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Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Alaska Itinerary and Travel Tips

Of all of the 50 states in the United States, Alaska is consistently in the top 10 most-visited states. Although planning a vacation to Alaska can seem a bit challenging, it’s certainly not difficult to do on your own. Alaska is by far the largest state in the United States, at 663,300 square miles and many of the major cities are vast distances from each other. Further, much of Alaska is only accessible by water, making it even more challenging to visit, hence the popularity in Alaskan cruises. But what do you do if you or your traveling companions get motion sickness on boats and a cruise is not an option or you just don’t want to take a cruise? Of course, you dive in and start planning your own itinerary!

Some questions you may ask when planning a trip to Alaska:

How long should I spend in Alaska?

The longer, the better, given the enormous size of the state and the fact that only 20% of the state is accessible by roads. For most people, roughly ten days to two weeks is a good amount of time to spend on your first visit, to get a “taste” of Alaska. It’s best to focus on visiting a few areas rather than trying to cram in a dozen different areas and spending much of your time in transit from one place to another.

Getting to Alaska and Getting Around

Although there are many small airports in Alaska, major airports include ones in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau. Other communities with jet service in Alaska include Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Glacier Bay/Gustavus, Yakutat, Cordova, Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, Adak, King Salmon, Dillingham, Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue, Barrow and Prudhoe Bay. As mentioned above, only 20% of Alaska is accessible by roads, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider driving an option. We picked up our rental car in Anchorage and were able to drive to all of the places we wanted to, without any problems, and we didn’t need a 4×4 vehicle either. This was during the summer, so if it’s winter, be prepared to drive on snowy roads. Taking the Alaska Railroad is also an option for getting between cities.

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When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Alaska?

In my opinion, there is no “best” time of year to visit anywhere and Alaska is no exception. Summer is the most popular time to visit Alaska, with mid-June to mid-August being peak season. If you prefer warmer weather and plan to do a lot of hiking, July through early August are your best bets but if you want to see the Northern Lights, the winter months when it’s the darkest are best. If you plan on going to Denali National Park, the park’s only roadway remains open through early September for bus tours although a 15-mile portion of the road is also open for private vehicles. Crowds are a bit thinner during the shoulder months of April to May and September.

Tips for Planning your Alaska Itinerary

If you plan on going during the busy summer months, book in advance whenever possible. Bus tours through Denali National Park sell out months in advance, as do campsites and accommodations in more popular areas of the state.

Because of the remoteness of the state, WiFi is non-existent in many rural areas. Cell phone service is also spotty at best in many places, even in some of the bigger cities. Download Google maps offline and drop pins on places where you want to go so you have access to areas where you don’t have coverage.

Pack for cool or cold weather even in the summer. I was a bit surprised to learn the average daytime highs in August are usually in the low-to mid-60’s Fahrenheit (16 to 19 degrees Celsius). This coupled with the fact that it rained many days made it feel pretty chilly, which brings me to my next tip.

Pack a poncho or lightweight rain jacket. August and September are the wettest months but rain is pretty common in July as well.

Consider hiking with others and/or buy bear spray. Bears are abundant in Alaska, as are moose. Many people may not realize moose are even more dangerous than bears in Alaska. Moose outnumber bears nearly three to one in Alaska, wounding around five to 10 people in the state annually. That’s more than grizzly bear and black bear attacks combined.

Remember that fresh fruits and vegetables cost more in Alaska than in the lower 48 states (as do many other things). As we were reminded with a sign in a grocery store in Alaska, those bananas have to travel a very long way to reach Alaska, which increases the cost. Alaska has a short growing season and primarily cool season vegetables such as beets, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, carrots grow here, although some fruit trees have successfully been grown near the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Tourism also increases prices so anywhere frequented heavily by cruise ships will have higher prices, especially in the direct vicinity around the port.

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Itinerary:  11 days/10 nights in Alaska

Stop 1:  Anchorage (3 nights)

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is the busiest airport in Alaska, with twice as many passengers in June, July and August as between October to April. This is likely the airport you will be flying into. For most people, it will be a long flight, and you will want to focus on checking into your hotel and resting for the first day and possibly part of the second day.

