How an adventure with no accolades, socks, and friends can give valuable life lessons… experiences may vary!
The Picnic is an unofficial triathlon that is divided into three disciplines that range from Jackson, Wyoming, followed by a swim across a lake, and finally up to the Grand Tetons. Now there have been a few documentaries that have been done on this subject and are located all over the internet, but this article covers some of the other issues a good friend and I had to deal with. This included everything from personal backgrounds and what led us to The Picnic, varying motivations for completion, and what we had learned during this period.
As mentioned earlier, The Picnic is a daunting adventure for many, especially those that have never completed this exploit before. The start line is not a mass commencement with cheering spectators or the ecstatic heartbeat that most runners or competitors feel before the start of a marathon or varying other races. Instead, there is a greeting of just sleepy eyes, and a self-serve cup of coffee as one starts at the earliest morning to accomplish this task firsthand.
Unofficially “officially,” the start line is located at the antlers in downtown Jackson Hole, and the first leg is the bike ride. From there, the race path will parallel the main road and highway, to Jenny Lake for a 22-mile movement over a gradual upward slope. Then the chilly water swim where you’re staring into the black void of the lake or the stars that are, in some cases, the only light sources, and this is a mile, and a half swim as the crow flies, not as the swimmer swims. The intermission is the 10-mile foot movement up to the Grand Teton, where gaining 6,000 feet in elevation will be the case. After all that is complete, it is all done in reverse, doubling the numbers that have been shown here.
Foothills looking up at the mountains.
This event can, and has, been accomplished solo, but it is and should be accomplished with your closest friends to reap the real benefits. Also, there are too many similarities between The Picnic and life in general, which will be expounded on shortly. The following is my experience:
I was working abroad when I had come across a documentary on The Picnic that piqued my interest. The event followed two friends conquering the event in one day. For me being a resident of Colorado and enjoying races and the outdoors, I had asked a friend if this would be up his wheelhouse as well. After we both agreed on a few month’s fitness train-up and a few mini-events to ensure our preparedness, we finally agreed on a date to meet there.
He and I had worked together at a younger age, but with life and work, our paths had shifted where he later became a writer and part-time podcaster. As for myself, I had maintained my positioning in our former enterprise, and fitness always remained paramount for me. Ultimately we had an excellent foundation for achieving such a goal, but the most significant thing would be getting on a similar fitness schedule so that our strengths would be on par with each other. Moreover, we had planned this event for four months left of start-day, which meant plenty of time to ensure proper effectiveness on The Picnic.
We originally planned on an early August start date, which turned out to be the most ideal time to conduct such an event. We trained non-stop performing mini-Picnics in Colorado Springs, and one in Leadville, Colorado. We had emulated as much as we could, that he researched online, or from videos, people had recorded. This leads to the first point, and that is not rushing into anything haphazardly. Fitness is crucial in many aspects, and this event was nothing different. We had commenced and finished The Picnic unsupported, meaning there was no crew to help us during the “race,” and all we had was each other during the race.
We carried everything on our backs or bikes, and the communication between us was critical to ensure we did this as safely as we could. We trained and prepared for as many variables as we could with what we could find via open-source research. My race partner was even more methodical than I was by researching everything down to specific beach sites we would swim to and how all the nitty-gritty stuff most, or at least myself, hardly think about. He was like a mad scientist calculating the smallest details by committing to memory the minuscule things that are paramount to daunting tasks.
Planning and prior preparation were some of the best things that led to the overall success of a day-long expedition that spanned the road, water, and mountains where most things could go wrong. When planning out anything, run mini-events or rehearsals, test those supplements before anything to ensure its effectiveness, and ensure your training is going as planned. Finally, talk to each other during this period and see where the headspace is of your partner and make sure that all parties involved are in it for the right reasons, or who is bringing the power gels.
The day we started The Picnic, we had plenty of miles under our tires, feet, and in the water, so nerves were at a low level. We met at the Antlers Arch at the prescribed time we agreed on, and it was early. To be exact, it was a little past two in the morning since we wanted to complete the swim before sunrise because we wanted the hike to be started sooner than later. On the departure, we could see house parties still in their infant stages, or people still waiting on a ride outside of the local bars, both of which looked more enjoyable than the 22-mile bike ride ahead of us this morning.
The bike ride was to be as expected for many of the readers who have done any endurance events, and we were very fortunate our morning to encounter clear skies and a small lightning storm off in the distance that had zero impacts on our day. By the time we had reached Jenny Lake, there appeared to be nothing that would change our continuing with the event as planned. This was when we began to get the wetsuits ready and ensuring our dry/drag bags were up for the next challenge.
