Lost Lake Run Series: What is Cystic Fibrosis?

Please donate to fund cystic fibrosis research! lostlaketrail-940x350

I’m in the midst of training for the Lost Lake Breath of Life Run in Seward, AK on August 23.  I was originally interested in running this trail race because of the amazing views I’d heard about, but as I learned more about the race, I discovered a much greater purpose.  The 16-mile race is held to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  While neither I nor anyone very close to me is living with cystic fibrosis, not everyone can say that.  According to the CFF website, about 30,000 in the United States are living with CF.

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Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder in which the body creates an abnormal amount of thick mucous.  The mucous can impair the function of both the lungs and the pancreas.  While there is no cure, there have been many advances in treatments and therapies over the past several decades, increasing both life expectancy and quality of life for patients.  Currently, clinical trials for a new drug are showing good promise as a potential treatment for the most common form of CF.

As a person who has dealt with both asthma and pneumonia, I can appreciate the struggle of sub-optimal lung function, though I know my experiences pale in comparison to what those with CF have to go through every day.  Having conquered both of my lung-related health issues, I feel it’s fitting to give back by using my lungs and running for the lives of others.

Please help continue the fight against CF by donating today!

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No Place Like Home-r

After weeks of suffering from daily-grind-itis, it was high time for us to get out of town for the weekend.  Since the weather has been turning spring-ish, John hooked up our little trailer, loaded our fishing gear, and we took off Friday after work on the 5 hour drive to Homer, the artsy-hippie-fishing town on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

Driving

The drive to Homer goes by fairly quickly.  In all, it’s amazingly scenic, and there is plenty of wildlife to look out for.  We spotted a half dozen moose on the way down, but no bears, even though they should be waking up from their winter nap.

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Arriving in Homer is a great finale to a nice drive.  When the little fishing village first comes into sight, you are high up on the bluff above Kachemak Bay, with the town laid out below.  The long stretch of the Homer Spit, a long, beachy peninsula, shoots into sight across the bay.

 

Staying

We spent Friday and Saturday night parked at the Driftwood Inn.  They provided both RV parking and hotel rooms.  Other amenities included bathrooms, showers, a laundry room, a small playground, and a fish cleaning counter.  The best part was the location: high on a bluff with a stellar view of the confluence of Kachemak Bay and the Cook Inlet.  A few short trails led down the bluff to the beach.

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Fishing

Over the last week, John picked up a couple of shore-casting rods so we could fish from the beach.  I still have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to fishing, so I just let him choose my gear for me.  After breakfast on Saturday, we drove down the Homer Spit.   It’s lined with cutesy little gift shops and charter fishing businesses.  We parked at the very end, I fed the baby and put him down for a nap in the trailer, and we set out to try our luck with our new set-ups.

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The morning was chilly.  The thermometer on the truck said it was in the forties, but the breeze created a significant windchill.  My hands went numb almost instantly.  I let John get set up and test the waters, literally, and played with Si on the beach.  The view from the spit made the cold tolerable.  The beach was a mix of sand and millions of perfectly round, flat rocks; a stone-skippers dream.  Out across the water, the other side of the bay was a panorama of jagged, snow-capped mountains.

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After awhile, John seemed to have the new fishing method figured out, so I gave it a try.  Shore-casting rods are heavy and in the range of nine-feet long, and casting requires flicking the rod to send the rig flying hundreds of feet off the shore.  The problem is that flicking is a light and quick movement, and the rods are…not.  John didn’t have too much of problem reconciling that issue, but my casts were a bit less than impressive.  It didn’t take long for John to start reeling in Alaska Walleye, a kind of pollock, with long spotted bodies, big, round eyes, and similarly shaped mouths.  I tossed out my pathetic cast, felt a light tug, and pulled in…a little purple starfish.  A few casts later, and I felt like I was getting the hang of it.  I felt a bit harder resistance on my line, and reeled in a bit bigger of a starfish.

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We stayed on the spit for two or three hours.  Our final tally was seven Walleye for John, and three starfish and two lost rigs for me.  I am completely clueless about what qualities make a person good at fishing, but I don’t have them.  However, to be fair, John was fully focused on fishing for those several hours, while I part-time fished, and part-time kids-line-untangled, rock-hunted, baby-carried, photo-took, snack-delivered, water-out-of-boots-dumped and lost-hook-searched.

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Eating

We usually pack our cooler to the brim for camping; eggs, bacon, sausage, steaks, chicken, fruits and veggies, it all comes.  For this weekend though, we suspected all that planning would go to waste since we’d heard so many good things about all of the options for eating out in Homer.  We kept the cooler empty for fish.

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On the drive down Friday night, we stopped at St. Elias Brewing Co. in Soldotna.  We had been there before, last summer after fishing on the Kenai River, and knew we wouldn’t leave disappointed.  I knew full well this weekend would be a huge gluten-bomb to the system, so I just rolled with it and ordered pizza.  John had Pesto Chicken, Si had Pepperoni, and I had Chicken with Pineapple.  I think we all liked John’s the best.  We also filled up our Hydroflask growler that I bought John for Christmas with their Dos Lobos amber ale before getting back on the road.

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Our next four meals were all within walking distance of the Driftwood Inn.  Saturday morning we ate at Maura’s Cafe.  It was amazing.  Si had Blueberry Crepes, crepes stuffed with farmer’s cheese and topped with a generous serving of blueberries with a chicken and apple sausage on the side.  I ordered the Root Veggie Hash, which was a pile of potatoes, yams, and arugula topped with fried eggs and the same chicken sausage.  John asked for the Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict, and it really gave my own recipe a run for the money.  The salmon was cold smoked, and the sauce was topped with capers.  My recipe has definitely been suffering from a caper-deficiency.  Their poached eggs were truly a thing of beauty, and I vowed find out what their secret was.

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For lunch, we went to the Two Sister’s Bakery.  I usually just say no to bakeries to avoid the temptation, but everyone I’d talked to about Homer had mentioned it, and I’d already fallen off the gluten-free wagon.  John had a turkey sandwich on foccacia stuffed with almost every kind of veggie – kale, zucchini, roasted red peppers, grilled onions.  I had Hungarian Mushroom Soup with a salad, and I ordered Si some veggie soup that came with two giant hunks of bread.  He only the ate the bread, of course, so I had vegetable soup along with my soup and salad.  Si likes to talk a big talk about our nutritional lifestyle, “Oh, I can’t eat that.  We only eat protein.”  But put him in a sugar/gluten/dairy situation and he’ll destroy it like nobody’s business.

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Dinner that night was AJ’s Steakhouse.  I saw a poster advertising the live music from the previous Saturday night, and, as it turned out, we were a week late to see Nikos Kilcher, Jewel’s brother, play.  Instead, our dinner was accompanied by a woman with a beautiful voice, a guitar, and jeans and Sorels; true Alaskan style.  We thought about steaks, but decided there was something sacrilegious about having beef in the “Halibut Capital of the World”.  So, I had the halibut.  It was a bit overcooked, but had decent flavor.  John ordered scallops, and had no complaints.  Ever since the scallops I made him a few months ago, he’s been a fan.  I usually let Si get whatever he wants when we go out to prevent any foods from acquiring a forbidden allure, but was still disappointed when he ordered PB&J.  I mean, seriously, kid?!

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Sunday morning, we went back to Maura’s Cafe.  I had been expecting them to be closed for Easter Sunday, so it was a pleasant surprise.  This time, we both had omelets.  John’s had shaved ham and brie, and mine had shrimp, rice noodles, and sweet and spicy Thai sauce.  Both were excellent.  Si had just scrambled eggs and the good ol’ chicken sausage, since he had just eyed my eggs over his blueberry crepes the breakfast before.  All breakfasts were delicious once again.  I remembered to ask about the poached eggs.  Apparently, a bit of vinegar in the water helps keep the egg together.  Who knew?  Well, probably everyone, but it was news to me.

