If I accomplish nothing else, I’ve changed the meaning of one word in one town. To the outdoorsy folks of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the word ‘picnic’ no longer denotes the awkward consumption of hummus on the ground, but an unsanctioned, human-powered, multi-sport suffergasm involving the most iconic aspects of the Hole – its sagebrush flats, piedmont lakes, and the mighty peaks of Grand Teton National Park.
After considering the possibilities while celebrating a birthday on the Grand, and then making a few thwarted attempts, I completed the first Grand Teton Picnic in 2012, biking 23 miles from Jackson’s town square to Jenny Lake, swimming 1.3 miles across Jenny, and hiking and climbing 10 miles to the top of the 13,775-foot Grand Teton. I returned the same way, including swimming back across the lake, and by the time I biked into the square after midnight, I’d been moving for almost 24 hours. What a picnic. Fortunately I’d brought extra pizza and jelly beans.
This being Jackson Hole, where the most epic adventure of your life is your neighbor’s morning workout, the personal glory and scenic fear promised by picnicking was irresistible, and friends and strangers started buying wetsuits and hucking themselves into lakes in the dark. Now ‘the Picnic’ is a thing and everybody is faster at it than I am. It’s not really supposed to be a race, hence the downplayed name, but we being humans, of course it’s a race, and I am dazzled by my friends Adam Wirth doing it in 11 hours and 12 minutes and Julia Heemstra finishing it in 14 hours and 47 minutes.
By now, the scope of picnicking has widened, as friends, strangers, and myself have established new picnics in the Tetons and beyond. All the main peaks in the range have now been included in picnics, some via multiple routes. Mt. Moran is the apex for two picnics: the Moranic, which crosses Leigh Lake to ascend the CMC Route, and the Moronic, which crosses Jackson Lake to attack the peak via the northeast ridge. Most impressively, in 2017 Ryan Burke completed the Grand Traverse Picnic, traversing thirteen Tetons and swimming twice across Jenny in two days. Oh the superhumanity!
Picnics have also been savored in Montana, California, Idaho, and Colorado, but such adventures need not be limited to mountains, lakes, swimming, or climbing. Your own picnic in your own location could include ice skating, archery, and log-splitting. Stair-climbing, dog-walking, and stationary biking. Weight lifting, tango dancing, and rollerblading. To me, the essence of a picnic is that it’s human-powered from start to finish, and something about it scares you. A picnic is most rewarding -- life-changing even -- when it forces you to train, plan, fret, organize, assess, and then leaves you in the dark next to a freezing lake where you have to decide if you’ve got the cajones to keep going. A picnic is a feast, and its seasoning is uncertainty.