Well, I’m back and accustomed to civilization once again. Actually I’ve been back for a while and I wanted to recap my trip (April 5-10) before too much more time flies by. Looking back on the whole experience is very weird … it sometimes feels as though this all happened to somebody else and I’m yet another outsider learning of my own journey all over again. While editing through videos and pictures I find myself thinking, “what kind of crazy person does all of this?? What an idiot!” so trust me when I say I don’t expect everybody to just “get it” and understand what drives somebody to leave his family, sit in the middle of the woods for a few days, and then run 50+ miles across the Grand Canyon and back alone. Parts of me just doesn’t get it … but I’m not really after finding some deeper meaning or having some in depth faux-intellectual discussion about it all. I’d like to keep things more basic – I lived alone like a crazy person for a week and simply worshiped God through mind, body, and spirit. Below are a few accounts of my journey:
Visual: first video below – photo / video recap of my camping & running
Audio: second video (audio) below – post-trip interview on my church’s online radio show
Written: my ramblings below about what I remember (with a few Instagram photos)
(note: if any media – video or photo – is NOT embedded correctly via Youtube or Instagram, let me know!)
I arrived in Phoenix with only one tiny traveling scare – my main checked bag with ALL camping equipment didn’t come down the ‘ol chute with others that were on my flight and I was left alone in the airport thinking I might have to stick around in Phoenix for a few hours/days while it gets here. I checked into the Delta baggage office and apparently it fell onto the tarmac and was picked up by another flight cart … should be down ~15 minutes. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the only traveling delay/incident that ended up being quicker than expected!!
After being shuttled around to the rental car building I ran errands to gather my SPOT II GPS transceiver from a local backpacking store and went to Wal-Mart to buy all my food and some last supplies. Needless to say, things like that always take longer than expected but before long I was bombing North up I-17 towards the Grand Canyon / Flagstaff / Sedona. I’d mapped out a few fire roads I thought I could camp on the first night and most were more rugged than expected with some late snow melting the previous week. After picking an area where I could park the car (and hopefully get it out in the morning), I set up my tent and quickly threw running shorts & shoes on to get a quick shake out run in before the sun went down.
My first feeling of seclusion came on this joyful run down past Schnebly Hill Lookout for an incredible sunset. On the run back to camp, it was beginning to get “dusky” and I started to feel really alone and just ….. out there. I caught a glimpse of two huge mountain elk as they heard me coming, looked straight at me, and bolted down the mountain – something so large moving so fast made me feel again small and alone, but I knew God was protecting me and I headed into my first evening alone with a newly dug fire pit, beans, rice, and billions of stars overhead.
Saturday morning brought an early rise as I never truly got used to the time change (especially sleeping in a tent alone – any distinct sound can wake you at any moment). Reading as the sun came up along with a few rounds of letting the cold & crisp mountain air shiver my whole body as I did “business” outside followed by flying back into my sleeping bag to warm up passed time until I made eggs, coffee, cleaned up, packed up, and was on my way towards the Grand Canyon.
Another 2 hours in the car before I arrived at the Grand Canyon gave me time to think about those that asked for prayer before I left and my own prayer requests. I took the scenic route through Flagstaff and up Hwy 180 before eventually heading due North on Hwy 64 (and also changing from a time of prayer to a time of singing-at-the-top-of-my-lungs-to-any-song-that-comes-through-the-radio). Arriving at the Grand Canyon was all business actually – I was scouting out a few odds/ends for my run on Tuesday (mainly parking spaces, bathrooms, and showers) and refilling drinking water before taking a shuttle to Hermit’s Rest to enjoy a nice 8-mile easy run along the South Rim Trail. The hub-bub of tourism and riding a 35 minute shuttle was kind of a buzz-kill as I just wanted to be alone again … the same alone I felt when those massive elk stormed down the mountain side.
