Running Hitchcock Nature Center

This weekend the wife and I are down in Council Bluffs, IA for some family stuff, but we still needed to get out for a run. My wife found a park just a little bit north of the city called Hitchcock Nature Center. A local trail running group holds races there in December, so we knew it must be a pretty decent course.

We arrived at the park just as it opened at 6AM. We paid the $2 entry fee and parked at the trailhead. Originally, I had downloaded the entire 13 mile course into my watch, but we decided we didn’t have enough time for that, so we just headed out on a loop of the southern part of the park, with the intent to get in a good 90-120 minutes of movement.

The trails on the map are color coded with either blue (easy), yellow (moderate), or red (hard). We opted to try out some of the yellow trails first, and see what constituted moderate at this park. As we progressed around the first part of the loop, we realized that the moderate trails were actually a bit more challenging than we were expecting. They weren’t insurmountable by any means, but they certainly kept us on our toes for the first half an hour.

Footing wasn’t that big of an issue, as the trails are all grass and dirt, with no roots or rocks to speak of. But being in bluff country meant a lot of climbing. In many ways the moderate trails were like the northern section of Murphy-Hanrehan park in the Twin Cities, with rollers that slowly sapped the strength out of you. Eventually we found ourselves on some blue trails, and it was amazing how much of a difference that made.

It made such a difference that we got turned around at a sign post, and ended up missing our turn and needing to backtrack. It was all good though since we were on very runnable trail and were feeling pretty good. Once we got back from the southern end of the park we decided to cut to the north by taking one of the red trails to see what hard was like. The footing wasn’t really any more difficult, but the rollers got VERY steep. As we climbed the steepest of them I commented that up in Minnesota we’re smart enough to just build stairs on hills like this!

IMG_1152After we crested the final big hill we decided to head out on a spur trail for a bit that was marked easy. We were really glad that we did because it ended up finishing at an overlook where we could see for dozens of miles across the flat farmland and prairie surrounding the bluffs. We stopped for a bit to take it all in, and then headed back to the visitor’s center. My wife climbed the observation tower, but my vertigo stopped me part way up, so I went back down and watched some of the birds at a local feeder.

We packed up our gear and headed back to get cleaned up for the rest of the day. It took us about 90 minutes to go 5 miles, but since this was a casual run before our race next week, I was fine with that. We ended up having a great time outside, running in a new place that we had never been to before. It was a great way to start the day and spend time together.

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The Yanez verdict

I wanted to take a brief moment and just share my reaction to the Yanez verdict. For those who aren’t aware this was the trial of Officer Yanez and his shooting of Philando Castile. The county attorney brought up two different charges against the officer, manslaughter and a reckless weapons charge. Both were acquitted, leading to a lot of hand wringing and sadness in the Twin Cities that justice really hasn’t been served.

From interviews with jurors, it appears that the biggest issue is the law. The way that the manslaughter laws are written, you need to prove some form of culpable negligence. In this case, they couldn’t find evidence of that, despite not liking what the officer had done. This seems to be the greatest problem with use of force cases involving police. The law doesn’t appear to be written to protect citizens when it comes to the use force, and particularly firearms. Unless you have video of a suspect on the ground with their hands up, it’s often the officer’s word about what happened vs. the dead citizen.

One of the more unpopular opinions out there, but one that I feel would help, is to seriously consider disarming police of their firearms during routine situations. I fully understand that there are certain situations (and neighborhoods) where this isn’t an option, but for the majority of cases, officers have no reason to have their firearm on them. So many of these situations involving deadly force, could have been solved through other means.

Of course I’m saying this as a private citizen, and not a police officer. I’m sure there are dozens of arguments against disarming police, and I’m sure my thoughts could be torn to shreds by people more knowledgeable in all of this. Yet, it doesn’t change the fact that I believe that many situations could be solved through less deadly methods. Maybe I’m just naive and overly optimistic, but I have to believe that guns are not the answer to every situation, but that if you have a gun you’re more likely to think it is the answer. It’s like with any tool, and I see this all the time in the technology space. When you know one tool really, really well, you tend to rely on it to the exclusion of other options. The old phrase, “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” applies.

None of what I said does much to fix the poor race relations that we’re currently dealing with in America either. One of the more salient points that has been brought up about the Yanez verdict is the question about why the officer was so scared. If Castile has been white would Yanez have been as on edge? These are questions we’ll never know the answer to, but it speaks to a sad state of affairs in our country when we have to even pose the question.

I pray we learn to grow beyond this as a society, and that someday these horrific acts are just a memory. I would love to see the end of this type of tension in my lifetime, but it’s hard to be hopeful for our society with the state things are currently in.

Split Rock Creek State Park

The second state park that we hit on our trip this past weekend was Split Rock Creek. This is a small park in SW Minnesota, that often causes confusion for those of us in the cities, as we’re all very familiar with Split Rock State Park in northern Minnesota, home of the famous lighthouse.

Split Rock Creek is basically a small park around a lake. They have a large bird population, and are home to a beautiful old dam and bridge that were built in the WPA era. I particularly liked the WPA dam as it is an amazing testament to an incredible social program. The lake did not exist until this dam was built, and making it put hundreds of people at work, earning a living during a difficult time.

We hiked around the park and took some photos of the birds, and the dam, and even a really cool shot of a bee. It was a nice little stop before our bigger visit of the day further up the road.

Sparrows

Taking a break from talking about my weekend camping trip, I wanted to share a great shot I got of a male and female sparrow eating at our new bird feeder in our front yard. I put up a feeder recently, since my wife is really crazy about birds, and I’ve taken to leaving my camera out with the zoom lens on for just such occasions. I really like how this one turned out and can’t wait to get more shots as the summer goes by.

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Take 16 Brewing

Blue Mounds State Park, where we were camping, is only a few miles away from the town of Luverne, MN. As the craft beer boom continues to explode around Minnesota, small towns are getting in on the action by creating local breweries that highlight really good beer for an audience that might not have experienced creative craft beer before. In Luverne this is being done by Take 16 Brewing.

On Saturday we headed into town for a nice dinner, and a visit to Take 16. It’s just down main street, and easy to find. Take 16 is still in the growler shop phase of their brewery, meaning that they do not have a proper taproom yet. It’s coming soon, and we saw the space where it was under construction, but for now you can just get samples, purchase a beer ticket for a glass, or buy growlers and half-growlers (grumblers as they call them).

We arrived before dinner and were greeted by a gentleman who was on the board of directors for the brewery. He started pouring sample cups for me so I could decide on which grumblers I wanted to take home, while telling me about how he got involved in the brewery, and plans for the new taproom. It’s was really great to talk to someone who was passionate about seeing a small town brewery take off and really give the area something to be proud of.

I got to sample all 6 of the beers that they had on tap, and there were a couple really nice standouts. First, the Sundown Nut Brown was my all time favorite of the bunch. It was a perfect example of a nut brown ale with a great malt body and low hop character. It was smooth, just like a non-American brown should be, and went down nice and easy.

My second favorite was the Hayloft hefeweizen. I love a good banana and clove hefe and this was one of them. The clove character came through wonderfully, and made this an incredibly tasty beer. It was the kind of beer that I would want to drink on a nice summer day, sitting on a patio; smooth and refreshing in all the right ways.

All of the other entries from Take 16 were solid as well. Since they were well represented in town, I decided to forgo the beer ticket, and get a pint with dinner at a local cafe. I also brought home a couple grumblers, and have already shared one with some friends, who also enjoyed it. All in all, a really great visit to a nice small town brewery. I love seeing small towns get in on the craft beer scene and spread the love of craft beer. There’s limited shelf space for breweries, so establishing destination taprooms is key. Having that neighborhood place where people meet up and hang out is a part of the craft beer culture, as much as the beer itself. Take 16 Brewing is doing just that for Luverne and the craft beer scene. IMG_1112.jpg