Big Bend is the least visited of our national parks. In 2016, it saw just 388,290 visitors, compared to the 11,312,786 who went to the most visited, Great Smoky Mountains. This is not a surprise, given its location in an almost-forgotten corner of Texas, an 8.5 hour drive from Dallas, if you speed and don’t stop to eat or gas up. The drive down is a wasteland of oil fields and abandoned towns. But don’t be deterred; the park is worth the effort it takes to get there.
What to do when you get there? You can stay in the lodge and hope to see a javelina. You can cross to Mexico, legally via the Boquillas entrance or illegally by wading across the Rio Grande. But mostly, you go to Big Bend to hike. My first day, I did a four-mile hike in the morning up the Lost Mine trail and a five-mile hike in the afternoon to the Window. The second day I did a 15 mile hike up to Emory Peak, down around the South Rim, and back to the Chisos Basin via the Laguna Meadows trail. The last morning was only a quick two-mile (if that) walk to the end of Santa Elena Canyon and back. I would have loved to spend more time lying on the banks of the Rio Grande, soaking up the sunshine before heading back to the 20-degree Boulder weather, but that 8.5 hour drive lie ahead.
Let’s go back to the 15 mile hike. It included a 4,000 total elevation gain (starting at around 5,400 feet with various ups and downs), a free climb 50 feet to the top of Emory, and a 30 minute lunch break. All in, it was a seven-hour adventure. Last summer, I spent 8.5 hours summitting four 14ers in one go, the DeCaLiBron. The mileage was half my Big Bend hike, but the trek began in the thin 12,000 foot air. Near the peaks, I was forced to follow the 50/50 rule. Take 50 steps, stop for 50 seconds. The deficit of oxygen is that strong.
So, I know I’ve got some power in my legs. Yet the half marathon I have coming up at the end of April boggles my mind. How on earth am I going to run 13.1 miles? I’m going to run, that’s for sure. No walking for me. But man that’s a long way to keep my body in swift motion. I know it’s nothing compared to whole marathons and triathlons and Ironman competitions. Living in Boulder among super athletes, my point of comparison is skewed. But it’s a big deal to me.
I’m telling everyone I’m going to do it in under two hours because then at least I’ll train. I might not be successful, and that’s OK, but setting the expectation among people who know me motivates me to try. This will be my one and only attempt, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to give it my best. And then I can be done with it and look forward to a summer of lung-squelching 14ers at a slow, slow pace.