Planes, trains and automobiles

and legs, of course.

Every time I embark on one of these trips, I figure worst case scenario, at least I’ll get a good story out of it. And lordy, Montana does not disappoint in the story department.  You have been warned. Grab your bevie of choice and take a seat:


Because air travel rarely goes smoothly, the stories start here.  My friend Pat and I were flying together and we met up at Newark airport at 2:30 for our 4pm flight. Of course we had to start the weekend off (yes, the weekend. Even though it was only Wednesday) with a pre-flight beer. Because of impending weather, our plane departed nearly 90 minutes late. We flew through a maelstrom of thunderstorms, dodging each and every one (the flight was so smooth, you could have balanced an egg on a pinhead).  We landed in Chicago only to discover that this plane was also delayed, so we headed miles away to another terminal for yet another beer (Goose Island Matilda–delish), which wasn’t the smartest move as we had a wicked looonnngggg journey back to the original terminal to catch that flight.  We had a few minutes to spare, and decided to…wait for it…enjoy yet another beer.

Being three beers into this trip, you would think I’d sleep this last leg of the journey–Chicago to Bozeman, nearly a 3 hour flight.  Luckily this last leg was basically a flying tin can with plastic folding chairs from the local church basement stapled in to the floor serving as seats.  Very plush.  Even better, across the aisle were two young women who clearly hadn’t seen each other in years. Or at least five minutes.   The entire plane was treated to a play-by-play account of their lives.  Unable to sleep, I passed the trip by looking out the window at the scenery. Which, after Iowa City (which truthfully I could only identify by looking at the skymap in the in-flight magazine), was basically 2.5 hours of blackness.

We arrived in Bozeman at 11:30pm (this is 1:30am for me), collected our luggage, met Tommy (the captain. oh my captain of the trip) and since there were 15 minutes before the airport bar was to shut down, had, yes, you got it, another beer.

From the airport we headed to the C’mon Inn. I kid you not.  The next morning, I was amazed at the surroundings.  Whereas most hotels sell cute plush animals, the C’mon Inn took that concept to a whole new level:

We spent Thursday provisioning.  The men bought tents, camping and cook-out gear, food, water, gatorade for our trek. I went to yarn store to find supplies for this:


I was successful–mine will be off-white with a chocolate brown bottom and a deep aqua for the stripe.  Very happy.

After a trip to the Montana Ale Works for yet more beer (!) and a final hot meal, we made our way to the camp ground for the next day’s start to the race.


A big part of the appeal of this trip for me was the camping.  Having done other “run through the night” relays, I knew I’d appreciate getting out of the van, stretching, and actually sleeping, even if only for a few hours.  That, and I love tent camping. The weather in Montana was perfect for it–warm, warm days and chilly, chilly nights.

While the west coast folks lived up to their Pacific Northwest stereotype and brought their own tents, us east coast people didn’t. We divided 3 tents amongst 11 of us–and I ended up sharing with Alan and Pat. The first night was really cold and tough to sleep.  Alan, although he brought his own special needlepoint pillow from his living room, couldn’t quite figure out the zipper on his sleeping bag and shivered all night long. (a word to the wise: it helps when you fold the sleeping bag lengthwise, not widthwise).

The second night was much more comfortable, and I quickly fell asleep before 9pm (even though it was still light out!).  Everything was perfect, until about 3am when a freight train went through our campground, blowing its (extremely LOUD) whistle the entire length of the state of Montana campground.  As it was going by, I’m just lying there on the ground thinking “damn, i’m 48 years old, lying on the ground, sleeping without a needlepoint pillow, in Montana, and a train just woke me up? Who does this?” As the train receded, Alan spoke up: “did a train just run through our tent?”

Our third night was much less eventful, although each of the mornings were stressful, waking up and dressing, folding up tents and sleeping bags, packing bags and coolers, and then playing Tetris trying to squeeze it all into the back of the SUV in the dark all for 5am or 4:30am start.

Can you believe nothing got left behind? I still can’t.


Probably one of the more sublime aspects of these relays is how freakin’ slow you have to drive to cover 232 miles in 3 days.  You’re barely going faster than the runners, but you’re in a car.   This time around we were even slower, as one of our vehicles got a flat tire on the first day:



Lucky there was a spare.

And the same car got a flat on the 2nd day. Lucky we had a 2nd car for its spare.

And that same car got a third flat on the 3rd day. Lucky we had a 3rd car for its spare.

And that same car got a 4th flat just a few miles beyond the third flat on the 3rd day. Lucky we had a 4th car for its spare.


(The flats moved in a counter-clockwise direction around the car).

Coincidentally, before the race started we all got bibs with shortened team names.  My team was the Creek Jumpers (shortened to Jump).  Our other team’s name was Wagon Wheels, shortened, perhaps karmically to “Wheels.”


Ah, but the real reason for the trip was the running….and Montana did not disappoint.  The vistas were sweeping.

And the runs were all challenging; especially with the increase in elevation.

My daily totals were nothing special: 6, 7.7 and 6.7, but my paces oh-so-tortoiselike. The ascents were brutal.  The descents wreaked havoc on the quads (I had a 4.7 mile 1220 ft. descent that I felt for days), and the lack of shade! OMG, at times I felt like Icarus (too. much. sun!)

The race started at Headwaters State Park in Three Forks–this is the named source of the Missouri River, which is the longest river in North America–at 4,050 ft.  We went up and down and up and down and up and down, peaking at 9,587 feet in the middle of day 2 along our journey to Hellroaring Creek, one of the three creeks that actually feeds the official source of the river and home to the race director, Don.   This is a small, small race (22 teams of up to 10 runners each), and I really appreciate Don’s effort in giving this race a raison d’etre (beyond the sole challenge of running).  Our running/driving instructions were peppered with quotes from Lewis and Clark (we covered some of their trail), and you could really see how much Don loved this area and how he wanted to show it off.

The race ended on Day 3 with a 3.5 mile leg to Hellroaring Creek and full submersion into the water! I was lucky enough to have this leg, and let me tell you, nothing feels nicer than a dip into an ice-cold river on hot, hot day, except for maybe that beer after climbing out of said river.

My team was the first full Master’s team to compete in the Headwaters Relay. Our prizes?

IMG_1677 IMG_1679

(I’m using the branded leather thingy as the world’s largest mousepad.  I’m using the pint glass, well, for pints)

Our official time: 31:47:29.  Hard to believe we fit in all that fun into 31 hours.

our team at the highest point (mid way through Day 2)
our team at the highest point (mid way through Day 2)






  1. What a great trip, well done you on all fronts, running, sleeping in a tent, beer drinking, yarn buying, wheel changing.
    Oh and I love a North American train whistle, it’s the ringtone on my phone, when we stayed on a camp in the Rockies a train went by in the early hours, so haunting. Love it.

  2. Great race report. Although I avoid camping, the train story resonated. Many times, the thought goes “why would a 66-year old woman be out in (fill in the blank – frigid temps, dirt roads, muddy shins, ports-potties). Some women just never grow up.

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