Running at McDowell Mountain Park has really grown on me in the last year. From Ragnar Trail to pacing at Javelina Jundred to just getting out there on some flat Pemberton trails… it’s a nice park with lovely single track.
For this particular race, I was feeling pretty good heading into it, and I was particularly excited about the weather. It was set to be in the 40s/50s all race. The morning had a fair bit of cloud cover, and it all came together as the perfect mix for me.
Personally, I’ve discovered that weather is my biggest hurdle. Direct sunlight and heat can really make me overheat quickly if I don’t have the option of ice.
Uphills don’t bother me, and this race is a slow but steady climb from mile 5 to 14. I know it took a fair bit out of Laura, but it was my jam that day. The climb as we headed through the valley towards Thompson Peak couldn’t even get me down, though I know it was affecting many other runners that I ended up passing along the way. I even chatted with my brother via the speaker on my phone for about half an hour, as I was pretty much solo out there for quite a long stretch – something you generally don’t get with the looped courses until later in the day. After hanging up with him, I turned to music, and tested a theory I had earlier that week… The soundtrack to the movie Baby Driver is an EXCELLENT choice for running music.
Crazy as it may sound, I started getting a bit warm by the time I got to the Mile 23 aid station. Nothing crazy, but the sun was out and that was enough to raise my internal temperature enough to threaten slowing me down. I busted out a Hulkamania bandana that I had prepared for the situation – loading it up with ice and using it to cool myself along the way towards the finish.
I got to a point where I thought I might be able to finish within 6 hours, but my mileage was a bit off and I realized in the last few miles that it wouldn’t happen. PLUS, I was headed through what is known to Ragnar Trail runners as the dreaded Yellow Loop – lots of up and down hills through the McDowell Competitive Trails, so I kind of gave up on that along the way. I persisted a steady pace, passing a few more along the way, and ultimately PR’d the 50K distance.
It felt great, and built a lot of confidence in me as I loomed just a couple of months away from the Black Canyon 100K…
A lot happened while we were enjoying our time in the Pacific Northwest. I heard about our President antagonizing North Korea. I wasn’t surprised. I heard about violence erupting in Charlottesville. I was saddened, but I’d be lying if I said I was entirely surprised. Whether he means to or not, our President has empowered people of extremely horrible backgrounds to come forward and show their hatred and bigotry to the world.
What really shocks me is that when this came to a head, Donald Trump continued to fail as the leader of our country. When faced with violence and hatred within our own borders, he failed to condemn the root cause of it all. I am having a really hard time processing that.
This week, I’ve seen the following video posted by several friends on Facebook. I just watched it and had a really hard time getting through it without breaking down into tears because of the realization of what sort of evil lives among us.
Some of the worst fears we had last November when Donald Trump was elected are starting to come to fruition. The lack of leadership from our President is extremely worrisome. I doubt he’ll ever be the strong and compassionate leader we need. He hasn’t shown us any reason to believe he’s capable of that.
The existence of free will means that we’ll never eradicate all evil, but we can’t let it break us or stoop to their level either.
I believe in this country, and that most of us are good people. We must stay strong, and we’ll get through the next few years.
Hug your friends and family, work together with your neighbors to make your community a better place to live, and make your voice heard next time we step into the voting booth for the good of our society, and frankly – the world. We’re better than this.
This past January, I unwittingly signed up for a challenge on Strava called the “lululemon 40/80 Challenge“. The challenge was to run either 40 or 80 kilometers (approx 25 or 50 miles) over the course of two weeks. Well, that shouldn’t be too hard! After all, it’s peak running season in Phoenix.
Later, I found out that completion of the challenge allowed me to visit the lululemon store at Scottsdale Fashion Square and pick up a free pair of shorts and a shirt. Cool! Having never even been inside a lululemon, I had no idea that this meant I’d get over $100 in free gear. Pretty awesome, and those running shorts are my favorite now.
To show my appreciation, I figured I’d at least give them a shout out on Twitter. Well, they weren’t done throwing free stuff my way!
After sending them a direct message, I found out that they wanted to provide Laura and me with free entry into their annual half marathon in Vancouver. Vancouver! I looked into it a bit further and found out that the entries sold out rather quickly – so this was an especially big deal. We had already started talking about doing a big road trip sometime this summer, so why not connect the dots and end it in Canada?
Over the course of the next months, we bounced ideas around and put together a plan that would take us from San Francisco to Portland to Seattle to Vancouver. We’d make stops at various National Parks: Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, Crater Lake, and Mount Rainier. In addition, I found a great camping spot near Mount Hood called Lost Lake. Tons of camping. Lots of trails to explore. Some cool new cities to experience. PERFECT. Let’s go!
Day 1 – Wednesday, August 2
Phoenix, AZ (PHX) ✈️ San Francisco, CA (SFO)
Lyft was our friend on this trip. It started early on Wednesday morning, as we took one to get to Sky Harbor. Beats airport parking, and just makes sense – especially since I live so close to PHX! Southwest Airlines did their part to get us up in the air on time, and we were touching down before we knew it.
SFO ? San Remo Hotel
From there, we took BART from the airport to the Embarcadero. Even though we had some heavy luggage, we figured it’d be easy enough to make the trek along the touristy part of San Francisco to get to our hotel. Not going to lie, it was a bit of a struggle!
The place we stayed at, San Remo Hotel, was a bit like a nice-ish hostel. We had our own room, but it was tiny! Not complaining, as we thought it was rather cute, and frankly – it’s all we needed. Shared toilets and showers in the hallway – super easy / never had to wait. For the price and location, it was a killer deal. I’d recommend it, for sure.
Once we dropped our stuff off, we went exploring. Time to be tourists! I’ve been in San Francisco a few times, but this would be Laura’s first. We went right over to Pier 39 to see all the craziness and find a spot for some clam chowder bread bowls. Fog Harbor Fish House served up a fine sourdough bread bowl along with some Anchor Steam beer. We even had a fun conversation with our server about Arizona, as he recognized “Crown King” from my Aravaipa race shirt!
As an avid Pokemon GO player, I had to check out the stops and gyms at Pier 39, as well. It did not disappoint! I caught a ton of water types, which we just don’t get a lot of out in Arizona. And I think I did it all without having my phone out too much!
We then strolled around, saw the sea lions, and eventually made our way to find bicycle rentals. Laura HAD to ride bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge. I was hesitant, but the whole thing won me over pretty quickly. It was a ton of fun, and I wish we had more time to go further! But we had other plans that night, and there was a lot more to see. On a later trip, we’ll definitely make our way north to the Muir Woods and all the various running trails up in that area.
I hadn’t actually heard of Little Italy in San Francisco, which is apparently a crazy thing. We weren’t staying too far from there, so of course, we wandered that way to find a nice pasta dinner and split a bottle of wine. We ended up at a place called Tommaso’s. Lasagna and fettuccine + clams were had, and we left happy! We’d then do a bit of bar hopping, as we found some great cocktails around town. May as well, as our options for food and drink would be much more limited over the next week! Plenty of tuna salad and hot dogs…
Enterprise Rent-A-Car ? Yosemite Valley (Upper Pines Campground)
The car rental place was a quick walk from where we were staying, so after an early breakfast – we made our way over to see what they might have for us. Luckily, we ended up with a Hyundai Elantra. I love Volkswagens and I love Hyundais – so this was a big win! Plenty of trunk space for all of our gear, comfy seats, and all the places to plug in our phones and other stuff.
After a supply stop at Walmart (not my favorite place to shop but our best option for a cheap cooler and easy camping food), we eventually made our way into Yosemite National Park. If you’re going to make 2-3 or more visits to a national park in a 12 month period, it’s SO worth getting the annual pass. Single entries can cost anywhere from 20 to 40 dollars, depending on the park – so it makes sense pretty quickly!
