The Grand Canyon is an amazing place! I feel fortunate to have hiked it on five different occasions. If you haven't had the chance to hike it, put it on your bucket list and then cross it off as quickly as you possibly can. And maybe cross it off more than once. It is one thing to stand on the rim of the canyon and marvel at its vastness and beauty. It is another thing entirely to head down into the canyon, to journey to the mighty Colorado River, some 5,000 to 6,000 feet from the rim. It is a life altering experience. Trust me, you won't regret it. What follows is a run down of the five times I have been out there and what exactly I did. I hope there is a sixth journey sometime soon.
Adventure Number 1: Rim to Rim (North Kaibab to Bright Angel) (5/21/11)
Soon after I started working at the Clark County Public Defender's Office in 2009, I heard about a Grand Canyon hike that used to be something of an annual tradition. Sure, I had been to the Grand Canyon a few times over the years, taking the obligatory photos from the South Rim, but the thought of hiking down into it had never even crossed my mind. To be honest, I didn't even know that was a thing a person could do.
This hike, I was told, would be a hike from the north rim down into the canyon, across, and up the south rim. Simply put, it was the rim to rim hike, north to south. Now this obviously takes some logistical planning because we would all stay on the north rim of the grand canyon the night before the hike, but those of us hiking would end up at the south rim of the grand canyon, some 25 miles and around 6,000 feet of elevation loss/5,000 feet of elevation gain later. This would require drivers to drive from the north to the south rim to meet us when we emerged from the other side. The drive from north to south rim, however, was much longer in distance than the hike would be, nearly 300 miles and 5 hours of driving. It turns out hiking was a shortcut, at least distance wise. Way back in the day, there used to be a sanctioned rim to rim race, but they stopped doing it and now they discourage people from trying to do it in one day. In fact, most people camp for a day or two along the way. But we didn't intend to do that.
By the time I took part in this excursion, Pete Eliason from the Public Defender's Office was the master planner and logistics czar. I don't know if that was always the case, but I could see why he filled that role. He made all of the reservations for lodging and planned the renting of vans, recruited and coordinated drivers, collected all the money, and also made sure that anybody wanting to do this hike knew how difficult it would be. I distinctly remember him sending a stern e-mail and checklist months before the excursion for those who wanted to do the hike to make sure everybody was in good enough shape and had all the necessary supplies such as a camelback and calories for the journey. I heard stories about prior participants being flat out unprepared or out of shape and running into real problems in the canyon, taking inordinately long to finish the hike or just trying to give up in the middle. There is the option of being helicoptered out of the canyon if need be, but that was rumored to come with a bill amounting to several thousand dollars. Truth is that I was plenty nervous about whether I could complete this hike. The temperatures could fluctuate greatly from the rim to the basin, sometimes amounting to a 60-70 degree difference.
The night before, we stayed pretty close to the north rim and my understanding was, at least at that time, there were really only one set of cabins you could stay in with only one fairly mediocre restaurant in the vicinity. The cabins were pretty basic, but we would only need them for one night of mostly restless, nervous sleep.
We decided to head over to the north rim that evening to catch the sunset. That experience was amazing. It is really hard to describe the majesty of it all without seeing it yourself, but here are some photos from the visit to the north rim:
The hike the next morning was an utterly amazing experience! I really didn't know what to expect, but I couldn't believe how far you had to go down to get to the basin. It seemed like the downhill would never end. And I couldn't believe how high you had to climb to get to the top. Once we started, I never doubted my ability to complete the hike, but that uphill was really brutal. I think it was the most difficult thing I had ever done up to that point. The uphill took longer than going down and across, even though the climb only amounted to around 5-7 miles of the 25 mile hike. You just keep going and going, switchback after switchback, as the sun mercilessly beats down upon you and the rim doesn't seem to get any closer. One of the highlights of the hike was removing my shoes and socks at Phantom Ranch and dipping them in the icy cold Colorado River. Pure heaven!
All told, the hike took me about 12.5 hours or so, which was definitely the longest physical activity I had ever done in my entire life (up to that point).
I took so many photos. Maybe too many photos. Here are the ones with people in them. As you can see, there weren't many of us on this hike. Me, Bita, Pete and a couple of Pete's friends.
Here are the photos without people in them. There are a lot of them, so feel free to skim or skip them altogether.
On the way back to Las Vegas from the south rim, it was tradition to stay the night in Williams, AZ (about an hour from the Grand Canyon) and to eat dinner and pie at the home style Pine Country Restaurant. After all, it wasn't a good idea to suffer through a 3.5 hour drive back to Las Vegas after the hardest hike of your life when your legs and feet were screaming at you.
They did not undersell Pine Country. Nor did they undersell the shock of the ice bath at the hotel to ease the swelling of your legs and feet. That was shocking, but I think it helped with the pain the next day.