Soon enough, I was running along the rim enjoying the view. Taking pictures, video, and more scouting the Bright Angel Trailhead had me on my feet for 2+ hours before I headed back to my car and wanted out. That’s the last I’d see of the Grand Canyon until my rim-rim-rim run 3 days later. Not wanting to pay for a campsite, but especially not wanting to be around anybody (or their trailer home) anymore, I headed a few miles south to more National Park fire roads outside of Tusayan and set up camp.
The next days were honestly pretty uneventful and I loved every minute of it. Not too much to write about except that I kept myself busy by gathering wood, starting fires, preparing food, reading, praying, running, organizing running gear, and once in a while doing more “business” in the woods … simple as that. Checking in with family back home gave me great perspective about how alone I truly was and how different life is by yourself. I yearned for seeing and being with my wife and kids and part of me wanted to end the whole thing early, but I’d have to wait. I liked morning best … dawn is by far the best time of day in the woods whereas I really didn’t like night time at all. Coyotes made their position known every night as the sun was setting and I was finishing up dinner and doing the dishes … Sunday they were closest on both sides of me – I guessed ~1/2 mile behind and just over the hill in front of me forcing me to wash dishes and change into “sleeping clothes” (clothes I never ate or prepared food in) a bit quicker that night.
The last full day camping (Monday) was by far the most “eventful” (and cold) …. SNOW lightning & thunderstorm!!! An awesome morning / afternoon of hail, snow, and wind all clearing up just as quick as it blew in. I started in the tent to get out of the wind, but with thunder-boomers, I took cover in the car and as it let up I snuck in my last quick 20 minute shake out run and came back to blue skies. I hoped I was in the clear but the forecast still projected rain and up to 3″ of snow overnight. Not wanting to wake up early to snow and have to pack up in the dark (and possibly snow) I decided to pack up camp Monday evening, eat dinner, and sleep in the car.
Monday night’s slumber was uneventful … curled up on the back bench seat with long johns and a sleeping bag was as comfy as I’d been in the tent but I had more on my mind that night. I’d be joining the sunrise along Bright Angel Trail and dive into the Grand Canyon on the run I’d been anticipating for months. Once again, I was alone with my own thoughts and only my own body heat to keep me warm. In and out of sleep (and in/out of the car for more frigid “business” in the woods) I woke up before my alarm of 4:45am and felt the same I do on a race morning … my body being more tired than I let myself realize (especially after looking back at the video), getting some food to eat as I drove up the road back to the Grand Canyon chatting with my 3 year old (wishing me “Happy Bertday Daaaaahhheeeeee”), my wife, and eventually my parents. I say farewells, text my sister, update Twitter, secure my last gear, pray, turn on my GPS transceiver, and bury myself in the canyons as the sun greets me on the north face plateaus – my (half-way point) destination for the day.
South Rim > River – “Euphoric”
Starting the run and heading down to the river was “euphoric”. To finally be able to un-bottle the angst and energy I’d reserved all this time was such a release. I kept to my feeding schedule every 20 minutes (2x gels + 1x solid every hour) and refilled water (10oz hand held & 10oz bottle on pack) at Indian Gardens Campground. The best all around open views were right out at Plateau Point as the sun was coming through the cloud cover … I couldn’t stop but just keep spinning around giving me an “eternal” panoramic view I’d never had before. Continuing onward the trail got rugged again as I switch-backed down towards the river. Meeting and running along side the river was another shot of adrenaline as you don’t realize how massive the Colorado River truly is since you’re always looking from a lot further back in the canyons – well now that “green stream” was a roaring white-capped river cutting through the inner gorge. Crossing over the river and into Phantom Ranch I was on schedule and in good spirits. Another stop to refill water and send postcards (from a mule-delivered USPS outbox that’s since been discontinued) took ~8-10 minutes and I was on my way up the North Kaibab Trail.
River > North Rim – “Draining”
The first climbing up North Kaibab is gradual and very pleasant being pinned in a massive valley / gorge, or “The Box”. It wasn’t until I reached Cottonwood Campground and was in the open sun that I started to feel a bit tired (~16 miles) and stopped to glob on sunscreen and stash away my hat, gloves, and arm warmers. Taking another longer refill at Cottonwood put me back behind schedule but I was still moving well. Approaching the Residence Pumphouse I saw a helicopter land on the landing pad assuming this is how supplies are delivered to this full time ranger residence. Now, I’m getting tired and wanting more and more to stop at Roaring Springs. I make the turn and my heart kind of sinks as to get to Roaring Springs one must go DOWN (steep) to Roaring Springs which means you’ve obviously got to come BACK UP … extending the climb I’ve already begun. No matter, I head down and get to the end of the trail (I think) … look around and don’t see any water fountain. Search around more … I KNOW I’m in the right place … there are posts for donkey’s to be tied but no fountain and now I start to feel like the jackass. I’m behind schedule and getting impatient – both my 10oz bottles have ~5-6oz in them and I decide to skip my break and keep going with what I’ve got thinking the sooner I get to the North Rim, the sooner I get more water and get to break for a longer lunch. (note – of course the water is there, I’ve confirmed it with others and other video that I was simply not looking in the right spot – probably wondered right by it). I’ve got 4.8miles to go to the top and as I start trotting up the Roaring Springs detour path (the one I was dreading coming back up) I try to swallow a gel with no water and an instant gag reaction leads to some good ‘ol fashioned dry heaving followed by puking – things are getting fun. My stomach feels better post-puke but I know I’m starting to run on empty a bit and need to keep moving to the top. Lack of water leads to lack of solids as I can’t swallow anything at this point. And this is how the next 1hr 40min of moving went. I say moving because I was no longer running … my power hike turned into a normal hike which relented to a hunched-over knuckle-dragging schlep. I planned to basically power hike (15min/mi) the last few miles on each rim, but this was harder than my expectations … these were hiking trails, not running. Boulders, logs, and some trail washed away from snow melting on the North Rim made me break any kind of rhythm. It wasn’t just the steady steep incline, but the terrain that dominated me (nothing like that in all of Iowa). My moment of glory … finally reaching the north rim – something I’d been thinking about for months and the INCREDIBLE feeling I’d anticipated … was reduced to survival. It was windy, snowy, and cold. I envisioned taking a nice long lunch break and “righting” my legs and stomach … but no. I was shivering and wouldn’t warm up anytime soon sitting down so I took ~5-10 minutes to throw some trash away, sip Coke (that I’d been saving for lunch), get one gel down, and turn around and start my journey back … half way done but feeling beatin’ down and dead.
North Rim > River – “Redeeming”
Coming down only a couple minutes / miles gave me some breathing room and I was able to eat more and finish my Coke. I was encouraged I could jog down and make progress … eating more, drinking a tad more – although I still hadn’t filled up on fluids yet (besides opening my 16oz Coke). Soon my cramping quads actually got into some rhythm and I found myself running back past Roaring Springs … part of me wanted to go back and FIND THAT DAMN WATER FOUNTAIN … but, I was in the groove of descending and didn’t want to mess around with even a quarter-mile climb coming back out. I moved my garbage bag from my body (using as a poncho) to tucking it under my shirt to stop sweating so much but still maintain wind protection. Knowing I was making progress I just wanted to see Cottonwood Campground again and soon enough I saw little number markers marking individual campsites along the trail – one occupied with a tent – and I knew I was close. Fill up on full bottles (including an empty Coke bottle) of water now and doing more mental math, I chose to forgo my Ribbon Falls detour and keep making way towards the Colorado River. I soon entered “The Box” again and was honestly feeling quite alive and chipper!!! More mental math and time-keeping led me to possibly still go up South Kaibab Trail and head over Tonto to Indian Gardens. My legs were in a constant state of hurt, but not dead. I took pleasure knowing they WANTED to keep moving and I’d long surpassed (somewhere back by the Pumphouse) my longest run ever thus far! Strolling into Phantom Ranch I met with cheery hikers, backpackers, and campers as they enjoyed beers and sandwiches in the canteen … I, on the other hand, wasn’t as cheery and bummed $3 for a giant lemonade before refilling and heading out ~3:45pm back across the river.
River > South Rim – “Grueling”
As much as I wanted to see different trail and head up South Kaibab / Tonto, I ended up heading along the river back up Bright Angel Trail as I knew the River Trail would delay any heavy climbing for a bit and I didn’t want to flirt too much with finishing before sunset – with how much trouble I had hiking the North Rim, who knows how going back up the South Rim would be? I trotted along the river with stomach cramps from too much lemonade but smiled at how well I made progress – soon came a sharp turn AWAY from the river to head back up Bright Angel. Oh boy, real climbing again. I trotted / jogged for a while but had to walk / hike the gnarly stuff. It’s usually very common to break up a long run into many pieces … instead of running 50+ miles across the Grand Canyon and back, just get to the river first and go from there … get to the next campground, etc. Well, I was now at the point of just getting to the next stream, turn, incline … anything that could distract my mind into thinking what I was doing was normal or easy. Knowing family and friends could track me at this point via GPS was a huge mental victory as I felt them also doing the math with me trying to beat sunset although it was a real struggle to not be to Indian Gardens yet … NOT be in my final push, but be trudging and walking with so much mileage left (6+ miles to go still). The trail did relent approaching the campground and I ran with some rhythm when I could. I was already starting to feel my last push of the journey come to me before I started it and knew I was going to do it today … I was going to be successful. I welcomed this victory already as I wanted to enjoy my last climb. Jogging into Indian Gardens I stopped again to refill (as I had this morning in the same spot) and made small talk with some hikers / campers passing by. I exited the campground facing my last climb. I dedicated the last push to my Grandpa and Grandma Condit for their commitment to each other despite age and sickness. I needed to finish what I started … I was ready to climb. I ran as far as I could (which was actually a lot longer than anticipated) and started power-hiking when needed. I had a new spirit and mentally just knowing I was in the homestretch (opposed to being halfway done and feeling terrible on the North Rim) put my feet in front of each other. The 3-mile Rest House came up a bit quicker than expected, but the next switchbacks to the 1.5-mile Rest House took FOREVER … and the last 1.5 miles to the top felt about triple that … relentless switchbacks. I had since put back on my garbage sack, gloves, and hat, and was starting to feel the elevation in my lungs and see some flutters of snow – I knew I was getting somewhere. Almost by surprise I finally came across a small tunnel I knew was ~1/4mile from the top where I decided to run it in. That last run up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon will always be in my mind. There was no finish line, there was no fanfare, there was no timing chips, grandstands, fans, or prizes to be won. There was simply a trail head and a couple having an argument in Spanish. I didn’t care what I looked like … I hadn’t showered for the last 5 days, had just run 51 miles across the Grand Canyon, and was wearing a garbage bag. But this was one of my, no ……. this was one of His finest hours through me. God’s finest hours / moments are rarely brought in with fanfare and confetti – born in a barn and later nailed to a tree – bloodied and pain-stricken were His victories. My body wasn’t able but my heart was full-out rejoicing for what He had done … thank you Jesus … in before sunset!!!
So there you have it – euphoric, draining, redeeming, and grueling all in one. My 12.5 hour journey was roughly 7.5 hours running, 3 hours walking / hiking, and 2 hours stopping (for food, pictures, water, etc).
After snapping this picture, I hobbled to my car, tried to shower at the Grand Canyon (but found out I had 7 quarters instead of 8!), drove to my Flagstaff hotel, hobbled to my room, ordered pizza, showered (the most glorious shower of all time), ate pizza / hot wings until I passed out, woke up at 6am, ate more pizza / hot wings for breakfast, and somehow got my body to the airport and back home safely.