Insanely sore

I spent the last week in Arkansas. I didn’t run as much as I would have liked, or should have, but I did get out to my rural track that I wrote about last Saturday a couple of times throughout the week.

It was a challenging workout, for sure, with all of the hills. Add to that the humidity and, well, finishing each and every run was quite the accomplishment.

Brian came down to join me last Wednesday. He has slowed down his own running to focus on the Shawn T Insanity Workout series. If you’re not familiar, Insanity is this workout program intended to kill you. But if somehow you are alive at the end of the 60 days, you should have a pretty toned-up, shaped-up body. I know a couple of people who have done the program and all have seen great results.

Saturday morning I got up planning to do a few rounds on my running track. I told Brian I was having a hard time getting motivated to repeat the same .90-mile loop. It was getting a little monotonous but I was still unwilling to leave my loop to take a run farther away from the house in bear country. He suggested I skip the run and do the Insanity workout with him. That day’s workout was named “Extreme Cardio” or some such craziness.

I have been curious as to whether I could survive the Insanity so I agreed to give it a shot. Within the first ten minutes I was already huffing and puffing but I was proud of myself for keeping up and not stopping. I was even thinking that all of these people who claim it is sooo hard are wimps. It wasn’t that bad. Then I realized that was the just the warm up. Ugghh. The “real” workout began in short order, about the time I ate a big piece of humble pie. I thought the Jillian Michaels workouts were tough. Oh my. When the people in the video are stopping to catch their breath, well … you know there’s nothing easy or even sane about doing this workout.

I kept up pretty well until the end when it went into a never-ending series of burpees (Shawn T calls them suicide jumps, which I think is a way more appropriate name) combined with push-ups. At this point, my legs were like jello. I’ve never liked burpees, or been good at regular push-ups, even though I can rock girlie ones, but the point is, I couldn’t keep up. Because the people in the video were stopping, and I had made it that far without stopping, I didn’t feel too bad about missing a few jumps. I just pushed as hard as I was able to push.

I’m happy to say I survived the workout. Although the workout was Saturday, it is now Wednesday and my calves are STILL sore! Had I done extra stretching after the workout I would probably be OK but I was so ready to be done, I didn’t give it a thought.

I can see why people get results from Insanity. I’d be willing to give it a shot but not until after the half marathon training is over. Doing both would not only be double insanity, but also near impossible. In other words, I haven’t been running since Saturday’s Insanity workout.

Posted in exercise, Fitness, Half marathon training, health, Insanity workout, Running | Leave a comment

When the accomplishment is simply to finish

Today’s long run was one of those runs in which about 10 minutes in, I decide the accomplishment will be to just finish, not achieve a particular pace.

I am down at my family’s place in the Arakansas Ozarks. After the last time I went running here last summer, when days later my aunt spotted a bear on the same road I was running on, I decided to stick close to the house. I just got back from Alaska and all, but I’m still not ready to share a path with a bear. So I decided to do my seven-mile run by repeating the same loop that is just shy of a mile.

On the back end of this loop is a steep hill. It was a fun challenge the first few times around but by about the fifth time, I had to walk at least part of the incline.

Adding to the fun of the hill were two dogs who are not used to people running past their house, so I was considered a threat. Not just the first time around, but every single time I rounded the corner and started up the hill, they stood at the top letting me know they were not happy with my presence. The closer I got they would bark, growl, show their teeth, bark some more, then chase me a little ways. I knew the dogs names so I called them by name in hopes that would put them at ease somewhat. Not sure how at ease they were but they didn’t bite me so I’d call that a successful technique.

My little friends.

My little friends.

There was a nice low-hanging fog that kept things cool when I first started but the sun quickly burned the fog away and the humidity set in. I decided to quit at least four times during the run but ultimately convinced myself to keep going each time. But as soon as I hit my target of seven miles, I rejoiced, then stopped running. I didn’t even have enough in me to make it back to the house running. I walked the remaining distance.

I’m not sure how many times I took walk breaks but I stopped beating myself up over them after about the third one. I’m not sure I would be a distance runner if all of my runs looked like this.

But, my usual runs don’t have views like this:

Fog hanging over the White River.

Fog hanging over the White River.

And, yes. I totally used picture-taking as an excuse to walk a few times 🙂

Posted in Arkansas Ozarks, exercise, Fitness, Half marathon training, health, motivation, mountain view arkansas, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Sightseeing train and run in Skagway


While planning our trip to Alaska I heard many time that Skagway is the place “catch the gold rush excitement.”

