A near rollover, video-style. 

When I started truck driving, I kinda thought I’d see more car accidents. Not that I wanted to, of course, but I just figured with the large amount of time I’d be spending on the road, it seemed as though my chances were much greater for witnessing more crashes. But I haven’t, really. I usually show up to most wrecks after emergency vehicles have already arrived and things are being taken care of. I’ve driven past a few that had JUST happened, but other witnesses were already assisting, emergency vehicles were on the way, and since I didn’t see any of it happen or wasn’t involved, I’d just slow way down, pay attention to the road and drive on.  

I did witness one very minor accident in Chicago where a car lost control and side-swiped another car. They both pulled off to the shoulder, and since I witnessed it and knew I’d have footage on my dash cam, I pulled over – Adam was up with me, so he jumped out right away to make sure both drivers were okay. They were fine and already calling the authorities. We ended up moving on.  

But recently I got really, REALLY close to witnessing what would have been a terrible rollover. It was a couple of weeks ago. It was about 3:20am and I was cruising along the I-694 bypass in Minneapolis. I was driving 60mph, which was the speed limit along that stretch, and noticed a vehicle coming up alongside my truck pretty fast on the left, passing me. Then I saw his lights get a little too close for comfort, so I reacted by slowing down and moving onto the shoulder a little bit. Even with slowing down and moving over he still almost clipped my front end as he cut in front of me.  

I kept an eye on him after he passed, and things got crazy shortly thereafter. Watch the video I pulled from our dash cam! You may want to pull it up full-screen, and wait at the end – I zoom in and replay it in slow-motion. 

 

After he passed me, I watched him swerve around, and then he started fishtailing. At first, it was really short, tight fishtailing. I slowed down again, and that’s when he really started to swing back and forth.  

It’s amazing how many thoughts can run through your head in such a short amount of time. This same week, I came close to hitting a deer. He started walking out in front of me, and I started braking, but I had to strategically brake so I didn’t lose control of the truck. I also happened to be changing lanes after passing by a weigh station, so I was also making sure I kept my line of travel and didn’t swerve. It was raining, so the roads were wet. All these things were processing in my mind, and on top of those decisions going on, I clearly remember thinking, “I’m going to hit this deer. There’s no other traffic around me. There’s a good shoulder here I can pull off on. I’ll have to get out and check out the damage it caused. Then I’ll have to call safety…” And just then, the deer looked up at me and ran. I missed him by what seemed like inches. After my heart rate slowed down a little bit, I still couldn’t believe that I was already in action-mode, taking care of business. It was like two seconds! 

So as this driver in the video started to fishtail, I was already throwing on my four-ways and pulling off to the shoulder because I was certain I’d be calling 911 to report an accident while running out to check on the driver. I was scared.  

I remember saying over and over as it was happening, “Oh God, Oh God.” Adam had just gone to bed, and he felt me slow down and move over, and then he heard my panicked-sounding chant along with the pickup driver’s squeeling tires. He asked if everything was okay, and I just said, “not really” and continued to explain to him what I just saw.  

I tried to get the vehicle’s license plate number, but he was too far ahead by then – he hadn’t stopped! When he finally did stop, he pulled into an off-ramp and drove up onto the curb. Another car also saw what happened, and they pulled off behind him. I was thankful someone else saw it and was able to pull over, because at that point there was no longer a safe place for me to pull over.  

I was still moving slowly with my emergency flashers on, and just as I was approaching where he nearly crashed, I looked in my mirror and saw a police car come flying down the on ramp behind me with his lights on! I thought, “great! He saw it all happen, and he’ll check on this driver!” Then he flew right past the whole situation. Obviously he missed it and was off on some other call.  

It was crazy, and one of the scarier things I’ve seen while on the road. I’m so very thankful he somehow – miraculously – kept that pickup under control. I don’t know what happened. Given the time of night, my first assumption was that he was drunk, but it could’ve been a health issue – a seizure, a heart attack -or  maybe even a mechanical issue with his vehicle or something. But… It’s hard not to jump to the conclusion that this was alcohol and/or drug related. But who knows. Either way, it’s a good reminder – don’t drink and drive, people! 

All I can say is this dude got damn lucky. That, or he’s a Hollywood stunt driver. But I’m leaning towards the luck theory.  


Tonight I love designated drivers. If you can’t find one, be one. :)

Dreams create motivation to plan.

This is the scene that caught me today.

I drove along I-40 through Arizona this morning, watching my surroundings slowly come into view below a dark pastel-gradiated sky from the blackness of night above to a rich orange where it met the horizon. The miles flew past. As I left them behind, the more the sky lit up and the warmer the desert sage, sand and distant mountains appeared. I found myself daydreaming about losing myself in that scene – the one right outside my truck window. I’ve worked on lessening my daydreams like this one – not because I want to, because they oftentimes keep me going – but because they can hurt. I mean, to be completely honest with you, it’s literally made me cry at times. Sometimes I want it so bad – to throw a backpack on and just disappear into that sage brush, heading for those mountains – that I’ll just cry. It’s an emotion that’s not really a bad one just because it brings tears to the surface – I feel fortunate to have them. I have them because I’ve had experiences and adventures that have lit that undying spark in me, and now that spark is easily triggered to ignition by, sometimes, a simple, perfect scene. Like this one. It strikes in just the right way. This time I held back the tears, but the feelings were all there. I could smell the sage, feel the sand shift under each step and the cool morning breeze brush against my cheeks. And the best part? The overwhelmingly beautiful sense of freedom that is impossible to describe. It came over me like a wave, but quickly subsided. There’s only one way to hold on to that magic, and that is to get lost and live in a long walk. 

Another Arizona scene through a truck window. Mountains be keepin’ me wantin’.

My current situation is enjoying a team truck driving career with Adam, whittling away at student loan debt and having a fun time not having to live paycheck to paycheck for the first time ever. But this lifestyle doesn’t really lend itself to extravagant, lovely, super-long, amazing thru-hikes. And as much as I miss it, as often as it can hurt to dream about (in such a good way), and how badly I want to run off and just frickin’ do it while ignoring all consequences – it’s just that (for now) – a dream. 

I’ve had dreams before, though. To hike across the country. To run a marathon. To finish the Frozen Otter. To be free of credit card debt. To thru-hike the PCT. And guess what? Dreams create motivation to plan. And those dreams I just listed? They all came to life. So I’ll never stop. They’ll eventually happen if I keep it alive long enough. 

So… Now what, then? Well, a compromise. I can’t run off for six months for a long thru-hike, but I can take time off for a shorter one. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. All my daydreaming is motivating me to start planning my next backpacking trip. It’ll be this summer. Adam and I will road trip in our PJ2, the Subie, and enjoy our time together. Then I’ll hike for several days and we’ll road trip back home. 

Where? 

The Wonderland Trail. A 93-mile loop that circumnavigates Mt. Ranier in Washington state. This trail has been high on my wish list for years, and the time is now. Adam is going to help me make it happen and be a part of it, too. What else could I ask for!? 

So with a backpacking trip in the works, I can drive past these beautiful mountains, prairies, deserts, and even cross over some long trails (I swear I can feel a pull when I drive past them!), without feeling too much sadness and want. It’s just enough to make me experience that love, that heartbreak, that want – and smile. I think that’s why I was able to hold back the tears today. 

But seriously, I still want to just frickin’ do it! But I won’t. Maybe. 

Went for a run and never came back. But I did. This time.

Tonight I love blueberries. They were the last thing I ate today, and they were amazing. 

The Frozen Otter – my 2017 race report

I did it! 

I’m officially a two-time finisher! I first became one of the “Frozen Few” in 2010 (which you can read about here), but I’ve always wanted to do it again. This was my year. What a great race. I mean, I had a really good day. And I’m going to talk all about it here. 

Since it’s going to be a long one, this is how it’ll look – it’ll be in three parts. First I’ll include my stats, which are my times, pace, and miles between checkpoints – all the number-y stuff. If you want to skip over all those itty-bitty details, scroll down to the second part – the race report. That’s where I’ll jabber on about the day, how I felt and how many times I pooped. No, really. You’ll be shocked. Then third, after the race report I’ll list the gear and clothing I used/wore. Because I know some people (like me) are gear junkies and dig that sorta thing. Stuff worked for me this year, so… I need to remember. And share! So here goes… 

STATS

(I based mileage for these stats on the Kettle Moraine North Unit mileage chart, which can be found online. This totals 63.32 miles, whereas the GPS on my Garmin tracked me at just a little over 65 miles. But to make the breakdown between checkpoints easier on my brain, I used the chart.)

