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Rediscovering the joys of slow happy running

It’s been a while since I have run purely for fun rather than because I was training for a race. My knees have needed and appreciated the near-complete break from running after the Victoria half marathon four weeks ago, but over this past week the itch to run has returned.

I ran an easy four miles along the waterfront the other day, accompanied by the calls of an unusually vocal common loon. Today I was ready for something a bit more adventurous.

I haven’t done any trail running since the Alaska trip last summer. This morning I suggested to my friend that we do the nearby Adventure Trail — he on his mountain bike and I on my two feet. It was not raining when we set out, but we both wore our waterproof jackets in anticipation of a sudden downpour. I normally wouldn’t consider running in a jacket — much too warm — so I was setting myself up for a leisurely run.

As it turned out, I was correct about the “leisurely” part. There were so many leaves on the trail that the numerous rocks and roots were completely hidden in many places. Every footfall became a planned, tentative event. The sensation was almost like running in slow motion (and the result was definitely slow).

But this wasn’t about pace! I had my GPS watch on but that was because I wanted to know how far I’d run. I wasn’t at all interested in how fast. I took a lot of walk breaks and stopped completely several times to capture scenes like this one.

The story gets better. By stopping to take that photo, I created a space and time in which to experience something truly rare and remarkable.

I heard a tree fall in the forest.

I didn’t see it directly. I heard two sharp cracks, the second louder than the first. I looked just to the right of the trees in the photo and saw branches shaking as though a large animal had just run through them. I heard a couple of soft whooshes as the tree (or it could have been just a large branch) fell through other trees — then a loud BOOM as the timber hit the ground.

My friend, who was out of sight ahead of me on his bike, did not hear the tree fall. For him, the tree falling in the forest did not make a sound. For me, it was a breath-taking audio experience!

Philosophical conundrum solved! It’s all about whether you have made yourself receptive to that tree at the moment of its fall. I had chosen to stop, look, and listen… and there it was.

I finished my run a little tired (trail running uses different muscles than road running!) but very happy. It was wonderful to be out there, finding my way through the leaves, rocks, and roots and not stressing one bit about how slowly I was going. Sometimes just the simple fact of forward motion, with nothing in my ears except my thoughts and the sound of my footsteps, is enough.

I hope you too found some happiness today… at whatever your favored pace. One step at a time!

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Running smack into autumn

Autumn has arrived, overnight and with a vengence. We’ve had rain seven out of the last eight days. We’ve had high winds. We’ve had a thunderstorm (highly unusual in this part of the world). And the mountains have had their first snow.

It was just a dusting the other day, but the forecast calls for 4-8 inches, down to 3000 feet, over the next couple of days. It looks like those long high-altitude hikes that I’d planned will have to wait until next summer. The lower trails should still be good for several more weeks before winter really sets in, and I do hope to get out there before ALL the leaves are down.

But I’m still feeling tired and a little sore after the Victoria half marathon. I’ve realized that two half marathons in two weeks is a REALLY big deal for a middle-aged body, and that I’m going to need some time to fully recover. I’m not injured… just tired and sore. The setting-in of autumn is the perfect time to slow down and rest a bit.

I went out to run the other day for the first time since Victoria. Right out of the parking lot I ran smack into autumn! Leaves were down on the trail, a couple of inches thick in some places. Running through the wet, slippery leaves forced me to slow down and alter my stride. My short, choppy steps weren’t feeling fluid or graceful at all, and I quickly realized that I wasn’t having much fun running. Therefore I prudently decided to stop and take some photos instead. I think I made a good choice!

I know that the fire in my belly for running will return. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about another long, slow bike ride or a hike in low country to enjoy the last of the autumn leaves. Something easy on the knees and soothing for the mind.

At this moment, however, until I’m fully in sync with the change of seasons, I’m happy to let the autumn winds swirl around outside while I put my feet up and read a book.

How about you? Has autumn arrived in your part of the world? When it does, do you find yourself needing to pause and hit the “reset” button?

What’s brewing in Slow Happy Runner Land?

All of a sudden, lots of things are brewing and bubbling and simmering, or about to do so.

Remember when I told you about the few bits of cabbage that I’d managed to rescue from the slugs and salvage from my garden? Those 2.2 pounds of cabbage now comprise about 25% of the sauerkraut that is bubbling and brewing on my kitchen counter. I had to go out and buy three large heads of organic cabbage and add them to mine in order to make a worthwhile-sized batch. I’m pleased to report that my cabbage tastes more flavorful than the store-bought stuff anyway.

I’ve never made sauerkraut before, although given my German ancestry it’s something I’ve always wanted to try. I had to buy a large (expensive) crock for this project, so I really hope it turns out well. I’ll need to make many batches of fermented vegetables in the future to fully amortize the cost of that crock!

I started this project a day and a half ago, and it’s now beginning to ferment. I’ll move it to a cooler place in another day or so once the bubbling really gets going. If all goes well, I’ll be eating sauerkraut in a month.

Meanwhile I’m getting ready for a real brewing adventure. Many years ago, back when I was making my own bread and yogurt, I ventured into home brewing. Having lived in Scotland for a while as a student, I’d developed a taste for British ales. But imports were hard to come by, and the craft-brewing craze had not yet taken off in the US. The laws were changing and home brewing was not strictly illegal anymore… so I thought, why not?

Loking back, I realize now that I was quite the pioneer in those days. I managed to find a source for equipment and ingredients, and I brewed (as I recall) three pretty darned good batches of ale. Then somehow, my interests moved on to other things. Meanwhile craft brewing exploded, and it became easier to find really good local ales. When I moved to Washington, I got rid of the brewing equipment that I hadn’t touched in years.

Here in Washington (which happens to be one of the great hop-growing regions of the world) our local craft brewers have gone way, over-the-top overboard with hops. I love hops as much as the next girl, but the really “big” IPAs are not my favorites. Lately, my taste has gone in a mellower, sweeter, less-is-more direction. I’m quite enjoying porters and even the occasional stout.

My friend and I began to experiment with expanding and educating our beer palates. Then a brewing supply store opened right downtown. We went to a brewing club meeting and… you can guess the rest.

After a couple more weeks of research and taste testing, we went back to the brewing supply store and walked out of there with carboys, buckets, a beautiful stainless steel kettle, bottle brushes, tubing, various scientific instruments, and the ingredients for our first batch of beer. We decided to start with a safe choice, just a basic “American amber ale.” For the uninitiated, there is an official list of “beer styles,” each of which is characterized by a distinctive footprint that includes yeast type, brewing procedure, color, bitterness, and of course alcohol content. “American amber ale” is (as you might guess) a reddish ale. It’s hoppy but not overly so. The recipe we chose uses two kinds of barley malt and two kinds of hops… no complex formulas or finicky additives. Basically just boil, cool, ferment, and bottle.

I moved furniture out of my former office to make room for the brewery. It’s an ideal space because there is a stove, a sink, and lots of room to maneuver. It’s downstairs where the temperature is a more or less constant and predictable 65 degrees. I can’t think of a better way to repurpose a home office for post-corporate use.

Tomorrow is brewing day. In three weeks I should be popping the cap off my first bottle of Slow Happy Brew.

Now I’m reading about sourdough starter. I did that, too, a long time ago. I think I’ll try making sourdough bread again!

So besides all this sudden culinary activity, what else is brewing?

I’m in the final countdown until my two half marathons, on September 23 and October 7. I’m still trying to think of the first one as “the last long training run” for the second one, but I’m sure that come race #1 day I’ll be out there pushing it just a little bit. However, my training runs have been a bit erratic lately, so I really don’t know what to expect. If I go out on 9/23 and my knees are happy, I’ll have a great day, maybe even another PR without too much effort (I recently ran 10 miles at a sub-10 minute pace). I honestly think that on a downhill course I will beat my hilly PR 2:16:10 without pushing too hard. But if my knees decide they aren’t happy or if 9/23 happens to be a warm day, that race will be a slog. However, it finishes at a microbrew festival, so I’ll drag myself to the finish if I have to.

