Monday, June 26, 2023

Bighorn 100 - actually finally finished

The Bighorn 100 was an early DNF in my ultrarunning career, a first attempt at a mountain 100-miler (after finishing Vermont and the German 100).  It kicked me in the butt with the climbing at altitude, helping me learn to be better prepared both physically and mentally for future long races.  For some reason, recently I decided to come back and "get it done" once and for all.  That didn't quite work out last year, although ~70 miles while having Covid was a reasonable accomplishment, I thought.

I could have let it go (again) except the Western States lottery gods are big-time toying with me so I still need a qualifying race for next year.  What better way to prove my worth than to finish something I started 16 years ago?  Oh, I still had a backup plan, otherwise my name wouldn't be Marcy Beard, but I really wanted the Bighorn finish for multiple reasons.

Last year's experiences on the course helped immensely in preparing for this year.  Not as much the training (which didn't need a lot of tweaking), more the gear prep, understanding of cutoff times, strategies for mud, asking John to be at 3 of the aid stations, and knowing what to expect of the course.  And especially improving the lead-up weeks with more altitude and much less stress (and no covid).

There are always race day challenges revolving around the weather in northern Wyoming.  This year the temperatures were absolutely perfect - could not have asked for anything better.  The precipitation was less than ideal, mostly in the form of rain before the race started.  Lots and lots of it.  We were very lucky not to get much rain during the event, or the mudfest could have been a great deal worse.  As it was, the first/last hill was in terrible shape.  The rest of the course actually looked about the same as last year, thankfully.

I was mindful and grateful for every mile I ran that was in decent condition.

So, from the beginning!  Our friend Gina was also running, her first time at Bighorn.  She's a badass with multiple 100-mile finishes including a Grand Slam.  So great to see her and her husband Jeff.

We took the bus to the start and hung out at the back of the pack for a few minutes:

Time to go!  Gina said she wanted to hang back for the first climb, and normally I would do that too, but I was looking to gain time on the cutoffs right from the start.  As you can see, I was already making a move to work my way up in the pack.  See you in a few hours, John!

The road start is nice, including the gentle uphill grade.  Plenty of room to maneuver, even though there were a few puddles to dodge.  With some easy running I felt like I made it to a good place mid-pack by the time I hit the trailhead.  I mostly settled in with the train around me, occasionally passing someone when it didn't add much effort.

Thank you to 90 Mile Photography for the free picture downloads!

My pause at the first aid station went way faster this year, as I was wearing a vest instead of my pack for the first section.  Much easier access to a Spiz baggie and my hand bottle for water fills.  Plus I had gotten confirmation of the flowing pipe spring partway up the mountain, so I didn't need to carry as much liquid (not to mention it was so much cooler this year).

I also opted not to use poles for this part so I could carry a hand bottle.  The legs didn't need the assistance and I remembered a lot of tall grass on the sides of the narrow trail that made it difficult to use poles in places.  The main difference in the trail condition was quickly clear - gray, slippery mud.  There were a couple places where poles would have been helpful for balance, but there were also plenty of shrubs to hang onto.

Besides sliding around, some of the deeper mud tried to take the shoes off my feet.  I can recall the sounds of glooping into the muck and then sprishing my feet out of it, thinking that perhaps I should tie my laces tighter.

Offering some Spiz to the race photographer:

Yeah, that first ascent was definitely more work with all the mud.  I tried not to dwell on what it might mean for the rest of the course.  I can only do what I can do!  Run the trail in front of you...

Further up on the doubletrack it felt like I gained some steam, speed-walking toward the top.  I asked a guy about his UTMB buff (hat?) and he said he was running it this year.  Very cool!  Several people stopped to take pictures.  Totally understandable - the fields of flowers going on forever were so pretty!

John got a picture for me on one of his hikes that day:

Seems like a good place to include some other pictures from John.  Here's an interesting conglomeration of rock:

Tall pillars and wide open views:

Nom nom...

OK, back to the race trail.  The herd ran/skied down the short/steep drop to the next creek, crossed on the bridge, and then scrambled up the next muddy slope.  One woman took a step that landed her on her back, with a pole just missing me.  The meadow was messy, then finally we reached a small road with improved footing.

