Saturday, November 30, 2013


Have you ever needed to  visit a place for which you could not drum up great enthusiasm before the trip?  For us, the Canadian Interior qualified.  For all the great places most people want to visit in Canada  - beautiful mountains, coastlines, metropolitan and cosmopolitan cities, gardens, fjords and historical sites - the "Flatlands" of Manitoba and Saskatchewan are typically not among them.  However, as is SO often the case, Manitoba turned out to be a great destination visit - not to mention an excellent place to run a half-marathon on the 6th of May, 2012.
Our selected race in Manitoba was the Winnipeg Police Services Half-Marathon, run in the Provincial Capital and largest city.  It had come highly recommended to us by people from Manitoba that we met while in Fargo to run our North Dakota race two years earlier.  It was an excellent choice.  We corresponded with the Race Directors (Nick and Les Paulet) several months before the race and they were not only very friendly (which, we understand, is a trademark of those living in the Province), they helped us get someone to watch Rachel during the race, they provided recommendations on things to see and do while in Winnipeg and Manitoba, they were great hosts, and they became friends who later in the year, upon our recommendation, would visit Utah where we would see them again.
As might be expected from an event sponsored by the Police Department, the race was well-organized, well-supported, efficient and safe!  Even the weather was cooperative - which had not always been the case in previous years.  They had some great swag for us after the race, coupled with a good post-race pancake breakfast.
The unexpected bonuses were what we were able to see and do while on the trip.  After flying into Minneapolis, we headed to Devil's Lake ND for some hiking in Sully's Hill National Game Preserve and a visit to the geographic center of North America at Rugby.  The following day we visited the International Peace Gardens on the US/Canada border north of Dunseith - a very impressive complex, though a bit early in the season for most flowers.
This was followed by a visit to Spruce Woods Provincial Park in Manitoba for some excellent hiking in picturesque dunes and forests, before continuing to Winnipeg, where we visited a vibrant recreation and entertainment area called the Exchange, Assiniboine Park, the Legislative complex, the Forks (historically significant at the confluence of two major rivers that were trading routes into and out of western Canada), and the Manitoba Museum.  When we left Winnipeg after the race we traveled east to visit lakes in Whiteshell Provincial Park before heading across the Canadian Shield - an amazing area of granite hills, forests and lakes.  We entered the US at International Falls MN, with a quick visit to Voyageurs National Park, before heading back to Minneapolis and the flight home.
Perhaps the "nugget" from this trip and race was just further validation of the truth I have been learning from our race travel; every place has something special to offer.  Sometimes it is the people, other times the scenery or the history, but regardless of expectations that aren't always high, we have never regretted the trips to new places.  Manitoba was no exception.  There were beautiful places to visit, great people to meet, and some history lessons along the way.  Not to mention the completion of Province #6!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

PALMETTO RUN: Matters of the Heart in the Nick of Time (Jan 2012)

It comes as no surprise that things don't always happen as planned.  In fact, I often wonder how many things actually DO turn out exactly as planned....but that is a topic for another time.  In this case, the PLAN was to run a half-marathon together in every state - with Hawaii being number 50, with the entire family, the latter part of January, 2012.  This plan entailed a comprehensive analysis of race availability and desirability by state, the resolution of issues when limited options caused conflicts with other states, ability to travel to various places when needed, and spacing events at appropriate, or at least acceptable intervals.  Although the plan evolved a bit, it was pretty definitive by early 2010 - and it called for State #49 to be in South Carolina (Kiawah Island) in December 2011.  We had planned this race for late in the cycle - knowing Alysia and Topher would be living back there then and it would be a great time for a visit.  However, sometimes matters of the heart intervene.  In this case it was Karen's heart.  In her words, she had been feeling a bit "punk" for quite some time, and was becoming concerned that it was more than cold or flu.   Just prior to Thanksgiving she had an appointment with her Cardiologist, who reached a much different conclusion: she had a serious heart valve infection (endocarditis) that required immediate intervention.  Instead of us all heading off to Las Vegas and Emily's for the holiday, Rachel went with other family to Las Vegas and I stayed home to be with Karen, who spent the next four days in the hospital on an intravenous antibiotic.  When they released her to come home it was with a PICC-line (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) that required servicing with an antibiotic twice a day and that was destined to be in her arm for the next six weeks.  Needless to say, the Kiawah Island run was not going to happen a week later.

Fortunately, the antibiotic, coupled with the medical care she received, did what it was supposed to do and Karen got a clean bill of health (with some cautionary instructions for the future) just after New Year's - with the Cardiologist's blessing to participate in as much physical activity as she felt up to.  At that point the question was whether there was ANY half-marathon in South Carolina in the next two weeks that would allow us to still complete our US Quest with the planned run in Hawaii.  There was!  The Charleston Marathon and Half-marathon was scheduled for the 14th of January and still had open registration.  We registered - and Southwest Airlines agreed (not surprisingly, in my opinion) to just convert our unused reservations from December to the new January dates - all at no cost.

