“Some men fish all their lives without knowing it is not really the fish they are after.”
-Henry David Thoreau
I still can’t believe that the Flyathlon exists. It feels like something that would come out of an awesome drunken dream…
As I was leaving the Upper Crossing Guard Station (our Flyathlon headquarters) this morning, I felt a total mix of emotions. It’s hard to explain it, but I’m going to try.I just spent 4 hours on the road, talking it over with Jason Isbell. As I was composing this post in my mind, two big hot tears rolled down my cheeks, then a whole flood more. Why? The Flyathlon is awesome. It brings together like-minded people, who want to make a difference in the world. I can let my guard down, and not worry that my concern about native trout water and the science behind our predictions will be dismissed by folks who don’t believe in data. There is quite a variety of attendees- from serious athletes to weekend warriors, seasoned anglers to excited rookies, and beer brewers to whiskey connoisseurs. These are people who spend their lives caring for our water and land working for government agencies and nonprofits, either for a paycheck, simply in the time they have left after punching a clock somewhere else, or both. I wish the Flyathlon was several days long, so I could have enough time to soak in the knowledge and stories and conversations with everyone in attendance, but that’s what keeps me coming back each year. These amazing people raised over $27,000 for Running Rivers from this race. ❤
In fact, I’m writing this post from the gorgeous back porch of a friend that I made last year at the race- we crossed paths at the turnaround point and drank whiskey together up there!
This is Kelly and I last year……and this year! Thank you for your continued hospitality, Kelly. You’ve always got my back (or a sandwich or a cold water or a Manhattan, whatever it is I may need). 🙂
I really didn’t want to leave, but I am also terribly homesick. I don’t know how to reconcile the two! I believe that traveling is very important, especially for elected officials. The world is so much bigger than we think it is, and frequent reminders of that are necessary. Mr. Mustache and I have also discovered that absence really does make the heart grow fonder. In any event, I felt like a double tapered fly line- weighted down on both ends. I have a big weight at home in Wisconsin, and it seems that every time I visit Colorado, the weight here gets bigger, too.
As I woke up this morning, in a bright orange tent (thanks, Kouba family!), I was suddenly aware of how achy I was. Everything from my curls to my brookie tattoo was moaning to me. I felt like a raisin; my eyes were dry, my lips were chapped, and my hair was crunchy.
Waking up “outside” feels so special, and I slowly stretched my legs and crawled out of the tent, gingerly easing my way around all my scrapes and bruises. I stood up, wiggled my sore toes into my Chacos, and reached toward the sky. There was this moment when something inside me told me, just breathe.
So I did. I closed my eyes, and smelled the air. It was still, and felt almost sweet, as I tried to breathe deeply up there at 8,000 feet. I heard two sounds: the soft clicking of tent poles collapsing as the early risers started packing up, and the gentle padding of puppy paws on that damp public land. The ratio of people to pups at this race was pretty impressive. I don’t know if anyone counted, but I’d guess it was close to 5:1.
There is a general feeling in the air there that I have never felt before. It sounds cliche, but I really do believe that these Flyathletes are my kindred spirits. No one there thinks I’m crazy for my devoted passion to a slimy creature and the habitat it requires. We share some kind of bond that came on instantly and put my soul at ease. I feel lucky to be able to run a race like this, and lucky to be able to fish this water, and lucky to hang with these folks.
I’ll start at the beginning. I ended up leaving home Wednesday morning at 1:30 am to make it to Milwaukee for my 5:30 flight. Since we arrived home on Sunday from our trip to Vegas, I only had a couple days to try and catch up on work and alderwomaning. Yeah, I’m making up my own verbs now. As a result of having two crazy busy days, Mr. Mustache was up late with me helping me pack, and we didn’t zip up my suitcases until after 11:00.
Enter Fitbit data: the numbers don’t lie.
I’ll be the first one to tell you that Heidi, with not enough sleep, is a crazy woman… and 1.5 hours is definitely not enough. I’m amazed that I made it to the Milwaukee airport with my wits about me. Luckily, those first flights of the day usually mean that airport security is a breeze, and it was. I was from parking lot to gate in under 45 minutes, and I had to check some luggage.
My flight was short, and freezing, so I was pretty tired when we landed in Denver. I snagged my rental car (thanks for the upgrade, Enterprise!), and headed to the adorable city of Golden. I took a cramped but helpful power nap in the backseat of my car, then sleepily sauntered into a Starbucks to caffeinate my tired body and power through some work. A few hours later, and upon the recommendation of the lovely and friendly baristas, I found myself at D’Deli. Go there. It was amazing.
Check out this salad! I think they had 41 sandwich options, and any of them can come on a salad, if you prefer.
