2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  NEW CIRCUMSTANCES = NEW PLANS

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 17

 
"The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings."
~ K. Okakaura
  
 
You thought the next entry would be a continuation of stories and photos from The Bear 100 course, didn't you??

I've mentioned several times in this journal -- and demonstrated even more often -- that Jim and I have had plenty of practice with adapting to changing circumstances. As you know from your own life experiences, some of the changes we make are internal (we think of a better idea, for example) and some are external (dictated by someone or something else, to one extent or another).

I decided long ago that it's easier to be as flexible as possible than to resist inevitable change. Go with the flow, and all that. Such is the case with our decision to end our summer trip three weeks early.


Early fall color on the Teton course

Our original plan after the Grand Teton Race was to leave the campground in Teton Canyon, WY on Monday and travel back to Logan Canyon, UT for three weeks so Jim could continue training for The Bear 100 on September 25-26. After he rested up sufficiently from that race, we'd head back to our house in Virginia for a few weeks to take care of business there before leaving again for the winter.

Then life threw a nasty curve ball at one of my close relatives and our own priorities quickly changed.

FAMILY FIRST

Several days before the Teton race we learned that my brother's wife was experiencing some serious medical problems. Subsequent updates on Friday and Saturday were not good; both Jim and I had trouble focusing on the race because we were so concerned about her health. I'm pretty open about my own life in this website but for reasons of privacy I rarely mention family members other than Jim unless they have something to do with our races or travel. That's why I won't go into any more details about this situation in such a public forum.

At an aid station halfway through the race Jim quickly told me he thought we should go to Ohio ASAP to see how we could help my brother and sister-in-law. He had already decided that he would withdraw from The Bear. It just wasn't important to him any more.

Then he was gone up the trail, without discussion. That gave me plenty to think about while he was running the last 25 miles of the race! He'd already put a lot of thought into it, but it caught me off guard.


Cody follows Jim during a training run on the Grand Teton course

We talked about the situation further that night. I definitely agreed that we should go to Ohio for a few days. In fact, we had already decided that part of the equation.

What concerned me was Jim's insistence that we end our trip after that and go back to Virginia, since we'd be less than a day's drive from our house. My rebuttal was that we're retired and had no reason to go back there until early October, when we'd scheduled some routine medical appointments. There was plenty of time to head back to Utah for The Bear first, even if it meant more driving. I knew Jim had been training hard for that race and was really looking forward to running the new course. I was afraid he might regret his decision later.

But Jim's mind was made up; he decided to forget about The Bear this year and focus instead on doing well at the Mountain Masochist Trail Run (MMTR) in Virginia the first weekend in November. That was his next planned race after The Bear. He has just barely missed the cut-offs at MMTR in recent years and he wants to get 'er done this time. He determined that if he focuses his training on it -- and isn't worn out from running a hundred miles at The Bear several weeks earlier -- his chances of redeeming that last DNF at Masochist are good.

And so it is that we find ourselves back in Virginia a few weeks early. We are glad we made the decisions that we made. Our family is more important than any race or travel plans we have . . .

. . . and what races Jim does or doesn't run are his choice. Our debate didn't last long re: going back to Utah once I understood Jim's logic.

THE JOURNEY BACK TO VIRGINIA

Since this journal has morphed into a bit of a travelogue over the years, I'll describe our trip from the Teton Canyon to Ohio and on to Virginia, a distance of 2,180 miles. We left our campground only a few hours after making our decision to head across the country. Fortunately, it didn't take us long with our paper maps and computer software to plot the course we wanted to take. I took only a few photos on the trip east, so this entry will be light on pictures.

The first leg to Ohio took us two full days and parts of two others.

DAY 1 (SUNDAY):  After picking up Jim's award and saying goodbye to our friends at the Grand Teton Race, we got ready to leave our campground down in the canyon after lunch. Since this was Labor Day Weekend, we were a little concerned about the volume of traffic we'd encounter. There were plenty of people out and about but we didn't run into any problems on the road.


Heading east from Teton Pass, WY

We retraced our tracks to Victor, ID, where we hoped to do laundry. The Laundromat was closed, but we were able to retrieve our e-mail before leaving town; we didn't have a cell phone connection in Teton Canyon or up at Grand Targhee Resort (we use our phones to get online when we travel).

We drove east on US 22/33 to Jackson, WY. Going over Teton Pass in this direction is much easier in an RV than going west; the grade is less steep going up (6-7%). Of course, it meant a 10% grade going down the other side, but we have good brakes on both the truck and camper. In addition, the views of Jackson Hole are superb going eastbound! It's a beautiful valley.


Approaching Jackson Hole, WY

Our plan that day was to reach I-80 at Rock Springs, WY, a total distance of only 222 miles. We had plenty of time, so when we reached Pinedale on scenic US 191 and found a nice Laundromat open, we stopped for about an hour to do laundry. Jim was happy to have free WiFi. I was happy to find some clean washers and dryers that didn't have "Oil Field Clothing" signs on them! (That's a first.) The Clean 'N Wash Laundry is along the main highway, a handsome two-story pine structure with a moose theme. There is plenty of parking on a quiet street behind the building. The price for the washers and dryers was better than we've seen all summer.

US 191 (above) is a good route all the way from Jackson to Rock Springs. Even with stops to get e-mail, do laundry, and fill up the tank at Flying J (best price on diesel we'd seen in a while, too), we arrived at our overnight resting point -- yep, Wal-Mart! -- by 6 PM. Good thing we didn't get there any later, because it was a popular place for lots of other holiday travelers in RVs that night, too.

DAY 2 (LABOR DAY):  This was a full day on the road -- 551 miles from Rock Springs, WY to Lexington, NE, all on I-80. The drive was uneventful (that's a good thing), the weather varied from storms (next photo) to bright sunshine, and we were happy to have cell service all day, even in sparsely-populated southern Wyoming and western Nebraska.

We morphed from the Mountain Time Zone to the Central Time Zone, making us think harder about what time it was in other locales. We'd been in the Mountain zone for four months.


Looks like a good place for a tornado . . .

We spent the night at a new Wal-Mart with a huge parking lot in Lexington, NE. The store was in our 2009 Wal-Mart edition of the DeLorme atlas, but we weren't able to program the new street into our Magellan GPS. That's happened several times on this trip, despite periodic uploads of new data. (What economic depression? Wal-Mart is still building stores!) Not to worry; this one was easy to find without "Maggie''s" assistance. This store is unusual because it has a lot of designated spots for commercial trucks to park. We haven't seen that at a Wal-Mart before. There is plenty of room on the other side of the store for campers to park next to a grassy area. We pretty much had the place to ourselves, though. Most holiday travelers had already returned home by then.

DAY 3:  This was an even longer day on the road -- 593 miles from Lexington, NE to Galesburg, IL, all in the Central Time Zone. We followed I-80 to Davenport, IA, then drove south on I-74 to Galesburg. Jim was happy to be back in the Land of Steak 'N Shake!

Diesel fuel got a little higher as we ventured east, to our surprise. We paid from $2.52 to $2.73/gallon on this four-day trek, mostly at Flying J stations. Other stations are generally higher. We get a 1 per gallon discount on fuel at Flying J with their free discount card (it is not a credit card). We also like Flying Js because we can usually get potable water and propane there, too. Sometimes we can dump gray and black water, but not always. Some Flying Js either don't have trailer dumps or they aren't easy to access from the RV fuel pumps. The best set-up is when the water and dumps are in the island next to the fuel pump so we can multi-task while filling the tank.

The worst that happened on this day was acquiring our first ding in the truck cab from the Hitchhiker camper during one of our stops. We've made many successful tight turns with the short bed Ram pickup we got in February and simply dropped our guard this time. Bummer.


Healthy Midwest corn

Foggy, cool morning air turned into a hot, sunny afternoon. Since this was a work day, we ran into lots of traffic through Omaha, Des Moines, and the Davenport/Quad Cities metro area. There are several ways to get through the Quad Cities but it appeared every freeway had construction work and was crawling with rush-hour traffic.

We tried unsuccessfully to find the Wal-Mart in Moline and missed a Sam's Club in Bettendorf  -- we saw it too late to get off at the proper exit. We kept going to Galesburg, IL and had a frustrating time trying to find their Wal-Mart, too (another new one and Magellan took us the wrong way). It's about a mile off the freeway (I-74 exit 46), making it much quieter than the Wal-Marts you can see from a  super-highway.

Once we found the Galesburg store we were very pleased. It's new and BIG inside and has a large parking area. We parked next to grass and enjoyed some cool breezes once the sun set. We all had a nice evening stroll around the area after dark.

DAY 4:  After 420 miles through Illinois and Indiana we reached my brother's house in Ohio, where we spent several nights with our camper parked under some trees in his spacious yard. It was one of our best campsites all summer!

Getting in and out of his long, narrow driveway is a trick but Jim's as close to an expert as you'll find who can back up a 5th-wheel into any conceivable space. I can drive it forward but I've never even tried to learn to back it up. I hope I don't regret that someday.


Jim took this picture of the mist rising over the pond early one morning.

When we had some spare time during our visit, we ran or walked down the road to the lake that now covers the large farm where my brother and I spent ten years of our youth. I took the next photo from the far end of the (former) bridge across the (former) creek that was dammed to make the lake. Our driveway used to be in front of the hill on the right, and our old farmhouse stood around the left corner of that hill.

It's always enlightening for me to go back "home" and reminisce, even though our farm doesn't look anything like it did when we lived there.

BACK IN VIRGINIA

Returning to our house in Virginia is a different kind of "homecoming" for Jim and me. We have ambivalent feelings about it because it has become more work than retreat.

My g-mail signature says it clearly: "home is where our camper is."

The six-hour trip from my brother's house to our house is always an enjoyable ride through the Appalachian foothills of eastern Ohio, West Virginia, and southwestern Virginia. It's especially beautiful in the fall when the leaves are turning bright colors. Although we saw a few reds, oranges, and yellows at the higher elevations, most of the leaves continue to sport shades of green in mid-September. It's still a pretty drive.

We had a great time out West again this year (except for the bike incident!) but it's also nice to get back to our house after being gone for over four months. We love this place; the problem is, it's just not practical for our nomadic lifestyle or our diminishing ability to take care of it. There is always a lot to do when we get here after being gone so long and it's daunting and exhausting as we get older.


The asters are still blooming nicely in our yard.

Regardless of how much we like the place, our rational conclusion is that we we need less house, less land, less distance from town, and no stairs. When we sell it, we will be "house-less" for a while and RV full time.

We had plenty of time on the long journey east to think about future plans and to make lists of "things to do" while we are here. One good thing about coming back to Virginia early is that we'll have a little more time to get everything done that we need to do before leaving in November for the Southwest! Here's just a sampling off the top of my head:

  • keeping routine medical appointments with the health care providers we know and like (getting medical care on the road is a real challenge)
  • getting new glasses to replace the ones I destroyed last month in the bike crash
  • getting my knees x-rayed to see if I need to start visco supplementation yet
  • figuring out our health insurance options during open season 
  • reassessing the local real estate market to determine when to list our house for sale; we assume it's still a strong buyers', not sellers', market
  • doing lots of yard work (oh, the weeding!!)
  • making some minor house improvements and repairs
  • cleaning and repairing the camper
  • sorting through excess household goods to be sold or donated
  • reviewing and updating important financial records and legal documents like our health care directives, final arrangements, financial powers of attorney, wills, etc. (if you don't have all that stuff, and keep it updated, DO IT NOW)
  • organizing too much "paperwork" on and off the computers
  • catching up on this web journal!
  • ad infinitum (it always seems)

NEW RACE PLANS

Add at least one more category to the above: our race plans are changing, too.

Since Jim isn't doing The Bear, he quickly suggested we do the Hinson Lake 24-hour run again. Guess what? It's this weekend!!

A quick decision, indeed. I'm not trained for an ultra right now but I'm game for Hinson Lake; there's no pressure for either of us to go any certain distance.


Sunrise over Hinson Lake

We love that race. I was a little disappointed we wouldn't be back East in time to do it this year. But now we're here and we're fortunate that it's one of those increasingly-rare ultras that allows race-day registration. We've already registered online so RD Tom Gabell will know we're planning to run the race. But if we'd wanted, we could have waited until Saturday morning to enter.

Hinson Lake isn't specific training for Mountain Masochist -- it's very flat in comparison -- but it'll give Jim a good chance to do 50 miles at a faster pace than was possible at the Teton race. He needs to work on speed; MMTR's 12-hour time limit is a real challenge for older and/or slower runners. The course has quite a few dirt road miles and lots of downhill where Jim can make up time if he's properly trained.

At Hinson Lake he can stop any time he wants (that's both a good and a bad thing!). If he meets his time goal for 50 miles, he can choose to stop then or keep going for more distance. It's a casual but well-organized race and folks are encouraged to run or walk for however long they want, even if it's only one 1-mile loop.

It'll be great to see some of our friends who weren't at the races we attended out West this summer and there are some ultra legends who are entered that will be fun to see again. In fact, one of the reasons we entered is that Gary Cantrell AKA "laz" is on the entry list.

I haven't seen him since I ran his Strolling Jim ultra in Tennessee in 1993 (believe it or not, I was fast enough back then to run that hilly race in a 6:28 for 41+ miles). Jim has never met Gary but enjoys his posts to the ultra list. Gary is one of the more interesting characters in the world of ultra running and we are looking forward to spending some time with him this weekend.

Laz and Ray K in the same race -- what fun!


Water lily on Hinson Lake

There are three other fixed-time races between December and March that we've either entered or plan to enter: Run Like the Wind 3-, 6-, 12-, and 24-hour runs in Austin, TX;  Run to the Future 24-hour race in Phoenix; and Delano 12-hour run in Decatur, Alabama.

We are still sad about the suspension (demise?) of the el primo Across the Years 72-, 48-, and 24-Hour Run at the end of December, which had become my favorite race. We have our fingers crossed that it will return  next year. Meanwhile, we're adapting to circumstances (the theme of this entry) by participating in the Run to the Future, which the Arizona Road Racers club is sponsoring to partially fill the gap left by ATY. We've contacted the new RD about our willingness to volunteer for that race and one or both of us will probably also enter it.

I have to be increasingly selective in what events I run/walk; the fixed-time format allows me to go as many hours, as many miles, and as fast (or slow!) as I want without missing cut-offs. In addition, these events are usually on flatter terrain that's better for my Granny Knees.

Jim's been wading through all the information he can find about other races that he may do in the next few months. I'll crew and volunteer at those.

Stay tuned to see where in the world we end up!


Tall trees dwarf the runners at Hinson Lake

So . . . life goes on and we adapt to it as best we can.

One of our bigger challenges is adapting to our changing bodies as we age. I'll have more to say about that in upcoming entries!

Next entry: the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Run

Happy trails,

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

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