“Nine Swedish Miles”

UltraVasan 90

In 1521, Gustav Vasa skied from the village of Mora, fleeing towards the Norwegian border, after having failed to convince the population to join him in an uprising.  But the people of Mora reconsidered, and sent two men to chase down Vasa and bring him back.  The men on skis caught him, and Vasa returned to lead the revolt, defeating the Danes and eventually becoming King of Sweden.

In 1922, the first modern day Vasaloppet ski race was held in honor and remembrance of this historic occurrence.  Today, the winter week of events attract as many as 50,000 or more participants each year.  A summer week of races continues to grow in popularity as well, with mountain bike races, a running relay, and since 2014, a trail ultra.  Aside from the races, the trails are open for use year round, be your preference skiing, biking or hiking.  So everyone may have the opportunity to “follow in the footsteps of our forefathers”.

I’d sat on the hill by the Zorn museum for the better part of 6 hours.  The last bikers of the day had come by just a few minutes before, and now the rain was sprinkling on and off, and on and on.  I considered laying myself down at the base of the tree I was standing under, and resting right there for the night.  But the rain seemed to be at a lull, so I gathered my bags, and set out.  I had about an hour of remaining light, but maybe I’d walk through the night, and find a place to camp and rest come morning.  I was on the trail, and that was what I’d come for.  I felt a soothing rush of exhilaration.  I passed through the large campground that was filled with camper vans, tents, and people milling about.  I walked under a highway bridge, looking at the space underneath and envisioning the bed I could make there.  The sprinkles had resumed, and I might be smart to find cover before long.  The sound of the rushing creek and light sprinkles mixed with the green glow of the forest in the day’s disappearing light created an odd sense of calmness and security within me.  That was what I’d come for.  I was on the trail.  The highway was near, and the whiz of passing cars could be heard, but visible signs of the city were gone.  The drizzle became steady, and I was getting wet.  I reached the top of a hill, and there was a canopy set up for the final water stop, a table and a few chairs.  I would stay there for the night.

It was my 22nd night away from home.  Sleeping on a covered wooden bleacher bench in the open air may be too exotic for some, but it was definitely one of my most comfortable arrangements of the trip.  Having arrived in Salen the day before, I had pitched my tent just on the other side of the soccer field I now overlooked.  Then the heavy rains came, and  I was forced to retreat with all my belongings to the only viable option.  At least I had entertainment.  Early in the day, a busload of schoolchildren arrived for a day of fitness training and playing.  Most of them didn’t seem to care that it was a bit cold and really rainy.  They went swimming in the nearby pool (I’d had a short swim there the evening before), ran around the field playing makeshift soccer games (their favorite seemed to be a rather hilarious game where they would form a line in the goal with their backsides facing out, bend over and wait to see who got drilled in the rear by the kid kicking the ball, (and some of those kids could kick the ball pretty hard), a few misfits were even having some fun with an American football (one of them later approached me and asked “Would you have a hot dog?”  Misunderstanding him I chuckled and replied “No…, I don’t have any hot dogs.”  The boy said “No, would you have a hot dog?  We have hot dogs.”  A few minutes later I was handed two hot dogs, one with ketchup, one without.)  Later that evening, there were kids races that finished on the track right in front of me.  I clapped for the kids as they ran to the finish line.  A woman on microphone commentated the whole event.  Within 45 minutes of the start, the races were complete and the small crowd had dispersed.  I was left alone, and had the stadium to myself.  With a large digital clock affixed to the building across the way, I needn’t worry about an alarm, for I would be keeping a watchful eye on that clock.

“In the village I learned the temperature was fifty-two degrees below zero.  In a way I was relieved.  I was not turning into a lightweight after all-my misery had been for real.”  Libby Riddles “Race Across Alaska”

I nearly finished the book that night under cover of the canopy, saved but a chapter or two.  While it didn’t get down near to the temperatures Riddles and her dogs endured in 1985, I was stretched pretty well to the limits of my preparation.  Being August, I expected warmth, but late summer in Sweden can be cool.  In speaking with a man who was setting up sound systems for the bike race, I learned that the temperature early that morning had dipped to a mere 2 degrees Celsius.  After having lost comfort sitting upright in the plastic chair with my feet stretched out to a second, I laid my plastic garbage bag on the dirt, and rested in my sleeping bag atop of it.  I was up and off before first light.  With just 4 km traveled the previous night, that morning I made about 16, to the village of Hokberg.  Activity had begun, getting set up for the day, the first 90k bikers were set to be coming soon.  So this would be as far as I’d go, not a bad spot to spend the day.  I set down my bags and sat down for some lunch.  Within minutes, the lead riders flew by.  Hokberg was a picturesque little village, bustling with activity on this day.  After hiking around the nearby trails, I decided on a camping spot for the night, complete with a bench, fire ring, and dead branches to burn.

I slept comfortably on the wide wooden bench.  My towel and shorts still hung trying to dry on the rafters above.  My tent and most of my other belongings were packed away in my bag.  I just had to change into my race attire, pack my sleeping bag and pillow, and make my way down a few hundred meters to the starting place.  I got down there about 3:30, with over an hour to spare, time to get some breakfast (I had a sandwich and coffee).  I made my apologies to the volunteer who hoisted my still overloaded backpack into the truck for return to Mora.  I explained to him that I was carrying my house for the past 3 weeks.  It had rained both cats and dogs much of the previous day.  Somehow, the soccer field and dirt track remained without puddles, and the trail, too, while wet, was not in any way washed out or turned to mud.  The drizzle was still present on this morning and the temperature was hovering around 12 degrees, a little cool but very comfortable for running.  As the start time grew nearer, the excitement grew as well, crowds of runners now gathering, announcements over the speakers first in Swedish, French, then English.  The start chute was opened and the runners lined the street, anticipation teeming.  Just in front of me was a piece of tape separating the elite field from the general population, including the only previous winner, Mora native Jonas Buud.  Final announcements made, the gun sounded, and it was a race.

Tying one end of the rain-fly to a tree, I was able to make up for the broken frame of the tent.  It had been kicked and snapped by a British guy in the early morning on the final day of the European Juggling Convention in Almere.  I then stayed an extra day there to help with some cleanup and took the liberty of spending that night under cover of one of the empty circus tents, but that’s a whole other story.  After the present night of a nice fire and a few Swedish beers to lighten my load, I was back on the trail, though a rather late start, it was 11:30 before I set out.  I passed through Gopshus Garden and on to Oxberg before stopping for lunch.  After a passing storm in which I took cover under the canopies and chatted with a local who was doing some work at the station, I proceeded to the overnight cabin at Axikojan.  It was a quaint spot set next to a passing stream and an old mill.  It was nice to have a break from making camp in wet weather.

The summer Olympics were taking place during this week, across the ocean in Brazil.  But there was no place I wanted to be than here in Sweden for UltraVasan.  Since I learned of this race I felt it was for me.  I wanted to represent the sister city proudly in form and results.  I went out with the pack running hard and strong along the steady uphill of the first few kilometers, taking a different course than the way I hiked in.  The run course followed much of the hiking trail from which I had come, as well as some portions of connecting roads.  We entered the single track and I felt in my element.  There was no reason I couldn’t run with these Europeans.  But with all the excitement I went out too hot, by 15k I was feeling some tweaks in my hams, and by 40k was warding off complete muscle seizures in the backsides of my legs.

A refreshingly restful night behind me, I set out from Axikojan at 8:30.  By 11:00, I had reached Evertsberg and the midpoint of the Vasaloppet trail.  Having traveled with a bag full of dried goods and food from tubes, I was looking forward to a hot meal at the restaurant in Evertsberg.  Unfortunately, it was Monday and the restaurant was closed.  So my time was merely spent passing through.  Evertsberg is one of the larger villages along the trail route.  I got a little turned around with the signage and ended up making a circle and retracing a couple of kilometers.  But soon I found myself on Erikvagen Road and I knew I must be heading in the right direction.  I had regained the trail, and was on my way to Lake Mellansjon and a lakeside cafe where I would eat what I believe to be the best burger of my life.  Who’d have known I’d have to go to Sweden for that?  That night I half regretted not having had a second, but the one gave me a much needed boost after 3 long days of hiking and trail food.  I was rejuvenated for the remainder of that day’s hike to my destination at SundetKojan, my second stay at one of the overnight cabins along the trail, accommodations available exclusively to “Vasaloppsleden wanderers”.  The cabins sleep anywhere from 4 to 12 people, however I had no company for any of my stays.  It seems my trip came just after the Swedish vacation season, during which the cabins may see greater use.  Sweden takes very kindly to wanderers and travelers.  It is a matter of both culture and public policy to make land and nature available for all to use.  The “Swedish Right of Public Access” allows a person to travel over and camp on lands, public or private, pick berries,mushrooms, flowers.  It basically says use good judgment, do not disturb, do not destroy.  Very different from the standards we are used to in America, “the land of the free”.  Having arrived in early afternoon with a nice summer evening to come, I went for a run further up the trail, hoping to get things in tune for the upcoming race.  45 minutes out, I was running hard and fast, my intention to make the return trip that fast or better.  But I kind of burnt up out there, it was hot, and I must have been a little dehydrated from the extensive hiking of the past days.  Walking the last few kilometers back to the lake cabin, I began to reassess my goals and intentions for the race that weekend.

