Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux

Even though I’m sure I visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park at least once if not twice before my recent trip, I honestly didn’t remember any part of it. Nothing looked familiar, none of the trail names sounded familiar, and no parts of it seemed vaguely familiar to me. Granted, my first visit would have been roughly 22 years ago and the other visit around 19 years ago, but still, I would have thought I would have remembered at least some of it. Then again, the first time I was with a friend of mine in high school and her family so I would have just been driven around by her parents, totally clueless about my whereabouts. The second time would have been a quick trip so I’m sure I didn’t spend much time in the area and certainly wouldn’t have had time to do as much hiking as I did this time.

I feel like I really didn’t give the park enough justice before when I was there but this time, I thoroughly got some hiking miles in and saw at least a big chunk of the park. That being said, Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers over 500,000 acres divided between Tennessee and North Carolina (so maybe just a little chunk of it). It is the most visited national park by far, with more than double the number of visitors at the second most visited park, the Grand Canyon. The elevation ranges from 875 feet at the mouth of Abrams Creek to 6,643 feet at Clingmans Dome; sixteen mountain peaks exceed 6,000 feet in elevation.

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Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I’m primarily going to go over the trails we hiked since that’s the vast majority of how we spent our time at the park. We spent five full days plus a partial day hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and went to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on our first day. This was a good place to start because you can get a feel for the history in the park. Many years ago, log buildings were gathered from various places in the Smoky Mountains and preserved at places like this visitor center. We saw a historical house, barn, applehouse, springhouse, smokehouse, and blacksmith shop. The Oconaluftee River Trail is easy and short at 1.5 miles from the museum entrance. We were also excited to see an elk by the visitor center as we were leaving.

We also visited the Sugarlands Visitor Center, on our second day. There’s a short and easy trail to Cataract Falls, but I felt like the waterfall was pretty small and disappointing (good thing it wasn’t a long, strenuous hike). One of the more popular trails we hiked is the Alum Cave Trail, a moderate hike of 4.5 miles. On this trail we saw Arch Rock and Alum Cave. After a quick lunch of sandwiches we had previously bought that morning, we hiked Chimney Tops Trail. This was listed as moderate and is only 3 miles, but it’s extremely steep with only a few switchbacks so it felt like we were climbing straight up the mountain. We saw plenty of rhododendron and wildflowers but not a whole lot else.

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Highlights from Chimney Tops and Alum Cave Trails

On our third day, we did the Roaring Fork Auto Tour. For this, you turn onto Historic Nature Trail, which merges with Cherokee Orchard Road. Our first stop was the Noah “Bud” Ogle Place, a historic house. There was a short nature trail behind the house that we took but somehow we ended up on a much longer trail, the Gatlinburg Trail, which we hadn’t planned on hiking and we ended up having to get back to the main road and walk back that way rather than backtracking, which would have taken much longer.

Next stop on the Roaring Fork Auto Tour was Rainbow Falls Trail. This trail is 2.8 miles each way, if you can actually find parking close to the trailhead, which we couldn’t, so we ended up hiking more like 6.5 miles total. There is a much smaller falls area just before (maybe 0.5 miles) you get to the actual Rainbow Falls. Don’t make the mistake of stopping at the first waterfall, as we almost did, but keep going until you see a massive waterfall.

After another quick lunch of previously purchased sandwiches, our next stop was the Trillium Gap Trail, also known as Grotto Falls Trail. This hike was pretty easy compared to the others in the area and is 1.3 miles each way. The waterfall was one of the best we had seen so far and absolutely worth the hike. We also saw a bear! It was slowly lumbering around the long line of cars, not paying any attention to any of the people. We were walking to our car when we saw it and it was far enough away from us that I wasn’t scared. That would come later during our second bear encounter.

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Sights seen along the Roaring Fork Auto Tour

There were historical sites next on the drive but we only stopped at Ephraim Bales Place. By now most of the historical sites seemed the same- small two-room log cabins, completely empty, with low ceilings and maybe one window (to save money on wood and windows). We probably would have stopped at the most “modern” of the historical sites on the drive, Alfred Reagan Place, but there were only three parking spaces and they were all occupied, so we skipped it.

The final stop on the drive is at Place of a Thousand Drips. This is a unique waterfall, as the flow of water splits into numerous channels, cascading around rocks and “creating a thousand drips.” There were several people climbing around the waterfall and of course my teenage daughter wanted to climb up. I chose to watch from the bottom and was glad for my decision when I saw so many people slipping and/or falling (my daughter was fine and never fell but said it was extremely slippery coming back down).

On our fourth day, we hiked Laurel Falls Trail, the most popular hike in GSMNP. It’s one of the few longish paved trails in the park, at 2.6 miles roundtrip. It’s an easy hike and the payoff is big, with a 25-foot waterfall that seems even bigger than that, after just 1.3 miles of easy walking. After lunch (yes, you guessed it, sandwiches we had previously purchased) we drove to Jakes Creek Trail, near the village of Elkmont in a historic district referred to as “Daisy Town.” The Little River Lumber Company logged the area into the mid-1920’s. Adjacent Daisy Town was an escape for the elite people of Knoxville. Currently, the park is restoring 19 of the former 74 homes. You can walk through some of the former homes, which we did before starting out on the trail. Jakes Creek Trail is 3.7 miles each way and runs along Jake’s Creek for a huge portion of the trail, giving plenty of water views and the sound of water flowing all around you as you hike. There was hardly anyone else on the trail, so it was quiet and peaceful.

