chasing silence: running the grand canyon’s rim-to-rim route with mick

I turned my headlamp on and looked down at my watch. 5:17am. Pitch black and freezing cold. In the darkness, you could feel it in front of you: a deep, silencing abyss. All noise vanished as if it were being sucked into a vacuum.
I felt a quick, stiff breeze from below hit me in the face. My eyes started watering.
“You ready?” I asked.
“Yep…let’s rock,” Mick replied.
I drew in a long breath, smiled, and we dropped into the darkness.
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I had never been to the Grand Canyon. Though I know how erosion works, it was hard to imagine one river making such a deep cut into the Earth. When standing on the North Rim looking down at the vastness, it seemed even more unbelievable. I always thought you could see the mighty Colorado from the rim, but you can’t–the Canyon’s too damn deep! I  still didn’t actually believe in the power of the River until we passed through Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon, took a right hand turn, and were suddenly running along side It. My god what a powerful river.
Ok, ok, I understand now.
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two months ago…

Mick: “You wanna run Rim-to-Rim?”
[lots of dialogue, 67 questions from me, then…]
Muck: “Yep.”
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I’d been recovering from Leadville for about a month when planning began for running R2R. My energy was still a bit low and my feet were only then feeling healed. I needed a new adventure to motivate me back into the swing. R2R was in Mick’s “bucket”.
Many services, the visitor center, and even the road closes sometimes (due to snow) to the North Rim in mid-October. But there was enough of a window to make it work. We booked tickets to Phoenix, picked-up a car when we got there, then Mick and Morgan, crashed with some great in-laws, then headed north. It was 88 degrees when we left Phoenix. When we arrived at the North Rim it was 45 and dropping. Great camping weather (see Airplane Camping post)!
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At some point around 630am we turned our headlamps off as we zig-zagged through switchbacks and descended toward The River. The lighting and color of the walls above us is tough to describe (see mediocre pictures below) and impossible to capture with an iPhone camera. Or any camera. The only noise came from the shuffle of feet over sand and stone, and it quickly was silenced by the Canyon. The first hour was slow going–primarily because I stopped every three minutes to stare, mouth gaped at the layers of Earth that now towered above me. While in many parts the trail was wide and smooth, other portions were sheer wall above, 3 foot wide trail, and 500′ sheer wall down. I kept my eyes ahead during those parts.
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The airport was full of so much NOISE. CNN-Ebola-Election-Celebrity-Blah-Blah-Blah-Angry Passengers-Football Game-noise Noise NOISE. I closed my eyes, held Kelsea’s hand, and remembered the Canyon: all noise, sucked into It’s abyss-vacuum. All noise comes from, and returns to, the Silence. I noticed the miniscule moments of quiet in between the piercing noise (Noise NOISE) of the “news”. More like the “same olds”. Breathe in, notice the silence, Breathe out.
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We descended 5,000 feet toward the River over the course of 14 miles, enjoying the easy flow that comes from a gradual descent. We took some photos, stopped to eat, kept the pace easy, and enjoyed the sunrise. It was during one particular “easy/flow” period while cruising down the trail, when I reached for my water, took my eye off the trail for 1/2 a second, and WHEWHHH I was airborne. I never did find the (probably tiny) rock I tripped on, but I quite unsmoothly found the rocky ground in front of me, rolling a few feet before coming to a stop near the edge of the trail. Luckily it was one of those wide, smooth sections, so I didn’t continue right on down the Canyon to the river 300 feet below. That coulda been messier. Instead, I had blood all over my hands, knees and hips (the cuts were tiny, but gushed more than expected). Quite a jarring episode, really. After coming to, shaking off the dust and dirt, and wiping my bloody hand on my shirt, I sprinted ahead to catch Mick because he had the only clean water between the two of us (the remnants of my water had Skratch mix in it). After shouting for a few moments when he came in sight, one echo caught him and he held up. I won’t soon forget the look on his face when I came running toward him with a nice bloody hand. I rinsed off, then reminded myself of our situation: we were at the bottom of one the world’s biggest ditches, and there was only one way out–Up.** We kept moving.

