Friday, July 17, 2015

Portland ME - The "Afterward" Part

It's the day after the half marathon and I have one more day here in Portland, one more day to eat lobster, drink fine microbrew beer, and enjoy the fantastic weather and scenery.

My friend Sandy was still here but leaving around noontime, so I met her at Starbucks for a quick coffee and then hugged her goodbye before she got on the elevator to her room to pack up.  I took advantage of the hotel's very nice breakfast buffet for the first time, enjoying a leisurely and very filling meal then chilled out for a bit in my room.  Another friend was coming in from Vermont to spend the day and have a late lunch with me.  I took advantage of this time while waiting to start pulling my things together and getting mostly packed.

My friend Minna texted me to let me know her ETA, so when it was getting close to 1:30, I went downstairs to the hotel entrance and waited for her.  I'd already gotten permission from the valet parking guys for her to park her motorcycle under the portico.  Other bikes had been parking there on and off all weekend so I figured it would be okay...and much easier for her, as well.

Minna arrives to spend the afternoon.

She came up to my room to remove her riding gear and to leave her things in my room for safe keeping while we went in search of good lobster rolls!  The front desk had the perfect recommendation for us!  Portland Lobster Company!

Portland Lobster Company...perfect place for lobster rolls

It was just a few blocks along Commercial Street and the docks, so an easy and scenic walk to get there.  It was the best!  Funky outdoor deck seating under canopies and umbrellas and a very cool "beachy" feel to it.  Order your food inside, find a seat somewhere on the outdoor deck, bring your receipt to the bar to collect the beers, then enjoy the atmosphere while waiting for the fun lobster to light up and vibrate, letting us know our food was ready.

Allagash White and Shipyard Summer Ale, guarded by our fun lobster alert device

We found two seats at the bar, which proved to be perfect. All of the tables were filled and they didn't look to be as comfortable as the stools and wide counter at the bar.  They had a great selection of local micro brewery beers on tap.  It was hard to choose.

Excellent selection of local micro brews on tap

Lobster roll, fries, cole slaw and beer....all enjoyed to
the sounds of an excellent little band
Just as we got our food, a really excellent band started to jam...wonderful easy Sunday blues and jazz music from some of the best song writers in that genre.  It couldn't have been more perfect!

This was a really excellent little 5-man band.  They played some
really excellent versions of blues and jazz songs by artists such
as Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and others.

The lobster rolls were excellent!  Loaded with tender lobster meat, tiniest amount of mayo to hold it all together, and some great fries and cole slaw to go with.


The visit together was wonderful!  We were enjoying ourselves so much that the time just flew by.  But Minna still had a long ride back home.  So we pulled ourselves away from the wonderful ambience and entertainment at Portland Lobster Co. and started walking back to the hotel, but not before poking around a bit among the docks and piers, and stopping for a homemade ice cream, too!

The Love Lock fence near the restaurant

Pretty flower baskets everywhere

Minna gathered her things from my room and, with a hug and promise to do this again next time either of us is in the other's neck of the woods, rode off toward home in Vermont.

This was such a wonderful weekend, I hated for it to end.  But the next morning I fly back home to Houston.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Portland ME - The "Running There" Part

I was feeling a mix of dread and excitement as I walked with my two running friends to the start line of the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon.  It was 6:30 on Saturday morning, July 11, the sun was already well up in the sky, and it was getting hot.

There were quite a few other members of our 50 States Half Marathon club also doing this race, and they'd called for a group photo at 6:45 AM, near the start line.  Little did I know....

When we got there it took the three of us a bit of wandering before we spotted the rest of our group standing right under the inflated arch over the start line, inside the race corral, right in front of all of the speedy elite runners.  We squeezed into that open area and immediately I was led by one of our group over to the Race Announcer who apparently had been queued up, been told my story, and was waiting for me.
Being interviewed - and flirted with - by the race announcer
before the start of the half marathon
It was the silliest, funnest, and one of the most embarrassing moments I could remember in a long time!  He flirted with me, found out I was single, and announced to the 4,500 other runners lined up and waiting for the race to start that I was "smoking hot" and single!  Oh, geez!  He asked how long it had taken me to reach this point in my 50 states goal, and then asked me how old I was.  Crazy!!  The whole while, the rest of our group were all standing there grinning at me like a bunch of Cheshire cats!

Whew!  Well, that done, we pushed our way back to the second corral for us slower runners and then had just a few minutes to wait before the race to start.    One of the gals in our group had a special temporary tattoo for me and quickly applied it to my arm, wetting it with water from her water bottle.  Her last instructions to me as she moved into the crowd was to press on it for a few minutes then peel the paper away.  I didn't know what it was or what it said until I'd done that.  Sweet!!  "This is the day!"

Somewhere in the first couple of miles

For the first couple of miles I had runners catching up with and passing me, congratulating me as they ran by.  Some even commented on my shirt, how, yep! all but that state of Maine colored in!

