Blooming in the Desert: The Adventure (Ch.3)

(Please read Blooming in the Desert Chapters 1 & 2 before continuing.)

Let’s Do This.

Trying to contain an overwhelming excitement, one that has been growing and building for months, is like trying to keep a juicy secret from your best friend.

You just can’t do it…
You always cave.

Amber and I knew that with running in the extreme heat of the canyon, we needed to pace ourselves smart and early on. Yet, a few quick steps into it, and we caved on all of that strict nonsense like two giddy school girls having recess on a playground.

There’s simply nothing like it: running free, heart pounding, and feet flying, in a place like the Grand Canyon. For two women that live to feel alive, it was completely magical. The euphoric feeling was overwhelming for both of us.

We ran down, down, and down some more.. all the while I’m thinking ..Dangitt.. We gotta run all the way back up this mother after we have 42 miles on our legs… and we just kept on running down! Finally, we reached our first mini rest station on the trail. Indian Gardens, a waterhole and camp stop for hikers, was 4 miles from the trailhead.

Geez that’s gonna be a rough climb out.

We realized here that we had cell service still, and took note of that for our return trip. We knew that we would have no service on the remainder of the trail. So, we stuffed our faces, refilled our 2 Liter packs –Yes we had already killed that much water!!-and got a move on, anxious to see more of the canyon. The next pit stop would be in 6.5 miles- just pass the Colorado river- at Phantom Ranch.

Bear Grylls Travels to Phantom Ranch

The scenes on the canyon floor where unlike anything I had ever witnessed before. We were experiencing the Grand Canyon from a place where few others ever step foot. I began to realize just how alive it was making me feel! We’re not on a friggin bus, touring this thing from the sidelines..No. we were down in the belly of one of the most beautiful and unique places on Earth…and it was phenomenal.

And thats when I felt it: the sacred runner’s high. For me, that high is literally like a drug. And when I reach that place in my mind, I get all silly and childlike as if someone stuffed my Clif bars with crack. For real, it’s a little overwhelming. Thankfully, Amber is a woman that’s just as addicted to this high, and also, as fate would have it, is as immature as I am when she hits it.

Our turbo jets went on, and we started flying through the stellar scenes around us: hootin’ & hollerin’ like a couple of crazy Southern girls let loose in the wild west. Oh yeah….That’s exactly what we are… We were blazing past hikers coming up from the canyon, all while singing, giggling, chowing down, stopping for random pictures, and running our way down even more towards the Colorado. Somewhere during this stint of running insanity, Mr. Man Vs. Wild himself paid us a visit…

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, THE Bear Grylls was in the canyon with us. I know it’s hard to believe.. but, it’s true. Sorry ’bout your luck that you didn’t get to run with Bear, too..because he is awesome.

This string of silliness continued for the remainder of the trail all the way to the Colorado, at which point we were silenced- in awe of the mighty river.

There were a lot of moments like this, when we would just pause and take everything in. No words could truly express the vivid images entering our brains. We continued along the trail by the Colorado. It was a sand trail, and a quad killer. I found myself constantly reaching into my pack for fuel to stay moving fast. We weren’t even 10 miles in yet, and my quads were already feeling a pinch of pain from the technical terrain. This seemed to zap our runner’s high, which in turn bid THE Bear Grylls farewell from our canyon jaunt. You’ll always be in our hearts, Bear. I swear.. I SWEAR!!

Crossing the Colorado was another one of those surreal moments- well- surreal and kind of scary for me. I’m not really a fan of creaky sketchy looking bridges suspended over dangerous bodies of water. Not sure why.

But nonetheless, crossing over the river was a cool moment, and it brought about a sense of accomplishment for us. We were about halfway to the other side of the Canyon and closer to Phantom Ranch- a campground boasting a small canteen- smack dab in the middle of the Grand Canyon.

Phantom Ranch Has Good Lemonade!

