After 3 failed attempts and swearing after the last two that I would never try it again, I was as surprised as anyone that I was giving it another go. Why in the world was I trying it again... good question.
It all started about a month ago, when someone I had only met for a few moments a couple months earlier, Adam Gifford of the Sedona Running Company, emailed me asking a bit about Hole to Hump and if I was interested in running it with him or at least crewing.
My initial thought was that there was no way I was going to run Hole to Hump again, especially after just DNFing, at mile 77, of the Leadville 100 a few weeks prior. How in the world would I have the energy to run the 90 miles from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the top of Mt. Humphreys and gain over 11,000 feet of elevation if I haven't been able to complete the same feat three times already with adequate rest? I mean, I just ran 77 miles and then crashed and burned. No way was I in for Hole to Hump so soon. It just seemed like a really bad idea.
When I finally responded to Adam's email, I informed him that I was dealing with some aches in my left knee and recovering from Leadville and that I wasn't sure if I'd be able to do the whole thing with him. But...I would help him in any way needed if he decided to run it himself.
Soon, I learned that it wasn't just Adam that was excited about the Hole to Hump effort. The Hole to Hump legend himself, Scott Baxter, who was the first to complete Hole to Hump 30 years prior, was super excited and was on board to support Adam and who ever decided to run with him.
Hmm... I didn't really want to do Hole to Hump again but this was getting to be too good of an opportunity to blow off. Not only did I have the chance to run it with Adam (a veteran of many 100 mile finishes) but I now had the opportunity to do the run and be supported by the original finisher and all around amazing guy, Scott. I was going to have to give this some serious consideration.
After a few more weeks of emailing with Adam and Scott and my tweaky knee getting better, I slowly wrapped my brain around committing to the potentially once in a lifetime opportunity. My body felt good and I was surrounded by people, in Adam and Scott, who know how to get it done. In the end, when it came right down to it, I didn't really have an excuse to bail.
So, after meeting with Scott and Adam to review some logistics and go for a run together, I completely committed to the run. I was in, for better or for worse, and we decided to start the run Saturday, October 1 (...only 6 weeks after Leadville).
Luckily, for me, Adam wasn't going for any records. He just wanted to finish the thing. If we got in under 24 hours then great but he wasn't going to push it. Also, Scott was in the mode of total support. He was going to drive with us and stop every 3 miles to give us cloths, water, food and whatever else we needed. Pure luxury. Not only would this work out for us not needing to carry much of anything (I only carried a hand held water bottle and Adam carried nothing for much of the run...) but if I crapped out early due to something creeping up as a result of Leadville (injury, fatigue, etc.) then I could just jump in the vehicle and support Adam with Scott. Seemed like a 'too good to be true' scenario for finishing.
I was not only in...I was getting really excited.
At 8 am, Saturday, Adam and I started down the S. Kaibab Trail (to get to the Colorado river and the start of the Hole to Hump run) after a couple quick photos by Scott at the rim. We really took our time getting down to the river, walking and talking (Adam can talk AT LEAST as much as I can!) and enjoying the views of the Grand Canyon. We reached the river in just over 2 hours.
While getting water, eating snacks and hanging out for a short time at the river, I looked at the canyon around me and secretly vowed to myself to give this effort everything I had. All the pieces were there for success in a great team and plan and I didn't want to botch it. I had to be all in.
In the last moments before we started our climb out of the Grand Canyon and the start of the run, Adam placed a small water container in the Colorado River and filled it with a few ounces of water to be carried to the top of Mt. Humphreys and then we held our hands in the cold Colorado. Adam counted down the clock, started his watch and we were off hiking back up the S. Kaibab at 10:50 am. It was on. Hole to Hump had started.
Our goal was to take it pretty easy coming out the 4,500 foot elevation gain of the S. Kaibab so that we didn't beat ourselves up too early. We were hoping to come out in 3 hours exactly...well, we came out a bit faster than we hoped. We got to the rim in 2 1/2 hours instead. Whoops. Well, it didn't seem to be a big deal anyway as we took it really easy, walking the whole thing and never pushing it (all three of my other attempts I ran at least some of the way up the S. Kaibab...). Once on the rim we had a little over 80 miles to the top of Humphreys....just getting warmed up, I guess.
We walked the .5 miles to where Scott and Keri (our support every 3 miles until we get to the Humphreys Trail parking lot and we meet Susan, Peter and Tony who would help support us to the summit) were located and got ready to start the meat of the run.
Scott wanted to run the next 17 or so miles with us to train for the upcoming Grand Canyon Marathon so Keri was on her own driving the support vehicle for the next 9 1/2 miles of asphalt and 8 miles of dirt. I was really happy to have Scott running with us for this section as the asphalt section of this has always been really hard for me in past Hole to Hump attempts. The three of us chatted it up through sun, rain (it rained a lot in this section) and controlled burns (they, of course, were doing a controlled burn right along the road for miles of this section, bleck!) making the time pass nicely.
When we reached the dirt road for Grandview Tower, I was really psyched as we were keeping the pace really easy, I was feeling good physically and mentally and we weren't going to have to run on anymore pavement! Yes! It was all dirt roads and trails from here on out. Whew. The only thing that worried me at this point was all the rain we were getting. The dirt road didn't seem to bad so far but we still had 60 some miles of dirt road to travel before we got to trails and I wasn't completely sure if Scott and Keri were going to be able to make it through without and epic and getting seriously stuck. Adam and I wouldn't be the best pushers at mile 70!
When Scott finally had enough miles running with us and our 'old man jokes' about him (...although he had plenty of bad jokes to combat us with!) he jumped back into crew mode and teamed up with Keri to continue along with the 3 mile stops for us. So far, the stops every 3 miles felt extremely luxurious to me but I didn't complain...I loved it!!! We were living the good life.
So...it went on like this, Adam and I jogging along and then stopping to grab food and water and slight changes in cloths every 3 miles for what seemed like forever. We saw pine forest that fizzled into juniper and then, again, fizzled into open desert grasses and darkness.
We made good time but always kept ourselves in check with easy jogging. Once it got dark though, we added a couple minutes of walking for every 10 minutes of running. This seemed to work well and we kept moving along nicely. This section were we started walking more was about 35 miles into the run. In past years I felt pretty worked at this section already but with our slower method this year and lots of support I still felt quite good.
The battle at this point was dealing with the darkness. My body was starting to show signs that it was time for bed but that was obviously not in the plan. I battled through with yawns and feeling sluggish until 10 or 11 pm when I tried some of Scott's 'special drink' that I think was something like chocolate, agave nectar and espresso. Holy crap. I went from barely being able to keep my eyes open to being 'lit up'. I remember just bounding along at around mile 50 as if I just had a great night sleep and had just started my run. Adam and I had an amazing chat session through this section. I think it was because he was also feeling great from a 5 Hour Energy he took earlier. It was awesome.
I tried to ride this energy by continuing to sip on Scott's 'special drink' for much of the rest of the night. Usually, I get my caffeine for the night time from gels but I eased back a bit on those and just went with what was working.
It was a good thing I had the energy boost and it was dark because the section from mile 50 to about 65 is, by far, my least favorite section. It is wide open, flat, straight dirt roads for about 15 miles with nothing but dead grass around. Also, it usually gets super freezing cold in this section and I start moving really slow and begin to really suffer.
To add to the energy boost and darkness helping, it was much warmer through this section than in past years. I was able to run in shorts, a long sleeve and a rain jacket for the whole section even though it rained a bit. Very comfortable.
Once we got to the end of this section and we started gaining elevation and reaching junipers again, I got pretty excited as I felt as good or better than in past efforts and I could feel the mountain pulling us forward, even in the darkness. I was most definitely feeling the effects of over 65 miles but still felt like I could run and my stomach was doing well.
Then, during the next few miles of dirt road things got a little tricky for a bit. Just enough to have me wondering if we would have a serious problem ahead. Scott and Keri had no problems so far with road conditions but it had rained a lot in different random spots along the way. I knew if the next section had been rained on lately that they could get stuck...really bad, and there isn't any help out there.
Some of my worries were confirmed when we slogged through a couple miles of nasty mud that would stick to our feet like 5 pound weights. Ugh. Not fun. But luckily, we (and Scott and Keri) made it through and miraculously the road dried ahead in the one spot that was do or die if it rained. I was super relieved.
As we winded up the dirt roads leading to Humphreys leaving Juniper for Pine forests and trading the last of a beautiful star lit night for the light of morning we got our first views of Mt. Humphreys towering over us. It was an awesome sight and with continued walking and jogging we kept making our way toward it.
Once morning was in full power and sunlight hit me I gained more and more confidence that we were going to make it. In fact, I didn't have a doubt in my mind that I had the energy in me to finish. The only thing that could stop us now was weather on the mountain (thunder showers were predicted for that day) but I was willing to risk getting hit by lightning to get to the summit at this point.
At Kendrick Park, and about 15 miles from the summit, we had a bit of an early homecoming as Susan, Peter and Tony decided to drive over from Humphreys to say hi and cheer us on. It was a bit of culture shock seeing all these people all fired up after being in our weird routine of only seeing Scott and Keri every 3 miles for the last 20 hours but I was still WAY psyched to see everyone (even if I didn't show it at the time).
(Entering Kendrick Park)
After our hellos, Adam and I were off again, leaving Kendrick Park for the mountain. Pretty much the rest of our route was going to be on the Arizona Trail and the Humphreys Trail so I was getting really excited. No more roads, just single track through aspens and pine. What a great way to finish the run.
