Back to running

It’s been a couple months since I was able to really run, thanks to a broken toe. I finally passed the 6 week point and decided it was time to get back at it. I had tried to do some hiking at Afton a couple weeks ago, but the rough terrain was just too much on the toe, and I had to bail out of the traditional loop and find flatter, more stable terrain.

This past Saturday though was my chance at redemption. My friend Mike B. and I met up at 6:30 in the Afton parking lot, and we headed out on my first real trail run in months. I told Mike right up front that it’s been so long that this might be a pretty slow loop. Last year I had worked myself up to a 3 hour 15 minute PR pace around the 25K loop, and could pretty easily bang out a 3:20. I knew that today 3:30-3:45 was closer to reality.

As we headed out, we had something else to deal with beyond my injury recovery and de-conditioning… the humidity. Our first descent into the valley was met with fog and mist. It was at that point we knew that this was going to be a pretty oppressive run. Our one saving grace was that there was still a thick cloud cover from the overnight storms. It kept the sun at bay for quite a while, saving us from a lot more misery.

The overnight storms also resulted in some glorious mud puddles. A couple of the ones on the backside of the Trout Brook loop were way deeper than we expected, and the next thing we knew we were looking for a spot to step into the creek to get some of the mud off of our shoes. With our feet nice and wet we proceeded on the rest of the loop, and for the most part things were feeling great. I could tell I was de-conditioned, as keeping up with Mike was at times a challenge. He’s had a great summer so far, and I’ve been stuck with walking. I felt like I could go all day, but my speed was long gone.

Most of the run was uneventful. We ran into a few friends here and there, but overall it was a quiet morning in the park. I still managed to run the length of the river trail from the aid station location to the base of Meatgrinder, which is always a personal goal of mine. Once we got to Meatgrinder though my legs were really starting to feel it. We got to the top and I also started to feel my toe throb every so slightly.

As we came to Snowshoe loop, I knew this was going to be a slow slog for the final 3 miles. About a half mile in to Snowshoe the bonk hit hard and the legs started protesting dramatically. Mike was being very kind and sticking with me, but my performance was getting ugly. I had been managing somewhere in the range of 12-15 minute miles for the previous 13 miles. The final two were barely 18 minute miles. When we got to the final hill I told Mike to go on ahead and finish strong and I’d meet him in the parking lot.

I did manage a few short jogs on the final stretch, but between the legs, the toe, and the oppressive heat of the sun (now completely uncovered), it was a pretty sad sight to watch. I crossed the line at 3:41, still within the window of time I had predicted, but I was pretty spent.

I hobbled back over to the car and began the process of cleaning up and getting re-hydrated/fueled. Despite the bonk, I’m really happy with how the run went. It showed me that despite all the de-conditioning, I’m still capable of getting a rough 25K done if I need to. It feels really good to know that your fitness level isn’t gone in a moments notice, when you’ve spent over a decade getting it ramp’d up. I’m sure I’ll be back to my 3:20 loops soon enough. For now, I’m considering this a solid victory lap.

Sleeping platform for the car

Recently we’ve been talking more and more about our future camping setup. Our Coachmen Clipper 9.0 is a decent tool for camping, but we sometimes muse about other options. We’ve spent some time talking about the difference between camping trailer vs camper van, and the pro’s and con’s of each. For the time being we’re not making any changes, but I decided to make a change to the status quo to address one of the con’s of our current situation.

One of the cool parts about a camper van is that you can simply pull into a rest area or truck stop and crawl into bed. It’s a great option for traveling, since you don’t need a campsite, nor do you need to set up a camper just so you can get a few zzzz’s. It’s also great for traveling to races since your vehicle is easily self-contained, and all you need is a parking spot near the race start to use as your home base.

I’m not going to do a full pro-con list, but I wanted to share how I’m addressing one of the issues we have with our current setup. Namely, trying to sleep in my car. I drive a VW Tiguan Limited and as much as I love it, it’s not the largest vehicle I’ve ever owned when it comes to cargo space. I can fit a fair amount of stuff into the back, but on a few occasions when I’ve tried to sleep back there, it’s just too cramped. I can lower the seats, all the way up through the passenger seat in the front, but there’s gaps between the seats that make it impossible to lay fully extended. What I needed, was a sleeping platform.

On Saturday morning I headed out to the hardware store and picked up a few simple supplies. I got some 1/2” plywood, a couple of posts, and some basic hardware. My plan was to create a platform that goes from the back of the car, 6 feet to the front. In order to that that though I need to support the bottom of the platform so that all the of the weight isn’t resting on the back of the seats.

I went with two pieces of plywood, 2×4 and 2×2. Originally I thought the 2×4 would end up in back, but after putting it into the car, I realized that it should be reversed. So the 2×2 is now sitting on the main cargo area of the car at the back where the lift gate is. Then I put the 2×4 in front of that, and attached the two posts to the bottom using removable bolts for easier storage.

I filled up my sleeping pad and tried it out. Sure enough it was perfectly sized for one person like myself to lay flat or curl up and get some shut eye. Eventually I’ll get some foam cushioning to make it softer, but for now, this actually works. It was a lot simpler than I had anticipated, and some simple planning made it a reality with about an hours worth of work.

The downside is that it’s one person only, so this solution won’t work if I’m traveling with the wife, but for trips where it’s just myself, and I need to sleep along the way, this works great. Creativity! It’s what drives the human spirit forward.

Working with what Minnesota gives us

This past weekend we took an extended trip to Itasca State Park. It was a long time coming, and we were super happy to finally be able to get to a place we’ve been trying to get to for multiple years. However, there’s always a twist when it comes to seasons in Minnesota. Being in the middle of the north woods in summer presented a set of challenges, that we learned a lot from.

Normally when we go on outdoor trips like this we spend a lot of time running and biking, as well as hanging out at the campsite. However, summer in Minnesota tends to be incredibly humid and hot (despite our reputation for harsh and cold winters). This also means that our bug population skyrockets in the summer, and being out and about in the woods is often a battle against a thousand tiny buzzing insects. Not fun.

This past weekend proved this once again. We managed to get out for one 3.5 mile hike in the woods, but that was it. To accomplish the hike we put on long pants, bug nets over our head, and copious amounts of bug spray. We probably looked silly, but the bug nets were a godsend. I can’t imaging doing a deep woods trek in summer around here without one.

This is hot... in more than one way
This is hot… in more than one way

I also went for a 6 mile walk but I kept almost exclusively to paved trails, which helped a lot. One 0.75 mile segment of my walk was on a dirt path, and I was constantly inundated by flies and mosquitos. They were buzzing around me so heavily that they actually showed up in the pictures I was taking. This was one of the more scenic portions of the walk so it was a scramble to take out the phone, snap a picture, and get back to moving as quickly as possible.

A small fly who wanted to be in the shot
A small fly who wanted to be in the shot

However, what we discovered was that there were other activities that we enjoy, that are much more bug free. One was expected, the other was new to us. First, we love biking and brought the bikes with us on this trip because we knew that Itasca had a lot of good bike paths. On both Monday and Tuesday we did the Wilderness Drive loop, which is a 16 mile biking loop that goes around the perimeter of the park. It’s a really fun ride, and despite three quarters of it being shared with a road, that road is almost all one-way traffic. Meaning you don’t need to worry about oncoming cars on curves. The terrain is rolling with lots of quick short up hills that sap your legs a lot more than you expected. But, you’re rewarded with beautiful downhills with flowing curves that are incredibly fun to bomb. Just be careful when coming up on Mary Lake. It’s at the bottom of a long downhill, around a curve. If you’re not careful you could end up shooting right off the side into the drink!