I didn’t know much about the Yukon Gold Rush, or Skagway for that matter, but we were set to learn all about it on the excursion we had planned to the Yukon Territory in Canada.

We took a bus the 25 or so miles into Canada where we would catch a train to come back down to Skagway. The driver/tour guide (Chilkoot tours) who drove us up to the Canadian border did an excellent job of giving us a Yukon Gold Rush history lesson which — as he put it — was 99% true and 1% his own personal opinions.

The more we learned about the gold rush, the less “gold rush excitement” I was feeling. As our driver told us, the gold rush was basically created by a series of lies told to each man who landed in the streets of Skagway looking to strike it rich. Many did not survive, but for those who did, it was likely the most physically challenging thing they ever endured and in most cases, for nothing.

The first lie told to the men was that there were fields of gold in Skagway. After months of struggling to feed their families during the 1890’s depression that paralyzed the lower 48 states, men showed up by the thousands to Skagway, eager to pull themselves and their families out of severe poverty. They begged, borrowed and did what they had to do to make it to Skagway only to be told the gold wasn’t actually in Skagway, but across the border in the Yukon Territory of Canada. And to get to Canada from Skagway, they had to travel more than 30 miles on one of two trails — The White Pass or the Chilkoot trail — in some of the most rugged terrain in North America.

Once there, the Canadian Mounties told them they could cross but only if they had a years worth of provisions, per man, as well as winter gear to keep them warm. This meant each man had to return to Skagway, purchase the needed provisions and then make the same demanding trip but with supplies that weighed more than one ton. If that weren’t enough of a burden, the men had spent all they had just to get to Alaska. They had to earn more money to buy the needed supplies. Conveniently, an opportunistic British investment company was putting in a railway from Skagway to the Yukon. They were in need of cheap laborers and they had an endless supply of willing men.

The railroad was finally built, but about two years too late. The gold-bearing land had all been claimed by the time the railroad opened. Today, the railroad carries tourists like us back and forth between Skagway and the Yukon.

The ride was definitely very scenic as we were very high up in the mountains. But looking at the surrounding area, it was hard to imagine anyone traversing the area on foot, let alone carrying a ton of provisions.

In the Gold Rush Museum in Skagway, there was a display that showed what the typical supply load looked like. The accompanying sign said the men had to make a choice of carrying a heavier load to reduce the number of back and forth trips or carry a lighter load and take more trips. It said some men traveled nearly 1,000 miles to get their supplies the 33 miles to Lake Bennett, their destination in the Yukon.

As I mentioned earlier, it took two years for the railroad to be built and just as long for many men to make it through the mountains with their required supplies. The land had already been claimed before many arrived. As a result, many of the men committed suicide to avoid the shame of going home empty-handed.

Today, hikers can travel through the same mountain pass that the stampeders traveled so long ago. The Chilkoot Trail is still largely in tact but most of the White Pass trail, near where the railroad was built, is mostly gone and park rangers discourage hikers from attempting it.

We had already made plans to do the train excursion so we didn’t look in to any hikes. I’m not sure I would want to hike that area anyway. The whole thing was very sad to me. Yes, there were people who died as a result of their greed, but many saw it as a last hope to escape from the extreme poverty caused by the depression. Those beautiful mountains saw so much tragedy it almost seems like sacred ground.

I did, however, get in a good — and educational — run through Skagway. The downtown area is only about eight blocks longs and three blocks wide. After looping around a couple of times, I went up and down the inside streets and found a few little hidden gems. There were little areas of historical significance where signs were erected telling the story of that particular sight and the people involved.

One such sight was where the home of Harriet Pullen once stood. The sign there said she was an important character of the gold rush days because she ran a guest house and also became the resident historian of Skagway. She had an extensive collection of old relics and even more tails that would entertain the tourists that came to Skagway after the gold rush came to an end. The house was demolished in 1991 but the fireplace and chimney still stand.

I ran a few blocks, then stopped to check something out. Then ran some more. This went on for about an hour and a half.

Railroad snow plow (!!) Yeah, they get some serious snow in those parts!

Railroad snow plow (!!) Yeah, they get some serious snow in those parts!

I also came across the entrance to another trail system that is pretty popular in this area. I would love to have checked it out but I promised Brian, who was not with me on the run, that I would stay on main streets (he’s no fun). But I also spotted a group of three people and a dog entering the trail and they looked like they were setting off on more than a day hike.

