Stories from Chile

I was recently talking to a friend about traveling and she asked me, “You’ve traveled pretty extensively. What’s something that’s happened that caused you to feel out of your comfort zone?” I immediately thought of my two weeks in Chile a couple of years ago. There were times where my family and I were the only English-speaking people around and there were several days where we had no cell phone coverage or even Wi-Fi when the Wi-Fi went down for the whole town for a few days. We had to rely solely on our knowledge of Spanish and hope for the best.

My friend asked me if we ever felt unsafe or scared in Chile and I replied, “Never. Not a single time.” While I felt out of my comfort zone and even a bit frustrated at times, I never feared for my life or anything remotely like that. I always knew deep down that everything would be fine in the end, and it was. That’s largely in part to the extreme kindness of strangers in Chile. We literally had people hand us their cell phones in restaurants and walk away from our table while we used their phones to pull up Google maps or look up other information after we explained to them (in our shaky Spanish) that we couldn’t use our cell phones.

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Enjoying the area around Lago Rapel

All of this of course leads to many stories to tell others later. Despite posting several things about Chile, there are many stories I never told, until now. Now I’d like to share some of the stories that happened to my family and I while we were in Chile and I hope you enjoy them.

To give a little background, we were in three separate areas of Chile, beginning in Santiago for a couple of days, then to Valparaiso for four days, and to Punta Verde in the O’Higgins region for a week. I feel like our adventures got more and more intense as our vacation went on. There weren’t many stories to tell from our time in Santiago that I can recall. We stayed in a super-nice 5-star hotel that my daughter still talks about, which if it was in the United States would have cost more money than we likely would have paid. We took our own walking tour of the city based on blogs and other information I had read about Santiago. Not much unusual happened, though. Probably our biggest adventure was driving from our hotel to get out of the city. The traffic was some of the worst we had encountered anywhere, but my husband handled it like a pro and got us out of the city (and the rental car) unscathed!

When we drove from Santiago to Valparaiso, there were two options to get there, one was a toll road and one was not. I decided we should take the “more scenic” non-toll road. It turns out they were doing major construction on part of that road, parts of which were not paved, and all of that slowed us down considerably. Then my husband noticed how low the gas in the tank was. We thought we were going to run out of gas on this deserted road where we hadn’t passed another car let alone seen a gas station in a very long time. We had no cell phone coverage and besides who on earth would we even call? Fortunately we came to the end of the construction, got back on “regular” paved highway roads near civilization, and came to a gas station just as we rolled in on fumes and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

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View from our huge Airbnb in Valparaiso

Valparaiso is a beautiful coastal town in Chile and our Airbnb there was HUGE with three big bedrooms and a large living room all with balconies overlooking the ocean below. There was a slight issue with the heat, which I had to talk to the host about over the Airbnb messaging site, but once we got that figured out, it was all good. I didn’t realize prior to going to Chile that most apartment buildings and houses there don’t have central heating because it’s too expensive. Our apartment building was heated by hot water than ran through the walls and floor boards. Once the Airbnb host told us how to turn the hot water pipes for heating on, we were able to stay comfortably warm there.

One very sad story about Valparaiso and the other parts of Chile that we were in is due to the huge epidemic of stray dogs everywhere. One day while we were walking around Valparaiso, a friendly black dog started following us. She followed us a long time, turning when we turned, stopping when we stopped, and so forth, until we ultimately reached the gate for the funicular (if you don’t know, a funicular is sort of like an outdoor elevator that goes up the side of a cliff or mountainside usually) to the apartment building where we were staying and we had to say goodbye to her. We named her “Chile.” Shortly after we got back from our vacation in Chile, we adopted a black dog whose foster mom had named “Millie.” This puppy did not in any way resemble a “Millie” to me but I didn’t want to drastically change her name because she was already answering to Millie. We named her Chile (although not pronounced like native Chileans pronounce their country, “Chee-lay” but more like the pepper, “Chil-ee” so it would still sound similar enough to her former name so as to not confuse her).

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Our sweet little “Chile” in Chile

After Valparaiso, we drove to Punta Verde in the O’Higgins region. Our adventure began on the very first day there, as soon as we drove up to the resort. The guard at the gate spoke no English at all and our broken Spanish wasn’t enough to communicate to him that we were staying there. We were in what I’ve read called “The Lake” region because of Lago Rapel (Rapel Lake), which apparently is quite packed with visitors during the warm months. Since we were there during the shoulder season and it was a bit cooler, literally no other guests were staying at this resort when we pulled up. The guard seemed to be completely baffled as to why this English-speaking family was trying to get onto the resort this time of year.

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I loved watching this Gaucho in Chile with his horses

Eventually, the guard called a friend of his who knew someone who spoke some English. The English-speaking person’s name was Claudia, and this guard’s friend brought Claudia to our rescue, who communicated to the guard that we would be staying at the resort for a week, and thus needed a key to our apartment and to be allowed entry into and out of the resort while we would be staying there. Claudia showed us around the apartment, which was a large three bedroom unit with a full kitchen, dining room, living room, two bathrooms, and sunroom. She told us to make ourselves at home and gave us her phone number if we needed anything (even though we had no cell phone coverage there so we would have to have a local call her if we needed to talk to her). Claudia told us no one else in town spoke English so we would pretty much be on our own as far as communicating with others.

I should note here that I had several years of Spanish in high school and college and I’ve brushed up on my Spanish several times before visiting a Spanish-speaking country including this trip to Chile. My husband has been teaching himself Spanish for the past several years and our daughter has had Spanish in school since she was in preschool. At the time of our visit to Chile, between the three of us, our knowledge of Spanish was usually enough to get by even when the person spoke no English. I learned many years ago that less is better when you’re trying to communicate in another language so I would try to keep my questions or answers brief and to the point. Usually the person was able to figure out what we were trying to say and/or we were able to figure out what they were trying to say, although there were exceptions like the guard at the gate of our resort in the O’Higgins region. Still, we are by no means what I would call fluent in Spanish.

