As I stepped onto the sidewalk in front of TF Green, I took in my last breaths of the salty Rhode Island air. I squeezed my kids extra tight, and kissed them repeatedly. In the back of my mind, the adventure looming was one with risks. I reassured my family I would be diligent with my precautions, and that I would return mostly unscathed in a few short days. This was it, April 28 had arrived. Arizona bound, I entered the airport with a smile on my face. Ashley and I were reuniting, and ready to do so in a grand way!
The flight to Phoenix was uneventful. Alternating between sleeping and catching up on my Backpacker and Sun magazines, the time passed quickly. The landscape on the ground below was a gentle reminder that the green-scape of the east coast had been replaced by dirt and cacti. It was beautiful. Exiting the plane, I noted the blast of fiery, dry air. I let it warm me from the inside out, then quickly headed towards baggage claim and my kindred spirit. It didn’t take long to spot Ashley. With her blonde hair, and infectious smile, she lit up the otherwise dreary room. Embracing and laughing about her long day spent waiting for me at the airport, we were happy to begin what would be a life-shaping trip. But first, we had to obtain a vehicle since our limited time prohibited us from entertaining any ideas of running/hiking to the Canyon. Prior to arrival, Ashley reserved a standard economy rental car. For some reason this just didn’t sit well with us. There we were, two wild adventurous souls, looking to road trip through the desert. To do this all the way, we needed legitimate wheels. So, I began to devise a plot to drive off into the sunset in a sturdy Jeep Wrangler. The only catch was the cost. We were only willing to pay the same amount for the Jeep as the economy car would have cost us. I was determined, and shared this new goal with Ashley. I shouldn’t have been surprised that the wheels had already been turning in her mind as well. The two dare I say, cute, desert ready blondes, lugging tremendous backpacks and bursting with infectious energy were confident. How could anyone say no?
Well, clearly someone could. Our fine offer of highway robbery was refused at the counters of Hertz, Budget, and Enterprise. It wasn’t until we came face to face with a nice young man from Fox Rent a Car that we were handed the keys to a shiny red Jeep. Was it our charming personalities, or the earlier miscommunication between Ashley and Fox Rentals regarding a lack of credit card that did the trick? Or, was it that our new friend enjoyed the thought of us singing, with our hair billowing in the wind while flying down the highway that charmed him into extending his family discount? Perhaps a combination of factors. Whatever the cause, we were more than pumped! The unknowing jeep was going to be responsible for carrying us on one heck of a road trip!
We practically sprinted down to the rental car area of the parking garage, and there it sat. A beautiful, vibrant red Jeep, just for our driving pleasure. I must say that neither of us had experience removing a Jeep’s top. This became our first challenge. It only took us a mere thirty minutes to wrestle it off. Persistence was rewarded with a more than exhilarating jaunt on the black-top. With music blaring from the speakers, Ashley and I were on our way. Finally.
We cruised through Phoenix while the sun was bearing down. Thankfully, we left the city far behind, a mere speck in the rear-view. The crowded freeway began to thin as night fell. I was thankful for the reprieve, and welcomed the hundreds of stars twinkling above my head. I couldn’t help but feel perfectly content. There are few things I enjoy more than a solid road trip, especially when it is a means for travel to my next adventure. Fortunately for me, I had my best friend, a Jeep full of gear, rocking tunes, and a perfect destination. This was the mother of all road trips, even if it was the abridged version, thanks to the plane.
Before I knew it, and without hitting any of the many “mangy rabid deer” that seemed to appear out of nowhere every few minutes, we had arrived. Grand Canyon National Park was eerily silent. It seemed that everyone was sleeping. We took this into consideration as we attempted to quietly enter our campsite. Now given that it was late, and we were a bit overjoyed/high on our trip, we decided to camp in the Jeep. This proved to be an easier option, yet was not entirely comfortable. The cabins of Jeeps are not designed for sleeping I guess. However, we made do, and attempted to catch a few moments of rest before we tore into our long-awaited prize.
Dawn came early, allotting four blissful hours of Jeep sleeping. Were we concerned with this lack of beauty rest? Nope. Ashley and I were so excited to see the gorgeous park, that we bounded from the vehicle. To explore the trails was all we wanted. Our first stop was at the Bright Angel Trailhead, which would be our point of entry for the Rim to Rim to Rim run the following morning. As we approached the Canyon’s South Rim, a nervous energy was building deep inside. Was the Grand Canyon going to live up to our sky-high expectations? Would we be impressed once we peered into the abyss? The answer to both is undeniably, without a doubt, yes! There it was, and it was huge. All I could whisper was “wow, I feel so very small and insignificant.” The contrast of the brilliant blue sky against the rich earth tones of the canyon walls provided an overwhelming contrast. I said a silent prayer of thanks for this piece of beauty before my eyes.
