Guest Contributor: Tim Reitz
R2R2R means a lot of things to a lot of people but taken literally, the acronym stands for the Rim to Rim to Rim trail run of the Grand Canyon.
This iconic and notoriously grueling 45-mile challenge is well known in the trail and ultra-running circuit and graciously offers extreme climbs, unpredictable weather and incredible views that can only be truly appreciated in the first person. For me it has also offered a sense of pride that has lasted exactly four years and counting.
Due to extreme temperature swings in this desert climate, most runners attempt the self-supported run in April or October when weather is more “tolerable”. Although routes can vary and be completed in either direction, most runners begin their journey in at the South Rim in Grand Canyon Village. They descend to the Colorado River via the Bright Angel Trail and climb 5000+ft up to the North Rim via North Kaibab Trail … oh yeah, and then back.
In 2017 I read a random article about R2R2R on Facebook and was immediately drawn in. A few days later I met up with friends at Sycamore Brewing Co. for their run club where I mentioned the article to a buddy Dan Mott who quickly mentioned he read the same article and had the same intrigue.
Feeling frisky and spontaneous, it was brewery run club after all, we confidently and ignorantly committed to running the R2R2R on the spot. For good measure, and after a few more beers and discussion, we surprisingly talked a few other run club members into committing as well. Our beer influenced sales pitch was simple: it’d be an epic experience and only had two hills. This casual run club went from “I read an article” to “dang, we're committed to running the R2R2R” in a just a few hours. … a real life “0 to 60” situation.
Each of us had a running resume that included a handful of marathons and we dabbled in trail running but this kind of distance was unchartered territory. This was going to be a whole new world for us. Our run club runs got longer and competed with bedtimes. Weekend runs turned into weekend plans. I’m pretty sure the entire Charlotte running community saw us at Crowder’s Mountain on multiple occasions.
After 3 months of planning, training, and countless discussions over beers, we arrived at the big ditch on the Thursday before Easter, 2017.
To beat the heat and the pack mules carrying supplies to Phantom Ranch at the canyon floor, we lined up for a photo at the South Kaibab trailhead at 4:20am and dove into the darkness below.
Heading into this rocky and pitch-black abyss was terrifying for someone scared of heights. My shoulder got well acquainted with the side of the canyon wall to avoid getting close to the edge.
The sun peaked out as we eventually reached the canyon floor at mile four. The near vertical canyon walls changed colors each passing moment as more sunlight crept into view. We were so enamored with the changing environment that we stopped to take photos seemingly every few strides.
Several bridges crossed the Colorado River in the bottom of the canyon. Some built recently while others looked a century old. Our minds wondered what early settlers must have thought as they tried to navigate the canyon to the west coast.
As expected, water intake and elevation would play a critical part of our day. Rather than drinking from the river, we opted to replenish at strategically placed waterspouts (aka trail magic). Justified by dropping a few chlorine tabs into the cloudiest water that I’ve ever seen, and we were set for the next 90 minutes.
The floor of the Grand Canyon is 2000ft higher than our home elevation of Charlotte which sits at 700ft above sea level. Toss in a full day’s worth of supplies another 5000+ft of elevation to each rim and you’re in for a long day of burning legs, lungs and a battered ego. I promise you; the vert was very real and very unforgiving.
Heavy snow fall and falling rocks from the winter led to a closing of the final few “easy” miles to the North Rim turnaround. While we were disappointed not to reach the official North Rim, we felt confident that we were still getting the full R2R2R experience. We gathered for a picture and amazing views as a weird sense of achievement came over us. In this moment, it was easy to forget that we had to run the same 21 miles in reverse with the midday sun upon us.
Returning to the South Rim, we stopped at Phantom Ranch as our watches displayed mile 32. Over what was clearly the world’s best cup of lemonade we calculated that we would be climbing out of the canyon near sunset.
Due to fatigue, aches, and varying degrees of “keeping it together”, we mentally reset ourselves and agreed on a few things. #1, a dialed back pace was needed and #2, split up if needed, just get yourself back to the van. We all knew that getting back to the van meant a cooler filled with ice cold Gatorades and beers, the later which got us into this position in the first place.
The final six miles of the “run” took 2.5 hours. The climb was steep, the legs were shot, the oxygen levels were low, but the spirits were relatively high. Mumbling to tourists was a welcomed distraction. I asked where they lived how they were enjoying their vacation. They asked why I looked like death and if they needed to call for help.
Our “lemonade” plan from Phantom Ranched worked as all five friends eventually reached the van 15hrs after our pre-dawn photo. We started in the dark with an endless amount of energy and finished in the dark looking like a vagabond group of deranged zombies.
Beers were consumed, stories were shared, hugs and a few tears were exchanged. We returned home on Easter Day with an amazing sense of accomplishment, exhaustion, and memories that will last a lifetime.
Would we do it again? Maybe. Meet us at Sycamore on a random Wednesday and we’ll chat.
About the Author:
Tim has steadily increased his running distances over the years. Next up, Yeti 100 Mile Endurance Run in Sept.
He can be found running all over the Charlotte area trails and connecting the running and art communities through guided mural tours.
Journal - What Does R2R2R Mean?
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