Sunday, September 5, 2010

RUNNING THE LAST FRONTIER (and barely seeing it)

Last month in Montana we ran in Big Sky Country. In Alaska, it was going to be even grander – Big Everything Country – the magnitude and majesty of the mountains, the solitude of wilderness, the vastness of open space, the ice fields and the unending vistas.

No doubt, Alaska has earned every one of those superlatives. However, for us on this trip, it validated a couple of other appropriate adjectives: mysterious and inaccessible.

In ten days, we caught occasional (albeit infrequent) glimpses of the sun; saw a couple of small patches of blue sky; had some tantalizing (but nonetheless impressive) images of peaks and mountains; wore rain gear quite a bit; and drove across vast plains shrouded in clouds, mist and fog. None of this should imply the trip was not a good one – but if you’ve tasted something heavenly, and there just isn’t enough to satisfy the hunger and desire – that is the feeling we had as we tried to chase pockets of blue sky and misguided weather forecasts across south central Alaska.

Along the way, we DID see some beautiful waterfalls and cascades, magnificent glaciers – to include one calving huge chunks of ice into a fjord, and abundant marine wildlife, to include a pod of orcas, porpoises, harbor seals, Stellar sea lions, sea otters and birds of many feathers and colors. We also saw black bears with multiple cubs, moose with smaller “moosettes”, mountain sheep, caribou and bald eagles – and we kayaked on a glacial lake choked with icebergs the size of fortresses – exploring ice caves and canyons along the way. Indeed, Alaska remains the Last Frontier. There will always be more – just beyond your reach.

As for the race, it was a success. There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about it, but it was a good course (part of it run along Cook Inlet and in the fog), with a few rolls to keep a person honest and a few twists and turns to make you wonder if you missed something. It was logistically pretty well-supported and there were a couple of running legends on-hand (specifically Jeff Galloway and Bart Yasso).

The post-race food was hardly a feast, but the bread was good. I didn’t try to push the pace due to my recent hamstring issues, but still finished well ahead of what I had been able to do in Montana and was grateful that the hamstring still felt pretty good after the race.

During the race we had our very own, personal race photographer. Kathi took pictures at the start and then captured us at multiple points along the course and again (at least for Karen) at the end. We also had a very good visit and road trip with her for a week and thoroughly enjoyed her hospitality – with salmon and halibut being featured items on our post-race meal.

During the trip she became somewhat of an “Outdoors Mentor” for Rachel, telling her about plants and animals and the Alaskan traditions. They established some excellent rapport and it was amazing some of the things Rachel retained! Also enjoyed time with Nub and Kami and were able to visit with Kristen, Phil and their other kids on Sunday afternoon.

As for my “thoughts” for this post – I am again reminded of the importance of expectations. They shape our sentiments and our assessments of events. Where we expect much the bar is higher for feeling an event was a success. Where we expect little, we may not often be disappointed – but we may also need to examine where the bar was set – or if it was even used. I think the analogy has application in many aspects of our lives and families. True, there are events beyond our control (Alaska weather to be sure). Also true, we can adjust our expectations to keep them aligned with reality – without sacrificing goals, standards and aspirations.

We’ve run the Last Frontier, but suspect it may yet beckon us again. Until then, we’ll be looking for blue skies and sunshine for our next trip!