Field trip: Wandering in Coeur d’Alene

Work took me west for a forestry research meeting, and I was excited to see a new landscape. I was happy to discover a greenway trail along the lake, the North Idaho Discovery Trail, but still wanted to check into the possibility of nearby dirt. I found and messaged the Trail Maniacs, and received an immediate recommendation for Tubbs Hill, a small peninsula with trails that was adjacent to my hotel.

???????????????????????????????I am not a fancy hotel kind of person, but even I had to admit that my room on the 15th floor with a balcony and fireplace was super-sweet. And I could see Tubbs Hill right out the huge picture window! I took a trail map from the concierge and waited for an opportunity. I ended up doing two short runs there at the end of two different days, a perfect way to decompress after moderating two solid days of forestry research talks.

Larch, my new favorite western conifer!

Larch, my new favorite western conifer!

Tubbs Hill has a 2 mile trail that goes around the periphery, as well as a few secondary trails. I was stunned to see 20+ species of wildflowers, most of which I’d never seen, but were familiar due to their Eastern kin. While I was there and on the forestry field tour, I learned several new species of conifers that grow in mixed stands in the area known as the “Inland Empire.”

Coeur d'Alene collage

Gorgeous wildflowers on Tubbs Hill that seemed like old friends. The only flower that was completely unfamiliar was the chocolate lily on the top left.

The trail, while short, has lots of wonderful diversity—rocky sections along the lake, cool, shady sections through tall conifers, open sunny areas with wildflowers. Although the map showed only 2 main trails, there is actually a whole network of trails that criss-crosses over the steep, rocky hill.

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Exploring a small peninsular park like Tubbs Hill was fun, because you can take whatever trail comes across your path and get a bit lost, without getting REALLY lost. And if you’ve been on a tight agenda for a few days, a little wandering is exactly what you need.

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Wandering is good for me.

 

 

The Never-Ending Reindeer Run (#NERR) Postscript: Red Mill Rd. to Penny’s Bend

Readers might recall that Joanna and I ran 50 miles last December in our self-supported quest to complete the Falls Lake section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. We ran 3.5 miles on Friday, 32.1 miles on Saturday, and 14.4 miles on Sunday to finish 50 miles. Saturday’s weather was awful, and looking back, I can’t believe we finished that run with Jon in the dark after hours of pouring rain.

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This was the December route. See the red part, to the left of FINISH? That was the start of this run.

We had taken our time and felt pretty good. But we were worn out by Sunday afternoon. I was exhausted. Even so, all day Monday, I waited for my phone to ring. It didn’t. Joanna said she was going to relax by taking in a double feature, and that’s exactly what she did. And I was secretly relieved, but I also felt a tiny bit of a letdown.

Why? Because, you see, the Falls Lake section of the MST is actually 60 miles. We had run a long way, and we had run exactly what we planned, but we had not run the whole section. With different races on our calendars, discussion of “unfinished business” lingered the rest of winter and through the spring.

Mother's Day MST RunAfter some back-and-forth calendar checking, we eventually settled on Mother’s Day as the day to run the last ~10-mile stretch of the MST, from Red Mill Rd. to Penny’s Bend. That prevented most of our friends from joining, but it worked for us and for our friend Suzette, and we found ourselves at the usual Starbucks early before caravanning to Durham to run a shuttle.

It was supposed to be hot, so we decided to wear our 2013 MST Challenge shirts. Matching is funny, especially if you know either of us.

Ready to go at Red Mill Rd.

Ready to go at Red Mill Rd.

This section starts along Ellerbe Creek and was quite pretty. We saw some nice wildflowers and a lot of poison ivy. By mid-summer, this section of trail will be seriously overgrown with poison ivy. We all scrubbed as soon as we got home and didn’t get any.

There are quite a few open powerline easements along this stretch, and the character of Falls Lake is much different when we could see it, with shallow water and lazy coves. As we re-entered the woods along the lake, we startled a large, heavy bird with a broad brown tail that had been on the ground—all evidence pointed to it being a wild turkey.