**you could call for a helicopter, but that’s no fun! And a bit cost-prohibitive.
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As I mentioned above, Kelsea and Morgan (spouses of the year award nominees) joined us in this adventure. The most difficult part of the 24-mile jaunt down, then up the Grand Canyon, was having to experience it without Kelsea. I kept hoping throughout the run that she enjoyed the sunrise as much as I did (judging from her pictures, she did). The K&M train left us on the North Rim, then drove 5 hours around the Big Ditch to meet us on the other side. Sounded like their adventure was as much fun as ours. #BigPinkJeeps #SouthRimInsanity #GuestWriterBlogPostFromDifferentPerspective?
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We crossed the metal suspension bridge over the Mighty Colorado after 4 hours and 14 miles of running downhill. One of the difficulties of this route lay in the fact that after 4 hours of descending, the legs need to change into climbing mode in a hurry. We had about 3 minutes during the flat bridge crossing to recover. Then, we started back up.
When the South Rim wall came into view about a mile after we crossed the River, I stopped in my tracks: “Oh Fuck! Oh…Fuck!” Mick burst into laughter (both because we were already hurting, and, I assume, because my comment was stating the obvious). 4000 feet above was our destination. 4000 feet in about 4 miles. “As the crow flies” it was only about 1/4 mile, but us pedestrian, non-winged folk were going up the side of the Canyon wall.
We refilled our bottles at Indian Gardens and started the long, slow ascent of the South Rim (via the Bright Angel Trail). We were able to ascend the Wall due to something like 45 switchbacks (see photos below). Craziness. Every few minutes we’d stop to catch our breath, say hi to a few foreign tourists (the South Rim is open all year round and is by far the more popular Rim, with hotels, restaurants and a small city), and stare above at the Wall. Despite the increasing noise of people, the Canyon silenced everything.

After three hours…
“I think we only have like three more switchbacks–see up there, where those people are? I think that’s the end.”

One hour later…
“Ok, I swear, I think there’s only like a couple more switchbacks.”
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With a 1/4 mile or so remaining, the crowded trail grew noisier from the sound of fire trucks and an ambulance. Looking back north, then down below, it was easy to understand why it was a familiar noise on the more popular South side (lots of people + steep drop-offs = ambulance noise). A great welcoming siren after 7 hours of silence. Ahhhh society. Even the sirens return to the Silence. Just wait and see. We sprinted the last 100 yards or so and slapped hands. “That was awesome!” “That was exhausting…but yes, awesome!” We looked back at the Canyon and briefly discussed (jokingly?) how it would feel to head back the way we came (R2R2R), then laughed and called it a day.
Well done, sir. Well done.
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I stood in silence facing the Canyon the next morning, and felt grateful. Sometimes, when I try so hard to chase down the Silence, seeking calm and peace, I am often rewarded when I simply stand still and let it find me.
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Thank you, Kelsea. Thank you, Morgan. Thank you, Phoenix Family. Thank you, Mick.
See y’all next time. 🙂

sunset the night before R2Rsun comin' up~70 switchbacks total on R2Rheadin' toward the Riverswitch it back!finishing on the South Rim

the 30/30/30 november challenge

While recovering from this past weekend’s Rim-2-Rim adventure (R2R report coming shortly) with Mick, I was already plotting the next goal/adventure. What’s next? Over lunch yesterday, Kelsea and I came up with a plan…

Each year around the end of October, almost instinctively, Kels and I come-up with a personal/lifestyle challenge. This usually comes with a change in weather/seasons, when the colder days and nights put us into a more apathetic, lethargic state when it comes to healthy daily practices. So in an attempt to re-energize ourselves, we come up with a challenge. A couple years ago, along with my bro, we did the Elimination Diet, taking 6 weeks to figure out some of our dietary sensitivities and in the process felt lighter, brighter and healthier. This year, we came up with the 30/30/30 challenge. For the 30 days of November, we will attempt to spend 30 minutes each day doing the exercise of our choice (running, biking, walking, exercise videos, whatever) and 30 minutes in silence, in a spiritual/creative practice of our choosing (meditation, yoga, prayer, writing, playing the guitar, you get the idea). That’s it. Simple. Consistent.

Ideally, we will stick to the same two practices, focusing on consistency and building a solid base for future adventures/exploration when the month is through. November is shaping-up to be a potentially chaotic month for us, so having a solid, everyday practice will hopefully provide some grounding and structure. If you feel so moved, join us! Let us know what you’re doing. I started a facebook event for the month, with the hope that our friends/family/strangers will join us and put a re-energizing jolt into their late-fall lives. The challenge starts tomorrow morning!

airplane camping

There’s (posh) car camping. There’s (hardcore!) backpacking. Then there’s airplane camping, which is a weird beast that fits somewhere in between the previous two. You ain’t bringin’ the big stove or the cooler full of beer because you ain’t got room in your one check-able bag. So it’s not like car camping. but unlike backpacking, you do have room for the big tent, the nice sleeping pads, and a neti pot (a must!). Plus, there’s room for my ‘minimal’ amount of running stuff.
You see, we’re going camping (for one night) and running (for one day) in/around/thru the Grand Canyon, but we don’t have time to drive there. So we’re flying. Then driving. Then camping.     …airplane camping. (trademark!)