As is custom for me, the day and night before any major event, I layout and inspect the items that I will need the next day. Clearly, like most events with the feet involved, I ensured my socks were ready and had its matching pair. Maybe because I had done so many events prior, I must have glanced over the socks, or perhaps as I was pulling out my wetsuit, I dropped one. However, long story short, I had a minor emotional meltdown in front of my race companion, and vocally, but he had a good laugh at this. I could go on about the importance of socks and my experience with races, and competitions, or the varying types I use for whatever it is that I’m doing, but I believe I conveyed the importance of what this did to me. Instead, I zipped up my suit, spit in my goggles, and plunged into the cold water staring at a star that I was told would lead me to the beach site where we would link up after the swim.
The swim was slower than usual on my end, and I’m no Michael Phelps, but we reached the other shore a little after six in the morning. There my buddy asked if he could borrow a jacket for a while, which is when I looked over at his dry bag that did not live up to its name. Most, if not all, of his belongings, were soaked or had a resemblance of moisture, and it was cold this morning. Instead of having a temper tantrum about one of the multiple pairs of socks turning up missing, he accepted his fate. His attitude, as he knew before the long hike was contagious, and instead of having a meltdown like the sock incident on the other side of the lake. However, his stoic approach set the stage for what was to come in the coming hours as we slogged up the towering mountain.
When life throws curve balls at us, as it inevitably does, the actions and emotions demonstrated will be what defines us. Here we can see what happened when socks go up missing or when your entire bag becomes waterlogged; the reaction speaks louder than anything else. Moreover, having seen this reaction has now led me not to become overly invested in a simple accident, and ultimately, I try and emulate his actions more in my every day. So do not let your socks ruin your day!
The hike up was as enjoyable for anybody who enjoys this style of stuff, and I highly recommend some of the freshwater springs to refill your canteens. On our way up to the top, we disagreed on a matter that is to be expected when heart rates are elevated, and caloric intake and exhaustion are not balancing out. Ultimately, we made it to the top and experienced the most pristine views overlooking Wyoming. However, one thing to note: there are a few dicey portions when climbing to the top that should be heavily considered for any novice climbers. My race partner and I had taken these events very cautiously and not carelessly.
View from the top before descending.
On the descent, and a little around noon, I could see that my friend for 12 years was a bit distant. The minor discrepancy between us was on his mind, which we discussed and resolved in about an hour of back and forth bantering. In this case, all we had was each other and a friendship built over a decade. We were close friends and done a lot in our younger years, so disagreement is to be expected. How it is resolved should be constructive and not just an emotionally fueled fight. Alternatively, have ways to move forward and have a reason to why issues are relevant and understand their standings and not standby waiting for you just to get in your counterargument.
Friends, significant others, business partners, and even spouses are going to have disputes and fights over small things but listening and understanding where the other person is coming from is key to finding middle ground. Also, by confronting the issues head-on and not dancing around the subject, tactfully, can expedite a resolution. This was easier for him and knew after this event, our paths would come to a fork in the road again, and a conclusion would be needed sooner than later. Thankfully, this issue was resolved before our second swim took place, so before starting our next event, we settled our problems in one task before tackling our next.
The second swim, and especially donning the wet suit, is as daunting as it may appear. Feeling cold, tired by now, lungs heaving and muscles sore and ready for all of this to be done with by now. All I can think about is a post-race beverage and being with my family still waiting on us in town, but obviously, quitting is not going to be happening anytime shortly. The swim surprisingly was completed a little faster since we probably wanted out of the water, and the feelings were mutually shared upon by now. After that, we finally threw on our dry clothes and began peddling the 22-miles back to the Antlers Arch, and this time we could enjoy the downward slope back to town.
As we rode back, we enjoyed a sunset over the mountain range with the towering silhouettes staring back at us. There I remembered back to the voyage we started around four months prior, and the path we took to be right there. This leads me to the final lesson learned, and (in my opinion) topping the list, which is: enjoy the small things, but more importantly, the journey along the way is just as important. By having this expedition under my belt like many others before and after, I see the importance of maintaining those friendships along the way. Also, whatever one’s goals are ranging from college, joining the military, starting a company from nothing, or insert goal here, most tasks require proper planning, resiliency, conflict resolution, and enjoying yourself and friends along the way.
Having that proper mindset before getting into something that may appear to be like an intimidating mountain in life’s way, but ultimately, it’s only a picnic.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on July 1, 2020
R.W. Trask was born in the Pacific Northwest, but due to his father’s profession in the military, he lived in many different places around the world as a kid. Following his father’s footsteps, he has served in a broad array of jobs in the military, most notably in the Special Operations realm. Besides being a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, he also enjoys competitions ranging from ultras, shooting, and his lifelong goal of competing in the Best Ranger Competition. He currently holds a Bachelor’s from Norwich University with plans to pursue higher education in the future.