Missoula Marathon, Montana-22nd state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Montana was my 22nd state.

Ah, Missoula, Montana. I have fond memories of you. The Missoula Marathon and Half Marathon is in July every year, which means while much of the US is sweltering, it is quite comfortable there. I have to admit, I broke a cardinal rule of running races for this race in Missoula.

I had only brought shorts (no pants) with me for this race but a cold front suddenly came in and they were predicting temps in the low 40’s the morning of the race, which was too cold for shorts for me. I found a local running store and bought the last pair of running capris they had in stock, which a kind sales lady dug out from the back store room. The race was the next day so I had never worn these before let alone run in them, but it was either that or freeze my buns off. Everyone tells you to never wear anything you’ve never run in at least once during a race, and I had always followed this to the letter. However, buying those capris turned out to be a good decision and I was glad I had the extra coverage to help keep me warm.

From this race forward, I always make sure I pack running pants, shorts, capris, short- sleeve tops, and long-sleeve tops for every race, no matter where because as I learned here, the weather can be very unpredictable. I know some of you may be thinking, “40 degrees is actually quite nice for a race,” but I live in the south, and we don’t see temperatures that low until winter is nearing or in full force; certainly not in July. I just wasn’t used to running in temperatures that low.

The Missoula Half Marathon of 2011 was one of my favorite half marathons ever for the scenery, the people, and the course. This race does have a 6 am start so if you’re not an early morning person, that could be an issue. I think it helps with the temperatures, though. At the start it’s usually around mid 50’s (although as I said for me it was only in the low 40’s) and up to the high 70’s around noon. The course is very scenic and fairly flat, taking you though the countryside, along a river, and finishing in downtown Missoula.

There are a couple of bonuses included with this race. The renowned Olympian runner Jeff Galloway began a partnership with Run Wild Missoula in January 2011 to promote the Missoula Marathon and Half Marathon. Every year since then he has given numerous talks, hikes, and even a 3 hour running school the weekend of the Missoula Marathon. Another bonus is you get a free race day victory stand photo (printed out for you) at the Sunday Expo at the Caras Park Pavilion as well as a link after the race to download an on-course photo free of charge.

There were plenty of food and drinks at the finish, including some local beer. My finisher medal was hefty and colorful and also matched the shirt I received at packet pickup before the race. Although I was still struggling with my speed while I was training for this race due to my recent bout with anemia (see my post on Oklahoma-21st state for the full story), I thoroughly enjoyed this race and was happy with my finish time of 2:16:53.

After the race, my family and I went to Glacier National Park and from there to Banff National Park in Canada. I highly recommend both parks, in addition to Missoula. The mountains and lakes are absolutely stunning and these are some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. This race is a nice opportunity to make it into a racecation.

 

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Missoula Marathon

Central Oregon-Eugene and Bend

Portland, Oregon had almost 9 million overnight visitors in 2015 according to travelportland.com.  On the other hand, in central Oregon, Bend had roughly 2-2.5 million visitors that same year.  While I couldn’t find an estimate for annual visitors to Eugene, I would guess it’s even lower than for Bend.  When I was planning a trip to Oregon, I chose the less-traveled areas of Eugene and Bend for the majority of our time in the state.  Although we would be flying into Portland, I left zero time there for exploring that area, and we picked up our rental car and drove promptly to Eugene.  I was going to run my 36th half marathon (leaving only 14 more to go for all 50 states) in Eugene so we were going to spend a few days in Eugene then drive to Bend to spend a week there.  Nothing against Portland but there’s only so much you can see in 10 days.

Eugene, Oregon is famous for being the birthplace of Nike and is nicknamed “Track Town, USA.”  They were the hosts for the Olympic Track and Field Trials for 2016 and many other years.  If you’re a runner, chances are pretty good you’ve heard of Steve Prefontaine.  While in the peak of his running career, he was killed at the young age of 24 in a car accident.  “Pre,” as he was called, helped spark the city’s running boom in the 1970’s.  Ask just about any Eugene resident about Steve Prefontaine, and they’ll tell you an earful.  Running is in these people’s blood.  I was seriously nervous about running a half marathon here (I might be dead-last running against all of these die-hard runners) but I somehow managed to win third place in my age group.

