Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Grandiose Time in the Grand Canyon

Mother Nature at its finest, once again
The good times actually started to roll just before The Grand Canyon.  My aunt from Scottsdale, AZ came up to meet me in Flagstaff where we did a bit of “R & R” together before I made my way up to the South Rim.  After several long days on bad highways battling a massive head wind, I was ready for some pampering.  Aunt Donna had a box of goodies waiting for me at the hotel, including more sunscreen from Natura Bisse (Thank you very much!) and some more stickers/cards to give out to people I meet along the way (Thank you Pere Rios at Maximpressió in Barcelona).

Thank you Natura Bisse and Maximpressió for restocking me with the essentials

Aunt Donna and me enjoying good coffee, company, and maps

Have a look at the size of that steak...Magic: Now you see it, now you don't!

I’d never been to Flagstaff before and quite enjoyed the small outdoorsy university town.  We wanted to go down to Sedona to explore, but the wildfire down south made that impossible.  We meandered the streets of Flagstaff, went to a lot of different shops to get some essential items and relaxed by getting pedicures and manicures.  The poor Vietnamese women who scrubbed at my calluses….In return I entertained them with stories and photos from cycling in Vietnam, which now seems like another lifetime ago.  I had some intense cravings and Aunt Donna went right along with those wining and dining at several different places in town.  We hit up a local Brewery, fine dined at a delicious steakhouse, and had tapas at a wine bar.  We even found a frozen yogurt store and a coffee shop that was so good we visited every single morning!


Off to the South Rim from Willams, AZ (fully loaded with all sorts of goodies)

It’s no wonder I took on the Grand Canyon like it was nobody’s business; I was completely rested and ready to roll by the time I headed north.  I didn’t make it more than 20 miles when a car pulled over and a young guy and his girlfriend offered me food. I never turn food down (as you know), and although Donna made sure my panniers were extra full with treats, I did accept a few of the bars and bananas they offered me, and a gift certificate to a fast food restaurant.

One of the many spectacular views fro mthe south rim trail

A great overview of The Grand Canyon from up above

The ride to Grand Canyon was pretty uneventful, up and down, up and down, and cars whizzing by in a hurry to get to the park.  You feel like you are out in the middle of nowhere en route, but when you arrive, it is like a Disneyland O’Naturale!  Heaps of vehicles and people from all over the world clustered around the south rim.  It doesn’t matter really, because the view is pretty spectacular, from any angle, regardless of the crowds.  I took a few pictures and then headed over to set-up camp at Mather’s Campground.  Cyclists get treated so well at National Parks in North America (hikers too) with their “hiker-biker” sites. Even when a campground is completely full, as was the case on Memorial Day Weekend, they will never turn down a cyclist! 

I wanted to get an early night sleep because I was determined to hike down the canyon and up in one day.  I know you probably think I’m crazy for attempting this (and all the other physically challenges on this trip) but for me, it was an essential part to my visit at The Grand Canyon…..I had no other option than to do it in one day considering my circumstances.   I didn’t have reservation at Phantom Ranch, the accommodation at the bottom (they sell out a year in advance), nor did I have the right gear to lug my camping equipment down and spend the night.  By default, I had to be down and back up in a day.
Of course I ignored these signs.....

Obviously, the park rangers don’t encourage this, in fact they scared me pretty badly when I shared with them my idea.  It takes a lot to discourage me and shake my confidence when it comes to a sport challenge, but for this hike, I doubted my own capability about making it down and out in one day.  Back in Vegas, an employee at REI had told me the route to take and said I could manage if I started early.  It wasn’t until late the night before my hike, when I heard some girls in the bathroom talk about their experience doing it that day, and so I asked them.  They had taken 12 hours going down and up on the longest trail in tennis shoes and shorts and a t-shirt and had no problem.  After hearing that, I was reassured and got the last bit of confidence, motivation really, I needed to attempt it myself.

Descending, it was actually cold at 6am

Remember I don’t have proper hiking gear, I make do with what I have from the bike.  It sort of reminds me of the bike race I got myself into in Australia.  Everyone had a nice light expensive bike and here I was racing on my beast of a touring bike.  For hiking, I turn one of my Ortliebs into a backpack, use a bladder for extra water, and wear my biking sandals because they seem pretty durable.  Other than that, I swapped my spandex bike shorts for normal shorts, brought a jacket just in case, packed some snacks and I was ready to go!