The Octber 7 race in Victoria BC is one that I do take seriously. I ran that one last year in the seemingly-impossible-at-the-time time of 2:40:33. I’d love to shave 26 minutes or so (that is, 2 minutes a mile) off that time. It’s doable… if my knees are happy that day. So my top priority between now and 10/7 is to keep those knees happy.

Fortunately, my knees are thriving on hiking, so when I’m not running, I’m hiking. My friend and I did a strenuous uphill hike a couple of weeks ago. Views like these keep me coming back for more:

The past few days there has been a touch of autumn in the air. We did a lower altitude hike hoping to see maple and alder leaves starting to turn, but it’s still too early for that. It was a glorious day, though, and we enjoyed the sun shining through this young stand of red alders and douglas firs:

So, what’s brewing, indeed? Just about everything! Slow Happy Runner Land is bubbling and humming with new and exciting things. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow may bring.

What’s brewing in your world?

Where do I begin?

It’s been several days since I returned from Alaska, but I still don’t know how to blog about it. Everything about this running/cruising vacation exceeded my expectations — the people I ran with, the places we ran, the local runners who assisted at our events, our gracious hosts John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield, the food onboard the cruise ship, my cabin, the cruise line employees, the scenery, and the wildlife. It all was, in a word, AMAZING.

I have more than 500 photos and I can’t imagine how I’ll ever choose just a few that capture how wonderful it all was. It may be that I’ll never successfully blog about this. I may have to just count it as a lifetime highlight experience and move on.

But I can’t let it pass without sharing just a few tastes.

I saw wolves running on the beach in Glacier Bay National Park.

We idled near a glacier in a sea of newborn icebergs for nearly two hours and watched/heard the glacier calve… and calve… and calve yet again.

I ran 10 miles on a steep trail in Juneau in a downpour.

I watched a thousand or so salmon packed tightly together in suspended animation just up from the mouth of a stream in Sitka, their bodies adjusting to the change from salt water to fresh water before they could resume their final journey upstream to spawn.

I ran 7 miles through a rain forest (that looked remarkably like home) near Ketchikan, and somewhere on that last run of the week I found a groove. I knew that I could have kept running like that all day. I fell in love with trail running.

Our official mileage for the week was a bit short of the promised 26.2 (perhaps I found a short cut on the find-your-own-course sightseeing rally through Sitka?). I recorded something like 24.9 miles, but I’m not complaining about that. It was all wonderful. It was also quite non-competitive, in that “winning” involved guessing your predicted total time. I finished about 30 minutes faster than the time I’d predicted, mostly because I never saw a bear so I never had to stop, wait, detour, or backtrack.

If you are a runner with a taste for adventure and a yen to travel, or if you are looking for a running-themed vacation with appealing alternatives for non-running family members, I can confidently recommend any of the Marathon Expeditions events. John and Jenny know how to do it right.

I could go on and on like this, but — I’ve got some trails to run…

Unexpected adventures — on the trail and in life

After my big 7-mile trail run last week I decided to be good to myself and do a genuine taper before next week’s Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise. I did an easy 6 miles three days later, followed two days after that by a brisk 4 miles (during which I accidentally logged my fastest unofficial 5k ever). I then pronounced myself ready to run.

This, of course, freed up my schedule for another epic hike! It’s the peak of our short summer hiking season here in the Pacific Northwest. The snow is finally retreating and the riot of wildflowers is in its full glory. My hiking friend and I planned to do a 6-mile hike along a ridgetop at an elevation of approximately 5,200 feet. We took our time, stopping to photograph one glorious meadow after another. I could share dozens of photos, but I was especially pleased with this composition of tiger lilies and lupines:

The trail meandered through the meadows and then into a grove of sub-alpine firs. The scenery was sublime, idyllic.

As I came around a corner, I found myself 10 yards from and face to face with this!

 The fact that she was tagged and collared gave me no great comfort, especially when I saw the rest of the family approaching behind her. There were nine mountain goats in all, including three kids and their mothers, a couple of rowdy adolescents, and a very large ram. Look at the sharp horns and big hooves on these guys!

They do look all soft and cuddly, and in fact they aren’t generally dangerous. As far as I know, there has only been one fatal goring of a human by a mountain goat — but it happened right here in Olympic National Park a couple of years ago. So when my friend and I found ourselves staring straight into the eyes of mama goat, there was no hesitation on our part. We turned right around and began walking briskly back down the trail the way we had come.

They followed us. All the way back along the trail, for more than two miles they followed us.

They were ambling slowly and stopping to eat the avalanche lilies, but they more or less kept pace with us. I had been a little concerned about a section of trail requiring a steep uphill scramble (it had been very spooky coming down that ridge face on our outbound hike), but I was amazed how quickly we climbed it with nine mountain goats behind us! When we got all the way back to the parking lot, we could still see them silhouetted on the last ridgetop. People were coming out of the visitor’s center to see this rather unusual close approach of the goats.

I never felt directly threatened, as there was no aggressive behavior on their part. They were simply a family out for an afternoon wander through the meadows, just like my friend and I and other hikers. But they were in their home environment — we were the intruders — and it certainly made sense to be cautious!

You just never know what you might see out there on the trail. I’m really hoping for bears and maybe some near-shore whales next week in Alaska. I hope these “races” turn out to be one grand photo opportunity after another.

Just as I am finding unexpected adventures on the trail, I’m also finding unexpected adventures in my life. My “hiking friend” is becoming a bit more than a friend, and I’m very happy about that. I’ll tell you more in due time, but for now I’ll just say that life is indeed going on, and life is good.

I think Kurt would be glad to know that.

One step at a time…

Revisiting Lake Angeles

I always enjoy going back to places and revisiting them at different times of the day or year. I’m intrigued by how the same place can be so different and yet still be obviously the same place.

I tend to move my favorite green chair and ottoman from room to room as I learn how a house wants me to inhabit it. My favorite chair is the same/different place in each of the rooms in each of the houses I have owned since I bought it.

When I run, I run on trails (both paved and unpaved) that become very familiar through repeated visits. This little rise, that turn and the way it reveals a different view, this bunch of tree roots, that meadow, those rolling hills all become etched in my memory until I could run them in my dreams. I no longer have to look at my watch to know how far I’ve run; the trail tells me where I am. Yet even a very familiar trail can be a different place if run in the other direction or at various times of the day or year.

Now that I am beginning to do a lot of hiking, I feel a bit of a dilemma about placemaking along hiking trails. Some trails, like Hurricane Hill and Sol Duc Falls, are old favorites that I want to return to again and again. At the same time, I feel the call of new trails not yet seen. Which shall I do today? How should I choose from among so many potential new favorite places?

I am indeed fortunate to have too many options so near where I live.

The first mile of the trail up to Lake Angeles, to the place where the log bridge crosses the stream, has become a frequently visited new “friend” of a trail. The two mile round trip is an easy hour’s hike with an elevation gain of just under 1,000 feet.

Beyond the log bridge the trail is not so familiar. Back in May I wrote about my first visit to Lake Angeles, which is at the 3.4 mile point up that same trail. That hike was a rugged trek through deep snow, and reached an underwhelming end at an iced-over, fogged-in lake.

This past weekend I went to Lake Angeles again. This time it was sunny and warm, and the snow was completely gone. What I saw there was breathtaking. I was dumbstruck. This is what was lurking behind the fog of that first visit:

Those are waterfalls, multiple 100+ foot waterfalls, coming down those cliffs on the far side. It looks like one of those impossibly beautiful and probably fake places that show up on motivational posters. But it is real. And it is right here, not very far from my house.

