Often the craziest ideas are the ones that give you the best memories. But for Venga CBD ambassador, Chrissy Parks, the idea to cross the Grand Canyon 4 times total in a row, on foot, and solo, didn’t seem crazy. It just felt like something she wanted to do.
So on an early morning of October 2020, she set out to conquer 89 miles of hiking that included over 21,000 ft of elevation gain. In doing so, she became the first woman to record the feat on the Fastest Known Time website.
Q: Introduce yourself! Who are you, and what makes you tick?
I’m a Canadian living in the desert (since 2008). I started my adult life as an archaeologist, went back to school to become an RN, back again to become an NP and now I’m working to become a Doctor of Medicine. To ‘keep ticking’ I enjoy learning and pretty much anything athletic or outdoors
Q: Can you give us a brief history of your athletic background?
Almost everyone in Canada plays hockey or ringette (slightly different for the gals), so I did that competitively until age 16. I was also on a few different teams at school with volleyball and track being my focus. I did the 800, 1500, and a sub-60 second 400 in the 4x 400 relay (I think we still hold the record from 1995). I did my first marathon in 2004. My true love is running but my body has not always been willing. After having some pretty lengthy injuries, I started cycling and my love for triathlon was born. I’ve done 8 full Ironmans with a top 5 finish at the Ironman World Championship in Kona and an overall AG win at IM AZ; which was a sub 10 hours.
Q: What’s your relationship with the Grand Canyon? Other than obviously, it’s amazing.
It’s very difficult to explain the feeling and connection I have with this special place. I first visited in 2008, but only went down a couple miles and I didn’t have a chance to head back until last year. I was lucky to be able to go with a friend who knew the canyon well. We only got to go down Bright angel 4 miles, but I was hooked. There was a beauty and connection I had never felt with a place before. I felt so small but so loved and powerful. I decided I needed to see more. I was able to obtain overnight stays at Phantom Ranch for my birthday and snuck in North Kaibab. A month later, I just felt I needed to do R3 (rim 2 rim 2 rim). And then I thought, why not twice?? And did that in October of 2020.
(Note: R3 indicates that you start at one rim of the Grand Canyon, hike to the other rim, turn around and hike back. Depending on your route, this typically totals around 44 miles.)
Q: On the FKT website, you have the earliest record for the R5 (meaning crossing the canyon 4 times in a row, totaling around 88 miles), and are quickly followed by 2 more ladies. Are you a trendsetter, or what?! What was your initial inspiration that said, I’m going to do this – twice, even though no one else (officially) has.
Ha. That was exactly what pushed me to do it. We had spoken with a few park rangers and to their knowledge, no woman had done the R5. I wanted to be the first. The bonus of that was I didn’t have to worry about my time. So I didn’t 🙂
Q: Can you give us a summary of how it all went down?
I had very few expectations. I wanted to enjoy it and I think that’s why the experience was successful. I had a friend crewing me (whom I would only see one time for restock and coke), and no pressure. I was going to spend a lot of time in my favorite place and that was reward enough.
I took my time, talked to people and focused on eating and drinking, and of course made a stop at PR (Phantom Ranch) for the famous lemonade (with 3 refills).
I actually finished the first crossing faster than I anticipated (somewhere around 12 hours – South Kaibab, North Kaibab, South Kaibab trails) and sat at the top for almost an hour in the ‘contemplation phase’.
The realization that I was going to be alone, in the bottom of the canyon, overnight, and without any means of communication started to set in. Cell phones don’t work in most of the canyon, and my InReach was almost dead. Knowing there is zero option for a DNF in the Grand Canyon makes you think a little more about how things could go down.
All it took were a couple of words of encouragement and I headed back down into the sunset.
This was actually my favorite part of the experience. It was still pretty warm in the canyon and very dark. I only saw a couple of people all night. It was very special.
I hallucinated a couple of times (I thought I heard large groups of people talking), but otherwise never had any issues. I got back to Noth Kaibab at midnight and it was freezing (actually 32 degrees). I took my pic and headed down right away with visions of a Manzanita bathroom stall nap. But it got warmer and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, ticking off miles, mostly power hiking by this time.
I regained communication with my ‘team’ (on the rim and back in Tucson) when I was 4 miles from the top of South Kaibab. The sun was coming up, it was going to be hot, and I knew it was going to take me a long time.
The steps seemed extra high and the sun was extra warm (there’s no water on South Kaibab but it is shorter than the Bright Angel trail.) I was experiencing full-body exhaustion and moving in super slow motion, but still fully enjoying the pain within the moment.
It was super fun to see all the people heading down on their own adventure. I must have looked (and maybe smelled?) like I had been out there a while as everyone was quick to give me the right of way as the uphill hiker.
I finished under 29 hours and pretty much loved every minute of it.
Q: What was your essential gear for the trip? Was there anything, in particular, that was a lifesaver or anything you’d rethink next time?
My Kogalla light. This is hands down the best light out there and you can use the battery to recharge other devices (my watch and InReach). Hiking poles are also something I rely on for these longer events.
Q: How did you train to prepare?
This was a last-minute decision and I didn’t do anything specifically to train for it. I had a bunch of long fastpacking/hiking trips over the summer that kept me in decent shape. I made sure that I kept my pace sustainable and viewed it as a long walk in a canyon.
I think the mental aspect is most of it (I’m sure most ultra athletes will agree.) Being okay with being alone, being able to come face to face with demons and keep moving forward.
Q: How long did it take you to recover?
The physical soreness didn’t last long. I experienced lingering fatigue for probably a week or so. I think the sleep deprivation experienced during longer events is the hardest on your body.
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for people who are doing any part of the canyon, be it just down and out, one way, or R2R?
Relax, take it all in. Accept that there will be moments that will hurt (sometimes a lot of moments and a lot of hurt) and that is part of what makes it so special.
Get the lemonade at Phantom Ranch.
And remember, there’s no such thing as a DNF in the canyon.
Q: What next up on the adventure list for you?
I’m training for the Triple Crown of 200s this summer by Destination Races; Bigfoot, Tahoe, and Moab.
In June, I will be doing the Desert Rats Kokopelli 150 mile stage race as a fun, adult summer camp training week. And I am definitely planning on doing another trip to the Grand Canyon sometime soon, with a few crazy ideas.
Q: Do you have a favorite Venga CBD product? If so, how/when do you use it?
I love the gummies and they are with me for any run > 2 hours.
I take the Ultra Gels if I seem to be more inflamed than expected (I can’t take NSAIDs) and I use the energy drink for a boost at work or in my water bottle for shorter runs.
The recovery balm gets used almost every night, rotating to different parts of my body!!