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R2R2R

I'm new to living in Arizona.  I've recently closed on purchasing a home.  My home in Chino Valley has beautiful sunsets and deck with extensive dry rot.  I'm dodging rusty nails that are backing out of the deck boards. I place my folding nylon chair down to enjoy the sunset.

I still haven't started my new job since moving here a few weeks ago.  I've arranged my  new job to start the Monday after I'm to run this R2R2R thing.  My wife is on onboard for one final camping trip.

...

But everything is new.  I've been ripping up carpet and finishing new floors.  My toddler, Kylan has been constantly adjusting to new surroundings.  We've driven across the country back and forth twice this summer.  We've lived with my aunt and uncle for a month while our new home was closing.  We've moved into a new place and just started meeting new friends.  Needless to say change is hard on my toddler.  He's doing great mostly...but this week he's been having sleep disruptions and therefore Kristi and I have been having sleep disruptions.  It's two days until we drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Sleep isn't happening.  

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Now it's the night before we drive up and again my son is having sleep issues.  I don't get much sleep either.  Camping is always a sleep issue so I'm not anticipating sleep is going to happen when we get there either.  

...

Early in the Morning on October 7th my family and I pack up the 4Runner and throw a dozen bins of camping stuff in our 13 foot utility trailer and start off for the Grand Canyon.  It's a heavy lift just getting there.  There are bathroom breaks, eating food breaks, more bathroom breaks, and getting gas in a sovereign nation that doesn't want tourists passing through.  There are ad-hoc billboards telling everyone who drives past to "go away."  I'm conflicted about driving down a U.S. highway in the middle of someone else's land which has been hit hard by the Pandemic. In addition I'm managing driving to a meeting place while trying to coordinate with my friend Chris and his family in an area of Arizona with spotty reception.  I am constantly wondering about why I even have access to the North Rim via a U.S. Highway that cuts across sovereign land?  What U.S. Treaty is being violated by the we citizens of this United States?  Also this gas station I'm filling up at is cramped and designed to be its best self as a superspreader tourist stop.  

...

At Jacob Lake I see Chris and his Family the first time since we've moved.  Really it's the first time since this pandemic hit.  He's on a year sabbatical that was supposed to be international in nature but has been grounded by this pandemic.  We fuel up again on cookies and sandwiches and and make for a dispersed camping area near a sort-of not dispersed campground known as Saddle Mountain Overlook.  Beyond a Forest Service pass it's unregulated and has no bathrooms.  As we arrive we see maybe 8 or 10 unofficial camping sites half of which are pitched right on the rim of the Grand Canyon itself.  We reason out that a couple cars belong to backpackers and day hikers and start to establish our camp.  But it's not a comfortable nesting process as our next door neighbor argues we have no right to camp by him and that we are somehow being disrespectful in doing so.  He wants to say he's got dibs on all the space he needs to not be bothered by anyone else.  I'm still thinking, fuck, I'm just glad for the privilege of camping and hiking here.  Since I crossed this land on my move here I fell not for the first time that this land may not want me to be walking out.  I've been feeling it on what seems a spiritual level.  It's like the explicit signs put up by locals on the Navajo Nation, I feel like this land, this plateau doesn't want me here.  As if to underscore the point, this land which is now owned and cared for (supposedly) by the US is now bickered over buy a bunch of white folk who claim it's their right to camp here.  God damn.

...

Things are cooling down now.  The pissed of camper has gone into hiding after facing off with the combined might of two families staring him down.  I do my best not to talk and throw passive aggressive shade with the skill of a Seattlite.  My eyes annihilate him with my liberal self possessed rage.  I the aggrieved, woke white man standing on stolen ground.  So I take some of my anxiety meds because my feelings are probably about something completely different and completely internal.  

...

Our camp is amazing.  We're pitched up at 8800 feet looking off the precipice toward the East.  The weather is in the 70s and the air is incredibly dry.  I discover this as several ends of my fingers slit open within a couple hours of setting up camp.  I'm well hydrated but my skin does not think so.  5-10% humidity at 8800 feet equals no water whatsoever in the air.  I imagine I could slice up a banana and have banana chips within hours.  


Chris and I get out the maps.  I've told myself over the past weeks that an R3 is really not necessary.  That I'll be satisfied with a nice run with nice views.  Any such run will do.  But I'm tired, and musing, and still a part of my mind is raging (this is nearly always the case with me...fear expressed as rage directed at targets that are not me).  And I'm a dumb ultra runner that still sometimes ignores my gut (my gut is telling me no fucking way) and agrees with Chris to give it a shot.  We'll leave early and aim for 15-18 hours.  Our group think comes up with the brilliant suggestion, "we can always turn around, no need to push it.".  I'm aware that I need to develop this turning around skill some more but...this is my last chance to give it a go this year or in a few years and Chris has got a beacon that can call a helicopter so what is there to lose?  Also I should mention that I'm already a veteran at helicopters being sent for me.  I'm also a veteran of other runners including Chris feeding me and hydrating me after having collapsed on a long run or race.  