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Overall, it was a fabulous weekend.  A new destination, a check off the Alaska list, some much needed R&R, and a whole set of plans for future return trips.  There’s no place like Homer!

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Alaskan Winter Survival: Mission Almost Complete

Current season: Spring

Current conditions: Overcast, lightly snowing, 30* F.  Not very spring-like.

Current backyard view.
Current backyard view.

According to the calendar, we’ve officially survived our first winter in Alaska.  In recent weeks, we’ve had beautiful sunny days that last until after 9pm.  Many days have reached above 40*F, and the bears will be waking up soon.  Most of this is likely a tease, though.  Last year, the final snow day was May 18th, which gives us over a month to go until spring really breaks through.

Regardless, the worst of winter is behind us, and I feel triumphant about making it through unscathed and unshaken.  I didn’t do everything I wanted to over the winter, but I’m pretty sure I’ll get another chance.  Here is our winter overview:

Fireworks and carnival @ Fur Rondy
Fireworks @ Fur Rondy, February
Playing in the backyard
Playing in the backyard, December
Early winter sunset
Early winter sunset, December
Taekwondo lessons
Taekwondo lessons, December
Bowling.  Lots of bowling.
Bowling. Lots of bowling.
Christmas Tree lighting
Christmas Tree lighting, December
Urban wildlife viewing
Urban wildlife viewing, December
Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing, December
Snuggling...lots of snuggling
Snuggling
More snuggling
More snuggling
Little bit more snuggling
Little bit more snuggling
Skiing
Skiing @ Alyeska, February
Pony riding
Pony riding, January
Pony sledding
Pony sledding, January
Aces hockey game
Aces hockey game, January
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Ice skating attempts, January
Beach Lake
Beach Lake, February
Running...but not nearly as much as I'd have liked
Running…but not nearly as much as I’d have liked
Indoor soccer...always moving too fast for a clear shot!
Indoor soccer.  Always moving too fast for a clear shot!
Outdoor carnival in February.  Only in Alaska!
Outdoor carnival in February. Only in Alaska!
Snowmachining
Snowmachining, March
Truck trouble
Truck trouble, March
Iditarod
Iditarod, March
Birthday at Bouncin' Bears.  Yes, the cake is a Storm Trooper head.
Birthday at Bouncin’ Bears. Yes, the cake is a Storm Trooper head, April

That sums up our first winter in Alaska!  We were never bored; there was always plenty to do, both inside and outside.  We made new friends, saw new places, tried new things, and still have a list of what we have yet to do for next winter.  But when spring finally shows up, there will be no tears shed here.  Winter was good, but this summer will be epic.

March Forth: The Motto in Motion

I had my birthday early this month and, for the first time in 30+ years, noticed that my birthdate has an intelligible homophone: March Forth.  While a simple statement, the phrase has a wide range of applications, and feels particularly potent for me right now.  I expressed my surprise on Facebook that I had failed to notice “March 4th” sounds like anything other than a date, and a cousin mentioned that perhaps I haven’t been ready for it until now.  That seems like a legitimate explanation.

The following Saturday, I was able to put the phrase into practice.  Two months ago, I registered for the Snow Canoe Loop 11-Miler in Willow.  At the time, I was only running one non-stop mile at a time, but thought I had plenty of training days to work up to 10-12 miles.  My longest run before the race ended up being 6.  If this had been a road race, I probably would have backed out, but a few factors made it seem like the run would be doable, despite my lack of preparation.  The course is by default broken up into small sections.  During the summer, the course is a trail that links up a series of small lakes.  The idea is to alternate carrying and paddling a canoe through the loop.  This time of year, the lakes are frozen, so the entire trip is done on foot.  The topography creates a nice mix of flat open trail across the lakes, and gently rolling terrain in between.  I planned to keep a nice, sustainable run across each lake, no more than a mile at a time, then hike the portages.  Since I’ve been hiking through the snow with a baby up to five miles, I thought a 1/2 run, 1/2  hike with only my body weight sounded altogether reasonable.  Overall, all I needed to do was March Forth, and eventually I’d reach the finish.

