Gabe Joyes is tougher than a $2 T-bone steak.
Anyone who can run 180 miles on rocky, steep trails through the mountains of northwest Wyoming in four days would have to be.
Joyes, 38, of Lander, left home one morning in early August and ran up Sinks Canyon toward the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range. Over the next four long days, he dodged hikers and horse apples on the trail, donated a lot of blood to thirsty mosquitoes, filtered water out of streams, ate dozens of granola bars and rolled out of his tent in the mornings feeling stiff, sore and happy.
Although Joyes is a sponsored endurance athlete, on this trip he wasn’t trying to beat any clock or be the first man to ever run from Lander to Jackson.
“My whole motivation on this trip was to explore my own backyard and to share an adventure with friends and family,” he said.
What Makes Him Tick
There must be something hidden inside the brain of this ultra-marathoner that creates contempt for pain.
During a normal week of training, Joyes runs about 100 miles while gaining about 20,000 feet of elevation. He runs outdoors all winter long and never listens to music or podcasts while he runs.
“I don’t try to numb my feelings or divert my attention to make the time pass,” he said. “I want to feel everything that is going on and be very much in the moment.”
Joyes is a smart guy. He teaches social studies to high school kids for a living. But his understanding of the word “suffering” seems to be that it’s something other people do. It’s a word he just can’t abide.
“This is something I’ve chosen to do in this beautiful place,” he said. “Of course, running 180 miles will be hard at times. I stay positive, keep moving and appreciate where I am and what I’m doing. Knowing that I have support and the ability to do this gets me through any hard moments that I’ve ever had.”
For those too far removed from their elementary school math lessons, that averages 45 miles a day on mountainous unpaved trails.
Originally from Wisconsin, Joyes enjoyed backpacking in the mountains before becoming a long-distance runner about 10 years ago. He still enjoys backpacking, but he felt like there was more to see in a day if he picked up the pace.
“First and foremost is the desire to be in a very natural, wild, beautiful place and to explore landscapes where I am not the biggest creature out there,” he said.
A ‘Supported Run’
This adventure was planned so that family and friends could join him along the way. It’s what’s known as a supported run, and it lightens the load he carries on the trail.
Friends and family met him at camp spots along the way and carried in his sleeping bag, a tent and two hot meals – dinner and breakfast – at each camp.
“I wanted to camp at spots that would be fun for the kids,” said, Joyes, who has two daughters. “I was trying to create an adventure that would be fun for the family, not just them being out there like a NASCAR pit crew.”
On Day One, Joyes covered the 64 miles and 4,363 feet of elevation gain between Lander and Timico Lake high in the wilderness of the Wind River Mountains. It took him about 14 hours and is a distance that’s easily twice as far as most horses and riders will cover in these mountains in a day.
Joyes described it as “a pretty long day.”
On Day Two, he crossed through the grizzly country on the north end of the Wind River Range. He passed talus scarfs, mixed conifer forest and numerous chain lakes, ending up at Green River Lakes, where his wife and daughters met him for the night.
He covered about 35 miles that second day.
The challenge for Day Three was to cross the Green River and head west into the Gros Ventre Mountains. Running beneath the sheer rock faces on the south slope of this range, he crossed the elk meadows above the town of Bondurant and camped near Granite Hot Springs.
He covered around 50 miles.
On the final day, a friend ran with him for the last 30 miles to the Jackson Town Square.
When It’s Over
A burger with everything was a high priority for Joyes when the adventure ended. He said he craves protein and nutrient-dense vegetables after a long run.
“Nothing sweet ever sounds good, so I always go for a big dose of protein and a pile of veggies,” he said.
When he looks back on this adventure, he remembers the quiet and solitude that comes with being alone in the mountains. He marveled at massive fields of wildflowers, the diversity of the terrain that he crossed and the various plants and animals that congregate at different elevations.
He said it takes a different skillset to be a trail runner and describes it as similar to the difference between table tennis and tennis.
“They look similar, but the execution is different,” he said. “That’s how I compare it to road or track running.”
In the future, Joyes is considering a trail-run circumnavigation of Yellowstone National Park. He said the Absaroka Mountains are another bucket-list run.
Follow Joyes on his adventures online.