Random Post-Grand Canyon Snippets & Apertures

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My shadow selfie on the South Kaibab Trail

The Grand Canyon continues to be in my thoughts and dreams since my Rim 2 Rim on May 20. I’ve been an avid follower of two Grand Canyon Facebook pages (GC R2R2R Run! and GC Hikers) for several months. Before May 20, I used to chuckle at the people who would comment about how much they missed being at the Big Ditch after their hikes or runs. Really, I thought, they don’t miss the pain?

But now I get it! Epic adventures stay in your mind forever. Plus the crossing was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. Completing it makes it even more memorable and amazing. As Tom Hanks’ character said in “A League of Their Own,” it’s the hard that makes it great.

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Looking back up at the South Kaibab Trail steps

The 11-week training plan from our fearless leader, Arlen Isham, totally helped with my preparation, as did all the cardio I do daily (running and walking). But nothing really can prepare you for the steep steps and anti-erosion stones. You’re almost always stepping over or around something during the 21-mile South to North Rim journey. Kind of reminds me of navigating the land mines of the boys’ action figures, cars, and trains in the family room when they were little. I miss those days . . . but not the inevitable pain when barefoot.

“In life, most shortcuts end up taking longer than taking the longer route.”

—Suzy Kassem

But that ain’t true in the Grand Canyon, because Rim 2 Rim actually is a shortcut! Even though it’s about 10 miles across the Big Ditch as the condor flies, it’s about 220 miles by vehicle. It almost seems easier to hike across it!

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Arlen and his daughter, Andrea, pose at Cedar Ridge.

Most of my friends and family think I’m all that and a bag of chips when it comes to being active. They seem amazed that I still run half marathons and almost couldn’t believe I was training to hike across the Grand Canyon at age 63. But they don’t know Arlen. He’s incredible! Not only has he coordinated Rim 2 Rim trips for family and friends (and friends of friends) since the 1980s, he climbs mountains, skis, and has finished more than 100 marathons. Plus he’s 73 years old with a fairly recent artificial hip! He really is inspirational.

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Our group stands out on the Grand Canyon Lodge’s deck at the north rim.

I’m usually not a group person, subscribing to Groucho Marx’s belief that any club that wants someone like me isn’t worth joining. Of the 30 other people in our contingent, I only knew Arlen before we started training.  But everyone was so nice and interesting, with lots of great stories to tell. Most of them had completed numerous MS 150 bike rides, run marathons, finished triathlons, and/or enjoyed hiking around the world. This was a fun crowd to hang out with!

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Alan (aka Moses) and Nicole take a break on the SKT.

And I was especially glad to have hiked with Nicole and Alan. I might still be in the Grand Canyon if it hadn’t been for their company and encouragement! They’re wonderful people.

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This meh photo, snapped at Ooh Aah Point, was my only sunrise pic of the trip.

What was my biggest disappointment of the entire trip? I didn’t get one decent sunrise or sunset photo at the Grand Canyon. Not one. Talk about your photo failure—kind of devastating for an avid photographer.

Well, actually, that’s my second biggest disappointment, after hurting my left knee on the South Kaibab Trail during the crossing. A local sports medicine doctor diagnosed it as a grade one lateral collateral ligament strain. Fortunately, that painful joint has been healing, and I’m almost ready to start running again, thankfully. I just can’t get that same endorphin fix from walking 10,000-plus steps each day, even though I am grateful that I can walk several miles each morning.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, I told myself that I was one and done with the Grand Canyon’s R2Rs. And I truly believed it . . . until I was back home looking at my photos and reading the GC’s Facebook pages. Arlen’s daughter, Andrea, told me that she had said the same thing after her first crossing, but that the canyon has a way of bringing you back.

It truly does! Before long, I found myself uttering those fateful words: Next time I do a Rim 2 Rim . . . .

Oh oh! Sounds like I could have future memories to burn into my mind from the Grand Canyon.

The final blog post about Rim 2 Rim still to come: My gear reviews

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

 

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And so it starts! This is the South Kaibab Trail off the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

It was 5:19 a.m. on Saturday, May 20. Time to take deep breaths and baby steps in my attempt to hike across the Grand Canyon in one day. The temperature was 33 degrees at 7,260 feet on the south rim, but it wouldn’t feel cold for long (especially about 2,500 feet down at Phantom Ranch, where it would be in the mid-80s). It was light on the South Kaibab Trail—no need for headlamps . . . for awhile.

I felt well-trained but anxious. My biggest fear? The steepness of the mostly downhill South Kaibab Trail. For several months I’ve obsessed about the SKT, reading about it, studying photos, and watching videos. But until you actually step on to it, you can’t possibly imagine what it’s really like to hike on it.

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SKT up close and personal.

The main problem with the South Kaibab Trail, besides the steepness, is that it’s so rutted from mule trains. You have to be very careful about where you step (especially considering what the mules leave behind!). Plus there are literally trillions of loose rocks (yep, I counted them all) and steps made out of logs (some with pieces of toe-tripping rebar sticking out of them) or stones that you have to step over and over and over. Repeat about a trillion times.

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It was neat seeing all the iconic signs I’ve read about, like at Ooh Aah Point.

Of course, it helps that you’re surrounded by amazing, natural beauty. Under a brilliantly blue sky, the sunrise began to reveal all the different geologic layers of the Canyon. My strategy was to walk slowly and carefully, helped by trekking poles, until I felt compelled to stop and snap a photo with either my iPhone 7 Plus or Nikon 1 V2 mirrorless camera. And that, of course, was often.

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The sun rises over the Grand Canyon.

Meanwhile, hordes of hikers and runners passed me, almost always exchanging pleasantries. Every time someone ran by, I marveled at that person’s persistence and wondered about their sanity. The SKT is treacherous to feet, ankles, and knees! Surprisingly, I didn’t see anyone trip, but I felt like we all were skating on thin ice. And I’m not good at skating either.

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Mule trains are a part of the Canyon scenery.

Somewhere around mile five of the seven-mile descent, I felt pain on the outside of my left knee. I probably strained it going over one of the trillion steps. Unfortunately, that slowed my progress as I neared the bottom of the Canyon. It was so disappointing!

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Some of the trillion steps on the South Kaibab Trail descent.

But there was never any thought of quitting. After all, the Grand Canyon’s hiking motto is: Down is optional; up is mandatory. Once you go into the Big Ditch, you have to get yourself out. And I fully intended to eventually be enveloped by the cold air of the north rim, no matter how long it took. When I set a goal and work towards it, it sure feels good to achieve it.

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This bridge over the Colorado River leads to Phantom Ranch at the Canyon’s bottom.

So I gritted my teeth and gutted it out. Soon the trail leveled off, and I crossed the Black Bridge over the mighty Colorado River and headed for Phantom Ranch. By this time I had joined up with two members of my group, Alan (who had crossed before) and Nicole (a fellow newbie). Both of them also were avid photographers, so we stopped a lot to take photos.

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At the bottom of the Grand Canyon

The three of us spent some time at Phantom Ranch, replenishing our water and refueling for the arduous climb up the North Kaibab Trail. I was looking forward to drinking PR’s famous lemonade, but the line was too long in the canteen. Andrea, who I hiked with early on the SKT, gave me a sip of hers. It was too sweet for my tastes, but at least I can say I tried it. I was more than satisfied with water and Gatorade fruit punch (for electrolytes).

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These anti-erosion stones are at set intervals along the North Kaibab Trail. Just another thing to step over and over and over!

After Phantom Ranch, our trio set a steady pace with our eyes on the prize: The north rim. Nicole was nice enough to dunk my floppy hat in the cold water that sometimes spilled over the trail from the nearby Bright Angel Creek to help me cool off. Meanwhile, Alan tried to distract me from my knee pain by asking me questions. Unfortunately, he had to settle mostly for grunts as answers. Sorry!

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The colorful Grand Canyon walls along the North Kaibab Trail

Every now and then I would stop my limping forward motion and look up, especially during the seven-mile fairly flat section. We were down in the Grand Canyon . . . the Grand Freaking Canyon. What an amazing feeling! A fraction of the Canyon’s visitors venture below the rim, so few actually hike or run across. It was totally cool beans to realize where we were and what we were trying to achieve. Even though sometimes I felt like I was an escapee from an insane asylum.

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Alan and Nicole participated in a lab study, requiring them to do cognitive exercises at certain times. I would have flunked them!

