Monday, September 30, 2013

Happy Girls Half

Wanting to devote this summer to hiking, I wasn't planning to sign up for any races.  But one was able to tempt me.  The Happy Girls Half, a fixture in Bend for the past few years, has built up a reputation as a great women's race.  But it's always held over Memorial Day Weekend, a time when I'm usually out camping somewhere.  Imagine my glee when I heard the organizers had created a new race in the "Happy Girls" series - to be held mid-September, right here in the Portland area.

Cute logo

Not only local, the new venue was at nearby Hagg Lake.  The half marathon course would circle the entire lake, on a mixture of road and trail.  A great women's race on a beautiful course - I couldn't pass it up.

And we got these cool socks!

One of the great things about a Happy Girl race is the wonderful swag given to  all participants.  Not only did I get the usual tech tee, but included in my bag were these cool pair of socks.  If you know me, you know I love socks!  These babies even had the race logo and name on them.  Awesome!

Gloomy skies over Hagg Lake

September in Oregon is usually warm, dry and lovely.  But as race day approached, the weather gods decided to throw a monkey wrench.  The weekend forecast went from sunny and dry to high winds with heavy rain.  Ugh.....

Canopies were needed today

I went to bed the night before race day with a little bit of trepidation about the weather.  Listening to the evening news, the weatherman was predicting a stormy day.  I didn't sleep well, tossing, turning, and worrying.  Not only about the forecast, but also about the course.  I'd heard the trails were muddy and slippery.  I'd heard there were hills.  And of course, I hadn't been training nearly enough.  My last long run was a very difficult ten miles.  So I also fretted about running a decent race.

Cyndee our announcer!

Morning came, foggy and wet.  I packed my car with towels and dry clothes and headed west to Hagg Lake.  I arrived super-early and got a primo parking spot close to the starting line. 

These women stayed under cover as long as possible

Rain was falling, so I donned my jacket and visited the porta potties.  And then wandered amongst the vendors, all huddled under canopies.  And then another potty stop.  Then walked around the lakeshore to get my legs loose.  And back to the porta potties.......

I'm ready to run!

About five minutes to start time, ladies began lining up.  I ditched my jacket in the car, and joined the crowd.  Except - there wasn't much of one.  It was the smallest race crowd I'd encountered in a long time.  Only a couple hundred women were gathered under wet, windy skies.

Loved these ladies outfits!

The crowd, although small was mighty festive.  Two ladies were dressed up as superheros.  There was the usual assortment of vividly colored running wear.  Everyone was in a jubilant mood, their smiles radiating through the morning gray.

One of our "handsome pacers:"

To aid anyone shooting for a specific time goal, the race organizers provided male "handsome pacers" decked out in sparkly skirts.  Oooh la-la!

Minutes before start time

Standing in the cold rain, the race start seemed to take forever.  I just wanted to get moving.  Finally, to a loud countdown, I got my wish.

And they're off!

Just beyond the starting line, we hit our first hill, a steep climb onto the road circling Hagg Lake.  That hill was only a small taste of things to come....

Single file on the single track

Holy hills, batman!  The road around the lake was a series of inclines, first a long up, following by a gradual down.  Then another climb.  The first two miles I hung on, red-faced and gasping, as I tried to settle into a pace. 

More great Hagg Lake views

For the first four miles, our course followed the road.  After mile two, my body warmed up, my breathing stabilized, and I began to feel better.  I caught up to the 9.5 mile pacer and chatted with him for a bit.  But I lost him at the four mile aid station, when I stopped for some water and gu.  A nice man at the aid station was offering runners strings of festive "four mile beads."  What the heck - I grabbed me a strand.

Through the meadow we will go...

Hearing reports of slippery muddy trails, I was dreading the transition from road to path.  But after mile four, an arrow pointed towards a woodsy track.  Oh boy - here we go!

But, happily, the trails were in great shape.  A bit rutted, a few rocks and roots, but otherwise they made great running surfaces.  And the nice part about being in the woods - the trees blocked the wind and rain.  I relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.  This wasn't so bad after all!

Up a steep incline

But the hills didn't end in the forest.  Oh no - and there was some doozies!  Roller-coastering up and then down again, my legs were put to the test.  A lot of ladies began walking up the steeper hills, but I tried to run them all.  (Although my running pace wasn't much faster)  The combination of the hills and trails slowed me down a bunch. 

But one hill got us all.  Cutting through a parking lot for a boat launch, our course led us up a huge, super-steep hill.  Everyone around me was walking, and after climbing a quarter of the way, I realized I could probably walk faster.  Although it felt good to take a walk break, starting up running again wasn't easy!

And through the woods

From the road, we we were again plunged back into lovely, green woods.  Although there were more ups and downs, I really enjoyed this part of the course.  We crossed a few cute wooden footbridges, and wet, leaf-strewn paths.  Giant ferns lined our trail.  Spectacular!  The lush forest was so nice, I actually pulled to the side of the trail and shot a few photos.

A few happy girls

Around mile 8, runners were spit onto the road for a long stretch.  Stopping, to take in another gu, the 10 minute mile pacer passed by.  He called out "catch up with me!"  Starting to flag, it was just the challenge I needed. 

Running across the dam near mile 8 1/2

Crossing over the Hagg Lake dam, I kept the pacer's bright yellow t-shirt in my sights.  Pushing my legs, I slowly inched closer.  It took over a mile, but on the other side of the dam, I finally caught up to him. 

The pacer was glad for some company.  No one was running with him and I think he was lonely.  After nearly 9 miles, I was ready for company too.  My body was beginning to complain, the rain seemed to be coming down harder, and I ready to be done.  Following and talking to another person was a welcome distraction.

Coming into the finish (photo by Becker Event Photography)

My pacer friend and I climbed a long, steady incline.  I struggled mightily but kept up with the guy.  Then around mile 11.5, we again turned off into the woods.  By this time the rain was coming down, and my glasses were so speckled with raindrops, it was hard to see the trail.  This portion of the lakeshore was really muddy, and we slipped and slid a couple of times.  Definitely the toughest part of the race, I really struggled mentally to keep going.  But I kept my eyes on the back of Mr. Pacer's legs, and vowed not to lose him.

Yes, I'm happy to be done!  (photo by Becker Event Photography)

Finally, with just under a mile to go, the course directed us back onto the road.  Happy to have firm footing, my pace felt much quicker.  Knowing the end was near was enough incentive to fire up the engines.  I powered up the last final hill, leaving Mr. Pacer in the dust.  Turning the corner into the parking lot, I made a beeline for the finish line arch.  Crossing those timing mats never felt so good!

Soaked but victorious

Checking my watch, I was pleasantly surprised to see a time of 2:15:15.  Although not a super-fast half marathon time for me, considering the hilly course and the weather, I was more than satisfied.

I threw on a couple of clothing layers and wandered over to the refreshment tent.  While stuffing myself with potato chips and beer, the race organizers began announcing age group winners.  Focused on filling my belly, I didn't pay close attention.  Then I thought I heard my name called.  No way...... but just to be sure I walked up to the announcer and asked.  Lo and behold, I earned a third place finish in my age group! 

I earned this necklace!

Every half marathon finisher got a cute little necklace.  And age group winners got a little white bead added to their necklace.  I've never been so proud of a little bead!

Even though this was a tough course, with less than ideal weather, I'm glad I came, persevered, and pushed myself.  Several times throughout the race, I was tempted to slow down or walk, but kept going.  I'm grateful to Mr. 10-minute pacer (never did get his name) for helping me through the tough final miles. 

Today's moral of the story - even when things get tough, never give up.  Keep on trying, giving it your best.  You might be pleasantly surprised at the finish line.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Dinosaur Hill

In my hometown of Rapid City, South Dakota, a large hill rises up from the city's center.  But this is no ordinary high point.  On it's crest reside life-size replicas of dinosaurs that used to roam this area.

Here's "Dino!"

During a mid-August trip to visit family, I got a hankering to go see the dinosaurs.  One of my favorite childhood places, it had been years since I'd climbed up the hill.

The stegosaurus is popular with kids

Dinosaur Park, as it's officially known, was constructed in the 1930's as a depression-era WPA project.  These large concrete and steel structures were meant to be life-size reproductions of prehistoric creatures whose fossils were found nearby.  The park was dedicated in 1936, the same year my Dad was born (hence the family joke that he's "as old as the dinosaurs.")

My brother and I liked climbing on him too

From the parking lot, ascending a long stone staircase leads one to five large dino sculptures.  First, a duck-billed platypus, with a stegosaurus neighbor.  Further up the path, a Tyrannosaurus Rex shares the concrete patio with a Triceratops.  On the very top of the hill, a giant brontosaurus rises towards the sky.  This huge life-size dinosaur anchors the skyline, and is visible all over town.  It's a Rapid City landmark.

Stegosaurus extreme close-up

Growing up, my family took many trips to Dinosaur Hill.  A free city park, it was a great way to spend a summer afternoon.  The smaller dinosaurs were perfect to climb upon and the tails of the larger ones provided nice seats.  Kids could clamber over the dino sculptures to their heart's content and no one minded.

"M" Hill

And the views from on top of Dinosaur hill can't be beat!  On a clear day, one can see the entire city of Rapid City spread out below, plus 100 miles beyond in all directions.  On the day of my visit, I captured a great shot of adjacent "M" Hill, which I climbed with my folks last year.

Sunset on the Brontosaurus

The brontosaurus is the most amazing of the sculptures.  He stands 80 feet long and 28 feet high.  A mighty animal indeed!

Siting under the dino's rear end

The brontosaurus was, and still is, my favorite dinosaur in the park.  I have fond memories of playing underneath his tree-sized legs, and sitting on the massive tail.

The fearsome T-Rex

The T-Rex, although supposedly a fierce dinosaur, looks awfully friendly at this park.  It almost appears he's smiling.


And he likes to play peekaboo too!

A favorite childhood pastime - sitting on the dinosaur's tails

One of my favorite old photos of dinosaur park, here's me, two of my brothers, and my cousin sitting in the crook of a dinosaur tail.  As you can tell, I'm the one not looking at the camera!  Guess that's why I'm usually behind the lens instead of in front of it.

I'm still a kid at heart!

I revert to a little kid when it comes to the dinosaurs, and still love climbing on their well-worn faces.

My brothers and I ride Proceratops

Down by the parking lot, there's a large gift shop, and two more smaller dino sculptures.  A Proceratops, with his helmet-shaped head, just begs to be ridden.

My hubby goes for a ride

Sometimes even my hubby is a kid at heart!

My cousin and I playing on the Dimetrodon

There's also a sail-finned Dimetrodon.  A small enough dinosaur for little kids to clamber all over, even sitting on top of his head. My brothers used to pose for silly photos with their heads in this guy's mouth.

Dinosaur attack!

I found out my head no longer fits in the Dimetron's mouth.  And I'm a little big to sit on top of him.  But for a funny photo, the legs work nicely.

Good night from Dinosaur Hill

As the sun began to set on a warm August South Dakota night, I bid Dinosaur Hill goodbye for another year.  But it was fun to revisit the past in a place full of great childhood memories.

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Huckleberry Heaven

Labor Day meant another day off work.  It also meant another chance to go hiking.  And I knew just the place.  Huckleberries were ripe in the Indian Heaven Wilderness.  High time for a visit!


I convinced my friends Young and John to join me.  They too like huckleberries, so it didn't take much arm-twisting.

No hiking post is complete without a trail sign.

The Indian Heaven Wilderness is located in southwestern Washington.  It's known for beautiful alpine meadows, plentiful scenic lakes, and massive huckleberry fields.  Long ago Indians used to come to this area to race horses and pick berries.  A large berry field near the eastern wilderness boundary is still reserved for the local tribes.

Time to pick some berries!

But within the Wilderness boundaries, anyone is welcome to gather berries.  I made sure to pack a large nalgene water bottle to hold my stash.  Young and John scrounged up two spare water bottles from their pickup.  Bring on the berries - we were ready!

Lovely woods

The Indian Heaven Wilderness offers many trailheads and lots of hiking options.  For today's hike, I chose my favorite, the East Crater Trail to Junction Lake.  The plan was to tack on a loop to Lemei Lake and return via the Pacific Crest Trail, a grand total of 9.2 miles.

The mushrooms were out in force.

My friends and I started out on a glorious late summer day.  The sun was shining, the temps still moderate, and the green woods beckoning.  We didn't travel very far before getting sidetracked by a large field of huckleberry bushes, heavy with fruit.  Time to get pickin'.

