Seeking challenges and human connection in the Southwestern desert
Julie Jenson of Kanab, Utah (in blue) and Crystal Flaman of Kelowna, British Columbia, work together to conquer the sand dunes. Photo courtesy of Grand2Grand Ultra.
We groaned simultaneously and pushed off our poles for another set of 100 counts running, 20 counts walking. It was the humble, yet maintainable pattern that Frank, my new friend from Germany, and I had been using to get through the extreme midday heat and over the undulating sandy track.
We’d only linked up a few hours ago, but I’d already learned a lot about Frank—the story of how he’d met his wife on Spain’s Camino de Santiago trail, his struggle with a career that kept him away from home and his heartache of losing his sister. They were the kind of personal life nuggets only shared so quickly under the influence of a good trail run.
Now that we had settled into a comfortable silence, I put my headphones in. I laughed when the next song came on and he looked over at me quizzically. “Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas,’” I explained. “I knew it would either make me smile or really piss me off out here.”
Frank and I were working our way through Day 3, “the long stage” of the Grand to Grand Ultra (G2G). Now in its second year, G2G is the first multi-day self-supported stage race in the United States, covering 170 miles in seven days. With 20-pound backpacks containing all our food and gear for the week, we’d started as 113 international racers peering over the precipice of the Grand Canyon. Our group pilgrimage would lead us to the dramatic Pink Cliffs of the Grand Escalante.
What were we searching for on this journey? Most often, the answers my fellow competitors gave included: an extreme athletic challenge, an escape from modern concerns and distractions, a week immersed in nature. But, there was another, unspoken answer among us—the chance to share these rich experiences with like-minded wanderers.