Our trip to Charleston ended up being a very short one - but a successful one.  Despite delays in Chicago that nearly made us miss the connection to Charleston, we arrived there sometime after midnight and, with Buggy and Topher's help, got our race packets picked up.  Race morning broke unseasonably cool and windy, but it was dry.  The course itself did not offer Charleston's finest, although the first few miles in the older downtown district were scenic as were the last few miles through riverfront parks.  The middle section through run-down industrial areas was to be endured, as was the absence of cups at the hydration stations for Miles 6, 8 and 10!.  At least the post-race food was decent - to include the shrimp and grits!  We tried them just to say we had done so - and then ended up thinking they were not so bad!  Of note, Karen and I actually ran this race together as I wanted to stick with her throughout.  Despite not having run for over six weeks with the PICC-line, she managed to run the entire course at a slow, but steady pace - and both of us earned finishers' medals. 

The highlight of the short trip was our visit with Alysia and Topher.  Even in the limited time we were there, we visited the Aquarium - which is really a nice one with great exhibits; we had dinner with Topher at the Navy Galley (he was Officer of the Day); visited a famous cemetery (Magnolia) with lots of Civil War history, to include the graves of the victims of the H.L. Hunley - the Confederacy's submarine attempt; and a great lunch at the Saffron in downtown Charleston; and game nights with the Andersons.  We flew home just in time to start packing our bags for Maui and the family reunion in Hawaii! 

I began this post with part of the message from this race - one that is often hard for me to deal with - that being plans that change!  I am a detailed planner; I like to execute on schedule; and I usually am focused on the end result at the expense of much that might be going on around me.  As Karen went through her several weeks of not feeling well, I was convinced it wasn't serious - and even went so far as to show her that menopause had many of the same symptoms she was experiencing!  I certainly didn't want anything to derail our "plan" at this point.  When it became apparent the plan would have to change - I was left with no choice but to deal with it.  Ultimately, we found a way to still reach our goal on schedule, but I had to come to terms with that not being the case.  Did I learn something in the process?  Hopefully, to be more aware and sensitive to things I may wish to characterize my own way - and to recognize that there will be times when a plan can be changed and an outcome modified - and still very acceptable.  Don't let a plan obscure matters of the heart.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

CANYONLANDS UTAH: A BEGINNING.................. (State #2 - Mar 17, 2007)

It was still dark, it was very cold, the race wasn't going to start for at least another 30 minutes and it was time to give up our extra clothing to gear check.  Shuttle buses had brought us to the start of the Canyonlands Half-Marathon, some 12 miles up the Colorado River canyon from Moab, Utah.  We knew it was going to get much warmer - and it was also going to get light enough to appreciate the spectacular beauty of the gorge - but right now shivering was making us think twice about why we had decided to run this race in March of 2007. 
It was in this condition that we met and talked to a gentleman wearing "The Shirt" - the trademark clothing announcing to fellow runners that he had run a marathon in all 50 US States and the District of Columbia.  We were still shivering, but also fascinated by his story, his travel and his commitment to a goal.  A seed was planted - and just 13.1 awe-inspiring miles and some post-race activity later, it started to germinate.  The idea of completing a 50-State Quest, together and for half-marathons, had enormous appeal.  Although working again full-time, I had retired from a 25-year Army career; Karen was a registered nurse, but now home full-time with our daughter.  We both loved to travel and we believed we could make this happen.  It would keep us in shape, take us places we had never been before and motivate us when we were tired, sore or just feeling lazy.  Our goal was to complete all 50 states and the District of Columbia by the time I turned 60.  I was 53.  It really started here.

We picked the Canyonlands race for several reasons.  It was in Utah and not all that far away from home.  We love the Moab and red-rock area of Utah, having hiked there a few times.  Family could possibly go with us to help with Rachel and to make a bit of a Spring family weekend out of it.  It worked well in every respect.  We all stayed in a rented condo in Moab and the buses took Karen and me to the start line described above.  Once the race started, it was obvious why this was such a popular run that sells out quickly every year.  The Colorado River gorge was beautiful - especially with the early light giving the canyon walls a glow.  The course really didn't lose much elevation, but did have quite a bit of undulation in it - making for interesting running.  The last mile or two - once out of the gorge - was along the highway into Moab and already a bit warm and not nearly as scenic.  Despite a mediocre pre-race pasta dinner and no finisher's medal (partially compensated for by nice running caps and shirts) it was a good race - and certainly scenic in every respect.