A couple hours of work later, and I headed into Denver to meet Mamzie! ❤I love our reunions! Every time I see her, it feels like no time has passed. That’s a perk of being friends with someone for 25 years, I guess! 🙂 We enjoyed beer from the new brewery in her subdivision, and found some fantastic sushi. It was a rowdy night- we ended up in bed by 10. I needed it- I slept for 12 hours! 😉
I was super excited to have an extra day in Denver this year, as it gave me a chance to sneak in a run. Yeah, the elevation was “only” 5,500′ here, so it’s no race elevation of 8,000′, but it’s closer than my 1,000′ at home. Two miles in, and I totally missed a driveway curb (did you know that’s a thing?) and wiped out. I skinned my knee, bruised my leg, and completely shattered my iPhone screen.
I’ll spare you a photo of my road rash, and instead I’ll show you a picture of the driveway curb. I spent the rest of Thursday getting an oil change in my rental car, as it wouldn’t be a Flyathlon trip without some kind of travel difficulty. I went to Walgreens and got the materials to bandage myself up, and I went to the Apple Store to get my phone screen replaced. The most eventful part of the day was when I realized that I needed to meet Mamzie at Roo Bar for the Packer game, but I wasn’t going to have my phone while it was being repaired. This meant I had to actually write down driving directions to get there. I even went to MapQuest, old school style. Luckily, I made it there, and had some faith restored in my ability to drive like we did in the 90s before GPS technology took over our lives.
The Packers won the preseason game, I found some Wisconsin beer to take up to the mountains, and I grabbed several gallons of water to take along. The well up there is unpredictable, so bringing our own water is recommended. My last memory before drifting off to sleep was hearing Mamzie giggle to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. 🙂
The next day was a blur- I packed up all my gear, drove into the city for coffee (Ink!) and lunch with Mamzie, then headed up into the mountains.
You know how it’s weird when you get into a rental car then try to parallel park? I had a bugger of a time the first night I had the car, so I wanted to prove to Mamzie that I could park it. Look at this great parking job! 😉
The drive is incredible- mountains around every corner!My rental car got amazing mileage- I can’t believe this is the fuel economy, even as I climbed the mountains. You’ll see why I chose to take it in for an oil change instead of swapping it out.I made it up to the Upper Crossing Guard station during daylight this year, and I saw some familiar faces from last year’s race. It was awesome to see my friends again!
We drank some whiskey and caught up, and I got acquainted with my adorable tentmates, the Kouba girls. ❤
It was a pretty early night, because I was tired and I knew that the race morning would come awfully early. The mosquitoes were also brutal. I found it exciting that the mosquitoes who bit me could have just bitten a moose… but I was happy to crawl into a mosquito-free tent.
Enter: Race Day
My friends woke me up to get ready for the race, and I wasn’t ready. I was plenty warm this year, but I like to sprawl in my sleep, so being cocooned in a sleeping bag was different. I also don’t usually sleep on an inflatable pillow. I inchwormed my way out of the tent and into my race clothes. My amazing friend, Brian
from Iowa from Colorado made some coffee for me, so I poured it into my Yeti tumbler and hoped it would keep warm. After all these years, the thing that bothers me the most about not having a thyroid is having to wait an hour after taking my medication to drink any coffee. The first hour of my day, every day, is free from coffee. Oh, the horror!
I bandaged up my scrapes and pulled on my compression socks. I love these trail shoes!The ride from the campground to the race start was a fun 20 minute trek with two Flyathlete humans and one Flyathlete pup.I hadn’t left myself a lot of time, so I basically got my race bib (with my name and fish ruler on it), filled up my hydration pack, and prepped my fishing gear, then got ready to run. I love the sign that is at the start- it’s made out of beer caps!Everyone was lining up and stretching out, and we gathered together for Andrew’s race announcements.
In keeping with tradition, the race starts with Andrew shooting a cheap beer with a BB gun, and as the foam flies, we head out.
Obstacle number one: the river.
I pretended to be Baby from Dirty Dancing and wiggled my way across the log. Too bad Patrick Swayze wasn’t there to cheer me on… ❤Last year, I stopped to fish shortly after that log crossing, somewhere around mile one. Since I caught a fish on my second cast last year, I tried to find the place that I fished with such success. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it. At least I took comfort in knowing that I tied up some gorgeous rainbow warriors before I left, and that was the fly that worked for me last year. I found confidence in knowing I had a fly box of money flies waiting for me.I found a spot on the river that looked similar to last year, and strung up my rod. No luck at location number one.
I broke down my rod, and ran to the next fishy looking spot. I strung up my rod, lost a rainbow warrior, and got frustrated. No luck at location number two.
I broke down my rod, and ran to the next fishy looking spot. I got snagged by some thorns as I made my way down to the river. The area between my socks and shorts looked like I’d gotten into a fight with a feral cat, and the sweat stung in those cuts. I strung up my rod, lost a second rainbow warrior, and got frustrated. No luck at location number three.
