Run the Rock 50 Miler!

After a great debut experience at the Kodiak 50 miler in August, I was definitely eager to try my hand at another 50 mile race – and maybe, just maybe rack up a few more UTMB points in the process. With that said, the rest of the year was already shaping up to be travel-heavy for my work, and so I needed to find a race that was (relatively) local and would not require any cross-country flights.

After scouring UltraSignup for possibilities, I found one that seemed to fit the bill: The Run the Rock 50 miler on November 10 at Smith Rock State Park, Oregon. It looked like a beautiful course of two 25 mile loops through the park, and was a perfect excuse for Roger and I to visit the Pacific Northwest – something we’ve been wanting to do since moving out to California 3+ years ago! I was feeling strong coming off Kodiak, and looking forward to this next fun event.

The weeks leading up to the race were, naturally, hectic for work travel: from October 31 – Nov 2 I was in L.A.; from Nov 5 – 7 I was in Philly for work. I did my best to get in taper runs around 4am on hotel treadmills ahead of 14+ hour research days in the weeks leading up to the race. On November 7, I flew back from Philly to San Francisco. The next day, Roger and I packed up and began the 9 hour drive up to Oregon.

On the way, we passed by the now-infamous Camp Fire. Being on I-5, we were several miles east of it, but could still see the hillsides burning – an incredibly eerie and sinister sight at night, underscored by our knowledge of devastating impact of the fire. Our heartfelt condolences go out to all those who have been affected, and our immense gratitude goes out to the firefighters who have been battling these blazes day and night. If anything, the fire – the severity of which many government officials and scientists have linked to climate change – has also brought home the importance of the work that our family does on behalf of the Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR) to plant trees and curtail the effects of climate change (for those who may not know, AIR is this blog’s namesake and the organization that we are proud to represent in our races).

We arrived in Oregon safe and sound, and after picking up my number we turned in for the night to get as much rest as possible ahead of what was sure to be a long day.

The morning of Saturday, November 10 – race day – was freezing. Literally. The temperature gauge on our Prius read 19 degrees as we drove to the start line. We knew it would be cold, and had packed the requisite cold weather gear, but I was still nervous: I had not been training in these types of conditions, and knew that in the cold, your body often requires significantly more energy just to keep itself warm – in addition, of course, to the energy required to run 50 miles in the mountains.

With that said, I did my best to get in a good ‘warm up’ (in the loosest sense of the term), and toed the line. I knew it would be a fast, competitive race as there were a few pros in the mix. The announcer counted down and sent us off! I put my head down and committed to run strong, have fun, and enjoy the experience.

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Taking off at the start. Super serious because I was super cold and focusing on not getting hypothermic.

The first 4 miles took us down from the rim of a canyon to a riverbed that skirted the edge of the picturesque and eponymous rock for which the park is named. This first section was relatively flat and fast, and I just focused on finding a comfortable pace and enjoying the sunrise hitting the rock, turning it varying shades of gold, pink, and rose.

The next 6 miles were a long, steady climb up said rock – back and forth across SO MANY switchbacks that afforded us unobstructed views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson, which were stunning in the early morning light. On this section, I focused again on keeping a steady effort, and ended up passing one woman on the switchbacks, at this point running in second.

After the climb, the next few miles offered a fun run along the ridgeline before a fast descent down a fire road, and then a turn onto undulating trails that twisted and turned through canyons before taking a turn back up to the ridgeline and aid station, around mile 21. Just before the aid station, I was joined by two other strong women runners, and we ran together for the rest of the first lap.

After a fast and steep descent, we arrived back at the start/finish line more or less together at around 4 hours – much faster than my previous 50 miler (although to be fair, the Kodiak 50 miler was at altitude and had about 2,000 more feet of elevation gain).

At this point in the race, with the mid-morning sun overhead I was warm enough to take off my jacket and pass it off to Roger – who was a total champ in crewing for me on such a cold day!

The two other women who ran in with me ended up leaving the start/finish seconds before I did – so I left out of there in 4th, on my own. This ended up being a drawback, as literally hundred of meters after leaving I got turned around by ‘detour’ signs on the trail. These signs were printed in similar font as the race signs, and so I followed them for a ways before realizing that something was off. I turned back to retrace my steps and found the race route, but this detour ended up costing me a few minutes. At the time, I did not realize how much this would affect my race, but 2nd – 6th woman all ended up finishing within 9 minutes of each other – which is very close and rare for a 50 mile race!

