Yellowstone, Airplane Germs, and Falling off the Yoga Wagon

It’s amazing how a vacation intended as a relaxing getaway can lead to so much exhaustion… but let’s start at the beginning.

Jeff and I spent a week in Yellowstone National Park, and it was amazing!

We dropped Rio off at her boarder’s house on Friday evening. She doesn’t seem to mind. It’s sort of like a doggy sleepover for her, and she might be thinking about leaving us for them.

Day One: We flew out of Albany early Saturday. I even found time to meditate in the airport’s interfaith room before our flight boarded. Once we boarded, we were briefly delayed due to storms, but we made it to our connecting flight in the nick of time – only to find it was also delayed. We still made it to Bozeman within about a half hour of our intended arrival, and headed to the rental car desk to pick up our car. I had lots of time to do some post-flight yoga while we waited in line almost an hour and a half. Not an ideal arrival experience, but we got our Kia Soul (hamsters included), stopped at REI to pick up bear spray and fuel for the camp stove, then headed south to Yellowstone, and our home for the next two nights, a campsite at Grant Village Campground. We set up our tent, and took a walk down to Yellowstone Lake as the sun was setting.

Day Two: After an unexpectedly cold night in the tent, we made quick breakfast of coffee, tea, and oatmeal on the camp stove, and headed to Upper Geyser Basin (home of Old Faithful). I’d envisioned yoga and meditating on the beach at the Lake in the morning, but the temperatures convinced me to skip it. When we reached the Old Faithful site, we stopped at the Visitor Center to check the schedule for predicted geyser eruptions and to look at the exhibits, then headed to the site’s backcountry office to pick up our backpacking permit. I got in some yoga time in the back room while we watched the mandatory backpacking safety video. Later we stopped at the Yellowstone General Store, bought ourselves some gloves for the cold mornings, and met the only bear we’d see on our entire trip.

We missed the first eruption of Old Faithful, as evidenced by the throngs of people walking past us as we approached, and decided to head out on the path to Grand Geyser. The landscape is otherworldly, steaming and simmering, and creating gorgeous colors. We made it in time to get a front row seat for Grand, and managed to seat ourselves right in front of a party of geyser aficionados who were able to “read” the ebb and flow of the water levels and explain when a behavior looked promising, or meant another fifteen minute or so delay before the next opportunity for eruption.

While we waited, there was some minor drama as a picnicking family carelessly allowed a plastic food container to blow off the boardwalk path and into the geothermal area that visitors are not supposed to walk on. Over time, the rising water pushed it back closer to the boardwalk, and eventually we thought of using my camera strap to fish for it from the edge. Jeff was able to dislodge it from its perch with the strap, and another bystander was able to grab it as it flowed toward the boardwalk. Unbeknownst to us, the crowd had been watching as the scene unfolded, and cheered at the successful removal of the trash from the site.

Grand’s scheduled eruption was within +/- 45 min., so we knew we might be there a while. It was definitely worth the wait, with a fantastic 12 minute eruption much “grander” than Old Faithful’s.

We stopped for lunch at the on-site restaurant, then we headed north to Grand Prismatic Spring.

By then it was late afternoon, so we headed back to the campground for showers, dinner, and a second night in the tent that turned out not to be quite as cold as the first.

Day Three: We woke early, broke camp, and organized our things for our backpacking trip. We made coffee and tea, but realized we would be short on oatmeal for the trail if we cooked at the campsite, so we stopped at an on-site restaurant for before driving to the very northwest corner of Yellowstone where we’d be backpacking the 22.5 mile Specimen Creek Loop over three days and two nights. (Most of Yellowstone is in Wyoming, but a very narrow corridor of the southwestern edge is in Idaho, and a corridor of the northern and northwestern edges is in Montana. Our backpacking trip was entirely in the Montana portion of the Park, and even stepped very briefly out of the Park borders.)

While the trail was easier, drier, and less elevation gain over time than we’re used to in the Adirondacks, the elevation itself again proved a challenge for me as it had on our Colorado trip last year. Jeff was, frustratingly, barely affected, but I felt increasingly suffocated, lightheaded, exhausted, and nauseous as the hike wore on. While the scenery was beautiful, by the end of the day I was done. In hindsight, the backpacking trip was worth it, but if you’d asked me in the last mile of that first day, I would’ve answered with an emphatic, “No!” I also fell twice at this campsite, the second time tripping over a stump, scratching and bruising my leg on my way to falling flat on my chest. Funny in hindsight.

After some rest and electrolytes, I felt well enough to enjoy our beautiful campsite on Crescent Lake.

