92 miles & 22k of vert in the Canyon was swell... but the Grandest part was the People!✊?❤️
The plan was to start at 4AM Friday morning from South Kaibab and head back and forth to and from North Kaibab. Unfortunately come time we had no luck finding a ride to the trailhead and didn’t dare burn time trying to find nearby parking. So we decided to head down Bright Angel. A part of me hated the idea of running nearly 100 miles in the canyon without touching ground on this great trail, not to mention this is also the route I attempted last year in which I bailed early on my self-supported adventure. But it does also add several additional miles, so my feelings were mixed at this point. But hey, we’re running in the Grand Freaking Canyon!?
Josh Welch, Andrew Kretzmann and myself made our way into the dark depths of the massive canyon, adrenaline undoubtedly blazing. There was NOTHING I could do to keep my heart rate low. I gave up on trying a short time later. The long windy switchbacks were littered with gleaming lights, most of those people embarking on their own rim to rim adventures. A pit stop would ultimately separate Josh, Andrew and I for good and now I found myself alone. This first huge descent was taxing but fortunately the legs and knees didn’t feel too beat up, and by the time I passed over the river and entered Phantom Ranch all was feeling groovy! A quick water stop at PR was warranted, then I was back on my way! The sun had just come up and now I could start to see the fine detail of this majestic place. So fun! Several more miles clicked by and the realities of the 75+ remaining miles started to set in. I was going to be out here a LONG time with still 22k of climbing in front of me. I started to feel fear and doubt. Just as soon as I began reevaluating my decision to be here, little Crystal ‘Mountain Goat’ McGee comes absolutely CRUSHING down the canyon. Talk about an instant shot of inspiration, adrenaline and confidence! Crystal had set out on her own quad-crossing adventure from the North Rim and was feeling fresh. We chatted for a quick minute before continuing on our ways. If all went right we would cross paths 3 more times! A short time later I’d run into the Bradley’s, a total Power Couple taking on an R3! I began heading up the North rim feeling jacked up (the good kind) and knew I had a couple buddies Eric Lewis & Joseph Bradshaw set to join me for crossings #2 and #3. That fact alone basically carried me up the 6,000 feet of mountain! As I came up to the North Kaibab trailhead and rounded the corner... WHO IS THAT!?!? Kevin FREAKING Brown, in the flesh! The dude (who has some significant life changes taking place in a few weeks) DROVE down from Ogden Utah on a whim to surprise me and join the run. What a stud! I literally get teary eyed thinking of the gesture. Next to him was Eric, Joe and Scott. I demanded hugs from all, including Scott whom I had never met? and quickly refueled and away we went! Honesty, I was so pumped to have these guys with me that I felt as fresh as I had when I first started with Josh and Andrew. As we made our way down NK I found myself pulling everyone back in between the chit chatting and laughs. “Sorry guys, I’ve gotta slow up”. “Sorry guys, I’ve gotta walk these hills” we’re common remarks by me. I could tell of all of us, Young Joe was full of fire and could have just shot off like a rocket. He was constantly the leader of the pack and I’d joke by asking “Who let that guy back in front?”? SO AWESOME!
A short time later we had another crossing with Crystal and she was just flying! So cool! We hit Phantom Ranch for another pit stop and before we knew it we were staring up the lengths of the massive South Kaibab trail. This sucker scales 5,000 feet over just 7 miles. It is fully exposed to the sun light and there is NO WATER until the top. Fearless Joe led the way of course and before too long there was separation amongst us. We ran where we could but it was mostly power hiking. If we could rattle off a sub 20 split we were elated! The familiarity I had from just a couple weeks earlier served me well. Never once was I fooled by the never ending windiness of the trail. I only thought we were near the top, when we were actually near the top. Total score! As we looked down SK we could see Eric a ways back, and Kevin was nowhere in sight. All of us were low or completely out of fluids. I popped off my vest by the water and as I bent down to grab my bottle cramps shot up my glute and back. I immediately stopped, straightened up and tried again only to experience the same result. Great. I’m supposed to be halfway through this run and I’m already cramping up? To worsen the matter Joe and I were both completely out of electrolyte drink. Straight up water has never bode well with me in the past. What to do... I said a silent prayer asking God to PLEASE let me finish this run. I drank a Hotshot and began scouring the trailhead for help. There was a guy named Dave Leveque from Colorado I had just met as we finished SK. He was laying at the trailhead as if he was dying, rightfully so as he had just completed an R3! So of course I figured I’d go ask him if he had any electrolyte drink he could spare ??♂️. Without hesitation he gave me 2 Nunn tablets. I literally felt like someone had just handed me 2 golden nuggets. An absolute answer to my prayer! As Joe and I prepped to head back into the canyon, Eric emerged- out of water with a fine layer of salt covering his skin. He was not doing well and indicated he was going to take a minute, so off we went. A short time later we met back up with Kevin, and he was ready to head back with us. I didn’t feel great as we began the descent, but with every mile I felt better and better. Kevin put on some jams and it was a party again!? Several miles down Kevin indicated he’d be dropping off. But long and behold he held on for a couple more. A couple miles after that he made the same indication. But STILL held out for a couple more miles! He was taking it “one song at a time” as he later told us. Then the moment came and he did have to drop off.
Now it was just me and young Joe. Look at this kid! Total stud! Still going strong, still having to hold back for me. And now, HE was my absolute fearless leader. As we returned to Phantom Ranch we were in a similar situation... out of fluids and zero electrolyte drink. Once again I searched right and left for an Angel. This time it was Leslie Astle from the Golden State. She was prepping to begin her R3 home stretch up Bright Angel, and she GRACIOUSLY shared a bag of tailwind and 2 sticks of liquid IV! WOW!!! Joe of course declined to take any leaving it all for me and my journey. Such selfless acts!? As we headed away from PR I knew that these next 15 miles would make or break my chance at an FKT. One more ascent up NK would leave 15 miles of downhill followed by a 7 mile Death March up SK and at that point the light would be at the end of the tunnel. So I just had to get up this mountain! The sun was now setting and before we knew it it was dark. The massive canyon walls were illuminated by the glow of the moon which we couldn’t actually see. It was crazy! Miles continued clicking by... 56, 57, 58, 59... at this point we felt certain Crystal had called it after her first crossing. We hadn’t seen her a third time and now we were less than 10 miles from the top of NK. I felt bad. I knew she wanted it bad and I felt a little guilt for playing a part in putting her up to this. Surely she would feel disappointment the following day, maybe week, and maybe year if she’s like the rest of us runners. Suddenly appeared two lights coming down the mountain! Maybe, just maybe it is her and Scott? It wasn’t. We carried on now just 8 miles from the top. Joe was starting to hunch over on the climbs as we walked and indicated he was dealing with a bit of discomfort. Then out of nowhere came one and then two lights. Could it be? YES, it WAS Crystal! She looked to be moving slow. When asked how she was feeling she indicated she was feeling pretty thrashed. She calmly asked how I was doing, how Joe was doing before carrying on her way. Thrashed with 36 more miles and 11k of climbing ahead of her? And going after it? What. A. STUD! Following that short exchange I was spilling over with inspiration. I told Joe it was now or never and we needed to start pushing where we could, so we did. I watched Joe push through a lot of pain for the next 4-5 miles before handing me the key to the car “just in case”. Then I was alone thinking about everyone in the canyon also alone, pushing themselves to the brink. We were all alone which in my mind truly made us united as one. I made it to the NK trailhead shivering. Trying to avoid putting on my warm shirt, I tried my best to restock and recharge but ended up wasting way too much time before submitting to the freezing temps and throwing on my thermal. I thought I’d be stoked to make it to the top but with so many friends deep in the canyon I really just wanted to get back down there and see where everyone was at and how they were doing. So on my way I went. Within a few minutes I came across Joe and he was doing well. A quick key handoff and knucks and we continued. A few miles after that I ran into Eric... He had planned on making some purchases at PR only to find them closed when he got there. So he had to make the final push with basically nothing but water. It probably doesn’t help hat he raced a REALLY HARD 50 miler just a couple weeks earlier. TOTAL STUD, getting it done! Not even a mile later I ran into Kevin who was looking surprisingly good and indicated he felt “the best he had in a long time” whatever that means?! Another big time Stud, GETTING IT DONE! A part of me wishes I had some stories of drama in the last 15 miles but there just wasn’t. I was SO INSPIRED by everyone’s amazing efforts that I felt great and felt like I just had to give it my best to do these awesome friends of mine proud.
By now it was well after midnight and all was quiet. I was maybe 5 miles from the end wondering if I could possible catch Crystal on SK and share some miles. NOT EVEN CLOSE. Here she came looking as fresh as ever, feeling good. She was confident and I was yet again inspired! JUST INCREDIBLE! It was fun nearing the top as other groups were beginning their rim to rim treks. Everyone so awesome and genuinely excited for me as I was for them. It was bitter sweet when I made the last turn onto the rim. It was hard and I was glad it was over, but I immediately wanted more of all I had felt that day. A true junkie I am. I am so SO grateful for all the friends I’ve been blessed with that came out in support, as well as those of you that have trained with me, called me, texted me, and cheered for me along the way. So grateful for a healthy body that allows me to do these crazy things. So grateful for a God that is mindful of our insignificant desires and lovingly watches over us and supports us. No doubt in my mind he was there with all of us in that canyon! And last but not least I’m grateful for a supportive wife that carries a significant burden always, especially when I’m away. I left the canyon inspired to be a better friend, a better supporter, a harder worker and a better Father.
Michael!!! total stud! It was very inspiring to meet you and see you a few times on the lonely trail. It was cool to be in that big ditch looking for lights in the night hoping it was someone we knew. You had such an incredible attitude that was contagious. This was an enormous feet for both you and Crystal. I am humbled to be a tiny part of the crew. You rocked this big ole hole and left your name on the wall. Thanks for your little words of encouragement!