Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Biking in Boulder

This is the annual "ode to biking in Boulder, CO" post, more or less just like last year when I wax, poetically or not, about how I could truly become a "biker chick" here and maybe take up a few other athletic/outdoorsy endeavors while I was at it.  Since that does not appear to be likely (not any time soon, at least), I'll continue to enjoy the time when we do bring our bikes and ride, ride, ride (for us).  Since I've started to taper, I can't do anything too crazy, but we've been on our bikes three times since Friday.  I believe that is a record for me - especially in terms of sheer pleasure while riding.  I hate complaining too much about the "rough" life that I have biking around Pasadena and LA - there are definitely worse places to be!  However, it is just so easy here to hop on the bike and head out for a nice, 20-mile out-and-back or a 25-to-30-mile loop along rolling hills and country roads.  Plus, while there are PLENTY of crazy, intense cyclists around, most people on the road seem quite friendly.  While I certainly can't keep up with most of them, I've enjoyed Sunshine quite a bit on the trip!

Case in point - on our first ride, Friday morning, Michael ended up with a flat tire (good thing we both practiced changing tires this summer!), and as we stood there fiddling around with the bike, every single person or group that passed by us asked us if we needed help or if we had everything that we needed.  Talk about nice!  We did have all the supplies and most of the skills, although it ended up that we couldn't do much for the tire because the sidewall blew out.  Although Michael had to abort his ride on Friday, we then got up early Saturday to ride with my brother-in-law and a friend of his.  Michael, his brother and I were more or less well-matched, but the friend was a GREAT cyclist - it was fun to see him ride!  We started with a climb up Old Stage Road in North Boulder.  The climb really wasn't terrible, but with the altitude (still, yes), I thought that my heart was going to jump out of my chest!  Still, once we hit the first little "summit", the climb continued but the incline eased up and was actually a ton of fun!  So much so that I descended part of the true summit to climb a bit more - crazy, I know.  And then the descent was even more of a hoot - a long, easy grade with a terrific shoulder so I felt safe the entire time.  Ideal!  Finally, today Michael and I went along the Boulder 70.3 bike route .  We were familiar with parts of the route, but it was nice to ride through the loop once, especially because there are a lot of places with those pesky false flats!  It should be a great ride on Sunday, so I am getting ready - and getting plenty nervous!

Obviously, my word doesn't count much to call a place a "Cycling Mecca", but Boulder IS where Team Garmin trains.  I realize that most of their cyclists are probably elsewhere right now (like London), but it was pretty exciting to see what I decided *had* to be the team car - or maybe just David Zabriskie's or David Millar's or Tom Danielson's car?

At any rate, Michael humored me with this awesome shot as I posed by the car (in the rain).  We had just been to a bike shop to get his tire fixed, so I look like I'm part of the cycling community - or pretending to be a part of it, at least!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Breckenridge - High altitude training

We arrived in Boulder yesterday after spending 4 pretty rockin' days in Breckenridge.  The visit there was a mix of vacation/relaxing, spending quality time with my aunt and uncle with whom we stayed, and training!  That was part of the plan when I signed up for the Boulder race - to arrive early and acclimate to the altitude.

We arrived last Saturday and did not immediately jump out of the car to go for a run, especially since it was more or less happy hour - wine, cheese and crackers, a daily ritual for my aunt and uncle.  However, starting early Sunday morning, we made an effort to be quite active at least once a day, often times twice.  The altitude definitely affected us throughout the week - each time that I thought that I had fully acclimated to the elevation, we had to walk up the steps of my aunt and uncle's house and found ourselves panting and dragging our bodies upstairs!  I hoped that spending time in Breckenridge would help me for next week's event (slight freak-out typing that) and I think that it will.  Last week was a pretty low-key week for a number of reasons, so it was nice to feel that I had a final week of "training" - and especially that I could fit in a good ride and some great runs at 10,000 feet!

The time in Breckenridge looked something like this, broken down by activity:
Running - Plenty of early morning runs, starting on day 1.  That first run, an "easy" out-and-back, left me huffing and puffing the whole time!  We also found some trails that challenged us, especially with the incline!  I soon grew accustomed to seeing a much slower pace than usual, but I tried to accept that, especially as my chest and legs felt like exploding on the uphill!  The only discouraging thing about running is that I felt just as tired on Thursday as I had on Sunday during our run.  So much for adjusting to the elevation!

Swimming - I have to thank my uncle for motivating me to swim.  Not that he is much of a swimmer, but he is committed to going to the Breckenridge Rec Center a few times a week for a workout, so I tagged along.  I was worried about swimming at altitude because I struggled so much last year.  Therefore,it relieved me that I was able to put in 2,00 yards a few times without feeling completely wiped out.  I also discovered that swimming in the long, competition pool for most of the summer has helped me!  The pool in Breckenridge is great but much shorter at only 25 yards!  Maybe I'll be ready to tackle 1.2 miles in just over a week?!

Biking - On Tuesday, we rode from Frisco up to Vail Pass and back.  We biked the same route last year and loved the experience, in part because it feels like a luxury to be on a bike path (although it can be frustrating because of all the families that are poking along - sorry to be an asshole!).  In comparison to last year, I think that we felt stronger and less winded on Tuesday when we finally arrived at the pass (10,662 feet!).  I had forgotten what a long haul uphill it is and that the "flats" on the way to the pass are not flats at all!  This definitely made the descent much quicker and tons of fun - we also enjoyed beautiful scenery and some speedy miles on the way back to Frisco.

Hiking - No "Fourteener" this year, but we squeezed in a hike to Mohawk Lake - there are two of them, but we just made it to the first one.  I was worried about returning to the house late for lunch, but I should have been thinking about the weather - as we stepped off the trail and on to the fire road, it started to rain and then HAIL and then rain again.  Funny, as we ran downhill to the car to get out of the rain and hail, I didn't even think about my lungs once!  We did not expect the storm at 11:00 am - definitely thought that we would be off the mountain by the time the typically afternoon showers hit.  So much for predictability.  I was happy that we were off the trail - parts of it were challenging while dry, so it would have been slow-going for us with the rain and hail.

As I think about hiking, one theme to which I seem to return time and again as I reflect on this training cycle - I do find that I miss other experiences because my focus is so narrow (swim, bike, run, swim, bike, run).  Perhaps this is just my own experience and other people doing tri's find a way to stay connected to other activities that they love, I'm not sure.  I'm thinking about hiking and how limited our hiking was this year.  Last year we 'bagged' a fourteener, and I would have loved to hike up another 14,000 foot peak, but we did not for two reasons.  First of all, I did not want to veer too far from my training schedule, as loose as it is, and secondly, I did not want to risk falling (I'm a klutz) or getting terrible blisters or just putting way too much stress on my body.  So, no fourteener for us this year, unfortunately.

Not that I'm feeling sorry for myself - being in the "High Country", as they call it here in Colorado, was amazing.  I logged in some decent mileage at a pretty high elevation, and even better, Michael and I enjoyed exploring areas around Breckenridge and had a great time with aunt and uncle.  Despite the lack of hiking, we balanced the stay in Breck between time with family, training and other activities, and some total rest and relaxation.  It was a great place to be for a few days!

And, on a final note - it does seem to have helped us acclimate!  Now that we are in Boulder, the breaths come with more ease, and I logged in 24 miles on the bike this morning at a relaxed pace.  Nothing too crazy, but I'll take it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Road trip take II: Colorado

When Michael and I originally envisioned this summer (back in the fall or maybe winter months), the plan was to have a low-key summer. But then we planned the trip to the Pacific Northwest.  And even before that, I signed up for Boulder 70.3 for the beginning of August.  And I also agreed to spend time with students and colleagues in Nicaragua after Boulder.  Suddenly, the idea of "low-key" summer disappeared!  It has, however, been a summer full of miles on the road, visiting family and friends and exploring new haunts and old favorites, which I love.  Our first road trip afforded us the luxury to enjoy the time on the road.  This trip has been much more about getting to one destination and then another - Breckenridge now, and soon we'll be in Boulder - but we've enjoyed it just as much as our last trip.

After what seemed to be three very brief weeks after our last road trip, we set out for Colorado on Friday.  Surprisingly, we started to organize throughout the week, so packing up proved to be an easier task than expected.  Even more shocking (to me), we/Michael fit everything in the car, and we probably had some room to spare.  This surprised me because in addition to just road trip 'stuff' that we *had* to take (beer, food, wine, food, tequila), we were also transporting two dogs, two bikes, tons of gear and enough clothes for mountains, more mountains, and then tropical Central America.

On Friday, I taught my last summer school "class", turned in student comments, we ate lunch and then left, heading east.  It was Friday afternoon-ish, so of course we hit traffic as we headed east through the Mojave.  Once clear of Vegas, we cruised along at speed limits of 70 mph and upwards.  The scenery also improved, especially as we headed into Utah and passed through the southwestern part of the state right at dusk.  Really breathtaking, even when taken in from a car window.  We finally pulled into the lovely Motel 6 in Beaver, Utah around 10:30 pm, which was great because we were tired and did not care that we had to stay at a crappy locale (in more ways than one!).

We did appreciate that we were, like the song says, further on down the road when we woke up Saturday morning and could easily push on to Colorado.  After a good stop for lunch in Glenwood Springs, we arrived in Breckenridge mid-afternoon on Saturday.  Right in time for the afternoon rain showers and for wine, cheese and crackers with my aunt and uncle!  The days here have been full of outdoor activities and the nights full of conversations over beer, wine and margaritas.  We will head to Boulder later in the week, but for now, we're enjoying our time in the mountains!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mid-month musings

As the very brief (two weeks!) summer class I'm teaching winds down on Friday, it seems that summer is slipping away all too quickly.  Perhaps it was the trip on the front end of the summer or the fact that I've been so focused on two major events/happenings coming up in August, but I've felt that the days, weeks, and months have quickened their pace this year.  Or maybe it's just that I'm getting older?   Keeping that in mind, and with Friday being my last day of summer school AND the day that we depart for Colorado, it seems timely to jot down a few things.

First of all, on Sunday, it took us 3 bottles of wine, two different steaks and some over-priced potatoes to celebrate our anniversary.  I'll offer up an explanation for what seems terribly wasteful and/or extravagant.  Or gluttonous.  For the wine - the first bottle we opened was bad, which totally sucked because we'd had it hanging around for a while and it should have been a good bottle - so much for aging fine wine!  The second bottle needed a day-and-a-half to "open up" and be drinkable (we drank it last night, not Sunday).  But the third time was charm with a good Cabernet.  Not our usual choice, but it paired nicely with the steak.  As we went through one bottle after another, I did think to myself "I hope that this doesn't serve as a sad metaphor for our marriage!"

As for the steak, we almost never cook steak - and rarely eat it these days.  But, we decided that we'd buy a nice piece of meat and eat at home rather than going out to dinner.  So, we went to the butcher and bought one ribeye, and the butcher halved it horizontally, slicing it so that there were two THIN pieces of steak rather than two thick pieces.  That was nice of him - he wanted us to have equal shares of it, but I really wanted a thick steak, even if the piece was small.  Rather than give back the first steak, we took it, and then decided that we'd get one more steak that the butcher did not cut in half.  I know, I know...  I suppose we could have given the first steak back, but it seemed to be our fault since we did not communicate effectively with the butcher.  The steak that the butcher halved is now in our freezer, and we'll eat it at a later date.  And the steak that we had on Sunday night was pretty damn good.  Finally, the potatoes - we bought them at the farmers' market on Sunday morning, and the price more or less outraged Michael who almost refused to pay for them.  However, the potatoes might have been the best part of the meal - they were amazing!  Overall, it was a great way to celebrate our anniversary, despite some of the mishaps along the way.

Finally, a few other details that have been on my mind.  My students' woeful AP scores?  According to someone who has way more pull/influence/institutional weight than I, they are just fine, so I'm going to stop worrying about them.  Shew!

On to the training for Boulder topic (ad nauseam) - after a few pretty intense weeks for me, I've started the tapering process. Woo-hoo!  Not that I'm tapering 100%, since I still have a few tough days and some long workouts that I'd like to fit in, but after a 46-mile ride followed by a 3-mile run on Saturday, I feel that any major 'pushing' that I do at this point will be too much.  One more thought about that ride - even after 7 years of living in the LA area, the weather continues to confound me.  We had suffered through several days of warmer temperatures around the Pasadena area, so we looked forward to something of a break in Malibu.  But really?  When we went on our ride in Malibu Saturday morning, it was a chilly, damp, foggy morning, and it had barely warmed up by the time we finished up our ride at 10:00 am!  Of course, once we made it back to the east side, the temperatures were right around 90.  On that note, I've made an effort to run in the heat, and it has been slow going!  I'd had an itch to run a bit faster, so last night I pounded out a fast (for me) 10K run.  I had forgotten what sub-9:00 minute miles looked like, let alone sub-8:00 miles!  Nice to reacquaint myself with those speeds!

