I took a short break at the Ranch to resoak, refill water, and eat the orange I snagged at lunch, a sweet citrus explosion in the late afternoon heat. I was back on trail by 4, ready for the final section, excited to witness golden hour in such a magnificent place; sun going downwards, climbing upwards with the mountainous shadows, dark and foreboding, contrasting the embery glow of the red sandstone rocks which now radiated heat
All the canyon’s walls like ovens with the doors open, still fiery from 10 hours of scorching desert sun, now glowing with the sun’s last rays, as if the sun had actually lit the walls afire, the rocks now glowing coals.
I knew I had some work left to do. I had a 5800’ ascent over the final 14 miles. The first section, in the final bout of heat, would be mild, climbing only 1500 vertical feet in 7 miles. The final push, though, the last 7 miles, climbed 4300 ‘. And this is after already hiking 43 miles, more than I’d ever done in a day.
I was worn out when I left the Ranch, but the glorious unfolding of the evening light was taking my mind off of how much pain I was in and how hard it was becoming to lift my feet.
I arrived at Cottonwood Campground ,with 7 miles left, at 7 p.m.. Families were laughing over the fire, relaxing and cooking extravagant dinners, perhaps sipping a couple beers. I filled up my bladder, popped a couple Aleve, ate a Clifbar in 3 bites, and hiked on. I was weary, beat up, delirious, and damn ready to be done. Too bad I still had the toughest section to go.
Just before the campground I passed a couple in their 50s, headed to the South Rim.
Dude: “Oh R2R2R eh? I’d never do that!”
Me: Yeah I’ve gone about 40ish miles so far
Dude: Well you’re not done yet! Got a ways to go!
Fuck you dude. PSA: In this situation, don’t tell me I have a ways to go. I fucking know that. Maybe offer some encouragement - a high five like many others had done, or perhaps a pat on the back like one guy did, promptly receiving a handful of mansweat and an immediate apology. Good vibes only, dick.
The sun was down by 8ish and by 8:30 my headlamp was on as I steadily marched onwards, focused only on where to put my feet and how to put them there.
There’s a certain delirium, I mentioned, that settles in after 20 or 30 miles. That delirium changes, though, once the sun goes down. No longer is there any peripheral blur, just a faint white light illuminating a circular spot a few feet ahead, a continuous stream of sand and pebbles and sticks and brush lit up for only a split second, then gone, as you hobble over the debris, kicking dust into the warm night air. The day’s last sounds cried out at twilight, now all gone, no more chirping or croaking or human sounds achattering; just the blow-dryer like wind faintly waving the pines, the thudding and shuffling of your feet on the narrow ledge, and your steady breath, In, 2, 3, 4, 5. Out, 2, 3, 4, 5. In, 2, 3, 4, 5…
But occasionally, a pause – to hunch over the trekking poles, turn off the headlamp, look up, and remember why.
The midnight blue sky sparkling and twinkling like some ancient Christmas light show; eyes adjusting, pupils dilating to reveal the galaxy hovering above and the canyon floor suspended beneath, all of a sudden swept from your achy body into something different, something much larger, something too grand to even comprehend, especially in this braindead state; Yet, somehow this delirium allows you to understand it on a different level, unclouded by the mutterings of human consciousness, detached from thought, you don’t have to try to comprehend it. You simply do. You exist. You are a tiny speck in a crack in this grand Earth which floats, spins, wanders through a limitless plane. Looking out into the expanse, you notice yourself not seeing it, but experiencing it; feeling it; becoming it. As if your eyes are dissolving some invisible barrier which separates you from all that abounds, self and ego lost in a moment of transendance and perspective.
And then, headlamp back on, the march continues.
I was drained. Absolutely beat. But the trail kept winding upwards, so I did too. The night-hike really wore on me after a while, with no scenes to entertain me and no humans to talk to. I plodded on. For the last few miles I fought just to keep my head up, eyelids now nearly 40 hours without rest. The air chilled as the sky darkened and I climbed higher. A cool breeze, once refreshing, was now biting, shocking with every gust; my sweat-soaked shirt freezing, causing me to throw on gloves and a wool hoodie and hike faster, crush crush to stay warm.
Chattering as sweat poured out, discouraged from stopping to rest, as each time I did a bastard breeze came ripping back through with a vengeance, pushing me onwards.
For a moment, I thought I had died and gone to hell – stuck in a neverending timewarp, climbing a steep hill, shaking, sweating, huffing, puffing, delirious, dizzy, feverishly hot and cold at the same time, checking the GPS intermittently to find I had only climbed a negligible amount since last check, how could it be! How much longer! When will it end!
In the last video I recorded you hear scuffled steps in gravel as a pitch black image hovers. It was 10:32 p.m.. The steps come to a halt as the image materializes, a headlamp panning right, illuminating a sign:
North Kaibab Trailhead.
“I fucking did it” was all I could say. Had I had more energy I imagine I would have cried upon seeing the sign, but I was past the point of emotion, too exhausted to breakdown.
I piled into the Corolla, grunted a whole bunch, and drove out of the park in search of a campsite, luckily finding flat ground a few miles down a gravel road. I sloppily erected my shelter and threw my pad and bag in with some water and food. Finally laying down felt great, but I was immediately eclipsed by extreme nausea, my body finally having a chance to process what it had just done, now unable to maintain homeostasis after adapting to 21 hours of motion. Once changed out of my wet, foul clothes, I went from shaky cold to rapidly overheated. I took off my jacket and put my face on the cold bare tent floor, pitifully sipping from my platypus. I was too sick to blow up my mattress pad, afraid exerted exhales would take the last breaths from me or at least evoke vomit, liquid I couldn’t afford to lose. And so I took a few more weary sips and I closed my eyes, curled up miserably on the barren tent floor, drifting immediately into a heavy slumber. The day was done. I survived the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim.