Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The winds of change

The winds of change are coming. It’s actually a whirlwind, to be more specific. At least that’s the way it feels inside of me. I’ve always had these dreams of all these different things I wanted to do before I died – I even made a list. Well, I’m starting to let go of that a little bit. I’m not deleting that file, and I never will, but I’m starting to accept that... well, these are things to work towards and dream about and smile when I think about them, but not get overly sad when I realize they aren’t going to work out. I may never climb Mt. Everest. That’s okay. If the opportunity came up, I don’t know that I could turn it down, but I think the decision to lighten up on my gigantuan dream list came down to the fact that I don’t think I’ve got the time to completely change my life each time I want to complete just one item listed.

The first wind came from one direction and turned me completely around. I decided I wanted to ground myself. I’m still not quite sure where that would be, but I’m feeling the “need” to feel of permanent residence somewhere. I’ve lived in the Oshkosh area for quite a few years now, but I still just don’t feel “grounded” here. If this is where Adam and I decide to plant our feet and let the roots grow, great. If not, great. I really don’t care either way. As long as in the next few years we can at least work towards finding that place… wherever it might be. We may even have to go out on a limb and try somewhere new to only end up right back here again. I really don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. Life is like that, and that’s why I’m okay with the direction this wind is taking me. There’s still an awful lot of that good ol’ fun unknown to play with.

And of course it doesn't stop there. Just as I thought about this new wind of change, another wind came in and turned me back around. It started when I clicked "play" on an itunes playlist on that I haven’t listened to in a while. I was looking for something calming and relaxing, so I chose my "Lake Tahoe Music" 7and5 playlist. The first beat rang into my head and I was suddenly laying in my Hubba tent under the stars somewhere on the Tahoe Rim Trail. My heart started to beat faster, and I got an aching cramp in the entire upper portion of my torso. I love backpacking and being in the wide-open outside. I love it so much it hurts. When I sit and think about it hard enough it makes me nauseous. It’s strangely sort of a good thing, I guess... because I can put myself somewhere so easily in my mind. I can smell the air, feel the breeze and the openness all around me. I can hear the leaves in the trees and my footsteps on the ground as I watch the scenery change as I walk by it. In my mind I can put myself back there. It's not as great as actually being there, but sometimes it's the closest I can get. On the flip side of that, I ache and ache to be out there RIGHT NOW. I'm just clawing at the future trying to cling on to even one or two new adventurous trips.

This is why it’s a whirlwind. I guess it’s just coming in strong from both directions. I mean STRONG, too. I feel a change coming from this, and it feels big, but I really have no idea which way it's gonna go. There's so many different factors that play into both sides. But this unknown is pretty exciting. Either way I go, I will have to set aside one dream to dedicate myself to another, but either way it's going to be great. So if I just relax, get comfortable and let the wind take me where it wants me, all will end the way it’s supposed to. Right? …sigh… who knows!?

So… with all that craziness said, what’s next? Well, in a nutshell… HAH! I don’t friggin’ know!! But since I haven’t blogged in forever I can write a little about what’s happened… I went on a super-rainy weekend backpacking overnighter in the Porkies in early October with the Fox Cities backpacking group – my mom, dad and friend Justin came along, so that was awesome. It was a miserably cold and wet weekend, but in the end a great adventure and tons of fun, as always.

I’ve been focusing a lot of my energy and time on training for the Frozen Otter (January 16-17). I’ll be blogging about that for sure. The Frozen Otter is always a highlight of my year. It's a great way to see where I'm at for the year, remind myself that I am a tough chick and thank God for that strength (there's lots of time to talk with Him in those 24 hours!!). I might be tough, but I don't get through that alone. No way. If I get a minute, I’d like to write a bunch about my training so I can look back at it next year and improve on it… but mostly I’ve been working out as much as I can -- including long workouts on the weekends, and long hikes when I can. I plan to get one in this Saturday, actually. And it just snowed a foot last night, so it’ll be a good training hike for sure! In November I did an overnight 32-mile hike in under 10 hours with Melissa, whom I met at the Frozen Otter a few years back. That was really cool, too. I had some knee troubles, so I’m doing some exercises recommended to me by a sports therapist, so hopefully that helps.

November also brought hunting season and Thanksgiving. I did get a deer this year – a little nubby buck the Sunday of opening weekend. There’s venison in my freezer, so I’m certainly happy about that. And the time I got to spend with my dad and brother (and uncles and other family) was absolutely amazing. I don't see my brother much (which I have no excuse for - he lives in Green Bay), but spending that week with him was... well, really cool. I don't really have a lot of words for it. I'm just thankful for that time. Hunting season and Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of year for sure. And the icing on the cake this year was that Adam was there for almost the whole week, too. So I got to see quite a lot of him. I wasn't great company since I was always pooped from hunting, but it was still nice to cuddle up next to him at night and see him at least. :)

December’s been a rough month so far. I had some things stolen out of my backpack at the YMCA while I was working out last Wednesday. It’s really bothering me, and I’m going through all kinds of stages of crazy. It started with immediate embarrassment. I simply should've had my stuff locked up. I didn't even want to tell anyone. The only person I can blame is myself, really. I felt so stupid. That night I cried and cried. Then a few days later I started to feel angry and bitter. I was hoping I wouldn’t get to that point, but I figured it was just part of the process. I feel less trusting now, more paranoid… so that's all kinda’ sucky. But I’m getting over it slowly with the occasional gut-ache. I do really miss my iPod. I bought it for myself as a reward after losing 60 pounds back in 2005, and I had in on the hike with me… it still has playlists that I chose while hiking the ADT, so letting go of that is really hard. I just pray that whoever took my stuff is using it for something good – like Christmas presents for their family or something. Wishful thinking, I know, but it’s the only peace of mind I can find. Despite my embarrassment, I’ve told as many people about it as I can – not to wait until they have something stolen to lock up their stuff. I mean, it is just “stuff” that can be replaced, but I never thought about the terrible mental game you end up going through. If I can get someone else to avoid going through what I'm going through now, then there’s another peace of mind. But really, why do people do that!? ...I guess I'm still just a wee bit in the bitter stage yet, but working my way out of it...

Another kind of bummer thing about early December, is that one year ago on December 6 we had to put out kitty down. Rocko was only 7 years old, but he got a tummy cancer that grew so fast there was nothing we could do. I love the other two cats we have now, but Rocko was the coolest cat ever. I miss him as much now as I did the day we let him go. Love and miss ya’ Rocko bud!

A shimmer of light in my December so far (literally!), is this past Saturday I ran the Race for the Light 5K and hit a personal record… somehow. I haven’t been running much, but I ran that thing in 25:27!! That’s the fastest I’ve ever run 3.2 miles! I was thrilled! It was a cool run, too. We started at 5PM and ran through Oshkosh's Celebration of Lights, which is at Menominee Park -- everything is decorated for Christmas and there's a TON of lights. It was really neat to run through that.

So that lands me here. Just working on hanging on, trying to make big decisions about 2010… will I ever get that book written? I wanna... just cannot seem to find the time. Trying to prepare for Christmas… getting over some emotional dealios with things that have happened this year... especially missing good friendships that fade out, family that's passed, and some realities that are scary... normal stuff, I suppose. Just as everyone else around the holidays, there’s a lot of stressors in my world right now, but I’m just plugging away at it all one day and one thing at a time.

If you read my blog and keep up on it, it might be interesting to see where these winds take me in 2010 and 2011. I don’t even have any idea what’s gonna happen this next year, but hopefully it’s something worth reading about!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A very special 3-year anniversary

October 27, 2006 - Limantour Beach, California

I still have some catching up to do since my last post, but I had to make an exception and jump into the present moment in my blog. Today is October 27, 2009. Three years ago today, mom and I walked our last 1/4 mile (out of somewhere around 4,600) down the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean at Limantour Beach, California, and "dipped our toes" into the water to signify the completion of "Our Hike" Across America for Bone Marrow Disease. Here's a video of us doing just that!