The trail continues up to the top of that ridge, another 2,000 feet higher than the lake. My friend and I were tempted to start up that trail, but there is still a lot of snow up there. We’ll save that part for another day later this summer… and an early morning start for what will be a major adventure.

Meanwhile (despite the fact that I mostly blog about hiking these days) most of my energy is still focused on running, ramping up the distances and building my comfort level with running on rocky, root-filled ground. My excitement is building as the Alaska marathon cruise approaches. I’m still not completely comfortable with running two days in a row, but I figure my Alaska trail “race” experience will not be all that tough on my knees, what with the frequent stops for photo ops and all…

Those trails will take me to places I’ll most likely only see once in my life, so I’ll only get one shot at placemaking. I want to have enduring memories of the “where” and not just the “how fast.”

I shall be slow, happy, and present. Every step of the way.

Weird weather

As I write this on a Friday afternoon, thunder is rolling around me. It’s been doing this now for more than 15 hours.

What’s the big deal, you ask? What’s so special about a thunderstorm on a summer day?

Well, we just don’t get weather like that around here. In the past 15 hours western Washington has seen and heard more thunder and lightning than we’ve had in many years (some reports have claimed 30+ years), and some of the most intense thunderstorm activity I’ve ever seen in my life.

Situated as we are, perched between several thousand miles of cold north Pacific water and steep mountains, we seldom get warm enough for long enough periods of time to develop strong thunderstorms. Hence the famous Pacific Northwest drizzle — lots of moisture but little energy.

While the rest of the US and many parts of the world have had record high temperatures and severe weather events over the past several months, the Pacific Northwest has remained stubbornly cool, even below our normal temperatures. Yesterday’s high of 79 was the highest of the year so far, whereas in a typical year we’d have had several days in the 80s or even higher by now. This string of thunderstorms is due to a highly unusual, strong, persistent, low-altitude low pressure system that has decided to park and hang out for a while.

Last night I saw several lightning strikes within two blocks of my house. I have large windows and a skylight, which provided a front-row view and actually caused me to duck a few times!

I had big plans for a trail run today through a remote area that is mostly clearcut with just a few big trees remaining (a friend was going to accompany me on bicycle). That does not seem like a very good idea right now.

It’s just one more kink in my training schedule. Try as I might, I can’t seem to get those long trail runs done. My typical “long” run is about 6-7 miles right now, and when I run on trails I have to run shorter. My knees have been just a little cranky and I’ve had to decide that shorter, less frequent runs will do for now. Still, I’m enjoying the running that I am doing, and on a good day it’s been delightful to run along the waterfront and take in the summertime views.

When I’m not running, I’m hiking. Due to our cool, wet spring the snow is lingering late in the mountains. My hikes continue to be stymied by four-foot deep snowbanks that seem to come every few yards, one after another so that one is always climbing up, clambering across, and climbing down. The payoff, however, is between the snowbanks. Sprouting right under the snow and literally blooming as soon as they are snow-free, there are thousands of avalanche lilies.

They will only bloom for a couple of weeks in a given location, and then they’ll be gone until next year. When I see avalanche lilies, I stop worrying or thinking about anything else. I just stop and be with them. This is my life, and it is a good one.

I shall be slow and happy wherever I go, but especially so in places like this one.

I’ll do that trail run tomorrow… maybe. These storms are forecast to continue through the weekend! 🙂

The wild life

With my Alaska marathon cruise now only three weeks away, my running continues to be a good day / bad day sort of thing. I don’t want to push too hard with my training and injure myself to the point that I can’t run at all in Alaska, so I have backed way off the ambitious training plan I’d created for myself. I’m now letting my knees be my guide as to whether and how far I run on any given day. I’m confident that I haven’t lost much, if any, speed and strength. If I really want to, I can put it all out there on the trail. I’m also aware that I won’t have many opportunities in my life to experience those trails in Alaska. Any ambitions that I might have had regarding pace will be completely forgotten when I see bears, caribou, or who knows what else along the trail.

Of the several new elements of my current training, I believe the culprit that is bothering my knees is the hydration pack on my back. I did fine when I tested it with just a few ounces of water, but when I bumped it up to 20 ounces my knees were very unhappy the next day. I’m now running shorter distances and leaving the hydration pack at home. Bingo — knees are much better!

I don’t really think I’ll need to carry a lot of water in Alaska, as the 10-mile race does have one aid station. So I may be fine running with just those few ounces of water… oh, and my camera too!

Because I’ve become accustomed to lots of exercise, I decided to augment my abbreviated running plan with as much hiking as possible. Although it seems strange, my persnickety knees actually feel better after an uphill hike. It’s like they get kinked one way while running, and the hiking kinks them in some other way and it all comes out better and stronger in the end.

Or so I’m telling myself, as I’m enjoying some amazing early summer hikes into the mountains. I’ve had the opportunity to see lots of wildlife as well as the flowers that bloom almost immediately after the snow melts.

I like to say that Olympic National Park is practically in my back yard. Here is some local wildlife that I saw right outside my window! Here are two baby raccoons that are about half the size of my cats (who were going crazy next to me when I took this photo).

Life gets a little wilder out along the trail. One day I encountered a group of half a dozen Olympic marmots who were intently rooting in the dirt, grunting and growling like kids squabbling over pizza. Other hikers and I theorized that someone had made an unauthorized pit stop along the trail, creating a small “salt lick” that was irresistable to these guys. I don’t have a good photo of the crew in action, but here is another marmot that I saw near that spot a couple days later:

Also near that same area, I spotted a bird I’d never seen before — I got to add the Horned Lark to my life list. This guy was strolling (they do walk rather than hop) through the tall grass and singing his little heart out:

At the top of the hill, my friend and I stopped for a snack. He was eating nuts, and it didn’t take long for a pair of chipmunks to find us. We didn’t feed them, but they certainly tried to convince us that we should. These guys were fearless, running right into my friend’s hands, up his back, and even briefly on top of his head! I believe this is a yellow-pine chipmunk:

The approach to this hilltop is through a sub-alpine meadow at an elevation of 5,500+ feet. The wildflowers are just beginning, but this patch of glacier lilies was wonderful (no, I don’t know what the small white ones are):

The trail I was hiking meets another trail that I have wanted to do for several years. I actually ended my dissertation with a photo of that trail meandering through the meadow from the trailhead and a promise to myself that I would hike it soon. That day finally came. I went less than a quarter mile before meeting deep snow in the trees and having to turn around, but soon I’ll return to follow it all the way down to the Elwha River. Wouldn’t you dream of hiking here too?

I’ve just given you a teaser of the mountains with that last photo. Here is a bit more, for context:

I’ve saved the sweetest wildlife story for last. Returning down the hill, my friend and I saw a family of deer… a doe and her very young fawn along with two adolescent deer. The fawn couldn’t have been more than a day or two old; he or she was still wobbly on its legs. The family drew a crowd of hikers, and the fawn was briefly separated from the others when they crossed the trail. This sweet, brave little guy stood there all alone, while we all wondered if mom was going to go off and leave him!!

Finally he bleated, a soft mewing sound like a kitten. Mom, who was up the hill on the other side of the trail, heard him and turned around. She stood waiting while he darted across the trail and clambered up the hill. I captured the reunion and the happy ending to this story:

All’s well that ends well!

I feel like wildlife sometimes myself. My life, too, can seem a little wild and unpredictable. Sometimes I think I lose my way, lose sight of the trail or whatever overly-ambitious goals I may set for myself. But in the end, one step at a time — whether I run, walk, or meander slowly through the meadow — I’m going to get to wherever I need to go.