Upon further investigation later on, I found there is a short trail we could have done in the amount of time we had. I guess I’ll add that to my list of things to do next time 🙂

Posted in Alaska, Alaska, bucket list, exercise, Fitness, health, pictures, traveling, Uncategorized, White Pass railroad | Leave a comment

Gravity likes me. It really likes me.

At least once every training season I have an epic fall. A situation where I am happily running along and the next second I am face-planting in to the asphalt. Saturday was epic fall day.

I started my run a little later than I should have. I was talking myself in to waiting until Sunday to get my run in because my hips were feeling pretty stiff when I got out of bed. But once I moved around a bit, the stiffness dissipated and I felt like running. I headed out at about 9 a.m.

The sun was starting to really beat down at that point and the humidity level was on the rise. The first couple of miles were ok since I was mostly in the shade. Then I made it to the wildlife refuge where I planned to get in at least three miles, which would mean running around the whole are twice since the paths there only total about a mile and a half. Instead, I decided to do a loop around a residential area near the wildlife refuge so I could have a change of scenery and not have to run in circles.

The area is relatively new so there aren’t a lot of shade trees covering the sidewalks and streets. Soon after I entered the neighborhood, the heat and humidity really started getting to me. I drank extra water, but that can only do so much.

The heat is just really debilitating to me. It makes me feel lethargic and wiped out. I guess what happens is, I get tired, my feet get sloppy and I don’t pick them up as much as I should, then my toe gets caught on the tiniest of cracks in the sidewalk, and down I go.

Compared to other falls I’ve taken, this one wasn’t as epic. (Not that it wouldn’t have been absolutely hysterical to anyone who may have been watching) One time a few years ago, I was running on a beautiful morning with my dog Macy. I was in such a happy mood, running along at a good pace. I passed two women and gave then a cheery “good morning!” and a wave with my hand except I barely got the word “morning” off my lips and I was suddenly air born. Somehow I managed to turn my whole body while air born and landed flat on my back. I dropped Macy’s leash in the meantime and once I hit the ground Macy came up and started licking my face. The women just stood there, horrified. How they kept it together is beyond me. I totally would have laughed at me until my belly hurt. I’m sure those two women still talk about it to this day.

This time, it was a simple trip and lunge forward. My knees and palms hit the ground at the same time so the impact was minimal. I recovered quickly, jumped back up and was back running like nothing happened all within about three seconds. I didn’t hear any roars of laughter so I don’t think anyone saw me.

The heat was killing me so I picked up my pace to make it back the wildlife refuge so I could find some shade. I started lamenting the fact that my pace would likely be a lot slower than my last few runs. I thought about how I would love to just stay in the shade the whole time. While that was not possible, I figured out how I could maximize my time in the shade while reducing time in non-shaded areas.

That was how I came up with my new “beat the heat speed training.”

I would use sunny areas for fartleks so I could get through them as fast as possible, and use the shaded areas for recovery. Not sure how effective this training is since the fartleks were sometime only about 15 seconds, but it sure made the run more enjoyable. Anyone watching was probably confused at my sporadic pace that would go from balls to the wall sprinting to a casual jog in a matter of seconds.





My overall pace, while a little bit slower than what I have been doing for my short runs, was pretty darn good for a long run. And I did all of this with a bloody knee that I didn’t know I had until I came up the driveway and Brian said, “Did you fall again?” It happens so frequently, instead of asking if I’m ok (I always am), he’ll usually ask if it was “a good one.” When he asked if I fell, I got ready to ask how he knew, but looked down and saw the scrapes. He then gave me a knowing nod.

I think my “beat the heat speed training” might be successful. Now, if only I could come up with an anti-gravity speed training routine. Or maybe I’ll just start running in this.

Posted in exercise, Fitness, Half marathon training, motivation, Running, running injury, Stuff that would only happen to me, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

My quest to be a morning person. Again.