It was also a really nice weekend with the family (Alan, Jen & kids; Dacia & Joe; Jared and Gavin).  We all hiked into Delicate Arch (Arches NP) over the weekend; the guys got in some slick-rock biking (Karen and I both tried it - Karen deciding she liked to walk better and it taking me two practice circuits before I felt it might be worth trying again); and Karen, Rachel, Joe, Dacia and I hiked Negro Bill Canyon before heading home on Monday.

What thoughtful nugget did I take away from this race?  Perhaps the realization that I need to be open and sensitve to those random thoughts or "coincidences" that just might make a difference and may have merit.  Perhaps the understanding that a sincere, thoughtful and worthwhile goal can inspire a lot of motivation and drive - and, ultimately, significant accomplishment.  From small beginnings, take that first step.....and then keep running!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

RUNNING THE "BIG LAND" (October 2011)

As the afternoon waned, we turned off the scenic Quebec Highway that had been taking us north and east along the St. Lawrence Seaway.  We were looking for Quebec Highway 389.  A minute later we saw the sign and turned left again onto the Trans-Labrador Highway.  A simple signpost noted our destination: Happy Valley-Goose Bay, 1100 Km.  For the rest of the evening, the following day and three hours on the day thereafter, we traversed as vast and remote a wilderness as I may have seen (excepting possibly portions of Alaska). 
The road took us north through Quebec for some 550 km, before heading east to enter Labrador where another 550 km awaited us before reaching the heartland of the Big Land at Happy Valley-Goose Bay, home to about 7000 of the 27,000 people living in Labrador - an area slightly larger than the state of Colorado.  Needless to say, people, and signs of civilization were not necessarily common along the drive (only two legitimate communities in 1100 KM, plus several dams with hydroelectric plants and a large mining operation) - whereas vast tracts of boreal forests, lakes, peat bogs, ponds, rivers, and hills were - with horizons that seemed to stretch endlessly in every direction.  And lest you think these areas are linked by the equivalent of interstate highway, let me dispel that notion. 
N thru Quebec to Labrador
At best, perhaps a third of the highway was paved - the rest was dirt or gravel - and most of it followed the path of least resistance - meaning up and down, around hills, skirting lakes and rivers, and when straight, definitely not level.  However, it proved to be a memorable, no doubt, once in a lifetime drive (except that we had to drive it a second time on a return trip!)  And it brought us to our destination - the Canadian Province of Newfoundland/Labrador and the Trapline Marathon and Half-Marathon.
The race proved to be as memorable as the drive.  We had been looking forward to this adventure for a year or more and it did not disappoint.  The people extended a warm welcome like none that we have ever received.  (We were featured in the race brochure; recognized at the pre-race meet and greet and the post-race banquet; and were interviewed by Labrador radio!)  The race director and staff that we met were genuinely friendly, helpful and gracious hosts - and we felt like family. 
The race also proved to be a good one.  We had been somewhat worried about the weather - having (erroneously) read about snow off and on for the past week or so, not to mention temperatures WELL below freezing.  Although we did travel through a snow storm, replete with a road full of snow and mud our second night, the weather in Happy Valley-Goose Bay cooperated during the race.  It was cool, overcast, humid and breezy - which equates to nearly ideal running weather.  The course was also scenic as it went along the only section of road to the north of Goose Bay. 
We ran through very pretty fall foliage, with the lake and bay often along the road and mountains across the water.  There were a few undulations, but nothing overly serious.  Admittedly, there were VERY few spectators along the route - but there weren't that many runners, either, with 12 finishers in the full marathon, 64 in the half, and perhaps twice that in the 10K.  The finish line was great.  Post-race festivities featured the "trappers' environment" with trappers' tents, gear and authentic, local foods such as caribou stew and salmon.  There were also muffins with local berries and really good entertainment from a Labradorian singer.  Since the race was held during the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, there was a nice banquet that night at the Legion Hall, with a good meal, excellent remarks, recognition of winners (to include my first place among runners over 50) and drawings for various prizes - with Karen winning a great basket of running stuff and clothing, a book, DVD and a backpack - which was in addition to the Trapline sweatshirt and winter cap we received for having traveled the farthest to participate in the event.  
 As races - and trips go - this will definitely be among our favorites.  Unfortunately, we didn't have the time to explore the area as we would have liked, but we have learned to live with that reality and the list it creates of locations that beckon us to return.  However, we are experiencing a second reality concerning that list - it only seems to get longer - and that brings me to the "thoughtful" section of this narrative.  As much as I would like to, it is often hard to return.  There may be a myriad of reasons - time, resources, remoteness, circumstances, health, other priorities and things still waiting to be checked off the first time.  Whatever the combination of reasons, returning is never a foregone conclusion.  Enjoy the moment!  That counsel is certainly not original - but nonetheless wisdom I may finally be learning.  There is always more to do than we manage to get done.  There is always more to see that we can possibly see.  There is always something new that we want to experience.  In all that doing, I think we often miss the roses right in front of us.  Let's not fail to notice them.  Smell the roses - wherever you are and whatever you may be doing!  Enjoy the run!

