At least once more before it snows... That was my mantra as I drove the 7 miles from Laramie to the Happy Jack Rec Area. I had planned this run all week but it became all that much more urgent when I woke up this morning to a light covering of snow on the ground and a forecast for more tonight.
I arrived at Happy Jack Trailhead and was surprised to find it ten degrees colder and much, much windier than in town. That is a lesson I should be used to by now. I began my run on the fairly tame Happy Jack Highway. As busy as the name seems, there wasn't another human soul to be seen. My objective for the day was to conquer a trail infamously known as "Death Crotch". The handmade wooden sign appeared after 3 miles of running. I glanced up, unable to see the top of the mountain I was about to tackle through the mist. It reminded me of the mythical Mt. Olympus, with it's peak surrounded by clouds to house Zeus and co. As I began the ascent, I kept thinking that it wasn't as bad as last time. However, last time was months ago. Since then, my fitness had improved drastically and I made sure to not make the same mistakes as last time. In my last adventure up this hill I had started at a different trailhead and proceeded to hammer the 6 miles downhill to the base of Death Crotch. This time wouldn't be the same.
My second thought as I worked my way up the trail was, "what's that noise?!" I was most assured that it was only a mountain biker but I ran up the trail a bit to get a better angle, just to be safe. What I saw rustling around in some bushes was astounding. It was a full grown male Elk! Prior to this experience, I had seen captive Elk from afar. This one, however, was not tame, captive, and certainly not afar. It was huge. You can read about how big an animal is all you want but until you meet one in the wild, you will never truly realize what that means. The large mammal caught site of me and sauntered off into the valley. I decided to continue on up the trail. It wasn't until after he was out of site that I realized how fast my heart was beating. Running Death Crotch can sure make your heart race but seeing an Elk while doing that was nearly enough to give me a heart attack.
After my heart rate returned to normal, or as normal as it could be going up a steep hill, I went back to focusing on the task at hand. Sure, it was hard, but not nearly as hard as the last time I had done this run. This time I was even able to enjoy some of the views along the way. Miles away, a truck appeared to be the size of a Hot Wheels car as it cruised on Happy Jack Road. Higher and higher I went, until the cloud completely surrounded me.
I ran along Summit Trail for awhile before hopping onto my favorite trail at Happy Jack, the Haunted Forest Trail. Running down Haunted Forest is technical and tricky on a good day but day was especially difficult. The mist made it hard to see very far in front of you and the night's snow turned the dirt surface into a slick mud. Until this day, I was unsure of why the Haunted Forest was given that name but today, it was revealed to me. The huge white aspen and birch trees loomed like ghosts in the distance and the whole trail had a very mystical feel to it. I made it safely down the technical part of the trail and the rest of the run was enjoyable but rather uneventful.
When I came back near the trail head, I simply didn't want to stop running. The temperature was great and now, looking out my window as it snows harder and harder, I am glad that I kept running. It may be the last time I am out there this year without some kind of apparatus strapped to my feet.