[PS: File this under foreshadowing - when I was walking/hiking the Grand Canyon, I saw people running, yes running, it. I just shook my head and laughed to myself. "People are crazy," I whispered to myself. I would NEVER EVER do something that crazy.]
Adventure Number 2: Rim to Rim (North Kaibab to Bright Angel) (10/8/11)
I was pumped that we planned another Grand Canyon excursion later that same year, in October, when it would be a bit cooler. I wanted to do this one faster than the last one. My strategy was pretty simple. I would just take fewer breaks and power hike the whole thing. And I would take fewer photos along the way. I knew this also meant I would mostly be going it alone, but that was okay. Pete and I struck up a friendly competition about who could complete the hike faster.
I was excited that I convinced my brother, Charles, and his now wife, Crystal, to join us on the hike. I thought they would enjoy it and I was eager to share the Grand Canyon with them. We had a bigger crew this time around, as the excitement about the hike had spread through the office. Our crew consisted of Bita, Pete, Patty (Pete's sister), Jeremy Storms, and Michael Wilfong.
We again visited the north rim of the canyon the night before the hike to catch the sunset and we also took some group photos:
It was still dark out when we started down the north rim in the morning. Headlamps were a must. I mostly stuck to my plan, stopping very little and not taking too many photos along the way. I was rewarded with a 10.5 hour finish, a full two hours faster than earlier that year. I beat Pete, but he told me that he didn't feel comfortable leaving his sister behind, which was why he wasn't as fast as he would have liked. I understood that - you don't want to leave someone behind in the Grand Canyon, especially a first timer who is also a family member. I told him next time we were competing for real, no excuses.
Here are the handful of photos I took along the way:
Tragedy stuck when we arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in Williams, AZ. It turns out that they had no record of any room reservations and Pete was unable to find any confirmation that he had actually made the reservations. They were sold out of rooms, as was every other hotel in Williams. So there would be no ice baths, hot showers, or Pine Country Restaurant pie for us. Instead, we had to suffer through the entire drive back to Las Vegas that night. It was torture, sitting in a cramped van for hours after that long of a hike. Most of us fell asleep on the way back and I am honestly now sure how our drivers stayed awake. When I got back home, I immediately downed a beer or two and then jumped in the shower as quickly as possible. Best. Shower. Ever. Second rim to rim hike in the bag.
Adventure Number 3: Rim to Rim (North Kaibab to Bright Angel) (5/19/12)
Leading up to this third effort, Pete and I began to talk serious trash about who could complete it faster. I, being at least 20 pounds lighter than Pete, felt pretty good that I had the edge. Pete felt like he could train hard enough to be victorious. Naturally, we settled on a wager, the exact contours of which escape me. But the basic concept was that the loser had to buy the winner an entire pie from Pine Country Restaurant and, then as a bonus, the winner could earn additional pies should the margin of victory exceed certain intervals. In this case, I believe it was 30 minute intervals, meaning winning by 30 minutes or more would earn you an additional pie and winning by 60 minutes or more would earn you two additional pies!
I was not taking anything for granted and I begin to obsess about this challenge. I dedicated serious time to training. I worked hard to drop extra pounds, often going to the gym for 2-3 hours, where I would alternate between running, walking on the treadmill at maximum incline, and using the stair climber at the fastest speed I could stomach. They were brutal workouts, but I knew they would give me the edge in the event Pete kept it close.
As was our custom, we visited the north rim the night before the hike, also taking some photos at the restaurant on the north rim, where we enjoyed dinner as much as we could. As you can see, we had an even bigger crew this time around, including Bita, Pete, Jose (Pete's friend who was a mixed martial artist and looked tough as nails), Nadine Morton (never to be underestimated in athletic endeavors), Sonny Bonaventure, Mark Cichoski & his two sons, Gayland Seaberry, Robert O'Brien, Lynn Avants, and David Lopez-Negrete. Scott and Ashley Hinckley volunteered to be our drivers from the north to the south rim. I think they had the most thankless job of all, but they claimed to be relieved that they didn't have to do the 25 mile hike with us!
I didn't sleep particularly well the night before, anxious about what was to come. Despite my lack of sleep, the moment of truth had arrived and Pete and I squared up before heading down into the canyon. As you can tell by the photos, it was still pretty dark at the start and we need headlamps to find our way. It was also cold enough at the start for winter hats and gloves, as least for me. Pete had more insulation and thus generated more heat, so he was fine with a baseball cap and no gloves. Savage!
