The Double Zion traverse, or what you can learn from a failed plan C.

Three weeks ago I got to run across Zion National Park. After weather forced me to cancel the main goal for the summer, I was desperate to find something I could test myself on and see where months of training had gotten me. With a week’s worth of planning and an overflowing car I drove down from Montana with my girlfriend / one-gal awesome support crew to try and beat the record for the Double Zion Traverse — 96 miles across the park end-to-end-to-end. On the surface, I failed. The record is 24 hours, 50 minutes, and I came in at 25 hours flat. Just 10 minutes off.

When someone asks you how a trip went, most of the time you only have 30 seconds to blurt something out, maybe a couple minutes if you’re lucky. Life is busy, everyone’s got their goals to accomplish and bills to pay. There’s no way to fit days, weeks, years of experience into such a short conversation, so you do the best you can. You throw out a couple highlights, or just say you had a great time.

But sometimes, the time is right to really dig into the details of an experience. Relaxed nights around a campfire after a good meal. Over coffee with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. On a trail run at a relaxed pace, the conversation’s pace matching the slowly unfolding landscape.

In these moments I’d take more time to talk through the details.  I’d find more to share beyond the everyday rote, beyond the mundane of miles and time.

In these moments I’d tell my friend about how easy it was to wake up at 4 a.m., how I woke humming with singular purpose and energy.

Or how I settled into the trail in the first few pre-dawn hours and how amazing it feels to turn your mind off and just enjoy moving.

How I got a surge of happiness and feeling of competency when I realized that, though I was in the dark and surrounded by trees, I could match up my position on the trail against the map in my mind because the positions of the stars above were changing just the same as I would expect them to if I was going through the curves in the trail I thought I was on.

Feeling quite literally lifted up by the sunrise, incredibly excited for where recent adventures have taken me and where upcoming ones will take me.

How, thirty miles in, my groin muscles and hip flexors rebelled, and I started to mentally buckle down to the task at hand.

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When I felt like a fish out of water at the Grotto trailhead, so obviously out of place and surrounded by dozens of staring tourists.

The nice older couple who buoyed me up with words of encouragement. They’d run into my girlfriend, Jenny, at a trailhead and were super excited to cheer on the attempt.

Getting close to the halfway point at the East Rim, out of water, out of water and beginning to overheat. Passing two grandmotherly-types and being super excited to see them because there was no way they’d be very far from the trailhead, so I had to be close.

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Sitting down on a rock for exactly four minutes on the descent back into Zion Canyon to eat a Pro Bar and watch dusk come to the canyon.

Heading up the West Rim trail from the Grotto just as dark settled in. Reassuring several sets of tourists that we did indeed realize it was getting dark; thanks for your concern but we’ll be fine.

Jenny joining for 30 minutes of the climb up from the Grotto and bringing grapes. Being really, ridiculously excited about grapes.

Hours later, alone, falling asleep on my feet on the climb up to the West Rim. Digging deep into that unique fuzzy awareness endurance events can bring, where you’re lucid and alert but also curiously removed from your own body. Almost as if you’re watching yourself from a slight distance.

Peeing blood. I felt like I was drinking enough, but peed darker and darker through the final 3-4 hours, and then started peeing blood with about 45 minutes to go. Surprised —I’d never had that before. But feeling physically fine so put my head down and finished. Determined afterwards to learn much more about rhabdomyolysis.

Being so deep in concentration and effort that the trailhead sign at the end caught me completely by surprise.

Finally, mercifully, laying down with Jenny side-by-side in the middle of the road when it was all over. Feeling the lead in my quads and my calves sporadically twitching. Watching the stars overhead and the first light of the day over on the eastern horizon. Neither one of us feeling much need to detract from the moment with any words.

I may have missed my goal by 10 minutes, but I also gained a whole host of experiences. And a renewed determination to find those special moments to listen to the deeper versions of my friends’ stories. Because there is so much experience that we don’t get to share with one another if we don’t make the extra effort.

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2 thoughts on “The Double Zion traverse, or what you can learn from a failed plan C.

  1. My admiration for your toughness and determination are immense……..reminds me of my 20 hour Mt. Whitney climb at age 60……….much shorter but much older……..YOU ROCK NATE !!!

    Like

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