Monday, March 28, 2011

Signs of Spring

After an eternity of dark, cold, rainy, cloudy weather Portland is finally seeing some signs of spring.  It all started a couple of weeks ago on one of my Saturday long runs.  I noticed daffodils blooming in a few front yards.  At first my running partner and I thought the flowers were fake!  Then we noticed more and more of the pretty yellow flowers, and realized that they were indeed the real thing.

Daffodil blooms in my yard

One day I came home from work, and found daffodils blooming in my own front yard.  Definitely a good sign!

Flowers on the neighbor's willow tree

Then last week, all of the cherry trees began to bloom.  I couldn't go anywhere in town without seeing their lovely pink blossoms.  Sure helps to brighten up the dreary gray skies when you've got many brightly hued trees to look at!

Our flowering pear tree almost ready to bloom

Even though the cherry trees are in all-out flower mode, there are many more trees waiting to follow their lead.  I'm noticing lots of buds on all the trees.  Soon we'll see the bright green of new leaves covering up the bare branches of winter.  I'm looking forward to that.

Of course, all this blooming and flowering is wreaking havoc with my allergies.  This past week I've started to get the familiar itchy eyes, stuffy nose and scratchy throat.  Time to make friends with my bottle of Zyrtec!

A dove rests on our backyard fence

Another sign of spring - the return of the birds.  Roger loves to feed the wild birds.  He has several bird feeders hanging on trees in our backyard.  Lately we've noticed many more varieties of birds stopping for lunch.

A woodpecker getting his breakfast

Our favorite feathery visitors are the woodpeckers.  We've seen as many as three woodpeckers at a time getting meals from Roger's bird feeders.  Roger and I both love watching the woodpeckers.  They are beautiful birds and very entertaining to observe.  But the woodpeckers do cause a little trouble.  They like to get up on the roof of our house and peck at the side of our chimney!  It makes quite a racket.  We've woke up several weekend mornings to the sound of the woodpeckers drilling on our house.

You know it's spring when you see a robin

The sure-fire sign of spring - when you see the first robin.  We've been getting lots of these beautiful red-breasted birds in our backyard lately.

Our very own backyard ducks

Another sign of spring - when the ducks come back.

Many years ago, Roger built a small pond in our backyard.  Every spring, the pond attracted a few wild ducks.  Roger started putting out cracked corn for the ducks to eat.  Now each year, a male and female duck take up residence in our backyard pond.  They hang out in the pond all spring, and we always hope they'll make a nest in our backyard.  I would love to have some ducklings living in our pond.  But when it comes time for child-rearing, our ducky couple always goes someplace else. 

The Easter Bunny?  No, just Bob.

Spring is the season of Easter, and that means a visit from a certain bunny.  A bunny came to our house last week, but he wasn't the Easter Bunny.  It was Denise's pet Bob, home for Spring Break.

Denise and Bob the Bunny
Yes, it isn't spring without Spring Break.  Denise was happy for the week off from school.  She got caught up on laundry, TV shows, and sleep.  Bob was happy for a change of scenery (I think).  And Roger and I got to see our daughter.

Finally, it's not spring unless we get tons of rain.  And there's been plenty of that!  Of course, after living in Oregon over 20 years, I've come to realize that summer doesn't begin until the 4th of July (that's when it stops raining).  But the rain is what makes everything so nice and green, and causes the flowers to bloom.  Without rain, there would be no spring.

I'm enjoying all the signs of spring (even though my toes are getting mossy!)


Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Shamrock Run

I know most of my recent blog posts have been exclusively about skiing.  However, I've also continued to run through the winter.  Last October, still on a high from my first marathon, I had a moment of insanity and signed up to run another one.  On May 1st, I'm running the Eugene marathon.  So along with skiing as much as possible, I've been trying to fit in training for a marathon.

The starting line

Part of my training plan included getting in shape to run the Shamrock Run 15K.  This race is a huge tradition in Portland.  It's always held in mid-March on the worst weather day of the year (or so it seems).  Runners have their choice between a 5K, 8K or 15K course.  The Shamrock is one of the largest races in Portland, and this year it was capped at 32,000 participants.  For the past two years, I've run the 8K, but this year I got brave and decided to tackle the 15K.  This race goes up and over Terwilliger Blvd, a big, long, steep hill - which is a challenge in itself. 

But the best part about this race is the people.  Everyone comes to have fun.  A large number of the participants don green for St. Patty's Day.  I always love a race that you can dress up for, and the Shamrock Run is the best!  Many people go all-out.  You see green hair, lots of green tu-tus, many wacky hats, a few leprechauns, and a couple of runners dressed up as pints of Guinness.

