The Naked T/r: Grand Canyon-Ready by Troy Eid
There’s technical trail-running. And there’s the Grand Canyon.
Don’t really mean that, except I do. Since 1977 and my first backpacking trip to the Canyon – a school trip with fellow seventh-graders and some very patient parents – I’ve been hooked. Where else can your feet carry you from snow and ice on the piney Kaibab Plateau to the balmy beaches of the Colorado River on the same day?
Forty-six years later, after dozens of backcountry excursions in Grand Canyon National Park and adjoining sections of the Havasupai, Hualapai, and Navajo Indian Reservations – more than 100 days and nights below the North and South Rims of the Canyon – I knew the perfect place to test the Naked T/r.
On a sparkling February morning after fresh snow, I descended into the shadows of the South Kaibab Trial just east of Grand Canyon Village, bound for the River at Bright Angel Creek and then up and across the Tonto Trail to Indian Gardens, returning to the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail. A 16.5-miler with 4,700’ of vertical descent and 4,400’ of ascent. After three miles of uninterrupted snowpack, the trail turned to slush, then thick shale mud that occasionally covered the tops of my shoes.
While designed as a dry-ground shoe, the Naked T/r grips surprisingly well in these conditions. What immediately sets the T/r apart is its unrivaled lockdown. As much as I respect the Speedland PDX and HSV, with their dual-BOA system, the T/r marks a qualitative lockdown improvement even over those shoes. Even in thick mud, the T/r remained stable – more so than with any other trail shoe I’ve tried. The mud mostly stayed out and the shoe drained water surprisingly well, even when the white portions of the upper and midsole turned Canyon red.
Another pleasant surprise is the T/r’s underfoot comfort given the comparative lack of stack-height or midsole cushioning. It simply amazed me, at age 59, to be floating down the South Kaibab, jumping from break-water log to log or stone to stone as the snow and mud gave way to drier trail, with the comfort I would ordinarily expect only from a higher stack-height shoe. Once I descended to the Tonto Plateau and dry ground, the carbon plate kicked in, and in a good way.
The Inner Gorge return trip from the Colorado River can be especially challenging, but lighter footwear certainly helps. This is another category in which the T/r excels. Not only does the toe flex well for climbing, but the confidence achieved by the incredible lockdown provides greater confidence in controlling pacing and foot strike.
By the time I arrived in Indian Gardens, with Grand Canyon Village directly above and five miles away on the South Rim, the T/r had made clear that it is much more than a short-haul shoe. At age 59, I’m all about sustainability: For the natural environment as well as my own euphemistic status as a Grand Master’s Runner. Most of my eight or so races per year are ultras, many of them alpine competitions in the Colorado Rockies where we live. Last November, I competed in my first 200-miler, the inaugural Cowboy 200 across frigid Northern Nebraska. Before trying the Naked T/r, I would have guessed that it might be ideal for half-marathon distances or less. Yet the Canyon experience, and many hours on the still snow-covered trails in the Foothills back home, demonstrate the T/r’s potential as an ultra-shoe even for older enthusiasts.
Speaking of Indian Gardens: The Havasupai Tribe’s traditional homeland, including extensive farming in what the National Park Service has long called Indian Gardens, originally embraced much of the Grand Canyon southward to present-day Flagstaff. In 1882, the U.S. government confined the Havsuw ‘Baaj – People of the Blue Waters – to a 518-acre reservation in Havasu Canyon. It wasn’t until 1974, after heroic legal and political battles waged by the Tribe, that Congress added 188,000 acres to the Havasupai Indian Reservation while also enlarging Grand Canyon National Park to its present boundaries. Yet as many as 6.4 million tourists visit the Park each year with little or no awareness of the Havasupai, or the many other Native American nations – including the Hualapai, Hopi, Navajo, and Paiute – with ongoing cultural ties to these lands.
I was mulling this paradox over and over as I ascended back into snow and icy shadows and, in the fading light of late afternoon, finally emerged on the South Rim at the Bright Angel Trailhead. The trail I had just climbed is based on an ancient footpath used by the Havasupai for centuries, as a Havasupai elder explained to me on a visit to the Tribe’s headquarters in Supai, the only U.S. Post Office still served by horse and mule.
We live in an age where great runners often test their mettle in the Grand Canyon, setting endurance and speed records in all kinds of conditions ranging from bitter cold to searing heat. There is perhaps no other place that inflicts so much magnificent variety so quickly on a trail-running shoe. I may have been one of the first to run in the Canyon with the Naked T/r, but I certainly won’t be the last.
The President Emeritus of the Navajo Nation Bar Association, Troy Eid is the former United States Attorney for the District of Colorado and currently practices Native American Tribal and Federal Law in Denver. He is an Adjunct Professor of Native American Tribes & Federal Law at the University of Denver-Sturm College of Law.