The loooong 4th of July weekend is here. Wanna know what led up to the weekend’s adventure? Check out Part-1 of this week in training here.
Friday 6/30 Roadtrip
Julia and I packed up the spaceship (Ford Freestyle) with our air mattress, cooler, and trail sneakers and hit the road towards Casper, WY. As expected, it was a bit of a slog driving through the greater Denver highways, as it always seems that everyone in Denver is going the same place as you.
During the highway 25 drive, I drifted away into the prehistoric limelight of the surrounding mesas. Seeing the horizontal lifelines in the mesas reminded me of the ocean that once flowed over our Rocky Mountain region. I learned this from the placards on Dinosaur Ridge, and I lapsed into a time-space-continuum blitz thinking about how the Earth’s plates have moved land masses over billions of years to form the continents. It was a good reminder that human life is only a tiny blip on the lifespan of Planet Earth. Our insignificance is actually a refreshing perspective for me, given my determined approach towards conservation and continuous improvement reducing my environmental impact.
Back to the present, KG joked via text that he’d be living vicariously through our Strava posts on our road trip. I took him up on the offer as we picked up a pizza from Friendz in Douglas, WY (Side note: We highly recommend this pizza. Truth in advertising, or Yelp reviews, it is the best pizza in the state of Wyoming). I jogged my way through the streets of Douglas, stretching out my legs after 4-hours of driving. At this point, running 0.8-miles felt fantastic.
Despite the earlier traffic delays in Colorado, we made it to our night one destination of Casper, Wyoming before the sun set.
Yeah, we’re not exactly roughing it yet. We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Casper last night, so I got in a morning road run to free up some room in my stomach for the breakfast buffet.
After 6-miles run on the road, bagel toppers and yogurt covered french toast, we showered for the last time before the two nights of camping that lie ahead. We headed out for a fresh cup of joe at the Pour House in Casper. After an Americano pick-me-up, we set off on what would be an adventure in driving.
We had what we thought was another four hours of driving to Red Lodge, Montana and our campsite in Custer National Forest. Julia had a hankering for a trail run in the Big Horn National Forest. Google maps directed us to Thirty-Three Mile Road as the best route towards Big Horn. Little did we know that we wouldn’t be running in Big Horn today.
Thirty-Three Mile Road was as picturesque country road as it gets. We were on top of the world, free of the blase of highway travel, we were on a by-way through the high plains, surrounded by green grass, jostling antelope, and no other vehicles for days. What began as an glorious paved road, faded into a mellow gravel path, then abruptly transformed into a bumpy, rocky, rutted dirt path – not conducive to speeds over 15 mph.
As our pace dropped from 60-mph to a crawl, our spirits deflated. No longer were we impressed by the surrounding greenery and epic overlooks, we were scared and intimidated by them.
I instinctively switched into ultra driving mode. I didn’t know this mode existed in me, but if we were to make it out of this vast openness of unsupported trail, we needed to be cautious and survival became our destination. I needed to drive safely and cautiously over rocks and through mud puddles. A punctured tire would mean hours stranded in the middle of nowhere. Would we be rescued by AAA? Could we be rescued by AAA? I was thankful for the $300 spent on two replacement tires last week, not so sure the wheel alignment is helpful at this stage of the game.
We were frightened, but calculated. We had our camping gear, water, and provisions, but this is not how we envisioned our weekend adventure to unfold. The ultra-endurance mindset persisted: endure, go slower, be patient. On this course DNFs are not allowed. I needed to manage my vehicles effort & output to go the distance, whatever that distance may be. We continued to crawl.
In an hour we covered 5 miles. Wyoming is a huge state. We were still in the middle of nowhere, and not progressing much out of nowhere.
As the story goes, we survived. After five hours of calculated driving, we reemerged back onto pavement. Julia and I rejoiced, relieved, yet exhausted, still with four hours remaining to our campsite. Reflecting on the period of distress, I was proud of my routine vehicle maintenance and upkeep which ensured a reliable ride. Thank goodness for new tires. Again the ultra-running parallels illuminated: Conserve for the long haul. Any surface, any distance. Survival is not luck.
On a more positive note, Wyoming broadcast radio offers fantastic coverage throughout the state. At no point, were we without a country twang or poppy comfort tunes to keep us forging along. We encountered a frighteningly-fun section of Cattle dodging. Interrupting the grazing of a free-range cattle was surreal. And let me tell you cattle are much bigger animals when they are in your path, with eyes glaring through your open window.
After a much needed rest stop in Worland, WY, we restocked our provisions in Red Lodge, MT and landed at our campground called Rattin.
We unloaded our food, drinks, and firewood into the bear lockers at our camp site, and laced up our sneaks to shake out our legs for a night cap on the Corral Creek Trail.
After a successful night of car camping, I dashed back up Corral Creek Trail jonesing to reach the trails summit. It was a steep climb that I chewed off via interval efforts. Anytime I’m struggling during a climb, I’m reminded of a single spin class that I took at Boston Sports Club before my very first half-iron distance triathlon, the Mooseman Triathlon, in 2011. I was about a week out from the race, finally got my butt into a spin class, and had my clock rung from the intense workout of 10-second intervals. Despite feeling unprepared for the race following the class, I used the mental tactics to conquer the toughest hill I’ve ever biked up during the race – conquering it twice! This stamina persists whenever I find my locomotion wavering, whether it’s scaling a mountain, or digging deep late in a race. In any feat of endurance there is always an opportunity for relief, it’s acknowledging that the relief is temporary and you are not fully off the hook, simply balancing out an honest effort.
Oh yeah, since I was running alone, I opted for the super dork, i.e. safety first, approach to running in the forest in Montana: Front left pocket: Bear spray; Front right pocket: Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Fixed-Blade Knife; Waist Belt: Cowbell.
Defense wins championships.
Thankfully no bears nor wildlife were encountered during this run. I was flabbergasted by the summit plateau, 3,000 feet above our campsite, yet, a vast open prairie:
I returned to camp to refuel and pack up, as we had a reservation at a campground 10-miles up the road for Sunday night. Along the route, Julia selected another trail to explore: Beartrack to Silver Run Plateau.
Near the summit, we heard rumblings of thunder and saw dark clouds over the snow capped peaks, so we didn’t stay long on the majestic Silver Run Plateau. It started to drizzle rain on our way down, and Julia hit her flow state of downhill running. I tried my best to keep up with her, but she was in the zone!
The rain hung around as we parked at our campsite, so we opted inside, and setup a reading nook in the back of the car. It was peaceful and a good place for some R&R. The rain cleared by late afternoon, and we were able to resume normal camping activities.
After a glorious 10-hours of slumber, we were ready to tackle the zig-zagging road that our ATV driving neighbors seemed to enjoy. We’ll call it Forest Rd 2421. It was a wide dirt road that climbed out of camp and hugged the curves of the mountains. The first two miles were pretty sluggish for both Julia and I, but after that the road smoothed out and our nature-loving instincts took over, we were giddy rising high above our campground.
I’ve been wearing the New Balance Vazee Summit’s for 85 miles now, and they are starting to really feel comfortable. It was a bit of a culture shock swapping out the Nike Wildhorses, but I’m finally starting to embrace the delicate feel of the trail. I feel like taking lighter steps over rocky terrain is helping preseve my legs, as I respect the footing more.
Time to Leave
And that’s a wrap on our camping adventure. I logged about 35-miles and 10,000 feet of vertical in two days. We returned to the town of Red Lodge for coffee and breakfast before taking the “road more traveled” through Cody and Casper to I-25 South into Colorado.
Despite my cautious driving earlier in the trip, I may or may not have been greeted by a kind law enforcement official as I was exiting Shoshoni, WY. Having been stuck driving behind a fifth-wheel for the better part of 50-miles, the open road was calling, but truthfully the F-150 brushing my tail and pressing me out of town made me do it.
We were relieved to return to Casper and rejoin I-25 for the next 4-hours. I’d been able to squeeze in a mile run in Cody, WY while Julia was gathering lunch for us, and now I jogged from the Sinclair Gas station across the way to Sonic, where Julia was getting us refreshments.
It was 90 degrees outside, the sun was beating down on us all day long, and (minor detail) my air conditioner does not work. We were both sweating heavily and an hour or so after leaving Casper, I realized that I was dehydrated and started to panic. Anyone who’s driven with me, knows that I don’t take my water reserves lightly. I wanted to stop in Cheyenne to refill, Julia thought we could make it to Fort Collins. Prior to either, in a paniced daze, I desperately pulled off the highway at a Sinclair and refilled three bottles with ice water. After I chugged, I still felt depleted, empty of nutrition. I realized what I really needed were electrolytes… just like ultra running. Ack, lesson learned.
Julia stepped up to the plate as she always does. Acknowledging our lack of food pyriamid nutrition, now three days removed from civilization. She found Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe in Northglenn, CO for our dinner stop. A half hour from home, we’d have a nourishing meal ready to go upon arrival. She nailed it, yet again. Julia nailed our sleeping arrangements, our trail selections, and all of our pit stops. If we’re stopping for coffee, it’s gonna be a cute joint with yummy espresso. If we’re gonna get sandwiches it’s gonna be a place known for something unique like sunflower seed bread. If we’re gonna get pizza, it’s gonna be the best pizza in the whole State of Wyoming. She even put up with me running for 8-ish minutes during our rest stops.
To the best copilot and travel companion: Thank you! Here’s to many more adventures, both planned and unplanned.