A volunteer greeted us with "Normally Upper Sheep aid station would be here, but a truck went off the road, so we have water for you about half a mile further up the trail."  He also had a jug in case anyone needing a refill right away.  The low temperature made that much less necessary than usual, and most people said thank you and continued onward.

We found the rest of the volunteers setting up a temporary table down the hill from the road (where the truck was presumably stuck), taking numbers and filling bottles.  Thank you all for dealing with the situation so well!

More muddy trail and road, but not so bad compared to a couple miles earlier.  I only slipped once, landing on soft grass and barely needing to clean anything off.  My run/walk felt reasonably efficient, pushing the pace without overdoing anything.

It's muddy, so whatcha gonna do?

The race photographers had a knack for capturing me carrying a Spiz baggie:

At the upper road crossing, a guy was directing people to the next trail and also pointing our attention to a black bear that was watching the procession from the field down the way.  She seemed particularly interested in us, and I later learned she had a cub somewhere in the vicinity so that explained it.  Super cool to see, and sorry to bother you Mama.

I was pleased with my splits so far, even more pleased with my time into Dry Fork at 3½ hours.  Well faster than my prior two efforts.  Even better, John was waiting for me and ready to help me swap my vest for my pack and poles.  We had talked through this transition and all the prep was worth it for a 2-minute turnaround.  Very nice!

Grinning, I took off down the hill on the doubletrack.  A photographer snapped a picture as I was running:

After drinking my next Spiz serving at the bottom, it was time to get to work again.  There are a bunch of ups and downs and a couple little creek crossings through the giant meadows.  For all the mucky muck and water, nothing was too deep or shoe-engulfing (as long as I was careful with the water crossings and giant puddles).  My mini-gaiters kept much of the crap out and my feet still felt great.

It was nice to have poles now, and they would come in especially handy several times over the next day with slight slips here and there.  Also helpful for uphill propulsion and downhill stability.

One guy passed me, turned and said "You are a Beast!" which I think was a compliment, although I couldn't explain why he singled me out.  Maybe he was saying it to everyone.  It gave me something to ponder, at least, and obviously I remembered it!  That's right, "Beast it, beast it!" (a la Beasts of the Southern Wild)

The next aid station came up relatively quickly, where they directed us "around the corner" to the water refill.  That actually meant well down the hill, where they were filtering water from the creek and trying to keep up with the runners.  No worries, just wanted to be certain before going down, because I sure didn't want to climb back up that steep thing if I had missed the water jugs.

A couple kids were super helpful, and I wonder what they thought about spending a weekend in the middle of nowhere assisting crazy people on their quest to run a bunch of miles in the wilderness.  Thank you kids!

The course continued on a trail through more wildflowers and then some pine forests, starting a never-ending traverse that you can't predict the end of.  Grass and trees, creeks and mud, down and back up, over and over.  At least the mud sections were short and mostly not too bad.  I remembered these from last year and was happy not to find much more of it this time.  Yay for every mile that was runnable!

I made a note of the other pipe springs, not needing the water refill but seeing that it could come in handy in a hot year.  Not too long after, the Bear Camp aid station appeared.  Thank you all, and I WILL see you tomorrow morning!

Well, time to see about the trail condition on "The Wall" -- the long, steep drop to the river.  The race organizers had sounded rather surprised that it wasn't bad after all the rain.  I concur.  Certainly there were sections of muck around the little water crossings, and there was a stream flowing down the trail for part of it, but it seemed similar to 2022.  My memories from 2007 are hazy, but I have a vision of sliding all the way down from the top to the bottom... probably not though.

Run across the footbridge and into the aid station - another excellent split and well ahead of schedule.  I noticed basins of water with clean washcloths nearby and the volunteers confirmed they were for anyone who wanted to wash their feet.  That's me!

I had plenty of extra socks in all my drop bags, so this seemed like the perfect time to make use of a pair.  I rinsed my feet, set them up to dry a little (still pruny but way less grimy), and got help with my drop bag and water refills from a lovely volunteer.

The only challenge was an occasional thigh cramp when I leaned over to work on my feet.  I'm no stranger to leg cramps lately (although the thighs are a new feature), and my right shin had been twitching off and on that afternoon while running.  It took a few extra seconds to work around that challenge, but it was worth it to take care of my feet.

This year I carried some actual warm clothes up the hill, so the pack now had a bit of heft while it was still warm and light out.  No worries, just get moving and you'll start drinking some of that Spiz and putting on some clothes and lights soon enough.

With my clean feet, it made sense to take a bit of extra time at the next few wet sections.  I hopped from bank to bank, rock to rock, looking for ways to avoid the deeper dunkings without doing too much additional work.  Gradually I was learning how to deal with a thin layer of mud or water in exchange for easier/quicker crossings.

Loving the pretty scenery:

Next up was Cathedral Rock, followed by a much drier trail (at least for a while).  Thank you for this better-than-expected section of running!  I felt like I was getting passed by other runners more than normal, probably because I started the race faster than I normally might.  It was fine, my splits were great, I only needed to do whatever it took to finish.

Leaky Falls was SO pretty above us to the right, tons of water spilling over the cliff, wow.  The big log bridge crossing went well, and it's amazing how well this was built.

I popped up after a pee break to see a woman coming, and she had a terrible cough at that moment so I pushed to stay ahead of her.  I thought I was making progress on that goal, listening to her coughing get fainter behind me.  Then it got colder and I stopped a couple times to put on clothes, drink Spiz, pee, whatever.  A train of runners passed me, led by the same woman - and she sounded a lot better, so that was a good sign.  Good job, y'all!

It was really neat being able to see the terrain all around me, even sunshine on the cliffs across the way for a while.  How fun to be up here during the daylight!  It was a new experience and I loved it.

The lead runners started coming downhill toward me, a younger guy first and then Jeff Browning, both looking great.  I tried to see how muddy the front runners were, but didn't notice anything particularly awful coating their legs.

Into Spring Marsh aid station, such a great place!  The volunteers are great, and in fact ALL the volunteers the whole time were simply amazing.  That is a highlight about this race, in my opinion.  Everyone is friendly and willing to do whatever you need or ask for, from start to finish.  Just wonderful.

Anyway, I spent a couple minutes there putting on tights.  Plus bread bags on my feet (over my socks, inside my shoes).  It was one of my experiments after the blister issue going into Jaws last year, a way to hopefully keep some of the grit off my skin.  I also tightened up my laces in anticipation of the promised shoe-sucking mud.

Before leaving I wandered over to the food table, and a dark chocolate Kit Kat caught my eye.  Those are the best!  So far my stomach was doing great, and a small amount of solid food didn't bother it.  That's a bonus.

OK, let's go see what this upper mountain looks like.  Last year it was bad from Elk Camp (the next aid station) to the top and back, but this year they said it was crappy starting at Spring Marsh.  I was ready to walk through whatever mud, water, and snow was in my way.

One of my strategies was deciding when I would plow through the deep puddles and when I would try to avoid getting my feet overly wet.  The "plow through" parts included everything from Spring Marsh to the turnaround and back.  Shoes were going to get soaked, there was no help for it.  Much easier (and faster) to accept that, just get through it as efficiently as I could.  I think one reason I got blisters last year was all the jumping and sliding around.  No more!  At least not in the upper reaches of the course.

Having daylight - almost all the way to Elk Camp! - was helpful too.  What a luxury to be able to see what was ahead and plan a route through it.  I dug out my lights (headlamp and waist light) just before the muddy aspen grove, only because my eyes could use all the extra light they can get.  Starting the race more quickly was still paying off.

There were a bunch of guys coming the other way, almost all giving and returning greetings of encouragement.  I didn't see a woman racer for quite a while, not sure why there weren't many top-running ladies this time.

At Elk Camp I got some help filling a Spiz baggie, and as I was squatting in front of the water jug one of my legs started to cramp.  "Stop!" I mumbled, confusing the woman who thought I meant to turn off the water spigot.  Oh, sorry, just talking to my leg cramp.  As soon as I sat down everything felt fine.  I started using my bike bottle to ask for water from volunteers, much easier than trying to retrieve water myself.  Did I mention how great all the volunteers were??

Happily that was the last leg twitch or cramp that I can recall from the race - everything settled down from that point on.  I guess I just need to run far enough to get the overexcitement to abate.

I headed up the hill to inspect the final few miles of the course that I hadn't seen yet.  Again my prior year experience helped a lot, as I was able to ID waypoints along the way.  The little log bridge, the lower mud among the roots, the turn up toward the woods, the middle mud spots, and the winding trail.

And - the lack of snow!  That was a surprise, after hearing about all the western snowfall last winter.  Not complaining!  Someone suggested that snow might make things easier, but in this case I don't agree.  The snow up here (at least in my limited experience) tends to be piled into steep banks and slippery slopes.  And it makes the melted puddles SO COLD.  My feet and especially my toes were thankful to be dealing only with mud.

A runner coming toward me mentioned something about how the worst was yet to come.  Don't I know it!  Big field crossing, road crossing, then the upper mucky muck.  So much standing water.  I did go around the largest of the ponds but otherwise walked straight through.

Earlier in the evening, Jeff Browning forded one of the puddles:

In the darkness I could hear an elk bugling in the distance.  So cool!  John told me later he got to see some elk on one of his hikes.  Also a moose at a pull-off while driving.

Anyway, there was a dirt road for a moment, then one last bit of trail for good measure.  Finally back on the road and running toward the Jaws aid station.  Someone came running up behind me, hey it's John!  He had been watching for me, and it was wonderful to see him.

Another excellent split, coming in just before 11:30 pm.  I made it up from Footbridge in 6.5 hours, nice!  If I could do the same going back down, I would be in great shape.  Even splits up and down are apparently standard for me, and after 3 times here I am no longer surprised about it.

John helped me clock a 10-minute aid station turn-around, also nice!  My feet were doing great so I only needed a drink and a Spiz/water resupply.  I swapped the Buff on my head for the warmer cap I got at packet pickup.  Plus I took a short sit break:

Out the door and back up the road, see you tomorrow and thank you John!!

Back through the mud and muck, ticking off waypoints, thankful that this part of the course wasn't anything particularly worse than I had anticipated.

Somewhere in the darkness, among all the "good jobs!" called back and forth between runners in both directions, I might have heard Gina's voice as she headed uphill, with Jeff (husband and pacer) giving a grunt from behind her.  Go Gina!

After a brief stop at Elk Camp, I continued on through the sage brush.  I stepped aside to let a guy pass me, and he made some friendly conversation.  After hearing that this was my 3rd attempt to finish the race, he listened to some of my stories.  We continued chatting, I learned his name was Joshua (from South Dakota), and I suspect he slowed a bit so I could keep up with him.

The company was great, giving both of us a bit of distraction for several miles.  When he thought we were getting close to Spring Marsh aid station, I described what we still needed to see (a giant rock with a mud crossing, a couple trees, at least one drainage) and soon enough we were passing all of those things.

My biggest slip happened in here, with my poles saving me from falling into the mud.  Woo hoo, that will wake you up.  Thank you poles!

I debated sitting at Spring Marsh to remove the bread bags from my shoes, but decided I just didn't want to deal with the muddy mess on my feet.  The foot baths at Footbridge were calling my name, so even though they were a few miles away I decided to wait.  I stopped for a moment to fill a Spiz baggie, while Joshua took off right away.  Thanks Joshua, it was fun talking to you!

My feet felt fine, and I hoped the added "pruny time" wouldn't cause problems later.  I got moving down the trail, remembering the technical sections I'd seen on the way up.  There's a reason it's not easy to run down this part, and the word is "rocks".  In the dark, especially.  Gina managed to descend significantly faster than she climbed, and I am impressed by that feat.

Working my way down in the darkness, happy that the footing was at least a whole lot drier, so I couldn't be too annoyed about the rocks.  The sky started getting light before I hit the Cathedral Rock aid station, wow that is a quick night (about 8 hours).  The last couple miles along the river are even rockier, along with some climbing and some water to hop (or slosh through) for good measure.

I was in good spirits upon returning to Footbridge!  It was 6 am and for the first time ever I had confidence that I could climb up "The Wall" and make it to the next aid station.  I didn't want to squander the time cushion, but I needed to spend a few extra minutes getting everything sorted with my clothes and gear.

First - shoes off, feet rinsed and set up to dry.  The skin was wrinkly, so I decided that my next quest was to get them dry and keep them that way for as long as possible.