I ran down Erikvagen near the marathon mark of the race and my left hamstring clenched, bringing me to a halt and then a walk.  I still had a long way to go, and my muscles felt like they were on the brink of blowing out.  I stopped and tried to stretch out.  My legs were so tight,  I had to keep moving forward.  And so I did.  It was during this portion that I had the most interesting running hallucinations, or daydreams might be a more accurate description.  I was brought back in my mind to a year earlier.  I was in Leadville, unquestionably one of the true ultra running meccas.  Race founder Ken Chlouber inspired hundreds of us who filled the gym that Friday during the race meeting with his legendary words of encouragement and inspirational figure.   Now, a year later and on the other side of the world, Mr. Chlouber made camp on my left shoulder, inspiring for the time just me.  “What, are you gonna quit?  You didn’t come here to quit.  Yeah, it’s going to be uncomfortable, but you just put your head down and grind to that next aid station.  Dig deep!  There is an untapped well of potential within each and every one of us.  Tap into yours.”  I rode along high on Ken’s words having overtaken my brain, still fighting cramps with every step, but doing so with a half conscious smile pasted on my face instead of a wince.  “Conscience Ken” was helping me through some tough stretches when who popped up on my opposite shoulder but Rocksteady Running race director John Storkamp, just as in a classic Tom and Jerry cartoon.  “Don’t blow it, now.  Superior is no joke, you know.  Do you really want to jeopardize what you worked so hard for back home?”  With Superior set to go in three weeks, it was much on my mind to be healthy coming out of this race.  But I was still trying to perform.  I thought back a few days to the goals I set for this run.      1. Do no damage.  Apply the principles of Sweden’s Right of Public Access to your race.  Run as hard as you wish, but don’t disturb or destroy the machine that’s brought you this far.  There is important work to be done back home in the near future.    2.  Finish the race.  First and foremost.   3.  Medal time.  9 1/2 hours was the stated “medal” time for men in the 90k race.  At the very least I wanted to make that standard.    4.  Break 8 hours.  This might have been a stretch, but I figured it was close to, if not within the range of possibility.  5.  Top 20 finish.  This was most certainly out of my reach, taking into account the strong field of runners, but a guy can’t help from dreaming of a great race.  I would be happy to achieve 3 of the 5 goals, and I was still on track to do that, though it was not going to be real pretty.  “Conscience Ken” and “Conscience John” continued to entertain my mind for the next few kilometers with opposing words of advice; unhindered optimism vs. deliberate caution, overwhelming glory vs. measured respect.  The combination of the two characters helped to find a balance that allowed me to again assume the task on my own.  After they left, I further imagined what their words for me would be come the finish line in Mora; Ken would say, I knew you could do it!, a grin shining across his large face while he gives me a slap on the back, while John would shake his head and say, good job, you might have gotten away with one here, but don’t think that strategy will work at Superior, if I see you anywhere near the front of the pack in Gooseberry Falls….  My mind trailed back to reality.

After another 12 hour sleep I was ready for today’s shorter hike to Tennang.  Making good time and an early arrival, I had some time to relax and enjoy, this being the cream of the cabins, a beautiful wood finished cottage located on a most serene section of the trail.   The blueberry picking was tougher here, as the berries were mostly red.  It wasn’t until the following day that I learned those reds were lingonberries and that the locals actually prefer them over the blues.  After that I picked mostly reds.  My body was tired, and it felt good to have an early finish to the day in a comfortable spot.

We were now past the midpoint of the course, and began to intermix with runners from the 45k race.  I was soon able to fit in better with the pace of those around me.  People were finally walking the uphills, thank goodness, though they were walking upright while I was bent sharply at the waist like a kid in front of a soccer net.  I got along for some time chatting with a Swede named Nicklas.  After a few times back and forth, we eventually parted.  I continued to toe the line of blowout, but the now steady downhill nature of the track allowed me to relax and persevere.  I received a little boost each time I recognized a landmark from my hike.  I felt a special connection to this trail and these places now, something nobody before me has quite exactly experienced.  This was my home.  This race, as it was, was not the one I’d intended to run, but it was mine.

I caught a glimpsing view of a fox crossing the trail 200 yards ahead, shortly after I left the nicest accommodation of my entire trip, save maybe the circus tent.  It was a beautiful morning.  I picked a few wildflowers and pressed them in my Lonely Planet.  Those flowers might have been the only things I failed to divulge to  U.S. customs upon reentry.  Whoops. :O   I felt well rested and ready for a big hike.  The days of backpacking were adding, and I was at my strongest.  It was going to be a great day.  I arrived at Risberg for a rather early lunch.  And good thing because I’d run a little short on water after the previous night.  Water is available at many points along the trail, but the pump at Tennang was not yielding.  It was worth the wait though, because the water at Risberg was Pre-Mi-Um, without a doubt the best on the trail.   I hiked purposefully through Mangsbodarna and on to Smagan.  I stopped to eat outside the overnight cabin there, located along a dirt road with several other cabins that surrounded the lake.  I took a brief peek inside, but it didn’t compare to the last.  I was actually eyeing the yard to possibly set up tent, but I felt overall at an unease.  Thick clouds were moving in as I walked away.  I skipped a startled step as a small snake hissed on the dirt road beneath my feet.  I was unsure about leaving the cabin, but it was in my gut.  Before leaving on this trip, advice given to me by my mother, “if something seems a little off or you’re ever not quite sure about something, just go with your gut” was my mom’s advice.  I thought of this as I walked away from Smagan.  I hiked as far as I could before dark.  Though it looked like it might start raining that whole time, it never did.  I came to the last grilling shelter on the trail.  Besides the overnight cabins, there were also a number of grilling and picnic shelters.  I headed uphill a ways from the shelter and found a spot to pitch tent.

I arrived in Hokberg to another stacked aid station.  The station fare and setup throughout the race was perhaps the most impressive I’ve seen.  With nearly 100 years experience supporting one of the world’s largest ski races, these people know how to support their racers.  The village is surely a sight to behold on any day of the year, but it truly shines on race day.  Shortly after leaving Hokberg was the photography point with a video camera set up with a trellis and vine covered bridge to run over.  The video is probably the coolest digital race swag ever.    I still felt totaled, and badly wanted the experience to be over, I was contemplating going to the airport that night and trying to get an earlier flight.  I was ready to go home.  At least I now was on the homestretch of the race course, as well as my trip.  I began thinking more realistically about the night to come.  My flight was not for another day and a half.  I still had a full day in Mora.  As the kilometers became fewer, I began looking for camping spots on the early part of the trail.  I passed under the highway bridge, again giving consideration to that as an overnight option.  It would be an interesting way to cap off the trip.  So far I’d spent nights on an airplane, tenting at EJC in Holland, under a circus tent, at Amsterdam Central Station, on a night train from Malmo to Stockholm, at a hostel next to the Vasaloppet finish line, in the Swedish woodlands, in cabins along the trail, on a bleacher bench, why not under a bridge.  It had been a slog to get this far, but now I sensed the finish.  My body loosened up and picked up steam, ready to use what was left.

Sleeping with just a thin layer of tent fabric between the ground and my sleeping bag led to some nights of searching for that comfortable position.  At the EJC I battled lumpy sand, excessive moisture, and crying Italian babies.  In other places, pine cones, acorns, and tree roots have been a pain in the rear.  In this present location however, the thick vegetative undergrowth created a billowy mattress.  It almost provided a feeling of weightlessness, as I was held above the ground by layers of bushes and moss.  I awoke early, eager to reach the trail’s beginning.  The grilling shelter was now inhabited by two men, sound asleep in their bags on the ground beneath the shelter.  I passed quietly by them back onto the trail.  The single track was now Superioresque in nature, covered with rocks and roots, accentuated by sharp ups and downs.  Before long though, the trail opened up and I could see down into the wide valley below, where Salen must lie.  Within the hour, I passed by the soccer field and on just further to the trail’s endpoint.  I visited the Vasaloppethuis in Berga and paid for my cabin stays.  Still very early in the day, I then ventured the 5 kilometers further to the town of Salen for shopping, food and drink.

I ran strong now, if still somewhat beaten.  Muscle memory took over as a dose of adrenaline coursed through my veins.  I passed through the campground and continued in full stride up the last few inclines of the day.  I remembered seeing bikers struggle up that last hill in front of the Zorn Museum the week before.  Now on the streets of Mora, only blocks from the finish, I passed by the historic bell tower and large church.  As I hit the final straightaway, I peeked over each of my shoulders, looking for Ken and John.  But they were gone, only ever present in my imagination, and I had since returned to reality.  After post-race Swedish meatballs with traditional fixings and a well-deserved shower, I collected my backpack and set off to the train station.  After purchasing a ticket for the next day, I found my way just across the street to Kristineberg Hotel.  I rented for the night one bunk in a room of eight; all the others in my room had run the race too, with the exception of one Polish worker who I never did meet.  After settling my things, I trekked back across town with my new friend Jan Espen, a Norwegian from Denmark, to the Irish sports bar for more food and libations.

Not normally a fan of sleeping in close proximity to many others, I rested very well that night, too tired not to.  As I left Mora that day on the train en route to Stockholm Arlanda, I was flooded with a sense of accomplishment, of purpose, of fullness.  I was leaving this beautiful, foreign, yet familiar place.  I survived the three weeks away from home.  I got to experience a small slice of life on the other side of the world, and that’s a neat feeling.  I did what I came here to do, and in the process expanded my view of the world and of life.  It was a truly self-enriching experience, however, it wasn’t quite over yet.  Still to come was the endurance battle of travel.  I would arrive to the airport that evening, but my flight from Stockholm-Arlanda to Keflavik was not until the next morning.  So a night in the airport, then fly to Iceland, layover there all day before flying home to MSP.  I was going to finish this thing.

