Thursday, July 3, 2014

Going down is optional, coming back up is mandatory

June 12 ~ 17, 2014
As many of you know, I like adventure.  I like to experience what very few others get a chance to and I'm not talking about extravagance.  This may be placing myself on the top of a mountain to obtain a view that few others have ever seen or going camping with friends.  I've always wanted to see the Grand Canyon up close and in person ever since the first time I flew over it 24 years ago.   This year, for my vacation with my two sons Kendall (18) and Kameron (15), I decided we would venture out to the Grand Canyon and it was such a great experience that I deemed it blog worthy.For many trips, getting there is half the adventure.   I wanted to camp in the Grand Canyon, which included hiking down to the bottom and backcountry camping.  This desire made flying there cost-prohibitive so I decided we would drive.  We put in long days going out and made it in 2-1/2 days.  Arriving in the national park just after lunch on Saturday and setting up camp in the South Rim Mather's campground, we figured out our itinerary and determined that we would venture around the tourist areas of the South Rim for 2 days and then hike down the Canyon for one night.  These 2 days were filled the awe and wonderment the Canyon views have to offer as well as lots of seemingly tame wildlife.  The weather was surprisingly cool in the low 80's with very low humidity during the day and cool 40 degrees at night with a constant breeze.   We had to remember that we were at an elevation of 7500'.
Panoramic looking down from South Rim on Bright Angel Trail and Indian Garden

After spending days in a car, I needed exercise and decided to get up Father's Day morning and go for a run. It was sunrise and I ran from our campsite up to the pathway along the rim of the Canyon.  I ran for some time along the rim heading east into the sunrise.   I came out on a point of the Canyon perfectly facing into the rising sun, did some jumping jacks and pushups and decided to have a seat on the edge and dangle my feet over.  It was an incredibly spiritual and meditative moment and I knew that my Father was there with me enjoying all of God's incredible creations.  I could have sat there for hours in that moment.

Sunday night we packed up most of the camp and got our gear and supplies straightened out for our Trek into the Canyon.  Monday morning I woke the boys up at dawn and we packed up camp.   We parked our car at the Back Country Ranger's office and caught the shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead.  On the bus we met others with same idea.   I remember a kind elderly gentlemen in his 70's was there with his 2 sons and their sons, who looked to be around 8, were heading out on the same adventure to spend 2 nights at the Phantom Ranch. 

I was totally prepared for this adventure and I knew the boys would be able to hang in there with me.  Since this was my big idea, I made sure my pack carried the most gear and was the heaviest.  At 8:15 a.m. we set off down the South Kaibab trail which is about 7.2 miles down to the Bright Angel camping area along the Colorado River.  I had heard this trail was more treacherous but I had no idea what it was truly like.  The descent was steep with incredible views and sheer cliffs off the sides of the trail.  The wind was a constant 40 to 50 mph and you had to hold yourself on the trail the entire time.   At one time we came around the point of a canyon on a switchback trail with a steep dropoff on both sides of the trail. The wind was blowing so hard that it nearly picked us up.  We all 3 dropped and crawled around the trail back into the protection of the canyon.   It was a scary moment.  We took several breaks along the way to enjoy the scenery.   The further we went, I imagined the topography and environment we were in would be much like if we were to hike and explore the surface of Mars.
At the South Kaibab trailhead starting our trek down

There were a few others we would meet along the trail, enjoy a conversation and take turns taking each others pictures.  I remember another couple of old-timers that we ran across a little past the halfway point.  We ended up at the same pull off waiting for a mule train to pass.  These guys were easily in their 70's and looked like they had done this before.  I admired them.  A little farther down the trail we met a lady in her 60's that had stopped to rest.  We got to the last established stopping point before the last major descent down to the river.  This station was a repeater station with an emergency phone.   Here we met a man who was hiking with his father who must've been in his 60's.   They asked if we had seen the older guys and the lady and how far back they were.  They were together but had gotten tired of waiting on them.  I thought that was a pretty shitty move and they set out again, not waiting on the rest of their group.  We took a good long rest hanging out with a squirrel that Kendall named Repeater after the station purpose.

Once we got back on trail we started to see the river and camp getting closer and closer.  The heat was climbing higher and the wind was relentless blowing us and the desert sand.  We looked forward to the opportunity to swim in the frigid river.

