Race Report: Grand Traverse

This past weekend the wife and I were planning on doing a 24 hour race down in La Crosse, WI called Goosebumps. However, over the previous week massive rain and flooding called into question if the race would even happen. A couple of nights before the race we were reading the updates, and we made the decision to change our plans. The Goosebumps race still happened, and it appears they just missed the river cresting, but we still felt like we would rather do something different.

We located a different race that some other friends of ours were doing in Duluth called the Grand Traverse. It’s a super casual race from Jay Cooke State Park to Fitger’s Brewpub in Duluth. The entire race follows the Superior Hiking Trail, and there were four different distances you could pick from. The longest was 27.5 miles, followed by a slightly shorter 21 miler. A 16 mile and a 10 mile finished out the choices. Originally, I opted for the 27.5 full Grand Traverse, and my wife opted for the 21 mile.

The day previous to the race we did some hiking at Bean and Bear lake, and later that night I really started questioning if I should do the entire race. I reviewed my Strava data from the year and realized that I haven’t gone more than 20 miles since May. This fact alone was enough was reason enough to back down on the distance, but when combined with a knee that was feeling a bit ‘tweaky’ on Friday, I made a game-day decision to join my wife on the 21 mile course.

img_5082The morning of the race started very early at our campsite, rising before dawn. We arrived at Fitger’s to board the shuttle bus to the start. I informed the race officials of my desire to switch to the 21 mile distance, and since the 21 mile bus left at the same time it was no big deal. In fact, the 21 mile bus is the same bus that transports the 27.5 milers, but it simply makes a second stop after dropping them off.

We arrived at the 21 mile start as daylight was starting to take over the sky. There were less than 10 participants in the 21 mile as we started at Beck’s Road. The start of our journey was on the Willard Munger bike trail, but after a short bit of pavement we took a hard left and started our first big climb of the day up Ely’s Peak. My wife and I have had the benefit of hiking Ely’s Peak before, so we knew what to expect. Soon we were graced with an amazing view; a view that would quickly change as the day went on.

img_5085After hitting the first aid station at mile 4.2, I remarked to my wife that it seemed like it was earlier than I was expecting. As we entered the next section my phone suddenly rang. I checked the voicemail and it was a race official wondering why I hadn’t checked into the first aid station. I called them back and explained that I switched distances, but apparently that information never made it to them. They were calling to make sure that I wasn’t lost in the woods, which was very cool of them. Getting lost seemed to be a common thread throughout the day.

We continued on, and soon got to experience the incredible staircase up Spirit Mountain. I usually do just fine on stairs, preferring them to things like switchbacks. However, even I found this climb to be intense and difficult, beyond much of what I’ve done before. We crested the top and were greeted with the amazing Magney-Snively woods. This section of the course is amazing and beautiful, and some of the most scenic area of the SHT I’ve seen. We had ran some portions of the course, but for the most part we were treating this as a fast hike. Most of our splits were around 2o-22 minutes, which allowed us to keep moving, but still enjoy the beauty.

As I had mentioned it felt like the first aid station was a bit early, and so we started to wear down as we anticipated the second aid station. When it finally arrived it was a huge relief, and we partook in a ton of food to get us through the next half. Despite my socks being mostly dry I also opt’d to change them at this station to give myself something fresh to walk on. We spent 5-10 minutes at this station, but it was a well needed rest. At our current pace we were looking at over 7 hours to complete the entire course.

Because the entire race is unmarked, you must be very aware of your surroundings, and make sure you’re following the blue blazes of the SHT. There was another set of people who passed us twice, having taken a wrong turn before. We ran into them further on, and had to help them find their way back to the trail. Then when we were closer to the finish, another lady had lost the trail completely and we had to help get her steered back in the right direction. I also heard from our friends about how they had missed a turn and had to backtrack as well. For many of us who are used to wonderfully marked courses, this added a new challenge to this race.

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The Misssst

The next section is when my wife hit her lowest points. We encountered more climbing, and when we would reach the tops of the hills, we were greeted by a thick cloud cover that enveloped us and shielded everything from view. It was beautiful and frustrating at the same time. You could hear the noises of the city below, but you couldn’t see anything. The air was wet and while not actually raining, we were getting damp. It took a lot of willpower to get through this section, and I had to remind my wife that soon it would all be downhill and we’d see the lift bridge. It was in this section that Robyn and Wendi both passed us. They looked amazing, and were moving really well. We agreed to meet for an early dinner at the end, before they each disappeared into the mist.