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Jakes Creek and Laurel Falls Trail Highlights

Our last full day in the park was the most exciting, as you will see. The longest single hike for us was Ramsey Cascades Trail, at 8 miles long. We expected to have bathrooms at the trailhead, as was common at many other trailheads in the park, but alas there were none, and the tea we had at breakfast was running right through us. Maybe a mile into our hike, I found a huge boulder not far off the trail and told my daughter to go first while I waited for her, then I went to use the bathroom. As I was walking back around the boulder, my daughter said in an extremely calm voice, “Momma, there’s a bear.” Sure enough, there was a bear standing right in front of me maybe 4 feet away. My daughter started slowly walking away from the bear, going further up the trail. The bear looked at me, made a grunting sound, clawed at the tree in front of it, then slowly started walking away in the opposite direction from us. I slowly backed away and we continued on our way up the trail.

I kept checking to make sure the bear wasn’t following us, but it didn’t appear to be. When we passed people going the opposite direction from us, we were told a couple of times that they had seen a bear, but we never saw another bear on that trail. Finally after 4 miles, we reached the waterfall, which was an impressive one, at 100 feet tall. The trail was pretty intense towards the falls, with slippery rocks that we had to scramble over, but most of the trail was fairly easy, with gradual climbs. When we reached our car, we decided to dip our feet in the ice-cold water and it was so refreshing!

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Ramsey Cascades Trail (nope, no bear pics this time! We just wanted to get away!)

There are of course many more trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but those are the ones we chose to do. Some came recommended by the hotel staff where we stayed and others were ones I had researched on my own that sounded interesting. You can also easily just drive around the park, park at overlooks, and take in the views that way if you’re not really into hiking. I believe that’s what we must have done the first time I went with my friend and her family, as best as I can remember, but you obviously don’t get as much of a real feel for a place when you see it that way.

For information on camping, pets, history, wildlife, and all the information you could possibly want or need to plan a trip there, check out the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website by the National Parks Service.

Have you been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park? If so, did you hike when you were there? Any amazing trails I missed that you recommend? Did you see one (or two) of the estimated 1600 bears in the area?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Book Review- Mental Toughness for Runners: a Complete Guide by Michele Ufer

This year I’ve been reading more books on the mental aspect of running. I loved Deana Kastor’s book Let Your Mind Run and have found myself referring to some things she covered in the book on some tough runs or when I’m just not in the right frame of mind. When I heard about Michele Ufer’s book and the story behind the author, I knew I had to read his book.

Michele Ufer is a German athlete who came upon the ultra running scene apparently out of nowhere in 2011. Despite having seemingly almost no running experience, Mr. Ufer decided to run a 250 km stage race in the Atacama Desert in Chile at an altitude of 2500-3500 meters (8202-11,483 feet) and not only finished but managed to finish in seventh place overall. He attributes his success to his extensive mental training before the race. The link to the Atacama Crossing Ultramarathon is here.

Most people that prepare to run an ultra distance (anything longer than a marathon) put in extra miles running. They increase their distance gradually to build up their bodies and put in the super-long miles on the weekends in addition to the weekly miles. The emphasis is very much on running, strength-training, stretching, and recovery, but all of this relates to the physical aspect of running with the majority of runners. You don’t hear about an ultra runner spending hours on end working on the mental aspect of running.

But this is exactly what Ufer did when he was preparing for the Atacama Crossing. Ufer, who has a PhD in sports psychology, drew on his extensive knowledge to take advantage of the psychological and motivational potential of goals and mental training. He utilized not just one or two mental strategies, but several, such as creating internal images, self-talk, the power of music, and inner monologues.

The idea behind the importance of the mental aspect of running is nothing new; runners have been aware of the importance of the mind for many years. You hear things like we need to think positive thoughts when we’re running and we need to have a good attitude. Other than thinking positively, however, there honestly isn’t much concrete and exact advice out there on the subject. Until now.

Screen Shot 2020-03-06 at 3.49.21 PMDr. Ufer’s book is absolutely filled with practical exercises designed to work on the mental aspect of running. As I type that, I realize of course this is applicable to not just running but life in general. Being stronger mentally is certainly a trait anyone whether they’re a runner or not would benefit from.

He also recognizes that there’s more to mental training than just thinking positive thoughts and there are indeed limitations. If I think to myself that I will be a 3-hour marathoner even though my fastest marathon to date is 4 hours and 20 minutes, it doesn’t mean that will magically happen just by thinking it will, even if I include other mental training actions such as visualization and others but I just can’t reach the goal times necessary for that 3 hour finish time on my training runs. In other words, you do have to be realistic and know your physical limitations.

What sets this book apart from others on the subject of the mental aspect of running are the numerous exercises. There are questions to ask yourself such as “Which activities and things give you strength, do you enjoy doing, and are good for you?” You make a list and rank everything accordingly. There are also tons of visual imaging exercises, such as visualizing yourself from another person’s perspective. The instructions are thorough and allow you to dig deep into your inner thoughts.

Perhaps one of the most extensive sections deals with understanding your true self when it comes to running and what state your mental strength is currently in. There are exercises on diagnosing your own personal mental strengths during training and competition. You rank each of them and at the end are able to identify the mental skills needed to overcome certain challenges that you can work on. There is also an exercise to ask yourself the reasons why you run.

The book moves on to focus on using more appropriate language to ourselves, like focusing on goals instead of mistakes or things we do not want. He talks about using “towards” goals instead of “away from” goals, like instead of saying “I don’t want to get stomach cramps” you could say, “I want to feel light on my feet and full of energy.” Much of this is also spinning negative thoughts into positive thoughts.

A thorough visualization guide takes you through how exactly to visualize things rather than just saying something like, “Picture yourself running.” Dr. Ufer gives several different exercises to help with being able to thoroughly visualize sequences of events. By the end of the chapter, you should be able to picture in your mind’s eye how you mentally wish to experience everything from the evening before an important competition all the way through to how you want to feel after you cross the finish line.

Not to lead you down the path that this is just another book on positive thinking, Dr. Ufer points out the negative effects of positive thinking. He says that many studies now show that some people who are most effected by depression, self-doubt, and are unhappy with their current situation are actually pushed deeper into depression by a constant deluge of positive thinking; instead we should be more realistic and constructive. He also discusses ways to handle failure, crises, and injuries.