Stopping at Nicollet Creek
Stopping at Nicollet Creek

While biking is awesome, we also discovered something new on this trip. We really enjoy being out on the water. We had a canoe rental for the entirety of Monday, and so we took a couple different trips around the lake. Almost immediately we discovered that the flies and mosquitos don’t like buzzing you in the middle of a body of water. We spent hours on the lake and the level of insects was minimal with only dragonflies being a slight nuisance. I’m sure that in the mornings or evenings the mosquitos will come at you even on the water, but during the day we were bug-free.

Paddling
Paddling

In addition to the lack of bugs, we also discovered that we had a lot of fun paddling. It was cooler than on shore with the oppressive humidity of the woods, and we got to explore a lot of areas that we’d never be able to reach on foot. It awakened a desire in us to get out and try more boating. After all, Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, and maybe we’re just dim for missing it, but it seems like the water is the place to be in the summer.

Our next steps are to spend some time at some local parks that have open watercraft rentals so we can check out kayaks and other craft. I’m not opposed to investing in something permanent for ourselves, but I’d like to get some experience with the different types (canoe vs kayak for example) to make some educated decisions. Plus, there’s a lot to learn in a new wilderness discipline, and I tend to want to take a lot of time to do a solid amount of research before walking into things.

So I’ll put a question out there to my readers… what do you like to paddle? What’s some good resources for folks looking to learn more about paddlesports? Any good tips and tricks for lakes in Minnesota to check out?

Crossing the Mississippi

The Mississippi’s mighty. But it starts in Minnesota. At a place that you can walk across with five steps down.

Indigo Girls (Ghost)

I’ve lived in Minnesota for all but the first two years of my life. Growing up I was in Saint Paul, which runs along the Mississippi River. Yet, despite living here for four decades, and living near the mighty river, I’ve never taken the three and a half hour drive to see the headwaters at Itasca State Park.

Two years ago (in 2018) we decided to correct this oversight and we planned a 3 night trip that coincided with the Tour de Pines bike event. However, something came up (don’t even remember what anymore) and we postponed the trip till later. We ended up postponing the trip another three times before COVID came along and the DNR cancelled all reservations anyway.

So now, two full years later, we decided to actually follow through and take the trip. We arrived this afternoon, and of course the first thing we did after setting up camp was drive over to the headwaters to check them out. Sure enough there was a small stream flowing over some rocks out of the northern side of Lake Itasca. It was just like the pictures, and since I was wearing my sandals I waded right in.

The water was surprisingly warm, but I guess it shouldn’t have shocked me since the air temps have been in the 80s for quite a while now. I then proceeded to wander across the 30-40 feet of the outflow and claimed a river crossing on foot. The water never even really got up over my calf. I climbed up the beach on the other side and gazed out over the lake.

It’s amazing to think that something miles wide, thousands of miles away, starts and just a small bubbling creek. It’s truly awe inspiring to think that the same water that ran over my legs has a chance to flow all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s still just a creek coming out of a lake. There’s nothing physically striking about this particular outflow. It looks like many other lake outflows that head into creeks. It’s really more about what it symbolizes, the power of nature to persevere and shape its surroundings, and in turn shape history. Without the Mississippi, much of the country would not be like it is today. Rivers were highways in ages past, and hundreds of towns got their start because they had access to this commercial pipeline. Without it, there would be little reason for many of these places to exist.

Humans are drawn to places of movement and access. Rivers allow us to conduct trade, travel, harvest food, and so many other things. Just like how a few years ago people flocked to the Internet. It’s the modern day equivalent of rivers, carrying information, commerce, and shaping entire lives by it’s presence.

Yet, how we use these pipelines is up to us. Just like rivers can be polluted by muck and waste, so too can our modern pipelines get overrun with shit. It’s important that we think about how we want to shape our future online, as much as we thought about how to treat the waterways of the past.

Not sure how I got onto a diatribe about the Internet, but perhaps being near something monumental brings out the philosopher in me. For now, I’ll end by saying that if you live in Minnesota, it’s worth a trip to see the root of one of the most important features of our state.