Sunday, June 11, 2017

Epic Road Trip Part 1 (Teton and Yellowstone)

Pretty much drama free on my flight.  I had a 2 hour layover in Denver and I ate some overpriced ribs before my connection into Helena, Montana.  From there, I got my rental car and got to Motel 6 just before dark.  I hoped to get an early start the next day and rolled out of bed at 6:30 AM and was on the road by 7:00.  I was treated to Big Sky country with snow capped mountains in the distance.  I did take one short detour which allowed me to cut through a corner of Idaho before crossing into Wyoming at the West Yellowstone entrance.  I got a nice shot of a lake with a mountain in the distance but that would pale in comparison to what was to come.

I started on the west side of the Lower Loop and made a few stops at basins to view some geysers where the highlight was Grand Prismatic Spring.

 I made my way to Yellowstone Lake where I was treated to both crystal clear water and snow capped peaks in the distance.

Next, it was south to Jackson Hole, WY where I got a few more shots then headed to the expo to pick up my race number.  After the race, it was on to the Teton Park Road where captured some shots of the 3 peaks of 12,000+ feet and an overlook which offered a panoramic view of Jackson Hole and the Tetons.

 By mid-afternoon, I was back in Yellowstone where I drove around the lake and saw a few more geysers but the highlight was Canyon and a hike to the Lower Falls. which are 3 times taller than Niagra but the volume is not as great.  I had to hike up and down a pretty long and steep hill on tired legs to get there but it was well worth it.  I saw some interesting rock formations and plenty of elk and bison in the Upper Loop on my way to my hotel in Gardiner, MT.

The next day would be the toughest drive of the trip but perhaps the most scenic.  I went back into Yellowstone and caught most of the rest of the Upper Loop including the highest point on the road near Mt. Washburn at 10,200 feet.  I then exited the park and took Beartooth Highway to Red Lodge, Montana.  This was spectacular.  At nearly 11,000 feet elevation with S-curves all the way up, you could see snow piled 10-15 feet high on the side of the road but walk around in a light jacket.  From there, it was roughly 3 more hours to Great Falls.

  With an elevation of  6300 feet, the original plan was to simply cruise this one in about 1:55ish (8:45 pace) and save the energy for next week in Helena, which is only 4000 feet and net downhill.  Interestingly, I met a guy named Jonathan from Birmingham at the starting line who recognized me from the Trak Shak.  I felt surprisingly strong through the first 2 miles and the early pace felt like a stumble.  I threw caution to the wind and decided to go for it.  I've raced in Denver (5200 feet) as well as Tahoe (7100 feet) and found that the difference between the 2 was huge.  This time, I was pleasantly surprised that it felt more like Denver than Tahoe though it was a bit harder.  My breathing was pretty well controlled most of the way and the early miles were mostly flat with just a couple of small rollers along the way.
7:54 (15:58)
7:52 (23:50)
7:44 (31:34)
7:42 (39:16)
7:40 (46:56)
7:50 (54:46)

At the halfway point in roughly 51:30, it appeared to be a good bet that I would go under 1:45, which is most definitely worth a sub-1:40 at sea level.  Unfortunately the course, which began in Jackson and traversed through some of the most picturesque country in the world was also 200 feet net uphill.  A climb at altitude is MUCH tougher than at sea level.  What began as just a slight incline in Mile 8 turned fairly steep from Miles 9-10.  I remained in control and it wasn't until the end of Mile 11 that things turned ugly.  There was no corresponding downhill after the long incline.  It merely leveled off.  With 1 mile to go, it still appeared that I had a chance but would need to muster a 7:45 closer plus a strong kick.  The course turned uphill again and I knew it wasn't going to happen.  Still, my time was good enough for a new post-35 PR (previous was 1:45:58 in KC at sea level).  Overall, I was quite pleased with my race.  The GPS clocked in 2 tenths short but it is a certified course and perhaps the mountains messed with the signal.  Even if it was short, it's still worth a low 1:47, which exceeds expectations.  Next week, I would put the question of an accurate measurement to rest.
7:58 (62:44)
8:36 (71:20) aid station
8:20 (79:40)
8:12 (1:27:52)
8:35 (1:36:27)
8:22 (1:44:49)
:48- 1:45:31

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