WHO: Bob Bacon, 62, of Marshfield and Tom Donovan, 53, of Dedham
WHERE: Grand Canyon, Ariz.
WHEN: Two days in September
WHY: "I was an ultra-marathoner , I ran 100-mile races," Bacon said. "Tom has run the Boston Marathon 22 times and bicycled across the state. We have this thing about exercise," said Bacon. "Four years ago in Utah on the North Rim of the canyon we encountered these people who call themselves 'rim-to-rimmers,' " who hike the 25 miles from the North Rim to the South Rim in one day. "That was the spark," he said. Though the two men didn't join the rim-to-rim club, they did become "1 percenters," the portion of canyon visitors who hike to the bottom.
LUCK AND LOGISTICS: For three years, they had tried to reserve a spot at Phantom Ranch, the only lodging at the bottom of the canyon, and were always shut out. Reservations can be made only a year in advance. The other way to get in is to luck into a cancellation. "You have to show up packed and ready to go at 6:30 a.m. and see if they call your name."
PREPARED TO DESCEND: The night before, Bacon and Donovan packed up with the help of their wives, Sandy Bacon and Eileen Hickey. The two couples were on a two-week tour in Arizona. Bacon had stopped running a decade ago when his body started to revolt. "Most of my training was pushing my new grandson in his carriage around my hilly neighborhood," said Bacon, who nonetheless was taking the hike seriously. He packed socks, hat, a headlamp, sunscreen, food, and lots of water.
FEELING EDGY: In the morning, not only were their names called, but they scored a coveted cabin instead of a dormitory bed. When they hit the South Kaibab Trail it was 55 degrees, cool enough for them to wear their 2006 Boston Athletic Association jackets. "There was a lot of green because it had rained recently and it was just beautiful. We walked for an hour before I felt that I wasn't going to fall over the edge." The 5.6-mile trail was almost all switchbacks, and halfway down they could hear the roar of the Colorado River before seeing it.
HOOFING IT: They passed a mule team being led by cowboys. "You hear the clip-clop and then you see them," said Bacon. Another highlight was meeting "Maverick," an 80-year-old rim-to-rimmer who was on his 79th canyon crossing.
BOTTOMS UP: At the bottom of the canyon, some 4,500 feet below the top, the temperature had risen to 95 degrees. "We soaked in Bright Angel Creek. It flows right into the river and it just sparkles." The food was great, Bacon said, and he particularly enjoyed the cold beer.
LONG WAY SHORTER: By 5:30 the next morning, they were heading back up on the Bright Angel Trail, which is gentler but four miles longer than the way down. Still, they hiked out in about six hours, two hours earlier than they had arranged for their wives to meet them. On the drive out, they were amused to see a sign for a highway-cleanup area sponsored by "Maverick" and his wife.