This past weekend was supposed to be about Grand Canyon training, about getting miles at elevation, about climbing and descending. And it kind of was.
Back up: As you may know, two Minnesota-based friends of mine, Jo and Jess, and I are going to hike rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon this spring. One of them—not naming names—is celebrating a milestone birthday, and, like any #motherrunner worth her sweat, wants to celebrate by hiking about 24 miles through one of the most beautiful places on earth.
I have been training them (a loose term) for our adventure, and they're nailing the plan. But Minnesota has an average elevation of 1,200 feet, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, our destination, tops out at over 8,000 feet. Jess has asthma. Since altitude can affect breathing, we wanted to be sure her lungs jived with thin air, so the pair came to Colorado for a training weekend. She figured if the cold, dry air didn't aggravate things, the warmer, dry air won't either.
Wanting to stay close to home on the first day in case things went awry, we then headed to the top of Ski Granby, which is accessible from my mom's front door. With the exception of a few falls (which we had to document, of course), the J-Team were total rock stars.
Asthma? As if.
The next day, we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park--a place, I'm embarrassed to admit, I've never visited in winter, despite it being about 30 minutes from my mom's house. It was nearly deserted, and crazy spectactular.
Jo scoped out a tree-lined trail that went nearly straight up for what seemed like hours. We didn't have a map (not super smart, but the great thing about snowshoeing is that you can count on following your track back out). Thankfully, we eventually topped out on Trail Ridge Road, a road that leads to Estes Park in the summer, but is closed in the winter. The road grade was much more user-friendly, although we were definitely still going up, up, up until we turned and went down, down, down.
At one point on Saturday, Jess asked us to stop for a second to put our hands together. The wind was blowing hard, the sky was crazy blue, the sun was creating diamonds on the snow around us, our blood was pumping, our legs were a bit shaky. We couldn't help but feel 100% alive, 100% Holy Cow, 100% bewildered at this life and this earth.
"Be somebody on whom nothing is lost," Jess said, "My mom always tells me this, and I want us to remember this today and through the rest of our training."
It was hard not to be present, not to miss a detail during those two days. We laughed and chatted. We stomped in silence. We watched out for each other, reminding each other to drink up often and to take the climbs slow. We ate homemade turkey and avocado sandwiches and Justin's peanut butter cups. We dropped trou and peed in the open. We decided Wide Open Spaces by the Dixie Chicks will be our Grand Canyon theme song. We were absolutely where our feet—and accompanying snowshoes and snow-balled socks—were.
We stopped in nearby Grand Lake for hot chocolate after our adventure. I asked if they wanted to look in the shops for a minute. "No," said Jo, "That'll ruin our vibe." We agreed, and headed home.
When we got back in the car, I had a few texts waiting for me—unusual for a Saturday at 2 pm. Back in cell range, I called Grant, my husband. He told me that Andrew Tilin, a dear friend of Sarah's, a former co-worker of Grant's, a pal of mine, a talented writer, and one of the best, most authentic, lovely and enthusiastic guys I've ever known, was killed in a freak cycling accident that morning. On a bike ride, he made you feel like you could win an Olympic race; during a conversation, he was so deeply engaged, it was flattering.
He was 52, and left behind two beautiful kids and so many friends who couldn't help but simply adore him. His loss will be felt acutely for many years to come.
Be somebody on whom nothing is lost.
Having known Andrew, I am confident the miles he covered on his bike on Saturday morning, before he met his death, weren't lost on him.
At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, I am going to try to follow in his footsteps. I am going to do my best to stay present, to notice the rest of the journey until we reach the Grand Canyon Rim.
It may not be bluebird skies and fabulous days the whole way—in fact, I'm very confident it won't be—but there is always gratitude in noticing the details, always life in staying in the present.