In another easement, Joanna stopped short. “Snake.” Suzette and I peered around her shoulder. It was a black rat snake that was pretending to be a rattlesnake, vibrating its tail in the leaves to try to fool us into thinking it was a poisonous rattlesnake. We watched it for a few minutes, then it turned around 180 degrees and slunk off into the bushes, as if to say “I was planning to go this way anyway…I don’t want any trouble.”

NERR collage

Other discoveries included Atamasco lilies, a huge crayfish chimney, a trailside campsite, and finally coming out on Snow Hill Road to cross the Eno River at Penny’s Bend. Penny’s Bend hikers asked us if we’d seen the snake on the trail, and we explained that we’d hiked the MST, pointing over our shoulders to show them where we’d come out. This section is new and relatively unknown, so hopefully hikers will discover it soon.

Penny's Bend

Penny’s Bend, the end of the Falls Lake section.

We celebrated with lunch at Chow—burgers and beer, as per tradition—for completing all 60 miles of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, from Falls Lake Dam to Penny’s Bend. But I hear the next section is progressing rapidly, and that soon we’ll be able to run from Penny’s Bend to Eno River State Park. Another adventure in the making—stay tuned!

60 miles. BOOYAH!

60 miles. BOOYAH!

Blue Ridge Marathon Race Report (marathon #6): Embrace the hills

“Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.” -David McCullough, Jr.

My journey to Roanoke started last summer, over a burger and pint with some Peeps, including my friends Amy and Matt. Matt was wearing a shirt that said “You run hills. I run mountains.” I knew that they went to Roanoke every year to run the half marathon. Matt said he was going to tackle the marathon in 2014, to celebrate his 40th birthday.

My friend Matt is a rational guy, and the course looked beautiful. When the race advertised free race entries for “official bloggers,” I sent in an entry and promptly forgot about it. So I was completely surprised to learn that I had been chosen. I looked up the other bloggers, who either were real bloggers or people who had won the race previously. I re-read my entry and was dismayed by how lame it was. Maybe I was chosen for “color.” Anyway, I was both baffled and honored to be chosen.

Races are more fun when you can coerce your friends into going. Soon a small cadre of Peeps had signed up, but I was still without a roommate. Every time I posted something about the race, my friend Lorraine would comment or “like” it. Three weeks before the race, I sent her a note to see if she wanted to go. Another new Peep, Juliet, took my friend Jean’s race bib, and the three of us set off for Roanoke together. I’d only spent a small amount of time with either of them, so I was both nervous and excited for the weekend.

My fun travel companions for the weekend, Juliet and Lorraine.

My fun travel companions for the weekend, Juliet and Lorraine!

Lorraine is super-duper-speedy, and Juliet is an ultra-runner who had just run the Umstead 50, so I figured I could learn a thing or two from these stellar athletes. We talked non-stop about the mountains, training, the mountains, food, and the mountains. How tough would these mountains be?

Joined Matt and Amy and their boys, and Doug and Sheree, for a fun Peeps dinner. I had a great veggie pasta and embarrassed myself when I told the boys that the desserts on the dessert tray were made of plastic. Amy picked up a cannoli to prove it, only to find out that it was real. OOPS! We grabbed stuff for breakfast at a grocery store and headed back to the hotel, joking about the Mill Mountain Star taunting us wayyyy up there.

Morning came early with a 5:15 am wake-up call. The race didn’t start until 7:35 so I was a little clueless about why we were up so early. But, I tried to take notes they ate breakfast, foam rolled, stretched, etc. while I drank too much coffee and surfed the web.

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Peep crew pre-race! Lorraine, Juliet, Matt, Ann, me, and Doug. Rock and roll, Peeps!

