An opportunity for an extremely challenging and potentially life-changing adventure unexpectedly dropped in on my life two Tuesdays ago.
My kids had just left for school, and I was packing lunch to take to the office while pondering how I’d feed my son dinner between baseball and Scouts at day’s end. “Adventure” on that day meant finding time to scan Yelp reviews of Manhattan restaurants and make some reservations for our Spring Break trip to NYC.
A check of my phone revealed an email from the editor of Trail Runner magazine, only a few lines long: “Say, I thought I’d see if you’re interested in an adventure …” My eyes scanned the phrases: “a new desert stage race in the Southwest” … “September 23 – 29” … “Grand to Grand Ultra.”
I clicked through to g2gultra.com and saw a photo of the Grand Canyon under the heading: “6 Stages, 7 Days – Self-Supported Foot Race – 160 Miles.”
Suddenly, I really needed to go to the bathroom.
The magnitude of this offer sunk in immediately. I comprehended in a blink-type moment that an opportunity ripe with potential to fulfill personal and professional dreams—but also heavy with risk—had landed in front of me. I just needed to decide whether to reach out and seize it.
It’s called “the Grand to Grand” because it goes from the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah. And it’s called “self-supported” because you have to carry everything you’ll need other than water and a tent (which the race organizers provide) on your back—sleeping bag, gear and enough calories for seven extremely physical days.
It’s the first race of its kind in North America, and it’s drawing endurance athletes from all over the globe—15 countries represented at last count. It’s 160 miles broken up into six stages of 28, 22, 50, 27, 24, 9.
The prospect of running and hiking that much on back-to-back days, through sand and heat with a pack on my back, boggles my mind. Giddiness battles dread in my stomach.
I needed several days to seriously consider it. My impulse was to say yes—how could I say no? I’d regret and wonder “what if” forever—but the risks and burden to my family weigh heavily on me. I’ve never been away from my kids and husband for so long. I’m supposed to be working with Morgan to grow his startup business, and he’s already generously supporting my trip to Geoff Roes’s Alaska training camp in late July. I would need to find a way to make it up to him.
And honestly, I’m scared. I’m haunted by the prospect of bad things happening, such as a serious accident, getting lost or getting a snakebite.
Ultimately, however, I wrote the editor back with an enthusiastic “yes.” The event director, Tess Geddes, welcomed me on board and reminded me of the saying, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”
It’s been almost two years since we returned from ten months of nomadic living and roadschooling around the globe. When our family settled back into our house, I vowed to try to nurture the lifestyle and values kindled during that long journey. I started this blog with the hope that writing about destination-oriented running and adventure would inspire my own. I interviewed people like my friend Joe about his Gobi Desert Crossing or Tamara about her Costa Rica Challenge because part of me wanted to be in their shoes. Could I do that? What would it be like? Am I tough enough? I put a multi-day staged race and a Grand Canyon crossing on my new year’s resolutions and travel dream lists to think big, go for it, don’t get stuck in that rut.
Morgan came up with the mantra “gotta try new things” when he made a career break and took us on the long trip, and I often repeat it to myself. Gotta confront fears, cope with discomfort, and connect with different people and places to more fully appreciate the good life we have and to broaden our perpsectives.
In the days since I said “yes,” I’ve experienced many second thoughts and doubts, but they can’t suppress the excitement at the prospect of doing—and covering—the event itself. I definitely don’t want to miss the journalistic opportunity to report on an inaugural event of this scope.
Over the next five months, I’ll need to gain a much higher level of strength and endurance while learning about particulars such as lightweight gear, backpacker food, heat training and sand running. I’ll blog about the preparation here and for Trail Runner online.
I can’t help recalling a day in the fall of 2009, when our family stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon on a too-quick visit, and I gazed across the immense red-hued chasm in the earth and vowed to run its trails someday. A year after that, on a drive to Colorado, we pulled to the roadside somewhere in Southern Utah. Looking at the landscape, I wondered what it would be like to just take off and run across it. Who would’ve thought I’d get the chance to connect those two dots? More than scared, I feel grateful.