2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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 ESCAPING OUR FUNKY FALL: LET'S HIT THE ROAD AGAIN!

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23

 
"One of the secrets of aging gracefully is always to have something to look forward to." 
~  Paul Reese, ultra runner extraordinaire, who ran across the USA at age 73
 
 
Paul was also very competitive in his 40s to his 80s, setting many national age group records. He died in 2004; I'm sorry I never had the opportunity to meet him. He has authored three books about his running adventures.

I chose his quote to segue into the "something" that Jim and I have to look forward to: our winter trip to the Southwest. It's not as exciting as it was when we made our original plans and reservations several months ago, but it is a new adventure to cheer us up.

We've had a funky fall -- us personally, not Roanoke's weather -- and we're more than looking forward to another escape.


Saguaro cacti at McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Phoenix (January, 2008)

I've mentioned several times over the years in these journals about all the practice we have in being flexible. Since we have to enter many of our races months in advance, we make our travel and camping plans early, too. Then when something comes up that messes with those plans, we revise them and try to find something else that's fun to do.

That's what happened again this time: weekly revisions as our circumstances morphed.

Not only did we decide to return to our house in Virginia a few weeks earlier than originally scheduled in September, now we're still here a couple weeks longer in November than previously planned. This time it's because of our own medical issues, not those of an extended family member.

At least it's been a beautiful autumn in the Roanoke area! These two photos
are along the trail to Stewart's Knob in early November.

Once again we've just gone with the flow, done our best to get the proper diagnoses and treatments (getting older isn't for sissies!), and should be heading for Texas and Arizona in a few days.

Any medical care we need in the next few months will have to be done out there. That's one of the challenges of our traveling lifestyle.

RETIREMENT CAN BE STRESSFUL, TOO

Friends often tell us that they wish they could live our lifestyle because it sounds ideal to travel around the country for months at a time in an RV attending races, sightseeing, and visiting family and friends. It sounds ideal to us, too. It's something I dreamed about for most of my working life. When Jim and I met, we soon realized we had the same goals for our retirement years.

Our lifestyle looks idyllic "on paper." In reality, it's not as carefree as it appears!


Well, OK, this sunset was pretty idyllic!  (McDowell Park campground, January, 2008)

We've traded the demands of our careers for a whole 'nother set of stressors:

  • keeping a balance between traveling and racing as much as we want while living within our financial means (read: less discretionary income than when we were working); we don't use our retirement accounts or other investments for this, only current income
  • worrying about our house while we're traveling; it would be so much simpler if we could sell it
  • the rigors of hauling the camper thousands of miles twice a year to reach our favorite destinations out West (only a problem as long as we have the house in VA)
  • continual maintenance on our aging camper; stuff happens when we least expect it
  • the hassle of buying a new truck earlier in the year when the old one became too much of a liability
  • some difficulties finding suitable camping sites and phone/internet connections
  • occasional challenges finding in-network medical care and other services on the road
  • issues with getting our mail and things we order while we're on the road; we have a reliable mailing service now but general delivery doesn't always work so great around the country
  • and other assorted nuisances

Despite those hassles, we both feel more relaxed when we are playing the role of nomad than when we are at our house for several weeks each spring and fall.

THE NOOSE AROUND OUR NECK

We love our house and land but it is too much for us to maintain properly and continue traveling eight or nine months of the year. We'd rather travel! When we are at the house, all we can see is work to be done.


The leaves are pretty from our family room windows but somebody (Jim!) has to mow them up. (10-29-09)

Unfortunately, we came to the conclusion that we'd be better off selling it and traveling in the RV full-time just about the same time the housing market crashed! Fortunately, we bought it in 2004, before housing prices sky-rocketed (the peak prices were in 2006, I believe)..

The market hasn't been as crazy in the Roanoke Valley as it has been in many other areas of the country but it's simply not a good time to sell yet. We're close to Smith Mountain Lake and that area has seen a larger price percentage drop than the city.

It's a very good thing that we don't have to sell in such a lopsided buyers' market. We just want to sell so we don't have the expense and labor of maintaining the house -- and the worry of what's happening to it while we're gone.

If we determine it's in our best interest financially to keep it a few more years, we will.

We informally showed the house to some people shortly after we got back in September but we didn't get any offers. That forced us to do some small repairs, re-organizing, and planning that will give us a head start in early spring if we decide to officially put it on the market in 2010. We will live in the house while it's on the market; that means we may not be going anywhere next summer.


Our trees have lost almost all of their leaves; so why are we still here?? (explanation farther down)

Meanwhile, we'll try our best to forget about the house while we're gone this winter.

Almost all the leaves are down now, the perennial beds are winterized, and the grass won't need to be mowed again until we return in February or March.

STRIVING FOR A FULL-TIME RV LIFESTYLE

Jim and I realize we probably appear to live a charmed life. However, we want to emulate the full-time RVers who are one gigantic step ahead of us -- the ones who have sold their houses, gotten rid of most of their possessions (or put them into storage), and are really living a carefree lifestyle.

Know what? They get stressed out, too!

Perhaps I romanticize our lifestyle too much in this journal. I do try to present the most interesting information and scenic or representative photos of the places and people we see.

However, it's not my intention to ignore or gloss over the difficulties we sometimes have and paint only a rosy picture of our lifestyle. When I don't mention certain negative incidents or details, it's to spare you from boredom and not sound like a whiner. I do try to educate and/or entertain readers with occasional "cautionary tales" about some of our misadventures, injuries, ailments, etc. Most of the time, however, we really do love the way we live.


View of the sunset over the Gulf from our campsite on Galveston Island
(February, 2008, before Hurricane Ike devastated it)

If our lifestyle appeals to you, set your own goals to get there in a reasonable amount of time. That's how we did it. We aren't "lucky" or "fortunate." We worked hard for this. It's no different than setting goals for a race -- or anything else in life that's important to you.

And if you really want to enjoy this lifestyle when you're at the top of your game physically, be like our friends Marcy and John Beard and start when you're in your 30s or 40s, not your 50s or 60s! Check here to see how they do it. These ultra runners/adventure racers are two of the nicest people we've met in our travels. We hope we "run into" them again this winter. Marcy keeps a blog of their adventures here.

THE WAY IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE

Back in the summer we had a fun but challenging race schedule planned for the fall and winter. This is how it was supposed to play out:

  • After the Grand Teton 50-miler on Labor Day weekend, Jim would run the Bear 100 in late September (I'd crew) and we'd wander back to our house sometime after that.
  • He'd rest and train moderately for six weeks, then run the nearby Mountain Masochist 50+-miler in early November. I'd crew; I can't run that one any more.
  • We'd leave for Texas the next week, spending two weeks running around the great trails at Huntsville State Park for two weeks as we trained for our next race, the 12-hour Run Like the Wind in Austin. We planned to camp at nearby McKinney SP for a few days before and after the race.
  • We planned to head for the Phoenix area in mid-December, aiming for our favorite regional park there, McDowell Mountain (site of the Javelina Jundred and Pemberton Trail 50K). We'd help the Arizona Road Runners for a week or two as they prepared for their new Run to the Future 24-hour race and both of us would run the event on December 31. (This race is a substitute for Across the Years 72-, 48-, and 24-Hour Run, which is on hiatus this year.)
  • Sometime in early January we'd head back to Texas so Jim could run another race that's new to him, the Bandera 50K, on January 10.


Camping near Lake Raven at Huntsville SP in Texas last February

  • The next four weeks we'd play by ear, probably staying at one of the Texas state parks -- they have so many great parks, it's hard to choose.
  • Near the end of January we'd move to Huntsville SP so Jim could run either the 50- or 100-mile Rocky Raccoon race again (Feb. 6-7). I'd crew. If we lucked out like earlier this year, we might be able to extend our stay for the entire month of February (you can reserve for only two weeks at a time but stay longer if the campgrounds aren't full).
  • Then we'd enjoy another month (somewhere yet to be determined) before running the Delano 12-Hour race in Alabama on March 13. We were the first two runners to enter it this time. Sure hope they don't give us #1 and #2 in the race!
  • That race would mark the end of our winter trip and we'd head back to our house in Virginia, probably to make it ready to put on the market to sell. Because we want to be there when it's listed, we haven't made any race plans beyond March.

IT'S ALWAYS SOMETHING . . .

Then reality came knocking at our door, reminding us yet again that we aren't 35 any more. This time the glitch has been a medical maze and it has not only delayed our trip a couple of weeks, it has (more importantly) affected our race and campground schedule.

Continuity of medical care becomes increasingly important to me as we age and seem to have more things going wrong with our bodies. We're glad that nothing life-threatening has occurred (other than that bike wreck in August) but it is easier for us to get injured as we get older, recovery takes longer and longer, and things are wearing out -- like my knees.


Attractive landscaping (blooming roses!) along the Roanoke River Greenway;
Roanoke Memorial Hospital is in the background.  (11-11-09)

We have found a very dedicated, skilled, and caring group of medical providers in the Roanoke area -- doctors who call us back themselves for follow-up, e.g., or take plenty of time to answer our questions and assess our problems -- so we try to schedule all of our annual and semi-annual medical and dental appointments with them when we're here for a few weeks in the spring and fall.

We sometimes feel like military strategists as we schedule the various appointments within those somewhat narrow windows of opportunity, always mindful of how much lead time we need before we're likely to get in and coordinating them with all the other things that we are doing.

It's a real coup when we can both get in to see the dental hygienist or primary care physician in back-to-back appointments, or if I can see my massage therapist and chiropractor the same afternoon -- both scenarios mean only one trip into town that day, saving time and gas.


Flood damage along the Roanoke River Greenway in mid-November

After the appointments we feel like accountants, meticulously recording all the particulars in our financial software and on the spreadsheets we keep for taxes, insurance payments, our portion of the bills, and future reference.

This fall the whole doctor thing became a bit of a nightmare because we had to schedule so many more appointments than normal. One visit would spawn additional tests or treatments, until we were both going into town several times a week for doctor appointments of one sort or another.

I ended up needing several diagnostic tests, some rather invasive, that culminated in laparoscopic abdominal surgery last week. That's been the main glitch to leaving when we wanted:  even though I was able to get in for exploratory surgery within a few days after determining it was warranted, we've had to stick around so I can recover sufficiently to help load the camper and travel several days across the country.

(I've recovered quickly, considering I'm 60.) We'll leave after my follow-up appointment with the doctor in a few days.)


A couple days after the flood, leaves and debris still clung to fencing
and several large trees toppled over into the water due to erosion.

Surgery wasn't what has played havoc with our race schedule, however.

My bone-on-bone knee diagnosis at the end of September affected my decision not to enter two of the fixed-time races in December that I thought would be fun, Run Like the Wind 12-Hour and Run to the Future 24-Hour. I wasn't planning on running Bandera or Rocky anyway.

But I'm still registered for the Delano 12-hour run in March; we entered that well before I started getting the knee injections. I'll have to wait and see if I can train enough (walking, not running) to even consider doing that one. I can get a partial refund if I withdraw by the end of January.


The Roanoke River was several feet over its banks along the greenway,
leaving plastic bags, clothing, and other debris in the trees.

Jim hasn't been able to train for about six weeks. He was entered in Mountain Masochist 50+-miler and Run Like the Wind 12-Hour but he had to withdraw from both of them, and the rest of his race schedule through at least February is in jeopardy.

He's got plantar faciitis, a chronic foot injury, and it isn't responding well to treatment. I'll talk about it more in the next entry (another one of our "cautionary tales"). That injury added a bunch of additional doctor visits to his schedule in October and November. He was getting really bummed about it but has become more chipper this week as our departure date gets closer.

Two runners down. Oh, my. Imagine the gloom around here lately!


Interesting twisted branches on one of the  trees in our woods (10-24-09)

Jim also has an undiagnosed (nerve?) problem in his dominant hand and wrist that causes pain, lack of strength, and visible muscle atrophy but he's choosing to leave Roanoke before getting it diagnosed and treated.

If it worsens, we'll just have to seek treatment in the Phoenix or Houston area. That's how badly he wants to get on the road!

NOW WHAT??

Here's the tentative revision of our original schedule above. It's likely to morph, too, depending on how Jim's recovery and training go, our whims (maybe that's what appeals to folks who would like to emulate our lifestyle!), and whatever life throws at us next.

  • When we returned to Virginia several weeks early in September, Jim substituted the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Run in NC (Sept. 19) for the Bear 100 in UT (Sept. 25-6).
  • Jim was hopeful right up until the day before Mountain Masochist (early Nov.) that he could run the race. However, he wisely withdrew before it so he didn't cause further damage to his plantar fascia. Later he withdrew from his next planned race, Run Like the Wind, in TX.
  • We cancelled the Huntsville SP reservations in TX for the end of Nov. but we'll be there for part of January and February.
  • Soon we'll leave Roanoke and hang out at McKinney State Park near Austin for a few days to break up the long journey to Phoenix. We haven't been to Austin before, so that should be fun.


Jim and Cody at McDowell Mountain Park in January, 2008

  • In mid-December we'll drive to McDowell Mountain Regional Park east of Phoenix and camp for about three weeks, if we are able to stay there that long (two-week maximum, unless there are spots available the third week). We love the views and trails there. We still plan to help the Run to the Future 24-Hour race committee for 1-2 weeks before the race, which is New Year's Eve. I'll work the race and crew for Jim if he is able to run it. Otherwise, he'll work it, too.
  • The rest of the schedule farther up in this entry is still on our radar but what races Jim can do remains to be seen: the Bandera 50K in TX (Jan. 10), Rocky Raccoon 50- or 100-miler in TX (Feb. 6), and the Delano 12-Hour Run in AL (March 13).

When we return to Roanoke next spring depends on how Jim's foot is doing, any additional races he adds to his schedule, what the weather is like, whether we decide to put our house on the market (lots of stuff to do to get it ready to show), and other factors we can't even anticipate this far in advance.

Right now, we're checking off our packing lists and getting the camper ready to go. Cody knows the "C" word ("camping") and he's eager to get going, too!

Next entry: Jim's bout with plantar faciitis, one of those running nightmares you don't want to have

Happy trails,

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

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