Once you get the logistics out of the way (which trails to use, what time of year is best, how to manage the transportation if you don’t do the rim-to-rim double), an experience of a lifetime awaits everyone. Stacy AuCoin and I started on the South Rim. While we were on the trail, 3 other Bozemanites (Greg Young, Terry Liest, Carrie Krause) had flown into St. George, rented a car, and were driving down to the North Rim to meet us.
The 1st gift from the Grand Canyon was about 45 minutes into the descent from the Bright Angel Trailhead, leaving at 4:13am by headlamp. Easing our way down over 100’s of log steps, with eerie echoes off unseen canyon walls all around, we heard little giggling sounds approaching us from behind. We saw flickering lights way above, and suddenly 3 young girls appeared. We stepped aside so they could pass (and we thought we were the only ones doing this!)… the one up front stopped right next to me, her headlamp shining in my face, and exclaimed “aren’t you David Summerfield?” Total disconnect. Here we were, in a supposed death-defying struggle for survival (all the warning signs on the rim for tourists, urging them NOT to attempt what we were doing)…and suddenly I was back in Bozeman on a trail, in the midst of “our kind”. She introduced herself, “I’m Emily Allison, daughter of Ridge Runner Mike Allison” – talk about feeling at home in a strange land! That set the tone for the whole day. Everyone we met on the trail was on some kind of personal mission, no doubt about it. All but a few had that “look” in their eyes – some a steely glint, some a fierce determination, some humbled by the pain of knowing they still had many hours of grueling effort to get back on top. The gift? No matter who you are, where you are, in some way we are all one.
The 2nd gift from the GC became apparent an hour later - as we realized we could see a hint of huge buttresses all around us. The dawn had begun. Suddenly the world around us became visually magical. Our legs had been telling us we were going down, down, down. But visually, nothing was changing. Then we came upon an oasis called the Indian Gardens, and with colors still pretty grey, we passed a couple deer without realizing what they were – grey on grey. They were on the trail, and right beside it, and had no intention of budging. And then the explosion of color happened all around. I remember asking myself what I would have to do to find this same amazement at the dawn of a new day back in Bozeman. Every step produced a completely new vista, everything was new and exciting. Where is the thrill of walking the dog on the same hiking trail morning after morning, with the exact same trees in the exact same location, crossing the road in the exact same place month after month, year after year? Do we really have to travel 1000 miles just to revel in life again? I tried to memorize what I was seeing. I wanted to recreate this same scene whenever life got boring back home. Then I realized, well – that’s pretty dumb. Isn’t that what we have minds for? And, yes, we DO need periodic reminders to stay alive “upstairs”, and perhaps go to great lengths to really shake ourselves awake….like stripping away all the cobwebs, go do something way out-of-the-ordinary….go plunging down into the Grand Canyon, for example. Every 5 minutes or so, I’d look up from the ground in front of me and have to take in a deep breath as if to say “my God – this is absolutely spectacular.” The gift? Spectacular stuff is always around – just look for it.
I’d say the 3rd gift of the GC was on a different level. Time stood still, even though we had this constant impending deadline of having to be at the North Rim around 5pm (and darkness) if we wanted to get a ride (in an actual motor vehicle, rolling down an actual paved highway) – all facilities were closed on October 15th, and the closest place to stay was 45 miles north of the rim. Anyway, we went back in time – millions of years, and slowly came back to the present over the course of 13 hours. Geologic strata after strata – all completely different. Were we in the dinosaur period now, or the rise of hominids, or was this the time waters covered the land, etc.? We literally felt in a foreign dimension. This was the real thing, not a creation of a technological contrivance, aided by computers and the like. This was raw nature, and we felt miniscule but very much a part of it all. At one point on a steep stretch hugging the sides of sheer cliffs on a narrow trail – we caught up to a man listening to a handheld radio – blaring outloud. Eeeeek!! I could feel the word…. “Disconnect!” Must….get…away…from …this… aberration… this… freak…. of….nature!! It took us a ½ hour of powering away from him, but it worked. Ahhhh. So what was happening there? That simple little technological device symbolized a rational, material world that was separate from us. We’d been living “as one” with the world around us, for over 10 hours straight. The mere sound of a radio broke the spell. The cliffs and rocks and vistas suddenly appeared “not part of me” if that makes sense. Then we got back to being part of the landscape, blending our energies. Its hard to describe. Gift? Occasionally, step away from a mechanistic view of your world, you can do it just by closing your eyes – and so some blending, some filling your soul. Now, to keep that going!!! - David Summerfield
David Nutter Summerfield
The following blogs were first published in The Windrinker, a running newsletter published in Bozeman, MT (www.Windrinkers.org). There is a constant attempt at viewing the foibles of long distance runners in a humorous light so we don't take ourselves too seriously.