Blooming in the Desert: The Decision (Ch. 4)

(Please read Chapters 1, 2, & 3 before this post!)

The Sign

“So whad’ya think, Ambs?”

Amber and I were going back and forth- taking turns between Devil’s Advocate and Gutsy Adventurer- trying to decide exactly what we should do at this point.

Do we finish out our adventure of a lifetime?

Do we play it safe and turn around?

Our guts were telling us to turn around, but ironically- our guts were propelling us forwardWe simply didn’t know which “guts” to listen to:

“It’s 1:18.” I said, “Think we can tackle the rest of that climb, then run 13 back to phantom ranch before they close at 4 to get more food?”

“I mean… Probably.. If we push it? But do we chance that? That’s a really big chance to take, ya know? I mean, Ash..we don’t get any food and we’re toast. We’ve got kids and husbands waiting by the phone to make sure we are okay. One wrong move out here and we could be dead.”This banter continued for several minutes; both of us weighing the odds, contributing our thoughts, and unable to reach a solid decision. At that moment, I did the only thing I knew how to do when I’m confronted with a massive conflict of the brain. I prayed a simple prayer to The Big Man:

“God.. Can you please show us what to do? We don’t wanna do something stupid here. But you know how we tick- and leaving something unfinished- well that just doesn’t sit well with me. Please just give us some kind of sign.” I said.

“…..And take our egos out of it if needed.” Amber added.

So what kind of sign are we looking for here?.. I thought. I mean, if I’m honest, I guess I was waiting on some sort of canyon cruising plane to fly by blaring, “Go for it, girls!” from a megaphone.. or something.. anything?

I guess Amber was reading my mind, because she said, “I guess it’s not going to be written in the sky.”

“Yeah I guess not.”

“Well it’s already 1:30. We’re not helping ourselves at all unless we keep moving..” I cautioned. So following our athletic minded adventurous hearts, we silently continued on -again- on towards the North Rim.

Then, in an instant, Amber and I stopped dead in our tracks and looked right at each other. I suddenly had a very very strong feeling and it was obvious that she did too:

“Amber. We’ve gotta turn around! I feel it!”

“I know, so do I!” Amber shared.

“I don’t know why, but I just feel certain that we shouldn’t go further towards the North Rim any more.”

“I feel the same way.”

At that moment, nothing could stop the floodgates from opening; tears fell like rain, we dropped our packs and embraced each other, crying into one another’s shoulders.

After a minute of just crying, Amber broke the silence, “It’s right there, Ash. I can see it.” she lamented, “We came so far. We talked about this–wanted this–dreamed about this run for so long. But, you know,..we just can’t risk it.”

“I know. I know… You know it kills me not to finish something. But, I think we got that sign we asked for. I’ve never felt so certain about anything in my life. I don’t know why…but, I trust it.” I cried in return.

And we just stayed like that, hugging each other and wiping our wet eyes, mourning the loss of completing our Rim to Rim to Rim journey.

“Look… let’s do this…” I said, as I reached down and grabbed a rock from the trail and stuck it in my pocket, “Let’s come back and finish this run later. No matter what. We’ll remember this spot, and next time, when we’re happily running past it, we’ll reflect on this moment and smile.”

Amber reached down, wiping the tears from her face, and grabbed her own rock from the sacred trail, “All right… Deal.”

We hugged each other again, and said farewell to the North Rim that was just out of our grasps, and sadly, yet confidently, turned around back towards the South Rim.

But it Wasn’t Even About The Rims

In all of my ultrarunning experiences, I don’t think I’ve ever connected with another human being in such a powerful way. Something about our simultaneous and overwhelming feelings to turn around just solidified every ounce of my deep friendship with Amber. I knew that what had happened impacted her in the exact way it had me. Realizing this- for lack of a better word- was special.

We knew it was special too. The run, and the turnaround, had changed us in a profound way. The remainder of our time in the canyon together was spent completely in the moment, cherishing our decision, our friendship, and our shared love for the run. We knew our bond had grown deeper, and that our time spent out conquering the canyon would leave lasting imprints on our lives.

We learned a lot during our journey:

We learned to listen to that tiny voice of reason in our brains.