Here is also a link to my journal entry from that day. Look around on the trailjournals website and see more entries from the hike as well as some photos!
When mom and I reached the finish of that huge journey, neither of us really knew what we felt. You think we would have that all figured out... but no...The whole time we were walking the previous 8-1/2 months -- every step, through 13 states, mile after mile, across our entire country, we thought about this very moment. What will it be like? Will we cry? Will we cheer? We had no idea. When we stepped out into the sand and took our first few steps that day toward the finish line, our stomachs were in knots. We were nervous, excited, happy, proud, sad, but overall we were thoroughly confused... but we were smiling the biggest smiles you could ever see. We had a welcoming committee of friendly, loving, supportive faces. Family, friends, patients, representatives from both the AA&MDSIF and the ADT... it was a great group of people to see.
A look back
Back in February that year, we dipped our toes in the Atlantic Ocean and quickly ran away as the chilling waves chased us onward. This was the start of our journey. We weren't sure what adventures were laid out for us in the upcoming months, but while taking those first few heavy steps in the deep sand, we both knew we'd be feeling the water of the Pacific on our toes in the future. We were two women on a mission, and we were going to do what we set out to do, thanks to a little stubborn determination, and strength not only pulled from deep down inside ourselves, but the kind of strength that comes from doing something for others. There were Bone Marrow Disease patients out there suffering... surviving... hoping... praying... and we wanted to somehow touch the lives of each and every one of them. We wanted to give them some hope... we wanted to help in any way we could. It was an amazing feeling each time I pushed on through a hard moment or a hard day with the thought of those truly fighting through the toughest battle -- the fight for life. When we were feeling down or thought it was getting difficult to keep going, we'd think of the patients out there battling Bone Marrow Disease, Cancer, Heart Disease... whatever it may be, and thought, "We just need to keep going."
February 4, 2006 - Our first steps West - Cape Henlopen, Delaware
I've always said - surviving Aplastic Anemia was not something I did alone. I had a support system of family, friends, doctors, nurses, the AA&MDSIF, prayer... God. There were so many people that helped me through that rough time -- each and every person that was in my life helped me survive in some way. Whether it were a distant prayer, or someone sticking by my side every single moment that summer, I survived... with their help. My journey across the country would be no different.
Mom and I walked with the strength of thousands. When things got tough, we'd think of patients fighting their illness, parents grieving at the recent loss of a child, a newly diagnosed patient crunching their face (as I did) and saying, "What the heck is Aplastic Anemia?" or a patient that was just told they were in remission... all those out there that were affected by Bone Marrow Disease in some way gave us strength and gave us hope that we could finish. And in return, we could only pray that we could give back even a fraction of that hope. We would tell everyone we met about Bone Marrow Disease, and we'd raise as many funds as we could to try to even put the slightest dent in the research toward a cure. It was our mission... but it was the "Our Hike" family that pushed us across the country for 4,600 + miles.

Thank you to everyone that was a part of the journey, and thank you to everyone that has become a part of the journey since then.

As many of you know, every year we hold an annual "Our Hike" fundraiser to raise a few more funds to support the Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation and their ongoing dedication to research and patient education. As I mentioned earlier, mom and I were confused at the end of that hike -- we were so happy to be done, but at the same time we wanted to turn around and keep walking... but home was calling sooooo strongly, so with no second thoughts, we happily headed home. But with these confused feelings still lingering, we decided that we weren't going to leave that whole journey at the beach that day - we were going to continue on... that's why we hold our yearly fundraiser.

It was a bittersweet day 3 years ago, and it still is today. I think of something from that journey every day of my life, and it has affected me in so many ways. There are many emotions that bubble to the surface every now and again... everywhere from happy memories, to sadness from a loss, to struggles not mentioned, to shame from not being able to do more. It bounces back and forth constantly, and definitely keeps me on my toes.

Overall, I miss it and I wish we could do it again. But if we do... Adam... Dad... you're comin' with us!! :)
Prayers go out to my Great Aunt Lois, who has suffered with Myelodysplastic Syndrome for a few years now and just recently has stopped taking transfusions with hopes to let go of this life comfortably. I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to spend some time with her that weekend my mom and I finished our journey... she is definitely one of the patients -- and family -- we kept in our minds and hearts with every step. We love you, Aunt Lois, and we will miss you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Our Hike" for Bone Marrow Disease 2009

The 5th Annual "Our Hike" for Bone Marrow Disease!

On September 12, 2009, we held our 5th Annual "Our Hike" for Bone Marrow Disease. It was another great time! My mom and I always get super-stressed out and worry ourselves crazy that nobody will come -- but people always do! And we have quite a few dedicated faces we see year after year, and it's always WONDERFUL to see new friends join the "Our Hike" family, too!

Don't miss out on any fun next year!! Mark your calendars now -- September 11, 2010!

So first - a GREAT BIG THANK YOU to all those that came along and hiked with us! Thanks to all those that joined us at the Corner Connection for the registration, meat raffle, lunch and backpack raffle (congrats to Linda Lou who won the backpack full of camping goodies). It was great to see such a big turnout for our spaghetti dinner and raffles at Lost Vega's, too. We had lots of people come out just to hike, just to get in on the dinner special, just the evening music and raffles, or for all of it! That's what is so fun about this event -- you can kind of choose your adventure! Of course, I recommend getting in on all of the fun... you just never know what you're going to miss (see picture of Keith in the burning boat below! tee-hee)

I will also mention a big THANK YOU to all of our volunteers and helpers... to those like Josh, who showed up at my parents house Friday night and helped load raffle baskets into the car, the local businesses that participated (Corner Connection and Lost Vega's for the start and finish), Adam for MC'ing, Orien (I work with him at 4imprint) for borrowing us his time and equipment to put together some awesome radio ads, Kenny for driving the haywagon, Karen for donating so many huge baskets to raffle, Lee for helping with organizing and money-handling, Sarah for helping sell paddles, all of our outstanding family and friends that helped with odds and ends along the way, all those that donated prizes for raffles... the list could go on! Just know we appreciate each and every one of you -- and on behalf of all Bone Marrow Disease patients, their friends and their families -- we couldn't do all this without you!
"Our Hike" hikers on the new Georgetown ATV trail)
A quick recap of the day --
It turned out to be a really nice day in the Northwoods along the newest section of the Georgetown ATV trail. We had about 30 hikers, I think... and some gorgeous late-summer/early-fall weather. Slightly cool, but still warm enough to wear shorts -- and the only place I ran into skeeters was in the woods when I snuck out to "use the facilities." There were a few leaves starting to turn, so vibrant reds, yellows and oranges JUST started to sprinkle the woods. The trail we hiked was complete this year (last year we had to bushwhack across Carpenter Creek!), so we had a nice huge bridge to walk across.
Participants sporting their "Our Hike" goodies. Bandannas and Sport packs!
This is the new bridge across Carpenter Creek.
Once hikers reached Lost Vega's after a wonderful 7-mile hike, we all rested and rehydrated. Then dinner was served! We all enjoyed some yummy spaghetti and meatballs while Mom, Lee, Adam, Sarah and I started running some raffles! The night fun continued with more and more raffles -- we had huge themed baskets of guy stuff like tools and car kits, girl stuff like holiday-themed decorations and kitchen stuff, kids baskets full of toys, baskets full of baby stuff, and a bunch more! We had grandma's homemade breads, Holly's chocolate pies, a homemade cribbage board, Mom's ginormous crocheted sock monkey, my original monoprints, gift cards... just a whole slew of different stuff! There's always something for everyone!!
Later in the evening, the band Spitfire set up and started to play some music. We had a fun time visiting, dancing and we even ran more raffles during the band's breaks! The fun normally goes late into the night. :)
Jake, me and Pam having a good time at Lost Vega's!
Thank you, volunteers, donors and participants. We hope to see you next year on September 11, 2010! And keep your eyes open -- we might be changing things up a bit! It's going to be a blast!
Oh, did I mention something about Keith (my dad) sitting in a burning boat?! As promised:
If you were there and would like to add any tidbits from the day's events -- funny things that happened, someone you'd like to thank (especially if I missed someone with my memory-less pea brain!), go ahead and add a comment to the bottom of the entry!) Thanks for reading! :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A weird, “out-of-sorts” weekend

I don’t really like posting entries like this one. I enjoy posting the fun, adventurous stories… but I suppose not every day can be perfect, right? So I’m going to get it off my chest -- I have been in a serious “funk” lately. I have some leads on what might be bothering me, and I’m going over and over all of the possibilities and trying to come up with ways to test them and fix them. I’m struggling with it, though. I’ve woken up to a headache and tears a few times in the past couple of weeks, and had a really hard time last weekend that was sort of a breaking point for me. But the good news is that my experience from last weekend has pushed me to ask God for help, and He showed up stronger than I think I’ve ever felt Him. It was a very personal, emotional time. I wish I was more comfortable sharing my spiritual experiences in more detail, but I’m not there yet. This alone is a big step for me. One day I’ll openly and confidently talk about it. But that experience is one that I try to remember when I fall into a slump, and it always picks me up a little bit.

“Break me down and build me back up.”

I think I’m still a little bit in the “break me down” part, but I need to remember this is a process. I have some mind-clearing and soul-fixing to do. It’s actually a little exciting to think about potential progress, and I think I’m going in the right direction with it. I pray that I am, anyway.