The never-ending switch backs,....The Stelvio of hiking

I caught the second bus of the morning over to the South Kaibab Trail and I was at the trailhead by 6am ready to go down.  The South Kaibab Trail is the steepest and shortest of the two that descend and it doesn’t have any water until you get to Phantom Ranch.  I started down alone and marveled at the switchbacks that were ahead of me.  The colors on the canyon were impressive, thanks to the sun rise and the early morning hours.  There was a couple of handful of people on the trail, but not many.  I stayed with a young Russian couple for awhile, then went on my own, then met a couple of guys and walked with them.  It seemed like a breeze; low temperatures, a moderate downhill, nothing impossible. Before I knew it, I had made friends with Steve and Peter, who had a very similar pace, and we were at the bottom of the canyon.  In fact, we actually were about to walk right past Phantom Ranch thinking that it couldn’t have popped up on us so quickly.  Luckily we didn’t go too far off the path, before we realized we had arrived.  I guess I was expecting something more built up at the bottom of the canyon but I was pleased to see that conditions at the bottom were primitive. 

Bathed my feet in the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon

We all refilled out water, not entirely, however, because the trail we were going to take, The Bright Angel Trail, has about 3 or 4 water stops going up.  It is a longer trail, less steep and with more switchbacks.  Hence, it is also more crowded!  We had made it down to the bottom of the canyon in 3 hours.  People say that it takes double your descending time to make it up.  It was 10am when we left the bottom of the canyon and we moved right along.  We didn’t see many people initially, but the farther from Phantom Ranch we got, the more hikers we encountered.  Everyone was headed down and wanted to know how far until the bottom.  Deeper in the canyon, the hikers looked more “fit for the part”, with proper gear.  The closer to the top we got, the hikers had what we call in Spanish a “dominguero” air to them.  They seemed to be out for a Sunday stroll along the boardwalk, NOT ready to take on the Grand Canyon.  It’s no wonder the rangers warn people not to do this hike down and back in one day when you see the average Joe headed down.  The most memorable (or rather pathetic) person I saw was a young lady in her little black strap sandals with rhinestones and a Gucci purse, A half mile from the top of the canyon she asked us, “How much farther until the bottom?”  I hope my facial expression or gasping answered the question appropriately.

My hiking companions, Peter and Steve, they kept a good pace

Steve, Peter and I made really good time.  We walked at a nice pace, stopped frequently to take pictures, hydrate, and rest.  We took turns blazing the trail and had two longer pit stops at the water holes to fill bottles.  Steve had bad knees and they started to give at the end.  Peter was feeling nauseated after all the food and snack combo’s he’d eaten.  I must admit, except for the blister I felt forming on the back of my heel, I was doing really well.  It brought back memories of when I hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro 3 years back.  I went solo, but the tour company put me with a German, who just so happened to be a hard core cyclist and triathlete. We hiked so fast our porters had to run by us after every meal in order to get to the next rest stop to set things up before we arrived.

Dirty, dirty feet, but no complaints with my Keens, probably the only person who has hiked the canyon in biking sandals

We were lucky because the temperatures were on the cooler side, hovering around 30-32 (85-90F).  Any hotter and it would have been a real struggle.  We made it to the top of the canyon in 5 hours, right at 2pm.  It took less than we imagined, a total of 8 hours to go down South Kaibab and up Bright Angel.  We were all tired, but it wasn’t that noticeable with all the endorphins that were kicking in from the adrenaline rush of accomplishing such a feat.  Steve and Peter were hopping on a plane tomorrow and so they unloaded a lot of food items on me.  I was quite content, thinking it would last me the next couple of days, but actually didn’t even make it back to the campground.  Gus would have been proud, I ate an entire bag of Beef Jerky in about 5 minutes tops!  I must have needed the salt because everything I craved on out through the rest of the day was savory rather than sweet.  I drank about 5 liters of water afterwards as well to rehydrate.  I wasn’t planning on making it back that early in the afternoon, so to my surprise I had some down time.

The Colorado River from The Bright Angel Trail

The Grand Canyon is spectacular.  You never get tired of the scenery because no two cliffs and rock ledges look the same.  The colors are constantly changing in the light and the angle. Hiking into the canyon, you get a completely different view of this immense natural beauty.  Every switchback gives you another perspective.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures the entire time and ended up with over 300 photos while in The Grand Canyon National Park.  Hiking down to the bottom of the canyon is a “must-do” event once in your life, especially taking South Kaibab down and Bright Angel up. Each offer a unique scenery and different experience.  Phantom Ranch reservations are made a year in advance, but you can obtain a backcountry permit fairly easily in order to camp at the bottom.  It’s worth entering the canyon or going down to the bottom just to escape all the tourists and to touch the Colorado River.

Mission accomplished and boy does it feel good

I was quite proud of myself for accomplishing such a feat after I left the rangers shake my confidence.  I will admit however, the following day, I felt as though I had run a marathon the previous day.  I was so incredibly sore, I walked around like I had peed my pants,  Pedaling my bike wasn’t as painful as walking, hence I kept pedaling on and on the following day and had one of my longest days on the bike, and after that hike.  I guess you could call it a recovery ride!  Hiking The Grand Canyon, it’s a total adrenaline rish and a highlight to the United States portion of my trip!


  1. We didn't get a sticker! We'd love one!! Better late, than never =)