How a family trip to the Canyon gave me the idea to throw on a 60 lb. pack and ruck Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in one day.
In 2019 I saw the Grand Canyon in person for the first time. I was amazed at the sheer magnitude of it all and my adventurous spirit took off like a rocket. At the time I never done a ruck or long distance hike or anything more than a few moderate trails local to me in New England. But soon after visiting the canyon I made a plan that would change that and it all started with an idea given to me by a sign, literally a metal sign, that told me not to do it.
This first trip out west came in the form of a wedding invitation. At first my wife and I were going to just send ourselves but I took advantage of the opportunity and planned to take our daughter on the most epic west coast road trip known to man, probably. Ok, the planning was more luck than skill I'll admit but we managed to travel over 1,000 miles in 4.5 days without feeling like we were living in a car. We saw touristy stuff when we landed in LA, posed in front-ish of the Hollywood sign, hung out in La Jola Cove with an abundance of seals, walked the Santa Monica Pier, saw some cool back stage stuff at the San Diego Zoo (thanks Coles), drove though the San Jacinto Mountains, ate in Sedona, visited the Grand Canyon and finally attended the beautiful wedding in Apache Junction AZ. It was a great trip and we made a ton of memories but there was something nagging at me.
The Grand Canyon had created an itch and on the flight home from Phoenix I was brainstorming what exactly it was I was trying to scratch. I was so intrigued by the whole experience but there was one thing that stuck out to me. When we took a quick hike below the rim to Ooh Ahh Point, a popular destination spot for day trippers, somewhere on the steep path down there was a sign that warned about going down to the river. It explained how you need to know your limits and how it wasn't safe to go down and back in a day, citing altitude sickness and fatigue. I also noticed that almost no one was rounding the corner to continue down from Ooh Ahh Point. It was then I thought that's exactly what I had to do. So yes I got the idea to do something challenging in the Grand Canyon from what was basically the National Parks Service version of "don't push the big red button."
So yea I'll take this opportunity to say anything you read in here that sounds like a good idea is not a good idea and you shouldn't do it.
That being said though, now I had something to work with. I took to the interwebs to turn the idea into a plan. I started with "south rim to the river and back in a day" which didn't deliver anything super satisfying. Then the search went to "hardest hikes in the Grand Canyon."
I believe I was in the car with my wife when I saw the rim-to-rim-to-rim or R2R2R pop up on my browser. 50 miles, 10,000 feet of elevation change, drastic weather and temperature, complete isolation... boy when I tell you I lit up. In about an instant I knew this was it but what I didn't know was how I wanted to go about it. I like to do things differently and what I observed from all the blogs and research was that there were two kinds of people that did the R2R2R, ultra runners and fast packing hikers. Since you're not allowed to camp below the rim overnight without a permit you typically would pack essentials and keep a relatively quick pace and go in and out. I was all for the in and out but I didn't want to run and I didn't want to do a normal hike.
A run would have absolutely been a challenge but it wasn't the type of challenge I was looking for. I enjoy pulling, pushing, lifting heavy things, hybrid workouts etc. To train for an ultra would have called for some big adjustments, it wasn't out of the question but since this was my challenge I wanted to think about it. Normal hiking or fast packing was out because.. well frankly it didn't seem challenging enough. Then it dawned on me. Make the hiking harder.
I've spent a good amount of workouts over the past couple years with a weighted vest on burpees, tire flipping, running etc. and all the hiking and running blogs and articles emphasized packing LIGHT...
I'll pack HEAVY.
I now had a goal to ruck the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim. I started at 50lbs for an even number with 50 miles and from some testing I found that 50lbs was manageable for me to hike with and became tiring around 10 miles, so I figured that 50 miles and all that elevation it should be brutal. And just to do it wasn't enough, I had to set a goal for time. When looking over the times on AllTrails I saw that a lot of hikers were logging around the 19-24hrs. I estimated that even with my heavy pack I should be able to keep up and set my goal for an ambitious in and out under 20 hours. Hindsight is always clearer.
I also needed to factor in elevation. I could train at elevation up in NH but it just wasn't feasible. Acknowledging that there was no way I could properly acclimate to the elevation of the rims so I planned to give myself the best I could with 1 travel day and 2 full days at elevation before starting.
And last but not least, nutrition and water. Water would be easy because I had the benefit of needing to add weight to my pack so I wasn't shy and planned to pack 3.5 gallons of water. Food was another story, I had to make sure I was eating the correct things to keep my body running. Details would come later but I needed some intra-workout endurance style supplementation. After researching I found GU energy gels and Stroop waffles would probably work best along with 1st Phorm Intraformance. I would be figure out other nutrients later but this was the baseline to begin training with.
Check out part 2 for my training program, nutrition and daunting schedule that put it all together.