I thought I would be stronger on the uphills (featuring more of those darned steps and tight switchbacks) even with a strained knee, and I was. Unfortunately, the Grand Canyon trailmakers enjoyed a cruel sense of humor: After we began gaining elevation (“up is out” was my mantra), they led us downhill once more and over a bridge. What the heck?!? It was pretty demoralizing. Fortunately, the NKT soon resumed its uphill trek. My heart rate started to race a bit in the thin, chilly air. But I knew that cold meant one thing: The north rim at 8,250 feet!

Soon our long day’s journey into night’s crossing of the Grand Canyon would be complete . . . with headlamps. For the last hour of our hike, we needed to light our way as darkness engulfed us. Surprisingly, it wasn’t scary. I felt totally at peace, with only the clicking of our trekking poles disturbing the quiet.

As I neared the top of the north rim, I had one thought: I am one and done! I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the 24-mile north-to-south-rim return trip on Monday with a sore knee. But I also realized that achieving one Rim 2 Rim was accomplishment enough for this old gal.

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Finished at the north rim!

Fifteen hours and 29 minutes after I started, I “crossed” the finish line on the north rim. It was 8:48 p.m. Once again the temperature was about 33 degrees. The air was cold and crisp, but I was too tired to put on my jacket. Getting into the van to ride the mile and a half to the Grand Canyon Lodge’s cabins where we stayed was almost as difficult as hiking down the South Kaibab Trail. Almost!

After a bite to eat in the lodge’s Roughrider Saloon, I hobbled toward my cabin. It was pitch black out, and I had to use my iPhone’s flashlight to see where I was going. Suddenly I stopped, looked up at the sky, and gasped in awe: What had to be a trillion and five stars sparkled on the immense, dark background. I had never seen so many stars in my life! There’s nothing like the Big Ditch and a star-filled sky in the remoteness of the north rim to make you feel tiny.

And yet this little, old, insignificant speck of dust with dirty Brooks Caldera trail shoes somehow managed to hike 21 miles across the Grand Freaking Canyon! Goal accomplished!!

Next time on the blog: Post-Grand Canyon thoughts

Update and an Epic Challenge

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No, I’m not Photoshopped in. That’s actually your very own scaredy-cat blogger on the South Kaibab Trail May 20 at the Grand Canyon! (Photo by Andrea Mankin)

Remember me? It’s been almost three years since I’ve blogged here at old Random Snippets & Apertures. That’s a loooong time for neither a snippet nor photo to be read or seen.

But good news, my friends! I’m back . . . albeit just for a few blog posts. Let’s catch up a bit!

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Our expanding family! From left: Belle, Jake, your favorite old broad, C.J., and the Mister.

First, Jake, who is 25 and still works for our business, is getting married in late July! He met Belle, who has moved here from Oslo, Norway, in an online discussion forum about six years ago. Once she came to visit a couple years ago, they knew they were soulmates. The Mister and I adore her, too! We’re thrilled that Jake found love and happiness.

Second, C.J., who is 22, just graduated magna cum laude from Sam Houston State University with his marketing degree. He’s going to be staying in Huntsville to do a paid internship, but we will get to spend time with him for a couple months. Cue the happy dance music!

Which brings us to the photo at the top of the blog. The short take: On May 20, I hiked 21 miles from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim at 7,260 feet to the North Rim at 8,250 feet in 15 hours and 29 minutes (which includes about a half hour in breaks). About seven miles down the steep, rutted, treacherous South Kaibab Trail, about seven miles across, and about seven miles up the steep North Kaibab Trail. 2,500 feet down. 5,500 feet up.

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I’m on the literal steps of the South Kaibab Trail. Jealous of my keen fashion sense? I’ll write about my apparel and gear choices in a future blog post. (Photo by Andrea Mankin)

Sometimes I still have trouble believing that I actually hiked across the Grand Freaking Canyon at age 63!

So what led to all of this?

Join me in a short trip back through time. In the late 1980s or early 1990s, I met Arlen Isham, a legendary, fellow Houston-area marathoner. He told me that he led Rim to Rim trips across the Grand Canyon. I remember thinking how cool that would be . . . and immediately tucking that thought away, as I contemplated my fear of heights and falling to my death in a canyon. Then I got busy with family and life, and I didn’t think about R2R (as it’s called) until last fall.

In September of 2015, my wonderful Aunt Goldie (my mom’s twin sister) was dying of end-stage leukemia. We chatted on the phone, and she said, “Don’t put off doing anything you really want to do. You never know what might happen.” I told her that I had always wanted to see and photograph the Grand Canyon.

“Go do it, kiddo!” she said.

At her funeral in October, I thought about those words. I made up my mind: I finally would see the Big Ditch! But how? And when?

The answer to those two questions would finally be revealed in early November last year when Arlen posted on Facebook that he was looking for people to fill his May 2017 Grand Canyon trip. I quickly e-mailed him about it and had my deposit winging its way towards him in nothing flat.

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This 64-step monster along Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Park is known (by me) as “the wicked step-mother.” It follows after four staircases I dubbed the “evil step-sisters” and a killer hill. We went up and down these (and more staircases) too many times, but they ended up being perfect training for crossing the Grand Canyon (darn it!).

Because I was coming off the mid-January Aramco Houston Half Marathon (my 13th!), I was in good cardio condition. However, Arlen quickly warned me that even marathoners can have trouble crossing the Grand Canyon, which is an inverted mountain with the hardest part at the end. He gave our group a rigorous 11-week training program that included lots of stairs and hills at Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston.

After I finished the easiest workout (the first one), my calves were killing me! I live in a one-story house and pretty much can avoid stairs everywhere I go. Suddenly I was going up and down 14 staircases multiple times, and it hurt! As in “I want my mommy” pain. Fortunately, Dr. Google had the relief plan: Calf compression sleeves, which I actually owned but rarely used. I wore them for every stair workout after that (as well as in the Canyon), and I never suffered from calf pain again.

The longest, toughest workout we endured was a triple loop of Buffalo Bayou Park a few weeks before our Canyon trip. We suffered through eight sets of the killer hill and four/four/three sets of the 14 staircases on each loop, ending up with 20 miles (in about seven hours) and almost 3,000 feet of elevation. All while carrying and drinking three liters of water in my CamelBak Sundowner, plus another liter of Gatorade and another liter of water in a bottle plus a bunch of snacks. Once we completed the triple loop, Arlen deemed us ready to tackle the Rim 2 Rim.

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Quite a sight: An elk and the south rim of the Grand Canyon!

My goal was to finish at least one Rim 2 Rim (South to North Rim), but I was hoping to also tack on the return journey after a day of rest. Considering that just seeing the Grand Canyon was my bucket-list item, I figured anything else I achieved would be great. Or is that Grand?

Next time on Random Snippets & Apertures: Deep breaths and baby steps as I hike across the Grand Canyon!

Finale Friday

I’ve been hiding behind a Nikon dSLR for years.

I’ve been hiding behind a Nikon dSLR for years.

Today marks the end of an (admittedly short) era: This is the final post of Random Snippets & Apertures, my fourth child.

After five and a half years, almost 1,400 blog posts (this is number 1,373, to be exact) and one name change (originally I called it “Get ’er Done,” not that I ever did), it’s time to move on to other writing and creative projects. I’ll miss posting in my tiny segment of the blogosphere, but it really is for the best.

Jake in 2009

Jake showed off his beautiful blue eyes in 2009.

I started Random Snippets & Apertures as a way of chronicling my family’s adventures. I wanted it to be a legacy for my sons. My first post was on January 5, 2009. At the beginning, Jake, my older son, turned 17, and was a high school junior.

Jake rocks a giveaway Houston Astros José Altuve jersey last Sunday.

He rocked a giveaway Houston Astros José Altuve jersey last Sunday.

Now he’s graduated from UTSA and is sharing an apartment in Houston with his best friend forever and our “third son,” Chase. He’s gone from student to working man.

C.J. in 2009 unhappy that I’m taking his photo.

C.J. in 2009 was unhappy that I snapped his photo.

Meanwhile, C.J., was a mere 13 and a half and in eighth grade way back when.

C.J. at Jake’s UTSA graduation. Some things never change!

The bearded one was annoyed at Jake’s UTSA graduation. Some things never change!

As I blogged earlier this week, he just celebrated his 19th birthday. He finished up his freshman year at Sam Houston State with all A’s and a B. What a great transition for him!

