I can’t believe this race exists a.k.a. Rocky Mountain Flyathlon recap

I can’t believe this race exists.FullSizeRender (2)I can’t believe this place exists.

I’m talking about the Flyathlon. It’s the brain child of this incredible person, Andrew Todd.IMG_1514I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first heard about it: a race with the motto, “Run. Fish. Beer.”

Sing here: These are a few of my favorite things…

In typical Heidi style, as soon as I heard about the race last year, I wanted to sign up. Unfortunately, it was full, so I signed up for this year’s race.

It’s held just outside of Saguache, CO, which is basically in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. FYI, Saguache is pronounced like suh-watch. No wonder people had a hard time understanding where I said I was going… I said Saguache like it rhymed with Chattahoochie (which also holds some awesome fish, in case you ever get down to Georgia…).

I had a VERY exciting and eventful trip out here, so I’ll start at the beginning…

Thursday morning: 6:00 am. I roll my curly, sleepy self out of bed. It’s difficult.

7:00 am. I’ve showered, dressed, and loaded everything into the car. I head out for MKE, the Milwaukee airport.

10:00 am. I’ve parked, and headed into the terminal.

10:10 am. My luggage is overweight. It must be the twelve beers from Central Waters and O’so. I became that annoying person in front of you at the airport, transferring gear from one bag to another. I also already have a ton of stuff, since this is a long trip. I have six days in Colorado and five days in Nevada. Temperatures ranging from 40 degrees to 105. And since I’m a photographer, I always have my camera gear. And my laptop. And I needed to bring all my trail running stuff, fly fishing stuff, and some camping stuff. I was a hot mess. I eventually got everything settled, and headed through security, and to my gate.

10:30 am. I discover that my flight has been delayed. I’m not really mad- I planned plenty of time for the flight, picking up my rental car, and swinging by REI and Whole Foods for a few race necessities before attempting the four hour drive into the mountains. I sit in MKE, catching up on work, and was able to actually sit down and eat a salad. 🙂

2:00 pm. We board the flight. I was about halfway through the boarding order, and as I was struggling to wheel my camera bag, laptop bag, and carrying my rod tube onto the plane, I heard, “Heidi! Sit here!” I looked up to discover my friend, Rich. How fabulous. I snuggled up next to him, told him all about the race, and also explained some serious anxiety I had about a big upcoming project. It’s not finalized yet, so I can’t talk about it, but I’ll let you know as soon as I can.

IMG_1428I knew Rich was coming out to CO, I just didn’t know we were on the same flight! I’m staying with my friend, Meredith, and she had mentioned that they were going to see Brandi Carlile at Red Rocks on Sunday. They invited me, and I was excited to see them and to check out that venue. I’d heard such great things!

This is Meredith. I’ve known her since we were six. Disclaimer: she’s amazing.IMG_1526Anyway, we landed safely in Denver, and my luggage arrived as well.IMG_1429I told Rich that I could give him a ride into town, since I was getting a rental car. I typically rent from Enterprise or Hertz, but there was a big business travelers’ conference in town, and they had a shortage of cars. I ended up having to rent from Budget. We took the shuttle to the Budget rental counter.

5:00 pm. We walk in the big sliding glass doors, and see this:IMG_1430I immediately told Rich that if he wanted to take the train downtown or grab an Uber, that I would totally understand. He did. 🙂 I wheeled all that luggage through the indoor switchbacks, and talked to the woman next to me in line to pass the time. She is a guitar instructor, and was out in CO to teach some masterclasses. Too cool. I’m glad we started talking, since we were there in line for an HOUR. I started to worry when doing the math… adding four plus hours to the current time equaled setting up my tent in the dark.

