and walking/jumping out on a rocky ledge.

After checking things out, we went to camp and set up.

Friday, April 26th, Relax and Enjoy the Views

Friday was our "rest" day.

At camp in the morning, Bruce taught us how to make survival bracelets.  It kind of felt like kid's camp.  It's arts and crafts time now.  While we made bracelets, Tim grilled some meat on the camp fire.  It looked good.  He was going to be preparing a big pot of chili for us to have when we finished the run on Saturday.

After a bit, a group of us went out to "sight-see" like regular tourists.  Bruce, Bill, and I made some new friends within the group:  Steve, Shane, and John.  Together, we checked out some of the vista points on the South Rim, walked to the Village, took some classic tourist pictures, went to the gift shop, and ate some ice cream. We also looked down at the trails we would be running on.  It seemed a bit unreal looking down at the trails and thinking I will be down there tomorrow dragging myself all the way up that.  Wow.  Ah, I can't wait!  

In the evening, we all gathered back at camp for the runner's meeting.  All the runners that were going to be doing the rim were all there including those that were not camping.  Approximately 26 or so runners were part of the group.

James laid out all the details of the run.

The run will cover approx 47 miles as planned. The route planned will take us down the South Kaibab trail to Phantom Ranch (about 7 miles), up the North Kaibab trail to the North Rim with a little side trip to Ribbon Falls (about 16 miles), back down North Kaibab to Phantom Ranch (14 miles) and up Bright Angel Trail back to the South Rim (about 10 miles). There are shorter run options available(rim to river and back - 17 miles or South Rim to Ribbon Falls and back – 29 miles).

James advised us as to how much water, food, etc. . . we should be carrying.  He explained the trails, what to expect and where we could fill up on water.  He was very detailed about everything.

After a very informative runner meeting, we enjoyed a delicious spaghetti dinner, compliments of Tim.  It was fun to see some of the runners that were not at camp and hear some of the stories from those that had run the Grand Canyon before.  There was lots of excitement in camp for our adventure-to-be.

Saturday, April 27th, The Run!  

South Kaibib Trail, South Rim to Phantom Ranch  (mile 7ish)

In the dark, we all get up and get ourselves ready for the run.  I eat some Cheerios, Then, I get on all my gear on.  My hydration pack is filled with all kinds of food, gels, s-caps, etc. . . . I tried to think of all the things I might need in the day and put it in there.  I don't put in any water in the pack just yet as James suggested we did not need too much water going down.  Even without water, the pack is pretty weighty.  In addition to the pack, I have two hand-held water bottles.

After piling ourselves the vehicles, we head out to the South Kaibib trail head.

We arrive at the South Kaibib trail head at 5 a.m.

At the trail head, there is an amusing warning sign that says "DO NOT attempt to hike from the canyon rim to the river and back in one day. . . ."  Oh, I don't intend to. . . I intend to run to the river, up the North Rim and then back...in hopefully one day!

The sky is already starting to light up so I find no need for my headlamp.  We all gather for a few group pictures.  Then, down everyone goes.  Let the adventure begin!!

It is 7 miles down to the river.  In 7 miles, we will go down 5000 feet.

As I head down, I look up to see a beautiful, nearly full moon shining over the canyon.  As I look down, I see a stream of runners weaving down the switch backs into the depths of the canyon.  It is fun to see.  There is a lot of energy and people are shouting with excitement as we all descend down into the canyon.

I run a little but feel like I have to stop every few feet or so to just take it in.  All of it is amazing.  As I descend into the Grand Canyon, get into it, it is all spectacular sight.  It takes my breath away.

We pass an overlook area with a sign saying "Ohh Ahh Point."  Many stop to take pictures here.  We all run a little then stop to take some pictures.  Run a little more and stop again.  The trail is not the easiest to run down fast on. There are a lot of wooden steps and some cobblestones making the surface not so smooth.  The steps are of different lengths and heights.  So, you cannot get a good downhill rhythm going us you have to hop/skip down uneven steps/surfaces.  But, I am in no hurry to descend down the canyon as there are just much beauty to take in.

I lag behind the group, stopping a lot to take  pictures.  I get down to Cedar Ridge and see a mule train heading down the trail.  Not desiring to get stuck behind it right away, I stop to use the bathroom (there are actual bathrooms here).  I also take off my jacket as it is warming up.  I take a moment to enjoy the sun rising over the top of the South Rim.