We had so many adventures in the O’Higgins region that I’m sure I’ll forget some of them. One funny story happened when we went to the Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva, a national park. We hadn’t seen another person hiking all day and were surprised when my daughter said she saw other people hiking on the trail we were on. As we got closer to the people, she realized it wasn’t human legs she was seeing but cow legs. It wasn’t people in front of us, but rather a couple of cows. What we thought were hoof prints from horses on other trails earlier that day that we also thought must have been carrying riders on these supposed horses turned out to be hoof prints from cows that were grazing randomly in the park. Several times we had gotten turned around on the trails and had decided to follow the hoof prints since surely it was horse prints so surely it must have been part of the trail and the way we should go. We were of course very wrong since we had instead been following cows wandering around aimlessly. Somehow we figured out where to go on the trails and didn’t end up getting too far off trail to get truly lost.

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Some of the cows we saw at the national park- the baby cow was adorable!

I’m going to back up a bit, though. Just getting to the Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva was an adventure. My husband had downloaded Google maps of the area when we had Wi-Fi so we would have it offline and he thought it would be a relatively easy drive to the park from our resort. That is until we had to take a traffic detour. Somehow, my husband still figured out how to get us there just using his awesome sense of direction and by studying his offline map. Driving to other places in the O’Higgins region was often an adventure as well. Once we came upon what looked like a big wooden gate to a personal property that was closed but our GPS was telling us that was the way we needed to go. There were a couple of men standing outside the gate. When we asked if we could go through, they opened the gate and let us in, no questions asked. Once we were on the other side, we quickly realized this was not the right way to go, and drove back the way we came and my husband had to study the downloaded map once again to figure it out on his own.

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Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva was worth the effort it took to get there

There was also the small local market in Punta Verde that we discovered sold warm, freshly made rolls every evening. We stood in line with the other locals to get some fresh baked bread and other food to make for dinner. There weren’t that many restaurants in town and the one at our resort was hugely over-priced so we only ate there once or twice. Even after our vacation and we had returned home we still talked about that fresh bread we used to pick up for dinner every evening during our last week in Chile. I remember the first time we went to that market, everyone turned around to look at us when we spoke in English to each other. We still got stares and people turning around to look at us when we spoke English on subsequent visits, but we didn’t think anything of it. Presumably not many people go there that speak English, and certainly not during the off-season. They weren’t doing that to be unfriendly or rude but they were undoubtedly surprised to hear us speaking in a language none of them knew.

As I said, there weren’t that many restaurants in town. One evening we went to what was supposed to be a restaurant and that turned into an adventure. We pulled up to what looked like an average-looking house in the area and wondered if we were in the right place, but there was a sign outside with the name of the “restaurant” so we went in. Immediately I noticed how cold it was in this house. They must not have had heat or perhaps it was turned down to save energy but I really didn’t want to eat dinner in my coat. A man greeted us and was very friendly and obviously happy to have some dinner guests, so we thought we’d at least see what they had to offer. We asked to see a menu and were told they had chicken, chicken and rice, and chicken another way that I’m now forgetting but our choices were chicken, chicken, or chicken; no menu necessary for that. What I can only assume was the man’s wife popped her head out of the kitchen, getting ready to cook us our dinner. I told my husband I didn’t feel comfortable eating at these people’s house/restaurant and we should go but I didn’t want to seem rude. My husband told him we had changed our minds and would be leaving and the disappointment on the man’s face was palpable. Who knows, maybe that would have been a fabulous chicken dinner, but the microbiologist in me just wasn’t willing to risk getting Salmonella or Campylobacter, not that you’re always safe in a true restaurant, but still.

Similar to Valparaiso, there were stray dogs all over the place in the O’Higgins region and it was heartbreaking to me as a huge animal-lover. When we left the resort to drive back to the airport in Santiago, we had some leftover food from the refrigerator that we had brought with us in the car but not for us to eat. I brought the food to give to stray dogs that we would inevitably see along the way to the airport. When I would spot a stray dog along the side of the road ahead of us, I’d tell my husband to pull over, quickly leave some of the food for the dog, and we would drive on. We did this the entire drive back to Santiago, which was about 2 hours. I was able to stretch out the leftovers and gave the last little bit of food to a dog I saw when we were nearing the rental car place by the airport.

That pretty much ended our adventures in Chile. If you’d like to read the full posts about my time there, you can find them here:

Walking Tour of Santiago- My First Taste of Chile

Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, Chile

Las Cabras in the O’Higgins Region, Chile- A Test of Resilience

An American in Chile- Getting Outside My Comfort Zone

Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva (National Park in Chile)

Day Trip to Pichilemu, Chile

15 Lessons Learned by an American in Chile

Have you been to Chile? What is one adventure you had while there? Do you have another place you visited and had some adventures? Tell me about it!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Book Review- Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather “Anish” Anderson

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably already know I love to hike so I’m going to diverge from my usual Friday running post and write about hiking today. I feel like I’ve always loved hiking in the mountains. Growing up in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia probably sparked my love of hiking mountains. I have fond memories of visiting several state parks in West Virginia as a kid. My love of hiking has only intensified as an adult. I recently wrote a post on hiking tips that you can find here: Hiking Tips for the Beginner.

Recently, I took a four day hike through Peru, ending in Machu Picchu, and it was undoubtedly some of the best hiking I’ve ever done. To be totally honest, however, we were all completely spoiled by hiking standards on this trek. We had porters to carry all but a small daypack, a cook to prepare all of our meals, and a guide to lead us (although he was more often than not lagging behind with one of our fellow hikers on horseback who was not dealing well with the altitude, but he would yell up ahead if we were in doubt of which way to go). My point is, we were far from self-supported thru-hiking (more on that in a second). If you’d like to read about my trek to Machu Picchu, the posts are here:  Lares Trek to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions- Day OneLares Trek to Machu Picchu- Day TwoLares Trek to Machu Picchu- Day Three.

Fastest Known Time attempts (also known as FKTs) are well-known in the hiking community. The people that hold the record for FKTs are another caliber entirely than us mere mortals. FKTs have been set for the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and a surprising 840 more routes in the United States alone, as well as many others around the world.

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I received this book and 4 tubes of Nuun hydration from a random drawing. The Nuun is fitting for the book title!

Heather “Anish” Anderson still holds the record for female self-supported FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail that she set August 7, 2013. Self-supported means you never enter a vehicle along the trail and don’t have a dedicated support crew, but you may use mail drops, facilities in towns along the way, and the kindness of strangers. She walked from southern California to the tip of Washington in a record 60 days, 17 hours, 12 minutes. Thirst:  2600 Miles to Home is a recount of Anderson’s journey for reaching this FKT record.

At 206 pages including acknowledgements, this was a quick read for me. There are 36 chapters plus an epilogue, so I found it easy to read a chapter or two before bed. I felt drawn into her story and enjoyed the bits of back-story she included, which allows the reader to better understand Anderson’s history and why anyone would want to attempt an FKT in the first place.

By no means is this written as a manual for anyone who might be interested in hiking a trail like the Pacific Crest Trail, which by the way is 2655 miles from Mexico to Canada, passing through the Sonoran & Mojave deserts, and then over the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. The PCT crosses California, Oregon and Washington, and passes through 24 national forests, 7 national parks and 33 wilderness areas. This is simply Anderson’s story and some of the things she encountered along the way on the trail.

One thing I should mention here is the “Anish” part in her name for anyone that may be wondering. She adopted the trail name “Anish” in honor of her great-great grandmother, who was of Native American Anishinabe heritage. Trail names originally began on the Appalachian Trail to keep all of the hikers straight from one another, by giving them unique nicknames which usually fit their personality or a quirky part of a hiker. Some people choose their own trail name while others wait until someone else gives them a trail name.

Anish grew up as an overweight child in Michigan who was often teased and by no means had an upbringing to prepare her for what her adult life was to become. However, she proves that she is in charge of her own destiny. In 2019 she was National Geographic’s National Adventurer of the Year. By then she had walked 28,000 miles on trails and had become one of 400 people who have claimed the Triple Crown of Hiking, completing the Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails in addition to the Appalachian Trail in one calendar year. In 2015 she set the record for female unsupported FKT on the Appalachian Trail and in 2016 she set the record on the Arizona Trail.

I found myself cheering her on as I read the book, something it seems other hikers were doing when Anderson was attempting her FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail. She would sometimes go into towns along the trail and overhear other hikers talking about the “Ghost,” which she came to realize was herself. She would be there on the trail one minute and the next, she would vanish and be gone.

Even if you’re never going to attempt an FKT in your life but you enjoy a good day hike (like me) or even a multi-day supported hike (also like me), you would probably enjoy this book. I found the stories about Anderson’s encounters with animals like cougars and rattlesnakes to be frightening but her reactions to be totally empowering, although I’m not sure I would have been that brave.

In the end, I believe this book is about Anish finding her courage in life along the Pacific Crest Trail, and she just happened to finish in the Fastest Known Time for unsupported females.

Have you read Heather Anderson’s book? Have you ever heard of her before? I hadn’t before reading this book to be completely honest. If you read Scott Jurek’s book, North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail and enjoyed that, you might enjoy this book as well.

You can find Heather Anderson’s website here:  Anish Hikes.

Happy hiking!

Donna

 

Hiking Tips for the Beginner

I grew up hiking in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia and as an adult I’ve hiked all over the United States from Maine to California and most places in-between. In Europe, I’ve hiked in the Spanish Canary Islands, Austria, Germany, and Greece, to name a few countries. Although there hasn’t been that much hiking in the various Caribbean islands I’ve been to, where there were mountains or even trails in natural parks or preserves, I’ve hiked them. Hiking in New Zealand probably afforded some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen just because it’s one of the most beautiful countries I’ve seen. In South America, I’ve hiked in Chile and Peru, which were also amazing places to hike and left me with an urge to go back and see more.

I know many people have done much more intense hiking than I have, just as others have done hardly any or no hiking in their lives. What I’d like to discuss here is more for beginners because I feel like that’s the group that I’d like to persuade. I understand for people that have never been hiking or maybe only gone once or twice, it may seem a bit daunting to go out on a several hour hike in the woods. I’ll cover things to do before you ever leave your house to go on a hike so you feel completely prepared and actually look forward to the amazing views you’ll see on your hike.

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Hiking in the Canary Islands- it’s not all beaches here!

First off, choose a place to hike. This can be a state park near where you live, a national park you have plans to visit, or a place you’re going to visit soon on vacation. If you don’t want to hike up a mountain, there doesn’t even have to be a mountain in the area since many trails are along lakes, rivers, or other flat areas.

Once you have a place in mind, pull up the website for the area and see if they have a list of trails. I’ll give you an example to go on for better reference here. Say I’d like to go to Arches National Park in Utah (which I really would like to visit someday). Go to the U.S. National Park Service website for Arches National Park, then click on “Plan Your Visit” then “Things to Do” then “Hiking.” Under the hiking section, you will see all of the trails at the park, listed from easy, moderate, to difficult. There are trail names, round-trip distance, elevation and estimated time to complete, and descriptions. These descriptions are thorough and accurate so if it says a trail is difficult, you should believe it is and not go out there if you’ve never hiked in your life, even if you are in good shape physically.

