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Summer 2014 Road Trip: Week 2

Posted by Breanna Cornell on June 2, 2014 at 11:15 PM

Week 2


Day 8: Monday, May 26

I awoke before Adam or Nick, who had expressed some interest in a morning run. Unable to stay in my car much longer, I got up and went for a quick three-mile jaunt on the roads before returning to camp. In the parking lot was a man wearing the Superior 100 hat. It turns out that he had raced the 100 this past year, same as me. Vacationing for Memorial Day, he was headed back to Minnesota. I asked him for some trail recommendations in the area and he informed me that the Henry’s Peak trail was only a couple miles down the road and a good 6 mile out-and-back.


Morning run in the Black Hills.

 

Finding Adam and Nick awake, I informed them of my plans to run this trail. They were eager to start the day climbing, as the rain had interrupted their plans yesterday. It had turned out that we both planned to be camping in Yellowstone during the same time. We exchanged numbers before a quick good-bye with plans to meet up again in Yellowstone.


Morning run in the Black Hills.

 

I found the Henry’s Peak trail and began the ascent. I was sucking wind as I made my way up the mountain; it must be the altitude. I remember upon arriving in Arizona last summer at 5,000 feet how much more sluggish I was during the first week of running there. It could also be that sitting in the car all day the previous could be getting to me. But the trail did not disappoint. The views were lovely.


 

Returning to my car, I packed up, and took off for the Bighorn National Forest. Thankfully, this drive was a short 4 hours. The Black Hills gave way to vastly open and rolling grazing land. It was startlingly beautiful, in a lonesome sort of way. The Bighorn mountains grew out of the landscape, breathtakingly. Snow still capping the peaks seemed to float on the blue horizon.


 

A last stop in Buffalo, Wyoming, had me filling up my tank at a gas station. Across from me, a woman was also filling her car when she glanced at my shirt. I was wearing my “Kalamazoo (Michigan) Marathon” shirt. A glimmer of recognition sparked through her eyes and shed asked me, “Are you from Michigan?”


 

My “Yes,” prompted her to inform me that she was too was from Michigan and had been living in Buffalo for 8 years. I told her that I planned to spend the afternoon hiking and camping in the Bighorn National Forest, and did she have any recommendations? She responded immediately by taking out a pen and paper and giving me directions to Sheep Mountain Road, which summits Bighorn (or so I was told; this could be wrong, but I can’t find the trail online to confirm). Thanking her, I climbed back in my car to begin the ascent into Bighorn.


Sheep Mountain Road.

 

If I thought the Black Hills were amazing, Bighorn was absolutely staggering. I found Sheep Mountain Road easily enough (and aptly named for I spotted a herd of big horned sheep right away), but found it impassable about a mile in; there was still snow that covered the road. After bottoming out numerous times in Booneville, I did not want to risk gutting the innards of my car. Instead I parked at a trailhead, slung my hammock, and went for a short jog that turned into a hike.


Snow on roads!

 

For some inexplicable reason (uh, maybe all the driving?) I was absolutely exhausted. I crawled into my hammock for a nap. Three hours later, I awoke to the rumble of thunder and flash of lightening. With my plans for an evening hike dashed, I quickly packed up my hammock and retreated to my car. I ate a dinner of trail mix while I watched the storm roll but a quarter mile past camp. While not tired from the long nap I had indulged in that afternoon, I had nothing better to do than read. I read until I needed a headlamp then fell asleep.


STOP... Hammock time!

 

That night, I was troubled by dreams of bears ripping open my car doors, of park rangers fining me for parking at a trailhead, or mysterious mountain lions peering in my windows… and with an awful stomach ache that had me crawling from my car several times. Perhaps a small sample of whatever sickness Maranda had endured.



 

Day 9: Tuesday, May 27

After the early bedtime from the previous day, I awoke before the sun. Eager to see what was along Sheep Mountain Road, but not knowing how long of a road it would be to the summit, I packed my Camelbak, bracing myself for a run/hike of 5-6 hours. The sunlight had just begun to paint the tops of the trees when I set out.


Good morning, Bighorn!

 

I ran the down hills, jogged the flats, and hiked the uphills. As it turned out, it was all uphill on the way out. There was snowmelt roaring down the mountain, collecting in rivers crossed by several bridges. It was stunning. It had reached freezing that night, evidence in the pools of water with fresh ice crystals floating about. Happy that I had started early, the mounds of snow that resided on the road were crusted enough for me to walk on. When I did break through the crusted snow, I plunged shin-deep, the ice crystals scraping my legs.


 

Going up!


Approaching the summit, the air warmed, and it became more and more difficult to stay on top of the snow. I took to the woods, climbing over fallen trees and rocks, under branches and twigs, paralleling the road. The snow on the ground under the trees was much less deep, and easier to manage when my legs broke through. I should have worn leggings.


I'm on top!

 

It was a surprisingly short 5 miles to the top, where a small lodge and outhouse resided. I cannot even describe the view. I stood for a solid 10 minutes, absorbing the essence of just being. Being the only one for miles. Of the mountain top, for that brief moment in time, being just mine.


 

I didn’t want to leave.


Time to go down.

 

But then it was the fun part! If it was a slow hike up, it was a fast run down. The return trip was probably one of the fastest 5 miles I’ve run. The mix of hot sunlight and cool air rising from the rivers and snow created an intoxicating atmosphere, one that made adrenaline surge and joy resound.


 

I wished the route had been longer, but it was time to move on, to the next destination, to the next adventure.


 

To Yellowstone!

 

The drive itself was phenomenal. Bighorn dropped away into a vast canyon, taking on shades of orange and red. The canyon flattened to green pastures where tall, red mesas rose from the earth. Away from the mountains on flat ground, the view was panoramic; surrounded by giants on all sides, their snow-capped peaks beckoning me to them.


 

The Shoshone National Forest rose from the earth, a river dominating the center of its being. The Buffalo Bill Dam was a must-see stop for me, as an environmental engineer with an interest in water resources. Continuing brought me to the Eastern entrance for Yellowstone.


Buffalo Bill Dam.

 

The excitement that had risen with anticipation was dashed after speaking with a park ranger; the backwoods campground I had planned on staying in was closed due to snow. The trials I had so looked forward to running were blocked off due to bears, flooding, and snow. It appears that I did not come at the right time of year. However, Yellowstone made up for it in wondrous views.


Awesome views in Yellowstone!

 

I wound up paying to stay at one of the campgrounds, it being the safest option with the current number of bear sightings in the area. There, I met Joe. Joe was also from Michigan (we’re all over the place!) and biking from Oregon to Michigan, averaging over 70 miles a day and blogging about it. He was an instant friend, but had to take off. Joe informed me that the other side of the park was much more worthwhile. I longed to see it, but had already had enough driving for the day. Instead, I went for a short hike on the trails that were open in the area, before returning to camp to write this section.


 

I met two other Michiganders in the campground upon returning from hiking; two graduates from the University of Michigan in differing studies of engineering. Ah! Fellow Michiganian Engineers! They too were indulging in the “Great American Road Trip” before bracing themselves for the endurance required to broach the “real world” – at least, the world that society expects recent graduates to enter and develop accordingly in. I wondered, having already met Adam and Nick, just how many graduates took on the road trip adventure? How did they approach it? Where did they go? What were their goals? I was silently envious of these two U of M students as well as Nick and Adam; to have a friend to share the road with would be wondrous!

 

Close to the campground.


I never did meet up with Adam and Nick; they continued past Yellowstone through to the Tetons after I called to inform them about the backcountry conditions. Tomorrow is yet another lonesome drive. Not to a National Park, however. No, tomorrow beings an almost week-long interview extravaganza! A different sort of adventure, but one I’m looking foreword to nonetheless.




 

Day 10: Wednesday, May 28

I awoke in the Yellowstone campground to find frost had settled over the park. Donning a jacket and canister of bear spray, I took to the roads. With the warnings of bears awakening from hibernation told to me by the rangers from the previous day floating around my head, I stuck to the pavement. And it was a good thing that I did.


 

A mother grizzly bear and her cub were spotted not a football field length from one of the main roads. It was a fiasco. People had stopped and pulled their cars off to the side to haul out their huge cameras with their telephoto lenses on tripods. Several rangers were attempting to block the road nearest to where the bears were, preventing people from coming too close and to allow them to safely cross, should the bears choose to do so.


 

In the photo below, you have to look closely at the tree line to see the mother bear. I, unfortunately, did not have a fancy camera but relied on the digital zoom of my iPhone to capture the moment. I wondered “What must the bears think of all the people?”


Mama grizzly bear and her cub along the tree line.

 

With a short 5 mile Yellowstone jog in the books, I packed up my car and took off for Salt Lake City, where I would meet up with Mark K., who had paced me at the Yellowstone-Teton 100 last October and graciously offered his couch upon which I could crash. But of course, no trip to Yellowstone would be complete without stopping at a geyser.



 

Given the proximity of the parks, and that it was on the way South, I drove through the Grand Teton National Park. I think the worst thing about this road trip so far has been two things: 1.) The length of driving each day (a necessary evil) and 2.) Driving through such beautiful places without someone to share it with or the ability to take a couple of days to explore each location. The views and signage for trails really just seem to mock me as I motor on by.


The Grand Tetons!

 

The drive to Salt Lake City was scenic, windy, but overall uneventful. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by Bailey (Mark’s dog) and Jackson (Mark’s cat). I took to the sidewalk for a quick 5 miles to stretch my legs after being stuck in the car for 6 hours. It was wonderful to see Mark again and reconnect. Salt Lake is a surprisingly beautiful city, nested at the foot of the mountains. Not 2 miles out the back of Mark’s door are trails spawning in all directions, of which Mark was eager to point out.


 

Tomorrow, I fly out of Salt Lake to Arizona then to Alabama for several interviews with differing companies. It may not be a National Park, but it will be an adventure that I am looking forward to for sure!



 

Day 11: Thursday, May 29

The early morning saw Mark off to work and myself on a short jog to meet the begging of the Wasatch trails behind Mark’s apartment. While the city had its conveniences (like a tram system that I would later utilize to get to the airport) and its proximity to the mountains was a plus, a haze hung over Salt Lake that could only remind me of my air quality classes and the inversions that cities located in mountain valleys experienced; the particulate matter obscuring the horizon, inhaling the dust 2.5 um in diameter.


A shot of Salt Lake City from my morning run.

 

A thought: room for improvement, but cities maintain more efficiency than rural living.


A theme: conversations about the environment, sustainable living, and first-world humanity’s habits influence and impact on the present and future.


A hope: conversations that extend past the persons I speak with; conversations that ignite a change, or a passion, whether sparked through a comment, an action, or an observation.

 


Salt Lake City did have phenomenal public transportation, however. Utilizing the public tram system, I was able to make it to the airport and on my way to Phoenix, Arizona. Arriving without incident to the car rental service in Arizona, I found myself being upgraded to a Mustang, given the lack of availability of town cars. Never really having driven a sports car, it was a fun experience. From Phoenix, I drove into the Tonto National Forest, over rolling mountainsides and through tunnels, into Miami/Globe. The heat of the day baked the black interior of the Mustang, but I couldn’t object the heat after complaining about the cold so often this past winter.

 


In Miami, I met up with Michigan Techie and friend, Claira, who is interning for the company which I had an interview with the next day. After spending the evening together, I prepared for my interview the following day.

 



Day 12: Friday, May 30

After short jog through town in the morning and prepping for my interview, I was prepared. Speaking with potential future coworkers and bosses, a lunch and tour of town made the day filled with anxiety, excitement, and anticipation for what the future may hold. Overall, I think the interview went well and look forward to what path the universe may offer.


 

Claira and I met up when she finished work and I followed her to where she is living for the summer, just outside of Phoenix. An evening filled with swimming in her backyard pool and relaxation made the perfect closure for an overall fine day.



 

Day 13: Saturday, May 31

Claira and I awoke early to meet her acquaintance, Jason, a manager at a local biking shop. Claira, an avid mountain biker, was working on integrating herself into the Arizona mountain biking community. Through some store searching and networking, she had met Jason who offered to show her some of the biking trails in the area. I had tagged along to run.


Running the trails just outside Phoenix.

 

We arrived at a rather popular trail; I was surprised how many people were out on a Saturday at 6:30 AM. This however made sense; the temperature was already 95ºƒ and rising. It was easy to wake up at 5 AM when the sun begins to peak over the horizon by 4:30 AM. Remembering the trails’ closeness to the city, the number of people populating the trails was explained.


 

Despite the fact that I was at a lower elevation than I had been for the past week, the run was difficult. The trail was more of a hiking trail with its loose gravel, narrowness, and moments when bouldering was required to summit the small peaks. It was the toughest run I had done on the trip thus far even though it was not the longest, steepest, or greatest change in elevation. Should I have the privilege to train on these trails daily, even weekly, I would feel and move like a mountain goat in time.

 


The temperature made a huge difference. The sun felt close to the earth and my pores empty of sweat. I had forgotten how heat adapt I had become over the course of four months in Arizona last year and how that had all disappeared as I became cold-adapt over Michigan’s -20ºƒ winter this year. In addition to the fact that I had been camping in near or at freezing temperatures for the past 4 days made the heat more a shock to my system than I had anticipated.

 

I love the desert.


This only reinforced the notion that I needed to start heat training for crewing and pacing at Badwater at the first available opportunity.

 


Finishing the trail run sooner than I would have liked with a slight headache and upset stomach, I realized I was dehydrated. Accompanying Claira and Jason to a burrito joint but a mile from the trailhead, I downed 3 water bottles before beginning to feel better. It was a subtle reminder that I had to build up to where I had been last summer. How easy the mind forgets and how long the body takes to readapt to each scenario!


 

Returning to Claira’s pool, we cooled off and set off for a trip to the $2 movie theater. “The Lego Movie” had be slightly amused, but I grew up as more of a Kenex(sp?) fan. A great exhaustion hit me while sitting in the theater. It was as if the past week of travel had finally caught up with me. Arriving back at Claira’s house, I lounged by the pool for the rest of the afternoon while she returned to Jason’s bike shop to give him some beer she owed him for a bike part. It was nice to just be. To just exist. My limbs were heavy, the sun was high, and the ground inviting.


 

How glorious laziness can be.


 

It is amazing how much energy travel can sap from you. It’s a conundrum. Sitting in a car or plane gives one the feeling of laziness, however, upon arrival, the body feels beat up and tired. Taking breaks, short walks or jogs at rest stops (which I have mistakenly called “aid stations” on this trip) helps tremendously, as do twice-a-day runs or hikes. Until this afternoon, the tiredness had not caught up. I hadn’t been training with great distances during the trip thus far (the longest day being only about 20 miles) but between changes in climate, altitude, elevation gain during runs, camping, and travel, it had summated into an afternoon of laziness.


 

And it was good.



 

Day 14: Sunday, June 1

After a nice 3 miles jaunt around Mesa with Claira at 5:30 AM, I took to the airport, returning the fun (but uncomfortable) ride of the Mustang to the car rental center. Today I was to fly not back to Salt Lake City, but to yet another interview with another company in Alabama. I was going from dry heat to a humid heat; from cactuses to forest; from rock to dirt.


 

Two flights and a drive from Huntsville later, a day of travel came to a close. I relaxed and braced myself the the interview the following day.



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