Not that I'll see anything like that on August 5...

I am reining in the desire to make some sweeping comment about my training or arrive at a premature conclusion.  The more relaxed pace of summer has helped me considerably not freak out too much about training, but I also feel a bit impatient for August 5.  I'd like to focus on a different goal, even if it is smaller and more modest, and I think that I would welcome the change.  I lumped my training for Wildflower and Boulder into one long training season, beginning in mid-January, so I've spent many, many, many months thinking about Boulder, even if I haven't always been training for the event and even if I've had other races on my mind (and legs).

I suppose, what I'm saying, is that I'm almost ready for a loooooooooong break from training and will welcome the change with open arms!

I will, however, miss all of the ice cream that I've been eating these days...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

More numbers: Four weeks to go!

Well, it seems that I haven't gotten this focus on the numbers out of my system yet!  With our trip in June, I did not want to ruin Michael's travels, nor my own, by obsessing about the Boulder race, which is officially four weeks from today.  And while the four week mark does elicit a range of emotions, most are positive, especially after this weekend's round of training.
So, yes, here it is: the ubiquitous training report.  And a bit of a ramble.

It seems like a long time ago that I signed up for Boulder 70.3, and I trained more or less steadily and faithfully all spring, but for other races, not so much the "big one".   May did not motivate too much to focus on Boulder (I had other things on my mind, such as the end of the school year), so when we returned from our trip last Thursday night, I took a look at the calendar and my stomach did a little flip in panic.  The trip was not a total wash in terms of training, since I continued to run quite a bit, but swimming and biking did suffer quite a bit.  However, I do feel confident after logging in a week that was VERY heavy on training that I should survive the Boulder race, if not finish strong.

The distance is the most obvious concern since this is new territory for me on the bike and in putting the distances together.  So, that begs the question - am I logging in the training hours necessary to finish the race feeling strong?  Before this weekend, I probably would have declared an emphatic "no", but thanks to a longish run (10 miles) yesterday and a slow but very hilly ride (44.5 miles and over 3800 elevation gain!) today followed by a 3 mile run, I've bolstered my confidence, especially because I ran and rode in warm weather and never felt like complete shit.  I thought that I would be exhausted for the rest of the day after the brick, so it has surprised me that my energy levels have been fairly high.  I had been dreading the ride today, thinking about the heat, the time in the saddle, and the crazy (to us) elevation gain.  We survived the climb, crawling along, and once we arrived at the intersection of Big Tujunga and Angeles Crest, we had a 9-mile decent. This gave our legs a much-needed break but challenged us in a different way, as the downhill is a somewhat (to me) technical decent, especially with the cars and motorcycles that zoom past and the rocks that we maneuver around, trying to avoid hitting them.  We had moments of white-knuckling along some parts of the decent, and Michael and I were both happy when we made it safely back to the flat lands!

In addition to mileage, the heat/weather conditions in Boulder have also worried me these past few weeks.  When we were in the Northwest, I enjoyed the cooler temperatures.  The hardest part about that was that I couldn't decide what to wear when it was 57 degrees outside and I was heading out for a run!  As pleasant as that was, it did not help me much to prepare for the heat that I'll most likely have to endure in Boulder in August.  With that in mind, I've made an effort to run and bike in the late morning or in the afternoon so that I will be somewhat prepared for the Boulder heat.  My first run back in Southern CA last week was pretty hellish as I struggled through 7.5 miles, but I'm making progress.  Please note, however, the high today in Boulder is supposedly 72 degrees, so I have NO IDEA what I'll have to deal with on August 5!  And, yes, I do wonder if the race will even happen, especially if another wildfire happens to break out somewhere in or around the area.  With that in mind, I'm keeping all of my options wide-open (you know, DNS, DNF, finish).

