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Sunday, June 24, 2012

No Reservations: New Mexicoing

So, where was I?  Oh yes, the Wheeler Peak ascent...

We first stopped by Williams Lake to check out the coolness of an alpine lake at 11,040 feet.  Then we proceeded to head up the trail, nearly summiting before realizing there was suddenly no trail before us.  Something was amiss.  This mountain was too low.  If there were bushes we would have been whacking them on our way back down whatever mountain we were on.  We ran into a couple of folks who seemed to know what they were talking about and informed us that Wheeler was in fact on the other side of Williams Lake.

Oh.  Oops.

So we finished bouldering our way back down to the lake where we found the Wheeler trailhead and finally began our ascent.  It was slow going for a short bit but we found our groove and pushed on.  Breaking through tree line was breathtaking, both in the view and for the fact that it was intensely windy up there!  A gentleman asked if we had jackets because it was pretty cold and even more windy up top.  We did.  Before long, I pulled mine out and was quite happy to have the wind protection.  Over 12,000 feet I found that I felt really good.  We were slowed to a fast hike by now.  

We were greeted by throngs of marmots and very few wildflowers (I was hoping to see more flowers). Mostly it was just super rocky with sweeping views of the mountains to our right.  It was gorgeous.  I never really knew how one could find a trail through a pool of boulders, but it's actually pretty easy to do.  Just look for the flatter rocks... :)  The trail became nothing but boulders before long and was a narrow trail notched out of the side of the mountain.  As long as I didn't look to the one side I was fine. It was a looooong way down if one were to slip.  There were a couple of small pockets of snow on the way up, so I made sure to step in them just so that I could say I stood in snow in June :)

It was gorgeous way up high and as we made our way along the saddle ridge and upupup to the official peak it was amazing to look to either side and see mountain peaks spread as far as I could see.  You can apparently see Colorado from the top of Wheeler, but I hadn't a clue which direction it was, but I surely saw it :)

On top of Wheeler...mmm mmm good

Geof signing the peak register, letting folks know the GnP were there

The way down was awesome, running the whole way.  It's easier coming down, but it's still a little bit of a lung workout.  I loved it.  I didn't want it to end.  We made our way back to the truck after about an hour long descent and rustled up some grub: tortillas with spinach, turkey, havarti and salsa.  Diet Pepsi never tasted so good.

At 13,161 feet, the highest point in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak was ours.  And with around 3,400 feet of ascent in 4.5 miles I was quite pleased with the day.

Now we were sweaty and tired, and generally in need of showering.  Or at least a good hand washing.  We made our way back to Taos and the Youth and Family Center where we heard that we could pay $2.00 for a hot shower.  It was our lucky day.  We arrived two minutes after closing time, but they ushered us in anyway and let us shower for free.  Boom.  

Now we were just plain hungry.  And we were hoping to squeeze in a visit with fellow ultra runners Steve and Deb Pero before heading out of New Mexico.  Hoping it wasn't too late, I gave them a call and they were more than happy to have us over for a visit, yay!  

I forgot about this part, but on our way to Wheeler Peak we drove on the giant bridge over the Rio Grande.  I haven't seen the Grand Canyon yet, so this was pretty big to me :)   

The Rio Grande is waaaaay down there...

We also swung by the Earthship Biotecture community to check out some coolness.  The visitor center was closed when we got there, so we just walked around for a bit.  It was seriously cool.  There were a few piles of "junk" in front of some new constructions...that "junk" is what they were building the homes with.  So cool!

This was the "gate" outside the visitor center.  Those are beer and wine bottles stuck in the adobe wall.

Okay, so after our delicious free shower in Taos, we got on the road and headed for Jemez Springs and the Peros!  We stopped in Los Alamos to grab some dinner and then began the beautiful drive through the mountains to get to their house.  Around ever corner it was new scenery.  Sharp turns on steep and winding roads, soaring cobbled walls, smooth adobe walls carved by time.  Trim and naked pine trees reaching for the skies, scoured by fire in recent years.  Pine needle padded forest floor with evidence of new growth just beginning to reach up from below.  The Valles Caldera appeared seemingly out of nowhere.  That was incredible.  A flat, green, enormous expanse of land.  The trees grow up to a point and then suddenly there's nothing.  It's a volcano!  There were cows out grazing on its lush green floor and the sun was setting off in the distance.  It was picture perfect.

The Peros were amazing hosts and we enjoyed some of Steve's delicious home brews and Deb's homemade pico de gallo as we sat around the living room chatting and catching up.  It was awesome to meet Deb finally and to get to know the Peros some more.  Kevin Z. was a new face and we enjoyed getting to know him as well.  We'll soon be neighbors as he's just relocated to Salt Lake as well!  Yay for new ultra running friends!  While we had intended to just camp somewhere in the area (there were a number of awesome campsites along the way) the Peros invited us to crash at their place for the night.  It was great to sleep in a comfy bed!  Deb even made us breakfast burritos in the morning and Kevin whipped up some lattes for us.  Sheesh, we were so spoiled!  We are super grateful for the hospitality and had such a ridiculously good time with them.  Thank you Peros!!

Steve had to work early, but we wrangled Deb for a photo before we left :)

After leaving the Peros, we began to make our way to Albuquerque, with another trail in mind.  But first we stopped in downtown Jemez Springs to get another cup of coffee at Highway 4 Coffee and to stop in and see some of Deb's work at the gallery.  

Per Rob Corson's and the Peros' suggestion, we were making our way to the La Luz Trail, on Sandia Peak.  We'd heard a fair bit about it and knew it was supposed to be pretty difficult.  We were pumped.

We arrived at the base of the mountain, at the lower tram, around 12:30.  It was HOT with full sun.  After being warned by more than a few people ("You want to run UP and then tram down?" "Yes."  Most people do it the other way around...you're gonna need A LOT of water.") we filled up our hydration packs, grabbed some food and began the climb.  Of course, we didn't realize we had to take a 2.3 mile approach trail just to get to the actual La Luz trail.  This section was completely exposed and rolling/climbing a fair bit.  Holy crap it was hot.  We were both a little crestfallen by the time we made it to the trailhead, but we pushed on nonetheless.  There was no way I was going back through that garbage in that heat :)  I'd rather climb.

What a treat the trail was!  It goes through four different "zones" so you get a variety of terrain and trail flavors.  The Canadian zone was my favorite: steep, rocky, aspeny, piney, and a much cooler temp. 

A trail with a view:

The Sandia Mountains are known for these spindly things...very cool looking in person

That's Albuquerque down below

I felt a little rough from the previous day's climb up Wheeler, and my breathing was a little off, but eventually I found a groove, somewhere near the top :)  It was really amazing how much the trail changed from bottom to top.  Nature is freaking cool.  We reached about 10,200, where you can either continue to the crest of the mountain, or head to the tramway, about a mile or so away along the ridge.  Geof was out of water and I was completely trashed by now so we opted to head for the tramway instead of bagging the peak.  We topped out at 10,378 feet and 9 miles (3,775 of ascent) and as we made our way down the side of the mountain on the tram my legs began to stiffen and revolt.  Whew, I was wiped!!  I'm glad we opted not to run down.  I would have had to have my legs surgically removed.

After La Luz, we stopped at Trader Joe's (the biggest TJs I have EVER seen!!) for salad fixins and ice then headed to the other side of the Sandia range to a little campground, Turquoise Trail Campground.  Luckily they had plenty of space and we cozied up to a lovely little spot nestled in the trees.  It was clean, quiet, a touch rustic, and had great bathrooms!  I love classy restrooms :)

The next day we decided to get fancy and hung out at Napoli Coffee in Albuquerque to catch up on all things e-mail and Facebook :)  The coffee was SO GOOD and the proprietors were fantastic peeps.  Two thumbs up Napoli.

Before heading out of town, we stopped in Old Town Albuquerque to be touristy and grab some lunch.  

Next up: beautiful Flagstaff, AZ :)

Paige, out.

Monday, June 18, 2012

No Reservations: Westward Bound

**  I'm realizing how much I have to include in these posts so I'm having to break them up more than I originally intended to.  I've gotten a little camera- and word-happy here folks :)  **

So, the sex change capital of the world, and the location of our first campsite out west, was in lovely Trinidad, Colorado.  Funny little factoid that we got a kick out of.  Of course, HappyTrails and Alene got this one right immediately :)

Trinidad was a pretty cute little hub with a lot of life and activity when we rolled into town.  We picked Trinidad Lake State Park very arbitrarily as our first campsite and landed a sweet little spot.  Our tent tucked perfectly down in a grove of evergreens.  It was quiet, clean, and close to the bathrooms (which rocked, BTW; they were cleaner than some home bathrooms I've been in...).

