Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Moving Days For Son and Family

Time is up for my son and his family as they get their transfer orders to San Diego.  The logistics of moving a 3,300 square foot household along with two cars, two kids, and a cat is much more complicated than it ever was for me with all the moves I made in the last two decades!   So however I could help, I was ready, willing and able to do so.

It was agreed, then, that I should drive over to Mandeville LA on Sunday and take full and total charge of the grandkids.  Take them away, entertain them, feed them, and keep them away from the mayhem of moving. The packers will show up Monday and will take two days to get their household packed.  This pretty much means the house will become uninhabitable starting Monday morning.

So I got a hotel room at the nearby Comfort Inn and convinced my son that he should get a second hotel room so that the adults in his family could crash (or not) whenever they needed a comfortable bed and shower.  Or to Just. Get. Away. The best part is that the hotel has a great outdoor pool and business was slow at the hotel while we were there, so we had the pool to ourselves.

Dinner at Copeland's Sunday night.

Mimi and I with wet heads, eating at Copeland's Sunday night

My son and I took the kids to the pool immediately after checking into the hotel on Sunday afternoon.  Let's just go ahead and get that over with, since the kids glimpsed the pool as soon as we got there! The grandkids thought they were in heaven.  We let them play in the pool until their fingers were shriveled and they actually wanted to get out.    Hair still wet, chlorine still stinging eyes, and ears still full of pool water, we walked next door to Copeland's Restaurant for dinner.

My son stayed the night in his hotel room while daughter-in-law stayed at the house getting some last-minute travel packing and organizing done before the packers showed up the next morning. So next morning, when my son headed back to his house, it was official:  I was the Keeper Of The Grandkids.  Baths didn't get taken, teeth  didn't always get brushed, hair didn't get combed, but we did have a great time!

That first morning, we drove over to a very nice playground only to discover it was closed Monday mornings for maintenance and cleaning.  Well, drat!  So what else was there to do but go back to the hotel and to the pool instead.  The grandkids didn't mind this change of plan one little bit!  Did I mention that they thought they were in heaven?

Lunch at Wendy's...the kids couldn't have been happier!

Lunch at Wendy's.  Trevor loved the high tables with stools!

At noon, I hauled the kids out, got them dried off and dressed, and the three of us went to Wendy's for lunch.  Trevor was thrilled that they had high tables and stools so of course that's where we all sat.  Afterward I drove to the grocery store across the street to pick up some fresh fruit and snacks for the kids and we went back to the hotel room, where I hooked my laptop up to the TV with an HDMI cable and we watched a movie together.  I was hoping Mimi would slip off to sleep, but she didn't.

When the movie was done, we went back into the hotel pool for a little bit, then dried off, changed clothes, and drove to their house where their mom and dad were making dinner for us.  They'd asked the packers to save the kitchen contents for last so that they could cook one more meal.  So in the midst of all the boxes and piles and chaos, they managed to put together one last dinner for all of us.

What ever did we do before electronics?!  Keeping occupied
a midst total chaos, waiting for dinner.

Piles here, piles there, piles everywhere...

Tuesday morning their dad and I took them back to that playground where they played for hours!  It's the best playground I've ever been to...plenty of shaded seating, lots of equipment for the kids to play on, and it sits right next to all of the Mandeville and county parish government buildings and straddles the really beautiful "rails to trails" trail that runs through all of Mandeville.

I dropped my son off at his house, but not before he rented a Redbox movie online and gave me his credit card so that I could pick it up at the Redbox kiosk in the Albertsons grocery store.  I bought Luncheables for the kids and we went back to the hotel where we watched Penguins of Madagascar and ate our lunch.

Watching Penguins of Madagascar at the hotel

Later that afternoon, their mom arrived while their dad stayed with the packers, and we went to the pool for one last swim.  Mimi was well beyond needing a nap and I'm sure that the chaos and confusion, not to mention total schedule disruption, had taken their toll.  So while her mom took her back inside for a nap,Trevor and I stayed at the pool for another hour, until it was time to regroup with the rest of the family for dinner one last time in Mandeville:  Outback Steak House.

Bed time their last night in Mandeville - at the hotel

My daughter-in-law spent one last night at the house.  Next morning, she met us very early at the hotel.  The kids were packed up and loaded into their SUV and my son and I waved goodbye as they departed for their drive to San Antonio to stay with friends for a couple of days.  My son will catch up with them after the truck is loaded, and they continue on to California.

My son and I checked out of the hotel and returned to the house to meet the truck and loaders.  I stayed for a little bit but it was clear that he had an excellent loading crew and wouldn't be needing my help.  So I hugged my son goodbye and sadly drove back home.  I was so happy that I could be of help during such a chaotic time.  It was nice to spend the time with my family but also sad, knowing they were moving so far away.  It will no longer be just a half day's drive to see them.

Loading day....

Loading day...

The loaders finished by late afternoon and shortly after, son and cat were driving toward San Antonio to meet up with the rest of the family.  A new chapter now begins for them...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Race Day in Missoula...It Is Done!

3:30 AM comes mighty early, especially after a restless night of waking every hour and checking the clock.  I seriously suffer from this syndrome whenever I have something important to wake for really early in the morning.

But at 3:30 I sprang from the bed and got moving.  My plan was to get to the shuttle bus location across the river at the U. Montana athletic center by 4:30 AM, about a mile walk from the hotel.  It was a struggle to keep pushing myself to get ready.  It was just so darn early!

I'd been kind of dreading this race for the reason that it is a point-to-point race and that I'd be at the mercy of the shuttle system and the staging area for a lot longer time than I care to spend, the morning of a race.  But the shuttle system worked like clockwork.  The buses were lined up 3 or 4 deep and more buses were coming behind them as soon as the filled buses departed.  I stepped into line at one of the buses and had no wait....we immediately loaded and the bus took off for the start line several miles southwest of downtown, up in the foothills toward Lolo.

It was still dark when the bus dropped us off at the start line, a large parking lot area for a Physical Therapy/Orthopedics center.   It was 5 AM and I had an hour to wait for the race to start.  The hour seemed to drag along, even though I did sit on the curb next to a woman and struck up a conversation with her.  There was a full moon and a beautifully clear sky to show it off.  In the opposite sky, a pink glow began to peek up over the mountains.  Sunrise and a full moon in the same sky!

National anthem was sung and a big firework boomed in the air to get the race started.  We were treated to a prolonged fireworks display as we took off running.  How cool was that?

The first few miles were a gentle downhill and I was moving along at a pretty good (for me) pace.  But at around mile 5 or 6 I began to have a lower GI issue that's nagged me in the last couple of races.  Despite my diet and proper preparations pre-race, I've been struggling with what's known among the running community as "runner's trots."   I'm not sure if it's a diet thing related to my doing these traveling destination races or what.  But it will kill a good finish time in a real hurry in a larger race.

So there I stood, waiting in line at the portapotties.  Even though this race had a very good number of those at each water station every 2 miles, The line was long.  I lost almost 10 minutes waiting there.  Very disheartening and pretty much blew my under 3 hour goal out the window.

When I emerged, my Garmin watch went from an average 12:46 minute mile pace to a 14:05 minute mile pace.  There would be no recovering this lost time.  It was then that I decided, "To heck with the goal time.  Just slow down and enjoy the event and the scenery."

I gave myself permission to walk the second half of the race, justifying it by reminding myself that I had just run a half marathon the previous Sunday, that I was still recovering from a mild head cold earlier in the week, and that I was at 3200 feet above sea level, an altitude at which I rarely get to run.

My race route tracks from Garmin GPS watch

I flirted with the little kids along the side lines, thanked each and every volunteer staffing the water stations and the intersections, and even crossed the road to pet a mule and talk to her owner, who'd come out to spectate the race, bringing his mule with him.  Her name is Muleene...cute!  She was docile and loved having her cheeks rubbed.

The last two or three miles were run through some gorgeous neighborhoods,  where residents were out in their yards cheering us on.  All along the entire route, many homes had their sprinklers set out at the curb, providing "misting" stations.  The water comes out of the tap ice cold up here, so in the early miles I avoided these at all costs, but near the end, they felt really good.  This race has excellent community support!  While we were waiting for the start of the race, the announcer mentioned that of the top 15 marathons in the world, Missoula Marathon was voted #9.  I could see why!                                                            

At a good, steady 14:58 or 14:59 minute mile walking pace, I began to reel in a lot of other runners who'd slowed to a walk.  I even reeled in runners who were still running, but barely.
I managed to break into a run for the last couple of tenths of a mile to cross the finish line and wondered why I hadn't started running earlier since it didn't feel too difficult to do.

