The Teton Triathlon
Gonzales bikes, swims and climbs to top of Grand Teton, ‘twirls’ then returns.
By Miller N. Resor, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
August 8, 2012
In a mountain town like Jackson, athletes have to use their imaginations to set new boundaries.
Two weeks ago David Gonzales, the founder and director of TreeFight, posted his most recent adventure on TheSnaz.org, a mountain culture blog he began in 2006.
Gonzales’ plan was to bike from his front door to the east end of Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. At Jenny Lake, he would put on a wet suit and swim to the other side. From the Jenny Lake boat docks, he would lace up his shoes and climb the Grand Teton.
When he reached the top, he would come down the way he had come up.
The bike leg is 21.3 miles one way, the swim 1.3 miles and the climb 11 miles. Round trip, the journey adds up to more than 67 miles.
Gonzales said the triathlon was as much about finding a way to accomplish it as actually doing it.
“I’ve had this goal for a couple of years,” he said. “It’s a logistical puzzle. That’s what I think I enjoy about it.”
It took him three attempts to complete the expedition. The second time he tried, on July 4, he did four of the journey’s six sections, forgoing the return swim and bike legs.
Although Gonzales did not complete the full circuit on his first two tries, the earlier trips were not about success or failure, Gonzales said. Instead, they were part of the process of learning what each leg would require and part of the fun of working towards a goal.
Gonzales also saw each trip as an opportunity to immerse himself in three different Teton micro-environments.
On his third attempt, on July 29, he rode out of Jackson in the pre-dawn with only the stars and moon lighting the Tetons and the sagebrush flats along the North Highway 89 bike path.
“The Milky Way was a gigantic arch in the sky, and there must have been a meteor shower, because shooting stars were flying everywhere, and off in the distance over the Winds, thunder and lightning was popping and flashing,” he said. “It was absolutely magical to ride beneath the Tetons and a full moon.”
When he reached Jenny Lake, the water was pristine, like “powder.” His body cut through the glassy water effortlessly.
One of the things that he realized in the process of completing his journey was that the triathlon alternated perfectly between legs and arms. Biking used his legs, swimming his arms, hiking his legs and climbing his arms.
As the founder and director of TreeFight, Gonzales has dedicated himself to protecting, replanting and monitoring whitebark pine.
Climbing the switchbacks to the meadows in Garnet Canyon, he revelled at seeing the trees that in many places have been wiped out by bark beetles. On his climb up the Grand, he relished the beautiful golden granite that he gripped as he reached for the summit.
When he reached the top, he twirled around then came back down. Because of the pirouette, Gonzales debated calling the trip the “Teton Twirl.” Eventually, he settled on “The Teton Triathlon” as the name for the multifaceted excursion.
The hardest part came as he approached the Lupin Meadows trailhead after his descent from the Grand. He would normally have been close to his car and the end of his route, but he still had two miles of hiking to go, plus a swim across the lake and a bike ride home.
Gonzales completed the trip in about 20 hours. He said it could definitely be done faster, but speed was not the point. He also realized after he had completed the trip that it was not as difficult as he had imagined. Eventually, he would like to do it completely unassisted.
To carry his shoes and clothes across the lake, he received aquatic support in the morning and in the evening.
“The cool thing is that it all worked,” Gonzales said. “I think that is the accomplishment.”
He calls this sort of trip “human-powered alpi-naut-ineering.”
“Now that we have bike paths to the very base of the mountains, there are a lot of opportunities to combine some of our favorite Jackson activities,” he said. “I really enjoyed the planning, strategizing and logistics that went into attaining this goal.”