I half joke that the only reason I run is to stay in shape in case someone asks me to go to the Grand Canyon, it’s not really a joke and there isn’t much convincing needed on my part to go there but always nice to have a partner mostly to ease my mom’s concerns.
The last time I went to the Grand Canyon it was with Dave and Allison, and while I started that blog post many times I never finished it. We went down in a post-wedding celebration (of sorts) where I made them recreate multiple wedding photos at multiple locations and we all dawned bridesmaid dresses for one of the days.
We realized that dusty rose might actually be Dave’s color. We ran down to the river, got the world’s best lemonade and then made the trek back up. In the months that followed the panic attack, I lost my narrative, my sense of self, and sense of belonging. Most days I could not even believe that I was the same girl who had ventured to the depths of the canyon mere months before.
In November friends started putting in for cancelled rafting permits and one was drawn. The dates didn’t align for work but half joked that I could always run down to Phantom Ranch, say hi, and run back out. Joke is on me. As the plans transpired it was realized they would be at Phantom on Sunday which meant I could feasibly do that without running into a work deadline. It should be noted that I don’t mind dancing around work deadlines, I love my job, what I do, and feel incredibly lucky for the life it enables me to live. Anyways, more logistics flew and realized that a friend would be hiking out, cool I could join him and figure out who was taking his spot to go in with. More planning, Carly would also be hiking out, amazing, and Jordan a friend from Alaska and Avery (friend of a friend) would hike in. Done and done, I’d have people to hike in with and people to hike out with. The logistics seemed more complicated on my end with my return ticket being purchased before my departure one as I hemmed and hawed when I’d want to arrive so I could be stable for a late Friday work call. I opted to leave on Friday and enjoy the Sedona sun Friday evening before picking the boys up at the airport on Saturday.
I arrived and drove up to Sedona getting to a trailhead parking lot just as the sun was moving behind the rocks. I put my windbreaker on forgetting how cold the desert could get as the sun went down. I started jogging up the Cathedral Rock trail, the most powerful vortex in all the land. I ventured off the trail a bit to get in some different views before linking back up onto the trail. I climbed up to the top and perched out on the rocks watching the last of the light cease from the day.
A very common issue is that I think it only gets dark in Alaska, because people outside of Alaska always ask if it really gets dark there so it has convinced me that nowhere else gets dark. As a result, I left my headlight in the car, but with a clear sky and moonlight was able to dance my way down the trail, amazed at how my body navigated though the rocks. I was approaching the parking lot when I saw a change in tone on the rock and stepped on it with my right leg before I could change my footing, my foot had struck ice and slipped out, my left in an already downward step motion, bent at the knee and kept going as I slid down. I stopped and got up feeling a foreign pain in my left knee all the way down my leg, oh wow I haven’t had an injury in a while. I slowly walked back to the car taking in the stats of my pain, location, and any altered movements I was making. I could move and haven’t heard anything popped making me think it was just a strain but was a little nervous that I had effectively nulled my Grand Canyon trek. I stopped at store and picked up some epsom salt to soak it and KT tape for the next day. I soaked it and propped it up on a pillow for the night.
The next morning I taped it up and headed to a fairly easy trail for a loop to see how my knee felt. The trail started with a half mile descent to link up with the loop, I gingerly pushed off my left leg, altering my gate for my right leg to carry more of the load. How odd, my right leg has been the weakest and now it was picking up the slack of my left. I notice what caused a sharp pain, down step with leg fully extended and a heel strike. I wove around people and the rocks. The pain was intermittent giving me hope that I hadn’t done any real damage. Once the trail leveled I settled into a slower pace than normal and ran the loop around. Sully and I used to come down to Sedona to visit his parents, I remembered riding the trail with him but running it now I couldn’t believe this was one of the easier ones in the area. I made it through the loop and felt better towards the end with no actual residual pain. Definitely got lucky on that one.
I picked up Avery and Jordan in Flagstaff and after a few stops at REI, three grocery stores to get some of the requests from those on the river, the dollar store, and gas station, we headed north. We stopped halfway to do a short hike where a volcano had essentially melted in on itself. After about a mile or so of post holing, we decided we were good with going back. I asked Avery (he’s a doctor) about my knee, he basically said the fact I could walk on it means there isn’t anything serious wrong. Worked for me!
We spent the night packing, them mostly repacking to fit some of the groceries in. I messaged Evan about the possibility of actually needing to pack my camping things in. He thought they’d be to Phantom around 1 at the latest so we’d be able to hike out the same day. Perfect, more room in my bag for groceries. In what is the most bizarre pack I’ve taken down to Phantom, it included a large block of cheese, two bags of arugula, bell peppers, and cuties, in addition to my layers and snacks.
We left the hotel around 8 and got to the trailhead around 9:15, I figured out my layers and we headed to the trail around 9:30. I have never been to the Grand Canyon in the winter so was excited to see what it was like. I carried my micro spikes as we crossed the parking lot and upon reaching the trail junction, put them on. We started the descent, it was about 15 degrees on the top and a pretty good layer of ice on the trail.
We started down the trail, the familiar switchbacks revealing themselves as the spikes pierced through the layer of ice. I was just taking it all in as we walked down the trail. We fell into a similar pace and chatted about what those on the river were experiencing and when we thought they would arrive. Before I knew it we were at the first outhouse, about 1.5 miles down. We stopped to grab some water and snacks, I passed out some sour patch kids and then we kept going. About 800 yards later I took off my spikes, the trail had mostly tried with just some lingering spots of ice. I thought back to the times before on the trail, the versions of me that had existed here — sometimes I think I’m almost reclaiming spaces that I went to during COVID, as if a part of me has been left there for safe keeping and I was returning to pick her up. I didn’t share this with Jordan but we did talk about crystals and vortexes and also everything else, dog mushing, growing up in Alaska, skiing, relationships, families, on the trail anything is fair game— but I’ve noticed that death is coming up less frequently.
We continued down and about half way I stopped to take off more layers, cursing that I had left my shorts in the car. A few guys were stopped too and commented on the beer Avery was hauling on his pack, there weren’t a lot of people on the trail but those that were certainly were curious about the boys’ large packs and my tiny one, in addition to the beer. We explained and they were like oh next time you should send it down on a mule, it’s $80 but that’s what we do to get out stuff down there to camp for a few days… ohhhh that’s good to know.
We ebbed in and out of being able to hear the river. It’s intoxicating to think about something so wild, so fierce, that spent years carving out the canyon and is still a force to be reckon with #Goals. As we got closer we could see the beach and we saw a few kayaks, oh I wonder if that’s them. A raft approached confirming it was there from where we perched about a mile above. I joked with Jordan I could run down and tell them we were on the way, he said okay and I said really? Okay! And took off down the trail. As I was running I was filled with what I imagine is the feeling of immense gratitude, which I find myself having more and more of these days, this overwhelming warmth that radiates in my body. I kept running down the trail, elated that I’d be reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen in a few weeks and others a year. I ran through the tunnel and into the light on the bridge to cross the river. I heard them yelling and hollered back. I dashed off the bridge and looped around with the river crew getting covered with shrubbery. I kept going and stepped off the trail and made my way to the beach— ohhhh heyyyy
We exchanged greetings and then a few of us wandered up to Phantom Ranch to get some lemonade and drop post in the mail. I heard more of their adventures from the river and told them about all my travels. I’m never sure what it is but the lemonade is amazing here.
We went back to the beach, this time Jordan and Avery were there and Carly and Evan were packing there things up. I took a few of their things in my bag and after saying goodbye we split up and they headed down the river to get a few more miles in for the day.
I’ve never hiked up South Kaibob, it’s 2 miles short than Bright Angel but doesn’t have any water on it. But since all the water is turned off in the winter figured it didn’t matter — and decided with Tom it was the best route for more sun exposure on the trail.
We started back up all the switchbacks I had just come down. I heard about their week, how it snowed on them early on, the rapids they encountered, and the food they packed in. I told them about Canada, Geneva, and DC. They both used to live there and I would usually spend my DC time with them. We talked about everything again, work, relationships, life, the geological time scale.
Going up wasn’t too bad but we made it a point to stop every mile to drink water and take a break. I half joked that we just needed to be near the top by 7 for my family FaceTime call. Even with the more frequent breaks we were taking we were mostly on track to reach that. We put on our micro spikes a little later after I had taken them off with the sun making the trail less icy over the day and more slushy.
Better to be safe than sorry. We kept going up and were able to see the last light of the day cast over the canyon before disappearing for the night. Fortunately, it was a clear night and enough light from the moon made it so we didn’t feel a need to bring out our headlights (but I did have mine this time). About 15 minutes from the top, I called in to my family, realizing that my text saying I was headed in never actually sent.
I told them of the day and Carly and Evan said hi too. We got to the top or as Carly said, rimmed out, packed up the car and headed towards the nearest McDonalds. After some food and coffee we drove back down to Flagstaff for the night.
The next morning, after barely making it to the hotel breakfast, we wandered around Flagstaff, Carly and Evan both served as my personal shoppers in the book store pulling a book on boundaries (these days I’m half in/half out the self help section with my reading). Given all they know I figured these options wouldn’t hurt and got a few postcards as well. We said our goodbyes with them driving out to California and I was headed down to Phoenix for a flight. I had enough time that I stopped for a yoga class on the way, and buying a tshirt from the place to do yoga in (this will be important later). I then stopped again in Sedona to head up to Cathedral Rock and see it in the daylight.
I squeezed out all I could to make it back to the airport in time for my flight. I dropped my car off at the rental place and hopped on the tram to transfer to the terminal. It should be noted that I don’t usually get to the airport very early (unless I’m traveling with someone who prefers that), the one time I did get there a few hours before my flight I fell asleep at the gate and missed my flight. On the tram I went to check in, except I couldn’t find any email with the check in information, huh, that’s weird. I looked at my account, nothing had ever been charged for a flight, although I do remember getting up to get my card information to purchase the flight but now wondering if I just didn’t wait for the transaction to get completed. Anyways about 30 minutes before departure I realized I didn’t have a flight. I also realized I didn’t have enough time to get to the ticket counter and through security. No matter, this was so exciting, I’ve seen this in the movies where someone goes up to the counter and is like, I need one ticket to DC and I have to be there by 9am tomorrow and slams the credit card down on the counter. In reality I did need to be back at work by 9am for an in person meeting. I walked up to the counter (while whispering big money big money, no whammies) and they asked if I was there to check-in. “No, I’d like to buy a ticket!” trying to hide my excitement, “you can’t do that here, only online or calling.” What? I imagined the plot of Home Alone getting rerouted. Well there goes any future spontaneity air travel. I quickly logged onto Kayak and found a red eye that would get me into DC at 7:30am. When I told my mom she couldn’t believe I got a ticket for $200, I responded that God works in mysterious ways- ha. But then I was at the airport a bit early so caught up on some reading and wandered around. When it came time to board, my mom Facetimed me again to make sure I was in fact awake and at my gate.
I arrived in DC without any time to go home and change. In my layover in San Francisco I managed to find some black leggings and a scarf to make it work. I got in an Uber and changed into my clothes, using the yoga shirt I had purchased the day before as it was the cleanest option in my bag, as well as putting a face mask on to depuff. I’m still not sure what rating the Uber driver gave me but no matter. I arrived to work to find out my 9am had gotten pushed back. I made it through the day and what did I learn, well not much actually because luck was on my side and behavioral economics was too. So I might just make sure I get an email confirmation on my travel before I get to the airport. I was joking with a work colleague that after feeling constricted for so long I feel like the pendulum is swinging the other way, with seeing how much chaos I can handle, turns out a lot when I’m not in fight or flight mode. Guess I’m back, chaos queen reigns supreme. I knew she was in there.
Don’t worry, my next post is all about rest, as I’m sure you (like most of the guys I seem to meet these days) are wondering when I actually have downtime.
No adventure is ever complete without commemoratory stickers