We can check a 50 pound bag:

48.5 lb bag...with neti pot

48.5 lb bag…with neti pot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And we don’t have to hike with it on our backs.
#seeyouontheNorthRim    #R2R    #netipot   #airplanecampingTM

I’m excited (see daily planner):

north rim to south rim (~24 miles) in one shot

north to south rim (~24 miles) in one shot; (un)official R2R run report coming soon…

oct 7th thru oct 23rd, 2014

october 7th
arthur’s rock, lory state park
3.5 miles, 1:30, +1400′ vert. arthur’s rock with mackey, sarah and Andrew and another perfect, late afternoon day in colorado. haven’t been up there in a while. enjoyed the view for a while and descended a little before sunset. magic.

october 9th
toward the Perch
3.5 miles, :40, +600′ vert. perch #68. quick, fast jaunt on a cool autumn morning. trees are poppin’. focused on relaxed speed on the descent.

october 13th
Mill Creek trail, Towers Rd, Lory SP and Horsetooth Mtn Park
14 miles, 3:30, +3500′ vert. never felt good or comfortable during the run. probably started a bit fast, legs felt heavy after about an hour. i lost interest on my way back to the car (was going to add a quick 3.5 mile leg up to arthur’s rock but didn’t), then decided to sit down and enjoy the silence and landscape for awhile with about 2 miles to go. it was a bit of a strange outing. realized that, while I love/need time in the hills/woods, i rarely sit still for long–choosing to run through the landscape rather than sit. because my body was tired and knees were shot, I decided to take the last few miles slow and even stop (as mentioned above) for about 15 minutes. I was slightly disappointed by the effort but did enjoy the break toward the end. 14 miles is still a lot, anyway. and I’d rather be well rested with solid knees for the Canyon rather than risking it today.

october 19th
well gulch and timber trails, Lory State Park
8 miles, 2:20, +2000′ vert. started with a hike up well gulch and the timber trail switchbacks with Kels and Maya, then double-backed to the top after hiking most of the way back down with them. was feeling tired and unmotivated today–and most of the week–especially after last monday’s outing. But after a slight kick in the pants from Kels, I headed back up and enjoyed the quick pace on the descent. another fantastic fall day.

october 21st
the perch
6 miles, 1:10, +800′ vert. Perch #69 for 2014. enjoyed a fast ascent and an extended, quiet sit-down on top, enjoying the view while the weather’s still perfect. I wish it was autumn forever.

summary: I kept thinking that the Rim-2-Rim run this month would be motivation enough to get me back into a solid, consistent training rhythm, but that wasn’t the case. It’s actually not about motivation at all. I’m extremely excited and lucky to have the chance to run in the Grand Canyon this week, and am quite motivated to run well. But on the day-to-day level this month, other priorities have meant sporadic outings with little-to-no focus. Perhaps my body is rested enough from Leadville, and ready to get back into things, but I don’t think I’m mentally ready to commit to a new training plan–which requires a focus and…well, committment…that I’m not ready to give. I suppose this is a great time of year to rest–certainly my natural inclination during November and December. I’m hoping to keep my fitness level up though, so come January, if I’m “feelin’ it”, I can get back into a schedule. The Canyon will be amazing, and maybe that will get me rollin’ again. Not sure…
I’ve also had a stronger-than-usual desire to slow down and even stop during runs. It’s incredible how Lory can get so silent when my legs stop moving and I stand still, letting the silence take hold. Perhaps late fall and winter will be more run-and-stop/sits. Happy middle ground hopefully.

snow in the big hills; Longs Peak from top of Towers Rd

snow in the big hills; Longs Peak from top of Towers Rd

photo 3-2

rocky mtn national park from up near the Alpine Visitor Center

 

sept 15th thru oct 6th, 2014

sept 17th
Timber Trail, Lory State Park
8 miles, 1:43, +1400′ vert.  i love this trail–it’s got a little bit of everything. in the 40-50 times i’ve gone up it i’ve never broken :50 on the ascent. I think i’ve gone between 50 and 52 minutes about 10 times but never lower. i think my PR is somewhere around :50.15. Today’s ascent: :46.28. #recoveryisimportant.  After the ascent I hiked a bit and enjoyed the fall scenery. Only saw one other person during the outing–such a great park with awesome trails and possibilities.