Just like runners gradually increase the distance ran, hikers should do the same and gradually increase in intensity and distance covered. Choose easy hiking trails to begin with and as you become more comfortable over time, work up to moderate and eventually more difficult trails. Remember that distance isn’t the only factor in the trail rating system. How quickly the trail increases in elevation and the general condition of the trail are also factors in rating a trail (if there are large areas of loose rocks going downhill especially, a trail would be rated as more difficult for example).

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One of many great views while hiking in Alaska

OK. So you have a trail or maybe even a couple of trails in the same park in mind and you’re ready to head out for a couple of hours to go hiking. Now what? First, check the weather for the day. Really, you should do this a day or so before you plan on going hiking. If there’s a good chance of thunderstorms you definitely shouldn’t be hiking in that. If there has been rain recently in the area, you should know that many trails will be muddy and slippery. That may be fine if you’re an experienced hiker but if you’re new, you probably shouldn’t go out under those conditions.

Next you need to pack a backpack to bring along on your hike. Here are some things you should always pack for a day hike:

sunscreen

bug spray

water

snacks

fully-charged cell phone (download the area in Google Maps before you go out so you have it offline)

small first aid kit (that includes matches or a lighter)

printed map of the trail if possible for a back-up

bear spray if there are bears in the area or pepper spray

Also, familiarize yourself with the area you will be exploring as best as you can beforehand. If you are going to an area where flash floods are a possibility, you should be prepared for that and know what to do should one happen. Websites are great but speaking to a park ranger when you get to the park is also a great way to familiarize yourself with the park. Ask specifically about trails you were planning on hiking but also ask about other areas of the park.

Make sure you wear proper footwear for hiking. Many times I’ve been amazed at how many women wear flip flops and dressy sandals on trails. With so many great hiking shoes available now, there’s just no excuse for not wearing appropriate shoes on a trail. I personally like Merrell’s hiking shoes because they’re fairly light-weight, comfortable,  have great traction and they’re not bulky like traditional hiking boots. While plenty of people go hiking in regular athletic shoes/running shoes/tennis shoes or whatever else you want to call them, they just don’t have as good of traction as hiking shoes unless they’re specifically trail running shoes, which would of course be fine for hiking.

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We came upon this fox while hiking in Chile

You should also be appropriately dressed for your hike. This will be dictated partly by weather conditions, but you’ll be more comfortable if you wear “wicking” fabrics basically made to speed-up the evaporation of sweat from your clothes. Cotton, by the way, does not do this but actually holds moisture in the fabric. While it may sound crazy to some people, merino wool socks are great year-round (not just when it’s cold outside) as they are great at quickly evaporating moisture. A hat and sunglasses are also good for sunny days. Long pants will of course protect your legs better than shorts if it’s not too hot for pants. Layers are always a great idea especially if you’ll be going up in elevation since it’s cooler at the top of a mountain than at the bottom.

It’s a good idea to let others know where you’ll be especially if you’ll be in a more remote area, so let someone else that won’t be hiking with you know where you’ll be hiking and what time you will be on trail. Likewise, after you return, send them a quick message so they know you’re no longer hiking. Some parks also request that you sign in at a trailhead.

Sometimes a permit is required to hike a certain area. Check online as soon as you know you will be hiking in a particular area to see if you need a permit because some permits are only available during a certain time frame. There will be a link on the website for permits if they are necessary. Usually this is for longer, overnight hikes but some places do this to limit the number of hikers per day.

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Hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park in the winter was one of my favorite experiences!

Keep your distance when (if) you see wildlife. If you come across a bear, moose, elk, or even deer and you’re pretty sure it doesn’t see you, slowly and quietly back away (facing the animal so you can still see it) the way you came until you’re well away from the area. What ever you do, don’t run! The animal will think you’re prey and chase you. If a mother has her babies near-by, she will be extremely protective of them and will be willing to fight you to the death. There’s a trail near where I work and several years ago a runner came upon a mama deer and her babies and made the mistake of approaching them. The woman was kicked in the face by the deer and was so badly beaten up that she looked like she had been in a boxing fight.

Finally, if you want to go hiking in a new place and want to take along your dog, make sure dogs are allowed first. Some places allow dogs on specific trails but not others and other places don’t allow dogs at all. Be extremely cautious about letting your dog off-leash on a trail even if you do it all the time near your home; you certainly don’t want to lose your dog in a huge park and/or a place you’re not familiar with.

Do you like to go hiking? Did I leave any other important information out? If you don’t like hiking, I’d be curious to know what you don’t like about it. If you have any questions for me about hiking, I’d be glad to answer them.

Happy hiking!

Donna

 

 

 

My Running Super Power and Kryptonite

I’ll admit I stole borrowed the idea for this post from a fellow blogger who wrote on the subject several months ago, which you can read here if you’d like. In response to her post, I wrote that my superhero power was the ability to judge distances when I’m running (I’ll have a number in my head and check my watch to see if I’m right, like a game when I’m running) and my kryptonite was my weak stomach especially before running races.

For those of you that might not be Superman fans, this is from the superhero character “Superman,” who has superhuman strength and other abilities, but he also has a serious weakness. He is from the planet Krypton and when a rock from his homeland comes anywhere near him, Superman is cripplingly weakened. If someone asks you what your “kryptonite” is, they mean what’s your weakness.

Anyway, I was intrigued by that blog post and thought it would be a good prompt for a post of my own. I filed the thought away and then promptly forgot about it until I was out on a run recently. While I am pretty good at judging distances when I’m running, I think I have an even better answer for a superhero power, my ability to adapt to the heat.

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From Street Fighter V; perhaps an exaggeration

This past summer seemed hot and humid as usual but I noticed pretty quickly into the early weeks of “official” summer that I wasn’t struggling so much when I would run outside. This is nothing new to me; I feel like I’ve always been better at adapting to warm or hot weather than cold weather. I’ve often joked to others around me if I’m hot, it must really be hot outside or in a room.

Being able to adapt quickly to hot weather is a definite advantage when you live in the South like I do and often have days in the 80’s and many days in the 90’s as well during the summer. Of course the flip side of those hot days means the winters are mild and we usually only see snow once or twice each winter. Sometimes the snow just melts as soon as it hits the ground so there’s not even any accumulation. I absolutely despise cold weather so no or little snow is a great thing in my book!

If you’re going to run a fall race, like so many people do, that means running through at least part of the summer. The better you are at adapting to hot weather, the easier time you will have making your goal times for speed sessions and for just being able to put in the miles. As much as the treadmill is better than not running at all, there simply is no substitute for running outside, either.

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Running in Hilton Head, South Carolina during the heat of the summer

Are there ways to help your body adapt to hot weather? Sure, the usual like gradually increase your time spent outside (it takes about two weeks to acclimate to hot weather), drink cool water and/or electrolytes before you go out and bring some with you if you’re going for an intense or long run, and wear hot weather appropriate clothing. Some people also put ice cubes in their hats or sports bra before they run. Honestly, though, some people’s bodies are just better at adapting to hot weather and they may never be able to completely change that. Some people are also more efficient at sweating, which helps cool you off.

So, yes, if I was a running superhero, my power would be the ability to withstand extremely hot weather. The downside is I have a weakness toward cold weather and especially cold, dry air but that’s not my true kryptonite when it comes to running. My true kryptonite is my weak stomach before races.

I’ve been known to throw up before many a half marathon. You would think after running 49 half marathons plus a marathon and random other distances to round off to around 56 or so races, I would be over the nervous stomach before a race. Nope. I still get at least a little nauseous before each and every single race and sometimes I go from the verge of almost throwing up to the full point of actually throwing up.

Sure, I’ve tried all of the mind tricks before a race like telling myself how much fun I’m going to have. No pressure! Just have fun! I still feel sick. I visualize the course after actually driving the course the day before. I practice other imagery like me crossing the finish line or just running on the course. I’m still sick. I practice meditation. I make sure only positive thoughts cross my mind and I dismiss any negative thoughts. I’ve tried not eating solid foods before a race, just drink my calories. Nope, nope, nope. Nothing works, so now I just know that I’m going to feel nauseous and that’s OK. That’s actually normal for me. I embrace the nausea.

What about you guys? What is your running superhero power and kryptonite?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Oh Yes, Omaha, Nebraska

What do you think of when you think of Nebraska? Farmland? Prairie land? Corn fields? Something else? Never really thought about it? Omaha, Nebraska and in fact the state of Nebraska isn’t exactly one of the most-visited areas of the United States. For those of you that don’t know, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states and I recently ran the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha, Nebraska. Nebraska was my 47th state and I was happy I had chosen a race in Omaha for my race in Nebraska. The city surpassed all of my expectations.

I read in a book (Judgmental Maps) in a bookstore in Omaha that Omaha is the “least Nebraska-like city in Nebraska.” I’ve only been to Omaha, so I can’t speak about the other cities in Nebraska. All I know is I really liked Omaha and was constantly surprised at just how much I liked it. There are so many restaurants with delicious food, all kinds of museums, and outdoor activities like a top-notch botanical garden for starters. It’s easy to quickly fill-up your days here. Omaha certainly gets a bad rap by people who have never been here, unjustly so in my opinion.

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Omaha is beautiful in the autumn!

Just some fun facts before I go on. Omaha is on the Missouri River and is the largest city in Nebraska. The headquarters for five Fortune 500 companies are in Omaha including well-known Berkshire Hathaway. CEO multi-billionaire for Berkshire Hathaway Warren Buffet calls Omaha his home at least part of the year. The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha is known for having the largest indoor rainforest in the world. The NCAA College World Series has been held in the city of Omaha for more than fifty years till present date.

So before I went to Omaha, I chatted with a local to get some suggestions for places to eat and things to do. He sent me a long list, way more than I could ever do in the few days I was going to be there but it was good because I had plenty of options. I’ll share here some of the things my family and I did and also some of the things that came recommended but we didn’t do. I realize Omaha, Nebraska isn’t at the top of most people’s list of vacation places, but honestly, I would go back if given the opportunity. There are several things we didn’t have time to do that I would enjoy doing. Who knows when you might find yourself in Omaha, Nebraska, and when that happens, you’ll have a long list of places to choose from!

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Lauritzen Gardens

Outdoor Activities

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a botanical garden, Lauritzen Gardens. I would imagine the gardens are especially beautiful in the spring and fall but thanks to a conservatory, you can even visit the gardens in the dead of winter, if you choose to do so. The gardens are on 100 acres and include several diverse areas like an English Perennial Border, Rose Garden, Tree Peony Garden, Woodland Trail, and one of my favorites, the Model Railroad Garden. A Japanese Garden is currently being constructed. There are even different types of garden areas within the Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory. I also loved the sculptures and art work within the gardens.

Also mentioned earlier is Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. This zoo has the world’s largest indoor desert under the world’s largest geodesic dome, the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit, and North America’s largest indoor rainforest complete with waterfalls. In addition to all of those area, there’s the Hubbard Gorilla Valley, Hubbard Orangutan Forest, Cat Complex, Butterfly and Insect Pavillion, Expedition Madagascar, African Grasslands, Asian Highlands, to name some. Owen Coastal Shores, a one-acre new home for sea lions with a $275,000-gallon pool, will be opening in spring 2020. There’s also a train, tram, skyfari, and carousel if all of that wasn’t enough. You can find ticket prices, hours, location and much more information on their website, Omaha Zoo. One good thing to know is prices vary based on season, so they’re cheaper in the winter and fall than the summer. Another plus, outside food and beverages are allowed.

The Fontenelle Forest Nature Center including the Raptor Woodland Refuge is just a short drive (10-15 minutes) from Omaha, although it’s in the nearby city of Bellevue. This is a great place to walk on trails in Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods with a wide variety of ecosystems from wetlands to oak savanna to prairie to deciduous forest. For those wanting more adventure, there’s Treerush Adventure Park with zip lines, bridges, and swings. Fontenelle Forest invests heavily in conservation efforts in activities like habitat restoration and erosion control and volunteer opportunities.

Old Market

The Old Market is known as Omaha’s arts and entertainment district. There’s so much here you might want to find out what’s here first before you go or you could be wandering around aimlessly for quite some time. Here’s where you can find information on everything to do, eat, and shop plus hotels and business services:  Old Market. I found the area architecturally-pleasing and enjoyed checking out some of the cool buildings. There are several art galleries along with all of the pubs, coffee shops, and so many restaurants. Two of our favorite restaurants here are M’s Pub and Upstream Brewing Company. For a stroll down memory lane, The Imaginarium is absolutely stuffed with all of the dolls, collectibles, games, and about a million other toys that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. No joke, I even got lost wandering around in this store and had to go back out and come in again to find my family.

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Courtyard in the Joslyn Art Museum

Indoor Activities

If you like art museums, Joslyn Art Museum is a great one and even better, admission is free. The museum is divided into distinct sections including one for special exhibitions, American Art, American Indian Art, Asian Art, Modern and Comtemporary, just to name some. One of my favorite sections was the Asian Art area but I really enjoyed the other sections as well. There are also sculpture gardens outdoors and the Discovery Garden, an interactive  outdoor space. For small children, there is an interactive hands-on experience, Art Works, with nine activity stations.

The Durham Museum is a history museum in one of the coolest spaces I’ve seen for a history museum, Union Station. When you walk in, you’re surrounded by the massive former train station complete with bronze statues made to look like former train passengers and workers and interactive displays. There’s also a gift shop and soda fountain where you can order drinks like an old fashioned phosphate (I had to ask what that was because I had no idea), milkshakes, sundaes, ice cream sodas, malts, sandwiches, and other snacks. Most of the museum is actually downstairs, where you can find many different exhibits like the original Buffett Grocery Store that opened in 1915 in Omaha’s Dundee neighborhood, replicas of a former home, teepee, and a collection of things like coins, maps, and documents of historical significance. One of my favorite things we did there was walk through a train car that was decorated for Halloween, complete with skeletons, lights, plenty of spiders and spider webs, and other fun decorations.

Also in the Durham Museum when I was there were also two temporary exhibits, Louder Than Words: Rock, Power & Politics that has interactive displays, photography and artifacts to look at how music has both shaped and reflected our society on things like civil rights, LGBTQ, feminism, war, censorship, political campaigns, political causes and international politics. I liked checking out which musician or band was singled out and associated with each president, from Eisenhower through Trump and reading about the influence they each had on one another. My family and I had already seen the second current exhibit RACE: Are We So Different? so we didn’t spend much time checking that one out but it’s a good one as well. This exhibit encourages visitors to examine race from the perspective of biology, history, and personal experiences.

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Union Station of the Durham Museum

About 35-45 minutes from downtown Omaha in Ashland is the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum. If you’ve been to the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. and enjoyed the section there with aircraft, you will likely enjoy this museum. It’s an affiliate with Smithsonian and home to the U.S.’s largest collection of Cold War aircraft and artifacts. There’s a flight simulator, children’s learning center, and enormous collection of aircraft in 300,000 square feet.

For something a little different, there’s the Czech and Slovak Educational Center and Cultural Museum. According to this website Nebraska has “the largest number of Czech farmers of the first generation (born in Europe), or one-fifth of all who live in the United States.” At the museum, you can find a cafe with traditional kolaches, a gift shop, monthly movie night and conversational Czech language gatherings.

The Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters has local history and also offers free admission. Here you can learn about the migration of Mormons from Illinois to Utah. Winter Quarters is just one of 90 temporary settlements utilized by the Mormons along the Missouri River in Nebraska and Iowa. Although this was meant as a short-term home, many people established businesses here and published a newspaper. You can see many artifacts, paintings, photographs, and play around with an interactive map.

My daughter is way too old for children’s museums but had we gone to Omaha when she was younger, we definitely would have visited the Omaha Children’s Museum because it looks like a really fun place for young children. There’s a Super Gravitron ball machine, Zealand, Imagination Playground, a science and technology lab, art studios, a grocery store, car repair center, splash garden, carousel and train, plus more. In addition to permanent displays there are special exhibits and special events.

Restaurants

In addition to the ones in Old Market that I talked about earlier, we also went to Spezia’s, a wonderful Italian restaurant with a brunch on Sunday. I could eat to my heart’s content after the race, so it was wonderful! There were so many delicious options to choose from from healthy options like salads, fruits, and vegetables to pastas and deserts and many things in-between.

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Some falafel cakes at one of our favorite restaurants, M’s Pub

Some of the many restaurants that came recommended but we just didn’t have time to go to include:  Cascio’s, Johnny’s Cafe, and the Drover all for their steaks and meats; Benson Brewery and Zipline Brewery; Hook and Lime, a Taqueria and Tequila bar; Lo Solo Mio and Spaghetti Works for Italian; Oasis Falafel for Mediterranean food; eCreamery, Coneflower Creamery, and Ted and Wally’s for ice cream; Cupcake Omaha, Olsen Bake Shop, and Petit’s Pastry for bakeries.

Now are you convinced that Omaha, Nebraska is a pretty cool city with tons of things to do and really great restaurants? Of course this just scratches the surface of the highlights, too!

Have you been to Omaha, Nebraska? If so, what did you think of it? What did you see and do?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon, Omaha, Nebraska- 47th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Nebraska was my 47th state.

When I was looking at half marathons in Nebraska, I only found a couple that interested me, to be honest. Once I had run half marathons in around 40 or so states and had gotten the list down to my last several states, of which Nebraska belonged, I thought I would run the Feast and Feathers Trail Half Marathon in Omaha on Thanksgiving weekend. But then more recently I started thinking about all of that and then I started overthinking everything.

I’ve never run a trail race before. Ever. That’s one strike. Omaha weather over Thanksgiving weekend can be pretty cold and I don’t run well in the cold. That’s two strikes. I started to question if that was really the best race for me given those two big factors. Then I saw an ad for the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha and that race suddenly seemed much more appealing.

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Not only would it be warmer because the race was a month earlier than the other race the end of November, it wasn’t a trail race and part of the course was around a lake so it should be at least fairly scenic and hopefully flat. It was for a good cause, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, too. Plus there would be hot cider and caramel apples at the finish! Even better, you get a finisher mug and pullover! That’s way more pros for the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon than for the Feast and Feathers Trail Half Marathon. I’m in!

Packet pickup was on Saturday, October 26 at Fleet Feet Omaha from 10 am to 5 pm. There was the option of race-day packet pickup, but that was “not suggested” according to the race website. Finally, you could also have your packet mailed to you for $12.99. The only thing in my packet was the aforementioned pullover and race bib in a reusable tote bag. There were no other vendors presumably because it was in a somewhat small store so there wasn’t room for much else.

I did have a bit of a panic attack the night before the race when I happened to click on something on Google Maps on my phone and it said the race was at 8:10 am. I thought the race started at 8:30, so I went through my emails and the race website and everything else I could find to clarify. The confirmation email I had said the race start was 8:30, but the race website and everywhere else said it was 8:10. I figured it would be safer to go with the earlier time and if I was early that would be fine. It turns out the race start was indeed 8:10 am. Also, it was chip-timed, so even if I would have shown up at the race 20 minutes later than I did, it would have been fine, but I would have been in a total panic and wondered (wrongly) why the race started early.

A cold front moved into Omaha on Saturday evening and by Sunday morning, there was a frigid wind that had come down from Canada with gusts up to 18 mph, and to top it off, the sky was completely overcast. The temperature was in the low 40’s, which would have been fine for running a half marathon, but with the wind and lack of sun, it was so cold my feet were numb for the first three miles of the race.

The race start and finish was at a local high school, Skutt Catholic. Although there were plenty of parking spaces, many were already full by the time we got there around 7:40, but we were still able to find a spot. I made my way to the port-o-johns, reluctantly handed over my warm coat to my husband (who wasn’t running), and lined up at the start. The half marathon started promptly at 8:10 and included a 5k that also started at the same time. This caused quite a bit of congestion for the first couple of miles until the 5k runners split off from the half marathoners.

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Just before the race start

The vast majority of the race was around Lake Zorinsky, criss-crossing, looping, and zig-zagging around the paths that went around the lake and through the park. Lake Zorinsky has an interesting background story that you can read about here, which goes to show the power of the running community. Overall I would say the course was scenic and there were plenty of water views.

All was going pretty well for me until I noticed somewhere between miles 4 and 5 that my left shoelace had become undone, despite double-knotting it. I took off my gloves, tied my shoe, put my gloves back on, and continued on my way. Later, those 20-something seconds that took it to do all of that would come back to bite me.

Most of the course was relatively flat with short, moderate hills until we reached mile 7, and that was uphill pretty much for about a mile, but then we got to go downhill for a while to make up for it. We had to run uphill again in the 10th and 11th miles, but thankfully we got to run downhill for the last section until the course leveled off at the finish. There was almost no crowd support but there were these two women who were cheering everyone on at the first part of the race, around mile 5 and again towards the end, around mile 13. They were shouting things like, “You’re beautiful! You’re strong!” and for me because I was wearing a purple shirt, “Go purple! You’ve got this!” I love people at races like that. At races where it’s freezing cold like this one, people like that are appreciated even more by me.

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Lake Zorinsky in the background, where most of the course wrapped around

There were plenty of aid stations along the course, with water and Gatorade being handed out at five places along the course. I don’t remember seeing port-o-johns along the course, but perhaps I missed them if they were there. There are bathrooms at the park, though, so that would have been an option for runners.

My goal for this race was to finish under 2 hours, preferably under 1:55, and I finished in 1:54. Given the weather and the fact that I run far better when it’s warm than when it’s cold, I was happy with my finish time. Now for the DOH! moment. I checked finish times that were posted as they came in and the woman that finished third in my age group finished 23 seconds ahead of me. Of course all I could think about was, “Had I not had to stop to tie my shoe, I would have finished in third place.” BUT I don’t live my life by what-if’s, so I happily took my fourth place in age group finish along with a time that’s my second-fastest ever for a half marathon.

Now for the fun stuff- the swag! When I crossed the finish line, a volunteer handed me a mug that had a medal, bottle of water, and small bag of trail mix in it. The mug is of good quality; for some reason I expected a small, metal mug but this is a nice-sized ceramic mug with the Hot Cider Hustle logo and year on it. There was another table full of caramel apples, some with nuts, some without. I can attest that the caramel apple I got was absolutely delicious! Finally, the name-sake of the race, the hot cider. There was a table with big containers to dispense the hot cider either into your own mug or paper cups. A nice and friendly volunteer happily poured a cup for me when she saw my hands weren’t working properly after the race. This was delicious, steamy hot cider, as it should be, not lukewarm or watered-down in the least. I ended up getting two cups because it was so good and warmed me up.

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Sorry about the dark photo, but it was so overcast!

