Kelly Halpin is many things, a professional endurance athlete, a gifted artist, and, quite possibly, a crazy person. No, this is not a harsh condemnation. It’s a compliment. In each of the last four years, Halpin has completed a Jackson Hole Picnic, a human-powered natural obstacle course in Grand Teton National Park, a grueling mountain triathlon. Jackson local David Gonzales created this unofficial event in 2014. There’s no time limit, no starting gun, no ticker tape, no numbers pinned to your shirt. Participants pick their day to bike from town to Jenny Lake, swim across, and summit one of the massive peaks in the Tetons. And then do it in reverse, just to do it.
Brutal, right? Not for Halpin, whose main motivation is what keeps all great adventurers chugging forward when fatigue, delirium, and self doubt set in: really good snacks. “Every time I swim across the lake I swear I’ll never do it again,” says Halpin. “But then every summer it seems to happen. I know my friends have some pretty cool ones in the works but honestly I’m not doing one again unless I’m bribed with an absurd quantity of chocolate or beer.”
Halpin celebrates every Picnic peak-out with a summit doughnut and typically chases it with handfuls of bacon, and maybe a Snickers bar, too. Pig-out sessions are important on any adventure. They’re especially important after you’ve biked 22 miles, swam 1.5 miles, run three miles to the trailhead, and climbed 6,000 vertical feet to the top of Teewinot. And that bacon chaser really helps boost energy before doing it all over again. This year Galen Knowles, Zeppelin Zeerip, and WZRD Media documented Halpin’s Picnic. A Walk In The Park highlights the good, the grueling, and the doughnuts.
What is remarkable is that in order to scout for shot locales, determine filming logistics, and capture enough imagery, Halpin guided the film crew up Teewinot two days prior to her full course attempt. For a woman whose “off days” consist of trail runs or hikes or, perhaps, throwing boulders over mountains, the pre-Picnic summit was not a big deal. It’s just what Halpin does.
“Endurance adventures are important to me because they are a means of escaping our digital world and reconnecting to nature in a very raw way,” she explains. “I like being tired, exposed, and out of my comfort zone. I like being in an environment that is real and relentless and beautiful and learning how far I can push my legs and mind.”
She has pushed herself, mind, body, and willpower, far past the edge. During her first Picnic in 2014, completing the course was an attempt to prove her abilities to herself and silence her doubters. Leg cramps, nausea, exhaustion, and detractors be damned. Once Halpin knew she could complete the challenge in less than 24 hours, she felt her internal regulator, that line we tell ourselves we can’t push past, move significantly further than she’d ever thought possible. This is what helped Halpin overcome mild hypothermia two years ago and complete the course solo after her partner dropped out due to a blackout. Halpin barfed for a considerable amount of time at the end of that Picnic. She swore she’d never do another then, too. But a little vomit can’t hold down the desire to push oneself past perceived limits. Even if it’s a lot of vomit.
The Picnic is not about getting your name in the paper or beating out a field of competitors. And it’s definitely not a-beat-your-chest-in-the-local-watering-hole accomplishment. It’s a deeply personal undertaking, a quest to answer can I do this, what am I capable of, can I go on when everything is saying stop?
“The Picnic gave me the realization of my endurance, which has led me to focus on my love of mountain running and so many more adventures,” says Halpin. “And of course, my deep, deep love for summit doughnuts.”
Photos by Zeppelin Zeerip.