Wednesday, November 4, 2015

7 Days & 6 Nights

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love’ -Aurelius

Another morning waiting for the alarm to go off, laying in bed not sleeping.  I had strung a few of these nights together recently.  First there was the excitement of Friday’s win capped off by Maya Moore’s buzzer beating shot in Indy. 

That was followed by a night spend tossing and turning after a missed opportunity to clinch the title in game 4 and now on this Wednesday morning I lay staring at the ceiling waiting to hear Ali’s alarm go off.  The excitement, the unknown of a game 5.  No matter what happened tonight, win or lose the season was over.  This long ride I’d been on since the beginning of June calling every game, home, road, preseason, playoffs.  It ended tonight one way or another.

There was an air of excitement at shoot-around, a focused Lynx team went over Indy’s sets again, at this point knowing them probably as good as the Fever themselves.
They answered the same media questions they’ve been answering for the past two weeks, and finally after a long afternoon it was game time.
Both teams got off to slow starts, just battling as you would expect with two teams that by now are playing for the seventh time this season.  At the half MN led 27-21 after their defense held Indy to just 4 second quarter points.
In the 3rd the Lynx hit the gas, Head Coach Cheryl Reeve and her staff always preach about finding those moments of separation.  Well the Lynx found one and pulled away to win their 3rd WNBA Championship in the past 5 years.  Afterwards I was backstage watching the players and coaches celebrate, thinking how happy I was for all of them.  It had been a long season with tons of ups and downs and yet this team found a way to accomplish their goal.  Coming together and playing their best on the biggest stage.  Nothing had been easy and it was fun to see the smiles on everyone’s faces at what they had accomplished.  I kept thinking to myself, how lucky am I to not only get to call this game but to be back here and join in the celebration.

At the party afterwards in downtown Mpls, shortly after head Coach Cheryl Reeve had doused me with champagne, word came out that Prince, who had attended the game, had invited us out to his Paisley Park Studio for a personal show.  It was already nearing midnight, I was exhausted and had a big weekend coming up with the Wild Duluth race and then a pretty ambitious hike in the Grand Canyon.  I told Ali I didn’t think I was going to go…I was tired…Ali said ‘You are going to that show for both of us!  This is a once in a lifetime experience you go!’

So I hitched a ride out there and walked into Prince mid-jam session on stage with a few others playing a full on show to less than 100 members of the Lynx team and organization.  The players loved it, dancing well in to the night as Prince played past 4am.
Ali was right it was a once in a lifetime experience and I woke her up at 4am to tell her all about it…Prince shredded and I love it!  Had no idea what to expect but again found myself telling Ali ‘I am the luckiest guy ever!’

The next day was a rough one though, I had to work for a little bit to get ready for the Championship parade and rally on Friday, also had to pack for the Wild Duluth race and my trip to the Canyon as I would be leaving right from Duluth.
 Got a call that afternoon from our PR manager saying that I was invited to breakfast at the Governor’s residence Friday morning if I wanted to tag along…well of course I did!  Can’t pass up an opportunity like that, so in addition to my running gear, hiking gear, parade and rally gear…I would also be bringing a suit with me that  morning.
We took a bus over there, had a complete breakfast of salmon lox, quinoa/kale salad and cake…to go along with the coffee, all before 10am. 

It was a really cool experience to be in the Governor’s residence, just a few weeks earlier I had run by there as part of my solo running of the Twin Cities Marathon.  Plus my mom works on a committee to decorate the inside so I finally got a chance to see what she and her crew work so hard on.
After that it was back to Target Center to change into parade clothes and then to the parade start.  I found my car, a red convertible driven by one of my co-workers….he claims he can drive a stick but may have met his match with that car. 

We stalled out a few times as the parade got started, but I didn’t worry, it’s gotta be hard trying to drive a stick at like 5-10 mph.  But as we got closer to 7th street, where the big crowds were, I started to smell something burning.  I looked at the front of the car and smoke was billowing out from under the hood.  The cops who were policing the parade noticed too and told my driver ‘You gotta get that thing off the road!’ so he gunned it, nearly dumping me off the back in the process, and we ‘won the parade’ by being the first car to Target Center. 

After the parade there was a big Rally at the arena that I had the chance to host.  It was a blast, up on stage in front of all the cheering fans getting to interview the players and coaches was so much fun.  Again, standing off to the side by the 3 Championship Trophies while the video montage played I was able to take a look around and think ‘Good golly am I a lucky dude!’ 

