Canyon de Chelly and the Long Way to Get There

I know that I'm always harassing you guys about being more environmentally friendly, so you might assume that this title is referring to a bicycle ride to Canyon de Chelly. But no, I'm not (yet) that cool. Instead, I'm thinking of riding my motorcycle down there. It's about 160 miles from where I live, which is far enough to make something that's normally fun into a death march. Being an ultrarunner, that's what I do best, so I think this is a great idea.

My motorcycle is a Suzuki TU250X. If you're not a moto geek, I'll explain it in this way: it can best be described as "cute". It has a 250cc engine, which is fast enough to go 60mph, but not comfortably. That kind of speed doesn't feel very safe, but that's okay because now that it's October, the air is really cold at 60mph. I'm much happier cruising down country roads at 45mph. I'll still need to be all bundled up, but that speed will feel safer and I think I'll see a lot more. The trees are changing, you know, and I want to see them.

The reason I'm going to Canyon de Chelly is for the race they're putting on there this weekend. It's a 50k that starts and ends in Chinle, Arizona, which is right at the canyon's entrance. Normally, the canyon is a protected area that is off-limits to tourists except with a Navajo guide. Canyon de Chelly is the sacred heartland of the Navajo Nation and therefore it means a lot to them both physically and spiritually. Historically, the Navajo endured several battles and sieges against American soldiers in the canyon in the 19th century before finally being driven out by starvation. So it makes sense that they would be sensitive about the place. Nevertheless, for this one day a year, runners are allowed to run the length of the canyon without a guide. Assuming they can stay ahead of the locals.

The race is directed by Shaun Martin, who has become somewhat of a celebrity in the running world for his dual purposes of using running to enact positive social change on the Navajo reservation. He is a Navajo schoolteacher who is now (I believe) the principal of a school in Chinle, and he created the race as a way to honor the Navajo people and history while donating tons of money and resources to his community. In essence, lots of white people like me come down and pay money to race through Canyon de Chelly, and Shaun (likely with the help of a host of volunteers) channels that money right back into the community. It's a brilliant idea.

I'm not racing, both because I'm fat and recovering from injury, and because I didn't sign up on time. This race is so popular that it sells out really fast. My plan instead is to go down there and do whatever Shaun or one of his minions tells me to do. He mentioned that I could sweep the course, which would be sweet because that way I would get to run the length of the canyon. I'm hoping that suggestion turns into reality. If not, though, I have enough experience assisting people at races that I can probably be of use to someone somewhere. I'm just psyched to be part of such a unique and positive event. I might even learn something.

But first I have to ride my motorcycle there. That's going to be the real challenge of the weekend. Or maybe riding back will be the crux. I'm all pumped up about the adventure now, but after riding down there and being all energetic all weekend, I expect the hard part will be getting back on the moto and riding back. Still, adventures only become adventures when you overcome difficulties and discomfort. And this will be a neat way to explore the extraordinary landscapes of the Navajo Nation, and hopefully to meet some cool people as well. Wish me luck!