My plan was to walk the downhill, run the relatively flat portions in the canyon, and give whatever I had left on the climb up the South Rim. I would be all business on this venture, stopping as infrequently as possible and not taking any photos on the hike itself. Winning was my only objective and I had taken plenty of photos on the two previous occasions anyhow. I would be relentlessly focused. This again meant I would mostly be going it alone, but I felt comfortable enough with the course that I wasn't too worried about it.
My plan was immediately foiled when Pete and Jose started jogging right out the gate, on the treacherous and steep downhill, in the dark. Although I didn't relish the idea of jogging the downhill, I was worried about letting Pete and Jose get too far in front of me. So, cursing them under my breath, I began to jog as well. They opened up a pretty sizeable lead on me, but I was content because this was definitely a marathon (almost literally) so I had plenty of time to close the distance gap. Everybody else in our group acted like rational human beings and took the downhill nice and easy, intending to enjoy the hike while Pete, Jose, and I pushed ourselves to the limit.
Thankfully, I didn't have any issues on the downhill, though there were some slick spots along the way. When I arrived at some decently flat parts after the downhill, I jogged those as well. About 14 miles into the hike, I arrived at Phantom Ranch. I didn't expect to do much more than fill up my water there. My plan was reinforced when I saw Pete and Jose resting at a picnic table at Phantom Ranch, with their shoes and socks off. They looked spent. I seized the chance to pull ahead and put some distance between us. I said hello to them, exchanging small talk for a few minutes, and then took off. They looked surprised as they sat there barefoot watching me head out. I smirked and picked up my pace, thinking this might be my best chance to crush their spirits.
I pushed on relentlessly as the uphill climb began in earnest. I kept turning back to look behind me, but I didn't see any sign of them. About 2-3 miles from the end of the hike, I ran into serious trouble. My non-stop effort and the heat hot gotten to me. I felt nauseous and dizzy. I had a hard time staying on my feet. I began to drive heave. I found a shady spot and sat down, unable to move, feeling like my death was imminent and, in fact, welcoming it in that moment. This was full on heat exhaustion. I couldn't believe it. I would need to be life flighted out so close to the end of the hike. How embarrassing! And how much would this helicopter ride cost anyway? This is what I was thinking as I continued to sit there and pour water over my head in an attempt to cool down and get back on track.
I had been sitting there for maybe 5-10 minutes when, much to my surprise and my horror, I saw one of our group members quickly approaching. It wasn't Pete. And it wasn't Jose. It was Nadine. And she looked as fresh as she did at the beginning of the hike. I couldn't believe it! She had been privy to all of the trash talking Pete and I had been doing the night before and here she was kicking both of our butts as the finish line neared. I remember she looked down at me, said hello, and just kept going, with what I believed to be an unusually large smile on her face as she looked back at me. Now I was utterly defeated. I dropped my head even lower.
About 10 minutes later, with a jolt, life came back to me. I felt fresh and rejuvenated. I got a second wind. It was go time. I was determined to catch Nadine, going as fast as I could, but she never let up and I never caught up. So it was second place for me in a very respectable 7 hours, 45 minutes, nearly 3 hours faster than my prior best time. I was just so happy to have made it out alive. And we had actually finished so quickly that our drivers from the north rim had not yet arrived, so we had some time to hang out and reflect on what we had just accomplished.
It was quite awhile before Jose emerged in third place. Pete was even further back. My margin of victory earned me not 1, not 2, but 3 entire pies!!!! Maybe my near death experience was worth it after all. A pie fest was headed my way!
True to my word, I did not take any photos while in the canyon, but I did take some at the south rim, as members of our crew periodically emerged from the canyon, highly relieved to finally be done with this adventure.
Pine Country Restaurant never tasted so good! It really is phenomenal to check in at the hotel, take an ice bath for your aching and sore legs, follow that up with a hot shower, put on some clean clothes, and then stuff your face with some down home cooking until you can't eat anymore. The pies were so gigantic that I really didn't want 3 of them because I thought they would go to waste. I love pie, but even I have my limits. So Pete bought me one pie (strawberry cream) and I negotiated the other two for a couple of lunches down the road. Always nice to bank some IOU lunches!
And so ended the third Rim to Rim effort. Little did I know that I would soon get involved in politics and that would consume a lot of my free time. It would be nearly 8 years before I would have a chance to get back to the Grand Canyon, but the itch would always be there.
Adventure Number 4: Rim to Rim (South Kaibab to Bright Angel) (3/10/20)
I had been saying for quite some time that I wanted to hike the Grand Canyon again, except I wanted to hike down the south rim to Phantom Ranch and then hike back up the south rim. The advantage to this was that you could do it yourself. It did not require the logistical planning of the north rim to south rim hike. And you could just make Williams, AZ your home base, both before and after the hike.
Well, it seemed like nearly 8 years was a long enough hiatus so I began to plan for this effort as 2019 turned into 2020. I settled on a plan. I would park in between the two south rim trails, Bright Angel and South Kaibab. I would then walk over to the Bright Angel trailhead, about 2.5 miles away, to start the hike. I would go down the Bright Angel trail (which I had never done before - I had only gone up it) and then, once I reached Phantom Ranch, I would turn around and head back up the South Kaibab trail (which I had never done before in either direction). When I arrived at the top, I would have a 2.5 mile walk back to my car. Ideally, I would have parked my car at the South Kaibab trailhead so it would be there when I finished, but there is no public parking at the South Kaibab trailhead, so that was not an option. And I didn't really want to deal with the shuttle bus system, so I just decided to park in between. I was hoping that the hike would amount to 1,000 flights of stairs because that was a goal that I had not yet achieved on my Fitbit - 1,000 flights in one day. I didn't intend to run at all. Instead, I would power hike the whole time. And I would take a lot of photos because it had been awhile since I had been down there.
I decided to stay in Williams and enjoy some pie the day before the hike. I parked my car at the main visitor's center right around 6am. It was still dark, but the sun was just starting to rise. It was cold enough that I needed to wear a winter hat and gloves at the start. The walk along the rim trail was nice because it was relatively flat. Going down Bright Angel was interesting because I had only gone up that trail before, on three previous occasions. The weather was pretty nice, but it was cloudy and it started to rain on my way down. I felt fortunate that I thought ahead and had packed a rain jacket as well as a number of ziplock bags to protect my electronics. There was still some snow on the trail, which resulted in some very slick and muddy spots on the descent. Luckily, I had brought hiking poles, which was a first for me, as I usually hike without them. Without the poles, I might have slipped right off the cliff, to my death. So I was glad I brought them along. They provided needed stability on the way down.
It took me longer to cover the 10 miles to Phantom Ranch than I had anticipated. I stopped there just long enough to fill up my Camelback and make small talk with a couple other hikers. Then I headed back up the South Kaibab Trail. This was exciting because I had never been on this trail at all before. We were generally hesitant to take that trail when doing the rim to rim because it has the same elevation as Bright Angel over a shorter distance and there isn't much in the way of water either. Thankfully, the weather was nice enough that I wasn't too worried about staying hydrated so this was the perfect time to try this trail. The views from South Kaibab are stunning. I highly recommend checking it out if you haven't already.
This is my favorite sign in the Grand Canyon. I always read it, laugh to myself, and keep going. I was in the midst of doing precisely what this sign recommended you not do. That being said, you should NOT attempt to do this in one effort unless you are in really good shape and are used to this kind of demanding physical activity. It is really grueling.
I powered hiked up the South Kaibab trail without too much trouble, though I did slip in the mud a couple of times. The hiking poles helped, but did not entirely save me from getting up close and personal with the mud in a way I didn't much appreciate. I was able to get some amazing photos as the clouds and fog rolled in as I got closer to the top of the south rim. I was so relieved to finally be done climbing, but I still had a 2.5 mile walk back to my car, which wasn't really at the top of my priority list at that moment. But I just kept moving. When all was said and done, my journey took nearly 11 hours and covered around 25 miles of distance and over 5,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, which did NOT amount to anywhere close to 1,000 flights of stairs. That would have to wait for another day, another challenge...
I took a lot of photos, both with my iPhone and with an actual camera that I brought with me. Who does that anymore?!?! Here are the photos from my walk from my car to the Bright Angel trailhead. It was dark when I started and it was amazing to be able to slowly see the vastness of the canyon as the sun rose.
Here are the photos from the Bright Angel trailhead down to Phantom Ranch:
Here are the photos of the mighty Colorado River down in the basin:
Here are the photos from Phantom Ranch up the South Kaibab trailhead. Amazing clouds and fog.
And a few videos from the journey:
I knew my shoes would be wrecked on this hike, so I wore a pair that were close to the end of their useful life, intending to toss them in the garbage when I arrived back at my car. That is precisely what I did. Here is what they looked like right before I tossed them into a dumpster:
When I made it back to Williams, more pie was a must. The next morning, I purchased an entire pie to bring back to my office. They were most appreciative! It was the least I could do for those who pick up the slack in my absence.