6:00 pm. When I finally made it to the counter, and the woman there looked up my reservation, she gave me bad news. I had messed up my online reservation, and I was actually supposed to pick up my car at a different Budget location, in Englewood. I asked if it was possible to modify my reservation, and she agreed. Yay! Unfortunately, there was going to be a $400 upcharge. I didn’t have $400, so I just stood there for a minute, stunned. I asked her what to do, because I was hoping she could help me out somehow. She said it was not their fault, so I was on my own. I asked for the address of the Englewood location, and called for an Uber. A few minutes later, the Uber driver called me- he couldn’t seem to find me. I had to ask a shuttle bus driver for directions for the driver, and eventually he found me, but it took longer than it should have, and I was trying to lug all that luggage around. I seriously put the LUG in luggage. My driver was a little scary- I just got a weird vibe from him. He was very jumpy and kept putting his left hand down on the side of his seat and making a rapid clicking noise. I didn’t know what was going on down there, and it was just freaking me out. To make matters worse, we were in serious Denver rush hour traffic, so it took us 45 minutes to get to the correct rental place. I was stuck with one heck of an Uber bill. We drove into a very industrial district- there wasn’t anything friendly-looking around. Apparently, I was supposed to pick up my car from a Budget truck rental facility- they must also have a few cars. I unloaded my luggage from the Uber, and turned to walk up to the door… only to realize it was dark inside. I pulled on the door, and it was locked. They closed at 6:00. I turned around as my Uber driver drove away. I looked at my phone and realized it was almost dead, but tried to call Budget customer service, anyway. They closed at 5:00.

::cue emotional breakdown::

I sat on the sidewalk and cried. I didn’t know what to do!

I called my trusty Denver friend, Meredith. She was in California for work, but was so sweet. She said, “Hang on, I’m going to text some people and figure something out for you.”

Amazing. Her friend, Kyle, text me an address to get to, and I called for another Uber. The next driver was amazing. He pulled up in a nice car, and when he got out, I found a kind middle-aged man wearing a tie and sweet frames. He loaded all my luggage. He even opened the door for me! I’m sure I wasn’t what he was expecting- he pulled up to the car rental place and found a tear-streaked, travel weary, curly Wisconsin woman with four pieces of luggage and a rod tube.

He dropped me off at the location Kyle gave me, and I asked for his phone number so I could call him directly the next time I needed a ride. I started wondering how I was going to get back to the rental place, and how I would get everything situated.

To make a long story short, I spent the night in a very nice hotel in Denver, and Kyle made sure I was comfortable. Thanks, friend! I’m so thankful.

This is us- look at Kyle’s cutie patootie face.IMG_1579I unpacked some of my luggage, and discovered that all 12 bottles of Wisconsin beer had survived the trip! We were asked to bring some of our favorite beer to share, so I had to make space among my clothes and gear for the important things.IMG_1436I took a bubble bath, made some tea, and slept pretty well.

Friday morning: 8:00 am. My alarm went off. I called Budget to tell them about my ordeal. I kept thinking that I was really lucky- something awful could have happened to me out there in that industrial district. I couldn’t easily walk anywhere to figure out what to do or charge my phone, especially not with all that luggage. Why did the woman at the airport tell me to go somewhere in the middle of nowhere when they were closed?! As it turns out, Budget didn’t care. I asked them if they could at least let the Englewood location know that I’d be over to pick up my car that morning, instead of the previous day, and the customer service representative’s response was, “Well, technically… your reservation is only valid for 15 hours from the time of pick up. Since you had planned to arrive in Denver at 1:30 yesterday, your reservation has already expired.” I asked to change it, and there was going to be (you guessed it!) a $400 upcharge. I couldn’t believe it. I hung up.

I stared at my phone, like I expected someone to call and explain this situation to me. Instead, I called Hertz at the airport, asked if they had any cars (they did!), and made a new reservation. Then I called my favorite Uber driver and asked if he could pick me up and take me to the airport. He said he could, but couldn’t get there until 2:00. I didn’t push my luck with a different driver- so I hung out at the hotel and got a little more work done.

