Westbound: Moab, Utah

Stephen and I took our time getting out of Zion before making our way to Moab.

springdale to moab

I instantly fell in love with the town. It’s bigger than Springdale (outside Zion) and Tusayan (outside Grand Canyon), which meant better prices, more shopping, and utter cuteness. I also loved that the Colorado River cut right through it. I seem to have developed a slight river obsession. The idea that a peaceful river flow can create the immensity of the Grand Canyon is inspiring. Talk about persistence.

Arches National Park

delicate arch

Arches is perfect for 1 full day, which is how much time we spent there. Our first stop was the iconic Delicate Arch. This hike was billed as strenuous, but it was nothing compared to what we faced in Zion. There was a bit of crawling up slick rocks, but at no point did I feel unsafe. I think it helped that we never really got too high. We made it back to our car still early in the day, and I decided to brave the other strenuous hike at Arches: Double O.

On Rock Fin. we had to climb up and down this thing to get to the remote Doulble O Arch.

On Rock Fin. we had to climb up and down this thing to get to the remote Double O Arch.

The first mile gets you out to Landscape Arch and is very easy. From there, however, it gets dicey. There is a lot of slick rock and scrambling. The arch at the end wasn’t all that impressive. (I heard a little girl saying, “Dad, I’m underwhelmed, very underwhelmed,” haha!), but this was one of the hikes that made me feel impressed with myself. I took on the slick rock and I scrambled with the best of them. Between Double O and Delicate, we hiked nearly 8 miles. By then, the heat was getting unbearable. Stephen and I took a reprieve until sunset when we returned to check out what’s known as the Window Section.

Here we enjoyed Double Arch, North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch. We also made friends with another couple. The husband happened to be a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel! How bout that? We said goodbye to Arches (and our new friends) at sundown after having hiked more than 10 miles that day.

arches

Canyonlands National Park

Instead of waking at the crack of dawn like most other days, we opted to be a little lazy on our Canyonlands day. I think the total miles plus the heat were taking a toll on both Stephen and me. Our gung-ho attitude had faded into “meh.” Still, we managed to eventually make the 30 minute drive to Canyonlands. This part is huge and is made up of three large sections: Island in the Sky, The Maze, and Needles. We stuck with Island in the Sky being that it was closest to Moab. It seems like the hikes here are either very short and easy or very long and difficult without much middle ground.

Our first interesting stop was Upheaval Dome.

upheaval

Was it formed by a meteor or the salt from a former ocean? Scientists are divided. I vote meteor just because it’s more scandalous. Visitors have the option of hiking all the way around the dome, but we did the short out and back to the overlook instead.

From there, we stopped to look at the River. Both the Colorado and Green rivers are visible from the park. We didn’t get to see the spot where they converge, but apparently that’s a kickass whitewater spot. Finally, we made another short trek to Mesa Arch.

mesa arch

This spot is really known for its beauty at morning. After spending a day at Arches, it wasn’t quite as special. Perhaps that was just my exhaustion speaking. We spent only a few hours at Canyonlands and hiked only 2 miles. I think we would have enjoyed it more if we hadn’t been at the end of our trip. I mean, how can these canyons compare to the Grand Canyon? I thought it was beautiful, but I wish I would have had more energy.

Birthday Celebration!

birthday

Our day spent at Canyonlands also happened to be Stephen’s 30 birthday! We couldn’t let the day pass without a little celebrating. We got ourselves a little cleaned up, and headed out to a swanky resort 14 miles up the Colorado River. Even though the food was just okay, the atmosphere was perfect. We got to stare out at the river, red cliffs, and green grass for the entire meal. Before heading into town for some froyo, we checked out what was dubbed the “John Wayne Museum” in the basement of the restaurant. It was really more like a gallery with pictures and movie posters from everything filmed in the area. It was a fun end to the day for my John Wayne fan nonetheless.

The view from our dinner table.

The view from our dinner table.

We had planned to spend another day in Moab, but both of us were just too tired to make it worth it. After going over every single option we could think of, Stephen and I decided to travel halfway home.

Next stop: Albuquerque, New Mexico.

