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Peg’s Posts: Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim recap

27 September 2013 @ 1:02 PM  / Garmin Connect / Peg's Posts / Sports / Fitness Blog /

“Recap” hardly seems a fair tribute to a journey that carried 29 women nearly 24 miles and approx 10,000’ vertical in a day. Then again, it’s hardly fair to share this grand experience through words and photos. But share I will, in hopes that others might be inspired to follow the same path someday.

Group pic
Our Rim-to-Rim group included 29 women from around the US and Canada. A collection of friends, friends-of-friends, running partners, work partners, cousins…united by a simple goal with a not-so-simple execution. These goal-getters included a couple of women serving in the US Air Force, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, a few Ironwomen, a recent Boston Marathon qualifier, ultra trail runners, a hiker/runner/cyclist who’s torn it up at Ride the Rockies, a woman who celebrated turning 60 by doing Rim-to-Rim last year, then came back for more this year, plus one adventurous soul who has completed far-flung races on multiple continents, including Eco-Challenge adventure races. Many of these women were devoted Garmin customers. I think I saw every form and flavor of Forerunner gracing their wrists, minus the classics (though one of the Canada gals said she had a 301 at home that works like a champ). I could share much more about the amazing women on this trip, but you kinda had to be there.

Photo 2 Red Mtn
On to the recap. Our trip started with a short stay at the Red Mountain Spa in St. George. Here we took in a fantastic runner-friendly dinner while digesting more details of the trip, then rested our heads on the plumpest pillows on earth (bit of a contrast to our accommodations for our next “nap”). Saturday morning, we enjoyed a short shakeout run and swept through a breakfast buffet as if it could be our last meal. One member of our group said she thought we made an impression (not sure it was a good one) on the staff, who are used to spa guests there for diet or detox purposes.

After stocking up on groceries to make our pack-friendly snacks for the next day, we boarded our bus and traveled to the North Rim. It was now roughly 15 hours before our adventure would begin and here we were, taking in the view from the North Rim, which our coach said would be the only time we could see both the start and finish points of a race. From this vantage, the crossing seemed impossible. But factor in 20 weeks of training, mental preparation and some good old-fashioned guts, and the switch just flipped to possible.

Next stage was to sort of settle into our cabins at Kaibob Lodge. Our coach had adequately described these as “rustic.” No scented soaps or fluffy pillows here. But no matter, because when we finished organizing our packs and going through mandatory gear check, our sleep time was skimpy. My roomie Cheryl and I set an alarm for 3am, then tossed and turned, praying the 8-legged creatures skittering about earlier were sleeping also, just not in our beds. Storms broke out in the early morning hours, knocking out the power. Never had to dress by the light of a headlamp before, but this was just one of many firsts on this trip.

Our group was efficient in loading gear and boarding the bus once more for our 30-minute ride to the trailhead. Bleary-eyed yet jittery with excitement, we started our descent just before 5 am. We made our way rather swiftly along the loamy trail, punctuated with the occasional boulder, drop-offs and sharp switchbacks. I felt a little panicky at this stage, with absolutely no situational awareness and a wimpy headlamp, so I blindly kept pace with our coach and Cheryl. Less than 30 minutes in, I heard a stumble-thump, then swearing. Cheery Colorado girl right behind me had sprained an ankle. She wouldn’t be the first, but there was no slowing down this train. One of the most breathtaking sights awaited me at the next hairpin turn, when our coach told us to look back. Snaking up behind us was a dancing parade of lights, marching onward, downward.

The next can’t-fully-describe-sight came when the sun peeped over the canyon walls while oohs and aahs spilled out of our mouths. Cameras came out briefly, then quickly slipped back into packs or pouches as we moved on. Roughly 4 miles in, our entire group stopped to empty internal bladders and refill hydration bladders. That’s when we saw them, a group of five guys, who we soon learned were doing Rim-to-Rim in support of the Wounded Warriors project. Their reaction to seeing 29 women on the same journey, for different personal or charitable causes (mine happened to be fundraising for Girls on the Run), was priceless. Our groups traded places a couple times on the trail, with good-natured exchanges going both ways. 

When we reached some flatter sections of the trail at lower elevations, we fell into a run/walk rhythm. Our coach glided along as if the pack on her back weighed mere ounces vs 15+ pounds, her poles swooshing at her side. My movement was far less stealth and running form went out the window. Funny that I happened to be wearing a Forerunner 620 for testing purposes. I was also wearing an HRM-Run monitor that allows the 620 to measure my cadence, ground contact time and vertical oscillation, or the “bounce” in my stride. So I wouldn’t be collecting typical data on this venture, but it was intriguing to record the stats just the same.

Signs for Phantom Ranch were a welcome sight some 7 hours into our trek. Time to eat lunch, shed layers, tend to blisters in the making and readjust packs before starting the climb out of the canyon. The temp was still mild, but creeping into the upper 70s. I bought a spirit-boosting iced tea at Phantom Ranch and decided it was the wisest $2.5 investment I’d ever made. By 12:10, the first group of women was ready to move on, and our coach said we could proceed in organized groups as long as one in our party was carrying a satellite radio.

By now, I was ready to start climbing, and my toes were grateful that the pressure was off them. The afternoon passed rather quickly, with our group making relatively quick stops. We crossed the Silver Bridge over the rushing Colorado River, muddy from the effects of the Colorado flooding, high winds giving the suspension bridge even more swing. A brief pause was enforced before we left the bridge as a party of tourists and guides on horseback passed by. The sight of a track pants-clad body on a horse humored me; an authentic cowboy guide at the back of the pack impressed me.

As we continued our steady progress, every woman had a variety of virtual carrots encouraging her every step. Mine was anything liquid with ice, my mouth tired of sipping lukewarm water. My roommate, an experienced hiker, knew we’d be doomed once the sun started setting — time and temp was her carrot. She popped out of the canyon in a time of 11h 45min, along with two other women. My group finished comfortably in just under 12 hours elapsed time, taking a few photo and “awe” breaks along the way. The awe came when we paused to look back at the trail far below, just a squiggle. The realization of how far we’d come fueled the remainder of our climb.

I finished feeling strong, healthy and grateful I had a chance to experience this wonder of the world with total immersion. At dinner that evening, each woman recounted a memorable moment from the day’s journey. Some stories brought laughs, including the tale of a cactus encounter during a squatty potty break. Some brought tears, like learning that one woman had carried the ashes of her deceased parents so she could say they had done Rim-to-Rim too. My favorite moment: when we eventually “chicked” the boys we’d leap-frogged a few times on the trail.

It’s time to wrap this recap, but before you go, check out our grand crossing in Garmin Connect.

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