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?)