Friday, July 25, 2008

Dog Daze

After the 4th in Illinois, we traveled to Houston for business. Yes, Texas. Yes, in JULY. Yes, it was hot, and no, I did not leave the hotel for 48 hours. It was hot. Did I already mention that? A humid, smothering, wet, oppressive, fantasize-about-living-in-a-meat-locker-kind-of-hot. I am accustomed to heat here in California, but there is very low humidity. I spent three days running on the hotel treadmills trying to not go completely berserk. Even with the AC, the humidity was crazy. No offense to my friends from Texas, but I have to say it's my least favorite state in the country... and I've been to all of 'em 'cept North Dakota! (To be fair, I have never been to Austin which is supposed to be pretty cool. Rocky Racoon is a great event, too.)

We then flew back to the paradise that is Chicago (anything is paradise after Houston in July) and spent the weekend in Whitewater, Wisconsin. The nearby Kettle Moraine State Forest, which plays host to both the Ice Age 50 and the KM 100, had some wicked nice trails. Because of excessive rain, the John Muir Trails were closed to mountain bikes so I had them all to myself and -- due to VERY hungry and aggressive mosquitoes -- I got in a fast-for-me 20 miler. BTW, who knew there was a John Muir Trail in the Midwest?!

Back in the Windy City, we checked out the Field Museum of Natural History, home of "Sue," the biggest and best T. Rex ever unearthed, named after the paleontologist who discovered her. I loved this colorful display:

A Sue Store -- woo hoo!! Yeah, so I went a little nuts there -- read the hat! Heh, heh... normally I wouldn't wear a hat that says "BITE ME," but all my running hats were dirty, it was sunny, and we had bought the hat at Joe's Crab Shack in Houston as a C2M giveaway. I got a few strange looks. ;-)

We were total tourons and did the Sears Tower thing. Although not the high point that counts, it IS higher than Charles Mound, so I had to do it. I wanted to run up the stairs, but we were required to take the elevator, and -- get this -- it took us only to the 103rd floor, and there are 110. The OC in me found this very lame indeed. Still, the view was pretty awesome:

The past week and a half we've been back in Oxnerd, so I've been running the trails in PMSP and Ojai. There are some great trails in Ojai -- C2M is there -- but MY GOD, it gets hot in the summer! (But it's a dry heat...) On a 13 miler the other day, I went through about 90 oz. of fluids, a full 70 oz. bladder and a handheld. Of interest, word is the mountain lion population is increasing up there. (O_O) I hope to see one... from a safe distance... one that has just eaten a big meal. :p How cool would that be?! Best I managed was a tarantula near Mugu Peak last weekend.

We are leaving for Washington State on Sunday. My good friend Doug is going to lead a small group of us on Mt. Rainier. Hopefully we'll get better weather than last year, when we couldn't even leave the parking lot! Also, my friend "Chet" (pictured with me below) and I are going to attempt to run the Wonderland Trail in three days. Chet just finished H'ardrock; hopefully he can keep up. :p We realize that due to all the snow the NW received this winter and spring, the WT may be a long shot -- this site doesn't sound very encouraging (pull down a little over halfway for WT) -- but we'll inquire at the ranger station as to the latest conditions and try to give it a go. Alternately, we may run the White River 50 course just for fun. No worries... Washington is a fun playground with spectacular trails and mountains, so there's no shortage of options. Gotta go pack now.........

Monday, July 7, 2008

4th of July in... Illinois??

That's right. A quirky alignment of the stars placed us in tiny Walnut, Illinois, for this year's 4th of July festivities. Walnut is about an hour east of the Quad Cities, an hour north of Peoria, and a couple hours west of Chicago -- in other words, in the middle of nowhere -- surrounded by corn, soybeans, quiet farm roads, and wonderfully friendly, down-to-Earth people. Walnut's Hometown Celebration stretched four days, with festivities ranging from the popular bean bag tourny to volleyball and softball games to the greased pig chase to the really popular beer garden (assuming you like Miller Lite, MGD, and Coors Light) and all manner of fried treats. Funnel cakes anyone? There was even a 5k road race Saturday morning in which yours truly finished second among the many hundreds of women entered. In fact, all five in our group walked away with hardware. :) In addition to the 5k, only my second ever and quite *painful* for one used to the comfortable pace of ultra-distance events!, I got in a couple of nice runs in the countryside. Sunday morning I was even out the door by 5:30 and got to witness a spectacular sunrise. THAT hasn't happened in a long time.
We then drove a couple hours north, almost to Wisconsin, in order to climb the high point of Illinois. Last month Denali; this month Charles Mound, elevation 1,227 feet! Interestingly, legal access to this high point is actually more difficult to attain than Denali. The land is privately owned, and the landowners open their property to highpointers only the first weekends of June, July, August, and September. They request that visitors park at the main road and walk a little over a mile up their beautiful lane to the summit, so at least it's a bit a of a hike and not just a driveup. Northwestern Illinois actually has tiny rolling green hills and looked more like my homestate of Vermont than what one would normally expect of Illinois. This is one of the reasons I love highpointing -- because it's brought me to places I otherwise would never have visited, and almost always I'm pleasantly surprised that the reality of a place usually surpasses my expectations.
While Charles Mound is the geographical high point -- and the one that "counts" -- the Sears Tower is actually higher at 1,451 feet, the antenna at 1,730 feet, sooo... when we're back in Chicago next week, think I'll bag the Sears Tower. (I would love to take the stairs but think I'll have to settle for the elevator with all the tourists.) It will be neat to have done both high points of my birthstate. :)

Finally, the above photo is the dregs of some of the best fried chicken I've ever eaten. The place is called "Rips" and is in Ladd, IL. The wait is long -- our group stood in line Friday night almost 90 minutes; however, the bar is open while you wait. Your choices are chicken (light or dark) and fish (light or dark), all deep fried. I had both chicken (dark) and fish (light). No matter what you order, you get a mound of fries with a piece of white bread at the bottom of the plate. The vegetable is mushrooms, breaded and deep fried of course, and the appetizer is "crumbs," the small pieces of fried batter that have fallen off the chicken and fish. To offset the grease, you are given a bowl of sliced pickles. Everyone eats with their hands; if you want a fork, you have to ask for it. Although sorely tempted, I held back from buying their "GREASE ME UP!" T-shirt. More here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Quick trip home

Last week I squeezed in a quick trip to New England to visit my folks in Northern Vermont and my beloved White Mtns. in neighboring New Hampshire. The visit was all too short, but I managed a *wicked awesome* hike up Cannon Mtn., one of my favorite running routes--a rolling 8 miler on the quiet back roads of Barnet and Peacham, and a nice visit with my ex and our dog.

My parents fed me well: BBQ chicken (by request) the first night, pancakes with real maple syrup (well duh), and yummy baked ziti the second night. So nice to be home and hard to leave the beautiful place that is Vermont in June.

Best dog in the world:

I've been getting in a lot of running miles the past couple of weeks. Three weeks of zero running miles in Alaska, then weeks of 75 and 60. Likely a coach would not approve; good thing I don't have one. :) For me, these are big weeks; even when I was racing a lot, I rarely got in more than 30-40 miles/week. It has been HOT, even here on the coast ("but it's a dry heat"), and because I am not a morning person, I get to feel the full brunt of the midday heat, quite the contrast to the subzero conditions of a month ago. Not complaining though--I feel great and like the heat!
On Thursday we embark on the next big mountain expedition: the high point of Illinois. Charles Mound, here we come! Preceding that will be the Fourth of July celebration in... drum roll... WALNUT, ILLINOIS!