5k/50k: Solid St. Patty’s weekend

Friday, March 17, 2017 St. Patrick’s Day

Gear West Stumble 5k

“Win your weight in beer”; the prize offered to the overall winners of the 5k race starting and finishing at Gear West Ski and Run Shop in Long Lake, MN.  As appealing as that sounded, I had decided to run easy.   But when the race started, as usual, I saw fit to push myself as hard as I felt comfortable enough to do.  It was a bit cool and windy, but very nice for a mid-March evening.  A group of 5 or 6 runners took off ahead of the pack, with another half dozen of us in trail.  I ran fairly strong throughout, definitely slowing some on the return trip of the out and back.  I finished in 20:32, far from winning the big beer prize, but quite a reasonable time for a 5k run.  Back at the store, there was one table full of fun awards for the participants, and another filled with Irish day food; hotdogs and chips, corned beef and potatoes.  There was a great turnout for the run, including such notables as Mark Smith and his family, Kari Gibbons and her parents, and of course, the owner of Gear West, Vasaloppet Hall of Famer Jan Guenther.  All in all, it was a fantastic night, even though I ducked out early to try to get ready for the day that was to come…

 

Saturday March 18, 2017

END-SURE 50k North Dakota

 

An early start Saturday, we were on the road headed to North Dakota before 5:30 am.  My friend Fabio and I were on our way to the Sheyenne National Grasslands to take part in the END-SURE (Extreme North Dakota Sandhills Ultra Run Experience) 50k.  END-SURE follows a portion of the North Country Trail, and is the first race of the 2017 season of the UMTR Ultra Trail Series.

A four hour drive was going to make for a long day, but we made it to the finish area with about a half hour to spare.  We got checked in and I visited with some Canadians I’d met in the year past.  The race director gave navigation advice and cracked a few appropriate jokes to lighten the mood.  At 10 am the runners piled into vans and we rode to the start.

It was a nice morning, cloudy and cool, but dry and calm.  There were close to 50 of us taking part in the 50k, with an eventual 45 finishers.  In the longer distances, only 2 of 9 finished the 100k and 1 of 3 the 100 mile.  We gathered and waited in the parking area that served as a Trail head.  Fabio and I visited with a forest ranger who was on hand for the start.  About 12 minutes before the official start time, everyone was ready to go, we were herded to the other side of the gated fence and then sent off to follow the trail.

I was feeling fine, still in the mode of the 5k from the night before, I was pushing from very near the beginning, making space between myself and others on the trail.  Soon there were only 2 runners ahead of me, and the trail was mine to do with as I pleased.  Through much field and pastureland, many smaller rolling hills, a soft yet sure footing persevered.  The trail itself was not overly established in many areas.  At times it felt as though you picked your own path between the permanent trail markers.  You had to pay attention to follow the path, that said, it was relatively easy to stay on course.  It just required an awareness and switching between looking at the trail directly in front of you and focusing ahead in the distance to spot the next marker.  I found it to be a fun trail to travel.

Within a handful of miles, I had caught up with the second place runner, turned out to be another Canadian, who had actually been volunteering at one of the later checkpoints at Actif Epica a month earlier.  I remembered her immediately.  She was still running stronger and I knew better than to try to make a pass, still the lead runner within our sights for a few more miles.  We soon began to see a few of the runners doing the 100k on their way out, the first being Ultra Series Champion Mark Martinsen.  I gave him a hoot and a high five as we passed.  By 12 miles in, I grew tired and was forced to slow.  With no other runners behind me having been in sight for some time, that soon changed, as 6-8 runners passed me before I reached the aid station near the midpoint.

I was hungry when I got there, after refilling my water bottles, I enjoyed some bacon, chicken broth, and other snacks.  I was overdressed for running, and had surely gone out to heavy.  I was sweaty and it was cool, the sun which had shone early in the day had disappeared behind a thick cover of clouds.  I was looking behind me for Fabio, thinking that I’d let him catch me and then travel together.  I think I saw his red jacket approaching as I was leaving the aid station, not more than a handful of minutes back.  It wasn’t long, after several more runners, that Fabio had caught me.

I had quite abruptly gone from 5k mode to 100 mile mode, just one foot in front of the next to gut out the miles.  I worked to maintain pace.  We reached the last aid station, which once again, was the back of a pickup truck out in a field.  Here we had to do an extra loop and circle back to the aid station to make our miles.  During this loop I met Sharleen from Sioux Falls.  Having never run a 100 miler, she is determined to take on a 5 race series this year, the Midwest Slam, an admirable undertaking.  After a slight confusion, we made the loop and returned to the pickup truck.  I visited with Mike who was out supporting his wife Janet in her race.  He and the aid station volunteer were enjoying a beer.  After telling me he’d never give a beer to any runner unless they had a $20 bill, Ryan soon offered me one.  A Summit Horizon Red Ale, a tasty local brew.  I nearly finished it but shared a few swallows with a fellow runner and friend, Timm.  The carbohydrate rich fluid made me feel quite a bit better about the final 6 or 7 miles of the day.

This section of trail featured a few areas of still frozen solid creek like crossings and one wooded ~50 foot stretch of soft, ankle deep snow, the only snow along the entire course.  It was near this portion with 2 or 3 miles remaining, that a man came from behind me running like a deer, way to spry and fresh at this point, regardless of his distance traveled.  He turned out to be none other than the lone 100 mile finisher, clocking in at 18 hours and change.

Much of the day I expected a pr 50k time would be in order, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.  I still have work to do, and I need to be smart.  This race was a friendly reminder of what not to do in a couple weeks come Zumbro.  I still enjoyed myself immensely and am very happy with the day that was.  After indulging in some finish line food and one more beer, courtesy of my friend Brian, met at last year’s Kettle, I made it to the car before Fabio left for home without me.  True, it wasn’t the same as a “Minnesota” trail race, but I am thankful for the experience, and will return, both to the race and to explore more of the trail that is the North Country.

 

Double Back Long Run Road Trip Part 2: Mora 1/2 Marathon to Leadville 100

So I know what some of you are going to say.  A half marathon is not a long run!  It sure feels like it when you start out trying to hang with the leaders because you really want one of those wooden clock trophies that go to the top 3 finishers.  Being just a week before Leadville, I had thought about taking this race “easy”.  Maybe I would “joggle” it and just have “fun”.  But this was my hometown race, and I wanted to perform for the hometown crowd.  This was my fourth time running the Mora 1/2.  In 2013, I came in 4th, one place shy of the podium.  Last year I missed the race due to a state tournament baseball game.  Maybe it was a bad idea to try to be racing, but when the gun sounds, it’s time to go.

Two runners, one with shoes in hand, shot off the line, establishing an early gap between them and the rest of the field.  I joined the following pack of about 8 runners.  The group stayed pretty tight, only 10-15 seconds back of the leaders for the first couple miles through town.  Then things began to shake out.  A skinny young runner broke away from the chase group and started picking up ground on the leaders.  I tried to go with him.  I hung on for about a mile before I was cooked and had to back off.  I would eventually finish in 17th place with a 1:40 time, my slowest half to date.  I was happy to find out that the skinny young guy won it.  He was a nice kid, Henry Burt, a runner for Gustavus Adolphus College.  Second place was the guy who started in bare feet (he stopped and put on his shoes at some point during the race), and third went to the other fast starter, 15-year old Spencer Kotys from North Branch.  It was a strong day for local runners as well, with 10 Mora runners making the top 30: Chris Goebel (4th) Michael Schwinghamer (7th) Anthony Nikodym (13th) Wade Weber (16th) Erik Raivo (17th) Cole Carlson (18th) Robert McGovern (20th) Matt Ergen (23rd) John Schwinghamer (24th) Caleb Weinand (28th).

So, what the hell was I thinking, blowing myself up in the mid eighties heat and heavy Minnesota humidity just a week before I was to attempt the biggest thing in my life?  As it turned out, a minor blow-up might have been just the thing my body needed to wake up for what was to come.  After all, I had a whole week, including a 16 hour drive with which to rest and recover.  I just needed to relax.  But there was no time for relaxing, for my other summer passion was calling; baseball.

The Mora Blue Devils had just wrapped up a regular season for the record books, having not surrendered a single game in Eastern Minny League play.  We were headed into the final weekend of the Region 1C tournament in Hinckley, which would determine seeding for the State Tournament, hosted this year by Cold Spring and Watkins.  If we could come away with the top seed, we’d earn a bye next week, and I wouldn’t have to miss any time.  As it was, our biggest region rival in recent years, the 2013 State Champion Sartell Muskies, still had our number, holding us scoreless in Saturday night’s game.  Being our first loss in the double elimination tournament, we could still gain the top seed with two wins on Sunday.   After defeating the Hinckley Knights in the morning session, we got another chance against the Muskies.  But it just wasn’t to be, as our bats were once again held in check.  Therefore we would advance to State as the #2 seed from the region, and would play an opening round game the following weekend.

We got matched up with the Fort Ripley Rebels for an 11:00 am Saturday tilt.  Only I would be 7 hours deep in 100 miles of mountains at that time.  So, naturally, I spent the next 2 days stressing myself out about how I was going to break it to Coach, that I would miss that opening round game.  I felt defeated.  I couldn’t bring myself to tell my teammates after the game.  I think in my mind I was still trying to figure a way out of it, but it was my mom who made the obvious statement that I didn’t want to accept.  “Well, you can’t do both”, she said.  Damn, she was right.

So I texted Coach an apology Tuesday night after I’d crossed well on into the state of Colorado.  I never really had any question in my mind whether I’d come to the race, but it was very hard for me to admit that I would not be there for the baseball team.  The best I could hope to do was send some positive spiritual vibes from the trail…

I had made it back to Leadville.  A rush of euphoric excitement swept throughout my body.  I called Aaron, and we arranged to meet up at the grocery store in town.  I followed his Subaru back to the campsite where he’d been staying for several days now.  It was well after dark, and the drive back into the woods was rutted and rocky.  This was real camping.  I pitched my tent, where it would stay for just hours shy of the next full week.

The next day, I was still feeling wasted and drained from the hot MN weekend.  I had to force myself to join Aaron for a trek up to Mt. Huron.  I was pretty sore, but by the end of it I was convinced it was the best thing I could have done for my legs and body, with the race just a few days away.  “Flash acclimation”, I like to call it.  Give your body a quick shock of 14,000′ altitude, and then 10,000′-12,000′ won’t seem so bad.  I was very tired that night, but the next day I felt better.

It was a good thing, because that afternoon was the beer mile.  I had never heard of a beer mile, but Aaron seemed really stoked about this Leadville beer mile, so I said “Hell yeah I’ll run the beer mile”.  There were about 30-40 people gathered on a dirt road on the outskirts of town.  Mostly it was a gathering of crew and pacers.  There were about a half dozen of us who were running the beer mile and the 100.  The rules were pretty simple.  You bring your own beer, four 12 oz cans of your choosing (must be a minimum of 5% abv to be considered official).  You drink one can at the beginning, followed by a quarter mile of running, beer, quarter mile, beer, quarter mile, beer, quarter mile.  You have to drink all your beer, and you can’t puke.  It was really hard.  I didn’t make it easy on myself either, as I for some reason went with a 6.5% Happy Camper IPA from the Santa Fe Brewing Company.  It was a good beer, but I wasn’t a very happy camper by the third leg of the run.  I really didn’t think I was going to finish the race when I was on that third beer.  I was struggling to drink; my slams weren’t amounting to much more than small sips.  Aaron came running in to finish.  He had run a strong race drinking Coors Banquet.  I told him I didn’t think I was going to finish, and he immediately jumped into crew mode, talking me through the rest of that third beer.  Soon, I was balls in the air and burping on the third quarter mile.  “Running is easy, drinking is hard!”  I made it back and worked slowly through beer #4.  Beer gone, can crushed, I was going to finish this thing.  I didn’t think there was anyone else left on the course during my final half lap, but just as I was coming toward the finish fully half of the group who’d met on the road took off to do one more lap with a struggling girl who was working down PBR tallboys.(almost as bright as me and my Happy Campers)

After receiving maybe the most unique race award of my life, in a plastic sand scoop encrusted with real California beach sand, the party was on.  There were two race parties happening that night: one hosted by official race sponsor Team New Balance, and the other hosted by Team Mizuno and Aaron’s coach Michael Aish.  Aish set course records in both the marathon and 50 mile run this year.  Many expected that he would follow suit in the 100 mile race.  Both parties were great, with plenty of food, drink, and amazing people.  And it seemed like Aaron knew just about everyone and everywhere to go; it was better than having a personal tour guide, I imagine.

Friday was my day to rest, sleep and stay off my feet as much as possible.  Aaron was off early again to hit another 14ner.  I slept in.  All I needed to do today was ready my drop bags and bring them to town, eat, drink, and sleep.  I got good rest.  Aaron came back sometime late that afternoon.  Another guy from Minnesota named Michael Gibino joined us at our campsite that day.  He would be pacing in the race as well.  Mike recently (7-24-16) completed a 1200 mile cross country run from MN to PA to the Democratic Convention in support of Bernie Sanders.  Karen showed up later that evening as well.

Back in early June, I walked in to our local running store, Twin Cities Running Co (TCRC) in Maple Grove.  I needed new shoes.  A week earlier, I saw Steve Connolly wearing these big foamy green clown looking running shoes.  They were the Altra Olympus.  We chatted about shoes, and he explained the concept of the wide toe box.  I have often had issues with my toes getting squeezed together by narrow running shoes.  So I went to the store to get a pair of these Altras.  I got the Lone Peak 2.0, and it was probably the best purchase I’ve ever made.  I could rave for hours about the shoes and how they’re the best I’ve ever had, but I picked up a lot more than just shoes that day.  There were two girls at the store who helped me with my purchase.  One of them happened to be Aaron’s sister-in-law Kate.  After a few minutes chatting, she realized that I was the guy Aaron was going to be pacing.  The other girl, Karen, was moving to Denver a few weeks before the race in Leadville, and right there at the checkout, she offered to pace me, too!

Karen met me at Winfield Aid Station, the turnaround point.  The race had gone smoothly up until then.  I started strong and kept the pedal down.  I arrived at Winfield close to the exact time I had planned/estimated, about 11:15 into the race.  It was too early to really be thinking about a sub-25 hour finish, but I was putting myself in the position to be thinking about it soon.  I was feeling great.  I scooped up Karen and we were off.  We hadn’t made 10 minutes of the return trip before my insides had turned south and I was into the bushes for a pit stop.  The next ~5 miles would be the worst I’ve ever felt during a race.  I know more than once during that portion did I say, “Never again”.  I sat on a log at the Hope Aid Station for 10 or 15 minutes, still trying to nibble on this Honey Stinger Wafer Karen had given me a half hour earlier.  I refused to throw it away.  I regrouped, and we continued on.  Steadily, we moved downward, the air thickened and gravity became my right-hand-man.  The long descent back to Twin Lakes felt freeing.  After trudging back through the water, a mile or so portion of multiple knee deep puddles and river crossings, we arrived at the crowd lined streets of Twin Lakes.  It was a marathon-like crowd in the middle of a 100 miler, pretty cool.  Karen brought me through undoubtedly the toughest section of the course.

With the toil and toll of the past 5 hours, I had mostly forgotten that Karen had lined me up a pacer for the next section.  Apparently it is common practice at Twin Lakes Aid Station for volunteers to just show up and jump on as pacers.  So I get what has to be one of the most experienced Leadville pacers ever.  Not only did she have a lot of experience on the trail, having paced at the event every year for the past decade, but she was also surely one of the sweetest, kindest, and prettiest in the field.  I guess Karen knew exactly what I needed.  M.R. made the miles breeze by.  We spent a lot of time walking and talking, keeping things moving, but comfortably.  I remember telling her of my desire to simply walk it in and not worry about pushing pace or making the “big buckle” time.  And so I let that go from my mind.  It wasn’t until our last 4 or 5 miles together that that would begin to change.

A tall, lanky runner came trotting by ever so slowly, hardly faster than I was walking.  He looked at his watch and said, “We can still make sub-25 if we do a 7 hour 50k”.  I began to reply, “Ah well, we’re kinda just walking at this point…”, I stopped.  I turned to M.R., shrugged, and said, “What the hell”.  I shot off in a jog, blowing right by and soon out of sight of my fellow runner.  For the next 4 miles, I pulled M.R. along, as if by an invisible tether.  I think she held me back just enough so that I didn’t blow myself out during that bit.  I was charged and it was on.  By the time we made it to Aaron, I knew it was happening.  I was ready to lay it on the line.  With about a marathon’s length remaining,I was going to race to the finish.

After a quick aid station rest and a hug from my new friend, it was time to do this deal.  Aaron was a talented operator, and I was ready to be his vehicle.  He would drive me home to Leadville.  And so we went, working together.  He’d tell me it’s time to run, I’d run.  I’d tell him I feel my heart beating up in my throat, we’d back off.  We came to the power line section, a mile or two of continuous uphill, and I destroyed it, putting my hands behind my back, leaning forward and staring at the ground as I went, up, and up.  Aaron later mused that I must have tackled that section nearly as fast as the elites, and he wasn’t too far wrong.

We continued on steadily, and made it to Mayfield, only once losing trail and logging an extra ~1/4 mile.  The non-reflective flagging became difficult to follow through the dark of night.  On to the single track trail around Turquoise Lake.  And if I didn’t kick just about every rock on that trail…  I wonder what Aaron was thinking as I toed rocks, but saved myself from falling time and again.  We got through the trail and onto the road that would be a steady slight uphill for the last couple miles to the finish.  At some point near here, Aaron disclosed to me where we were sitting on time, and it sounded good.

However, that didn’t mean we were going to let off the gas pedal.  I must have passed some 20 runners during those last two miles.  I might not have been moving that fast, but I was flying by people as if they were standing still.  It was an amazing feeling, to have gas in the tank during the final miles of a 100, most certainly a new experience for me.  We were onto the paved city street approaching the finish.  Power walking up that last bit of incline, Aaron told me, “you’ve got to run it in to the finish”.  And so I took off, maybe a bit too early.  Aaron was behind me, sending Karen a text that we were coming in, as she was waiting at the finish.  He caught up to me with less than two blocks to go.  I felt my stomach starting to churn and come up.  “I might have started running too soon”, I said.  “Save it for the red carpet”, Aaron replied.  I choked and swallowed, backing off the pace just a hair, but maintaining a respectable gait on through the finish line.  And right there past the line, on the street, stood Ken in his cowboy boots, and Merrilee, with hugs and congratulations.  “I dug deep!” I said to Ken.  “Yeah, you did”, he replied chuckling, shook my hand, and clapped me once more on the back before I moved on.  The pure joy and excitement on their faces could not have been contrived.

I stopped in at the medical tent, which was protocol.  There were several others lying on cots in the tent.  The medical personnel asked me if I was okay.  I said, “Yep, I’m good”.  They said, “Alright, good job, go get some rest”.  I got a bowl of chili and a can of coke.  I had just finished the Leadville 100 in under 24 1/2 hours.  I didn’t know what to do.  Karen was headed back to Denver.  Aaron suggested I go get some rest, so we drove back to the campsite.  I think I tried to go to sleep in my tent, but I couldn’t.  I was up and down walking around in a state of much confusion.  Eventually, I headed back into town and was able to see the final dozen or so finishers come down the street.  I was glad I got to see those last few finishers.  I saw people coming in looking broken in the now heat of day, fighting the clock, but pushing forward regardless.  How was it that I had finished and had time to take a nap of sorts while these folks were out there fighting the whole time.

Now with a couple hours to mosey around before the awards ceremony, it was time to take it all in.  My life had changed in an amazing way over those past 24 hours.  I’ve always been a dreamer.  But my realization of what is possible took a dramatic step forward that weekend.  I don’t know where or how this trip will ultimately end, but I’m going to intend to do what I’m supposed to do, in my heart.  Making dreams reality is possible.  The awards ceremony at the local high school gymnasium was a thing to be experienced in and of itself.  Two long tables at the front of the gym were filled with hardware for the various awards to be presented.  One by one, awards were given, for race series completion, overall champions, multi-year milestone finishers, and all the rest.  I felt like an all star in a room full of super stars.  It was a genuine Rocky Mountain High!

I submerged myself in the cold flowing creek water near our camp.  The first bathe I’d had in days, it was highly refreshing to rinse away some of the dirt, grease, and grime.  Then back at the campsite, I was free to bask in the accomplishment.   Aaron left Monday afternoon, as he had a few other hiking spots to hit before going home.  We made plans to meet up for one more hike on the way home Wednesday morning.  Mike packed up camp and vacated Tuesday, but I was staying to finish the mountain sandwich this time.  Elbert was calling my name.

So I set out from camp, walking through the woods towards the mountains.  I had to skirt around some private land and cross over a creek before getting back on the mountain road and proceeding to the trailhead.  Mt. Elbert was a long hike.  It was by no means technical, probably less so than its Massive counterpart, but it was a long day.  Fortunately, I found the company of two young ladies who were taking advantage of a day off work as rafting guides at a resort in Vail.  They were moving a little slower than me overall, but I didn’t mind slowing up a bit.  It was nice to have the company.  After we came down, they gave me a ride back to my campsite, saving me a few miles of walking.  The campsite was lonely now, with just my tent remaining.  I packed up and put the last of my things in the Tracker.  A single tear may have escaped my eye as I turned to leave.  This journey was approaching the end.

But it wasn’t quite over yet.  I followed the directions Aaron had given me to reach Torreys and Grays Peaks.  It was after dark now, and this rocky mountain road seemed to keep going up and up and up.  I shouldn’t have been worried, for the Tracker loved it, but I pulled off and parked before reaching the trailhead.  I walked up the last mile in the dark to see that this was indeed where I wanted to be.  I saw Aaron sleeping in his car in the parking lot.  So I hiked back to my car, but figured I’d save it the little extra work and just stay parked there.

The next morning I was up early.  I hiked up to the trailhead, and saw Aaron still sleeping.  Wanting to get started but not wanting to wake him, I left a Bearded Brothers wrapper on his windshield as a sign.  It was a pretty easy shot of a hike to hit two quick peaks.  But it was a very slow day for me, as I was pretty tired from the events of the last week.  Aaron and I connected up on the trail mid-way.  We finished the hike.  I think I’d gotten my fill of mountain hiking for the minute.  I then followed Aaron’s Subaru into Denver, to meet up with Karen at Station 26 for a celebratory beer.

This was the most amazing experience of my life and I wouldn’t trade it.  It really was living out a childhood dream.  I remember first learning of the Leadville 100 Run.  It was sometime in the mid 90’s, I was spending a late summer weekend afternoon beating a little heat in the house checking out the television options for the day; there weren’t many: 2,4,5,9,or 11.  Five channels to find something to entertain yourself.  My how things have changed.  But it never seemed to be a problem.  If anything, less choices might have made life easier?  And there it was, an ABC Sports Special, the Leadville 100 Trail Run.  I was enthralled by the TV set for the next two hours, as they showed runners throughout the pack, in battle against the mountains.  I remember telling my mom about it that day and telling her, “I’d like to do that someday”.

And I did it!  The sense of personal accomplishment was unlike anything I’ve ever felt.  But what I learned over the course of the experience was invaluable.  I learned that it is okay to ask others for help.  It can even be a good thing.  Maybe those who give the help can even benefit from the act as much as he who receives.  Before Leadville, I don’t remember the last time I really asked someone for help.  I do remember times I was given help without asking.  This experience was a combination.  I asked Aaron to pace and crew for me, Karen and M.R. volunteered of their own accord.  They were all absolutely incredible.  I felt weird the way I was waited on hand and foot, it was like I was royalty.  Fill my water bottles, carry my water bottles, bring me plates of food, on and on.  It was crazy to have other people really actively care that much about what I was doing.  It is a testament to the culture of trail running, as well as a testament to these individuals.  I was a lucky guy!

I left Leadville with a big gold belt buckle and memories that will last a lifetime.  I also left with a new outlook, new belief, new set of mantras.  “You are better than you think you are.  You can do more than you think you can.”  Those are good words to live by.

 

 

 

Double Back Long Run Road Trip Part 1: Afton 50k to Silver Rush 50

Volunteering is important.  I honestly believe that my personal trail running successes of the past year would not have occurred as they did without my instances of volunteering, and striving to be a “trail person” rather than just a “trail runner”.  Last year I had the opportunity to be an aid station volunteer at Chippewa 50k and Voyageur 50.  I also spent a day doing trail maintenance on the Superior Hiking Trail.  I didn’t make it up for SHT trail work this spring, but was able to give a day at Afton State Park.  Now I get to work an aid station in the same spot I was clearing buckthorn just two months before!

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I kind of wished I was running today.  Surprisingly, I felt really good just a week after going through the wringer in the Black Hills.  As I hiked out to my aid station post for the day, I thought back to last year.  Afton 50k really was the first significantly relevant training run that prepared me for the oven like temperatures at the Black Hills 100.  A year ago I remember it being disgustingly hot and very humid at Afton.  Today was off to a cool start, but the typical Afton heat and sun would make its presence felt before the days end.

I had added the Afton 50k to my 2015 running calendar, at the request of my friend Jay.  We had been talking about doing the race, and it seemed like a decent addition to my training schedule.  I was building up to run the Leadville 100 in August.  The weekend after Afton I was traveling to Leadville for the Silver Rush 50, in an attempt to get some altitude exposure, and see just what I had gotten myself into.  Having not run much since the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon in mid-May, Afton seemed like a good thing to get me moving again.  It was a tough day.  While sections of the trail keep you shaded in tree cover, other parts are fully exposed to the sun.  By the second loop, my clothes were completely drenched in sweat.  I ran controlled, and felt strong enough, finishing my first 50k in 5:45.

When I reached the aid station and saw the amazing collection of trail people I was about to join, I no longer wished I was running on this day.  I knew that Aaron Boike, who I’d shared miles with at Chippewa, would be working there.  I quickly picked him out of the group and we got to chatting.  My pacer at Leadville was Aaron Ehlers.  His wife Mary and son Joey were also spending the day working the aid station.  Aaron, meanwhile, was off in Leadville, prepping for the 50 mi bike and 50 mi run this weekend as part of the Leadman Series.  Another runner who’d had the pleasure of being paced by Aaron was here as well, Justin Youngblom, who has run strong finishes at Superior, Leadville, Black Hills, and most recently the Cruel Jewel in Georgia.  Other volunteers in the group included men’s FANS champion Doug Kleemeier and Gnarly Bandits John Maas(2014) and Janet Hausken(2015) among others.  It was a good day, it went pretty quick, and I even got to pace my girlfriend for a mile and a half during her second loop.  I saw some old friends, made some new ones, acquired a pacer for Superior, yeah, it was a decent day.

I finished the race, Jay finished nearly an hour after me.  He was not in great spirits.  He headed for home.  I hung around a little longer.  I wanted to stay until the end, and maybe even help with some cleanup.  I had to go though, the anxiety was ballooning within me.  I had to get home and pack and prepare.  I was leaving tomorrow.  I had never taken   a road trip of this magnitude.  I was driving to Santa Fe, where I’d stay with my sister for three days, then make my way to Leadville for three more.

Other than a family vacation to Denver when I was 13, I had never spent any time at altitude.  I was nervous as to how my body was going to respond to the foreign environment.  In researching the topic, I found that it was highly recommended to get a week or two of exposure a month or two before the race, then another at least a week immediately before the race.  While I wouldn’t be able to execute this schedule exactly, I was able to follow the guideline, with some adjustments to suit my needs.

Sunday morning was spent packing and pacing.  I was on the road by 3:30 in the afternoon.  I left Minnesota, drove through Iowa and into Missouri before stopping at a rest stop for a 6 hour sleep.  It was here that I discovered an innovative new sleeping position in the Tracker.  By placing pillows atop my full clothes basket and cooler situated in the back, I was able to create a nice bed, with my legs left to dangle over into the front seats.  I give it four stars.  Monday morning I was up and geared for driving.  I drove across the entire state of Kansas, stopping for a visit in Garfield, the home of our 20th President, as well as a few other sites of historic interest.

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I was then supposed to just clip through the handle of Oklahoma, but somehow I missed an exit.  I think it happened when I was on the phone with my sister.  I ended up spending an extra 2 hours driving circles around the Oklahoma farmland.  It was like the Bermuda Triangle, except rectangular and on land.  Eventually I found a town with a convenience store and bought a couple of state maps.  Then I was able to get back on track.  So this part probably needs a little more explanation for some of you.  I don’t travel with any sort of GPS devices.  It’s not really my style.  But I’m not completely old fashioned enough to carry a map either.  My navigational tools normally consist of turn by turn directions from Google maps handwritten on notebook paper, coupled with my razor sharp sense of direction.  That’s the way I’ve done it for a long time. ?  I guess it leaves just enough uncertainty to keep me interested.

Moving in the right direction again, I crossed into New Mexico.  With a few hours yet to drive, I was going to be just shy of making it for my sister’s yoga class, the Oklahoma detour had nixed that idea.  Misty works as a Yoga Instructor at a small studio in Santa Fe.  I pulled into town about 6:30 and had an hour to kill before she would be finished with her class.  So I found a nice park with a big black train and a large mural of turn of the century super athlete Jim Thorpe painted on a building in front of a Little League field.  The perfect place to play a little poi!

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I met Misty at her studio, and we then drove to her boyfriend Claudio’s house, where I’d be making camp for the next few nights.  It was a nice little adobe hut, tucked away in the hills.  I slept on a couch outside, with a magnificent view of the rocky hills.  It was very comfortable, there were no bugs there.  It rained a lot, every day I was there, which is very uncommon.  The water soaked in quickly to the dry landscape, and the greenness that resulted was very pleasant.  As it would happen, Misty had the next two days off of work, so she was able to take me around to see some sights.

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Tuesday we took a trip out of the city to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.  The park is full of these “white cliffs”, formed from volcanic debris that has been eroded by water and wind over time to create the unique “tent-shaped” rock structures.  Returning to the city, we visited some shops and watched some music.  It happened to be the first night of the Summer Music in the Park series.  After a few minutes of sitting on the concrete and seeing a bunch of kooky older folks breaking it down on the dance floor to the upbeat salsa music, I had to retreat back to the grassy area of the park.  There I was able to comfortably pull out some juggling balls and play.  Soon we were joined by a couple young seeds, two little girls on vacation with their parents from Connecticut.  One of the little cutie pies gave me a quarter before we went our separate ways.

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Wednesday, we got out for a little more hiking, going up to the ski hill, and visiting the Audobon Center.  It was a challenge trying to dodge the rain, so we visited the Wheelright Native American Art Museum.  Santa Fe is full of neat places to explore, visit, and shop.  We also went to the Health Foods Store and at my sister’s suggestion I picked up a bottle of Chloroxygen capsules, a dietary supplement said to enhance the bodies ability to process oxygen.  Couldn’t hurt, I figured.  I could feel a little bit of physical effect from the thinner air here, but nothing highly noticeable or in any way detrimental.  But why leave things to chance?  After dropping Misty at work Thursday morning, I took to the road again, stopping off for a couple hours to relax and rejuvenate with a mud bath at Ojo Caliente Hot Springs.  Then it was on to Leadville and real  mountains.

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I arrived in Leadville Thursday afternoon.  I was here.  I made it!  Now I had a few days to further my altitude acclimation.  I’m not sure how to explain it, but I could feel the thinner air, it felt different in my head, my chest, my whole body.  I liked it.  Leadville, CO is the highest incorporated city in the entire country, sitting at 10,200 ft.  It is a magical place.

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I ended up staying at Silver Dollar Campground, right next to Turquoise Lake, just a few miles outside Leadville.  A short walk down the trail from my campsite brought me to beautiful views of the mountains overlooking the lake.  The camp host was a Texan named Chi-Chi, a real friendly old timer.  He and his wife were both retired, and they spent their days traveling around the country, working as camp hosts.  Wouldn’t be a bad way to spend a retirement, I reckon.

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I settled in and made camp, then gathered some wood for a fire.  “Darn it, next time I need to bring a hand saw.”  It was okay though, with a little bit of walking, I was able to scavenge up plenty of dead wood to burn.  The night was peaceful.  I sucked in the thin air with delight.  This was going to be alright.  It was so comfortable, the nights were cool and the air was dry.  I started off Friday morning with a nice round of poi juggling.  I had just discovered poi about six months earlier, and they had fast become my new favorite toys.  As it goes, I got a little carried away and stuck one in a tree.  For those not familiar, a contact poi is a ball attached to a rope with a knob handle at the other end of the rope.  So as you can imagine, they’ll wrap around a tree branch real quick.  I thought about climbing up to get it, but it wasn’t a real sturdy tree, and I was right next to the camp host.  I’d figure something else out.

I drove into town, first stopping at the general store to pick up supplies.  I found the race store in downtown Leadville and registered for the 50 mile run.  Then I walked around town visiting a few shops.  I went to the bookstore and picked up a copy of “Born to Run”, figuring I ought to give it another read before the 100 next month.  I then visited an art gallery.  The woman running the gallery happened to be a Minnesota transplant named Anne.  Concluding my business in town, I went for a scenic drive around Turquoise Lake before returning to the campground.

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I had picked up a length of rope from the store.  Tying one end around a Gatorade bottle filled with rocks, I fashioned a throw line, and within a few minutes, my poi was rescued.  Later, after having spent much of the afternoon drinking and lazing around the campsite, I figured I better do something.  So, wearing my camo crocs, I set out to walk the trail around Turquoise Lake.  I made it to Mayfield Campground after about 6 miles of walking.  The trail seemed to end there and turn into a road.  My plan was to go around the entire lake, but it didn’t seem there was much of a trail around the other side.  First I turned to go back the way I came.  Then I reconsidered, thinking I’ll go check it out a little further.  Two hikers went by, traveling in the direction from which I had come.  A couple minutes later, I realized it was probably in my best interest to just turn around and go back.  So I did.  I soon passed by the man and woman who I’d seen a few minutes before.  A few minutes later they passed me back.  We got to talking.  Sean was in training for the 100 next month also.  He had just put in a 25+ mile day going over and back Hope Pass.  Wow, sounds pretty smart.  Hope Pass is known to be the crux of the Leadville 100.  I would be waiting until race day to have the experience.  His wife Kristen would be doing pacing duties.  I think they were from Georgia.  I never found his name in the results or saw him during the weekend of the 100, but he seemed like a hell of a strong runner, I can’t believe he wouldn’t have finished.

During one of my alone portions on the Turquoise Lake Trail, I would make the most athletic move I’d made in years.  On the return trip, I had started picking up the pace and running some.  During one of those periods, I caught a toe on a rock.  My croc went flying and my legs went into overdrive, trying to keep up with the momentum of my upper body, which was on course to meet the ground below with a crashing bang.  But, somehow my legs caught up and I regained my center of balance.  Remaining on my feet, I turned around and walked back some 20 feet to retrieve my croc.  It was directly relevant training as it turns out.  It wasn’t until later that I realized that this trail around the lake was indeed part of the 100 mile race that I was preparing for.

I made it back to the campsite in one piece, gathered wood for another fire, and then heated up a 3-can dinner.  While reading through a visitor’s guide that night, I discovered that the two highest peaks in Colorado were right next to one another, and not far from where I was staying.  I formulated a plan to hike to the summits of Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert the following day.  Maybe doing just one of them the day before a 50 mile run is crazy, so why wouldn’t I do both?  I needed a challenge, and I didn’t want to sell myself short.  I was going to get my money’s worth out of this trip.  I decided that I’d be happy with one, but satisfied with two.

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If I was going to go for the double, I would need to get an early start.  But I wasn’t in a hurry.  I woke up and started the morning with a little juggling.  Then my camp neighbor Gary offered me a cup of coffee, and I couldn’t help but accept it.  When I finally made it to the trailhead, it was pushing 9:30.  Both trailheads, and the surrounding roads were lined with cars.  Being Saturday, there were a lot of people hiking the mountains today.  I parked closer to Elbert, but decided to go for Massive first.  It was a challenging hike, and six hours later I was pooped.  There would be no second summit today.  Maybe I’d return to Elbert on Monday and make a mountain sandwich out of the weekend, Silver Rush 50 being the meat, Massive and Elbert the bread.

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Back at the campground, I was feeling good.  I didn’t get the two summits, but one was likely as much as I needed the day before the 50.  I was able to get up there and get the perspective, breathe the 14,000 ft air. It tasted delicious.  There was a loud group of campers down the way.  They were somewhat more subdued than the previous night, but still made their presence well known until quite late into the night.  I was up early to tear down camp.  I considered returning for another night after the race, but wanted to have things ready in case I wanted to drive.

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This was the most exciting start to a race I’ve ever been part of.  The lottery for next month’s 100 mile race had taken place in January.  I had my ticket.  The gimmick of today’s Silver Rush 50 is that it started with a real steep hill that shot straight up for 100 yards or so.  The first male and female runner to reach the top of the hill would earn a place in the sold out 100 mile race, provided they finish the 50 within the 14 hour time limit.  At the gun, about 20 people start sprinting up this hill.  It was ridiculous.

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I’d only run one 50 miler before, 12:41 at Surph the Murph.  My two 100 finishes were in 29:20 and 32:38.  So I’m thinking I break 12 hours and I’ll be having a good day, right?  Well, turns out I was having a great day.  I was tearing the hills and loving every minute of it, with the exception of a couple of hard falls.  The first one happened around 23 miles on a steep decline.  I just got caught running a little too fast, toed a rock and couldn’t recover.  I went straight down, sinking my palms into the jagged rocks below.  “Oops.”  A minute later, I received a boost.  There was Aaron, my pacer.  I’d been looking for him all day.  I had only met him that one time before during Zumbro.  I knew he was running today, but it was a surprise for him to see me.  As it happened, we both got a little boost out of the encounter.  I ended up finishing in 9:32!  Aaron was about an hour ahead of me.  He was there to meet me when I came in.  We sat at the finish together, talking about the run and the one yet to come.

I didn’t linger at the finish though.  The day was getting late.  After getting some food and drink I made my way to my car.  My palms were pretty tore up, and my knees a little bit too.  I had to get home where I could properly clean the wounds.  So I started on my way, with a couple hours yet of sunlight.  I drove into the night, for as long as I dared, this time driving home across the state of Nebraska.  I crossed into Iowa before stopping to take rest.  It had been close to a 24 hour push since getting up for the race the previous morning.  Good training.

After a 5 hour nap, I returned to the highway.  I entered Minnesota with my confidence running on high from the weekend.  My palms were stinging the whole way home, but a little bit of skin was a small price to pay for the experience.  It was most certain to benefit me for the big one.

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Twice Baked Gnarly – An Exercise in Survival: Part III

Black Hills 100  June 24-25 2016

The Black Hills 100, leg 3 of the Gnarly Bandit, was new territory for me.  While I had finished Zumbro and Kettle prior to this year’s events, the only connection I had to the Black Hills race was that I’d donated an entry fee three years earlier.  I never made it to the start of that race, so this year I would somehow have to get a double entry fees worth of pain and satisfaction out of the run.  Who could have known that that was exactly what the Centennial Trail from Sturgis to Silver City was holding in store?

Once again, I’d be coddled with personal transportation from Minneapolis to the race start in Sturgis.  Being about a 9 hour drive, we wanted to leave early on Thursday.  We departed shortly after 5 am, right on schedule.  Having worked the night before, I was only afforded about 3 1/2 hours sleep prior to departure, so I spent a decent amount of the ride there nodding and dozing amid the passenger comforts of the Geo.  It is kind of a boring stretch of road to drive, but one is kept excited with the anticipation of reaching Wall Drug and its multitude of treasures.  When you finally get there and see it is just some crappy little town, all you want to do is keep on driving.  So we did, and a short time later we reached Rapid City and the beginnings of the Black Hills.

Another half hour of driving, now with scenery abound, and we had reached the site of our campground.  I spent some time the week before carefully studying the dozen or so campgrounds listed on the website, and chose the best looking one, “Camp Rush No More”.  And I’ll be danged if it wasn’t the best campground in all of South Canada!  We claimed our site, and then drove the 5 miles further into the city of Sturgis for packet pick up at the city park.  The park was situated in a beautiful spot, nestled at the base of a massive bluff.  I imagined what it would be like to watch a Friday night football game at Woodle Field with the giant hill as a backdrop.

Back at Camp Rush No More, I couldn’t have been happier.  We had a great campsite, with time to relax.  It was wooded and private, with bathrooms and showers just a stones pitch away.  I was ready for the task to come, and was now free to enjoy the nature and the weather for a few hours before turning in.  A few other campers arrived at the site near ours.  In my last blog posting, I mentioned that I expected to cross paths with a man named Jim Lemke.  As it happened, we would meet that evening before the race, as he would be my camp neighbor!  Coincidence, I think not.  I had to decline his offer to go to breakfast at Perkins in Rapid City Friday morning.  It was too far in the wrong direction for me the day of the race, plus I don’t know if I could have eaten anything there anyways.

I ended up catching and passing Jim, maybe 12 or 15 miles into the race.  He looked pretty parched.  The mid-day heat and sun was doing a number on him, and he appeared to be motoring in recovery mode at that early stage.  Temperatures of up to 105 degrees F can do that to a person. I didn’t see Jim again until after the turnaround, him being a few miles behind me by that point.  I was feeling the heat too, but I was feeling strong and was still building steam.  It wouldn’t be for another 10 miles or so before my wheels started to rattle.

When I came into the Dalton Lake Aid Station around mile 30, the heat of the day had taken a toll on me.  I knew I was behind.  I needed to eat and I needed to drink.  I was slightly nauseous from the heat.  My internals had been living in a state of half clenched uncertainty for some hours.  I was so tired.  The past couple miles I had been scheming how I was going to take an hour nap come the turnaround, time permitting.  Kari took good care of me, setting me in a chair, bringing me food and drink.  I got a fresh shirt and pair of socks, buff and headlamp.  I was no less blasted from the heat, but I was remade and recovered enough to continue.

The sun was finished for the day, and the temperature was now relenting.  When I reached the aid station at 42 miles, I got a couple of surprises.  Kari was there dressed to run, “Wait a minute, did I miss something, I couldn’t be at the turnaround already”, I thought.   No, it was only mile 42.  Ed had dropped her off here while he turned back to meet his runner.  Kari would get a ride up to Silver City from here.  The next surprise was the food.  “Is that bacon!?”, I exclaimed.  I grabbed a handful, must have been 8 slices, then a hot cheese quesadilla, and chicken noodle soup!  I devoured this fine food, eating as much as I dared, it tasted so good.  Within 20 seconds of consumption, my stomach finally felt right, for the first time all day.  If only that had been a sign of things to come…

Evening had arrived and I was feeling somewhat renewed.  I made it to the 50 mile mark at Silver City and was ushered inside some kind of old schoolhouse or community building to another surprise.  Mark Smith, who I’d shared the battle of Kettle with, was there with updates and words of support.  He had taken respite from a family reunion in Rapid City to come check on us Black Hills runners.  I thank him particularly for his weather reports that may have spurred me to take a light jacket for the return trip.  After baking in the sun and heat all day, a jacket was one of the furthest things from my mind, but I had one packed in my drop bag for the overnight, just in case.  As it turned out, I was oh so glad to have it as the temperature dipped and the wind whipped.

I was keeping it together, but I felt the fade was ready to come heavy.  I knew I would have to start on the coke real soon, sooner than I wanted, but it was necessary.  The night went by quickly, and soon the sun was rising.  This is usually a rejuvenating point in a 100 mile race, getting through the night and feeling enlivened by the sun of the new day.  This was not the case here.  Everything seemed backwards in this race.  The sun rising merely sparked the realization that I still had a full day of work ahead of me.  The reprieve of nightfall was gone.  Today wouldn’t be as hot as the day before, thank goodness, but it was still going to get warm.

The rest of the miles were kind of a blur.  I was really tired.  My legs were still in great shape, so I was running hard when I could.  I knew there was plenty of time, as long as I kept moving forward.  My only real concern was staying awake to do it.  Few points of this race were comfortable.   While there were many nice runnable sections of trail, the weather variables didn’t allow for them to be fully enjoyed.  And the hills here are no joke.  There are several good climbs in both directions.  It is quite reminiscent of the ascents at the Leadville 100, save the altitude.

As I logged out the final miles of this day, I didn’t feel good about the whole experience.  I felt internally violated by this race.  It hadn’t been a fair fight.  We finally exited the Centennial Trail, crossing a street and on to the sidewalk for the final 1/2 mile.  During these steps, emotions were welling up within me.  I had to fight back tears.  I don’t know what I was feeling exactly: some weird combination of relief, happiness, sadness, anger, and pure exhaustion.  It wouldn’t be until later that I could really appreciate what this accomplishment meant.  But that did slowly begin as other runners came in to finish.

Just minutes after me, the next finisher came in.  It was Jim Lemke!  This excited me.  I clapped and shouted some cheers.  Susan Donnelly had passed me by at the last aid station and finished just ahead of me.  The three remaining Gnarly Bandits after this day interestingly finished in order: 16th, 17th, and 18th places, respectively, within 35 minutes of each other.  The next finisher was who other than trail running legend John Taylor, raising both arms above his head as he crossed the line.  Following him were a handful of other runners who I’d spent time with over the last couple days.

Chad Brower, who I’d met and become friends with at Zumbro this year, finished his first 100 miler in fashion, being paced and crewed by his wife and 15-year old son.  His determination and focus through the final 1/4 of the race was evident, as his running stride had declined to barely faster than a brisk walk.  A younger runner named Chancell, whose legs looked in much worse shape than Chad’s with 20+ miles left, would finish next.  He had pushed through obvious pain, and found a working rhythm with his trekking poles to make those final miles happen.

I feel in some respects that my role as an ultra runner expanded during this weekend.  Being still fairly new to the sport, I have usually found myself watching and learning from others more experienced, despite maintaining a strong and independent individual constitution (something quite obviously necessary to be successful in these events).  On this day, I felt 100% within my self and my plan, in spite of the extreme conditions.  I felt on a number of occasions that I was able to offer some wisdom and reassurances to fellow runners, that may have contributed in some small way to their successes.  I hope that I can continue to achieve my dreams, and in doing so, grow as a resource of knowledge for others.

In conclusion, this was a bitch of a race.  The ~40% finisher rate is pretty clear evidence of this statement.  As we drove away from Sturgis on Sunday morning, I finally felt good about it all.  You couldn’t have removed the smile from my face with 100 grit sandpaper, it had taken over my entire head.  The ride home was enjoyable, as I relished in glory for every minute of it.  The power mullet had done its job.  I should be able to get by with just the beard from here.

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Training/Cross Training: Whirlygig and the Brewery Running Series: 5k within an ultra

Friday May 20, 2016

Mid-spring means Art-a-Whirl time in NE Minneapolis, and this year I would be working the event at Indeed Brewing Co and Whirlygig, three days of bands and beer.  Whirlygig is the brewery’s largest annual event, and it takes an “all hands on deck” approach to put it on.  I would be working all three days of the festival, along with many of my co-workers.  A number of additional part time staff are added as well just for the weekend.  Friday was an early 8 am start following an evening shift on Thursday; the marathon had begun.  We needed to get things all set up for the night, tents raised, barricades put in place, lights hung, tables and umbrellas assembled; there was a bustling of activity.  The food vendors started arriving and setting up their stations as well.  A few minutes before 1:00 and the end of my first scheduled shift, I had run out of tasks.  So I clocked out early, and found myself in the Ox, having a shifty.  Lucy tasted so fine on this warming day.  After my Lucy, I left for home, to have myself a little bit of calm before the storm, as my next shift didn’t begin until 5 pm.  I experienced some of the Hullabaloo back in October, but word around the brewery was that Whirlygig was on another level, which makes sense because the whole NE neighborhood becomes hyperactive during Art-a-Whirl weekend.  After a shower and a couple hours rest, I returned on bicycle for the real show.  This first night I would be roaming the grounds, emptying trash, and clearing tables.  It was a pretty easy night.  The crowds were not overwhelming, and the refuse containers did not fill nearly as fast as I had expected.  It was fun to roam the grounds, see the people and hear the music.  The time went by fairly quickly.  My shift concluded at 10 pm, allowing me an hour to hang out and enjoy things from the other end.  When 11 pm and closing time hit, the visitors were ushered off the property by our weekend security staff, and everyone pitched in to hasten the cleanup process.  Then it was inside to the taproom for the first “after party” of the weekend.  It was a good one.  The week or two prior I’d been practicing a little bottle balancing for the occasion…

Saturday May 21, 2016

Today I got to work the beer trailer from 1 pm to 8 pm.  It was a fun experience.  There was a constant line of people the majority of the shift and a near constant stream of beer flowing to match.  It was quite similar to the repetitive nature of the production environment of my daily work in the brewery.  With 6 beer choices at the draft trailer, there would be 2 to 3 of us pouring from the 6 taps, with 2 others working the cash register.  The time flew by and soon it was time for me to change roles.  At 8 pm I kept my same hat, my red Bolivian Poll Hat, but changed occupations, returning to roaming and trash duty.  During this time, I ran into an old friend, whose children I used to work with in elementary school, and also met a new friend, who owns skills incredible in the juggling/acrobat/circus world.  It was a magical evening, and once again finished with a rip of a good time after the gate was locked.  I’d somehow survived the previous night without breaking a bottle, I wasn’t about to keep pushing that.  Tonight would be for hat play, as I could show off and impress my friends with the actual purpose of the apparent clothing item atop my head.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Two days down, Whirlygig was rockin’.  Great music, amazing weather, good people, good beer.  What could make it better?  How about a 5k fun run from the brewery.  The MN Brewery Running Series was hosting an event at Indeed today!  I couldn’t resist the temptation, so I was signed up for the run indeed.  I arrived a little after 9:30, dressed in colors with an Indeed shirt and hat, orange shorts and big orange balls, as I’d of course be joggling the course today.  It was a warm, sweaty, fun run.  I finished with balls and legs in motion.  It was pretty great!  I then got refreshed with some water and some Lucy.  I visited with the guys at Brewing a Better Forest, who were serving as a sponsor of the run.  They are a non-profit group dedicated to urban tree care and education, and coincidentally are my “Indeed We Can” pick.  Every Wednesday night, taproom profits at Indeed are donated to a non-profit organization chosen by an Indeed employee.  This November, Brewing a Better Forest will be the beneficiary of Indeed We Can.  So come on down to Indeed Brewing Co on a Wednesday night and have a drink for charity.  Cheers!  After cooling down from the run, I took off to the gym for a little sauna and shower before returning for my shift at 2pm.  Today I would be wrist banding.  $1 cover charge bought you a wristband and ticket to buy beer.  The $1 was going into the general fund for Indeed We Can to be spread out among charities throughout the year.  Today might have been my favorite day of the event.  It was a tough a job.  I didn’t get every wristband perfectly attached that day, but when I did, many took notice of the time and care that I spent to avoid taping arm hair.  I try to take pride in any job I do.  The crowd was impressive this day.  The weather was beautiful, and the people kept coming right to the end.  Then it was a mad rush to clean up.  A little over an hour after closing, nearly all signs of the weekend festivities had been removed.  The last tents were being packed and the final garbage bags taken away.  We did it!  One more after party, then I left for home with some Chuck U prints I’d purchased earlier that day.  I couldn’t help but smile.  It had been a great weekend!

 

Training/Cross Training Hockey/Running/Baseball Tri

Friday May 13 2016

Walleye Chop Adult Hockey Tournament

After repeated requests, I gave in.  I had work off Friday night so I decided to join Team High Life for the opening round of Walleye Chop, an annual adult hockey tournament in Blaine, MN that draws hundreds of teams from around the North American continent.  Team High Life is comprised primarily of Mora (MN) area hockey players ranging in age from 18 to 50.  We were matched up against the Missouri Mudhens for the opening round.  Team High Life was not at its best on this night.  Some early defensive breakdowns and overall inconsistent play led to a 7-3 Mudhen victory.  Team High Life was still alive in the tournament, with two more games of pool play on Saturday.

 

Saturday May 14 2016

Stigma Breakers WI Run

For the 2nd consecutive year, I was able to join Julio and the Stigma Breakers for a few miles of their run across the state (this year being Wisconsin).  There was an incredible group of individuals taking part in this endeavor, from those volunteering and crewing, to those running portions or even the entire distance!  We joined for about 10 miles of highway, before departing for the day’s next activity.  This was to be one of my most significant training runs in the lead up to Kettle.

Eichten’s Cheese and Bison Market

We hadn’t eaten any breakfast that morning.  Just coffee before heading over the border to run across the foreign land.  I mused how convenience stores in WI were so much better than in MN.  After obtaining a 6-pack of New Glarus at 8 am, we joined the run.  Those ~10 miles went quickly; I really felt like continuing, but baseball was calling and Smooshie was shivering.  As we drove away, my stomach was fussing.  We needed to find food, and fast.  What an ordeal it was to find a proper spot for lunch.  We must be two of the most indecisive people on the planet!  We drove through Hudson and then Stillwater, passing by a number of respectable looking eateries.  Both towns were bustling with activity on this mid-spring Saturday.  We decided it best to continue on and find something out of the city.  We must have driven for an hour, once pulling in to a roadside BBQ place, before reconsidering and continuing on.  I was getting ornery with hunger, but soon everything fell into place.  After passing by the Franconia Sculpture Garden, we were approaching Center City, when off in the field what did we see, but a herd of bison lazily grazing on this cool spring day.  And then there it was: Eichten’s Cheese and Bison Market.  What a gem of a find!  Quaint little shop with restaurant attached, fun drink selection, high quality meats and cheeses, friendly staff and delicious food.  We each had a set of bison sliders and shared a basket of sweet potato fries, which was so heaping we didn’t quite finish it.  I will definitely be returning next time I’m in the area.

 

Mora Blue Devils vs. Duluth Dukes

Here we are again.  Spring fever leads to baseball fever.  This year marks my 15th season playing in the Eastern Minny Amateur Baseball league, and what I believe to be my 28th consecutive summer of playing organized ball.  Pretty good streak I think.  It was a cold and blustery day for a baseball game, which is not unexpected during a Minnesota spring.  Our off season rust showed from the very first inning.  We gave up 3 runs in the top half, before somewhat settling in defensively.  Offensively, we never got much going.  We had our share of base runners, but struggled at the plate as a whole.  We faced a formidable opponent, in former Cubs pitcher Bryce Oslin.  I have had success against him in the past, but on this opening day I was 0 for 4 with 4 strikeouts, an embarrassing stat line, I guess.  But that is what makes me the player that I am, and how I’ve been able to make it in this league for a decade and a half.  The fact that this 4 k day slides off my back like water off a duck, and knowing that I will return to form, if only for a spurt or two this year.  The bat felt good in my hands at least.  The final score that day was 1-4.  It was good to get that one over with.

Sunday May 15 2016

Mora Blue Devils vs. Isanti Redbirds

What a difference a day makes.  After being miserably cold a day earlier, this was going to be a near perfect spring day for baseball.  The wind was whipping in every which direction throughout the game, but the temps were comfortable.  The Isanti Redbirds had been a dominant force in MN amateur baseball for the better part of the past decade, winning the Class C State Tournament title in 2011, after which they moved to class B and continued their success against the teams of the Metro Minny.  I suppose it has been looming for a few years now, but it seems they’ve officially entered a rebuilding phase, with a mere handful of recognizable players remaining.  One of those stalwarts, Adam West, took the start on the mound for the Redbirds this day.  I expect I’ve had in the neighborhood of 200 plate appearances vs. Batman over the years, going back at least as far as junior high school (figure that’s about 6 hours total that we’ve spent dueling).   I led off the game with a solid at bat, coming out swinging, hitting a foul ball or two, and battling my way to an eventual HBP (which is actually my specialty).  After drawing a walk my next at bat, the strikeout string continued, with two more, 6 in two games, oof!  Not unexpected for the first weekend of bat touching, plus I blame half of it on our new hats.  They are freaking sweet, but I need to swap mine for a larger size; the one I had was squeezing my head too hard.  I had to leave the game after the 6th inning, in order to make it to hockey down in Blaine.  So I took my leave, with the game well in hand it seemed.  The Blue Devils would earn the win, 7-4, on the back of a strong pitching performance by Derek (baby) Graves, and helped by a crisp gap shot off the bat of Logan Orazem.  “Dream Big”

Team High Life vs. Those Guys

On down back to the Super Rink for the championship game for our Sunday night MN Wild Adult Hockey League game.  Hockey is the habit I just can’t shake.  I’ve been playing for about the past 28 years, and have been trying to quit for the last 14.  I used to skate and play hockey most every minute of the winter.  It was a passion growing up.  It was the thing I loved the most and the thing I was best at.  As a kid, when I would picture myself as an adult, it was usually as a hockey player.    Over time, all those feelings changed.  The game I loved had become a chore, leaving me feeling constantly inadequate and searching for answers.  The team that I staked my life on was broken, and I hadn’t the wherewithal to fix it.  After eventual inevitable failure, I quit any serious pursuit of the game.  In recent years, I’ve been lucky to lace up a half dozen to a dozen times a season, but I still haven’t been able to quit.  I never learned how to say no.  I’ve had a strong internal drive to skate in the past, but that is all but gone.  Two individuals inspire me to keep skating, I guess.  My old coach, Russ Peters, taught me power skating when I was young.  I know my edges well because of him.  I played hockey with Josh “Poopie” Callander since Ponies.  We were in the same Kindergarten class, Mrs. Frerich’s blue day.  I realize now, Josh was the closest I ever had to a partner, a close friend with shared interest, ability, and drive.  Poopie still loves to play hockey.  The Blaine league is known for having an assortment of choppy teams and players and usually incompetent referees.  Tonight’s game was no exception.  Those Guys ended up going up 2-0 in the 1st; both goals could be credited to the failure of the officials, but who’s keeping track?  I don’t usually place blame on the refs, but these guys were a joke.  Anyways, the game was well contested.  We had more than our share of opportunities, but just couldn’t find the back of the net.  Their team was mostly a bunch of dicks; one of them wanted to fight me after I introduced him to the side boards.  We lost the game, but I made it through the season free from any serious injuries!  Thank goodness.  Now I can give my full attention to trail running….and baseball….and juggling….and…..