Roger and I before our races

I convinced Roger to sign up for the 5k.  He started running last fall, and this was to be his first race since his early 20s.  Roger's big concern - he was afraid of coming in last.  I told him "That won't be a problem - you walk faster than a lot of people run!"

Roger is ready to run!
Sunday began, cold and rainy.  The weatherman was forecasting large amounts of rain.  Perfect weather for the Shamrock Run!  I wore all the green running clothes I could find, and found a St. Patty's day tiara - complete with battery-powered flashing shamrock!  I was set.  Roger and I made our way to Waterfront Park in downtown Portland, the start of the race.

There was already a huge crowd overtaking the park.  We did all of the pre-race activities, looking over the booths, leaving our coats at the clothing check, and visiting the port-a-potties at least three times each!  I lost track of time, and had had to hustle to get to the start of my race.

Racing up Broadway in downtown Portland

I squeezed myself into the crowd of runners at the starting corral.  Some upbeat music was blaring and the runners were in high spirits.  One male runner exclaimed "Oh my (gosh) I'm gonna run a 15K!"  I told him "There's beer at the end!  Think of the beer!"  Finally the crowd in front of me started moving.  I hit the starting line running and didn't look back.  Bring on that hill!

The beginning of the course was a little bit different than in years past.  Instead of winding our way through Chinatown, we ran up the Burnside Bridge a short distance, turned around, and headed west on Burnside St.  The crowd then turned onto Broadway for a long trudge up a slight incline.  In the 8K, this is where a lot of runners stop and walk.  But not the 15K runners!  They were a much more serious bunch.  There wasn't any walking up Broadway.

Starting up Terwilliger hill
After Broadway, the runners wound across I-405 and suddenly, there it was!  The terrible Terwilliger hill!  Time to test my training.  I put my head down, swung my arms, and powered myself up the first climb.  Once at the top, I thought "that wasn't so bad.  I did OK."  But I wasn't done yet.  Stretched up ahead was another hill.  Although not as steep as the first incline, it went on forever.

But I ran on.  And the hill continued on....  I was starting to get a little fatigued, so I slowed my pace down slightly.  Looking at my Garmin, I realized I was running a much faster pace than I'd anticipated.  This was great for me, especially since I was climbing a hill.  However, I was beginning to wonder if that stupid hill would ever end.  The scenery at the top of Terwilliger is really nice.  But it was a gray cloudy day, so there wasn't much for views.  And I was too tired to enjoy the sights.

Then I passed by the Charthouse restaurant.  There was a bagpipe band playing away.  A bunch of volunteers were yelling "You made it!  It's downhill from here!"  That was sweet music to my ears. 

Downhill never felt so good!  I raced down the hill past a bunch of really nice homes.  There were a few people standing on the sidelines cheering the runners.  Their cheers were much appreciated - just the motivation I needed.  Made me feel like a rock star!

Roger and I after our races

I turned onto Barbur Blvd. running hard.  My Garmin was showing almost 8 minute miles.  Gravity was definitely my friend right now!  I decided to give it all I had for as long as I could.  It was tough, but I was able to hold a good pace all the way down Barbur.  The sea of runners turned onto Naito Parkway.  Now I knew the finish line wasn't far.  I was looking forward to finding Roger and getting some beer!

I crossed under the Hawthorne Bridge, and saw the finish line up ahead.  It was a great feeling to cross those timing mats.  Yahoo!  I'd conquered the Shamrock 15K and the Terwilliger hill!

My race swag

After winding my way out the finish chute, I met up with Roger.  He survived his first race and wasn't last (far from it).  He described the 5K as "really crowded and too short."  Roger said the race was over before he knew it.  I think he's ready for a longer distance. 

We claimed our coats just as the skies opened and the downpour began.  Roger and I stood a long line for beer.  But we had earned that beer, and we were going to get it!  Standing in the rain, I got really wet, got chilled, and holding onto a cold beer didn't help.  Time to head home for a hot shower!

Racing the Shamrock was a good indicator for my training.  I totally rocked the hills on the 15K course, and finished with a faster time than I'd anticipated.  It gave me confidence that I'm on track for my marathon (even though the past couple months have been more focused on skiing than running).  And Roger?  He's already planning to run his first 10K.  And that's no blarney!


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Girl's Day Out

Last Friday my friend Kim and I both had the day off.  Kim's friend Tamie was also free.  Kim and Tamie's kids had a teacher work day.  There was just one thing to do.  Head to the mountain!  Time for a girl's day out.

Kim and Tamie ridin' the lift

When we got up to the mountain, Kim and Tamie's boys instantly ditched their mothers and headed for the parks.  That was just fine with us girls.  Woo-hoo, no kids!  Time for the ladies to have some fun.

Aftermath of the avalanche in Heather Canyon

Mt. Hood had received another dumping of snow over the past few days. However, the thick coating of heavy snow created another problem.  Early Thursday morning, a large slab of snow sheared off the side of Mt. Hood and roared down the Clark side of Heather Canyon.  The avalanche deposited debris past the bottom terminal of the Heather lift.  Luckily, this event occurred very early in the morning, before Meadows was open, so there were no skiers in the canyon. 

Spectators checking out the avalanche

Of course we had to ski over to the side of Heather Canyon to check it out. We, along with lots of other lookie-loos, peered over the edge of the canyon.  The slide was quite impressive!  I attempted to take some photos, but was quite far away, and it was hard to capture the magnitude of such an event. 

Kim and Tamie waiting for me to finish taking photos

Obviously, Heather Canyon was closed indefinitely. We were told it was quite a big mess down near the Heather lift loading area. This slide was even bigger than the one that occurred a year ago, in January 2010. The Mt. Hood Meadows blog has some great photos and information on the slide. If you're interested check it out:

Kim skin' down Stadium Run

After checking out the slide, we did a couple runs on Shooting Star.  Then I took the girls down the Stadium run, which was perfectly groomed and hardly touched.  Niiice!

Kim poses with the unknown celebrity skier

Tamie likes to cover up when she skis.  I think her motto is: "leave no skin exposed."  She didn't even pull her face mask down for some photos.  So I think this is Tamie in the photo above, but since she can't be identified, I can't be sure.  Kim wanted to tell everyone we were skiing with someone famous (Cheryl Ladd??).

Attempted group self-portrait

I tried to get a photo of our group, but I'm no good at self-portraits, especially if there is more than one person!  It's really hard to hold a camera and fit three people (including the photographer) in the viewfinder.  I had some pretty funny attempts, but this one turned out the best.  And, yes, we think the person in the red coat is Tamie (but she just might be Julia Roberts).

Girlfriends and ski buddies

We got hungry around 11:30, so headed in for an early lunch.  Since the boys wanted nothing to do with us old mommies, we decided to eat in the nice restaurant.  We had a great (and expensive) lunch.  I ate way too much food, and it was hard to motivate myself to get back out on the slopes.

Sharing chocolate and laughs with Meryl Streep

We eventually waddled back out to our skis and headed up the lift.  But all three of us were dragging.  I don't know if it was the toll of this morning's exertions, or the lunchtime indulgence, but we girls had no energy.  After a couple of runs, Kim said she needed some sugar or caffeine (or both!).  Luckily, Meadows has a mid-mountain snack hut called the Mazot.  We skied down to the Mazot to get us some energy.

Chillin' at the Mazot with Kim and Jennifer Annison

All three of us got some form of chocolate goodie.  Kim got a snickers bar, I got a brownie, and Tamie got a cup of hot chocolate.  We pulled up some chairs outside of the Mazot, enjoyed our treats, listened to some music and did a little bit of people-watching.  One man, who looked like he'd had entirely too much to drink, came up to me and asked if I'd help him out by fastening his helmet chin-strap.  He looked so pathetic I felt sorry for him, so I did as he asked.  As the drunk man skied away, cup of wine in hand, we girls agreed to stay far away if we saw him on the slopes.

Mt. Hood sighting

After a cloudy morning, we were rewarded with a sunny, blue-sky afternoon.  We got some beautiful views of the mountain while we skied.  I took this final photo of Hood from the parking lot.  In this image, you can see the fracture line where the avalanche started.  Look just to the left from the top of the chairlift, and you'll see a circular shape in the snow on the side of Mt. Hood. That's where it all began.  Looks awfully impressive when compared with the size of the mountain!  It was quite humbling to see the aftermath of such a large act of nature.  All I can say is, even when Heather Canyon is reopened, I don't know if I'll be skiing in there anytime soon!

Nice to have a day to ski with the girlfriends.  Kim and Tamie, it was great fun (at least I think it was Tamie I skied with......but it could've been Angelina Jolie!)


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Solo Ski

The first week of March a bunch of big storms rolled through the Cascades, dumping snow as they passed.  The Mt. Hood ski resorts were reporting snowfall by the foot.  And I was stuck at work all week!  I tortured myself  by checking the Meadows website several times each day.  I decided I would for sure go to the mountain on Sunday, and recruited my friend Kim to join me.

Finally free to ski!

Saturday night Kim had to cancel.  She'd hurt her knee a couple of weeks ago, and it still wasn't ready for skiing yet.  That meant if I wanted to ski on Sunday I'd have to drive up alone and ski solo.  I've done this before, and I'm OK with it (but it is more fun to have a companion).  So I got my gear ready Saturday night, in preparation for a Sunday ski.

Mt. Jefferson peeks through the cloud layer

When my alarm rang at o'dark-hundred Sunday morning, I was sorely tempted to sleep in and skip skiing.  I'd done a really long marathon training run the day before and was tired.  Besides, without a partner to go with, I wouldn't be standing up anybody.  But then a little voice said to me:  "There's a ton of new snow on the mountain.  You've been complaining all week about not being able to ski it.  Get your butt out of bed and GO!" 

Fresh corduroy ready for the tracking

So I got out of bed, into my car, and headed up to Hood.  Although the weather was cloudy and damp in Portland, by the time I'd reached Government Camp, the skies were a clear sunny blue.  Wow!  I was not expecting such good weather.  Now I was really happy I didn't stay in bed!

Hood shows its beautiful self

Meadows was its usual weekend state of busy.  But I hit the Daisy lift (no line!) and skied over to the Cascade Lift and got on right away.  I did many laps down the runs of Cascade, enjoying the sunshine and views.  I discovered one of the fun things about skiing solo - using the singles line.  I got through the lift line quicker, and was paired up with lots of fun, interesting people.  I love chairlift conversations.  Most people are really happy and wax enthusiastically about being out skiing (or riding).  I sometimes get good tips on snow conditions, and where to ski.  And I'm surprised by who will talk to you.  It's not always who you'd expect.  I've had some of the best conversations with young, early-20-something, male snowboarders.

The cat track to Outer Limits

I had an excellent day, took a few good photos, talked to some nice people, and got in many wonderful powder-snow turns.  I ended up skiing way longer than I'd anticipated, finally making it back to my car at 3:30.  After loading up, and having a quick snack, it was time to hit the road.  Another great thing about solo skiing - picking your own music for the ride home!  I plugged in my ipod and rocked out all the way down the mountain.

So glad I decided not to sleep in!  I would've missed a great day.  The moral of the story:  Never pass up an opportunity to ski, even if it means getting up early. 


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Skiin' the Bachelor

I love Mt. Bachelor.  It's my most favorite place to ski in Oregon.  And, lucky for me, my brother Dale happens to live in Bend AND he loves to ski as much as I do.  It works out great - when I want to ski Bachelor, I've got a place to stay and a great skiing partner.  So every winter, I try to get over to Bend as much as I can.

Dale bundling up in the parking lot

My schedule was open the weekend after President's Day, so on Friday, I loaded up my Subie, and headed over the Cascades.  The mountains had been getting dumps of snow all week, so Saturday held lots of promise for good skiing.

Bluebird day on Mt. Bachelor!

The weatherman was forecasting a sunny day on Saturday.  But there was one hitch - clear skies meant cold temperatures.  REALLY cold temperatures!  Like lows below zero.  Brrrr!!  I was not ready for it to be so cold.

The cone, all carved up

But I'd traveled to Bend to ski, and a little cold weather was not going to stop me.  On the way to the mountain Saturday morning, Dale and I stopped at a local ski shop and I picked up a face mask and some toe warmers.   Later that day, I realized this was the best decision I'd made.  Money well spent!

The view of the cone and the Three Sisters from above

When it's really cold, I have a problem keeping my feet warm in my alpine ski boots.  Then, last Thursday, one of the ladies on my ski bus turned me on to toe warmers.  My alpine ski boots fit really tight, and I didn't have room under my feet to stick the adhesive toe warmers.  But I was told to stick the toe warmers on top of each foot.  I'd tried it last Thursday and my boots fit fine and my toes stayed toasty.  No cold feet all day!  (Thanks to Judy for such great advice!)

Broken Top close-up

When Dale and I reached Mt. Bachelor's parking lot, the temp was hovering right around zero.   We bundled up tight, and stuck a toe warmer on the top of each sock before jamming our feet into ski boots.

White plaster trees
Even though it was cold, the scenery was absolutely beautiful.  The sky was clear and deep blue.  The snow sparkled and gleamed white.  The mountains looked like craggy peaks of whipped cream.  There was no way I was skiing without my camera today!

Dale overlooking Sparks Lake

So this blog post is going to be a bunch of boring photos of mountains, snow-crusted trees, more mountains, and sunny skies.  Ho-hum!

There's no place I'd rather be right now!
 Even though Mt. Bachelor didn't get any new snow overnight, Friday's snow was still soft and powdery.  That's the good thing about cold temps - it preserves the snow.  And many of the runs were nicely groomed - lots of fun to race down.

Lift ride with a view

Dale and headed over to the Outback lift.  I love skiing the Outback.  Lots of nice, long runs and killer views of Sparks Lake, Broken top Mountain, and the Three Sisters.  The lift ride back up is truly scenic.

Ridin' towards the sun
The trails were all lined with white, snow-spackled trees.  The sunshine glinted off the white cream coating, making them sparkle brilliantly.

Lots of ice-crusted trees
At the top of the lift, the snow coating on the trees turned to an icy crust.  Even more beautiful!

Northwest sunburst
Then Dale and I headed over to the Northwest Express chair, on the far west side of Mt. Bachelor.  The top of this lift is above treeline, giving snow-riders a vast steep bowl to explore.

Pano view from Northwest Express chair

And the views are spectacular.  I attempted to take a panoramic photo of the vista.  If you click on the above picture, you'll be able to see a larger view of this image (by the way, this applies to all of the photographs posted on my blog).

The view just keeps gettin' better

I made many frequent stops for Kodak moments.  Poor Dale, he had to wait for his sister a lot!  Good thing he's so patient.  The sunny day made for some great light on the mountains and trees, and I wanted to take full advantage of it.

Snow-shrouded trees at the top of Northwest Express

Dale and I had more excellent runs on the trails of Northwest Express.  We skied through some bumpy off-piste powder that had been skied up pretty good.  It was tough, and along the way I hit another snow snake (yep, they hang out at Mt. Bachelor too!) and did a big yard sale down the slope.  What could I do?  I picked myself up, knocked the snow out of my goggles and had a good laugh.  Oh, and I handed the camera to Dale for documentation.  The photo of my great wipeout can be found on a previous post (the one about snow snakes).

The long ride up Northwest Express lift

The weather was frigid all morning, and my face kept getting really cold every time I whipped down the slope.  I broke out my new face mask and layered it over my balaclava. That really helped.  So glad I bought it!  The toe warmers were working their magic and my feet, although not piping hot, weren't getting cold.  That's a success in my book.

The Pine Marten Lodge surrounded by snowy dwarfs

But soon Dale and I's tummies were grumbling and the rest of our body parts were getting cold.  It was time to ski over to the Pine Marten Lodge and check out the lasagna bar!

The Three Sisters, up close and personal

My favorite place to eat at Mt. Bachelor is the restaurant in the Pine Martin Lodge.  They have the best food.  Dale and I traditionally split a trip through the lasagna bar.  It's enough food for two people.  I also ordered a hot chocolate, and was happy to learn the restaurant offered free refills.  Lots of hot liquid - just what I need on a cold winter day.

"Let's ski where this guy's pointing!"

After lunch, the skies began to cloud over.  A storm that was forecast to roll in overnight appeared to be coming in early.  I was glad to have taken so many photos in the morning, as our perfect blue-sky views were going away.

Where to go?  So many choices....

Dale and I spent the afternoon skiing all around the mountain.  We took one trip up to the summit, but it was really cold, windy, and totally fogged in up there.  And the snow was pretty icy on top.  One run was enough!  Should have visited the summit in the morning, I guess.  We still had a fun afternoon, hitting a bunch of trails off of the Pine Martin Lift.  Before we knew it, the clock read 3:30 and our legs said we were done.  A fine day on the slopes!

Blustery weather on the summit

The next morning dawned bright and sunny in Bend.  But the weather in town is no indication of what's happening on the mountain.  As Dale and I drove the road up to Bachelor, the sky clouded up began spitting freezing rain.  We got to the ski area parking lot, and it was cloudy, windy, rainy and cold.  We couldn't see the top of the lift due to low clouds.  Ugh!  Not good!

We went into the ski shop to look around and ponder if it was worth spending $60 on a lift ticket.  While we were perusing the shop, a ski patroller came in.  He was coated head to foot in a thin layer of ice.  That did it.  Both Dale and I decided right then that today was not the day for skiing Bachelor.  We turned around and headed back to town.

But I can't complain.  Dale and I had a wonderful Saturday on the mountain.  And it's always fun to get away and ski somewhere else - especially if that "somewhere else" is Mt. Bachelor!