The final aid station eventually appeared, and we spent a bit of time getting refreshed and using a real portable toilet. I ate way too much string cheese, and cookies, for my own good before heading back on the trail. The final segment had us climbing to Enger Tower before descending to the city. My wife bemoaned the idea of one more climb, but I kept encouraging her that it wasn’t actually all that bad. At least I hoped it wasn’t, considering I had never been on this course myself.

Sure enough, the final climb to Enger wasn’t bad at all, especially considering all that we had experienced before. There is a giant bell on top of Enger and my wife rang it gleefully before we started our descent. When we reached the bottom of the hill the SHT turned to pavement as it made its way over to the Lakewalk in Canal Park. Once we were securely on pavement my wife cut me loose and I ran the final mile and a half into Fitger’s. I arrived in 7 hours and 35 minutes, with my wife arriving soon after.

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RockSteady represent!!

We met up with Wendi, Robyn and a bunch of other folks and had an amazing, early, supper, before the closing ceremony. The final ceremony was a fun door prize drawing as well as a reading off of the names of everyone who completed the two longer distances. We relaxed and chatted with friends before going our separate ways for the night.

In many ways this race meant two different things for my wife and I. First, it showed me that despite having a really crappy summer of training, I still had enough of a base to move strong on a trail as complex and the Superior Hiking Trail. I opt’d to stay with my wife and avoid pushing myself, but I felt good throughout the race. That alone is a win in my book, as I still have a few more races this season. For my wife, it was solid confirmation that, despite being incredibly hard, she should have no problem with other races like Moose Mountain Marathon next year. This was her longest time on the SHT and it left a lasting impression.

The Grand Traverse is a fun race, and very low key, plus you get a beautiful commemorative rock! Needing to navigate yourself to the end, with so few participants around you, gave you a real feeling of adventure. Yet, you were right inside the city of Duluth for almost the entire race. Once we passed Spirit Mountain you could hear traffic, despite not being able to see it through the mist. It was amazing to experience such a wild trail, so close to an urban center. I could certainly see myself coming back to Grand Traverse again someday, as it was a fun and well put together race.

Hair or not to hair

Since 2000 I’ve been mostly shaven on my head (head hair, not facial hair). At times I’ve simply let it grow a little bit and used a trimmer to keep it short, however, a majority of the time I’ve used a razor to get a clean shaven look on my dome. The reason is that I have a receding hair line, and when my hair first starts to grow it just doesn’t look that good at all. Perhaps if I let it grow out long again it would work, but that takes patience, and getting used to having hair again.

On the other hand, shaving the dome multiple times per week is time consuming, but it’s also sometimes painful. Just a couple weeks ago I nicked the back of my scalp and took off a nice hunk of skin in the process. Since then I’ve been going a full week between shaves to save my head from further pain and irritation. Now every weekend I end up looking at my head and start asking myself, “Is this the week when I start growing my hair out again and give up on the bald look?”

Once of these weeks it just might happen.

Bean and Bear Lake

With our weekend plans changing to a Saturday race, we had all day Friday to do something new and fun. Our friend Wendi invited us to go along with her on a hike around the Bean and Bear Lake loop of the Superior Hiking Trail.

img_5078We arrived around 1pm on Friday, and the sunny morning had suddenly turned cloudy and windy. I decided to bring my hoodie along, but as the hike progressed it got nicer and nicer. The hoodie quickly got tied around my waist in typical 80’s fashion. The hike up to the bluffs overlooking the lakes is your typical SHT fare. It’s rugged, with tons of roots and quick climbs. Very quickly we were ascending and on the entire loop we managed 1200ft of elevation change.

Arriving at the lakes, and seeing the stunning beauty of the overlook, made all the pain worth it though. Many of the runners on the Superior 100 race comment on how Bean and Bear Lake is one of their favorite spots in the race. Having seen it in person, I can totally understand why. It is truly stunning. The picture in the header of this post doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

Eventually, we had to head back to reality, and the completion of the loop gave us almost seven miles of hiking for the day. It was a great introduction as to what we were going to be in for on Saturday, but that is a tale for another blog.