Now normally people take mules down to this campground, and spend their nights comfortably in nicely equipped cabins- with fresh linens and all the good stuff from home.. Wait- what?! It’s true, folks. Amber and I found this to be lame, too. In fact, when Amber saw a guy delivering some fresh sheets to a cabin, she shouted out, “Fresh linens? Seriously? What’s the point in even coming out to the Grand Canyon? Just stay back at the Marriott!”  However, we couldn’t complain too much about the comforts of home when we found the canteen, and ordered two tall glasses of fresh lemonade.. Holy smokes, if you thought your grandma’s lemonade was good- you’re freakin wrong, man.
This stuff was legit! Like- I just ran over 10 miles down the Grand Canyon in the heat, and I’ve got 36 more to go-type of legit.

So, we sat on a picnic table under a shady tree, tended to some blisters, laughed and joked around, and enjoyed each other’s company while gulping down the awesomeness of life and lemonade. It was important we restock our packs with food here for the remainder of our journey. Phantom Ranch would close at 4pm, which would be well before our pass through on the return trip.

It was also here that we made our first canyon friend- Mr. Patrick! Mr. Patrick, who called himself the “poop man”, (apparently that was his job in the canyon?), asked us what we were up to as we giggled and ran past him. “Oh, we’re just out running from Rim to Rim to Rim.”

“………….shoot. Well let me buy you two a beer when you get back here.”

“Thanks, maybe not a beer, but we might take you up on another lemonade! Ha!”

Mr Patrick urged us to be careful, of course, and like everyone else, questioned if we really knew what we were doing out there, “It’s really hot heading towards the North Rim- its completely exposed and dangerous if you’re not properly prepared.”

“Thanks for the heads up. We are prepared, and we’ll be all right.”

Next stop: 7 miles to Cottonwood campground, our next water station. The next portion of the run was a bit more calm than the previous miles. The more we ran towards the North Rim, the more the landscape changed, and the more we enjoyed the journey. We began to ditch our giggles for a more serious tone. We settled into conversation touching on other basis of our friendship: teen motherhood, life and growth, the craving for the great unknown, relationships, faith, and other deep thoughts and ideas. This conversation carried us on towards the exposed portion of the canyon that everyone warned us about. It was now midday, and the heat was insane. The sun squelched our run down to a hike, but we kept our conversation going strong. This pushed us through to our next stop.

Cottonwood Camp to the Climb

It was now just after noon, and we had been running since 5am. Cottonwood camp, and it’s water spout, was a welcomed sight. As we filled up our Nathan packs, we crossed paths with our next canyon friends- a couple of Canadian women finishing out a day of hiking the canyon. Of course now I can’t remember their names for the life of me, but they were kind women. What we appreciated most about this encounter was that the two didn’t brush us off as dumb blondes out doing something stupid. They treated us with respect and admired our tenacity for tackling such a feat without a large group for safety and protection. With the encouragement came our renewed spirits, and we continued on past the camp and towards the last water stop before the North Rim of the Grand Canyon- the climax of our run. We felt great, were hydrating smartly, and everything was flowing smoothly. High on life, we were totally in the moment, and soaking it all in.

We reached our next water hole in good spirits, and encountered our next Canyon friends, a pair of ultrarunning women slaughtering the canyon- Lori and Deborah. Lori and Deborah were obviously on top of their game, looking fit and fresh as they stormed into the water stop. With both women being older than us, Amber and I were in awe of their obvious energy. …Welp.. I don’t know about you, but I feel like a big giant LOSER…
We instantly began to chat with Deborah and Lori, and found that the two were Rim to Rim to Rim veterans. The two friends made the trip an annual one as a way to celebrate their friendship and love for ultrarunning.

After receiving some bits of knowledge and inspiration, we parted ways.
“You girls be careful out here! It’s especially hot today!” they reminded.

We absorbed the wisdom and proceeded towards the climb out of the rim- roughly 5 miles of steep steep climb to the top.

Waiting For a Sign

While the majority of our canyon was happy trails, things began to change drastically towards the grueling climb up the North Rim. The initial grumbling started with an intersection in the trail that wasn’t well marked. We ran on a side trail for a few minutes down towards what looked like a water station. Unfortunately, the water station was old and abandoned, and the trail led nowhere beyond it. We instantly felt confused and troubled.

This is awesome..

We came back to the intersection, and took the next option. This choice led us up and up some more, obviously the “climb to the North Rim”, so we felt confident in our choice.

