As the pandemic restrictions were easing and we were reveling in our new-found freedom of being fully-vaccinated, we began to look for races in our ten remaining quest states. We had become whizzes at scanning the Running in the USA website to locate races in our target states. In the past, we had relished the planning and the process of piecing together the puzzle of flights, rental cars, races, and accommodations that running in a distant state entails (at least for us). But when I finally sat down to begin this process after almost two years at home, I literally couldn’t remember where to begin.
After some false starts, when our original plans were thwarted because apparently everybody else wanted to go to Montana this summer, we devised an itinerary that would bring us to Wyoming and Colorado.
Finally, we were on the road again. As we drove through hours of southern Wyoming’s rocky, tree-less landscape, Mike and I expected to see a band of cowboys rounding a butte, bandanas up and guns out, just as they had in our childhood western TV shows. Alas, no such drama entertained us as we traveled hour after hour through a barren landscape.
But as we drove north to Sheridan, the Big Horn Mountains emerged from the flat, rocky landscape, offering a welcome burst of greenery and height. Sheridan is a bustling town with generic chain stores on the outskirts but a charming downtown filled with a famous saddlery, fly-fishing outfitters, restaurants, bars, breweries, coffeeshops and more. It was “Rodeo Week” and that was evident everywhere you looked.
We had arrived in Sheridan the day before our race so we had some time to wander around the town and get prepared for attending the rodeo that night. It was clear that the town had become immersed in everything rodeo. When we had lunch at the Cowboy Cafe, a trio of boys discussed their earlier rides at the rodeo. When they got up to leave they donned their cowboy hats and strolled by with belt buckles the size of saucers.
We laughed at this sign at the Bison Union Coffee Company.
After I picked up a pink Sheridan Rodeo t-shirt to wear to “Pink Night” at the rodeo we drove to the fairgrounds at the edge of town.
The stands were packed with people wearing pink and cowboy hats-often on the same person. The first event of the night was the wildly popular Indian Relay Races.
As a previous horse owner and mother of two equestrians, the level of skill and insanity that happens in this event just floored me. Each team consists of one rider, three horses, and several handlers.
The horses are led to the starting line of the fairground track. A gun goes off to signal the start of the race, the horses go crazy, an incredibly strong and fit rider grabs a handful of mane and throws himself onto the bare back of the horse and then, if they are lucky and their horse hasn’t bolted or rolled over them, they shoot around the track.
They careen back into the starting area where they fling themselves off the first horse and boing onto the back of the second horse.
This sequence continues for three rounds, with at least three teams competing at once. It was crazy, dangerous, terrifying and the most crowd-pleasing event of the night.
The entertainment continued with more routine but still captivating bronco riding, calf roping, and bull riding.
And sometimes I guess it’s not as tough as it looks…
The next morning we had a short walk from our adorable Airbnb to the race. The pancake breakfast associated with Rodeo Week was in full swing when we got to Main Street but there was no sign of the race. We’re used to seeing groups of runners, lines of porta- potties, and an easily identifiable tent to pick up your number. Nothing. We finally had to go into a building to ask where the packet pickup was. They mentioned some landmark in bit of an “Isn’t this obvious” tone. We wandered along Main Street and finally had to ask a group of runners where to go. They directed us inside a store to one of the most well-hidden spots to pick up our numbers that we have encountered.
But shortly after we were lined up with several hundred other runners for the first time in almost two years! It felt wonderful! The course wound along some city streets, through a scenic park, and then eventually back to Main Street. Crossing the finish line of the Sneakers and Spurs 5K in Sheridan, Wyoming felt extra amazing. After almost two years of pandemic-imposed lack of travel, compounded by a pesky knee issue, crossing the finish line of the Sneakers and Spurs 5K in Sheridan, Wyoming felt extra amazing.
We celebrated by having our photo taken in front of the famous Mint Bar. There was talk of continuing our celebration inside the bar but it was only 9:30 so we postponed that plan.
After a quick shower we headed back to Main Street for the Rodeo parade. It appeared to be a highlight of the Rodeo week because the sidewalks had been lined with chairs since at least the day before.
The parade was entertaining but we were starving (no after-race refreshments) so we plotted a path to our chosen coffee shop that would avoid the parade. I was amused by these signs which were posted frequently along our route.
This coffee shop had caught my eye as we ran past during the race so when it ended up being the destination Mike had chosen on Yelp, I was thrilled.
It was perfect! A few steps through the door and we had already chosen a savory pasty and ordered coffee. The cozy rooms offered a number of nooks to enjoy our breakfast. Our only regret is that this charming spot is 2208 miles away from our home in Maine. (I just Googled it.)