Looking forward

While I have spent much of the last two weeks looking back and remembering, I have at the same time been looking forward. I think that for me June may always be a time of looking backward and forward. A time to reflect on what and whom I have lost, what I have left behind… and a time to anticipate where I am going and who I am becoming.

I tried to remember to give myself some time off to rest and recover after the half marathon two weeks ago… but with sunrise just after 5:00 AM and sunset after 9:00 PM this time of year, who could possibly waste a moment of this rare, precious Pacific Northwest sunlight? This time of year, even on days when it rains, there are usually a few lovely hours to get out and do something active.

So I’ve gone straight back into my routine of running, hiking, and biking at every opportunity. I’ve actually ramped up on the running, as my Alaska cruise with the staged marathon is coming up in less than six weeks! To prepare for that trip, I have introduced three new things into my weekly running schedule:

  1. I’ve increased my weekly runs from three times to four: two back-to-back days, one rest day, and two more back-to-back days. This simulates the running schedule for the staged marathon.
  2. I’m now running on trails — real trails, not paved surfaces going by the name “trail.” My trail running shoes are finally getting to do what they are designed to do!
  3. Because the trail races in Alaska will have minimal aid station support, I bought a hydration pack and I’m learning to run with a significant quantity of water on my back.

So far I have only tackled one of our many local unpaved trails, but it’s a good place to start. It’s in a county park with many loop trails so I can experiment with different conditions all within a small area. I can run up and down hills, through meadows, on soft level surfaces, or in places where I have to pick my way through rocks, roots, and/or several inches of freshly-laid wood chips. I’ve actually tried to run this park several times in the past and been daunted by the hills and the uneven ground. Now I seem to be taking it quite literally in stride. But who wouldn’t want to run through places that look like this?

Or like this place where I lost myself in a glorious self-as-deer fantasy?

This kind of running is just plain fun. It’s play! In a way it’s more difficult than running on pavement. I have to slow down and pay attention to where and how my feet fall. But it’s possible to fall into a sort of bounding meditation. I am slow and happy out there!

I’m doing the trail running every other time, and very slowly increasing the distance. On my non-trail days, I’m focusing on consistency of pace and learning to carry and sip water with a minimum of fuss.

I was trying to decide what I wanted to do for my next half marathon sometime this autumn. I could run Victoria again, or I could search around for something new… preferably in a place I’ve never run before! I found this very interesting race in southern Oregon. I liked it for a couple of reasons — it’s quite near some of my family members, and it’s all downhill! Or nearly so. Oh yes, and it ends at a harvest and brew festival featuring over 30 different microbreweries. What could be better than a downhill beer run with family to cheer me at the finish? It finally dawned on me that since the races are two weeks apart, I could use the Rogue Run as my last long “training” run before Victoria. In other words, take my time, enjoy the scenery, relish the microbrews at the finish, and then taper for an all-out go on Victoria’s perfectly flat course. How cool is that?

Definitely something to look forward to!!

On non-running days (and sometimes also on running days!) I am taking some amazing, wonderful hikes. A few weeks ago during an extreme low tide I was scrambling around on rocks getting up close and personal with tidepool life. I took so many photos I had a hard time choosing just one, but this should give you an idea. I believe this guy is a short-spined sea star.

Yesterday, after a fun 6 mile run I wanted just a bit more, so I hiked 6 miles along the Elwha River, upriver from the two large dams that are being removed (I wrote about the hiking the lower lakebed here). The Elwha was running high and raging due to rapid melt from an above-normal winter snowpack, but the trail along the river was idyllic.

 

At a place called Goblin’s Gate (or is it Goblin Gates? I have two maps that disagree!), all that water gets forced through a narrow gap, perhaps 30 feet across.

Further upriver are the sites of several 100+ year old homesteads that are now part of Olympic National Park. The park service has chosen to maintain some of the original cabins and orchards as historical landmarks. This cabin was built in 1900 — wouldn’t you love to spend a night here?