The second lap was definitely tough. I was wondering if I had been overly optimistic in getting rid of my jacket, because there were many sections where we were running in the shadows and I was definitely getting cold in them. I also think my body was requiring a bit more fuel to stay warm, and around mile 30 I was starting to experience some early signs of bonking, so I made sure to fuel up well at the next aid station.

Somewhere along the way, I ended up getting passed by two more women – they were incredibly strong and I cheered for them as they went by. It is such a privilege to run with such strong competition, and seriously every one out there was such an inspiration!

By the time I got to the last steep descent my legs were definitely feeling it, and my entire body was tired from shivering and trying to stay warm. At mile 49, I was running along the river bed, and silently dreading the steep climb back up the canyon to the finish. At that point, though, I heard Roger cheering for me, which was like a straight injection of double-caffeinated espresso. I perked right up, rallied up the final climb, and ended up in 6th place, finishing around 9 hours – minutes behind the other top women. Check out the race file here! I had no idea we were all so close until I looked at the results, and I likely won’t see another race that close in my career.

 

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Finishing with a smile! Grateful for a beautiful day spent with great people – and also grateful to get some hot chocolate and a jacket. Photo credit: the incomparable Roger Montes!

A huge thanks to the race director, Janessa, and Alpine Running for a great event. And of course a huge thanks to all the amazing volunteers – including the local high school XC team! – who braved the cold temps and came out with warm smiles to cheer us on when we needed it. Thanks as well to Smith Rock State Park and everyone who supports the Oregon State Parks and the thousands of acres of public spaces they protect for both wildlife and human enjoyment.

Interested in visiting Smith Rock? Check out the park website here for information on things to do, along with relevant permit information.

Fee? Yes – $5 day use fee. Dogs? Yes – on marked trails.

Finally, as a reminder: We run to support the Alliance for International Reforestation, our family’s organization which invests in global conservation efforts through community-based reforestation programs. Please take a moment to check out the website  here, and consider a donation to support their work in fighting global climate change.

Thanks as always for following, and here’s to our next adventure 🙂

Tour of the Canyons Part 3: Grand!!!

Our third and final stop (step?) on the Grand Staircase was the unparalleled, Instagram-will-never-do-it-justice, [insert well-deserved hyperbole here], Grand Canyon.

I will never forget the first time I saw the canyon (admittedly it wasn’t that long ago – we wrote about our first stop here in 2015 – the visit that just *happened* to coincide with a blood moon/super moon/ harvest moon eclipse). I remember when we were driving up, asking myself the question of whether or not I would *really* be impressed when I first saw it? I mean, I had seen so many photos of the canyon – its river and wind-eroded cliffs were familiar shapes that had been etched into my mind since grade school, featuring prominently in so many textbooks, nature shows, etc.; I was wondering if, given this familiarity, I would still be privileged enough to have the same awestruck sense of wonder that so many claimed to captivate them?

Of course, the answer was – and still is – a wholehearted, full-throated, resounding YES. There is a reason the Grand Canyon is one of the Natural Wonders of the World. Apart from its stunning vistas that make even the most amateur photographer look like Ansel Adams, the canyon is a geologic marvel that tells the tale of the growth of the continent – a violent story of clashing of massive plates, of rising and falling seas – in varying shades  of sandstone, limestone, granite, and shale.

In short, there is a reason why the Grand Canyon attracts more than 5 million visitors from around the globe every year. And there is a reason why, on a hot weekend in July, we found ourselves returning yet again.

The last time we visited, we only stayed for a night, and were afforded only a brief trip down the Bright Angel trail – an all-too-quick out-and-back 10 mile jaunt that left us wanting more. *This* time, we had a few more days – and we wanted to make the most of it with a longer rim-to-river-to-rim expedition.

The route we opted to take was down the South Kaibab trail across the Colorado to Phantom Ranch, and then back across the river up the Bright Angel trail. All-in-all, the route would be about 17 miles – with over 5,000 feet of climbing.

