In a town like Jackson Hole, where it can often feel like everyone is a professional athlete, it takes a lot to stand out. Despite that, Kelly Halpin does, usually by smashing previously held FKT’s (fastest known times) and establishing new mountain traverses throughout the Tetons. Not only is Kelly known throughout town for her long days in the mountains, but also through her art, which is featured on walls and buildings throughout the entire town.
In 2014 you became the first woman to complete the Jackson Picnic. For those that don’t know, tell us what The Picnic is.
The “Picnic” is a natural triathlon in Jackson where you begin at the town square, bike to the east side of Jenny Lake, don a wetsuit and swim the length of the lake to the boat dock on the west side, hike and climb the Grand Teton, and then do the entire thing in reverse, ending back at the town square on your bike. David Gonzales made up the event kind of as a joke amongst locals in Jackson, but don’t be fooled by the name- the picnic requires expert climbing, mountaineering, and endurance experience. The good news is you can make up your own “picnic” with the elements around you. One friend of mine created one in Los Angeles by climbing Mount Baldy, biking through downtown, and swimming two miles in the ocean. I’ve since down 5 picnics with different mountains or combinations of mountains.
Walk us through that day. Who were you with? How did you celebrate?
My friend Tristan and I thought doing the picnic would be a fun challenge and wanted to be the first to try it completely unsupported. We met in town around 2am and cruised up to the lake on our road bikes, carrying ALL our gear for the day including wetsuits and boogie boards for the swim. The first swim started out pretty well- we dragged our dry clothes and gear in dry bags floating on boogie boards tried around waists. I had some trouble with my legs cramping on the first swim, but started feeling better once we crawled onto the dock on the far side right as the sun. The climb went fair smooth, although I remember thinking climbing the Grand is much much easier without the biking and swim aspect tacked on. We descended that afternoon in good spirits, but were definitely feeling exhausted by the time we got back to the lake. Biking back, which normally is the easiest leg, was actually pretty rough for me because I was dehydrated. I almost stopped to puke a few times but was scared if I dismounted, I wouldn’t get back up. We finished in just under 24 hours and celebrated with breakfast the next day.
What motivated you to try the Picnic?
Someone told me I couldn’t so I went to prove them wrong. Also, at the time, no other woman had successfully finished it and nobody had done it unsupported. So those were motivators for sure.
What’s your mental game like when you’re doing these ultra-marathons and triathlons?
Oh it’s a whole experience. I go from the highest highs to lowest lows. I definitely make sure to go into a race or an adventure on a super positive note and try to stay focused and, if it’s especially long, compartmentalize each step so the whole event isn’t so overwhelming.
You’ve mentioned that you hate swimming because of the zombie moose. What in the world is a zombie moose?
A zombie moose is a moose that has died on a trail near the lakes of Jackson and then been sunk in the lake by rangers who want the carcass off the trails. Easy solution right? Except once the moose has sunk to the depths of the dark lake it becomes reanimated and waits for swimmers to cruise by so they can grab their legs and eat them.
You’re also an artist. How does living in the Tetons influence your art?
I can’t live without nature and living in the Tetons gives me that access. I’m inspired by the peaks, the wildlife, and the rawness of the landscape. Nature almost always makes an appearance in my illustrations.
Art and ultra-marathons use completely different hemisphere of the brain. What role does being an athlete play in your art?
I think I use running as a vehicle to escape deep into nature, and nature inspires my art. I also think the whole artist/athlete thing is a nice yin and yang to provide a nice balance in my life. I love both.
I can imagine recovery is a huge part of your routine to keep your body in shape. What are some of the things you practice?
Watch The Picnic here: