Crossing the Canyon for Brain Cancer Research: An Extraordinary Experience on Many Levels

October 21, 2016

Grand Canyon South Rim
Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  Its breathtaking rock layers tell our planet’s history.  Over five million people a year visit this spectacular and twisted carving in the earth.  They come to the Canyon to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones in their lives.   For a group of 18 hikers, including myself, we crossed the Canyon, rim to rim in one day, for brain cancer research.  Some of us ran it, most of us hiked it, all of us successfully completed the crossing with a renewed sense of purpose and hope (despite a few blisters and varying levels of physical exhaustion!)

“We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore,” said John Wesley Powell, an American naturalist who led a geographic expedition to explore the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon in 1869.

Fortunately, we knew a lot more than Powell when we began our descent into darkness at 5 am from the North Rim. We all had trained for the 23.5 mile hike that crosses the Colorado River, but trust me, there were still a lot of unknowns.  First and foremost:  Would our group make it out unscathed?  Trail signs warned us, “Down is optional; Up is Mandatory.”  Over 250 people have to be rescued from the Canyon each year.

Crossing the Canyon for Brain Cancer Research team pose for a photo at 5 am before they start their descent into the Canyon from the North Rim.  

I was eager to start this journey.  I didn't think about whether or not I could make it - I had to make it, there was no other option.  I wanted to honor the tenacity and grit of my sister Dana who died of brain cancer at the age of 31.  I wanted to share stories of Dana’s life and legacy with her daughter Kati.  I wanted to dedicate stretches of my hike to friends in the brain tumor community who have faced this hideous disease and have inspired others.  I wanted to raise critical research dollars to help 3000 Miles to a Cure and ABC2 (Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure) speed new treatments for brain cancer patients. 

Crossing the Colorado River.

Twelve hours after we began hiking, the last few steps out of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail were exhilarating and bittersweet.  Thirty years ago, when my sister Dana and I were in our early 20’s, we took a trip out West to visit the Grand Canyon.  After a fun night of camping on the South Rim, the next morning we decided to just hike the Bright Angel Trail…no water, no preparation, nothing!  The trek seemed easy for a while, until we got to Plateau Point and realized we had to climb all the way back up before sunset.  I was on the verge of heatstroke and Dana was begging other hikers for water.  Yes, we were idiots.  We trudged our way back up in time and laughed at our foolish attempt to be cool hiker girls.  We promised we would return to the Canyon one day. Sadly, that never happened.  I miss my sister. I'm sure she was with me in spirit (and she probably made the last few miles even harder just to kick my behind!)

Nike with her sister Dana (left) and their friend Lee (right) at the Grand Canyon in 1986.

I am grateful to Maria and Lucia Parker from 3000 Miles to a Cure for leading this expedition and introducing me to so many passionate and committed individuals, including the amazing team at Primacy.  Primacy is a digital agency that is developing an innovative virtual reality platform for cause-driven organizations like 3000 Miles to A Cure and ABC2 to share our missions and tell our real-life stories in more compelling ways. They shot 360 degree video in the Canyon and interviewed a number of us.  As the project develops, I’ll be providing updates. 

The Crossing the Canyon 2016 team.

I will forever carry street cred that I crossed the Grand Canyon, Rim to Rim!  Most importantly, I'll carry with me the conversations I had with my fellow hikers who had lost someone to this hideous disease or that had encountered other struggles in their lives, but found hope and healing through this communal experience.

Nike Beddow is the Director of Communications and Partnerships at ABC2.  On October 11, 2016, she hiked the Grand Canyon, rim to rim, with the 3000 Miles To A Cure team and this is her story.