The presentation of the pie:
Adventure Number 5: Rim to Rim to Rim (South Kaibab to North Kaibab to Bright Angel) (9/14/20)
I decided to finally give it a try - the vaunted rim to rim to rim! I had been thinking about doing this hike for quite some time, but I was not in good enough shape to really even think about it, let alone actually attempt it. But I had been running enough as of late that I felt like I had a chance to complete it. Deep down inside, I had real doubts about whether I could do it, but I was determined to give it my best shot. I was going to make it even more difficult by using all three trails on the attempt. Here is the plan I devised:
1. Park my car at the Bright Angel trailhead at the South Rim around 4am;
2. Run from there to the South Kaibab trailhead via the rim trail, about 5 miles away;
3. Head down South Kaibab trail, cross the Colorado River and climb the North Kaibab trail to the North Rim, a journey of about 22 miles, 5,000 feet of elevation loss, and 6,000 feet of elevation gain;
4. Turn around, head back down the North Kaibab trail, cross the Colorado River, and take the Bright Angel trail back to my car, which would amount to about 25 miles, 6,000 feet of elevation loss, and 5,000 feet of elevation gain.
So, the total contemplated journey would be 50+ miles, 11,000 feet of elevation loss, and 11,000 feet of elevation gain. I anticipated that it would take me about 20 hours to complete this adventure, which meant a lot of it would be in the dark.
I recently bought a new hydration pack that I intended to use for this effort. I made the mistake of not packing it before I got to Williams, AZ. Once I arrived there and started packing it at the hotel the night before, I realized that at least half of the items I intended to pack were not going to fit in my pack. That was a bad feeling and a serious planning failure. Always give the pack a test run before using it! So I scraped many of the items I was going to bring, including water filtration, an extra shirt, winter hat and gloves, a portable charger, and a lot of the food that I had intended to carry with me. I had to make due with the space I had.
My alarm went off at 2:30am. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, got dressed and headed out. The temperature was in the high 30's. I arrived at the Grand Canyon right on time, about 3:45am. As I collected my gear and turned on my headlamp, I was surprised to see another person park close to me and emerge from his car. He was going to do the rim to rim, but camp down in the basin before heading up the north rim. He wanted to get an early start. He was a bit incredulous when I told him what I was intending to do. I can't say I blamed him. It was definitely ambitious if not flat out stupid.
And so I began my jog to the South Kaibab trailhead. It was very dark. I saw a burro on the side of the path and heard a number of critters scurrying around me, but I just pressed on, not stopping to find out what lurked in the night. When I finally arrived at the South Kaibab trailhead, the sun was just starting to rise. But I had a problem. My hiking poles are the telescoping variety and I had been running with them collapsed down, as I didn't need them for the rim trail. But somewhere along the way, one of the latches had become dislodged and completely fallen off. This basically rendered one of my poles completely useless and I hadn't even started the descent. Groovy. Another unanticipated hurdle.
I made pretty quick work of the South Kaibab trail, even with one hiking pole. I was treated to an amazing sunrise:
And here is a video of that amazing sunrise:
I was also passed by a pack of burros carrying supplies down to Phantom Ranch because that is how they get supplies down there. It was something to behold. And a little bit startling in the dark.
It was mostly smooth sailing from Phantom Ranch. I made sure to talk with as many other hikers as I could. I was genuinely interested in whether they had ever hiked the Grand Canyon before, what their plans were, and what they thought so far. I had some great conversations and, of course, people were a bit incredulous when they saw me running or asked me what I was planning to do that day. I probably talked with about 50 people or so.
I was still carrying my one useless hiking pole. I didn't want to carry it the whole way. So I found a place to hide it at one of the rest areas on the trail. I would collect it on my way back, but would spare myself from having to carry it the whole way.
Keep in mind that I had never hiked up the north rim before and it was a full 1,000 feet higher than the south rim. I underestimated it. And it was very hot on the way up. I was exposed and there was no escaping the sun. I ended up doing the most brutal part of the climb around noon. The switchbacks were just relentless and seemed to literally go on forever. I don't know how hot it really was (probably high 90s), but it felt like it was 110 degrees.
About three miles from the top, I started thinking about turning around. I was beginning to feel heat exhaustion, much like I had previously when I overexerted myself on the rim to rim. I began to worry that, even if I reached the north rim, I wouldn't have it in me to turn around and go back down. I started to think about how much it might cost to catch a ride share from the north rim to the south rim! Eventually, beaten down from the sun and heat, I had to stop and seek shade, which I found in a small rock cove. I took off my pack and drank a lot of water. After about 10 minutes, I pressed on, making it to the final water station before the last 1.7 miles to the top. There, I took a long time, probably 20-30 minutes, filling up my water, resting, and catching up with other hikers who were also resting. The rest and human interaction did me good. I got a second wind and powered through the last 1.7 miles to the top.
I arrived at the north rim at 2:50pm. So it had taken me 9 hours and 50 minutes from the time I started to descend at South Kaibab. Once I arrived there, I turned my phone on and sent text messages to a few loves ones and friends to let them know I was at the north rim and heading back into the canyon. I also filled up my water, took down an energy bar, splashed water on my face, and started jogging back down. The looks on the faces of the people I had passed on the way up were priceless. One young lady asked me if I had forgotten something down there. Another family cheered me on as I ran by. I was back in business and ready for the long hours ahead. But I had arrived at the north rim a couple hours later than I had anticipated, meaning the sun was going to set sooner in my journey than I had wanted. The darkness would come earlier than I anticipated and that made me plenty nervous. I tried to pick up my pace, but everything was hurting, especially my feet. I just focused on the next step and staying hydrated.
