How Not to Start a Vacation & Asphyxiate Running

Vacations are supposed to be long, happy trips of relaxation, enjoyment, & carefree ease.  I can honestly say that in the first 24 hours of my camping trip to Grand Teton & Yellowstone, we could have written a two volume leather-bound edition of “How Not-To’s.” 

That’s the beautiful thing about traveling with a big group of people. It’s fun; it’s a little chaotic; and there’s usually at least one person that is batshit crazy that makes the trip a little unpredictable. I suppose that last part doesn’t apply, but you know exactly what I’m talking about. (Who am I kidding, that's probably me.)

As with most any trip that I plan or am a part of, I agreed to book a flight leaving on Friday morning out of Austin at the ripe, early hour of 6am.  Without fail, I book these flights, thinking what a wonderful idea it is to get to our destination early - how much time we’ll have!! - until I realize that means setting an alarm at some ungodly hour that begins with a 3 and is usually only seen by drunk people coming home from 6th street.  

This, apparently, is the first “How Not-To” of our trip.  

How Not To Miss Your Flight (Or: How Not to Check Your Baggage Late)

Four separate people. Four separate flights. What could possibly go wrong? Apparently everything.  Leave your Garmin in the car. Go back to get it.  Go through security with your shirt drenched in sweat. Check. Don’t make the 45 minute baggage check cut-off? Check and check. Sleep through your alarm and miss your flight altogether? CHECK! 

Like I said before, traveling with a group of people is, if nothing else, chaotic. Luckily, however, all unaccounted for checked bags made it to the destination on time. Bazinga! Our lone flier who slept in? Made it on the next flight! Boom. 

Now that that is out of the way, we can get started on our trip!  We rented a Jeep in Salt Lake that fit all five of us that have now, successfully, made it to the airport. It was a nice Jeep, let’s be honest.  It had enough power in the back to power five different phones. That’s living right there! Definitely a selling feature! 

 Look at that storage space!

Look at that storage space!

However, having wasted all of our luck in the beginning of the trip, it only made sense that just an hour outside of Salt Lake City, we got a flat tire.  I can honestly say that in my entire adult life (I’m knocking on the wooden picnic table that I’m writing this blog from as I speak!), I have gotten one flat tire. Even then, it was a Run Flat tire on my Mini Cooper and it was easy to drive myself to a Discount Tire and get it repaired.  In fact, I’ve driven to and from Chicago numerous 21-hour times, close to 1000 miles from Vegas to Zion to The Grand Canyon, and never experienced a flat tire. But, this is the way that the trip is going, so let there be a flat!

How Not-To Get Your Tire Replaced on a Rental

Remember that incredibly annoying additional insurance that the rental car companies always want you to buy but you never do? The insurance that everyone says is a rip-off and you shouldn’t purchase when they ask you to? Yeah, that’s the insurance we didn’t have.  That’s also the insurance that would have replaced the tire that we had blown.  But that wasn’t really even the worst of the issue.  

Enter the Customer Service Death Spiral.  As we are sitting on the side of the road in some random part of Idaho (literally across the border, so likely assuming the car had an aversion to Idaho potatoes), we sat on the line as we called roadside assistance.  The men, who had proven themselves relatively unreliable (hello missed flights and late bags!), were now rising to the occasion to fix the flat. Or jack up the car.  Screw on the donut. Whatever term you want to use. 

 Thanks boys!

Thanks boys!

Roadside assistance then refers us to a little town about an hour away called Pocatello where, they assure us, we would find a new shiny rental car that would take us the rest of the way to Jackson.  Time to go little donut, let’s roll. Unfortunately, that’s really just a lot of horse… 

Upon arriving in Pocatello at the world’s smallest regional airport, we were dismayed to find out that there were no cars matching the description we were given and that roadside assistance is a bunch of unhelpful, uninformed jerks.  (Just kidding, I’m sure they were nice people, with happy families, who love their jobs, but being stranded in the middle of nowhere sure rubs a girl wrong!)

(Twilight zone music)

Hours later, we’re still in the circle jerk that is the customer service call center as we are repeatedly transferred back and forth between all of the rental car agencies as we try to find a suitable replacement.  Considering that there were five of us plus a ridiculous amount of luggage and camping equipment, anything smaller than our prized Jeep wasn’t going to work. Other than that, there wasn’t much that the car company was willing to do. Well fine.

So, instead, we decided to pull an audible and get the tired repaired ourself - out of pocket.  Not the idea situation we were looking for - how many people get flat tires every day??!?! - but it got us back on the road.