Having checked out of our Airbnb but with several hours to fill, we took a leisurely drive south toward Story, Wyoming where our next Airbnb was located. We meandered through the rural back roads of Big Horn, Wyoming past verdant ranches and pastures of horses, all with a backdrop of the Big Horn Mountains. We had read about the Brinton Museum and knew they served lunch so when signs popped up directing us down a narrow, wooded driveway, it seemed like the perfect way to spend a few hours.
All of our time in Wyoming was stunningly hot. So when we opened the museum doors and were hit with a blast of air conditioning, we knew we had come to the right place. Truly, we would have been content to just stand there but we soon found that this museum is packed with fascinating artwork, Native American relics, and more. We started our visit with lunch at the Brinton Bistro which couldn’t have been more perfect. The views were gorgeous and the food was delightful.
Entrance to the museum in 2021 is free thanks to a donation from a local bank, but we would have gladly forked over a sizeable admission fee. We left having been immersed in fascinating Native American culture and history and expansive galleries filled with a myriad of art.
Big Horn Mountains
The next morning we set off early for the Bighorn National Forest. We chose the southern route that travels from Buffalo to Ten Sleep.
We were excited to see snow-capped mountains in the distance.
While we found the drive scenic, we hadn’t encountered the stunning, dramatic landscape we were craving. We emerged from the National Forest into road construction in Ten Sleep, a quintessential western town. Ten Sleep was an Indian rest stop which was “ten sleeps” from Fort Laramie, Yellowstone Park, and the Indian Agency at Stillwater, Montana.
Feeling a bit blah about our day’s adventure so far we decided to return to our Airbnb. Mike had requested that we find a rest stop prior to heading back through the National Forest which meant heading through construction delays. I was driving and grumpily turned around to accommodate his request. Unexpectedly this vision appeared on the side of the road and suddenly our day was back on track.
The Ten Sleep Brewing Company was apparently just what we had been looking for. This unexpected oasis offers stellar beer, camping, and entertainment. We nabbed two beers and settled in with our picnic lunch for a much appreciated change in our itinerary.
The next day we drove through the northern route of the Big Horn Mountains and found the scenery much more spectacular.
Mike had wanted to do some fly fishing and there were tons of spots along the route. We pulled into one parking lot and an angler came out of the bushes and asked if we had seen the moose. We said we hadn’t. He told us there had been a big one close to him so he had moved out away from the water. As we walked along the stream to find a good spot for fishing we were hoping it would pop up. But no luck. We crossed the road where there seemed to be better access to the stream and Mike settled in for some fishing while I entertained myself photographing Mike and wildflowers.
The bugs were horrendous and the fish weren’t biting so we packed up to head up to Observation Point. Just before we got into our car another fisherman emerged from across the road where we had been and asked us if we’d seen the moose. No, actually we hadn’t. After he reported how spectacular the fishing had been at the spot he had chosen, just down stream from where Mike had been, we parted ways, with our eyes peeled for the moose.
As we were enjoying the view at Observation Point, a couple walked over to us and asked if we’d seen the moose back there. “No!”, we replied again, wondering how everyone else seemed to be seeing this moose. Then they looked at the Florida license plate on our Chevy Malibu rental car and asked if we were from Florida. I instantly blurted out, probably too emphatically, “No! We’re from Maine. This is a rental car and this was definitely not the vibe we were going for while we drove through Wyoming.” Then I asked, “Where are you from?” “Florida,” they responded. Oh brother. They graciously laughed it off which was fortunate because we continued to encounter them at various stops along the road.
Our next stop was the Medicine Wheel, a Native American sacred site. To reach it we drove up a steep, winding dirt road to a parking lot and from there walked about a mile up a wide, gravel path. It sits high up on a mountain at more than 9600 feet.
It was peaceful walking around the site, gazing at the offerings that had been left. The combination of the stunning mountaintop location and the spiritual importance of the Medicine Wheel made this a visit that we truly savored.
The national forest map we had picked up in Sheridan was a good investment. It directed us to a lovely picnic spot beside an easily accessible, picturesque stream. Mike spent time casting and I read “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” and took more photos. It was lovely.
We never did see the moose but we left feeling that we had soaked up some of the grandeur and tranquility of the Big Horn Mountains.
Race: Sneakers and Spurs 5K
Quest Race #: 41
Date Run: July 16, 2021
The Bottom Line: After having been home for months, getting back out into the world and checking another state off of our quest list felt amazing. As we have found with so many of our quest races, traveling to a new place broadens our horizons literally and figuratively. We can’t wait to keep going.