Would I recommend this race? Yes, despite the frigid wind and hills on the latter part of the course. I realize weather can vary from year-to-year, especially in October in Omaha. Besides, the temperature itself was reasonable for a half marathon, it was just the wind that got me, and maybe next year it wouldn’t be so windy. The hills at the end weren’t exactly fun, but they were short enough that I didn’t hate the race director either, and I did at least get to run downhill afterwards, straight to the finish line. The race was well-organized and had plenty of volunteers from pre-race to finish. Finally, this race coincided perfectly with peak fall foliage in Omaha, so it was absolutely beautiful seeing all of the yellow and orange leaves on the trees everywhere (not much red, for some reason, but a little).

Date of my race was October 27, 2019

Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon and 5k in Omaha, Nebraska

Have you run a race in Nebraska? If so, which one did you run? If not, is it on your list of places to run? Have you run another Hot Cider race in another city?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

How a Free Cruise to the Bahamas Changed My Life

When I was in college I didn’t travel that often. My parents divorced when I was young and I was raised by a single mom who didn’t have the money to pay for me to go to college. I paid my own way through school with loans, jobs, scholarships, and financial aid. I barely even remember eating out that much in college, so I sure didn’t have money to travel more than maybe a few hours away for a road trip but even that didn’t happen that often.

Then when I was a junior in college, I received a card in the mail stating I may have won a prize. It listed several possibilities such as a TV, a check for $500, a VCR (this was the late 90’s), or a cruise to the Bahamas. All I had to do was go to some kind of informational meeting about a product that I don’t remember what it even was now. At the end of the meeting, they would draw a number and if it matched the number on our card, we would win the prize associated with the number. As you may have guessed by now, I won a cruise to the Bahamas.

I had never even been out of the country and I was a poor college student so I didn’t even care that it wasn’t even a “real” cruise but only a day cruise from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on a small cruise ship to the Bahamas, where I was provided with a free hotel stay for 3 days/2 nights, and a day cruise back to Ft. Lauderdale. I had to pay a nominal amount for some fees and/or taxes but it was maybe $75, so I happily paid that and got ready for my first international trip.

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No, my “cruise” ship wasn’t nearly this big. Photo by Matthew Barra on Pexels.com

The cruise and hotel stay was for myself and a guest so my boyfriend and I drove to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where the cruise ship was to depart during our summer break a few months after I won the prize. Neither of us had ever been out of the country and neither of us had a clue what we were doing. We didn’t plan a single thing but went along with the flow of things and figured it out when we got there. I still remember driving to Ft. Lauderdale because the air conditioning went out on his car literally the day before we left, so we had the windows down, getting blasted with hot air, while we drove along the interstate.

The day cruise was pretty uneventful really. We left Ft. Lauderdale sometime in the afternoon and were only on the water for a few hours, arriving that evening. The water was pretty rough when we got out in the open water. I remember walking to dinner on the ship and watching the ship being rocked from side to side. Fortunately I didn’t feel that sick and was just a little nauseous. We had dinner, which was nothing special, and not long after that the ship was docking in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island. There was a small casino on the ship and some sort of show was going on in another area but we didn’t gamble and we only watched a portion of the show.

If you’ve never been to Freeport in the Bahamas, it’s not a place I would recommend visiting now. When I was there in the 90’s it was sketchy as far as being safe and since then it’s gotten worse. The U.S. Department of State currently rates the criminal threat level for New Providence Island (Nassau) as critical with the criminal threat level for Grand Bahama Island rated as high. There are parts of the Bahamas that are safer than others, so just know that the many areas of the Bahamas are not all the same and do your research before you go.

There isn’t really that much to do in Freeport either. You can visit Port Lucaya, go to the beach, and if you have the money (unlike I did) you can go horseback riding, ziplining, go diving in Lucayan National Park, or you can go snorkeling, which I splurged on and spent the money for. The snorkeling trip I went on was an all-day excursion and we were given free access to all of the Bahama Mama alcoholic drinks we wanted. Yes, I was a college student, and yes I had way too many Bahama Mama’s that day, so many in fact that all I wanted to do was stay in my room that evening and try to sober up. The snorkeling was fun but definitely not the best I’ve seen now that I’ve been snorkeling many other places in the Caribbean and Hawaii.

My boyfriend paid for us to go to dinner at a nice seafood restaurant the second night we were there. We went out with two other couples we met on the “booze cruise” and had a good time. Honestly, other than snorkeling, going out to eat a couple of times and lounging at the beach during the day, we didn’t do that much. Again, we were poor college students who hadn’t planned a single thing ahead of time.

Despite barely even leaving the United States and going to a country that didn’t even require Americans to have a passport for entry back then, I feel like that trip is when I first caught the travel bug. Despite not planning anything to do on that trip before I went, not choosing where I was going to stay, where I was going to eat, or a single other travel-related thing other than the fact that my boyfriend and I had to drive to Ft. Lauderdale and back to West Virginia after the cruise, this was a pivotal moment in my life as a traveler.

After my free trip to the Bahamas, I began to pay attention to where other people were traveling. I still didn’t have money to travel anywhere substantial and knew I wouldn’t until I was completely through with college, which included graduate school to get my Master’s degree, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming and starting to build my bucket list of places where I eventually wanted to travel.

That free trip to the Bahamas was the vacation that opened my eyes to the rest of the world. Never would I have guessed that would happen when I went to that meeting to see if I won a TV but ended up winning a cruise to the Bahamas. It may sound a bit dramatic to hear me say that trip to the Bahamas changed my life, but I feel like it did in many ways. It made me realize the world is enormous and there’s so much out there that’s vastly different from the places where we live. There’s so much to see and do, if only we go and explore.

Is there one vacation that stands out to you as one that opened your eyes to travel?

Happy travels!

Donna