sept 24th
Turquoise Lake Trail, Leadville
5 miles, 1:20, +300′ vert. great hike/run with the fam. fun to be back in Leadville as always. the fall colors were incredible (see below).

sept 30th
Perch #66 of 2014
6 miles, 1:05, +800′ vert. Pushed it a little too hard on the ascent (and descent) and had to catch my breath at the top for a few. perfect afternoon for running though: 60 and cloudy. trying to find a steady, consistent block of training the next three weeks in preparation for the Canyon.

oct 2nd
Towers Road, Horsetooth Mountain Park
7 miles, 1:23, +1750′ vert. great afternoon on the hill with Jay-pop. We decided to have at it and pushed it from the start. At the two or three checkpoints I’ve mentally marked, I noticed we were better than PR-pace, so at the 3/4 mark I put the “leather strap” in my mouth and pounded out the last mile. my previous PR hovered around 49 minutes, so I was a bit surprised when I stopped the clock at :45.49. J-Bone was right behind me in :48.21, both of us PRing–awesome! Enjoyed the chat and easy jog back down. Two PRs in the last couple weeks (bettering previous marks by about 10% each) has shown me the importance of rest and recovery after such a taxing event like the LT100.

oct 5th
Arthur’s Rock TH to Towers Road, HMP & LSP
11.5 miles, 2:15, +2300′ vert. another beautiful day on the hill–perfect fall day. PR’d the roundtrip journey by about 15 minutes–gotta be happy with that! pushed it into the red zone for the last half hour or so down the mountain. body feelin’ good.

oct 6th
Perch #67 of 2014
3.7 miles, :45, +600′ vert. great outing with kels, sarah and mackey. started from the trailhead and after the turnaround focused on descending fast/efficiently with good form. quite an enjoyable day.

in summary: I was pretty sporadic with training in the last few weeks, but: a) each outing felt great (because of so much rest) and I was able to push and move faster than I have in a long time; b) I have been enjoying getting back to ‘old reliable’ routes when I feel up for it; c) the last few days have given me a nice push back into a little bit of a rhythm. I’d like to spend the next two weeks solidly building for our Rim-2-Rim adventure in the Canyon.

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Late September in and around Leadville/Twin Lakes:

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week of sept 8th thru sept 14th, 2014

Sunday/Monday

6 miles, 1:05, +800′ vert. perch #65. first run in three weeks–first since finishing the LT100. knees felt creaky and a bit pained but otherwise the energy and spirits were good. great to sweat again. pushed the pace a bit on the way up and coasted back home. a pretty good time (1:05) considering it’s been a month since i’ve done anything considered a training run.

Tuesday through Thursday

Totally shot. Apparently I’m not ready for a fast run yet. Knees/hip were pretty upset, and energy was quite low this week.

Friday

4 miles, :42. +200 vert. headed toward the perch, knowing that it’d be closed (and should be) due to all the rain we’ve been having the last few days. Crazy how cold it was today–I don’t think it got above 40. Should be back into the upper 70s/lower 80s by Sunday, but I’ve enjoyed this cloudy/cold weather. Lookin’ forward to autumn–wish it was longer. Kept things easy and smooth today; learning from Monday’s mistake.

Saturday

nope.

Sunday

7.5 miles, 2:00, +2000′ vert. headed up towers rd with Andrew. we both felt sluggish and slow, having not been up there in quite some time. Had a few good bouts of rhythm and tested the uphill-legs a bit on the steep final sections–legs responded well. we tried headin’ back down via the Spring Creek Trail but Andrew (great eye!) spotted a pretty sizeable black bear on the trail about 1/4 mile ahead of us. We were content with stopping to watch it for a bit but it turned in our direction and started running/bounding with considerable speed (how the heck do they move so quickly?!). Andrew: “I think we should go…” Me: “Let’s give it a minute…oh sh*t…yeah, let’s jet.” We scrambled back up the hill and headed down a different route. Luckily the bear was a bit more concerned with fattening up for the coming winter. By it’s size, I’m guess it’s gonna be a long, cold one ahead.

Weekly Totals: 17 foot miles, 3:45, +3000′ vert.  Still focused on gettin’ back into things slowly. After Monday’s (Sunday’s? I can’t remember) “first outing back” I was laid-up for the better part of four days. LOL…not so hasty! I backed-off a bit on Friday’s run before testing things out again on Sunday with Andrew. Energy’s coming back and the legs responded well on the up/downs of Towers. We’ll see how things feel in the morning. Hoping I can get back into form by late October.  #R2R  #grandcanyon

coming back, slowly

Today I put on my running shoes and headed up to the Perch. Nothing special. I’ve completed this 6-mile route around 300 times in the last 3 years. But this time was a little different. It’s been a full month since I crested the hill above the “A”, overlooking Horsetooth Reservoir.

I haven’t ran or jogged or really moved in an “exercising kind of way” in three weeks. Not since I crawled to the finish line in Leadville. The first week or so after the race I really couldn’t move in an exercising kind of way, but by Labor Day weekend, I started to get “the Itch” again. My legs started to twitch, which in “leg language” translates into something similar to that of Maya (our dog) growing restless for her dinner. There’s pacing, nosing, whining. My legs do the same thing. “Can we go now? How ’bout now? Nooowww??” Problem is of course, that while my legs were recovered, my feet were still healing and my energy was quite low. Until this past Thursday. It was the first day that I noticed a little pep-in-the-step, a little “yhip! here we go!” I pedaled down to the Co-Op with a little more ease, and enjoyed pushing the pace a bit on the way home. But I gave myself another couple days–better to rest than to rush into things.

Other than some creaking and a little pain in my knees, my body responded well. It felt good to sweat again. The last few weeks have given me plenty of time to digest and ponder what happened in Leadville, and I’m now ready to move on. I’ve gotten the question “So what’s next?” a bunch, and the downtime has also given me a chance to ponder the next adventure. The simple idea of running in the mountains excites me, and will keep me ‘twitching’ so that I continue running. But that only goes so far. Though it’s hard to admit, I have, at least up ’til now, required a “goal race”, something to shoot for, plan for and work toward. It gets me out the door when I just don’t wanna. Part of training and, with some humility, being in decent shape this past summer, is that I don’t want to lose it now that my big goal race is done. Also, staying in shape allows me to consider and participate in some spontaneous adventures. Adventures that require in-shaped-ness and some endurance. But this also needs to be tempered with the reality that I need to take things slow.

My goal right now, while I think of future goals and adventures, is to spend the rest of 2014 running and cycling and playing in the mountains; exploring new trails and routes and seeing what other (shorter!) races might catch the eye. For starters, my ol’ buddy Mick and I are putting some plans together to meet at the Grand Canyon and run the somewhat-infamous Rim-to-Rim route (North Rim to South Rim in one day; ~22 miles and ~5,500′ of climbing) sometime in late October. That’ll get me runnin’ again. After that, I get to crew for my main man Andrew at the Moab Marathon in November.

2015 will be an interesting year for us, and there are lots of different adventures I’d like to give a-go. First on the list would be a 8-10 day hiking trip through the Highlands in Scotland (May? Kelsea? :)), with maybe some new 50k or marathon-length trail races in the spring before that. I’d love to try the Quad Rock 50 again (of any race I’ve done, this is the one which gives me the “unfinished business” feeling, but only because it’s been so difficult for me to do well there), but we’ll see. As for another 100, I’m not sure. Run Rabbit Run 100 (Steamboat Springs) is directed by some cool dudes, and is run in mid-September when the aspen leaves are bright orange and yellow. It’s also where I finished my first ultra marathon (the 50), and I’d love to go back for the 100 at some point. The other interesting thing about RRR100 is that, because of it’s climbing (A LOT) and elevation (7-11,000′ asl) and it’s environmental integrity, it is a qualifier for the biggest, baddest, craziest 100 of them all: the Hardrock 100 in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. Perhaps this is both a bit too much to bite off just yet, as well as planning too far ahead. But it’s percolating.

Then, if I’m honest, there’s always the pull to go Home. When I topped-out at the Perch this afternoon I looked west and, in my mind, could still see it:

hope pass

hope pass, without the llamas

I would always go back to Leadville again. There’ve been moments the last three weeks where I still, even though I know that I finished, I still don’t think (present tense) that it’s possible. Perhaps it was all just a dream.

Either way, it’s time to start runnin’ again.