I did some research on Red Rocks, and discovered that Brandi Carlile was actually playing with OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW!!!!! I lost my mind in that hotel room, jumping up and down and screaming. I love them. That helped me be in better spirits!

I hoped that traffic wouldn’t be too bad, and I’d still get to the mountains in time to meet everyone and get myself settled. My driver arrived, and he offered to take me on my errands in town and then to the airport. The traffic was crazy- I guess Denver’s Friday rush hour is even worse than Thursday. He was so kind- he didn’t want me to pay him. He felt so bad for me during this ordeal! I bought him coffee and lunch. 🙂

4:30 pm. I arrived at Hertz at the airport. Check-in went smoothly, until my credit card was declined. I had a zero dollar balance on it, so I couldn’t imagine what the problem was… until I realized that Budget must have run it every time I tried to change my reservation, so there was some kind of hold on it. I couldn’t let that stop me- so I used my debit card. A bad idea, I know… but it’s okay.

5:00 pm. I picked up my little white Jetta and hit the road.

The drive to Saguache was incredible. Around every bend, there was a new mountain. A new view. I cried a bunch on the way there. I was just so thankful to be finally on my way, and everything was so beautiful. It was storming, so I saw beautiful lightning strikes in the distance, and a few wicked rainbows.IMG_1445My ears popped as I drove up and down the mountains and into the valleys, while my cell phone popped in and out of having service.

I hit a traffic jam… I was literally stuck behind a house. I didn’t even care.

IMG_1441I knew I was racing the sun, and the closer I got to the race, the clearer it became that I would be arriving after dark.flyathlon-1There is serious value in written directions, and having the capability to follow them. I will be the first to admit that I am a GPS addict. Yes, I have a well-worn gazetteer marked with all my favorite fishing spots and little notes, but when I’m traveling, my eyes are glued to my phone’s map. Once I got within a couple hours of the race, I had no service, so no GPS. There was also no address attached to the lodge where race headquarters are located. I was driving in the dark, counting the miles on my odometer, and praying that I didn’t get lost. I didn’t. I pulled up in the pitch black, followed a gravel road, and wondered what the view would be like in the morning. Everyone had already set up their tents, and some people were sleeping in preparation for the next morning: the race.

It’s so hard to meet people in the dark. I parked, and was welcomed by a few really kind people, including my new BFF, Brian from Iowa.IMG_1492I’ll be referring to him from here on out as Iowa. We’d met virtually a couple months ago, because he’s planning a Flyathlon in the driftless region. I’m stoked. Registration is currently open, so if you’re interested in running a Flyathlon of your own this fall, check it out! I’m planning on being there. 🙂

I set up my tent (Andrew, the amazing race director, brought one for me) and unpacked the few things I’d need. I checked in for the race, got my bib and a bag with a ton of swag, and chugged some water. I was so thirsty. It was really cold, so I didn’t stay up late. I curled up in my tent and finally ate my dinner, in my tent, around 10 pm. I was exhausted after the stressful couple of days, but I didn’t sleep well. It’s my own fault- I was so cold. It got down to 40 that night, and I wasn’t prepared for that.

Saturday, race day. 6:30 am. My alarm went off. I had created a little mummy bag out of my blankets, sleeping bag liner, and clothes, and slowly emerged like a butterfly out of a very cozy cocoon. I took my thyroid meds, and cursed the fact that I didn’t have a plan for securing a hot cup of coffee. Need a visual? Here’s home sweet home.flyathlon-2It was the perfect place to camp. I saw this sign, and made sure the tent was zipped tightly.IMG_1496…And this is literally the view from my tent. Mountains were the perfect view for my morning yoga.flyathlon-3I had to sit in my car with the heat on to warm up, and I wasn’t really ready for the race. I was mentally making a checklist of required items to take with me- my gear was all rearranged for the flights, so it wasn’t all in one place. Normally, I have a detailed list of the things I need, and I lay everything out ahead of time. The crazy night prior to the race eliminated my routine. I forced myself to get out of the car and get ready, and I was in a hurry. I packed as much in my Osprey pack as I could, and grabbed the rest, including sandals for after the race (brilliant!). Noosa was one of the race sponsors, so I had some kick-ass yogurt for breakfast, with some granola that I’d scooped up at Whole Foods in Denver.IMG_1448The volunteers left early to drive to the trailhead and hike up to their posts, so I didn’t know anyone around the headquarters. I made my way around, introducing myself to people, and eventually found some nice people who let me ride with them.

