Sunday, July 19, 2020

Trans-USA Road Cruise: a visual recap

I imagine a time where, like on sea cruises, we'll be able to sleep in a self-driving RV and wake-up each morning at the door of a National Park or Monument for a full-day visit! With a shower available after a daily run! Paradise on Earth! :-) And this futuristic hope should be available in just a few years. Well, it our world doesn't fall apart in the meantime, meaning that we stop the dumbest behaviors we see within our country!

It has been 2 weeks we quarantined ourselves again just to make sure. As a matter of fact, I'd rather being tested for antibodies now since I believe I might have contracted COVID-19 back in February when I came back from Vegas with a super bad and dry cough and without any voice left. Of course, that would be called a mild version since I was still able to win my age group at the 50K Road Nationals in New York a week later but, still, running has been super painful because of chest/lung pain in the first 2 to 3 miles of every run. 4.5 months and, unfortunately, still counting...

One more reason for Agnès and I to wear a mask, to protect others. Although I don't think we would transmit it after all these months. And, again, assuming we do carry antibodies. When will we know... My doctor says that the test is still so off, it's not worth it. Every day I see long lines at local testing sites, but I'm stunned we don't hear much about antibody testing on official or social medias.

With this new quarantine behind us, and a new confinement order anyway, I feel more comfortable turning the page on this amazing American experience. Coast to coast road trips are more popular among college students but there must be many less with the current distance learning mode. At least we didn't have any issue find rooms.

To connect the dots of my eight posts, here is a visual summary. Another picture worth many thousands words!
There are so many different options for crossing the US. Many people would take the shortest path along Interstate 80. Do the whole crossing over 3 or 4 days without stopping and seeing much. Others would spend several months and camp. With this itinerary, the first question we got was: "why going so far North?" The key reason is that we had already visited South Dakota several years ago and it was taken by Trump and his fans around our dates so we much welcomed keeping our distance! We have also spent much time in the Southern States and their parks (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona) and even Colorado, but we were dreaming of visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton. In between these key landmarks, there are fewer options to pick from, yet a few very worth ones.

Overall, that represented about 55 hours of driving and limited time in each National treasure, but still enough to get some good taste of the many Americas of our Federation. Including the many different Americas with regard to our handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. From this vantage, the worst experiences included:
  • Several stops are rest areas and gas stations;
  • The Chicago crowd invading the narrow beaches at the Indiana Dune National Park (we left promptly at 10 am to avoid the healthcare crisis!);
  • And our stop at Austin, Nevada.
While we love Austin, Texas, for its liberal, relaxed and open-minded atmosphere, Austin, Nevada, seems to be the anthesis. We had tried to book a room there at the last minute but there isn't even a hotel, only less than a handful bed and breakfast. After our aerial stop by Great Basin National Park, we had quite a few miles and were hoping to get some quick dinner around 7 pm on Independence Day. We found a bar which was quite busy but were bluntly told they weren't serving any food. We stopped at another one to be told that the kitchen was closed. And that we looked dumb with our masks. That they didn't have 5G so no risk of corona virus. And we got asked if we had noticed the Trump sign on the side of the road which they proudly maintained for the past 4 years. Dang, we were just asking for some food, why did we deserve such a hate in the middle of nowhere??!! Another big American disappointment...

Two more personal anecdotes before turning the page and moving to relating new adventures.

First, a weird picture which, no, isn't about Black Lives Matter (although, yes, as I reiterated in the first post of my road trip series, they really really do).
I had just woken up from a nap while Agnès was driving through Montana when I see a sign "Yellowstone River." I quickly open the window, take a shot while going at 80 mph over the bridge and want to frame it better... Dang, lost my iPhone only to see it flying high up in the air. The time that Agnès got to a stop on the emergency lane and started carefully driving backward toward the bridge, a big truck passes by the bridge and I thought that was it. I finished the few hundreds yards by foot and was happy to see the phone had landed in the emergency lane, not on the highway nor in the water, first sign of luck. As I approach more, I see the phone lying on the protective case, not on the screen, phew! Now, I'm close enough to see that the screen doesn't even look broken. As I grab the phone, the display comes up, wow! I'm happy to report that everything is in order, except for small silent mode switch which doesn't hold the lower position (but I can still do a soft switch). Frightening experience...