After you’ve rested up, venture out and do a bit of hiking or just driving around to take in the scenery. On our first full day in Anchorage, we saw a moose drinking water from a small lake just off a highway. This was our first moose sighting, despite having traveled previously to many other places in the US and Canada that are heavily populated by moose, so we were of course excited to stop and take some photos. As mentioned earlier, moose can be extremely dangerous, so make sure you don’t get close to the animals and give them a huge berth of space.

Chugach National Forest, which stretches for 6,908,540 acres in south central Alaska is easily accessible from Anchorage and there are many options for trails and hiking.

Mount Baldy is another hiking option and the trailhead parking lot is only about 30 minutes from downtown Anchorage.

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is a scenic place to take a walk, go for a run, or take a spin on some rental bikes.

Turnagain Arm is just south of Anchorage and I recommend driving along here and stopping at some of the stops along the way such as McHugh Creek Recreation Area and Beluga Point Lookout.

Some of our favorite restaurants in Anchorage include Snow City Café, South Restaurant and Coffeehouse, and Wild Scoops.

You can find a full description of our time in Anchorage here.

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Stop 2:  Denali National Park (3 nights)

The drive from Anchorage to the surrounding areas of Denali National Park is a long one, taking approximately 5 hours, give or take, depending on traffic and road construction (which we ran into on our way back from Denali National Park). If you can’t get reservations to stay inside the park or don’t want to stay in the park, there are options in the nearby town of Healy or a bit further away, McKinley Park.

I found the options for accommodations in Healy to range from fairly expensive to super-expensive, with nothing other than campgrounds offering anything what I would call affordable. However, I wanted to be as close to the park entrance as possible, so I chose one of the more affordable of the expensive hotels, Cabins at Denali. We had a two-story room, with nothing but a bathroom and entryway on the bottom floor and a huge room upstairs with three beds, a sitting area with a couch and coffee table, dining room table and chairs, microwave, sink, and coffee maker.

You can only drive the first 15 miles into Denali National Park, so you will need to make reservations well in advance for one of the buses. There are many options, depending if you want to get off the bus and hike or just stay on the bus, and how far into the park you want to go.

On our first day in Healy, since we arrived in the evening, we just ventured out for dinner and relaxed for the evening. We took a bus tour for hikers on our second day and it was a full day indeed, since we chose the bus tour that went several hours into the backcountry of the park. For our third day, we hiked on the trails around the areas closer to the entrance of the park that are private vehicle-accessible and went to the sled dog tour.

You can find a full description of our time in Healy and Denali National Park here.

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Stop 3:  Seward (3 nights)

Even though the drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park is a long one, the drive from Denali National Park to Seward is even longer, since you actually drive past Anchorage to get to Seward. The drive took us around 6 1/2 hours, but we stopped to do a bit of hiking along the way and break up the drive.

The area that includes Seward is filled with glaciers, so we decided to stop and hike at one before we reached our Airbnb in Seward. Driving south from Anchorage on the Seward Highway, go to the end of the 5-mile Portage Spur Road. Byron Glacier trailhead is near Portage Lake. It’s a one-mile scenic walk to the glacier face along Byron Creek.

We also hiked to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park (which has no entry fee). This is a popular glacier to visit and there will likely be crowds if you’re there during the summer. It’s an easy hike to get to the first viewing area for the glacier. There are actually two viewing areas, one a bit further away, for people that can’t or don’t want to hike the trail, and the one much closer to the glacier. If you want to walk on the glacier, you need to arrange a tour with a guide.

On our second day in Seward, we took a Kenai Fjords National Park tour with Kenai Fjords Tours, a 6 hour boat tour. Despite taking anti-motion sickness medication, my husband and daughter were still sick for the entire tour. However, I was perfectly fine and thoroughly enjoyed the tour. We saw many glaciers and animals like seals, whales, and puffins. Although this was a highlight of my time in Alaska, my husband and daughter would not say the same thing, so if you have problems with motion sickness, you should probably skip a boat tour here.

For our third day in Seward, we went to what became my daughter’s favorite part of our time in Alaska, Seavey’s Ididaride. Since it was summer, instead of being pulled by Alaskan huskies in a dogsled, we were pulled in a cart by the dogs. The dogs train year-round and you can visit here year-round and see these beautiful dogs that clearly love to run and also check out some of Mitch Seavey’s, (a former Iditarod winner), trophies and race-related gear. We also got to see and even hold some adorable Alaskan husky puppies, which was the icing on the cake for my husky-loving daughter.

Since we had a really nice house through Airbnb to stay at with a well-stocked kitchen in Seward, we stopped at a nearby grocery store on our first day so we could eat most of our meals in the house (plus it was better for our budget). We only went out to eat once, at Seward Brewing Company and really liked our food there.

You can find a full description of our time in Seward here.

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Stop 3:  Girdwood (1 night)

This is an optional stop you could even add on during your time in Anchorage, since it’s a bit under an hour from downtown Anchorage. Since we had a late evening flight back home, I thought it would be a good way to not have such a long drive from Seward to the airport (about 2/12-3 hours) and see a new area as well. It ended up being a good decision and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Girdwood.

We stayed at the beautiful Alyeska Resort and were able to snag the Summer Tram Package deal where you get free tram tickets when you stay the night. Alyeska Resort is a 300-room year-round hotel with skiing in the winter and hiking and mountain biking the rest of the year. Normally we don’t stay at huge resorts like this, but every now and then I like to splurge, and since it was just one night, it didn’t break the bank.

We took the tram up to the top of the mountain above the resort and hiked around some trails there and were rewarded with some truly gorgeous views. You can hike up and down the mountain and skip the tram, but taking the tram was a good way to save our legs to be able to do more hiking around the top.

Besides taking the tram to the top from the Hotel Alyeska and hiking up there, we really wanted to hike Lower Winner Creek Trail. The trail begins behind the Hotel Alyeska. The first 3/4 mile is a wide, well-developed boardwalk. The next 1.5 miles are easy hiking along a firm dirt trail  through the Chugach National Forest. When you reach Winner Creek Gorge, you’re in for a special treat, the hand tram. The hand tram is just like it sounds, powered by hand, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have people waiting on both sides of the gorge who will happily pull the ropes to get you across the gorge (otherwise you will have to pull yourself across). I have a fear of heights but loved going across the hand tram and highly recommend it.

For restaurants, we liked Girdwood Brewing Company (there was a food truck when we were there with awesome Mexican food), Sitzmark, Alpine Diner & Bakery, and The Bake Shop.

You can find a full description of our time in Girdwood here.

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11-day Alaska Itinerary at-a-glance

Day 1:  Anchorage- flight arrival, hotel check-in, settle in

Day 2:  Anchorage- hiking and/or Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Day 3:  Anchorage- check out Turnagain Arm

Day 4:  Healy- drive here from Anchorage

Day 5:  Denali National Park- bus tour of park

Day 6:  Denali National Park- hiking, dog-sled demonstrations

Day 7:  Seward- drive here from Healy, with option to stop at Byron Glacier along the way

Day 8:  Seward- Kenai Fjords National Park tour

Day 9:  Seward- Seavey’s Ididaride and hiking to Exit Glacier

Day 10:  Girdwood- drive here from Seward, hiking around Alyeska Resort

Day 11:  Girdwood- hiking Winner Creek Gorge, flight home

I feel like this itinerary hits some of the major highlights of Alaska, but I’m not an expert by any means; I just did a ton of research beforehand. During our time in Alaska, we felt like these places were definitely great choices and we didn’t feel like we were in the car for too much of our time there. That being said, I can’t stress enough if you are prone to motion sickness, skip the boat tours in Alaska. The water can be rough, sometimes with huge swells, and it’s just not enjoyable when you feel nauseous and sick.

Alaska is such a beautiful state with many options, even though it seems like the vast majority of people who go here do so on a cruise. I’d just like to point out you can still see different areas of the state and hike and see some of the natural beauty on your own, without a tour guide from a cruise ship. Even if you don’t like to hike, you can just go for scenic drives in many of the places I’ve mentioned, like Turnagain Arm for example. The drive from Anchorage to Seward is one of the most scenic areas I’ve ever been through.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Book Review- North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek and Jenny Jurek

I grew up on the east coast, specifically in West Virginia, which strangely enough is barely part of the Appalachian Trail (strange to me anyway). Nevertheless, I’m pretty familiar with the Appalachian Trail and have hiked through parts of it. The Appalachian Trail runs from Georgia to Maine and is about 2,200 miles long. It is often modified or re-routed, so the exact distance changes over time.

