September travels means October is here before you know it!

The month of September flew by, and suddenly it’s October 1st today. A big reason that last month disappeared on me was due to our travels out west to help friends with some big races. We were gone from September 12th through the 23rd, which is nearly half the month. During that time we were living out of suitcases and tents, and got a total of three solid nights of sleep over the 12 days we were gone. This is also after Fall Superior weekend where we volunteered for a big chunk of time.

I’m not going to tell the stories of my friends races, as those are their tales to tell. In brief,  I got to pace my friend Julie around Lake Tahoe for 32 miles, and then got to pace my friend Mike around the Sangre de Cristo mountains for 43 miles. Each pacing gig took me around 16 hours, and I got to help them achieve some incredible goals. It was an epic experience for me, and great training for my own future endeavors.

img_5259What I did want to spend a few moments to reflect on was the other parts of the trip that were meaningful to me. First off, I got to visit two states that I’ve never been to before, California and Colorado. Despite being in the tech industry for my career, I’ve never had a chance to visit California. Even if I had, it would have been somewhere in Silicon Valley, and I probably wouldn’t have seen much beyond a convention center. Getting to spend time at Lake Tahoe allowed me to experience a part of Northern California that was different from anywhere I had been. The Ponderosa Pines, with their giant pine cones were beyond anything we get in the Midwest. There were multiple times I was lying in a tent and heard a pine cone crash against the ground nearby. It made me really hope that my tent could withstand that type of impact!

img_5225After our trip at Tahoe we headed by train to Colorado, another State I had never visited. As a trail runner, Colorado is considered mecca, a holy place for lovers of dirt. It’s somewhere that everyone in the trail running world talks about, and opines for visiting or moving to. One of the first things that surprised me though was how far away Denver is from the mountains. When we got in to town I looked off into the distance and realized we were a LONG way away from those hills. We traveled through Colorado Springs, which is much closer, and was much more in line with what I had expected.

img_5371Our final destination in Colorado was Westcliffe, a small town in the far southwest corner of the State, almost to New Mexico. This small town was quaint and quiet, but proud of their outdoor activities. There are a lot of trails around for all types (ATV, horse, bike, foot), and the little outdoor store in town was well supplied. They are also considered a Dark Sky town, due to their minimal amount of artificial light. You can see the night sky like you have never seen it before on the open plains just outside of town. Looking at all of the stars was truly awe-inspiring.

img_5333Another unique aspect of this trip was how we got around. We flew into Reno (after a plane switch in Phoenix), and once we were done around Tahoe we hopped on a train to Denver. The 26 hour train ride was mostly relaxing, however, because we didn’t get a sleeper car the overnight was very restless. Train coach seats are basically like first class airline seats, but it’s still hard to get a real night of sleep in them. Despite the overnight, the train ride was smooth and comfortable. The train takes a very scenic path through the mountains, which does slow it down quite a bit. The final 3-4 hours were done at a leisurely 30 mph pace through mountain passes and tunnels. Although quite beautiful, I was ready to get to our destination when we arrived. If we had been continuing on, I would have for sure gotten a sleeper car.

The trip home from Denver was a quick, uneventful flight. We opt’d to park our car in Downtown Minneapolis for the duration of the trip. For just $66 for 12 days, we were able to park in the “A” ramp on the west side of downtown, and hop the Metro Transit Blue Line train to the airport. It was quick and easy, and a heck of a lot cheaper than the parking lots at the airport.

Coming back to Minnesota was a bit of an environmental shock. Since landing in Reno, we spent almost the entire trip 5500 ft. above sea level. While in Tahoe I made it up to 9100 ft., and our base camp in Westcliffe was at 9200 ft. At one point in Colorado I made it to 10,200 ft above sea level. Thankfully, I had a week of acclimation under my belt, and found my breathing to be pretty solid through my time there. However, the air was incredibly dry, and getting off the plane in MSP immediately felt like I was breathing underwater. Our air here is so damp and rich compared to the mountains.

img_5351In addition to the air, the lack of trees means that we could see forever when we were on top of the hills. Back in Minnesota we’re surrounded by a green canopy. We simply can’t see the distance like you can out west. Yet, one benefit of trees is the lack of dust. The amount of dust in both Tahoe and Westcliffe was insane. Everything we owned was covered in a thin layer of grit that would blow across the mountains and plains. I never felt completely clean until I got home and could soak in a nice shower for as long as I wanted.

Despite how incredible this experience was, I doubt we’ll be doing a trip of this length and complexity any time soon again. There’s a lot of places we want to see, and sometimes trying to cram them all into a “working vacation” means that we don’t get to spend the type of time that we want to. We had an amazing time helping our friends reach their goals, and we’re incredibly proud of them, and honored to have been able to be a part of their journey. Now, it’s time to take that inspiration and decide what’s next for Lisa and I. But first, I think we’ll just enjoy being home for the month of October.

Savanna Portage Photos

I realized I haven’t posted this yet, so here’s my gallery of shots from Savanna Portage State Park. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were so bad that I didn’t get as many shots as I wanted. Stopping to take photos was just not a great idea.

https://swiftphotography.smugmug.com/Exploration/Savanna-Portage-State-Park-2019/

Sibley State Park camping

A couple of weekends ago the wife and I took the camper out for our first weekend of the summer. I had read a news article about how it was the 100th birthday of Sibley State Park, out near New London, MN, so we picked it as our destination. We decided a simple one night trip would be a fun way to kick off the year. Especially, since I had a very long run (20 miles) scheduled for Saturday morning, it was easier to plan to be at more familiar parks for that.

As with many of our trips, I try to find new and unique breweries along the way to sample. In this case, there were two before we hit the park. The first was in Willmar, MN called Foxhole brewing. This brewery is right in downtown, next to a theater, and had a typical taproom vibe to it. We found a table and I ordered up a flight. As I worked my way through the variety of beers I was struck with how none of them appeared to have any brewing flaws. Even the sour ale was spot on. When you’re dealing with small out-state breweries, the quality of the brewing process can sometimes leave something to be desired. However, in Foxhole’s case, they put out a solid line up of beers. Needless to say I was impressed.

After our visit to Foxhole we headed up the road to New London for a stop at Goat Ridge Brewing. Goat Ridge is built right on the banks of the Middle Fork Crow River, and their back patio sat right along the shore. I ordered up a flight and we picked a table outside, listening to the sounds of the river. The beer was adequate, and not quite as good as Foxhole, but it also didn’t exhibit any particular brewing flaws. I think that if I had done these breweries in the reverse order, I wouldn’t have dinged Goat Ridge at all. For a brewery in a town of 1200 people, it exceeded the expectations.

After Goat Ridge, we finally arrived at the park. Thanks to the late setting sun we were able to sit outside and enjoy a bit of the evening before turning in. Unfortunately, the camp site next to us was very close and the people decided to stay up until the wee hours of the morning talking. They weren’t being loud or obnoxious, but their campsite was so close to ours that it was impossible not to hear them. It meant that we got a more restless and disturbed night that we would normally want, but eventually I did manage to get some sleep.

Come morning it was time for an 8 mile run. It was drizzly and a bit chilly, but I knew once I got started that it would be just fine. My goal was to hit a loop called the Mt. Tom trail, and then partway through the loop, head over to the west side of the park and do some of the horse trails. Once I finished with the horse trails I would follow Mt. Tom back around to Lake Andrew and then back to the campground.

One of the first things that struck my about the Mt. Tom loop was how relentless the ups and downs were. The park’s website said that Mt. Tom was 220ft high, which isn’t that big outside of central Minnesota. However, the trail that goes around the mount was a constant journey up and down. There was almost no part of the trail that was flat. Thankfully, the trail was really nice, and it was easy to run on the runnable portions, but by the time I got to the horse trails I was ready for a change.

The horse trails were pretty standard, and they went around a few hills and prairies. I got to see a giant snapping turtle at one point which was fun. They were wetter than the Mt. Tom loop, but since I was already soaked from the drizzle, it didn’t matter that much. I got back to the main loop and continued on my way to the lake. I thought about cutting it short, but knew I’d probably regret that. I did take an alternate path back from the lake that was paved, but it was a nature interpretive trail with placards describing all the trees. It was a fun way to end the run.

As luck would have it my wife was finishing her run at the same time, and we met up a quarter mile from the campsite. She had a blast on the Mt. Tom trail as well, and commented on how unexpected it was to get so many little hills. We also both really enjoyed the Mt. Tom overlook, which is squat little tower on top of the hill. From the second story you can get a beautiful view of the entire area, and it’s actually quite breathtaking.

Once we finished our run it was time to start showering and packing up. Even though it was mid-morning, I still felt a tiny bit bad running my drill to crank up the camper jacks. The poor people in the site next to us probably were unceremoniously woken up earlier than they wanted.

Since it was only an hour and a half drive back we decided to hit a couple more breweries along the way. First we hit Nordic Brewing, a new one in Monticello, MN. We arrived just as they were opening, and got to park ourselves at a nice set of comfy chairs by the windows. Their beer was pretty solid, and I particularly enjoyed their imperial oatmeal stout.

Once we were done there we headed over to Big Lake and one final stop at Lupulin, which is an old favorite that I hadn’t been to in a while. I had a couple beers there and then we headed back to the car for the final part of the trip home. Overall, this was an incredibly fun weekend, and even though we were only gone a single night, it was really easy. Having the camper, and all of our stuff just set up in a box, makes setup phenomenally easy. Most of the time when we get to a campsite, we’re ready to start relaxing within 15 minutes. It sure beats fighting with an air mattress in a tent.

This is the first of a bunch of trips this summer, and I feel like we started off the season right. Sibley State Park was a lot of fun, and the Mt. Tom loop was a great route for a shorter distance run. It was well worth the drive from the cities.

A weekend in Chicago

This past weekend I got to take a trip with my youngest son to the Windy City. This was the first time he and I have done a vacation together, and with kids getting older, who knows how may more trips will be in our future. When I asked him where he wanted to go for Spring Break he chose Chicago, and so I booked a trip for the weekend.

We headed out early Friday, with our primary goal being to get to the first stop of the trip, Galloping Ghost arcade. This is a video game arcade that he heard about online, that is filled with hundreds of retro video game cabinets. The drive down was uneventful, and we arrived around 2pm. Just as promised, the arcade delivered with huge doses of nostalgia. On the drive down I was telling my son about a particular game that I remember playing in the 80’s. All I could remember about the name was that it had ‘xeno’ in it somewhere. It was a side scrolling alien shooting game, and was unique because three people could play simultaneously on three slices of the screen. I remembered playing the game a bunch as a kid, but never saw it, or heard about it, after that.

img_4204We walked into Galloping Ghost and bought our all-day pass (games are free to play after you pay the entry fee). Within walking 10 feet, my son says, “Is that the game you were talking about?” Sure enough, there is was: Xenophobe. We walked over and played a few rounds, and sure enough, it was just like I remember it. The rest of the visit passed in a haze of pixelated nostalgia. This arcade was huge, and in the few hours that we spent there we only scratched the surface of everything we could play. Soon enough though it was time to go get dinner and get checked in to our hotel.

We hit a ramen place in LaGrange and then drove into the heart of the city to stay at the Congress Hotel, right by Grant Park. The hotel was old and historic, and had an amazing view of the park and the lake. We kicked around the hotel for the night and relaxed after a long day of travel. The next morning I got up early to get in a short run, witnessing an amazing sunrise over the lake. After 5 miles I headed back up to the hotel room to get cleaned up and figure out the plan for the day.

img_4208We decided to walk over to Millennium Park for a bit and then head to the Field Museum. There’s lots of museums on the shore, but it costs a lot of money to do them all, so we picked one. The field museum ended up being a ton of fun, and my boy actually really enjoyed himself, seeing all the cool exhibits. We capped off the morning with late lunch at Lou Malnati’s to introduce him to Chicago style deep dish pizza. I hit a taproom for a quick drink and then we headed back to the hotel to chill for a bit.

IMG_4235.jpgLater that evening I would be participating in the Ten Junk Miles podcast, but we still had some time to kill. So after a bit of Pokemon Go playing during the Community Day event, we hit up a candy store, and then picked out a souvenir to bring home from a local tourist shop. I then headed out with my friends to do dinner and the podcast, and it turned into a really late night, not crawling into bed until after 11. Originally, I had planned a long Sunday run with Scott Kummer, but I spent the night fitfully sleeping with a stomach full of too much greasy pizza and beer. After waking up yet again at 4am I decided to bail on the run and just relax for the morning.

DSC09199.jpgOur plan for Sunday was to hit the Museum of Science and Industry before heading out of town. This is a great museum, and has one of my favorite train displays of anywhere I’ve been. We spent a couple hours there, taking in the sights, and then grabbed some lunch for the start of our journey back. We had decided to break the trip home up a bit, by first stopping in Madison, WI to hit up another game arcade. Geeks Mania was nowhere near the size of Galloping Ghost, but it had a few things that Galloping Ghost didn’t have. It also had some pinball machines, so I got to play a bit of that instead of just video games. Overall, the video game nostalgia was pretty awesome this weekend, and I can see a few more trips like this in my future.

DSC09205.jpgAfter this we headed up to Eau Claire for one more night in a hotel. We decided to stop early since we weren’t in a rush, and it meant that we didn’t need to do the final couple of hours in the dark. Since we were on vacation I wanted it to feel like it, and so one more night in a hotel bed seemed just fine. We took it easy and I got to watch some Food Network, before hitting the sack. The final push home was nice and easy, and now we have all day to clean up and get ready for the rest of the week.

DSC09185.jpgThis trip ended up being an amazing experience, as it allowed my son and I to connect and hang out with each other on an adult level. It was the first vacation we had done like this, and it ended up being really fun for both of us. Since my son is still figuring out what it is he likes/doesn’t like in a vacation, this was a great way for me to help him discover that. We kept our schedule pretty open and only had a few things penciled in throughout the entire weekend. It allowed us to shift plans and change direction quickly, which helped make the entire trip a lot more fun.

As a parent it’s fun to spend time with your adult-ish kids, and get to know the people they’re becoming. I’m hoping for other opportunities like this in the future, but despite that, this weekend is a fond memory that I’ll cherish for a long time.

Gear Review: Curt Clamp-On Bike Rack

Every since getting my pop-up trailer, I’ve had one niggling issue. I have no where to attach my bikes for traveling. My primary bike rack is a Yakima HoldUp, which is a great way to transport bikes. However, with the secondary receiver hitch that I purchased, it sticks out too far, and would impact the turning radius of the trailer. I needed something that would hold the bikes closer to the car.

A simple hanging bike rack might be a good option, but I wanted to avoid spending many hundreds of dollars for something I would only be using a few times a year. In my search I found the Curt Clamp-On Bike Rack. This is a really unique trailer bike rack that clamps on to the actual hitch, and then acts like a standard hanging rack. It clamps on close to the vehicle, which keeps the bikes close and away from the turning radius of the camper. To top it off, I got it for less than $80.

img_2929What I liked

The rack is light, and super easy to assemble. It’s easy to store on a shelf in my garage when not in use. Sliding my bike on to it was very easy, once you realized how to rotate the mounting points to the side first, and then rotating them into place. The rubber straps that attach the bike seem sturdy, and are relatively easy to attach.

The general construction of the rack is solid, and nothing felt “cheap” in any way. The straps that attach from the sides to the car, felt strong and they secured the rack solidly. The addition of little reflective ends to the bike mounting arms is a nice touch. In general the rack is what it says it is, and feels durable.

img_2928What I didn’t like

There are a couple of issues with this rack, which may actually prevent you from being able to use it. First, in order to extend the rack and secure the clamp, you have to press down in the locking mechanism. I can’t overstate this enough; this requires a great deal of downward pressure and strength. Every time I had to do this, it took all my upper body ‘oomph’ to get it to attach and click in to place. I feel like some form of screw, similar to a scissor jack, would be a lot easier to work with.

Along the same lines, removing the rack is downright scary. To release the crossbar, you need to pull out the pin securing it in place, and then pull up on a release handle. When you do, the stored energy causes the rack to slam closed, like a bear trap. It’s truly frightening and feels dangerous. Again, I feel like this is a design aspect that should be re-thought. I’ve seen pics online of people who have been scratched or poked by the slamming components.

Finally, the biggest issue with this rack is that, even without bikes on it, you had to give up access to your trunk. To get into the trunk of your car requires removing the rack completely. With how difficult and scary it is to do this, it means that you do it as infrequently as possible. This past weekend I found myself using the seat fold-down feature from inside my car to get access to gear. It was just a lot easier than having the mess with the rack.

Final thoughts

My feelings on this rack are somewhat mixed. I love the concept, and it allows me to use it with my trailer easily. It accomplishes what it says it will, despite being imperfect. I think with a couple small design tweaks, this could be a really cool rack. However, it does serve my purposes, and at less than $80, it’s what I was willing to invest in. I feel like it’s probably a good buy for situations like mine, but I wouldn’t want to use it as my only bike rack. It’s just not easy enough to work around for day-to-day use.