Back to that black picture: it may interest Apple to see what one of their iPhones experienced while flying 8 to 10 feet above the ground while spinning at 80 mph. I'm adding the details below. Also, pointing out that, if you click on and open the above picture, you'll still see traces of lighted pixels...

The second image is more personal. If you followed every post of this journey, you recall I badly twisted my ankle while coming down Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park. That was on Thursday afternoon. I didn't run on Friday, just hiking a couple of miles in Fossil Butte National Monument. Thanks to a lot of icing in the car, I managed to run 10 hilly kilometers, part of the climb up Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park. Including technical trails with loose rocks. At least I was double careful this time. Well, as I stepped out of the shower on Sunday evening, Agnès points to my ankle, noticing something...
Typically, when an hematoma forms this way after a few days, it means something broke. A bone possibly. Touch was a bit sensitive at the top of my foot but I still don't exactly understand what happened. I ran 118 miles since the incident, all good, phew! As we joked with the friends we stopped by in Salt Lake, their dog having had at least 9 lives, my ankles survived many lives too; I'm quite proud of their flexibility, a gift for trail running!

There are many other anecdotes to recount from this 10-day adventure, but you don't have time so I'll just conclude with a cool encounter with a bison as we were exiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We saw more from a distance between Yellowstone and Grand Teton but that one was just on the other side of the road. A few days later, medias were running a story of a woman injured after she approached one of these beasts. Be careful out there! As for bears, still no luck but it's another animal I dare to get too close anyway...

With that, let's be grateful for the wonders our country has. Hopefully we manage to agree our environment is worth protecting (hint: that means reviving the EPA and rejoining the Paris Treaty; and fixing our judicial system too!). Hopefully. Not only for our generation (selfishly) but for the many generations to come (selflessly). PLEASE ALL!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Running in Utah: getting high in Great Basin National Park

After twisting my ankle on Day 7 of our cross-country road trip, running down Death Canyon in Grand Teton National Park, an easy hike in Fossil Butte National Monument on Friday brought some relief. What another experience to drove through rural Wyoming, along the border with Idaho! Like their plates say: "For ever West..." They surely kept the Far West spirit alive and you see an America which is living a basic life, so far away from our urban areas' busyness.

In our quest for a National Park a day, we had initially planned on stopping by the Craters of the Moon NP. We changed plans to visit good friends in Sandy, Utah, and we were delighted by this opportunity to visit a National Monument really off the beaten paths. We learned so much about the billions and millions of years which led us to where we are, we highly recommend the detour or trip up there. This park opened in 1990 but the visitor center is brand new and super modern (architecture inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright). Great exhibit showing a great variety of super detailed fossils. And we hiked to an archeologic site where we arrived as researcher just uncovered one of a fish, before our astounded eyes. (See pictures at the bottom of this post.)

We left Sandy around 9 am on Saturday (Independence Day) and, thanks to our ultimate time zone change, got to the 9th and last National thing of our road trip (thing meaning park, monument or recreation area). Because of the last minute decision and the lack of cell coverage in the car on such remote roads, we hadn't prepared our visit at all. Thankfully, this is a very simple park, there are just a handful of key highlights. While the caves must be something exceptional, it requires a reservation of a guide, so we skipped that. We drove the only road in the park, from the visitor center in Baker at 5,317 feet (1,621 m) up to the Wheeler Peak parking lot at ~10,200 feet (3,109 m)! Only in America do we have roads to these elevations, like Pikes Peak above 14K feet (4K meters)! No wonder why some tourists visiting Chamonix ask where the road is to the top of Mont Blanc... ;-)

Proud flag flying at the visitor center on Independence Day, with the peaks of the park in the background
 Getting very high on the aerial road to the Wheeler Peak parking lot
The time to eat our picnic, it was 1:10 pm Agnès allotted me until 2:30 pm to hike the trail to the summit. That meant 1 hour and 20 minutes while the 8.6-mile round trip to the summit of Wheeler Peak is supposed to take between 4 to 8 hours per the sign posted at the trail head! With my ankle still swollen, I just wanted to see how high I could go...

