Thursday, September 5, 2013

HeR - August Happenings part 1....(9.5.2013)

Hello All - August was a busy month of driving, camping, family, seeing friends, and understanding life. This post is going to be a pretty basic version of the month's events and in part 2 (hoping to write on the airplane later this week), I plan on going into more detail on the experiences, things I learned, things I didn't, etc.

The first part of our trip was from Eagle River, AK to Whitehorse, YT.  We camped only one night along the way outside Tok, AK.  We had a big mammal outside our tent the first night of camping - probably a moose based on the "hooved" sound on the ground, but my overactive imagination was convinced it was a bear that was going to eat me.  Ridiculous....yes....but I am still adjusting to life in Alaska and a wild place - the Midwest (and even Denver, CO) didn't have the guarantee of being surrounded by big predators (whether you see them or not).  It can be a mind-tease until you become accustomed and eventually, immune to it.  We woke up that morning to rain - our first of a few wet mornings.  Guess we were getting "broken in" fairly quick in our trip.

Whitehorse is a beautiful city, sitting down in a valley, and surrounded by over 1200km (approximately) of marked un-paved trails.  We made good use of the trails, biking 5 out of the 6 days we stayed, and on the 6th day - running a trail marathon (in my case) and a half-marathon (in Barry's case).  The marathon was no easy task - it was full of long steep climbs and technical terrain.   Note: after completing the 50 miler, the climbs at the marathon were not long, but my perception at the time was that they were.  Interesting how perception changes based on experience (more on that in part 2).  I did what I typically do in a running event - went out way too fast for the distance.  Paid for it at mile 15ish - wasn't feeling so awesome.  But found a few ladies in the race and we formed a pack and ran/hiked together.  After about 5 miles, two of the girls took off - I was still battling nutrition and the fast start so I held back, thinking I just wanted to finish the damn race.  So it was me and one other lady for another 3-4 miles before I decided I was close enough to the end I could endure - so I took off.    With a little less than a mile left in the race I saw one of the girls about 400 meters ahead of me.  In my mind, I knew that I could catch up, but for once in my life, I didn't give a shit if I did or not.  I sped up and could have sped up even more, but didn't.  I finished about 2 seconds after the girl and was left trying to understand why I didn't go for it like I always have - I haven't figured it out yet, but I don't necessarily think its a bad thing (introspection will be covered in part 2;o).  The rest of our trip was spent reading at camp, biking around the beautiful trails, making tasty camp food, and chatting with our interesting camp neighbors (one a Brit that has been traveling for 18 months on motorcycle - started in South America and was nearing completion of his trip to Deadhorse, AK and then heading to New York to fly back home).  If you love biking and love nature - go to Whitehorse!

After 6 days, we packed up and started heading towards Birchwood, WI, where my family reunion is held every other year.  It was a lot of driving, on crappy roads, in crappy weather, and it was the first time Barry and I had a bit of a disagreement.  It was raining one night and we were looking for a place to pull off and sleep around 10pm after a full day of driving.  I wanted to use the back of the pickup to sleep - Barry wanted to set up a tent.  We ended up sleeping in the tent, but not without a healthy dose of me bitching about being cold and wet while trying to fall asleep in the tent.  Had a couple nights of rain on this trip and honestly, this was the least fun part of the trip.  We also found ourself in a gas situation - we had used our "extra" gas in Destruction Bay, thinking that was the most remote area and there was no need to be carrying the extra weight anymore.  Unfortunately, we had a situation arise when a gas station was out of gas and the only options were driving 100 miles further (we would definitely run out of gas) or backtrack 30 miles (and 2 hours due to construction and shitty roads) and get gas at the place we passed because it was $8/gallon versus the $6.50 we were paying up until that time.  Luckily, a nice military couple on their way up to Alaska sold us 10 gallons of gas (they had about 20 gallons extra) when they overheard us talking about our options.  A reminder that, despite what the news proclaims, there is kindness and good in people.

We finally arrived in Wisconsin, stiff and desiring a hot shower.  It was a fun week of fishing, food, campfires, boating, and catching up on all the family news.  We went out every day on the fishing boat with my family and caught several panfish for the end of week fish fry.  Had a blast with my nephew, Evan, whom I think is one of the coolest dudes out there.  Celebrated my 30th birthday as it fell during the week - my sister-in-law and brother put together this awesome scavenger hunt based on significant events or times in my life - very creative and fun.  We also had the usual golf tournament in which we are split into 3-4 person teams and the captain (who is notified prior to vacation of their important role) is responsible for providing team names and hats.  It was tame the first year or so, but the past couple years the team names and hats have become more creative and funny.  All in all, it was wonderful.  Lots of quality family time - which I cherish so much.  With all my traveling and living in Alaska (or other random places), access to family isn't a couple hours drive.  But to me, the past couple years have been full of quality time and cherished memories.  When I do go home - I understand the preciousness and appreciate the time all the more focusing solely on the time spent with them.  To hell with Facebook, internet, phones, and other petty distractions.  As a side note, we found out we will have another addition to the family for the next reunion - very excited for Kim and James as they are expecting a new little one to join their family in Feb'14! 

After a week with the family, it was time to say goodbye and head west.  Bozeman, MT was our destination and we decided to do a side trip to the Badlands.  Barry has a goal of visiting every National Park and we knocked off both Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks in South Dakota.  Camped out in the Badlands and did a cave-tour at Wind Cave.  Once again, I am stunned by the variety of terrain in the U.S. - and quite frankly - how quickly it can change.  After a couple days exploring SD, we continued to Bozeman.  In Bozeman, we stayed with Barry's cousin (2nd I think), Alexa, and her two boys, Parker and Justin.  The plan was to do some hiking around Bozeman, visit Mystery Ranch store, and acclimate to elevation (it's around 4,500 ft) before the 50 miler.  Alexa is one of the most gracious hosts I have ever met - not to mention one of the most positive in spirit.  She is always smiling and has such an uplifting aura - I love being around her.  She even came to support me in the 50-miler - hugging me at the finish line and had signs all made up.  So - about the 50-miler - I will go into much more detail later as I have thought a lot about the experiences and thoughts I had during it.  But it was a difficult course (many of the runners at the event said it was the toughest they had done), made tougher by the fact that my body wanted nothing to do with the nutrition that I had trained for months on.  It further cemented my belief that willpower, determination, and controlling your mentality will drive your successes more than sheer ability and experience.  It was a small crop of starters since it was a first year race (Mystery Ranch didn't advertise it much to keep it small - very smart on their part - to work out the inevitable kinks that happen in a first year event).   I think there were 33 signed up, 27 started, and 16 finished (time limit was 14 hours and those are approximates).  Most of the race was remote - hence the long stretches between aid stations.  And with so few people in the race, I was alone for 80% of it - lots of time to think about life and dreams and present and future.  I remember two times having to turn around and run back to a key intersection (no more than 1/2 mile each time) to make sure I had followed the ribbons correctly because I was in my own little world.  A few times I was unsure I was on the right path, but trusted in my decision and a half miel up would see the ribbon that confirmed I was.  Like I mentioned before, my perception of long steep climbs changed after having to climb four significant times (6 miles, 8 miles, 3 miles, 6 miles) - and those were only the significant climbs that lasted for more than 3 miles.  There were other climbs of a mile or so, which I now consider "short".  Most were steep enough it did no good to run - I was expending more energy and not moving any faster than if I power-hiked.  The downhills were relentless - rocky, technical, and steep - no rest for the racer as you always had to be looking and thinking about where to put your feet.  In the last 6 miles I was racing a storm - lightning in the distance and the claps of thunder - along with seeing bear scat along the trail on a very regular basis.  I was doing the ol' count the seconds between sight and sound to estimate how far the storm was and how fast I had to run to beat it.  I was singing loudly, blowing my whistle, and shouting a few choice words when I could come down on a loose rock wrong or slip off a slippery rut.  This was after 43 miles of running/hiking and this is where I learned what I was made of.  I can't tell you enough how much garbage goes through your head, willing you to stop and just quit, but that's when its most important for you to call your mind on it's BS and pull out the positives and use those to push you along.  Needless to say - it was tough as hell - there were times I wanted to quit, thought I would have to quit, but kept going.  I raced a smart race, given the difficulties I was having, and am proud of finishing in 13 hours.  Did I want to go faster - yes.  Do I think I can go faster - absolutely.  Do I think I could have went faster that day  - not by much, if any.  On a side note - I read about the Leadville 100 race and it's 1,200 entrants and was so thankful to have such an intimate race experience.  I left triathlon in part due to the commercialization of the sport and I hope that trail running avoids that demise.  It seems when money (entrance fees and awards) becomes central to a race, everything goes to shit.  Don't get me wrong - I still have a special place in my heart for triathlon, I just think it's changed.  That's what Leadville sounded like this year - but obviously I am making that assumption based on other people's observation, so I could be completely wrong.

That's about it for now...we just returned from a week of backpacking in Glacier National Park and visiting a friend of Barry's family.  I will write more on that in the next post as this one has gotten quite long.

To end, I feel the obligation to make fun of Barry a bit.  He had a rough go in Whitehorse as he almost knocked himself out the night we got to the campground.  He was washing his hands in the river, it was raining, and he was in a hurry to get back to the cover of our campground.  All I can say is the big pole that he rammed into with his head as he was super-manning away from the river left a large bump.  He was and is okay - but he wore around a big bandage on his forehead for a couple days and  it made me giggle (after the fact).  I still am trying to understand how he didn't see it (as he claims)....

Adios for now my friends.....

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