It was great timing for dropping all the overnight stuff (warm clothes, lights).  I had switched to a more solid set of gaiters overnight, and now I swapped back to the lighter ones.  I used the foot water to rinse mud off of them, talking to myself about "you're not doing laundry, that's good enough".  Spiz resupply, trash drop, and a clean pair of socks, yay!

At 26 minutes, this was my longest stop, and it was so worth it.  I was ready to go climb!  Let's do this.

My legs were noticeably tired - there had been plenty of uphill to this point and I had been pushing the pace.  But so much less tired than last year.  I was committed to making it up this ~2400 foot steep ascent no matter how long it took and how many breaks I needed to make.  I took a guess of 2 hours to get to the next aid station, which would still be fine for making it back to Dry Fork (the most difficult cutoff time, in my opinion).

Again thank you to the poles, giving me arm leverage and a full-body workout.  I set off at a slow pace and gradually worked my way up to something reasonable and sustainable.  My focus was on the places where there was a creek running down the trail.  Anything I could do to keep my feet mostly out of the water, I would do it.  Ducking under trees, finding a way through the willows, using the poles to find stones to stand on in the middle of the mire, figuring out where the drier mud was located that didn't seep into my shoes.  Every time I was successful it made me happy.

I could feel wind coming into my shoes and helping everything dry out.  Several super-steep sections took some extra effort but no additional mental stress.  Whatever it takes.  I was doing it, finally!

And there was the Bear Camp aid station (about 1:45 after leaving Footbridge), hello again wonderful volunteers, I was thrilled to be back.  I did some water refills for the next long section and then I was on my way.

I knew this next singletrack was going to last forever and I didn't have many mental images of specific spots.  My plan had been to put on my mp3 player, but then the lead 50-mile racer came flying by.  Oh, I better keep my ears open so I didn't get in anyone's way.  They were all friendly and encouraging, but of course it's not fun for either of us to manage the extreme difference in moving speeds on the narrow trail.  The biggest difference for me this year is that they didn't start passing me until this point - so much better!

I also had good timing with the front runners, as I tended to be detouring around mud spots or stepping off the trail to pee when they happened to come by.  Eventually there were more 50-milers and I had to move over a few times; at least it kept me distracted (and motivated to move faster to reach the upcoming doubletrack).

Hey, this might be the last climb up through the pine trees?  Yes it is!  A meadow (more beautiful flowers, what a joy!), a traverse, a descent, a creek crossing, then there was the Cow Camp aid station.  I could see people descending to it from a different direction, that was curious.  Ah ha, these are the 32-mile racers, got it.

I thought I might fire up the podcasts at that point, but there was this odd mix of fast 50-milers, dogged 100-milers, and back of the pack 32-milers all moving at various speeds along the road.  It was interesting listening to conversations and watching a whole new set of people around me.

The challenge was finding places to pee, with all the open space and lack of trees.  Apparently I was doing a good job hydrating!

The Dry Fork aid station shows up from way far away, a beacon at the top of a long climb off in the distance.  I was relieved to be well ahead of the 3 pm cutoff there, and in fact decided I should try to reduce some of the adrenaline I had been running on since the beginning.  Deeper breathing, relax everything, you're doing great.  Every step closer was improving the odds of finishing this thing.

Plus there's John, yay!  Here's a photo he took from earlier in the day when he watched the start of the 18-mile race (he had walked up the hill from the aid station and was looking down at our road):

I spent a few minutes at Dry Fork (not sure how many, as both my "in" and "out" times were recorded as 12:42) and John helped me make a couple adjustments and apply some sunscreen.  But first, Spiz for lunch:

I really wanted to switch back to my vest, but I also really wanted to keep my poles.  How to do that and still carry enough water?  Luckily the temperature was absolutely perfect, nice and cool, and I was already peeing plenty so I didn't think I needed much more water beyond the liquid Spiz diet.  So I took a soft bottle that fit in a vest pocket.  That worked great and I was ready to roll.

John accompanied me up the road and up the trail to the ridge.  We chatted about stuff we had seen, mostly me asking him to tell me stories so I didn't have to talk much.  My throat was a tad scratchy, nothing that amounted to anything, just dry from all the breathing I'd been doing to get there.

We crossed a small trickle of a creek, nothing to speak of really, then we heard a runner behind us yell, "F**k you water!" which made us laugh and laugh.

At the top of the climb, John let me run off down the road while he did a bit more exploring on his own.  My legs were still OK for some occasionally "running" (in quotes because I'm not sure anyone watching would call it that), especially on the easy road.  Fast walking was also going well, so I tended to revert to that anytime there was a hint of a reason to do so.

The Upper Sheep aid station was set up in its intended spot (I guess they got the stuck truck out of the muck), with another set of amazing volunteers.  I heard them offering beer but didn't see any takers.  I sat for a moment to mix and drink a Spiz serving, then it was time to tackle "The Haul".

The field on the way over to the final steep climb was as wet and muddy as I've ever seen it, so it was good that my feet were doing fine.  I gave in to the conditions, discontinued my avoidance tactics, and went for "fastest way across".  I knew John was coming in for the final road miles with clean socks and foot lube, so no reason to worry.  Plus, who knew what the upcoming downhill looked like.

Dark clouds dropped rain and tiny hail on us for a few minutes, sure, why not.  I had zero complaints about the weather during the race, so this wasn't anything important.

I was so glad I kept the poles, from that point forward.  They helped in the sloppy field, I leaned heavily on them going up the steep haul, and OMG I can't imagine the next section without them.

Wow, what a frickin' crazy mess of a long downhill.  I was so glad that I had plenty of time.  I can't fathom trying to rush down that thing, at least not with my legs at the time.  Gina told me later that she bombed down it - another impressive feat on her way to finishing the race.

The problem (I think) was all the feet that had slid down the hill since the day before.  All the 100-milers, 50-milers, 32-milers, and 18-milers ahead of me, each of them had to deal with this section.  Without that, the trail might have mostly dried out?  Hard to say for sure.

At least the mud wasn't trying to suck the shoes off my feet this time.  One minor improvement.

I worked my way down, looking for places to step that might not be as slippery.  A bunch of us commented and commiserated.  A few runners barreled downhill (some more gracefully than others) but for the most part we were all about the same level of ability here.

Eventually I found a place to take a break, using the bottle water to mix another Spiz.  I hadn't expected the final miles to take this long, so it was a good thing I'd brought the extra serving I wasn't sure I would need.

Lower down, trail conditions improved and then it was just "when will this end?" although it was obvious there was still a drop ahead of us to the river below.

Finally!  The bottom and the Lower Sheep aid station.  They tried to feed me but I begged off.  It's only a couple miles to the trailhead, yes?

Oh, wow, those were a long couple of miles.  Although I'd seen this trail three times already (the day before and years past), it always passed by way faster at the race start.  It was my first time trying to power through it at the end.  The ups and downs and rocks are much bigger obstacles at that point.

A couple women zoomed past, one of them asking if I was "running a watch?"  Um, it's 5:15 (or whatever it was).  No, they were asking about distance.  Yeah, you obviously didn't see the tiny non-GPS timepiece on my wrist.  I mean, we were on this trail until we were on the road, not sure why anything else mattered.  In any case, I wasn't any help to them.

My spirit improved when I popped out at the trailhead and found a bathroom, yay!  Right as I finished there, John showed up, double yay!  We grabbed a chair so I could lube my feet and change my socks one last time.  An amazing volunteer came over to see if we needed any help with blisters?  Thank you, no, my feet are still doing well, I was just concerned that the final 5 miles of road might get painful if we didn't do everything in our power to prevent that.

Well, let's finish this up!  (The race and the report)

John pointed out all the awesome geology around us, while I told him that it wasn't easy for me to look up while walking at that point  :)  Good thing he had taken some photos on his walk in (no crew cars allowed on the road)

Hey, a race photographer got a picture of us not far from there!

We had a wonderful walk-and-talk, occasionally breaking into a pseudo-jog just to do something different.  Other runners around us were also speed-walking toward the finish line.  Again so glad I wasn't in a massive hurry.  Keep moving, don't do anything stupid, legs don't fail me now.  Every bit closer improved the odds of making it.