So, about last weekend -- it was a very strange time for me. This was one of those situations where if I told my parents about it, they would feel my forehead and say, “are you feeling okay?” Well, I wasn’t and that was the problem. I didn’t know why, but I just wasn’t.

The “plan” was to head to Mauthe Lake Campground Friday night after work and camp. I was going to get up at 3:30 AM, have breakfast and coffee, hydrate myself, get dressed, throw on my day pack and hit the trail by 5:00 AM and hike 50 miles. Then I started to think about the ½ marathon coming up, and I was nervous about pushing 50 miles at this point in my training, so I backed it off to 32 miles. I just wasn’t mentally prepared to hike 50 miles. By Friday I was already backing the 32 off to 20 miles, and I realized that I just wasn’t at all excited about it. That was the first sign that something was “off.” I normally get overly giddy with excitement about camping, hiking, hitting the trail – whatever the adventure may be. That was missing and it not only concerned me, it made me sad. I missed it!

I left work early Friday, and got to my campsite at about 5:30 PM. I set up my tent and got my gear ready for the hike Saturday morning. Then I left my site for a little bit and went down the road to a little store for some batteries, Jiffy Pop and an ice cream cone. When I got back I started a little campfire, made myself some tortellini mixed with a chicken noodle side in my Jetboil and thought about making my Jiffy Pop. Then I started to hear some rumbling in the distance. I gave Adam a quick call to check the weather. When I checked it earlier that day, it looked like it was only going to be partly cloudy. Adam confirmed that a line of red on the radar screen was headed right for me. I decided to wait on the Jiffy Pop.

I got my toothbrush and head towards the bathroom. I brushed my teeth and washed my hands, and when I stepped out the door, I noticed the clouds in the dark sky were looking pretty mean, and it was just starting to rain a little. I hurried back to my site, grabbed a few things from my car and got into the tent. I set my watch alarm for 3:30 and laid there listening to the thunder and the rain on my tent until it lulled me right to sleep.

My alarm woke me up at 3:30. I quickly turned it off. I noticed it wasn’t raining any more, but I didn’t care. I laid there feeling no energy in me whatsoever. I felt as dark inside as it was outside. I curled back up in my sleeping bag and fell asleep. I woke up again at about 4:30, rolled over and fell asleep again. Then at 5:30 I did the same… and 6:30. Finally at 7:00 AM I heard other campers rumbling around. I started to get up, but my clothing-in-a-stuffsack pillow was so perfectly comfortable that I laid my head back down and slept until 7:30. I finally got up and crawled out of my tent – but I think that was only because I felt the need to stroll down to the bathroom.

I will brush over a lot of the details here, but I got back to my site, started my Jetboil, made coffee and oatmeal and just wasn’t feeling right. I didn’t feel like hiking. The trail was RIGHT there and I didn’t want it. This was the point where I KNEW something wasn’t right with me. I started to cry. I was this pathetic shell of a being, all by myself, sitting at a picnic table at a campsite in a huge, overcrowded public campground, balling my eyes out. I texted Adam and told him I was thinking about coming home. Shortly later, I texted him again and told him I was surely coming home. I finished my breakfast, packed up and left. I drove straight home, crying the whole way.

You can ask, “What was wrong?” and I couldn’t tell you. I still can’t. That’s where I’m struggling. I’m trying to figure it out. I felt this coming on during the whole week and held it back even ignoring it pretty well. I can still feel it this week, but that morning at that picnic table and the drive home gave me a lot of time to settle down and be with my thoughts. So I think that was rock-bottom – I can only really go up from there!

So… I’m including this in my blog to get it off my chest and give myself something to reflect on when I need to remind myself that I am not invincible. I’ve got my flaws, and they are okay. I need my imperfections as much as I need motivation. I need to embrace them and love them and be okay with them. I just need to learn how to let them be what they are naturally. I’d like to actually wear them with confidence. I need to work on this. That is a hard thing to teach oneself to do. This probably sounds like a bunch of rambling… and it probably is. :)

I’m not looking for anyone to feel sorry for me or to worry about me. I’m perfectly okay, and I’m actually at a really good stage as I’m writing this – even though it’s difficult – I’m starting to think it’s really good for me. It’s bringing me back to the basics. What do I need and what do I not need? What is surface and what is real? Why do I want the things I want? Do I need them? I’ve got a lot of very broad questions that I’m analyzing the answers of until I’m physically tired of thinking. This might sound crazy, but I feel like I’m emptying myself out from my very core so I can start over with a better foundation. Will I be successful? Probably not fully, but it can’t hurt to try. There’s some work to do.

“Break me down and build me back up.”

Oh, and it turns out that the weekend wasn’t a total flop... When I got home I cleaned like a madwoman, organized some areas in our apartment I’d been neglecting, enjoyed watching UFC with Adam and friends Saturday night, went to church Sunday and shared on a nice pot luck after the service for our Vicar, got home, rearranged and cleaned the bedroom and read a little of my homework. It’s not what I had planned, but it was certainly productive, anyway.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tahoe Rim Trail Journal

It's been almost a month since I finished my thru-hike on the TRT -- and my journal is finally done! You can view the whole thing on I've got a journal entry from every day we were on the trail (with a couple of prep days and afterthoughts), lots of photos and my gear list. Play around -- it's a really cool site!

The four of us became official 165-Mile Club Members when we finished the trail, and we were recognized by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association for our accomplishment. Pretty cool stuff... Check out this link to see our names listed on their site!

Robin Grapa #896

Keith Laatsch #912

Patty Laatsch #913

Leo Cepoi #914

P.S. If you enjoyed reading my Tahoe Rim Trail journal, you can link to my 2006 ADT journal from Trailjournals and give that a read, too!

For more information on the Tahoe Rim Trail, please visit the TRTA website. It's a great organization, and they have a great site. Check it out!!

Friday, August 7, 2009


Well, I'm still working on getting my TRT journal typed up, so meanwhile, it's catch-up time.

It seems like forever ago already, but I think that most of my time spent in June was mostly waiting for July to roll around. I was starting to get really excited for Tahoe... buying miscellaneous pieces of gear and clothing bits for the trip that I needed, and waiting... waiting... and waiting some more... but June was still a cool month for sure.

One of the my favorite parts of June every single year is the 9th. That's my and Adam's wedding anniversary! We were married on June 9, 2001 in Phillips, WI. It was a really fun wedding and reception (of course I would think so!). Our wedding lasted about 15 minutes in the small, packed Presbyterian Church (I'm Lutheran now). The reception was at the Northwoods Supper Club in Fifield (north of Phillips). For any of you that have ever drive up north on Hwy. 13, it's the place with the HUGE deer in front of it. Adam and closed the place down with a ton of family and friends - we were all dancing and just having a great time! Good, good memories!!

Adam and Robin Grapa - June 9, 2001, 8 years later, here we are as different as we could ever be, but still in love and always working on challenges that come our way. There's never a dull moment, that's for sure! It amazes me how different two people can be, yet still have such a strong bond to each other. I LOVE YOU, ADAM. SO SO MUCH!!!

Wisconsin River Paddle Group

Another thing I did in June was something new -- I went on a paddling trip with some new friends I met through participating in the Frozen Otter Trek, put on by the Fat Otter Adventure Racing Team. I guess Rod puts this trip on annually, and ooooh, it was FUN!! It was on the Wisconsin River between Sauk City and Spring Green, and it was an overnighter -- the plan was to camp on a sandbar along the way! Sweet! Lots of people went, so there were a whole bunch of canoes and 3 kayaks, me in one of the kayaks.

It was a funny situation preparing for the trip... I joined this trip on my own, so I was going to be meeting a bunch of new people (which I was nervous about, but everyone was so awesome!!), so I originally planned to take my own kayak -- I'd never done an overnighter with my little kayak, so I packed as little as I possibly could, since I had to strap everything to my boat. Then Rod called and said one guy needed a canoe partner and asked if I would mind teaming up with him. I was up for it -- and besides, I thought, "Ooooh, now I can bring a big cooler! Full of good bevvies!" And with that change of plans, I left my kayak home (I thought about strapping it on my car just in case... but decided not to because I didn't want to leave it out for the whole 2 days unattended).

