Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Once past the Ranger House, I could feel the grade taking its toll on my energy reserves, and I responded by downing a few Shot Bloks and a couple gulps of gel. Little did I know that these were simply bandaids more suited for a training run and not miles 16-21 in a brutal climb. However, it was a mental boost that got me through the next couple of miles. Although I was well hydrated, I didn’t realize that I was far behind on my required caloric intake (about 4,000 each way). The trail began to cut into the cliff walls as I entered Roaring Springs Canyon, and the next mile or so was spent guessing where this route could possibly lead. I wondered if this portion of the trail was designed as it was blasted out of the sandstone or if there was any forethought that a chosen path would lead to an impassible dead end. Along this stretch, I met a few hikers and runners who were incredibly fresh and high-spirited. With about three miles to go I relinquished my jogging pace and resorted to a brisk power hike. Each turn gave a disheartening view of yet another geologic formation above the next, and I cursed out loud when I approached a section descending a series of switchbacks to a footbridge crossing. It’s bad enough to have to give up some elevation on a climb like this, but even more frustrating knowing that you have to regain it on the other side. With about 2.5 miles to go, I ran into Travis, who had started from the North Rim and was happily traipsing his first few miles of an R2. As I approached him, I felt that the R3 was an impossibility at this point and had already decided to call it a day upon reaching the rim. He was his usual positive self, riding that wave of enthusiasm I had known just a few hours ago. Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a guy who recently quit smoking after 16 years and a became new convert to the running frenzy. After a few minutes of encouraging banter, we parted ways; Travis bounding gallantly down the path of vindication and me climbing the slippery slope of denial. I reached Linda about 0.25 mile later, decked out in all-weather gear and navigating the descent with a set of walking poles. A self-proclaimed slowpoke, she had made every precaution on this trip, plying her trail smarts onto the rest of us as the proverbial Trail Angel. Knowing she was an avid photo-journalist, I tried to look strong as I approached her, but the resulting picture exposed me for the tired heap that I was. By now I just wanted the hike to end and informed Linda of my intent to call it a day. She reminded me that her husband (and my co-worker) John would be waiting for me at the top with drinks and food. This became my focus as I considered the last two or so miles of the journey. The clothes I has peeled off in the first mile of the descent were slowly retaking their place on my torso as the weather conditions deteriorated.
I reached the Supai Tunnel shortly thereafter, and I knew from my research that it was almost exactly two miles from the North Rim. I figured I’d be arriving at John’s Food Mart in about a half hour. This was minutes before the wheels fell off and time became immaterial. I remember glancing at my GPS at one point, and to my horror I was clinging to a 28:00 mile. To put it in perspective, a granny pushing a walker would have passed me at this point. The term ‘death march’ came to mind and along with it the stories of runners who had succumbed to this misfortune for miles. Each turn led to another, with no home stretch in sight. Finally, I was passing the short hikers, the folks who step out of their cars in their penny loafers and amble down the trail a few hundred yards to get a better taste of the canyon. Many already knew who I was and what I was about to accomplish, and they cheered me on to the rim. I tried to look my freshest, but such despair is hard to mask with just a smile. A kiosk came into view, and I used what little I had left to carry me to the top. John was waiting like a concerned parent, and I was quick to inform him of my decision to hitch a ride back to the South Rim. A seasoned runner and hiker, he assessed my condition and didn’t dissuade me. I sat in his car with the heat blasting in my face, as recovery took hold. Chris arrived about a half hour later and appeared to be in a much better state. He had already decided to complete the R3 and sat in the car to recharge his GPS and attend to some leg cramps. Dave arrived about twenty minutes after Chris and was also content with an R2. We cheered Chris on his way and started on our 5-hour drive back to the South Rim.
I remember looking at a few trees, then waking up at a gas station a couple hours later. Climbing out of the car, I felt oddly fresh, and the pain of regret began to sink in. I began to second-guess my decision to bail out of the R3 and wondered if I had given myself enough time to recover before letting go. This inexperienced judgment would preoccupy my thoughts for the remainder of the trip.
Once the three of us were conscious and coherent, the undeniable subject of work came up. I try to avoid talking about work unless asked, but as we all shared a background in geology, the subject matter would promise to be entertaining. The hours evaporated quickly as we strengthened our commonalities through anecdotes from the field, and soon we were approaching the feral swarm of tourists in Grand Canyon Village. Not being successful at reaching Aspen by cell, I directed John to a parking lot off of the Bright Angel Lodge. She was parked there as expected and had just listened to my voice mail, relieved that I was safe and anxious to hear about the run. The dogs were barking in unison with reverence, as if they knew of what I had just accomplished. We quickly darted off to the town of Tusayan, where I had anticipated the devouring of the thickest, greasiest pizza we could find. Our first stop was at a couple different hotels in the town. I thought it would be a nice gesture to Aspen, and a guaranteed good night of sleep. All but one of the establishments were sickeningly out of our price range, and that one hotel was oddly closed when we attempted to inquire about vacancy. Nevertheless, pizza was next on the agenda, and we would return to this dive once our gullets were gratuitously filled. The impending satiation would have to wait even longer as we discovered that the entire Tusayan business district was in the middle of a prescribed power outage. By now I would have eaten just about anything and we resorted to the Yavapai Lodge cafeteria for some overpriced vittles. I would not be denied my pizza and succumbed to the rotating heat-lamped slices that the food vendor had to offer. Aspen had her fries, and unGuy, well, he just continued to elicit coos from all of the moms in the cafeteria. After some thought, we decided to camp another night and stay in Tusayan Saturday night.
Our guts filled, we returned to the campsite to relax and recover. I asked Aspen to drive out to the main road to attempt to reach Dave on her cell phone, as the signal had disappeared once we left pavement. She returned shortly thereafter, stating that we had to pack up and leave immediately. She happened to be pulling out onto the main road as a convoy of park rangers were returning from a training session. We gathered our stuff and made a hasty retreat to Tusayan after all, but by then our cheap motel had filled, as well as many of the mid-priced lodging. The rest were simply out of our price range. Finally, I said ‘Screw this’, and pushed on south towards Williams, hoping we could find some more affordable digs. We were about five miles outside of Tusayan when we passed a patrol car, and I diverted my attention to the rear view as the squad flipped a ‘U’ in our direction.
Coming up: The Red Butt(e). Steaks and Headlamps. Agate to the Past?