Grand Canyon Rim to Rim 2017

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Trip Report
Arizona, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Oct 1, 2017
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Grand Canyon Rim to Rim 2017
Created On: Oct 22, 2017
Last Edited On: Oct 23, 2017

Rim to Rim - a RRR failure, a common sense win

Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail View from South Rim

It looks like this is going to be my only entry for the year. And not a very spectacular one. It is mostly about nothing. Therefore, if one is interested in a success story, one will not be inspired. This report is not about the victory of determination but rather the prevail of reason.

Due to life changing events, in a good way, the outdoor activities had to be trimmed and adjusted for the time being. Consequently 2017 became a year of mainly road running and street racing. However, I decided that a trip to the Grand Canyon for a RRR would not be too big of an impact to my current life. After all, this would have been my fourth RRR; no logistic surprises. Having more than 800 miles run to that point (October 1st) in 8 months and three RRR under my belt, I was convinced that this year’s RRR would be a breeze. Another statistic. Not so fast, Mr. Diesel.

The intended RRR would have been from Bright Angel TH to North Kaibab TH and back to South Kaibab TH; a total of 45 miles. However, my Rim to Rim to Rim became a Rim to Rim, and not a pleasant one. I think my goal of writing this TR is to bring awareness one more time to the strange ways our bodies work and the absolute necessity of not only listening to what the body tells us, but also to want to understand the message.

At 3:15 AM I started my run. I felt rusted right from the first steps, but I knew I would need 20 minutes to warm up and have the machine running smoothly. The hope was way high. And if you knew me, I have a saying: hope is for losers. About 10 minutes into my run I knew this was going to be a difficult day. I ran and raced enough to know when I would have a good run or not. It doesn’t matter how good or bad I feel before the run; the first 10 minutes of running would give the correct verdict.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon Sunrise from South Rim
This day was no different. I needed a mile or so of running to know that I would have a tough time. I had a few options which I considered while still running down the trail. One was to stop and hike back up and enjoy with my family the couple of days at the Grand Canyon. But that, as good of a decision as it was, it was a hard one to make. Planning for a RRR is a big endeavor, with months of preparations, expectations, airplane tickets, rental car, hotels and everything else. 

The second option was to runt to the Colorado River and see how I felt. Knowing very well I would not feel good, I could have gone up via South Kaibab. That seemed a better option. At least I would have done a nice hike into the Canyon and have a story to tell. 

The third option was to complete the RRR any way I could, in spite of the pain and misery.

I eventually ended up doing none of these but rather something I did not consider at the time. I am glad there was another option, and also glad I am flexible and understand when situations change and a new plan has to be made.

Things are not as they appear and don't go according to plan

Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail

North Kaibab
Cliffs on North Kaibab

Running down Bright Angel trail is as bad as going up. On top of the technical difficulties of running with a head flash light in the pitch-dark night, my super-duper $600 Garmin Fenix 5 GPS watch turned out to be the piece of crap I always suspected. Some folks would probably defend the watch with the logical argument that down into the canyon the GPS signal is not strong enough. I say that is bull; the watch doesn’t even work right during a street marathon, half marathon or any other distance there is. So, advertising it as the ultimate hiking watch is just trickery and deceit. And to remove any mystery about how my Fenix 5 $600 fantastic GPS watch worked, let me just give a couple examples. From South Rim to North Rim, following the route I took, there are 23.5 miles. My watch had me at 30.16 miles (I have the screen shots to prove it.) The watch was not off by a 3/4 of a mile of a half mile; it was off by 7 miles on a 23.5 mile route. Going down Bright Angel, the watch would clock me at 5:50 minute mile, which for me is impossible even during an asphalt race. The distances recorded by the miraculous Garmin Fenix 5 $600 hiking watch were all screwed up. I had the watch with me for nothing. Lucky me, I hiked these trails many times and I knew the miles. But the spits provided by the watch were useless. 

I made it to the other side of the river, 9.5 miles, in about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Not bad at all considering the general feeling. Every step I took felt painful, I felt no energy, no pleasure, no excitement, no progress; only a sore, aching body who was asked to do something at the time he did not feel up for it.  Since it was still dark, I stopped at the intersection of the three trails and had some energy food. After 10 minutes I could see without a light and I decided to continue toward North Rim. The energy food I had fell into a void, because I did not feel any effect from it. I realized then that I was in bigger trouble than I thought. I usually feel the effects of the gels and energy bars in about 10 minutes after eating them. Not this time. 

I started running toward the North Rim at about 5:45 AM, every step was sending an unpleasant pain up my body, while my legs felt tired. I ran the Box previously, and this time it did not feel the same as before. I was at the pump-house residence before 8:30 AM. Whatever I ran to this point, about 19 miles, was the easy part. I knew that from now on I would be in the sun, going seriously uphill. I did not feel great. To be clear, nothing in particular hurt. I just had a general feeling of fatigue, lack of energy, struggle without results, like one of those dreams where one tries arduously to run but can barely move. Every energy food or Gatorade that I had did not help a bit. I must have been so tired and my energy level so low, that everything I put in me was barely keeping me standing. 

