Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Prairie

At first all I saw was a black dot. But soon the dot got bigger for the dot was getting closer. I squinted. My eyes teared as the wind whipped my face. I squinted again. It was a man. A runner. I was surprised to see someone else out here. Was he coming towards me or was I catching him? In a few minutes our paths would cross.

“Excuse me” I shouted, “How many miles do these trails go?”

“They go for miles” he answered, “about 30 miles”.

I fired off more questions. “What is this pace called, how high up are we?”

Looking down at his Garmin he stated “we’re at 7,700ft” and then paused, “They call this place, ‘The Prairie’”.

I arrived in Laramie, WY earlier in the day. The landscape is breathtaking. Along the drive here I saw herds of buffalo and antelope grazing in the fields along the highway. Prairie Dogs stood at alert outside their homes and other creatures appeared, disappeared then reappeared as the wind moved the waves of grass around them.

I headed out for a run as soon as I arrived in town. I was anxious to feel something other than snow under my feet. It was windy and it was cold. Without the wind-chill, the temperature was about 18 degrees. Looking more like a ninja than a runner, I donned my black windbreaker, running pants and hat then put on sunglasses. At least it was sunny. Before me lay a vast barren landscape filled with shrub bushes, small trees and ankle deep grass. Aside from some rolling flats, the terrain sloped upwards. Old dirt roads and old barb wire fences crisscrossed the landscape. I ventured down these roads and ran up along the steppe. At times the roads disappeared…only to reappear later further down the way. No matter, I could simply run straight through the open, undulating fields and did just that. Sometimes the surface was nothing more than hard rock. It resembled a moonscape; almost like badlands. Snow and ice drifts accumulated in some of the dips. I pushed ahead and would stop every 5 minutes or so to simply look around. Behind me the town of Laramie shrank and in front of me all I could see was endless miles of prairie. My eyes scanned hundreds of acres at once looking for life. Nothing. (Think the hunting scene in the beginning of No Country for Old Men). I continued forward and occasionally turned around to see how I would get back and which direction I would head. I had a general sense of direction, but no idea on the fastest, most efficient way to get there. I struggled through ankle deep snow during a final surge up a hill and then decided to turn around. Laramie was now a small speck, some 5 miles away. I could see a smokestack and a clump of buildings that resembled a small city. Behind the city lay more prairie and beyond the prairie a snow capped mountain range. All was quiet.

I turned around and began to head back to the hotel. Running down was much easier; breathing was more controlled and my pace had quickened. The wind was now in my face, but I had worked up a good sweat and welcomed something cool. I started to move. A couple miles later I saw the runner. After gathering intel on the area and exchanging pleasantries, we went our separate ways. I wish I had met up with him earlier as I would have liked to run his route rather than straight out and back through the high plains. I am sure there are some great loops, if you know where to go. The “Prairie Run” was one of the best runs I’ve ever done. It was certainly one of the most scenic and most remembered, likely because I’ve never run through anything like this before and would welcome the chance to do it again.

After the run I hiked around Vedauwoo, a rock climber’s paradise. I climbed up close to the top of the formation hugging the edge. Once there, I meandered around to the other side. Here I saw a giant valley of grass between two long narrow ranges. The sun was setting soon and the color of goldenrod filled the canyon below. It all went on for miles.

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