The climb was pretty grueling, and we weren’t moving fast. Okay. Actually.. we were straight up walking slow..”not moving fast” just sounded more legit from a running perspective. 

Roughly 2-3 miles from the top, I reached in my pack for some food and there waiting for me was a stark realization:

Ohhhh crap.. Mann…. I didn’t replace my food at Phantom Ranch…And I had killed all of my fuel in the pack from running crazy early on, so I only had one bar left.

“Everything okay?” Amber asked.

“Yeahhhh… Man… but I just realized that I only have one bar left.”

“Crap… Really??”

“Really. I didn’t buy any at Phantom Ranch. What a freaking stupid mistake!”

This instantly put a pit in our stomachs. For one, it was 1pm. Phantom Ranch, the only possible place I could refuel, was set to close at 4pm. At our pace, it didn’t seem likely that we could cover a ridiculously hard 2-3 mile climb, and the miles back to Phantom Ranch in only 3 hours.. but then again, we’re not your average runner girls, and we definitely know how to haul [butt] if needed.

The possibilities started to invade my mind..

Amber had a lot of food, but she would need every last bit of it to successfully finish the canyon run. Sharing it with me would not be smart, but would possibly hold us over for the next 25 miles.

We could take our time, and hike the rest to conserve the fuel?

Upon further realization, and if you remember our video from the start of our run, we remembered that Amber left her light in the jeep; this meant we had roughly 6 hours of light with my single flashlight… Which could possibly put us running cliff side in the middle of the night with no flashlight.

We knew we had cell service back at Indian Gardens, so we could get in touch with our family if we began to move slower than planned, but our batteries were drained down below 10 percent.

We could see the North Rim, and we knew it wasn’t far at all. But in my experience, the funny thing with running in places like this, is that things are always further than they seem.

” Look. Let’s just sit down, and hash it out in our brains for a minute.” I said, all the while knowing the clock was ticking.

“I dunno Ash, I mean, it’s right there. I think we should push on.”

“Yeah you’re probably right. Plus- my body is used to running on minimal fuel and body fat. I should be okay with what I’ve got.”

No sooner than I said that, did I remember the sign posted about the Boston Marathoner – the one who died running 26 miles in the canyon heat with only 2 power bars and a hydration pack of water. I also began to recall my memories at Fort Clinch, and how quickly things went from good to terrible.

I could tell Amber’s brain was doing much of the same thing-scanning, thinking-suddenly confronted with weighing the odds.

“Let’s just keep moving.” I said, “With kids, and schedules, and everything, this is a really a once in a lifetime opportunity for us. We’re not tired, we’re not hungry. Let’s just climb it on out.’

So we kept moving, and continued our hike towards the North Rim, both of us silent.

I didn’t feel good about going forward. Yet, the thought of coming out to the Grand Canyon, just to stop a couple of miles short from the North Rim, and all while feeling great physically and not really needing to stop— well that just felt like a harder thing to swallow.

The mental conflict was raging in my brain. I was in a familiar place- fighting with my own grit, and Amber was right there battling the same.

We stopped again and looked at each other, “Amber, I just need some kind of sign that we’re doin’ the right thing here.” I said.

“Yeah… Yeah, me too.”


Thanks for reading! Sorry for the long wait for this one- I was busy having more adventures! “Ch.4 The Decision” is already ready and will be published tomorrow. Promise;). If you enjoyed this post, please leave your thoughts and comments below!

11 Replies to “Blooming in the Desert: The Adventure (Ch.3)”

  1. Ahhhhh transports me back….will always remember this adventure. Excellent job capturing the moments spent together immersed in beauty:)

  2. Hi ladies, Thanks for sharing your story. Guess we (Deborah and I) will see you next year on your annual R2R2R. Just need to start a bit earlier in the day to beat the heat. I also experienced some issues with heat after we left you on our way to Phanthom. But one beer and Arnold Palmer later I was ready to head back up to the South rim. Lori

  3. Ha! “Stop looking so hot all the time . . .” Classic.

    Great stuff again for this chapter. With Bear drinking his urine, I can only imagine what’s next for the return trip. The dreaded self administered enema, perhaps?

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