Once that wrapped I grabbed a quick lunch with my parents before hitting the road for Duluth.
I was meeting my buddies Mitch and Andy up there with plans to run the Wild Duluth 100K.  I had wanted to do this race for a while and had run the 50K a few years back but on a vastly modified course due to flooding and was excited that we were back on mostly the original course.
But I was also gassed…it had been a long week, a longer month and a really long summer.  I had not gotten in the type of training I wanted to for this event, and honestly had added it only about a month before when it became clear we just were not going to be able to make the Zion Traverse happen.
Earlier in the year I had a similar experience with the Afton 50k, added it late was under trained and tired, and had to bail posting my first DNF.  That one ate me up because I knew I could have finished but just was out of gas. 

Going into this one, I was out of gas and I knew it.  But I still wanted to run, wanted to spend a day away from arenas, computers, the indoors.  Wanted to get out in the woods and see the fall colors, run with my friends, just enjoy the day not matter what happened.
I came to this race with no expectations and my only goal was to be able to fly to PHX the next day and then kick off our Grand Canyon adventure.
So after a funny and awkward dinner (thanks to our very strange waiter) we crashed at the hotel laughing at how ‘Guys weekend’ had changed…into bed by 10 and up at 430 rather than the other way around.  

The plan was Mitch and I run through 42 miles, Andy meets us and pace us to the end.  That was the plan.  We started in the dark, it was cold but not unbearable, clear skies as we headed out following our headlamps up the hill away from Bayfront Park, caught the sunrise over the city on the ridge and then buckled in as we rolled towards the turnaround.
The first couple of aid stations flew by, then we hit a stretch that wasn’t that long in terms of miles but with leaves all over the trail we were stumbling, kicking rocks and roots and constantly having to stop and look around to see if we were still on the trail.  Eventually we made it through that section and ended up back on top of the ridges headed towards Ely’s Peak with beautiful sweeping views of the St. Louis River heading towards Lake Superior.

We hit the 20 mile mark feeling good, chatted with Andy and then headed out.  The next two sections were familiar as we’d run and hiked over them many times in the past few years.  Some ups and downs but a decent amount of runnable sections and then the mountain bike section.  Tons of rollers so you felt like you were constantly going up or down and it was exhausting.  On a bike it would have been awesome but having to charge these little hills and then not get much momentum on the other end was mentally frustrating and physically draining.

Somewhere in this section Mitch mentioned he was not feeling it today.  He had a huge summer, running hard at a number of Ultra’s and posting some amazing times.  I was really excited for him and the job he did and could totally understand if he was spent.  I too was pretty beat after my week but was having so much fun enjoying the sun, woods and friends.
We hit the turnaround in about 7 and a half hours and Mitch decided that was enough for him. I had told him earlier that I would be fine bailing too, I was thinking ahead to my trip to the Grand Canyon and the 40+ miles we planned on hiking with 40lb packs on our backs and thought sometimes you gotta live to fight another day.

But I felt so good and was having so much fun that I told Mitch I wanted to get at least another 10 in.  So he waited for Andy, I headed out and would see them in a few hours.  
Leaving Mitch was hard over the years the two of us have gotten each other through some tough runs and pushed each other in others and I don’t think I ever would have gotten out of the Grand Canyon in our Rim to Rim to Rim attempt if it wouldn’t have been for his great attitude.
But I knew he was fine, not hurt and had a ride coming so instead I just settled into a steady run back through the mountain bike rollers, up on the ridges, down the ravines, surprised at how good I felt and how strong I was still running.

My mind drifted to the summer.  It had not been an easy one, my schedule did not match up with Ali’s at all.  It seemed like every time I was home she was gone and when she was home I was on the road.  We had survived it and in the long run will be better for it not doubt but it hadn’t been easy.  But at the same time the ride of calling a championship season and series that went the full five games was a blast and literally a dream come true.  From the days of dreaming calling professional basketball to actually getting to do it, it was a trip!

Eventually I made my way back to the aid station where I was going to meet Mitch and Andy and as I rolled in felt that I was good.  I had accomplished what I set out to do, have a fun day running in the woods, racked up roughly 43 miles, and I still felt good which was awesome.  I wanted to keep feeling good and be ready to roll at the Canyon so I went to the officials and told them I was ‘Opting for the short course’ and we headed back to shower and get some grub at Fitgers.
Once again we crashed early and the following day I was the only one to rise early as I had a flight to catch.  It was so cold in Duluth that night I had to scrape frost off my car at 7am the next morning.  Fueled up with a coffee and hit the road, rolling into my parent’s driveway a little after 930.  Hopped out, tossed some of my left over running food into my hiking pack and then tossed that into the Pilot.  Said a quick hello/goodbye to my Mom who would be heading to Paris the next day, then my dad drove me to the airport where I caught a flight to PHX.