I then head down the South Kaibib trail some more.  The mule train is within sight so I take my time running down the trail.  No need to hurry to get behind a mule.  A group of three runners, who look like they run these trails all the time, go flying by me, just gliding over the technical trails.  The mule train stops at one point and lets the runners go by.  They also let me go by.  I scurry past the mules thanking the riders for letting me go by.

I continue running down the trail.  Every turn and section is spectacular.  It isn't all the same either.  The change in terrain and the lighting makes it all very dynamic.  The scenery is changing...all breath-taking.  I feel such excitement in being inside the Grand Canyon.

I eventually catch up to Tim and run with him for a bit.  He asks me if I plan to go all the way to the North Rim and back.  I tell him I don't know.  I was going to see how I feel and the time.  While I want to go all the way to the North Rim and back, I am nervous as to how much time it is going to take me and think I will be out there by myself at the end as those that are going the full distance are faster than me and those that are around my pace are going the shorter options.  I consider turning back early if needed.  Tim tells me I am a tough girl and thinks I can go all the way and do the whole thing.  I appreciate his confidence in me.

At one point, Tim comments as to how it is a whole different experience down here than up on the Rim.  We have views 360 degrees around us.  I look around and see how right he is.  The views down here pales in comparison to the view from the top.

Tim stops to wait for his daughter.  Bruce, Tyler, Kevin and I continue running down towards the Colorado River.   We run along and at first, we see a tiny little glimpse of green river.  Then, we see a tiny little black bridge...all the way down there.  We run, run, run.  And, it doesn't seem like the river or the bridge get that much close.  I can already feel the impact of the descent in my quads.  The hopping down the steps makes it a little harder on the quads too.  Bruce is lucky to have such long legs so he can just run down one step per foot.  My shorter legs require me to skip down some of the steps.  The pounding is starting to wear a little bit on my quads.

We eventually all get down to the black bridge and cross the Colorado River.

After crossing the bridge, I run down a little trail for a bit.  I see some campers across a creek.  Then, I see the signs for Phantom Ranch.  I meander my way through Phantom Ranch and see James and some others by the water spigot.  

At Phantom Ranch, I stop to put on some sunscreen, eat at gel, and fill up on water.  James had suggested to really fill up on water here as it is seven miles to the next water location. And, as the sun rises, it is starting to warm up.

North Kaibib Trail, Phantom Ranch to Ribbon Falls (Mile 13-14ish) 

It is approximately 7 miles to the next water stop, at Cottonwood.     But, about 6 miles out, you can turn out to a trail to head out to Ribbon Falls.

I leave Phantom Ranch and start running on the North Kaibib trail next to the Bright Angel Creek.  I run and hike along the trails enjoying the sights.  I have been eating gels each hour and make sure I take a few s-caps every so often.  I start getting hungry so eat some peanut butter crackers.  My pack feels a lot heavier with the water in it.  I ponder taking some things out and hiding it somewhere to get on my way back.  But, I decide to just continuing carrying everything as I don't want to not find the stuff later or need something later on.

As I weave up the trail towards the North Rim, I see a man hiking ahead of me, carrying what looks to be a mountain bike.  He hikes along with his mountain bike on his back.  I find this curious.  Is he planning on carrying the bike across the Grand Canyon.  He trudges along and eventually steps to the side to let me pass.