If you enjoy introspection and figuring out how your mind works and would like to work on the mental aspect of running, I believe you may enjoy this book. However, if you’re unwilling to put the time necessary to do the exercises, you probably won’t get nearly as much from this book but you still might find it interesting. Be prepared to answer many questions about yourself and dig deep into what Dr. Ufer calls your “personal navigation system.”

Do you enjoy learning about the mental aspect of running? Have you read any good books on the mental part of running?

Happy running!

Donna

 

South Dakota- Memorials, National and State Parks, and Wild West

I realized the other night there’s something I need to fix here. I woke up from a dead sleep with the thought that I have done a disservice to South Dakota. I ran a half marathon there a few years ago and it was my 34th state as part of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states in the US. You can read all about the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon here. However, I only recently realized I never wrote up a proper blog on all of the things to do in South Dakota. Now I will fix that.

On my journey to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I visited North Dakota first. No offense if you live in North Dakota, but I didn’t care much for Bismarck and the surrounding areas when I was there. It all seemed drab, uninteresting, and everyone there that we talked to kept talking about how much they dreaded winter coming even though it was only September. Maybe there are “better” parts of North Dakota, but this was my experience.

When it came time to plan my race and vacation afterwards (or “racecation”) for South Dakota, I expected the area to be similar to North Dakota since they are adjoining states. I couldn’t have been more wrong. South Dakota seemed like a complete 180 degree difference from North Dakota to me. There’s only one national park in North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, about a 2 hour drive from Bismarck, plus two national historic sites. However, there are two national parks plus four service sites in South Dakota:  Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Missouri National Recreational River, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Wind Cave National Park. That’s just the national parks and sites, too; there’s also the Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, and some fun wild-west towns.

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Badlands National Park

If you want to choose one place as your home base and take day trips to see as many of these places as possible, Rapid City is a good choice. There are a multitude of hotels and restaurants and you won’t have to do hours on end of driving in a day. 37 miles (about a 45 minute drive) from Rapid City is the Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse is the world’s largest in-progress sculpture carving, as well as the longest ongoing, having begun in 1948. When the sculpture is complete it will not only feature the Oglala Lakota warrior known as Crazy Horse but also his horse and will be 27 feet taller than Mount Rushmore. There’s a restaurant on the grounds, gift shop, museum, cultural center, and more that you can read about on their website here.

After leaving the Crazy Horse Memorial, drive 16 miles to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone. There is free admission to Mount Rushmore but you will have to pay parking fees. Carvers’ Cafe is the only dining facility in the park and it serves food typical in a US national park (sandwiches, burgers, salads, soups, chicken meals, desserts, and drinks). I also recommend visiting the Lincoln Borglum Museum at the memorial. One special activity is park ranger talks that accompany the sculpture illumination every year starting the Friday before Memorial Day. Although the park ranger talks stop mid-September, the sculpture is illuminated after sunset all year.  

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Mount Rushmore

For your next day trip, drive an hour south to visit Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park. If you go to Jewel Cave first and end with Wind Cave, the drive back to Rapid City is more direct. I highly recommend getting there early to make in-person reservations for a tour ahead of time at both places or you may get there only to be disappointed the tour you really wanted to do is booked for the day. You can only make online reservations for large groups and some tours sell out by 11 am. Surprisingly, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the busiest days so you actually might encounter smaller crowds on weekends. Although Jewel Cave is the third-longest cave on Earth, you definitely want to go to both caves because they are very different experiences. It’s also a good idea to bring a sweater even in the summer because Jewel Cave is a constant 40 degrees F year-round.

Custer State Park, about 45 minutes south of Rapid City, is the largest state park in South Dakota and is definitely worth a full day. The park is full of approximately 1,300 bison, bighorn sheep, burros, prairie dogs, and mule deer. Drive the scenic Wildlife Loop Road through the park but also get out and explore the park’s trails. On your way back to Rapid City, take Needles Highway (SD-87). This National Scenic Byway is gorgeous and you’ll see the famous Needles Eye Tunnel. Stop and look around at the panoramic views, and then find the trailhead for the Cathedral Spires Trail. It’s only 1.6 miles long but offers some incredible views.

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Custer State Park

About an hour from Rapid City is one of my favorite places in South Dakota, Badlands National Park. This national park is 244,000 acres and has one of the most unique landscapes I’ve seen. In addition to buffalo, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, prairie dogs and numerous birds that you’ll see in the park, fossil hunting is allowed as long as you leave everything where you found it, and there are of course many trails you can explore. The only lodging and restaurant in the park is Cedar Pass Lodge and Restaurant.

If you want to see a Wild West town, Deadwood is a fun place and is about an hour’s drive from Rapid City. You can go to the Black Hills Mining Museum, Adams Museum to learn about the history of the Black Hills, tour the Broken Boot Gold Mine, and go to the 1876 Dinner Theater. You can also find a casino, breweries and wineries, and many types of walking tours. Some people might think of the area as touristy and even cheesy but I found the museums interesting and worth checking out to learn more about the history of the area.

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Learning about panning for gold

This is just a sampling of some places to visit and things to do in the western region of South Dakota. There’s also Bear Butte State Park in Sturgis, Roughlock Falls Nature Area in Lead, George S. Mickelson Trail in Lead, and Fort Meade Recreation Area in Sturgis for some other great outdoor places to visit. Amazingly, this is all just one section of South Dakota. There are also dozens of other state parks, recreation areas, forests, and nature areas in the central, northeast, and southeast regions of South Dakota, which you can find on this comprehensive website.

Have you been to South Dakota? If so, are there places you visited that I left off here?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Review of Decathlon Running Apparel or Why Running Tights Should Not Cost $158

I first stumbled upon the sporting goods store Decathlon when I was reading something online and they referred to it. Honestly, I don’t even remember what the article was about, but it mentioned something about a sporting goods store founded in France called Decathlon. Naturally, I looked it up, only to find there were no brick-and-mortar stores in the US anywhere near me but I could still buy online. Decathlon sells apparel and equipment for a wide range of athletes and outdoor-enthusiasts, for a huge list of activities like running, walking, hiking, swimming, fishing, hunting, combat sports, archery, yoga, racket sports, and on and on. Here’s their website:  Decathlon.com.

Even though there are currently only a couple of stores in the San Francisco area in the US, Decathlon is apparently the largest sporting goods retailer in the world. They are able to keep costs low by offering 20 of its own brands and cutting out the middleman. Their running-specific brand is Kalenji, though of course there are other brands of running apparel than this one. Still, you won’t find brands like Nike, Adidas, or any other “big-name” companies at Decathlon.

I took a chance and placed my first online order in January of 2019. In that first order, I bought a pair of capri running tights for $10.90, a long-sleeve running pullover for $11.90, a fleece jacket technically for sailing according to Decathlon for $17.90, and a pair of ankle-length running tights for $14.90, with free shipping, coming to a grand total of $55.60. I’ve run in, gone to yoga class, and lifted weights in this athletic apparel many times since then and everything still looks brand new.

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One of the hats and tights on the left, pullover on the right

When I first received the tights and capris, I’ll admit I was a little concerned because the material seemed a bit thin. However, I’ve run in both pair of bottoms through a total downpour and/or more manageable rain, extremely windy conditions, and just your average chilly day and have never been cold (or overheated) in them, meaning they “breath” extremely well, perhaps surprisingly well given the price. Everything from my original order has been worn through many conditions, washed, and dried many times and as I said earlier, still looks like new.

Since that initial order, I’ve ordered a pair of running shorts for $7.00, a “mountain backpacking” cap that I wear to run in for $7.99, another “mountain backpacking” cap that I also run in for $3.00, and a “hiking” fleece jacket for $10. This all came to a grand total of $27.99 with no shipping fees. Currently for orders over $30, Decathlon offers free shipping (that minimum amount for free shipping has ranged from $25-$50 since I first ordered with them). Just like with my previous order, I’ve absolutely loved everything I’ve ordered. Everything has fit well and doesn’t feel “cheap.” The tights, capris, and shorts all came with a zippered pocket in the back. Both fleece jackets came with zippered pockets. The caps are fully adjustable.

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When I found out there was an actual Decathlon store in Spain near where I had a vacation planned for the end of June, I was very excited and of course was looking forward to visiting the store in person. Then COVID-19 hit and American citizens were prohibited from flying to the EU so I had to cancel that trip.

Still, online sales work for me, especially now that I know what sizes fit me best. I should note too that I’ve never had to send anything back because of poor quality or it didn’t fit. Just about the only complaint I have is they’re sometimes out of stock in my size. If you’re looking for multiple items and/or can be flexible, that definitely helps, otherwise you’ll likely be disappointed. I have no doubt that their inventory is depleted even more so now because of COVID-19.

Finally, I’d like to argue against anyone who might say their gear is cheap and bad for the environment because it doesn’t last long and has to be thrown out every couple of seasons. I still have every single item I’ve purchased from Decathlon and every thing is still in great shape. Besides, running clothes typically don’t last for anything like a decade anyway whether they’re $158 running tights from Lululemon or $14.90 running tights from Decathlon.

Have you ever bought anything from Decathlon? Are you the type of person that’s brand-loyal and will pay more money just because you’re comfortable with the brand or are you more willing to try new brands and new companies?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Long Weekend in Greenville, South Carolina- An Unexpected Surprise

Once things started opening back up during the COVID-19 crisis and it became clear that South Carolina was a safe choice to visit, I wanted to plan a road trip from North Carolina for a long weekend getaway. I’ve been to Charleston, South Carolina and all along the coast many times but I hadn’t been to many places inland. I had heard good things about Greenville so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to do some exploring.

Greenville, South Carolina is on the northwestern corner of the state, about an hour from Asheville, North Carolina or 2 1/2 hours from Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s only the sixth- largest city in the state with almost 71,000 people, but there is plenty to do especially for a city of its size.

I knew we wanted to do as much hiking as possible, because that’s what we enjoy doing on vacation. On our first day, I knew we wouldn’t have much time for hiking, though, so a visit to Lake Conestee Nature Preserve was perfect. The Preserve is 400 acres on the Reedy River 6 miles south of downtown Greenville. There are both an evergreen forest and hardwood forest, wetlands, and wildlife from deer, raccoon, beaver, fox, river otter, and hundreds of bird species. Unfortunately, only paved trails were open due to the pandemic, but we were still able to spend a couple of hours walking around in the peaceful setting.

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Lake Conestee Nature Preserve

We arranged to spend the entire next day at Paris Mountain State Park, which is about 20 minutes from downtown Greenville. There is an admission fee for entry of $6 for adults and $3.50 for children. Tent or RV camp sites are available and there is a designated swimming area. However, we were there for the trails and there are 15 miles of hiking trails in the park.

We decided to hike the Sulphur Springs Trail first. It’s 3.6 miles and is labeled strenuous. There are several steep sections, deep ravines and running streams lined with mountain laurel and rhododendron. We saw a few waterfalls and came to a large dam. Since we like to pick up lunch at a grocery store and eat along the trails when we hike, this saved us time of not having to leave the park for lunch and re-enter, plus we had a nice view while we ate. Before the day was over, we also hiked several other trails including Lake Placid Trail, Mountain Creek Trail, and Turtle Trail. You can find all of the information on trails in the park here.

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Our third day was reserved for the Falls Park on the Reedy area. My daughter and I ran along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, an incredible greenway system consisting of 22 miles of paved trails along the Reedy River on a historic rail bed. We absolutely loved running here- there were trees and flowers everywhere and so many choices of directions to run (or biking is also a popular option). This was my unexpected surprise; I knew we would spend some time on the Swamp Rabbit Trail but I had no idea it’s as extensive as it is nor as absolutely beautiful as it is.

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The Swamp Rabbit Trail (just a tiny fraction of it)

After a 6 mile run on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, we met back up with my husband and the three of us went to breakfast at a unique and tasty place, Coffee Underground. With our bellies filled, we walked around Falls Park on the Reedy and explored around there. You can hear the rushing falls as you walk around the numerous gardens and over Liberty Bridge, a suspension bridge built as a work of art.

Shops and restaurants are all within walking distance of the falls. There are no shortage of art galleries and one of our favorites is Open Art Studios, where we bought a small painting. They have a diverse collection of art at affordable prices. In fact, we enjoyed the Falls Park on the Reedy area so much we decided to go back on our fourth and final day in Greenville. On that return trip, we came upon a small arboretum and more gardens we hadn’t seen before. We also had a filling breakfast at Maple Street Biscuit Company, which is near the falls.

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Falls Park on the Reedy

A final place I’d like to mention is The Commons, a 12,000 square-foot food hall with open dining, outdoor seating, and is right by the Swamp Rabbit Trail. For food, you can choose from Automatic Taco, Bake Room, The Community Tap, GB & D (Golden Brown & Delicioius), and Methodical Coffee. We picked up some freshly baked goods from Bake Room, some beers from The Community Tap, and a kombucha from GB & D and sat outside with our dogs and enjoyed the beautiful day. There are also a couple of shops, Carolina Triathlon for people who like to run, bike, and/or swim and Billiam, a custom-designed denim shop.

Greenville, South Carolina may not be a top vacation spot for many people but I found it to be even better than I expected. It’s a place I highly recommend spending a long weekend in if you’re ever in the general area and are up for a road trip. Greenville has so many different places to hike, bike, run, walk, eat, and shop, I feel it has something for everyone.

Have you been to Greenville, South Carolina? Never heard of it but are intrigued?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Accept It

I’m going to begin this post with a quote I found after I was mostly done writing it, but it fits perfectly with what I’m about to say:

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell

I feel like so much of my life has been a series of unexpected outcomes. Despite careful thought and planning, so many aspects of my life have not turned out remotely how I thought they would. My career path for example has certainly not been what I thought it would be from when I was just starting college. I went from thinking I wanted to major in computer science to ending up with two degrees in biology when all was said and done, with a couple of diversions in between (pharmacy school and an occupational therapy program were considerations at one point during college).

My personal life has also not turned out how I thought it would other than the state I live in. When I was a young girl my family and I visited North Carolina and I fell in love with the state so much I knew one day I would end up living here. This, despite the fact that I looked at jobs in Atlanta, Georgia and the Washington, D.C. area up into Maryland in addition to North Carolina when I was finishing up graduate school and looking for a job. After visiting both aforementioned places and then visiting North Carolina, I knew North Carolina was the place I wanted to put down roots. I didn’t even have a job offer when I moved to North Carolina, but the economy was booming at the time and I was confident I would find a job in the research field soon enough, which I did. The rest is history as far as that is concerned.

Still, outside of my choice of place of residence, almost nothing in my life has turned out like I thought it would. Even my current job, which I’ve had for the past 20 years didn’t turn out like I thought. When I first moved to North Carolina, someone recommended I apply for a job where I currently work and I told them I didn’t want to do that kind of work for a living. I wouldn’t even consider it.

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After a couple of years working at a university, my boss announced he was retiring soon so I started looking for a job somewhere else. I applied for a position at the place someone had first recommended to me before and I got the job. Even then I didn’t think I would really want to stay at the job that long and I told them I was only going to work at this place for a couple of years until something better came along. I’m not even sure why I had in my head that I didn’t want to work at this place or do this kind of research.

Pretty quickly I found out that yes, indeed I did want to do that kind of research. Not only that, I love that kind of research and love my boss and co-workers so much I’ve never even considered working anywhere else and have plans on staying at my current work place until I can retire. Just another example of something not turning out how I thought it would in my life.

A few years after I moved to North Carolina, I went through a rough patch in my life. Basically, my marriage was ending but I wasn’t ready to accept that it was over. I didn’t want to admit to myself and others that my marriage was over because I thought everyone else would think of me as a failure. Because my marriage failed, I myself was a failure, or so that’s how my mind was working at the time.

Every day on my way home from work, I would cry in the car. I wasn’t ready to admit my marriage was over but I was miserable. Every morning I would throw up and that continued for a month straight. One day I was waiting to pull onto the main road from my work place and I looked at the car in front of me and read their license plate. It said, “AcceptIt.” Accept it. Almost immediately I stopped crying. It was like an epiphany hit me. I needed to accept that my marriage was over in order to move on with my life.

It was as if a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders after that. Once I accepted that my marriage was over and just because my marriage failed didn’t mean I personally was a failure, I could finally sort through my emotions and deal with everything I had been going through.

I feel like so much has happened in 2020 that has been out of my hands and my life has once again been turned upside-down. Sure, COVID-19 has turned most people’s lives around in ways they never thought possible. Races were cancelled or postponed in my personal life and travel plans were also cancelled or postponed but those things are trivial. I know many other people had to deal with more serious issues like lost jobs, deaths in the family, and the postponement of major events they had planned.

Some things have happened in my life that I’m not going to get into the details of but suffice to say someone else made a major decision for me and, I’ve had to accept it once again. Accept that everything will work out in the end so I can move on with my life. Accept that everything happens for a reason and just because we can’t see that reason at the moment doesn’t mean we won’t see the reason later in life.

I’m not sure how I feel about fate. I feel like we all make our own choices in life but sometimes other people make choices for us that also effect our lives, sometimes in a profound way. On the other hand, I feel like we all have a pre-determined path we’re supposed to follow. Maybe if we decide to not follow that path, our lives will be harder than they’re supposed to be.

All I know for sure is I’ve learned no matter what happens in life, if we don’t accept it, things will be that much harder for us. It’s like beating your head against a brick wall trying to fight changes that just aren’t in your best interest versus going with the flow and accepting your current path in life. Right now, all I can try to do to make the best of things is accept it and know that everything will work out in the end how they’re supposed to.

I know I don’t normally post things like this, but I felt the need to get my thoughts out. Times are tough right now, so maybe someone else needed to hear these words as well. If anyone reading this wants to reach out to me to discuss anything going on in their life, feel free to send me an email at runningtotravel at gmail. I know I could certainly use more friends in my life right now and I would be happy to have another person in my life to talk to.

Donna

 

 

It’s Time for a Road Trip (Pandemic Style)!

For some reason, I’ve never written about taking a road trip but now seems like the perfect opportunity. With so much uncertainty about flying, even domestically, more and more people will be taking road trips once they feel comfortable traveling again. Every state has begun to gradually re-open businesses and that varies from state-to-state so check the specifics on where you’re going ahead of time. What does that mean exactly, though, and how might it effect you if you take a road trip?

A big part of why some people enjoy traveling to new places is to eat out at restaurants, whether it’s because they’re highly rated or they have unique food that might not be available where you live. Some states have begun to re-open restaurants so that people can eat inside but at limited capacities, some states allow people to eat at outside tables only, while others are still only offering food for to-go orders. Check with specific restaurants to get the most up-to-date information.

Some hotels have remained open during the pandemic but at reduced capacity, to limit how many people are staying in the rooms and to spread them out. Others have closed their doors entirely and they may plan on re-opening later this summer or this fall. Again, check with the hotel directly to get the best information for you. Some Airbnb property owners are allowing a few days to a week between stays, to ensure the properties get deep cleans and there is time between physical contact of the cleaning crew and the people staying at the property.

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Not my car. This was a rental we picked up in Las Vegas for a road trip to Utah. In February. Not a great choice for driving around the mountains in the winter, but fortunately it worked out.

Most state parks have begun re-opening although camping may not be available yet, or at a reduced capacity. I read some state parks are only allowing residents of the state to camp overnight. Public restrooms may also not be open yet, which is something to consider if you plan on spending a full day at the park. Likewise, national parks have begun increasing access and services in a phased approach. Check the website for the specific park you want to visit for complete details.

While outdoor spaces have begun re-opening, indoor businesses like museums are still mostly closed, although some states are a bit more strict than others. I suspect more and more museums will begin to open over the summer, with limited capacity and most likely requiring all patrons to wear a mask and use hand sanitizer upon entry. Like with everything else, check the specific museum you want to visit well in advance so you are prepared when you get there. I also suspect there will be timed entries for tickets, as the days of long lines and dozens of people all bunched-up around the ticket office is something we won’t see for quite some time.

Not to sound like Debbie Downer, with all of the limitations and restrictions, though. On the contrary, I think at some point people are not only going to want to venture out of their homes more, they’re going to want to venture out of their home towns more. People will want to travel again and for most people, taking a road trip will be the path of least resistance. As long as you or no one traveling with you has any symptoms of COVID-19, I encourage you to take a road trip. Get out there and discover a park you’ve always wanted to go to, climb a mountain, take that cycling trip you’ve talked about doing, or just visit your friend that you’ve known for 20 years but haven’t made the time to visit for a while.

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Just because I thought it was a cute photo and was taken while we were on a road trip!

If you have dogs and will be taking them with you, I have a post on traveling with dogs by car, which you can find here:  Tips for Traveling with Dogs.

Do you have any road trips planned for this summer? If not, did I spark something in you to start planning a road trip? Tell me about it!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Learning to Love Running in the Rain

I didn’t used to be a big fan of running in the rain unless it was summer time. Warm rain doesn’t bother me nearly as much as cold rain. In fact, I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of running in the rain on a hot summer day, feeling the rain drops wash away the sweat, jumping through puddles like a kid, and finding that rainbow when the rain stops. While I’m still not a huge fan of running in the rain during the spring or fall, I’ve found myself more likely to do so as I’ve gotten older.

Inevitably, it rains quite a bit where I live in the spring. I used to run on the treadmill if it was raining, particularly if it was raining hard. This spring, I’ve run in the rain so much I’ve strung a line in my backyard so I can hang my soaked running clothes to dry afterwards (assuming it’s stopped raining). They just don’t seem to dry out that quickly if I hang them over the bathroom shower, so outside they go now.

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April showers bring May flowers!

Recently, my daughter and I were running together and we were supposed to go for 7 miles. It was sprinkling but wasn’t coming down that hard when we were leaving the house. I put on a hat, my Aftershokz headphones, put my phone in my armband, and off we went. After about 3 miles, it started to downpour. Hard. So hard I was seriously concerned about my phone getting ruined and my headphones as well. I put the headphones under my hat, on top of my head, to give them a little more protection, but there was nothing I could do about my phone except hope it would stay dry in the zippered compartment it was in on my armband.

We were doing some speed work that day, which was comprised of five one-mile repeats after a warm-up and before a cool-down. There were deep puddles all over the sidewalk, road, and grass; literally everywhere we were stepping, there was no avoiding these puddles so we didn’t even try after a while. Our feet were long-ago soaked anyway so what did it matter at that point.

I had one of the best speed work sessions I’ve had in a long time on that day. Never would I have thought that pouring rain would be so conducive to a speedy run. It’s not like I was only out for a mile and sprinted home. This was also the type of rain where I had to look a few times to make sure my shorts hadn’t gotten pushed down (or up) from the sheer force of the rain since it was raining that hard.

My daughter has always enjoyed the rain, whether it’s been to walk in the rain with an umbrella, jump in puddles when she was younger, or to watch the dark storm clouds roll in. Since she’s become a regular runner, I’ve never once seen her shy away from a run in the rain, unless it’s a thunderstorm. So she certainly wasn’t going to say no to our recent run together in the rain. Running in the rain is probably one of her favorite running conditions. I was thinking about all of that when we were out running because I saw her mood change from cranky and irritable at the beginning to calm and happy after a couple of miles.

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Soaking wet after a run in the rain!

While I was running I was also thinking about how just going out and embracing the weather conditions helps with races. I don’t remember that many races where it was raining but there were a couple. One of the worst for me, the Run the Reagan Half Marathon just outside Atlanta, Georgia was absolutely miserable because it was a cold rain on top of the boring course. In fact, the only other race I can think of where it rained during the race was the Newport Half Marathon in Rhode Island but I actually liked that race, unlike the one in Georgia. The scenic course, filled with mansions, water views, and historic sites in Newport made all the difference. Plus I wasn’t freezing cold during the race in Rhode Island like I was in Georgia.

Back to my point about just sucking it up and running in poor weather conditions. If you never run in the rain and it rains on race day, you’ll be far less capable mentally of dealing with that than if you would have run in the rain while training for the race. Likewise with snow, heat, humidity, and windy days. If you don’t ever plan on running a race during the winter months, running in the snow shouldn’t be a concern, or if you don’t ever race during summer months, you don’t need to be concerned about running in hot, humid conditions. But if you have races planned for upcoming years during the summer or winter months, it’s best to mentally prepare yourself by running in those conditions beforehand.

You might find you enjoy running in conditions you thought you hated. Or you might find it’s not as bad as you thought it would be. The latter is the case for me when it comes to running in the rain and I’m even finding myself starting to enjoy it although I wouldn’t say I’m quite there yet.

What about you? Do you enjoy running in the rain or do you hate it? Have your feelings changed over the years when it comes to running in the rain?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Dreaming of Travel- If You Could Travel Anywhere, Where Would You Go?

Even before the pandemic and wasn’t able to travel, I would sometimes daydream about travel. Do any of you do that (perhaps more so now than before)? Something I was reading recently prompted me to think about the following questions. If you could travel to any state in the United States that you’ve never been to, where would it be? Let’s pretend we don’t have COVID-19 to worry about. Of course all expenses would be paid for and you’d have plenty of vacation time to take from work (plus all other logistics would be taken care of). On the flip side, if you could travel to any state in the United States that you’ve already been to, where would it be?

For me, I’ve been to 47 states in the US already so that leaves only 3 that I haven’t been to, so my options for states I haven’t been to are pretty slim. Still, I would choose New Mexico, which I have plans to go to in November. My other options are Iowa and Minnesota, by the way, and I am excited about going to them too (yes, even Iowa that doesn’t get much travel love). I really enjoy hiking in the mountains and New Mexico has plenty of great hiking plus I hear the food there is fantastic.

So now what state would I go to that I’ve already been to? That’s a really tough question for me. I absolutely love California and would happily go back there given any opportunity. I still haven’t been to Monterrey or Big Sur and am dying to go to that part of California. I would love to go back to Yosemite, Napa Valley, San Francisco, or San Diego as well. Oregon is another state that I loved and am dying to go back to spend some time in Portland and the coast. Or there’s Washington, where I’d love to go to some of the islands off the coast like Whidbey or Bainbridge Islands. I’ve been to San Juan Island in addition to Seattle and loved both of those parts of Washington. I’m also dying to go to Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. I was going to run a half marathon there until I found out how hilly it is and then I decided to run a race in Boise instead, and we spent some time there after the race. Oh, then there’s Utah with its many national parks. I’ve been to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks but really want to go to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Do I have to pick just one state? Yes, I know, rules are rules.

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Big Sur- Photo by Kelsey Johnson on Pexels.com

OK. I pick Monterrey and Big Sur in California for my state to go back to that I’ve already been to. That was a tough one. California is one state that I’ve visited the most number of times (tied with Florida) and like I said, I’m always happy to return there. A few years back, my family and I spent three weeks in San Diego, checking out the area to see if it’s a place where my husband and I might want to retire to. If it wasn’t so expensive, the answer would be a resounding yes but we’re looking to cut back our expenses when we retire, not increase them, so I just couldn’t justify retiring there.

Now what about other countries? If you could go to one country that you’ve never been to, which would it be? For me, that’s also a pretty tough question. Since I first heard about the country of Georgia, I’ve wanted to go there. I’ve heard the mountains there are amazing, the food is delicious, and the people are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. What’s not to like about that? Flights there aren’t the cheapest, as you might imagine, but if all expenses are paid for, then that doesn’t matter, right?

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Republic of Georgia

Georgia isn’t the only country I want to go to, as you might imagine. I also badly want to go to Slovenia, Croatia, Vancouver in Canada (although I’ve been to Canada a couple of times so that’s not a new country for me), Thailand, Panama, Ecuador, and Montenegro for starters. Portugal has always been high on my list of places I want to go to, and I may be able to go there this year if all of the stars align but like everything else right now, I’ll have to wait and see how things go. Back to my question, though, or more accurately, back to my answer for what country would I choose if I could go anywhere that I haven’t been? I have to say Georgia.

What about choosing a country to return to that I’ve been to before? Without any hesitation, my answer is New Zealand. It’s got to be the most biodiverse country that I’ve ever seen. You want beaches? You can choose from black, tan, or white sandy beaches. Want geothermal areas? They’ve got that. Glaciers? Check. Giant Redwood trees? Yep, that too. Mountains? Of course. Rainforests? You’ve got it. Swamp forests, Grasslands, multiple types of wetlands? Yes, yes, and yes. And all of the diversity I saw was just in the North Island of New Zealand! I’d really like to go back and visit the South Island. If someone else was paying my way there, I wouldn’t have to worry about forking out for that expensive flight either!

