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.