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West Yellowstone

I have made several trips to the US this year and taken the opportunity to run in many different and sometimes exotic locations.  Often the runs made while travelling stick in my mind as much as any other aspect of the trips.

The view from the fire-trail south of West Yellowstone.

One from the small town of West Yellowstone, on the edge of the famed Yellowstone National Park (the best in the US in my opinion), tested me to the limit.  I had a long run in my training plan, and needed to do it from the hotel where we were staying to minimise family impact.  The few sealed roads passing through West Yellowstone were busy, given that it was peak tourist season, and often had narrow verges, making them unattractive for running.  I preferred to run on fire-trails or hiking trails anyway, though none of the latter were near West Yellowstone.

I pored over Google Maps via MapMyRun the previous evening to map out a course that would be easy to follow and give me the distance I needed (40+km). A forest road that headed south, parallelling the Montana/Wyoming state border and the western edge of Yellowstone NP, seemed the best option and I carefully examined the satellite images to verify the map information.  There was a saddle and track junction around the 22km mark that looked to be indentifiable and would mark the turnaround if I made it that far.  I tried to memorise other significant junctions, waymarks and the elevation profile since I didn't have any maps.

I set off around 7:00am on a cool and sunny morning, and despite the ideal conditions, was a little apprehensive for a number of reasons.  Firstly, to travel lighter, I wasn't carrying anything apart from my camera, so was planning to survive without fluids.  It was forecast to warm up to near 30⁰C during the day so it was going to be tough if I was out for too long.  Secondly, the run was at an average altitude of more than 2000m, high enough to affect performance, though I had been training at similar altitudes for the previous three weeks.  Thirdly it was bear country.

Looking towards Idaho from the trail.

Conscious of the distance, I started easily and enjoyed the early running along the very quiet gravel road, bordered by thick conifer forest.  If there were any bears in there, I wouldn't be able to see them, and soon I stopped thinking about them, enjoying the solitude.  The waypoints were recognisable, as was the climb up on to the plateau, and my navigational concerns also gradually abated.  After two hours, not having seen a single person or animal, the trail dipped into a grassy valley and began the climb to the saddle and my turn-around.  I was starting to feel tired and warm, and toyed with the idea of turning earlier.  However, I knew that although I would be cursing the extra distance on the way back, I would be glad I had persevered after the run.

I reached the track junction as expected and gratefully turned around, reminding myself that every step now was a step closer to the finish.  Although bordered by the forest, the road was mostly in the sun, which was now beating down.  In another hour, it was becoming a battle and by half-way back my pace had dropped to a plod and I was eagerly checking off the waymarks, which were coming way too slowly.  The last hour was ugly, but I never stopped moving, and finally made it back to town and the hotel shortly before midday.  Apart from two mountain bikers close to town, I didn't see anybody else at all on the trail, and no bears.  Though exhausted and dehydrated, I knew the training run would bring dividends, and happily set off for a day's sightseeing in Yellowstone.

My heel was tender during my run today though not as bad as I feared, and has become less painful during the day.  I will try an easy 22km tomorrow, but cut it short if necessary.