And then we were crossing the road and heading into the park, hoorah!  It was a fun shuffle toward the finishing chute, with enthusiastic spectators and lots of clapping and cheering.  I've waited a few years to do this:

Not too long later, Gina rolled in - way to go, Gina!  We were equally muddy and equally happy to be done!

I don't collect finisher medals, so Gina let me borrow her buckle for a photo (thank you!) (also featuring my standard ice bags for the knees and a pair of really-dirty socks that had only done 5 road miles):

Many years ago in my first attempt, I'd heard that it was good to soak your legs in the river afterwards.  Well, the river is really, really cold.  I dipped my feet and actually got the bulk of the mud off my legs, so that was something:

Epilogue - some public art in nearby Sheridan where we stayed a few extra days to relax and recover:

My favorite bison sculpture:

The cat that could be a lion:

And the lion that doesn't mind a big hug!

Thank you John, my Super Crew!  You were a huge help, greatly appreciated.  Thanks for not minding coming back to this event again - and glad we finally got it done!

[Photos courtesy of John and Mile 90 Photography - thank you!]

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Santa Fe and Colorado Springs

Notes from our travels across New Mexico and Colorado... 

We spent an enjoyable day in Santa Fe, walking all over and exploring art of all kinds.  The one thing I have to talk about in more detail is Meow Wolf.  Our friend Taylor told us about it recently, an escape room-like experience but more artsy and more "on your own" wandering through the building.  It started at this location in Santa Fe - so appropriate.  I'm guessing it's a collaboration of a bunch of local artists, as you can tell there are multiple influences throughout.

It begins with the giant sculptures outside - hello Wolf!

No climbing on the huge spider:

We suspect this belongs to someone who works there.  My favorite is the bumper sticker that says, "Pretend to honk if you like mimes"

And a robot with a flower:

Inside there are a bunch of rooms, different ways to connect them, all kinds of things to read and watch, interactive musical displays, and an arcade where you can play some of the games for free:

It's not nearly as dark as my camera makes it out to be, but definitely as colorful:

One of many curious spaces to explore:

We found a mini travel trailer in the upper level, too funny:

The neat thing (for us) is that there's a mystery embedded in the experience, and you can take as much or little time with it as you want.  You can ignore it altogether or you could spend an entire day locating and deciphering the ridiculous numbers of clues.  We were there over three hours, enough to get a sense of the story and start to piece things together, but we would have needed to put much more focus on the questions to figure it out.

Which is an excellent model - everyone gets their own experience, and people like us come away wanting more (and planning to go back someday).  Very cool!  Highly recommend.

Moving ahead to Colorado, I found another fun FKT to run called "All Trails on Mt Falcon".  I love the "all trails" concept, requiring some planning and then resulting in seeing the whole of a park.  John went off to rock climb with Jason and I spent the morning exploring a new place.

Views of Red Rocks on the ascent:

We've been following wildflowers this spring, from the desert blooms up to the mountains:

Mt Falcon Park is the site of a proposed "Summer White House" where presidents could spend time outdoors in the western US:

This is how far they got with building it:

In a different spot, some ruins from buildings that were actually used:

The sign at the top parking lot:

More flowers to keep me company:

A helicopter was doing some kind of major operation for a while (I couldn't see what), finally flying right overhead before taking off:

Views toward the snow-covered peaks to the west:

Flowers - and ponderosas, yay!

It was a fun few hours, accomplishing the goal, and returning to Tug-E in the parking lot.  Another Tug-E supported FKT!

We found a Rivian charger at Cheyenne Mountain State Park!  Our first time using one of these chargers.  Thank you Rivian!

The Cheyenne Park also had some mud to practice on (Colorado was getting rain off and on for a while), which I embraced as training for the upcoming Bighorn race.

On a different day we got to run around in the Garden of the Gods, and those trails were in excellent shape.  And with excellent views!  John got a picture with Pikes Peak in the background between the big red rock features:

Love the trails here.  And all the shapely rocks:

One other fun adventure in Colorado Springs - a tour of the Olympic training center.  Triathlete Anne King did a great job of showing us around and explaining all the ways athletes prepare for The Games.  Love it.  Thanks Anne!

And then we were on our way north once more, heading for Wyoming (once more)!