Since we returned from our trip I have been wanting to get started on my half marathon training but have had a difficult time getting started.
The problem is my mid-week runs. I’ve tried a few times before to gets my runs done in the morning and each time my efforts fail less than a week in and I go back to my after-work runs. I have recently accepted the fact the evening runs are simply not working out as planned.
My intentions to run after work are always good. I leave the office motivated to go running but by the time I walk in the door I’m either tired, or starving, or both, or the humidity is just too extreme. Lately it’s been the humidity.
On Tuesday I got home and changed into my running gear. Since it was so hot and humid I decided to walk the dogs before my run. It was way too hot to take them running with me. We walked for a mile and a half and by the time we made it back to the house, I was drenched with sweat and absolutely beat. I bailed on the run and instead got on the spin bike which is located in my very cool basement.
At least I got a workout in, I told myself. But spinning isn’t going to get me trained for a half marathon. I started to revisit this whole morning run idea.
I’m not sure what my problem is, because I get up early on the weekends and run. Actually, I do know what my problem is. I don’t have to stay awake and use my brain for the rest of the day on a Saturday or Sunday like I do during the week. But I decided getting a three-mile run in would only require getting up 30 minutes earlier. If I could do that for a few weeks, maybe I could then stretch it to 45 or 50 minutes earlier, allowing me time to get in a five-mile run. Doesn’t sound too bad in theory. It’s the actual getting up and out the door that’s the problem. But, I decided, convincing myself to get up and run in the morning will be easier than convincing myself to run when I get home in the evening.
So, today was Day 2. I did just over three miles yesterday morning then ran the same route in the opposite direction this morning. I have to say, the temperatures were absolutely perfect. Much better than conditions that make me feel like I am running with a wet blanket wrapped around me. I ran an awesome pace and even managed to work in some dreaded fartleks . For you non-runners, I’m not talking about passing gas while running. A fartlek is an interval training technique where you do bursts of running at a pace significantly faster than your norm. It’s supposed to help build speed but it also brings your heart rate up for a better caloric burn.
The first half mile or so of each run were a little painful. I think my muscles were still at home in bed. But once I got warmed up, the running was pleasant. I felt great when I was done.
I had pretty good energy throughout the day, although I did take a quick nap while getting a massage at the chiropractor’s office yesterday.
Side note: I’m still having hip issues that have become more of an annoyance than anything. It hurts if I sit too long. It hurts when I ride in the car too long. It hurts when I run. The chiro didn’t see anything obvious. If it continues giving me problems I’ll have to pay the ortho a visit.
Today also went well. I felt like I had pretty good energy all day. I also felt like I had good focus at work.
My long run will be tomorrow or Sunday, then next week we’ll see how things go. I’m undecided how many days I will shoot for. I’m also undecided if on non-running days I should still get up at the same earlier time as a way of training my body. I could do my cross-training workouts in the morning, too, I guess. Something to mull over during my long run.
Any morning people out there? How do you do it? Same time every morning, even non-running days? If so, how do you spend that extra time in the morning if you’re not running?

Posted in exercise, Fitness, Half marathon training, health, motivation, Running, running injury | Tagged | Leave a comment

Worth every calorie

I don’t think I have mentioned here what cruise line we took for our Alaskan trip but it was Princess. Specifically, the Coral Princess. This was only our second cruise, first one on Princess. The only other cruise we had to compare it to was Royal Caribbean International, which we sailed about three years ago.
As far as food is concerned, I have heard many people say Princess and RCI are pretty comparable. For the most part we found this to be true but we had a couple of dining experiences on this cruise that were definitely above and beyond. One in particular was the Chef’s Table.
The Chef’s Table, we were told, was something created to woo travel agents but word got out about the experience and others wanted in on it. Now, it’s limited to the first 10-12 people who sign up. You can’t sign up ahead of the cruise, and there is only one per cruise. It’s basically a chance for the executive chef to cook specifically for you and to create and an unforgettable dining experience that not only includes great food, wine and champagne but also a tour of the galley and a few other extras.
I learned about the Chef’s Table before the cruise by reading someone else’s review in Cruise Critic. I thought it would be a nice surprise for Brian but learned I had to wait until we boarded the ship to sign up. I, honestly, had forgotten about it but the first night on board the ship after a minor hiccup with the dining room staff, the head waiter spent some extra time with us and mentioned the Chef’s Table. We told him we were interested but we had to wait until the next day to find out if we got in. We did, and the dinner took place our third night on the ship, the day we spent in Glacier Bay.
We had to wear closed-toe shoes, something I didn’t bring in the dress shoe variety so I had to change in and out of my running shoes. Then we had to put on white lab coats and scrub down like we were going in to surgery. They then paraded us through the dining room on our way to the galley. I’m sure others in the dining room thought we were food inspectors.
Once in the galley, we got a tour from the executive chef and an elegant little reception with an ice sculpture and a nice glass of champagne ( the real stuff from France – fancy!) We then noshed on some amazing appetizers that I would never order on my own but was so glad to have tried: escargot (snails), caviar ( fish eggs), and steak tartar (raw beef). They were all outside the comfort zone of things I would order, but they were all absolutely de-lish. But the thing I learned about this evening right away was that despite the high bar at which we started, each course was better than the last.
After the reception inside the galley, we were led to a private table near the back of the dining room. It was here, we realized an amazing evening can be made or broken by the company you hold. Our evening wasn’t broken, but only because we both have a good sense of humor.
Remember Kristion Wiig’s Penelope character on Saturday Night Live? The one-upper who took bragging to whole new levels?

