International Wolf Center

I’ve always wanted to visit the northern Minnesota town of Ely. As a kid I knew plenty of people who went up north to the BWCA, but I never had a huge interest in camping until later in life. So I had never been to this part of the state. This past weekend the wife and I headed up to experience Ely in a typical Minnesota winter, and it’s been a great trip.

One of the key attractions for Ely is the International Wolf Center. This is an organization that does wolf research, and helps to educate folks on wolves in general. They also try to contribute to the difficult discussion around wolves and agriculture, which are issues that we simply don’t think about that much in the cities.

We visited the center early in the day on Saturday and got to hear a presentation about the ambassador wolves at the center, as well as see a couple of them sleeping in their enclosure. However, we knew that to truly see them we’d want to come back at 7pm for the Saturday evening feeding.

Sure enough, as soon as we arrived on Saturday night all four wolves were running around and getting excited about their upcoming meal, as well as all the people watching them. These wolves have been raised in captivity and so they’re very comfortable around humans. They can see inside the building and would often come up to the glass to look at what we were all doing.

There was a presentation on how wolves hunt and eat, and then the main attraction was the depositing of a road kill deer carcass into the enclosure. Sure enough they started chowing down right away. I managed to get a bunch of cool shots before and during the feeding. I’ve put them together in an album over on SmugMug.

https://swiftphotography.smugmug.com/Exploration/International-Wolf-Center/

If you’re in the Ely area, this is certainly worth a stop. It’s a great facility, and getting to see wolves up close is really cool.

An unexpected adventure

This past week didn’t turn out quite the way that I had planned. After we got done with our race, I got sick. We were supposed to fly out to Vegas on Friday for my wife’s birthday, but I wasn’t sure I’d be up for the trip. Plus, a large snowstorm was moving in, and was threatening to cancel or delay flights.

Friday came and I was on the fence about going, however at the last minute I decided that I wanted to be with my wife on her birthday so I would go. That’s when all the trouble began. Because I had been ‘stuffed up’ I had issues with my left ear upon landing. When we got on the ground it wouldn’t pop, and within a couple of hours it was in excruciating pain. We went to an Emergency Room and they confirmed that I burst blood vessels along my ear drum, but that I didn’t rupture it. It would be sore and damaged for a while.

img_0666At this point I knew that flying back home would be a bad idea because it would put me at high risk of rupture of my eardrum. Thus began the planning for how I would get home without an airplane. At first I thought about just renting a car and driving the whole way in about 3 days. I would want to take the southern route through Albuquerque and Kansas City, since driving through the Colorado Rockies in January didn’t sound like a great idea. It would also mean I’d need to leave pretty early on Sunday morning.

Another option presented itself when I looked at Amtrak. They had a shuttle service that would bring me to Kingman, AZ where I would catch the Southwest Chief to Kansas City. There I would then rent a car and drive the final 6.5 hours home. Because it would involve two overnights, I opted for the more expensive sleeper car. This seemed like the best option as well, because it meant I could stick around until Sunday night before heading out.

img_0675As it turns out, sticking around on Sunday was a good idea. I started feeling a bit worse on Sunday, and when I happened to check my throat it was blazing red and covered in white spots. We headed over to an urgent care, where the nurse practitioner first looked in my damaged ear. She informed me that my ear was infected, and when she looked at my throat she didn’t even bother to take a swab. Since she was giving me an antibiotic for my ear, it would take care of both.

On Sunday night I boarded the van, which took me to the train. The train arrived and I immediately went to bed. I got some fitful sleep, but boarding a train at 2am is never a recipe for a restful night. The next day was spent relaxing and taking it easy. I did some work on a future race idea, and cleaned up some stuff from SC40. I managed a little bit better sleep on the second night, but because the train was heading east I was losing hours to the timezone changes as we went.

img_0691At 6:30am on Tuesday we arrived at Kansas City. I then boarded a bus to take me to the car rental place for the drive home. Thankfully, the drive home from KC is incredibly simple. Within a mile of the car rental agency I was on Interstate 35 heading north. That’s about it. Just keep heading up 35. I listened to a bunch of podcasts, and tried to not eat too much gas station junk food. I arrived at the airport within ten minutes of my wife landing so that we could hop in our own car and finally get home.

The one upside is that I’ve also gotten to see a ton of amazing landscape, from tall mountains to wide open plains. Some areas have snow, while others are bone dry and yellow. This has been a nice perk of traveling this way, as I can simply absorb the landscape. If this had been the plan for how we were going to travel it probably would have been more enjoyable, but I tried to make the best of it all.

Now for some time in my own bed.

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.