Two of the most important things to keep in mind when running or hiking in the canyon in the summer: pay attention to the water and the heat. In 2017, the park had over 1,100 emergency service requests – many due to cases of overheating and dehydration. These challenges can easily be mitigated by planning ahead: leave early in the day to beat the heat, carry plenty of water, and know where you can replenish it.

We were very careful to plan ahead, and started our run just after 5 in the morning. At peak summer hours, it was already light enough to see without a headlamp.

Descending the South Kaibab trail in the early morning hours was both surreal, and a bit scary. Surreal because of the views – seeing the canyon turn varying shades of gold and pink as the sun slowly rises over it is nothing short of magical – and scary because you realized that one misstep on the dusty, loose gravel trail could send you skidding over the side into nothingness. Nevertheless, it was incredibly peaceful in a way, as you were so focused, so attentive to your surroundings and footsteps, that you could not afford to pay attention to anything else. It was an exercise in mindfulness.

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Descending the South Kaibab on a clear morning in July.

With that said, it is also a *long*, 6 mile descent into the canyon, and as we neared the end, I was very mindful of the fact that my quads were feeling it.

But then, I saw the river.

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Catching our first glimpses of the Colorado River, with the Silver Bridge in the distance.

I almost completely forgot any discomfort, and was completely absorbed and amazed by the fact that we were at the source of it all – that this seemingly humble, slightly muddy ribbon of rushing water was the force that had carved this massive, 277 mile gorge and intricate network of cliffs, and slot canyons into the earth, indelibly changing the face of the landscape forever. It was just as impressive as the canyon itself.

We crossed the river on the Black Bridge, a narrow, swinging suspension bridge that took us from South to North Rim, and then on to Phantom Ranch. Here was our first water stop, and after a 1 hour+ descent, we were already thirsty and knew we needed to refill our bottles – as the next part was the hard part.

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Roger crossing the Black Bridge.

Coming back on the River Trail and then the Bright Angel Trail was admittedly much more difficult than I had initially thought. The long downhill on the South Kaibab had already tired my legs, and the way back up was essentially 5,000 feet in 8 miles. It was also much, much hotter than it was when we had started; in just a few hours the temperature had risen 30 degrees. And it was only getting hotter.

I just focused on keeping a steady effort, and getting to my next water station at Indian Garden. Once I had, I was nearly out of water – after only a few miles up from Phantom Ranch. Fortunately, the final few miles were up the Bright Angel Trail, which has periodic water stops every few miles. I knew I would be fine with water – but this was also the steepest part of the trail.

I was already tired, and continued to focus on maintaining a consistent, relaxed pace alternating running and power hiking – with occasional unexpected but very welcomed words of encouragement from friendly hikers – including AIR’s president!

We ended up finishing our rim-to-river-to-rim run in just over 3.5 hours, and just before the peak heat of the day. It will rank as one of my all-time favorite runs. Check out our route here!

One note: The National Park Service does not recommend doing the rim-to-river-to-rim in one day for most people. We definitely do not advise attempting this, either; it should be noted that we are experienced trail runners and trained to undertake events like this. However, the route can easily be broken into a multi-day adventure, which many do, with an overnight stay in Phantom Ranch.

Interested in going? While summer months are some of the most popular times to visit the canyon, they are also hazardous, as overheating and dehydration are common during this time of year. Be sure to leave early and carry plenty of water – and chart your water stops in advance!

Check out the park website here for more information on planning your visit.

And as always, a huge thanks to the NPS and rangers for everything they do to protect our parks and park visitors alike.

American River 50 Recap!