4th of July 5k race Recap

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blogging to give you a race recap! And to wish all of you a very happy and safe Fourth of July. This used to be one of those holidays that I was all “meh” about. In the last few years, however, I’ve changed my tune. The 4th is one of my favorite. (No pressure to buy the perfect gift, beautiful fireworks, and all the summer foods I can eat. Sign me up!) This time last year, Stephen was in Afghanistan. This time three years ago, he had just come home from his first deployment.

Gratuitous welcome home picture from 2012.

Gratuitous welcome home picture from 2012.

When my alarm went off at 5 am, I let Stephen keep sleeping as I tip-toed out of the bedroom.

The Up and Running 4th of July Run starts at 7:04 on the dot (so appropriate, right?). That meant leaving my house before the sun came up to make it across town. I had plenty of time, and got to spend a good half hour chatting with my Wear Blue buddies.

wear blue

Jennifer, seated, just came back from a DENTAC deployment to the Pacific! Welcome home, Jennifer!

My hope for the race was to beat last year’s time of 25:30. With marathon training, I’ve been doing lots of speed work (read: 2x a week). However, I didn’t consider the fact that I haven’t been doing much (read: zero) hill work. I guess I tend to be a greedy ambitious runner. If I’m racing, I want to place or PR. My 5k PR of 24:21 is 3 years old (!), and I haven’t come close to it since the day that I earned it. (Maybe I was body snatched during the race.) Yet some part of me thought that maybe I could go sub 25 today.

Mile 1: 8:08

After a stirring rendition of the National Anthem and the countdown to begin, I took off like the dickens. I mean, I hauled my cookies like nobody’s business. It took me a quarter of a mile to realize I had probably gone out too fast as I was hitting a 7:00/mile pace. That will only lead to crashing and burning. I tried to reign it in to as near to 8:00 as I could. Of course, then the hills appeared. Some of the people I had passed in the initial starting sprint had already passed me right back. I knew I wouldn’t PR, and I doubted I could even beat last year’s time.

002

Mile 2: 8:16

I ran a little slower, but I actually felt good during this mile. Perhaps because it has more of the downhill.🙂 I even walked a bit to hit the water stop before I continued on. I have yet to master the ability to run and drink, and I needed that water! It was actually cooler out this morning than I anticipated. It didn’t even make it to 80 while I was on the course. The cloud cover was a nice touch too, but that means humidity – my nemesis! 50% humidity plus hills = way more challenging than I was prepared for.

Mile 3: 8:26

I’m convinced that the final mile of any 5k is mental. I repeated over and over in my head “One more good mile. Just one more good mile.” I also used this time to puzzle over the fact that my half PR was on a hilly course. How did I do that? I felt like I was sucking, but I was still passing people. I thought I might have been going fast enough to at least beat my time on the course, but I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t quite seem to figure out the math – all my brain power was going toward convincing myself not to quit.

finish

The final .25 is uphill (damn hills!). I gave all I had left and ended up with final .1 at a 7:26 pace.

My stats:

  • 3.1 mile finish time: 25:17
  • Average pace: 8:09

13 seconds faster than last year and good enough for 4th in my age group. I was immediately disappointed. I feel like I’m faster than I was last year, and I worked a lot harder than “just” 13 seconds faster. Alas, the clock doesn’t lie. Stephen reminded me when I got home that my goal isn’t a 5k PR; it’s a marathon PR. #Truth. The next race I run will probably be the 10 Miler in the Heat, another repeat race. Once again I’m going to aim to beat my time from last year. I’ve got plenty more marathon training between now and then to prepare me. But I’m keeping my eye on the real goal: Twin Cities.

I want to once again wish everyone the happiest of holidays. Thank you to all those who have fought for our freedom. If your loved one is in harm’s way, know that I see you and I’m praying for you.

Westbound: Zion National Park

We said adios to the Grand Canyon at dawn, and hightailed it to Zion.

tusayan to springdale

We had big plans to camp, but all the reserved sites at Zion were booked up. That meant we had to arrive as early as possible to see if there was space available at the first-come locations. Even though we made it through the park gates at a time we thought was pretty early – 10 am – it took forever to actually get to the dang park! The road winds back and forth down thousands of feet before you get to the good stuff. When we pulled up to the tent camping site 45 minutes later, it was all snatched up. In a very un-us moment, Stephen and I drove from hotel to hotel looking for vacancy. We got turned away at a few places before landing on a La Quinta in the center of town. I didn’t really like Springdale, the town at the edge of Zion. The prices are ridiculous, customer service sucks, the buses aren’t as good as at Grand Canyon, it feels like everything takes forever to get to. Still, the beauty of Zion is undeniable and it’s worth putting up with all the other stuff.