With our hearts on fire, and sensory systems in full stimulation, we were determined to begin exploring. After all, we didn’t make this trek to peer at it from the top.
The South Kaibab Trail is another option for “Rim to Rimers.” Since we would not be taking this route for our attempt, it was a logical point of exploration. With our shoes knotted, and hydration options secure, we set out for the South Kaibab Trailhead.
Grand Canyon National Park’s extensive bus system simplifies travel to destinations where parking is at a premium. Ashley and I happily took advantage of the transit system, soaking up the views from the bus windows, stimulating our appetites until arrival.
As the crowded bus came to a halt, most passengers stayed glued to their seats, content with their passive method of Canyon sightseeing. “Lets slay this trail!” we yelled. No doubt we were longing to dive head first, but the rational voices in our heads fortunately chose to make an appearance at that moment, as did a very visible sign sharing the cautionary tale of Margaret Bradley. Bradley was an extremely fit and intelligent runner who lost her life out on the very same trail system before us. The extreme heat and possibility of dehydration could not be discounted. Thinking logically, for once, we decided to take it nice and easy, sparing our bodies in preparation for the big run, while satisfying our desires to explore.
The South Kaibab Trail leads you down a quick series of steep switchbacks. As we made our way down, we noted a wide range of hikers. Male, female, young and old were all there. However, there was one lady who stood out from them all. She was at least 65 years old, alone, and strapped to her back was a gigantic pack. I was in awe. That’s what I want to be doing when I am her age, I thought. What a force of strength! Feeling inspired by this stranger, and the beauty of our surroundings, we merrily continued. As we descended, the views were even more incredible. Ooh Aah Point was a perfect photo-op. In fact, the resulting picture is one of my favorites from the entire trip. The enormous overhanging rock made a perfect perch for Ashley and I. We took turns capturing the glory of the moment through the lens of a camera. Not that this was a first. Actually, we took hundreds of photos throughout our trip, we couldn’t get enough!
After our impromptu photo shoot, we carried on, laughing and chatting as we hiked along the exposed trail. We were shining with the sun, and boy was it bright. The cold of the morning air had long been replaced by an unforgiving heat. This was a good test run for what the next day would hold. We needed to be more than prepared. No one would be standing along the trail passing out cold beverages or tasty snacks. We were our own mules. Yes, two crazy jackasses braving the canyon.
After savoring what the trail had to offer, we climbed out, and returned to a bus that blasted its icy AC. It felt fantastic! There we sat: sweaty, stinky and smiling. My three favorite “s” signs of a satisfying day. We didn’t have too long to relish these feelings, 4:15AM was going to be an early wake up call, and we still had a lot of prep work to do. Our first task was to find a decent meal. I mentioned to Ashley my craving for a burger and fries, not my usual pre-run food of choice, but it seemed fitting for a task of this proportion. She laughed, but certainly agreed that we needed to ingest some serious calories. Ultimately we ended up eating pizza. Nothing special, yet it did the job.
Food ingested, we drove back to our campsite. En route we spotted a life-size Smoky the Bear. He was sporting nothing but pants and a distinguished looking hat. I quickly jerked the jeep across the highway, parking right beside our future victim. The unsuspecting Smoky had a most unusual photo shoot with the two wild women of the canyon, but I’m sure he didn’t mind. Mission complete! It was on to the next task of filling our packs and laying out our clothing.
With the contents of our packs strewn across the picnic table, inventory was taken in an effort to strategize what would be vital in our packs, versus our negotiable items. For instance, the first aid kit, camera, water, and calorie laden food items were essential. I was impressed by our ability to cram such a substantial amount of gear into our compact hydration packs. By the time we were finished, Ashley and I had created 10+ pound packs.
Over the course of an ultra distance run, heavy packs add an additional layer of challenge. We were up for it, but not ready to sleep. How could we force our overactive minds and adrenaline pumping systems to shut down? There was no choice but to try if we wanted to be fully rested for Bright Angel. And so, we climbed into our tent, burrowed deep into our sleeping bags to block the frigid air, and giggled like girls at a sleepover until we wore ourselves out. That night I let my dreams run free through the Canyon………..