Day Four: I knew we’d completed the majority of our elevation gain in the first day of backpacking, and after a good night’s sleep, was feeling pretty good about our second day of hiking. It was a significantly warmer morning than the previous two at the campground, and we were able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the lake before breaking camp and continuing on.

It was a still a tough morning for me, but not nearly as bad as the previous day, and I knew we’d be reaching the high point of our loop by mid-day, and that it would be all downhill from there.

We had multiple spectacular views on this portion of the trail, then began the descent to our lunch spot at High Lake

After lunch we headed on toward our second campsite on the East Fork of Specimen Creek. On the way we met a party that included a graduate student and National Parks staff working on a fish study, and the only two other backpackers we met on the trail. When we arrived at our campsite, we found it was lovely and set back from the trail. We could hear the stream and would like to have sat by a campfire, but the mosquitoes convinced us to retire to the tent early. I was grateful for my one technological allowance – my Kindle – and almost finished Washington Black that night.

Day Five: The mosquitoes were a little better the next morning, but still got us moving quickly. Much of the day’s hike out to the trailhead was through a burn area – open and unsheltered from the hot sun. By the time we reached the trailhead around lunchtime I was ready for rehydration, a shower, and a dinner that didn’t start out dehydrated in a bag.

We drove to our inn in Gardiner, cleaned up, and headed into town for yummy Yellowstone Pizza and drinks, then explored the tiny downtown.

Day Six: After yoga and meditation, and blueberry pancakes at the Inn, we made our way to Mammoth Hot Springs before the heaviest crowds of the day. We were excited to see elk gathering on the mineral rocks – presumably it’s like a salt lick for them. We spent the rest of the day and part of the following trying to figure out how to know whether we were seeking elk or mule deer, but eventually learned that pretty much everything we saw in Yellowstone was elk. (Though now I wonder whether the mule deer I thought I saw in Colorado last year was actually an elk.)

Then we drove to the Tower area of the Park to hike a ridge over the Yellowstone River.

Then back to the hotel and out for a lovely dinner at Wonderland Cafe.

Day Seven: On our last full day of vacation, we headed to “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,” and were determined to see more wildlife. We’d seen some elk and bison already, but were hoping for more. We picked a loop hike on the south rim of the Canyon. A portion of it was heavily trafficked and easily accessible by bus groups, but the views made up for it, and soon we were able to leave the crowds and see a more remote area, including more geothermal features.

After that, we stopped for lunch, then drove to Lamar Valley, which has the reputation of being the best place in the Park to see wildlife. We met a group of people that were camped out watching carrion with telescopes, just waiting for bears or wolves to arrive.

We’d seen a herd of bison the day before, but had the opportunity to see them even closer, with two passing directly in front of our stopped car. We stayed to watch them for quite a while, then headed back toward Gardiner. On the way, we stopped where other tourists were wildlife-watching to learn we’d just missed a bear and cub. It turned out to have been a black bear, not a grizzly, so we weren’t disappointed. We’ve got plenty of black bears at home.

We stopped in Mammoth on our way back to the hotel to recycle our bear spray and fuel, and while we there, saw more elk snoozing on a lawn. As we drove north toward the Park boundary, we were treated to a herd of mountain goats.

After our last dinner in Gardiner, we walked around town a bit and then walked out to the park surrounding the Roosevelt Arch to get away from the lights and see the stars.

Day Eight: After breakfast we drove to Bozeman and spent an hour walking around Main Street before it was time to drive to the airport, turn in our car, and begin the trip home. We had a late lunch at O’Hare during our layover, and made it home to an uncharacteristically affectionate cat.

During the trip I’d squeezed in very little yoga and minimal meditation, despite bringing along my fancy new travel mat for inspiration, so on my first morning home I headed for a yoga class to help me get back on track, and unexpectedly got to see an old friend I hadn’t seen in years, and with whom I’ll be taking yoga teacher training with. After class Jeff and I went to pick up Rio at her boarder’s and brought her home to settle back into our normal life… or so I hoped.

Within a few days, I started feeling a cold coming on, and spent the greater part of Labor Day Weekend sick, again forgoing my meditation and yoga practice in favor of sniffling on the couch.

My challenge is not that I don’t know how to adapt my practice. I do. I could have practiced restorative yoga, and meditated on something other than my interrupted breathing. My challenge is that when my routine is interrupted, I need to find space for a modified practice within the lack of routine. Yoga teacher training requires daily practice, and I hope that it will provide the motivation to create the habit, even on non-routine days.

#yellowstone #grandgeyser #oldfaithful #tentlife #backpacking #optoutside #gardiner #yellowstonelake #bison #elk #mountaingoats #fullymyself

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