March 30th, 2019, I, along with four other women, took on the Grand Canyon. Our plan was to cross it and climb it, twice. This was a whole lot of firsts for me. I had never been to the Grand Canyon in-person. I had never done a self-supported adventure before--at least nothing over a 25-mile training run. The furthest I’ve ever gone in a run or a hike is a smidge over 8 hours and the longest distance prior to this was 33 miles. This was also a huge leap of faith for me. My friends from Colorado had done this Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (RTRTR) multiple times, some five or six, and they had asked me to go with them before. I, well I’m just going to be honest--I have a self-confidence issue, I impose limitations on myself, and I have a lot of fears. In my past, I have let these fears and limitations keep me from doing things before. I used to even say to myself, out loud (yes, I’m one of those people that has audible conversations with myself), “Brie, know your limits” or “Brie, remember you have limits.” For crying out loud! I see now how utterly ridiculous destroying this was. I am 39 years-old, and it has taken years of my courage and confidence clawing its way out of this murky sea of self-doubt bit, by bit. So, friends, let me tell you when I decided last July to say “yes” this time to the RTRTR, that was my courage going Chuck Norris all over the self-doubt. I still remember exactly what I was doing when I decided to say yes to RTRTR, it was that big of a moment in my life.
Now to get myself to RTRTR, I had to prepare to go farther, longer, and higher than I had ever before. I also had to be fully self-supported with food plus more equipment than I ever carry. We needed a headlamp that would last around 6 hours, and there was snow on the North Rim so we were advised to carry Yak Traks and poles with us. Then, of course, all the other things (sunscreen, multiple layers, sunglasses, salt, phone, rain jacket, hat, etc.). I did a Running 101 no-no and did quite a bit of new things the day of but in this instance, it just had to be. I also had to train through the winter, which if you’ve read some of my other writings, involves a whole lot of snow. I could run a few miles but that was it. So most of my training was snow shoeing. My neighbor, my dog Cecil, and I would head to the Ski resort and snow shoe straight up the mountain, usually breaking trail, for two to three hours each weekend. I pretty much trained the whole winter by snow shoeing. I did run through snow as much as I could plowing my body through ankle and sometimes calf deep snow hoping that the extra resistance snow provides would make-up the miles and time I wasn’t getting. One thing I can say, I did all I could with what I had, and I went to the Grand Canyon knowing that.
The weekend of the adventure finally arrived. I was a basket case of nerves. One thing I forgot to mention is I have a pretty healthy fear of heights. Although, I don’t really think that describes it accurately. I don’t mind being up high at all. I don’t like being on something where if I trip and fall I’m falling to my death. This is not to say I don’t go to those places and put myself in those situations. I do and I work through it (read: talking to myself and taking my time), but the Grand Canyon? This was really putting that to the test. So, when we got to the Grand Canyon the day before, and I saw it and realized what I had signed up to do--I freaked out! The signs warning of death did not help. But, I had come all that way no way was I backing out.
After a night of zero sleep, I got up at 2am and met my fellow adventurers to head to the South Rim. We started at 3am and descended the South Rim in the dark. Not being able to see the abyss of death (too dramatic?) helped me and the descent was no problem. I did run into some trouble, my brand-new headlamp that was supposed to last 6-7 hours went to its battery-reserve dim setting after only 1.5 hours. Thankfully, the ladies I was with sandwiched me in between them and I used their lights to help me see. By the time we reached the bottom, dawn was breaking, and we looked up, up, up at what we had just run down. That was pretty awesome. I remember standing there thinking back to that July day in 2018 sitting on my deck when I had decided to say “yes” to RTRTR and knowing I had made the right decision.
We did a run/hike combo across the floor of the Canyon, taking stops for lots of photo ops and taking in the incredible beauty and geology of it all. One nice thing about it not being a race, there were no cut-offs, no time limit, so we took our time to take in every bit we could. We got to the North Rim and climbed to the top. This was the only time my fear of heights (i.e. falling to my death) kicked in. The trail was narrow, or what I refer to as “ledgy” and recent rock fall had us maneuvering over and around piles of rocks. We got to cross under three waterfalls on our climb and the last mile was deep snow. I pulled out my Yak Traks for this section, and they promptly broke after only a couple of minutes. So, I relied on my poles and was fine, after all I had trained in nothing but deep snow. The summit felt great, but we couldn’t spend too much time celebrating. We were behind our planned schedule, so after a short photo-op we all ran back down. We made a brief stop at the bottom to refill our water, and then ran back across the Canyon floor to Phantom Ranch.
At Phantom Ranch, the rest of our party, who were doing the shorter Rim-to-Ranch, were waiting for us so we could all climb out together. They met us with cold lemonades. By this point, my Garmin had long since died (it didn’t make it past 12 hours), so I don’t know what time it was or what mile it was. I just know I was tired, daylight was eluding us, and we still had to climb the seven miles out of the South Rim. Up until this point, which I’m guessing was around hour 13 or 14 of the day, I had felt great, truly great. My quads were a little sore, but they weren’t bad at all. We started the climb and about an hour into it I crashed. HARD. My whole body was enveloped with just utter exhaustion, and all I wanted to do was curl up on the side of the trail and go to sleep. Soon the sun set, and we were climbing in the dark. I still had my dim head lamp, so I had to rely on the light of others. I climbed in silence, too tired to talk. I have never felt that tired--to the point that I honestly don’t know how my legs were moving. Every step felt hard. At some point my nose started bleeding. We had inhaled dust all day long and my nostrils couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t know how long my nose bled but it felt like a really long time, it probably wasn’t. The group had split apart by this point into sub-groups, so I was with three other ladies. Two of us were, as my friend put it, “on the struggle bus”, and the other two were killing it. The two who were killing it shouldered the mental load of the climb by telling myself and the other girl continuous stories. They recited book plots, described movies, and basically talked about anything they could think of to help me and the other girl make the climb. This is what I love about running. There is so much selfless giving to others.
Finally, we heard a voice from the top tell us we only had one more switch back to go. That was the most wonderful thing. It was dark, we couldn’t see, and all our watches had died, so we had no idea where we were or how far we had to go. We rounded the switch back and climbed out of the South Rim completing our RTRTR adventure. We had done 42 miles, 17.5 hours, and over 20,000’ of combined ascent and descent.
I did it. I did what I had previously thought I could not do. I pushed way beyond my comfort zone and turns out I was capable, strong enough, and good enough all along. So, for me it's on the next adventure. I am running my first 100K in August and you know what, I think I can do it.