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Vegas and the Grand Canyon

Although I love Vegas, and Han hadn’t been there before, leaving me both intrigued and worried about her reaction to such obvious shows of financial freedom and over-the-top adventures, we also had a secondary aim; a trip to the Grand Canyon to run the Rim-to-Rim (South to North).

We had booked ourselves into the aptly named Circus Circus hotel for a few nights, before picking up our hire car and heading to tackle the canyon. The hotel lies at the Northern end of the strip which meant longer walks to and from our hotel, but also no questions on which way to turn out of the doors when we did wake up.

Like all first timers to the strip, we wandered up and down the boulevard, through all the major hotels, watched the magical water show at the Bellagio, took the circular escalators at Caesars, and ate monster portions of cheesecake and drinks. We even placed a few bets to some fast losses and slower wins. Han actually pulled out a straight flush on one hand, netting her the fortune of $13 back from her initial 25 cents on the video poker.

We danced at the themed bar of Coyote Ugly, drank margaritas at a time of night when sleeping would usually be in order, placed a bet on red for it to come up black, saw an NBA game at the Mandalay Bay, taste tested at the largest candy wall in the world, and generally drank, ate and had a blast as much as we could on our limited backpacker budget.

Vegas was all that it promised to be and more, and juxtaposedly sometimes less, and a little surprisingly Han actually enjoyed some of the aspects I was worried she would hate, and hated some of the aspects I thought she would love; who would have thought she would love a $3.50 slushed Margarita at 11pm on our way back to the hotel, or half naked Coyote girls at the Coyote Ugly themed bar? Vegas therefore confused me as much as it always does, and once again had me wanting to come back for more, more and more, yet also had me wondering if I ever need to come back.

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And with such ambiguous paragraphs and thoughts such as the above, I found myself contemplating the city as we chewed up the miles in our hire car heading along the mind numbingly straight Route 15 North and East out of the city on our way to the Grand Canyon.

Wanting to run the canyon in a day bought with it some logistical problems; obviously you end up 20 plus miles away from where you started. Not fancying running the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (ie repeat it backwards), we had organised a plan to
a) Get picked up by a shuttle bus company from the North rim around 2pm the first day
b) With only our running gear, a toothbrush, some money and the energy bars and trail mix we’d need the next day, arrive at the South Rim around dusk
c) Stay at a lodge on the South Rim and grab some dinner there
d) Wake up around 5:30am, and head out to run back to our car on the North Rim

Even with a small issue of a late car pickup we made our shuttle bus in time and found ourselves gorging on ‘chilli in a bread bowl’ in a somewhat error prone meal-before-a-big-run food intake, but which was to prove surprisingly tasty and filling, energy inducing and error-free the next day.

Early starts are never easy, but when you wake, put on your running shoes, don your hydration packs and look out over one of the most colossal natural wonders of the world I’ve ever seen, it certainly helps. We had decided to take the slightly longer option of descending down into the basin of the canyon along the Bright Angel route, joining up with the core artery of the canyon paths, the Kaibab trail, following this along and up out of the canyon 23 miles later.

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As the sun slowly rose, lighting up the awe inspiring cliff tops as though they were on fire, with their red hued stone catching the morning rays to form these wonderful deep orange contours, we descended into the canyons depths, passing by hikers making their way out after camping at the bottom, sometimes chatting along and pointing out shapes and outlines that intrigued and wowed us, but sometimes just letting nature flow over us as we slowly but surely ate up the miles.

I had mentally split the run into three core sections; the descent, which we completed fairly gravity-inducingly quickly, the middle flat ground, before the long uphill to finish. I had envisioned it to be boiling hot on the canyon floor and for that section to take a large toll out of my energy and pace, but due to the time of year meaning cooler weather was around, but also meaning a lower sun so that the burning rays would take longer to hit the canyon floor, we found ourselves not really hitting any sun after quite some time, almost 2/3 of the way geometrically, although not chronologically, into the run.

After a brief stop at a waterfall, a splattering of water stops and food breaks, we found ourselves no longer running per-se, but marching up the canyons northern rim to take on the bulk of the 5500ft elevation change from basin floor to canyon top finish.

This portion of the hike really was a long slog, both of us working hard and feeling both the uphill quad and calf busting inclines, as well as the altitude as we neared the top, but also to me was the most beautiful and scenic part of the run. The south rim seemed more expansive and open, where as when we looked back and forward as we traversed onwards and upwards on the Northern edge, the route seemed to magically turn and twist around cliff edges and along 1000ft drops, and the canyon seemed to come and go as we twisted around gravity defying obelisks and stone edifices.

At around 4pm we finished, looked back, took the tourist photos and let our bodies collapse into the car seats.

The run had truly been a highlight of the trip, the scenes and visuals will stay with both of us for quite some time, and although it took a little effort in organisation and planning, we wouldn’t have altered it for the world.

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