So I went just myself and camped the night before at a campground across the street from the launch. The morning rolled around and I met the group across the street, and my canoe partner didn't show up, so I ended up taking a kayak anyway! Which was totally fine... Rod and a couple others were great and took some of the extra gear I'd packed (including my cooler), so everything worked out just fine. I had a freakin' blast in that kayak... I ended up having to rent one, but it was very similar to mine... I was happy about that, especially because now I know that I can do an overnighter in my "Sharkbait" boat. :)

We had perfect weather, everybody was very friendly and FUN, and camping on the sand was awesome! Oh!! We paddled past Mazo Beach... for anyone in Wisconsin, or in the Sauk City area, they know that Mazo Beach is famous for it's... nudes. It's an actual nude beach in Wisconsin! I heard that it wasn't necessarily underwear models hanging out there, so veer in the other direction if we so choose... but with something SO unique... I could not resist. I had to check this out. So when we approached the beach, I paddled right up to it. The people were all very nice!! And very naked. ;) It was an experience I will never forget (I stayed fully clothed, by the way!). The camping was fun. We all drank a bunch and a few of us crazy die-hards stayed up REALLY late eating lots of smores and goofing off. It was a beautiful night, and when we woke up you couldn't even see the river because there was a gorgeous thick layer of fog over the entire thing. It was just all-in-all a great weekend. I hope to make the next one! :)

Typical "stupid-Robin" look on my face. :)

At the end of June was Country USA. Last year was our first year there... we were invited by our good friends, Anne & Craig. This is how we met other good friends, Kevin & Shannon. We had a ton of fun last year, so we were sure to join again for this year. We were sad to find out that Kevin & Shannon weren't able to make it, so we missed them terribly, but we still had a few for them and were sure to have a good time. Adam and I had a pretty screwed up schedule the whole week with things going on, so we actually ended up not going to any of the shows -- we saved $80by not going, actually... we just got there so late a couple of the nights that it didn't make sense to pay that much for an hour or two... so we'd hang out at the campsite and wait for the others to get back from the concerts. In all honesty, Country USA is about music, friends, camping, drinking, and getting a little wild. A couple of night we stayed up all night and watched the sun come up. It's a different atmosphere there... you go to bed when the sun comes UP. But let me tell you... it took at least a week for me to recover from all that! Only once a year... that's all I can do. :) We're looking forward to next year, now, too. Craig hooked Adam up with a battery that runs his CPAP machine, so we can sleep in their camper on the grounds, which is awesome. And next year Toby Keith is going to be there. I LOVE Toby Keith. ;)

I think that was it for June. You know, I'm thinking I missed a few things in there, because I know I was doing stuff every weekend this summer (my calendar is FULL), and that doesn't cover every weekend... but anyway... it was a great month. Before I knew it, July was here and I was smiling from ear to ear!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A fun May 2009!

Yeah... so... I'm catching up on my blog. Obviously, hey? I'm talking May here!! But I've got to start posting my journal from my most recent adventure, which was thru-hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail. But being that I'm sort of anal about some things, I have to "catch up" so I don't have so much missing time in between. A lot's happened in May and June, so I thought I'd take a minute to do a quick recap. Then onto the TRT journal. That'll probably come in chunks, too, since I actually kept my journal in a notebook and am spending time transferring to a digital format.

May, May, May!! I had a really fun and busy May! A 1-year-old birthday party for Jamie & Eric's little Alex, a long road-hike to High Cliff State Park with a full backpack (31.55 miles - just me and my iPod), a Blue October concert, our good friends Kevin & Shannon got married (very fun wedding!), I took my first-ever road-bike with some great friends one Sunday afternoon (fell in love with the sport -- now I need to save for a bike!), took a nice 3-day hike over Memorial Day weekend on the North Country Trail, and had another great Annual Canoe Trip the last weekend in Phillips.

One thing sorta' didn't work out, though. I was supposed to start my training for a full marathon in the 2nd week of May, but I had a couple things get in my way. I really hate excuses, and it makes my stomach turn to even talk about it (because I get so mad at myself for it!), but at the time I rationalized these excuses. Some are actually pretty good reasons not to run, but others were probably just excuses, plain and simple. Week 1 I was finishing up final projects for my classes at FVTC [excuse]. That Friday I took my 31.55-mile road hike and beat up my left foot, so even after trying to exercise on it, quickly realized it needed some good rest, so Week 2 was out for injury [reasonable reason not to run]. Week 3 I got a nasty, nasty cold that left me in a state of constant fatigue that reminded me of when I had Aplastic Anemia [reasonable reason not to run]. SO glad that passed! Then week 4 was between my Memorial Day hike and the Canoe Trip [excuse]. So I guess I would've missed 2 weeks and probably would've been behind anyway. I'm still bummed that I had to make that decision. I have created a backup plan, which I'm pretty happy with... it just involves running another 1/2 marathon in September to keep me in good running shape, then shooting for the full marathon next year. Maybe in the spring.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Long road hike - another adventure!

What happens when I have a day off with no plans, a NEED for some outdoors, a strong urge for an endurance challenge, and no car?

I wanted to camp... I wanted to hike... didn't know how to get there... didn't want to rely on anyone... the best way out of that scenario would be to walk. And everyone knows I can walk! So I mapquested High Cliff State Park. It read 32 miles. I rerouted the "shortest distance" to take it off of Hwy. 10, and it was still around 32. I thought, "I can do that." Adam and I drove the route Wednesday night so I would know where I was going, and it looked like a fun, long route.

I was going to be hiking all roads, and this was going to be the first time I took a backpacking trip like this since I hiked the ADT with my mom in 2006. It was the perfect idea, though. I've have these random fantasies (usually when I'm having a bad day or a bad week) where I pack up my gear, throw on my backpack and walk out the front door. So with this hike, I got to do that... but I had a plan and I was coming back home, but it was a taste of it, anyway. :)

I left at about 5:45 Friday morning. After 3 miles, my hamstrings were tightening up on me. I stopped and stretched really good by the Oshkosh Convention Center as I watched a fisherman struggle to bring in a huge fish. Then I hiked on down Main Street in Oshkosh, turned onto Harrison to County Road A, and followed that along Lake Winnebago for about 10 miles. Hiked through downtown Neenah and Menasha, then head east, parallelling Hwy 10, then south through the new hatch of lake flies in suburbia. Those lake flies were insane! The buzzing from the swarming clouds of them sounded like a power company! It was eerie... and walking through them was disgusting. I could feel them bouncing off of me wherever I had exposed skin. At least they don't bite!

The weather was BEAUTIFUL. I got a little sunburn in some spots, and even a fun white stripe across my right hand from where my trekking pole strap was. It's nice. Gotta love hiker tan lines. My ankle tan lines are pretty nice, too.

Besides a couple of glitches, the day went well. Glitches? What were the glitches?

A swollen foot and losing the campsite that I chose for the view. But I wasn't going to let anything ruin my day.

During the walk, I stopped probably 4 times for about 30 minutes each so I could take my pack off, stretch, eat, and get some electrolytes. I made a couple of mistakes... I didn't drink enough water in the first 5 or 6 hours, and I only got about 4 hours of sleep the night before. So that didn't help my situation. I had sore legs throughout the whole hike, but I did my best to keep them stretched. The last 10-12 miles were really rough, in all honesty. There were a couple of times I thought I might have to call one of my "emergency contacts" to come rescue me and pick me up. But I pushed on, determined and stubborn as always! My right hip/butt area was tightening up on me, and at first, it just felt like a big knot. I've dealt with that before... but then in the last 5 miles, maybe, it turned to stabbing pain that must've been hitting a nerve and sending shooting pains down into my knee, causing it to buckle a little. That happened 3 times -- that made me nervous. I think the cause of that problem was my pack -- the weight and how I had it packed. It kind of felt like I might've had a little more weight on the bottom, right side of it... so I think it was putting extra pressure on that part of my back. Anyway, I got through it.

My left foot started to hurt at about the half-way point. After the 1/2 marathon, the same spot hurt a little, but I assumed it was from my shoes being laced up just a little too tightly. I actually had to stop and tighten my laces on this hike, so I don't know that I had them too tight... I honestly don't know what's causing it yet. It's on the top of my foot... I gotta think about that some more and figure that out. I posted a lovely picture here of my poor swelling tootsie shortly after I arrived at the campsite. Right now it's about twice that size, and is now showing the start of a really pretty bruise about as big around as a softball.

So my foot is the worst of it all. The rest of me -- sore muscles, exhaustion and sunburn -- will be okay by tomorrow. I love the pain from stuff like this... it just makes me feel good, knowing I accomplished something crazy... I think. I don't know why, I just like it all. I like the pain, but I certainly don't want it to be something more serious. I worry a little with that foot that there might be a stress fracture or something, so I'll be keeping an eye on it.

