Thursday, February 24, 2011

Getting Healthy in Yellowstone

Arriving in Yellowstone back in August, I was excited that I would no longer have to drive to work. My previous park position did not have park housing and although my commute was only four miles, it was four miles that I almost resented. Those four miles travelled over a highway, passed four gas stations, one grocery store and a pharmacy. It was not the scenic and serene commute I had become accostumed to. After being a seasonal park ranger for many years I had quietly settled into the norm of living in park housing and only having to walk ¼ mile through the woods to get to the office.
On the first day of heading to my new Yellowstone office I was excited to put my new bike to good use! I rolled the shiny white and blue cruiser out of the garage, jumped on, and headed down the road. I was elated as the wind whipped me in the face and within minutes I arrived at the Visitor Center. Soon lunchtime had arrived, and one perk of living so close to home is you get to go home for lunch. I climbed on my bike and started on my way. Within seconds I discovered that the fabulous ride to work was primarily due to the fact that the road has a slight declination from my house to the Visitor Center. Quite rapidly my breath became laborious and the muscles in my legs tightened up and ached. I looked at the road ahead of me and could see the stop sign, which heads to housing, looming in the distance.
“I only need to make it to the stop sign, and then I’ll take a break”, I told myself.
Staggering to the top of the hill, my handle bars wiggled back and forth as the last of my energy had been stripped. Coming to a stop, I took a few minutes to regain my composure, regulate my breathing and force myself to believe that I could make it home.   Now I know this sounds dramatic, but that is exactly what happens when one hasn’t worked out in a while, suffers from respiratory allergies, followed by moving from 3000ft elevation to 8000ft.
I remembered this event yesterday morning while watching the snow falling from the sky, adding another layer to the 6 inches we had just received overnight. It was only 10am, and I had already snowshoed the West Thumb Geyser Basin, shoveled the warming hut walkway, followed by making three runs to the wood storage area. It occurred to me that after 6 months of being in Yellowstone I have never felt healthier!  I have hiked, biked, walked, skied or snowshoed at 8000 ft or higher every day since I moved here.  My constant fitness regime is purely unplanned and unmonitored- it is simply a lifestyle. It’s yet another one of those perks of being a Park Ranger in Yellowstone National Park.
Upon moving here I had assumed that winter would be the time of year when I gained a few unneeded pounds and lost some of my endurance abilities. I envisioned multiple days cuddled on the couch eating fresh made brownies whilst the snow and cold frightened me from even stepping outside. But oh, how wrong I have been! The truth is, my passion for the outdoors has me outside everyday experiencing the park via skies, snowshoes and snowmobiles while on the job and on my personal time. Aside from being physically active, thereis this added bonus of burning a ton of calories just by trying to stay warm! And so this winter I find myself a prime physical condition. 
Some of my friends had warned me that my food consumption would probably sky rocket, and boy, were they right! I eat MAN sized portions of food three times a day and NEVER say no to dessert, yet I have still managed to lose about 5 pounds this winter. (That may not seem like a lot, but if you know me, then you know I’m pretty small already!)  Recently, while at training in DC my peers and teachers were quite astonished at the amount of food I could consume.  “Where do you put it”, they would say, some of them seemingly almost disturbed at my eating abilities. I tried as best I could to explain what winter is like in Yellowstone but I think some of them still just thought I was a glutton!
   Luckily, despite my excessive eating habits my cupboards remain quite well stocked. For the most part Shane and I did quite a good job at assessing how much food we would need to buy for the winter. We have ventured to town a few times, primarily for ski trips, and along the way purchased a few food items. However, these items have been strictly fresh produce such as milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables. After re-evaluating our cupboards last night I can to three final conclusions:
1-      I need to bake more bread and cookies!
2-      There is really nothing to do with cornmeal except make corn bread!
3-      The powdered buttermilk that I bought, but wasn't really sure why... well it has SURE come in handy!
The one staple item which I was completely unprepared to deal with was Cuban coffee, which incidentally cannot be found ANYWHERE in Montana or Wyoming.  Thankfully, my very understanding mom mailed us a large flat rate box filled with Caf√© Bustelo! Thanks mom!
But, the true test of my new found "prime physical condition" will occur this weekend, as I head out on a backcountry ski trip to Upper Berry Cabin in Grand Teton National Park. The trip will entail a 22 mile round trip excursion with a 10 pound backpack, of which at least 6 pounds is food and water! If I successfully make it through this weekend with relative ease then my next test will be to see what happens in the spring. Will my body understand that I no longer need to consume so much food? Or will I gain 20 pounds due to excessive brownie and ice cream eating?! And how will that bike ride to the visitor center feel after all this activity and acclimatization? Hmmm...questions to ponder, stay tuned…


  1. There is really nothing to do with cornmeal except make corn bread!

    Ooh, gosh. Obviously, you're not a southern girl! :p It makes great batter for a variety of fried foods (chicken, corndogs, etc.).

    I'm very much enjoying reading your blog. You write well and it's nice to see a ranger from inside Wonderland keeping an online journal. Keep up the good work. ;-)

  2. haha! I was wondering what people would think of that comment about cornmeal...I was kinda thinking I would check me email to find 10 different cornmeal recipes! ;-)

    Thanks for reading my blog!