Sunday, October 20, 2013

Somewhere around Kodachrome

After a good, very sound, night of warm slumber, we decided to do a hike in a wash about 13 miles of dirt road away. Despite my econobox rental car not sporting a 4x4 option, after getting a feel for the 'road', there were a few 'rally-inspired' spirited efforts across the open expanse to a destination that is best described as "Look for the sign about a quarter mile after a really steep descent, about 13 miles or so down the road". Fortunately, 6 sets of eyes targeted the sign, parked the off-roading beast, and started meandering around in the middle-of-nowhere back country.

Texture of the surroundings:

Texture within the surroundings:

Contrasting colors:


We ultimately found our destination, which was a canyon/wash, whose name I forget. It was basically us in a canyon of 200 ft walls on either side of us. Pretty neat, though most of the photos are downward looking:


Really windswept

The road out of the middle-of-nowhere
After leaving the canyon, we headed back on the rally road, only to look out towards out campsite and what would could be. I had to pull over and get this one:

Storm Chasin'


Fortunately, our campsite wasn't submerged, but we did make it back into Tropic to grab some food. As we were on our way out of the restaurant, we were greeted with some serious size hail, but with the camera stuck in the car for the downpour, all we have are memories of lots of laughter!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Kodachrome Basin State Park

As I was leaving Page, I got a call from The Hammer (who just crushed IMSG 70.3) asking me what my plans were for the next few days. I had already made reservations at the Zion Ponderosa for Mon - Sat, but a quick persuasion in the form of "Dude, you should come to Kodachrome, it's pretty sweet here" had me sold. I knew Zion was the ultimate destination, but it's always a good time hanging out with the Baringers and I'd welcome the social change from the past few days.

The drive from Page to Bryce can really be broken up into 2 parts: From Page to Kanab, and then Kanab to Bryce - neither of which I have many pictures from - that would do the justice anyways. What the lack photos can't show could be described as two very different, yet beautiful drives.

From Page to Kanab (potentially partially documented in Eliot's blogs) is desert southwest region with one long ass road that cuts through just north of the UT/AZ border moonscape. It had very few cars, and the surroundings over the course of 2.5 hours went from 'Arizona' red hues and rugged terrain, to Utah's replace-some-of-that-Arizona-red-with-some-green - all of which provided ample views for my mind to wander and gaze at nature's beauty with only the slightest bit of modern human development.

After leaving the bustling town of Kanab, the road turns north, and most of that redness is replaced with green-ness, with the route running along side a river for what seems to be like forever. The ground turned from moonrock to fertile ground, complete with livestock, and a winding road that forced you to slow down, even if nature hadn't already done so to one's eyes. My parting thoughts from this part of the drive were that it was yet another one of my favorite drives, and if one were to want to retire, raise livestock and generally be tucked away from the chaos of modern society, this area would be prime for the calling.

As I neared the Bryce Canyon entrance, there started being more 'weather':

As I drove into the park, I saw my first hoodoos, and had to pull over to document my first "Dang, those are cool!" photo.

But as I opened that car door, I realized I was no longer in the warm Arizona desert, with some cold wind getting the attention of a San Diegian. I continued on my drive, and saw a sign that said "Elevation 7700 ft" and thought "Uuuuhhhhh I didn't bring clothes for this elevation"

My next thought was more of the "Oh shit" variety - I realized that I make a complete rookie mistake and never packed a sleeping bag! Nor did I really plan to spend much time over 7K ft and the variable weather it includes! This was apparent in my abundance of short sleeve shirts and shorts. With not even a bar of 1x service left, I called Airey, explained the situation, and he was able to pick me up a sleeping bag (and poncho!) in the small town of "Tropic" between where I was, and where I needed to be. This ended up being a life saver for the next week! "A friend in need is a friend indeed", indeed! I wondered what the temperature was going to be for the night, and while I don't remember the specifics, something like 35 was returned from my weather app and all I could think "OK, more adventure!".

I arrived at my destination after meeting The Hammers in Tropic, and we headed to what is known as Kodachrome Basin State Park. It's a small little campground nestled around some rather large canyon rocks, as seen below:

We went on a little hike to get a lay of the land, which was pretty easy to do, based on all the mounds we could climb.

Here is what I like to call Kodachrome's mini version of Garden of the Gods:

Shortly before the point of no more usable daylight, we headed back to the campsite to make some dinner, since as usually is the case for Airey and I - our stomachs were rumbling, and the situation had to be addressed, immediately.

This is The Hammer feasting. Even bears generally avoid him during times like this.

We tucked in for the night for some exploring the next day (documented in the next post!).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Page Arizona

After the Grand Canyon, I had my heart set on doing a little tour of the Southwest US of A - or at least as much as I could within a 5 hourish drive of the Grand Canyon. The thought process was quite easy: I was going to be in one of the more beautiful regions of the country, so I might as well do some exploring. Running (slogging) across the Grand Canyon and back is cool, but there's so much more out there than just that big hole in the ground! Having grown up a New Englander, there always was an intrigue and draw to the desert southwest, and I needed to figure out how to make this work.