The training plan for the next week is to continue to push without, I hope, stressing my body too much.  My next long ride will involve much less climbing, so it will be interesting to see how much faster we are when we are tackling rolling hills rather than a relentless march up, up, up. Knock on wood, but my body also seems to be enduring the longer miles in the saddle and on my feet, one of my major concerns when I contemplated signing up for a longer triathlon.  Currently, I am feeling  more confident about tackling the longer distances in Boulder, but I am trying to balance that optimism with a dose of pessimism just to keep myself well-balanced!

At this point, I have not had any "AHA!" moments while training about the meaning of life, nor can I use triathlon/training as a metaphor for anything.  I have, however, enjoyed that the summer has given me the time to focus on this swim, bike, run thing.  I am still slow on the bike, but I have moments when I feel speedier.  Also, I noted after the ride today that the back of my legs were sore, not the front, so I'm working on my bike technique in addition to adding mileage.  One more plus in all of this - Michael has accompanied me on most of these biking exploits, so we've motivated each other.  It's definitely more fun to ride with someone else than alone, even though those solo rides can be necessary too.

The next few weeks will be filled with more mileage, and then some high-altitude training.  I plan to enjoy it as much as possible!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Numbers, numbers, numbers

As opposed to "words, words, words" (Hamlet).

I don't consider myself much of a numbers person.  Math was not one of my better subjects for a variety of reasons, but I now regret that I resigned myself to being a non-math person without much of a fight.  Not that I would choose to be a math or science person - I've always gravitated more to language and the written word, but I probably would have benefited from a bit more left-brain work when that part of my body was still developing.

But, while I find my natural affinity lies with language, numbers play an important role in my life and work.  This is both a win/lose situation, setting me up for moments when I can clearly see "progress" based on numbers and other moments when I can see "failure" because of those tricky little digits.  Often, the separation between progress/success and failure is minuscule, yet I interpret it as a huge gap that I can't ever bridge.  Also, I evaluate and/or define myself based on certain numbers.  This is not inherently problematic, especially when I am evaluating the numbers and thinking about what they mean without applying a deep, personal significance to them.  However, these little numbers can lay a trap for me (or I lay a trap for myself) when I define myself by a 4, 3 or 5.  Or other numbers, for that matter.

To get to the heart of the matter, numbers have been on my mind for much of the spring and summer as I've been training for various events.  Additionally, as a teacher, they are not far from my reality during the school year - nor during the summer, when the ever-lovely College Board releases AP scores, and a number represents or summarizes students' and teachers' work over the course of an academic year.  All that work, reduced to a student's performance in a 3-4 hour period.  Not being a student, I cannot speak to their reaction, but there is usually a certain amount of anticipation and then either relief, excitement or disappointment that follows the release of the scores.  Now, I don't consider myself to be a 'master teacher' at all, but my students, on the whole, have performed quite well - usually better than I expected - on the AP.  This year, however, I felt a sharp twinge of disappointment when I saw some of the scores and the overall student average.  This has prompted me to turn a critical eye to my teaching and my expectations over the past year - perhaps I was not rigorous enough?  Very possible. Perhaps the class size affected the performance of the students?  Also possible. Perhaps several students just had a pretty bad day?  Also possible.

There are, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, many known unknowns here.  It is tempting to lay it all at my own feet, blame myself and suddenly condemn myself as a terrible teacher.   I could also reduce the entire classroom experience that I had with these students to their performance on the AP Exam.  I am, however, trying hard to take it in stride.  Yes, I care more than is comfortable for me (this kept me up half the night), but ultimately I need to see these numbers as information.  They are not an indictment of me as a 'terrible teacher' nor do they reflect poorly on my students who were, on the whole, a lovely group of people.

As conflicted as I feel about my students' AP scores, focusing on numbers in terms of running and biking often brings a sense of triumph and accomplishment or allows me to assess my ability and/or performance.  I caved back in May and finally bought a Garmin, despite my preference to "run free".  I decided that it would be good to actually know how far my run or bike ride was rather than more-or-less estimate the distance, taking a laissez-faire attitude to my training and competing.  I now find myself completely addicted to the Garmin and its wonderful data collection-abilities!  What did I do before Garmin?! Why did I even bother running?  Now, as much as I enjoy the reports that Garmin generates, again I find that I need to proceed with some caution when I review the numbers.  Yeah, it's great to finally hit an average of 18+ mph on the bike (still slow, but getting there) and I love looking at the elevation gain/loss diagram and knowing that I climbed 1,900 feet during my ride on Thursday, but it doesn't mean that I'm necessarily a better biker or runner.