I arrived back at the rest stop where I hid my hiking pole. I went to grab it...and it was gone! I guess I didn't hide it very well after all. I don't know who found it and what they did with it but, to be honest, I wasn't that sad that I didn't have to carry it with me the rest of the way. I would gladly but a replacement one when I got home.
The 14 miles back to Phantom Ranch took me about 6 hours, so I didn't arrive there until 9:05pm. It had already been dark for 2 hours. And when I say dark, I mean DARK! My headlamp provided a small radius of light and nothing more. When I turned my headlamp off and looked up, I was amazed by the number of stars that I saw. It seemed like millions of stars. Here are some photos/videos that I took before it got dark out and photos became impossible:
The Grand Canyon changes a lot at night. That which is dormant and hidden in the day comes out at night. I was mostly focused on the trail to make sure that I didn't lose my footing and that my weary feet didn't kick any more rocks because that had become very very painful. I saw scorpions, tarantulas, frogs, and other insects. A couple of rodent looking critters scurried by me, but I am not really sure what they were. Rats?!?! My headlamp attracted many bugs and moths...and bats! There were a few times when bats swooped down right in front of me to pick off moths. That was creepy but it was too dark to turn my headlamp off.
When you are fatigued and it is that dark out, your mind starts to play tricks on you. Perhaps you begin to lose touch with reality a bit. The reflection of the light off the rocks makes you see things that aren't really there. I thought I saw all kinds of people and animals that just turned out to be rocks once I got closer. I thought I saw snakes, but they were just leaves or the shadows of them.
I started to freak out a little about what animals might find me down there. So I had an idea. I pulled my phone out and begin to play music out loud. I thought it would alert critters and people that somebody was approaching. And, honestly, I need the extra motivation from some upbeat music. I was really hurting and just wanted to lay down and sleep. The scorpions and other critters dissuaded me from doing that.
As soon as I turned on my music, I heard something scurrying on the path ahead of me. I looked up and saw a bighorn sheep on the side of the trial. We looked at each other curiously for a moment. It was surreal. But I wasn't sure whether they were aggressive, so I just powered on. I also saw a pack of burros on the side of the trail. They looked at me very curiously.
Hiking in the Grand Canyon after dark is not ideal. On the plus side, you can't see how high the rim is, so you just take it one step at a time. On the other hand, you have to really concentrate on your footing, as one misstep could leave you injured or even dead. I lost my footing a couple of times and fell, but I made sure to hug the canyon wall so I was never in danger of falling off the cliff. Only one fall was semi serious, where I smashed my hand on a rock. But I powered on. I also had to do some small river crossings around Indian Gardens due to parts of the normal trail being under maintenance. I would love to tell you that I crossed those rivers gracefully, but that would be a lie. I missed a few of the rocks and ended up with soaked shoes and a semi-bruised ego.
My watch gave up on me with 3 miles still left to go. I really wished I had packed that portable power pack! Luckily, the three mile rest stop where my watch gave out let me know that there were still 3 miles and 2,120 feet of elevation to the top, which took me another 2 hours and 15 minutes. It was a very steep last 3 miles and man was I tired! It took everything in me to just keep moving forward.
Leaning heavily on my one hiking pole and with some of my favorite music to motivate me until the end, I reached the South Rim at 2:15am, nearly 12 hours after I left the north rim. So that meant I did the north rim to south rim hike faster than I had the very first time I did it in 2011. I didn't see anybody for the last 7 hours of my hike, though I did see a couple heading down the south rim as I reached the top. It was nice to have some human interaction again and they were very impressed by what I had accomplished.
I don't know that I have ever been so happy to see a sign as I was to see this one:
The final stats: 55.72 miles; nearly 11,000 feet of elevation gain, and 11,00 feet of elevation loss. Moving time of around 19.5 hours. Total elapsed time of about 22.25 hours.
It was very dark when I emerged from the canyon. I couldn't find my car. Even though I had parked it very close to the trailhead, it was dark. I wondered around aimlessly for about 15 minutes before finally locating it. I had a couple of lemon-lime Gatorades on ice in a small cooler in my car. I don't know if anything has ever tasted better and more refreshing.
I couldn't remove my shirt and hat fast enough. They smelled terrible and were stiff from all of the salt I had been sweating out over the last 22 hours. I also took off my shoes and socks and changed into sandals. As I sat there drinking my Gatorade, I felt an immense sense of satisfaction. Despite my exhaustion and the obstacles along the way, I had done it! And I had done it despite the fact that there were moments when I seriously thought of quitting.