Total miles: 63.32

Total time: 22 hours, 30 minutes

Overall pace: 21:19/mile

Overall elevation gain (from my Garmin): 8,602 feet

Calories burned: 9,896

113 racers, 60 official finishers, 26 “Frozen Few” finishers. 

I placed 20th overall, and 2nd in my gender (only 3 ladies went the full 64 this year, including a 52-year old and a 17-year old! Age is just a number, peeps!) 

Start (10am) – Butler Lake (CP1):

7.43 miles / 2h 07min / 17:05 pace

In 12:07pm / Out 12:12 pm (5 min break) 

Butler Lake (CP1) – Greenbush (CP2):

8.08 miles / 2h 22min / 17:34 pace

In 2:34pm / Out 2:46pm (10min break) 

Greenbush (CP2) – Hwy P (CP3):

7.09 miles / 2h 02min / 17:12 pace

In 4:48pm / Out 5:00pm (10min break) 

Hwy P (CP3) – Greenbush (CP4):

7.09 miles / 2h 21min / 19:53pace

In 7:21pm / Out 7:36pm (10min break) 

Greenbush (CP4) – Butler Lake (CP5):

8.08 miles / 2h 22min / 17:34 pace

In 9:58pm / Out 10:30pm (32 min break) 

Butler Lake (CP5) – Mauthe Lake (CP6):

7.43 miles / 2h 15min / 18:10 pace

In 12:45am / Out 2:21am (1h 36min break)

Mauthe Lake (CP6) – Hwy H (CP7):

9.06 miles / 2h 49min / 18:39 pace

In 5:10am / Out 5:35am (20min break)

Hwy H (CP7) – Finish!

9.06 miles / 2h 55min / 19:18 pace

In 8:30am

THE RACE REPORT
As I mentioned, I had a good race day. All things went better than I’d planned. And to be honest, I can’t tell you why. But I can go over the things I did leading up to race day, and what I did the day of. Because something worked. 

First of all, my training for this thing was most definitely unconventional. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, and frankly, I know I don’t have the time to “properly” train for an ultra winter race. So my strategy was to basically stay in shape and go for one long run/hike each month – to “remind my legs I need them to go far.” That’s in quotes because that’s literally what I said to myself – that’s why I did the long runs. In fact, here’s my schedule, which I pretty much stuck to, except December – because work got insane and I was sort of babying a hurt knee… Or maybe using it as an excuse to rest. 

So not your typical training schedule, but it was fun, for the most part. It was tough getting out on some of those, and several were on little to no sleep because I’d hit the trail immediately upon getting home from a run in the truck. But I figured it was good fatigue training – which I think was actually a huge help on race day. I knew exactly how I was going to feel in the 21st hour. Stumbly. That’s how. But I knew what to expect, and I knew when to drink coffee. And how to stumble without falling. I got kind of good at it. “Pick ’em up!” became a mantra I would say to myself out loud in the dark woods, reminding myself to pick up my feet so I didn’t trip and fall (which I ended up doing quite a few times anyway). 

For the week leading up to the race, Adam and I took the whole week off from work, so I had a chance to get all my stuff together (physically and mentally). I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish each day, spreading it out to avoid feeling overwhelmed. I had a list of food to pack. I had a list of gear to get ready. I had a pace chart and a chart to show when to take my Aleve and Tylenol so I didn’t OD and piss off my kidneys. I had a lot of lists. 

On Sunday before the race, I went for an 8-mile trail run on the course. It was 5 degrees, and I sweat my butt off. I also tested my new Kahtoola spikes on the very icy trail with great success. The next day, Monday, I packed up and hiked about 4 miles with a full-geared backpack to Shelter 2 – again, along the race course. I made a campfire, ate couscous, drank a beer and even sipped a little whisky before bundling up in my down booties and sleeping bag. I figured it would be nice to have a little quiet time to myself, and as a bonus, help me adjust to the cold a bit. I stayed toasy-warm all night. In the morning I hiked out 8 miles in the pouring rain. I was soaked and chilled when Adam picked me up. As long as it didn’t rain on race day, I’d be okay with just about any other kind weather. 

Sleeping out in the cold!

On Friday, the day before the race, I went for two short runs on the trail to test the conditions. But that was pretty much it – that’s all I did physically before the race, and I went into Saturday feeling pretty fresh and not sore anywhere. Dare I say I was… relaxed!? No. No way. I had jitters, big time! But without them, a race would just be another old run. Gotta embrace these special parts, too! 

Me and Adam at the start.

So race day surprised me. I usually go to the bathroom about 8 times before any race, whether it be a 5k or a 100k. But I only went twice, and I felt like a normal person for once. At the race start, I just mingled with my family, friends and other racers, tried to stay relaxed and keep my toes warm. Before I knew it, the race had started. No, seriously. Everybody was moving past the start banners and I was still putting my pack on! I jogged to catch up to the pack and with Rich, a friend who was going to run with me. 

The four of us racers at the start – Tony, Rachel, me and Rich

The first 8 miles went by so fast! I was so used to training by myself with only my annoying thoughts to keep me company, that when I actually had real people to talk to, I had so much fun – and time flew by. Rich and I reached the Butler Lake checkpoint together, but sadly, that was our last checkpoint together, and the last time I’d hike or run along with someone the whole race. But I sure enjoyed his company! I think it was in the low 20’s, and I still got so warm on that first stretch that I had taken off my hat, gloves, and even rolled my sleeves up – and I still sweat like crazy. But I felt great anyway, and my pace felt strong and steady.

The next checkpoint came quickly, too. I think I was so distracted by having other people around that I barely noticed the distance. I talked with a few people, and even passed a few other racers all while keeping my steady pace. I wasn’t out to win anything, and passing people wasn’t like a strategy or anything, as my goal was only to finish, but I hoped to keep my pace, so I did,and it felt comfortable. At the 16-mile checkpoint my mom and dad greeted me with cowbells, along with the Fox Cities Backpackers who were volunteering – it was great to see the familiar face of my friend, Matt, too. I filled my water and was just about ready to get back out on the trail when Adam and his mom, Tara, arrived. Just in time! But back into the woods I went! 

Coming into a checkpoint – photo courtesy of Fat Otter Adventure Sports, Inc. 

A couple of miles before the 23-mile turnaround, I started to see the lead racers heading back. They were all really supportive saying things like, “great job!” and “keep it up, you’re almost there!” and “the checkpoint has sausages!” I think I heard “sausages” from every single racer that passed by. It was true, too! And it was completely amazing. It was especially amazing because I hadn’t been eating nearly as much as I’d planned, and I felt a little hungry when a volunteer handed it to me. For some reason during the race, without overthinking it, I just started to eat when I felt I needed to – abandoning the way I trained all summer to eat something every hour. And I think that is one of the major reasons I didn’t have to stop for a poop yet. Sorry to keep bringing that up, but it was a serious issue on every single training run I did, and was therefore a major concern of mine for race day. I never did figure out my tummy. But so far? 23 miles in and it felt pretty great! Maybe I was forcing myself to eat too much during training. Who knows… 

As soon as I left the 23-mile checkpoint it started getting dark, so out came the headlamp. It also started getting colder, and for the first time I had a little trouble getting my fingers warm. But I brought ginormous down gloves, and that did the trick. Before I knew it I was back to just my liner gloves. I also stopped sweating so profusely as the cold air settled in. I peed for the first time at the next checkpoint, which seems crazy. I felt I was drinking enough. I sipped from my bladder regularly enough to keep it thawed out, and I switched between my Tailwind drink mix and a cold coffee, too. Once I took my first pee, though, the seal was broken. Then it felt like I had to go constantly. I ate some mostly rehydrated Ramen at the next checkpoint, and it was almost as amazing as the sausage. I filled up with warm water and head back out again. I remember feeling amazed that my legs didn’t hurt. At all. I was squatting down to stretch my knees and nothing hurt. It was weird, but I certainly wasn’t complaining! Onward! 

During the next stretch I noticed my first real pain – I think my spikes were creating a new pressure point on the ball of my left big toe. I pushed on, still able to jog the straight stretches and downhills. When I reached Butler Lake my dad was there, and delivered the sad news that Rich had to drop because he was experiencing symptoms of hypothermia. That’s some scary stuff – I was super bummed to hear he was done, but so glad he made the right decision, which can be so tough to do during a race! Especially in that condition. On the other side of the spectrum, I learned that Rachel kicked her goal’s butt. She made it 32 miles in 11 hours and 40 minutes! Woo-hoo! So many crazy emotions! So with that, my dad told me that everyone was waiting for me at the 46-mile checkpoint to cheer me into the last stretch. This gave me a boost, and off I went again! 

At the 46-mile checkpoint I chose to walk an extra quarter mile to the car to resupply, change and regroup. My mom and dad met me and walked to the car with me. Adam, his mom and Rachel were all waiting. Adam went to work trying to keep me on task. I grabbed a burger from the volunteers at the shelter, used the bathroom, tried to change out my injinji compression socks – injinjis are the socks with the toes – my mom had to help me. I just could not get my wrinkling toes tucked into those toe sleeves. Finally after some serious effort I was dressed and ready to go. I also recharged my phone and watch, filled my water, drank some coffee, and switched from spikes to yaktrax, which relieved my sore left toe. I was somehow still feeling incredible, but just a little tired. I took a longer break than planned, but still got out on the trail with plenty of time to still finish in under the 24-hour time limit. I was stoked heading back out into the dark woods! I had this thing! 

Smiling and feeling great at mile 46! Thanks, Tara for the photo!

The last 18 miles got colder. I pretty much hiked to the last checkpoint with my ginormous down gloves on and pulled my Buff up over my face because my cheeks and nose were starting to burn a little. I was feeling tired, and since I know this trail so well, I kept mentally checking off landmarks… And anticipating the next one. I knew that once I reached the sign for Shelter 1, it was just a steep downhill and short straight stretch to the Hwy H trailhead and my last checkpoint. So for about an entire hour I kept thinking I’d see it around the next turn. But I swear. It was moving ahead of me. I had to catch up! 

I did finally see the sign, and laughed out loud because I was so happy. But my happiness quickly turned to worry when just a short ways down the trail I caught up to another racer, moving slow with his pack draped over one shoulder. I asked if he was okay, and he responded with a head shake and a “no.” He said his back had seized up on him, and he looked really uncomfortable. I felt so bad for him. I offered to carry his pack to the checkpoint, but he said it was actually helping his balance. There was nothing I could do for him except encourage him by letting him know we didn’t have far to go. I let him know I’d alert the volunteers so they could get a ride ready for him. He did show up while I was still at the checkpoint, and he did get a ride out. I sure hope he recovered okay. That’s some scary stuff! Anything can happen out there. Read this story about a guy who had a mini stroke last year! The importance of being safe out there is no joke! 

My mom, dad, Adam and his mom were at the last checkpoint, which was a super-huge boost before my last nine miles. I drank a coffee mixed with hot cocoa, and man, did that taste good! I was thrilled – my appetite was pretty near gone at that point, so I wasn’t eating enough – but I was trying! The only thing I was tolerating was my Huma gels (like a Guu energy gel, but Chia seed-based and made with less crap ingredients). And that’s because I’d squeeze some into my mouth, bypassing my taste buds, and since I didn’t have to chew, directly down my throat. Huma gels for the win! After peeing and filling my water bottle I head back out for the last nine miles. 

I added a layer – my Patagonia Nanopuff jacket, which was perfect. I wore my giant gloves and kept my Buff over my mouth and nose off and on. I stayed pretty comfortable, and again plodded down the trail, still able to lightly jog a few easy spots, and played the mental landmark game again. This time I was searching around every corner for shelter 2 because I knew it was exactly one mile from the finish. When I finally saw it, I nearly cried! I knew that was it. I could literally crawl the rest of the way and still finish in time. But… I didn’t have to. In fact, I picked up my speed! Nothing was hurting, except for some heavy foot fatigue, which I obviously expected and can totally handle (another helpful benefit to my super-insane long training runs). My knee that I injured back in November even felt good. Which is some sort of miracle. For real. I’m not even kidding when I say the only thing that makes sense is that my 97-year old grandma was praying for me – our family all says that she’s got a direct line to the big guy. Thanks, grandma! Not even a twinge!! 

I passed by a guy in that last mile and couldn’t help but notice his epic ice-beard! I remember asking him if I could take his photo, but my words were coming out in slow motion. As excited as I felt to be nearly done, my fatigue, lack of caloric fuel and the cold air’s effects were obvious. I ate one slice of Salami, one Huma gel, five Reeses pieces, and half a bottle of cold coffee in the last leg of the race. Just enough to get me there, I guess! If I had been going any further I would’ve had to force more down. And it’s hard to describe how cold it can get out there, but dudes’ beards can give you an idea! I later learned this badass’s name was Sean and he finished just after me. 

Sean’s EPIC ice beard!! That is a face of the Frozen Few!!

I don’t remember much of what was said when I finished, as it’s quite a blur, but I had a small, but awesome crew cheering me in. My mom, dad, Adam, his mom and my friend and fellow racer Tony was there. Rod, the race director presented me with a congrats and a finisher’s dog tag, which I’m showing off in the first picture of this blog entry. It might not seem like much… A little dog tag, but I know any of the other “Frozen Few” would agree that that dog tag holds a whole lot of value – and symbolizes determination, heart, pain, adventure, fierceness, and accomplishment. So much more, too, but those are some biggies. 

A big, happy, frozen smile! FINISHED!

So in the end, I thought my knee would stop bending. It didn’t. I thought I’d poop along the trail at least five times – final trail poop count was… Drum roll, please… ZERO! Another frickin’ miracle! I thought my calluses would give me trouble. It’s like they weren’t even there. I thought my legs would get sore and stiffen up. They didn’t, and I still can’t believe it. I thought I’d have worse butt chafe, but my 2toms butt shield did its job (I know to some, this may seem like TMI, but trust me. My fellow racers don’t even blink at the talk of bodily chafe. It’s a thing. A super-horrible, painful thing. Wherever you get it!). I thought I’d lose my appetite, and I did, but my body handled it way better than ever before. I thought I’d eat more, but it took until race day to realize that maybe I was trying to eat too much – and too much “real food” like energy bars, candy bars, meat, cheese… things that needed to be chewed before swallowing and were more work for my already energy-depleted body to digest. My guess is that my body was able to process liquid calories like my amazing Tailwind drink mix and the Huma gels without much trouble. So I learned a lot about myself, once again! It never stops when you push yourself past what you think is possible, and I love that about endurance sports! 

I am 99% satisfied with my race performance and results. The 1% comes in because looking back I could have totally beat my time from 2010 of 21 hours and 49 minutes. But my goal was just to finish, and I did that. Next time maybe I’ll shoot for time. It always comes down to conditions, which I thought were quite similar to 2010 – maybe a little colder this year. 

Post-race? I showered, ate a huge breakfast (chicken-fried steak, eggs, hashbrowns, toast, cottage cheese and coffee), slept for three hours, watched the Packers beat the Cowboys, had a grasshopper ice cream drink and went bed. That night I had some pretty terrible foot cramps that made me uncontrollably groan, and I woke up a few times in a pool of sweat, but otherwise slept okay. The next two days I felt a little normal muscle soreness and my feet swelled up pretty good, but I expected that. I will lose no toenails, but to be fair, my one damaged toe (just a gnarly blood blister) already was sans-toenail. I was tired and still feel I little behind on sleep, but as I write this I’m ready to start running again, and planning my next adventure, which you’ll read about in a couple of months, probably! Cliffhanger! Haha!

I know that was a super-long race report – so to reward those of you who stuck with me, here’s a photo of my gnarly toe. Sorry if you’re squeamish. I’m always kinda strangely proud of these things. 

The black big toenail is from early November, so that one doesn’t count… But it’s pretty, isn’t it? Who needs nail polish?

GEAR 

Yay! Gear! 

This is just about all of it!

What I wore:

Sugoi Subzero tights

Patagonia underwear

Cheap sport bra from Target

Injinji compression socks – I love Injinjis! I pretty much only wear Injinjis all the time, now. Best socks ever. 

Patagonia midweight capilene long sleeve shirt

Patagonia R1 3/4-zip fleece

Patagonia Nanopuff jacket – it’s synthetic (not down) so maintains some warmth if it gets damp. 

Altra Lone Peak Mid Neoshell boots – pretty certain these are why I have few blisters. So much room for the toes, so very lightweight, and zero drop. 

Outdoor Research tall gaiters

Kahtoola microspikes and Yaktrax Pro

Fat Otter buff 

Smartwool hat

Black Diamond down mittens

Cheap silk gloves liners

My big, green down Black Diamond gloves hung off the waist strap on my pack for almost all of the race, but made great pockets for things like my hat and gloves that kept coming on and off. And they were nice for the few times my fingers got really cold. 

In the beginning I was so warm that I had no ear/head coverage, no gloves, and my sleeves were rolled halfway up my forearms. My layers performed perfectly. I got wet from sweat at the start, but my Patagonia layers wicked properly, so by the time the temperature dropped, I felt mostly dry (with the exception of my back which will sweat regardless when wearing a pack). 

My tights were perfect, too. One layer of thick, fleece-lined tights and my legs were comfortable the whole time! 

My Altra boots worked great, but with the low snow this year, the mid-height was probably unnecessary. It’s what I trained in, though, and the combo of my injinji socks, Altras, OR gaiters and traction worked great for me. 

Other gear:

Backpack – Out There USA MS-1 – I tried about 5 different packs throughout the summer. This was the winner. Comfy, not a ton of bounce when jogging and a TON of pockets accessible without taking it off. I only had to remove it to put water in my water reservoir during the race. 

Black Diamond trekking poles – I’ve used these suckers for more than ten years. Great piece of gear! 

Black Diamond Spot headlamp – takes 3 AAA batteries, and with the lithium batteries, only had to switch them out once. (And I was able to do so by moonlight!) 

Electronics – Samsung Galaxy S6 (which I kept turned off for most of the race), US Cellular pre-paid cheap flip phone (worked great for service on the trail and the battery lasted forever, even in the cold!), Garmin Fenix watch for GPS tracking and stats (recharged at about 16 hours. Held up great), Pocketjuice portable charger (didn’t need) 

First aid & other items – SOL emergency bivvy, REI whistle, spare Petzl E+Lite headlamp, lighter, fire starter, heat blanket, small Swiss Army knife, hand and body warmers, blister pads, 2Toms butt shield anti-chafe wipes, medical tape, duct tape, blinking red bike light, blue blinking bike light for backup, chapstick, Aleve, Tylenol, salt caps (planned to use these but didn’t) 

Toilet kit – Deuce of Spades trowel, TP, ziploc bag for used TP (a leave no trace practice), tampons (yes, lucky me – race day!), hand sanitizer, wet one wipes, and Immodium (which was not needed!) 

Food and drink:

I maybe consumed only 1/3 of all this stuff.

Huma gels
Tailwind drink mix
Pedialyte – only drank one of these

UCAN drink mix – didn’t use on race day, but should have! Very good, and the liquid calories really would’ve helped me out! I think I was too hurried to mix it. Need to do this pre-race next time! 

Starbucks Via

Sweet – mini oreos, Reeses pieces, waffle stingers, mini snickers, dark chocolate coconut Ocho bars

Savory – potato chips, combos, Salami, string cheese, macadamia nuts, bacon

Ginger – I don’t like Ginger at all, but it soothes an upset tummy, and I did eat some at the 46-mile checkpoint. It works! 

Chocolate-covered espresso beans – I didn’t have any! Another weird one! 

A few more photos:

My name on the Frozen Few plaque from 2010

Inspiration

Pre-race jitters. I had just gotten my bib!

Crazy results on my Strava app – pulled from my Garmin GPS watch

I repeated this one to myself a lot.

My dad and my mom and my mom’s amazing hat.

Toots and Tears do the Frozen Otter! Adventure buddies!

I’m the one in pink. Another photo courtesy of Fat Otter Adventure Sports, Inc.

My first time with spikes. Love them! I was running on glare ice during training with complete confidence.

Post-Otter, enjoying some swag. The shirt, the buff, and of course, the Frozen Few dog tag! Tired and proud!

Tonight I love these people, and you – my support.

Thank you:

Adam – You are my #1. This guy was at the race to cheer me on, kick my butt to keep me going, give me warm hugs, and a big smile at the end. On top of that, every time I did a long training run over the summer/fall, he took care of our trucking errands we always have to do on very limited time whenever we’re home. All so I could train. I know this was a big sacrifice of precious off-time, so I can’t say enough how much I appreciate this. I love you, Adam – thank you for being the best support crew leader guy ever! 

My mom and dad – they were there in 2010 when I finished, and they were here this year when I finished. To see their smiling faces and to get hugs of encouragement at checkpoints was a huge boost! My biggest fans, for sure! 

Tara – Adam’s mom, my mother-in-law came down this year. She was a great addition to my cheering support crew. She took a lot of great photos, too. Thank you so much for being there! 

Grandma Laatsch and family – I admit I had an unfair advantage compared to the other racers because my grandma was praying for me out there! I also received several well-wishes and love from my extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Rachel, Tony and Rich – my fellow racer buddies. It was good to have you out on the trail this year – even if we weren’t able to trek side by side, it was still nice to share in the misery with you! 

My social media family – you all rock. I had so many good luck wishes and followers that there was no way I could’ve given up! Strength in numbers! 

Race directors and volunteers – without you guys, thus wouldn’t exist. You make it all happen, you make is possible, and you make it fun. And you kill at making Ramen. No. Seriously. Ramen tastes awesome when you make it! Rod and Karen – I’m glad that we’ve been able to become friends through this event. Thanks for continuing to put in the hard work and travel to keep this going! 

Other racers – I don’t know most of you by name, but your kind words when passing by, your blinking red lights and bouncing headlamps through the woods like beacons, and comeraderie is something that needs to be experienced to understand. It’s incredible. And after all those lonely training miles by myself, this made the miles slip away beneath me. Thanks! 

Gear companies – Thanks for making kick-ass stuff. If I’ve mentioned you in this blog entry, it’s because you make a great product in my opinion and experience. Keep it up! 

A really bad day and a winter shut-down

Winter is kicking our butt this year!

Picture this scenerio: Two truck drivers, doing the best they can to keep their wits in poor weather, are pulled over in a designated pull-off of a two-lane, winding mountain road to let a line of cars go by. When they try to head out they find themselves stuck with tires spinning – on a cold, lonely mountain pass. After several attempts and strategies out of their situation, frustration and worry begin to surface. As if that wasn’t enough, the passenger-side window shatters after shutting the door with the window half down. All they can do is just stand there, staring at each other in disbelief from their bad luck. Feeling totally worn and defeated, they stare into the snow-turned-freezing pouring rain for a few seconds. The truck is stuck and freshly-broken window glass is spewn about. All they can think is, “is this really happening right now?”

Most trips go pretty smoothly with not much to talk about. Then some – well, like this one – leave you with a story to tell. These trips test your patience, character, ability to make decisions, knowledge, and simply whether or not you can hold yourself together. Which really, in the end, you have no choice in the matter. You just gotta do what needs to be done. But it sure isn’t fun.  

It started before we even left. Our route to Portland, Oregon from Wisconsin would normally take us through North Dakota, but a blizzard came through, shutting down most of our route along I-94. We took a slow-going alternate route through Wisconsin, dipping us down toward I-90 through South Dakota instead. This put us a little behind our normal schedule, but that was okay. One blizzard bypassed? Success, I suppose. 

Not a great outlook. Red is closed, red/white is not advised.

We confidently cruised through rain and snow flurries in Montana and Idaho. Then we crossed the Columbia River gorge from Washington state into Oregon. It was like someone turned on a light switch, only it was a blizzard switch. We found ourselves in a world of white, falling and blowing snow. After a couple of hours of poorly-maintained roads a sign told us we had to stop and chain up. We pulled out our tire socks, installed them and head back out. I went back to bed as Adam slogged along at 20mph in the snow storm. We finally, but safely, arrived to our pre-paid reserved truck parking spot at 11 pm. We made it through another nasty blizzard. 

Chain restriction on I-84. On go the socks!

Then came the ice. The next morning we planned to walk over to the restaurant for breakfast. We stepped out of the truck onto a glassy, reflective sheet of solid, thick ice that covered the entire parking lot. And every truck. And every branch of every tree. Every… thing. We literally shuffled our feet by inches to make our way across the lot for breakfast, then slowly head out into those elements to our delivery. At our delivery, the ice-covered lot made it pretty tough to back into our dock. I kept trying to pull up to the right, but the tractor would just slide to the left. Finally after about ten attempts I got backed in, all while a couple of forklift drivers looked on, entertained. I was tempted to install our tire socks on my steer tires just to get backed in… I was close! 

Just a little ice.

After that I took a deep breath and head south to a second delivery a couple of hours away, and got a break from the ice. The temperature rose and it poured rain, but it wasn’t icy! Unfortunately we had to head back right into it for our pickup in Tillamook, Oregon. This trip is normally a beautiful drive along a winding, two-lane mountainous road in the Cascade mountain range. 

That’s when our bad luck started to pile up. Already working on spent nerves, we made our way up the pass. It wasn’t long before the rain on our windshield started to splatter. It was starting to snow, and as we slowed down, a line of cars built up behind us, impatient and wanting to pass. It’s common courtesy and sometimes law to pull over if possible to let others by. So we did. We pulled off on a pullout designed for these sorts of things. This one, in particular, was covered in snow but looked pretty solid. We sat and let the cars go by, taking advantage of being stopped to breathe, gather ourselves, and discuss and prepare for the night’s uncertain weather that lay ahead. 

When we were ready to go, Adam released the brakes, lightly pressed the fuel pedal, up went the rpms, but nothing. We weren’t moving. It was a classic case of warm tires on cold snow. The tires get warm from driving on the road, and when you stop, those warm tires melt through the snow, and when it’s cold enough, that melt freezes, and there you sit. Aaaand so there we sat. We were basically stuck with each individual tire in its very own icy hole… spinning. 

First we pulled out our handy collapsible shovel and shoveled the snow out from under each drive tire. Nothing. Then we tossed kitty litter under each tire. Nothing. More shoveling, more kitty litter, nothing. We rocked and rocked and shoveled and kitty-littered… Still nothing. I grabbed a couple of tire socks and tucked them under a couple of the tires. The tires grabbed them! But then spit them right out the other side. No go. 

I started to worry, and we were getting frustrated. We were cold, muddy and wet from the sloppy snow/rain that was coming down. I stepped back into the truck to grab another set of tire socks, with the new plan of trying to install them onto the tires that weren’t going anywhere. That’s when Adam closed the passenger-side door. We had the window halfway down so it kept out most of the rain, but so we could still hear each other while trying to get unstuck. The door banged shut, with an eerie simultaneous, “crash!” I turned to see what happened and saw the passenger seat full of shattered glass. My heart immediately sank to my stomach. Is this really happening right now? I felt like we were stuck in some kind of lucid nightmare. 

In an effort not to lose it myself and run off into the snowy forest screaming and crying, I just kept going the only way I could. I got out of the truck right away, walked over to Adam, hugged him tight and said, “we’re just having a really bad day. But we’re going to be okay.” We stood there in what was now pouring rain, hugging, and just for a single minute gave up and didn’t care that the truck was still stuck, and now our passenger-side window was gone. 

After letting ourselves just be in our craptastic moment, we continued on with the task of getting the truck moving. I got a couple of tire socks halfway on, and with some tricky rocking of the truck, Adam finally got it moving forward. I quickly gathered our tire socks, shovel, and kitty litter into my arms, jumped in the truck, and off we went. I wore my jacket, hat and gloves the last 30 miles to our destination to thwart off the cold coming in through the broken window, and thankfully the rain mostly stayed out. 

We made it to our shipper, and while we waited for an open dock we started to deal with the window situation. We gave our awesome maintenance guy a call, and he got us going on a plan. He talked us through how to rig up a temporary window using clear plastic and Gorilla tape, while he called to see if there was a place nearby that had the window we needed. Trying to get the plastic and tape to stick to the wet truck while it poured rain was quite tricky, but we worked fast and managed to patch something together – but it was most certainly temporary. Thankfully there was a place in Portland that had a window – and they were open until midnight! Now we just had to get our trailer loaded and get back over the same pass in the declining weather before they closed! 

Makeshift window. Not an easy task in the pouring rain.

We arrived at the service garage with a few hours to spare. We dropped our truck off, and got a ride to a nearby hotel where we took hot showers to rid our bones of the wet chill we’d been fighting, and went right to bed. The next morning we picked up our truck with the plan of finally heading home. 

Nope. We weren’t done yet! I-84 eastbound (our route home) was closed down because of not only poor road conditions, but also to clear up some accidents that had occurred due to the roads being slippery. Maybe it was a good thing that we weren’t able to head into that the night before. Did our broken window save us from that mess? Who knows. Maybe we wouldn’t have gone anyway. 

Enough of this!

In an effort to keep moving, we head north toward Seattle to catch I-90, avoiding the whole closed I-84 mess. About 10 miles out we realized chain laws were in effect over Snoqualmie Pass. We pulled off at a rest area and made a call to our after-hours dispatcher (it is now Saturday). Our company is always totally supportive of our comfort zone when it comes to driving in adverse weather conditions, and with no question, the decision to try the alternate route or go back and shut down was totally up to us. We turned back. Heading up to a chain-restricted mountain pass sounded a little too nerve-wracking and dangerous. 
Will this week ever end? Keeping fingers crossed! 

About says it!

Tonight I love summer. 

The Frozen Otter – one last big training run/hike

I did not want to. Until I started, then I felt better. And then I didn’t want to again. Then I did. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions.

​The following journal entry was written a couple of weeks ago, on November 6, 2016 at 3pm: 

With two months left until race day, I’m going on one more big hike/run, and for some reason I’m not looking forward to it, and I’m doubting myself. I really don’t feel like doing it, as I know it’s going to be long, strenuous, and it’s going to hurt like a mofo. I’m doing an insane back-to-back, kind of abusing the idea of a back-to-back by going overboard with mileage. I’m going 46 miles the first day, then 18 the next. This is how the Frozen Otter is set up. Only I won’t be able to sleep in between on race day like I am for this run… So technically, I should be able to pull this off, and I should be able to do it under 24 hours (total hiking time). The thing I need to focus on most is not getting injured. That’s the risk I’ve been taking every month since April, doing these long runs that I’m not quite built up for, miles-wise. 

But I LIKE these long killer runs. Right? I mean, I usually do. Well, truth be told, I think I’m just burned out. I love doing them once, maybe twice a year. What I want right now is a leisurely 10-hour hike. You know, the kind where I can sit and eat a sandwich. Lay in the leaves and stare at the clouds. Take a nap. Make a hot coffee mid-day in the middle of the trail in the dirt. Take pictures of tiny things. Slowly breathe in the fresh air. Not worry about time. 

But… That’s not going to happen for a while yet. I just gotta keep going. I’m so close, and I’m so damn determined, aka stubborn. Even though I’m tired and lonely from these hugely long hike/runs, I came up with a plan in April, and I’ve stuck to it. All I have to do is this one last insane training run. It was part of my plan for this one to be kind of like a dress rehearsal because I’ll be doing the first and second legs exactly how they’ll be on January 14. Only this time I’ll get a few hours of sleep in between. If I get it done, I think I’ll come out with the confidence knowing I can do the miles – and from there it’s going to all come down to the weather. 

For right now, the thought of going out on that trail at 2am, hiking by myself for 15+ hours, totally exhausting my body and mind and making everything hurt is intimidating me at the moment. But then again, it’s been a rough emotional week for some reason, and the pain from something like this might be just what I need. Is that unhealthy? I don’t know, but at this point, if it motivates me I’m running with it. (Pun intended so hard.). 

So I’ve been preparing like I’ve prepared for past long runs. Food, hydration, clothing, miles, where to get water (which I hope to God works out, otherwise I’m kinda screwed), and lastly, something I haven’t mentioned yet, but I find so extremely helpful – is visualization. As I drive this truck along for hours on end, I imagine myself out there. I think about how I’ll feel at different points on the course, what might hurt and when, if and how often I’ll have to poo, how I’ll deal with a stomach ache, imagining my shoes hurting me again and trying to push through it, and some ideas for micro goals. For goals, I’m going to just work on getting to each checkpoint – one at a time – which on race day will be landmarks I’m really familiar with (I know this stinkin’ trail like the back of my hand now), and they are around 8 miles apart. So I’m working on that. 

But… Right now, I’m going to crawl into the truck’s bunk and get a little sleep. It’s 3pm, and I just finished my 12-hour work shift, driving my full 11 legal hours and logging about 660 miles. It was a near-record day for me, and I’m pooped. So I’ll be starting on the trail in less than 12 hours and that’s stupid crazy since we still have a trailer full of cheese behind us that needs to be delivered. And I still need to get my pack, food and all my gear ready. Yeesh. So much to do in such a small amount of time. 

I can do this one more time… right? 

So… An update. Written today, on November 21, 2016: 

So how did it turn out? Well… We unloaded our cheese later than we hoped, then dropped off the big truck, loaded up the Subaru with our stuff and head to West Bend where we had hotel reservations. We arrived around 2am, which is when I wanted to start hiking – already well behind. So I went through all my gear and food, got organized, dressed and ready to go, kissed Adam goodbye and drove to the trailhead. I started hiking just a little after 5am. I didn’t feel up to it. I was tired, grumpy and lonely. 

Just under two hours into the hike I started to cheer up as the sky lit up. The hike went well. The water pumps were still running, I was feeling good, and even stopped to talk to a few people that were out on such a rarely warm and beautiful November day. Oh, and just after dark I helped a lost bow hunter back to his car! That was cool. 

The sour mood fades after the sun comes up. You look around and couldn’t be happier – tucked into a beautiful Wisconsin forest on a beautiful day.

At the halfway point I made the mistake of splurging on one of those cheap Hostess apple pies, (which was so delicious, by the way!) and an hour later my stomach issues started up. Dangit. And I’ve been working so hard on this! I hiked on, munching Ginger (which I don’t like the taste of) and babying my tummy as best I could with what fuel I had left. Salami was a great choice. It may have saved me. So did a couple of toilets! 

So good! With not-so-good consequences. Still debating whether or not it was worth it.

Around mile 40 my knee started to twinge. Nothing abnormal. I’ve had this happen a lot of times before, and I can usually walk through it. It persisted until I reached the car at 46 miles. I was sore, tired, and ready for a nap. I had 18 more miles to go to reach my goal – my plan was to resupply and gather myself back at the hotel – and maybe grab a nap – before heading out for that last stretch. I was so tired. Have I mentioned that yet? Yeah. Tired. I even thought about abandoning this last stretch and trading it in for sleep. And maybe beers. 

I drove back to the hotel. I had to hit the trail at 2am if I wanted enough time after the hike to take a shower, pack up and head back in time for us to start work again that afternoon. But I got to the hotel around 9:30pm. That didn’t give me a whole lot of time. So I quickly ate pizza, resupplied and reorganized, took a shower and slept for a measly two hours, then head out again. 

I was tired. In fact, I was staying awake driving just fine, but missed a speed limit change along the way. I realized it had changed from 70 mph to 55 mph when I passed a police car sitting in the median (at 1:30am!). I’ve only been pulled over twice in my life for very minor things, but never speeding, and received verbal warnings both times. Well, this was my third time being pulled over. Thankfully it was also my third verbal warning. The officer was super nice. I’m not a speeder. For real – I drive THE speed limit. I’m one of those annoying drivers. So getting a speeding ticket would’ve been kind of sad, and an ugly ding on my squeaky-clean record. And my precious CDL. So I felt awake after that. And super alert! Such a dumb mistake. Ugh. 

I got on the trail for the last 18-mile stretch at 2am as planned, and there’s not a whole lot to say. I was a zombie. My knee hurt bad enough that I considered turning around at mile 2 (which I later realized would have been a good choice), it rained on and off, it was dark for most of it, it was lonely for all of it, and by the end I was stumbling a little, talking to myself, walking sideways down hills to help with knee pain, which in turn caused my gait to change just enough for my right big toenail to catch on a boot seam two or three times. I nearly tore it right off. I knew without even looking at it that it was gonna turn purple, eventually dry up and fall off. Seriously. Who needs toenails!? They’re such a nuisance. 

So. Very. Exhausted.

I didn’t run any of the last 18 miles, but even with practically crawling down the descents toward the end, I still managed to finish in 6 hours. Going at a fast hiking pace, I averaged 3mph, and I was so totally satisfied with that, considering the whole fatigue and cranked knee situation I put myself in. I got to the car, drank the rest of my cold coffee, and drove back to the hotel. 

Once back at the hotel, I made a warm Epsom salt bath and crawled in while I sipped on a thirst-quenching apple cider vinegar drink (a new favorite!). I may have dozed off a few times, as I realized an hour later I should probably shower and get my other stuff done. I packed up my stuff, slept for about an hour, and then Adam and I went to a local burger joint where I hungrily devoured a delicious burger, onion rings and a malt. The rest of the day was a tired blur of limping while shopping for our week on the road and getting ready for work. It was gonna be a rough one. 

In the end, I came out proud of myself for completing this challenge. I was also feeling so thankful that I had Adam pushing me just the exact right amount to help me get my butt out there. I would not have done this one without his encouragement. It’s really a fine balance between being supportive and being pushy, but he’s really got it down! As much as he wished I would say, “screw it – I’m staying in, drinking beers and playing cribbage with you,” he still encouraged me to go for my training run. And once again, while out on the trail, I was totally humbled by every mile. The darkness. The pain. Loneliness. Hills, roots, rocks. Water, salt and food. Time, pace, heartrate. And love. Love for this complete insanity. Really, what am I even doing!? I don’t know. 

…But… I managed going 64 miles in 27 hours, including my break in between going back to the hotel. I was kind of amazed by that after Adam brought it to my attention. My total hiking time came out to 20 hours. Looking at race day, if I add an hour for my supported resupply at mile 46, and a slower pace due to cold and snow conditions, I have a pretty good chance at this thing. I know I can get the miles in… Now it’s up to the weather. Oh, and now… My knee. Which is finally pain-free after two weeks of doing nothing. I’m nervous I injured it in a way that will creep up earlier than 40 miles. I don’t know how long I will be able to push through that level of injury-type pain during the race. That might be what puts me out. Or anything else totally unexpected. Who knows! It’s a long race, and so much can happen. 

Between now and then, I hope to get in some shorter runs to try out some cold-weather gear I haven’t been able to try out yet, and maybe one more 32-miler in early to mid December so I’ve got a good month to recover all joints, muscles, mind-screws and toes. 

And seriously? This right big toenail needs to go. One less to worry about. I’ll only have seven more to lose. Just seven. *sigh*

After almost 10 years with these poles, I lost a metal tip on one of them. You can tell which one! New tips have been purchased.

Morning light lit up this fall-colored leaf like a little beacon.

Tonight I love Hostess pies. Wait, no I don’t. Yes, I do. Yeah… I really do. 

My kind of vacation

A rare moment of blue sky during our backpacking adventure.

We sure packed in the fun on our week off! It started with a late-night drive to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a long training run for me, a visit from Mr. Green (a PCT friend), an adventurous backpacking trip, and finally, a little bit of relaxing. 

We got done with work later than we’d hoped because of a load of stinkin’ potatoes, but we left northward as soon as we dropped them off, enjoying our lovely new Subaru on a late-night road trip. Five hours later, we arrived in the tiny town of Grand Marais, MI. It was 4am and the few motels were either full or simply closed. We felt weird just hanging around, so we drove an hour to a different town that had a laundromat and got a chore done. 

We drove back to Grand Marais, had some breakfast and found a cheap, nice little hotel room for the night and settled in. I spent the afternoon getting my gear together for my 50-mile training run. I planned to start at 2am, so I was ready to go and in bed around 6pm.

The 50-mile run

I was able to stick to my schedule and got on the trail a little after 2am, which is sort of a miracle. I’m glad, though, because I had some beautiful, cool weather, and ran the trail in the dark making my way by headlamp for the first 4-1/2 hours. It’s an amazing experience being out on the trail when the sky starts to lighten up – it provides such an incredible mood-boost! I really love that part of these crazy long runs.

A quick photo stop – with an eagle and Spray Falls in the background!

I kept a pretty steady pace, and since the Lakeshore Trail is a little flatter than the section of the Ice Age Trail that I’m used to training on, I finished two full hours earlier than I thought I would. In fact, halfway, at 25 miles I was at 6-1/2 hours! I was thrilled!

But here’s the thing. It hurt! I’m totally humbled every time I do one of these in one way or another. I’m proud that I accomplished this goal, and it certainly helps with my self-confidence going into the Frozen Otter, but I was in rough shape afterward. 50 miles is a long frickin’ way (and it actually ended up being 53!), and 15 hours is a long time to push your body past what it’s comfortable doing. And to be honest, my training is far from ideal. I am risking injury every time I take on these long runs because I’m really not properly trained for them. I should be working up my mileage for each one, but as I explained in my last blog entry, I’m trying to get ready for this race the best I can on little time. It’s become a challenge to me this summer that I’ve taken on so whole-heartedly that I’m nearing burnout. But… *sigh* I still love it! The challenge, the running, the experiences, the lessons, and even the pain. All of it. 

So the run itself was pretty great, overall. I just set my eyes on short goals – the next intersection, scenic view, or water stop. I stopped four times to gather and treat water, and three times to poo (and one time I found an open pit toilet! Yay!!). These things take time, but I’m pretty satisfied with how efficient I was when I did have to stop. 

I started feeling pain in my left hip about halfway in, and I couldn’t seem to find a stretch that would alleviate it, so I popped some ibuprofen, hydrated, and ran on. Another pain that was nagging me was where my shoes meet my ankle. I’m training in the lightweight Altra boot I plan to do the Frozen Otter in so that I’m used to them, but I don’t know if they’re the greatest for trail running this far. I stopped a few times to adjust the laces and fit, but by the end I had some nasty bruises. 

Post-run feet bruises.

Other than pushing through that, overall body/muscle pain and general fatigue, I had a wrecked toe with a toenail that WILL fall off at some point, and a bruise with pain and swelling on the top of my left foot. This last one was the most concerning because I didn’t feel it during the run, and I worry about stress fractures – which would be from doing too much too soon. Overuse. My own damn fault. But thankfully it settled down after some RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) treatment, and as I write this, there is no pain. I have yet to run on it, though. That will be the true test. But I currently feel fully recovered from the week. I’d say I’m pretty happy with that. 

The week went on, and the crazy didn’t stop here! 

At the end I had a few tears well up in my eyes because I was so happy to be done. My confused expression really tells the story!

The backpacking adventure 

We spent a couple of days with our good friend, Mr. Green, whom we met on the PCT in 2013 – we rested, we ate good food (he made us the BEST Indian dish!), we went on a few short hikes visiting waterfalls and we played tons of cribbage. It was sad that he had to go home for work before our weekend backpacking trip, but we were happy he made the trip to see us. 

Mr. Green!! Love this guy!

On Thursday night my parents arrived, and we ate pizza and got our backpacking gear organized and ready for our attempt at a three-day trip along the Lakeshore Trail. We woke up early and head out to drop a car off at the end of our planned 30-mile route, then drove to our start point. 

Ready to hike!

We hiked 12 miles on the first day, and the weather sure challenged us! We were afraid it would pour rain all day, but it only sprinkled on and off, so that was good. But the wind! It was hard to stop to rest because of it, and a few times when we did – usually to enjoy an overlook – we got blasted in the face with sand. It was crazy! But we still had tons of fun and found everything to smile about! 

So windy! Crazy!

By the time we arrived at camp, Adam’s knees were bothering him pretty bad. He’s got quite a history with his knees, and it’s pretty awesome that he’s out here trying to backpack with me – he’s the best. He also fell on a slippery step a few days prior, which left him with a sore back and even more strain on one knee – and a giant bruise on his butt cheek to show for it. So he was in some pain after those 12 miles. A few shots of my mom’s whiskey helped relax him a bit, and we were all able to enjoy a nice campfire and even one game of cribbage before we passed out in our tents. 

The ol’ junky car, found right alongside the trail. Photo required!

About four miles into Saturday’s hike, Adam let me know he was going to bail at the next road, which was a big campground. We discussed our options, and not wanting to split off for too long from each other, I decided I could trail run (I am seriously a nutter), to where our car was parked – 15 miles away. I could grab the car and come back to rescue the crew. My mom, dad and Adam all took some of my gear to lighten my load, and I took off. Less than five hours later I was pulling up to get them – they had settled into an empty campsite and even started a campfire. We were soon on our way to get some burgers and find a place with walls for the night. 

The drizzly weather provided us with a colorful scene!

The run wasn’t easy, but the toughest part was being alone on the trail again, which didn’t last long, and actually pushed me to “get ‘er done.” It felt really good in the end, though. Earlier I told Adam that I wished there was something I could do to help his knees. When I showed up with the car, he gave me a hug and said, “you’re my hero – and you found a way to help my knees.” It was so sweet, and I did feel a little like a hero. I guess I do get a little bit of a rush out of being a ‘runner,’ too. Guess I was trained for it! Hah!

It’s too bad the trip had to end early… We were all hankerin’ for more backpacking, but stuff happens. And besides! The rest of that night’s weather was kind of horrid, so we may have been better off! The wind was insane and it poured rain the rest of the night. I’m sure we would’ve made the most out of camping, and my dad would’ve gotten a big fire going, but a hotel seemed like a decent alternative…  

…Except that every hotel within a 50-mile radius was booked solid. I think we called them all. It was peak fall colors, it was a Saturday night, and the weather sucked… So we surely weren’t going to be the only ones looking for a room. We ended up with the last thing available in Manistique, 53 miles away. It was an apartment they usually rent out weekly. We took it and enjoyed the shower, beds, beers, more cribbage, and being warm and dry. What a crazy adventure that was! The best part of all of this was that we were all in good company. I mean, I certainly wasn’t complaining – I had three of my favorite people surrounding me! 

My amazing backpacking mom and dad. Love these two to pieces!

The wind-down

My folks stuck around Sunday night, and we let go a little bit. We drank bloody marys, played cribbage, watched the Packers play (and win!), had a few more drinks, and mom and I giggled our heads off as we made late-night baked apples. They were freakin’ delicious, too!

We were really goin’ to town on those apples!

Monday was our last day of vacation and well, we tried to relax, anyway. Most of the day was spent doing laundry, organizing and packing up all of our crap so we’d be ready to hit the road Tuesday morning. (We had to be back to our truck for work Tuesday night.) In between chores, though, we did manage to go out for lunch, I went for an enjoyable slow walk, we played a few more games of cribbage, and in the evening we watched a couple of movies. But we both felt like we needed just one more day. This happens every vacation – we even try to plan in an extra day to wind down, but it ends up getting absorbed into the fun stuff, and before we know it… vacation’s over. Being happily exhausted and being left wanting more means it was a good week. Can’t wait for the next one! 

Tonight I love family and friends. I wish there was more time to do stuff like this with everybody all the time! Life can be so frustratingly fantastic in this way. We are so lucky. 

More pictures! 

Coves is one of my favorite spots on the trail. So pretty in the fall.

RICE and cribbage. The perfect recovery.

Adam backpacking up a big hill. You don’t know how much I love this. :)

My super-stylin’ Injinji compression socks.

The wind kept trying to steal my hat, so I turned it around. Then that little strap thingy was slapping me right in the eyeballs. Not a hat kinda’ day.

LOL! Eyeballs or boobies!? Or mushrooms. You decide! ;)

Fall! So amazing!

Mom and dad working their way down some steep trail steps.

Cute mushrooms that don’t look like boobies.

A break in the sky, but not a break in the wind. But so much color and beauty! 

The Frozen Otter – how I’m training

​I’m deep into planning my largest training day (50 miles!) for the Frozen Otter – race day is only 3-1/2 months away! We just arrived at the gorgeous Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) for the week, so I’m going to use the Lakeshore Trail here as my training grounds. Adam and I have a 3-day backpacking trip planned with my parents for the weekend, so I’m going to use tomorrow (Tuesday) as my day to complete the 50 miles. Hopefully I’m training and planning well enough to be recovered for the backpacking part of our vacation without too much trouble. I’ll go over a few details as to how I’m preparing for this training run in a little bit. 

But first, since I haven’t said much about it yet, I thought this might be a good time to talk about the training plan I came up with for this crazy race. I mean, 64 miles is a long way to go, and how the heck do you prepare for that!? In addition to the obvious difficulty to train for something like this, being an over-the-road truck driver has made it a little extra tricky. I’m pretty certain my way of training is far from ideal, so I don’t know if it’s a plan I’d recommend. But, well, who knows! Maybe it’ll work! 

If I had the time I did when I was a 9-5er I’d be putting in more weekly miles, stair climbs, and longer workouts – and maybe more general daily movement besides sitting on my rump in front of a steering wheel for 10 hours a day! I’d probably sign up for a few ultrarunning races to get in some training with support/aid stations, enjoy the comeraderie of other crazy-minded folks like myself and immerse myself in the overall race experience that I miss and love so much. These long training runs do get a little lonely… 

So I don’t know if what I’m doing is enough, or the right way, but I think I’m using my time as best I can. It’s been fun and challenging so far, so no matter the outcome, I guess that’s a success, at least! And hopefully the big outcome will be a Frozen Otter finish! 

So how am I actually training? I started back in April. I went on a 20-mile tester hike so I had an idea of where I was at with my endurance fitness. Did I have any left at all? Would it break me? Would I enjoy any of it? Turns out that I DID enjoy it, it didn’t break me (not even close), and I still had a little somethin-somethin left of my endurance muscle memory. 

May quickly rolled around, and as soon as registration opened up for the Frozen Otter I paid my fee and officially signed myself up. Now, along with my stubborn drive was this financial accountability. So here we go! It is so on! 

From there I drew up a plan from that 20-mile base run I did. The basic idea was to run on my days off (usually road runs at a quicker pace), do bodyweight strength workouts on the road while I’m truckin’ (and run when I can), and get one long run/hike on trails each month leading up to the race. These long runs were going to be key – they would be the closest simulation to race day, especially since I could train mostly in the Northern unit of Kettle Moraine where the Frozen Otter is held. These long runs would also keep reminding my legs that they need to stay in shape (I have serious conversations with them on a pretty regular basis. It’s a good relationship), and I’d have a chance to test some gear and fueling strategies. And so far… I’ve learned a ton. 

Oh, and really quick – when I say “running” on these long runs, it’s fastpacking, or hiking/jogging, or jiking. Hogging? It’s basically a combination of jogging and fast hiking. I try to jog most of it, but I hike up the big hills and jog on the straight parts – I basically go as fast as I can (which isn’t super-fast) while keeping my heart rate at a pretty steady level so I can go for a long time. I’m not out there full-on running down the trail at a 9-minute mile. That would be pretty cool, though! 

So the training I’ve already done is the 20-mile tester in April that I mentioned, a 30-miler in May, 32 miles in June where I wiped out about four times, a 20-mile new-pack-test in July that chafed the crap out of my shoulders, a 40-miler on August 1, then a 32/10-mile back-to-back in mid-August when I had some horrible gut issues, and a 40-mile overnight fatigue run in September that was one of the toughest long run/hikes I’ve ever done. 

So dead tired after my overnight 40-miler on no sleep! So satisfying, though.

I’ve tested four different packs, I’ve tried new shoes (with success), all kinds of food, gels, and drinks. I’ve trained on little sleep, and once on no sleep, I’ve fallen several times (once was a downhill tuck & roll that I’m kind of proud of), I’ve run in the daylight and the dark for hours and hours, I’ve talked to myself, got bored, tired, sore, and hopped-up on coffee. I tried distractions like listening to podcasts, music, silence, making up stories in my head and then sharing them with the squirrels… and when all else failed, I just kept going… and going. Each run has been tough, but I always managed to finish the goal I set out for – mentally spent, physically sore, and totally satisfied. There’s just something about wearing myself down like this that I enjoy. It’s so weird. 

I’ve got a few long runs left before January: 

October – 50 miles 
The biggun’ is my October run. Tomorrow’s 50-miler, in Pictured Rocks. This is the bad boy I’m planning for now. It’s the longest run of my training plan, and I hope to finish in 16 or 17 hours. Yeesh. I’m feeling intimidated just writing that down. That’s a long freakin’ time to be so active – running and pounding on my feet and legs, pumping my arms, breathing, sweating, heart-thumping… Also, I’ve been working out some gut issues that I’ve been having on my long runs, so I’m hoping less hard-to-digest food and better hydration will be the ticket. 

To plan for this, I first figured out miles, start and end points. The Lakeshore Trail is 42 miles long, so I added in a loop during the middle of the run to add on about 10 miles. 

Then I planned for water. There’s a lot of places to get water on this trail, so I’m not worried about a lack of it, but I picked some spots to hopefully maximize my time getting it. The water will need to be treated in three of my four planned stops, so that takes a little extra time. I’ll be doing these 50 miles 100% self-supported, so I hope to be as efficient with these breaks as I can be, and I guess planning them out is the best start. 

Next I came up with a fueling plan. I’ve been constantly experimenting with this since I started, but this time I’m trying Huma gels (Chia seed-based energy) alternated with real foods which are sweet or salty, depending on whatever my tummy is wanting when it’s time to consume fuel. These foods are things like string cheese, an Epic bar (meat bar), Bearded Bros energy bar, macadamia nuts, Snickers bites, an Ocho dark chocolate bar, Combos, Phat Fudge, Pastrami & cheese rollups, and dill pickle chips. It’s a mix, but that’s the idea. I had a loss of appetite a couple of times during training – and it SUCKS. So I’ve stretched out the variety to help with this… I hope! 

For liquid fuel, I’ll carry a 2-liter bladder for plain water, and two 16-oz. bottles. One will be for either Pedialyte or Tailwind drink mixes, which I’ll alternate between. The other will be for cold coffee mixed with chia seeds. 

I also planned for what I’m calling “on-trail maintenance.” I’ll be taking a salt tablet every hour and alternating ibuprofen and naproxsen sodium every 2-3 hours to help with pain and inflammation (the alternating is to keep the tummy happy). The pain killers and salt tabs usually fall away from my plan once I’m out there and I end up taking way less than planned, but I’ll be armed with them if I feel they’re needed or if I’m struggling. 

And finally, recovery. I’m going to eat, sleep, eat, bathe in Epsom salt and sport my sweet new hot pink compression Injinji socks. I also hope to get in a small hike or walk in the couple of days following this training run to keep the blood flowing. I don’t know. I’m not very good at recovery yet, to be honest. The focus has been so much on just the race part… So I guess I need to put more thought into this. It’s important, too. 

The winning pack by Out There USA.

November – 45 miles/20 miles (back-to-back) 
I hope to complete this one in the Kettle Moraine, sort of simulating the actual race. Start at Mauthe Lake and go north to the turnaround, then back south. Then the next day, head south to that turnaround and back. It should hurt real good. 

December – 32 miles 
I might do more miles, or I might split this into a couple shorter runs, depending on weather, how much cold training I have in, and if there’s winter gear that I still need to try out. 

January 14 – 64 miles/RACE DAY! 
The plan is to finish 64 miles! I wonder what the weather will say about that!? It’ll be a major deciding factor! 

Any other racers out there reading this? Any suggestions? Questions? Let me know. Not sure I’ll ever figure this thing out… Which is kind of why I’m doing it again. I completed it in 2010 in 21 hours and 49 minutes, so you think I’d know what to do. Nope. It’s like I’m still a super-newbie. That’s how it feels, anyway. There’s always new things to learn, and it’s a totally different race every year. I have no clue what to expect. 

Overall it’s pretty addicting. And crazy. And I can’t quite explain it. But I love it. All of it. 


Tonight I love string cheese. I think it’s the one real food that my stomach hasn’t denied at one point or another on all my training runs so far. Thanks, string cheese. You’re the best. 

The horrible neck chafe from one of the packs I sent back. Too bad, because everything else about it was great.

Chia seeds mixed in with coffee. Or rocket fuel.

The Ultraspire Titan pack. I love this pack so much, but it’s just a wee to small on the capacity-side to use in the Frozen Otter. I’m keeping it, though. So comfy!