iRunFar Summer Road Trip #1 -The Penske Chronicles

I started my summer by picking up my life (and iRunFar world headquarters) in Arlington, Virginia moving it to the […]

By on October 30, 2009 | Comments

I started my summer by picking up my life (and iRunFar world headquarters) in Arlington, Virginia moving it to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California in two transcontinental road trips. I followed that up with a trail runner’s dream of a road trip. In all, I spent nearly four months roaming the world – primarily America’s Intermountain West – in search of sweet trailheads and the adventures to which they give rise. Over the next week or so, I’ll share some of the highlights of those trips. If you want more details about any adventure, leave a comment telling me what you’d like to know. For now, I give you iRunFar Summer Road Trip 1 – The Penske Chronicles.

“Wander a whole summer if you can. Thousands of God’s blessings will search you and soak you as if you were a sponge, and the big days will go by uncounted. If you are business-tangled and so burdened by duty that only weeks can be got out of the heavy laden year, give a month at least. The time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.” – John Muir

iRunFar Summer Road Trip 1 – The Penske Chronicles
In case you didn’t know, rental truck outlets set minimum rental periods for point-to-point rentals depending on the length of the journey. As I was moving from Arlington, Virginia to Merced, California, Penske “gave” me a generous 11 days to make the journey. I decided to make the most of it.

My summer of fun kicked off as I pulled away from the curb after darkness fell on May 19th. Over the next three days, I headed west without straying far from America’s (or at least my) central travel axis, I-80.

Johnson-Sauk Trail SRA, Illinois
As afternoon waned on Day 1, I veered off the highway toward a green patch I found on my iPhone. It’s there I logged a quick adventure run in Illinois’s Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area. Though unspectacular, I had a most pleasant time running the trails. As I drove off, I decided to take a picture of Ryan’s Round Barn (pictured below). I missed the shot and while turning around I noticed a group of runners gathering. I drove up, pulled over, and jumped out. A few minutes later, I was off on the second half of an impromptu double.

Ryans Round Barn Johnson Sauk TrailRyan’s Round Barn at the Johnson-Sauk Trail Recreation Area

Vedauwoo, WY
One day and 900 miles later, I pulled off I-80 at one of my favorite spots in the world – Veadauwoo, a Seussian granite outcropping plopped between Cheyenne and Laramie in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest. While these rocks always have a unique, almost spiritual quality to them, this trip was my most intense yet. As the rental truck climbed from the prairies to the east, I drew ever nearer the cloud bank that sat a hundred feet above Vedauwoo’s base. After I parked the truck along the interstate off ramp and set out on my run as the clouds hugged in tighter and a stiff breeze blew over the crest on which Vedauwoo rests. I explored a bit, but the place was way too eerie to venture far a field. I mostly stuck to the large exposed rock formations before heading back to the truck on the roads. I couldn’t handle being on the trails alone in those conditions. The first 10 minutes of driving west after the run were the most intense of my life.

Vedauwoo with cloudsVedauwoo before the cloud ceiling descended

Glenwild Loop, Park City, UT
After running out of gas west of Laramie (N.B. there are no gas stations open at night between Laramie and Rawlins), I made it to Park City the next morning. Having spent two summers living in PC, I knew there was a great trail running option just moments off the interstate. During my Utah summers I would often hit the Glenwild trails on my commute home from Salt Lake City. If you run the route clockwise, you get a short warm up on flat trails, a steady climb, a fun descent, and then a long flat section before a second descent down to the creek at the parking lot. This creek is a fantastic spot after a hard run, as it’s cold enough for a soak and there are always plenty of birds to provide you with entertaining company.

Glenwild trails Wasatch UtahThe Wasatch Mountains from the meadow portion of Glenwild

Pocatello 50 Mile, ID
From Salt Lake City, I drove the Penske truck north toward Pocatello. Just minutes but still an entire world away from town, I headed west up into the mountains to find an encampment of eager trail runners. The next morning they’d set off solo or as part of a relay team in the first annual Pocatello 50. I’d write more about this race, but I’ll be treating it to a full write up in the future. In short, the course was fantastic, but more than I cared to tackle on the day. I still managed to have a wonderful time despite DNFing.

Pocatello 50 mileWhere’s the top? Hell, where’s the trail?

After the race, Sean Meissner and I drove down to Salt Lake City, where a kind soul had agreed to provide me with a place to leave the Penske. A yummy breakfast later, I jumped in Meissner’s car and we headed south. My transcontinental move was way off course… or was it? We were headed to the Grand Canyon after all!

Bryce Canyon NP, Utah
Not wanting to miss a beat in our training, we looked for a spot to run en route to the Big Ditch. After some debate, we settled on a little green spot on the map – Bryce Canyon National Park. Wow! I’m sure glad we went there. Our 8-mile loop of the Fairyland and Rim Trails ran us through some of the most fantastic landscapes imaginable. The ever changing light thrown by a slow moving cloud bank only added to the fun … and treated us to a rainbow, too. The run was made all the better by the fact that I shared it with a great friend.

Bryce Canyon Fairyland Trail Sean MeissnerSean Meissner running Bryce Canyon NP’s Fairyland Trail

Grand Canyon NP, AZ
A day later, Sean and I went for a shake out run along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I’ll spare you the obligatory picture of me on Powell’s point. We ran west along the rim before catching a shuttle back to the main visitor area.

Grand Canyon South RimA late day view of the Grand Canyon from the South Rim

Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim. It’s an easy concept. It’s not an easy journey. Meissner and I started early and I took advantage of early morning light to snap some photos. Then my camera battery died. That was probably a good thing as I was able to spend the rest of the day absorbing the journey, both visually and spiritually.

Grand Canyon Sean Meissner R2R2RMeissner descending the Grand Canyon’s South Kaibab Trail

I greatly enjoyed the descent down the South Kaibab trail to the Colorado River. The runnable 7-8 miles up the North Kaibab Trail out of Phantom Ranch – not so much… but much more than I would in the afternoon. I did, however, love the walk up to the North Rim once the trail steepened. I love to walk! I love to descend almost as much as I love to walk, so the run down from the North Rim was sweet until the trail flattened out.

I had spent myself trying to run up the same trail earlier in the day and my under-trained hip flexors were not happy. I hung in there until I noticed my heart rate steadily increasing to tempo run range despite an easy effort on a slightly downhill trail. It was mid-afternoon and the sun beat steadily down on us. To make matters worse, the slot canyon we’d entered acted like a solar oven. My rapid heart was a clear sign that I had heat exhaustion. I told Sean that if we didn’t make it to Phantom Ranch in 10 minutes, I was going in the stream along which we were running. Ten minutes passed and no Phantom Ranch – into the stream for a nice soak we went.

I arose from the water greatly revived. We trotted down to Phantom Ranch and enjoyed ice cold lemonade and some candy bars in the miraculous air conditioning. I wanted to never leave this oasis, but we did. We crossed back over the river and ran downstream for longer than I thought we would. A turn to the left and we started our Sisyphean climb back to the South Rim. Meissner is a heck of a hill climber, so I just settled into my own pace, while Meissner would wait for me from time to time. Clouds settled over us for our climb up the Bright Angel Trail and we were even treated to some gusty winds and chilly rain in a thunderstorm. It was refreshing. A couple hours later, Sean and I stood atop the South Rim and surveyed what we’d done together. It was awesome. Sean definitely deserved his girly drink that night!

Sean Meissner R2R2R MontrailMeissner with his well-deserved post-R2R2R drink

Road Trip #1 Complete
From the Grand Canyon, I flew from Flagstaff back to Salt Lake City and drove trough the night to my new home in the Sierra foothills. A few days later I would fly back to Arlington, to wrap things up before starting iRunFar Summer Road Trip #2! Check back soon to read the next installment!

Bryon Powell rental truckiRunFar Road Trip #1 – Complete!

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.