I landed in PHX to 90 degree temps, a far cry from the windshield scraping I had to do that morning.  Met my buddy Matt and his son and we headed to Matt’s place.  Due to storms ripping through the Canyon that afternoon/evening we opted to stay at his place and then head up early Monday morning.
That was just fine with me, another night in a real bed to help my legs recover and try to get caught up on some sleep.
We were on the road a little after 4 the next morning, jamming Bruce Springsteen, swapping stories of adventures we’d had since the last time we saw each other.  Recounting our trip to the Canyon last fall and the epic games of Uno.
Watched the sun rise over the walls of rock that line the road leading to Grand Canyon National Park and at 8am had parked at the Tanner trail head on the east end of the south rim.  We got out of the truck to a roaring wind and freezing temps.  Both of us pulled out our rain coats, hoods up to keep us warm as we loaded our packs and got ready to drop in.  The wind was incredible, similar to what Ali and I experienced our first trip to the river and back.  It just assaults you from every angle and it whips around.

We loaded up and dropped in and as soon as we made it through the first switchback and were below the rim, the wind dropped completely.  I don’t mean it was a light wind, I mean there was no wind at all and it was warm again.  So we stopped to shed our jackets and long sleeve shirts before continuing towards the river.
The Tanner trail is challenging, it’s a primitive, unmaintained trail with a lot of huge steps up, down, over and around rocks.  You rely a lot on your trekking poles and balance and like many trail runs, it’s hard to go fast but easy to get out of control.  So we took our time, following the trail to Stegosaurs Rock and stopping to look west towards Mather point the classic Grand Canyon viewing point.

After that roughly thousand foot drop we had some level terrain for a while as we wound along the buttes in front of Desert View Watchtower and finally turned north at the top of the red wall and caught our first glimpses of the river.

Until Mitch, Greg and I ran the Rim to Rim to Rim in the spring of 2014 I had never been to the Grand Canyon.  I don’t know that I’d ever even seen if from a plane.  When we looked down into it that first time I was shocked at how much as going on.  I had thought it was pretty straight forward, a canyon wall, the river, another wall.  I had no concept of the buttes, mesas and slot canyons that make up the Grand Canyon.  There is nothing straightforward about it.
It was beautiful in its chaos, the most beautiful place I had ever seen.  I remember hearing it once referred to as ‘God’s Playground’ because like a child’s sandbox it was constantly changing due to the wind, water and other elements.

A week after R2R2R, Ali and I had gone down to the river and back out on the corridor trails, taking our time and I got to see it from a whole new perspective.  It literally was always changing, the canyon walls change colors as the sun moves across or water falls on them.  The river can go from bright green to chocolate milk and back again, the walls look like layer cake, the green shale layer, the red wall, the white frosting layer.  It never ceases to take my breath away and my buddy Matt is a great guide.  He loves the Canyon more than anyone I know and has a ton of knowledge of the history not only of the nature side of it, but also of the trails we would be on.

We had gone this way last fall when we camped along the Escalante Trail, but on this trip we had ambitions of making it to the confluence of the Colorado and the little Colorado.  It was a serious under taking and everything had to go right for us to get there and get back to the airport in time for me to catch my flight back.

We made it through the red wall, worst part of the trail as Matt likes to say, and then hit the long, sloping green shale section.  The last part before we would hit the river.  The sun was on top of us and warm now despite the menacing clouds to the west. 
This section is just a quad crusher, it’s a constant slope forward and to the right, with loose gravel underfoot that makes you slip and slide the whole way down.  Matt liked to recite a line from the trail guide that described this section as ‘Piling on to an already weary hiker…’  So we slipped and slid our way down until finally reaching the wash that led to Tanner Rapid and the river.

From there we had to find the Beamer trail that would continue east along the river towards the confluence, roughly another 3 miles to our campsite.  After a few starts and stops (trail guide said it was along the river but turns out it was actually above the river for the first section following some bluffs and rock outcroppings) we found it and followed the cairns until they dropped us into some tamarisk and from there it was route finding all along the river.

It’s amazing to be that close to the Colorado it’s such a massive river and you think how far it travels, how Powell and his crew ran it totally blind back in the day.  Today, after the recent rains, it was running a chocolate milk brown.  As Matt said ‘Too thin to plow but too thick to drink’ that was a great description of it.  We were right next to it for stretches and you get to see how fast it moves, the eddies that crop up along the shore, the power and sound of the rapids. 

We talked about the river, the dams, how we can help to keep this area wild.  There was talk recently of putting a gondola from the rim to the river and carting people that way.  Both Matt and I had signed petitions against it, he even posted comments in a public forum against it and as of now those talks had been tabled.  But the next big issue, and one that has not been tabled, is a huge development just south of the main entrance to the park that would put a huge stress on this environment.  Sometimes there are places that should just be left alone.  Places that should remain difficult to get to, places that make you work to enjoy them.  This, in my opinion, was one of those places.  If you want to experience the Grand Canyon in this way, you need to be fully committed to doing so and putting the effort in.

We eventually found a campsite, really cool little spot tucked under some sweeping trees that we dubbed ‘The Secret Garden’ after the Boss song.  Set up our tents and then set about getting water.
We gathered our bottles and went to the closest wash and attempted to use the new UV filter I had…well bad news, the water was way too thick and cloudy for the UV pen to work.  We thought with the pre-filter it would clear it enough to make it useable but with the recent runoff there was no way it was cutting through there.  Luckily we had iodine pills so after filtering out as much sand and dirt as we could loaded up a few bottles for the next day.

As we were working on the water a rafting party pulled over to the other side of the river from our campsite a couple hundred yards away.  We waved and then a few minutes later saw a kayak leave their site and head over to our side of the shore.  We didn’t think anything of it but saw a guy get out on the shore with something in his hands and wander around.  We couldn’t for the life of us figure out what he was doing and then it struck Matt.  Rafting parties will sometimes share beers with hikers as a sign of goodwill.  Maybe this guys had some beers!  So Matt took off like he was shot out of cannon.  Bushwhacked through the tamarisk and found the guy, returning with 4 of the muddiest, most amazing Modelo’s I’ve ever tasted.

While he was doing that I was gathering up the water and noticed huge dark clouds to the south seemingly headed our way.  We booked back to our site, the sky started to spit but under the cover of our trees we barely got wet.  We cooked up dinner and then decided to boil some water too so that we could save the Iodine for our trek to the confluence the next day. 

After a few games of Uno (my previous canyon dominance was nowhere to be seen this trip, I blame it on the fact that we were not using real Uno cards but ‘Cars’ branded ones) we crashed to the most glorious sleep I have ever had.  

The plan was to be on the trail by 6am the next day so alarms were set for 5.  We would pack everything up but just bring day packs to the Confluence then come back grab the bigger packs and head to Tanner to sleep before climbing out the following day at 3am to get me to the airport.
Sometime in the middle of the night the skies we had been seeing all day opened up and we got dumped on.  Thunder and rain rolled through in two different batches, peppering our tents through the trees.  It was so nice to hear it and just bury myself deeper into my sleeping bag, warm and dry.
My alarm sounded at 5am and I popped awake, stuffing my bag and pad into their stuff sacks and then hollered over to Matt.  He let me know it was still raining and recommended we hold off a little bit.  I had been so excited to get going I hadn’t even noticed the rain.  So I laid back down in my tent and drifted off, around 6am Matt woke me up and we went out to check the skies.  The storms had stopped but there was another round coming behind, you could see it descending the south rim and heading our way.

We crawled back into our tents as the rain began to spit and debated our options.  We had set a hard turnaround time to make sure we made it back to Tanner before it got dark and this delay was eating into it.  The rain spattering on the tent eventually caused me to drift off again and when it finally stopped around 730 we again discussed our options.  We felt like guys on Everest who are so close to the Summit but because of the turnaround time are unable to make it. 

In addition to the timing, the next 5 miles to the confluence was on ridges along the canyon walls and we didn’t really know what they would be like after all this rain.  So finally at 8am with our time goal pretty much sunk we decided instead to pack up and head all the way back out.  One day after 13 miles down, we’d jam out 13 miles back out.  Camping at Tanner and doing some day trip exploring would have been fun too but heading out at 3am in the pouring rain was not something either of us felt like doing.

So we packed up and headed out, the path we followed the day before had become a stream forcing us to the side for long stretches.  It was disappointing not to make it all the way there, especially for Matt who had been eyeing this hike for nearly 10 years.  In the end though we knew we made the smart, and safe decision.   We used the last of the iodine at Tanner Rapid and began the slog back up that sloping green shale layer.

After that it was heads down, powering through the red wall and rewarding ourselves with some tuna fish and an amazing view of where we had come.  Then belted in for the long rolling trail on the buttes in front of Desert View and when we hit Stegosaurus rock we looked to the west and our jaws dropped.  Black thunderheads with sheets of rain pouring down into the canyon.  Not what we had wanted to see as we had been lucky to stay dry so far, lots of dark clouds moved in and out over us so far this day but what we were looking at now would not be much fun.
We planned on taking a break there but suddenly both felt fresh enough to attack the final climb hoping to make it out before getting soaked.

Again we got lucky, the clouds moved straight over to the north rim and as we climbed they gave us one of the most beautiful sunsets ever.  Sometime around 6pm we climbed back out, popping above the rim like a couple of gophers.  We were dirty, exhausted, but smiling at the effort and how much fun it is to experience something so beautiful in this manner.  We were greeted by flocks of people with tripods and cameras peering over the rim to try and capture the sunset.

After that we bombed back to PHX and the following day I headed back home.
We joked along the way that there are many first ascents of mountains and descents of canyons and caves but I may have posted a first too.  First person to start a week partying with Prince and end it at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Not sure if that’s a first ascent or descent or maybe both but I do know it was one wild ride.