I would like to keep in mind that, before I'm too addicted to watching the numbers rise (or fall, depending on what the numbers are), just like my students' AP scores, there will come a time when these numbers disappoint me for one reason or another.  I'll have a bad race.  I'll get older and stiffer.  Life will happen, and my times will go down (or up, depending on the definition of that) and my mileage will shrink.  So, I'm trying to refrain from defining myself by a X:XX minute mile or a 10-mile run.  Instead of seeing these numbers as an easy way to define myself, I'll try to keep them in perspective and use them as a good resource to evaluate myself and my abilities.  Just like my students' performance on the AP - a good resource to evaluate and assess myself and the curriculum.

Shew, these were a lot of words dedicated to numbers! No wonder I'm going a bit crazy!

Now, to end with a few concrete numbers from the week:
- Miles run today: 10 (double digits!)
- Blisters on foot: 1.5 (I had one and then another sort of formed on top of it; kind of gross)
- Walks this week with the dogs: 12-ish
- Fireworks viewed on the 4th: 0
- Loads of laundry since we returned last week: About 8
- Letters that I need to write: 5
- Hours spent watching Le Tour: Oh, let's not go there...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Northwest travels - further north

The second week of our vacation/trip seemed busier, maybe because we did not have 'home-base' like Seattle offered us.  It would be hard to describe Bellingham, WA, as a busy or hectic place, however!  That was our first stop north and we spent a few days there with my cousin.  Bellingham is a good-sized town with plenty of charm and lots of recreational activities!  While we were there, it was also a bit chilly and rained on-and-off - we couldn't believe that the high on the first day of summer was in the upper 50's!  Bellingham has also been in focus over the past few months because of a coal train controversy that has environmental implications (of the negative sort).

While in Bellingham, we took plenty of naps and explored some of what the town had to offer (a great Co-op grocery store and Saturday market).  We also beat the rain, sort of, and hiked up to Fragrance Lake, a nice little place in the Chuckanut Mountains (not the Cascades!).  It started to rain on us, but because of the canopy that the huge trees created, we barely got wet!  The trail - like all of the others that we experienced on the trip - was so well-mainained and easy to walk on.  Really nice!  We also took my cousin's dog along for the hike which made it more fun for us. I was obviously hopeful for sunshine, but the jacket served me better than the sunglasses.

After B-ham, we drove north last Sunday with my cousin and her niece.  Destination: Canada!  Vancouver, to be precise, which is about an hour from my cousin's house.  Crazy!  We spent most of Sunday exploring the University of BC's botanical gardens and the Museum of Anthropology.  The Museum of Anthropology (or MOA) was amazing!  It has a terrific collection of Pacific Northwest art and artifacts, and we spent hours wandering through the collection.  We especially enjoyed all of the totem poles - so cool!  

After the museums on Sunday, Monday was full explorations of different neighborhoods in Vancouver.  We started out with Stanley Park and just saw a tiny bit of it - what a terrific urban park!  We spent some time enjoying the view of the water, and then decided that we were too cold!  So, we took a walk around a lake and tried to not step in goose poop (that was a challenge!).  We also some idiots feeding a raccoon!  Seriously, who does that?!  I was secretly hoping that we'd see the raccoon bite the tourist, but that did not happen.  

After Stanley Park, we exhausted ourselves as we went to Granville Island (which is not an island) and ate lunch and explored some of the art studios that sold very expensive stuff!  Then, we went on to the Chinatown and Gastown neighborhoods.  I was clearly a great tour guide for the group (note the look of intense concentration on my face):

We did pretty well seeing everything that we wanted, except that I was determined to hit up a cool bar with a great beer selection.  Our trusty Lonely Planet guide book recommended the Alibi Room in Gastown, and we found it, ready to drink some brew!  It did not open until 5:00 pm, however, which did not work with our schedule.  You can see my frustration as I shook my fist at the bar!  I mean, honestly, a bar that doesn't open until 5:00?  Where were we?   

Dinner did compensate, somewhat, my failure as a drinking tour guide for the group.  We returned to Chinatown and ate at Bao Bei, which is described as a Chinese brasserie.  On the way back to our hotel, we stopped by Stanley Park again for some final views of the mountains, the Lion's Gate Bridge and more totem poles!

I'm pretending to be an out-of-focus eagle here.

Vancouver almost marked the end of our travels - we had one more stop, Leavenworth, WA, a faux-Bavarian 'village' in the heart of the central Cascades in WA.  The town is one of the biggest tourist traps I've ever experienced in my life, but the mountains around the town are gorgeous - pointy and dramatic.  We were there to visit family friends who are pretty inspirational, a word that I try to not over-use.  I would consider them true outdoorsy-people, even at age 74 and 64.  I hope that I can be as full of life and good humor as I grow older as these people are.  It was hard to say good-bye to them on Wednesday, as we headed south, back home, greeted by our own little family, Gus and Milo.

The trip as a whole - well, I keep repeating myself as I think about how lucky we were to see beautiful places, but we felt especially fortunate to see so many good friends (and family members that we like!).  
We left plenty of stones unturned, places to which we want to return, hikes that we could not take, time that ran out on us.  But, it was such a perfect trip the way that it was, and I'm so grateful that we had this opportunity!

Monday, July 2, 2012

June - Pacific Northwest travels

As I mentioned previously, our two-week trip to Oregon, Washington and Vancouver gave us a chance to explore new places, revisit old favorites and spend lots of time with good friends.  Now, more details, with photos!
We left on the early side of Wednesday, June 13 and shot straight north, making excellent time along Interstate 5 and arriving in southern Oregon before dark.  That was easy to do since the days were so long!  We enjoyed watching the sun go down around Klamath Falls while sipping a beer:

The following day, we meandered to the coast, taking a detour to Crater Lake.  I had driven by the lake a few years ago but had not appreciated the splendor that the views offered.  It was a bit too snow-packed (mid-June!) to hit any of the trails, but we enjoyed playing a bit in the snow and couldn't believe how beautiful it was.  

See all the white stuff?  Snow!

After enjoying Crater Lake, we headed north and west - to the coast!  It took us most of the day as we winded along the Umpqua River.  We stopped at one point to check out the sand dunes that were just over a hill.  It was so strange - evergreen forest on all sides but then the dunes snuck up.  We parked and hiked up a sand hill and took in the dunes.  Crazy!  And, one interesting detail about the Oregon sand dunes - they apparently inspired Frank Herbert who wrote Dune

Finally, we arrived at our destination: Yachats, Oregon!  Or just south of there, where we stayed at a cabin right on a cliff that looked out west and northwest and gave us views of the coast.  It was amazing, until we wanted to go to sleep and it was light until far past my usual bedtime!  Before tucking in for the night, we explored the coast a bit, heading north to Newport, Oregon which has an awesome bridge!  I don't know if other people find bridges fascinating, but we saw lots of cool bridges on this trip.  

In Newport, we stopped by Rogue Brewery for a drink (or four - I had a taster).  The bar area was great because it looked out on Yaquina Bay and had a bit of a working-class feel with the fishing boats coming in and out of the bay.  I wish that I had enjoyed the beers a bit more - they were awfully strong and I didn't just *love* them like I do some beers.

Our lodging for the two days we spent in Yachats couldn't have been better.  Well, I suppose it depends on what people want in lodging, but we stayed at Ocean Haven, a quirky place that was right on the coast.  We stayed in the "Shag's Nest Cabin" which was a tiny place perched at the top of a hill overlooking the coast.  We fell asleep and woke up to the sound of the waves and windows that looked west - from one window, all we could see was the blue-green of the ocean - it made me feel as though we were on board a ship!  We could easily walk down to the beach:

Our day along the coast also took us inland a bit as we rode our bikes along Yaquina Bay, a great little ride, and followed that up with one of the best meals at a seafood place that I've had.  The restaurant, Local Ocean, was busy but relaxed.  We scored a spot at the bar, so we could watch people prepping the food, all of which looked amazing.  When the server carried a bowl of a seafood stew by us, we immediately agreed that we had to order it.  It did not disappoint - was full of clams, mussels, oysters, crab, scallops and fish.  That and the beer we quaffed made for a perfect lunch!

Saturday, we headed back east and up I-5 to Seattle where we stayed about 4 days with good friends.  They live in the very cool Phinney Ridge/Greenwood neighborhood, and we enjoyed having such a great home base.  We did play tourists in Seattle, but not quite to THIS extreme:

No, no duck tours, fortunately!  But Petra, my old roommate, did score us free passes to the Experience the Music Project.  I lived in Seattle for a brief 2 years and never went to this museum, and Petra's been there 15 or 20 years, and she visited the EMP for the first time too!  The visit - eh, it was okay, but I'm not sure that I would have paid for the experience.  
In addition to drinking lots of great coffee, exploring neighborhoods such as Ballard and Fremont, perusing food at Pike Place Market, drinking lots of local IPAs and eating amazing seafood, we were also active!  We went on two great runs - one to and around Greenlake, the other was a run with a friend which took us to Lake Washington.  Our last full day in Seattle was a gorgeous day (finally!), and we took advantage of the weather, hiking up Rattlesnake Ridge, a nice hike in the Central Cascade region.  

Afterwards, we drove through the town of Northbend, the setting of the 90's David Lynch series, Twin Peaks.  We are currently watching the series, having missed it when we were in college, so it was fun to see some of the places from the show.  We did not stop for pie at the local cafe, but we did recognize it!

Before leaving Seattle on Thursday, we drove west to Golden Gardens, a city park that is on the western side of the city, looking out to the Olympics.  That was a great place to say our good-bye to the Emerald City before heading north to Bellingham.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Summer sports nirvana

In addition to fresh fruit, sweet tomatoes (which are a fruit, I know), lazy afternoon naps, summer reading, and road trips, to me, summer is also the time to enjoy the "wide world of sports".  After the annual drought that follows March (when March Madness ends, of course, and then we suffer through NBA playoffs and spring baseball), June brings a multitude of choices in terms of events and sports that I happen to enjoy.  This year, of course, is an Olympic year, so that means that our choices just quadrupled about 10 times.

So far, it has been plus/minus in terms of the individuals and teams that I am supporting, and my dedication in June wavered quite a bit.  While I celebrated that Nadal won the French Open, triumphing over Djokovic, he recently took an unexpected exit at Wimbledon.  That was so disappointing, and I probably won't follow much of Wimbledon from here on out!  Then there's the NBA, which I love to hate.  Really, all I wanted this year was for Miami to lose, which did not happen.

So, this brings me to today - July 1 marks the beginning of what I am calling "sports nirvana".  We caught some of the Olympic trials yesterday, and I started this morning with the Tour de France.  Even though some people question whether this will be an exciting Tour this year (Andy Schleck is out; Contador is banned; some riders are more focused on the Olympics rather than the Tour), I don't care.  It's the 99th year, so how could it not be spectacular?!  After watching the stage this morning, which had an exciting end, I switched the channel so that we could watch the Euro Cup final between Italy and Spain (currently, Spain is up, 2-0).  We missed ALMOST all of the tournament since we were on the road and just couldn't follow it, but catching the final game?  Why not?! 

If I keep up my Tour de France viewing, I might be sorely tempted to invest in one of these:

You can read all about this exercise bike here.  Somehow, I don't think that our family budget includes a $1500 exercise bike, so chances that I'll be watching the Tour while riding my Tour exercise bike are slim to none.  
Plus, I really should just get my butt on my own damn bike and ride!

Speaking of that...  Lest it seem that I am turning into couch potato as I keep up with the Tour and the Olympic trials, I have my own plans for the summer of sports nirvana in Boulder on August 5.  Depending, of course, on wildfire and other conditions in the state.  Seeing as Boulder 70.3 is exactly 5 weeks out, I am finding myself more nervous and excited and have seriously started to question my sanity and my ability, but I have also started to ramp up my training in a big way.  While we were on the road, I managed to keep up with my running, and I did not totally abandon biking and swimming for those two weeks.  It was, however, great to put in a 2-hour ride yesterday in the saddle followed by an easy 4-mile run.  After my bike frustration from a few weeks ago when the chain kept dropping, Sunshine has behaved beautifully, and I've been more than happy on our recent rides together.  This is positive, because I have many more miles to go before August 5!