Adventures In Running

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Epic Fail on the North Kaibab Trail

Just got back from a grand adventure for the last three days. It was not the adventure I had planned, but I will regroup and try again.

Back story: a couple of weeks ago I heard about a group of runners going down to the Grand Canyon to attempt a R2R2R (Rim to Rim to Rim). This has always been on my bucket list and I was fairly confident that I could struggle through and complete this journey, so signed up for a seat on the Party Bus. I think everyone planning on this run was super excited. The numbers kept going up and down as people cancelled, but we ended up with eight people on the party bus and 3 more coming the next day from St. George.

Friday morning we met at Walter's house in South Jordan and Steve Anderson drove down his big diesel RV from Logan. Various members of the group were picked up along the way. The party bus crowd consisted of Steve, Walter, Huan, Brett, Mindi, Christie, Clyde and myself. I could tell right away that I was the least fit and slowest of the group – but I also figured I was very determined.

The Party Bus made for an adventure in itself. A couple of days before the run, it got sideswiped by a garbage truck. As we drove down south, a couple of the runners said they smelled a burning smell. We didn't know what it was until there was suddenly a metallic whine and the bus shook. We pulled over and the left rear dualy inside tire had blown. We limped into Scipio and went to two different tire places. The first one obviously didn't want to help. The second one had a brilliant idea that they knew would work. They had a slightly smaller used tire that they could replace it with. After a 90 minute delay, we were back on the road.

As we approached the Grand Canyon, Steve announced that we had to make a final choice on whether to start on the North Rim (original plan) or South Rim. We voted on North Rim and started down that road. A minute or two later BLAM! Poor Party Bus – the same tire blew again. We then had to choose whether to turn back to the nearest little town to get help, or head on to the North Rim driving very slowly and figure something out in the morning. I had been getting a strong feeling all afternoon that I wouldn't be running the entire R2R2R and this seemed to confirm that feeling.

The Party Bus limped into the parking lot of the North Kaibab Trailhead and we set about getting everything set up. Several of the runners were concerned when Steve announced that he wouldn't be running the next day because he had to work on the RV issues. Some of them encouraged him to go and do the run and then deal with the RV. I wasn't saying much – but I knew that there was no way he could do the run and get the bus fixed. We were in the middle of nowhere. No cars had been seen for a couple of hours. No cell phone reception. No way to drive the bus out to get help. Oh – and it was really cold out (really, really, really cold). About 25 degrees with the temperature dropping.

After dinner we all finished packing up our gear for the run and went to sleep. I was sleeping on a vinyl couch and froze. Anytime I moved, I would start shivering from the cold under my blankets.

4 a.m. came much too soon. We all groggily woke up and got dressed for the run and snarfed down some food. Steve had been busy making contingency plans for runner issues and was really worried. He made the decision that he would run with us for several miles down the trail and then come back up. There was another carload of runners coming from St. George and he was hoping to borrow their car to run around to find a way to get the RV fixed.

5 a.m. – we stepped out into a frozen world. Temperatures were about 18 degrees and worrisome. We took a picture at the start by the trail sign (I think my nose and mouth got in one of them) and then started down the trail. The trail was slippery and icy with snow and we had to be careful to not slip and fall. I quickly fell into my usual place at the back of the pack as Walter, Clyde and Christie took off like they were at a race. My legs were feeling really good as the run progressed. I had to strip off a layer of clothes as we descended. I was still thinking positively about the run, but concerned that my breathing and pulse were skyrocketing on a downhill run.

Past Supai Tunnel. Down more switchbacks. I was a about ¼ of a mile back from the next runners and came to a wooden bridge. After I ran over the bridge, the trail started going uphill. This had me concerned that maybe I had taken a wrong turn. I could no longer see any headlamps. I yelled out – but didn't get a response. I went uphill for a while and then decided to backtrack to see if I had missed a fork. Back a half mile and then I was fairly sure I was on the right trail, but not positive. Back over the bridge and partway up the hill again. Then I decided to go back to the bridge and rest. I sat on a rock and it took about 5 minutes for my heart rate to get under control. A peaceful feeling came over me that this was the end of my run. I don't know why – but I knew I had to stop.

I wasn't sad. I wasn't upset. I wasn't depressed. I wasn't hurting. I started back up the trail and then could see a headlight down below. I was sure it was Steve making sure he hadn't lost any of his sheep. I ran back down the hill again and over the bridge and met him and told him I was done. I think he was secretly relieved, but also surprised I had given up so quickly. We turned around and started power hiking up the canyon again. After a couple of minutes my heart started pounding really hard. I rested a couple of times and then told Steve to go on ahead. He told me he would give me an hour and then come back if I hadn't made it out.

I started to hike again and within a minute or so got really dizzy. I sat down and then started to black out – so laid down on the trail with my feet up higher. Once I felt like I wasn't going to pass out, I got up and forced a gu down me in case I was having low blood sugar. I could go anywhere between 25-100 steps and then the dizziness would occur. I tried to eat another snack and started gagging with severe nausea. Back to the gus and water. I had a hard time walking a straight line, but was really careful to sit down and rest before I passed any sharp drop-offs. One more episode of almost passing out and then I just walked slower and slower and rested as soon as my heart pounded too hard. I'm assuming I had altitude sickness because I had never run this high before. I did make it out the canyon just as the hour expired. 5 miles took me almost 3.5 hours.

As the night ended and dawn came, you could tell that there was a heavy inversion. We had been running through fog on some of the descent. As I hiked out I got some neat pictures of the inversion with the sun coming up.

The St. George runners had left their car, so we drove up to the lodge to see if we could find a pay phone. The gift shop was open and we were glad to get inside out of the cold. We explained our problem to Becky – the woman running the store and she said we were welcome to sit there while we tried to get some answers. There was no payphone – but Steve actually had cell service. Thus started 4 ½ hours of him calling insurance companies and all over the place trying to have someone come up and put a new tire on the Party Bus. I sat and visited with Becky and started to shiver from being in wet clothes, so ended up buying some shirts and a sweatshirt and socks to help me get warm and spent a lot of the time huddled in front of a tiny space heater. It was the last day the gift shop was opened and they only had three space heaters trying to warm up a huge room. (It didn't work too well). Steve finally got confirmation that someone was coming from Flagstaff (5.5 hours away) to swap out tires.

We hung around the Party Bus for a while and Steve showed me how the generator and lifts worked and headed down to get another run in. He was hoping to meet the first runners coming back. He planned to be back by 6 because he was figuring the mechanic wouldn't make it there until 5. I read and dozed for a while and then saw the mechanic pulling in at 4:30. I worked with him to get all the wheels off the ground and then let him do his thing. (Complicated story – but tires were being switched around on all four axles).

Just around 6:00, Walter, Clyde and Christie came over the rim with Steve on their heels. They had completed the full run! Clyde and Christie even decided they wanted an even 50 miles and headed out for more and Walter and Steve headed up to get cell service to see where the other runners were.

We were all a little worried. We didn't know where our last three runners were from the Party Bus and how they were doing. Temperatures were dropping quickly and we started thinking what to do if they didn't make it out before a certain time.

Around 10 p.m. Steve was getting geared up again to head down to try and find the runners, when suddenly we shouted with excitement as 2 and then a third light popped up over the edge. Mindi, Brett and Huan had all made it! Two of the runners from St. George had successfully completed the run too – so 8 of our little band had accomplished this coveted goal.

Today we headed home. We were cold, tired, hungry and sore – but had accomplished quite a bit in a couple of days.

I'm still not upsetting about DNF'ing. I am committed now to losing the weight and getting in the shape I need to be in in order to accomplish this myself.

Next up – ATY 48 hour race at the end of December.


Songberries said...

Sounds like you had quite an adventure! So why do you think it affected you and not the others?

Johann said...

This is a run on my bucket list and I think I might use a trip to the USA for this rather than a race. Hope you are fully recovered now!