As you can see, with both boys out of the house for much if not all of the year, my blog’s purpose is over. It’s as much fun to look back as it is to look ahead, especially for this sentimental mom who adores her sons to the moon and back.

So now it’s on to the next chapter . . . whatever that will be. Thanks for coming along for the ride, dear readers! Hope you enjoy your summer!!

P.S. The blog will remain here on WordPress; I just won’t be adding any new content to it (probably!).

One-Word Wednesday

I’m back shooting disc golf now that my thumb joint feels better. Here C.J. tees off.

I’m back shooting disc golf now that my thumb joint feels better. Here C.J. tees off during yesterday’s Southwest Handicap Mini at Community Park.

Return!

The Mister putts.

The Mister putts.

Eric tests the wind direction.

Eric tests the wind direction.

My baby boy sails in a par putt.

My baby boy sails in a par putt.

Making Good On a Promise

C.J. is ready to blow out the candle on his mini pizookie at BJ's.

C.J. is ready to blow out the candle on his mini pizookie during lunch at BJ’s.

Every so often, my ever-lovin’ though sometimes ornery younger son will look at me and say, “Remember my birthday last year? I still can’t believe we didn’t go to Dave and Buster’s.” Then cue the fake sigh.

As I cue my own real sigh, I must admit that I do feel bad about last year, even though C.J. and the rest of the Core 4 seemed to have a great time at Tilt Studio. Which is why I had promised him an eventual trip to D&B. Yesterday I fulfilled it.

The guys walk towards their world of fun.

The guys walk towards their world of fun.

Yep, my newly minted 19-year-old got to spend his birthday with his big brother and Ricky, Jared, and RJ at Dave and Buster’s in Houston. The Mister and I went along to act as chauffeur and ATM. Plus we always enjoy watching the guys have a great time. Which they did!

Sharpshooter!

Sharpshooter!

Most of their $20 Power Cards were wasted spent on a couple of basketball games that they played numerous times. All five of them love to hoop it up.

Lotsa tix

It’s a handful.

One of the best parts for them, besides trash talking each other, was racking up tickets. Once all the money was gone, it was time to see how much they had earned.

As a veteran mom, I knew that most of the prizes were going to be lame and cost lots of tickets. D&B, after all, is just Chuck E. Cheese’s with better food and games and without the rat. But the guys still enjoyed checking out the store and picking out their rewards (except for Jared, who is saving up his winnings).

Jared, Ricky, C.J., RJ, and Jake pose with Bumblebee.

Jared, Ricky, C.J., RJ, and Jake pose with Bumblebee.

As we were walking out of D&B, C.J. said, “You know, last year’s place was okay. But Dave and Buster’s was a lot more fun!”

Glad you had a birthday that’s as wonderful as you are, my sweet son!

Brace Yourself!

This is what my left hand looked like in the doctor’s office.

This is what my left hand looked like in the doctor’s office.

Oh, happy day! My Ace bandage wrap, which included a partial cast and enough gauze to make me think that someone had stock in the company, is just a memory now. It came off with a little pulling and tugging Wednesday, leaving me with a very stiff left wrist, a swollen thumb, stitches, and the purple pen marks that Dr. Hildreth had used as a self-guide. Picasso he ain’t.

Believe me, you will thank me for not subjecting you to the close-up photo of my thumb-joint stitches after the tape was removed; they really look gross. Hildreth easily pulled out the carpal tunnel stitches and told me that I’ll be gently scrubbing the others away. Plus I have several easy exercises to do twice a day, as well as run warm water over the area to loosen it up.

Black is slimming, right?

Black is slimming, right?

My new constant companion is this Bledsoe brace, which I have to wear almost 24/7 (except for showers) for the next four weeks while my thumb-joint fusion continues to heal (I still have intermittent pain, unfortunately). Two weeks after that, I’ll see Hildreth and, hopefully, I’ll be released to wait until my grip fully returns (in an expected six months to a year).

Of course, the best news for me was that I’m cleared to return to walking and jogging. Oh, how I’ve missed my somewhat daily constitutional! Naturally, the combination of the supposedly breathable material with Houston’s infamous heat and humidity probably will make for one smelly brace.

Friends, you might want to keep your distance!