Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Rim to Rim to Rim: A Grand Canyon Adventure

Tears well in my eyes and my internal whimpering becomes audible. I feel as though my body and mind are a rag wrung out and utterly bone dry. Roger turns around and is also now in tears. We awkwardly hug and then start to laugh, nearly hysterical at the absurdity of the moment. I haven't slept but a brief moment in the past 34 hours and we have 3 miles of straight up in the heat of the day to make it to the top. The collision of exhaustion and joy overwhelm me. This place. This experience. This suffering. I'm gutted like I've never been before.  

Over the years, I've known quite a few runners to complete R3. On paper, it's a challenge, but never seemed too crazy in terms of mileage or vert to be scared off as long as one was prepared. Roger invited me to come try it last July, but knowing my heat aversions, I quickly took a rain check on the offer. Side note: Megan is an absolute beast for doing it in July. I bow to her.

I respected the distance, the desert, the remoteness (re: very hard to be rescued if shit goes south), and my own abilities. I consider myself a fairly advanced runner, but also am humble enough to know that being a good runner or being well-prepared might not mean anything given how the day unfolds. There are no roads into the canyon so while rescue is possible, it is not easy. Even though I would be with someone who had a good bit of experience on the trail, I also needed to be aware of the route, water availability, and terrain. 

Roger luckily continued to suggest it and we aimed for this spring. I didn't want to ruin my chances of running a faster Boston so we pinned down the last weekend in April. Likely no snow, but not excruciatingly hot either.

I have a lot of adventures planned this year and also have that work thing I have to do to pay for these trips so I decided to fly up super early on Friday morning and leave late on Sunday. 

Mistake #1: Not getting enough sleep the night before starting. 

I woke up at 3:20am on Friday morning to catch my flight which gave me about 5 hours of sleep because I was too excited to fall asleep early. I tried to nap on the plane, but again, I was excited. 

Roger picked me up at the airport and we went to breakfast. We then hung out at his place for a bit and eventually went to REI to see what things we didn't need to buy but would anyway. After he bought a whole new ensemble and I picked up a few extra snacks, we went to a brewery for lunch. I had one beer and that was enough to lull me into a 45 minute nap. 

After packing and repacking our gear, we decided to get a head start on our midnight plan as there really was no reason to wait. We had dinner at Panera, grabbed a few cold brews at the grocery store, and headed north.

Mistake #2: Drinking lots of caffeine BEFORE starting

You'd think I would have learned this after my JJ DNF experience, but I was feeling every bit the midnight east coast time and sleepy before we had run one step. So I drank a smidge of caffeinated lemonade, a canned cold brew, and then sipped maybe a quarter of a Reign energy drink that I bought at a gas station. Honestly, I don't think any of it made me feel any more alert and spoiler alert, led to early nausea.

Roger picked up a Brownie Snickers at the gas station that we determined would lead to his early issues. We were making bad decisions in Flagstaff and didn't even know it.

Once we got to the park, we suited up. I opted for shorts, a tank, a light wool long-sleeve, and carried a jacket in my pack that I never wore.

Mistake #2.5; It's half a mistake because I'd still carry extra layers for safety, but I HATE when I carry something for so many miles without using it.

I was comfortable as it was in the 40s at the rim and eager to get moving. I reminded Roger to start the Spot so that his parents and Adam could track us. 

Miles 0 - 9.3 | Bright Angel Trailhead to North Kaibab Trail junction

We took a starter picture at the trailhead sign and dropped down into the canyon. 

Within a hundred meters or so a guy with a Boston 2022 shirt was exiting, looking slightly delirious, but journey nearly complete. He said he finally got a sub 3 at Boston and was about to finish up R3 in 20ish hours. About 0.75 miles down, we saw two hikers coming back out who were equally delirious and very relieved to know they had less than a mile to go. We saw less than 10 total more people over the next hour and then absolutely no one until sunrise.

Roger seemed a little off in the beginning and he was going very slow and wandering all over the trail. I was concerned and said so. He would later tell me that his blood sugar dropped dramatically in the first 45 minutes. He rolled his ankle and fell in the first couple of miles likely due to the unsteadiness. 

