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The Grand Canyon’s Life Changing  North Rim

Updated: Feb 26, 2020

Grand Canyon National Park

Never did I imagine that a visit to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim would result simultaneously in a broken arm and one of the best free camping experiences of our lives! Blessed with uninterrupted views of the Grand Canyon, the best sunsets imaginable and the 18 mile Rainbow Rim hiking and mountain biking trail literally on our doorstep, we found paradise for the adventure seeker.

We camped in the Kaibab National Forest, 20 miles down a dirt road from the highway which leads directly to the Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim) entrance just 5 miles further down. There are five access points along the rainbow rim with primitive campsites at Timp, North Timp, Locust, Fence and Parissawampitts. We chose North Timp as it had better access for our style of camper. We originally planned to stay 3 nights but as fete would have it we stayed 10 nights in this amazing location. Having arrived around 4pm in the afternoon, we were fast losing light as we searched for a campsite in this very popular part of the world. All the campsites at Timp point were taken and we hastily made our way back along a stretch of dirt road to North Timp to find the last available campsite. There was no time to investigate further along the rim so we made camp just in time to catch the incredible sunset that would set the tone for the evenings to come.

Having never free camped before we had no idea how long our standard issue battery would last with just a small 7kW trickle charge solar panel but we were confident we could make it through just a few days. Well, we found out much quicker than anticipated when at midnight the propane alarm started to beep hysterically into the wilderness. We staggered around in the dark drunk with sleep trying to figure out what was going on when the alarm suddenly fell silent again. “Problem solved” said Glenn and crawled back into bed. Listening to his sounds of sleep, I lay there trying to make sense of what just happened? There was no propane leak so why was the alarm sounding and why did it suddenly stop again? It slowly dawned on me that the alarm was sounding to signal it was running out of power and our battery was dead already. I drifted off to sleep content that I had figured out the problem and decided to let Glenn know the bad news in the morning.

With my theory confirmed, we disconnected the battery from the camper and set up the solar panel in the hopes that the trickle charger would charge the battery over time. Excited and ready to explore we hit the Rainbow Rim trail and set off towards Locust point on our mountain bikes immediately after breakfast. It was 6.5 miles of hilly, slippery gravel trail with big rocks, roots and sand traps, with a couple of steep sections that needed to be hiked. But boy, what a view from Locust point! We were a bit disappointed not to be camping in this spot as it was truly spectacular. We stopped and enjoyed the view whilst refuelling before hitting the next 3 miles to Fence.

After setting up camp and walking to the point to see our first sunset, OMG we’ve hit the jackpot, looking forward to the ride tomorrow. What a glorious day for a ride on the spectacular Grand Canyon’s North Rim, ticking the bucket list here. Looking at the track it didn’t look that hard, but I assure you it was a lot more difficult than it looked. It was a gentle up hill most of the way with a few downhill runs with roots and rocks where you wouldn’t expect them. After leaving North Timp we arrived at Locust to have a beautiful lunch with amazing views as you can see from the pictures. Our next destination Fence. I let Tash go and got the Tom Tom bandit rolling. Half way through I watched Tash get bucked off her bike. Seeing the crash it didn’t look too bad and the video didn’t look too bad either. But a crash is a crash and thank god she was wearing a helmet.

Becoming more familiar with the terrain I started to relax and enjoy the ride as we dipped and dived around the point. About half way to Fence I was making a downhill run when I hit a sand trap on a hairpin turn, bogging my front wheel. I thought I’d come to a complete stop and turned around to warn Glenn when my back wheel hit some rocks and bucked me off my bike into a ditch. A bit dazed and confused as to what just happened, I couldn’t really figure out what’s hurt as my body was flooded with endorphins masking the pain. But I knew it wasn’t good. Glenn came running over telling me to stay down so he could assess me. Of course I insisted I needed to stand up and started wandering around yelping expletives. It was such a small fall I couldn’t believe the pain that started resonating and then the bracelets on my wrist started getting tighter and tighter as I screamed for Glenn to get them off and admitting defeat sat down again. It was then I realised that I’d broken my wrist and couldn’t possibly go on. After struggling with the bracelets, we collected our belongings and started the long uphill slog back to Locust Point, with Glenn pushing both bikes and me carrying my arm in a makeshift sling.

Sitting up against a tree back at Locust Point, I listened to the sound of the wind whistling through the trees waiting for Glenn to return from camp with our car. I knew it was going to be long wait and I preyed to the wind he made it safely back to camp without getting lost or injured himself. I realised I’d forgotten to tell him where the insurance papers were which we needed for the hospital and kicked myself. In the moments that followed I couldn’t help remembering the Ranger telling us to be wary of mountain lions. Sitting there alone, vulnerable and weak was the perfect opportunity for a mountain lion to make it’s move. What would I do? My mind started searching for a contingency plan and landed on a pile of rocks about a meter away. Perfect, I could throw those with my good arm I thought to myself imagining a scene from a Hollywood movie. Then my mind wondered off again and pretty soon started drifting into the dark murky waters of intense pain and deep despair as I started to sob. Wrestling with my emotions I called myself home, taking deep belly breaths I learnt in yoga and coaching myself to stay calm and breath through the pain. Settling into a nice even rhythm my mind returned to the sounds of the wind in the trees and I wished I was a little closer to the edge to enjoy the amazing views just beyond the tree line.

After sitting Tash down at the top of the Locust Point against a tree near the carpark, so many things were running through my head. There was no-one around and I knew I wasn’t supposed to leave her alone, but we were alone. We decided I would ride back to get the car and I would go the longer, safer way on the road (30 miles instead of 6 miles on the track) in case I saw someone to help. As I was riding I told the first and only people I met on the way and hoped they were sound folk. I blurted out our emergency and they reassured me they would take good care of Tash as I still had 20 miles to go, mostly up hill to get to the car. It was one of the hardest mental rides I’ve ever done. I wanted to stop and walk because my legs were burning from all the hills on a the loose gravel but I knew I had to keep going for Tash. Not sure if I was going the right way, I was getting fatigued and brain fog. Relieved, I finally got to the North Timp junction with 7.2 miles to go and now on a mainly downhill trajectory. OMG I finally reached the car and threw my bike under the camper and locked it up. I grabbed the first aid kit and what ever I could, a jumper, space blanket and water and raced to get back in the car driving furiously to get back to Tash (sorry Louise, the car).

I really thought another hiker, biker or camper would find me and keep me company but I saw not another soul for at least an hour. Next thing I heard a car approaching and took comfort in knowing there was someone else finally here. It turned out Glenn met them on the road and sent them to check on me. They were the most amazing spiritual couple, keeping me company & taking my mind off the pain as we got to know each other. The ibuprofen they gave me also helped. I let them know about the amazing campsite we had passed on the bikes and was surprised they didn’t hurry off to set up camp but instead stayed with me until Glenn returned.

After finally arriving at Locust, I see the couple and their van still at the point with Tash. Most people would have left to grab a spot to camp. What an amazing couple. We took a quick picture and thanked them again and told them where to get the best view on the North Rim, and they did.

Finally Glenn arrived and we made our way (first black to camp for the insurance papers) then 120 miles to the nearest hospital in Utah. It was about 9 hours from breaking my arm until we got to the hospital, and as soon as we arrived the shock started to set in. X-rays confirmed a distal radius fracture and I was put under while they reset the displaced bone and splinted the arm. Quite the Sunday night for a country hospital with the radiologist, anaesthetist and surgeon all called in to take care of me, not to mention the nursing staff, they all did an amazing job.

We still had 120 miles to go to get to the hospital. After arriving we were greeted and treated with amazing service. As per usual they love Australians. After going through all the insurance paperwork to get Tash looked at, it was finally time to get her arm straightened. I was allowed to video it, and what a video! The doctor was amazed with what Tash said under anaesthetic and wanted to tell everyone. Unfortunately I didn’t get that bit on film, but started filming during the straightening process, not for the faint hearted I can tell you. Tash tried to kick the doctor away making him think she was not under. The anaesthetist assured him its just a reaction as he told me he had given her 2 vials, enough to knock out 3 grown men. I had a small chuckle to myself. As the anaesthetist started bringing Tash back, she tried to get off the table, thinking she had been in a car accident. I reminded her she has broken her arm riding her bike on the Grand Canyon she settled down but continued to squirm as she didn’t want to be there anymore.

We ended up spending the night in a The Cowboy Bunkhouse hostel in Kanab as it was 10pm by the time we left hospital and a very long drive back to camp. The hostel was actually the old hospital and they were quite confused when Glenn booked a room using my purse, ID and bank card, not really sure if his story was an elaborate con or what? I think they were pretty relieved to find it was all true when I emerged for breakfast the next morning.

When we finally made it back to camp the next day, we were greeted by some pretty curious campers who were trying to understand why we had abandoned our campsite. Forced to stay in the area (what a shame) for my follow up appointment for a cast in 1 weeks time, we ended up with more time than we bargained for to explore the National Park and got to know the campers of the North Rim, in particular our guardian angels sent to protect me in my time of need. We were also forced to get the hang of free camping without a battery or a generator as fall descended on the Canyon. Good news is, the tickle charger recharged our battery in just a few days and we figured out we needed to switch the fridge to run on gas and disconnect the propane alarm if we were to do this successfully long term.

Now disabled, the level of intimacy in our relation was put to the test as Glenn now needed to help me do EVERYTHING! Not easy for me to accept help either as I stubbornly tried to do everything myself until my impatience got the better of my pride. Being forced to slow down and enjoy this remote, tranquil, beautiful and spiritual location together in a relationship now on new terms was simply the best thing that ever happened. Our relationship was renewed and so much stronger knowing we could rely on each other no matter the situation.

The next few months were going to be more physically challenging for me and as the days went by it slowly dawned on me all the extra jobs I would be doing as well as all the driving across America. But I had the easy job. I didn’t have the broken arm and we soon learnt what she could and couldn’t do (like tie shoelaces). It was trying sometimes to watch her struggle to do things, refusing help, when it would have been quicker and easier for me to do it, but that’s Tash. She was such a trooper on the day and on the journey that lay ahead.

It was 6 weeks before my cast was removed and another 6 weeks before I was able to start physiotherapy. I’m pleased to report the bone healed perfectly but the journey to full recovery is still a work in progress. I’ve regained about 80% function but I still need to work on my strength. I never imagined how much muscle atrophy and weakness I would have after my cast was removed. A further test of patience for me (not my strong suit) and 12 months before I’m completely healed. A long time before I’m back to tackling the trails but at least I’m riding again.

Where We Stayed:

North Timp Point, Kaibab National Forest, Arizona 10 nights FREE

Cowboy Bunkhouse Hostel, Kanab Utah, 1 night $60/nt

Gntonefortheroad Travel Tips

  1. Call into the ranger station and also the local convenience store before heading into the Forest. They can provide maps and also up to date information on the roads and accessibility.

  2. Always be prepared and take a first aid kit, space blanket, food, water and sunscreen. We would usually have these in our packs but on the day we got complacent. Life has a way of teaching us the hard lessons.

  3. Always wear a helmet and extra padding on the trails.

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