We had the male version of Penolope at our table. The conversation was something like:
A fellow table mate: So, you went to Denali before coming on the cruise?
Us: Yes. It was amazing.
Fellow table mate: did you see any wild life?
Us: Yes, actually, we got so lucky. We saw lots of wildlife including a mama bear and her baby cubs.
Male Penelope: I saw Bears at Denali, too. Yeah, I actually wrestled one and won. So. Yeah. My time at Denali was better that yours, so …
Ok, maybe not THAT bad, but he did tell us that he got to co-pilot a fighter jet once even though he was not actually a pilot, or even in the aviation industry. One of our tables mates, however, was a retired American Airlines pilot. See what I mean … Penelope.
Again, we have a sense of humor so instead of him annoying us, we found it somewhat entertaining. In fact, the guy provided hours of entertainment as Brian and I spent the rest of the night after dinner imitating him. Yeah, we’re mature and classy that way.
Anyway … Back to the food. The main course was a roasted veal shank and beef tenderloin served with a portabella mushroom sauce and mousseline potatoes. (I just cheated and had to look at the menu they gave us to confirm the potato name. Ok, yes. And then I Googled it. Mousseline potatoes = Potatoes cooked in milk & garlic, pureed with olive oil, cream & seasoning. So, basically, facy mashed potatoes. All I know is there were awesome.) I am not a food blogger therefore I am not one of those people who photographs food and posts the pictures on Facebook. I made exceptions this time.
Palette-cleansing sorbet:
Here are the chef and kitchen staff preparing our meal table side:

And then there were, literally, three desserts with this as the grand finale:

The entire thing was edible including what looks like a blown glass bowl.

The entire thing was edible including what looks like a blown glass bowl.

I don’t think I mentioned half of what was included in the dinner. The food just kept coming, each course paired with a wine. Each participant also got pictures with the chef and a signed cookbook of Princess recipes.
The event was a highlight of the cruise. It was truly a memorable meal and worth every penny ($98/pp). It was also worth the extra workout I had to do the next day to balance it all out.

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Magical run in an even more magical place

The luck we had in Denali weather-wise continued for the cruise portion of our trip with the exception of the first day at sea when we were scheduled to sail to Hubbard Glacier. The fog was too dense and we couldn’t make it in to the bay. It was a little disappointing but after the time we had the next day at Glacier Bay, I couldn’t be too upset.

When we arrived to Glacier Bay the next morning, the fog was still hanging pretty low, but it made for some neat views.
Then the sun started burning off the fog, which also made for some picturesque views.
Shortly after we entered the protected area of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserves, park rangers boarded the ship and would stay on board the entire day giving commentary on what we were looking at . One of them referred to Glacier Bay National Park as a “magical place.” Soon after I heard her say this, the magic started.
I was inside the bathroom in our state room when Brian came in from the balcony asking where the binoculars were because he spotted some whales. I immediately ran outside to see the start of what ended up being a water show like no other water show I have ever seen.
There were whales swimming around, blowing water out of their spouts, breaching and slapping their tales against the water. Not just two or three whales, but dozens. One right after the other. This is when a mega zoom lens would have come in handy, but they were still close enough to capture decent shots.

First, they would blow water out their blowholes.

First, they would blow water out their blowholes.

Then you'd see the dorsal fins come out of the water.

Then you’d see the dorsal fins come out of the water.

Finally, they would go back down and then flip their tails out of the water.

Finally, they would go back down and then flip their tails out of the water.

The whales were so close to the ship you could clearly hear them blowing out of their blowholes. But what should have been the “money shot” was cut off too short when two whales breached side-by-side. I saw them come up, I lifted and pointed my camera and started shooting and was just a tad too short and cut them off the bottom.
Next came the sea otters, which I did not get pictures of since they were too far away but I got good views through the binoculars. There were also puffins, which I also saw from a distance.
We wanted to get a view off both sides of the ship, so we left our room and headed to the forward Caribe deck balcony, which was literally, just outside our door as our room was two from the very front of the ship. I found out about by the “secret balcony” by spending time on before the cruise. It’s not shown on the official deck plans. Few people knew about it, apparently, because it was never crowded, and was a great place for viewing, depending on who you’re sharing the balcony with.
Here’s my public service announcement for all of you parents: Your kids don’t want to go to Alaska. They want to be at Disney World. And when you force your kids to go on a vacation they don’t want to be on, they will be miserable and make the people around them miserable. #themoreyouknow (cue the shooting star and rainbow. Ding ding dingg) Go ahead, flame me. No, I do not have kids, but I was a kid once and I know I would have been just as bored as the kids we encountered on that balcony. Although I’d like to think I would have been less bratty.
Glacier Bay is, indeed, a magical place and the only way to truly take in its beauty is to silently watch. In the quiet calm, there’s such a sense of serenity that is indescribable. I was in this serene mental place, happily watching the whales jump on either side of the boat with snow-capped mountains as a backdrop, the only noise I could hear was the whales and the sound of the ship cutting its way through the water. Then: I DON’T WANT TO LOOK AT GLACIERS. GLACIERS ARE STUPID! NO, I DON’T WANT TO WHALE WATCH. WHALES ARE STUPID TOO!!! (yes, this is exactly what the kid was saying. Very loudly. Over and over)
I suddenly remembered why we paid for a balcony room.
Serenity now. Back to the room.
We decided to take advantage of room service and have lunch with a view from our balcony. We were just finishing up lunch when we came upon the star of Glacier Bay, Margerie Glacier.
Margerie is rare in that she is a healthy glacier that is actually growing. We took many, many pictures but they will do nothing to show the grandness of this natural wonder. Margerie is one-mile wide and more than 300 feet tall, which you definitely cannot tell from this photo.
A close-up of Margerie's peaks.

A close-up of Margerie’s peaks.

As we sat watching, we suddenly heard a loud noise that sounded like thunder. I remembered reading what this sound meant. Grab the camera!! it’s calving!, I yelled at Brian. Then we saw the big splash in the water below the wall of ice.
The pictures don’t really capture the calving all that well because of Margerie’s massive size. We agreed that while the chunks we saw fall off looked small, they were likely the size of a car or even a house. It’s hard to gain size perspective when everything surrounding it is massive.
Next to Margerie is the Grand Pacific glacier. It’s not nearly as pretty. Actually we probably wouldn’t know it was a glacier had someone not told us. It is black, as opposed to the white and blue shades of Margerie, from all of the debris it has picked up in its retreat. Pretty it is not, but significant in that it is the glacier credited with forming most of the 3.3 million-acre Glacier Bay.
Grand Pacific Glacier.

Grand Pacific Glacier.

Once we left Margerie and the Grand Pacific glaciers, Brian wanted to go get a workout in since we had a big dinner planned (more on that later). I wanted to take in the sites a while longer so he headed to the gym and I headed back to the Caribe balcony (the kids had left). I sat out there watching the landscape change as we sailed back toward the bay’s entrance. I started feeling anxious since I hadn’t worked out yet that day and had a big night planned. Then it dawned on me that my favorite way to explore new places is by lacing up the running shoes, so why not do that here. How many people get to run through Glacier Bay?! So, I headed back to the room, changed in to my running clothes, laced up the shoes, and hit the promenade deck. On each loop around the track, I got a different view of the scenery surrounding the ship. And if there was something more beautiful on one side, the loop around was made that much quicker to make it back to that view. The air was so incredibly fresh, the temperature perfect and the views unmatched. It was a perfect way to explore Glacier Bay from the decks of the ship while getting in a workout. It was also just simply a spectacular run. I looped round and round that deck for a total of 4.5 memorable miles.
I actually snapped this picture on accident while running around the deck (you can see the collar of my jacket and side of my face on the right corner) and there's a glacier in the background.

I actually snapped this picture on accident while running around the deck (you can see the collar of my jacket and side of my face on the right corner) and there’s a glacier in the background.

Posted in Alaska, bucket list, exercise, Fitness, health, pictures, traveling, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Vacation hangover

Our Alaskan adventure is over. We arrived home late Wednesday night and are still recovering from the lack of sleep caused by long days packed with lots of fun. Thank God for the four-day holiday weekend before we head back to work Monday.

Once we left Denali we boarded the Coral Princess and sailed the Inside Passage on the west coast of Alaska for a week. There wasn’t Internet access at sea, so I wasn’t able to live-blog the trip but I took many notes and many more pictures. I think I have enough material for many, many blog posts!

I’m going to do a thorough recap of the trip in several parts. But I’ll start by saying it really was the trip of a life time, although I hope it was the first of many trips there. That’s the thing about Alaska, a trip there just gives you a taste of what it’s all about then makes you realize there’s so much more to see. I could spend a week in Denali alone. We made so many great memories on this trip and saw so many amazing things that photos will never do justice portraying. But I need to write about it all just to help keep a record of our experiences. I also found the many blogs I read from previous travelers to Alaska a great help when planning our trip, so maybe I will share information others will find useful.

I hope everyone had a wonderful July 4. Mine was spent sleeping in and then catching up on housework and yard work. Afterward, we had a lovely evening watching fireworks from the neighbors’ porch. I’ll probably start writing over the weekend in-between visits with family and catching up on sleep. Oh! And running. Must. Run. This. Weekend. I have a half marathon I need to start training for! Vacation is over. Back to work, and back to training.

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The best of 20% in Denali

Warning: this post may contain an excessive amount of superlatives because we just had the most awesome day imaginable (don’t say I didn’t warn you about the superlatives).

We have been in Denali since Monday afternoon. The weather has been absolutely amazing with record temperatures in the upper 80’s. I was happy to see this weather forecasted a few days before we left since we had a day full of outdoor activities planned for Denali that wouldn’t have been the same in rain or cold.

Instead of a tour, we decided to take advantage of the Denali Park shuttle service. There are a handful of routes taking visitors to various points within the park. You buy a ticket based on the farthest-most point you want to travel along the 92-mile long park road. The farther you go, the more you pay but all routes are reasonably priced. We picked the bus to the Eileson Visitors Center which is at mile 66. There is a ranger-led hike there that goes up Thoro Ridge Pass and chances for the best views of Mt. McKinley.

The shuttle buses are great because the drivers offer a narrated experience, like the guided tours do, but you have the freedom to jump on and off as you please. You can jump off and flag down the next bus going your way. The drivers are also on the lookout for wildlife and will stop any time a passenger yells, indicating they spotted something.

Our shuttle left at 7 am and we spotted our first wildlife before 7:30 — a little red fox. The little guy was on the opposite side of the bus so the pictures didn’t come out. But just a couple minutes later, we spotted our first bear. I had really hoped to see a bear but didn’t have very high expectations.

It started on the right-hand side of our bus then crossed the road in front of us to the other side, where we were able to snap some pictures. We not only saw the bear, but saw him (or her, I don’t know) up close. It’s pretty cool how the bears adapt to the big green buses rolling through their environment every day. There was a bus in front of us and one behind us and the bear didn’t seem to notice any of us.
Along the way to Eileson we also saw one more fox, a handful of caribou and dall sheep, which I, personally, did not see because I was on the wrong side of the bus.

The other absolutely amazing thing is that we saw Mt. McKinley, another thing I wished and hoped to see but didn’t count on. Our driver told us only 20% of visitors to Denali get to see the mountain, something I’ve heard a few times before which is why my expectations were not set too high. But we not only were in the 20% that get to see the mountain, but were also in the rare group that gets to see it against a clear blue sky, for the entire day. It was such a beautiful, memorable moment seeing her for the first time peek out from behind another mountain.

The day was just absolutely incredible. The weather truly could not have been more perfect. We traveled down the Park Road into the Polychrome Pass area where we were also able to see one of the most colorful displays in the park.

Polychrome overlook, Denali National Park.

Polychrome overlook, Denali National Park.

During the four-hour bus ride to Eileson we saw the most magnificent scenery I have ever witnessed. It was even more magnificent than the Dingle peninsula in Ireland which was also breathtaking. It just kept getting better and better the farther we drove in to the park.

Once we arrived at Eileson, we immediately found the ranger desk to sign up for a noon hike we planned to do with the ranger. It is limited to the first 11 people who sign up and it was already full when we got there. We had seen people hiking up a large mountain across from the Eileson Center and quickly realized that was the same route for the ranger-led hike. As the bus driver pointed out, taking the hike with a ranger gives you the opportunity to see things pointed out that you might miss, or don’t know what you’re looking at. For example, at one point during the bus ride the driver pointed out an area at the foot of a mountain that appeared to be a grassy field. He informed us it was actually the tail end of a glacier which has picked up so much natural debris it is covered with green vegetation. Unless someone told you, you’d never guess it was a glacier.

There was another ranger-led hike that was due to start an hour after the hike we wanted to take that still had room. It was a much shorter hike and stayed pretty much at the same elevation instead of up a mountain. We decided to forego the ranger-led hike and the information-gathering opportunities for a scenic hike on our own. We definitely made the right choice.

Base of the Thoro Ridge pass at Eileson Visitor's Center.

Base of the Thoro Ridge pass at Eileson Visitor’s Center.

The climb felt pretty much straight up. It was challenging but we knew it’d be worth it. The sky was still blue and clear when we made it to the top and the views of Mt. McKinley from up there were absolutely breathtaking.

Looking down on Eileson Visitors Center (where we started) from the top of Thoro Ridge Pass.

Looking down on Eileson Visitors Center (where we started) from the top of Thoro Ridge Pass.

View of Mt. McKinley from top of Thoro Ridge Pass.

View of Mt. McKinley from top of Thoro Ridge Pass.

I could have pitched a tent up there and stayed for days breathing in the fresh air and admiring God’s creation. But, alas, we had to make the trek back down to catch a bus back to the park entrance.

About two and a half hours in to the trip back, just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, someone on the bus yelled STOP! BEAR! We all turned to look and this big bear stepped out of the brush, followed by her two cubs. Everyone oohed and ahhed, then started snapping photos. We didn’t get the best photos since the bears were on the opposite side of the bus and I had to take my photos in between other people’s heads, but it was one of those moments that pictures would not do justice anyway. The little cubs were running clumsily behind their mama trying to catch up to her. It was the cutest thing.
I told Brian that if the vacation was just that day alone, it would have been fulfilling. I think he summed it up best when he said I needed a dump truck for my bucket list today. There was nothing I could think of that I wished we’d seen or done but didn’t. It was an unbelievably memorable day. And that was just day three of this 11-day trip. I can’t imagine what else is in store.

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Midnight sun

After about a two-and-a-half-hour delay (mechanical, which I will never complain about) we arrived in Fairbanks late last night. Our bodies were tired, but it certainly didn’t seem like that long of a flight, nor did it feel anything like bedtime.

We arrived at our hotel at about 11:30 p.m local time. I didn’t really realize how late it was until we got to our room, but when I opened up the curtain to our window, this was the view that greeted us:

It wasn’t an ultra-spectacular view but the thing that made it so incredible was considering the time this photograph was taken. It was going on midnight and it was not only bright and sunny, but boats were still going up and down the river, and many people were out walking along the shorelines.

In an area that deals with months of temperatures that can get to -50 degrees while sunlight is limited to just a few short hours per day, the arrival of the summer solstice is something to be celebrated. And the people of Fairbanks do just that.

I heard no fewer than three people wish someone else a “happy solstice.” I also heard a few people telling others to enjoy the sunshine. In downtown Fairbanks, there’s even a festival to welcome the summer solstice and the midnight sun that it brings.

You can just tell people want to enjoy every little bit of sunshine they can while they have it. In fact, we both did a double take this afternoon when we were out on the patio overlooking the Chena River and we saw a lady kayaking with a baby in her lap whom she appeared to be nursing… No, really!

In addition to helping the Alaskans celebrate the midnight sun (because who could pass up a chance to celebrate the sun? We also happen to like a good street fest) we also did a little sightseeing, including a viewing of the great Alaskan pipeline.


We also paid a certain fat, bearded man a visit in the North Pole, and started some early Christmas shopping. Yes, it was a total tourist trap, but when you are within a few miles of the North Pole, how can you not go buy a Christmas ornament?!

Brian must have been good because later in the day he received his new favorite hat, and his new favorite glasses. He was one happy tourist.


We also got in a run, but it was cut short due to the blood-sucking mosquitos which we completely underestimated. It’s a shame, too, because there’s a great bike path that was only about a half mile from the hotel.



The path appeared to continue through the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus and other areas of the city but we turned around after a mile and a half for a total of three miles. Each time we slowed just a little, Brian’s back would be covered. When we got back I discovered several had bitten me through my clothes. They don’t mess around!

It’s now almost 11:30 p.m. once again, and the sun is shining brightly under the tightly-drawn curtains in our room. It’s a bit bizarre going to bed when it’s so light out. But when you’re in the land of the midnight sun, you’d have to wait a few months if you needed it to be nightfall to go to sleep. And I, for one, need my sleep. We have a full day tomorrow as we make our way to Denali.

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