The other glitch of the day was a mix-up at the campground, and I still think I was "had" by a couple of teeny-bopper girls. When Adam and I did the "drive-through" Wednesday night, we drove through the campground and I picked out few sites I really liked. One in particular overlooked Lake Winnebago and was right on the cliff. I got home and reserved it online so everything would be set when I got there. So after walking 30+ miles, I stopped in at the entrance, checked in and got my receipt that read "Site 39, 5-9." There was even a nice ranger that I talked to that said he would drop off some wood for me so I could have a fire! So I trekked up this huge hill to my site, and what kept me going that last 1-1/2 miles, was dreaming about dinner, relaxing in front of the fire and maybe sitting on the cliff with my music and reflecting back on my day. I walked up to my site, and there was a tent set up. Crap. I didn't have a way to get back to the office to straighten this out, so I had to find the campers. I walked out onto the cliff-view, and two younger girls were sitting there with magazines, braiding each others' hair and giggling. It was a little weird to me, but that's beside the point. I asked them if they were at that site, and they were. After some back and forth, and explaining to them that I'd walked there, had picked this site out specifically, and had a reservation and a receipt to hang on the site number sign, they gave me a story about the lady at the office being incompetent... followed by a very insincere "we're sorry..." Then they gave me the whole, "well, we're already all set up and would hate to move..." line. Being the nice person I am, not wanting them to have to move, I told them I'd take a different site, but they would have to head to office and straighten it out, since I didn't have a car. So they did. I got the site across the road -- right next to the bathroom. It actually was nice to not have to walk far for a potty and water after the long day I had, but I was really bummed about missing out on my perfectly picked-out spot. My theory is these girls got there, didn't like their site, and grabbed mine. They didn't have a receipt, either. Curious, no?

Ah, but things got better from there -- Ken, Pam, Will and his dogs came out for a visit. It was really nice to have some friends join me around the fire. A campfire is always better with good friends. Ken and Pam set up and stayed for the night, and Will took off with the pups a little later on. Pam brought me some Leinie's Creamy Dark, which really hit the spot -- it totally relaxed me. I was in a complete slumped over daze, staring into the fire right before going to bed.

It rained pretty hard through the night, which was nice... is there a better sound than rain on a tent fly?! Then it stopped early in the morning, just in time to get up and pack up. Pam dropped Ken off at home, then brought me home. It was a great day, and a great night. I'm feeling satisfied and happily exhausted.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

1/2 Marathon & Our Hike Presentation

It was a busy day! Woke up this morning and ran the Oshkosh 1/2 Marathon, then got home, showered up and did a presentation at our church, Trinity Lutheran in Oshkosh.
1/2 Marathon
I was pretty excited to run the Oshkosh 1/2 today. My mom and dad were in town because mom and I were doing an "Our Hike" presentation at our church after the 1/2 marathon... Adam had class this morning, so mom and dad brought me to the start line and drove around and cheered me on in a few spots as I ran. It was really nice to have them here... I wish Adam could've joined us, too. Mom and dad did a great job finding me, and each time I saw them I got a little burst of energy and ran a little faster for a bit.

There were a TON of people at the start line, and that was awesome. I love the adrenaline rush when I get into that group of people all there for the same purpose. It's an amazing time. If you've ever even thought of doing it, you should! It's SO much fun!!

The run went well. I ran strong pretty much the entire race, except for... get this... the last mile! I think my mind recognized that I was almost done and started to shut down my body a little early. I felt like walking... but I resisted and kept chugging along to the finish. So my last mile was the hardest, but I still reached all the goals I set. I even smiled across that finish line!

It turned out to be a gorgeous day for the run. Last year is was cold, rainy and windy. This year it was 50 degrees at 6am! It was a gorgeous day, in fact, it was a little too warm for my taste while running... I sweat a lot, as I usually do, and afterwards felt like I was covered in a thin layer of dust... it was salt! Around my ears and neck was actually white with salt lines from all the sweat. But really, I'm not complaining. It was a good run.

I'm really proud of myself... I'm very happy with my time and how I felt during the run... and after. I recovered pretty quickly -- way better than last year! So what's next... well, I plan to transition into training for the full marathon, now. We'll see how that goes. After I got done today, I had a really hard time imagining doing that twice in a row in one day. But I suppose with proper training, it's possible. So I'll give it my best shot.

"Our Hike" Presentation at Trinity Lutheran Church

Mom and I were asked by the Time Out Group to present our story about our hike across America. so after the 1/2 marathon, we came home, showered up and head to the church. It was a busy day, but it all went really well. The presentation went smoothly, and it was great for mom and I to get together once again to share our story with a crowd of people. There were even a couple of Aplastic Anemia patients there! It was really nice to meet them and talk with them, comparing treatments and our experiences.

Adam and my dad were there, too, so it was all 4 of us, and that was really nice. They were a huge part of that hike, so it's always nice to have them both there to point that out. Mom and I were obviously the center of attention through that hike because we were hiking it, but it wouldn't have been possible without the guys. They rock -- really they do.

We set up our booth with pictures and stuff, spread out brochures about Aplastic Anemia along with our business cards, and then we went through our story with our powerpoint presentation. Mom and I could've reminisced forever. So many stories come back to us when we get together and start thinking about all we'd been through on the hike.

So that's the rundown of my day so far! I feel great! I was pretty stressed about it because it was so packed in, but it went really smooth, and I couldn't be happier about that.

Now we're expecting company for a UFC Pay per view. I'm getting tired, though... starting to wear down a little bit, so we'll see how long I last. Adam's makin' coffee and ordering pizza later, so I'll have to stay up for the food at least! :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ready for the Oshkosh 1/2 Marathon!

Well, it’s that time of year again. I have been meaning to blog about this for about the past 4-5 weeks, but just haven’t gotten to it… I am SO far behind in writing!

Before the new year, 2009, I decided I was going to properly train for the Oshkosh ½ Marathon. After that, I was going to continue running, following a new training program for a full marathon. Running a full marathon is on my list of things to do before I die, and I hope to check that off my list this year.

The first thing I did was print out the training logs and write it all into my calendar, and the two fit perfectly. If I started training in January of 2009, I’d be ready for the Oshkosh ½ marathon on April 18. Then I take 3 weeks of post-race recovery time, and the 3rd week is actually the same as the 1st week in my marathon training, ending on the Fox Cities Marathon on September 20. So I could transition right into it without a hitch (or lets hope!) So far so good!

On this Saturday, I will run the 13.1 miles at the Annual Oshkosh ½ Marathon. I did it last year with poor training, and I really surprised myself (and I was lucky I didn’t get injured!). My goal was to finish, and I really wanted to actually run the entire distance… not walk any of it. So I did that, and when I crossed the finish line with cramped stiff legs, the big digital clock read something like, “2:02:36” or something like that. I was hoping to finish under 2:30, so I was thrilled – to say the least. But… that 2 minutes over the 2-hour mark kind of ate at me. I was super-proud of myself and what I’d accomplished, but those 2 minutes set me off on a new challenge. I had to get it under 2 hours.

This is what I LOVE about working out and endurance sports. Once you do something, you can always improve… you can always set new goals, or create new challenges. So on I go. This year, I plan to finish that ½ marathon in under 2 hours. And I will. The only way I won’t is if something goes terribly wrong. I have been averaging an 8:30 minute-mile on my last few long runs, so that would put me at a finish time of 1:51:26 – plenty of time to spare to keep me under the 2 hours. It's amazing to see how proper training helped me improve! So all I can do now is hope for decent weather, and pray for a good run.

The training for this has been pretty challenging -- finding time to fit it all in can be tough. I have so much going on all the time that I was squeezing in runs whenever I could. Early morning, late at night, any open windows on weekends, different towns depending on where I was… but I got it done. I missed a couple of weekly training runs or cross-training days, but I never missed a long weekend run. So I actually feel ready for it. I don’t want to get too confident, though. I like to always think of worst-case scenario, and then I usually end up thinking, “Well it could’ve been worse, so this is okay” – no matter what happens. I’m excited.

One important lesson I learned – shoes matter! I always tried to get shoes I could wear for running and working out -- mutli-purpose, of course... save some money. I had a Nike trail runner that I grabbed at Shopko. It was alright. I got little blisters on the tips of my toes, and some aches and pains in my hip joints and knees, but I figured I was running a lot, and this was all normal. Then one day I got done with my run and noticed a blood blister on my toe, the next day my toes on both feet were all cramped up, and my hip was really sore. I decided my 1-1/2 year-old shoes had to be replaced. I coughed up the $100 and went to a running store, where they measured my feet and checked my running gait. They put me in a shoe that was a whole size smaller than I had been wearing, and a normal width (I’d been wearing a wide size). I was nervous about these new shoes, but I put my trust in the running shoe experts. On my next few runs after that, I felt like I was flying. My times improved, I had no more blisters on the tips of my toes, no more toe cramps, and my hip and knees weren’t hurting. WOW. What a difference!!! People have always told me that the shoes matter, and I know that from all my hiking experience… but I didn’t know I was in completely the wrong size!!

I’ll give an update as to how I do on Saturday. It’s going to be a crazy day, as I have a presentation after that, and Adam is having people over for a UFC Pay per view in the evening, too. It will be a quick and busy day, but at the end of it, relaxing with a single beer and falling asleep on the couch will be my reward.

Goals for the Oshkosh ½ Marathon 2009:
Finish the same day I start
Run the entire race
Finish under 2 hours
Smile as I cross the finish line!

I plan to accomplish all these goals. As I said earlier, something would have to go pretty wrong for any of these to fall through. So it should be a good day!

Friday, March 6, 2009

A lone tree in Utah.

That little green spot in the middle of the picture above is where this Utah tree is located. The waypoint marked on the photo is one of the ADT waypoints on a jeep road. We went off-path a little ways to set up camp by the tree - there's a sort of comfort camping near a tree, especially when it's the only one as far as the eye can see. This picture is approximately 1 mile across. You can easily see how barren it is -- except for that tree. You can't tell me that there's not something special about that spot.

I can't stop thinking about a tree in Utah. It's not far across the Colorado border. There's a boat landing on the Colorado River where rafters take out before a rapids -- you can duck into the goofy riverside trees and take a short nap as ants crawl in and out of your wet clothes from rinsing days of hiking grime off in the salty, thick brown Colorado River water. Then you can walk onto a jeep road into some barren land where you can see as far as the next bare, rocky hill. Then you'll come to a spot where there's a tree -- all of a sudden. As you look around, you could swear it was the only normal, leafy tree in Utah! It's a spot NOBODY would ever go to visit. Except for the farmer that dug the trench to collect rainwater for his free-roaming cattle. It's not that it isn't a great spot, it's just a random patch of earth in the middle of nowhere. My mom and I set our tent up there one night. We fell asleep listening to the coyotes yipping all around us. Then we woke up the next morning, packed up the tent and our gear and kept walking. At the time it was just another spot to sleep for the night. But there was something really special about that spot, and I can't stop thinking about it. I want to share it with Adam. He might think I'm crazy to haul him to a weird patch of sandy ground in the middle of nowhere -- no pretty mountaintops, no lush forests, not much for wildlife -- just a spot that I remember with great comfort and peace. I wish I could put him there for just a single moment. He knows this strange, random feeling of pure joy; he's explained it to me once before. Maybe he'd feel it with me if we stood in that spot together. There are so many of these places, but this one... there's something about it. I miss it. I just miss it all so much.

A few lyrics from "Long Trip Alone" by Dierks Bentley
It's a long trip alone over sand and stone
That lie along the road that we all must travel down
So maybe you could walk with me a while
And maybe I could rest beneath your smile
Everybody stumbles sometimes and needs a hand to hold
'Cause it's a long trip alone
It's a short piece of time but just enough to find
A little peace of mind under the sun somewhere
So maybe you could walk with me a while
And maybe I could rest beneath your smile
You know we can't afford to let one moment pass us by
'Cause it's a short piece of time
And I don't know where I'd be without you here
'Cause I'm not really me without you

Monday, January 26, 2009

January Winter Camping at Jones Spring

I’ve fallen behind on a few things lately, so this entry is coming in over a week late! I went winter camping last weekend… I mean the one before this past weekend. The cold one. The one that was forecasted to be 30 degrees below zero with the wind chill. Not this past weekend that was 35 degrees above zero with the sun shining… you get the idea!

Okay, so there’s my mini-rant about how whenever I go winter camping, it seems to land on either the coldest weekend of the year, or the second coldest weekend of the year. Thankfully, this was probably the second. But it was still cold! And I know it sounds like pure complaining, but I do enjoy the challenge, so in the end I suppose I'm thankful for the chilliness to keep the adventure extreme...

Rants aside, there is definitely a plus-side of things. It was cold, but it wasn’t as windy as we thought it would be. That may be because we picked just the right campsite, or because the wind just wasn’t so bad. Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me! I’m just glad it turned out as well as it did. And there’s one other plus-side to this whole thing – I had a really awesome time!

It was just three of us brave souls. Me, Kweejee (Tim), and Ken. Friday after work I picked up Kweejee, and from there he and I drove to Neenah and picked up Ken. We head straight up to the Nicolet National Forest, swung in at a gas station for a snack or five, then head down Fanny Lake Road to one of our favorite spots to camp thus far in our backpacking/camping experiences. By the way, the snacks I picked up (because this is extremely important information I need to share), was a sugary-sweet cappuccino, a peanut-butter-cup cookie, and a small bag of chili-cheese Fritos (for the emergency fire-starter kit, of course… ahem).

When we arrived, it was already dark, but we had planned on that. My bad fortune came right off the bat with a dead headlamp. Always carry an extra set of batteries, folks! I had just replaced them, but something was haywire… I should’ve had an extra set in my emergency kit… thankfully I did have a small Maglite… that I accidentally ended up shoving into the roof of my mouth later in the night as I held it in my teeth while trying to do something with my hands. I bumped it and shoved it back across my teeth and jammed it good. That hurts, by the way… extra batteries are goooood.

So anyway… we started our hike in (the site we were thinking about is less than a mile from the parking lot). We got to the first site, and as soon as we stepped off the nicely-groomed cross-country ski trails, we stepped down into knee-deep snow, trudged through the trees and decided to turn around and keep walking. The wind was blowing off of Fanny Lake really strong. The next couple of sites were just as bad or worse, being more open to the lake. We finally rested in a site right off the trail with decent tree-coverage and a little spot for 3 tents tucked as close to the woods as we could get.

We never did find the fire ring in the deep snow. We dug a big hole and got it going first try – because we ROCK!! Apparently there had been a mouse living in one of my wood boxes… and since his little “tinder” home had been vacated, we put it to use, and it lit up nicely! No Fritos needed… so I ate ‘em later.

The snow was deep, as I’ve mentioned a couple of times, so we all tried to sort of “stomp” a place to set up our tents. The snow was soft at this point so it all kind of fell back into the hole you’d dig out of. I gave up and just started setting up. By the way… quick review on the MSR Hubba Hubba tent – if you’ve set it up before, it’s possible to set it up in the pitch dark, freezing cold, without much of a problem! Ken did borrow me his headlamp when I got to the hooking the fly on. It’s a pretty tight fit, and the Maglite kept falling out of my mouth and into the snow. I eventually just gave up on that and set it up blindly. But it worked! Yay!

Once the tents were set up we warmed up by the fire, and laughed about Ken and Kweejee’s growing beard icicles. Sounds like they may have stuck to their jackets a little bit, so quick movements of the head apparently pulled a little. I’m glad I don’t have a beard, by the way!

Kweejee had Dinty Moore (open can on the fire) for dinner, and I was a little jealous. My and Ken’s Jetboils were performing poorly due to the cold, even after warming our gas cans in our jackets. We were both able to eat, and that’s what’s important. Oh, another winter-camping lesson learned – no matter how cold it is, wash the dishes. The next morning I had trouble getting the stove out of frozen tomato-parmesan noodle water that was stuck to the side of my Jetboil container. Yuk!

We stood around the fire and chit-chatted as I blew snot-rockets (sorry, I guess I am no “lady” when I’m camping), we all giggled from cold-delirium about this and that, and we had a theory to stay up as late as we could thinking that was less time away from the fire -- we finally hit the hay… er snow… around midnight-ish, I think… Kweejee brought a thermometer he found around the house. By the time we went to bed, the temps were already dipping down to a bone-chilling “Ideal for Freezer.” Apparently it was a freezer thermometer, but it’s readings were plenty for us to get the idea. I believe it got down to 6 or 7 below zero when we went to bed, and who knows with the wind chill.

Ken mentioned his -20 degree rated sleeping bag, and I shivered at the thought of mine compared to that. I’ve always bragged about my 5-degree bag, but it’s been so long since I’ve washed it, it’s probably rated a 50-degree bag right now. Yeah, it needs to be done before its next use. I heard Kweejee settling in his tent for about as long as I was settling in mine. Ken was sawing logs about 5 minutes after he crawled in. I gotta get me one of them bags!

I had my sleeping bag tucked inside of a cheapo Wal-Mart bag that we got for Adam to use in the summer, I had my down jacket down by my feet, along with my socks for Saturday, a 5-liter bladder of water, and my boots tied in a garbage bag (I don’t know how that all fit down there, but it did). I also had a body warmer down by my feet, 2 sleeping pads underneath me, and I was wearing every piece of clothing I brought except for the fleece pants I had intended to sleep in but realized quickly there was no freakin’ way I was gettin’ down to bare skin just to change my pants in that cold air. Once my warmers were shook up and heating up, I rolled onto my side and started to drift off to sleep. I woke a couple times in the night and condensation from my breathing dripped onto my face. Kinda’ nasty, but all part of the camping experience! I’m still sorry Ken and Kweejee had to experience all the snot-rockets. I was polite enough to turn away and miss their boots, though!

Oh, and to continue my grossness while I’m on a roll, when you’re eating something yummy and warm in the freezing cold (in this case is was my tomato-parmesan noodles), your nose tends to drip continuously and it’s impossible to stop. Some people salt their food… need I say more?

We woke up to sunlight. Ken was up first, and the apple wood he brought burned all night and left embers, so he was able to get the fire going right away again. Kweejee and I finally got up the courage and rolled out of our tents. We made a little breakfast (pop-tarts), enjoyed the beautiful winter wonderland around us, the quietness of cold air, and finally started to break camp. We’d take off the fly, then warm our hands on the fire. We’d pack up our sleeping bag, then warm our hands on the fire. We’d pack a couple more things, and warm our hands on the fire. We continued this routine until everything was in its appropriate stuff sack and shoved into the proper corner of our backpacks. We then trucked back to the parking lot, which had an enclosed pit toilet – complete with real toilet paper. What a morning blessing.

What an awesome, challenging, winter-camping fun time! This was the first time I actually set my tent up in snow that deep and slept by myself in the cold! It wasn’t bad at all. I wasn’t afraid of hearing any animals – the bears are sleeping, so that helps. I ate my Snickers bar before I fell asleep though, so I was okay anyway. The only scary thing was Kweejee’s creaking tree. Apparently he had reason to fear the creaking tree… if we went back to visit that site now, that tree would probably be laying over the exact spot where he set up his tent. Yeah, I have to admit, that’s a little scary.

After throwing our stuff in the car, we drove around the park a little ways and parked at a different trailhead. There was this hill we had in mind. It was a big hill. It’s one that we hiked up in the summer months and thought it was brutal! The cross-country ski signs display a black diamond with a very sharp zigzagged line on them, and they read, “Very difficult.” So we thought, “what better place to go sledding!?”

We hiked to the hill and quickly remembered how steep it really was. We were kinda scared! Ken brought a little rocket sled that was super fast, and I hauled my wood sled out there. We had fun going down on both of them. We all had great wipe-outs with Ken’s super-fast sled. We’d get almost to the bottom and we’d roll two or three times as the snow flew up around us, in our ears, our pants, our gloves, hats flying off… it was awesome! Nobody broke anything, but I think we all had a few sore muscles the next day in places we didn’t realize we had muscles.

And here's a little video of Ken's roll at the bottom of the hill. We sure got a lot of momentum going!

All in all this was a super-fun winter camping trip. Ken and Kweejee are fun cold-camping buddies. People think we’re crazy, but it’s not too bad if you have the right clothes and if your sleeping bad isn’t down to 2 layers of sil-nylon and 3 clumps of down… nah, it’s still okay. We really did have an awesome time. I hope I get one more winter camp in before the snow melts. There is a peacefulness about winter. Nobody else was in that entire park. There were no pole marks from skiers, no footprints from hikers, no snowshoe tracks, either. It was serene, quiet, pretty… and we had great company to keep our minds off the frozen toes!

Friday, January 23, 2009

The 2009 Frozen Otter

I got 1st place in my division (6th overall)! It’s weird for me to be able to say it, but I actually won!
Here's a link to the offical results, event photos and more info about the race.

It was definitely another year to remember, and this is why I’m writing it all down. I don’t want to forget the details, and I know with how my memory is, those details will soon fade into the cold air along with all the painful moans and groans I let out on those last few miles! Warning here – this entry is going to be LONG. I get a little carried away with details. I gotta work on that.


There are two versions of the race:
Full = 64 miles in 24 hours
Half = 32 miles in 12 hours

There are 4 divisions:
Full-2 person team
Half-2 person team

In order to be considered an official finisher, you must hike into the start/finish at the Butler Lake Parking area within your time limit. The person to hike the most miles in the least amount of time is the winner.

I was signed up for the Half-solo division. I thought about signing up for the Full 64 this year, but I chickened out. I barely made the 32 miles under the time limit last year (only 3 minutes under 12 hours!!), so I was out to see if it was some sort of fluke, or if I had it in me to do that again. I always set a few goals for myself, the first being something I’m pretty sure I can accomplish. This avoids any ridiculous disappointments I might end up with. The second goal is one I’d really like to make, I have a chance to make, but I’m not too sure about it. The third is usually one I’m not too confident about making.

My three goals this year were:
Goal 1: Be an official finisher. Hike 32 miles in under 12 hours (note that within the first 8 miles, I was convinced this goal was already shot. The snow was SO deep and hard to hike through!)
Goal 2: Beat my time of 11:57 from last year
Goal 3: Hike an extra 8 miles if I have it in me (it wouldn’t have counted towards anything except my own pride)

I arrived at the Butler Lake area a little before 11:00 AM on Saturday. I was all by myself this year. Nobody wanted to join me on this insane venture. It would’ve been cool to have someone along to help work off some of the excitement-induced adrenaline “shakes” I had driving there. I actually felt kind of ill! And to make matters a little worse, I woke up with diarrhea! Sorry for the “too much information” comment there, but hey – it was part of the day, and I had to work in extra fluids before I even started! I drank a full Nalgene of water, took an Imodium and was good to go. Well, except for a few stomach-bubblies throughout the day.

I got signed in, got my Yaktrax and gaiters on, got my gear in line, got my backpack organized how I wanted it, and stood by the fire talking to Rod and some of the other racers. It seems like some were concerned about the snow depth, and some didn’t think it was going to be much of a problem at all. We aren’t allowed to wear snowshoes or use skis for this Adventure Race, and I think that’s a cool rule. It leaves us all on the same playing field, and doesn’t cause the back-and-forth, “should I bring snowshoes, should I not bring snowshoes…” The snow depth DID play quite a large role in the race, too. I know it really slowed me down, and I had to almost constantly remind myself to push my pace harder than what I comfortably wanted to hike, even jogging in some spots (or “fast-hiking” as I like to call it… it’s sort of a “hoppy” stride).

When we first started out, nobody really wanted to go first because there weren’t any fresh tracks, so the first person in line had to break trail. I took it on. I trucked up the hill out of the parking lot, and by the time I got to the top, I had already started sweating. Uh-oh. I had a looong ways to go with a sweaty shirt already! I actually took it a little slow to start, even though I was in front, so I could get some sort of feel for the trail, or a stride or something… then we came to our first road crossing, and I asked the guy behind me, Peter, if he would like to lead. He said he would, so I followed him for a bit. On the next road crossing, I started to feel pretty good. I was starting to get the rhythm, so I pushed my pace and took off. I had a few people pass me before the first checkpoint at 8 miles. I could hear them coming up behind me, so when they got close, I was sure to let them by. I admired their speed!

I checked into the first checkpoint at 2:58 PM. It didn’t take long for me to figure that one out. I had to keep the same exact pace the entire race in order to make it back to Butler Lake in 12 hours and be a finisher. That wasn’t the first time I thought it was looking pretty grim. But I stretched my IT band a bit against the truck, filled my water bladder back up (about 2-1/2 liters down the hatch already!), opened up a Clif bar, and took off 11 minutes later, eating as I went. A little further down the trail I remembered to take my electrolyte tabs and ibuprofen. I had enough so that I could take this little combo at each checkpoint. I don’t like mixing the electrolyte mix in my water bladder, so I opted for the tablets, and I freakin’ LOVE them things!

A little ways down the trail, I could hear the quick pace of someone gaining on me. I just kept going at my pace, trying to keep my footing strong and sturdy. Once the person behind me got really close, I turned around and told them to feel free to pass me up. It was Melissa, who 2 years ago completed the entire 64 miles within the 24-hour time limit. She is the only person to date who has EVER completed this race in its entirety. So it’s possible!

She got up in front of me, and she had an awesome pace going, so I asked her if she minded I play garboon and dangle behind her for a while. She said that was fine, so I trekked behind her, step for step, for quite a ways. I had a really awesome time getting to know her, and it was very nice to have a conversation with someone for a while. One of the cons to going solo on this hike is the lack of human interaction. I seriously start talking to myself and God as I walk, which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but towards the end it gets a little weird when I starting talking to my toes, feet, and quads directly. It was a great time-passer having Melissa to chat with. She’s done quite a few Adventure Races, and I think I learned quite a bit from her in that short time period.

*Thanks, Melissa, for the company – and especially the encouragement! You are a super-respectful competitor! Thank you!*

When I arrived at the half-way point (5:32 PM), I was getting tired, to put it simply. My knees were starting to hurt, the bottoms of my feet were burning, and I was damp all over with sweat. It was dark enough now that I had my headlamp on, and I could feel the temperatures dropping what felt like every few minutes. With my sweaty shirt, the slightest breeze or stopping for even a half a minute chilled me, so my only option was to move. At the half-way point I again filled my bladder up (about 5-1/2 liters down, now!), took my electrolytes and ibuprofen, shot a Hammer Gel down my throat for energy (apple cinnamon ROCKS, by the way!!!), stretched a little, thawed my hydration hose mouthpiece over the fire and took off. My stop at the 16-mile (half-way) mark was 20 minutes. It would have been less if my mouthpiece hadn’t froze up after filling and forcing the bladder back into my backpack. The pressure must’ve forced some water back into the hose and it freezes in there almost instantly. Keeping that hose thawed is KEY. I managed to keep it pretty thawed out the entire race by drinking constantly.

The one time it froze up on me was while I was trekking the coldest stretch of the entire race. There is a section of snowmobile trail along Hwy P that we hike on for about ½ mile. The WIND!! Oh, I was nearly in tears. I started to jog along that stretch, painfully, might I add… just to keep warm enough to stand it! When I finally reached where the trail turns into the woods, I stopped for a second and just let myself feel the warmth (it felt like a heat wave without that brittle wind cutting at my face!). The tip on my right ear started to throb, so I think I had a case of frostnip. I stood there and sucked and sucked on my hydration hose, hoping to squeek through even the tiniest stream of water… finally I got some… it took a while, but I eventually had a good stream of water coming through. I caught it JUST in time. Even a minute longer, and I may have been without water until the next checkpoint!

I trucked on. Between that point and the 3rd checkpoint, I was still on pace to make 12 hours, but I didn’t have any luxury to slow down – at all. I had to keep pushing, no matter how tired I was or how badly everything hurt. This is when my mental state got the best of me. For maybe 10 minutes, I started going over in my head how I would explain to all my friends and followers why I quit at 24 miles, not that they would think less of me, or blame me! But oh, boy… the snow was deep, I was tired, my feet were cramping up terrible, it was cold, I was sweaty, etc, etc, etc. Then I stopped the thoughts. I stopped in my tracks for a moment, took a drink of water, bent my toes under inside my boots as my face scrunched up in pure pain, bent down a few times to stretch, and said out loud, “Just keep moving. You can do this. You are MORE than half-way!” I then looked up and kept moving at a steady pace.

Before I knew it, I was at the 3rd checkpoint with no desire to stop. It was 8:28 PM. This was when I knew I would make it 32 miles. But would I make it in 12 hours? The math added up. I thought to myself, “If I can keep up my pace, I’ll be good to go.” But I was hurting, and my steps were already getting sloppy. I really didn’t know, and I definitely wasn’t feeling too sure. I think deep down I knew I had it in me, I just had to prove it to myself. I didn’t waste any more time. 6 minutes after checking in at Checkpoint 3, I took my ibuprofen, my last electrolyte tab, opened my last Clif bar, and head out munching away.

I was getting so sloppy with every step. Each one slid me one way or the other on the trail. I was getting frustrated. But I just told myself to walk strong. So I’d lift my legs up a little higher each step and try to land with more precision. I thought through each step for a quite a while, and all of a sudden, DARK! My headlamp died!! It was pitch black out. There must have been NO moon because I saw some really pretty stars above me! It was gorgeous and completely still and quiet around me. I was almost saddened that I would have to make noise and be distracted digging out my extra set of batteries. I found them right away, next to a handwarmer in my hip-belt pocket. I was able to get the batteries switched out by feel, and I was pretty impressed with myself. I put the lamp back on my head, and turned it on – WAH-LAH! I could SEE again! I didn’t realize how DULL that thing had gotten! My steps weren’t as sloppy anymore, either. I just couldn’t see the definition in the snow anymore, and I wasn’t sure where I was stepping! I was still struggling, but not as bad.

I trucked along, checking my watch at each road crossing. I was actually staying on pace to finish in under 12 hours! I was starting to get so excited! I even smiled a couple of times and kind of cheered to myself. I recognized where I was, and I knew I had two more road crossings before there was a big clearing (which I feared the wind), then Butler Lake wasn’t far from there. When I got to the second-to-last road crossing, Kristin and Evan from the Fat Otter II Team were squatting down while talking to Melissa. I stopped for a second and whined to them something about everything hurting, and they were looking at the map. I was freezing up instantly as I stood there, so I stepped to the side, over the snow bank, and back onto the trail. I found out later that Melissa had gotten ill and was looking for the name of the road so she could call for a ride. We were about 2 miles from the 32-mile point. I felt terrible. I almost hope I was delusional at that point. I didn’t even ask if everyone was okay. I just assumed they were discussing how much further it was, and figuring that I knew how much further I had to go, and with getting chilled, I moved on. I suppose there wasn’t much I could’ve done at that point, but I really regret not even asking. Phooey. I learned from that experience.

The clearing was coming up, and I was really worried about the wind after that stretch along Hwy. P. I put my hat on over my balaclava, put my mittens on, and told myself I would stop and put on my jacket if it was bad like that again. When I got there, the wind wasn’t so bad! I sort of shuffled through the snow and jogged down the hills – only because I knew I was getting SO close! I could literally see the hill before the parking lot, and there was this orange glow beyond that. Was it the fire? Oh, I hoped, and smiled… my watch was reading very nice numbers back to me. Now I was SURE I’d make it under 12 hours, and I was pretty certain I could beat my time from last year. I very weakly, slowly and quietly said to myself, “Yay, you’re going to do it, Robin!”

I trekked up the hill, up through a stretch of woods, then my head bobbed up over a small ridge, and there it was. FIRE. CARS. PEOPLE. Burgers, hot dogs, hot cocoa, chairs, fire, warmth, my car, the finish!!

Yes, there were a few tears of joy – mostly because of that warm fire in my line of vision, and maybe a little because I was already dreaming of rest. Right before I head down the hill to the parking lot, I let out a mouse-like whimper, “I did it! I did it! I beat my time!”

I went down, checked in, stood by the fire, and started to feel warm. I was congratulated by the others there, as well as the volunteers! Rod handed me a medal for finishing, and it was all very low-key. I just didn’t have much energy to really let out any big hurrahs, let alone make any movements toward celebration. I was very excited, though. I was beaming inside!

I beat my time from last year by more than 1/2 hour! I knew I did really well, and I was really proud for that. I didn't realize until the next Tuesday morning how I actually placed! So I was glad to have reached my Goals 1 & 2, and even though I didn't reach Goal #3, I was happy. Winning my division was icing on the cake!

This is a great time to thank the volunteers, too! Rod does a great job putting this together, and his volunteers really go out of their way to help the racers. They help us get water, Hammer Heed, hot cocoa at the checkpoints… and anything else the racers might need. At the end they were making burgers, hot dogs, soup, cocoa… they wouldn’t let us get our own, and that was super-cool. So a BIG huge THANK-YOU to all of you volunteers for waiting on us!!

Sunday was recovery day.
I woke up early and went to church with Adam at 10:30. I was stiff-legging up and down stairs, but other than that and being tired, I wasn’t doing too bad. Want to know how crazy my mind is? This left me thinking, “I could’ve done more. I could’ve gone further.” Next year I am signing up for the 64 miles and my goal is to make at least 40 miles. After finding out that last year wasn’t a fluke, I’m feeling pretty confident that I can do it. I’m already mentally preparing for it, and I think that’s one of the biggest parts of it all. My 3rd goal was to go beyond the 32 miles. Problem there was that I was signed up for 32 miles. So when I hit 32 miles, I was done mentally, which meant I was done physically. My mind shut my body down. This is proof that sometimes you can overpower your physical state with your mind. And this is what I found I LOVE about this race. I love getting to that point where I have to make that switch.

So recovery went well. I drank lots of water, laid around a lot, ate a couple of burgers (for protein, of course!), had a Nalgene with electrolyte mix in it, and slept quite a bit. On Monday morning I walked the 3 miles into work and felt okay. Monday night I went to kickboxing class. Tuesday morning I got up and ran 30 minutes at the Y. Tuesday night I walked 10 minutes to class, and after that, head home for a 4-mile walk. About 2 miles into my walk home, my adrenaline high left me. It was like someone turned off a switch -- I was exhausted. When I got home I went straight to bed. Woke up the next morning and had Adam drive me into work. I barely made it through work, and went right home again that night. I took the whole day Wednesday off from physical exercise, as well as Thursday morning. Thursday during work I felt much better, and now I’m feeling like I’m back on track again.

Maybe next year I’ll have the hallucinations that I’ve heard racers sometimes have from lack of sleep and physical exhaustion. And maybe I won’t be able to even walk on Sunday. Yup, that’s what I’ll be shooting for! I wonder how many miles it will take to reach THAT goal!?