The morning of Saturday, April 7 in Folsom, California was a dismal, cold, and sloppy mess. Unrelenting rain for the past 12 hours had turned the roads and trails in the area into mini-rivers. The start line for the famed American River 50 Mile Endurance Run had to be moved; its original location was completely flooded.
Notwithstanding these less-than-ideal conditions (understatement of the year), nearly 500 hardy souls toed the line at 6am for one of the oldest ultras in the U.S., bravely ready to tackle the course and elements.
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Roger all smiles just before the 6am start.
Roger Montes was one of the starters, and excited to represent the Alliance for International Reforestation at his first 50 mile attempt. After just over 8 hours battling the rain and cold, he crossed the finish line in 6th place – a remarkable result given not just the weather but highly competitive field. We sat down with him afterwards for a re-cap of the day.
Q: So this was your first 50 miler. Overall, how did it play out for you?
A: The weather was tough, to be sure – and the biggest wildcard of the race. But once you’re at the start line, you just have to focus on what’s ahead; everyone has to deal with the same conditions, so it’s just how you manage through them. The first 25 miles were pretty flat and smooth, so I just focused on holding a steady pace through them. I was running in 5th throughout, and feeling good overall although I noticed a dull ache in my right knee after mile 20. When I got to the Beal’s Point aid station at mile 25, my wife Rachel was there. I told her I’d been having a bit of knee pain, but she helped me to put it into perspective and we agreed that she would meet me at the next aid station, and if it was still bothering me I’d drop – no sense in risking long-term injury. Shortly after Beal’s Point, the course transitioned to an unpaved trail, and the softer terrain helped my knee. I saw Rachel again at mile 31, and told her I was fine to continue. After that, it was just about maintaining a steady pace and saving enough energy for the last few miles to tackle the last big climb. I was able to do this, and passed another runner in front of me, although two more passed me just before the climb. It was a pretty strong field – huge congrats to Zach , Coree , and all the runners for great performances!
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Roger heading into Beal’s Point, at mile 25.
Q: Wow, so in spite of the conditions it sounds like a great race nevertheless. What was the most challenging part of it for you?
A: Honestly, it was the super slippery trails – and I didn’t bring the right shoes for the job. I was thinking that because so much of the route was on paved bike paths, that I could get away with a shoe tailored more towards the road than the trails. That was a huge mistake! The rain turned the trails into a slippery mess, and without the proper shoes I was sliding all over the place. This not only slowed me down a bit, but could have led to injury – I fell a couple of times out there!
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…and all smiles again afterwards! (just slightly more muddy)
Q: What, if anything, would you do differently next time? What were the biggest lessons learned?
A: Next time, for a race I’ve never done I will definitely invest time in scouting the course beforehand. [Editor’s Note: We did this for the Sean O’Brien 100K, and it made a world of difference on race day – barring an unforeseen injury, it helped tremendously!] It’s important to familiarize yourself not just with the race route, but also the types of terrain you’ll be running. If I had done this beforehand, I would have seen that the trails were the type of clay that can turn really nasty in the rain – and I would have prepared better with bringing the right shoes! All in all, though, it was a great experience – the race directors and volunteers put on an amazing race in terrible conditions. Huge thanks to them for being out in the rain for hours! And if anyone is considering this for their first 50 miler, I’d absolutely recommend it.

Kicking off 2018 with an epic race schedule – for a cause

Happy New Year, adventurers! We hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday break, with lots of great quality time with family, minimal travel delays and holiday stress-induced meltdowns, and copious amounts of just the right amount of heavily spiked eggnog.

We at AIR Adventures are especially excited to kick off 2018, as we have a great series of races lined up for this year. While we’re thrilled to be able to compete in these events, we’re even more excited to announce that we’ll be doing so to raise funds for our sister organization and namesake, the Alliance for International Reforestation! We’ll be starting off with some of the best-known – and toughest – races the west coast has to offer, including:

  • The Sean O-Brien 100K on February 3. Taking place in the rugged Santa Monica mountains, this race traverses 62 miles of rocky single track and fire roads with over 16,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s also one of a handful of Golden Ticket races for the prestigious Western States Endurance Run.
  • The American River 50 on April 7. An internationally known – and highly competitive – 50 miler that winds along the American River in NorCal, before kicking up a challenging climb to the finish.
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The AIR Adventures team will be representing the Alliance for International Reforestation at all events this year. Thanks to Champion System and Headsweats for the great gear.

We invite you all to follow along as we provide updates on our training – along with race reports – throughout the next several months. And of course, we also invite you to donate to the Alliance for International Reforestation here. We encourage you to match our race distance with a dollar per mile donation! So 62 miles = $62, or 50 miles = $50…you get the idea. 🙂

Thanks as always – and stay tuned for more updates!

Getting lost in the mountains of Grand Teton National Park.

Our next stop – Grand Teton National Park – was a short drive south from Yellowstone on the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway. As Grand Teton borders Yellowstone on the south, vacationers often combine visits to both parks.

