I know what you’re wondering. How do you do a one way traverse of the Grand Canyon when the North Rim is closed? What a great question. Most people wouldn’t pick up on that based solely on the date. Allow me to answer thusly:
Drive to the Grand Canyon
We did this. It took the usual 8.5 hours or so, with us arriving around 5 am (I think) because we had left later than usual from San Diego. The traffic was not better later in the evening. It was not a good idea. Do not do this.
Park at the South Kaibab Pullout
That’s not the real name. There’s a little dirt parking lot just east of the road to Yaki Point where you can park, pee, consume carbohydrates and otherwise get your run started.
We were going to try to run R2R2R for the 1st time. In many ways, this was not a good idea. I doubt Kam was recovered from Leona Divide the previous weekend. I was having some pretty awful insomnia and the drive didn’t help. It was a grumpy morning. Plus, no coffee.
Kam and I stared jogging down the South Kaibab trail just after dawn. It was cold, but beautiful. So was Kam. Don’t tell her.
Strip off Clothing
At Cedar Ridge bathrooms. Really, we should just learn. You never put it on again. Two other runners we met there were doing the same thing.
Run into Mules
Don’t do this. They will win. Seeing our eagerness, the mule guide / lead / honcho / dude / packer / guy pointed to a shortcut and we bypassed the mules easily.
Kick a Rock
Kam did this. I don’t think she had anything against the rock, but the rock had something against her. Namely, rock. It won. Kam squeaked and started herky-jerking down the trail with one hand on her ass and the other up in the air like she’d just found Jesus and explosive diarrhea at the same time.
Talk about Injury
We talked. Kam said she could run it off. This made no sense to me. I tried to explain that “run it off” is what you say to farmers about coyotes, not athletes about actually running. She ran anyway.
Take a Bathroom Break
On the Tonto, we took a moment to assess our situation. I suggested Kam stop before she hurt herself further. She looked at me as if to say, “Don’t you know me?” I did. We ran further.
Deal with Reality
We agreed to part ways. She would amble back to the car so as not to further injure herself. I would keep running and meet back at the car at some vaguely unpredictable time that afternoon. She promised to be good to herself. I did not believe her.
Run to Phantom
I did this because, if you don’t, you get wet. At no point did I feel Fresh and Clean. My legs were already tired. I showed the other runners where to get water (for some reason the canteen tap was off) and then took off into the morning air, feeling a bit lonely but mostly wanting to see if I could set a reasonable time despite feeling grumpy as an alcoholic in a dry county on Sunday.
Embrace the Long Hotness
It got hot. I got sweaty. You’d think those two things were related, but they’re not. My legs were bitchy, and I could feel myself bonking, but nothing sounded yummy. I ran-fast-hiked all the way to Cottonwood. Water was on. I got some. Ate food, and that helped. It really helped, like chocolate with Dementors (too little too late).
By the Pump House / Manzanita, where the climb to the North Rim starts in earnest (I’ve always wondered if Ernest really likes having all those things start in him), I was really not feeling well, but I was determined to not slow down. I forced in food and water. Well, kinda. I nibbled and sipped. There was no force involved, but it was mentally quite impressive.
Eat the Long Hotness
Did I mention it was hot? My legs mentioned it several times. Sometimes, they just need to shut up and climb.
Just after the Bridge in the Redwall, I was feeling pretty done. I ate, but it didn’t seem to help. I was making good time, but it was costing me. I still felt like the round-trip was doable, but it wasn’t going to be all that speedy. There are a lot of buts in this paragraph.
By the Supai Tunnel, my energy was decreasing exponentially. I was breathing too hard. Two oldish dudes I had passed caught up and passed me. This was not good. I crawled behind them to the North Kaibab Trailhead. I asked if they were doing the round-trip. They said Yes. I cursed (but you know, not at them, just internally, in an internal monologue kind of way like, “NOOOOO!!! I wanted a (*&(*&(!! ride back to the South Rim”). One of them looked at me funny. I may have said that out loud. Damn it.
Suck Wind at the North Rim
It was bad. I couldn’t catch my breath or, at least, not as well as I should have. I made it in 6:50 from the South Rim, my best time, but I would have easily made it in closer to six hours with some sleep, breakfast and non-bonkage. As it was, I had no desire whatsoever to go back. I wasn’t sure it was even safe. My body was filing for divorce. I didn’t even want to share custody of the kids. It was ugly.