Imagine running this distance, through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine in 46 days. That is what Scott Jurek did in 2015. At the time, he broke the current record for fastest supported thru-hiking, northbound. This was since broken by Karel Sabbe on August 29, 2018 who completed the trail in 41 days, 7 hours and 39 minutes. Karl Meltzer holds the southbound record for completing the trail on September 18, 2016, in 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes.

This book also delves into the psychological aspects of completing such a task as completing a 2,200 mile-long trail in roughly a month and a half. Early on, Jurek doubted himself and his ability to complete the trail in record time. Those doubts lingered pretty much until the end was clearly in sight, and even then, the record was broken by a mere few hours. This, coming from someone (Jurek) who has won the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run seven consecutive times, the 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon twice, Hardrock Hundred and the 153 mile Spartathlon three times.

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I like how the book is broken into sections, beginning with the Deep South, then on to Virginia, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Maine, and the Epilogue. Each section of the trail is described in great detail, including the people the Jureks encounter along the trail and in the surrounding towns. It broke my heart a bit to read about some of the creepy people they met in the Deep South because that’s where I live, but I would hope it was such a small sampling of the people around the trail that it’s not the norm but rather the exception. I enjoyed reading about the outpouring of people who came to run along with Scott, bring him and his crew food, and just cheer him on. I’ve read in some online reviews that some people didn’t like how much Jurek kept referring to his vegan diet, but I wasn’t put off by any of that. I realize being vegan is a big part of his lifestyle, so it makes sense it would have a big part in the book.

One quote I liked from Jurek is “You train not to beat other people but to beat time and previous performance.” This emphasizes the camaraderie Jurek has with some other distance runners like Karl Meltzer, who currently holds the southbound record for the AT. Meltzer, among others, actually helped provide support when Jurek was trying to break the northbound record. The following year, Jurek went out to provide support to Meltzer when Meltzer successfully completed the AT in record time. These are guys who are absolute competitors on the ultramarathon course, but who shake hands at the end and have a beer together, regardless who won.

Stories of people not only enduring but conquering huge quests like this have always fascinated me, like the story of Shackleton in the book “Endurance” by Worsley and others like that, so it’s not surprising I enjoyed this book. I like reading what our minds and bodies are capable of when pushed to extremes. Recently, I wrote a review on Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance Book by Alex Hutchinson. This is basically a compilation of people pushing the limits in many different scenarios so of course I loved the book and highly recommend it.

I found myself not wanting to put this book away at night, which is ultimately my personal gauge if I really enjoy a book or not. Even though I knew how it was going to end, I still found myself pulled into the story and the characters involved. I also liked the unique aspect Scott’s wife Jenny gave by providing her side of the story.

You can find this book at Amazon, your local bookstore, or your public library. The book is 320 pages and also has some photos that were taken along the way on the Appalachian Trail, which I found added to the depth of the story.

Have any of you read this book or Scott Jurek’s other book, “Eat and Run?” Do you also enjoy reading about people pushing their limits and breaking records? Have any of you hiked part or all of the Appalachian Trail? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience!

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Round Two of My Bout With Anemia

Several years ago I noticed I was getting out of breath pretty easily, not only when I ran but also when I would do other things. The last straw was when I went up a flight of stairs at home and was so dizzy and out of breath I had to grab the wall to steady myself when I reached the top. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor the next day and was told my hemoglobin level was low- I was anemic. This was round one of my battle with anemia. For the record, in the United States, anemia is diagnosed if a blood test finds less than 13.5 g/dL in a man or less than 12 g/dL hemoglobin level in a woman.

After taking a prescribed dose of iron in combination with vitamin C, B12, and folic acid for months, I started feeling somewhat better, but honestly, it was more than a year or so after I was diagnosed with anemia before I felt like I did before the diagnosis. In the midst of all of this, I ran a half marathon in Oklahoma in March of 2011. It was one of the hardest half marathons I ever ran because of my anemia, and not suprisingly, one of my slowest. I ran another half marathon in Montana four months after that and one in Alabama four months after the race in Montana. Finally, in March of 2012 when I ran a half marathon in Virginia did I start to feel like I was getting back to normal, one full year after the race in Oklahoma and more than a year since I was diagnosed with anemia.