We eventually made it to the bottom.  The last half mile into camp includes crossing the river on a footbridge.  The bridge was of substantial steel construction but the wind was so strong that about halfway across the bridge started to twist and move making it hard to even walk straight.   Finally in Camp Bright Angel at The Phantom Ranch, we picked our spot and changed into swimming shorts.  We went straight for the Bright Angel creek that is spring fed out of the side of the North Rim and the water was about 65 degrees but it felt great compared to the 106 air temperature in the bottom of the Canyon, but it's a dry heat.   We then went to the mighty Colorado River.  On the east end of the Canyon, the river is dammed to form Lake Powell.  The river is fed off the bottom of this lake back into the Canyon at about 45 degrees.  By the time it reached our location it might have been a brisk 47.   We all jumped and ran back out.  All you could do is go in enough to cool off but it felt great.  

The point of telling you earlier about the 3 generations we met on the bus in the morning and the elderly people we met on the trail down, was to tell you that the 3 generations we met on the bus never even made it down the Canyon and into camp.  Not sure what happened to them and I told the Rangers about them.  The 2 elderly gentlemen and the older lady that were with the impatient ones finally showed up just before sunset.  My guess is it took them 12 hours to get down the Canyon.  I have no idea how they think they will get out.

One thing about living at one with nature is your body quickly becomes adapted to the day when it is not exposed to artificial light.  When this happens, you go to bed when it gets dark and you get up with the sun.  We experienced this in Costa Rica and it's amazing how good you feel when this happens.  With that, we were asleep around 9:00 that night.  I woke up the next morning just before sunrise and started taking down camp and packing our gear.  I waited til the last minute to wake the boys so we could pack away their tents.  With our water packs filled, we set out the Bright Angel trail to make our ascent to the South Rim.  This trail was to be a little over 9 miles with an elevation change of 5000'.  I originally estimated it would take us around 6 hours, I could not have been more wrong. 

Sunrise through the Canyon was remarkable with all the colors from the different stone formations and types.  The trail was very flat for for the first mile and winded along the River making gradual ascent.  There was a lot of sand on the trail and I remember Kameron saying 'well this is counter-productive' because it felt like you would take a step forward and a half step back.  We finally got around to where the Indian Garden creek meets the Colorado River and the fun began.  This is where we started to climb, and climb, and climb.  A couple miles up there was a great place to take a break and soak our tired hot feet in the cool water.  Something we would die for on the last half of the ascent.

The lower 3 miles of the ascent was canyon covered, blocked from the sun and followed a babbling brook with vegetation.  Even though we were steadily going up, it was enjoyable.  Then around mile 3, the switchbacks started with the major ascent and back up into the desert Canyon.  The heat was building quickly.  I workout constantly and these steep climbs with a 50 lb. pack on my back were getting difficult.  We had to stop often and take breaks in what little shade we could find.  We pushed and pushed and it seemed to be taking forever but we eventually made it to the halfway point, Indian Gardens.  We knew we had come far but I was thinking to myself that 4-1/2 miles today took as much time as it did the day before to go over 7 miles.  We took a long break here, had some lunch and refilled our water.  Our rations were starting to run low and it didn't appear that we would be anywhere near the top for lunch.

So here's where the 'Embrace The Suck' or the 'Spartan The F*** Up' starts.  We were already beat, hot and tired and only halfway to the top.  Kendall was doing great and accepting the fact that we all had a desired end to this adventure and there was only one way to make that happen and we still had around 4-1/2 miles and 3000' of elevation change between us and that desired outcome.  I love this attitude, that's positivity, one form of embracing the suck.  Kameron was a little distressed about the ordeal and having doubts.  He hadn't quite accepted the fact that there was one and only one option out of this.  This wasn't a man-made obstacle that could be maneuvered around.  There was no elevator, we weren't hopping on the back of a mule and there was no 'spawn' point that we could jump to the Rim level from.  These were God's obstacles and those are never trivial.  We were in the middle of the Suck and really wanted out.

We started the second half of the trek up the Canyon.  There are man-made resting areas every 1-1/2 miles from this point forward which meant we had 2 dedicated stops where we could refill water and take a break.  This is a great plan but we were still needing to stop and take breaks a lot more often since we were constantly climbing up.  When we were stuck in switchbacks we would stop a few times and barely cover 1/4 to 1/2 miles at a time.  I was really starting to feel sorry for those pack mules.  We reached what's called the 3-mile House, this is 3 miles down from the top, and we took a long break.  People started asking us where we were coming from because we had these huge packs on.  After they had come down 3 miles, they were amazed at what we were accomplishing.

We set off to the next destination and the last full stop, the 1-1/2 mile house.  Kameron had actually been drinking too much water along the way and with the elevation change and stressed breathing, he had actually started to vomit water.  We were taking breaks more often and I was making sure he wasn't getting dehydrated.  Lots of breaks were had along the way and we finally made it to the 1-1/2 mile house.  The top of the Canyon was looking closer and closer yet still seemed so far away and straight up.  With every stop, we refilled our water reserves and soaked our shirts, hats and shamogs to keep us cool.  