(Fun fact: Early French explorers named this mountain range; being overcome with awe at the majesty and scale of the peaks, they were of course reminded of breasts. ‘Grand Tetons’ literally translates to ‘big boobs’).

While a much smaller than its northerly neighbor, Yellowstone, the scenery of Grand Tetons is no less stunning. The park is named for the mountains that form most of its 309,944 acres. As the youngest mountains in the Rocky Mountain Range, the Grand Tetons are also some of the highest, with Grand Teton Peak (the largest boob) soaring to a height of 13,000 feet above the lakes at its base.

As with Yellowstone, we opted to explore Grand Teton by foot and by bike. Our first day took us on a 60 mile ride from Colter Bay through the Snake River Valley, where we were afforded unobstructed views of the mountains the entire way.

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Um, yeah, so this was pretty much our view for the entire bike ride. Tough to deal with, but somehow we managed.

At the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, we were happy to discover a 2-way bike trail that paralleled the main valley road for several miles. The trail – the Grand Teton Multi-Use Pathway – took us ~ 8 miles to the town of Moose, where we opted to turn back. However, the trail – which was one of the best maintained we’ve ever ridden – extended another 12 miles to the town of Jackson. If we’d had more time (and not rushing due to family dinner obligations) we would have loved to take it! All in all, the ride offered a beautiful stretch of gently rolling terrain with epic mountain views – and a nice reprieve from the significant climbing from previous days. On the way back, we picked up the pace quite a bit, snagging a Strava course record (or two) in the process.

Check out our bike route here!

The following day we took to the trails, eager to explore the mountains. We started from the Jenny Lake Trailhead near the Visitor’s Center, and took the Jenny Lake Trail up to Inspiration Point, before doubling back and then turning on Cascade Canyon Trail and following that along a swiftly rushing creek up to Lake Solitude. Along the way, we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of a mother black bear and her cub, happily munching away on huckleberries on the side of the trail!

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Best shot we could get of Mama (lower right) & Baby Bear from the super-safe distance we were keeping.

We were very careful in passing them both at a safe distance – and we’re glad we remembered our bear spray. However, both mother and baby seemed 1,000x more interested in their berry breakfast than us, and we happily wished them a good day before continuing on.

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The trail was technical in some places, but for the most part very runnable.

All in all, the trail took us up some 8 miles and roughly 2,500 feet before ending at a snow-covered valley with the ice-filled Lake Solitude at the center – a far cry from the sweltering, 90+ degree valley floor where we had started less than 2 hours earlier.

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The views on the way to Lake Solitude were beautiful.

We stopped to enjoy the views – and a quick bite to eat – before turning back. On the way down, we opted to soak our legs in the mountain creek – which felt so so good on our tired muscles!

Check out our run/hike route here!

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The view at Lake Solitude. Why we do what we do.

Throughout our stay, we were struck by the difference in environment stewardship (or lack thereof) demonstrated by the companies that managed the lodging/dining at Grand Teton vs. Yellowstone. In Yellowstone, they have all but eliminated plastic bags and styrofoam from the park, and Xanterra (the company that constructed and manages the accommodations there) prides itself on its use of environmentally responsible materials – from beetle-killed pine in the construction of its lodges, to compostable food containers. In Grand Teton, in contrast, the Grand Tetons Lodging Company offers plastic bags and styrofoam at all of its general stores, dining, and hotels, and there is a notable lack of designated recycling or compost containers – all of which seem antithetical to the purpose and mission of the National Park System. We invite the readers of this blog to write the Grand Tetons Lodging Company (www.gtlc.com) and ask them to commit to greater environmental stewardship in their management, including the elimination of styrofoam and plastic bags from their facilities, and the provision of more recycling receptacles.

Interested in visiting the Grand Teton NP? While we enjoyed our time there, we personally will not be visiting overnight again until the GTLC cleans up its act and commits to a greater standard of environmental responsibility. We encourage you to do the same. That said, you can still visit the park for a day hike or bike ride, without patronizing GTLC facilities. Feel free to check out the run and bike ride routes we did, or check the park website for other suggestions.