I had about an hour drive back to the hotel and, man, was I looking forward to a shower and some sleep. But I encountered one more obstacle on the way out - they were repaving one of the traffic lanes leading in from the main gate. I had to wait 15 minutes for a lead vehicle to arrive to escort me out of the park. Not what I was expecting at 3am, but I took the time to catch up on the ridiculous amount of e-mails, text messages, and voicemails that had accumulated while I was on this adventure.
The drive back to the hotel was interesting. My mind had become so used to staring at rock walls that my brain began to superimpose the image of a rock wall on the darkness in front of me as a I drove. It was a bit startling and I had to keep reminding myself that the rock wall wasn't really there. I took the two flights of stairs up to my floor when I arrived at the hotel. That was pure torture. I gripped the handrail so tightly that I thought I might rip it right out of the drywall.
The shower was every bit as blissful as I imagined. My legs were so dirty that it took an immense amount of scrubbing to remove all the dirt and grime. I slept well for most of the next day, my throbbing legs waking me up on occasion. It would take me a good week to fully recover, but it was totally worth it! And I am already thinking about the next adventure in the Grand Canyon...
[Just a note. The fastest known time for a rim to rim to rim, South Kaibab to North Kaibab and back up South Kaibab is a ridiculously fast 5 hours, 55 minutes! That's Jim Walmsley, folks. He is superhuman. Check out his run details here: https://www.strava.com/activities/734572575/overview]
Richard Carreon is both a friend and a constituent. Despite being from a different political parties, we have great conversations about how to better our community. I am thankful for his support over the past few years.
I was chatting with Richard a few months ago about running, blogging, and his love of all things technology, including drones. He suggested that I run the perimeter of my assembly district. He volunteered to crew for me and record parts of the run using his drones. How could I say no to that? Once we decided on a date (September 4th), a cause (Suicide Prevention Awareness Month) and a non-profit to fundraise for (Forgotten Not Gone: https://forgottennotgone.org/), we began to plan in earnest. Richard's company - Line of Sight, Line of Mind - would be a sponsor, as would the Nevada Veterans Association, and my political campaign.
I started working on the route, using the very nifty route planning feature on Strava. Assembly District 9 is located in southwest Las Vegas and looks like this (in white):
You can't really run the true perimeter of the district because parts of the west and south boundaries are actually in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. Ultimately, I devised a perimeter route that would equate approximately to about a marathon, or 26.2 miles. I had not worked with Richard on a project before. He is former military (Army) and the skills he learned there were certainly on display in his preparation for the event. He produced two very detailed documents in writing: an Operations Planner and a Risk Assessment (examples of each below):
I quickly came to appreciate that this is the kind of stellar work product you will get when you ask an accomplished former military member to help you plan an event. For my part, I crafted turn-by- turn directions, both for myself and the crew. We mostly stuck to this route, with a few changes along the way.
As the event drew closer, my ever loyal friend and constituent, James Zygadlo, put together this promotional flyer for social media:
James also put together some graphics for me to preload in my Twitter draft folder so that I could more easily provide updates along the route. I didn't end up using all of them, but it was nice to have them ready to go so I could quickly provide updates on the move. Here they are:
Richard and I drove the proposed course a few days before the event to scope it out and resolve any proposed challenges. Of course, we had to meet at one of Assembly District 9's finest donut shops to fuel up for our excursion because you can't go on an empty stomach:
I also made a short video to promote the event on social media:
I was delighted to learn that a few folks from Forgotten Not Gone had agreed to accompany me on the journey. We all met at Parkway Tavern at 5:15am and aimed to take off around 5:45am, just as the sun was rising, which would allow Richard to capture some good drone footage as we headed out. It meant an early alarm clock, but I knew the earlier I started, the earlier I would get done, which was important because the anticipated high temperate that day was well over 100 degrees.
We ended up taking off just after 6am. James joined me, as did Peter, Kelley, and Clint from Forgotten Not Gone. They, of course, showed up in their awesome bikes, which I knew were sure to draw a lot of attention along the way. We started our journey on old faithful, the 215 beltway path, which I had run so many times before.
Here are some photos from the beginning of our run along the 215 beltway path, all taken by Clint. I don't have many photos of me actually running, so I was thankful for these.
As we excited the 215 beltway, we began to head south:
Our next main stop was a hidden gem in Assembly District 9, a slightly uphill bike/running path between Trilogy and the Summit. (This is the same path where I ran my half-marathon on Day 6 of the Lucky 13 Virtual Ultra Endurance Challenge.) Our arrival there put us at about the 4 mile mark, and provided two hydration stops, one before heading up the bike path, and one on the return of the 2.6 mile roundtrip. Richard's son, Dawnavon, ran part of this stretch with me and Richard had more fun flying the drone to capture some footage.
