Yellowstone vacation provides non-running perspective

Written on Aug 29th, 2013 by , Category Marlene Farrell Blog, Training

Marlene Farrell crosses a stream in Yellowstone carrying a backpack half her weight during her family's recent trip to the national park. (Photo by Kevin Farrell)


By Marlene Farrell

August 28, 2013
I started this blog while on vacation. I had the time to mull over ideas because life while camping and backpacking is simple and meditative. I could observe running from a different angle, because during that abundance of time, I was hardly running. …

August 20, 2013
I’m not running for most of this trip. At first that sounds like no fun; when I’m home and find a windfall of two to three spare hours, I love to spend it running, preferably somewhere off-road and beautiful.

A grizzly bear travels close to the Farrell family camp in Yellowstone. (Photo by Kevin Farrell)

But this vacation is different. For the first several days we were in Yellowstone campgrounds and I woke early to take short runs through the geyser basins, on boardwalk trails, admiring the billowy steam and shimmering pools and breathing in the stench of sulfur in a solitude so unusual for this park. I ran through meadows where bull elk were grazing. I had perhaps an unwarranted sense of communion with these imposing beasts, however oblivious they were of me.

Then our trip changed and we stowed our car full of non-essentials at a ranger station and began an 8-day backpack trip, with everything we needed on our backs.

Every morning I wake up to see my family in arm’s reach, cocooned in their sleeping bags, their three slumbering faces framed at the top, their features calmed by pleasant dreams. At this point I can sneak away and run, but I’ve chosen not to.

My family unconsciously thanks me because I’m stinky enough already without compounding it by sweating more in the same clothes I hike in.
If I were to run I’d either be running back the way we came or getting a preview of what is to come. I don’t want to disrupt my reveling in the NOW, which backpacking fosters in me.

A hiatus from running for more than two days usually worries me. I worry that my withdrawal will make me cranky. Am I at heart an exercise addict who needs heart-pounding action to feel satisfied and complete? The second worry is at the other extreme. I have a fear that I’ll lose my grip on this disciplined habit and grow slovenly and soft.

The trip is almost over and I can tell that the first worry is unsubstantiated. The slower movement of backpacking with kids is still movement. The energy required to hoist a heavy pack makes me savor the time I rest with it off. Even in camp I’m not lounging around when there’s a tent to set up, meals to cook and woods and rivers to explore with Alice and Quentin.

The observing family: Could the horseman cross without getting his jeans wet? (Photo by Kevin Farrell)

Backpacking is not exactly a “walk in the park.” We started with backpacks that were half our weight. The trailhead near Old Faithful was at 7,500 feet in elevation and we made our way over the Continental Divide at 8,500 feet before descending along the banks of the Bechler River. The quickness of a running pace would have made the hills seem smaller and less challenging, while carrying a pack made each undulation in grade very noticeable. My hearty appetite and tired body crawling into the tent remind me that I am still getting plenty of exercise. Cross training and my altitude acclimation might do my running some good, too!

I’m reassured that I don’t need running for the exercise high right now, nor do I need it for my connection to the outside world. I’m in the wilderness all day, soaking in the richness of colors, sounds, smells, creatures and vistas.

The other day we spent the afternoon (and returned the following morning) in a hot springs named Mr. Bubbles. It was a feast for our senses, with the cold and hot water mingling on the surface of our skin, the rushing river coming in one side, the boiling creek entering on another, the steam bubbling through the middle of the pool with enough force to toss small rocks and blast flip-flops in odd directions to be retrieved as part of a game. I didn’t think. I could just be, enjoying the refreshing fun and feeling lucky to be in such a stunning place. My regular runs are but a dose of that, like a daily vitamin, to fortify me for a day spent mostly indoors.

My second worry will be put to the test soon. Our trip is coming to an end and by the time this blog is “live,” I’ll be home with the opportunity to renew my early morning running ritual and to share my joy with the Wednesday night trail group, the high school cross country team and occasional runs with friends and family. …

Soaking it up in "Mr. Bubbles!" (Photo by Kevin Farrell)

August 28, 2013
I’ve been home for several days now, and despite my awe over tap water, my mattress and dishwasher, I miss our backpack trip with a tangible ache. I have run every day, and I’m full of wonder all over again, at the beauty of our mountains, at the lightness of moving without a load, and at the sweet coolness of the morning. I am thankful for a trip to just be with my husband and children and for a rest from my running routine. Everything is in clearer perspective now, and running fits into my daily life, but in a healthy proportion to all the other people and obligations I value.

Marlene Farrell is a Leavenworth writer and long-distance runner who has qualified twice for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. She also helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club.

Studying the splendor that is Yellowstone. (Photo by Kevin Farrell)

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