Fee? Yes – $30 per vehicle. Annual National Park Passes also accepted. Dogs? Yes – on leashes and in parking areas and along roads. Dogs and other pets are not permitted on trails in any national park. MTB? Yes – on designated trails.

Next stop: Utah – Arches and Zion NP!

Yellowstone: Because what could be more epic than a park on top of a supervolcano.

Following our visit to Craters of the Moon in Idaho, we turned to the northeast, making our way towards the wilderness and famed national parks of northern Wyoming. Our first stop was none other than the flagship park of the National Park Service: the iconic Yellowstone.

Apart from its distinction as the first national park, Yellowstone is also a geologist nerd’s delight: It’s essentially 2.2 million acres atop an ancient supervolcano. Everything in the park – from the rivers and lakes, to the flora and fauna – is in turn affected by the volcanic forces at work. Within the 30 by 45 mile caldera are some of the most impressive geysers and hot springs in the world, including the emblematic Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Springs, along with lesser known (but equally awesome) features like Dragon’s Breath, Artists Paintpots, and others.

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Yellowstone gets its name from the colored rock surrounding the Yellowstone River, which winds its way throughout the park.

(Important note: When exploring the park’s geysers and hot springs, stick to the boardwalks. The surrounding area is not only fragile, but surrounded by boiling sulfuric acid; you will die a horrible death if you jump in. 😊 )

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These helpful signs found throughout the park show the impending doom that awaits if you step off the boardwalk. You will get hurt while onlookers point and laugh or walk away indifferently.

We spent a total of 4 days in Yellowstone, which we agreed was still not enough time to fully take in and appreciate this massive park. That said, we tried our best to explore as much of it as we could by foot and by bike.

One of our favorite runs/hikes took us to the summit of Mt. Washburn and back down. We started at the trailhead on Dunraven Pass, just off Grand Loop Road. From there, we climbed roughly ~1,500 feet over 3.5 miles to the summit. Along the way, we were afforded sweeping views of the surrounding meadows and countryside, awash in varying shades of lavender, rose, and yellow wildflower blooms.

Near the summit we were happily greeted by a small herd of bighorn sheep! They seemed unafraid of humans, and we did our best to give them sufficient space as we continued to make our way to the summit.

Check out our route up Mt. Washburn here!

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Bighorn sheep silently judging our mountain running skills near the summit of Mount Washburn.

(Another important note: Yellowstone provides a refuge to several species of wildlife; apart from bighorn sheep, it’s also home to buffalo, elk, moose, grizzly and black bears, wolves, and others. If you encounter any wild animal in the park, please be respectful of them and give them space. The park offers guidelines of 100 yards for non-carnivorous species like buffalo and elk, and 200 yards for carnivorous species like bear and wolves. Additionally, it’s a good idea to carry – and know how to use! – bear spray when running, hiking, or biking in Yellowstone or other parks in the region. While bears are not generally aggressive unless provoked, it’s best to be prepared).

The following day, we opted for a bike ride that took us on a 68 mile loop from Canyon Village clockwise to Norris, through Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower, and back up Mt. Washburn before descending back into Canyon. While the ride was challenging – with nearly 6,000 feet of climbing – it was also one of the best ways to experience the the park. We were able to see so much that we otherwise would have missed in the car – including a big bull buffalo rolling in the dust on the side of the road (!), just barely hidden by a small pine grove, or a pair of marmot chasing each other over and around fallen trees.

On our ride, we made another ascent up Mt. Washburn, this time starting from the northern side at the Tower-Roosevelt junction, and making our way up 2,300+ feet over ~10 miles to the summit. The climb offered us breathtaking (quite literally) views of the valley below that we would not have enjoyed or appreciated as much if we had been speeding by in our little Toyota.

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Our bike ride took us through some of the most beautiful – and less traveled – areas of Yellowstone.

Check out our bike route here! (FYI, if you opt to do this route, Mammoth offers a nice halfway(-ish) point for refilling your water bottles).

Before closing out this entry on Yellowstone, we owe a shoutout to Xanterra, the company that manages much of the lodging and dining throughout Yellowstone. They make a concerted effort to prioritize environmental stewardship in everything they do: from building their lodges with beetle-killed pine, to eliminating plastic and styrofoam from both lodging and restaurants. We mention this, because this was in marked contrast to the environmental *irresponsibility* we observed in the dining, general stores, and lodging at Grand Tetons, our next stop.

So our final tally for Yellowstone: 68 miles biked; 26 miles run/hiked; hundreds of buffalo, 10 bighorn sheep, 6 elk, 3 moose, 2 pika, 2 marmot, and 1 bear (grizzly!) sighted.

Interested in going? With ideal weather conditions, late spring and summer are the most popular times to visit Yellowstone. If you’re planning to visit during the months of April – August, be sure to book your lodging/camping reservations months ahead of time.

Fee? Yes – $30 per vehicle for a day pass; national park annual pass also accepted.

Dogs and other pets? Yes, but not on trails. MTB? Yes – on designated trails. Check signs!

Next stop: Grand Tetons!

Kicking off our tour of parks, with a visit to Tahoe!

 

This week, the AIR Adventures team kicked off our tour of national and state parks, which will take us through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the American West!

We started things off with a trip to Lake Tahoe, which some have heralded as “the best lake in America.”

Situated on the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, and the second deepest after Crater Lake in Oregon. The majority of the lake’s watershed is protected land, with several state parks including Sand Harbor; Sugar Pine Point; Spooner Lake; and of course the eponymous Lake Tahoe State Park.

The area is popular year-round – offering a myriad of lakeside activities in the summer, and skiing or snowboarding in the winter. Apart from being an Instagram-perfect vacation destination, though, Lake Tahoe also provides important ecological benefits as a watershed. Additionally, it’s home to numerous protected or endangered species, including the bald eagle and kokanee salmon, as well as rare plant species like the Lake Tahoe watercress.

On our visit, we took advantage of the beautiful blue-sky July weather to explore the region by bike and by foot. Our first venture took us on a 70+ mile bike ride around the entire lake, which included 4,000+ feet of climbing over a mix of long, gradual mountain inclines  and gentle rollers.

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The area has several miles of bike trails, taking you along the outskirts of the lake and through rolling countryside.

Throughout the ride, we were afforded panoramic vistas of the lake and surrounding mountains, which were surprisingly still snow-capped in late July owing to the record snowfall the region received this past winter. The views were only somewhat marred by the seemingly endless traffic in both directions (FYI, if you’re not already aware, you could say that Lake Tahoe is *somewhat* of a popular tourist destination. On the weekend we were there, it seemed like everyone within a 2,000 mile radius also had the same idea to visit. It was crowded). However, even with the bumper-to-bumper traffic, cars were generally respectful, and gave us plenty of room to pass.

Check out our ride here!

The next day, we opted to avoid dealing with traffic and  ventured out for a run along the trails of Spooner Lake State Park. This Nevada park is about 8 miles to the east of Lake Tahoe, and is home to two  equally picturesque lakes of its own: Spooner and Marlette. Our run took us point-to-point from one lake to the other, and back along the Marlette Lake Trail. The route climbed over 1,600 feet through rustling alpine groves and  high mountain meadows – with epic mountain views the entire way.

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Exploring the Marlene Lake trail, on a brilliant late summer afternoon.

Check out our route here!

Interested in going? Be advised that Lake Tahoe and surrounding areas are popular year-round, and can be particularly crowded on weekends and holidays. Plan in advance and make your reservations early. If you’re looking to do a hike or trip to the beach, you should also arrive early in the morning, as parking fills up quickly. (On our bike ride, we observed no less than 4 rather heated arguments over parking. Don’t be one of those guys – plan in advance.)

As for the state parks in the area: they will likely require a fee of $6 – $10. Most are dog and mountain-bike friendly, but be sure to check signs beforehand.

Finally, it’s important to note that despite being a beloved travel destination, Lake Tahoe is under threat due to development and associated pollution. Studies estimate that the clarity of the lake has decreased substantially due to pollution from stormwater runoff associated with construction. Pollution of the lake in turn affects species that depend upon it for survival, including those found in the Truckee River fed by the lake. That said, efforts by local environmental groups like Keep Tahoe Blue have made substantial gains in protecting and restoring the lake and surrounding areas.

Interested in supporting global conservation efforts? Then check out the website of our sister organization, the Alliance for International Reforestation, here!

Next stop: Craters of the Moon National Monument!