I didn’t break down my rod, I just ran a short distance to the next fishy spot, and gave it a go. No luck. I was starting to get straight up mad. I walked to the next spot. More scrapes from some kind of devil bush, and I couldn’t even get my fly in the water. Tons of branches and bushes and all sorts of green and brown evil that overhung the water. I think that between the running and my bad attitude, I seriously started to resemble the red faced emoji.
I broke down my rod, and tied everything down to my hydration pack. I took a big drink of body temperature water. I didn’t even take pictures of the trail on the way up, since I was so mad. Luckily, I thought of Ben, the fish whisperer, and I knew he was waiting for desperate anglers near the finish. I just knew he could put me on a fish.
I hunkered down through the “unpleasant switchbacks” and before I knew it, I found myself at the turnaround point. I looked behind me, and saw this beautiful view……and in front of me?The check in tent with supplies!
Available amenities include:
- curly furry sleepy puppy snuggles
- encouraging words
- fishing tips
- whiskey and tequila
I went straight for the bourbon. Thanks, Laws, for being a favorite race sponsor of mine!I decided to head on past the turnaround point into the cutthroat water and see if I could find something fishy, but I ran for over a half mile and all of the areas with easy access were filled with a sweaty, happy Flyathlete. I decided to relax, turn around, head down the mountain, and try not to fall on my way to find Ben.Everything looked so fishy. Open sections of river and beaver ponds just shouted at me to stop and fish, but I couldn’t bring myself to fail again. I kept running, and put more stake in Ben. Honestly, the more I hoped he’d put me on a fish, the less pressure I put on myself.Switchbacks like the one above were prevalent. I ran down the trail on the left of the picture, then curved around and headed down on the right, and there were lots of rocks. A new running mantra emerged: Don’t Fall.Are there fish in there? You betcha. Could I get them out? Absolutely not.Dead animals left their bones behind. I love the little purple flowers. Yeah, my fishing skills may be dead, but I have little purple flowers of optimism in my heart. Ha.Before I knew it, I found Tim and Ben, two guys who were happy to try and get me on a fish. Tim helped for a while, then Ben took over. I missed a couple strikes, hooked a teeny tiny 3″ trout that flipped over my shoulder and off my barbless hook before hurdling back to the stream (sorry, buddy!), and finally hooked into this guy.I’ve never been so happy to get a fish in the net. Honestly. I owe many thanks to Ben for helping me. I am not the type of angler who typically puts pressure on myself. If I head out fishing and don’t catch anything, it’s not the end of the world! I love the experience of being there, and the riparian vegetation, and the wildlife, and the fresh air. The actual catching of fish is not the important part. I was so relieved to have caught this fish that I almost cried. ❤Thanks again, Ben. I owe you one.
It’s a challenge for me to go out West, with all my passion for native trout, and discover that Westerners don’t love brook trout as much as I do. They’re not native there. They’re taking over streams and pushing out cutthroat.
Fear not, friends. I have the solution!
Dear Western states- send all your brookies home with me to Wisconsin where we will cherish them. I’ll build them habitat, and catch all the mean brown trout, and celebrate their pink polka dots. It’s only fitting that I caught a brookie during the race, since they’re my favorite fish. ❤️
It took me so long to finish the race that my carpooling buddies were ready to head out, and so was I! I haven’t plugged in my Garmin yet, so I don’t know my time for sure. I think I was out there running and fishing for about 4 hours. At the finish line, I showed the judges my fish picture, enjoyed a cold can of hoppy goodness from Elevation, then we went back to camp. I was pumped to rinse all the dirt off my scrapes and take off my wet socks and shoes. I did a number on them…I got myself cleaned up, chugged a ton of water with some ibuprofen, and took a power nap. When I woke up, I was feeling fine! 🙂
We had so many good beers and liquors to try that I spent quite a few hours doing just that. I didn’t take nearly enough pictures of the evening, I was mostly occupied with chilling and chatting with all of my new friends!The cooler pattern matches the trailer, aptly named Trout Force One. I wanted to document my shirt from Tight Lines that we wear in opposition to the Back Forty Mine. I’ll rep for you guys in Colorado anytime!I didn’t take many pictures of the take down morning- I was so preoccupied with how lucky I feel that I was just living in the moment. That doesn’t happen often as a photographer, and I cherish it.
I started this post with reflections from the drive home, and I’ll leave you with this image from the drive. I can feel the weight of this experience changing me as I type. 🙂
Thank you, Andrew Todd, and the entire Flyathlon family, for making this experience possible. I will happily raise money for Running Rivers every year.
As always, thank you for reading, friends! I love taking you along with me virtually on my adventures. Thank you for sharing in my passion for native trout! ❤