Look at these friendly faces.IMG_1480I was the fifth wheel in a very sweet truck of flyathletes.IMG_1449We rode through farmland on gravel roads and over cattle guards, until we finally found ourselves with everyone else.

We took pictures of the race map with our phones in case we got lost out there.IMG_1450I rearranged my gear and realized that I’d forgotten my forceps and nippers in my luggage. 😦 Luckily, Iowa’d driven himself there, and he was more than willing to loan me his gear. Crisis averted. I checked in, and they gave me my measuring bib, which they won’t give us ahead of time to prevent cheating or pre-fishing.IMG_15679:00 am. I looked around at all the mountains surrounding me, and checked out the badasses who were lining up at the start.IMG_1452IMG_1453The trail head was adorned with this kickass sign, our logo made of beer caps.IMG_1475Andrew gave a few directions and reminders, then started the race by shooting a Busch Light with a BB gun.IMG_1456When the cheap beer started spraying, we took off.

The race had two courses- a short course of seven miles, and the long course of twelve miles. I’d been training for the long course. The short course runners went to the left, and the long course runners headed right, and straight up a hill. I stood at the bottom, looking up that hill, and had second thoughts. I ran anyway. By the time I could see the first switchback, I was already panting like a dog on a hot day, and started to worry. I stopped. Should I stop? Keep going? Could I keep going? Will something bad happen to me if I just charge ahead at this altitude? I turned around, and headed back to the start. Andrew was there, and I ran up and asked if I could switch to the short course. He said, “Of course.”

So… I took off on the short course, in very last place.  I spent the first couple miles of beautiful trail paralleled by stream, and beat myself up about changing courses.IMG_1566I knew at that moment that it was the right decision, but I was upset about it. Luckily, Andrew’s dad (a doctor!) was there to check on the flyathletes, and I stopped to chat with the volunteers. We had to cross the river, but there were a few felled logs. I pretended to be Baby in Dirty Dancing, and danced my way across.

I passed a couple people who had stopped to try and catch their fish, and I tried to focus on the trail. The brush scraped up my legs as I ran by, and the sweat stung a little bit. I tripped a couple times, but didn’t fall.IMG_14589:40 am. I came around a corner and found a spot that looked super fishy to me, so I veered off the trail and made my way over to the stream.

9:44 am. I strung up my rod, and opened my fly box.  I was planning on using a hopper-dropper combo, and after I tied on the big bug, I saw ONE rainbow warrior left from the last time I came out to Colorado. I’d seen my friend, Jon, in the airport, and he gave me a couple of his killer flies to use. I delicately tied it on, and hoped it would bring me luck. The stream was narrow, maybe four feet wide, and rather shallow, with some rocks creating riffles and some little plunge pools. My first cast went straight into a tree on the other side of the stream. Luckily, I just popped the flies right out, and…

9:50 am. …my second cast hooked me right into a beautiful little brookie.

Secretly, I was hoping I’d catch a brookie. I feel, about brook trout, the way that Western people feel about cutthroat trout. I get it.

I snapped my mandatory photo of my fish to prove I’d caught one.flyathlon-100Oh, wait- that’s my back-up photo, in case I couldn’t hook into one. 😉 Here’s my real fishie.IMG_1459I wanted to keep fishing, but also knew I’d have a rough time with the “unpleasant switchbacks” nearing the turnaround. I reluctantly packed up my gear, but my spirit was buoyed, so I skipped right along, breathing heavily the whole way.