Fortunately, I had a separate group of friends who were heading out to do the Zion Traverse the weekend after R2R2R. This solidified the need to stick around in the area, with Zion ultimately being my destination, as my alternatives were to 1.) simply go home, or 2.) do my 2nd 8+ hour drive in 3 days, then do it again to Zion 4 days later, and of course, again, a few days later to return back to America's Finest. So, 4 days of 8-9 hour drives over the course of 9 days? No thanks. I'll stick around, explore. Maybe even be a tourist!

Next stop on my itinerary was a little town called Page, Arizona. Most people have never heard of Page (myself included up until about a month beforehand), but after following the U.S. Department of Interior's instagram account, I noted a few photos from locales around Page that really caught my attention. Having bought myself a nice little Christmas gift a few months prior, I figured it was time to become acquainted and do some exploring.

One thing to note: the drive from the Grand Canyon to Page included a large section of RAAM last year that Airey and I absolutely torched. Surprisingly, it didn't invoke many nostalgic memories and day dreaming. Maybe it was because it was only 65 and cloudy rather than 104 and sunny, or because the immediate scarring of the grand canyon was at the forefront of my mind.

Anyhow, I got to Page, and after establishing a layout of the land that included my Motel 8 penthouse suite and a hole-in-the-wall mexican restaurant that would rival Roberto's in Mission Beach, I headed over to my first stop.

Glen Canyon Dam

Pretty much the reason why Page is on the map, the Glen Canyon Dam was built originally to provide hydroelectricity and regulate water levels from the upper Colorado river that I ran across just a few days prior.

I have no photos of the Dam, but in essence, it's a Dam - not much else. The surrounding area though had some interesting texture to it:

Horseshoe Bend

It's a geographic anomaly whose pictures do no justice. I parked my sweet econobox rental car, and made the treacherous half-mile sandy hike. From afar, it's really hard to get your head wrapped around what you are walking towards:

But once I got to the edge of the 1,000ft cliff overlooking this freak of nature, it was hard not to behold the power of what she can do if given enough time:

Click for monitor size bigness

I took about a Bazillion more photos, all of which look the same and continue to do no justice - not to mention my camera lense is simply not wide enough - so the above photo is stitched.

Not captured: How amazingly quiet and peaceful it was here.

Antelope Canyon

A lot of people go to Page for their trophy photos of this canyon, and quite honestly, I was no different. It was less for the trophy photo, and more of the experience and being in and seeing this cave up-close-and-personal. Pretty neat how wind and water helped shape this canyon over time.

But first, just outside of Page is this little contrast of environments: Nature showing her beauty, and man - well, being man.

Of course, going down into the earth via narrow passage was kind of neat too:

From within:

You can probably see where waters has trickled in on this one:

More abstractness:

We even got a little bit of rain towards the end.

Normally, being in a slot canyon when there is any type of rain is a big no-no, but I didn't feel particularly worried, seeing as though we were close to the end of this little tour.

On the contrary, this made the "tourists" freak out rather quickly, and there was a exodus towards the exit staircase. Of course, this being america, it was closely followed by quite a few people getting winded and out of breath from climbing 2 flights of stairs.

After that, it was time to gas up at a gas station where I was the only non-native american there and then I was on my way to Zion - I mean Bryce Canyon!

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Post-RAAM Thoughts

The figurative RAAM chapter of my life is about to be closed - over a year later! But not without some parting ramblings that may come across as bitter, but is hardly the case.

While certain events in 2013 brought a furrowing spok-like eye brow to my demeanor at times, it was hardly a blip on the radar which couldn't overshadow the team environment and bonding that manifested itself over the first 6 months of 2012 - and still to this day. Despite us all being a year removed from that week, there still are brotherhood bonds that remain strong among the riders and crew, even as we are spread across the country, each training for our respective events, or simply enjoying the simple art of riding. Recent conversations about this reminded me of those that I am close with in my life and why, and just about all of those life changing experiences and strong friendships came from malice and suffering together while purposely seeking out adventure and challenge in meeting important life goals. Misery loves company, and I am happy in the company of my friends!

The Bicycling Magazine Article

Somehow, someway, in the post-race chaos, word got to Bicycling magazine about our little bike race and victory, and they wanted to do a little story on us. In true Team ViaSat, there was an insurmountable number of emails requesting information to sift through and write. There was a mild annoyance, but any medium to talk about our victory in public was still welcome in our world (for some anyways).

There was some dormancy for 6 months, and then all the sudden, in a week and a half, there were another flurry of emails requesting more and more information, and some things were lost in translation. Despite this, here is the article that was written about us winning RAAM.

First, the good stuff. We are in nationally published magazine, with a subscriber base worldwide. When I bought my first two bikes (Thanks Dan!) back in 2004, I'd never thought I'd end up rolling with the group I did last year, doing what we did, and being in such a magazine. I was stoked, proud and honored to be part of something like this. Naturally, the parents thought it was pretty cool too.

On the other hand, they completely missed some major points of what made our victory so sweet. Months of planning, thousands of hard miles over many, many months, a bazillion emails and discussions, a complete re-writing of how our crew could already make an well-oiled machine run nearly perfectly, aerodynamic analysis, time trials, being completely under the radar to two teams who had plenty of bravado about winning the race and setting the record, not talking one bit of smack the entire time, showing up and letting the pedals do the talking, outsmarting, outmuscling, and outclassing the competition. They dumbed it down to make it look like a freakin' google spreadsheet helped us beat former Olympians and National Record holders. Give me a break. The real story is here.

The Record

After setting the record in 2012 that was set prior in 2009, it fell again in 2013 to the Allied Forces team, made up of 4 guys from 4Mil, and 4 from Strategic Lions (both of whom we beat last year). Clever approach, I thought, with some level of suspicion and skepticism. But let's face it - what could possibly be the driving force for two teams who have competed against each other for the past few years, both of whom were going for the win and the record, to actually join forces?

OMG, don't shoot!
It's obvious that we not only damaged the course and record in 2012, but we did the same, if not more, amount of damage to some ego's. What these guys took was an innovative approach to chase our ghosts, chase the bar that we raised so much last year, to avenge ... whatever. We won with class last year, never speaking a word of smack talk or disrespect - before, during or after the race. Meanwhile, silly the kid, apparently their "captain", a role generally reserved for those who can exude leadership, couldn't even muster our teams name in all of the media attention he received from RAAM in the lead up to the race. "Yeah, it was whatever that team was from wherever they are in Southern California". Apparently, we beat him so bad, we gave him nightmares where he couldn't physically bring himself to say our name. They also had a cyclist who claims to be a "prolific winner" who referred to us as "ViaSplat". Really? But hey, can you blame these guys for acting that way, when we are the ones who hail from the city whose unofficial motto is: "Keep it classy"?

So to that, I say, congratulations on beating the record. You were the best team to race in 2013, even if there was no competition. 4Mil, congratulations for recruiting your only competition. Strategic Lions, congratulations on your evolutionary progressive mindset of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em".

Allied Forces a "Smashing" Success?

Hardly. Let's break down how much they "smashed" our record.

If you compare our 5d5h5m (23.93mph) to their 5d3h45m (24.19mph), it looks they beat us by an hour and 20 minutes / .26mph. But, the course was actually cut short by 31 miles because of flooding, so the course was rerouted and AF rode only 2962 miles, whereas we rode 2993 miles. AF actually finished their course in 5d3h4m, but RAAM tacked on 41 minutes to accommodate the shorter course. Seems like a noble and fair idea, right? In concept yes, but by math, no. RAAM giving AF 41 minutes to travel 31 miles makes for an average speed of 45.3mph!

Let's assume that AF averaged for those 31 miles about what they had been averaging in the time stations before and after the flooded area: ~24.75 mph. Given the shorter course, I'll propose that RAAM should have added 31miles / 24.75mph = 1.25 hours = 75 minutes. Add 75 minutes to 5d3h4m, and you get 5d4h19m. By that math, they only beat us 46 minutes. Take out the 15 minute BS (although totally within the rules) penalty, and they really only beat us by 31 minutes of actual hand-to-hand combat.

Whether you slice it by 31, 46 or 80 minutes, it was hardly "smashing", despite all of their pre and during race hype / trash talking, and ripping tailwinds from Borrego Springs to Colorado.

Truck1 vs. Truck2 - The Fight for Supremacy of Efficiency

Each truck on our team is a roving subculture of chaos, motivation, stench, and personality. It's an honor to ride this high up in the rotation, and one I took very seriously. It's impossible not to, having multiple RAAM veterans in the truck, AND with Truck1 (affectionately known as METAL1) setting a ridiculously high bar with torrid pace and professionalism that may not even be rivaled in professional cycling events. METAL1 comes to RAAM, guns a blazing with sheer power, tenacity and motivation, but even off-shift, they roll deep. Somehow, annually, they set up a wifi connection in their truck so everyone can benefit. They bring buffets inspired by Las Vegas for their crew to minimize stops and maximize sleep. They're never late and always give it full gas until the end.

Now what kind of RAAM rider would be to let the bar slip down when the figurative baton was handed over to us? Not our truck. We brought some extra food for our crew (a la a bazillion Allen Lim Rice Cakes), never showed up later than 10 minutes early, were arguably just as efficient off the bike, and (ahem, cough cough), might have even been more efficient while on the bike. Airey and I discussed an exchange strategy in advance of the race that took a few shifts to really refine, but once we had it down, we were a well oiled machine, ultimately amassing 38 exchanges during our Kansas shift, for an average pull of less than 8 minutes! I don't have a metric of how much speed was not lost on our exchanges, but I'm pretty confident we raised the bar on how efficiently 2 men can race RAAM within a shift. Our hats go also go off to our driver, Tyner, for being equally as efficient and adaptable as conditions changed. Somehow, someway, without much discussion, The Hammer and I just gravitated to these 8 minute pulls and it_just_worked flawlessly.

What we lacked in agro and teeth gnashing cycling personality and a funny truck name, we made up for in different levels of professionalism, efficiency, road ripping prowess and laughter off shift, generally with the help of Bal when he rotated into our truck. Immediately post-shift is when I'm most susceptible to laughing to tears at bad jokes and stories from our team, and Bal certainly did not disappoint when he emigrated to our truck at every other shift change.

Another RAAM?

Never say never, but at this point, doubtful. After spending a few years letting long distance endurance training and racing take up just about all of my free time and energy, it's time to dial back the volume, up the intensity, focus on short(er) course racing, and have fun more in life off the bike. My standard Saturday lately has been to ride for about 3-3.5 hours, go home, take a nap, hit the beach then grab some beers - the way a San Diego summer should be!

Never before published Videos

Nope, not from our RAAM media team either.

This final blog post is a tad too serious, and so it's time to introduce some comedic relief. There is no shortage of personalities on our team, and if there was a slight lack of it, METAL would more than make up for it. Below are a few videos I made over the course of training in anticipation of lightening the mood of 8 hungry, type-A roadies who have a tendency to get a little excited over things. Of course, they are all in good fun. They were never completed before xtranormal stopped their services, but you may enjoy them regardless!

Note on next video: Language NSFW.

In closing - we got to have our cake and eat it too!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Grand Canyon R2R2R: A Tale of Ups and Downs

For those who just want the bottom line:
  • ~43 miles
  • 11,000ft of elevation gain + 11,000ft of elevation loss
  • 14 hours and 45 minutes (Total Time)
  • The hardest (physical) thing I've ever done
Naturally, there is a little bit of a story to precede such a feat.

Warning: this day has an emotional toll component to it that really personified the month of life that preceded it. This is a long post that benefits from an open mind, a lot of time, a beer or a coffee, and some dealings with a few profanity laced tirades. If you want to skip the background and go right to the tirades, scroll down to The Big Day.

Fall 2012
Michelle and I went to the Grand Canyon with a bunch of people who were doing R2R2R. I had no desire whatsoever to ever attempt an Ultra run, but it was fun to be there - it is the grand freakin' canyon after all -  and we hiked the "Rim River Rim" route - from the South Kaibab Trailhead, down to the river, and then back up Bright Angel. We added a 3 miles round trip out to Plateau point, and so it ended up being a 19 mile / 10 hour day. It was a grueling hike that I loved! 

When we were descending into the Grand Canyon around 515am, I didn't really appreciate what I was doing. The Grand Canyon is so grand, it's hard to really wrap your head around how, um, grand it is, and so I kind of simplified it as basically "a big hole in the ground". It's also worth mentioning that based on a fire on the north rim the day before, the canyon was filled with smoke, so we were descending into this eerie "hole" that I couldn't completely make out that just kept on going down...

It wasn't until the hike out of the canyon, that I felt like I was in the belly of the beast - like I was climbing a mountain! It was an awesome day.

Even after hearing all the stories about how incredible doing R2R2R was, I still had no desire to ever do an ultra...

I still had no idea what event(s) I wanted to do for the year, so I was riding, running, swimming and lifting weights a few times a week until I figured something out. It wasn't training, as much as it was keeping a base level of fitness and socializing. Fun!

A few months prior, Larry Bice, one of my coworkers at ViaSat, and who was my racing partner in RAAM 2009, sent out an email to a bunch of people advertising a trip to the Grand Canyon. There were 2 options, the Rim River Rim hike I did last year, and also the Rim to Rim to Rim. Even though there were a few emails and discussions in the fall and before Christmas, I just wasn't interested. However, with the January email, for whatever reason, I immediately wanted in on R2R2R. It was visceral, and required no thought. I wanted it. Why - I don't know but it didn't matter.

I did a "30 in 30" to jump start my running fitness, complete with commuting on my bike 1-2x/week (40 miles total), a snowshoe race up at Big Bear, and the King of the Hill series El Capitan trail race as my 30th day. It was a great 30 days!

Training continued in earnest, but I was sick for about a week/week and a half. Responsibilities at work increased significantly. My right knee developed a little ache & pain.

After 4 years, Michelle and I decided it wasn't meant to be, and we broke up. As you can imagine, this was not easy.

My right knee was having some issues but were more problematic for my mind than for my running. Work was still all-consuming. Mentally, I was all over the place. I had a wedding to travel to 3 weeks before this little jaunt across the ditch. I got sick upon return. I pushed through, did a full Cactus to Clouds to Cactus with a solid group, ran 40 miles over the course of the weekend 2 weeks out, and finally declared myself physically and mentally "ready" (enough) to tackle it. 

Right around this time, just about everyone who was going to do R2R2R dropped out for a number of reasons. This meant that I was going to run, and back, across one of the worlds wonders solo. Honestly, I was torn and not stoked. In the time leading up to that point, with the challenges I was having, I wasn't sure I'd be able, or event want to. As soon as I reached the point where I was ready - that aspect of team work and group support was gone. I was not looking forward to running it honestly - but I was also not going to not run it. I guess I was "in". (Probably not an ideal mindset!)

Fortunately, I had two good friends talk me into it. Kevin Hunter, a RAAM teammate who I logged many painful miles with last year and a 2x R2R2R veteran himself, talked me into the positive aspects of doing it solo, and reminded me that even on some group runs I did in training, I was off the front by myself anyways. James Walsh, another R2R2R veteran, shared his experience on how much his R2R2R adventure meant to him, as he went through a similar situation just 6 months prior. Both dudes are those whom I have a ton of respect for, and so I took their words to heart. It was time to charge.

The Big Day

I was fortunate enough to get a ride to the South Kaibab trailhead for a 430am start by my roommate for the weekend - even though he was hiking Rim River Rim about 60 minutes later. This actually was a point of contention for me: start with a group at 530ish, or start solo, in the dark. After mulling it over until the 11th hour, I opted for the 430 start. The decision was quite simple: I was going to run the entire thing solo, so starting with a group at 530 had no significance in the grand scheme of things, so I might as well do the entire thing solo. Further, I really wanted to start the run before the sun came up, so I could watch the Canyon open up right before my eyes. This ended up being a great decision for that exact reason. And, because I never ran into the mule trains going down South Kaibab. Extra score!

