Runtrails' Web Journal
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next



" . . .  Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about
seizing the moment and following your heart.. He taught me to appreciate the simple things --
a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old
and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me
about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty . . . "
- John Grogan, author of the book Marley and Me, p. 279 of the paperback version
[Note: For my last entry from McDowell Park I thought it would be appropriate to show some of the sunset photos Jim and I took while we were here.]


After we put down our beloved 12-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, Tater, last summer, ultra running friend Matt Watts encouraged us to read the wildly popular book Marley and Me. I regret not taking his advice right away; the tale of this lovable, incorrigible Lab would have brought laughter back into our lives sooner.

It took the impending release of the movie version of Marley at Christmastime to prompt me to look for a paperback version of the book. Jim and I hate going to regular movie theaters and we weren't about to go see the movie during the holiday season with tons of boisterous kids in the audience. No thanks. We'll wait for the DVD to come out.

But meanwhile I was curious why there was such a hubbub about the book. It took several attempts to locate one; knowing that the movie was coming, other people had the same idea. (Didn't the stores see that coming and order more?) I finally found one at a Walmart in metro Phoenix and snapped up the last copy on the shelf.

As soon as I did, I knew it would set me back even farther on keeping this journal updated! Once I started reading about Marley it was difficult to put the book down until I finished it. One more thing to blame on poor Marley!

Poor Jim, for that matter. I'd be reading about yet another stunt this dog pulled and either start giggling or just burst out laughing at the way Grogan described the incident (he's a very good writer). I finally had to go outside to read or pick up the book when Jim was gone running or cycling so I didn't drive him nuts. Thank goodness none of the four Labs I've had were anywhere near as challenging or goofy as Marley, but they each had a few of his more endearing goofy characteristics and I'd be thinking, been there, done that -- especially Tater, an American field Lab like Marley. The book often touched my funny bone.

Then Marley inevitably got old and had to be put to sleep. (Sorry to give away the ending.) I bawled like a baby all over again, just as I did after making that decision for Tater. But now I can look back on her life with even more perspective than I could when I wrote my tribute to her in an August, 2008 journal entry. The book resonated with me, just as it has with millions of other dog owners who have inundated the author's website since the book was published.

I love the poignant quote at the beginning of this entry. After Marley's death Grogan realized with amazement that his nutty, wildly uncontrollable dog had actually been his teacher, role model, and mentor regarding what was most important in life: love, loyalty, courage, devotion, simplicity, joy. Beautiful.

I'm so glad I read the book, even if it did set me behind on this journal!


While I'm avoiding responsibility for my own procrastination, let's blame the Post Office for a snafu caused by our ignorance!

I'm being flippant, of course. If you know us very well, you know we accept responsibility for our own shortcomings and despise people who blame everyone but themselves when something goes wrong. But we were pretty frustrated until today regarding delivery of our last mail package. We assumed someone else screwed up and it wasn't our fault.

When we go on our extended trips we ask a trusted neighbor about every three weeks to collect the mail being held for us at our small post office, sort out the obvious "junk" and keep it until we get home, put the magazines and first-class mail in one of the pre-addressed and stamped Priority Flats envelopes we give him before we leave town, and mail it to us via general delivery.

Until our most recent package, we haven't had any major problems with this system that I can recall. I guess we were overdue for a snafu.

Our neighbor sent us our last envelope of mail on December 27 to the (correct) general delivery address in Fountain Hills, the closest good-sized post office to McDowell Mountain Park. After we moved our camper to McDowell we went to the post office to retrieve our envelope. We just assumed it would be there by then. Our Priority packages have usually arrived within two or three business days.

After standing in line for about twenty minutes it was finally my turn to be waited on. The clerk disappeared for several minutes and came out empty-handed. No flats envelope for us.

We repeated this once more (including the excessively long wait) before we started calling and asking for a supervisor instead of physically going to the post office. Every weekday afternoon the last two weeks we've made that call and the answer has been the same every time: no package. Jim even started calling our post office at home to see if it had been returned there for some reason.

Today we finally located that package but we still aren't exactly sure what happened. It's back at our home post office. That's a relief to me. There are some important things in that envelope, like my new insurance cards (after at least thirty years with Blue Cross, my former employer chose new insurance companies for medical, dental, and prescriptions this year). Even though I still don't have my cards and whatever else was important in that package, at least we know where they are.

We were surprised to learn why the envelope was returned to sender. It wasn't addressed incorrectly, it didn't break open and spill its contents, and it's not sitting in a dark recess of a mail truck somewhere between Virginia and Arizona. Those were some of our guesses. Actually, it's more sinister.

After 9-11 the Postal Service passed a regulation that says you can't send a pre-stamped package that weighs over 13 ounces unless it passes through the hands of a postal clerk. It's not OK to just pitch the envelope into a mail slot and walk off. A postal clerk explained to Jim the reason: the package might contain a bomb. If you want to mail something over 13 ounces, you have to have a clerk hand stamp it.

I don't get it. We've received more than a dozen such priority mail envelopes since 2004. All were pre-stamped and weighed well over 13 ounces. (You can stuff as much mail as you can into a Priority envelope and it costs a standard $4.95 or so.)  I doubt our neighbor handed those envelopes to a clerk each time. Why return this "suspicious" package now?

For that matter, if it's deemed so potentially dangerous, how is it any less dangerous if a postal clerk stamps it and sends it along to its destination?? Jim guesses that a bad guy would be more hesitant to mail a bomb if there's any chance the clerk would remember him. It's easier to toss a bomb into a slot anonymously.