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The North Island, New Zealand

Now it’s your turn:

  1. What state would you go to that you’ve never been to and why?
  2. What state would you choose to return to?
  3. What country that you’ve never been to would you choose?
  4. What country would you choose to return to?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Missing a race, training for another that may not happen, and other running-related things I’ve been doing lately

Hey guys! Usually my posts aren’t of this nature, where I just chat about what’s going on with me, although I have historically posted some like this, usually a couple of weeks before an upcoming race. So, if you follow my blog, or maybe even if this is the very first post you’ve ever read of mine you may still be aware that I have a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states. I was supposed to run a half marathon in New Mexico in April, which would have been state number 48 but that was postponed until this fall.

Of course I was disappointed but then I realized it’s actually rescheduled on a weekend that I can go, assuming the pandemic is under control and people can fly for vacations again. So, hurray for some good news! Now that leaves my other remaining states of Minnesota and Iowa. As of right now when I’m typing this, neither of those races have been cancelled. The race in Minnesota is scheduled for Father’s Day and the one in Iowa is scheduled for Labor Day weekend.

My feeling at the moment is that anything can happen in a month. Look what happened between mid-March and mid-April. Not only states in the US but entire countries shut their borders, people were told to only go outside when it was absolutely necessary and some weren’t allowed to go outside even for a walk. Then around early-to-mid-May states and countries began opening back up gradually.

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This begs the question, would I be willing to fly to Minnesota in June? Absolutely, without a doubt, YES! I have no fear of “catching” the virus, whether it’s from an airport, airplane, rental car, hotel room, etc. The way I feel, I could just as easily have someone cough or sneeze on me in a grocery store and get the virus then. In short, I am not living in fear of contracting this Coronavirus. I’ve been wearing a mask in public and taking all of the other necessary precautions to protect myself and others but I’m also not going to stay in my home forever because I’m afraid to go outside and live my life. The way I look at it, if I contract COVID-19, I’ll deal with it then. I’m still young and healthy and not immunocompromised nor do I live with anyone who is elderly or immunocompromised so this is easy for me to say. I’m sure if I were at risk or lived with someone who was, I would feel differently.

Back to running, though. Like I said, my half marathon that was scheduled for April was rescheduled, but by the time it was rescheduled, I was already well into my training plan. I continued “training” for the race even after it was rescheduled, but instead of running 13.1 miles on the date that was supposed to be race day, I just ran 10 miles, if I recall. After that, I took one week off running entirely, as I do after every race (I prefer to take two weeks off but in this case there wasn’t enough time) and jumped right into half marathon training for the race in Minnesota in June.

I’m in my peak training weeks now and to be honest, things couldn’t be going better for me. I was supposed to run 9 miles on a Tuesday last week, which wouldn’t have happened if I was at work (I’ve been working from home, like most people) because there wouldn’t have been enough time in the day with my commute and everything else. However, being at home meant for once I could actually complete the entire 9 mile training run, instead of cutting it short like I would have in the past.

Another thing I’ve been doing much more of since I’ve been working from home and only leaving my house once every couple of weeks to go to the grocery store is to run more with my daughter. She’s in high school and is also training for the half marathon in Minnesota. She’s been running for several years and has run a couple of half marathons before but I’ve seen her running times go through the roof these last couple of months. Whereas she used to struggle to maintain a 9-minute mile for more than a few miles, now her easy pace is more like 8:45-minute miles and she recently averaged that on a 12-mile run with me. Not only is she getting faster, she’s pushing me to get faster as well.

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I’ve also been running more with my super-speedy dog, a lab-mix named Chile whose greatest joy in life is to run with me. When she realizes I’m getting her leash to take her on a run, she spins in circles and her happiness is palpable. I feel super guilty when I can’t take her with me, like the other day when I had gotten a couple of blood blisters on my fingers from a previous run with her (she saw a squirrel and darted for it, jarring my fingers) and I needed more time to heal. Usually by now in May it’s hotter than what it’s been, otherwise I would have had to have stopped running with her at least a couple of weeks ago due to the heat. Still, inevitably it’s going to get hot and stay hot in the next couple of weeks most likely so her days of running with me are limited.

One thing I’ve also been working on is my hip flexibility. I’ve been good about continuing to do yoga stretches regularly and once a week I’ll do a yoga session of about 45 minutes to an hour, which is what I used to do pre-pandemic, only it was at a gym with an instructor. BUT, now I can actually almost stack my bent legs on top of each other without the top knee at an embarrassingly high angle above the ground. Now the top knee is at a more reasonable angle and I look like most everyone else in my yoga class used to look when we’d do the pose in class. This is called double pigeon or fire log pose, if you do yoga. Here’s a link:  Double pigeon (fire log pose). Most people probably would take one look at that and say, what’s the big deal? I can easily do that. For me, it seemed like a “pie in the sky” kind of dream to be able to do it because my hips have always been incredibly tight, even as a kid.

The final thing I’ve been working on that’s running-related is updating my blog. I went through each post for all of the half marathons I’ve run and corrected some of the spelling or other errors and made sure the links to races were still active links. I’m sure there are still things that need to be corrected but it’s as good as it’s going to get for now and is better than it was. It’s something that desperately needed done but honestly probably wouldn’t have happened if not for the pandemic, so I guess that’s one good thing to come out of all of this. I have a page with links to all of my half marathons that you can find by clicking here.

So, yeah, that’s about all I’ve been up to when it comes to all things running-related. For now, I’m continuing with the plan to run the half marathon in Minnesota next month. As I said earlier, I realize a lot can happen in a month, but all I can do in the meantime is continue to prepare for the race. One mantra I sometimes fall back on when things get tough during a run is “Just keep running” to the tune of Dory who kept saying, “Just keep swimming” in the movie Finding Nemo and that’s how I feel right now, I need to just keep running.

I know races everywhere have been cancelled or postponed but do you have a race you’re currently training for that you’re hoping you’ll actually be able to run in person (not a virtual race)?

Happy running!

Donna