Before long, we were following a creek along the road, and it was time for a break.
Once we got to Yosemite Valley, we were greeted by traffic. SO. MANY. CARS. I was expecting this, but it was still a bit jarring. We made our way through to the campsite, got set up, and decided to shake our legs out a bit on a hike up to see Vernal Falls. It was pretty steep. I remember coming down this trail about a decade ago when I went on one of my first backpacking trips. I didn’t remember how gorgeous the waterfall would be, though. It was a great decision and gave ourselves a chance to assess how ready we might be for a big run we had planned for Saturday from Tuolumne.
After that, it was time to relax and enjoy a beer or two before our first night of this trip in a tent…
We had reservations set for all of the campgrounds on this trip, with one notable exception: Tuolumne. They say they reserve half of the spots for first come first serve, so we figured if we got there an hour before the office opened we should be okay. Boy, were we wrong. We ended up being around #30 in line – most ahead of us had gotten there 3+ hours ahead of time because they knew it would be bad. They were smart. When the office opened at 9 am, they gave out something like 10 spots. They said they’d take down names on a wait list, and we could come back at 2 pm to see if anything opened up. Our odds weren’t great, but we figured we’d roll with it. What other choice did we have? If we didn’t get a spot here, we’d (probably end up breaking some rules) and sleep in our car one night to do our long run/hike, then leave a day early and maybe stay near Lake Tahoe. Or we’d have to leave entirely and cancel the long trek outright. Neither option was great, but we figured we’d make our decision upon getting the final notice that we wouldn’t get a spot.
In the meantime, we hiked up to Dog Lake, where I decided it’d be a good idea to jump in. No regrets!
We got back to the office a little before 2 pm. I had the thought that if we (somehow) got a spot, we should open it up to share with others, as each spot allows two cars and up to six people. We sure didn’t need all that space for just the two of us and our small tent. Luckily, we happened to be standing next to another couple with the same mindset, who was awesome enough to bring us in on their camping space! We didn’t end up getting a ton of time to get to know them, but Audra and Jackson helped us out in a much bigger way than they even realized…
Day 4 – Saturday, August 5
If you know me, you know that Laura and I got engaged on this day. It was something I had planned to do but realized it may not come together (due to the camping situation, as well as getting my hands on a ring to do it with). The ring I ordered was a silicone ring – as I know we’ll both want at least one silicone ring, even if she does have a nice “real” ring with a diamond and all that stuff you’d expect. I didn’t have enough time to make the diamond ring happen before this trip, but I knew it wouldn’t be a big deal to her – I’d more than take care of that later!
So, the silicone ring was supposed to arrive the week before we left, but USPS lost the package. They’ve been notoriously bad in my neighborhood this year, and they struck again at the worst possible time. I had enough time to get a next day air UPS delivery scheduled, and it arrived the day before we left! Phew.
Well, then the whole thing with the campsite happened, but our two new friends made it happen for us. At this point in my head, champagne bottles are going off because THIS IS HAPPENING!
We got up at 5 am to hit the trails that morning. Laura wasn’t in the best of moods along the way in the first 1/3 of the trek. There was more uphill than she was expecting, and she was dealing with some hip pains. We turned the run into a hike, and it was at least manageable. Thankfully, the beauty of the Yosemite backcountry helped us in good spirits, as well!
We got up to Vogelsang, and I was surprised to see the campground up there shut down. I guess there was too much snowfall, and all the extra snowmelt must have made it more difficult to set up in a place like that. On the plus side, we had a gorgeous snowmelt waterfall and lake to enjoy. This is it. This would be the spot!
But then there were mosquitos. Dozens of them. Swarming around each of us. We were being eaten alive. Time to move! Okay, this wouldn’t be the spot…
The amazing views along Vogelsang Pass got us excited, and at this point, we even got a bit of running in! Also, running and faster movement kept the mosquitos from being able to land and bite us, so there was that too.