Step after step, break after break, we finally made it to the top, 9 hours later.  There was no finish line, and nobody putting a medal around your neck.  Just the chance to turn around and look at one of the greatest obstacles in the world and know that you just did that.  One of the greatest things that my sons learned on this adventure is the resetting of their threshold.  The rewiring and reconfiguring of their brains with a whole new understanding and appreciation of their own abilities and weaknesses.  We all have a top level of our comfort zone.  Your threshold for pain and discomfort is not as low as you may think it is.  As young men growing up in the 2000's with all the comforts they could ever want for, the worst thing that could have happened to them would be to go without air conditioning or lose their electronics for a week.  Now they truly know what they are capable of and I'm sure they are even more confident now that they could accomplish so much more.  What was once their upper limit of how much they could endure has been reset and raised and we are all better because of it.  We didn't die, our bodies did not fall over or quit on us and even though our minds wanted to trick us into giving up several times, we overcame that and our minds ultimately kept us going.  Live by the creed; Your body will stop when it falls over, until then, the only thing stopping you is your mind.

At the start of every trailhead leading down into the Canyon there is a sign that reads; CAUTION! Down is optional. UP IS MANDATORY.  Heed this and be prepared.

The Grand Canyon gets around 4.5 million visitors per year.  Only 5% of those visitors even attempt to venture below the rim.  2% of the visitors to the Canyon receive backcountry overnight permits.  Many of these only go as far as Indian Garden.  This puts us in the category of between 1% and 2% of the annual visitors to the Grand Canyon ever complete what we just did.  In addition to these statistics, it's important to note that there are on average 300 search and rescue incidents every year in the Grand Canyon, 1200 medical incidents and 10~15 deaths.  This was an incredible, lifetime experience and accomplishment that I am so glad to have achieved with my sons.  I'm so proud of them.

Grand Canyon statistics.

Monday, June 9, 2014

To Pre-Register or Not To Pre-Register? THAT is the question.

So we've all been burned at one time or another with this whole 'pre-register' ploy from events.  What they are doing is using this as a gauge as to whether or not they will lose their ass if they come to your state and put on an event.  Are they really that unsure of themselves?  Is their event really that bad that they aren't even sure if they can break even?  Maybe they should just leave the business all together and leave it to the professionals.  Most of these events don't even give dates or locations as to when the proposed event might happen.

Spartan Race has a requirement that any event obtain approximately 10,000 pre-registrations before they will commit to it.  If you look at the current Spartan Race schedule for 2015, there are no events that you can actually register for.  Every event for 2015 is currently under pre-registration.  Really?  It's halfway through 2014 already!

How exactly are people supposed to plan their personal event schedule when Spartan won't commit to their fans?  Does Tough Mudder do this?  NO!  There is currently only 1 event for Tough Mudder listed as 'pre-register' and it's for Tokyo.  I may not be the biggest fan of Tough Mudder, because of the outrageous cost, but they know how to run a business and run it well.  They know how to take care of their customers and it shows.  They consistently sell out venues with anywhere from 8000 to 15000 participants and almost always run the event for the entire weekend.  They only have one style of event and that's what they deliver to their fans.  Tough Mudder will create their schedule 1 year in advance, and if the event is successful, you can register for the following year the day of the current event.  So why doesn't Spartan do this?  Is this the Reebok influence?  Where's the commitment to the Spartan fan base?  In addition to this poor organization, there are parts of the country starving for attention from Spartan while Tough Mudder spreads the love all over.  Following are maps of Spartan and Tough Mudder locations.  While it may appear that Spartan covers quite a bit of the country, keep in mind that they have 3 level of events and are constantly promoting their trifecta.  If your were to remove the Super (blue) and Beast (green) placemarks on the map, you would see there are areas of the country starving for attention.  Even worse is if you remove the Sprint (red) placemarks.  You run a Sprint and then Spartan is shoving the trifecta carrot out in front of you but the closest Super or Beast could be 8 to 20 hours or more away.

Spartan 2014 event map

2014 Tough Mudder Event Map

I say we take a stand against this tactic from all events and refuse to pre-register.  If you don't get a Spartan, or Superhero, or other national event in your state, it's really no big deal because there are hundreds of local events that tend to be much better than any of the travelling circus acts.  If you need to find one, remember to look under the Event Maps section of our website.!event-map/c20kb

If everyone refuses to pre-register for any 2015 Spartan Race, what will they do?  Will they quit having races?  I seriously doubt that.  Take a stand, unite in one common voice against this practice and don't pre-register.  I guarantee your voice will be heard and Spartan will be forced to change their ways.