Guest Blog Post by Bryon Powell of irunfar.com
What an odd year it's been! I raced two on-snow ultramarathons last winter before having March's White Mountains 100 Mile cancelled just a week before it was to take place. From the Hardrock 100 to the Middle Creek Flyathlon, such would be the case with my in-person racing for the year: canceled! Fortunately, Running Rivers stepped in provide me with two sources of inspiration: the Socially Distanced Flyathlon Challenge (SDFC) and the standing Troutman challenge.
As a recovering attorney (don't hold it against me!), I'm a rule follower... but I also look to see where advantage can be found within regulations. With my skillset (good runner, crappy fisherman), the SDFC's rules suggested that I cover a lot of ground while more or less catching whatever fish I could quickly land along the way. That line of thinking quickly led to me considering a run from in or above Leadville, Colorado downstream along the Arkansas River for as far as I could make it in a day. Somewhere along the way I'd a quick fish on be on my way. Fortunately, my plan evolved!
Last autumn, I attempted the Troutman challenge for the first time and failed miserably. With races and work travel off my calendar for the summer, I caught a case of Troutman fever. I tried Trout from below the Rio Grande Reservoir to Cunningham Gulch and, then, that route in reverse. I tried from Molas Pass to above the Rio Grande Reservoir... and back. I believe it was on my sixth or seventh attempt of the year... an intended recon-only outing on the Piños River that I finally ran a successful Troutman. Not long after, I was crewing my wife on a Nolan's 14 attempt in the Sawatch Range, when I fished Chalk Creek. A few days later, I had another Troutman there. It was at this point, I began considering fishing Chalk Creek during my long SDFC day. What if... I tried to Troutman... during it?! Could I Troutman AND run 100 miles in one outing? There was only one way to find out! (Over the next few weeks, I made a few additional Troutman attempts. Failing along the Piños and from Purgatory to Cunningham Gulch via the Animas, while succeeding on another attempt based around Purgatory, up to Hermosa Creek and down to the Animas.)
Well, I couldn't shake the Troutman 100 idea and I started my attempt at 6th and Harrison in Leadville (the start of the Leadville 100 mile run) at midnight on Wednesday, October 7th. The night run from Leadville to Buena Vista was blissful. Just me and silence and the stars. I was a bit wrecked (fatigued glutes) by the time I got to Wright's Lake where I started fishing 45 miles into the effort.
The fishing of Troutman was more challenging than expected. The rainbows weren't biting down low early and they're less common the higher up Chalk Creek one goes. I started off fishing two spots that had yielded rainbows within minutes just two days earlier. In 90 minutes of combined fishing, the lower spot yielded nothing while the second spot was nothing but browns. I tried another fishy spot toward the Mt. Princeton campground. More browns, no bows. Another couple hundred meters upstream and brown, brown, brown, brown, brown. I was about to move on when I decided for five more casts, as they should be rainbows mixed in here. The next fish I hooked was more acrobatic and I saw its silvery flash. Finally, a rainbow, which I landed before moving on.
Later, a cutthroat was even harder to come by. After hours of fishing for cutties near St. Elmo (with handfuls of brookies and a few browns caught), I decided to haul ass 2,400' up to Baldwin Lakes in hopes of catching a cutty before dark. I still can't believe how much of that climb I ran. I fished some plunge pools on the climb with no luck. I did get a strike when the terrain opened up into an amazing cut-bank, s-turn meadow... but the fish were beyond spooky in the crystal clear, glacially-paced stream. So, up to Baldwin Lakes it is. Although, I've never been here, I head straight toward the second of the lower pair of lakes. I see it and my heart sinks. Fish are hitting the surface, but I swear the glassine water looks 10" deep 40' out. How the heck am I gonna get a fly on a fish without spooking it?! Recognizing the futility of simply flinging my fly waterward, I circle the lake looking for the inlet stream. When I find it I don't know whether to laugh or cry. It's little more than a trickle into the larger puddle of a lake. Still, it's my one shot, so I pulled out my tenkara, lay down on the rocky shore between the inlet and the lake, and get to casting. Twenty casts in, I get a slow strike and the end of the ripples the stream sending into the lake, but fail on hookset. The same thing happens a few casts later. Another couple casts in and another slow strike. This time I wait. A second slow strike and a third. The fourth strike's a bit more forceful and I finally try to set the hook. Fish on! And it's a cutty. I quickly land it with my heart racing and a huge grin on my face. This last-ditch longshot panned out!
I quickly pack up and head out for the rocky five-mile descent to Chalk Creek Rd. I hit the road and my wife's car just past the marathon mark. I take a chair and pull out an AleSmith Speedway Stout I'd carried for 192 miles of previous failed Troutman attempts and 10 more miles this day. It takes me a while to down the 16 ounces, but I do so happily. I finish the beer and, with it, close out this Troutman in 11:28.
I get up and continue running down the Chalk Creek drainage and, then, the highway toward Poncha Springs. I manage 93.6 miles before my SDFC 24 hours are up. Still wanting to complete the Troutman 100, I walk out the remainder of the 100 miles on the Salida cutoff while dealing with anterior tibialis and stomach issues.
All in all, I'm psyched with the effort and experience. It was a gorgeous day throughout, the Sawatch Range and Arkansas River Valley didn't disappoint, and Meghan was an incredible crew. Thanks, too, to all of you who shared some love along the way!
Guest Blog Post by Stacey Wall
I’m posting my flyathlon adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park as a tribute, in hopes that the East Troublesome fire has not destroyed one of the most beautiful spots on the planet…
My flyathlete husband Dan and I spent five days in RMNP this past July, revisiting a trail we explored over a decade ago! We entered at the North Inlet and hiked a counterclockwise loop on the North Inlet and Tonahutu Creek Trail. The first day was a gradual climb to Ptarmigan, followed by an epic day two with 12 miles and 4500 ft elevation change over Flattop Mountain following a stunning high alpine trail. Just a mile or so past our next campsite was Haynach Lake, perfect for a very quick cold swim and a long fruitful morning of fishing for cutthroat! Full disclosure: I didn’t run, although I’m counting this as my flyathlon run considering the added effort of carrying my backpack! The next two days were a gradual descent past Granite Falls to Big Meadow. Along the way we encountered mountain goat, elk, marmot, moose, and countless birds. Zero humans, the perfect socially distanced wilderness adventure.
Thanks to Andrew and the Running Rivers Board, and to all of you flyathletes for contributing to the cause preserving our native trout habitat.
Run. Fish. Beer. 6 feet apart.
Guest Blog Post by Patrick McCue
This is my third flyathlon—the Iowa version. The one that requires a disclaimer—there is trout fishing in Iowa (there are people in Iowa). The first two were spectacular community events a few miles north of where I’m standing now, alone in the dark in the parking lot at Effigy Mounds which may soon be Iowa’s first national park. I would love to be swapping beers later with fellow flyathletes, but we’re all aware of the recommendations against that. Working at a hospital, I feel like even more like a biohazard. I know I won’t see anyone this early, that’s the point, but I will get to see the sunrise over the Mississippi River by the time I turn around. It’s cold and dark, but it feels fantastic. This is my first fishing day since March.
The other reason for standing alone in this parking lot in the dark is that I promised I’d be back home by early afternoon. I have a three month old, which is the primary reason that fishing has been scarce this year. His name is Henry and his fingers are the perfect size for tying size 22 dries, but his coordination isn’t quite adequate. To run, to fish, and to beer all before noon required a 3am alarm, which really isn’t an odd time to be awake lately.
To this point, I’ve read a few other trip reports. Like another flyathlete group, I have run over Pawnee Pass west of Nederland, CO. My route today won’t compare, but the trail sign does warn of 300ft elevation gain in the first half mile. That’s worth one bonus point to my flyathlon total. Plus, it makes me feel like a legitimate trail runner.
Off I go up that first 300 feet, and I’m in my heart rate red zone immediately. I don’t typically wear a fancy watch when running, but I need to track this run and my wife’s teal Garmin is buzzing on my wrist telling me to slow it down. It is worried about heart attack. I know I am supposed to warm up, but who has time for that when there are baby diapers waiting to be changed by two this afternoon? I do trip once on a root in the dark which is a bit embarrassing, but more worrying because I’m a dad now—elderly—so I need to be careful. Before long, I’m at the turn around point. I’m overlooking the Mississippi, barges passing below, sun on my face, and cool air helping to slow my thumping heart. It is my first time back to the Driftless, that odd pocket of hills and dales in the upper Midwest filled with coldwater trout fisheries, since March, since Henry. It is uplifting to be here, it feels right, it gives me a sense that my identity is still intact and fulfills the vision I have of myself—you know, Simms hat, slightly unshaven, drinks craft beers sitting in the back of my Subaru. (If only I had a Tacoma…)
But there’s no time for standing around. I need to maximize my fishing time because it will be very embarrassing if I go fishless. I did this on my first flyathlon. In fact, many of us went fishless that year so there was no shame around the campfire that night, but it is harder to explain later to family and friends—“the water wasn’t quite right”, or “they were really picky fish”, or “I’m just not good at fishing”.
And the first fish I catch is a stocked rainbow. Who cares? I might have cared at one point, but this is the first fish I have caught in months. And it is in my net before I’m untangling my line from a bush or tree overhead (note to visitors to the Driftless: creeks can be small and the same fertile soil that produces more corn than any nation needs produces some bushy banks).
The day couldn’t be more beautiful. Nobody else is on this stretch of stream, a heron passes over and then a hawk too. I catch some more fish, none to write home about, but they are forgiving of my rusty casts and they make me smile when I’m sitting in the back of my Subaru with a craft beer, wiping my brow under my Simms hat and enjoying the resurrection of such an important part of my life and looking forward to the days when I have traded in changing Henry’s diapers for convincing him trout fishing is indeed more interesting than Fortnite or untangling his line from countless bushes while hoping that he isn’t watching my casting form too closely as he takes up fishing and as he learns to love the sound of water weaving through riffles and gulping past submerged boulders or the sight of a trout rising on the far bank or the sunrise coming up over the stream or the taste of riverside coffee or whiskey or beer or the taste of dirt when he face plants from catching his toe on a tree root trying to run up a steep hill at five in the morning or the sense of satisfaction he will have when he ties his first size 22 dry for dad to cast into a bush or tree.