The drive into Zion.

The drive into Zion.

The Narrows

We had two full days at Zion, and we opted to participate in two big hikes. The first was The Narrows. The trail is a slot canyon following the Virgin River for miles. Much of it is in the water in varying depths and on slippery rocks. After the 40 minute bus ride from the visitor’s center to the trailhead at the Temple of Sinawava, we were anxious to get started.

Here we go!

Here we go!

Visitors have the option of hiking all the way down the river over the course of two days, but it requires a permit. Only 6 are granted in advance and 6 more the day before. We were pretty tempted, but instead did the round trip known as “Bottom Up.” We started early and with a handful of other hikers. As the day went on, it got more and more crowded. I didn’t mind so much as I felt safer with so many other people around. (Other than a rowdy group of boys that were throwing rocks and jumping into the water raucously.)

The water was a cool 60 degrees. It was a little jarring at first, but once we got moving, it felt refreshing. The canyon, being mostly in shade, is also relatively cool. I was wearing a new pair of pants that zip off at the knee. It turned out, they were water-resistant pants! How convenient! The trail, even though it’s nice and flat, is really slow going. I took care to be cautious on all the slippery parts. Even with my walking stick, which is strongly recommended for this hike, it was tough. Stephen and I stopped a few hours in to eat the lunches we had packed. It was so nice to sit in this narrow canyon on a dry rock eating my PB&J. After lunch, we pressed on. My favorite part was a section of deep water. It was as high as my shoulders, forcing me to swim-walk briefly with my backpack floating behind me.

narrows1

Bottom Up hikers are only allowed to go 5 miles before needing to turn around. There was no way to know how far we had gone, though. My Garmin was useless in the canyon, and there weren’t any kind of markers. We ended up hiking out for 4 hours before turning around and heading back. The sun was now overhead and beaming through in lots of places. The closer we got back to the beginning, the more crowded it was. Apparently, lots of families with small kids just hike up a mile or two and hang out and play. The return trip was a bit faster, and our total time was 7 hours and 15 minutes. I have no idea if we went 10 miles or not.

As soon as Stephen and I got out of the water, we were hot, hot, hot. The wait for the bust and 40 minute ride back felt forever long. It was heavenly to get back to the hotel and shower!

Observation Point

Even after our exhausting day at The Narrows, we decided we couldn’t miss the chance to hike Observation Point. We had originally planned to hike Angels Landing, but after talking to a park ranger, we set our sights on Observation Point. It’s higher, going up 2,000 feet, and significantly less traveled. Stephen and I would guess that we saw maybe 50 people total in the five and a half hours we spent on the hike – by far the least busy of anywhere we went on the entire trip.

Only a mile in, on a flat portion. We saw another couple coming down and they graciously took our photo!

Only a mile in, on a flat portion. We saw another couple coming down and they graciously took our photo!

The trail is extremely steep (it has to be to get you up that high!) but instead of gravel, it’s mostly stone. Thankfully, I felt completely confident in my hiking shoes. The hike varied between shade and sun. Just when I would feel like I couldn’t take the heat any more, we’d turn a corner and find some shade or a nice breeze. I was patting myself on the back for all the water I drank. It was easy to forget to drink in The Narrows because of the cool water and shade. This hike, not so much.

The view from the top of Observation Point is unmatched.

The top!

The top!

We spent a good hour at the top enjoying the view, shooing away the chipmunks, eating lunch, re-applying sunscreen, and working up the nerve to go back down. I had been taking note all the way up of the places that I knew would frighten me on the way down. I definitely had some shaky legs. The first mile took me forever. I figured going slow was my best option, and I tried not to look over the edge. Halfway down I was finally able to exhale and woosh through the final miles. We clocked more than 8 miles total on the hike. I felt pretty badass (and sweaty!) by the time we were back safe at the bottom.

Next up: Moab, Utah for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks!