A big change!

I’ll always be a truck driver, but for now, we’re gonna try a little something different.

So! I think my last post was in November of 2020 or something insanely too long ago like that. Why? A lot has been going on. I will certainly wade through all the weeds about that as we go along in this post, even getting into some pretty personal stuff, but if you’ve read any of my stuff, I’m not super-shy. But for now. The big change is that I accepted a new position with Midwest Carriers as a Marketer/Recruiter and I’m currently transitioning from Venus (my semi truck) to OFFICE life! Say WHAT!?

The decision: The decision to “get out of the truck” didn’t start with just wanting to not be over the road any more. In fact, I didn’t really want to get out of the truck. I love OTR (over the road trucking). It was a process that actually took a few months, and a lot happened to scoot me along into this decision. A super-brief prequel to the decision is this (I’m lying, it’s a long explanation, but this is the platform for me to do that, so bear with me!): Right when Covid starting locking stuff down in 2020, Adam had plans to start looking for full-time work after taking some off for his mental health. But not many places were hiring, in fact most places were laying people off and everything was unsteady and messy. I don’t need to remind you what that was like! Anyway, he decided to jump in the truck with me as a team driver again, because, well, trucking wasn’t going to be slowing down. We had to keep those tires rolling, especially since Midwest Carriers hauls a lot of reefer, aka refrigerated, freight – think food at your local grocery store. Nope, that couldn’t slow down and wasn’t going anywhere! So through the entire pandemic, it was business as usual (with the addition to masks, gallons of sanitizer, laser beams on our foreheads and more no-contact-with-people at shippers and receivers, which actually made things smoother in some cases!). But we rolled on. We teamed back up in the truck. And that went alright. For a while.

Then Adam had a mental breakthrough while we were out on the road. I think this happened sometime in January of 2021. It was an intense moment that made it clear he needed to get out of the truck. When it happened, I was sleeping in the bunk, and he woke me up and I worked on keeping him calm so he could get safely pulled over onto the shoulder. He put on his 4-ways, pulled the brakes and we crawled into the bunk together and he just broke. I don’t know how else to describe it. I’ve never seem him cry the way he did that night. It was something primal. It was incredibly sad, but also relieving in a strange way because he was allowing himself to feel something that he’s been holding inside for way, way too long. We got ourselves together so we could safely finish out our trip, but that was it. It started with him taking some time off and getting into therapy. Once in therapy, we realized that this wasn’t going to be a quick deal, so he softly quit, and I kept rolling solo again to keep the bills paid.

He received some diagnoses at the start of his therapy sessions – Tourette’s syndrome (just light tics like head and eye twitches – he doesn’t have Coprolalia, which is the term for folks with Tourette’s that can randomly speak in vulgar language. In fact only 10 percent of Tourette’s sufferers have Coprolalia), OCD and PTSD (in addition to past diagnoses of depression and anxiety). The PTSD that aligns more with him is actually a different version than what we’re usually used to hearing about when someone comes home from war, a major car accident, an assault, or any other very traumatic event. The type of PTSD he seems to be aligning more with is called CPTSD, or Complex PTSD. CPTSD sufferers have similar symptoms, but are caused from a prolonged exposure to trauma, like over several years.

In my own true style, this is the long story of this big change. But hang in there, I’m getting around to it.

So at this point, now Adam is at home, going to therapy (but not as much as he’d like to be going), and I’m over the road working. He’s having some okay days and some really bad days. There are days where he doesn’t get out of bed, and there are days he’s very angry and there are some days where he’s working WAY harder than most of us have to just to get through a day. And getting a list of typical day-to-day things accomplished feels near impossible. He’s broken. He’s depressed. And he’s at home. Alone. See where I’m going with this?

I got a really long text from him on one of his particularly bad days that concerned me. When I received it I just happened to be in an unusual situation at a shipper far, far away in South Carolina. I couldn’t call him right away, but as soon as I had a chance, I gave him a call to be sure he was okay and we talked for a good 45 minutes until we both felt he’d be alright. That was a rough day. And now that I think about it, that might have actually been the day that the thought of wanting to be home more got into my head. I just wanted to be there to hold him, hug him and help him. And I couldn’t. I felt like I had to just keep working, and so that’s what I was doing to help the situation. That’s all I could do to help. That’s what I had to do to help. It was necessary to make money for us both, but it didn’t exactly feel like the right kind of help. I was stuck.

Over the next month or two, I started to notice my tolerance for typical day-to-day trucker things like traffic, construction, time away from home, and long days was lowering. Little by little I found myself getting more easily frustrated and angry. This wasn’t like me. I felt like I was heading down a path I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to be the disgruntled, angry, road-ragey trucker. And normally I could apply some techniques to help me through this, but I struggled to find anything that would work. I couldn’t seem to kick myself out of this cycle. I was distracted. My mind and my heart was at home.

Time for change. Sometimes life requires things to get shook.

The decision took a hard hold one day when I was just cruising down the road, listening to a podcast. A girl was being interviewed and told a story about how her and her husband got a divorce early on in their marriage, when they were still in love. They had one of those big conversations about future goals, realized they both wanted to go in different directions and were pretty passionate about those differing directions, and decided to divorce to purse their separate dreams. She talked about how it was heartbreaking, but in the end was the best decision ever, because instead of pushing through and eventually maybe resenting each other, they separated while they still cared for each other. Now they support one another and are great friends. I think I hit pause and just stared out my window as the world flew by me at 63 miles per hour for a good long while. I thought about that girl’s story in relation to my job as an over-the-road trucker. I loved being an OTR driver. If I left the job, there were so many things I’d miss. But I could also leave it while I still loved it. And that felt… well, kind of right. I’ve always told myself if I have things to miss, it also means I have things I passionately care about and love, and that’s really a special thing. Missing something or someone can hurt, but it also means there is a deep love there. So I started to let the thought enter my head, “what if I broke up with trucking while I still love it?” I’m not gonna lie, the thought hit me in the feels hard, and I cried.

It was time. I was stressed to the max, and I was feeling those affects, even though I was being stubborn and not admitting it to anyone, even myself. When I finally let myself realize that, I started to think about life at home more and that sealed the deal. I had to make the change. But how?

I made the decision and sent a text to someone at work that I have a ton of respect for, just to let them know that I was thinking about getting out of the truck and asked what I should do. In my mind, I knew this would be hard, but I was going to find a way to make it work, and that first text message was the beginning. I made this decision and sent that text without telling Adam at first. I wanted to see what my options were and didn’t want him to get his hopes up if I simply wouldn’t be able to financially find a way to make it work. But then that first text message turned into another text message, which turned into another. I thought about driving local, or maybe doing something in the office, but when I mentioned running local I was asked to hold that thought for a minute and stop into the office for a chat. So I did.

This was when I told Adam because I was starting to feel a lot more excited at the thought of being home every night. Being able to make a dentist appointment and grocery shop any night of the week and sleep in every Saturday if I want to and maybe joining friends for a happy hour and helping to clean the bathroom and putting my shampoo and conditioner in my own shower and watch a Packer game on Sunday and listen to a record with a glass of wine on a random Tuesday and a whole lot of other little things that I hadn’t been able to do easily when I was on the road.

So I met with the Director of Safety and the President when I stopped in (both such amazing people, by the way!! I love working for a company where it feels like a conversation with a director and the president is like talking to a friend.) To my surprise they were very excited at the opportunity to have me join them in the office. So much that my thoughts of driving local was already fading out of my mind. And even more of a surprise, they brought up recruiting as a possibility. Well, that was a shocker – recruiting never crossed my mind. Ever. I think I gave them a blank stare for a few long seconds. The more we discussed it, the more they assured me they thought I had great potential in this role. I was unsure and decided I would give it some thought. And I did. As word got around, so many people kept telling me how great they thought I would be at it, that I started to let myself believe them. I oftentimes sell myself pretty short, and this time I decided to go into this with confidence. I could be good at this. Dang it, I can be good at anything when I put my mind to it. This would be something totally different for me, a huge challenge, a fun change… a whole new kind of journey. And I could totally do this.

Further conversations with the folks in the office gave me piece of mind after I decided to go for it. I’m a trucker, and I’ll have to toot my own horn here for a minute by saying that I got pretty darn good at it. In fact, I was told from several people in the office, “We’re really sorry to be losing a good driver, but glad you’re joining us in the office.” And so, on top of the ego-boost I was receiving from everyone that I’d be so good at this recruiter thing, they also said if it didn’t work out, like if I realized it just wasn’t my thing, there would always be a truck with my name on it. That’s a cool thing about truck driving, there will always be a need for good drivers, so it was kind of like a safety net. But I wasn’t planning on even keeping that card in play, because I was determined to make this new role work out. That’s what I do. And the excitement grew.

When it got really real: I was driving towards home from a run out east when I saw a notification pop on my phone that I’d received an email from work titled, “offer letter.” I had a couple of hours until I planned to stop for the night in Austintown, Ohio. I had to wait until then to read it. I was really nervous. This was the official letter asking if I’d like to accept this new position and it would outline all the details. I had a lot to ponder, and I had to be sure the offer was something I could swing for me and Adam, too. When I arrived at the truck stop and parked I felt a little bit like I was in the clouds. This felt really weird. I got out and did my post-trip, slowly got myself together and walked into the truck stop to use the bathroom. For some reason I felt like I was procrastinating.

I decided, finally, to open the email when I was sitting on the toilet. I mean, just my style, right? The offer was for the role of marketer/recruiter and would start the following Monday. It outlined all the details of the new position (including that I’d be on salary, which is a first for me!), and this happened to be the moment it all hit me. On a toilet. I mean, of course it did. This was so exciting! I was going to accept this! From a truck stop bathroom, of all places! I was going to sign this offer. And that was going to be that. I was going to be done driving.

I sat on the toilet and had a good cry… of relief, I think. It was one of those real life moments where you just feel so grateful because they don’t come around very often – when it feels like you’re just having one of the best days in your life. It just felt so right all of a sudden. I went for a long run that night (there’s a trail I run on all the time from that particular truck stop, and happened to be a favorite – how fitting!). I thought, I smiled, I ran, and when Adam called I told him it was official. I would be home for the weekend and that was it. The letter stated I would be starting the next Monday.

So that’s how it all came about. That’s how I went from an over-the-road truck driver to working in the office. As I write this I’ve been working from the office for three weeks. And I have so much to share about how that’s been going! I’ll be doing that in my next blog entry! Because guess what? I think (and hope) that I’ll have more opportunities to write now that I’ll be home more! That makes me happy, too, because this is a place I enjoy spending time. I also have a really kick-ass vacation coming up that I’m going to have to write about, so watch out for that, too!

Until next time, friends…

This was my last night in the truck. I got an ice cream cone to celebrate my change. I did have all kinds of mixed feelings in that head and heart of mine, but it was mostly excitement.

Tonight I love forcing myself into big challenges with gusto. It sure keeps life interesting!

In Venus’s true style, the night I decided to sign the offer letter, I got back into my truck and my fans stopped working. She knew. I had to pull her F60, but it wasn’t blown. I plugged it back in, and the fans fired up. I get it Venus. I’ll miss you, too. <3

If life were a movie…

I was looking back through some old files in my note app (I oftentimes will write up an idea, story, or start a blog entry there and forget about it, as was the case here) and cleaning out some old stuff I don’t need any more when I came across a note just called “vent.” Uh-oh. I read it and thought, “eh, why not share this random, old note for funsies while I sit here, waiting, caffeinated and procrastinating because I should be doing my daily squats instead?” And here we are.

If life were a movie, this would be foreshadowing, I think. Right? It’s dated January 1, 2020. I mean, it wasn’t the end of the world kind of stuff, but a frustrating work day that I felt I needed to write down to feel better about it (I do this a lot, just to “vent,” as the write-up was titled, and then I’m able to move on easier). Anyway, I thought I’d share it because, to be honest, with the way things have gone this year it’s almost funny now. “Almost funny” because it’s still frustrating to think back on days like that, and they still happen sometimes because… well… life. But compared to the rest of 2020? Funny.

So below is something I wrote on January 1, 2020. And I’m just gonna smile and be glad today is a better day than that one, and now I’ve got that someone that loves me sleeping in the bunk about five feet behind me, and I can go cuddle with him right now if I want (I’m sitting in a dock door waiting to get unloaded). In fact…

copy, paste, post, cuddle…

______

1/1/20

So I’m venting. Don’t read it if you don’t want to be a part of my pity party. I won’t be at all offended if you don’t wanna get in on my dumps! And yeah, I know it’s dramatic and petty and dumb, and there’s much worse things I could be dealing with, but dammit, it’s January 1st – the day I’m supposed to feel fresh, and new, and invigorated, and ready to tackle good ol’ 2020. But yuck. I’m not!

Well, f*** today. I went to bed last night (New Year’s Eve), alone but not feeling social either, at 11:30pm because I had to get up in the morning to start a very scheduled-out day where everything kinda had to go right for it to all work. I woke up at midnight to fireworks (I was staying at the Pilot in Gary, IN). I don’t blame anybody for that. It was a New Year celebration and for anyone that’s stayed at this Pilot or the TA across the street, you know there’s also a fireworks shop like practically next door. But I get it. Celebrate, fine. I fell back asleep once they were done.

Morning came. I was ready to start my day. And my new year. I put a big, partially fake smile on my face and it lifted me up a bit. It was all gonna be just fine. I had my schedule all written out. Took a shower, did my pre-trip and pulled up to fuel up my reefer. The stupid pump wouldn’t work right. Here we go – I could pump a trickle to keep it going and that took foooorever – and then I had to do it twice to get it topped off because it reset halfway in. Whatever. Pain in the butt, but okay. Move on.

I drove a little over an hour to my delivery location where I was just gonna drop my loaded trailer and hook to an empty one like we do a million times at this place and move on to my next thing for the day. I pulled in at about 10:15 and was turned away because they don’t open until 4pm. This was unusual for this place, even it being New Year’s Day. Drove to a closed Sam’s Club down the road where I could park my beast of a truck out of everyone’s way in freakin’ Chicagoland while I made the phone call to our weekend dispatch and wait for instructions as to ‘what the hell now?’ I had a loaded trailer waiting for me in Fond Du Lac that needed to be live unloaded in Milwaukee at 7pm, and if I was able to stick to my schedule I so proudly came up with, I’d even make it home for the night where I could sleep in my own bed and remember I have someone waiting there for me that loves me and wants to cuddle with me. But now my pretty little schedule was out the window (as what almost always happens with schedules and plans, right?).

Thankfully on-call was great and came up with a plan. I dropped my trailer right there where a co-worker met me, took my bills and was going to drop it for me after he dropped his own trailer – after 4pm when the damn place reopened (seriously – they never close, not even holidays usually – for real). This way I could still get my Milwaukee load delivered on time. Yay. And the silver lining? Because that first place was closed, I couldn’t hook to an empty trailer and bring it to Plymouth, so that saved me some time – so it actually put me a little ahead of schedule. I bobtailed to where my pre-loaded trailer was, hooked up and all went well. Whew.

Got to my delivery location and walked up as they were unlocking their doors. Perfect timing. I was even 1-1/2 hours early for my appointment. They called me with a dock door assignment sometime after 6pm, giving me high hopes because now I was a whole hour ahead of schedule – I was going to have time for a run (that I wanted to do ALL DAY but just didn’t have a good window of time to do yet) AND I was gonna get home!

But then I sat. And sat. And sat. I watched my elog time clock tick, tick, tick down. If I got going by 9pm I miiiiiight still make it. Nope. At 9:30 I got my signed bills and could go. I had 90 minutes to drive 45 miles, fuel my reefer, clean it out, check it in, post-trip it, and drop it. Getting another 60 miles beyond that towards home wasn’t happening. So I settled.

“I’ll drop my trailer, bobtail to Walmart, park there and run the rec trail that’s there.” I was going to go for my run. Finally.

By the time I arrived at the drop location, I had 18 minutes left on my 14-hour clock. Nobody was around to check me in, so I dropped the trailer, left a message to let them know and took the hell off so I could at least get to the truck stop down the road to park for the night. By the time I rolled in and parked I had 3 minutes left of my 14 hour day. I post-tripped, changed into my jammies and crawled right into my bunk without even brushing my teeth or taking my vitamins. Or going for my run.

F*** it. Tomorrow is my New Year.


Today I love team driving. I miss some things about being solo, but… Today I also love cuddles. It’s a two-fer today. 😊

Newport State Park, Wisconsin

Sunday, November 8 – Tuesday, November 10

A three-day, two-night solo trip to Newport State Park in Door County, Wisconsin.

Newport State Park. Door County, Wisconsin.

Sunday:

I’ve been going on quite a few shorter trips lately, and it’s felt really, really good to get back into doing these things I love so much. I’ve missed hiking into the woods with a backpack on my back. I mean, I literally, just a minute ago, stared into the pitch black sky above me and admired the thousands of twinkling stars through treetops faintly aglow from my campfire light. Yup, just did it again. I’m alone out here. The air around me is cool, and if the relentless waves of Lake Michigan weren’t softly crashing along the shoreline just thirty feet away, it would be completely silent. I keep spotting little mice scattering around looking for morsels of food they hoped I dropped. Those tiny critters and my campfire are my entertainment tonight. And it’s perfect.

The stars were so bright I caught a few with my phone camera! That’s nuts!!

These types of trips haven’t really been possible in the past few years – at least not without taking vacation time and planning it in around the other things that happen in life that also require the use of my precious vacation time – like family events, getaways with Adam, holiday things… and so I would rarely go through the trouble of all the planning and work it took to just take a night or two in the woods. I was burning out a little. I needed to get a little of “me” back. I needed the woods. I needed them more often.

So Adam and I changed things up at work. We were able to work out a new schedule where we team drive for two weeks, take a week off, and then repeat that three-week schedule. We’ll miss out on that week of pay every third week, so we’ll have to adjust a bit for that, but these weeks off have been allowing me to take these little mini excursions, and so far, I really like it. I mean, those stars above me right now! It’s just starting to feel like I’m slowly building something back up inside that’s been missing. It’s deep down in my bones, and I can’t describe it quite yet, but I know it’s good.

Soaking in campfire light. Happy Toots.

On my first week off of this new work arrangement I went to the Porkies in Upper Michigan. My second week I took a quick one-nighter in Kettle Moraine. This time, I’m at Newport State Park. It’s hard to get reservations here during peak seasons, but since it’s early November, and it’s Sunday, I was able to grab a site for two nights just a couple of days in advance. So I’m pretty happy.

My goal is to do something outdoors on each of my weeks off. It might not always be overnighters, as winter is on the way (even though I DO plan on doing some winter camping!). I’ll at least get out for some snowshoeing, day hiking, trail running, and I might even buy a pulk sled to play with (because I also dream of doing some winter ultras!). So anyway, lots of adventures are in my future. And maybe I can sprinkle in a few bigger trips once spring rolls around (like maybe the Timberline Trail? 😉).

So back to the here and now. I got here to Newport State Park about 14:00 and backpacked a mile into my site (#4) and set up my tent, trail ran the same mile back to my car, loaded a second backpack full of firewood and packed back to my site (that firewood was HEAVY, by the way!). I made a fire, ate some ramen, drank some hot cocoa, toasted a few marshmallows (the mice stole one or I’d have eaten four. Jerks) and now I’m soaking in the last waves of warmth from my dying campfire. And the stars seem to get better every time I look up.

Home for two nights.
Firewood is HEAVY!

Soon I’ll crawl into my doubled-up sleeping bags in my tiny little tent and hopefully get some restful sleep. The plan is to leave camp set up in the morning and take the whole day to hike around the park. I’ve never been here before, so I’m going to hike around and explore as much as I have daylight for. Then I’ll have one more night of camping and eating some new backpacking foods I’m excited to try, play with some mice and head home the next day, on Tuesday.

So off I go to finish my fire and go to bed. I’ll check back in tomorrow. Good night, friends. And don’t forget to look at those stars whenever you get the chance.

Cozy!

Monday:

I woke up just a little after light this morning. I was planning on getting up just before light so I could maybe catch the sunrise, but when my alarm went off I heard a light rain sprinkling on my tent. So I cuddled myself back into my downy sleeping bag and went back to sleep. I think I finally rolled out of the tent around 06:30. I didn’t have any more rain after that.

Good morning, Lake Michigan!!

I made breakfast and coffee, packed my daypack and hit the trails. I hiked pretty much the whole park and peeked in on all of the campsites except for two that had people in them. They’ve all got a couple of benches, a fire ring, a metal food storage box (which I tested with a cashew and a mini marshmallow – mine, at least, is rodent-free) and there’s access to a pit toilet from each site. They’re all really nice sites, but I got lucky, I guess, because I think the one I picked is one of my favorites!

One of the campsites in the early morning sun and misty, fall air. Pretty magical, hey?

The trails in the park are great. They’re all well-marked with a map at each junction. Some of the trails are shared between bikers and hikers and those paths are pretty flat and wide and easy-hiking. I’ve even heard of people using carts on those trails to get gear to their campsite. Then there are some hiking-only trails, and those are more single-track trail with some more rugged terrain in spots like roots and rocks. Overall the trails here are pretty flat, with the exception of the trail along Europe Lake – for a short section there’s a few little rolling climbs, but not very tough or anything.

All the trails in the park were very well-marked.

I enjoyed the day. My favorite trail was the Lynd Point trail. It went right up next to the Lake Michigan shoreline, and in true Door County fashion, there were large rock outcroppings for the waves to crash up against and splash up into the air. Tree roots grew around the rocks, clinging on for life, and the water rolling in was so clear you could see the smooth white rocks underneath. Beautiful! I didn’t see much for wildlife – a bunch of squirrels and some birds. The highlight was a pileated woodpecker that fluttered through the group campsite as I sat and ate my lunch. Those guys are so cool!

The Lake Michigan shoreline in Door County is absolutely amazing!!

I ate things, too! I love snacks! I ate my favorite trail mix of organic, raw, unsalted cashews and organic m&ms. It’s simple, it’s clean and it tastes SO good! I tried a new organic fruit bar that was also very good. For lunch I mixed an avocado with some tuna, drizzled some olive oil over it and sprinkled some pink salt and everything bagel seasoning on top. Super-gourmet trail food! Also on the menu for the day was a new protein bar made from sprouted watermelon seeds (lemon flavored and pretty good for a protein bar!), string cheese, coffee, and a small packet of chicken soup.

Dinner will be interesting. I ran out of fuel for my stove while trying to make up an appetizer of decaf coffee with heavy whipping cream powder, so I had to heat the water on the fire in my small cooking cup. It works, just takes a little patience. So I plan to make a Wild Zora backpacking dinner (just add hot water) that my friend Charisse recommended (thanks, Charisse!!) and a hot cocoa for dessert. But my fire’s nice and hot and I have lots of wood to burn, so I’ll be just fine. Speaking of which… I’ll shout at ya tomorrow. Gotta stoke the fire and enjoy the rest of night! Sleep well tonight, friends!

These are really tasty, and have good ingredients. There’s also a grass-fed beef stew one that I’m excited to try.

Tuesday

Last night’s dinner went just fine. My fire got really hot, so boiling water actually went quite quickly. My Wild Zora dinner was really good, although I think I’d want to bring a hot sauce or something to spice it up a little – I mean, it had lots of flavor, but I like spicy. I made a hot cocoa mixed with peppermint schnapps and peppermint marshmallows for dessert and it was almost too rich, if you can believe it! Yum! I roasted a few marshmallows, watched my fire die down, then crawled into my tent for bed.

Marshmallows!! They don’t weigh much – always bring marshmallows!

I didn’t sleep great again. I’m not sure if it’s just that I’m getting old or what, but I need to figure out what’s going on with my back at night when I’m sleeping in my tent. My middle back seems to get sore, so I toss and turn a lot through the night. I’m actually going to try just sleeping with my simple Z-lite sleeping pad instead of the my blow-up mattress next time. I think I might actually need a harder surface. I don’t know. Guess I just need more nights in the woods to find out.

It rained early morning again just like the previous morning, so my fire was cold with no hot coals left in it, and since I was out of fuel for my stove, I mixed up a cold coffee and ate a protein cookie for breakfast. The protein cookie was a brand called “Munk Pack” and doesn’t have chicory root fiber or inulin in it (which makes you poop yourself), and it made a really good, quick breakfast. I packed up camp and hiked the mile back out to my car.

A drizzly morning.

I didn’t want to be done yet, though. It was rainy outside, but I didn’t care. I put on my rain jacket, drove to parking lot 1 by the entrance and hiked two more small trail loops that I didn’t get to yesterday. The first one, the Monarch Trail, was just what you’d expect with a name like the Monarch Trail. It wound through some wide, open meadows and a few short jaunts in some forest. After that I crossed the road and jumped on the lollipop-shaped trail called the Upland Trail. The highlight of that trail was an old root cellar still intact, and there’s a little peeping window in the door so you can look inside. Very cool spot to check out! I will have to come back and trail run on this loop because the trail itself was very nice – single track with lots of big rocks to navigate, it was kind of twisty and winding through some beautiful forested landscape. And with the rain and all the leaves fallen onto the forest floor, it was almost glowing.

The old root cellar! So cool!

Then I got back to my car, grabbed my bag of warm, dry clothes and changed in the warm bathroom of the entrance building (it was closed, but they left the bathrooms open – so nice!). I head towards home, stopped at Brew Coffeehouse in Ellison Bay and the gentleman there made me a delicious breve cappuccino, and I was on my way home.

That was a really nice time in the woods. I highly recommend checking out the park if you get the chance, just make sure you make reservations well in advance if you’re going on a weekend or during a peak season. And mind the direction of the wind forecast when picking your campsite. I can’t wait to go back in the winter to see how different it looks!

Until next time… until the next little adventure… stay happy, friends, and get outside for some fresh air!

Just another boring view from the trail in Newport State Park. No big thing. ;)

___

Tonight I love Dandies marshmallows. I’m not vegan, but these vegan marshmallows are THE BEST. Skip the cheap Jet-Puffs and spend the extra cash on these. They toast up SO nice – crunchy and brown on the outside, creamy and gooey on the inside. Seriously. They are so good.

As always, here’s a few more pics (you can always see more on my Instagram feed if you’re interested: @_toots_magoots_ )

The tiny little beach at my campsite.
Clear water!!
Evening sky.
I found this mylar balloon on the beach at one of the campsites. Let’s stop buying these, right? They always seem to end up in the wilderness somewhere. I admit I enjoyed it for a minute before puncturing it and stuffing it into my garbage bag.
Boiling water over the campfire when your fuel runs out. Oops.
I never get enough of the upside-down forests you can find in water droplets.
A happy place.

Mines of Spain, 2019: My 100-Mile Race Report

This is from 2019, not the current year, 2020. Just wanted to make that clear right from the start. I really hoped to have this done a week or two before this year’s Mines of Spain race, but I wasn’t able to make it happen. So I’m posting it right around the same time as others might be posting their 2020 race reports, and I apologize if that confuses anyone. I wanted to avoid that. But maybe it’ll be kind of cool because you can compare one year to another. I dunno. Anyway, it’s long as hell, so if you’re here and plan on reading the whole thing, get a cup of coffee, sit back and relax.

I really regret not doing this right away because I know I’ve forgotten so much already. I like writing these up when the lingering pains are still present and the tearful joy of accomplishment is still right at the surface, coming out in random, unpredictable bursts. But honestly, I think I was just plain burned out afterward, and so I put it off. And then I jumped right into a pretty intense brand new work situation and before I knew it… it was now… October of 2020. Dammit, if one good thing comes out of this year, maybe it’ll be my finishing this thing – finally! (I need to have this to read when I’m 80 and can’t believe that it actually happened! I really did run 100 miles!)

This photo is a spoiler – I finished. (I will also note right away, that when you see a photo posted in this blog entry with that Mines of Spain logo in the corner, the photography was courtesy of Mile 90 Photography. Please check them out, they do AMAZING work, as you will see!!)

Race Info:

Mines of Spain 100 – click here to go to the race site!

October 18-19, 2019

Mines of Spain Recreation Area – Dubuque, IA

There are two distances: 100k and 100 Miles

I participated in the 100 Mile race – this was my first time running a 100-miler, and the farthest I’ve ever run in one go.