We headed downstairs, met up with the rest of the Peeps, and headed for the start. We wished Lorraine well and Matt, Doug, Ann and I headed to a spot mid-corral for the start. Ann and I took in the views as we headed out of town and immediately up the first mountain. We alternated walking and running, because it was already steep and I knew I’d need to manage my energy. Truthfully I was worried about my preparation, since I’d only done one 18-mi run and it was two weeks ago, when I should have been tapering. How long does the “base training” of a 40 mi ultramarathon last? Since Uwharrie was February 1st, I had a sinking feeling that the answer was “not that long.”

 

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Mile 2.5!

After 2.5 miles the half marathon course split off, so we posed for a photo, then I watched Ann turn and head up Mill Mountain to the star. I would be there much later, after the first ascent up Roanoke Mountain.

The course leveled out before climbing again, so I picked up the pace a little. Around mile 6 I saw Matt ahead of me and promised myself that I could take a walk break as soon as I caught up with Matt. That proved easier said than done since Matt was making good time. It seemed like ages before I finally caught up with him. We ran together for a bit and split up just below the summit of Roanoke Mountain, accompanied by the plaintive wail of bagpipes. Awesome!

I wasn’t worried about the steep climbs, because I knew that I’d be walking them, especially any that were a 10% grade or more. But I was concerned about the equally steep downhill stretches, given past problems with my IT band. Even so, my legs cheered as we crested the summit of Roanoke Mountain and we headed downhill. I tried to run conservatively and not trash my quads. I did that by keeping my speed in check and taking very short steps with a high turnover—picture a hamster in a wheel.

The course descended for at least a mile or two before reaching the saddle and heading up Mill Mountain. The climb was relentless, but I was thoroughly enjoying the views as well as the wildflowers that lined the road. Toward the top we started seeing signs for Moomosas, and sure enough, there were a couple of women serving them up alongside a cow statue. Unfortunately I couldn’t partake, but I waved as I went by.

The descent back into Roanoke was a couple of miles, but quite runnable. I enjoyed the break as the course descended, and even clocked an 8:17 split on my way down. I had expected the views from the top to be worth all the climbing, but was thrilled to discover that the whole course was incredibly beautiful. After running back into Roanoke, we ran on a greenway along the Roanoke River. I crossed over a bridge to see Amy cheering, while Ben and Will gave me a blast on their vuvuzelas.

The flat stretch ended, and we began climbing the last mountain, through a beautiful neighborhood called Peakwood. Many families were out on their lawns with signs and high-fives, cheering us on. The number of marathoners—about 700—was perfect to me; there were always people around, but there was plenty of space between runners. We had another long, beautiful descent into town and my hip started talking, though I worked hard to run tall and keep my stride short, rather than sinking into my hips as I tired.

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Airplane arms in the downhill finish!

Back in town, the course became rolling. The hills suddenly seemed like a lot of effort and I was glad to have fewer than 5 miles to go. Turning the very last corner, it was a fast descent to the finish. This time I stretched my legs and ran hard, finishing in 4:32. Amy, Ann, Jeff, and Ann’s family were there and it felt great hear my name!

Lorraine takes 2nd OA and first female. BOOYAH!

Lorraine takes 2nd OA and first female. BOOYAH!

I grabbed water and a slice of pizza and learned that Lorraine had placed 1st for women and second overall female, setting a new course record of 3:13! Our Peep half marathoners all had a good but challenging runs. I walked up the street to hang out with Amy and watch Matt finish, then grabbed a quick shower before meeting Lorraine and Juliet at the awards ceremony so Lorraine collect her loot. So awesome! We then stretched our legs by wandering fun the open air market for awhile before loading up and heading out. I LOVED Roanoke and hope to spend more time there on my next visit.

I’m afraid of many things. But I am not afraid of running mountains. Was it hard? Sure was—it was by far the hardest course I’ve run. It made Umstead’s Turkey Creek look like gently rolling, bucolic countryside. But by taking my time and enjoying the views, the race was achievable. Would I go back? Absolutely!

Here’s what I think: Sign up for a race because you want to do it. Marathons are hard. And life can have its ups and downs. Don’t miss out on the views because you think that you can only handle the flats.