There was even an electrical hook-up, so we plugged in our Christmas lights.  Geof got a nice fire going, too, so we were pretty well lit :)

Camping out west, and up high, has some serious benefits, not the least of which is no bugs and no humidity.  Talk about restful sleep!  It's the little things, like not waking up in a pool of sweat, that make life so wonderful.

A tent with a view...

We invested in a couple of extremely awesome sleeping pads for this trip, and they've already more than paid for themselves.  They are the REI Camp Bed 3.5 XL.  I highly recommend these to anyone looking to do some car camping or even to replace an air mattress.  They rock.  It was even better because we got them on sale.  I do not recommend them for backpacking, though, as they do not pack small and they're heavy, even when deflated.  I digress... :)

Trinidad Lake State Park has a nice little network of trails around it so we partook and enjoyed ourselves some thin air and altitude for breakfast the next morning.

Prickly pear flowers!

We huffed and puffed through the run, making our way along a super technical trail around a cliff that encircled the lake, then down into Reilly Canyon and back up the other side.  It was hot and the sun was beating down on us most of the way.  We realized very quickly we were going to need to let go of mileage/time once we were out west permanently.  It's all about vertical and time on feet out here because you aren't getting super high mileage right off the bat since the air is so thin and there's so much cool stuff to climb!  

So that was fun.  We ate some granola and yogurt then packed it up and moved it out of there.  Our next destination was Taos, New Mexico.  We'd heard a lot about it and were curious to see what the buzz was.  Campsites are first-come first-served in most places so we decided to pick a site before we dug into Taos.  After a 3-4 hour drive we pulled into the Rio Bravo Campground, in Pilar, NM, about 15 miles south of Taos and along the Rio Grande.  The camp host there helped us scope a site that was about to be vacated and while we waited for the party to leave, we chatted it up with this fine fellow.  What an interesting dude!  He gave us some ideas for running, and how to build an adobe house, and planted the seed of running up to the highest point in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak.  Well, that sounded fun :)  Good thing we met this guy, otherwise we would have just run the mountain bike trails across from our campsite, which was just lovely by the way:
The Rio Grande was just behind the bushes there.  Another quiet and clean campsite, but considerably more rustic than our spot in Trinidad, CO

We took the advice of a super nice volunteer at the Taos Visitor's Center and headed to Taos Outback Pizza for dinner.  The restaurant is tucked back off the main road (hence "outback") and had plenty of outdoor seating so we grabbed a picnic table and admired all the customer crayon art on the walls, plotting out what we wanted to add to the mural.  We ordered a rockin' goat cheese pizza and quenched our thirst on some Santa Fe brews.  Fantastic little spot.

Mmmm, food cooked by someone else and on a real table that wasn't the tailgate of our truck :)

We decided to leave a simple signature on the wall before we left:

The Summer of...

The next day we drove up to the Taos Ski Valley, grabbed some coffee at Taos Cow in Arroya Seco, NM, and commenced with the running of Wheeler Peak.  (By the way, Taos Cow introduced me to the caffeinated genius of the dirty chai tea latte: espresso and chai, married in steamed milk.  I was tickled pink to learn of this invention and now I'll never go back to plain chai.)

So, with that, to Wheeler Peak we headed...!

Paige, out.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No Reservations: Midwestern Meander

Thursday night, May 31...it all began.

We got home late from work...who works late on their last day ever?!  We do :)  After putting the finishing touches on the apartment and put the final bag into the back of the truck, we were finally off, headed for Wisconsin to spend time with Geof's dad and stepmom.  Wisconsin was completely relaxing and, as always, a great time.  We stayed through Tuesday morning, and in the meantime we also made our way over to La Grange, WI to hang out and watch the Kettle Moraine 100.  It was a beautiful day and probably record great weather for that race.  

Showing the Brelly our set-up in the back of the truck

We ate a few meals at our favorite place in southern Wisconsin...the La Grange General Store

Our first night sleeping in the truck was a mild success.  Not bad, but not 100% ideal.  We parked in the Nordic parking lot so that we could roll out of bed in the morning and watch the finish of the race, so there was a fair bit of noise throughout the night.  Lesson learned :)  Otherwise, it was pretty comfortable! We put our self-inflating camp beds in the bed of the truck, made our bed, shut the tailgate and that was that.  Of course, if helped that most of our stuff was back at the Dunmore's house and we didn't have to jostle a bunch of stuff around  :)

After watching the last of the runners cross the finish line, we headed back to Janesville, got in a few great speedy runs along the bike path in town, caught a triple A baseball game in Beloit (complete with hot dogs and cheap beer).

Geof and his dad worked on the lock on the tailgate (and fixed it!!)...

Then we headed downtown to watch a show put on by the Rock Aqua Jays...my first water ski show since I was a little tot and it was really cool!

Tuesday morning we packed up, said our goodbyes and then headed south to spend the evening with two of my sisters down in Bloomington, IL.  I gave Geof the grand tour of my alma mater, Illinois State University, and even was able to get down to the student radio station I worked for all through college.  A stroll down memory lane :)  I spent A LOT of time in that station.

Back at Holms and Conan's house, Holms whipped up a fantastic dinner of BLTs with avocado and a crazy delicious goat cheese and tomato salad...

My sister has a bit of a green thumb...plants are everywhere!


Wednesday afternoon we packed up again and headed for Clinton, IA to spend time with more family.  We took Geof's grandparents out for dinner at the surprisingly awesome Candlelight Inn on the Mississippi River.  Delicious, great company, and a fantastic spot on the outdoor patio.  We then ate our weight in carrot cake and homemade ice cream at Geof's mom and stepdad's house :)

Thursday afternoon, we finally hit the road and headed west!

We didn't have a plan at first, but we knew we wanted to end up in Flagstaff before heading to Salt Lake City by the 14th, so we aimed the truck in that general direction.

Due to a slight lack of planning on our part, we ended up delirious and badly in need of sleep around midnight, deep in the bowels of western Kansas...i.e. the land of no rest stops, "wide load" trucks, and slaughter houses.  I was reaching crazy laugh status quickly, and we eyed everything as a potential sleep spot.  We finally pulled into the dark parking lot of the Kingman Community Hospital around 1:00 in the morning, put the sunshade in the windshield, reclined our seats and slept like kings until about 5:00 a.m.  A couple of coffees from a Casey's General Store up the road, and a quick teeth brushing and we were outta there.  Blech!

We wanted to check out Greensburg, KS to see the town that was leveled by a tornado earlier in the decade and re-built as a "green" town.  It was okay...not quite what their website made them out to be, but still a neat place to see, however verrrrrry small and still in the re-building phase.

After Greensburg, we headed for Dodge City, KS.  I lovelovelove cowboy tales and the old west and this place completely tickled me.  We toured the Boot Hill Museum, watched a gunfight reenactment,  and roamed the replica Main Street for a short while, which is a living exhibit.  It was awesome!!

Geof walking down Main Street at the Boot Hill Museum.  All he needed were his cowboy boots and Stetson :)

After satiating my old west craving, we saddled up and made the final descent out of the Midwest and into the real West...and set up camp in a beautiful little state park in the sex change capital of the world.  Can you guess which town we were in?

Paige, out.

Friday, June 1, 2012

No Reservations: Beginnings

This is hard. 

It's scary.  It's wildly intimidating.  It's like jumping into dark water unable to see the bottom and unsure when or if you'll hit it (who jumps into dark water? that's creepy!).  Think of standing on the edge of a cliff, looking down, waaaaay down to the water and then jumping after a countdown (countdowns always make me more nervous, and then I can't do it).  You hope you land safely, and most likely you will, but there's a chance you might not.  It's like that. 

It's like walking through an obstacle course blindfolded. 

But at least we have our arms free.

Our arms, heart, minds, and our legs; they are free and we have absolutely No Reservations!

Literally, we don't have any reservations, except for a hotel in June for a wedding.  But seriously, that's it.  Everything else...will fly by the seat of our pants.

This here mini-series of posts will aim to chronicle the journey that Geof and I are about to take.  We aren't just taking a long vacation and then returning to the grind.  We are leaving it pretty much all behind and just making it happen.  We are jumping the tracks, as Chuck said in a note on a prevous post. 

I'd like to call this here new series on Serious Case of the Runs: No Reservations

Thoughts and photos from the open road...

...and, of course, the trail.  I want to capture all the good stuff, the not-so-good stuff and everything in between.  I want to remember this experience always and I want to share it with our future someday, too.  I joke about saying one day, "Kids, did I ever tell you about the time your father and I spent the summer touring the country in that old truck and then moved 1700 miles away because it felt right?"  One day.  And, it's not a joke, it's f'real.

It's a slight break from the usual here on Serious Case of the Runs, but not by much.  There will still be plenty of running banter, because, let's face it, that's just who I am.  And hopefully we can jump in on a couple of races if the timing works out.  Otherwise we'll mostly be preparing our legs and lungs for their new home at a much higher elevation (Utah is "Life Elevated"), flanked by gorgeous peaks and canyons.  So fear not, I am still here :)

No Reservations: Beginnings

I ask myself constantly, 'is this a good idea?', 'should we stay? It would be so much easier,' 'what if I don't get into school?', 'what if we can't find jobs?', 'what if we can't find fresh kale anywhere?', and most of all, 'what are we going to do without Trader Joe's?!'  (That last one keeps me awake at night.  We are Trader Joe fiends.  Like f'real.  Goodbye delicious and cheap almond butter, goodbye crumbled goat cheese, goodbye multigrain pilaf in the microwavable bag, goodbye...*SIGH*)

But life goes on once I get through each question and realize this one thing: Everything always works out.  It's just a matter of how that "works out" with what you had envisioned.  So it's a good reminder to be flexible.  Be mindful, and be thankful.  Thankful that we are in the position to make this kind of change, to take the summer off, to move somewhere beautiful and amazing, to not feel stuck on the tracks.  Disgustingly thankful.

And I just have a really, really good feeling about all of it.

The night before the big move, over Memorial Day weekend, the entire apartment packed neatly in boxes and crammed into the living room...

...I walked into the bedroom to grab something and out of habit flipped the switch to turn the lights on, but nothing happened.  Oh, that's right, we even packed the lights already.  It suddenly hit me and I stood there frozen for a moment...  We sat on the couch eating ice cream out of our camping bowls, no TV on as it was already packed, and I suddenly started crying/laughing; that sort of crazy sounding combination.  I was happy, but holy crap I was also really sad..."I tried to turn on the lights, but they're already packed...and I already miss it here and we haven't even left!! ...and who cries while eating ice cream?!?"  I was overcome by this intense melancholy and in the same instant I wanted Geof to call my bluff so we could unpack everything and return to life as we knew it, but at the same time I wanted to just leave it all behind, hop in the truck and get the hell outta Dodge.   It was a strange and confusing set of feelings, but expected all the same.

It was really happening.  Finally.

Packing up the moving truck the next day with Geof and two of my brothers I didn't give myself a chance to let anything else sink in; there was just too much to do.  And suddenly things looked like this...

We ate dinner on our last night in the apartment by the light of an old set 
of Christmas lights.  Livin' the rock star life :)

We hit the road and continued on for nearly 28 hours.  Through the flat congestion of Illinois, rolling pastoral farmland of Iowa, the wind tunnel that is Nebraska and Wyoming, and finally made it to our new home state, coasting mightily from Evanston, Wyoming all the way into Salt Lake City, Utah.  

We made it.

The evening before we vacated Chicago for good, we headed to Logan Square to meet up with some of my family at Dunlay's on the Square.  We sat around a huge table in the middle of the pub, 10-12 of us in all, with about 15 different conversations going simultaneously, kids playing Go Fish at one end, an animated speech by my older brother at the other end, playing musical chairs around the table throughout the night as conversations evolved and changed...it was pure chaos, purely Troelstrup, purely my family as I've always known it.  And I loved it.  

It was a good reminder: that life isn't about the work-a-day, about where you live or what you do, how much you make, or what you own.  It's about doing what you love, making it happen rather than waiting for it to happen, and, above all, family.

I'm going to miss my family so much, but luckily we're not too far away :)  And our Salt Lake family awaits with open arms.

Let the adventure begin!

Paige, out.

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