Monday, May 27, 2013

Grand Challenge - Zion

It’s been a busy first half of the year, so it was time for me to get away and do something relaxing.
A few months back, my ultra-running buddy Dane suggested that we go out west to Arizona and run an unofficial version of the Rim-To-Rim-To-Rim “race”.
There’s supposedly an R2R2R race itself, but that isn’t official either, since no one would be able to organize a sanctioned race like this within the national park boundaries. Way too much liability is my guess. You apparently show up, pay some guy to turn on a clock and fire a starter’s pistol. Wait, that almost sounds like my race timing job. 
The idea of R2R2R is to start from either the North or South rim, run to the opposite rim, and back…all in one day.
This grand challenge is roughly 46 miles round-trip over pretty well groomed trails, with a few death-defying ledges for good measure. The vast majority of the challenge lies in getting up and down the six (South) to eight (North) thousand foot rims with limited water support, no aid stations, and a good chance of 90+ degree temps (in May)  for most of the run.

Grand Challenge +
Since I was going to spend three extra days out west before running the Grand Canyon, I decided to test out some equipment and get acclimated to the higher elevations of the area by hanging out at Zion and Bryce Canyon.
I landed in Vegas late on Tuesday night and decided to spend the night in town before making the 3+ hour drive out to Kanab, Utah early the next morning.
I stayed at Circus-Circus and this quickly reminded me how big of a stinking pile of youknowwhat Vegas is. Everything is so artificial and transparent. Vegas is basically one big racket to get people to spend and indulge in their vices, so I quickly got to gambling and drinking before going off to bed with a hooker named Daisy.

The time zone change had me getting up real early the next morning, but I was in no rush to get out the door. I didn’t leave Las Vegas until about 7AM PST, and then took my time driving east towards Kanab, UT. 

I've always enjoyed these long drives out into the desert. Like in ultra-running, it gives you a lot of alone time to dwell on all of your disturbing thoughts, like, I could seriously bury a body out here and no one would find it.
Instead of going straight to my hotel in Kanab, I decided to make a slight detour and put in my first workout of the trip by visiting Zion National Park.
I’ve always heard of the park, but didn’t know what to expect.
A few people told me to check out Angels Landing if I was limited on time, so that was exactly what I planned to do in Zion.
I drove up to the park’s gate, gladly paid the $25 park entrance fee (good for 7 days, right Dane?), and then immediately drove into a mall parking lot on Black Friday.
I guess getting to a national park on a beautiful day at 12PM isn’t a good idea if you plan on finding decent parking.
My only other option was to U-turn out of the park, find street parking in the quaint little town of Springdale, and hop a free shuttle back into the park.
After changing into my “hiking” gear and prepping for a long day of strenuous power walking, I finally got into the park, took the free shuttle, and arrived at the Grotto trailhead by 1PM.

I was a little disappointed when I saw that the initial trail was paved with tourist friendly pavement.
What was all the hoopla about this trail being “very strenuous” and not recommended for people not in good shape?
My mindset quickly changed when I came upon the first of many switchbacks that would eventually lead me to the top of Angels Landing.
The switchbacks and eye-pooping scenery continued throughout the two miles of the 1700 ft climb to the top. A lot of the climb reminded me of the Mt. Washington auto road, minus all of the old Whirlaway runners.

After a solid 45 minutes and two miles of “leisurely” hiking, I was finally at Scout’s Landing, the doorstep to Angels Landing, and final bailout spot for those too weak-in-the-knees to continue <coughbrianshoreycough>.

The infamous climbing chains marks the beginning of the treacherous ascent up to Angels Landing where, according to a prominently displayed sign:

So, of course, I shimmied my way further and further up to each level of Angels Landing.

I finally arrived at the majestic view sitting at 5700 ft, making the arduous climb totally worth the effort and game of death with Death. 

I, of course, then spent the next 20 minutes hanging out on the ledge, texting, and posting pictures to Facebook. Did you really expect something else?

Break in the Action
After Zion on Wednesday, I spent most of Thursday driving back to Vegas to do some shopping at the Adidas outlet, and picking up Ranger Dave at the airport. Apparently, Rangers can lead the way, but they still need to be picked up at the airport by a civilian.
I also realized that what I did was the equivalent of driving from Boston to NYC to pick up a friend. It was all worth it though. Ranger Dave is quite a character to have on a road trip and ultra-run.
Dave is Dane’s long time ultra-running partner in crime. You can’t have Dave without Dane. They come packaged together, wrapped in a layer of bat shit crazy.
There are just too many stories to repeat here, but just take my word when I tell you that they both take the Twinkie when it comes to doing crazy shit together.
Between me, Dave, and Dane, we had enough crazy to fill a few asylums. Put us three together and you’ve got yourself the start of something absolutely amazing.

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