South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch

Hands down, without a doubt, this was my favorite part of the run. Despite 35 degrees at the start, I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts, arm warmers and gloves.

I look way too awake for 430am

Just as expected, shortly after descending, the temperatures increased. 20 minutes in, the gloves were off (literally and figuratively!), and 45 minutes in, the arm warmers were off.


And just like I wanted it to, the Canyon was literally unfolding with each step as the sun was slowly making it's way to the horizon:

Just below skeleton point

Looking West

My approach to a day like this was to "enjoy" it as much as possible - meaning, don't rush through to the point of not being able to appreciate and take it in, but also not want to be out there "any longer than I needed to be". I also wanted to take a ton of photos, and with the golden hour in effect, the descent down to Phantom Ranch took longer than I wanted to because I wanted to take a photo every 2 minutes!

Single Track

Looking East
What the hell have I gotten myself into?

As I got down to the river, I couldn't see the sun come up, but I could see it laying some rays on some far off buttes. Awesome.

Sage advice from Kevin/James: Run with a pepsi down SK and store it in the river (with some rocks around it) near Phantom Ranch so that I can have a nice cold soda right before I start the death march back to the south rim 26 miles later. This was awesome!

Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood

Local Resident / Welcoming Committee

The trail from Phantom ranch for the first 3-4 miles winds through a canyon with a couple hundred foot walls along Bright Angel creek. It's beautiful.

Morning View
Eventually, it opens up to a valley, and you can see the single track trail head as far as the eyes can see.

Welcome view

Somewhere before I got to the valley, I started feeling the first feelings of physical fatigue - about 2h30m in - a little earlier than I expected.

Legend for random changes in text formatting
Regular Text: R2R2R "Report"
Italicized Text: Thoughts at the time. Verbatim, no filter.

"I'm not a runner. Why the fuck am I doing this? This is absurd! I'm not even close to halfway through this right now and this how I'm feeling? Not cool. I can't believe I thought I could do this on less than 3 months of training. Dumb ass."

"Hey, wait a minute, the fact that you are attempting this off of less than 3 months of training is pretty remarkable. Cut yourself some slack and focus on doing what you can, because that's all you can do" (this is the "back of my mind" speaking)

Ugh, this is going to be a long day.

I was moving along at a comfortable pace, trying to enjoy things. It was beautiful, and it helped keep my mind off things like fatigue, and well, the cards I was dealt with during the prior month. It was around this time that the first of (only!) 3 songs entered my head for the day (The Killers - A Matter of Time):

"You're looking for a way out, I can feel it
Come on, show me where it hurts, maybe I can heal it
Your feelings are your own, now you keep them under lock and key
You've got me driving through the streets for an answer to the mystery"

(The lyrics from this song must have replayed in my head for about the next 3 hours off and on, and really embodied all that was life for both the prior month and the task at hand).

Backing up a little bit, about a month prior to the GC, I bought the Garmin Fenix gps wrist watch. It had some cool features that the forerunners didn't have, and was marketed as the watch for ultra runners, since the battery could go up to 50 hours (!) if you put it on the ultratrac mode. Shortly after leaving Phantom Ranch, I switched from Normal to Ultratrac. That was the immediate downfall of the Fenix being value-added for the rest of the day. Bottom line: this might be a good watch for mountaineering, but NOT for ultra running! As I was barreling along towards Cottonwood, I was looking down at the Garmin to get a rough idea of about how much longer it would be to get there. It was telling me I had run 16 miles already, yet I knew Cottonwood was no more than 15 miles in. Hhmmmm

Then, I hit the only logistical error of the Grand Canyon. Despite EVERYONE saying there are ZERO turns or anything to worry about, there actually was a fork on the trail. There was a sign said that "Rainbow Falls"  to the right, which involved going up a steep hill. Going left stayed flat. I thought about it for a second, and went left. About a quarter mile later, I reached the river, and didn't find a place to cross.

You gotta be fucking kidding me. Who fucks this up? (Apparently Rob Krar on his record breaking run too!)

As I got into Cottonwood, I did a quick self assessment, and I was feeling pretty decent. I spent a minute looking for the water spicket, added some powder to my bottle, and sat for a moment. As an aside, a few weeks prior, I picked up some Salomon soft flasks, and they were pretty money all day.

Why on earth am I doing this again? I will never do this, or anything like this. Again.

I looked down at my Fenix, and saw that it said I had run 29 miles already.

Piece of shit.

Shortly after I left Cottonwood, I saw two runners coming down the trail. And they were moving.

See, those 2 are runners. Why are you doing this? You're not a runner.

I knew it was about a mile or so to the Ranger Residence where I could get more water. I was about halfway there, and in a pretty foul mood. Up until this point, I hadn't seen the sun. I had been running deep in steep canyons, or valleys that were deep enough such that the sun hadn't yet peaked over the rim edges.

I ran around a corner, and literally stopped dead in my tracks. The canyon opened up, the sun was blazing, and there were waterfalls that were really loud. There have been very few, if any, points in nature or in an event where I have stopped dead in my tracks like that. Nature was putting its power and beauty on display, and it was something to behold. I stood there for a minute just looking around, and couldn't help but smile ear to ear.