We learned that it’s okay to stop sometimes.

We learned that we will always have a kindred soul in one other- no matter what life brings us.

But most of all, we realized that the journey had nothing to do with reaching that North Rim. It never did. But, it had absolutely everything to do with the miles shared together: creating beautiful memories, sharing an incredible experience, exploring the phenomenal Grand Canyon, and growing in our respect and love for one another…

“You know Ash, we’re kinda like those flowers we keep passing…those blooms growing out of the cactus.”

“Yeah? How so?”

“Well.. I just think it’s amazing how they thrive and grow so beautifully despite the intense heat in the desert sun. They’re special. I think that’s what happened with us today…We bloomed in the desert.”

And By The Way, Confirmation is Also a Beautiful Thing

We finished out the remainder of our run, slowly but surely. The climb was grueling, and after all we had been through emotionally during the day, we were drained of energy. Climbing out took us a whole heck of a lot longer than we initially anticipated. Legs shot, in the black of the night, up the awful steep, technical, and narrow canyon walls, shivering and shaking, we were clinging to my single flashlight with total dependency to navigate us out of the South Rim. While we initially thought we would only need the flashlight for 3 hours max, it took us roughly 4.5 hours of flashlight use to climb out of that Canyon to reach the safety of the South Rim.

Had we continued up the North Rim, we would have added roughly 2-3 more hours at our best of running to the long day.

…..and 6 hours of flashlight was all that we had.

Guess somebody was looking out for us after all.


Thanks for reading the canyon stories! I have one more follow up to post, sharing some cool news about something that Amber and I are up to, and some details on our Sedona trip-but this was the main story we wanted to share. Thanks so much for following along on our journey. If you liked what you read, please comment below and let me know what you thought! Thanks- Ash

29 Replies to “Blooming in the Desert: The Decision (Ch. 4)”

  1. Thank you Ashley for capturing our journey, the highs, lows and everything in between. You are a beautiful friend, and I am thankful to have shared this experience together. I would not change a thing. Here’s to many more!

  2. Just found your blog while looking for inspiration to get my fat old rear moving. Got side tracked reading about your canyon run. Enjoyed all four parts. Looking forward to reading more of your work. Did some backpacking on the south rim back in the early eighties. The South Kaibab trail is a real bear.

  3. Awesome post! I loved the story, and the pictures were fantastic. I look forward to following your running exploits in the future.

  4. Nice recap! I’m jealous you guys got to go down there. I’ve had a few friends run it a few times the last 8 months. We’ll let you know when we head down if you guys want another shot at it!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your ladies story and adventure. It was a pleasure reading it and look forward to your next adventure. Keep inspiring!!

  6. Oh, Ash! Your story is fabulous! I love that you and Amber had this amazing, incredible, deep experience. Your girls are fantastic. (I had no idea what an awesome writer you were too, chicka!) This story really tugged at my heart… and my adventure seeking side! ❤

  7. Unfortunately, I have never heard of Silke Koester. But after reading every word, looking at every picture, and watching every video of all four posts… I truly yearn to be like you two. Free of spirit and everything else that could hold you back in this world. Clearly, running and being one with the natural world is something that can connect us all with each other and with ourselves. What an amazing, inspiring story. There is no such thing as a perfect run, or a perfect anything, but you have proved the beauty of the journey along the way. You let us know that there is always time to change direction, always room to fix a mistake. Loved the posts, keep inspiring us all.

  8. The G.C. isn’t going anywhere (hopefully) and you can always return. I have run it three times (two singles-one double) and rafted it and explored Havasu Falls and have mtn. biked up to Grandview from Flagstaff (that’s a fun trip!) Funny that you talk about food. I ran my double with m&ms and hard candy in a fanny pack with a water bottle. There were no such things as bars/gels then. And YES I agree the lemonade at Phantom is to die for. (Plan your next trip for early October. Weather is better!)

  9. Inspiring story and even in writing your passion is infectious, loved the pictures! Didn’t know anything about ultras before I stumbled across your blog, and now I can’t wait to run one! Thanks Ashley! And good luck your next time out to the Canyon 🙂 Hope its as marvelous as the first time

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