When we first hit the Arizona Trail I was actually starting to feel a bit crappy, not that I couldn't continue moving forward but I was having some stomach and energy issues. I just couldn't seem to get my stomach to feel good enough to run or walk fast. I had to deal with this for the first mile or so of the AZ Trail and then it subsided. Whew. I still didn't feel that great but, whatever, we were over 75 miles into this thing. My stomach had done me well so far. No complaints. In fact, after my stomach started feeling a bit better we ran a fair bit of the rest of the AZ Trail up to the Humphreys Trail parking lot.
I got a lot of confidence with feeling so good as I wasn't able to run any of this trail during last year's effort. I just had to resign myself to walking the rest of the way. This year I wasn't only running, I felt pretty darn good doing it. Nothing was hurting too bad. I was just tired but still able to run. Good stuff.
Once we located the overgrown path that cuts up the meadow to the Humphreys Trail parking lot we made quick work of it and met our crew of Scott, Keri, Susan, Peter and Tony for our hike up to the summit.
(Humphreys Trail parking lot...yes!)
It was a bit chaotic for me at the Humphreys parking lot for some reason while we were getting all our stuff ready to go up the mountain. I was having a hard time making decisions with all the people around. Luckily, they all made it happen and besides me forgetting to have Susan bring my tights (she was nice enough to run back down the first .5 miles of trail to the car and get them for me) we brought all we needed.
So, slowly but surely we walked our way up the Humphreys Trail to the summit and even though I knew we would make it I could still only muster a super slow pace. I knew I would get there, but I wasn't sure how long it would take.
To add to the excitement, storm clouds kept pushing through during our ascent and it rained pretty good on us at least once on the way to the saddle. We even heard a few loud BOOMS near the summit, from thunder. Yikes. As said before, though, I was going to the summit no matter what this time!
(Stepping onto the saddle)
The last few steps to the saddle were the worst. I was barely moving up this 'stair stepping' section and was not looking forward to the upper exposed ridge to the summit. Then, as I approached the saddle, all the clouds threatening the mountain cleared and I could see blue sky above. I felt warmth on my body and the summit was clear of weather.
Everyone else stopped for a moment or two on the saddle but I remember walking right past them, pushing for the summit. I had only one thing on my mind now. Stopping anywhere was unacceptable to me. If I was going to stop moving it was going to be on the summit.
Not to say I was moving all that fast still. Not long after I passed the group on the saddle, Adam caught up with me, swearing and talking all aggro about getting to the summit. This must have triggered something because I started to feel a power that I hadn't felt before. I remembered all my failed attempts, how hard I had tried on them, how much emotion I put into them. I gathered all that energy and forced my legs and arms to thrust forward. With each step I gained momentum and with waves of emotion and fighting back tears I went into a mental place I'm not sure I have ever been before and I literally charged up the mountain. Trekking poles, grinding teeth, thrusting legs and steel reserve carried me so well that there were flat sections I wanted to run. I knew better though and continued my quick walk to the summit.
(We were just specs on the ridge)
Once I could see the true summit, I finally stopped to take it all in. I was going to make it. Nothing could stop me now. I waited for Adam, who was only 100 yards behind, and we walked to the summit together and gave each other a BIG hug. I had a shit eating grin and could not control my happiness. Tears flowed. I was as happy as it gets. I WAS STANDING ON TOP OF HUMPHREYS! As Susan, Scott, Peter and Tony came up to the summit I gave them all hugs and thanked them for helping me reach such a difficult personal goal.
(Summit shot. Party!)
Our finishing time was 26 hours 52 minutes.
After a short time of eating, laughing, taking photos and freezing in the cold air, Adam pulled out the Colorado River water that he brought from the beginning of our journey and we poured it onto the summit of Mt. Humphreys. What a moment.
We packed up, I took in some last minute views, Susan and I had our own moment in spreading some of Shiloh's ashes on the summit and then we were off, retreating from the next incoming storm.
I wanted to thank Adam and Scott big time. Without them wanting to take on this adventure and asking me to come along, I would have never had this deep, rich experience. We did it guys!!! Also, Susan, Tony, Keri and Peter for putting their lives on hold to help us succeed. THANK YOU GUYS.
Although, I have not fully absorbed all of the experience yet, I do know that this was a bit step in my life. Not just in my ultra running, but in life. This was a big deal for me. I had to go through a lot of failure to have this success. I fully expect to take this experience and what ever lessons I can learn from it and make my life better. I am psyched.
Want To Run It?
If your interested in getting a map for the course so that you can run it, it is in jpg form below. If the quality is crappy then contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll get you a pdf version. There are endless versions that you can run from the Grand Canyon to Humphreys depending on the experience you want. Scott Baxter originally ran it mostly on paved roads and his course was arguably much shorter than ours and he finished in around 21 1/2 hours. Our course follows the historic Stagecoach Route between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon used by tourists in, that's right, stagecoaches. Our course is about 90 miles not including getting into the canyon and descending off of Humphreys. Scott's may have been less than 80 miles. So, maybe you will find an even better way between the two points...if not, hopefully my map helps. Don't hesitate to contact me if you have questions.