It’s wonderful to have so many good things going on — long summer days with friends, being active here and now, and looking forward to greater adventures to follow. I may not blog as regularly as I intended when I quit my job back in February… but there is simply so much to DO!!!!

I know, I know (to quote myself)! — “How did I ever have time to work?”       🙂

How not to taper

It wasn’t in my training plan, but when my hiking friend suggested yesterday that it was time to go all the way to Lake Angeles, I enthusiastically agreed!

We’ve been working our way up the Lake Angeles trail for several weeks now. The trailhead is at an elevation of about 1,850 feet. I’d never been to Lake Angeles before, so I had no idea of its elevation. But this trail continues up to mile-high Hurricane Ridge so I knew it had to be lower than that.

The first time I hiked up this trail, we encountered snow just over a mile out, at about 2,500 feet. I freaked out at the sight of a snow-covered log bridge and refused to go any further. Once the snow had melted at that level, we began hiking up to the log bridge a couple of times a week. We’d count the calypso orchids on the way up (I’m told that the 250+ that we saw were a “bumper crop” this year) and spend some time studying the changing water levels, which signaled lots more melting snow upstream. Once I even got to see this location in bright sunshine! A rarity in this forest any time of the year.

I credit this trail, with its continuous, moderate uphill grade, for much of the progress I’ve made with my running strength and my new ability to run up hills.

A few weeks back we tried to go further up the trail, but were stopped after another mile, at about 3,500 feet, by deep snow. We haven’t attempted it since, but my friend was eager to give it a go yesterday… which brings me back to the beginning of this post.

The weather forecast on my trusty iPhone looked great — partly cloudy and mid 50s. No sooner had we started up the road, however, than the skies turned dark and it began to mist. Being intrepid Pacific Northwesterners, we carried on. I at least had a hooded jacket, but my friend was in shorts. We did both have gloves, as well as food and a rudimentary emergency kit… we’re not totally crazy.

Lake Angeles is just over 3.3 miles from the trailhead. We hiked upwards through a steady mist. It was cool, but far too warm for snowfall. Less than half a mile from the lake, at the 4,000 foot level, we reached snow on the ground. At this point my friend would not be deterred, and frankly I was up for the adventure as well. There were lots of footprints from previous hikers in the snow, so even though it was hard to see the trail at times we knew we were more or less on course. I was wearing trail running shoes, and I found their traction to be excellent — better than the hiking boots I relegated to the back of the closet when I got these shoes.

A one point we had to bushwhack through small trees in order to avoid an area that had become an underground river running below four feet of crusted, icy snow. This was a bit scary at the time (and looking back now, it was probably a bit foolish), but we were awfully proud of ourselves for successfully getting through it.

Shortly after this spot, we did find a sign (the top was barely visible sticking out of the snow), so we knew we were still on the trail!

The lake was a mere 100 yards from here. Surprise! — it was, of course, iced over and mostly covered with snow over the ice. It was also foggy, raining rather hard, and quite cold there.

 We didn’t linger. We were both soaking wet by this time.

Coming back down the trail and once below the snow line, I couldn’t resist the urge to jog a bit on the more level portions. I can now say that I’m a trail runner… or at least a downhill trail runner. I have now actually run in my trail running shoes.

According to my GPS watch, our round trip hike of 6.7 miles involved 2,900 feet of ascent and the same amount of descent.  The actual elevation change was about 2,500 feet, and the rest was the small up-and-downs of a natural terrain. Subjectively, the whole way up is a constant, steady climb. But the way down was a great introduction to trail running!

No, this is NOT the right way to taper, days before a half marathon. However, it was an incredible demonstation to myself of how strong I am becoming both physically and mentally. I’ve accomplished a lot in the past couple of months, helped by a friend who is gently encouraging me to push my self-perceived limits.

Now, I think I’ll take it really easy the rest of the week. No more impromptu treks through snow fields.

Well, maybe a short, easy hike up just one mile to say goodbye to the last of this year’s calypso orchids…