Dotty meeting me at mile 3.5...I'm waving to her partner Petr,
who's just ahead taking photos of me

Three of us - Sandy, Maureen, and I - stayed together through the first few miles of the race.  At mile three my very good and long time friend Dotty and her partner Petr were waiting for me.  Such a great treat!  We'd made arrangements ahead of time, my giving her a couple of suggestions for places to wait for me and giving her ETA's.  Petr is a professional photographer and he was snapping away as I approached and kept on snapping after I'd passed him and until we turned the corner and out of view.  I rarely get a view of myself from the rear, but it was nice to have photos of me running and wearing my 50 States shirt all colored in (except the state of Maine, of course).

Petr's photo of me continuing on down the road, my two friends with me

Continuing on down the road...

After we made that turn, we had a long downhill stretch and I took advantage of that to get ahead of my two friends so that I could duck into a porta-potty at the 4.5 mile mark.  I was sure that they saw me do that, but apparently not.

Somewhere along the route

When I exited the toilet, they were just ahead of me but moving at such a fast clip I was unable to catch them.  For two miles I pushed myself in the growing heat but just couldn't close the gap.  Finally, as the route turned us onto Congress Street, we had a long steep hill ahead of us and I gave up trying.  It was too hot, anyway.
Somewhere along the race route, Casco Bay on my left

As the route took us around Back Cove through miles 8-11, it occurred to me that perhaps my friends thought I was in front of them, not behind them, and that they were pushing, trying to catch up to me. So when we made the turn at mile 11.5, doing a short little double-back stretch, Sandy realized that I was behind them, not in front of them.  The look on her face was priceless!

Hideously hot at this mile 12, going past the water
treatment plant on my right, Casco Bay on my left

Sandy ran ahead to catch our friend Maureen who'd gotten ahead and I eventually caught up with them somewhere just before mile 12.  We laughed and chattered about how they thought I was in front of them and smokin' it and how they sped up hoping to catch me, and how I was behind them all along, trying desperately to catch up with them.  Truly a comedy of errors!

The race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

It was blazingly hot in that last mile!  There was another misting station at mile 12 and I stood there for a few moments, trying to cool off a little.  I'd been pouring water down the front of my shirt, splashing water from my drinking cup onto my face and neck and drinking as much water and sports drink as I dared.

Finally, I could hear the cheering and the announcer at the finish line. We were getting very close.  Sandy jogged ahead so that she could be across the finish line and in position to take photos.

I wasn't sure who among our group of 50 Staters would still be there, since most are 1/3 my age and much faster than me, so when I heard cheering as I passed through the finisher chute, I looked and could see that a good group had stayed to congratulate me.  It was a sweet moment!!

Announcer joining me across the finish line...Maureen bringing me in!

The announcer saw me coming and cheered me in as well, offering his arm to escort me across the finish line.  It was all fun!  Sandy got some great photos, including one of Maureen putting the medal around my neck, congratulating me, and giving me a hug.  I was a bit stunned that it was over and that I'd done that last state....state #50!

Maureen put my medal around my neck and gave me a hug

At the end of the chute, the club members were waiting for me with a big sign and lots of hugs and congratulations.

The group photo!!  These folks are awesome!!
A Sharpie Stained marker came with me in my pocket.  I wanted to get that last state colored in....right there at the finish line.  One of the young ladies in our group had a difficult and painful decision to make regarding this race.  She's also doing her 50 States and needed the state of Maine.  But she'd been putting it off, even thinking about perhaps doing Puerto Rico as a substitute (with the club president/founder's permission).  You see, she was here two years ago with her husband and he drowned in an accident.  She vowed she'd never come back to Maine.  So it was with tremendous respect and empathy that I asked her if she would do me the honor of coloring in my last state on my shirt.

Donna coloring in my last state.  

And now it is complete!

Forget the post-race food tent, where no doubt most of the food was gone.  I have cupcakes and champagne waiting for the three of us in my room!!

In the hotel lobby, pressing a complete stranger into taking our photo

Cupcake, champagne and finisher medal!

Time to get showered and cleaned up and meet everyone at Sebago Brew Pub for a group celebration!!  A friend all the way from the Baltimore area was driving up and my friends Dotty and Petr will be there, along with a small group of us runners - I'd made a reservation for 12...hope that's enough!  I had no idea who all was coming.

We ended up with close to 25 folks and the restaurant was great in accommodating us, adding tables as more arrived.

Donna and me....proud finishers.  And I'm proud of her for making this difficult decision

Some of the finishers
A really nice relaxing lunch with good friends!  The food was great....what's not to like about a really good lobster roll and a tasty cold micro brew beer?!

Lobster roll!!  This one washed down with a Sebago Hefeweizen at Sebago Brew Pub
It still hadn't sunk in fully that this was the last state needed to successfully complete this goal.

My temporary tattoo:  "Today is the Day"  Indeed it is!

I hugged everyone goodbye and thanked them for making my day so spectacular, and then walked back to the hotel with Sandy.  We agreed to try an Italian restaurant she'd found and made plans to re-connect at 7:15 to walk there.  She had a 3 PM massage appointment and I went to my room to have another cupcake and ponder and process the day.