A mile later, I ran into a snake on the path. I didn’t panic. I didn’t scream. I patiently waited for her to cross the trail, and then I ran really fast past her. I passed a few more people. I was almost to the switchbacks when I started to come across people on their way back. Those guys and gals looked awesome: happy and hardworking. I asked them how much further it was until the turnaround, and they said, “Look for the yellow tent.”IMG_1565Can you see the little yellow tent up there? I couldn’t get there fast enough. I ran past this guy, fishing his little heart out.IMG_1462I tried to run up the switchbacks, but they were so steep that my run was basically a power hike. I loved it the whole way. Challenges, baby.

And just like that, I was at the top.IMG_1464The view is gorgeous. The air was thin, so breathing was tough, but I was so happy. I almost didn’t want to go back down!

Kelly was running up right behind me, so we stayed up at the top and chatted for a bit.IMG_1465Luckily for me, these three were up there. What a welcoming committee! Look closely at the lower left corner of the photo- they’d brought provisions!IMG_1564Stranahans for me, and a little Redemption rye for Kelly. One good pull, and I headed back down the mountain.IMG_1524It was amazing. I tried really hard not to fall, because going downhill is much faster…

In fact, I had the most amazing trip ever. I tripped on a rock, and I fell for about fifteen feet. It wasn’t graceful. Eventually, I caught myself- I didn’t actually end up hitting the ground! I felt like I was moving in slow motion. I thought I should take a picture to show you guys what the rocky sections looked like.IMG_1472I didn’t have anyone take a picture of me on the way back, but the panic button on my car keys really captured my posture as I was running/falling on the way back down the mountain. FullSizeRender (1)I took one last selfie on the course, then crossed back over the river, and brought it in.IMG_1470
Here’s the finish line! IMG_1479The final point total placed me 15th out of 34, and I’m VERY proud of that.

I’m also proud that we raised over $20,000 to help organizations that take care of native fish.

Next year, I’m definitely going to do better, on both fronts!

IMG_1473One of my favorite parts about trail running is the line of dirt from where my socks end, and I knew I’d gotten lots of dirt in between my toes, so I was very excited to take off my shoes…IMG_1474…and grab a beer.IMG_1477We stuck around until the race was over, cheering each other in and drinking beer. So much good beer. As I shoveled chips and salsa into my mouth, I was so thankful for all these new friends. And the salt.

The drive back (to headquarters from the race) was just as beautiful as the way out.IMG_1487IMG_1486IMG_14851:15 pm. Once we got back, everyone started celebrating! I celebrated in my own way- I took a power nap, and woke up ready to have some fun!

This is where we were all hanging out. I loved seeing it during the daylight, since I’d arrived at night.flyathlon-6We had a kick ass BBQ dinner with mega salads from Mad Greens (another race sponsor), and I was so hungry! I spent hours talking to and meeting people from all over the country. We came from very different places but shared so many common interests.

These guys had the car next to me- they’re a father son duo. The father lives up here in the mountains, and the son works for a big marijuana facility. Their general existence was a reminder that I’m “not in Kansas anymore.” They were generous with coffee, beer, and bloody marys. I sure picked the right guys to park next to!IMG_1494IMG_1491IMG_1489A little Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. #midwestisbest

pc: Ben, the fish whispererFullSizeRender (3)We hung out into the wee hours of the night, laughing and sampling good beer from across the country. I was definitely ready to fall into bed that night. Tired muscles, full heart. I slept like a rock.

8:00 am. The next morning, I woke up cozy and feeling a little like a raisin. I stayed to help clean up, and got to know the Colorado people a little better.