I continue running along next to the Bright Angel Creek in between the canyon walls.  The canyon walls are shading me so that is nice.  I start feeling getting a head ache and getting chest congestion.  I actually have had chest congestion and a sore throat the past few days.  I have ignored it as the Grand Canyon was too big of an adventure.  I ignored all the signs of sickness coming on.  Mind over matter!  I have ignored the sore throat and congestion in the cold mornings.  But now, I am feeling it badly.  The chest congestion and a head ache growing.  I eat an orange and pop a few motrins.  And, I continue on.  Going a little slower now.  But, slow is not so bad.  There is a beautiful creek next to me, amazing canyon walls full of colors, and lush green plants.
I come out to an large meadow opening.  It is much more exposed so it starts to warm up more.  I stop to put on my visor.  It looks a little more desert-like with a lot of cacti plants around me.  I see a couple interesting plants with flowers on the side of the trail.  It makes me think of my friend Paul, who paced me at AR50 and was picking flowers along the trails.  I see a lot of little lizards dashing across the trail as I run along.  My congestion is feeling better now.  
I eventually see the signs for Ribbon Falls and follow them.  It is a little bit off the North Kaibib trail but James said it was worth stopping to see.  I come around the trails and have to crawl over a few rocks and such.  But, then I come around into a little oasis with a beautiful water fall - Ribbon Falls!  
At Ribbon Falls, I stop to enjoy the sight and take some pictures.  I also take the time to drink one of my cokes (I had packed a couple little coke cans in my pack).  The coke is refreshing.  I pull out more of my gels and snacks to put into my pack's side pockets.  I also go towards the bottom of the waterfall to splash some water on my sun sleeves, my buff around my neck, and soak my head some.  The water is nice and cold.  I wish I had more time to climb up to the waterfall and get behind it but I need to get moving to the North Rim.  

North Kaibib Trail, Ribbon Falls to the North Rim (23ish miles)

I start heading back to the North Kaibib Trail.  A couple of runners/hikers that were behind me yell out to me and ask me where I am going.  I tell them I am going to the North Rim.  They ask me to wait up and follow me out of Ribbon Falls.  We talk a little bit as we head back to the main trail.  We talk about where we are from.  He comments about there are quite a number of us from Sacramento he has seen.  I tell him about the group of us that has come down.  The guy shares how he is part of a hiking group.  His group was about 30 people and they all started at midnight.  He asks me if I plan to go the North Rim and back to the South Rim.  I tell him yes.  He says they are doing the same.  He then says he hopes to finish by sunrise.  Sunrise? I think.  Wow, they really plan to be out here a long time.  

In a little bit, we reach Cottonwood.  There is a ranger house here and more importantly, water.  I stop to use the bathrooms and then refill on water.  James had instructed us to really fill up on water here as there is no water at the North Rim right now (the water is shut down).  So, we will have to go all the way to the North Rim and back with just the water we carry (approximately 14 miles with half of it going up).  I fill up everything I have.  Another guy who was returning from the North Rim comes through.  He says there's one more water stop about a mile up but no water after that.  He tells us all to make sure we fill up.

The couple I was hiking with hang out for awhile at the ranger house and I continue on my way ready for the climb to the North Rim.  It is approximately 7 miles, and 5000 feet up, to the top of the North Rim.  The real climbing is ahead!  

As I run along, Adam comes running up towards me.  Adam is James' brother and is very fast.  He has already gone up to the North Rim and on his way back when we see each other.  He stops and asks me how I am doing.  I tell I am doing fine and I am really impressed as to how fast he is going.  

I then continue running/hiking along.  In a short bit, I hit another ranger station/water stop location.  I know this is the last water stop for awhile so I make sure I really fill up on water in my pack and my two hand held water bottles.  I see a group of guys washing themselves down with water.  They had just come down from the North Rim.  They wish me luck as I head on my way up.  
The grade starts to steepen and I begin my long trek up the North Rim.  I am mostly hiking at this point as it is all uphill.  As I weave up the trail, I can see down to where I was.   I see the little ranger station grow smaller and smaller until it disappears.  

The day is getting a lot warmer.  I make sure I drink water and take my s-caps as I am sweating a lot.  As I trudge along up the canyon, I see Bill running down.  He stops and asks me how things are going.  I say okay.  He asks me if I have enough water and food and stuff.  I tell him I am doing fine.  He says to take it easy going up and stop in the shade if I need to.  He also tells me that Randy is about a mile ahead of me.  I thank him and continue on up. 

I cross a little wooden bridge and continue upward.  As I climb up, I look back and see the bridge get smaller and smaller.  It is crazy to look down there and know I was down there a little while ago. 
As I continue upward the North Rim, while the trail is wide, you can look down on one side of you and see a long drop off but then look up the other side of you and see how high the canyon walls are.  When I look up, I just think I have a long way up to go still.   