 Welcome to Jackson, Wyoming!

Welcome to Jackson, Wyoming!

We finally got into Jackson, Wyoming late Friday night, hours after we had planned.  Jackson is one of the cutest towns that I’ve been to in a long time.  It has the great old time-y charm of a mountain town, but with updated and modern sophistication!  I could have spent many more days there exploring the town square, but we were there for an important mission!

Grand Teton Half Marathon!  

 Team photo pre-race

Team photo pre-race

I’m not going to lie - I was about zero percent interested in running a race, not only at elevation, but the day after the arduous trek that had become our drive to Jackson. There was a small part of me that was actually excited about the chance that we might get stuck in some random city and miss the race completely. 

Here’s the thing. I love racing. I love running. But one thing I love more than all of those things combined? Sleep!  Yes, glorious, unadulterated sleep is the one thing that I would have absolutely traded in for a race.  Especially when we were sitting together the night before planned our race morning strategy.  

The parking lot for the race parking closed at the unholy hour of 5:15, more than an hour before the race even started.  It was either that or we could take a shuttle from the center (conveniently located five minutes from our hotel!) that would leave at 4:45a and then drop us off in the cold, to stand, for more than an hour (cue shrieking).  Wow, those choices sound horrible!  Fine. Twist my arm, I’ll get up extra early so I can sit in a warm car until the start of the race. That just sounds horrible.

4:20am. Alarm goes off and all the weary travelers moan and groan and curse marathon racing.

4:45am we’re out the door, in the car, and headed to the start of the race.  5am we are in the parking lot, moments before they call the lot full and stop allowing more cars to park.  Maybe we are getting our groove back after all!

 Grand Teton Half Marathon race course - photo courtesy of Delaney Van Vranken

Grand Teton Half Marathon race course - photo courtesy of Delaney Van Vranken

The half marathon was incredible and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.  Growing up as a native Chicagoan, it hurts my soul to say that I was worried I would be cold in the mid 40s. But, I’d like to think that my blood has thinned and I’ve turned into a Texan in the seven years I’ve lived down south. But the weather felt great.  No, I wouldn’t have wanted to stand outside and wait for the start for almost two hours, but it did feel good to walk from the car to the start and then start running.  Hooray for cold weather.  

The course was gorgeous.  Looking at the elevation chart, I was a little worried. There were two huge spikes in the course that looked like death hills to the untrained eye. Every official that we met kept saying how “flat” the course was. Ha!  Sure. I’ve seen the elevation chart!  You can’t fool me!

But, the course was relatively flat. Definitely felt the hills and definitely felt the elevation as we started to climb in the last two miles.  It felt good to stretch the legs out, admittedly, after an 8 hour ride in the car from the day before. And, get this!  I didn’t asphyxiate.  

I know that that is being a little dramatic, but I remember my time in Denver!  I remember my time in Boulder!  I felt like death the entire time and the thought of running more than the two painfully slow and horrendous miles that I did do, seemed unfathomable.  But today felt great!  Granted, my coach had told me to run it easy and enjoy myself, but I was still so terrified of having a bad race that I was incredibly relieved to look around and feel normal!

And the views!  The views were incredible. The course took a fairly straight line approach, starting out on the highway shoulder and transferring the runners down to the hike and bike paths.  The paths wound in and out of the green grass, which was such in stark contrast with the snow covered mountains. Every time you turned a corner, you were struck with another incredible view. 

 Grand Teton Half Marathon race course - photo courtesy of Delaney Van Vranken

Grand Teton Half Marathon race course - photo courtesy of Delaney Van Vranken

I had debated bringing my phone with me on the run, but had left it behind because I wasn’t interested in carrying it the entire way.  Even more so, the race was cupless, meaning that each runner was responsible for bringing their own hydration or water bottle to fill at the aid station.  But, as I came next to the glorious Teton mountains, I was incredibly sad I couldn’t run out into the fields and have a very “Sound of Music” type of moment.  It really was that incredibly beautiful.

As we finished the race, we jumped on the shuttle back to the hotel. Luckily, we had the logistics down pretty pat and got back to the hotel quickly and efficiently.  Even though I hadn’t felt the elevation during the race, I could definitely tell that my lungs had been working as soon as we stopped.  I was definitely happy to be done running!

 Post-race awkward medal pose!

Post-race awkward medal pose!

It wasn’t long before we had grabbed some lunch, some propane fuel at the outfitters, and we were back on the road again to Grand Teton National Park. 

Race photos coming soon....

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