The Big Sky Half Marathon just outside Ennis, Montana is one hell of a crazy race starting at the top of the Gravelly Range mountains and finishing just as you cross the Madison River. Gorgeous, Crazy, a “doozy”, rough, are all good words to describe this race. You know its going to be a unique experience when you use GPS coordinates to find the start line. And, this race would NOT have been possible if it had not been for Sam Korsmoe, the race director, and he allowing me to run this race virtually. Thanks Sam!
The Three n’ Three Challenge
My wife is awesome. She is so supportive of my life goal to run a half in all 50 states and this trip is a prime example of that support. This “challenge” is an 11 day trip, with 2,940 miles of driving, covering seven states and will allow us to visit three national parks and also for me to run three half marathons in three new states. The three new states are Wyoming, Montana and Idaho in that order and you can find the write-ups on all three listed below.
- Race #1: Wyoming – Run With The Horses Half Marathon – A Wisp of Doubt
- Race #2: Montana – Big Sky Half Marathon – Da’ Bears Spray (This One!)
- Race #3: Idaho – Mesa Falls Half Marathon – First Place?
Grand Teton National Park
It is official. This is the most beautiful park I’ve ever been to.
As we were driving in, we drove through the little town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I have heard stories about it and I know that superstar athletes like Travis Rice call this town home. But, I wasn’t prepared for how awesome it was. Its a fairly good sized little mountain town and as we drove through, even in the middle of a pandemic, it was hustling and bustling.
The mountains here are magnificent and majestic. I’ve seen a lot of mountains in my life and on this trip alone I saw some of the most iconic mountains in the western half of the United States. These mountains, streams and lakes are absolutely unbelievable. Just check out a few of the pictures below.
One of our favorite moments was wading to the very middle of String Lake. It is very shallow and the water is relatively warm considering all this water comes from melted snow. We spent an hour or so splashing around in the lake, swimming and then we hiked the mile or so back to the car. Jenny Lake was another amazing adventure but our hike back to the car was cut short by a Moose in the middle of the trail.
Big Sky & The Private Road
I had never heard of Big Sky Resort in Montana prior to this trip. But, the drive to Big Sky was one to remember. Much of the drive was right along the Gallatin River as it wandered down the canyon. And, I mean it seemed to go on forever, which is fine by me but sightseeing while driving is usually not a great idea. Amy nudged me several times to “keep my eyes on the road”.
The resort is small but awesome. When we pulled in I was worried we’d be staying right there in the lodge area but Amy hooked it up. We ended up in a small cabin way up on a hill with one HECK of a view (and a hot tub!). This trip had no shortage of amazing places to stay but this cabin topped the list for me. Last fun note, we got to take the kids “horse back riding” with an amazing guy named Rio. He was the ranch hand at the 320 Ranch and honestly I am not sure it could have been a more perfect day.
The race start is very close to the Big Sky resort. But, unfortunately there is a huge mountain range between the two spots. The good news is there is a private road that is supposedly stunningly beautiful and well maintained that cuts right through. Despite my best efforts of negotiating, I could not secure us a spot on that road. So, we had to drive all the way sound around the range and back up north to the starting point. Two or so hours later we were ready to start running.
Da’ Bear Spray & Freaking Myself Out
This whole trip was a bit stressful since this was my first real trip with small kids in Grizzly Country. We had just gotten back from Sequoia National Park and we saw five or so black bears up close and personal but they are very tame compared to Grizzlies. So, I was constantly carrying bear spray and was a bit on edge.
Sam Korsmoe had told me that this race route was a bit treacherous and there had been bear sightings a month or so earlier. I couldn’t sleep the night before the race so I was doing some research and of course, there have been several Grizzly attacks in this exact area. Fantastic.
So, as you can see from the photo that Amy took right before I began running, I was loaded up with water, Hammer Gel and of course, BEAR SPRAY. Which is just as illegal in the state of California as common sense. Fortunately for me, I didn’t see a bear. But, I did have to scoot a massive cow out of the way as I ran by. Those things are HUGE!
Quake Lake & Rethinking Things
Our drive from Big Sky to the little town of Ennis and the start of the race took us right by Quake Lake. In 1959 an earthquake in the Madison Canyon River Area, near West Yellowstone, formed Quake Lake. The earthquake created a massive landslide of about 80 million tons of rock, which stopped the flow of the Madison River in the Madison River Canyon gorge. The landslide caused 28 deaths, flooding and about $11 million in damage to the forests and highways in the area. This earthquake happened in the DEAD of night. How would you like to have been camping right below that landslide?
This is singularly the most creepy sight one could see before heading back up in to the Grizzly infested Gravelly Range. And, to top it off, the smoke from the wild fires in the area made it look like that medieval dragon themed movie set. Seriously creepy and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t rethinking things just a little bit.
The excitement of this race was getting to the race. It is exactly like Sam describes on his race sign up page.
“The Big Sky Marathon is a doozy. It starts at around 8,500 feet above sea level on the route of the Madison Marathon, and it goes, down, down, down to the town of Ennis on the banks of the Madison River.”
Very accurate description! Except for the fact that footing was tough, I had to nudge massive cows out of the way and basically consider that a Grizzly Bear was ready to devour me around every corner. Hum. Would I do this race again? You damn right I would!
Last fun note here, nobody in their right mind would be on this road unless they had to be. So, it was me, my two kids, my wife and a bunch of ranchers tending to their cows. Every one of these ranchers that passed me was SUPER supportive, giving me thumbs up, shaka’s and other words and gestures of encouragement. I was almost certain I was going to get yelled at. See you soon Big Sky, Ennis, Madison River, Gallatin River and more!