I am not a morning person. Everyone who knows me is aware of this, thanks largely to my inability to do much before sunrise. Or, more realistically, even before 10am. For me, mornings are when I hold onto the warmth from my bed or sleeping bag for as long as I can until the sun’s rays can warm me. Dawn and I typically don’t get along, but I do have to admit some of my favorite moments on public lands do come during the morning hours.
Struggling with mornings is something I deal with a lot in my day to day life. I am a night owl, enjoying sunsets and stargazing far more than seeing morning dew and experiencing first light. Yet, when on the road and exploring National Parks, I feel myself changing, answering the call of the dawn. I feel an eagerness to wake up early and appreciate every moment of daylight on our public lands. I want to see sunrises and sunsets and not miss a second in between. I burn the candle at both ends, stargazing, grabbing a few hours of sleep, then waking up early for another day of exploring, hiking and climbing. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
One of my best mornings on Public Lands came in 2017 on what would be my longest day of adventure to date. The previous day, I had experienced sunrise in Joshua Tree, watching the night sky slowly, but steadily, replaced with the gorgeous hues of first light. I had slept terrible the night before, but the sunrise made up for it. Contrasting sharply against the oddly shaped Joshua Trees at the campground, I was amazed and happy to be up so early to see this. However, we didn’t have much time to explore this park as the sun got higher in the sky. Instead, we raced toward the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where we would be running Rim to Rim to Rim in a day.
Once again, the night before the run I didn’t sleep well. It would be an early morning and a long day, my nerves consumed me. Tossing and turning, I eventually got a few hours of slumber before the alarms on our phones started blaring. Groggy and even more nervous than the night before, I got ready for what would be a ridiculously long and challenging day. Outside, it was dark and cold, two of my least favorite things. The sun wouldn’t be rising for another hour and as I shivered in the darkness, waiting for our bus to take us to the trailhead, I couldn’t help but daydream of laying in a warm bed for a few more hours.
I was jostled away from warm thoughts as our bus arrived, weaving along the canyon rim as the first signs of dawn started showing themselves over the massive canyon below. By the time we reached the trailhead, headlamps were not needed, but the sun was still missing from the horizon. As we took the first steps of what would be a 45+ mile day and over 15,000 feet of elevation gain, I began to embrace the morning, still having no idea what was in store. Had I researched the trail a bit more, I would have realized that we would be in the perfect spot on the trail the moment the sun crested the canyon walls.
Within the first mile of running, we started seeing more and more people hiking down the canyon. We assumed it was ambitious day hikers, heading to the river. Instead, as we rounded a corner, we saw their destination, the appropriately named Ooh Aah Point. I may be hazy in my memory from our 16+ hour day, but I sweat that the moment we reached the point, the suns rays touched our skin and filled us with both warmth and insane beauty in every direction. Here we were, less than 6,000ft into our run and we were already experiencing a moment that would forever change my life. I had been to the Grand Canyon years before, but had never before seen the first bolts of sunlight dancing their way into the canyon.
At Ooh Aah Point, we stood in silence for a few moments, blown away by the stunning landscape that was unfolding in daylight before us. It wouldn’t be for a few days until the serenity of the moment was recognized, as after taking a few pictures, we continued to run down toward the Colorado River. The morning would be a rollercoaster of sunlight and shade, rocks and donkey droppings, but each overlook gave us yet another view of the sun rising above the steep canyon walls. Enjoying every minute of the elongated sunrise, we laughed and jogged down to Phantom Ranch, unaware that the peaceful morning sun would grow much angrier as our day progressed while running the canyon.
I may still not be a morning person, but this sunrise that we had while running Rim to Rim to Rim at the Grand Canyon is a moment forever etched into my soul. Describing it for the first post of season two of the #NatureWritingChallenge fails terribly, as describing the colors of the canyon is an impossibility to all who attempt it. To this day, this sunrise alone inspires me to wake up early and to go catch a sunrise in a pretty spot on public lands as often as I can, in hopes to replicate the mind-numbing beauty that unfolded before us that early May morning.
*This post was written in one hour for #NatureWritingChallenge