by Mike Smith
Flagstaff Day 5 began early when my alarm went off at 1:30am. The reason? We were headed up to the Grand Canyon so one of my former athletes could run what’s known as the R2R2R, meaning from Rim to Rim to Rim, a 45 mile endeavor most people aren’t crazy enough to envision. But not Elizabeth. For her, the R2R2R was the lynch pin to our trip two years ago before covid, and at that time we had another friend who was the similar amount of crazy set up to go. Two years later it will be a solo adventure for her.
We arrived at the trailhead at 4:15am, in the dark. When I say dark, it was pitch dark. A little nervous to descend the steepest trail in the park, Elizabeth was thinking of waiting for the sun to poke it’s head up a bit, but a threesome of trail runners whipped into the parking lot and promptly got things underway so Elizabeth decided with a group in front of her she’d set off. With any luck we’d meet her back here in about 12 hours.
With more than two hours before we could get some breakfast before setting out on our own, we changed locations to the Bright Angel trailhead, where our day’s adventure would take place. Looking to get a few hours of shut eye, we curled up in the Kia Soul and tried to get some sleep.
While sleep didn’t come to me, the others got an hour or so extra before we made our way to breakfast. After fueling with a breakfast burrito and a coffee, we got ready for our 9+ mile adventure down the Bright Angel trail. The plan was to descend more than 3000 vertical feet, rehydrating at Indian Gardens, then turn things around and make back the 3000 feet in 4.5 miles. While I can say I ran every mile down to Indian Gardens, I probably only ran 1.5 miles of the return journey, reverting to power walking for the rest. Needless to say I reached the rim, hot, dehydrated, and overall gassed. Considering my furthest run in 7 months had been this week’s Hangover trail run, getting almost ten with twice the vertical of Hangover, I thought it was a pretty good day. The tiredness was well earned, as was the meal about 90 minutes later.
After lunch we knew we had 2 to 4 hours until Elizabeth’s return to the rim. While she had gone out and gotten a satellite phone/tracker, once she got below 4000 feet of elevation we were not in any sort of communication with her. We did know she had reached the North rim and started down in 7 hours, but with more than 23 miles still to go and no communication, we were left to guess when she’d be back. Thankfully when she finally got back above 4000 feet, we received signal and could begin to contemplate her finish. I guessed she’d be done by 6:30pm and thought she might be out by 6:15pm. She ended up splitting the distance, finishing at 6:23pm, just under 14 hours since we dropped her off. She was extremely tired, the heat really playing the biggest factor on this one.
We hopped in the car for the 90 minute ride home, ordered some dinner which was scarfed down, and promptly set about prepping for some well earned sleep. It’s hard to imagine how tired I was, completing my adventure in three hours while Elizabeth was out there for 14 hours, covering five times as much distance as I. I am humbled to be her former coach and her friend.