Now, I absolutely want to emphasize that I do not think it’s a good idea to run half marathons when you’re anemic. In fact, my doctor flat out told me I shouldn’t be running at all, let alone running half marathons. However, I did run, albeit much slower than I would have otherwise, but I’m stubborn like that.

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Me recently after completing a long run, comprised of a whole lot of walking!

Fast forward to present day, well actually more like summer of 2018. I felt very out of breath when I would run, and it seemed to be getting worse. I chalked it up to the extremely hot, humid summer we were having. When it finally cooled off and the humidity dropped, and I was still out of breath on runs, I began to think maybe something was wrong. When I went on a long run and had to stop to catch my breath before I even reached a mile, I knew for sure something was wrong.

I bought some over-the-counter iron supplements and began taking them. Still, it was getting worse. Once again, I was out of breath after just going up one flight of stairs at home. I went in for some blood work at my doctor’s office and the results came back several days later- my hemoglobin count was 6 (normal for women my age is 12-15). This was even worse than the last time I was anemic. I should say too, that the last time I was anemic, I saw three different doctors and after having multiple tests done, all of the doctors just shook their heads and said they had no idea why I was anemic. There was no apparent reason- I’m not vegetarian and I didn’t have a recent large blood loss.

What all of this means is it’s been extremely difficult for me to train for my next half marathon, coming up in two weeks. Since it will be state number 44 for me, I feel a need to still do it, even if it means I have to walk or run/walk the entire 13.1 miles! I’ve set the bar and my expectations low for this next race, with the goal of simply finishing it. Right now, that’s good enough for me.

Now a short PSA- if any of you female long-distance runners reading this haven’t been feeling quite yourself lately, such as you get out of breath easier than you used to, you feel light-headed or dizzy during or after exercise, or your resting heart rate is higher than it used to be, go to your doctor for a simple blood test to check your iron. They will check your hemoglobin level, which is an easy way to check your iron since most of your body’s iron is in the hemoglobin of your blood. Here’s a good website with some general information from UCSF Health worded in a way I really like:  Hemoglobin and Functions of Iron.

I specifically say female long-distance runners here because in endurance athletes, ‘foot strike damage’ to red blood cells in the feet due to running on hard surfaces can lead to iron loss. Iron is also lost in sweat, so if you sweat heavily (like I do), you have an increased risk of iron deficiency. These two things combined with monthly blood loss through a woman’s period can all add up to significant iron loss. I suspect that’s what happened with me. That and I also had given blood a couple of months ago, which is most likely what caused my iron stores to plummet.

Have any of you ever experienced anemia or know someone who has? Do you think you may need to get your hemoglobin level checked?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Planning a Trip to Machu Picchu in Peru

I’m planning a vacation for myself and my family to go to Machu Picchu next year. If you’ve never been, I can tell you it’s almost overwhelming (well, it really is overwhelming, not almost) how many choices and options there are. I’ve planned vacations for the last couple of decades and haven’t been phased at all by places like Chile (even the middle of nowhere Chile), New Zealand with all of its options, or Malta (a place most Americans have never even heard of). Peru, however, is proving to be a bit more difficult, shall we say, simply because of all of the options.

Just about the only place I know for sure we will be going to is Machu Picchu. From there, the choices are who to go with for our group tour, and from there, how do we want to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu. There are options to camp in tents for anywhere from a few nights to 10 days, hiking along the way. There are options to just take the train in and take a guided tour for a few hours. Then there are options for which trek to do, if you want to camp and hike with a guided tour. I can see why many people just take the train in and do the guided tour of Machu Picchu for the day; that would be the easiest way.

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Beautiful Machu Picchu in Peru

However, if you know me at all, you know I don’t take the easiest way, nor do I take the route most traveled (most of the time, although I have been to more popular places as well). I often go to places where people will ask me beforehand, “Why are you going there?” or “Where is that?” Although I’ve been to popular places like Rome and Miami (and of course no one ever asked why I was going there), I like to venture off the beaten path a bit. Hence, I’ve chosen to take the Lares Route instead of the most popular classic Inca Trail to get to Machu Picchu. As far as I can tell, the three most popular choices if you want to do some hiking are the Lares Route, the classic Inca Trail, and Salcantay Route. There is also a one-day Inca Trail, the strenuous Vilcabamba Traverse Route, the Lodge Trek, and the Chaski (or Cachicata) Trail.

What I like about the Lares Route is it’s not quite as crowded as the classic Inca Trail and the trek passes through small villages so you get to see some of the artisans and farmers in person. There are also hot springs (what’s not to like about that after a long day of hiking). There are a couple of options for the Lares route: 2 nights of camping in tents and two nights in hotels along the way to Machu Picchu or 2 nights in tents and 1 night in a hotel before reaching Machu Picchu. I didn’t want to get to Machu Picchu, only to be so tired from not sleeping well in a tent for the past 6 nights and not be able to fully enjoy the star of the show!

So now the major remaining question is what do we do with the rest of our time in Peru? We have a couple of weeks, plus or minus a few days to spend in Peru. I know we’ll fly into Lima and probably just spend a night there before flying to Cusco. I also know we should acclimatize to the elevation in Cusco for a few (I’m thinking three) days before beginning the Lares Route to Machu Picchu. Then what to do after that? Rainbow Mountain, or Vinicunca, looks pretty awesome, and by then we should be used to the elevation. That would add one day. I thought about going to Huacachina from Lima and spending a night there, but I’m not sure if it would be worth it. We’ve been to the amazing sand dunes in the Canary Islands, so it’s not like we’ve never seen a place like this before.

I’ve heard of other people tacking on the Galapagos Islands to Machu Picchu because of the somewhat near proximity (all things relative), but that’s not something I want to do. I’d rather focus on Peru on this trip and go to the Galapagos Islands at another time. My family and I love hiking, beaches, mountains, and historical sites. If you have any ideas for some things to do around Lima or Cusco, I’d love to hear them! Also, two of the three of us suffer from pretty bad motion sickness so while airplanes are usually fine (with medicine), boats aren’t a great idea for us.

Have you been to Machu Picchu? What was your experience like? Have you been to Peru but not Machu Picchu? Where did you go and what did you see? Please help me plan my vacation to Peru! All suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Exploring While Running and Fighting Boredom

I’m not sure if it was the extremely hot, humid summer we had or the fact that I trained for two half marathons with no break in-between, or something else entirely, but this summer I was seriously getting bored with my running routes. When you run five days a week, the scenery can get a bit old after a while, especially if you’re running the same route around 30 miles a week. I even moved three years ago, so these aren’t roads and trails I’ve been on all that long all things considered.

First, I started re-examining my route for my long run, Changing My Long Running Route- Maybe. In the end, I ultimately found an entirely different route than either mentioned in that blog post, and I’ve been running that route for my long runs lately. It seems to be a good mix of some smallish hills and flat areas but more importantly, it’s an entirely new trail to me, so I’m still finding new things along the way.

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I have about a month until my next race, so I doubt I’ll get bored with this running trail in that span of time. There are many twists and turns along the route to keep things interesting, some water crossings with cool bridges to run over, and it doesn’t seem to be too crowded although I pass some other runners and walkers in the roughly two hours I’m out there. The last time I ran my long run, there were several trees down from Hurricane Michael (downgraded to Tropical Storm by the time it got to North Carolina), so I took some photos. Surprisingly, I was able to get past the trees, although you certainly would never know that from this photo.

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Post-tropical storm wreckage
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A dreary-looking day, but perfect day for a run! I love these water crossings!

I haven’t just been changing my weekend long running routes, though. I’m also searching for new places for my other runs during the week. There is a town that I drive through to go to work, and I’ve discovered entire neighborhoods that are enormous that I never even knew existed. One day I just decided to change into my running clothes on my way out from work and stop somewhere to run along my drive home. Since that first day, I’ve discovered all kinds of new places by doing this. Most of these runs have been around 40-45 minutes, which is just enough time to explore a neighborhood or two before it’s time to head back to my car.

This isn’t to say I don’t still run on some of the routes and trails closer to my home, but by mixing up my running routes, I don’t get tired of running in the same place all the time. Now that it’s cooler and the days are getting shorter, I need to explore more places to run closer to where I work. I’ve worked at the same place for the last 18 years, so it’s not like I haven’t explored that much already, but I feel confident I can still find new places where I haven’t run. There are running/walking trails all over the place in my work town, many of which I’m sure I’ve never run on.

What about you guys? Do you run on the same route most of the time or do you like to explore and find new places to run?

Happy running!

Donna

5 of my Favorite National Parks in the United States

Of the current 60 national parks in the United States, I’ve been to 20 of them over the years. In 2017, there were a record 84 million visitors to national parks, with the majority of visitors going to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. 28 states plus the United States Virgin Islands and the American Samoa Territory have national parks, and California has the most, with 9 parks, just edging out Alaska’s 8 national parks.

Honestly, one of my favorite national parks isn’t the most-visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s my opinion that this park is the most visited simply because of its geography, which isn’t to say it’s not a nice park. The fact is it’s fairly easy for many people on the east coast and parts of the midwest to get to this park in Tennessee and North Carolina.

So what are some of my favorite national parks in the United States? I’ll limit it to my top five here in no certain order and explain why I love them so much, along with some descriptions of each park. The website for all of the US national parks is here.

  1.  Yosemite National Park is in the central Sierra Nevada of California. Some of the most famous features include granite formations like El Capitan and Half Dome, waterfalls such as Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall, and giant sequoia trees.There are a ton of options for things to do in the park including bike rentals, mule and horseback riding, photography and art classes, stargazing programs, tours, rafting, and rock climbing classes. There are over 800 miles of trails so you can take short walks as well as longer hikes to waterfalls in Yosemite Valley, or walks among giant sequoias in the Mariposa, Tuolumne, or Merced Groves. There is a free shuttle bus system but if you prefer to drive, most locations with Yosemite Valley are easily accessible by car. Just know that during the busy summer months, the park gets extremely crowded and finding parking can be difficult. Another option is to take a tour bus to Glacier Point in the summer and fall to see views of Yosemite Valley and the high country. I personally love Yosemite National Park most because of the giant sequoias but I also love the waterfalls and the rock formations.
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One of many waterfalls at Yosemite National Park
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Half Dome at Yosemite National Park

2. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is on the island of Hawaii and is one of the more unique national parks. Where else can you walk through an enormous lava tube? There are several day hikes, backcountry hikes, and ranger-led hikes as well as scenic drives. If you want to stay inside the park, your only option is Volcano House, which also operates Nāmakanipaio Campground, or there are several vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts in Volcano Village just outside the park. This park was recently closed from May 11, 2018 to September 22, 2018 due to volcanic activity that damaged roads, trails, waterlines, and buildings in the park. Some places are still partially opened, so if you’re going there in the near future, check the website first for closings.

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Deep inside a lava tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
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The flora and fauna at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are so beautiful

3.  Bryce Canyon National Park is in southwestern Utah and its claim to fame is it has the largest collection of hoodoos (irregular rock columns) anywhere on Earth. There are a range of easy, moderate, and strenuous trails to hike with many of the shorter trails connected making it easy to combine trails. Ranger programs include geology talks, astronomy programs, full moon hikes and other hikes, and kids programs. During the summer horseback rides are available. You can camp in Bryce Canyon National Park, stay at Bryce Canyon Lodge or find lodging at one of the nearby cities. We visited this park during the winter and the only way to describe that experience is “magical.” It may sound cheesy but this isn’t a term I use often to describe places I visit. The sky was overcast when we got there and it snowed lightly off and on the entire day, blanketing the hoodoos in snow. There weren’t many other visitors there so it was quiet and so utterly peaceful. Normally I can’t stand cold weather and snow but hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park with the snow falling is one of my favorite memories of all time. You can find my post on Bryce Canyon National Park here.

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Snow blanketing Bryce Canyon National Park
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Some of the many hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park

4.  Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona has to be one of the best-known national parks. Even if people haven’t been here, many people have at least heard of it and know that it’s famous for its namesake canyon. The canyon running through Grand Canyon National Park is 277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep. Grand Canyon has two basic sections, the North Rim and South Rim. The South Rim is the most commonly visited of the two, and is open year-round. The North Rim closes for the winter months. Not surprisingly, the South Rim gets extremely crowded, even in the cooler months, and you need to make reservations for lodging in the park several months in advance. There are several lodges in the South Rim but only one lodge in the North Rim. You can also stay at the bottom of the canyon at Phantom Ranch, but reservations must be made via an online lottery 15 months in advance. There are trails, scenic drives, ranger programs as usual, but you can also take a mule trip or a river trip for something different. You can find my post on Grand Canyon National Park here.

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Wildlife in Grand Canyon National Park
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Grand Canyon National Park

5. Denali National Park in Alaska is special to me because of the wildlife and how the park manages to keep large parts of the park wild, meaning there are no trails in these areas and cars can’t drive on the road past a certain point. We took a transit bus that took us four hours into the park, then we hiked a couple of trails and took a return transit bus another four hours back out of the park, but there are options for shorter or longer bus rides or options if you don’t want to hike at all. The bus driver gave a great deal of history and information about the park and pulled over when anyone spotted animals so we could quietly observe them. Along the way, we saw grizzly bears, caribou, eagles and other birds, dall sheep, and marmots. There is camping available in the park but we chose to stay just outside the park entrance. Another unique feature of this park is the employment of sled dogs. Denali National Park is the only national park in the United States that has working sled dogs. You can watch them happily pulling a cart during the warmer months during a Ranger demonstration. During the winter, the dogs patrol the park with Rangers on sleds. You can find my post on Denali National Park here.

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One of the views from a hike in Denali National Park
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A brown bear (grizzly) and one of her cubs at Denali National Park

I realize I may have left off some of what may be other people’s favorite national parks, but as I said, I haven’t been to all of them, just about a third, although my plan is to visit more over the next several years. Which national park(s) is/are some of your favorites and what makes them special? Which national park that you haven’t been to yet are you dying to go to?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Product Review- Rockin’ Green Platinum Series Active Wear Laundry Detergent

Over the years I must have tried at least four different laundry detergents made specifically for active wear. Not only do I run 5 days a week, I also go to yoga class, do strength training at the gym, and ride my bike when I have the energy, so over the course of a week, I have a lot of sweaty, smelly athletic clothes. Technical fabrics tend to smell even after being washed because the residues coming from sweat aren’t truly washed out and build up over time. Many laundry detergents can’t truly get rid of the funk, so you’re left with supposedly clean active wear that stinks before you even put it on.

When I came across some information for Rockin’ Green laundry detergent, I was intrigued. This detergent is specifically made with enzymes to remove stains and odors from fat, protein and starch. Further, the scent of Tea Tree Oil rinses clean after washing so you’re not left with perfumes meant to mask odors. The icing on the cake is this detergent is environmentally friendly, with biodegradable surfactants, natural cleaning agents, and plant derived enzymes. I asked for a sample to be sent to me and within a couple of days received two single use containers in the mail, along with a water test strip (to test pH), and a coupon for future orders.

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Since I knew some of my athletic clothes have lingering smells straight out of the drawers, I thought I should go the heavy-hitting route and do a pre-soak before washing the clothes. I added the entire one-use container, as directed, and soaked my clothes in my tub (my front-loading washer doesn’t have a pre-soak setting) for one hour. The water was a gross-looking dirty brown color, even though it’s not like these clothes had visible dirt or mud on them. I assume this meant the detergent removed some or all of the funk that was left on my athletic clothes that my previous detergent did not remove.

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After soaking the clothes for an hour, I drained the water and pulled them out of the tub and put them in the washing machine and ran a cycle without adding any additional detergent (per the instructions). Then I put everything into the dryer (no fabric softener like usual for me) and smelled the results.

With previous laundry detergents I’ve tried that were made specifically for athletic clothes, there still seemed to be a slight lingering smell in many of my older clothes after washing and drying a load of laundry. With Rockin’ Green, I only noticed a slight lingering smell in one shirt- just one shirt out of a huge load. I’m going to try doing another soak before I wash the next load and see if that gets all of the funk out of that shirt but my feeling is it will.

Bottom line- this detergent really works! I did a little more research into the products offered by Rockin’ Green and it turns out the detergent for active wear has enzymes specifically to remove odors from sweat that the Classic Rock detergent doesn’t have. Other than the detergent for athletic wear, there are detergents for hard water, cloth diapers, a pre-treatment ammonia remover, and even dishwasher detergent.

You can buy Rockin’ Green products at their site, RockinGreen.com (free shipping on all orders and all orders ship the same day) or at Amazon.

Happy running!

Donna