So it's the night of the departure and I've all packed up and gotten ready for some rest.  8800 feet however is not a place my toddler decides they can sleep.  He does alright with my wife and I caring for him over the night but this of course means we get no quality sleep.  This and unbeknownst to me at this very moment my cell phone (which is my alarm clock) is picking up signals from both Utah and Arizona.  My cell/alarm clock is thus switching between two time zones.  My phone settles on a Utah signal which is MST which is NOT Arizona time.  I wake up an hour early.  I still don't know it's 3am not 4am but Chiss gets up after hearing me shuffle around and we leave for the North Kaibab Trailhead.  On the way we start arguing about what time it is, and I realize I've cut my sleep by an hour by mistake.  I do not feel well.  Like any ultra this will pass, but my gut tells me that minimal training and no sleep for the past two nights will equal not enough gas in the tank.  I think that this is a much longer story than it should be and the run hasn't even started yet.  

...

20 minutes down the road from our camp as we approach Demott Camp Ground I notice that the temperature gauge on Chris's Subaru has dropped from the mid-50's at the Rim to the low 20's near Demott.  'Rim Weather' I've heard it called and I've even experienced it once already.  Running in the pleasant cold up on a plateau can turn into a hot mess of sweat on the Rim itself.  At the moment I'm experiencing the fear of being isolated and in the middle of a cold plateau with no emergency services anywhere near me.  The elevation has messed up my stomach as well and my fear of this run and my stomach decide to declare to Chris that we must pull over so I can unload some loose stool.  It's stinky and I'm freezing, feeling dehydrated now and slightly nauseous.  

...

I'm already learning that logistics are more than half the run for me.  And now as we start at North Kaibab I'm learning that starting on the North side for a R3 is going to make this a harder run than the relative comfort of starting on the South side.  Nothing incredibly bad has happened, but all the little things are adding up.  I'm nearly as exhausted from the combination of just being a dad and choosing to camp on the North Rim as I am at the end of a typical ultra.  And what is hilarious is that R3 is no typical ultra.  Nonetheless as I start running I start feeling better.  The North Kaibab remains cold though.  No Rim Weather to help out this time.  Rim Weather is not consistent, not predictable.  I'm also enjoying this first couple miles a somewhat crowded trail.  The crowd isn't really that bad, but it's enough to throw up dust dozens of feet into the air.  It's like a fog in this the driest year on record for Arizona in general.


But what an amazing run!  The temperatures moderate as does the trail as it runs down through amazing switchbacks cut in cliffs and under waterfalls.  Ultra runners out number hikers on the trail easily today.  Despite that, many of the hikers we meet still sport that WTF are you doing attitude.  These hikers are friendly but I can't say I enjoy the looks of utter shock all that much.  It's like the look of a newbie to the outdoors who tells the tales of how much he learned about the horrors of cotton during his first overnight backpacking trip in a downpour.  The Carhart jacket and canned food didn't help matters either.  But these aren't newbie hikers we're encountering.  Surely they've seen someone running a trail race before, or running any trail before.  As mainstream as trail parasites have become, I guess folk still exist in their own little worlds.  


Thank god the Canteen is open and they take credit cards.  I was reasonable sure this would be the case as the online community had said this was the case.  It's still a life saver though.  I've over packed on hydration and am going much slower than anticipated.  Thus I've concluded I don't have nearly enough food to complete this thing.  But I/we are feeling good and we decide to make an attempt at South Kaibab.  I've reasoned that it's shorter and therefore better.  Of course my gut (which I haven't been listening to) has already told me there's probably a reason most don't do R3 this way.  Going up isn't bad.  Physically it's not that bad of a climb and I'm staying hydrated even as I'm exposed to a ton of sun.  On the way up we experience the several gridations of hiker/tourist.  Further down it's runners, seasons hikers, and the like.  A thousand feet up there's less trail experience and more wide eyed folk thinking they are surely going to die.  3000 feet up there's a mix of everybody from overloaded backpacks to a woman coaxing her male partner down as he literally clings to the cliff wall.  He's as far as possible from the drop off on the other side of the trail.  This particular fellow is 10 feet from the edge and is clawing at the sandstone like he's on a downhill ice-slicked ski slope.  There are stairs here.  His mind has gone way beyond knowing that there are stairs here.  

Up at the top on the South Rim, I'm out of water.  Chris and I share a couple minutes of panic as we observe the only water source to be fenced off.  It takes a bit of reasoning, searching, and dodging a thirsty herd of elk to realize that the water spicket is merely elk-proofed and that we can indeed access it.  There is weird fencing and a gate that protects the water from the elk, or more accurately prevents the elk from manipulating tourists into turning on the water for them.  One would have to fill their own container and then feed the elk their water instead of just turning the water on and watch the elk fight each other for water.  All said, it's herds of tourists and elk and hot pavement.  Chris and I eat a bit and bolt back down the trail toward the Colorado.  

I'm now approaching the death march feeling that comes during a typical hot ultra.  I tip downhill nonetheless letting my poles stabilize me down the steep steps of South Kaibab.  My gut again proves it was right.  South Kaibab will take more time despite being much shorter than the Bright Angel trail.  In terms of effort and speed and the calories and water needed to succeed, South Kaibab is the wrong choice.

...

But downhill works and we make the Colorado River in reasonable time.  It's on the sandflats approaching the Canteen that I bit it hard and take a good header into the trail.  I've tripped over my pole and created a mess of blood on my head and leg.  It all hurts but there is no major injury.

...

Heat is my enemy.  But here at the Canteen, we're getting decent breezes from the main canyon.  We take too long into the afternoon eating and refueling at the Canteen.  But it is necessary, it's not too long because of that.  We head out back up North Kaibab for the final leg.  I'm finding the prospect of 6000 or so vertical feet of climbing ahead to be utterly crushing emotionally.  The trail is gently uphill and I'm struggling to walk muchless run the very runnable trail.  Planter fasciitis has been with me a month eating into my efficiency as I attempt to not get even more injured.  By the time we arrive at Cottonwood it's been dark for a while.  I expected this.  What is a real suprise is how hot it is.  I'm guessing down at the Canteen it reached the 70s during the day.  There was a breeze there.  There is no wind here and the afternoon sun has baked the side canyon into furnace of radiating heat.

...

Three or four hours into darkness the heat has not dissipated.  I thought Canyon Weather would grant me a reprieve.  My mental disfunction and utter depression has not dissipated with time.   I look and sound so terrible that Chris is considering using his emergency device to call for help.  He proposes maybe going back down to find a ranger.  We discuss this for a bit and determine there is no physical danger right now.  I'm warm, I'm hydrated, my vitals are not spiking.  But my mind is done.  So we decide to sleep on a picnic table for a bit if possible.  I end up deciding laying down hin 3 inches of dust next to a tree is more comfortable.  I get out my emergency blanket as my body cools and the canyon relents a bit from 80 degree temperatures to maybe 70 degree temperatures.  

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I feel a bit proud as a doze a bit off and on.  I'm proud to have met the ultra running milestone of being able to sleep in the dirt.  I'm even somewhat comfortable.  I feel like beds are actually stupid.  I think about my own in the present cooked up theory that while humans were 'born to run' they also weren't born to sleep in beds.  Beds are stupid.  This dirt is great.  The granite stones digging into various parts of my body feel a bit like a natural massage.  Wedged between a tree and the picnic table on the ground, I'm also not bothered by a few bugs crawling over my belly and my face.  I doze.

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After 3 or 4 hours (?) Dozing isn't adding any more to my energy level.  I've leveled up to 25% and lingering will only diminish it.  It's still too warm, but the slight cooling off is enough fuel for a decent pace.  I'm still eating and drinking but I'm down to the shitty jerky and random shit snacks from the canteen...I'm afraid these will upset my stomach but I know I have to try anyway.  I do, and I am fine.  

...

We are approaching the steeper part up to the North Rim where we will still put down 3-4 k of vertical climbing over 4-5 miles.  My body likes this more.  It isn't much cooler, but as we encounter dryer, thinner air my sweat is actually cooling my body more efficiently now.  Relentless forward motion they say.  I have enough in my tank to do it.  My video game level up meter is depleting and sometimes increasing, but mostly depleting.  Suddenly I find Canyon Weather has decided to return some favors from our ill fated violation of her space.  "You like it cold", she says?  Find I'll give you cold.  In the last 2 thousand feet the temperature plummets from 70's to 30's to 20's.  I don't have adequate energy or insulation for this.  I do have another emergency blanket I tear into a poncho.  It's enough to sweat again.  Some 25 hours our freezing asses encounter another sunrise.  

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That's it.  We limp home in the Suby.  I feel pretty terrible.  It's the kind of terrible, though, that needs some lavish calories and a big breakfast of actual real food.  These we make at our awesome campsite.  It isn't hard to decide to bolt a few days early too to get down back home and into friendlier elevations.  Nearly all of my finger tips are cracked now with some assortment of failed band-aids.  It's the worst consequence pain-wise of this story.  Primarily I'm glad and grateful to be with my family at the campsite.  Missing them was one of the primary emotions on this march.  The other takeaway?  The R3 is much more difficult than it's elevation profile would suggest even in great weather.  Way harder. My gut knew it, but I did not listen.  


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