We enjoyed Labrador - and the wonderful people we met there.  It reinforced what we have certainly experienced almost anywhere we have run; every place has something unique, something special and something worthwhile to offer.  We may never get back to Labrador - bur for a few days in October, 2011, it was a splendid place to be.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I've always been somewhat intimidated by French. I don't speak the language, I don't understand it, I have no idea how to say words I see in print, and French speakers tend to irritate me! Whether this bias spawned a rather long-standing dislike of French-speaking people - who I saw as arrogant and often anti-American - or whether these perceptions came about in reverse order is probably irrelevant.  I've had enough experiences with French speakers to conclude they were accurate - and that I had no personal responsibility for my encounters with them turning out to be  memorably unfavorable.
So why would we fly 2000 miles and drive another 500 to subject ourselves to French phobia - right here in North America, no less? Well - Quebec is a Canadian Province - despite their occasional assertions to the contrary.  That means the road to ten provinces eventually runs into the French, which was where it led us the first weekend in October, 2011.

Our race was in Rimouski - a city of perhaps 40,000 people on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River - nearly 200 miles downriver and northeast of Quebec City.  With just over 500 half-marathoners, about half that many running the marathon, and  perhaps another 700 or so running a shorter distance, it wasn't a huge race, but it certainly wasn't among our smaller runs, either.  The setting was quite picturesque, as nearly the entire route was along the St. Lawrence - which, at this point - is certainly more like a sea than a river.  The north bank is visible, but barely, and it takes an hour to get across the river in a high speed ferry at this point.  The day didn't particularly showcase the scenery; it was gray, windy, very cool and humid, and even a bit misty towards the end of the race.  However, there were definitely some positives.  The pre-race and post-race food was VERY good; we got souvenir race hats since it was the 10th anniversary of the event; an excellent facility was available both before and after the race to stay warm in; and there were enough English-speaking participants that we didn't have to eat our food in silence. And did I mention that we did interact with the Quebecois participants - many of whom went out of their way to make us feel welcome - and who often spoke very good English or made a legitimate effort to communicate with us?

The race was a success.  However, we brought home with us much more than Finishers' Medals.  We had been looking forward to this trip for quite some time for a number of reasons.  First - I had seen enough of Quebec to know it was a beautiful place.  Secondly - a number of very critical chapters of modern North American history were written there.  And finally - old Quebec City rivals most old European cities for charm and authenticity.  It did not disappoint - in any of those areas.  And did I mention that the French Canadians often seemed generally friendly and extended a welcome that included honest efforts to communicate - in English, no less? (In fact, we met a French-Canadian couple from New Brunswick with which we became fast friends and who subsequently visited and skied with us in Utah and which we visited in Atlantic Canada.)  We spent a couple of days along the St. Lawrence, a couple of days in Quebec City, a couple of days in the vast expanse and wilderness of northern Quebec and a day in the Eastern Townships of southern Quebec.   The St. Lawrence included small villages, pastoral landscapes, seascapes, river islands, waterfalls, a fjord, hills and escarpments and the impressive mountains of Charlevoix - all with their own versions of beautiful fall colors.  It also included the heights of Quebec City, where a citadel and walled city were the heart of New France since the early 1600s - and a bastion against the British - who outsmarted the French later that century and defeated them on the Plains of Abraham - just outside the walls of the city.  This officially ended the French presence in North America.  Unofficially, French (or at least French-speaking Canadians) are still VERY present in Quebec - and when we asked the Citadel tour guide how it was that Britain won the war and yet Quebec today is a very French province - the answer was what I might have expected - it was destiny!  Since the British didn't banish the vanquished foe - they eventually tired of them - and eventually found themselves in "self-exile" elsewhere.

Okay, so I can't vouch for the entire authenticity of my history lesson, but Quebec was a great destination and trip - and gave us the kind of fall colors I have always wanted to experience in New England.  I'm not ready to go out and enroll in French lessons - but I am willing, and even anxious to go back.  Is there a thoughtful nugget in there?  Perhaps.  For me, it might read something like this: Don't erect French as an insurmountable barrier - even if you really think they deserve it.....because it might be exactly what they want!  (Or perhaps......just may find something very worthwhile where you might least expect to find it.)

Picture Key: Collage 1, Intro To Quebec; Collage 2, S. Shore, St. Lawrence near Rimouski and Bic National Park; Collage 3, Quebec City, w/Chateau Frontenac and Plains of Abraham; Collage 4, Citadel in Quebec City; Collage 5, Eastern Townships and along St. Lawrence; Collage 6, N. Shore of St. Lawrence and Ste. Anne de Beaupre Basilica; Collage 7, Fall foliage; Final picture - ferry crossing at Saguenay (Fjord)/Tadoussac.