If you’re a runner, a must-do in Eugene is to run on Pre’s Trail, a nice loop on chipped wood in Alton Baker Park.  You can run past many water formations including a pond, creeks, and river as well as the famous University of Oregon stadium.  There are also many wineries in Eugene with not only tasty wine but also great people working there as well.  Everyone we spoke with at the wineries were all very friendly, down-to-earth, and not at all snobby like you find at wineries in other parts of the country.  Cascades Raptor Center is also a fun place to visit, even in the rain (Eugene experiences an average rainfall of 46 inches per year).  The Raptor Center is a working rehabilitation center and the birds on display could not be returned to the wild. Birds with the right disposition are used for educational exhibits.

When our time was up in Eugene, we drove to Bend and saw the landscape change from lush and green to dry, high desert.  The contrast was stark.  While Eugene is often rainy and overcast, Bend has an average of 158 clear days and 105 more that are mostly sunny, making it the city with the highest average sunny days in the state.  Bend has many places to hike and bike in warmer months and ski in the winter.  The largest beer trail in the West is also here, the Bend Ale Trail.  This is my kind of place!

For something other than the aforementioned activities in Bend, check out the High Desert Museum.  It’s like a zoo, history museum, and science exhibits all rolled into one place.  I always like checking out local history when I’m traveling and this was a good place for history of the Pacific Northwest.  There are temporary as well as permanent exhibits, some indoor and some outdoor.  Some favorites include the Miller Family Ranch, Autzen Otter Exhibit, Desertarium, and the Birds of Prey Center.

For some hiking, it’s hard to beat Smith Rock State Park and Tumalo Falls.  Smith Rock State Park is near Terrebonne and Redmond, Oregon and is a popular climbing spot.  One of the best trails here is Misery Ridge which takes you over Smith Rock, with a view of Monkey Face and views of the canyon and Crooked River.  To reach the viewpoint for Tumalo Falls you can walk 5 minutes from the parking lot and then there are multiple trails from here if you so desire.  The Tumalo Mountain trail is classified as moderate/difficult and is 1.75 miles one way.  It is a steep climb from 6400 feet to 7775 feet with a beautiful view at the top.  The trail starts at the Dutchman Sno-park on the Cascade Lakes Highway.

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Smith Rock State Park
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View from the top of Misery Ridge
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Tumalo Falls

It’s  easy to spend a week in Bend, but 2-3 days in Eugene is plenty.  It seems that so many people overlook these areas when planning a vacation in Oregon and just go straight to the ever-popular Portland.  They would be missing out on some unique scenery and fun things to do for the whole family in by-passing these areas.

 

 

Colorado in June- Hiking in Boulder

Some people I know that enjoy skiing wouldn’t even consider going to Colorado during the summer.  I think they would be missing out.  I am not a skier and in fact hated it the one time I went, so for me, Colorado in June was ideal.  I am a hiker and enjoy a good hike any day of the week but I am a bit elevationally-challenged where I live since there aren’t many places to go within a 30 minute drive that I would consider hiking (climbing up and down mountains).  When I ran a half marathon in Colorado in June (blog post will be coming although not for some time, titled Colorado- 37th state), I was thrilled at the idea of doing a lot of real hiking.  I had been to Colorado twice before for work meetings but both times during the snowy months so I had not experienced the beautiful state during the summer months.

My half marathon was in Boulder so that is where we spent the majority of our time.  The college students were on summer break so it wasn’t as crowded as during the school year and most importantly, it wasn’t quite so impossible to find a parking spot.  Boulder is 5,430 feet above sea level, which is manageable for those of us who live closer to sea level, whereas when you get around 8,000 feet above sea level and higher, you can develop altitude sickness.