From the pump-house residence I starting hiking. Even hiking did not seem fun, but I had to go. I kept going until I got to the 3-mile bridge to the North Rim. There I think I should have turned around. Going up the last 3 miles is a very intense hike that requires a lot of energy not only going up, but also going down. Instead, I should have used that energy to go back. But I did not do it. I kept going up and, at one point, it occurred to me that there is a shuttle that goes from the North Rim to the South Rim. But I had no idea of the schedule. I did not even know if the shuttle was still running this late in the year. As I was hiking, I met a couple who asked me how my day was. Well, I was just happy to tell them with a lot of humor how my day did not go as planned. I brought up the shuttle and they kinda’ knew there was a shuttle at 2 PM. Right then it was about 10 AM, so I had plenty of time to make the shuttle, if they were right. I kept hiking and I ran into another hiker coming casually down the trail and I talked to him a little. He was more positive that there was a shuttle at 2 PM. I eventually ran into a ranger and he was definite that there was a shuttle at 2 PM, BUT he suggested to call and make a reservation because the shuttle fills up fast. I have to admit that my entire being was so happy at the prospect of not going through a misery return run/hike of 21 miles. All of a sudden, the general pain left my body and I felt better. I did not let that trick me for I was sure that must have been some chemical release by my brain who got a jolt of happiness for a moment. It was about 10:30 AM by now, I had 2 more miles to hike and plenty of time to make the shuttle. The only problem was that there is not phone reception in the canyon, so how I could make reservations was a mystery.

Coconino Overlook
Coconino Overlook

Fall on North Kaibab
Fall on North Kaibab

But I thought of something; I wrote everything in a text message to my wife and sent the text. If the phone picked up just a little bit of signal, I was set. And I was accurate; when I checked my phone a while later I saw that the text went and the reservation was made; as it happens, it was the last seat in the shuttle. It was meant to be. From that point on I took it slow and enjoyed my hike.

I made it to the North Rim in 7 hours and 44 minutes from the start. Not bad for a South to North RR (in the event of completing a RRR) but I knew I had no energy to go back to the South Rim in an enjoyable fashion. While drinking cold water at the North Kaibab TH, I was also chatting with hikers and a group from Rochester NY was nice enough to give me a ride to the North Rim lodge. God bless them; I was sweaty, dusty and stinky and they did not have to do that. By this point I was limping pretty bad with my right foot: plantar fasciitis was acting up.

The answer is not always going forward

At the lodge I went right to the bar and had a beer; the best beer in my life. I ate something, admired the scenery and had another beer; the second-best beer in my life. Then the shuttle came and the 4.5 hours ride to the South Rim was only pleasant due to the sarcasm made by all of the hikers who made it to the North Rim but could not make it back to the South by trail. At 6:30 PM I was back to the South Rim Visitor center. By that time, I should have made it back by foot, in a normal day. Next year.

In retrospect there are a few things I could point out that deterred me from successfully completing another RRR. Fist I think it was the fact that I was tired. As we had our first baby in June, I was sleep deprived for a few months. The day before my departure from home I had a though, exhausting work day. On top of everything, the day before the run I flew for 4.5 hour, I drove to GC for 4.5 hour, got to the hotel and in bed by 10 PM. Slept almost 4 hours until 2 AM, during the 4 hours I went to the bathroom 4 times. At 2 AM I decided to wake up and hit the trail. That was my main mistake; I was not rested. I should have had a day lollygagging around the Grand Canyon, rest and eat. Moreover, before the run, I really did not get a good bagel with some protein in it although I had time in the car driving to the trailhead. Second, the fact that I only street run and did no hiking this year wasn’t much help. I had my asphalt legs for sure, but not my trail legs. Big difference. 

We live and we learn. Taking the “shame shuttle” back once is a nice awakening that there is always more to a story of edurance running. I know I could have hiked back to the South Rim. But I really did not have anything to prove. I did RRR three times. I did not want to be miserable, I did not want to have a horrible time. I also did not want to push it so hard that I hurt myself and hung the running shoes up for the season. I have been having an ugly plantar fasciitis pain in my right foot since July. It hurt during my RR run and I did not want it to hurt any more. I have to say however, that after that RR, whatever I did, pushing it against my body’s will, the plantar fasciitis pain started receding day after day. I really don’t understand the mechanism behind it, but at the time I write this, three weeks later, I barely feel the pain anymore.

Until next year, best of luck and have a great winter. All pictures on this page were taken with a cell phone on October 1st, 2017

Keep it moving.



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Grand Canyon Rim to Rim 2017

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