Vacationing Experientially

Training for a marathon requires a 4-5 month commitment of early morning runs in all weather conditions, careful eating, cross training, and lots of rest.  When our family vacation falls in the middle of a training season, I have to figure out ways to fit in my training.

Last week we were on vacation with my friend Patsy in Montana riding horses and herding cows on a gorgeous 6,000 acre ranch – Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge.  There are not a lot of places to run there.  We were up in the mountains (elevation of over 5,000 feet versus 400 feet where I live) so altitude was a challenge.  This is grizzly bear country so I would have to run with bear spray.  That’s extra weight I don’t need to carry when I run.  I talked to my coach Leanne, an easy-going Aussie triathlete who helped get me running again following my diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis (TM) back in 2011.  She planned a week of strength and core training since I would not be able to run.  Leanne’s attitude kept me from stressing out about missing a week of running and let me sit back and enjoy the ride (horseback ride in this case).

I didn't get to run in Montana but I did stop in here for some new running clothes.

I didn’t get to run in Montana but I did stop in here for some new running clothes.

Herding cattle on a ranch comes under the category of an experiential vacation where you get hands-on experience being a cowboy.  As Boyd Farrow wrote in a recent article for United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine, we traded “our days out of the office for an internship somewhere else.”  Rather than sit back and relax like a typical vacation, we were up with the sun, dressed in our jeans and cowboy hats, to help with the daily chores of managing 600-head of cattle.

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This was the second year that we stayed at Hubbard’s.  Our first year we spent learning the ropes – rounding up stray cattle, moving herds from one pasture to another, and splitting up a herd.  Call it Cowboy 101.  When we returned this year, we were experienced and ready to do more work.  We were a bit disappointed our first day when we moved a measly 6 cows that had gotten separated from the herd.  At dinner that night, we heard another couple talk about moving 60 cattle that day so we complained we wanted more work.  More work on vacation sounds a bit nutty.

Wraymon on his horse, Patch

Wraymon in the Gallatin National Forest

On the second day Wraymon, the wrangler who trained us last year, told us to start moving a herd to another pasture while he went higher up the mountain to get some stragglers.  We remembered all the techniques to use to push a herd along, through trees and thick brush, while watching for cows that were hiding or wandering off.  Everything went smoothly and I can say there was no cow left behind on our watch.  We moved 163 cattle and refreshed our horses by walking them up a creek.  It was just like the Westerns we watched on television as kids.

Walking through the creek to cool off the horses

Walking through the creek to cool off the horses

We had a full-day ride (7 hours) up into Gallatin National Forest which was part cattle work and part sightseeing.  It was exciting to  ride through a forest that is only accessible by foot or horseback.  We were treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains plus moved cattle that had gotten on the wrong side of the fence.   According to Patsy’s Fitbit, we covered over 13.5 miles on that ride.  It seems odd to me that a Fitbit would capture steps while on horseback.  I searched the Internet about Fitbits and horseback riding.  From what I found, the Fitbit probably captured the horse’s movement.  Our horses covered a lot of ground that day.

One day there were cows that had gotten out on the county road.  Rather than take the horses out to herd two cows, we herded them back into the pasture on foot.  We pretended we had coconuts just like the knights in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

Although it seems like I didn’t get much of a workout riding a horse, I did.  Riding horses works different muscles.  I was working my legs, squeezing them to signal to my horse and maintain my seat when we jogged and loped.  To maintain my balance on the horse, I worked my core.  It is an intense workout – different than what I would get running but still beneficial.  It was like one week of cross training.  Every night we did a full-body stretch which helped minimize sore muscles, especially my abductors.  Plus I did the core and strength training routines Leanne had outlined in my training plan for the week.

I can tell when I have had a great vacation because re-entry into normal life back home is very difficult after a great vacation.  I have been struggling the last few days to get back into my normal routine.  I missed a long run and it keeps getting pushed out, waiting for me to recover.  I know I will get it in eventually.   The other day we drove past a field of Black Angus.  My husband and I looked at each other.  We felt like hopping on horses and doing some herding.  We’ll have to wait until we can get back to Hubbard’s.

The view from the back of our lodge at Hubbard's.

The view from the back of our lodge at Hubbard’s.

Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge is an Orvis flyfishing and horseback riding lodge on the north border of Yellowstone National Park.  The best testament to the quality of Hubbard’s is the number of repeat guests.  The scenery is incredible – this is what they mean when they say “million dollar views.”  The staff is extremely attentive and friendly.  Last year I wanted sarsaparilla but it wasn’t something that they kept on hand.  This year they made sure to stock up for me and I got to enjoy sarsaparilla floats for dessert.  If you have a cowboy adventure or fly-fishing on your bucket list, make your way to Hubbard’s.  They will give you an experience you will never forget.

In case you missed it last week, Lily Trotters launched their Kickstarter campaign.  Early birds get the best deals on the best and cutest compression socks.  I can’t wait to get more pairs.  Don’t miss out!