I started hiking but the trail was actually very nice and rather flat. After a mile of alternating power walking and running, I had gained only 100 feet of elevation, dang! By mile 2, 10,700 feet, slightly better. Then the trail became more technical, especially with loose rocks. I did average 14:35 min/mile for the first 2 miles but it took me 21:45 for the third mile. At that point I was really happy to reach a patch of snow and see 11,625 feet of elevation on my GPS (3,540 meters). I really wanted to keep going for the last 1.2 mile to the summit but it was more than time to turn back. Although 1.2 miles don't seem a lot, there were 1,400 feet left to climb and, worse, descend, in these tricky loose rocks.

I rushed back to the parking lot which I reached at 2:40 pm, close enough... Next time, I'll negotiate an earlier departure! ;-)

That's a really cool and accessible summit to climb, at almost 4,000 meters (just missing 18 meters!). Under this peak, there are nice trails circling Stella and Teresa Lakes. And several other trails in nearby canyons which we surely didn't have time to explore in such a ridiculously short visit (e.g. Lehman Creek, Snake Creek, Baker Creek/Lake, Timber Creek).

A 3D flyover of this short but Alpine 10K (click on this link, or the picture below):

If you can stay overnight, star gazing is supposed to be incredible given the park is literally in the middle of nowhere! As a matter of fact, it's on Highway which, on GPS maps, is tagged as "The loneliest road in America!" If you are driving there on your own, you are up for a good spiritual retreat, with so many miles at 70 miles per hour without saying any car. Better car pool then!

A few more pictures of that run/hike...

An easy flat and super pleasant first mile
 The joy of finding and touching snow again this week!

 Stella Lake from the Summit Trail
Loose rocks ahead, only the beginning at 11,000 feet!
 Up to the peak from the right side
 Back, almost on time...
 10K-round trip to that tiny patch of snow!
 The Wheeler Peak Summit Trailhead

Passing the Utah/Nevada border and getting on NV HWY 50, that Loneliest Road in America

 Full moon rising in the desert

 Watching the July 4th fireworks from ugly Fallon downtown

 The full moon at night (although we missed the eclipse)

And now, a few pictures from our stop at Fossil Butte National Monument in Wyoming on Friday.

The super modern visitor center
A timeline of 4 billion years!
From the bottom of the lake, way back then, now corresponding to the white layers on the next picture
Picnic area, then a hike to the excavation demo at the top of the hill in the background

 Yet another one!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Running in Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park touches Yellowstone yet it's hard to imagine so much difference. If Yellowstone is all about fumes coming from boiling water under the surface, Grand Teton contrasts by its peaks, with 34 of them culminating at more than 11,000 feet!

From Jackson we drove to Teton Village and Phelps Lake in the morning, then Jenny Lake, and a hike to Taggart and Bradley Lakes. I told you in the previous post, we make the most of the time we have!

I did run up and down Death Canyon, passing along Lake Phelps.

Lake Phelps lookout:
 Touching the snow!
 At the Alaska Basin Trail junction

 This marmot was so social!

 Back at the car

In this Strava trace, you'll notice a major bug of my Garmin GPS watch which got me flying over a mountain. I only wish...
I included a few pictures in this 3D flyover (click on this link or the picture below):
Only 9 miles but it reminded me so much of the Alps with the breathtaking views, the varied vegetation and terrain, and technical sections, I highly recommend this route for quite a workout. I was super careful on the way down but stupidly twisted my ankle in the very last easier section, just before getting back to the trail head. No cracks but quite painful this Thursday evening. Fortunately, we don't have any big hike planned for tomorrow. We were supposed to visit another National Park tomorrow, on the Idaho side, Craters of the Moon but opted to stop by a friend in Salt Lake City instead. The ankle should appreciate the 6-hour drive instead! ;-)

Speaking of (Facebook) friends, I was hoping to run a few strides with local running legend, Lisa Smith-Batchen (e.g. 10 time Bad Water including 2 wins), but she was working all day today. I was looking forward to the encounter and another #RunningBuddyTourism opportunity like the last minute meetings with Mike Wardian then Mark Godale, I will have to come back and try again!

Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton are spectacular, yet so different. If it was a popularity contest, my love for the mountains would place Grand Teton to the top of the 7 National places we visited these past 7 days. Our heads are fulled of wonderful images, as well as our cameras! And, again, we know we rushed these visits way too much, still, what an enriching cross-country road trip experience until we have more time to come back! Maybe include some biking on the many miles of pristine bike paths across the park, more runs and hikes definitely, and some rafting? We can't let these bears having all the fun, can we?