For our first hike in Boulder, we chose Gregory Canyon Trail.  Gregory Canyon Trail is a 3.4 mile moderately trafficked loop trail that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking and walking and is accessible from May until October.  It was very quiet when we hiked this trail, although it was a Thursday so that may have been part of the reason.  The views from the top were great!

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View from the top of Gregory Canyon Trail

We also went to the popular Chautauqua Park and hiked the First-Second Flatiron Trail (1.1 mile; 960 ft. ) which starts from the Bluebell-Baird Trail, goes south to two trail signs, then west to begin switching back and forth between the First and Second Flatirons. It ends at the saddle between the First Flatiron and Sunset Rock.  These trails were much less shaded than the Gregory Canyon Trail and I was very glad I was wearing sunscreen and a hat.  There were also a lot more people on these trails but it was a Sunday so that may have been part of the reason.

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University Colorado Boulder (red buildings)

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View of Flatirons from Chautauqua Park

Colorado in June is a fun way to spend a summer vacation and I can’t recommend it enough if you enjoy hiking and spending time outdoors!  I know we only scratched the surface of places to explore in Colorado and we’re already excited about going back another summer and exploring other areas like Colorado Springs, Durango, Steamboat Springs, or Mesa Verde National Park.

Also see my next post “Colorado in June- Estes Park and RMNP” coming soon!

Camping in Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina is perhaps best known for Biltmore Estate, the mansion built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895.  It is currently the largest privately owned house in the United States.  In 1956, portions of the house were opened to the public for tours and since then more rooms have been restored and opened for viewing.  I have toured the Biltmore several times, during different seasons of the year.  However, on my most recent visit to Asheville, the Biltmore Estate was nowhere on my agenda.  If anything, we would be doing the exact opposite of touring a huge mansion.  We would be camping in a tent and hiking for the weekend.

Where to camp?

Set in the western end of North Carolina very close to South Carolina, Asheville lies between Pigsah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Dupont State Forest is a short drive away.  Hiking, biking, camping, and rock climbing are all extremely popular in this area.  We chose to camp at Lake Powhatan Recreation Area Campground based on a recommendation from someone who lives in Asheville.  Lake Powhatan is deep in the Appalachian Mountains with an elevation of 2,200 feet.  The campground has tent as well as RV sites, a bathhouse, and a lake that is suitable for swimming (in the roped-off section) or fishing.  That being said, my daughter and her friend swam in the lake for a while but pretty quickly were done, saying the water was “gross.”  I did not get in the water but it didn’t look very clean.  That didn’t stop several other people who were in the water while we were there.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a short drive from Lake Powhatan Campground, as is an arboretum, the Biltmore Estate, countless trails for hiking or biking, the French Broad River, and if you forget something there are several stores within a short drive.  We arrived late on a Friday and immediately set up our tent and got settled for the night.  The next day we drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway and found Mt. Pigsah Trail and a few other shorter trails nearby.

Hiking Trails

Mt. Pigsah Trail is at milepost 407.6 from the Blue Ridge Parkway and is in Pigsah National Forest.  At the parking lot for the trail, the elevation is just under 5,000 feet.  You’ll reach the summit at 5,721 feet after a 1.5 mile hike and be rewarded with panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains to the west and Asheville and Mount Mitchell to the north.  Other trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway include Skinny Dip Falls, Graveyard Fields, and Devil’s Courthouse. After hiking a few trails, we went back to our campsite and went to the lake for a while, then relaxed by a crackling fire until it was time to turn in for the night.

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Waterfalls

The next day, we decided to check out some of the waterfalls in the Brevard, NC area.  For our first stop, we drove to Looking Glass Falls on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway in Pigsah National Forest.  There is easy access to this waterfall with only a short walk from the parking area, then stairs to get a closer look.  You can even get in the water and swim up to the waterfall to feel the power of the water pounding on your shoulders.  The water was quite cold in June but maybe it warms up later in the summer.  The waterfall is 60 feet tall and is beautiful.

Just a short drive from Looking Glass Falls is Sliding Rock.  There is a nominal fee to enter this area, but it was the only fee other than at the campground that we had to pay the entire weekend.  Sliding Rock is actually a waterfall along a large rock that is relatively smooth so you can slide 60 feet down the rock into the 6 foot deep plunge pool at the bottom.  The water was quite bracing when we were there, so when you hit the water, you’re breathless for a second.  On a hot day I’m sure this would feel refreshing but it was cooler and overcast when we were there so we only went down a few times before we were ready to dry off and get into some dry clothes.  Lifeguards are on duty here during the summer months, if you’re concerned about safety and there did seem to be lifejackets available.

Next on our agenda was Moore Cove Falls.  The parking area for Moore Cove Falls is one mile from Looking Glass Falls so we back-tracked a bit and parked here.  The trail is a short 0.7 miles and is listed as moderate.  It was a nice way to end our hiking in Asheville.

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Refuel for the Drive Home

For lunch we stopped at The Hub and Pigsah Tavern, a bicycle shop and tavern in Pigsah Forest, NC.  The Tavern only serves beer but has a nice selection of beers on tap, bottles, and cans.  Asheville is also known for its abundance of breweries and has been called “The Napa Valley of Beer” by NPR.  While we were at the Tavern, two food trucks were also there, Aloha Hot Dog Co. and Blue Smoke BBQ.  I got the Pulled Pork Sandwich on a bun and my husband got the BBQ plate from Blue Smoke BBQ.  We both agreed that was the best BBQ we had eaten in a long time.  We were pleasantly full and ready for the drive back home after a fun weekend in Asheville.

 

 

Covered Bridges Half Marathon, Vermont-9th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Vermont was my 9th state.

This was my first time to Vermont and I immediately fell in love with the area. Vermont is known as the “Green Mountain State” and I know why. Everywhere I looked was the greenest grass and trees I had ever seen. In June 2007, I ran the 16th Annual Covered Bridges Half-Marathon beginning in Woodstock and ending in Quechee, not really knowing what to expect.

I had debated whether I should sign up for a fall race in Vermont instead of one in June, because I had heard how beautiful the New England states are in the fall with the changing leaf colors. However, as I said in my post about the Naples Daily News Half Marathon, Florida- 8th state, I was planning a vacation to Hawaii later that fall and wanted to test out our daughter with flying shorter distances before we flew all the way to Hawaii. This would be a short flight so it fit the bill. She was a champion traveler this time as well as on the flight to Florida, so I felt like we would have no problems flying to Hawaii.

The race tarted at the ski resort area in Woodstock and continued along country roads before ultimately ending in Quechee. It was hilly and normally I don’t like running a hilly course, but it was so beautiful the hills truly didn’t bother me. We ran past four covered bridges and the Ottauquechee River. The local people running the race and the volunteers were all friendly and helpful as well. The runners I encountered were also extremely friendly and had great senses of humor; several times during the race, I heard someone saying something that made me laugh. I had fun running this race from beginning to end.

I received a short-sleeve technical shirt, pretty plain and on the large side but fine.  It was white with the race logo on it:

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Medals weren’t given out until beginning in 2012 for this race so I didn’t receive one.

I highly recommend anyone looking for a scenic half marathon to run the Covered Bridges Half Marathon. Tip:  this race sells out fast so register as early as possible. They do have options to run for charities, however. If you commit to raising at least $500 plus pay your entry fee, you’re in! When considering lodging, remember this area has some wonderful bed and breakfasts. There are links to several nearby on the race website.

My finish time for the Covered Bridges Half Marathon was 1:59:43.

Covered Bridges Half Marathon