Eventually, we got away from the moisture of the lakes and snowmelt, and Laura found a spot to sit and rest. We were about to head back down the canyon to make our return trip. We had a great view of the surrounding peaks and the valley below. This would be the moment! I didn’t have a lot prepared to say, nor did I want to. It came from the heart, and it was an amazing moment we shared. Now, though, we still had another 10+ miles to get back to camp! I love her for being happy to do so, and there was some extra pep in our step the rest of the way.
Eventually, we came across a group of people jumping off a ledge into Tuolumne River. “We should do it” – said Laura. I didn’t hesitate to say “Okay!” …she almost backed out but decided to take the plunge along with me. It was pretty much perfect.
We drank beer and ate tuna salad. A proper celebration would come later, but for now – that’s all we needed.
Day 5 – Sunday, August 6
Tuolumne Meadows Valley ? Lassen Volcanic National Park (Manzanita Lake Campground)
The next morning, we got up early to make our drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park. We knew we had to cut around through Reno, Nevada, so we figured we’d make a stop to resupply while there. After a quick visit to Total Wine and Walmart (again), we were on our way to Lassen. We didn’t know what to expect there but had heard about a spot called Bumpass Hell with a ton of geothermal activity that looked amazing.
Upon getting to the visitor center, we learned that Bumpass was closed due to trail conditions related to late snow melt. Further, the road through the park had only even opened for the season the week before we got there! So there was even a bit of luck in that – else we wouldn’t have seen much of anything. We learned about auto touring through the park, allowing us to make various stops along the way to see everything. From spacious views to waterfalls, icy lakes to boiling mud… there was SO much to see.
Lassen caught us by surprise and impressed the heck out of us. I would recommend a late August or September trip to at least drive through it. We’ll be back another day to explore more of the trails in the area. The campground was pretty nice, too – with showers and washer/dryers for us to clean up a bit!
Day 6 – Monday, August 7
Lassen Volcanic National Park ? Crater Lake National Park (Mazama Village Campground)
I don’t think I’ve been too clear on the fact that we’d been setting an alarm and waking up in the dark every day of camping so far. At this point, we were looking forward to this being the final day we’d have to do that. We had tickets on a boat at Crater Lake set for late in the morning, so we had to hit the road early – but after today, we could start sleeping in a bit!
Laura probably wouldn’t hesitate to tell you how I was freaking out a bit on this drive. I wanted to get there on time, with the ability to get in a bathroom break, make some lunch, etc. They said that once we drove all the way around the east rim of Crater Lake that there would be a steep hike down to the dock. I guess in my head, I imagined something along the lines of steep hikes that we’re used to here in Phoenix. Well, it turned out to be a nicely graded and heavily switchbacked trail, which we flew down in a matter of minutes. I may have skipped a few spots that Laura wanted to stop for a photo. We could stop on the way back, right? Right???
Well, it turns out that there was a forest fire in the area that was churning out a ton of smoke. By the time the afternoon rolled around, you couldn’t see across the lake anymore. Photo opportunities were gone. Whoops. Sorry, babe.
We still had some time in the afternoon, so we got a short hike in. After finishing the one-mile loop at Godfrey Glen, I decided to get a hot lap in. I can’t tell you how much I love running on the moist forest dirt that I’ve found the Pacific Northwest (and Colorado, too!) to be plentiful with. It’s an amazing change from the dust and hard rocks I’ve grown used to here in Phoenix.
After that, we had time to goof around a bit at camp, as we looked forward to sleeping in without setting an alarm! Let the weenie roast begin!
Crater Lake National Park ? Lost Lake Resort Campground
The next day, I had planned to stop in Bend, Oregon to visit the Deschutes Brewery. We ended up getting there plenty early, and would have had to kill a solid hour before they even opened, though. Instead, we pressed on and planned to stop up in wine and fruit country near the Columbia River Gorge.
