Sunday, February 19, 2012

RUNNING TO REMEMBER (Star Valley Wyoming - July 2011)

We’ve run several memorial races. Oklahoma City remembered a bombing and the survivors. Boston ran for fallen law enforcement officers. Both were great races with great messages. However, neither of them hit quite as close to home as the Star Valley half-marathon on the 9th of July. The personal and family connections in this run made it particularly memorable. First, it was put on by the Bart and Denise Kunz family.
Bart and I served together on our missions in North Germany many years ago – and knew each other well – with Bart leaving the mission field committed to marrying his long-time sweetheart, Denise, as soon as he got home. They’ve been together ever since. Second, it was run in memory of their son, Jeremy, who was killed while participating in the Ragnar Las Vegas relay in the fall of 2009. The Kunz family had fielded a relay team and Jeremy was killed in the middle of the night by a drunk driver, while supporting a team runner – within blocks of my daughter Emily’s home in Henderson. Third – this became Emily’s first half-marathon – picked in part because of the connection to Jeremy and his family. All of these were strong reasons to run in Star Valley as our Wyoming race. It was a relatively small race – but Thayne, Wyoming, is a relatively small place. Notwithstanding the size, the Kunz’ made sure it was a run to remember.
There was a decent spaghetti/carbo load dinner the night before the race; the race was pretty-well supported; the scenery was nice; the pictures of Jeremy and family touching; and the general downhill orientation of the course welcome – especially given the altitude of 6000-7000’. There was also fair food and refreshment after the race, and a whole raft of prizes given out to participants which, admittedly, took quite a while in the sun. It was also memorable as Emily’s first half-marathon, which she completed after running the entire course – without being lifted, driven, pushed or prodded! Jared also ran the race with us. (Way to go, Emily! Your airfare to Hawaii is secure. ) He and Karen ran the course with Emily. After finishing I ran back a mile or two to finish with them, as well. Overall – a great choice for our Wyoming race – and a great opportunity to reconnect with Bart and meet his family.
Since this run followed directly on the heels of our Johnson Pups reunion in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, our “race-travel” was really connected with the reunion. In fact, Dacia, Joe and their girls joined us on the trip to Star Valley and were our most ardent supporters during the race! (Not to mention the best baby-sitters we could have asked for.) The trip reminded us what a gorgeous range the Sawtooths are!
We enjoyed some great hiking, rafting, games and food – notwithstanding Rachel getting really sick a couple of days and the snow still being so low in the mountains as to preclude us from the multi-day backpacking we had planned. Until we get a really good backpacking trip there it will remain on our bucket list.
It was nice to have some time with the entire family and, as usual, we did not let grass grow under our feet as we explored the area. There were lots of enjoyable family activities during the reunion and a special “memorial” activity which recognized and commemorated each of the Pups with a personal shirt reflecting the order in which they joined the litter, I mean family.
Different things motivate different people. Many runners take strength from a memorial theme – and that has certainly been the case for me. When you know what motivates and inspires you – ride it or, better yet, run it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


In a previous blog I mentioned that we often visit places that we quickly learn to love.  Never having sufficient time, we leave with a determination to return – and yet seldom do.  Occasionally, however, we do go back.  Such was our trip to Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada –my third trip there and the second one for Karen and me together – but definitely one with some new twists, new experiences and new terrain.  When I first visited Nova Scotia in (I believe) 1990, I was impressed by the wildflowers, the French and British history, its lush and verdant country sides, and the rugged and spectacular coastlines, which spoke of a maritime history and boasted of one of the premier drives in North America – the Cape Breton highway. 
On this trip, we enjoyed some of the beautiful coast and sleepy fishing villages again, we got better acquainted with the provincial capital of Halifax and, of course, we ran a half-marathon – which was the impetus for the trip and our third Canadian Province.  The race was in Halifax – the Bluenose Marathon and Half-Marathon.  We quite enjoyed it.  The route started at the impressive citadel in the city center, went through hospital and university areas, some older residential areas and then along the water’s edge to a park on the southern peninsula which reached into the Bay and the Atlantic beyond.  It was a very pretty park – although also the area where the route was most difficult as we ran a couple of trails that ascended some pretty steep hills.  However, we were rewarded with some great views and a very impressive residential area before finishing the race back near the Citadel.
The race was well-supported, there were decent crowds along the way, the weather was cooperative and the race expo was good – at least after we finally found it!  Initially, we couldn’t find it when we went to pick up race packets and since it was raining steadily, we weren’t thrilled to be looking all over for it.  Signs were not posted, people weren’t seen coming and going with the trademark race bags, and none of the civic center entrances appeared to be open.  Eventually, we found it through a virtually unmarked basement door, but it was an inauspicious beginning.  Fortunately, once inside it was dry and warm with some interesting vendors.  On race day, the weather was much better and the pace was great!  Since we were going to be running another race a week later, I wasn’t sure I wanted to try and run both races at maximum tempo, so I decided I would run Boston hard and run with Karen in Halifax.  Karen was skeptical it would end well (since she doesn’t like to feel pushed), but we actually ran the entire race together and managed to finish still friends!  I don’t remember much about the post-race food – so it must not have been overly memorable – but the race (and the company) was good.
The most memorable part of the trip was the new experience in an area none of us had ever visited, namely Newfoundland.  After the race, we spent a couple of hours in the very picturesque area of Peggy’s Cove and then headed east for the 4-5 hour drive to Sydney on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia. 
We caught an overnight ferry and landed in Channel Port aux Basques, Newfoundland the next morning.  The next four days we explored a tiny fraction of a very beautiful place, as we traversed the southwestern section of the island.
 The scenery was stunning.  The mountains were unique, the coastlines rugged, the geology fantastic, the waterfalls plentiful and impressive, the fjords beautiful and the lakes and forests picturesque and vast.  We had some great hiking to waterfalls, lakes, the coast and a peak - particularly enjoying our two days in Gros Morne National Park.
As it turns out, we visited a bit early in the season so weren’t able to do the hike to the top of Gros Morne Mountain or take the boat ride into the Western Brook Pond (Fjord), but just the views  were well worth it.  I’ve sailed in the Norwegian and New Zealand fjords – and these were not far behind in their stunning beauty.  However, they were also different – and this speaks of the area geology.  Whereas you picture fjords as going inland from the ocean, in Newfoundland they were INLAND fjords, with a river flowing out of the fjord to the ocean.  Similarly, the mountains were sort of upside down from how you would normally picture them – to include some areas where the visible rock on the surface is the type of rock you would normally expect to find thousands of feet down into the earth.  They had a different feel and look.
These were not the jagged peaks of the Tetons, but rather the uplifted escarpments.  We were really torn in our visit between wanting to spend time in the mountains and along the coast – and exploring the Viking sites and iceberg alleys further north.  As it turns out, we decided to travel less and see more of a smaller area.  We don’t regret that decision – but it has put another location on our list of places we really want to return to.
All in all, it was another great trip – with a race thrown in to justify it!  We enjoyed meeting new people and found them universally friendly – albeit with a brogue that was a bit difficult to understand at times!
So, if you aren’t completely certain where Newfoundland is, pull out your atlas and trace a line east and a bit north of Maine (we were actually only about as far north as Vancouver BC, although much more remote).  Mark the spot and we suggest you consider it for inclusion in your travel bucket list.  You won’t be disappointed – and there are some great things to see and do in Nova Scotia while you are getting there.