Our next major stop was at Mesa Park, one of my favorite parks. At this point, we were more than 8 miles in and I still felt pretty good, though I recognized that there were many miles still to go.
I also had a chance to record a short video while at Mesa Park:
Richard broke out one of his drones as well for some advanced level filming:
We left Mesa Park and headed towards Faiss Park, another one of my favorites. I was delighted to learn that my friend, Justin Jones, was going to run with me for most of that segment. He had actually parked at Faiss Park and had run towards us to meet up. Some action shots below:
There is a water park and aquatics center right next to Faiss Park, where we arrived about 11 miles in. Man did that look tempting! We took a bit of a break at Faiss Park, including helping a gentleman with a dead car battery, and then we headed out for the southwest border of the district. At this point, Clint from Forgotten Not Gone had to head back to the start due to some other obligations that day, but Peter and Kelley pressed on, indicating that they wanted to do the whole course with me!
Heading south from Faiss Park, I soon encountered stretches of South Fort Apache road that did not have sidewalks. Rather than run on the very narrow shoulder of the road, I chose to mostly run in the dirt and gravel off the road. Not ideal, but safety comes first! Soon enough, we had reached Blue Diamond road and I began to head east for about a half mile or so, before making the northbound turn. It was starting to get hotter out and the heat was starting to get to me, making the periodic cooling towels and hydration stops more crucial.
The next stop was the house of my friend and constituent, Jeoff Carlson, who lives in a unique part of my district, where the properties are rather large and feel fairly remote. In fact, if he lived across the street, he would be in a neighboring district. It was nice to catch up with Jeoff and his sister for awhile and to change my shirt and shoes. I probably stayed longer than I should have given the increasing temperatures, but it was nice to have a break. With 18 miles in my rearview mirror and the sun and heat to torment me, I knew things would start to get tough from here on out.
As I made the turn back on to northbound Durango, things started to get tough. No matter what I am doing, there is always a wall around the 20 mile mark that you just have to break through. This day would be no different. Your mind is telling you to stop, that you have done enough, but you need to find that override switch in your brain and fight through the desire to stop. Seeing one of my wife's campaign signs provided motivation as well!
When I reached Ikea, I knew the end was near. It was also nice to see my firm's billboard out there on the course. That gave me an extra boost. Although we didn't have many miles to go, I knew these miles would be some of the toughest because northbound Durango was uphill, there was a lot of traffic, and there was zero relief from the sun at this point. I just kept telling myself to stay the course until I could make the westbound turn on Flamingo, where Richard would be waiting with hydration, but it wasn't easy. I ran out of water about a mile from the turn, but just toughed it out, knowing the end was near. Peter and Kelley remained troopers, never complaining about the slow speed (for them) or having to deal with heavy traffic on main roads.
As predicted, the last couple miles northbound on Durango, before turning west on Flamingo, were tough. It was definitely the hardest part of the run for me. I took one last video while on the run. I think you can hear the fatigue in my voice.
The Forgotten Not gone bikes drew a lot of attention at the gas station which served as our final hydration stop. Many customers stopped to ask questions and I think they recruited another veteran or two to come ride with them in the future. That made my heart leap with joy because they are doing such great work in the community!
From there, we headed west down Flamingo for the last couple of miles. As we arrived at the finish, at Parkway Tavern where it had all started, my watch showed 25.75 miles. I decided to put in another half mile to make it an even marathon. Here is the photo from the finish as well as the final screen shots of the effort. After we finished, Peter was kind enough to let me try his bike out. Man, was it nice. No strain on your back and very relaxing! A very nice change from the traditional bike.
Richard put together this pretty awesome video of our effort. It includes many photos and the really cool drone footage along the route.
I am proud that we were able to raise nearly $500 for Forgotten Not Gone. They are doing important work and it is imperative that they be able to reach as many veterans as they can. Thank you to all those who donated, including Sally Yeager, Jim Davis, Brian Reeder, Felicia Ortiz, and Bita Yeager. If this journey at all inspired you, you can still donate at their website. No amount is too small to make a difference: https://forgottennotgone.org/
PS: If you thought Richard would just leave things alone once we finished, you would be wrong. There was, of course, an After Action Report/Improvement Plan to make sure we learned from any mistakes for future endeavors of this nature. You have to give the man credit for being thorough!!
Steve Yeager is an ultra runner who rarely turns down a challenge. When he is not out putting miles on his shoes, he practices law and serves as the Speaker in the Nevada State Legislature. Steve lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with his very understanding and patient wife, Bita.