Life is good. Life is amazing. THIS - THIS is fucking cool. I can't believe I'm doing this!!!

I walked backwards because I wanted to record me walking around on video, so I could remember that feeling. However, seeing as though I was using the movie function on my camera for the first time, I was having a few difficulties, as noted by the words spoken in the beginning:

I crossed a bridge, and there was the Ranger Residence. I stopped over, took my pack off, opened up the reservoir, filled it up at the spicket, and was on my way. 

We'd find ourselves a place, we belong in this forever
Ain't that what it's all about?
Make the promise and keep it
Come hell or high water
We'd figure it out

(More lyrics from A Matter of Time)

Ranger Residence to North Rim

Right after leaving the residence, the trail just gets STEEP, and stays like that for the next mile. 

Aaahhhh - finally something I was good at

I love hiking. I love hiking hills, and so I was stoked for this section. Finally about a mile later, the trail flattens out, and I was basically running along a double wide trail, with 500ft drops off to one side.

This is so cool!


I crossed another bridge, and then started the gnar ascent up to the north rim. There are plenty of switch backs, and as I am climbing, I am noticing how much more green it is on the north rim. It's beautiful! I actually passed a few hikers along the way too, and so it was cool to actually see and interact with some people!

Greenery from the North Rim

I hit the Supai Tunnel, and as I was drinking out of my pack, I unexpectedly heard that slurping noise that means I'm out of water.

WTF?! I just filled this thing up about an hour or so ago. How on earth am I already out? Do I have a leak?

I took a minute to think.

Rookie move!

At the Ranger Residence, I never took the bladder/reservoir out of the pack, and so all my gear/nutrition was compressing the reservoir, which meant I wasn't filling it up to full capacity. I only had about 20-25oz in it after I left the Ranger Residence to get me the half marathon up to the north rim.


Seeing as though I was out of water, and I had no idea how many miles or elevation to climb to the north rim, I backed off a bit and basically hiked all the way up at a little more casual pace.

The North Rim

When my buddy Toby did this a few years ago, he said the North Rim was anticlimactic. You do this gnarly ascent, and arrive at a trail head where there is no lodge, restroom, cars, people or anything.

It couldn't have been any different for me.

About 5 minutes before the top, I passed a guy from our larger group that was hiking (!!!) R2R2R. After I got the top, I saw 3 others from our group who were also hiking R2R2R. 3 minutes later, 3 other people who were doing R2R2R showed up, and then a few more minutes later, 2 other dudes showed up. What was supposed to be a very anticlimactic point of the day ended up being happy hour!

Now about that water situation. Thankfully, the water in the spickets at the North Rim was turned on the afternoon prior. Thank God! I was so thirsty, I was literally drinking out of my hose while filling up my reservoir! I couldn't drink enough! It felt and tasted so good.

I got to the north rim in 5h54m, 5 minutes ahead of schedule!

Mileage may vary

It took me about 20 minutes to feel pretty normal again. After that, I noticed 2 things:
  1. The bugs on the north rim are insanely annoying
  2. Food didn't taste good and had to be forced down
The beginning of the end has started

In hindsight, I wish I listened to more sage advice from Kevin and James: bring real food - especially for the north rim. After having done all sorts of single and multi-day endurance events and my stomach never having issues with the processed stuff, I figured I was safe with about 3,500 calories - half from vitargo, half in solid food.

Normally it's good on me

This couldn't have been a bigger miscalculation.

I would have loved a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Or some chips. Or ideally, some boiled potatoes with some olive oil, salt and pepper. If there will be a next time, that will definitely be on the menu.

North Rim to Cottonwood

I knew that the focus of the descent to Cottonwood was going to be on hydrating and eating, and after being at the top for about 35 minutes total, I started back down. 5 minutes later, I peed for the first time (!!!!) of the day, and let's just say it wasn't light colored.

Yup, just a tad dehydrated

The descent from the north rim is steep, technical and long.

Switchbacks plus that itty bitty little trail down there

After descending for a long time, I was about half a mile from the ranger residence and I finally had enough. All the descending was taking it's toll. It wasn't my quads, it was that everything hurts from the jarring type-of-feeling. I hadn't seen anyone in at least an hour, and I finally let out a wave of frustration:


Naturally, I look up, and what do I see? A family of 4 enjoying a nice hike in the Grand Canyon, not 25 feet from me. I instantly smiled, said "Don't mind me", got a laugh out of the girl in front, and kept on my way.

I got to the Residence again, took my reservoir out of the bag, and filled up again. I chatted with a few folks who were taking a break, and was on my way.

When the sky turns gray
And everything is screaming
I will reach inside
Just to find my heart is beating

You tell me to hold on
Oh you tell me to hold on
But innocence is gone
And what was right is wrong

(Imagine Dragons - Bleeding Out)

Somewhere between the Residence and Cottonwood, all of 1+ miles, things were heading downhill -  literally and figuratively. I muscled my way into Cottonwood,  stopped for a few minutes to fill up my reservoir, put some powder in my bottles, and also forced some food down.


I also needed to prepare myself for the next section. R2R2R can have all sorts of weather conditions, but the only weather challenge I was had was 90 degrees in area affectionately known as "the oven" - right where I was about to run. I was prepared for this, but let's face it, running in 90 degrees sucks. 

By this point, any part of the trail that was going up at even the slightest grade was no longer runnable/joggable/sloggable. There was no more running on anything above a flat or downhill. I'm even talking about whopping 0.5% climbs.


Eventually, every one who does R2R2R on the way back hits a particular point that Kevin warned me about. It's the point where you look far across a valley, past the oven and realize your destination is way ACROSS and UP there. I am not exaggerating one bit on how I felt in this photo:


It was right around this time when the third song of the day popped into my head, and it was a tad unexpected: Fuel - Shimmer (which I probably hadn't heard in years before this):

It's too far away for me to hold
It's too far away...
Guess I'll let it go

With an emphasis on "It's too far away..." (!!!!)

Somewhere after I left the valley and after a few bridge crossings, I was really hurting. I figured I was about 28 miles in - the longest I had ever run ever.

Fight through this Denner - you've done stuff like this. Just focus on getting to the next point (random bushes, turns in trails). Just keeping moving...

After another 10 minutes of this, it HURT to sustain a 10 minute jog. I kept trying to push through, but it wasn't working. I was effing miserable. I concluded:

It's time to start the Death March a little early

I walked the next 1.25 miles or so to Phantom Ranch, where the only thing I could think of was that damn Pepsi.

High Fructose Corn Syrup never tasted so good!

As soon as I got there, I bee-lined it to where my soda was, opened up, and just started pounding it. I headed over to the water spicket where another runner and I started talking. I went over to where his friends were to commiserate with them for a while. There was a group of 3 of them that were doing Rim to Cottonwood to Rim. 2 were in decent moods. 1 dude just didn't even talk, grunt or make a noise!

Well, I guess it could be worse for me...

After 20 minutes, it was time to get the hell out of dodge.

River to Bright Angel Trailhead

I started my way slowly towards the bridge to cross over onto the other side. For those not familiar with this part of the canyon, the first half mile or so (although it seems much longer), is very soft sand. It feels like it impedes progress more than a 10% grade. It rolls and climbs a little, and I was afforded views of some rafters, who seemed to be having MUCH more fun than I was.

This so dumb, but I can laugh about it now. <snicker>

I took the left at the rest stop, and hiked along the small creek at a leisurely pace, fully engulfed in the Grand Canyon. I had come to terms with the fact that I would no longer be pushing any kind of pace, nor would I even be able to consume calories. Yes. I still had about a 4 hour grind of a hike ahead of me the equivalent of climbing a mountain, but the thought of consuming anymore vitargo or another bar was enough to make me puke.

I made it about a third of the way up the Devil's corkscrew, and it was a struggle to go up. There were plenty of logs on the trail to simulate stairs, but some of them had a height much greater than normal stairs. I was relegated to the point of stepping up with my right leg, then stepping up with my left leg, landing my left foot just next to my right foot. It was hardly "normal" walking, by anyone's standards. I was literally taking things, one-step-at-a-time.

Ok, this is dumb, but it's crazy. More crazy than dumb

It was about this point that I reached a new point in endurance athletics - or life - that I have never reached before. I was taking my medicine, and it was good for me: I have never felt so powerless and humbled in my entire life. Never have I had to summon so much energy to do such a simple thing as walking. I stopped, literally (because moving hurt :), to stop and reflect of such action and mindset, as my eyes peered up the canyon, thinking "Dang, I still have that much more to go". You see, I believe in the philosophy of my former coach that endurance sports of any kind are really metaphors for life, and that in life, one seeks out hardship from which to experience and grow. It is moments like this, that at the end of the (long ass) day, make it all worth it. It's times like this that I will remember for the rest of my life, and in some odd way, affords me a clarity of life that only long, hard days can. I haven't written much in the past few years, but the few times that I have in the past 5 weeks or so, have been after BIG days, a lot of coffee, quiet space or good music, some food, and a keyboard that pretty gets abused for about 90 minutes as I unleash a complete brain dump. It is a flow of thoughts and emotions that doesn't come easy or frequent, but when it does, there is a state of enlightenment achieved that can't really be described in words.

Now, back to climbing. This is what Devil's Corkscrew looks like from above after one has climbed it:

Life changing event

Panoramic - Click for more detail!

Around this point, the trail flattens out, and I couldn't help but think of the conversations James and I had regarding the runnability of Bright Angel. From this point to Indian Gardens, it is very runnable. I'd call it false-flatish. In this section, I enjoyed the sound of waterfalls and the breeze, and also passed a few hikers.

The trail opens up a little bit, and I finally arrived at Indian Gardens. After stopping for a few minutes, I got up and made my way, but I was stopped in my tracks.

What was that?

The sound coming from the hills can initially be described as velociraptors. Yes, velociraptors. I almost felt like I was in Jurassic Park. After I shook off my initial dementia, I realized that it was multiple mountain goats communicating with one another. After observing for a few moments, somehow goat boy came to mind. I had a laugh, and decided to get on my way.

Then the wind picked up, and it enough for me to get more video. Or maybe I was in Jurassic Park?

Anyways, 20 ft later, the bottom outside of my right foot started hurting, a lot. It had my attention. I stopped and took my shoe off to massage it a little bit. As some canyon hick got close to me, and with a slight southern accent, he mentioned "Boy, you look taerd".

