The organizers of the Grand TrailFest brimmed with positivity. We survived trail running days 1 and 2 and through their words dreamed about our final treat — running on Navajo land viewing the Grand Canyon at Horseshoe Bend before dropping into the Slot Canyon. It’s day 3 on legs that no longer bend and who’s even thinking about terrain?
Jill got us to the designated start-park lot just in time to be the first to arrive, the first on the shuttle bus, the first to the porta-potties, the first to drop bags at gear check and the first to set her gps watch. I meandered aimlessly, spilling my hot water, fumbling with peeling my banana, writing the wrong bib# on my bag-check and wondering how one gets her game on without coffee.
At 7:30am we ran through the start chute onto sandy ground — the kind of sand you might experience climbing a dune, where your feet sink 4 inches on every step. No matter how hard you try to land agile and light, you sink deeper and surely this won’t last.
To our initial delight, the terrain changed and now we learned how to run on sharp jagged rock shards, and just when we figured out how to stay upright, it was time to climb boulders of slick rock before transitioning back to deep sand. Then we stopped running. Looking over the rim of the Grand of all Canyons, with the Colorado River below bending into a horseshoe we were speechless. There are no words to describe this mammoth carving of rock, but if I had to choose — breathtaking — fits the bill.
We continued on, climbing in elevation on a trifecta of shard rock, slick rock and sand, and for added good measure we learned a thing or two about vegetation in this high elevation desert. From a distance the green sagebrush looks lush green and you are tempted to let your lower legs brush this friendly plant as you run on by. Apparently sagebrush mates with cacti in the desert and wants to razor slice your skin. We quickly learned the art of jumping the sagebrush.
Somewhere around mile 7ish we rock scrambled – descending a giant Boulder with no footing and a leap of faith — into the carvings of the slot canyons. The slot canyons showcased rock with red and gold tones, smoothed into sculptures that only nature could design. We mostly walked thru the slots with awe, taking pictures, and feeling thankful the Navajo’s allowed us entry to their sacred ground.
We exited the slot canyons with a ladder climb, ran through soft sand, climbing another summit and then a 2ish mile sand-run descending to the finish line.
As we finished we emptied our shoes and socks of sand — we sat, refueling, taking in that moment — a moment of accomplishment followed by relief and disbelief. We did it.
A first shout out to Team Maryland Mid Lifers — an outstanding group of (non-competitive) athletes and friends whom time was shared off the trail. You rock.
A second shout out to the organizers of Grand TrailFest — Vacation Races. To put together an event in which we, the participants would walk away with memories of a lifetime is quite a feat. Every detail — the breakfasts, dinners, camping on site (if you choose) — the positivity vibe from start to finish was genuine. My final memory at the finish of day 3, a volunteer shook my hand, looked me in the eye as he hung my medal over my neck, and repeated ‘you did it’ — until it sunk in. Thank you for making this experience one to savor.
Peace, Love, Out
Jane & Jill