I continue going along snapping pictures here and there but it is definitely getting warm.  I come across a section that I had heard had washed out or something.  The trail narrows quite a bit but I can see a lot of tools and things around.  Looks like the trail workers were here trying to fix up the trail.  I hike a little further and see a group of trail workers sitting in tiny shaded spot eating lunch.  
I look at my watch and see that it is taking me a lot longer to get to the North Rim than expected.  I had been debating turning back at noon if I had not made it to the North Rim.  But, I think about what Tim said to me and that there is quite a sense of accomplishment in going all the way to the North Rim and back.  So, I continue on.    

I continue along.  It is getting warm.  I start having slight breathing issues so I slow down.  I stop occasionally and sit on a rock in the shade until my heart rate goes back down and my breathing gets a little more normal. I then continue on.  I keep looking up wondering how much farther.  I continue running along.  I assess my water situation.  I seem to be taking big gulps lately but I don't want to run out of water so I try to be cautious in not just chugging my water.  I scrounge in my pack and find a fruit pack.  I found these fruit packets before the trip and they looked interesting.  It is kind of like baby food in a large gel pack.  I open it up and try it out.  It tastes like applesauce.  It tastes delicious and refreshing in this heat.  

As I trudge along, I notice a lot of flies flying around.  I suddenly feel a string on my shin.  OW!!  I first think a bee just stung me.  I look down and see a fly on my shin.  I shoo it away.  Ow, the fly bit me.  A moment later, another sting on my other leg.  OW!  I swipe the fly stuck on my leg away.  The flies really bite here and it hurts.  A few more bite my legs as I continue hiking my way up the hill.  I try to swipe them away.  As it gets warmer, I get more annoyed with the flies.  I take out my handkerchief and use it as a fly swatter flailing it around me from time to time.  I think I look a little bit like a crazy person but the flies hurt!  
I start seeing a few of my friends descending down the North Rim.  I hope that I am getting closer to the top.  I continue on my way up.  I still stop periodically in the shade to get my breathing back to normal.  And, I continue flailing my handkerchief around to shoo flies away from me.  I am getting tired.  I am getting hungry too.  I devour a bag of dried mangos and goldfish crackers.  I think about turning back around but know I will regret having gone this far and not go all the way to the top.  So, I keep going along.  

I ask a guy coming down how far is the top, he says half a mile.  Okay, that's not too bad.  I trudge along upward.  More than half a mile passes and I still do not feel any closer to the top.  Ugh.  Hike.  Stop in shade.  Swat a fly away.  Hike more.  Stop in shade.  Swat fly away.  

Then, I see Randy coming down.  I am so happy to see him.  I must be close now.  I ask him how much farther.  He says a little over half a mile.  Okay.  I continue on my way up.  A few girls pass me on the way up and ask me if I am okay and kindly offer me gels and stuff.  I say I am okay and continue on up.  

I pass the Coconino Overlook and see an amazing view down the canyon. I then turn and continue on up and reach the top of the North Rim.  There is not too much to see here.  Just a couple signs, a parking lot, and some garbage cans.  But, there is snow!  Not a lot of snow...just some patches here and there.  After throwing away some trash, I wander to the snow and soak my arms and face with the cold snow.  I put some snow into my buff and wrap it around my neck.  

North Kaibib Trail, North Rim to Cottonwood (30-something)

After a bit, I head my way down the North Rim.  It is 7 miles back down to Cottonwood.  Another 5000 feet descent.  On the way down, I stop at the Coconino overlook to take a couple pictures. The view down the North Rim is amazing.  


I continue down, down, down.  Then, I trip on a rock or whatever.  I fall onto the ground (nowhere near any edges).  A little banged up knee and some dirt on my water bottle but I seem to be doing okay.  I continue running down and have another near stumble.  I take it a little more cautiously down now.  

Shortly after falling, I hear a helicopter flying above.  It sounds close and I look up to see it hovering above me.  I know the helicopter isn't for me but I do think I hope he didn't see me fall.  I am okay!  As I continue on the trail, I see the helicopter is doing something nearby.  I see a long rope hanging down from the chopper.  I grow curious as to what it is doing.  The chopper lowers and all the dirt around me starts blowing around.  I put on my sunglasses to cover my eyes.  

I then reach a stop with bathrooms.  I see the chopper is there to take the bathroom waste away.  There are a couple workers there who have the bathroom waste in barrels and wrapped in a cargo net tied to the helicopter.  I watch the helicopter fly off with it.    