As I neared the finish line I could hear the annnouncer calling off each runner's name and home town/state as they crossed the finish line.  Then I heard him mention my name and fellow just ahead of me, saying we were both from Texas.  Then he mentioned my name again, adding that I had run half marathons in 39 states.  Now how the heck did he know that?  Pretty cool!

I got my medal, grabbed a bottle of Powerade, and walked over to the food tent where they were serving two different kinds of pasta, fresh fruit, cookies, frozen juice bars.  Yumm!!
But wait, there's more!  They funneled us through the runners finisher chute and then left down the hill into the park along the river where they had free photos with instant printouts, free beer, including a pretty danged good wheat beer which I guzzled down, and some vendor tents giving away freebies.  I got a cool tote bag from Brooks (my running shoe brand of choice) that collapses down into a tiny pouch.

Even though I put in one of my slower times (but certainly not my slowest), I'm pleased with having completed this race, partly because I'd been dreading the logistics of a point-to-point, partly because of the elevation.  I felt great when I finished, not tired, my legs didn't hurt.  And I can fill in the state of Montana on my map!  Now the entire Northwest is done!

Tomorrow:  drive back to Spokane, turn the rental car in, and fly home.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Beautiful Saturday In Missoula

If only I could sleep in!  But the sun comes up early at this northern latitude and as soon as my body senses sunlight, no matter how good the room darkening curtains are, no amount of tossing and turning will get me back asleep.

But all is good, as I had plans for this morning.  There's an osprey nest here in Missoula just little more than a mile up river from where I'm staying.  I've been following the nest activity on Cornell Lab's webcam for three seasons and have watched the wonderfully skilled parenting of Iris and Stanley Osprey as they've raised their chicks to fledge each summer.  Stanley's fishing and providing skills are superb, bringing huge trout and suckers and other fish back to the nest with such regularity that sometimes portions of fish go uneaten as the chicks fall asleep in a full-tummy coma.  It's addictive and informative watching this nest cam.

When I knew I'd be coming to Missoula to run the half marathon in July, a plan I'd booked last fall, I promised myself I'd get over to see that nest in person.  This morning the early rise was a good thing.   The walk to the nest is 1.3 miles each way and I wanted to get started early in the day, before it got too hot.

 The walk was pleasant and it gave me a chance to scout the route for the group dinner later today, as I'd be passing right by the dinner location.  Though the sun was high in the sky with promise of a hot day later, there was a nice breeze coming down through Hellgate Canyon.
Hellgate Osprey Nest Pole Just Right of Building

Before I knew it, I was at the nest location, a tall pole with platform on top, right next to the Clark Fork River.  I had goose bumps when I realized that I was actually seeing the nest relatively up close and in person.  Iris, the mom Osprey, was standing on the edge of the nest, scanning the sky and land around her while the three chicks in the nest - now adolescents - could occasionally be seen when they'd pop up out of the deep nest to look around.  I stood there for maybe 15 minutes just oberving and taking photos, but also hoping I'd hear Iris call to Stanley which she does when it's time to feed the chicks.  I was also hoping that Stanley would show up, fish in talons.  Alas, he didn't while I was there.  That would have been an even bigger thrill if he had.

Iris perched on the edge of her nest on the left side, overseeing her chicks

Reluctantly, I turned to go, looking back over my shoulder periodically just in case Stanley showed up.  When I was far enough back, within view of the camera angle, I waved several times for those who were logged in and watching the live feed, then walked back toward the hotel.

I dropped my purse off at the hotel room and then continued on to the race expo at Caras Park to pick up my race packet, check out the vendors and perhaps grab a light snack.  To  my delight, there was a very large farmers market going on adjacent to Caras Park.

 A stunnIng display of radish varieties!

 Fresh huckleberries...not cheap, but so delicious!

I love this!  A lettuce bunch peeking out of a backpack!

I browsed my way along, enjoying all of the gorgeous fresh produce, honey, baked goods, and other natural products for sale.  In so many of my race travels I've been fortunate to experience and enjoy local farmers' markets...Wilkes Barre, Las Cruces, Scottsdale, Parkersburg, and now Missoula.