And what a day it was!!  As special as this day was for me in its own little personal way, it was made so much more special by having so many fellow 50 Staters there to help me celebrate.  They really stepped up to the plate in doing so, from bringing the race announcer into the celebration, to making the sign for me, to staying around at the finish line despite the heat and long wait for many of the faster runners.  I was really touched by it all!

Finisher medal and very special extra bib

Tonight, dinner with Sandy, then a nice day spent relaxing and enjoying lunch with another friend who's coming over from Vermont for the day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Portland ME - The "Getting There" Part

4:00 AM comes way too soon when you don't fall asleep until nearly midnight!  And then it was a long day getting to Portland, with a 7 AM flight from Houston and a connecting flight in Dulles. But excitement fueled me throughout the day!  This is going to be a very special weekend and a very special race for is the last of the 50 states needed to complete my quest of half marathons in all 50 states!  My brain is crackling with those thoughts!

A special bib, ordered from an online race accessory shop.  They
enclosed a little note with my order, congratulating me on this milestone!
All flights and connections went smoothly.  I admit to nodding off repeatedly on the leg from Houston to Dulles, but by 3:00 PM I was in Portland, Maine and I was wide awake with excitement.

Portland is a small airport, with easy rental car pickup and a short, five mile drive to the hotel in downtown along the waterfront. I made a quick stop at a Shaw's grocery store right on my route to pick up some fruit and a small box of Cheerios - and a small stash of chocolate - and next thing I knew, I was at the corner of Franklin St. and Commercial St and the Hilton Garden Inn.  It was easy to find, easy to pull in and oh-so-easy to turn the car over to the valet and get checked in. My room is gorgeous!  Big corner room full of windows and a view of the water.  A wonderfully comfortable place to spend the next few days!

Big, spacious corner room at the Hilton Garden Inn.

My beautiful, spacious room for the next several days!

Now to get out into the fresh air filled with the dockside smells of ocean and fish and salt!

Seafood - Fresh off the docks!

Local "color"

With a couple of hours to explore before my friend Sandy arrived from California, I walked along Commercial Street, poking my head into shops and checking out various restaurant menus for future reference.  Well, and to find the Starbucks, too!  It had been a very long day, and with no caffeine...what can I say!

Well....okay.  It's been a very long day for me. this better?  A local micro brew:
Allagash White

An excellent local craft beer and small seafood tapas plate at Boone's Fish House and I was revitalized!  From the second story deck I had a nice view of one of the many wharves that line the waterfront.

Sitting on second story deck at Boones Fish House.  View down the dock
Lots of little fish houses and restaurants lining the dock.

Sandy got in around dinner time, hungry and more than ready for dinner.  The hotel staff recommended Walter's, a very nice restaurant up a side street and a pretty walk to get there along ancient cobblestone streets.
Neat old building...too bad about the crane though

Old, historic cobblestone streets.  Quaint, but
very hard to walk on them.

The next day I met Sandy after her morning run at Starbucks and we made plans for the day.   While she showered and cleaned up, I called a tour company and made reservations for the two of us for that afternoon.

So off we went, back to Boone's for lunch, and then we took a tour of the city on a cool, converted fire truck!  It was perfect! Much of the tour route was on roads that we'd be running in the race the next day so not only did we get a nice hour long history lesson about the city, but we also got a good feel for the roads we'd be running the next day.

How fun is this?!  Old fire engine, converted to a tour bus.

Historic mansions - home to sea captains and wealthy merchants, sitting up on a bluff, overlooking Casco Bay:

Some gorgeous mansions along the waterfront bluffs.

View of the harbor and Casco Bay from Fort Allen Park: Mast of the USS Portland is permanently on display (visible in photo).  This ship is the only U.S. ship to participate in all four WWII Pacific battles in 1942.

Fort Allen Park:  mast of the USS Portland resides here.  View out to the abandoned
fortification, Fort Gorges, sitting in the middle of the bay.

Portland Observatory, built in 1807 by Captain Lemuel Moody, today it is the only known remaining signal tower in the United States:

Portland Observatory
Before returning to the hotel, we took a detour to our previously scouted cup cake store, East End Cupcakes, and bought a dozen to bring back to the room for a post-race treat.  I had purchased a bottle of champagne the afternoon before at a very nice wine shop near the hotel.  Then it was over to Portland Ocean Gateway to get our race packets.

Packet Pickup for the race.  Maps of the route and runner information board
Nicely organized packet pickup.
It was too late for Sandy to buy a ticket for the Lobster Bake, so she headed off into town to find dinner and I gorged myself on boiled lobster, steamed clams, corn on the cob, pineapple salsa, and a big slice of Maine blueberry pie.

Standing in line, hungrily anticipating my first of,
hopefully many, lobster meals of the trip.

A very good-size lobster polished off, along with corn on the cob,
and then the finishing touch:  Maine blueberry pie!

As I walked back to the hotel, I texted Sandy: "Where are you?"
"At the Black Dog store," she replied.

Sandy, trying to show me how to take a "selfie."
I am really pathetic!  I think my arms are too short!
So we met back up, did a little shopping, then made plans to meet up at the hotel lobby at 6:30 AM the next morning and walk to the race start.

Tomorrow:  Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon and my final 50th state! [insert squeal of excitement here].