I continue down the trail.  There are more trail workers out now and working hard on the trails.  They all are friendly as I go down.  At the one point where the trail where a landslide had occurred, they have various ropes there.  I go on the narrow spot and the worker says I can use the rope if needed.  I press up to the wall and get pass the narrow spot.  It is a long way down!  

I then see below me is the guy I saw this morning with the mountain bike.  He is still carrying it and is hiking his way up the North Rim.  We pass each other.  I say to him "I saw you this morning."  He says "Yup."  He continues on upward carrying the bike.  Wow.  I wonder what he is up to.  

A little ways later, I see another guy hiking with a mountain bike on his back.  He trudges along up the North Rim.  I learn from another runner/hiker on the trail that those guys with the bike are part of some epic 800 mile race. They rode to the Grand Canyon from somewhere far.  Then, they take apart their bike and haul it across the canyon since you are not allowed to ride bikes in the Grand Canyon.  On the North Rim, they reassemble their bikes and continue their ride.  Wow, always someone to make things a little crazier!  

I continue running/hiking down the trail.  My water is nearly running out.  I sip what little I have left.  As I am running down, I drop my visor.  I realize it a little afterwards and have to run back up a few hundred yards to get it.   I stop to admire the canyon some more.  This section is different looking than over by the South Rim.  
I run out of water and keep my eye out for the Ranger station.  I finally see it get closer and closer.  Thank goodness.   I reach the ranger station and see the three girls who passed me earlier.  They ask me how I am doing.  One girl helps refill my water bottle.  They ask me lots of questions to make sure I am okay.  I thank them and tell them I am doing okay.  Very friendly people out on the trails today.  

I soak myself in water.  My head, my arms, my face, my neck, my chest.  Then, I continue on.  I put on my headphones and start listening to some podcasts of ultrarunnerpodcast as I run along.  I am starting to get lonely being out here alone so I like listening to the podcasts when I run alone.  I listen and run along through the canyon again.  

I decide to eat an orange.  I had eaten one earlier and it tasted so good.  I look forward to eating another one now in the hot afternoon.  I peel the orange and as I am about to eat a piece, I trip and fall again.  My orange gets covered in dirt.  I banged up my hand and knees again.  Ugh.  I am dismayed by my dirty orange so I use my water bottle and wash the orange off so I can eat it still.  The orange is sweet and juicy and just right for this time of the day.  

I reach Cottonwood shortly after.  I see the three girls from earlier again and they ask me if I am doing okay.  I wonder if I look like I am struggling badly out here as they keep asking me how I am doing with a lot of concern.  I say I am fine.  I debate cleaning up my scraped up knee but I think I remember someone saying it is better to just let be so not so exposed.  So, leave it be.  But, I wash the rest of myself down to cool down some more.  I pop a few motrin pills, fill up on my water again and continue on.  

Cottonwood to The Silver Bridge  (40ish miles)

From Cottonwood, I get a second wind or as I start to run more now.   I get into a pretty good running groove.  Then, I hear what sounds like sheep baa-ing so I stop.  I scan all around me to see if I might catch sight of any big horned sheep.  I don't see anywhere.  I keep hearing what sounds like sheep and they sound loud but I don't see anything.  

I continue on.  As I run through the meadow area again, I look around me again and really admire the beauty inside the Grand Canyon.  I running along the Bright Angel Creek, enjoying a good running groove and listening to my podcast.  

In not too long, I pass the three girls.  I think they are surprised to see me running now.  I am surprised I am running as well as I am right now.  I continue running along until I reach Phantom Ranch.  

At Phantom Ranch, I stop to use the bathroom.  I am a little disappointed to have gotten to Phantom Ranch too late to enjoy the infamous ice-cold lemonade.  I walk by a building and see in the window a bunch of people dining in a dining hall.  I look at them with envy.  It is approximately dinner time.  I still have to go a long way before I can have dinner.  Whatever they are eating looks good.  I leave munching on peanut butter crackers.  

I get back to the Colorado River.  I see some folks at the campground hanging out.  I think it might be fun to camp down here.  I think about coming back sometime with Craig.  I would love for him to see this place.

I continue running along and finally reach the Colorado River.  I head towards the Bright Angel Trail and see the Silver Bridge.  

Bright Angel Trail, The Silver Bridge to the South Rim

Time for another big climb again.  Another 5000 feet up to the South Rim.

I reach the Silver Bridge and as I step on to the bridge, I see there base of the bridge is not wood but a metal and grid-like and you can see straight down to the rushing Colorado River underneath.  This is kind of nerve-racking.  As I cross the bridge, I see the water rushing hard over the rocks.  This makes me nervous.  While crossing the bridge, I can feel the bridge bouncing a little bit.  I look down at the rushing river and my nerves are not eased any.  

But, I make it across the bridge.  I head along the trail and admire the sun starting to set over the Colorado River.  
As I start my hike upward the South Rim along the Bright Angel Trail, I stop to drink my last coke.  Need a little pep before my last big climb. 
As I run along, I hit a very sandy area. As I trudge through, a bunch of sand gets into my shoes.  I stop to shake out some of the sand but I can feel random sand clumps throughout my shoes.  Some sand is pressing on my left toe and some sand is clumped up under my right foot.  It is uncomfortable and I try to kick at a couple rocks to hopefully shake the sand out.  Then, I run into more sand and get even more sand into my shoes.

A little while later, I stop and take off my shoe and insole and shake out as much sand as I can.  I then continue on.  I think the sand clumps have started a blister forming on my feet.  Ugh.

I continue on and see the sky starting to dim.  I put on my headlamp.  I hear more of the sheep sounds.  I look around and don't see any sheep.  I start to notice that I hear the noises grow louder near streams and creeks.  It must not be sheep but frogs or something.  They get even louder as it grows dark.

As it gets darker and darker, I start hearing the noises of various critters.  I get a little anxious being out here alone and now, in the dark.  I have no idea what kinds of critters are out here at night.  I don't think the mountain lions would be down here but I do worry a little bit about it.  I see little frogs along the trails.

I start listening to Trail Runner Nation podcasts now.  Nice to listen to something as my scenery is fading into the darkness.  On some of the podcasts, my friend Faith is on them.  Hearing her familiar voice is kind of comforting.  It is like having my friend with me.

It gets really dark as things start getting steeper.  I have no idea where I am exactly but hope at some point I weave around to face the South Rim.  I continue hiking upward on the switchbacks.  At one point, I look up and can see little lights above.  Headlamps of other runner/hikers above me.  This gives me comfort.  I am not alone.  There are others out here.

A little bit later, I pass a couple people tending to a girl laying down on the trail with an aluminum sheet over her.  I ask them if everything is okay and they say they are okay but just resting.   I continue on.  I pass another guy who stopped to sit on a rock.  I ask him if he is okay.  He says he's fine but resting.  Okay.  I continue on.  I look up and see more headlamps weaving up the trail.

After wandering in the dark for awhile, I finally reach Indian Gardens.  More people are here.  I see more of people part of the group of hikers that I had met earlier in the day.  They are all wearing matching white shirts.  I continue on, feeling a bit better now there are a fair amount of hikers out on the trails with me too.  I am not so alone out here.

I look up the canyon to see the light from the lodge on top of the South Rim.  Now I am able to orient where I am.  I am where I had looked down to yesterday.  I can picture where I am on the trail.  It is a long way up there but at least I know where I am going.  I trudge along hiking my way up, still listening to my podcast.  The podcast is helpful to listen to as it occupies my mind as I drag my way up and up and up.

I reach the 3 mile house.  It is a location with bathrooms and a water spout.  I need to refill my water so I head up to the shack on top of a few steps.  I refill on water.  I then wander back to the trail and realize I have to go down a few steps to hit the trail.  My legs stop.  My quads are absolutely done with going downhill.  I can still climb up but not down anymore.  They are thoroughly thrashed.  I stand on the top step for awhile trying to figure out how to get down.  There is no rail.  I turn sideways and slowly and painful make my way down to the trail.  I see a group of guys sitting on the side of the trail, resting for the night.

I continue my long trudge up the trail.  It is getting late but I cannot go very fast now.  So, I just hike up as best as I can.  I pass a few folks from the hiking group.  Some just stop and sit on the trail to rest.  They do not seem in any hurry.  I do not want James and the others to worry about me so I keep going up and up and up.  I am finishing a lot later than expected.

I pass the 1.5 mile house.  I do not even attempt going up to it to refill on water.  I have enough to finish.  I start getting a little cold but I don't have the energy to pull out my jacket.  I am still wearing my sun sleeves so they are a good layer over my arms.  I feel my throat is quite sore now.  I definitely have a froggy voice now.

I know the lodge is straight above me so I start to wonder if I will have service now.  I pull out of my phone.  My phone has been on airplane mode to preserve the battery.  I turn off airplane mode and see that I do have phone service.  I send a text message to Bruce and James to let them know where I am.  They respond that they are waiting for me.  I had been worried that they thought something happened to me down in the canyon since it is so late and I think I am the only one in our group still out there.

James lets me know he's waiting for me.  I respond to a couple text messages to Craig and other friends.  I get onto facebook and see a few messages from friends it helps as I drag myself up the last mile.

As I go, I see a man standing on the trail ahead of me.  He asks me if I am "Helen."  I say yes.  He asks if I saw another girl having trouble down there.  I said awhile ago, I saw a girl laying down with a couple others tending to her.  He talks about needing to contact the rangers.  He asks if I minded him hiking up with me.  Of course not.  He asks me about my day and how far I went.  I tell him I went to the North Rim and on my way back.  He congratulates me.  He tells me I have about a half mile to go.  I appreciate having his company.

Then, I see James standing near the trail head.  He gives me a hug and guides me to his truck.  Yes, I am finally done.  James tells me Deirdre and John had just finished.  Little did we know that I was so close to them this whole time.  I told James I hope that when it got late, he wasn't worried that something happened to me down in the canyon.  James tells me "I did not have to worry about you.  I knew you would find a way out."  This makes me laugh.

I arrive back at camp to see a few folks still up and sitting by the camp fire.  Tim gets me the tastiest bowl of warm chili.  The chili really hits the spot.  I still with the others chatting about our adventures for the day.  And Tim was right, the feeling of accomplishment as to what I did. . . went all the way to the North Rim and back in one day...the feeling is priceless.  :)

Sunday, April 28, Group Breakfast and Drive Home

I wake up quite early on Sunday.  I awkwardly climb in and out of my tent and hobble back and forth to the bathroom.  I had apparently hydrated quite well on Saturday.  I also couldn't sleep much as I have a yearning for a shower.  The showers were closed when I returned on Saturday.  So, I wandered over to the store for wifi and hung out until the showers opened at 6 a.m.

I paid $4 for 16 minutes in the shower and it was wonderful to finally wash up!

After my shower, the group started getting up.  We enjoyed a tasty breakfast, compliments of Tim again.  Then, we all packed up camp.

We started our caravan back home.  Bruce, Bill, and I got separated from the rest of the vehicles but we had fun on our drive back home.  We had so much fun chatting that we missed a freeway transition and ended up nearly driving to LA.  It took as awhile to re-route our way back to Highway 99.  But, we eventually made it back to James' house and I got back home in the wee hours of the morning.

My feet had really bad blisters from the run and swelled up quite a bit in the car ride home.  My legs got super stiff sitting in the car all day.  It is possibly one of the most challenging things I have done.  And, it astounds even me that I did it all self supported.  I think it was more exciting than any race I could have done.  The trip beat me up pretty badly and it took me awhile to get back to walking normal but oh man, it was an amazing adventure!


The biggest thanks to James Barstad and Tim Ruffino for organizing a wonderful, lifetime experience.  When you guys told me about this trip last year, I knew I had to do it.  Thank you for allowing me to come and for such wonderful organization.  Thank you both for giving me all the information I needed to be properly prepared to take on such a challenge.  And thanks to Tim for preparing such delicious meals, especially the chili after the run!  I cannot thank you guys enough!  THANK YOU!!!

Thank you all that went on the trip!  It was great sharing the experience with you all and making new friends with some of you!  What a great group out there!!

Thank you to Bruce and Bill for being great road trip buddies!  It was a fun experience to share with you guys and getting to know both of you even more!   Thank you for creating many memories, some of which I will laugh about for years to come!  :)

Thank you Craig for all your support and being so understanding and supportive in having your girlfriend just run off for four days to do this crazy adventure!  I hope some day you can go down into the canyon with me to see the grandness.  But, thanks for your understanding that it was a bucket list item I needed to do and a trip I just had to do.  :)

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