Going into the Grand Canyon Ultras 50 Mile race this weekend it appeared that my race goals and the imminent conditions were at odds with each other. I had initially chosen the Grand Canyon course after chatting with Ultra Adventures race director Matt Gunn after running Antelope Canyon about his other races and which ones he thought would be a little less sandy and less demanding of my stabilizers. Grand Canyon came highly recommended. Amazing views, point-to-point, gradual elevation and buttery smooth single track mixed in with dirt roads surrounded by ponderosa forest. The location also carries a host of great memories from my time working with the Coconino Rural Environment Corps where I was able to spend hundreds of hours building trail and chainsawing. It feels like coming home when I return to the Kaibab.
Jess and I headed down from Grand Junction on Friday filling the drive with podcast musings from The Moth, RadioLab and This American Life to help the hours fly by on a drive we have done dozens of times from Moab to Page. We checked in, swooped up our shirts along with a bonus trucker’s hat and headband and got ready to dirtbag it in the Subaru for the night. I set my alarm and plugged in my phone for the morning (or thought I did…).
Starting back in November of 2014 I started getting urged by several Grand Valley running buddies to come out and run the Bangs Canyon 30K/60K to start off the new year. The fatass race has a long history and has been run by the same group of old-school, die-hard Grand Valley runners from before I was running in high school. The course is fully self-supported and in place of any entry fee it is suggested to bring food, drink or firewood to share with everyone after the race. All of the usual suspects from the Mesa Monument Striders were present, and James had a late start that morning so I lent him my extra handheld water bottle. By about 8:15 am over thirty people had signed into the paper ledger so the course director would know who was out there and some copies of the course were distributed. Kevin Koch (the event coordinator) gathered everyone at the starting line to give some directions and to explain the course conditions. Today's conditions varied from ATV-packed powder to 2-3" of unconsolidated snow over mixed terrain and slickrock.
This year’s edition began with a casual round up at the starting line and a nice loud gun to get everyone headed off to the boulder field bottleneck. At the first trail junction there was someone guiding runners and telling them to take the next left, which a bunch of runners missed anyway (I would suggest either running the Crag Crest loop before hand or just taking it slow to stay on track at the beginning). The columbines and sunrise were amazing and everyone running the race was super friendly and chatty as we ran the loop.