The 100-mile race consists of 5 20-mile “loops.” The loops included some short out and backs, but essentially was a loop, starting and finishing at the actual Start/Finish line. This was also where “Crew-ville” was located, which was a large grassy area for crew to set up tents and hang out while waiting for their runners to come through after each 20-mile loop. More about that later, because it was one of the reasons I chose this race for my first 100-miler.

My stats:

Total miles: 104 (according to my GPS watch)

Total time: 31 hours, 23 minutes, 43 seconds

Overall pace: 18:06/mile

Elevation gain: 13,819 ft.

Overall rank: 42/54 (37 men and 17 women finished. There were 22 DNFs)

Gender rank: 12/17

Age group rank: 5/15

Calories burned: 9,407

A video I put together from race day:

Training:

The most challenging aspect of my entire 100-mile race experience wasn’t my sore feet at mile 75, or that I felt like I had to poop for the entire last 20 miles, or that it felt like every inch of my skin hurt at mile 90 — it was the training leading up to race day. I feel as though I’ve mentioned my training in previous blogs ad nauseam… because it’s hard to hold to any sort of routine, or to really find time AND places to run while driving as an over-the-road truck driver. So anyway, I won’t go into great detail, breaking down runs or anything. I promise I’ll try to keep it simple.

Getting unloaded? Go run. Getting loaded? Go run. 10-hour break? Go run. 30-minute break? Go run. Pretty much the routine leading up to the race.

I’ve been training for ultras as a trucker for over a year now, and it’s mostly become part of my regular trip-planning and daily focus. Where will I be able to run? When will I be able to run? Do I need to split it into two runs? Where can I park my truck and run safely? It’s exhausting. In fact, a lot of the time, the logistics behind running over the road is more tiring than the running itself – seriously. I actually enjoy the break from the planning more than I do the running after a race!

It really helped to have a run streak going. I started one back in March just to step up my motivation. I was getting down and not doing much, so I decided to do a “one mile a day” challenge. I called it my “no excuses” challenge. No matter what the weather was doing, no matter how little time I had, no matter how tired I was, I could do one mile. If that was walking laps around my truck, fine. I can do one mile. And I did that for March, and then just kept going (I broke it 2 days after my 100-mile race and am currently looking at doing some other type of streak, but not sure what yet.). So that streak kept me going every single day, and really was a HUGE help in getting as many miles as I could so I would at least feel a little prepared for this beast. Then there was my “peak training” weeks. I’ve heard this term used by other runners, and I honestly don’t really know what it means, or if it’s really got a specific meaning, but for me it just meant run. As much as possible. And I did. Every spare moment I had, I ran. On a 10-hour break (required by law as a truck driver), I would shut down at night, change, go out and run. Then I’d sleep 5-6 hours, wake up, change, and go out and run again. A lot of the time it was dark outside. Sometimes it was running around a truck stop parking lot. Sometimes it was a busy frontage road in the pouring rain. But I donned my reflective vest, blinky lights and headlamp and did it anyway. In addition to all the “regular” daily running, I tried to get in one long run on my one day off each week. I got in a few 20-milers, a couple of 30’s and a 40 once I got closer to race month. Thankfully I had the support of my husband, Adam, who took care of a lot of my weekly chores (laundry, grocery shopping, food prep) that I also needed to get done for each week of work on the road. It was nuts for a few weeks there, I won’t lie.

Hard work. But big, rewarding payoffs. All worth it. All of it.

So that’s pretty much how I got myself ready. And I still feel like I could’ve – and should’ve – done so much more. If there’s ever a next time I run 100 miles (which I’d really like to think there will be, because it was awesome), I’ll hope to be working a different sort of job that will allow me to do some more regular and focused training. Until then, I will try to stay in shape so that I can jump in on some shorter ultras. (Hah. Shorter. Like 50k or 50 miles. Look what’s happened to me! Since when is 50 miles short!? I’ve lost my mind!)

Race-day nutrition:

During my races and training sessions leading up to this one, I learned that my guts handle softer foods better than harder ones. For example, pureed avocados go through my digestive tract way smoother than say, a Clif bar. So I started making my own race “gels.” I live a generally low-carb lifestyle (except when I feel like drinking beer and eating pizza, or having a fresh-baked scone with my coffee, but I try my best to keep these for special occasions or as an occasional treat), so an added bonus to making my own race food was that I controlled the amount of sugar that went into it (which after 10’s of hours of running, large amounts of sugar also seems to turn down my appetite for the much-needed fuel my body needs to keep moving). In addition to the ease of digestion and lower sugar content, I was able to put all-narural ingredients into it. I figured this was all good stuff, and after some experimentation during the lead-up to this big mutha-hundred, I had a few tried-and-true flavors ready to go (the pureed egg with mayo and pickle juice was one that didn’t make the cut).

Race-day homemade food! Squishies!

I call them my “squishies.” I bought some Gu-brand reusable gel containers and some other cute ones (meant for baby food) from Amazon, and a couple days before the race I went to work. I had 23 squishies queued up and ready to squeeze right down my throat for quick energy (but they do actually taste pretty awesome, too). These were the flavors I made:

Coconut milk base with cinnamon, vanilla and chia seeds

Coconut milk base with cocoa powder, vanilla and chia seeds

Avocado base with avocado oil, cinnamon, honey and cayenne (my fave!)

Sweet potato base with MCT oil and maple syrup

Sweet potato base with olive oil, salt, pepper and turmeric

Almond butter base with MCT oil and strawberries (my 2nd fave! PB&J in squeeze form!)

Then during the race I was going to try to wait to add aid station food as long as I could, and then just grab whatever my belly was in the mood for (olives and pumpkin pie were two things I wasn’t able to pass up early on). Caffeine was also going be added in when I first felt like I really needed it, and then I’d slowly continue on with it after that. I stuck pretty close to that plan, and I fared pretty well, until sometime before my last loop when my appetite started to dwindle and I constantly felt like I had to poop (my most common problem.) I still don’t have this stuff completely figured out, but I’ve come a long way. And I think my stomach problems may be partially linked to the amount of pain I’m in. But that needs more observation to confirm. Basically, I better sign up for more races soon so I can figure this mystery out. Right?

Gear and drop bags:

I like to keep stuff as simple as possible. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy summer running – less layers and bundling up needed – shorts, shirt, sandals, go. Anyway, for clothing I did keep it simple. Ink n Burn capris, Ink n Burn tech shirt, cheap Target sports bra, 1/2 buff around my wrist to wipe sweat with, a pink Adidas visor (I need a new option here for a cool visor – suggestions appreciated!) cheapo Walmart Bluetooth earbuds, Garmin Fenix 3 watch, Bedrock sandals (I wore my Lunas for one loop but changed back to the Bedrocks – my feet slide around in the Lunas when they get wet. And as you will see, the water. There was lots of it.)

Drop bag things

I carried a Patagonia Houdini Jacket, which I wore at the start and towards the end of the race because it was chilly out, and that was a pretty nice little piece of gear that I’m glad I sold an arm to afford – they just seem so pricey for how little there is to them – but there’s a reason for it! So incredibly light, packs down to almost nothing, and kept me warm when I was chilled (it also keeps off a little rain, but if it’s actually raining, you’re just gonna get wet no matter what you wear, so…).

My vest is the Nathan VaporHowe. I’ve tried quite a few different vests, and this one was the most comfy for me and seemed to have enough room for all the things I wanted to carry. I did get one chafe spot in the middle of my back where the pack must slightly rub on my sports bra band, but I’m not sure which is at fault here – the vest or the bra – probably both teaming up, jerks. Anyway, I knew this was an issue going in, so my lovely mom got the job of lubing that particular spot every time I came around from a loop (thanks, Mom!), and it did very well.

I carried my phone for contacting my crew and to use for pictures and video. Along with technology comes chargers and things. I had a small charger with a cord for my phone and the special docking charge cord for my watch (even though there’s a cord hanging from it, you can wear it while it charges – kind of a cool design). My headlamp is my trusty Black Diamond Spot, which is what I’ve used for years of backpacking and running.

I also carried my Black Diamond Z-pole trekking poles and used them on, I think the last two loops? Maybe the last three? See, this is why I need to write these race reports right away! Grrr… They were very helpful after I got tired and sloppy-footed, and there was some mud at the very end I vaguely remember in my late-race fog-brain that was downhill and very slick.

For my drop bags, I decided again, to keep it simple. We were allowed to have drop bags at all four of the aid stations, but I chose to just have one at Aid Station #1, Sauk & Fox. On each 20-mile loop I was able to access it 4.2 miles in and then again 8.1 miles later, or 13.3 miles into the loop. This worked great for me, and I actually rarely needed anything from it. I pretty much only accessed it to swap out an empty squishy homemade food for a full one, a Pickle Power, and maybe a salt tab or two. I liked that I only had one bag to get ready (less decisions pre-race) and I *loved* that I only had one bag to choose from during the race (the best time to have the least amount of decisions to make!). It was also easier because I didn’t have to remember what I had in what bag and what I used last time and was there any left of this item in that bag, etc. It was one bag.

The drop bag all ready to go!

In that bag I had these things:

Buff, Injinji socks (I’ll wear them if my feet get unbearably cold OR if I have some bad chafing that KT tape won’t help), KT tape and small scissors, Pickle Power shots, salt tabs, extra Tums, Pepto, and an Immodium, extra headlamp batteries, squirrels nut butter, 2Toms sport shield wipes, wet ones, extra squishy homemade food thingies, emergency Hammer gel, spare mini charger, heavier rain jacket, a small towel in case I had to dry my feet off to tape them, duct tape, and liner gloves.

Weather, terrain and trail conditions:

So, the weather, as I remember it a year later, was pretty typical for fall in the Midwest. I remember feeling a little shivery and cold in the early morning at the start, and by the time the race began, I couldn’t feel my toes. It took probably a mile to get them feeling comfy again, but I don’t remember them being cold after that (even after the water crossings), but they usually stay pretty warm when I’m moving. (Winter is a different story – I will wear wool Injinji socks if it’s below freezing. Yup, socks and sandals. Nope, don’t care.)

I remember seeing that other racers had changed into shorts after the first loop when the day warmed up a bit, and I kinda wish I’d have done the same – I was actually comfortable temperature-wise in my capris, but just the change of clothes once or twice would’ve been refreshing. I wore the same thing for the whole race, only adding my Houdini jacket at the beginning and end to ward off the chill.

Pretty great fall weather.

The temperatures ranged between about 40° and 60°F and for the most part was great for fall running. One thing I’m not 100% clear on is if there was any rain. I remember zero rain, but I also remember the trail being muddy at the end (like mile 90 or something really late like that) because I was being very careful not to end up in a mud-glissade on my butt down a switchback hill, because my body felt so wrecked I was sure I wouldn’t have been able to get back up again. Did it rain? Forecast history says no, I remember no… Fellow 2019 racers? Do you remember? I really don’t think it did.

The terrain in this race had everything, which was the best. It had meadows (that smelled so strongly like cotton candy that I was sure an aid station was making some, and I thought it such a brilliant freaking idea, because, I mean, sugar, and I hoped they had blue and pink swirl, which of course they would because they are standard cotton candy colors… Unfortunately nobody had cotton candy. It was just the meadows), there was single-track through the forest under canopies of fall-colored leaves, bluffs with a view, road (yeah, there was some road at the beginning/end of the loop and one short section that was detoured around a section of closed trail), stairs (lots of them, but I remember feeling glad for the change in muscle-usage and looked forward to those sections), river crossings, rocks, roots, grass. I mean, all the things. I absolutely loved the variety, although I could deal with less road if I’m being picky.

So many stairs!

There was really only one tiny negative nitpick I have from this race, but I would 100% not let this deter you from running in it. Right near the start/finish is a section of road and bike path that basically connects the start/finish area (which is in a park) to the Mines of Spain Recreational area. Along that short section of road is a sewage treatment plant. I actually don’t remember ever smelling it on the way out on each loop, but I remember always smelling it toward the end of each loop on the way back. But I also remember I was always eating something, probably to get in planned calories I failed to consume earlier during the loop, and since I was going to soon be seeing my crew and resupplying, I was downing what I could. Anyway, it was a smelly few minutes each time around. Just plan your eating better than I did, and you might not even notice it.

The biggest news of the race was the flooding. I believe it was Catfish Creek – a short section of trail was completely flooded to thigh-deep. They had a rope to guide you where the trail was, and if you strayed too far away from it, the river bank dropped off and you’d really be in deep. Like needing to swim, deep. But it wasn’t difficult to follow the rope, even on the last loops when I was foggy and unstable. We just needed to be careful of our footing because the ground was squishy and muddy underwater. They did have kayakers floating along that section in case racers had trouble, which I thought was so cool. At night there were two people in a canoe (instead of the kayakers) and they had a small fire burning in the middle of the canoe on some sort of little grill, maybe, for warmth, I assume. Or wait. Was that a hallucination? No, I’m pretty certain that was real (I never did get to a point of hallucinating. Sigh… some day!)

The high water section.

It was chilly going through the water, I mean it’s always a bit shocking getting in to water in October, but I actually found it refreshing (and fun!). As soon as you got out of the water and up to the road there was a giant fire built to warm up by, but I never felt the need for it, so I always said hi to the volunteers and ran on, keeping myself plenty warm that way. I found the water sections to be exciting, and another fun way to break up the course.

Crew and Pacer:

First of all, Crew-Ville! One of the reasons I chose to run the Mines of Spain as my first 100 (I have to admit it was my 2nd choice next to the Superior 100, which I did not get picked for in the lottery), was the Crew-Ville setup. Crew-Ville is at the Start/Finish and the only place where crew can be. Well, there was one other aid station they could access, but it wasn’t far from the end of each loop anyway, and so we just kept it simple and decided they could stay in one spot. This was so much more convenient than chasing me around in a car, hoping they’d get there in time, not get a flat tire, worry about forgetting to grab ice, or whatever else. And they were able to get sleep in between seeing me, play cards, crack a beer and not have to drive anywhere… it just seemed perfect. There’s a huge grassy lawn at the start/finish/crew-ville area, and there are big squares marked off where you can set up a tent. My crew set up a 3-walled tent with tables and chairs and bins and coolers and all kinds of things, and that’s where I’d head to every 20 miles to resupply my gear, food and encouragement to keep going. There was also a big pavilion, kind of race headquarters, where all kinds of food was available for racers and crew that had a special food bracelet. I believe the registration comes with a bracelet for the racer and one crew member, but you can purchase extras, so that’s what I did. It was a really cool set-up.

My crew.

My crew was the best. I had Adam (my husband), my mom and dad (Patty and Keith), and I even had two surprise crew members! Dick and Joanne (friends of our family) showed up and surprised me the night before the race! On top of this amazing crew, I had a pacer for the first time ever, Jessica.

Standing with my pacer, Jessica.

These people helped make this first 100-mile race an amazing experience for me, and I’m so glad they were all part of it. I simply don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to explain my gratitude, love and appreciation for the people that support me when it comes to these nutso things I love to do. And they just keep showing up! Who’s crazier!?

So my husband, Adam, is basically my crew chief. He takes his job pretty seriously and keeps stuff moving along. He’s kind of like the “Toots Wrangler.” I can be quite a lollygagger and he’s really good at reminding me to focus with a perfectly balanced regimented gentleness, if that makes sense. He keeps me doing what I need to do and makes sure I keep my butt moving, but the whole time with a sweet, caring concern in his eyes – and before I go I get a big hug and kiss and encouragement. He’s also crazy-good at all the math. As I’m stuffing food into my mouth and race vest at the same time, he’ll be telling me how fast I ran the last section and how fast I need to run the next section to reach my goals. And he’s good at keeping it simple enough that I have the basic knowledge of what I need to do when I hit the trail again. He’s not a runner, but he’s a natural at this part – he gets it.

Our Crew-ville set-up.
I didn’t actually nap at all. But I did lie down for like one minute to stretch a little and it felt way too good!

Along with Adam, my mom, dad, Dick and Joanne were all stellar cheerleaders, go-getters and helpers. They were always in a good mood, smiling, laughing, joking and keeping things upbeat, even though they were tired, too. One thing was for sure – they were going to do everything they could to keep me thinking positively, which wasn’t too tough because they’re all just fun people, anyway. And I was just so happy to be there. They all pitched in to help me find things in my race bins, grab food, hot coffee, hold up blankets while my mom lubed up my back and I lubed my butt cheeks, fill water bottles, point me to the bathrooms – whatever big or little thing I needed, they were all on it before I could finish a sentence. None of us have done this very many times (and I believe it was Dick and Joanne’s first ultramarathon crewing gig) but it felt like when I came into our crew station, we were a well-oiled machine.

And what a pacer! Jessica came to pace me for my last 20-mile loop. I met Jessica at the Frozen Otter race, which is a winter ultra – if you’ve followed my blog, you’ve read my race reports from those races. They’re a whole different kind of crazy! Anyway, Jessica has run in the Frozen Otter races, and we connected through that and were friends on social media. When I reached out through Facebook to see if anyone would be able and willing to run a 20-mile loop with me, Jessica said she would do it! She didn’t live too far from the race, and was curious about the course but couldn’t commit to racing it, so it was perfect for both of us! I felt kind of like a real ultrarunner having a friend there with a bib that read “PACER” on it. It’s sometimes weird little things that help it sink in. (Pacers are also sometimes called “safety runners” and they can help with all sorts of things, depending on the race and need of the runner. They can do math if you’re chasing cutoffs and you’re too tired to think, they can keep you from falling asleep and off of a cliff (literally in some mountain races), they can remind you to drink or eat, they can keep you entertained with stories or song, be a distraction from the monotony of running for 100 miles, or just simply be good company.)

Jessica was a pro. I didn’t know much at all about pacing or being a pacer, but I’m pretty sure she’s done this before – she kept JUST far enough in front of me that I constantly felt like I had to keep up, but never so far that I felt I was struggling. It’s like she knew exactly what I had in me and pulled me right along. I could’ve easily talked myself into just walking the whole last 20 miles without her, as I was hurting pretty much in every single place on my body. My feet were achy and knotted, I was so tired, so very-very tired, and every step made my skin hurt. Like, all of it. But Jessica kept the conversations going, and I honestly can’t remember hardly anything we talked about, but I know she kept me thinking about things other than the painful physical sensations that were trying to take my mind over. I do know at one point, with her positivity and encouragement, I just started running again. I wanted to be at that finish line. My feet hurt and my skin hurt and my stomach was all kinds of weird, making me feel like I constantly had to poop, and at one point I just decided to pretend I was fresh and nothing hurt. I faked better posture, starting moving my feet faster and we even passed a few people towards the end of the loop. I didn’t care at all what place I ended up in, and I certainly wasn’t out to pass people – I simply wanted to finish before the final cutoff time, and that was it. But the fact that I was able to turn my mind somewhere else and do that felt pretty cool. So thank you, Jessica, for helping me finish strong!!

And thank you, Adam, mom, dad, Dick and Joanne. I love you all so much!

Stick around after this already way-too-long race report for a couple more stories about my crew (one involving a horse and the other some unknowingly inappropriate signs) and a specific poop-related story with my pacer (it was me that was doing the pooping).

Recovery:

First things first – taking in calories without having to worry about the consequences of running with it in my belly! When I got done with the race I was trying to decide what I was hungry for, so I munched on a little bit of pizza and a couple things from the food station at the pavilion, but what I ended up really wanting was my gigantic celebration can of Corona.

Celebration beer!

After we got everything packed up my crew took me out for a delicious, gigantic post-race Mexican dinner and it was amazing. I definitely did not have a suppressed appetite like I hear some racers do, and I was thankful because that smothered burrito and margarita was so delicious! It was also really nice to just sit down and catch up with the crew and hear about their experiences while I was out there running. It sounds like they had a good time too, and that made me happy.

From what I remember the physical recovery process went fairly smooth, especially considering how much everything hurt in those last miles. I know it was kind of hard getting around the next day, as my feet and legs were pretty sore as expected, but I did go for a mile and a half walk in the morning, and I think that helped. That was also my 233rd day of a “mile-a-day” streak I was on, and that’s where it ended. I did go for a slow 2-3 mile run a couple of days later, and I felt pretty good! Nothing was too out of whack, and I was going to be back to complete normalcy in no time. Except that I dove right into a brand new situation at work (first time training another driver!), so there wasn’t a lot of my regular running happening, even though I felt ready for it. And honestly, the forced physical break was probably a good one. The girl I was training is actually a friend of mine, and also a PCT hiker, so we did get out for some walks, and we had *so* much fun. But it was certainly a little more mental work than what I was used to, so I might’ve missed out on a little of that sort of wind-down. I’m thankful she was a great driver, a super-easy trainee, and a fun person to spend time with!

Post-race epsom salt bath and bath beer.

Gonna back up for a minute to share a fun post-race experience I had. On our way home, Adam and I drove over to Chicago and visited the Ten Junk Miles crew for one of the “gang show” podcasts. They fed us dinner and we grabbed beers and head into Scotty’s basement office to record. Looking back, it’s all such a blur, which is kind of funny. I’m pretty sure I was suffering from some sort of post-100-mile brain fog. And I had some pretty nice cankles goin’ on that I think the crew admired. But it was a really fun experience to spend some time with these awesome people and talk about my race and running and whatever else we talked about that I can’t remember! Check out Gang Show 118 here, and fall into the rabbit hole and listen to many more if you haven’t already, because their podcast is the best. I listen to a lot being an OTR trucker and they are my #1 choice.

Hanging out with Adam, Holly and Scotty in the Ten Junk Miles studio!

Fun stuff! Extra stories from the race:

First, overall I’m happy with how my first 100 went. I was definitely towards the back of the pack but I didn’t care. I just wanted to finish before the final cutoff, which I did, and on top of that, I never felt at any point like time was going to hold me back, as long as I just kept going. No chasing cutoffs!

Proud.

Before the race I did some visualization exercises, which I really think help me, and when I thought about how each loop would go, I was pretty close. Loop one was super-fun, nothing really hurt, I ran strong, and everything was new and interesting. Loop two was a little tougher than I’d expected mentally, and I think that’s because I knew that I had so much more race to go! Loop three was dark and I slowed way down. My feet were hurting pretty bad already and I was starting to get tired. Loop four was painful physically, but I knew if I got it done, I’d pick up Jessica to pace me for the final loop and that would be that. And loop five? Victory lap. If I head out on loop five I figured I’d know I’d be finishing.

What I actually wrote out in my journal before the race. Pretty darn close!

Here’s a funny one. As I mentioned earlier, my crew also made very good cheerleaders. Each time I came around a loop my mom would be holding up a giant sign that they had made out of a piece of cardboard. The first one read, “RUN JACK SLEEP” and when I saw it I couldn’t help but crack up immediately. They tried pulling a joke from the Ten Junk Miles podcast because they know how much I love it and thought I would get a kick out if it. I sure did. You see, Adam has heard bits and pieces of the show while I listen to it in the truck, and has also had to listen to me go on and on about one funny thing or another. Well, a popular guest on the show, and famous pacer for Scott Jurek (in the past), Dusty Olson, was on a show and came up with the proper order in which to do things: Run, whack, nap. And it means what you think it means. So the sign the crew came up with that my mom was holding up meant the same thing, but missed the mark a bit. So funny!

This crew seriously kept me smiling, laughing and I’m glad to see they had fun, too!

The next loop she held a new sign, “RUN WHACK NAP” – so they fixed it! And they got another big laugh out of me.

The third sign… well, it confused me. At this point I was tired and my brain wasn’t quite functioning right, so when I read, “RUN RABBIT RUN,” my first thought was, “why are they holding a sign for a different race?” Because Run Rabbit Run is another popular ultra race in Colorado – and I know my crew didn’t know that. Or did they? What the heck? And why? Well, as it turns out, the sign was actually meant to be the girl’s version of “Run Whack Nap.” Yeah, it was just one of those hilarious, ongoing things that just really stood out as a fun memory from the day. Each time I came in from a loop the first thing my crew did was crack me up, and that’s why I love them.

“The reason you’re able to run 100 miles is because you have horse blood,” Dick said. Dick and Joanne are friends of our family from where I grew up in Phillips, Wisconsin. In 2006 my mom and I backpacked across the country on the American Discovery Trail to raise awareness and research funds for Aplastic Anemia (which I was treated for in 1998 and recovered from), and Dick met us for a long stretch with his pickup truck camper to support us on the trail. I mean, the guy fed us, trailed us and looked out for us, gave us a sheltered bed to sleep in each night in his camper, chased down the Schwann’s guy so he could bring us ice cream in the middle of nowhere, Kansas on a 100-degree day. He was a trail angel extraordinaire. So I suppose when he found out I was doing another crazy thing, he thought he’d come and support me, so he and his wife Joanne did just that. It was a really nice surprise! So where does this horse thing come in? Well, when I was treated for my Aplastic Anemia, I received a treatment called ATG (I won’t go into much detail here – you can find the whole story here if you’re interested), but the jist of it is that there are two versions of ATG – horse and rabbit. I received the horse version – it’s a serum they get from horse blood to treat the illness I had. So Dick and Joanne found this toy horse and brought it along as a sort of “mascot” for the day. And we all found it pretty perfect. Now if I can just embrace the thought that I can run because I have horse blood… maybe I can get faster! Haha! Yeah, right! I’m okay being slow.

Dick and Joanne with the horse mascot.

As I mentioned, this was my first time having a pacer, and Jessica was great. She was always super-cheery and kept the conversation going the whole time we ran that last 20-mile loop, and even helped me poop. Well, let’s tell this story because that doesn’t sound right. Towards the end of the race my stomach started to be weird, which showed up as feeling like I constantly had to poop. I finally got to a point I had to try because I was getting pretty uncomfortable. I started scoping out a spot, and was coming around to probably the last good place for a while (towards the start of a long meadow section where I’d be in the wide open). I spotted a big tree up around a bend and decided that was a spot, and then? Voices. A man and his little boy came walking out of the tall grass right ahead of us on the trail dressed in camouflage. They were hunters, but man, I had to poop. So Jessica told me to go up ahead and poop and she’d distract them while I did my business. So I darted up the trail and into the woods just far enough off the trail to be leave no trace and started my business. I could hear her, basically right on the other side of the tree I was near – she started up a conversation with this hunter to keep him from heading down the trail toward me and my bare ass. I could hear them kind of wrapping up the conversation and then she started talking to the kid. I was almost laughing as I was finishing up – she was trying so hard to keep them from continuing down the trail! Then I heard them start heading my way, and I was just standing up and heading back toward the trail. They 100% knew what I was doing, but at least they caught me towards the end. What a pacer, hey!? She even covered me while I pooped. Haha! Thanks, Jessica!!

I really had a fun race. When this year’s race rolled around, I looked on with envy. I really wish I could’ve run it again, and hope to maybe run it again one day. This year was crazy with all the Covid crap going on, so in a way I was glad to just keep my distance (being a truck driver, I’ve been trying to stay away just because I’m going all over and who knows when and or where I might contract the stupid virus), but I still watched as some of the friends I met in last year’s race participated this year. It looked like they took all the safety precautions and ran a safe race. And there was no flood this year, so I got to see pictures of the actual trail in some section we had thigh-high water! Anyway, congrats to all this year’s runners!! It’s such an exciting time, and such a high to complete something so insanely enormous and difficult. And for some reason, even though it was some of the most intense, consistent pain I felt for a long stretch of time, that’s all faded and I want to do it again. And I will. But I also have many more things in my sights, and hopefully you’ll be reading about those soon.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it!

Those feet deserved that 100-mile finisher belt buckle!!

___

Tonight I love ultrarunning. I’m a backpacker at heart, but ultrarunning has really helped scratch the backpacking itch while it’s been difficult to find the time for it. I really did find a special love for ultras. And I plan to keep up my fitness so I can stay active in the community, at least a little bit. These people are amazing, just like the backpacking community. We talk about a lot of the same stuff – chafing, pooping, food… They’re my kind of people and I love them all.

More photos.