I should have titled this post: A Little Jetta in the Big Mountains.IMG_1497What a view. I sat on the back of my car and drank my coffee, looking out at this.IMG_1495I didn’t take nearly as many pictures (with my camera) as usual, but I snagged a few of some of the coolest little things I saw, like this.flyathlon-10Now these people- these are some amazing people. The clean-up crew, the kick ass volunteers. The organizers. The planners. The cheering squad. The beer pouring, late-night steak grilling, welcoming team of the century. I love these people.flyathlon-9Best logo ever, on a very full trailer.flyathlon-8I had been waffling on buying a rod vault for the new Subaru, but my need has since been cemented in my mind after seeing Andrew’s. And one on every other truck at the race.flyathlon-7Many hands made clean up swift work, and we were packed and heading out in no time.

I loved the cloud of dust following us as we left that guard station behind.IMG_1499I had no service for the weekend, and part of the drive, but I filled my time with some of my favorite tunes.IMG_1500When I came back into service, my phone exploded, as expected. I couldn’t wait to text Brian all sorts of pictures and updates from the race! He hadn’t heard from me since I’d lost reception on the way up the mountain Friday night.The rough part was receiving the many messages and emails from Chase, asking me to confirm possible fraudulent activity on one of my bank accounts. Someone was using my card number all over the place, and spent over a thousand dollars. Luckily for me, Chase is awesome, and they refunded all my money… but they temporarily froze the account and deactivated my card. I hate traveling without easily accessible money. This trip has just been full of challenges adventure!

First stop? Elevation Brewing, to return the kegs and thank them profusely for being a race sponsor.IMG_1506And buying beer to give Meredith. 🙂

IMG_1505And getting a little life advice.IMG_1504We went for brunch in Salida, at an awesome brunch place- Rivers Edge.IMG_1508Yeah, baby, lobster omelette. As we walked there, we passed some awesome bike racks. I love traveling and getting ideas to bring home to my own municipality! I think all local elected officials should visit other places and gather experiences.IMG_1515The restaurant is right along the Arkansas River, so Andrew jumped in. 🙂IMG_1509Before I knew it, I was hugging my new friends goodbye, and hitting the road. I’m so thankful that I found my tribe- there are a whole bunch of people who care about wild and native trout as much as I do, who have a passion for conservation, and a love for fly fishing. They love to play hard, trail run, and they appreciate good beer. I found my people.

This race was perfect- it was well-organized and well-staffed. Everyone was so accommodating, and I can’t wait to come back and run it again next year.

Mega thanks to Andrew for putting this thing together, and props to Iowa for spreading it our way to the Driftless.

 

I followed Iowa all the way back into Denver, and went straight to Meredith’s condo. A quick shower, a quicker dinner, and a gaggle of us piled into a car to head to the concert.IMG_15597:00 pm. I was so excited, I couldn’t handle myself. I skipped up the path to the amphitheater. Literally.

I don’t even really have words to describe the experience at Red Rocks. I cried. I laughed a lot. Brandi rocked so hard. OCMS had so much energy. We sat in the 16th row and had incredible seats. I turned around, and saw Iowa, sitting in the row right behind us, just a few seats over. We drank some more Colorado beer. I danced my ass off, and sang my heart out, and swayed arm in arm with strangers and friends alike.

Here are some photos. I can’t properly explain what an amazing night this was.IMG_1539

IMG_1560

IMG_1537

IMG_1555IMG_1553IMG_1552IMG_1551IMG_1550And last, but not least, here’s Meredith and I. Every time I come to visit Colorado, it’s hard to leave. Thank you for your hospitality, girl! I love you.IMG_1542The mountains are amazing. I’m going to leave you with a few lyrics from my favorite OCMS song, as they’re just resonating with me right now.flyathlon-4

Ain’t it enough to live by the ways of the world,

To be part of the picture, whatever it’s worth?

Throw your arms around each other and love one another,

For it’s only one life that we’ve got.

And ain’t it enough?

As always, thanks for reading, friends. I’ll have more about the rest of this trip later! I had too many adventures to cram in one post.

 

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