Thanks jackass...

I put my shoe back on, and started my way upwards. The pain came and went over time, but generally went. I was thankful.

It was time to start what I called the meat grinder. The meat grinder is about 4 miles of switchbacks that doesn't ever seem to end until you get to the top. In fact, if you even think about looking up, the switchbacks get lost in the enormity of the canyon. If you do actually look up, you can't help but think:

How the hell do I get up there?!?

Goiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing up

Part of the meat grinder from above.


Fortunately, at this point, there were a number of poor souls who were also doing the death march up the meat grinder, and so there was a little bit of social interaction, primarily in the form of sarcasm.

At some point, a girl came out of nowhere and passed me like I was standing still. She was CHARGING! It was awesome to see, and she also sprinkled some inspiration dust on the trail, and so I put my headphones on for the first time, and started charging it mydamnself!

It was relatively short lived though.

The music was a nice change, so I stayed in my zone, and then a few songs later, all I hear from out of the blue was:


It was Desi, and it was so good to hear (and see!) her! There was some speculation that we might see each other on the trail or at the trail head, but this was still an unexpected surprise!!! You see, Desi and I have a long history of doing or crossing paths on crazy adventures, and so this was very fitting! There were a few high fives, but absolutely no stopping. She jumped on the train (and dropped her husband!) to be a mobile cheerleader for me, and it was awesome. Sorry Rich, but I couldn't stop walking... I had to keep trudging forward!

We eventually parted ways, but it was a few minutes later when I caught myself doing a fist pump. it was out of nowhere, unplanned, unthought of, unprovoked, but very awesome.

Fist Pump O'clock

I guess my sub conscience hit "that point", and it's a point I'm familiar with. In the 2 Ironman's I've done, I've reached "that point" somewhere around a half mile from the finish, where no matter what hurts and how much, I get a tunnel vision, stoked, pick up the pace, and charge!

Well, I wasn't about to charge the last half mile of uphill, but I WAS STOKED!

I've done it. I can't believe I've fucking done rim to rim to rim.

There was a smile creeping in under that battered demeanor. I looked up, and I saw the rim. I saw people at the rim. I could taste (and hear) it.

As I came around the last switchback, I took what looks to be a meaningless picture.

It's just the fact that the sun is setting, and I made it out of the canyon without a headlamp (another one of my goals). This is another one of those random memories that will just stick with me.

I asked an innocent bystander to take an obligatory photo of me (a la to cement in Facebook history, and promptly texted my family, along with Kevin and James to tell/remind them how absurd that was.

After reconnecting back with the electronic world, I think I walked around in circles a little bit, because I didn't know what to do with myself. There was a part of me that wanted to wait for Desi and Rich, watch the sunset, and take a moment to absorb what I just did.

But then, my stomach rumbled, and it was getting cold.

I called Larry, and when he picked up the phone, he was all surprised and happy to hear from me and wanted to know how I was doing. I got right to the point: "Larry, if the group is eating together, I need to know their location - I'll be there in 30 minutes". We shared a laugh and I was on my way.

The Aftermath

We stayed at the Maswik Lodge, less than half a mile from the Bright Angel trailhead. I'd highly recommend staying there. This made the commute from the finish to a shower VERY easy, as I didn't have to worry about driving after or getting a ride somewhere.

Now, if you stay there, don't stay on the second floor like we did because the buildings DON'T have elevators! Going upstairs wasn't so bad. Going downstairs on the other hand, involved all upper body strength with supporting myself on the rails.

After putting down 4 pieces of pizza like a champ, I left the dining area, and made it maybe 40 feet from the exit doors.

Dude, you're not going to make it through the night.

I turned around, walked back inside, ordered myself a big ass bowl of chili and baked potato, and proceeded to demolish it back in the hotel room. Epic!

As for breakfast the next morning, my roommate for the weekend had a tough Rim River Rim hike the day prior, and had some jacked up knees and quads. Walking was a no-no. So, what did we do? We drove to breakfast. To appreciate how absurd that statement is, below is the route we drove. Yes, we opted to drive for 45 seconds, rather than walk for 3 minutes. And I wasn't complaining!

Post R2R2R Thoughts

What a day! Writing this was probably way more fun than actually doing it, as I've been able to relive some memories in greater detail and dig up some stuff that was clouded by discomfort and what seemed like an insurmountable task. The post event processing, as I mentioned above, can really be one of the best parts.

As you can probably tell, it was a hard day for me and I won't lie - it left a mark on me, both good and bad. In some respects, it took me a few days to come to terms with the demons I faced down there. When most endurance athletes complete something hard like this, there are immediate feelings of elation that make them want to do it, or something like it again (at least, that's been the case for me and most of my friends). I did NOT have that this time, nor did I for a few days. But slowly but surely, those scars healed and while I am not saying that I want to do this or something like this again there is that voice in my head that would at least entertain the idea, so long as my preparation, physically and mentally, was better. Why? Because I know I can do better.

Lastly, regarding my thoughts of not being a runner: Let's just say that I'm not sure how many "non-runners" could attempt and complete this, given various circumstances.

Not bad for a non-runner!

Thanks for reading!

UPDATE (3/16/15)
I finally made the video I've been wanting to make for almost 2 years now!