Walk Not to the Rim Lodge
I started walking up the road to the North Rim lodge to find a phone to call Kam, but not in a straight sort of way. I was lightheaded and meandering a bit. A nice lady on the snowy trail above me stopped with her dog to call down to me, sounding concerned. No phone, she said. No cellphone reception. The lodge is closed. She looked at me a bit longer, and then noted that the Ranger Station might be open. I should try there.
It started raining, blowing and the temperature dropped rapidly. I stood in the road. Why was the lodge closed?
And then I remembered. The waterline had burst and there was no water, and hence no lodge, and hence no people. The entire North Rim was closed. I could not more hitch to Jacob Lake than I could fly to the moon.
It started snowing.
I had no additional clothing other than a light wool hat, light gloves and a nylon windbreaker. I put these on. It did not help. I needed to get off the road, out of the wind and down the trail to warmer climes before I got hypothermic. I headed down the road and back to the trailhead. I wasn’t worried, but I was bummed. If I couldn’t bet my energy back, it was going to be a long, sucky day.
Throw Body in Front of Truck
I didn’t do this, but I might have. Fortunately, the truck stopped. This was just after noon. A very nice older gentlemen asked what the heck I was doing. I asked for a ride. I think my desperation won over his better judgement. I hopped in and we were off. There was a heater. It was magical. It still took me twenty minutes to stop shaking.
Realize How Lucky I Am
Turns out my ride was running the water crew that caravaned water to the North Rim so they could open the lodge. His employees would never have stopped to help me. I had caught literally the only available ride out of the North Rim that day, and done so within 10 minutes of getting there. I enjoyed this moment between chattering teeth. He offered a Coke. It was amazing.
We had to pass through two locked gates to get back to Jacob Lake. It took a while, and we talked about a lot of things He had been a fireman but now setup fire camps and managed logistics. He was a really interesting guy.
After he dropped me at the restaurant, I went inside to warm up, eat, and call Kam. I left her a voicemail, ate a pretty tasty grilled cheese sandwich and fries, and waited for Kam to call back.
Time passed. Someone confirmed that Uber and Lyft did not serve this area. I wen to the bathroom to not pee. I would not pee again until the hotel that night, meaning twelve hours or so without doing so. Might be a problem there. In the bathroom, I noticed why people had been looking at me funny; my face was literally caked in salt. Maybe that’s literal. I’m not 100% sure what “caked” means.
I talked with a nice older gentlemen in the lobby. I ate more. I listed to a group from Poland ask repeatedly at the lodge front desk who they could get to the North Rim, only to be told repeatedly that they could not. This went on for a while. Apparently, they had planned a lot of the trip around this hike and had also not realized that the Rim was not open yet.
The older gentlemen turned out to be part of the Mormon family that owned the lodge. He offered me a room to nap in, and was generally very kind.
I called Kam and left another message and some texts.
No, I told the Polish group, you cannot get to the North Rim now. I was only able to get back due to a fluke. Two cute Polish girls tried to get the secret back road information out of me. I just shook my head.
I went outside and asked random people in the parking lot and at the gas station if they were going to the South Rim. No one was. Some of them looked scared, which was weird, because I had washed off the salt.
I texted Kam again, ate a second meal, and settled in. What was I going to do? I was still a bit cold in my wet kit, and my phone battery was getting low. So I asked the front desk guy if I could bribe someone into giving me a ride back. I’d pay any reasonable amount. To my surprise, he offered to take me after his shift ended around 5 pm. It was about 3:45 pm. I thanked him profusely and went back to the lobby.
The older gentlemen gave me some backstory on the lodge and Mormonism, and waxed a bit political. I nodded politely.
Ride Back to the South Rim
At 5:30 pm or so we drove out of Jacob Lake and began the three hour drive back to the South Rim. We passed through some beautiful rain bands, talked about politics and religion and his dream of working at Disney World. Really, a crazily nice guy who spent a fair amount of time on the phone talking to his brother about video games. With passion. I mean, they were really into video games.
I tried to call Kam again. Nothing. I was now a bit worried about her. There is no reception around Yaki Point, but she could have driven to the Village or Tusayan where there was. Surely, she would not just be waiting in the car? What if I was in real trouble?
I said good-bye to my ride, paid up, and watched him drive off. Kam was sleeping in the car. I knocked on the window. She opened up and asked how my hike was. I was perplexed
Sleep and Drive
We drove to Tusayan, checked into our hotel, and slept. The next day we drove back and Kam iced her butt.
Turns out, she knew she was injured when we parted, but nevertheless she persisted all the way down to Phantom. And then limped all the way back up. She smiled weakly.
Bad, Kam, bad.
Oddly, this wasn’t even close to our worst day at the Grand Canyon.