The Ultimate Walkathon 2010 - Part One
With all plans nearly finalized, we entered the week of August 16 with anticipation of our Grand Canyon adventure. Everyone had double- and triple-checked their equipment. We did final workouts and a local pilot who flies for UPS loaned our group his monster-sized four door Ford F-250 pickup truck for the drive to Arizona. It had a topper over the bed and Kenny Jones set it up so that two guys could sleep back there during the long trek out West.
In the wee hours of the morning, on Saturday, August 21, Kenny, Kevin, Nick and John took off for Arizona. I had to cook one hundred pounds of pork loin for the Optimist Club fundraiser that day. I put the loin on the smoker and ran two miles as a final workout. I finished cooking at around 3 PM. I was already packed and ready to go, so I went home and got some rest.
I left at 3 AM on Sunday morning, August 22. The plan was to meet at the Grand Canyon lodge on the North Rim on August 24, at no later than 12:00 noon. The other guys would travel to the South Rim and drop off their gear; then, two of the guys would drive to the North Rim, park the truck and I would pick them up there to drive back to the South Rim. We had rooms reserved for the night of the August 24, and we would begin our adventure by boarding the shuttle at 4 AM at the National Park Service’s Back Country Office on the South Rim.
The drive across Illinois and Kansas was pretty boring. The best part was when Nick kept texting me to tell me about all the food that Kenny Jones was eating. We devised a plan where Nick would text me, telling me what Kenny had for a certain meal, and then I would text him back saying “Ill bet Kenny had fried chicken, French fries and Cherry pie.” Then Nick would show the text to Kenny. Kenny said “How does he know that?”
I arrived at the North Rim early in evening on August 23 – well ahead of schedule. Nick and Kevin showed up and parked the big truck and we took off for the South Rim in my SUV. It took until nearly midnight to get there. Kenny had rented a room and those four guys bedded down in there and I slept in the back of my SUV, as I had all the way there. The next day we took advantage of the beauty around us, and did some exploring in and around the Canyon. We took some photos with the MAPDF banner, bought some souvenirs for the people back home and went out to see the South Kaibab trailhead. The trail looked quite inviting in full daylight. We spent some time figuring out how we were going to get all us guys and our gear from the motel to the Back Country Office early the next morning. We were scheduled to rise at 3 AM.
It was very cool the next morning, as it usually is in the desert. We got to the Back Country Office and Kevin discovered one of his hiking poles wouldn’t extend out all the way. That’s when Kevin got his official trail name “Stubby.” A pair of pliers on Nick’s multi-tool got it fixed just before we boarded the shuttle. We got to the trailhead and made last bathroom breaks before donning our headlamps and heading down into the Canyon. It was a lot darker at 4:37 AM on August 25 than it was when I made this trek last year – on June 7. We used our headlamps for a good hour before it was light enough to see the trail without them.
When the sun came up, our pace slowed a lot because around every turn there was yet another vista that needed photographing. When we got to the South Kaibab tip-off, (the place where the trail goes off into the inner gorge of the Canyon) a National Park Service helicopter landed just a short distance from us. Kenny walked over to talk to the occupants and found that they were doing maintenance on the emergency phone there. We took some photos and continued over the tip-off into the inner gorge. The trail becomes very steep here and there are literally hundreds of step-offs where you walk maybe six feet and then take a step down between 12 and 18 inches. This is very tough on your legs and feet – a constant pounding that really takes its toll on your body.
In another half hour, we were ready for a break. Some of the guys already had some blisters forming. Kevin thought his feet were bleeding when he took his boot off his sock was stained red. It turned out it was just the dust from the trail. The red wall limestone gives the Grand Canyon a lot of its beauty. My socks were red also. Last year I wore gaiters so the dust and small stones couldn’t get into my boots and decided not to this year. It was surprising just how much the pink dust damp from sweat looked like blood.
We kept going down and got our first view of the Colorado River. I told everyone to get real quiet and listen. We could just barely hear the roaring of the rapids. It was amazing that you could hear the river when it still looked so far away. We continued down and it didn’t seem like it was that long and we were at the bridge that had brought me to my knees the year before. This time I was prepared. I wasn’t going to let my friends see me petrified. As we approached the tunnel leading to the bridge I pulled my secret weapon out of my pack and maneuvered myself to the back of the line. I had stashed a blindfold in my pack and put it on and adjusted it so I could only see straight down. I could see my feet and the bridge planks in front of me. I couldn’t see the water below or the sides of the bridge. I was still a little uneasy but walked straight across without stopping. Don’t worry those guys teased me plenty but I thought it was pure genius on my part.
It was now 10:30 AM and getting really hot. We walked the short distance to the Bright Angel Campground, where we were welcomed by fresh drinking water. This was our first chance to refill our water supply. We found a shady spot and went to the Bright Angel Creek. We got right down into the creek to cool off. The water was “take your breath away cold,” but you got used to it pretty quick. A thermometer nearby read 96 degrees. We spent about 45 minutes in the creek then continued on up the trail to the Phantom Ranch just a short distance.
We met a park ranger before we got to the ranch, and Nick and Kenny spent some time talking to her. She told them that she regularly comes down to the ranger station for about a week at a time. She said the Park Service had offered to provide a mule for her to ride, but that she preferred to hike in and out.
We made it to the Phantom Ranch, a series of stone buildings where you can spend the night (with reservations two years in advance). You can even enjoy a steak dinner with prior arrangements. Kenny, John and I had a bagel in the canteen. I had brought three Pringle cans filled with wheat thin crackers and a small jar of peanut butter. Some of the others had jerky, trail mix and Nick and Kevin had brought some MRE’s. Those are “Meals Ready to Eat”. They are made for the military and have self-activating chemical heaters to warm some of the hot foods. The most popular items, of course, were the pound cake and cookies.
Some of the hikers found shady spots outside, under which to lie, and some even reported getting a little sleep. They would need it. We had come about six miles and we had seven more to go before dark. I thought this next part of our hike would be the easiest. I was completely wrong! The heat would take its toll and only teamwork and mental toughness would get us through