The East Coast’s Newest National Park- New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia

Thanks in part to a 2021 stimulus package sent for approval by President Trump in December 2020, the New River Gorge National River was upgraded to National Park and Preserve. This is a 73,000 acre canyon in southern West Virginia famous for its whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, camping, and even base jumping once a year at Bridge Day. Basically the new status will allow the Park Service to buy more land around the area to add to the national preserve and add necessities like more parking near trailheads. It’s also expected to increase tourism by 20%, which is typical when previous monuments have been upgraded to national parks.

I grew up in southern West Virginia and have visited the New River Gorge many times. The first time I went whitewater rafting was on the New River. I was absolutely terrified but loved it so much I went back a couple more times. When I was dating someone many years ago not long after I had moved to North Carolina and brought him to meet my parents in West Virginia, the first thing my step-dad said was that we should visit the New River Gorge. The New River Gorge Bridge is likened by West Virginians as the Golden Gate Bridge is to San Franciscans- it’s a beauty to behold.

Bridge Day has grown to one of the largest extreme sports events in the world. Every third Saturday in October the New River Gorge Bridge is closed off to traffic while thousands of people visit primarily to watch BASE jumpers descend 876 feet into the Gorge below and rapellers ascend and descend from the catwalk. In 2019 there were nearly 100,000 visitors so if you want to go, I suggest you make plans well in advance. Also, you do need a Gorge ticket, which goes on sale in January every year and sells out quickly. https://officialbridgeday.com/bridge-day-info

New River Gorge Bridge- my grainy photo taken many years ago but it still looks the same today!

If you don’t have a huge fear of heights, you can walk the catwalk under the New River Gorge Bridge with a few different options. You can book a Bridge Day Bridge Walk, a Bridge Walk Full Moon Tour, or a Moonrise Sunset Tour. You begin near the Canyon Rim Visitor’s Center on the north side of the bridge and walk the entire 3,030 feet on the 2 foot wide catwalk, all while fastened to a safety cable. All of the tours take around 2-3 hours. https://bridgewalk.com/

ACE Adventure Resort is one of the more popular companies for whitewater rafting but they have grown to be undeniably the largest outdoor adventure company in southern West Virginia (probably the entire state). Not only can you go whitewater rafting, you can also go ziplining, mountain climbing, go on an obstacle course, standup paddleboarding, kayaking, plus so much more; and they have a huge range of accommodations from tent sites, cabins, bunkhouses, and RV sites. Plus, if that wasn’t enough, there’s also Wonderland Waterpark on a lake with fun things like giant waterslides and huge water toys. https://aceraft.com/

If you’re really into mountain biking (or even if you would like to learn more about it), there’s Arrowhead Bike Farm where you can visit the bike shop, rent a bike, sign up for a clinic, eat at The Handle Bar + Kitchen, or reserve a campsite. Arrowhead is near the Arrowhead stacked-loop trail system and the Long Point Trail giving you the opportunity to hike or bike right from your campsite into the New River Gorge. They are also located near Kaymoor Top, a premier rock climbing location, and public put-in and take-out for boating on the Lower New River. https://arrowheadbikefarm.com/

Being an avid hiker every opportunity I get, I have to include some information about hiking in New River Gorge National River. To read about 23 trails in the area, head to https://www.alltrails.com/parks/us/west-virginia/new-river-gorge-national-river to find trails ranging from easy, moderate, and hard, in many different lengths. These trails include everything from waterfalls, rivers, old coal mines, views of the bridge, and mountain views. Although there are black bears in the area, I’ve personally never seen any; mostly you’ll see deer, squirrels, birds, skunks, and the occasional raccoon and groundhog.

If all of this just sounds like more adventure than you’d care to take on, you can always just rent a cabin and sit outside while you enjoy the sounds of the river with an ice-cold beverage. There’s just something about getting away from it all and sitting outside and truly relaxing in nature. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is a great place to do that! https://www.nps.gov/neri/index.htm

Have you ever been to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve? Have you seen the bridge on your way driving through to go further north? Gone whitewater rafting here? Any interest in going here someday?

Happy travels!

Donna

Caffeine as a Boost For Running

I’m not a coffee drinker and in fact the only time I’ve ever semi-regularly drunk coffee was while I was an undergraduate in college. Even then I wouldn’t drink coffee by itself; I’d mix coffee with hot chocolate for mochas, but this was still just an occasional splurge for me. For one thing, I don’t care for the taste of coffee but also I’m extremely sensitive to caffeine. If I have an iced tea with lunch, I’ll be wired 10 hours later. If I were to have 3 or 4 glasses of iced tea in one sitting, my heart would start skipping beats and I’d feel like my chest was going to explode.

I do drink tea in moderation, however, and I enjoy a cup or two of hot tea in the morning on occasion. The amount of tea I drink varies but lately it seems like I have hot tea about 2-3 mornings a week. I never drink tea more than two days in a row, though, because I’ve done that in the past and that’s all it takes for me to become addicted to caffeine. By the third day if I don’t have caffeine, I’ll have a raging headache and feel terrible. No thanks.

When it comes to caffeine and running (or other endurance activities), several studies have shown that caffeine can in fact give you a bit of a boost for endurance based exercise; however, like many things when it comes to running, it’s complicated. The first report concerning the effects of energy drinks on physical performance was carried out by Alford and co-workers in 2001. These authors found that approximately 1 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight (one 250-mL serving of an energy drink) improved reaction time, alertness and aerobic and anaerobic performance. Conversely, later studies found that 1 mg/kg/caffeine is not enough to see significant extensive improvements in endurance exercise.

This recent study looked at the tolerance of one group of male cyclists who took 3 mg/kg/day of caffeine for 20 days vs. another group of men who took a placebo. The researchers noted improved VO2max for the first 4 days in the caffeine group compared to those taking a placebo, but the benefits seemed to drop off quickly. The researchers also discussed how there are differences in studies like this based on whether participants in the studies take caffeine on a daily basis or not and how much caffeine they consume on a regular basis.

It may seem intuitive that you will benefit from caffeine supplements more if you don’t regularly consume caffeine vs. people that consume caffeine regularly, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Improvements in both people that regularly consume caffeine and those that don’t have been seen in studies on caffeine supplements. It also seems that elites may have smaller improvements in endurance events with caffeine than the average athlete, which is good news for most of us. Remember, too, that until 2004 caffeine was considered a performance-enhancing drug and was not allowed in competitions by elites.

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Companies have sold caffeine-containing products geared toward athletes for many years and that just seems to be increasing. Honey Stinger has Energy Chews with 32 mg caffeine per serving and recently released Plus+ Performance Chews with 75 mg caffeine per serving. One tablet of Nuun Sport + Caffeine has 40 mg caffeine, while a serving of Nuun Endurance + Caffeine has 25 mg caffeine. One serving of Tailwind Caffeinated Endurance Fuel has 35 mg caffeine. Gatorade Endurance Energy Gel with Caffeine has 30 mg caffeine. And on and on. I haven’t checked but probably any company that sells electrolyte drinks, gels, and similar products most likely have at least some caffeinated versions in their line of products. For reference, the average cup of brewed coffee has between 95-200 mg of caffeine. The average cup of tea has 25-75 mg of caffeine.

One thing I found out in reading about caffeine is that most studies gave their participants caffeine one hour before exercise. That may or may not work for you personally; I know it’s not feasible for me on most days when I would use caffeine for my runs. Here are my thoughts on that, though:  you’re still going to feel the effects of caffeine unless you’re only exercising less than an hour or shortly over an hour. Say for example, you’re going for a 3 hour run and you’re drinking your sports drink with caffeine from the beginning of your run, you’re going to feel the effects, although maybe not within the first hour. For exercise that’s two hours or more, you should feel the effects from the caffeine while you’re still out.

Caffeine has also been touted to reduce muscle soreness after endurance activity but that seems to be even more controversial. Personally, I don’t notice any difference at all in muscle soreness whether I have a sports drink with caffeine or a caffeine-free sports drink. Some people may have reduced muscle soreness, though, since there are studies out there reporting this. Then again, that’s another thing that’s tough to measure without bias because of the placebo effect. Some people may think they’ll be less sore if they think their drink has caffeine in it versus the placebo drink, while others may have it in their heads that caffeine doesn’t reduce muscle soreness and they will report no reduction in muscle soreness (even if their drink had caffeine in it). Again, it’s tricky to measure, like so many other studies of this type.

I say, if you don’t already, have some caffeine prior to your run and see what it does for you. You should give it at least a few weeks to be fair, though, and note how you feel before, during, and after your run. One final thing to remember is that caffeine is a strong stimulant on not only your brain and muscles but other parts of your body as well such as your GI system. If you’ve never experienced “runner’s trots” before, caffeine just may be the stimulus for that to happen if you don’t take care of business before your run.

What about you- are you a big believer in the power of caffeine for endurance activities? Or have you tried it and don’t see a difference? Are you a big coffee drinker but never use supplements or sports drinks with caffeine when you run?

Happy running!

Donna

Eating My Way Around the World- Memorable Foods I’ve Enjoyed While on Vacation

I would say I’ve always been at least a somewhat adventurous eater, although not to the crazy extreme as some people (like eating maggots or worms). When I was growing up, my mom would always tell me I would have to at least try everything that she was serving at dinner. One of my earliest memories is of me eating hot banana peppers with my grandpa when I was around three years old. When I was about 11 or 12 years old I tried frog’s legs and escargot while on vacation with my mom and I really thought I was a big time adventurer.

As an adult I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to 47 states in the United States, both ends of Canada, Mexico, several countries in Europe, all over the Caribbean, Peru and Chile in South America, and the North Island of New Zealand. Some places were definitely full of more memorable foods than others, for good and bad. There are some places that stand out more than others, just looking at the unique and memorable foods I ate there.

Just a sampling of some of the not only delicious but beautifully presented food and drinks in Peru

Peru was such a huge surprise to me that it’s such a foodie destination. Who knew it has so many amazing foods of gourmet quality but not that gourmet price tag? Certainly not me. Even on the trek to Machu Picchu, we had some amazing meals that were just cooked over a fire but were so full of flavor and everything tasted so fresh. Some of my favorite foods I ate in Peru were ceviche, Lomo Saltado (stir-fried beef), Aji de Gallina (creamy chicken), Causa Limeña (potato casserole), and Pollo a la Brasa (roasted chicken). I also enjoyed the Maracuyá Sour, which is made with passion fruit and is a delicious variation on the pisco sour.

In the Caribbean, I loved the jerk chicken and Jamaican Patties in Jamaica, all of the French foods and pastries on the French side of St. Martin, Conch salad in the Bahamas, and I loved Bahama Mamas (alcoholic drink) way too much (of course there’s a story that goes along with that but I won’t get into it here). Canada is well-known for their poutine, which may sound disgusting to some people, but I loved it. If you don’t know, poutine is french fries and cheese curds smothered in brown gravy. I also had the pleasure of eating Montreal-style smoked meat from Katz’s Deli, and it was every bit as good as the hype. In fact, Montreal is also a foodie destination, with amazing food on every corner.

Montreal-style smoked meat, Maple syrup, Canadian back bacon, Butter tart, Nanaimo Bar, Poutine. Photo credit Wikipedia

Before I even set foot there, I knew the food in Italy was going to be out of this world. I swear, even the street food was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Even though I tried, my Italian wasn’t that great, but I could just point to anything in a deli case and know I would get something delicious. Some of the best Ethiopian food I’ve ever had was in fact in Italy. I was in Rome, Venice, Florence, and Pompeii and in every city, the food was truly some of the best food I’ve had anywhere. Oh, and the house wine, which was also cheap, was amazing. There were some places where the bottled water cost more than the house wine! Some of the most memorable foods I had in Italy were pizza, so much pasta (tortellini, ravioli, lasagna, carbonara, tagliatelle, and more), breads, prosciutto, and all of the gelato I could possibly eat.

Navajo “fry bread” from Cameron Trading Post in Arizona

Looking at places I’ve been in the United States, I tried Indian Fry Bread (aka Navajo Tacos) for the first time in Arizona and it was so good I couldn’t wait to have more on subsequent visits to the southwest. Navajo Tacos are large discs of fried dough with taco toppings like ground beef with taco seasoning, beans, shredded cheese, sour cream, diced tomatoes, peppers, sliced black olives, and anything else you want really. Staying on the west coast and some memorable foods I had there, I had delicious fish tacos in San Diego, sourdough bread in San Francisco, and so much wonderful fresh, seafood in Seattle.

I probably never would have had Hawaiian shave ice if not for my daughter. She wanted to get some one day so I got one as well, and I was blown away. I expected to get what I thought would be a snow cone, but real shave (this is no typo, either, it’s shave, not shaved) ice is no snow cone. Shave ice is made by shaving a block of ice, versus the crushed ice you get with snow cones, and has syrups like Tiger’s Blood, Dragon’s Blood, and Bahama Mama. More importantly, you can (and should) get your shave ice with sweet cream over and ice cream under. That first shave ice I had was followed by several others on that trip. My only regret is that I didn’t discover it sooner, as this was my third trip to Hawaii, and you can only get real Hawaiian shave ice in Hawaii, unfortunately for my taste buds, but fortunately for my waist line. Also on my vacations in Hawaii, I discovered poi, kalua pig, poke, and malasadas. Now I want to go back. With so much good food and amazing views, you just can’t go wrong.

