Waiting, waiting, getting closer now, anticipating the sound of the 2:00 bell and the end of my day. Stopping at home, quickly packing, hugs and kisses for the wife and children. She has surprised me with all manner of pre-made food and drink, enough pasta to feed a platoon. Los Angeles traffic now, bouncing in my seat, the car is moving 5 miles per hour but my mind is racing...two hours of driving to pick up Adan.
Darkness, headlights, music and conversation for the next 8 hours, stops along the side of the road on I40...Ludlow, other nondescript roadside gas towns, standing and drinking beers in the desert, watching nighttime trains roll beside us. We finally arrive, set up a quick camp on the Arizona Trail in the the Kaibab at 2:30AM.
Adan and I sleep until 8:30, awakening to overcast skies and mild temps, drive in to get our site now, killing time around camp. Runners start trickling in, the odd and fun task begins of matching faces with online personalities, strangers yet not strangers, all good people, we mill about camp for the day. It becomes hard to believe that the following day is supposed to hold a storm, at times the sky even clears on Friday...Bizarre, it's as if we have to sit and wait for the storm to come in order to start our run.
As predicted, I wake to the sound of snow on the tent at around 10PM. Looking out the door, an inch or two has already accumulated. It is confirmed, finally, we will be running in some wild weather. I'm not a stranger to the Grand Canyon, having done R2R on back to back days while backpacking, and I know it is hard enough without the weather interfering. I know then and there that people in our group are going to get seriously challenged out there, some to a greater degree than ever before.
Alarm goes off at 3:30AM and the prospect of getting out of bed and going into the snow is not feeling too good. I get dressed, sort my gear, wander out. The vibe is one of business, everyone a bit hurried in the dark. Snow is falling pretty good at this point. I fry an egg and make toast, get a little coffee into me. Despite a bit of anxiety, I'm thrilled the day has finally come, that all the unknowns are disappearing. I don't care about the snow, at least I know what we're dealing with now. I double check gear, pack food, and soon we are off.
The second we reach South Kaibab and I look off into the darkness I know that this is going to be an epic and I'm completely excited. It's cold. It's windy. It's dark and it's snowing. And we're about to do a hell of a hike. My watch reads 5:20AM when I take my first strides down the canyon after Eugene and Dan Hewins. The descent quickly unfolds into one of the most beautiful mornings I've ever had in the mountains. I can see the blue glow of their headlamps weaving the switchbacks and ridges below me as a gray-blue morning light begins to filter through the clouds. Snow is falling, wind is blowing it into our faces, I'm absolutely ecstatic and alive, running smoothly down the mountain. In an hour or so I'm crossing the emerald waters of the Colorado River.
By the time I'm down the SK and approaching Phantom Ranch, ITB pain has started in my left knee, an injury I haven't dealt with in years. Not even a single hint of it in any training run, I can only assume it's been brought on by 7 miles immediate downhill running without warming up. I've dealt with it before; my stomach sinks, basically knowing that's it's only a matter of time before I'm going to be brought to a limp. I know from the outset that I'm not going to stop due to it, so I'm trying to psyche myself up for a really long, slow day. Along the canyon I pass and get passed a few times, all of us shifting positions back and forth. By Cottonwood my running day is about over, I can only hike at this point to alleviate pain. From here on out, I have the pleasure of doing a R2R2R mostly on one leg, trying to take the brunt of the stepping and descending on my right leg. Despite it, I'm still having a blast. There is a certain anxiety building, however, that with every step forward I'm just going to be in worse shape going back. I'm pretty convinced that the North Rim is going to wreck me pretty good, making for an epic on the return.
I reach the top, feeling pretty terrible. I'm just behind Torrey and Eugene at this point. I'm a little loopy in the head, beginning a bit of a bonk. I know Eugene looked at me with a little concern before I waved him off. For a brief moment I'm alone and a really bad feeling comes over me. My knee is killing me, my stomach is protesting the Snickers bar I've eaten, and I'm getting cold. I get a sinking feeling that I've gotten myself into something bad, that it's going to be a really long way out of this stupid affair. Fortunately, I'm able to shake this low pretty quickly; I down a bottle of Cafe Mocha Perpetuem and the calories/caffeine really help. I get my head together and head out. Within 10 minutes I'm somehow I'm able to tune out my knee pretty well and actually run the entire NK down. I picked up a killer runner's high in the cliff section and rode that energy hooting and hollering all the way to Cottonwood before grinding back into a limp. I'd pay for the burst big-time, as my right foot now started to really ache due to all the compensating for my left knee. The downward spiral. Fortunately though, everything else felt fine and my energy was good.
Slogging it out back up SK was another highlite of the trip. Despite pain and fatigue, it was a brilliant climb, reaching near-blizzard feeling conditions higher on the trail. Torrey and I were literally dropping to all fours in places in order to avoid being blown off by the wind. One gust had us pinned on hands and knees for at least 15 seconds until we started making our way up to a rock outcropping. Epic times, but a little worry beginning to form about the runners behind us. I knew we'd be out fine, but these were the sort of conditions that truly bad things can potentially happen in. We can only trust all of our partners will make good decisions.
Soon enough I see some headlamps flashing down at us and know we're in the final approach. Before I know it, Eugene and Adan are running down to greet us; there's palpable concern in the air that things were looking pretty bad out there, coupled with relief that we're up. I'm actually feeling pretty good with the exception of my leg. Final time: about 15:20?
Attention shifts to finding the last runners, making sure everyone is accounted for. A bit scary at first, not really having any idea what sort of shape they're in or where they are, all the while seeing conditions really begin to deteriorate and rage in the darkness below.
Soon everyone is accounted for and mood finally turns to celebration and fun, the trip begins it's fade into memory, and all the moments of pain and swearing off adventures like this are slowly forgotten. How quickly they get replaced by the sparks of new cravings for new adventures. A completely F'n great day, long live the full-spectrum experience!
Thanks to all you great people, not a single one of whom I wouldn't want to share a run with again.