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COLUMN: Dale Sanders’ Grand Canyon quest

COLUMN: Dale Sanders’ Grand Canyon quest

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Several years ago, I visited the Grand Canyon for the first time. It truly is one of the things that lives up to expectations. Actually, it surpasses expectations. In the brief time I was there, the thoughts of attempting a hike from rim to rim crossed my mind, to the point where I was day-dreaming about the possibility after I left while driving back across the country.

Of course, if I were to actually undertake something of that magnitude, there would have to be training. You don’t just pack a bag with some water, food and a small tent and start hiking something like the Grand Canyon from top to bottom to top again. Temperature swings of 30-plus degrees from the rim to the river, mile-high ridges, absence of communication — well, they are all dangers that need to be thought through first.

Fortunately, I immediately thought about where I could train, and North Carolina has the perfect spot. Linville Gorge gives you some good trails where the elevation changes are great in hiking up and down. In fact, after that trip, I made a couple of trips to the Gorge for some day hikes to the  bottom and back up.

And here we are several years later, and I just read about a pretty inspiring endeavor.

Dale Sanders, an 85 year old from Tennessee, is out to set his legacy, as well as experience the world in his final years.

Since he turned 80, Dale has had quite a few adventures. He completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. He hiked from Key West, Florida, the most southern point in the continental U.S., to the southern point of the Appalachian Trail. He canoed the Mississippi River from source to sea. He even paddled a 340-mile race non-stop.

Make sure you read the first four words in that previous paragraph: SINCE HE TURNED 80.

But his adventurous 80s are not over yet. Last week, he completed yet another challenge. After reading about a 90-year-old who completed a rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon in a 14-day period, Sanders begin to dig a little deeper into what it would take to complete the quest. In the process, he found out that the age world record for a rim to rim to rim (across the Grand Canyon and back) was 80 years old. This meant that the one thing he had no control over regarding the 90-year-old (his age) was enough to capture this world record.

After training in the mountains of Tennessee, Sanders drove to the Grand Canyon and departed on his journey. A mere six days later, Sanders returned to the spot on the south rim where he left, setting and completing the world record for the oldest person to do so. The hike comprised 48 miles and elevation changes of over 20,000 feet, which also set another record.

He still has plans for future adventures. He had planned to hike the International Appalachian Trail this year, which would have ended in Nova Scotia. However, as so many things have been altered, COVID-19 caused Canada and the U.S. to close the border, which meant Sanders had to look elsewhere for a quest, which turned out to be the Grand Canyon hike.

Here is to many more quests for Dale Sanders, as all of these once-in-a-lifetime trips are proving that life just begins at 80.

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