A delightful little bluegrass ensemble was playing, which suited the atmosphere of the market perfectly.

The produce was just breathtaking for its size, freshness, and beauty!  Much of it was cool weather, early season vegetables...spinach, carrots, radishes, wide variety of lettuces, cabbage, bok choy, peas, sugar peas, beets...  Oh, my!  If I didn't have a race to run in the morning, I would have purchased an array of vegetables and made myself a salad for lunch/dinner today and tomorrow.  Most runners learn to keep the diet low in fiber for a couple of days leading up to a race...ahem.  Such a shame!  But I am still working on that pound bag of fresh cherries!

Finally I tore myself away from the market and plunged into the crowd at the fitness expo.  It was packed!  I looked up my bib number, stood in line to get my bib and then in another line to pick up my race shirt.

Then it was absolutely jammed as I tried to move through the one-way routing past all the exhibitors toward the exit under the pavilion.  Huge clumps of folks were socializing, meeting and greeting, not really visiting the vendors.

I did manage to find the Half Fanatics/Marathon Maniacs table, where I chatted briefly with the Gear Guy, before moving on through the crowds.

Lots of cute dogs..big one and small ones, and plenty of race shirts from past events being worn by the folks who were there to get their race packets.  It just never occurs to me to do this!  I suppose I have a few shirts in my collection that would stand out as being unique or "exotic."

It was getting close to lunch time and the lines were long at the various vendors serving food, so I walked back to the hotel and sat on the patio having a hamburger, fries, and downing plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Yesterday, I walked across the bridge to a funky little neighborhood just on the other side, where I found an interesting yarn shop - Joseph's Coat.  I browsed the local yarns section, but was having a hard time getting excited, knowing I had accumulated quite a yarn stash back home.  Perhaps if the proprietress had been a bit more engaging, I might have been convinced to make a purchase.

Across the street was a great little bakery, Bernice's, where I had a ham and cheese sandwich on a freshly baked baguette, and then picked up a couple of cupcakes to bring back to my room for post-race celebration.  I'm having a hard time this afternoon resisting them.  Must wait, must wait...!

Back in my room, feet up in front of a movie.

Tomorrow morning, very early (!)....race day!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Going to the Sun

It would be a shame to be so close while I'm here in Missoula and not take advantage of my proximity to go visit Glacier National Park.  It's one of the last remaining major national parks I've not been to and I regret not having visited it when I was up in this area in 2007.  That's the year I rode my motorcycle up through Wyoming, across Bear Tooth Pass, into Yellowstone and Grand Tetons before meeting some fellow riders for a few days' riding in the Lolo MT area.

But it was definitely in the plans this trip!

I arrived into Missoula Wednesday afternoon after driving from Spokane and meeting a friend along the way for a wonderful lunch and visit at Quinn's, north of St. Regis.   I had been feeling a head cold coming on since Monday afternoon and had walked to a Rite Aid drugstore in Spokane to load up on OTC products for all contingencies:  throat lozenges, cough medicine, runny nose medicine, and a box of Puffs.   Just to be on the safe side, of course.  I spent all day Tuesday in that head cold "fog" but by Wednesday morning the symptoms were easing a bit.

So when Thursday morning rolled around, I had to take stock of my condition and decide if I was up to the long day that a drive up to Glacier National Park would entail.   I wasn't feeling too bad - nothing a dose of multi-symptom cold medicine wouldn't take care of - and made the decision to go.  I grabbed a bottle of water, some granola bars, a banana, and my box of Puffs and was on the road, heading for U.S. 93 by 6:30 AM.

The drive up was pleasant with very little traffic.  The towns were well-placed to accomodate my need to stop for a coffee along the way and then to top off the gas tank before arriving at the park entrance.

I stopped at the Apgar Visitor Center to get an overview of the park layout then, with camera within easy reach, I got onto the Going To The Sun Road.

The first few miles weave through lush, dense evergreen forest on level terrain, with steep slopes jutting up into the sky on all sides.  Soon, glimpses of a rushing river began to appear to the left of the road.  I stopped many times to take photos, each stop providing a view better than before.

