I've been away on an amazing adventure with my family. Thanks to the people who inquired with concern or curiosity about my whereabouts - it's nice to have that connection out there in the blog world.
We packed up the pop-up camper and the van, loaded up the kids, and headed out east. Our journey (I'm a visual map type, so I am drawing a map route in my head here): from Seattle to Spokane, Washington, to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, through Missoula, Montana and across the Continental Divide to Bozeman, Montana - then south to Wyoming through Yellowstone National Park (the focus of our destinations), continuing south through Grand Teton National Park - then looping up northwest to Ashton, Idaho, then west through Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls, and Boise, Idaho - then northwest through Baker City, Oregon, Emigrants Springs, Pendleton, Oregon, and home. Truly, I think it's just fun to list it all, because it reminds me of everything we saw and experienced along the way. It would take me eons to say all I want about the trip, so I'll have to just capture the essence of the highlights.
Lake Couer d'Alene boasts the longest floating boardwalk and the water sparkled across the lake from the late afternoon summer sun.
Montana truly is 'Big Sky' country. It is beautiful in every way - mountains, streams, sky . . . I happened upon a river trail to run along while we stopped in Missoula to let the kids play in a water spray feature at a park. I've always imagined Montana as a place where its' people have a deep love for the outdoors. It gave me a huge sense of enjoyment to be out along that river, feeling like I was a true Montana native - out experiencing nature.
Yellowstone National Park was more than we could ever have imagined for us and for our kids. We saw Old Faithful on our 3rd day in the park - sort of a let down after all that we had seen. I'm glad to say we saw it, but as my husband says, 'It was like Disneyland it was so crowded with tourists.' Some of what we did enjoy . . . putting the kids in the car at the crack of dawn - seeing the sunrise across the Hayden Valley while steam rose from the river - happening upon a herd of bison. We sat in the car with the windows rolled down for about half an hour while a herd of 200-300 bison wandered through the area. They stopped to feed their babies, they called to one another, they trotted down the hill, and wandered so close to us that we could have reached out and touched them. To be amidst them like that was the highlight of the trip for me. It was like existing in a prehistoric time amongst the dinosaurs. At first the kids (and us) were a little intimidated, but after a few minutes we were just all in awe. We watched a grizzly bear feed off of a bison in the river - our kids saw a bear eat breakfast out in the wild - huge view of the world there. I've never camped in bear country before. The rangers are very serious about the regulations, and making sure you are aware of them. We watched an amazing amphitheatre presentation on the return of wolves to Yellowstone, while the sun went down over Yellowstone Lake and the stars came out to dazzle us. When it was through, we walked back to our camp. The trek was something every member of our family will remember for a long time. We were nervous walking at night in bear country. It was pitch black, and all the others took their cars back to camp - not the one mile trail that we chose. The stars were so clear and the universe so vast. It had been near 80 degrees in the day, but was now very cold - down near 40 in the night. We had to cross over a suspension bridge that spanned a ravine, and bounced as we walked. We huddled together as we walked - truly experiencing the park in a new sense. We all made it back fine, but it was a long way for our munchkins with the surrounding circumstances - pretty scary - but they were troopers. The geothermal features in the park are amazing beyond belief - I think our word for them was 'otherworldly'. There are so many and they are so diverse - ranging from hot springs, to terraces, to pools, to geysers to mudpots - you really feel like you are on a different planet at times. The rainbow colors of the Grand Prizmatic were one of my favorites - or maybe watching the hot water of a spring overflow to create a waterfall into a cool river.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is bigger than the pictures give it credit for. I cried because I was so nervous to have the kids standing at the edge - I felt all shaky in my legs. Parts of it had no fencing, no barrier of any kind. You could truly stand right at the edge. It was remarkable, though. The beach at the edge of Lake Yellowstone was beautiful by sunset, and there was no one around which made it extremely peaceful. I went for a run in the evening and almost ran into a few elk grazing. Huge creatures. We took the kids swimming in the Fire Hole River to cool off one day - the current was fun for my husband as he climbed through the canyon and floated downriver to the kids.
The Grand Tetons were another experience altogether. We explored many nooks and crannies of the area, and I think Oxbow Bend is the most beautiful place in the world. You have an amazing view of these mounains that seem to grow straight up out of nowhere. While there, we watched a black bear swim across the river, then bound across the field with a herd of elk in the background. A few minutes later a coyote came slinkiing by very quietly. We were lucky enough to see a couple of bull moose one day, and see a mom and her baby eating dinner the next day. We visited a really well put-together native american museum in Colter Bay and got a glimpse of what people used to live in the area. I went for a short run along Jackson Lake with the Tetons as a backdrop and the sun at such an angle that the water was lit up with light. An amazing sight.
Ashton, Idaho was the site of the Mesa Falls Marathon. We left the campground just after 5 am, in the middle of a farming valley, and drove in the dark to the start 20 miles out on some logging road. The first 10 miles were a downhill grade along a gravel road, then the next 4 miles on pavement and through a lookout point to see the falls, the next 3 miles were on trail by the river where you could hear the Osprey cry. Miles 17-20 were a good solid up hill - a real challenge. The last miles were more downhill through rolling barley fields into the town. I kept thinking about the Sting song "Fields of Gold" while I was running. The run was a lot more mentally challenging than I thought it'd be. I think I started out having been on vacation - lots of car time, alternating with lots of walking in my Chacos. I think I started at 6:30 am without a warm-up. I think I was pretty tight until mile 20. I think I had a good race overall, just wish it was faster. I gotta give myself credit for having done the race during vacation, and enjoying it. I need to accept that I can't always go out and run a PR. I know my training times suggests that I can run faster, and I think I can, I just don't think I had that in me on the given day. I ran around a 3:44 - a little over or under. I'm still shooting for faster, but I need to amp up my training mileage a little. The course was beautiful, the people were nice, we got free huckleberry milkshakes. The weather was great, the pre-race pasta/potato dinner was good and cheap, the finisher medals were engraved wood, as were the plaques given as age-division awards. For shirts, it wasn't a compression shirt like Fleet-Feet gave out in Chicago, it wasn't a long-sleeved tech fabric like the Seattle Marathon gives you, it was an embroidered polo shirt. Kind of unique.
We surprised the kids in Twin Falls, ID, and took them to a Nascar track. What a hoot. The rest of southern Idaho was interesting. We saw Evel Knievel's jump site and watched people base jump over the snake river canyon. Shoshone Falls ('Niagara of the West') is beautiful.
Up through Oregon, we followed the historic Oregon Trail. We went through an interpretive center and actually got to see old wagons and where some of the wagon ruts still remain in the dirt along the trail.
We're all glad to be home. We've done endless loads of laundry and I'm sure our skin still smells of campfire smoke. It was really amazing to take such a trip with our kids. To have our focus be about what's out there to see in the world - what's out there to experience. To have a larger than usual portion of our day consumed with our basic needs of food and shelter - setting up at a new camp each night, heating water, cooking meals, cleaning dishes, building fires . . . hot water and electric lights became an unnecessary luxury. Several nights we actually let the kids cook their dinner over the fire. We found geocaches in four different states, we stayed at campgrounds ranging from primitive bear country, to private complete with swimming pools. The kids were able to adapt to all kinds of situations and meet people from all walks of life. 'Cept for a few postcards, arrowheads, and some junior ranger patches, I feel like for the most part we were able to 'take only pictures, leave only footprints'.
I think we all have come home with a greater appreciation of the world out there than we left home with. It really is a captivating place out there when you take yourself out into it, and pause in it's midst to enjoy it and reflect.
I'm looking forward to the beginning of fall, the kids back in school, and the seasons changing. I can't wait to catch up on everyone's blogs and plan my next marathon. Right now, I'm looking forward to tucking the kids into bed and enjoying a movie and a glass of red wine with my husband. And I've learned to have a new respect for all of those luxuries.