This guy. <3
My mom helping me paint my toenails the night before the race.
Pre-race packet pick-up.
Race morning. Foot prep.
So ready for this thing to START!
Coming around the Julien Dubuque monument.
Crew activities while waiting for me to run a loop.
That finish face! Haha!
Running all night. All smiles.
The look on my dad’s face… love this so much.
Someone was letting racers pet their dog at one of the aid stations, and it was honestly a really nice boost. Such a sweetie!!
The race director, Josh Sun, greeted all the finishers. What a great race he puts on!
A good day. And so glad to be done running.

The Derpy Dragon Tour

Adam and I explore the Keweenaw Peninsula in Upper Michigan (and we thought its shape looked like a Derpy Dragon, so thus the title)

Tuesday, September 29 – Thursday, October 1

Our favorite activity to do together.

After I got out of the woods from my 3-day backpacking trip in the Porcupine Mountains, Adam picked me up at the Summit Peak Scenic Area and took me to the very interesting “hotel” that he’d booked. Most hotels were either full or super-expensive, and when he called this place he was told the window of dates he wanted were perfect as someone was just leaving the day we were to arrive and we’d be leaving the day before their next arrival, and as it turns out, it’s and Air B&B place, but we didn’t realize it. We ended up getting a nice deal from the owner – I think he was pretty happy to have it filled.

Beautiful downtown Calumet, MI

The place is called the Oak Street Inn and it’s in Calumet, MI, right in the middle of the Keweenaw Peninsula – a perfect location for our plans. It’s an old general store converted into a… uh… hotel? It was just right for us because it was just so weird. So it’s an old general store. See, Calumet, MI is protected as a National Historic Place or something, and I think the owner told us you can’t really build new buildings, but converting old ones is okay, so there we were. Sleeping in an old general store. It was decorated with all kinds of cool antique signs, full of books from the early 1900’s, donned some pretty old-looking furniture and the walls were decorated with old photos. There was even a calendar from 1960 hanging on the wall. The strangest thing was the setup. There was basically two rooms to our private room. We had a full kitchen with stove, sink table, and dishes. Off of that was a small bathroom with just a shower (but a big one!) and a toilet and the tiniest sink. Just outside the bathroom on the other side of the bathroom door was a larger bathroom sink, so pretty much also in the kitchen. On the other end of the kitchen was a wall with a large-screen TV on it, surrounded by old black and white photos. Next to that? A bed. In the kitchen. Sort of. Then in the next room – the bedroom, I guess – was 3 more beds – double beds. Just outside our room was a large rec room. It had an old pool table (that we could use if we wanted), and there was even a Spa Room off of that, but it wasn’t open – maybe because of Covid. It had a very large hot tub in it. I think this place is probably popular for larger family gatherings. I believe there’s more than just our “room” there, so LOTS of beds and places for people to sleep with the large room with the pool table and spa to hang out.

Whatever. It was perfect. We only used one bed, even though we could’ve slept in a different one each night. The shower was huge, so I was able to get myself clean after my hike (well, except for my feet. I didn’t have my pumice, so they were dirt-tattooed, just how I like ’em). After my shower we walked downtown to the Michigan House, which is a bar with tap beers. It was a little disappointing, as the taps were down to two beers and they were out of tomato juice for bloody marys. I think that Covid, again, might’ve had something to do with some of this, but who knows. We still were able to have plenty of beer to drink at the bar while playing cribbage, and we ate dinner there and the food was really good. We walked back to our room and called it a night, looking forward to getting up early the next day for our driving tour of the peninsula.

Our first stop was the Keweenaw Coffee Works coffee shop right there in Calumet. This was one of those coffee shops that I could visit every day. Adam was pretty excited about showing it to me. We got some delicious coffees (they even had heavy whipping cream! Yay!), and Adam ordered me a “Frida Haut Chocolat” in a Dia de Muertos mug. It was spicy and delicious.

Yum!

Then we got into our beloved Subaru and drove north-ish. We decided to wind our way towards the north end of the peninsula where there was a brewery and a taco truck in Copper Harbor we were told we couldn’t miss, but when we arrived both were closed, so Copper Harbor was a total bust. We were bummed out, but Brockway Mountain cheered us right back up. This was another spot that every local said, “Oh, you HAVE to drive up to Brockway Mountain. You’ll be above the clouds.” So we did. We didn’t exactly get above the clouds, be we got a 360° view of the surrounding land. Which was… well… kind of amazing. We could see Lake Superior and a big rain cloud slowly creeping our way on one side, and the other, a giant drop-off into a long valley of brightly-colored autumn trees and a string of evergreens running down the center of it.

Brockway Mountain selfie.
Looking out over Lake Superior from the top of Brockway Mountain.

We took a side road at one point and it turned to gravel and wound us out in the middle of nowhere to a little lake where we hopped out and peed in the grass, enjoyed a breath of fresh air, then we turned around and went back to the main road. The drive itself was one of the best we’ve had. Adam queued up some classical music and we wound through a rainbow of fall colors. I couldn’t even believe how perfect they were. US-41 had the best display – if you ever get up there, try to go in the fall. Dude. It was absolutely mind-blowing.

Sheesh.

There’s this place called the Jam Pot off of Hwy 26. My first night backpacking, my neighboring campers were telling me I should stop there. Mary had a big, goofy smile on her face. “It’s a monastery. The monks make these really great fruit cakes.” Uh… monks? Fruit cakes? What? I was pretty sure she wasn’t kidding, and again, this was just weird enough, we had to check it out. The barista at the coffee shop also said that the monks have been known to sometimes be grumpy. I was excited to see what this place was all about, but with all the distraction of fluorescent nature and beers and fun, I’d forgotten about it! I have no idea how! Anyway, there we were, cruising along, and there it was. Jam Pot! We swung in and found the monks to be very pleasant. I guess they weren’t having a grumpy day. There was a display with their rum sourdough fruit cakes. Sure enough. They were also $50. And yes, we bought one. We were on vacation, and this seemed like one of those things, although expensive, we’d have regretted not just going for. (We tried it after we got home. It was heavy, rummy, fruity and tasted like Christmas. We’re saving the rest for then – the monk that sold it to us said it’s good for up to a year. Oh, fruit cake. You so weird.)

The $50 fruit cake.

Then we drove to Houghton, which is south of Calumet where our hotel was. But Houghton had the Keweenaw brewery – I’ve always loved their beers, so I was pretty excited to go to their taproom. They weren’t serving flights (again, Covid – but I was thankful this entire trip that I was at least able to go places, and Michigan was really good about following safety precautions – one bar actually wouldn’t let you get up from your table without putting your mask on – even if just heading to the bathroom – and they called you out on it if you forgot. I found it refreshing.) Instead of a flight, I ordered a bunch of 1/2 pints, which is basically like drinking a flight, but probably more. Lets just say I had a fun time! Haha!

After our fun time at the Keweenaw brewery we head over to The Library for dinner. We had to wait quite a while for our food, but I didn’t care because I was able to get a flight there (more beers, yay!) and the food was SO good.

Flight!

Back at the hotel we played some cribbage and hit the hay. The next morning we woke up slowly, played more cribbage (we love it so much), and I was planning on driving all the way home, so Adam had a few beers for breakfast. Again, we do what we want when on vacation! On the way home we even stopped at another really neat little bar/restaurant for lunch and so that Adam could get a bloody mary. It was a nice way to extend our time off.

The highlight of the trip was clearly the fall colors. I really don’t know that I’ve ever seen them so perfect and so full and bright. It might’ve even been just before peak because there were barely any trees with leaves missing – I love it when there’s still a bunch of green mixed in with all the reds, oranges and yellows and that was exactly what we got.

I’m glad I went on that backpacking trip. I needed that, and I’m excited to go again. I may even hit up an overnight or two this winter. And the road trip with Adam was quite the highlight, too. We love driving around together, and the Keweenaw Peninsula was just the right size to pretty much see the whole thing in a day with a bunch of little stop-offs along the way.

And that was the Derpy Dragon Tour of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

I borrowed this photo from minsocam.org because I thought it really represented the Derpy Dragon. :)

___

Tonight I love feeling reconnected.

The side-by-side. Before and after.

And more.

A church in Calumet, right across the street from our hotel.
The front of the general store from the inside, now a hotel room.
A ball sack. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
Wrong Way Barry Bearbottom Longfellow III, Esq.

Fall Backpacking in the Porkies, Day 3/3

Porcupine Wilderness, Upper Michigan

Day 3: Tuesday, September 29

11.7 miles from the Little Carp River backcountry campsite #13 to the Summit Peak Scenic Area

One of my favorites from the trip. I did this for 40+ miles and it was the best thing ever.

I woke up again in the pitch dark, as my plan was to get hiking early so I didn’t have to haul too hard to get to the Summit Peak Scenic Area where Adam was going to meet me at noon. I figured I’d give myself five hours to hike the 11-1/2 miles out.

Water boiling for hot coffee!

I was smarter this morning than the previous morning, too. The weather seemed the same, so… rain, maybe? My alarm went off, softly, just loud enough to wake me up, and it was dark, windy, but not raining. I unzipped my vestibule and peaked outside into the dark. It just kind of felt damp. Maybe because I was camped along the Lake Superior Lakeshore or maybe rain was on the way. Either way, I was doing it right this time. I went through the same in-tent routine as I do – let the air out of my air mattress, feel my butt rest on the hard ground, unzipped my sleeping bag, slowly crawled out, got dressed, etc. But I did something different. Instead of tossing all my stuff sacks outside right away, I lined them up inside the tent, and dug around until I found my stove kit. In the kit I left behind one little Starbucks Via packet. I set the stove up outside and got some water boiling and made a coffee. I wasn’t going to miss out on my hot coffee this morning!

Once everything was packed up (most of it already shoved into my backpack) and my coffee was gone, I stepped outside. I got my food bag down from the bear pole and laid out my snacks for the day. This is where I laughed out loud. Remember the mouse that got into my food bag last night? I was half-expecting one to come running out as I opened it, but that didn’t happen, thank goodness. But when I pulled out my Ziploc for the last day I noticed the tiniest hole chewed in it – one I hadn’t noticed the night before during my thorough post-mouse-invasion inspection. Inside that Ziploc I had another smaller Ziploc with my trail mix in it. I made it myself with expensive organic raw cashews, lightly salted roasted almonds and these organic chocolate-covered peanuts. It was may favorite snack, or course. And I’m sure you guessed it. Those little jerks took Every. Single. Nut. out of that bag. They took nothing else. They chewed nothing else. They smelled what they wanted, went for it, got it, and that was the end of it. Everything else was untouched. Crazy little creatures! Well, that should keep them fat and happy for a good chunk of the winter! A baggie of fatty, delicious, organic nuts. Smart little guys. Oh well, I had plenty to get me out the last 11-1/2 miles, so I was unlikely to starve.

It started to rain as I got my tent packed up, and it got a little wet, but I stuffed it in with everything else and head on down the trail in the very, very early morning light. My headlamp illuminated my way. It was a nice morning for a walk, and I didn’t care if it rained. I mean, I was heading out of the woods anyway.

There was plenty of mud holes again, and I decided to just have fun and walk through most of them. I still gingerly stepped around the deepest ones, but otherwise I just stomped right through, feeling the mud squeeze between my toes. It was fun. At one point I stepped out from a shallow mud hole and there was a large downed tree ahead of me. I saw a spot off to my right where I could walk around without too much trouble, and as I stepped over an old, decaying log, I glanced back and stopped in my tracks. It was the tiniest little thing, but it was a color that I’d never seen in nature. There on that log was THE prettiest shade of teal – a natural fungi! I’m not even kidding, friends, this was one of the highlights of my trip! It was the coolest thing ever! I looked it up later and it’s called Green Elfcup, or Chlorociboria Aeruginascens for the cool nerds out there. So incredibly beautiful!

Just WOW.

About 3 miles from my rendezvous point with Adam I realized I was about 30 minutes ahead of schedule, so instead of cruising on and waiting in a busy parking lot, I stopped by a river crossing and took my pack off. I sat on a log, made a cup of hot coffee, had a snack, dug a cathole and took care of some business, and relaxed in the forest one last time. I looked around and already felt sad that I was heading out. It was a good trip for my first one in a long time. Even though I kicked my own butt with so many miles the 2nd day, I was wanting more. Perfect. And I still had a little over an hour to enjoy, so why be sad?

Coffee break.

I hiked on and toward Lily Pond, which was beautiful. There’s a really nice cabin there (there’s cabins scattered around the park that you can reserve, too, and they’re really nice – rustic, no electricity, wood stoves, wooden bunks, etc.). I played around by the shoreline of the pond and took some photos and walked across the large bridge that spans across the opening of the pond and back into the forest. From there I took the Beaver Creek Trail, which is a short trail, but one I don’t think I’d ever hiked before. The fall colors on this trail were so bright! It was a really nice way to end the hike.

I met a little friend at Lily Pond.
Hiding. What a cutie.

After a little while I spotted cars through the trees. I was just about out to the parking lot. I got there at about 12:15, and Adam was there, waiting for me. He grabbed a photo of me right away. He did the same thing after I hiked the Wonderland Trail in 2017, and that was a 90+ mile trip, so the before and after photos were very different, but even after this much-needed 3-day trip, the difference was noticeable. I was relaxed and my smile was as natural as the dirt I’d plodded through. It was a smile without trying.

The “after.” So relaxed and so worn out and so wanting more.

Adam had a hot coffee waiting for me, a Coke (a lot of times I crave Coke out of a can, specifically after a long ultrarun or hike – he knows me so well!) and a mint Kit-Kat. It was a nice treat for when I got out of the woods. And seeing him and getting a big hug from him was the best treat! So I got into the Subaru and we head out. He had a room reserved at a really unique place up in the Keweenaw Peninsula that he was excited for me to see, and I was all like, “SHOWER!” So off we went to the rest of our little vacation – which I’ll save for another blog post. Because you know what? The fall colors got better. In fact, maybe the best I’ve ever seen. No kidding. Go to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan to see fall colors if you ever get a chance. We saw color, we drank tasty beer, and bought a fruitcake. Yep, a fruitcake. What a trip.

We might already be in heaven.

___

Tonight I love my dirty feet that will only get clean once I can get my hands on a pumice stone.

More!

Fall Backpacking in the Porkies, Day 2/3

Porcupine Wilderness, Upper Michigan

Day 2: Monday, September 28, 2020

24.4 miles, leaving from Little Carp River #13 backcountry campsite, along a long lollipop-shaped loop through the park and back to the same campsite

Early morning puffy face that I couldn’t give two craps about, during a sprinkling rain along the Lake Superior Shoreline.

My alarm went off early in the dark, as I’d expected, but I still snoozed it a few times because I actually don’t think I slept great. I found myself waking up often to readjust my position, and about halfway into the night I realized that my NeoAir mattress felt too full of air, of all things. I let out some of the air and it was much more comfy after that.

I noticed some sprinkling rain on and off throughout the night, but it wasn’t raining at all when I woke up. It was windy out there, but I wasn’t worried about that. Wind won’t soak my gear and make it heavier. So I just started to pack up my things – the routine came back to me as if it had been tattooed in my brain and that brought a smile to my face. “This feels so good,” I thought. First, let the air out of my mattress. Feel my butt slowly settle onto the hard ground. Unzip the sleeping bag, slowly letting one leg at a time inch out getting used to the cold air. Reach inside and grab my hiking clothes (so I don’t have to put on cold clothes – I sleep with them! And if they’re slightly damp my body heat dries them.) Change out of sleeping clothes and into hiking clothes. Stuff sleeping bag into tiny stuff sack and cinch it tight. Roll the air out of my air mattress and pillow, stuff them away into the same stuff sack. Pack sleeping clothes into Ziploc and squeeze the air out. One by one, toss each packed-up bag into the dirt just outside my tent, unzip the vestibule and look out into the blackness of early morning. I continued to bag my gear into their own little sacks and line them up outside my tent.

I slipped on my sandals and stepped outside. I put on my rain jacket to ward off the chill the wind carried with it across the lake. It smelled amazing, it sounded like crashing waves and wind whipping through the treetops above me, and the air was crisp and chill, just as I’d expected. I stood there for just a moment and stared into the black sky above me with my eyes closed and just let it in. I had a long, great day ahead of me, so back to the best chores I could ask for. I took my tent down and packed it up, adding it to my nice little organized row of stuff sacks, ready to get packed away into my backpack. I walked over and got my food bag down from the bear pole and when I got back to my site it started to rain! Why couldn’t it wait just another 15 minutes! I was going to make a hot coffee and finish off last night’s dinner for breakfast! I ripped open one of my Starbucks Via packets and dumped it into my mug, added some cold water, swished it around and chugged it, packed it away, along with everything else as the rain started to collect on everything I had laying out. I moved as quickly as I could, grabbed my breakfast cookies and put them in my skirt pocket, tossed my snacks into my “Find-Me-Fanny” (which I’ll explain in a minute), set out my apple, and cinched up my pack. I got it all strapped on and just started walking down the trail, illuminated by the very beginnings of early daylight, but mostly from my headlamp. I made a pretty hasty retreat from camp, eating my apple as I walked.

So, the “Find-Me-Fanny.” I bought a new piece of backpacking gear before this trip and was excited to use it. It’s a fanny pack. But it’s a special fanny pack, as it’s made from folks who thru-hike. It’s a company called Thrupack. When I was trying to decide what color to buy, I chose orange. I thought it would be easier to find amongst my gear bags and such, and I didn’t think I had many things that were orange. When it arrived in the mail I was a little surprised to see it was BLAZE orange. So blaze. So orange. But whatever, it was perfect. I can wear it with my pack, and it’s got so much room for all the things I need while hiking – phone, chapstick, maps, phone, charger – all kinds of good stuff. It was very comfy and I didn’t even notice it. But I was calling it my “Find-Me-Fanny” because it was so bright orange, that if I got lost, all I’d have to do is wave that sucker in the air, and any helicopter would see me. I mean, it’s bright! It just needs a little more dirt on it, and I’m working on it. But seriously, if you’re not happy with the amount of room that your backpack’s hip belt pockets provide (or if it has none), check out the Thrupack site for some options. Oh, and it kept the rain out. Bonus!

I stopped along the Lakeshore for a few photos and to enjoy the waves in the morning blue/purple light and continued on. The rain actually died off not too long after that.

Gosh dang, Lake Superior, you perty.

I had a panic moment within the first hour. I pulled up my camera roll to make sure my videos were recording okay because I had to put my phone into its Lifeproof case when the rain started up (I am not a fan of the Lifeproof case, so I only put it on when I have to – aka when it rains). My camera roll showed NONE of the photos I took of the lake OR the videos! I took a couple more shots and they just disappeared. The last photo shown from was the night before in my tent! The only reason I bring that hunk of heavy technology and the heavy battery and annoying cords to keep it charged is so I can take 8 million photos and 2 million hours of video. If that isn’t working, I’d much rather just toss it right into the lake! I was feeling sick. I restarted it, played around with some settings, and while doing these things I realized the date was showing as June 11! I quickly scrolled through my camera roll all the way back to June 2020 and there were all my photos! Whew! Thank goodness. You get zero service throughout almost all the park, which is THE BEST, but I wasn’t going to be able to update the date (or the time, which was off by 45 minutes), until I could get some service. Who cares. It was saving my photos, that’s all I needed for now. Onward.

I stopped at a waterfall overlook to pee and take off my rain jacket, and quickly head back into the forest munching away on my breakfast cookies. I hiked pretty steady for the first 9 miles to Mirror Lake where I’d planned to stop for a break to eat my leftover dinner and make up a HOT coffee, since I missed out on that for breakfast. The sun even popped out once in a while as I hiked, the mud holes were plentiful, but thankfully I had some nice, longer breaks of drier trail in between where I could just cruise along. I had a few river crossings and felt thankful that there aren’t bridges built over every one of them. I love bridges, but it’s also nice to have the rugged-style trail and a few rivers to actually ford across. Also, I wear sandals, so I can just walk right in and not worry about trying to keep my feet dry. It always felt refreshing and washed away some lingering grit from the mud holes.

One of the park’s many waterfalls, framed by autumn leaves.

The colors in the forest were really nice. It ranged from dark green pines to the brightest yellow/lime green leaves and all the reds and oranges in between. Sometimes it felt like I was walking into bright daylight because a swath of trees were so brightly-colored. The inside of the forest still had a lot of green, but there was every fall color out to see, too. It felt like the perfect time to be deep in that autumnal forest.

When I arrived to Mirror Lake I started up a small hill and saw two backpackers up ahead. I saw the girl’s familiar face light up and she exclaimed, “Is that ROBIN?” It was Autumn and Reed! I met Autumn years ago through a backpacking Meetup group, and I think we may have actually gone on a trip together in the Porkies! She was there with her husband, Reed, who I hadn’t met in person yet. We stayed friends on social media that whole time, so I’d only seen photos – it was really nice to meet him in person! And SO cool to run into someone I knew out in the middle of the Porcupine Mountains! And to make things even more serendipitous, they were headed to the Little Carp #14 site. RIGHT NEXT TO MINE! We said our “see-ya-laters” and went out opposite directions – they were taking the trail back to the site from the direction I came from, and I was continuing on my stupid-long route in the opposite direction. Now I had another exciting reason to get to camp (in addition to eating)!

I stopped a few minutes later and took my pack off, leaned up against a big, old downed tree and unpacked my lunch and made my hot coffee, finally. I kept it a pretty quick break because I still had about 15 miles to hike. I could’ve turned back here and gone back the way I came, but I really wanted to see Lake of the Clouds and I was feeling pretty good, so I continued on, committing to my 24-mile day that I’d planned. I knew my feet would be wrecked by the time I was done, but felt it would be worth seeing as much of the park as I could in my short time there. I was glad I continued on.

A short while later I started hearing people hooting and hollering from way up on the escarpment at Lake of the Clouds. I reached the bridge that you can see from up at the overlook and noticed the silhouettes of all the people up there, looking down into the tops of all the fluorescent-colored treetops that I’d been crawling through all day. I hiked my way up the steep trail and joined all those people for just a minute. Even though it was a Monday, there was still quite a lot of people up there. I took a few quick photos and continued down my trail. It’s still difficult to be in a crowd of people when you’re on a backcountry trip. I got some great views further down my trail after the crowd petered back out and enjoyed some slow miles taking photos, a few videos and just enjoying looking over all the hills, terrain, fall colors, and even a far-off view of Lake Superior all blue, blending into the white overcast sky.

Lake of the Clouds overlook selfie.
A different angle from further down the trail.
Okay, one more.

I stopped for so many photos. I have so many pictures of leaves that I don’t even know what to do with them all! I also stopped to dig three catholes throughout the day. I am not used to eating backpacking food, even though I tried to choose organic, natural-ingredient, lower-in-natural-carb foods when I could. But I still ended up having a few GI issues along the way, but I think the miles I’d planned also had something to do with that. I was pushing pretty hard all day to complete my 24-mile loop and still arriving at camp before dark. But wow, was I happy. Foot soreness, gut bubbling and all.

Just a leaf.

About 2 miles before camp I took a wrong turn. I was tired and very excited to get back to camp to see Autumn and Reed and to eat the Pad Thai dinner that I picked out. I realized it pretty quickly, but as I backtracked, I had to cross over a small bridge made of old railroad ties (just two of them stretching across the expanse of a small ravine about 6-7 feet down) I wasn’t supposed to be on that darn bridge anyway, and I slipped on the wet surface. I went down right in the middle of the bridge and instinctually reached both hands out, grabbing the edges of the railroad ties and catching myself. If I’d fallen there, into that shallow ravine, I could’ve very easily landed on a leg or arm wrong and it could have been a bad situation. I was tired and feeling hurried, so after I got up and took a deep breath, I just took my time getting back to my trail and finished up my day with no more falls.

At camp, Autumn and Reed were all set up and I got right to work getting my camp set up, too. I did make it in the daylight, but there wasn’t much of it left. I got my tent set up, got water boiled and added to my Pad Thai, and it felt like all of a sudden the sky poured liquid-gold light into the forest. There was a pretty thick layer of heavy clouds in the sky, but right at the horizon was a clearing spanning across the edge of the lake. The sun peeked out below that layer of clouds and just lit our world up in molten gold. I left my food soaking by my fire ring and head to the shoreline. I washed the dirt off of my feet as the waves rolled in and the warm color that the sun was throwing off glowed right into my smiling face. I can’t really even tell you how amazing that sunset was, but I got some pretty photos. I couldn’t believe the color that was coming out of the water, the driftwood, the trees, the sky, the clouds – everything it touched was heavenly.

This sunset. How is it that you can see a sunset and think you’ll never see one better, but you somehow always do. Nature blows my freakin’ mind. All. The. Time.
This.

After I practically inhaled my dinner (I was so hungry!) I popped over by Autumn and Reed and we sat in the dark and caught up and chatted for quite a while. It was such a nice visit! While that was happening, I had a funny situation unfolding that I was totally unaware of. I left my food bag sitting on the log bench by my campsite, as I was sipping on my peppermint patty while talking to Autumn and Reed, so I had to add that to my food bag before hanging it. When we all decided to head to bed, I walked back over to my site to get my food bag ready to hang. I reached down to grab the bag, and felt something weird. I shone my headlamp down and a mouse literally crawled out of my hand and underneath the log!! I screamed like a little girl from the startle, but nobody heard over the crashing waves of Lake Superior. Then I saw another one skitter across the log and into a crack. Oh, boy. This is what I get for leaving my food bag OPEN and unattended! I wasn’t worried about a bear getting it while I was only one site over, but I never even thought about mice! I dumped everything out onto the logs and inspected it all as closely as I could. First, to make sure there were no other critters in there, and second, to see what they got into and what kind of poop was left behind. The only place I found poop was in my trash bag, so that was fine. And the only damage I noticed was where one of them tried to chew into one of my Babybel cheese wheels but was unsuccessful. I figured I’d gotten lucky and caught them in the act early.

I got over to the bear pole and hung my food pretty quickly again. So I guess I’m actually okay at it, but why does that pole have to be so heavy! Haha! Then I head back to my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag, looking forward to a good, deep night’s sleep after such a long day. My feet were very sore, and only had a couple of small rub spots where I’m sure mud grit got stuck and I didn’t notice soon enough to take care of it. But it wasn’t bad, and I was thankful for that. I was pretty sure I’d be sore for my last 11.5 miles out of the woods, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. I was completely happily worn out.

Tent, night 2.

I mean, I hiked. All. Day. Long. From sun-up to almost sun-down, and it felt so perfect. I fell asleep quickly to the loud crashing of waves for a second night all cozily bundled up in my soft, squishy down sleeping bag.

___

Tonight I love hiking. I mean, I especially love remembering how much I love hiking.

More photos. Again.

(I did not edit this color. Pretty insane, right?)

Fall Backpacking in the Porkies, Day 1/3

Porcupine Wilderness, Upper Michigan

Day 1: Sunday, September 27, 2020

7.3 miles from Presque Isle to the Little Carp River #13 backcountry campsite

I needed this trip for so many reasons. Looking back on the photos, I kind of recognize that particular smile. And that makes me happy.

Real quick preface here: I was really wanting to backpack in the Porkies for my time off this week, but I couldn’t get a reservation – everything has been booked solid for weeks. Campgrounds, hotels, and even the backcountry sites – all full. I put a message out on a facebook group asking for suggestions for places I could do a 3- or 4-day trip without having to make reservations (it’s peak fall colors right now, too, so…). I got some cool suggestions but then a comment came in from a girl named Sara that said she had 2 nights reserved in the Porkies for Sunday and Monday nights and couldn’t use them because her plans had changed – and did I want them? Um, hell yeah I do!! How lucky am I!? So she changed the reservation to my name and I started planning.

Adam and I got back Saturday morning from our 2-week truckin’ run, did some fast shopping for stuff I’d need, then once we were home it was game on. The only prep I’d been able to do on the road was make lists, so I started plugging away at them and checking things off. I got my food organized into breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks. Then separately ziploc-baggied everything and packed that into gallon bags for each day. (I think I packed too much food, but I’ll find out tomorrow.)

Then I dug through our messy, unorganized spare room for all my gear. It was scattered around, but I managed to find everything. My biggest hiccup was that none of my 3 water filters were working. After about an hour of messing with backflushing them I was able to get my regular Sawyer and a Sawyer mini to work okay. Slow, but good enough. Whew! I packed them both because I got nervous when I realized they didn’t work. They must’ve been clogged with minerals or something from sitting dry for so long. Sheesh! It’s been too long since I’ve been backpacking!

Then I got my clothes together. I went back and forth, worried I’d be cold (the forecast was calling for a bit of rain each day, with temps getting as low as 40° F. Bad combo.) I think I managed to not overthink it or overpack.

Then I gathered all the things – my food, gear, clothing, electronics… And attempted, nervously, to pack it all into my backpack. It all fit! I haven’t packed a backpack for a multi-day trip in so long I was afraid I’d forgotten how. But it came back pretty quick. When it was all said and done my whole pack weighed in at 28.2 pounds with 2 liters of water and all my food for the 3 days I’d be out there. I’ll take it.

Everything I need. All 28 pounds of it. This is the simple life.

Adam and I woke up around 5am Sunday morning and hit the road between 6 and 7am. We grabbed a coffee to go and enjoyed the road trip north together. The fall colors seem to be at peak up north already, which seems early. It’s not even October yet! But I wasn’t complaining! The colors just got brighter and prettier and more vibrant as we made our way towards the Porkies. It. Was. Amazing.

Road trippin’! Our favorite! It’s a wonder how we want to just keep driving after that’s all we do for work!
The fall display on the way to the Porkies.

We head right to the visitor’s center where I picked up my permit, and then we head towards the other end of the park where I planned to start my hike. Presque Isle is on the west end of the park, and there’s a campground and a series of waterfalls, so it was so busy! Adam and I said our farewells and off I went down the trail.

Ready to go, thinking, “I hope I didn’t forget something important.”

Just a couple miles into the trail and I was away from pretty much all the people, all alone, just me and the forest. I was so happy that I got teary-eyed a couple of times. I was feeling really sad a couple of months ago because I seriously couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone backpacking. It’s my favorite thing to do, and I just haven’t been able to go! Ultra running has helped scratch the itch, but never really hit the right spot. I mean, since discovering it, I have a special kind of love for ultra running, and I’ll continue with it, but it’s just not backpacking. When I put that backpack on and started my way down that trail, I felt… Completely full. I felt right. I felt like melting into the trail. And I so did.

Some of the falls at Presque Isle where I started.

I hiked 7.3 miles to my backcountry campsite, and it was kind of tough-going! The trail was rugged, muddy, had so many roots, several large trees to navigate around, over and even under, there were huge sections of mud and swamp and a few crazy-steep hills to work my way up and down. Ah, yes. Backpacking. This trail would’ve been nothing but frustrating had I been trying to trail run, but it was fun for hiking. Well, it got a little frustrating towards the end. Only because it felt like it was barely maintained for almost the entire 7 miles. There were only a few very short cruiser sections, and by the time I was done with the day I’d only been able to go about 2 mph. And I didn’t even stop for a break. And that’s okay, except I’d really like to do a big day tomorrow, and if the other trails are like this one, I’ll have to adjust my plan.

One of the few dry sections of trail the first day. Very rugged. Very fun.

Tomorrow I was hoping to hike long and hard and do way more miles than I should because, well, I’m crazy and that’s how I do things. The plan is hike a 24+ mile lollipop loop so that I can see Mirror Lake AND Lake of the Clouds. But I might alter the plan if I feel pooped at Mirror Lake. I have this same campsite for tomorrow night, so I can just do an out and back at Mirror Lake if I don’t think I have it in me to do the whole planned loop. But even then it’ll still be like 18 miles!

Map of the Porkies.

When I arrived here at camp, there was a nice couple (Mary and Nate, whom I didn’t get a picture of – I’m so bad at that!) and they offered to share their campfire. Wood was scarce in the area – being toward the end of the backpacking season, the area around these campsites has been pretty picked over. I made my dinner and ate half of it (only because I thought it was one serving when I bought it, but it’s actually two and was way too much food for the little bit of hiking I’d done that day). Then I heated up some water and made myself a delicious peppermint patty and head over to their warm fire and visited with them for a bit. When I told them that Adam and I were planning to visit the Keweenaw Peninsula after I got out of the woods, they told us to hit up the monastery that sells fruit cakes. Um, what? So I decided that was just weird enough that we’d have to find the place.

This is the best camp treat. Nothing beats a peppermint patty.

After our visit, I hung my food bag on the bear pole and was happy that it didn’t take too long. The poles used to raise the food bags up are kind of heavy and awkward, so it can be hard to aim it on the hooks, especially when you have a full food bag! But I got the job done and walked back to my tent, crawled in, and now I’m gonna hit the hay. I’m laying in my tent as I write this, warm in my sleeping bag, massaging each foot with the other, listening to the constant crashing of waves along the Lake Superior shoreline. It’s so soothing and perfect. The air is cool on my face and I expect it to feel downright crisp in the morning. But for now, I sleep.

Well, I didn’t forget anything. It was all there. I had all I needed to live in the woods.
Tent, night 1.

___

Tonight I love the feel of the cool, natural, outside air on my face.

Here’s just a couple more photos. Because I took A LOT. Like a LOT a lot.

I’m trying a YouTube thing…

“Run with Toots” – a new YouTube series featuring places you can park your semi and go for a run or walk!

So I’m new to the YouTube posting thing. I know, I’m super-behind the times. The reason I decided to take a stab at a YouTube series is because I wanted to share some of the places I like to run (or walk, or hike) while I’m driving over the road as a truck driver, and I thought sharing them with video would be a really nice way to actually show others where to park, how to get to the run/route and actually see a preview of what it looks like. My main rule is that anyone can park at these places and find these running spots — so they aren’t going to be at shippers/receivers, you won’t have to unhook and use personal conveyance (due to company policies, this isn’t an option for all of us), and you won’t need an Uber or public transportation to get there. You simply park your truck (at truck stops, rest areas, and sometimes things like ramps and pull-offs) and head to the trail. (Sidenote: there are several cool places you CAN run near shippers/receivers, using PC and/or Uber, so certainly don’t rule them out. But for the purpose of these videos, I’m sticking to that one main rule of using general public parking so we can all use these same spots no matter what.)

I found it very challenging to keep up with running when I started this career over six years ago (sheesh, time flies!), and I knew it would be tough. But I’ve since managed to find a few ways to stay motivated, and one in particular was simply finding good, safe, and fun places to go for runs. For my non-trucker friends, trust me when I say that this can be more challenging than you’d think. When you’re driving around in a car, you can pretty much pull off anywhere, drive anywhere, and park anywhere. And if you find yourself at a dead end, you just turn around. You can’t do all that when you’re in a truck. There are a lot of restrictions as to where we can and cannot drive and/or park. For example, there might be a really cool state park off of I-80 with some really sweet hiking trails that I drive by every week, but there is no truck access to the park or even nearby. It can be such a tease because I know I just have to pass them by with hearts in my eyes and, instead, run stupid circles around a rest area (my least favorite choice, but I’ve done it when I’ve been desperate for a running workout). But… that’s not always the case, either. Which is why I’m showing you these videos! Yay!

I’ve got a YouTube channel under my name, “Robin Grapa.” I seriously don’t know much at all about this stuff, so I’m just winging this to start and see where it takes me. I know that running and walking isn’t an activity of choice for a lot of truck drivers, so I’m not expecting this to go viral or anything nuts — I simply just wanted to help a fellow truckin’ runner out. There is actually quite a lot of us that are trying to stay active, and some of us that might stumble upon this wanting to start getting active, and I would LOVE it if this inspired someone to get out there and give these spots a shot for some exercise! (Another sidenote: check out the “truckin’ runners” facebook page if you haven’t yet. It’s another great resource!). Also, to be completely honest, I love sharing stuff like this for some selfish reasons. It feels like I’m talking y’all with me so I don’t feel alone (it can be a lonely job sometimes!), and it gives me a distraction from the actual running part, which is hard sometimes, so yup. It’s an excuse to stop running for a sec, take a little break and take video and a picture or two. Or twenty (I take a lot of photos. Just check out my Instagram!). Running is hard, breaks are good. Haha!

A random view from one of my recent runs that I still need to edit. This is in Ohio.

The series is going to be called “Run with Toots,” so you’ll see that the titles of these videos will start with a number (001, 002, etc) and then “Run with Toots,” followed by the city/park/trail name and state. For example, the first video is called 001: Run with Toots – Jasper, TN. In the video and the description I’ll mention where to park your truck and how to get to the trail and/or route that I’m featuring. And then you’ll see actual footage of what the trail looks like and sometimes a little adventure that might go with it (like seeing a wild armadillo in video 002! No kidding!).

I’ve got about 10 of these in the queue. I wanted to see if it was something I’d stick with before actually posting them publicly, and since I’ve kept at it, and have actually really been enjoying putting them together, here we are with video 001. I’m going to try to post one every couple of weeks or so until I run out, and then probably just post them as I create them. So you’ll notice in this first video from Jasper, TN that it was March when I filmed it. It doesn’t really matter, I figure, because either way you can still park at these places and explore these routes.

Also, I’d like to note that in addition to being a newb to the YouTube posting thing, I’m also not an expert editor by any means! These videos are all done using my Android phone. I take the videos on my phone. I take photos and edit them on the phone. I use a cheap video editing app on my phone to blend the videos and photos together. And then I use my phone to upload them to YouTube. So the quality isn’t going to be top-notch movie-quality stuff. And I’m okay with that. But I am looking for feedback for information you think would be helpful to add, or if I talk too much, or route suggestions that you’ve found that I should check out and maybe feature, or whatever. Otherwise, for now, it’s just going to be pretty raw like this. It’s pretty simple to put these together, and time is precious (you truckers know what I mean!!), so I’m going to try to keep it simple. But feedback is appreciated. Mostly… is this helpful? Do you think I should continue putting these together and posting them? Let me know! And please share if you’d like. I know there’s lots of facebook groups out there and social media outlets that I don’t know anything about because I’m in my early 40’s and not in the loop with some of them. So feel free to help me reach truckers who like to run if you know of a way I’m not using!

With that, here’s the first video. I hope you enjoy it and look forward to the next one. And I hope this helps someone feel motivated to get out for a run or walk or discover a new spot to enjoy on one of your breaks. Thanks for reading and following along!

___

Tonight I love running. It’s my medicine.

Crawling back out of the darkness – another ramble.

“Everything that’s broke, leave it to the breeze.” -Let it Go/James Bay

I’m not sure where to start, so I’ll just start right here. I’m working on coming back from a bout of depression. Each time I think I’m looking toward light and feeling better, something seems to pull me back down. It’s not events, or words, or anything particular. It’s just depression. It’s what it does. I’ll feel so great one afternoon, and I’ll think, “thank God. I’m feeling SO much better!” And I’ll wake up the next morning and tears will roll down my cheeks and all I’ll want to do is roll over and go back to sleep. I can’t seem to pinpoint why. I mean, what the hell happened while I was sleeping!? And it’s really goddamn frustrating.

I’m not sure if something triggered it or what. But I think some truth just hit me and I let it hit. I think I usually skirt around truth, look at some clouds, go for a run, take some pictures and share them, or just find any distraction to feel okay. And it’s always worked. But every once in a while, it just doesn’t. This time in particular, I was having a pretty normal day, on a solo run at work, and I was sitting in traffic due to an accident or something a few miles up the road. I was in a really good mood, and I even did some Instagram stories about it, and then, feeling brave, I even shared those stories on Facebook, deciding, “why do I only share my stories to Instagram? I should share them cross-media, right?” So I did. I, probably like everyone else in this world, have a little bit of social media anxiety. I overthink everything I post, and generally end up keeping it light. Happy. Pictures. Pretty things. Happy. I might toss in a little something “real” once in a while, but usually it’s just to vent or share a frustration that I think might seem interesting (like being stuck in traffic or waiting a really long time at a shipper). It’s usually just something to do when I’m bored or frustrated. But I actively try to NOT post those kinds of things. Oh my God. Anyway. Back to where this depression punched me in the stomach.

So I shared some stories. And then I had this pick up at a meat plant (which was depressing for a few specific reasons that I didn’t realize until right now that may have affected me a little bit, too. Quick tangent – these reasons might be 1) a guy there told me they process 1100 cows every day. Ugh. Poor fucking cows. I enjoy meat, but I do try to eat local, grass-fed beef, at the very least, so that I can feel a little better thinking those cows were at least treated well. But it’s all gross. I saw a couple of small trailers of cows coming in and the guy even explained to me about how they get paid for every pound, hooves and all, as long as the cow can walk off the trailer. And then I made the mistake of asking. Yes, I did. I asked. “They sometimes can’t walk off the trailer on their own?” His response wasn’t a surprise, “Nope. Sometimes they have to pull them off with a Bobcat.” Fuck. Why did I even ask. Anyway, that was one thing that was making my stomach turn a little bit. Then 2) we were in the heat of the Black Lives Matter situation going on all over the country, and I am one of those ignorant white girls that really didn’t understand what white privilege  actually was, like, forever. And when George Floyd was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis and the world went crazy (rightfully so), I started seeing so many of my social media friends posting books that we should all read about race and white privilege and the state of our completely messed up system, and I finally downloaded a couple and started listening on Audible. It didn’t take long – I mean like AT ALL – to realize what white privilege meant. I came out of my mom’s vagina white, and so I have and will continue receiving certain benefits and treatments without having to work for them, without asking and most of the time not even REALIZE I’m receiving them. Unlike a child born out of its mother’s vagina with black skin. Our lives will be very much different, no matter what path we take in life. Even if that path was exactly the same. I’d have more benefits (big and small). And it’s not fair. Maybe we weren’t alive to start this mess, but we’re alive now, and so we should do something about it, right? Other human beings aren’t being treated fairly, and that sucks. And what IS my fault, is sitting idly by doing nothing. I have a lot of work to do and it’s overwhelming. But I have to start somewhere, and that’s with a few books and a lot of thinking. So whatever, it’s small and I still have no fucking clue just how much more there is to learn about race and racism, but my eyes started to bug out a little bit, I started to really feel uncomfortable (finally, I know!) and I feel horrible. So everything is a mess in this country and this world and I’m trying to work through some of that, but I am no where near being comfortable using my voice and I know that sucks, but I’m a coward, friends. I know it. But that’s where I’m at, and with that long-ass setup, while I was at that same meat-packing plant, waiting to get my trailer loaded, I sat in a break room after using the restroom and about 3 or 4 other guys were sitting in there bullshitting, and someone mentioned something about how they lost a bunch of Mexican workers because they weren’t legal, and then they hired a bunch of black kids and they didn’t work hard, and yes. The conversation went on like this. And I got really squirmy in my chair and didn’t know what to say, how to say it, or how to just leave. So I sat there and just tried to move the subject somewhere else, because again. Cowardace. I’m not there yet. I don’t have any idea how to say things. So yeah, those two things sunk into my bones while I was at this place, and I just now realized that these might have been seeds to my depression – just a small part of it that was feeding that ball in my stomach, unbeknownst to me, that was about to eject itself and kick me into submission. Clearly, this wasn’t THE thing that triggered my depression, but I’m sure it didn’t help.

Oh God. Again. So while at that meat-packing plant, I shared some stories because these people were being SO nice that it was overwhelming. In fact, they did so much for me and were so nice and so helpful, looking back, it kind of feels like maybe they were micromanaging me and I should’ve just said “no, thanks” to some of it, but I digress. I pulled into the place, and checked in. A yard jockey told me I could drop my trailer down by the wash bay and he would wash it out for me for no cost. Their procedure is to have the driver drop the trailer and they bring it around to the door and bring it back loaded and sealed, but this was above and beyond. So yeah, sure! I dropped it, he washed it out and brought it around back — to the “good door” that will load me faster. I guess the guys that load trailers from that door load quicker than the guys that load trailers from other doors. Whatever. Two other guys sat there and talked to me while they also waited for trailers to be loaded, and they were just fun. They were maybe in their 50’s? Early 60’s? And just talkers. One guy told me he had like 15 kids (all adopted) and something like 40 grandkids. The other guy met Elvis. So it was a fun way to wait, listening to these guys so animatedly tell their stories to me, a younger girl who just pulled in with a truck to pick up a load. I’m sure it was just as entertaining for them to have someone to share their stories with. And then the yard jockey guy, after bringing my trailer around to the back to be loaded, pulled up beside my truck and handed me a cold bottle of water. And when my trailer was done, he pulled it around and turned it around so it was facing the right direction so I could easily back right onto their scale. And then he helped me slide my tandems. They did so many things they didn’t have to do that I felt really well taken care of there. I was happy. I shared it on stories, and again, thought, “I should share this on Facebook stories, too, because why not?” So I did. I was feeling brave about it, and a little icky, because again, social media anxiety, but I just posted it and moved on. I mean, other people share all kinds of things on stories, I’m just sharing some happy stuff.

And then I screwed up a scheduling situation from work and with Adam. Here’s where I’m not going to go into too much detail because I don’t want to get into the weeds about where I’m sitting with work and with Adam. But anyway, I misunderstood a load assignment, thinking I was going to get home from my solo run and have a day off, then Adam would get back in the truck with me for our team run after he’s had his time off (really quick, we’re on a unique schedule where I run solo for a week, and then we run team together for two weeks, and repeat. It’s been really nice. Adam gets a break to work on himself and his life balance stuff and I get a week on the road by myself, which I found I enjoy – but I also enjoy teaming, so I get the best of both worlds). So anyway, when I was told the load in California was “for Monday,” it meant it delivered on Monday. I, for some reason, thought it meant leaving Monday. And normally, no big deal. We had plenty of time to make the run and get it there, but where I fell apart, was when I realized that it cut into Adam’s time off a day or two. I just felt like I dropped the ball and it affected his schedule and balance and whatever. And when I realized I had to call work and try to explain my blunder, I didn’t want to. I wanted Adam to just deal with it so I wouldn’t have to call work an explain how stupid I am. And then I realized I was choosing trying to keep work comfy over my husband. I began to spiral. But again, this wasn’t like a big event that threw me into a depression, I think it was just all a bunch of little things. This was just the top of the slide where I’d been sitting for a long time, and finally it just shoved me off.

They always say to find someone to talk to. Now listen, I am NOT suicidal. I want to make that clear, because I know talk of depression is touchy, and can be triggering and so on. But really. I’m okay that way. I’m just depressed. But back to “find someone to talk to.” I think when you’re not depressed, this sounds so easy. I’ve always turned completely reclusive when I sink into a depression. I don’t want to talk to anyone. ANYONE. Not my husband, not my family, not my friends… anyone. I want to figure it out on my own, go for a run, take some pretty pictures and post them on Instagram and move on. But sometimes that doesn’t work. And then I see the mountains in Utah and I cry. But this time I’m not crying because they’re so beautiful. It’s a different feeling behind the tears. It’s sad. It’s not because I can’t stop and play in them, either (yes, I admit to crying at the sight of mountains many a time for one of those two reasons). I don’t know how to explain it. It’s almost like I see those mountains, I know they’re beautiful, and I know I love to daydream about playing in them, but that joy doesn’t surface. I feel nothing. I know I normally have all these feelings with those scenes. And right then? Nothing. And so I cry. Depression sucks. This happened often after that. Sunrises. Running. A breeze. A happy post from a friend on Facebook. Everything leveled out to a low hum. A really low hum. And I just didn’t care.

Part of my reclusive behavior turned to social media. There is all kinds of yucky stuff out there that was making me sad and mad (politics, fucking Covid and people fighting over GODDAMN wearing masks, racism, etc., etc., etc.) But there was also all kinds of really good stuff, which the majority of my friends DO post about. Fun trips, pretty pictures, tiny adventures, accomplishments – you know the stuff! And again I just felt empty about it all. I cried. I mean, I bawled my eyes out as I removed Facebook and Instagram from my phone. I needed a break. When Adam asked if I needed something I said no. When friends reached out and asked if I was okay I said yup and redirected the conversations. I turned everyone away and sunk into my darkness alone. And oh fucking lord is it lonely. And it does not help. Yes. I should’ve talked to someone. But it’s really hard to talk to someone. Because what I need to talk about is things I do not like about my life, and these are all my fault, and I don’t have any control over any of them, even though I should, and I just can’t seem to get my shit together, even though I’ve always plastered shit all over my social media that makes it appear like I have this glorious, perfect life with all this adventure and I see all these cool things and everything is wonderful and I totally have all of my shit together.

I’m a fraud.

This is a thought that keeps popping up throughout all of this crap. Behind all the flowers and trails and runs and adventures, just like so many, I’m unraveled. I’m a mess. I’ve always managed to distract myself from it with all these things, but sometimes it just doesn’t hold any more. I’ve visualized it in a few ways – and it’s silly, but one of them was me floating in a pond or a lake or even a bathtub. All my problems and shit I hate about myself and the things that make me feel so unhappy that I’m afraid to talk about or bring up are rubber duckies. And I’m floating there, holding them all underwater. And I’ve got a smile on my face, and I’m doing a really good job holding them all down underneath the surface of the water. Every once in a while one will pop up and out of the water, and I’ll panic for a second, and then I’ll quickly push it back underwater and the smile will return to my face. And then I just get tired and all the fucking rubber duckies just start popping out of the water and floating around me and I lay there, lifeless and defeated.

My social media has always been a highlight reel. I think of it almost like a journal. A happy journal. One where I share the good things. The pretty things. And I actually found through this depression that I really enjoy doing that, and that’s the actual reason I do it. It’s actually one of the things I was missing. One of the things I was still feeling feelings for. While going on runs, walks, adventures, work, whatever – I find things to take pictures of for any reason – ugly, pretty, interesting, weird, funny – and then I play with them in some sort of editing app and post them. My friends out there seem to enjoy it, too, and that makes it even more fun to share them. I feel like maybe this thing I enjoy doing is bringing a tiny bit of joy to someone else – even if it’s just a quick, “Ooh, pretty flower,” as they’re scrolling through their feed. I just want to make someone happy. Including me. And sharing all those photos does that. So that is one thing I’ve decided I’m going to keep doing. As soon as I feel like taking more photos (depression is so evil…). I’ve taken a few, and I’ve edited them, but I have not posted them, and as soon as I feel ready to get back into social media, I’ll post them. But I’m not quite ready yet. I’ve tried to get on a few times to test the waters and my stomach knots. And part of that is I don’t want any attention from my blackout. I didn’t stop visiting because I wanted people to say something. I just couldn’t. I just needed a break. And now it’s really freaking awkward trying to dip my toes back in. Do I just go back to normal? Will I be able to even let myself do that? Do I want to? I don’t know where I am with that.

Also, here. This blog. For so long, I’ve been wanting to get back into writing, but life got busy when Adam started driving again. That’s a whole blog post in itself. We eventually wanted to get back into the truck together again at some point way down the road, but that got fast-tracked when Covid hit because Adam had a plan to start looking for something with more hours and people were getting laid off everywhere. Everything was shutting down, businesses and schools were closing. Where the hell was he going to find a new job in that environment? So he jumped in the truck with me again on a limited basis, which is still full-time because trucking is crazy like that. Anyway. The truth is I fell away from writing even well before that. I never wrote up my 100-mile race report which hurts to think about. I mean, I wrote up every other race report leading up to that sucker. I trained my ass off. I built up to it for TWO years. And then I did it. And it was amazing. I mean, really amazing. And I never wrote up my race report. And now it’s so far back, I know I’ve forgotten the details I want to write about. I’m sad about this. SO, so sad. I know myself and my memory… I need to do these things right away. Sigh. I think I’ll still try to eventually write up an abbreviated version with what I can still remember, and hopefully I’ll have something before it hits the one-year anniversary of the run (which was in October last year). And maybe I can continue to write here about whatever. Because I enjoy it. I need to remember these things I enjoy and cling to them.

And… I still need to work on all the shit in the background and not ignore it and not keep it tucked away, and I’m trying. I’ve got Adam things to work on, I’ve got work things to work on, I’ve got dreams things to work on, I’ve got goal things to work on. I don’t have any idea where I want to go with any of it, or what I want out of any of it, but I need to work on it. I think I’m pretty unhappy right now, and I need to come up with some sort of plan that makes sense and doesn’t hurt too much. I’m thinking about online therapy – I’m also embarrassed that I haven’t even done therapy for any of this yet. I’m still procrastinating on that. The cost! EAP is free, but when can I schedule that!? Online therapy is where it’s gonna be at, but I just gotta dig into my pockets and pay for it. Again, ugh. So uncomfortable. I think I’m afraid I’m going to find out real things that I know are true that I haven’t let myself think or say and I don’t want to go there. Or maybe they’ll come up and the therapist will help me with solutions. And it’ll all be okay in the end.

So there it is. I just threw up a few of the things that have been going on in my life. If you’re a friend or family member that has reached out to me, and I’ve shushed you away or redirected you, I’m truly sorry. But thank you for trying. And I’m also sorry about my issues with social media – especially just disappearing for a while. I hoped nobody would notice, or if they did, not say anything and let me crawl into my hole and ignore everything around me for a while. I’ll get back there, it’s just going to take small steps, I think. Or maybe I will be feeling better one afternoon and just puke a bunch of stuff onto my happy journal/highlight reel and act like nothing ever happened. Because that’s the way I’d like for it to be. I hope I come across as genuine, because I really try to be. Just because I’m not sharing details of all the crappy stuff that happens in my life behind all the happy posts doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It just means that’s what I choose to limit in certain places. But I also need to reach out and talk. I just still don’t know how to do that. I still don’t know exactly what I need to work on (yes I do, everything), and I still don’t know exactly how to start. And I need therapy to learn how to communicate. With everyone. Especially myself.

I suppose I’m going to go now. I’m going to go to bed and get some sleep, glorious sleep, and get up and work. My goal for tomorrow is to call my parents because I’ve even stopped reaching out to them (which sucks so much on my part), and when they called me on my birthday I told them everything was fine even though I was having a pretty blah day and it actually kind of got worse as the day progressed, and then kind of ended nice, so just a roller-coaster day. And I know I’ve got like 100+ “happy birthday” posts on social media that I never saw. Maybe soon I’ll scroll through them. Or maybe I’ll just move on. I should probably just move on.

I will end on a happy note, because that’s what I do, and I can still do that. I WILL still do that. I really do like birthdays. I like them because they are an excuse to be selfish. For my birthday last year, I turned 40, and so I took a day for myself and ran a 40k, jumped into a lake to cool off and wash the dirt, sweat and grime off, and then ate a greasy burger and an ice cream cone, and then I devoured a chocolate cake like a 2-year old. It was one of my favorite birthdays so far. This year, I decided to sign up and run a virtual 50k (which was another mid-depression epiphany – I still enjoy this tough crap even when it’s not on social media), go for the swim and then eat the greasy burger and ice cream cone, but I skipped the cake. I’ll save that one for milestones, maybe. Anyway, Adam helped me with my 50k and it was one of the best days. And since then, I’ve had some really good days, some good moments, and a few times thought I was in the clear. I saw light. But then I’d wake up and feel sad. So it’s not over. I think when I feel sad is when I know deep down that I still have to work on the things that are bothering me instead of ignoring them. Instead of trying to keep the rubber duckies underwater, I need to let them float and try to make them good again or something. I don’t know, it’s a weird analogy and doesn’t completely work, but whatever. And posting this is a really big rubber ducky. And I’m very uncomfortable with it. And maybe I’m going to regret it, but I need to post it because I guess this is where I’m going to try to get myself back into some of my normal routines that make me happy. Writing and posting pictures. And sorry if this feels like a bomb. It kind of is, but I don’t know what the hell I’m doing in this life. I mean, do any of us? I’m just a regular girl out here doing regular stuff, and trying to keep moving forward. 100 years from now, what will be known of me? Nothin. So I gotta find a way to live it up now and be happy, because what else have we all got? And it’s all going to be okay. So thanks for reading. Thanks for letting me work some things out. Maybe I shouldn’t post this at all… but then what? I gotta start somewhere.

Just keep heading towards that horizon. Onward.

I truly enjoy seeing personalities in flowers. Oftentimes I can relate. We’re all just nature, doing nature things. Can it be so simple?

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Tonight I love the cuts on my feet from where my sandals chewed into my feet during what was probably the sweatiest 50k I’ve ever experienced. I love them because they remind me that I did something really hard, and that makes me feel alive and reminds me that I am strong. I got this.