This mushroom looks like a pancake.

In no time I'd amassed a good collection of berries in my bottle.  But we'd burned a half hour, and there was still a lot of trail yet to cover.  So my friends and I packed away the bottles.  There would be many more chances to gather berries further down the trail.

We reach the Pacific Crest Trail

As we hiked, Young and I kept spotting bushes full of huckleberries.  It was so tempting not to stop and do more picking.  But since the last two miles of our return trip would be on this same trail, we decided to wait until then.  (Although it didn't stop Young and I from grabbing a berry or three as we walked by!)

Junction Lake

John, keeping his eyes on the ground instead of in the bushes, spotted a huge patch of unusual mushrooms.  Some of them were really pretty - round as a golf ball, orange colored with white spots and another large and flat like a pancake.  I took so much time photographing the fungi, John probably regretted telling me about them.

Young walks along Junction Lake's shoreline

But 2.6 miles from our trailhead, the East Crater Trail connected to the Pacific Crest Trail.  Also at this intersection was the appropriately named Junction Lake.  A scenic little body of water, it was ringed by Douglas Firs, and to our delight, more huckleberry bushes.

These huckleberry leaves are sporting fall colors

Around the lakeshore, some of the huckleberry bushes were just beginning to turn.  Their leaves displayed the most wonderful hues of red.

On to Lemei Lake!

At Junction Lake, my party and I left the PCT for a spur trail that would take us the two miles to Lemei Lake.  Although nearly noon by now, it was agreed to hold off lunchtime until reaching this next destination. 

Huckleberry break

Besides, there were bushes of berries lining the trail.  One could always grab a handful for a quick snack!

Loved these red leaves

The trail climbed up a wooded ridge, with more mushrooms hiding out below the trees.  We meandered through more huckleberry fields, past a few bushes sporting the most lovely red leaves I've ever seen.

Lemei Lake makes a wonderful lunch spot

Then our path began the long descent into Lemei Lake.  Following a well-rutted track led us into the grassy meadows surrounding this cute little lake.  We chose a spot near the water.  Gazing across the water, towering fir trees made a nice backdrop.  A very peaceful spot.  Perfect to rest and enjoy our lunches.

Scenic lakeshore of Lemei Lake

Grasses floating in the water made unusual patterns.  Dragonflies buzzed the lake's surface.  It was hard to leave - I could've stayed here all day.

Mega huckleberry picking session

But the call of the huckleberry is a strong one.  Young noticed a huge clearing nearby full of berry bushes.  Packing up our lunches, a mega picking session ensued.

Beautiful little creek

We spent a long time wandering around the bushes.  But I managed to fill my bottle to the brim.  Yahoo - I now had a goodly amount of berries, more than enough for a cobbler.  An there's nothing better than warm huckleberry cobbler!  Young and John also nearly filled their bottles.  Our work now done, it was time to finish the hiking loop.

We reach the PCT once again

Past beautiful blue Clear Lake, we again rendezvoused with the PCT.  Following this famous trail back to Junction Lake, we passed by several small scenic lakes.  First Deer Lake, then Bear Lake, and finally tiny Acker Lake tucked in woods way below the trail.  All of these lakes had great shoreline campsites, and I made a mental note to return here next year for a backpacking trip.

We also passed a few PCT through hikers.  I talked to one man briefly and offered him my gummy bears, but he declined saying his pack was already too full.  It's amazing to think these people started at the Mexican border and now here they are in southern Washington!

Our trail passed by many lovely lakes

Arriving back at Junction Lake, John spotted a huge group of people fanned out in the huckleberry bushes.  It appeared they were grabbing every berry in sight.  As my friends and I made our way back down the East Crater Trail, Young noticed there weren't many berries left in the bushes.  Surmising this party must've picked them clean, we were glad to have filled our bottles at Lemei Lake.

Heading home!

A wonderful day to be out in the woods and high meadows of Indian Heaven Wilderness.  And always nice to come home from a hike with an extra something yummy to eat.  If you've never tried huckleberries, they're a real treat.  More tart than blueberries, they are amazing in pies, jams and cobblers.  And - speaking of cobblers - that's exactly what my berries became.

Too bad huckleberry season only comes around once a year!

Sharing with:  Tuesday Muse.