At first there was little traffic but within a few miles, the number of cars on the road grew until the line was non-stop.  Each time I pulled over for a photo I had to fight my way back onto the road.  In fact, the attitude of the drivers was not unlike it is in rush hour eat dog.  I was quite honestly surprised at this.  Everyone seemed in a hurry and very few folks were taking the time to enjoy the views.  Just to enrage the cars behind me, I made a point of slowing, even stopping, to let cars back onto the road from all of the pullouts.  Hah!

Miles and miles of this pleasant, gently curvy, heavily forested road suddenly became a fairly steep ascent to the first hairpin turn and a major overlook.  The topography and landscape had changed quite abruptly to a dry forest mix of evergreens and deciduous.  The overlook was stunning!

Once around that hairpin the road became narrow, barely two cars wide, with only a low barricade of rocks on the right keeping us on the road.  The lane coming the other way was hard against a vertical rock cliff  The pavement came right up to the foot of that rock cliff, and outcroppings here and there impinged on the travel lane causing oncoming cars to veer a bit into our lane.  But we were all travelling very slowly anyway.

Every curve in the road brought a new vista.

Waterfalls were everywhere, just tumbling down that rock wall aside the road with total abandon for wherever they may land.

One of dozens of waterfalls...this is a modest one

A long stretch of roadway had multiple waterfalls tumbling right into the roadway and the drivers of the cars coming through that lane took great delight in driving directly under them for an impromptu car wash.

Gorgeous waterfall!  It passes under the roadway

One of the major waterfalls apparently flows year round, as the road was constructed in a way to redirect the water through an underpass beneath the roadbed.  The water was falling for hundreds of feet before reaching that point and the rock formations across its path were worn into beautiful steppes or terraces down the entire face of the wall.  Gorgeous!

Enormous waterfall coming off this ledge, which
is beneath a glacial bowl

The wide, flat valleys are today's evidence of the massive glaciers that covered the area eons ago.  This photo tells the whole story...wide and flat at the base, steep, vertical walls ground smooth and flat by the sides of the glacier.

Side wall of large glacier valley.  Walls sheared flat vertically by glacier

The road continued to climb, almost literally to the sun, until it went through Logan Pass and crossed the Continental Divide at 8,000 feet.  At this elevation, we were above the wet evergreen tree line and had moved into a very different ecosystem, drier and with more deciduous and dry climate evergreens.

From just to the east of Logan Pass, all the way to the East exit, the road had been scraped down to the roadbed and was nothing but dust and gravel.  Most of the pullouts were closed, and the lines of cars were a huge deterrent to stopping, anyway.  It was unfortunate, as we were driving along the shore of a gorgeous lake.

I came up on the first of three pilot car construction sections.  This first one was about 3 miles long and we had a very long wait for our turn.  When we finally started moving, a water truck passed by, and I quickly raised my driver side window...good thing!  This piloted section was a muddy, slimy disaster.  There were many motorcycles riding through the park and I felt sorry for every one of them.  While this was the longest of the three active pilot car construction sections, there were two others that were equally as muddy and rough.

As I neared the eastern end of the road, I pulled into the parking lot for a boat launch area to use the bathroom and then get a closeup view of that lake we'd been driving alongside for all those construction miles.

Eastern entrance to the park...very different vegetation

I headed south on US 89 which turned out to be a fanastic road and would have been a dream to ride on the motorcycle.  Lots of hills, curves, whoops, and beautiful scenery along the way.  Near the beginning of this road I noticed a sign indicating this was open range.  And sure enough...

I turned right on to Highway 49, a narrow, crooked, and steep road that cut across to pick up U.S. 2.  Hwy 49 was gorgeous!  It was badly frost-heaved, and several relatively fresh patches in my lane indicated places where the edge of the road had caved in during the winter.  I enjoyed this drive all the way to the town of East Glacier, where I stopped and had lunch at the adorable Luna Cafe.

A wonderful bowl of homemade chili, followed by their homemade huckleberry pie served with a scoop of huckleberry ice cream alongside. It was the perfect "garnish" to the day!

It was 2:00 PM and time to return to Missoula.  Many more cars on the road than there were in the morning, making the return drive a bit longer, but by 6:00 PM I was enjoying a glass of Chardonnay on the hotel patio and browsing through the photos on my camera.  An absolutely wonderful day and I'm so glad I made the decision to make this trip.

Tomorrow:  browse the town a little bit but more importantly, rest and try to make sure I get rid of the remnants of this cold.