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Bustin’ ghosts

I was walking through the parking lot at work and saw this car parked there. It’s a pretty decent model of the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters. It’s obviously not a perfect match, but it’s got a ton of detail that shows that the owners really cared about making it look as good as possible. I love it when I see people expressing how they love something in such a creative way. Seeing this brought a smile to my face, and hopefully it brings a smile to yours as well.

 

Best laid plans…

This weekend our big plan was to run a 24 hour run in nearby Wisconsin. We were looking forward to it most of the year, but with all the recent rains, it was looking like a strong possibility that the race wouldn’t actually happen because of flooding in the area. Tonight we made the executive decision to head to a different race this weekend, despite the fact that the 24 hour run is still going on. We wish all the other 24 hour runners the best, and we’ll shoot for next year for sure.

We’re going to head to Duluth to partake in the Grand Traverse, which follows the Superior Hiking Trail from Jay Cooke State Park to downtown Duluth. A few of our friends are running it as well, so it should be a good time. It’s a very laid back event, and many people hike the entire length of it. I’m not going to try for any PRs, but I’ll make a good attempt to put down a decent showing.

Tonight is now a frantic exercise in re-packing for a different type of trip, and making sure we have everything we need for heading north to the hills, instead of south to the river.

macOS Sierra

This past week another new operating system from Apple was released. macOS Sierra is the latest iteration in the tradition of the OS formerly known as Mac OS X. I got it installed on my machines and have been checking out some of the new features. My initial comments are around two items.

First, the inclusion of Siri is kinda neat, although I don’t know how often I’ll use it. I use Siri on my phone all the time, however, I almost never use it on my tablet. Siri seems to be the kind of thing that I use most often when driving or walking outside. If I’m inside my house I find it a little odd to talk to my computer. However, it’s a neat addition, and I could find times when I might use it. It’s often easier to tell Siri what music I want to play right from my desktop, than searching through my iTunes collection for just the right song. Plus, Siri can put together playlists based on genre.

The other feature I’m interested in is the full integration of iCloud Drive. Much like DropBox and Google Drive, iCloud Drive is an online cloud storage for your files. Apple was late to the party on this one, despite having the underpinnings of potential early on. Right now iCloud Drive is set up to sync your Documents and Desktop between your devices, and give access to your iOS devices. It seems to work seamlessly, and it fully integrates with all of the other iCloud features such as iWork.

The biggest feature of iCloud Drive is one that I haven’t been brave enough to turn on yet. If you let it, macOS Sierra will optimize the storage on your hard drive, syncing little used files to the cloud automatically for you. I could see this being a godsend for laptops with small flash drives, but I’ll admit that I’m a bit leary. I use a backup provider to keep my data secure, so at the end of the day I probably don’t have anything to worry about. So I’ll probably give it a try with some of my files and see how well it reduces the space on my drive. If nothing else, it might clean up old video files that I really don’t need anymore.

I haven’t delved too far into any other features, but overall everything feels stable, which is the key bedrock of any new OS release. Additionally, I didn’t have any install problems, which made upgrading a simple process. I might write more as I come across new and interesting things that I haven’t yet tried.

Fire

This past weekend we visited a friend and hung out in his driveway with him and his wife, had a few beers and relaxed. He has a fire pit and so we all got to relax around a nice warming fire. After our recent camping trips it made my wife and I realized how much we enjoy sitting by a fire in the evenings. I recalled seeing fire pits at Home Depot over the weekend, so on Monday night I picked up a $30 bowl type fire pit, and the last two nights we’ve enjoyed sunset with a fire.

It’s amazing how a simple thing, like a fire, can make an evening feel just a bit more calm. Hearing the crackling of the wood, and the smell of the smoke, makes you nostalgic for simpler times. Making s’mores as we read, or type up blog entries, feels like the right way to relax on a Minnesota evening. Fire is soothing and warm, making the cooler nights feel more cozy. As we approach the impending winter, fighting it off with a fire feels like we’re winning the battle, even just a little bit.

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