Hawaiian shave ice

Anyone else hungry right about now?

Let’s go to the Midwest in the United States. How about Chicago-style deep dish pizza or Chicago-style hot dogs? Yum to both! I’ve been to Chicago a few times and every single time I had to have both of these foods or I felt like my trip just wouldn’t have been complete. I was looking forward to eating Kansas City BBQ before my vacation to Kansas City, Missouri and it was every bit as good as I had hoped. Michigan is known for their Montmorency cherry, and I had some awesome cherry pie in Traverse City, Michigan.

I’ve spent the majority of my time on the east coast of the United States, since that’s where I grew up and have lived as an adult. Philadelphia has Philly Cheesesteaks of course, but you can also get great ones in other Pennsylvania cities like Pittsburgh, and the best buffalo wings are in the Northeast (meaning Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, northern West Virginia, Delaware). With hot wings, the quality of meat, spices, and overall flavor diminishes greatly when you get outside that area. I also had some amazing lobster rolls and seafood chowder in Maine and I can’t forget the New York-style bagels and pizza I had plus all of the great Asian foods I ate in New York City. Oh, and some of the best shrimp and grits I’ve had were in Charleston, South Carolina. In fact, I don’t remember ever NOT having a meal in Charleston that wasn’t only good but in fact great, which is a convoluted way of saying it’s a true foodie destination that lives up to the hype.

Some of the sweets in Charleston, South Carolina

There were other memorable foods that weren’t so great, like all of the sausages and schnitzel in Germany. I got to a point where I was so sick of those two foods comprising 99% of the menus everywhere I went. Seriously, there’s only so much schnitzel a person can eat before they’re sick of it, or maybe it’s just me. When I discovered the Italian food is actually really good in Germany, I was thrilled! Surprisingly, I found the food in Austria to be more varied than it was in Germany, and it was very good, although nothing in particular stands out but I do remember having some good desserts there.

What about you? What are some of the more memorable foods you’ve eaten while on vacation?

Happy travels!

Donna

Running Resolutions for 2021

Last year I only had one running resolution and that was to enjoy every moment of my final three half marathons of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. The full version can be found here: Running Resolutions for 2020. As we all know, COVID-19 put an end to most races in 2020, certainly ones that were in late March or later.

My first half marathon of 2020 was supposed to be the Albuquerque Half Marathon in April, followed by a half marathon in Minnesota in June, and a half marathon in Iowa in September, completing all 50 states. I thought I was going to be able to still run the race in New Mexico since the race director postponed it until November. Of course no one could have predicted that the pandemic would still be going strong through the end of 2020.

With no scheduled races in sight for 2021, this year I’ve decided to make some running resolutions that aren’t related to my goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states. I’m confident I’ll be able to reach my goal when the time is right, but who knows when that will be. Sure, I could probably run three half marathons in 2021 but the question is can I run a half marathon in New Mexico, Minnesota, and Iowa in 2021? As much as I would love for that to happen, I’m not going to hold my breath waiting on that to happen, with all of the uncertainties of the pandemic continuing into 2021.

Since before the New Year, I’ve thought about what my goals for 2021 should be and I had a really hard time coming up with any. Then a few days ago while I was on a run, I finally came up with my first running resolution for 2021: to be more spontaneous when it comes to races. As you probably have figured out, I’ve been completely structured and organized when it comes to my previous half marathons, at least once I had the goal of one in every state.

Most of my half marathons were chosen and planned out several months if not years in advance (really). This year, I’d like to be completely spontaneous and if I see a race that seems interesting and I can feasibly run it, I want to do that. As you may or may not know, I’ve run relatively few local races because I was concentrating on my goal and didn’t want to overdo it with too much racing. Now, however, I can be more spontaneous and run more local races, assuming COVID restrictions are lifted and racing has resumed locally.

My second running resolution came to me when I was walking my dog. I’d like to incorporate more walking into this year. Walking is good cross-training and as I get older I know the importance of not “just” running. Currently, I do yoga once a week, strength train once a week, ride my bike when the weather is conducive, and this year I’ve started walking my dog most days, with a really long walk on Sundays. In 2020 I also hiked in the mountains quite a bit, and I’d love to continue to do that this year as well, but since I don’t live in the mountains I’m limited to when I travel to places with mountains.

That’s it- just two running resolutions for 2021. The second one will be easy for me, but the first one depends on the pandemic. With people already getting vaccinated, hope is on the horizon that things will get “better” and we can return to racing once again.

What about you? Did you make any running resolutions for 2021? Care to share any?

Happy running!

Donna