We found a couple of lovely places to drink cider and wine and have a little picnic for ourselves. We had just missed cherry season, so there wasn’t a ton of fruit to pick – but we still enjoyed it all nonetheless. Before heading to Lost Lake, we figured we’d get an early dinner in town – hitting up a couple of breweries to make up for skipping Deschutes earlier! Wins for everyone on this afternoon!
When we pulled up to our camping spot, it looked like a tiny parking spot and a patch of dirt behind us. BUT THEN WE SAW THE STAIRS! Our camping spot was literally down a set of wooden stairs on the side of the hill, and it was absolutely amazing and perfect.
Next stop? Thunder Island Brewing for lunch, a spot we discovered last year on our Portland trip. I took advantage of wifi to upload various photos and Strava data at this point!
After a stop in Portland for some fantastic ice cream (I got a carrot cake batter cone – words cannot even express…), we made our way to Mount Rainier National Park. After setting up camp for the final time of this trip, we went for a run on a section of the Wonderland Trail – the trail that goes around the whole mountain. We’d seen so much of the Pacific Northwest, but this place still impressed and fascinated us.
At a certain point on this run, however, we started to be attacked by a pair of bees. I don’t know exactly what we did to offend them, but they wouldn’t leave us alone. Laura managed to lose them in a creek crossing, but I still had one on me and ended up running 1.5 miles back down the trail to a river crossing. It followed me all the way and kept bouncing off my head! Crazy, but I was glad to be done with that. Laura took her time a bit more on the way back, and we ultimately ended up having a nice night in the hammock before getting to sleep in the tent once more.
Day 9 – Thursday, August 10
Mount Rainier National Park ? Seattle, WA (Hotel Hotel Hostel)
We wanted to explore some other trails in Mount Rainer NP, but we found that there was a nail in our front right tire, and there was a slow leak plaguing us. We got some air in the tire, and decided to forgo any further forest adventures until our next trip. Onward to Seattle!
Without getting bogged down in the details, we ended up swapping our Hyundai for a Ford F-150. Up to this point, Laura and I had been trading off driving duties a fair bit along the way. I tried driving the truck for a while, but once I got us to where we were going for lunch, I had enough. Laura was the all time driver for the rest of the trip. I felt kinda bad about that, but it was really the best option. I’ve only driven smaller cars and SUVs in my time. She’s had plenty of experience with trucks. We’d make it work.
That said, pizza was at a place called Stellar. Really good pizza. Even better chicken wings. Solid beer options, too! Seattle was off to a good start.
We got to the hostel and checked in. We had reserved a private room, and it was nicer even than where we stayed in SF! It was hot though, so after a short nap, we decided we needed to get out and about. We found a nice spot for some lemonade and coffee, explored the area we were staying (which turned out to be a tech hub – Google and other companies had offices there), and then called a Lyft to take us over towards Pike Place.
We had plans to go to dinner at Din Tai Fung and then bar hop. Everything was great. After our dinner of steamed dumplings, we made our way to Elysian Brewing for some good local beers. We then looked up a speakeasy Laura had previously found online and decided to walk in that direction. As we drew close, we found a ridiculously gigantic Starbucks, checked out their roasting operations, and had a quick cold brew before moving on.
The speakeasy, called Needle and Thread, was accessible from a bar called Tavern Law. There’s a phone on one wall that rings directly to the bar upstairs. They had space, and up we went. They don’t have a menu at this bar. They just ask you to describe some tastes you like and what you don’t like, and they’ll make something for you. I don’t recall what Laura had, but they made me a killer Negroni. NAILED IT.
After that, we ended up in a few other places, but one spot of note was called Unicorn. Cheap beers and tons of pinball machines downstairs, including a WWE machine!
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Day 10 – Friday, August 11
Seattle, WA ? Vancouver, BC, Canada (Airbnb)
Time to hit the road for Canada and both of our first visit to Vancouver. The border was fairly easy. Not much of a wait to get across. Spoke with the border guard for a few minutes, and then he let us on our way!
We wandered a bit around the Gastown area of Vancouver, grabbed a quick lunch, and then headed over to the Vancouver Convention Centre for SeaWheeze packet pick up. Oh yeah, remember, this all started with a half marathon in mind? Ha.
It was a cool area. They had the Olympic cauldron from the 2010 Olympics on display, as well as some other really cool art. lululemon had big yoga classes going on, and people were everywhere excited for the next morning to arrive. We were excited, too. We made our way to our Airbnb apartment, ate a ton of noodles, and called it an early night.
After a few days of respite from the alarm, we woke up early on Saturday to allow ourselves enough time to drop of gear bags for after the race, and then make our way down to the starting line.
Both of us at some point had talked about going for a personal record at this race. But I hadn’t specifically trained to do so. And Laura’s hip was bugging her intermittently. Still, we thought it might happen. We figured we’d just take what the race gave us, and see how it goes.
After a beautiful rendition of “O Canada”, we were off! We ran the first couple of miles together, which was a ton of fun. But at a certain point, I said bye to her and I was on my way through the crowd en route to a new PR! There was a turnaround, and we were able to high five each other in passing, which was nice. We wouldn’t see each other again until she finished with her own PR, too!
The race itself was beautiful, with about half of it passing through the downtown area, and the other half along the Vancouver sea wall and through Stanley Park. Along the way, lululemon set up a lot of ridiculousness:
a spinning class on the bridge to cheer us on
a boxing class (and people sparring as we passed!)
police issuing speeding tickets and firefighters hosing us down
It was an amazing feeling as we each crossed the finish line in the time that we did. After the race, we stumbled around for a while, before finding a spot to eat and celebrate over beer.
We’d eventually make our way back to the Airbnb for a nap and shower before the post-race party, also at Stanley Park. lululemon spared no expenses, as we got to rock out with The Cold War Kids and Young the Giant while drinking our “Obligatory Victory Beers”!
After busting our butts and spending more time on our feet the night before, we were a bit sore on Sunday! What better way to deal with that, though, than visiting a beautiful park built around an amazing pedestrian suspension bridge? Capilano Park was a pretty cool way to spend our morning.
We woke up on our final morning with two things in mind: Korean food and ice cream in Seattle before making our way to the airport. Before we could get there, we had to get back across the border. While crossing into Canada was rather quick, getting back into the states took well over an hour once we got near. The actual questioning was similar in length and detail to the Canada side, but there just seemed to be a lot more cars crossing back over on a Monday.
We pretty much had enough time to get some delicious bulgogi and kalbi ribs, followed by yet more awesome ice cream. Final stop was at Goodwill to drop off the cooler we picked up in California and some other camping gear we didn’t need anymore.
Seattle, WA (SEA) ✈️ Phoenix, AZ (PHX)
Deep breaths as we dropped off the car and checked in at SeaTac. We had done and seen so much. It was a bit sad to see it come to an end, but coming out of this trip as a happily engaged couple only meant that this was but one of many big adventures we’d go on with each other in our lifetimes. Until the next one, then!
San Francisco is a haven for Pokémon GO. Riding bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge is pretty awesome.
I love Yosemite, but it’s becoming (has been for a while, probably) overcrowded. If you can’t reserve a campsite or back country pass ahead of time, you’ll need some major luck on your side.
We got engaged!
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a place you may not have heard of, but it’s SO worth the drive.
Crater Lake is really freaking cool.
Lost Lake Resort is a great (hidden?) gem near Portland with amazing campsites and a beautiful lake.
Mount Rainier’s trees are amazing and the thick growth forests are something we’ll need to spend more time in.
Seattle has some solid Asian food and some solid cocktail bars.
We both set new personal records in the half marathon distance!
We didn’t see Ryan Reynolds in Vancouver. Therefore, we must go back.