Swimming with the Stars: Going for the Picnic
About one month ago, I set out to do the “Picnic” which is a sort of local triathlon here in Jackson that includes biking 21 miles from town square to Grand Teton National Park, swimming 1.3 miles across Jenny Lake, climbing the Grand Teton, swimming back across Jenny Lake, and biking back home to town. This challenge enticed me because it combines everything I love to do in my favorite place in the world. Here’s how things went down:
2:15 AM: My alarm goes off. I think to myself “Wow, my bed is really warm.” I get up anyway.
2:23 AM: Eat a Kate’s granola bar, strap on my clipless bike shoes, grab my bike from the living room, and head out the door.
2:30 AM: Take a selfie at one of the elk antler arches in town square and begin biking toward the park.
2:47 AM: Stop. There is a large rock shaped figure in the center of the bike path. It is a porcupine. Wonder if this is a sign I should go back to bed. Porcupine pokes out his quills at me.
2:50 AM: Still standing in front of the porcupine. Think about how I’ve probably only biked one mile. Porcupine finally starts to waddle toward the edge of the path.
2:51 AM: Realize my toes are really cold and start biking again.
3:16 AM: Realize my toes and the rest of my body are really cold. Worry that the water might be too cold for swimming.
4:08 AM: Arrive at the Jenny Lake Visitor’s Center and lock my bike to the bike rack.
4:15 AM: Sit on the floor of the bathroom at the Jenny Lake Visitor’s Center and eat a snicker’s bar and wonder if the water will be so cold, I’ll get hypothermia.
4:17 AM: Put on my wetsuit, put my gear into my dry bag, and tie my dry bag rope around my waist.
4:40 AM: Walk into the water and realize… it’s incredibly warm.
4:41 AM: Realize I can definitely swim in this water but that if I do freestyle and wear my tinted goggles I can’t see anything including the bank where I am aiming to swim on the other side of the lake. Decide to not wear goggles and do backstroke instead.
5:15 AM: Realize I am actually going to do this and that I’ve already seen more shooting stars than I’ve ever seen in my life. The lake is still other than the waves of my wake, which I watch in the moonlight. Flip over to check I’m still going in the right direction and notice the mountains are illuminated too, and paddle faster toward Cascade Canyon that’s inviting me in. Remember the time I skinned across this lake this winter to go back in the canyon and ski. Feel grateful for this place, my body, and this moment and feel more alive than I’ve ever felt before. Decide that if I don’t make it farther than this swim, I am perfectly content.
5:47 AM: Walk out of the water onto a beach and untie my dry bag from my waist. The air is cold so I tug off my wetsuit fast and dig into my bag for my layers.
5:53 AM: Remember my approach shoes are stashed in my friend’s car at the Lupine Meadows trailhead which means I’ll be walking to the trailhead in my clipless shoes.
6:10 AM: Eat another Kate’s Bar while the black sky shifts to yellow/blue over the Gros Ventre Range.
6:20 AM: Start navigating my way around the lake and to the trailhead. Feel silly and unsteady in the funky biking shoes.
6:51 AM: Make it to my friend’s car where I find Gatorade and my approach shoes. And encouraging notes from my incredible friends.
7:30 AM: Put one airpod in my ear in and start bumpin’ up the trail to the Grand moving FAST and feeling awesome.
8:45 AM: Make it to the first boulder field. Sit down and eat approximately 200 peanut butter mnm’s.
11:00 AM: Rest just below the fixed line below the lower saddle that’s between the Middle Teton and the Grand. Run into a nice man in a beanie that looks like a teddy bear who tells me the majority of people are turning away from the Owen Spalding (the route I plan to take). There’s still too much snow left over from the storm last week.
11:10 AM: Run into another couple who tells me the same thing. Shift my mindset that I’ll climb as high as I feel comfortable and remind myself I’m here to respect the mountains, not conquer them.
11:30 AM: Rest on the lower saddle and think things through. Remind myself of my intentions to enjoy a day moving my body in the mountains, not accomplish anything to say I did or to prove myself. Fill my water up in the stream.
12:15 PM: Talk to other climbers below the upper saddle. Decide it’s best I don’t go all the way up today. Sit down and breathe.
1:00 PM: Start climbing down.
3:00 PM: Make it through the boulder fields and to a spot on the river where I always take a break. Take my shoes off and dip my feet into the ice-cold river. Immediately fall asleep.
3:10 PM: Wake up to a man standing over me saying “Your face looks red. Do you need sunscreen?”
3:11 PM: Reorient myself. Remember I’m Frances Conner, 23 years old. I am on planet earth. It is August 2021, and, right now, I am doing the Picnic. Realize I need to eat.
3:15 PM: Munch on snacks and two climbers stop to talk: “Are you the redhead doing the picnic” Reply: “Yes. Are there rumors?”
3:30 PM: Change into shorts and get ready to run. Feel re-energized and excited to get to swim again.
4:40 PM: Make it back down to the car and grab my wetsuit which was drying on top of the car. Eat more food and chug more water. Go time!
5:45 PM: Run into my two best friends who surprise at the lake to cheer me on. 3/5’s of the way through and feeling great.
6:00 PM: Struggle to pull on my damp wetsuit again and realize I lost my swim cap somewhere along the way.
6:16 PM: Start my watch and start swim number two.
6:20 PM: Boy it’s chilly without a cap! Decide to keep my head out of the water and do breaststroke this time.
6:47 PM: Can feel my knees are worn out. Do a funky kick to strain my knee less and move pretty slowly. Do my best to focus on my friends on the bank, who ran around the lake to where I’ll finish my swim. Also focus on my breath. About halfway there.
7:23 PM: Pull myself onto the rock beach. Three friends greet me with smiles and encouragement to get my wetsuit off stat.
7:30 PM: Get bundled up and ready to ride home. Friends inform me they’re riding with me. I love them.
8:06 PM: Begin biking! And the sun starts to set on the clearest day smoke-wise in a couple of months. Grateful, grateful, grateful.
9:15 PM: It’s dark now, and I’m hungry. Ask my friends if we can start biking faster.
9:20 PM: My friend points out we can see the milky way above town.
9:58 PM: My body feels the weight of everything I’ve done today. Start biking faster but stop when we see a headlamp on the trail heading toward us.
9:58 PM: It’s my roommate who’s here to join the bike home and who notifies me that she's picked up my favorite pizza from Pinky G's.
10:10 PM: Arrive back at the elk antler arch in town square. I DID IT! Snap photos with friends.
10:30 PM: Hop in shower, crash on couch, devour pizza, and sleep.
I grew up in Alabama swimming, doing gymnastics, climbing trees, biking around my neighborhood and catching turtles in the creek behind my house. I’ve grown up a lot since then but found that throughout my first Picnic attempt it was my light-hearted and childlike attention to the beauty of the moment that got me through the toughest parts of this adventure.
I couldn’t have done this without the support of my phenomenal friends, especially Ava Reynolds, who trained with me for four months leading up to this day. I also couldn’t have done this without the support of my co-workers who inspire me by prioritizing their personal goals and by pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones. It was a big day of giving it my all, and I wore my Give’r Solar Hoodie during my entire climb and both of my bike rides.
My goal was to do the Picnic in under 24 hours, and I did it in 17.5! While it could be disappointing that I didn’t summit the Grand, I choose to trust that I made the right choice for myself in that moment with the knowledge I had. In my opinion, nothing is more important than trusting your intuition and respecting the mountains when trying hard and new challenges in the outdoors. Attempting the Picnic was more incredible than I ever imagined it would be, and I can’t wait to do it again.