Once we got started running, my sleepiness subsided for awhile. I was enjoying the moment, trying to appreciate the amazing experience of heading into the canyon in the the dark. I had visited a few times before, but never gone very far down so I had no concept of where I was other than the side opposite the canyon wall was very, very far down. 

The dust shone in our headlamps and moths dive-bombed into our faces. The temperatures were great though and I shed my long-sleeved shirt within about 20 minutes of starting. 

We were definitely far less chatty than the car ride up and just inching our way down. He led the whole way which meant that I just had to follow his footsteps and maintain the pace. 

He stopped abruptly not too far down as a giant scorpion (the size of your palm) was in the center of the trail. 

At the Indian Garden Campground (mile 4.5), we stopped to use the restrooms. I was shocked I had to pee already, but in retrospect, the higher elevation and being nutty about hydration in the desert made me pee the most I ever have during an endurance event.

As we descended down closer to the river, we went through a few various stream crossings that were just enough to soak your feet if you didn't use the rocks to cross. I knew I would be looking forward to those streams on the way back to keep me cool. One of the water crossings was full of mule poop and we laughed that we would NOT be looking forward to that one on the return trip.

We were not going super fast down which I was grateful for as I knew we had a long day ahead of us and wanted to try to conserve my legs and endurance as much as possible. We reached the North Kaibab Trail junction and the crossed the Colorado River on a suspension bridge.

Miles 9.3 - 18.1 | North Kaibab Trail junction to Manzanita Rest Area

Roger warned me to keep quiet through the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch as this would be one of the populated areas on the trail. I couldn't discern what was around us in the dark, but there were a few signs of shelter and dim lights in the distance. 

After gingerly descending, Roger picked up the pace and I was eager to get running as well. After a few miles, I started to feel pretty nauseous. I had been eating every 30 minutes and alternating sipping on water and electrolytes, but at about 4 hours into the adventure, I was grossed out by food. I knew we had a long way to go so I practically choked down a bar only to have to stop and spit it out again. Great.

In the next couple of hours, we did some running but I was struggling to stay awake and upset that I couldn't get much of anything food-wise down. My Garmin started acting up at some point here and I had no idea as to how far we'd gone because it was clicking off splits way faster than I knew we had been going. This stretch just went on and on and on.

Mistake #3: Leaving my mile marker notes in the car

Bats were dive bombing me all along this part. They were flying in between our two lights and right in front of my face. I was trying to stay on the trail, not barf, run, and now I had to deal with bat attacks. Coolcoolcool. And when the bats were not flying at my face, the moths were. As much as I loathed the idea of the heat of the day, I was very much looking forward to being able to see where I was going and to not have creatures flying into my face.

At Manzanita, I actually looked forward to the next section. I knew we had some serious climbing ahead of us, but I was excited to see the sunrise and reach the point that we would be turning around. We topped off all of our water as we knew that the water at the North Rim would not be turned on yet and therefore would need to last us 10 miles (with 5 being very, very slow). 

Miles 18.1 - 23.2 | Manzanita to North Kaibab Trailhead

As we started walking, my stomach started to settle a bit and I eagerly craned my neck to see if the sky was lightening up. We were a couple of miles away from the top when the first bits of sky started to brighten. It was truly beautiful to be in this extremely remote place, feeling mentally and physically better, and watching the light bounce off the canyon walls.

As we climbed higher and higher, I was really feeling good and finally able to eat again. It was getting cooler and I put on my wool shirt again, keeping it half on for easy removal.

We reached the Supai Tunnel and started to feel as though we were now ticking off various landmarks. Our estimate was around 15 hours if we had a good day and didn't stop too much, knowing that it could fluctuate by a few hours give or take how it went. Getting to the North Rim in the 6am range would put us in a good spot, especially because of all the downhill we potentially had left. I knew we wouldn't negative split the second half, but I figured even if we were doing a bunch of walking, we would still finish before sundown. 

The last section to the top of the North Rim was gorgeous. The evergreen trees provided a bit of shade and color and I loved the mix of the dark green with the blue sky and pinks/oranges/browns of the canyon walls. 

After over 7 hours, we finally arrived to the North Rim and took 5 minutes to get rearranged. I took some snow pictures and an obligatory trailhead picture. And then I took to work to getting myself ready for the next sections. I slathered sunblock on, got out my hat and sunglasses, and packed away my headlamp. 

Mile 23.2 - 28.3 | North Kaibab Trailhead to Manzanita

Going back down, we started to see more and more people on the trail. Roger recognized a woman from the Facebook group and they chatted a few minutes. Some people were hiking, some were backpacking, some running. I was feeling great during this section and really happy to be cruising along, moving well. 

We reach the Manzanita area to fill up our water and it was nuts! There were probably 20 people scattered about when we had been the only ones a few hours prior. We stood in line to refill our water bottles and talked with a few runners who would now be going up to the North Rim. A guy gave us an R2R2R sticker as he had a bunch of them packed in his bag. 

Mile 28.3 - 36.8 | Manzanita to Phantom Ranch 

As we approached the area affectionately known as "The Box", we were both hitting our stride. It was finally warm enough that Roger didn't feel like a popsicle and I wasn't too hot yet. We were both eating okay and drinking plenty and the morning light had really changed our moods. 

At some point, Roger asked me to pull out his first aid kit as his knee had started to bother him. He took a painkiller and then we moseyed on down the trail, his knee very much not looking like it was bothering him.

We saw about a dozen Rangers doing trail work in this section. They were pulling out roots, moving rocks, and clearing the trail. It seems incredible to me that they were out there doing this backbreaking work in a very remote spot in full work gear. So very thankful for what they do!

As we got closer to Phantom Ranch, I started to fade again and was looking forward to stopping for the lemonade. The sun started to wear on me and I knew we still had a huge climb to go in the sun. Roger had run out of water due to a issue with his hydration bladder so I kept asking him if he wanted some of mine as I still had plenty. We were by the river at this point so I knew that even worse case scenario that we could filter if needed.

But we made it Phantom Ranch and I got in line for lemonade while he filled up water. I'm quite certain that it was because I was on mile 36.8, but this lemonade was the best I've ever had. I drank about 1/3 of mine on the spot and then poured the remaining amount in one of my soft flasks. I had long been tired of the strawberry Roctane I had been drinking all day so it was nice to drink something else.

Mistake #4: Packing the same flavor electrolytes for the entire run.

Mile 36.8 - 41.9 | Phantom Ranch to Indian Garden Campground

I wasn't feeling great heading out of Phantom Ranch, but had a mile or two or resurgence when the sugar from the lemonade gave me a bit of life. We crossed the Colorado again and it was way more impressive in daylight.

As we made our way now back up, the trail was packed. We were still moving at a decent pace although not running any more, just fast hiking. Still, we were passing lots of people with our power-hike and it gave us something to aim for every few minutes. 

I was moving slower and slower though. My power-hike faded and then we were just walking. I was anxiously awaiting the Indian Garden Campground because I knew the mile markers would come at regular intervals after that. At every water crossing, I was soaking my hat and buff in the water in order to keep cool. 

I have done a fair number of ultras including a few 100+ mile races, but I've never hallucinated before. Well, there is a first time for everything and on April 30th, 2022, I had my first running hallucination. I looked out into the section of trail we were climbing and saw a building. I thought it was the Indian Garden Campground bathrooms. Which made no sense because the building was on our right coming down and was on the right in my hallucination. I said to Roger, "oh look, it's right there". He was like, "okaaaay....what is there?" A few minutes later, I would realize that I hallucinated. Which is a weird feeling to know your brain is scrambled, but cannot do anything about it.

When we did reach the Campground it was a disaster zone. The line to get water was 10+ people deep and we had to get water. So we stood waiting and melting in the sun for our turn to fill our bottles from the one spigot. I was frustrated that I couldn't take my time and scrambled to fill up everything for the final descent as this was the last water stop before the top.

We both decided to use the bathroom and then loaded back up.

Mile 41.9 - 43.4 | Indian Garden Campground to 3-Mile Resthouse

I was fading even harder and Roger was concerned. He looked back every few steps and wanted me to talk to him and let him know if I needed him to slow down. I was frustrated that my body just didn't want to go. I didn't have an acute injury and I was hydrated. I was just exhausted. 

As we neared the 3 mile marker, the crying convention began. It only lasted a minute or two, but I just couldn't wrap my head around moving my body for another 1.5 hours. And that was being generous with the way I had been moving.

Mile 43.4 - Mile 44.9 | 3-Mile Resthouse to 1.5-Mile Resthouse

The trudging continued. I was deep, deep in the well. Roger was continuing to try to lift me up with saying all the cliché things and turning back to make sure that I hadn't just crumpled over. I tried to take a picture or two to remember that this was still so freaking amazing despite the fact that my body and mind had stop participating.

But I dreamed of stopping. I was tasting a cold Sprite and the cold shaded pavement and the feeling of taking off my shoes and sprawling out on the ground. At one point, I stopped in a shady section with a bunch of other people hiding from the sun and slid down the rock wall slowly. I pressed my body against the relatively cool stone and exclaimed that I just wanted to live right there forever.

Mile 44.9 - 46.4 | 1.5-Mile Resthouse to Bright Angel Trailhead

Only 1.5 miles to go. Maybe 30 minutes if I could keep pushing. We were still actually passing people but I could barely acknowledge anyone's existence. I could barely acknowledge my own. I could hear Roger saying things to people, but I was unable to participate myself. 

I can do hard things. I can do hard things. I can do hard things.

I didn't understand how a mile and a half could feel so long. Why could I not see the top? 

Okay, there is a guy wearing Crocs, surely we must be near the top.

As the clothing and gear choices became more short-term hike than long-term, I felt more confident that I was going to make it. When I first saw the actual top come into view, it was arguably better than any finish line I've ever seen. We snaked our way through the final switchbacks and I could hear Roger sniffling ahead causing me to find the one iota of emotion I had left to be joyful in the moment. 

16 hours, 23 minutes, 46 seconds. 

At the top, I immediately went to the wall across from the sign and laid down. It seems a bit dramatic now, but I had been dreaming of this moment for hours. Roger somehow found a Swiss German immediately, started talking to her, and asked her to take our picture.

If I may toot my own horn, I have a lot of running accolades under my belt. And I say this more to remember to have respect for a run like this as it was hard even for someone with a lot of experience. I have run 45 marathons, 24 of them BQs, 25ish ultras, two 100 milers and two 100+ milers, and a bunch of ultra distance training runs that have been in some pretty remote places. But I think that I have never gone to the well like this before. Ever. 

As I sit here in my air-conditioned home with all the creature comforts, I am extraordinarily proud of this effort. Roger's cliché remarks ring true in that I feel like I can accomplish anything after an adventure like this. Grateful for a body that can do this. Grateful for the confidence to try hard things. Grateful for my weird Swiss brother for being my adventure partner. Grateful to come home to my sweet husband (and puppers). 

Gear list:
Hoka Torrent 2
Swiftwick socks
Rabbit Surf n' Turf shorts
Very old, but beloved Target tank top
Champion sports bra
REI long-sleeve wool shirt
Brooks wind jacket
Salomon 12L pack with 1.5L bladder and two 0.5L flasks
Katadyn water filer
Petzl Actik Core headlamp + extra batteries
BOGO hat
Goodr sunglasses
Emergency kit: heat sheet, matches, KT tape, Imodium, Excedrin, Benadryl 
Credit card (Phantom Ranch)
Garmin Fenix 3
Charging block and cable for Garmin 

Nutrition/Hydration (what I packed/what I actually consumed):
Carried approximately 2L of water and 0.5L electrolytes the whole time
4 scoops Roctane Strawberry Hibiscus for electrolytes - 2 consumed
3 pineapple Roctane GU - 2 eaten
1 cola GU - 0
Apple cinnamon fig bars - 1
Raspberry fig bars - 0
2 packs Goldfish - 1
2 packs peanut butter cracker - 1
3 packs fruit snacks - 1
Peanut bar - 1
Seed bar - 0
PBJ bar - 0
Pineapple fruit leather - 1
Beef jerky stick - 1 (wish I had more of these!!!!)
1 cup of lemonade purchased at PR
Gin gins - 0
Bag of jelly bean - mostly eaten


  1. You two are just plain nuts, but awesome at the same time. Giant scorpions, bats, uneven and rocky paths, running in the dark, running in the heat, running up steep heights, hallucinating, taking falls. The kind of adventuresome spirits that explored the world. Congratulations to both of you on this amazing feat!!

  2. You are an absolute beast! SOOO cool!

  3. Holy moly. I don’t even know what to say.