Jim remembers hearing of this restricton previously (he's retired Postal Service) but figured no one was enforcing it since all of our packages have arrived OK. My reaction was, "Huh?" That was the first I'd heard it. But we accept responsibility for the snafu and will make sure it doesn't happen again. The best way to do that might be to use a professional "personal mail box" system like we did when we were full-timing in 2004. We're discussing that and other less-drastic options. We hate to add to our neighbor's burden by asking him to keep the contents under 13 oz. or go to the window each time he mails us a package.

We have no clue how far that package went and why it took over two weeks to be returned to our local post office. Now we have to decide whether to have our neighbor send it to us with our next mail drop or keep it safe at home until we return. I'm a little paranoid about having it floating around out there again.

[Addendum: on January 20 we received a box with most of our mail. Our neighbor put the wayward envelope and our newer mail into a Priority box, gave it to a postal clerk, and let her put the postage on it and stamp it. We got three new issues of UltraRunning magazine, my new insurance cards, a bunch of nice holiday cards and letters, and lots of other good stuff. It was like Christmas all over again!]


This is our last full day at McDowell Mountain Park. We were supposed to leave yesterday but we wanted to wait one more day to see if our mail would get here.

Even though we're looking forward to the Ghost Town ultra this weekend in New Mexico, we don't want to leave the Phoenix area quite yet. It's too comfortable here! The weather has been mostly sunny and into the 60s or low 70s each day. We love running, walking, and cycling on these fabulous trails. And as long as we're willing to drive, there's about everything here that a sunbird could want in regards to recreation, shopping, restaurants, and entertainment.

This week a frigid air mass from Canada is wreaking havoc over much of the country. We're below it and hope to stay below it when we drive to New Mexico tomorrow. The race site is above 5,000 feet; at minimum, it will be colder than it is at 2,000 feet at McDowell Park.

From the Pacific Northwest to Florida, temperatures are well below normal. Wind chills in Minnesota and Wisconsin are in the minus 40s and 50s. Some ski resorts in New England are closed because it's too cold to ski! Cities like Spokane and Bismarck are getting four and five feet of snow. Citrus fruit is freezing on the trees in Florida. Roanoke and other southern cities are setting new record lows (and low highs, like only up to 20 F during the day). And it's colder in Atlanta than some places in Alaska.


Today it's sunny and 74 F. at our campsite and we aren't real crazy about leaving! But Jim has a race to run on Sunday and I've volunteered my services to the race director and her family. We can't let them down.


On January 10 we joined about sixty other people on a warm night for a full-moon hike at McDowell Park. We missed the full-moon hike in December at Estrella Park because it was a cloudy night. This time the sky was so clear it looked like we could reach up and touch the stars. It's no wonder so many people showed up for the event.

Jim, right foreground, listens as Ranger "Doc" talks about desert flora.

We walked about three miles total from the main trailhead staging area to the old Pemberton Ranch site and back. Ranger "Doc" (at left in photo above) entertained us with five or six presentations along the way about desert plant life, previous clay mining in the park, Native American history, and colorful tales about the people who lived at the ranch. I tried to take photos in the dark but most didn't come out well.

At the beginning of the hike a young lady named Colleen (I think) introduced herself to us. She noticed Jim's Sunmart jacket and told us she's an ultra runner, too. She just moved to Scottsdale for a new job and and heard about McDowell's great trails. Colleen ran and finished the Arkansas Traveler 100-miler the same year I did -- 1999. We planned to exchange e-mail addresses at the end of the hike but we couldn't find her when we returned to the parking area.  If she reads this entry, I hope she'll contact us to say hi.


We've enjoyed our five-week stay in the Phoenix area. It's so relaxing to hang out in the campground and thoroughly rest up from ATY. That was a major effort for both of us. In addition to the running, walking, and cycling we've done (me, more than Jim), I've also been working out at the YMCA in Mesa. I need verification of at least four visits per month in order to qualify for reimbursement of my Y membership fee from my former employer. I go much more frequently at home but when we're on the road even once a week can be a challenge. This Y is near our favorite Mexican restaurant in Phoenix, however, and other shopping is on the way.

Rosa's Mexican Grill. Mmmm! It's just a block from the Mesa Y at the intersection of University and Mesa. They serve delicious, fresh, reasonably-priced food. I enjoyed two entrees so much there last year that I got them again this year when we dined out two times for lunch: a tasty spinach enchilada dinner with black beans, corn, and avocado, and a huge salad with hot grilled chicken and carmelized onions over chilled Romaine lettuce, red pepper slices, cubed mango, grated cheese, and a special green chili vinaigrette -- served with warm cornbread. Jim chose the spinach enchilada dinner one time and authentic tamales the next.

We don't eat out very often. When we do, we want it to be nutritious, tasty, authentic, and low-priced. Rosa's hits the mark in every regard.

When we want to reminisce about the Phoenix area I pull out a recipe I found here last year for chicken chili mole. We haven't been able to find the chipotle cheddar cheese we bought last year (we don't have a Costco membership now) but Sam's Club has a great alternative called "Three Alarm Colby Jack Cheese" with chipotle, habanera, and jalapeno peppers.

The label warns that the cheese has "intense pepper flavor." When we left the store the woman who checks receipts asked us if we knew what we were in for. "No," I replied, "but I'm hoping it's good and hot!"

It is! We love it. But it does make us sweat.

Next entry: Ghost Town 38.5-miler pre-race activities

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

Previous       Next

2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil