Rim to Rim to Rim - Page 3
I think I was about two miles from the top when the thunder started. Well, I thought it was thunder. But it kept getting louder, and lasted longer. By chance, I was next to a hiker when it started. He pointed up and then I saw it: an avalanche. Rocks tumbling down a canyon within the canyon. Only later would I learn that Shannon—still ahead of all of us—had been caught directly under the fall line. To survive, he had clung to the underside as scree flew by him.
I was safe, and pushed on. I soon encountered a ranger, who briefed me on the avalanche and warned me that things might still be unstable. So on I went. Now autumn colors gave way to pines. And the trail was a slippery, muddy mess. The Supai Tunnel—billed as a good destination for North Rim day hikers because it is only two miles from the trailhead—was my next landmark. Then, a mile from the top, I met a group of women hiking. I looked ridiculous, but I must also have looked cold, because one offered me her poncho.
Soon I hit Coconino Overlook where a group of hikers was, well, looking out . . . at what, I don't know. Clouds and snowfall had wrecked visibility. I asked my new favorite question: "How much farther?" "It's right around the corner," they replied, "Six tenths of a mile." Less than a mile? OK, gotta go.”
6:10 after we had left the South Rim, I reached the North Rim.
The North Kaibab trailhead arrives quickly, without a lot of suspense. One minute you're locked into the relentless upward march, the next you're in a park with a bench and a drinking fountain. And an inch of snow. And Shannon.
He'd been up there about five minutes, he said, and looked great. I had a quick snack, refilled my reservoir, snapped a few pictures and we were away. It was too cold to sit around enjoying the moment.
It felt amazing to be going downhill. And to be running, or something that resembled running. Shannon was a lot better at this than me, and he set the pace. With snow, mud, rocks and pitch, the first few miles of descent were more about tap dancing than running. But The Colonel was a natural, skipping down the trail with grace and purpose. I couldn't hang, sure I'd break an ankle or plunge over the edge.
About a mile down, we met up with Tom and Tim. So that's how I looked on the way up. No wonder people were so concerned. They were 15 minutes away, but we told them they only had five to go. Later, Tom would acknowledge that meeting us was like "seeing angels."
By three miles down, it was still cold and windy, but the snow began to let up. Shannon let me lead. I started to figure out the footing and get a little more oxygen. As the grade became more favorable, I began to take advantage and make some good time. Climbing the North Rim was harder than I had anticipated, but descending was easier. I was really in a good zone.
But, damn, I was hungry. I hated to think about stopping, but after running a full marathon, and with 20 miles to go, I needed calories.
At around 7:30 into the run, I coasted in to Cottonwood Campground to enjoy the pizza I had stashed in my pack. Lots of envious hikers suddenly wanted to be my friends. I could have sold pizza for $100 a slice. But it was worth more than that to me. I gulped three pieces in less than 10 minutes, saving the last piece for "just in case" (and, later, "just in case" would arrive). Man, it tasted good, and recharged me. I pounded the fluids too, as my last "check" indicated that I was running on the edge of dehydration.
Halfway through lunch, Shannon pulled in. He still looked great. He planned to grab a meal then make his way down to Phantom Ranch, where he'd reunite with Tom and Tim. I ran on.
The stretch from Cottonwood to Phantom Ranch offers a nice downhill grade for running, and I did my best to make time. Here, for the first time all day, I saw the sun and, for a moment, it actually felt warm. The warm-up reminded me to keep pounding the fluids and salt tablets, just to be sure.
I hit Phantom Ranch at 9:05.
As I ran into the "village," an older man on the trail was shooting pictures ... pictures of me. And, as I ran past, he started running after me:
You look great. Are you running the rim-to-rim?
I'm running the rim-to-rim-to-rim. Have you ever done it?
I wrote the book.
Well, that certainly got my attention. I didn't know that there was a book.
Now that is something that I'd like to hear more about.
Do you mind if I ask you some questions? I don't want to hold you up, so I'm happy to talk as you run.
I'm going to fill my water at Phantom Ranch. I can give you a few minutes there.