The morning started out cold.  The start time wasn’t until 10am, but by 9:30, the temp was still only 0* F.   I was glad I brought my INKnBURN Tech Tube.  At that temperature,  the air was piercing to breathe, but adjusting the Tech Tube so I was breathing through it warmed the air just enough to be comfortable. Snow Canoe

In most races, I use an app on my iPhone to track my pace and mileage.  In this race, my biggest concern was keeping the battery from freezing.  I stopped by REI a few days ahead of time  to look for carriers, and found a waist  pack.  I would feel absolutely ridiculous wearing it in a way that could be seen by anyone, but being able to keep my phone under all of my layers seemed like my best bet at having a functional phone if I needed it.  The carrier really limited my accessibility, so I just pushed “Start” on my running app at the beginning of the race, and forgot about it, though I did miss the nice lady who lives in my phone and announces each mile marker.

In the early part of the race, I settled in to a pace that felt like I was covering a decent amount of ground without being overly ambitious.  There had been some recent snowfall, but the trail had been traversed by several snow machines, making the surface packed but soft.  The sun was shining, the snow was fresh, and the air was crisp; overall, it was a beautiful day to be out.

I was surprised with how good I felt.  The small turnout of 22 runners spread out quickly, and I was satisfied with the spot I assumed in the queue: towards the back of the middle, but not last.  Though the snowy surface created some slow going, it was still easy to at least remain at a consistent pace.  As the miles added up, I continued to feel great and even started catching up with and passing other runners.

Tramping down the trail, it didn’t take me long to recognize my first rookie-Alaskan mistake. The sip of water I had taken earlier from my hydration pack had filled the tube with water, which promptly froze solid.  Too late I remembered reading a tip about blowing air into the straw to force all the water back into the pack.  I considered stopping to dump the rest of the water instead of having it slosh pointlessly behind me for the following couple of hours, but figured in a life or death situation I could drink straight from the bladder.

After a few miles, I had acquired a follower.  He was pretty close behind me, but being so bundled up, chit-chat was semi-impossible.  All I could knew was that it was a guy, so for the following miles, I ran the possible scenarios through my head.

“He wants to pass, but I’m blocking the way.”

“I should step off the trail so he can get around.”

“I’m walking up this hill; he hates me.”

I finally decided that self-conscious paranoia was really a waste of my time and energy, so I settled on, “He approves of my pace, and has decided to match it.”

With the frequent alternations between wide, flat, open lakes, and quiet, wooded hills, the miles passed quickly.  At each lake crossing, the temperature would shoot up.  Running completely exposed in the sun, I would start considering stopping to pull off a layer.  Maintaining forward movement paid off each time.  It was back into the trees and shade, and the air temp would lose about 20 degrees.

Without my phone handy, I tried to estimate about where I was.  Just as I was thinking I had to have gone at least 4 miles, I saw someone standing in the distance.  Four miles was a major underestimate.  The person was manning the race’s one aid station at mile 6.5.  At the aid station, I stopped for some water and was introduced to Jay, my follower.  He confirmed my final conclusion.  He’d started out with a group that was too fast, but my pace was just perfect.  With just 4.5 miles left, we started back out on the trail.

I’d been trying to count lake crossings.  I knew there would be 16 total, and I thought I’d done 9 already.  The countdown was on.  Several lakes later, and I wasn’t sure if there were 2 or 3 left, but I knew my legs were about done.  All the sun was making the snow soft, and the lateral sliding was taking its toll.   The loop part of the course had come full circle, and I was heading back along the beginning of the course, though each section now seemed much longer than on the way out.

I lost Jay at some point and found myself alone in the trees.  I wasn’t sure if the next lake was the final crossing, or the second to last.  I decided to plan on expecting two more.  That way, I wouldn’t be disappointed, and I might even be pleasantly surprised.  This particular portage ended up being the hardest.  It wasn’t hilly, but was a long stretch of small rollers.  They would have been fun on a snowmachine, but were a mild form of torture on spent legs.  I resorted to hiking as fast as possible, which was a welcome reprieve.  The section was certainly runnable, but as long as I continued to March Forth, I felt no guilt.

The trees opened up, and I picked up my pace across the lake.  On the far side, the trail went straight up, or so it seemed.  I went back to my fast hike, not sure of what lay in wait for me over the hill.  To my delight, cresting the hill brought me not another lake, but the downhill road that led right to the finish line.  During my final trudge up the hill, Jay had caught up, and brought encouraging words.

“You pulled me most of the way, so you have to finish first!”

That was enough to put the spark back in my step.  In an attempt to sprint to the finish, I discovered my legs were essentially numb.  It was a welcome feeling.  I crossed the line to my waiting family, which was the most welcome feeling of all.

Other than my frozen pack, my race plans all worked out.  I even had a fully functioning phone that managed to record the whole race.  Admittedly under-trained, I not only finished, but had a great race on a beautiful day in an awesome place, and even ended up as the 4th female.  With such success, I’m ready to live March Forth every day of the year.

The Last Great Race on Earth

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On Sunday, March 2, I loaded up my two little boys and headed north to Willow.  We’d been to Willow before, when we went up for the Winter Solstice 5k, but Sunday was a whole new world up there.  We went to see the start of the Iditarod!  The idea of the Iditarod has always inspired me.  I’m sure I have a predisposition towards grueling races of insane distances over rugged terrain.  Although I have no immediate plans, I know I’ll run 100 miles someday.  The challenge is just too tempting.  With that internal beast calling to me, there was nothing I could do to resist going to see 70 individuals, each with 14 -18 dog teams, start on a journey of over 1000 miles through vast expanses of western Alaska.

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Sunday’s weather was beautiful: clear skies, radiant spring sun, and temps just above freezing.  Absolute perfection, since the start line was nothing short of an outdoor festival.  Starting at 2 o’clock, one musher left every 2 minutes, so the start lasted for almost two and a half hours.  It was truly a spectator event.  Amongst the crowd of thousands, there were camp chairs, tents, fire pits, beer coolers, snow machines, hockey games (it all took place on a lake), sleds, and everything and anything else you could want for a winter celebration.

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As I watched the teams pass on the beginning of the trail to Nome, I couldn’t help but feel a wave of emotion for each one.  Considering the planning, training, sacrifices, and commitment of each racer all wrapped up in the history and legacy of the race itself, I knew what I was witnessing was, in fact, a very big deal.  In my brief glance of each team, I felt nervous and excited for them all at once.   I tried to imagine what each one must be going through: the adrenaline rush of being ushered off by thousands of cheering fans at the beginning of 1000 miles, countered by the anxiety of entering into the unknown of wild and uncontrollable variables.  For each team, be they rookies or 30-year veterans, the same possibilities lie ahead, of unexpected dangers and disasters, or anticipated victory and glory.  I know experience must be a huge advantage, but this is Alaska.  Anyone who enters this kind of endeavor with 100% confidence would be nothing short of delusional.

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Looking over the list of entrants, it is interesting to see the diversity.  Most racers are from Alaska, and a few are from the Lower 48, but it is an international event.  There are participants from the predictable home countries of Canada, Norway, and Sweden, but also less expected locales of New Zealand, Australia, and Jamaica (!).  In addition, there are almost 20 women on the roster.  You can follow this year’s Iditarod here.

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Experiencing the start of the Iditarod was truly an awe-inspiring event.  I hope to make it an annual family tradition.  Maybe one day I’ll feel all those same emotions (multiplied by a million?!) for my own boys-turned-mushers!

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I spent the day in my Flutter Pullover from INKnBURN.  I layered it over a merino shirt, and was warm enough all day.  I thought the Flutter print was fitting for the day, since monarchs annually migrate 2000 miles!  For 15% your first order from INKnBURN, use code INBSK14 at checkout.

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Taking it to the Next Level!

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I am super pleased and proud to announce that I was chosen to be an ambassador in 2014 for the company INKnBURN!  INKnBURN is based in Orange County, California, and designs and manufactures all of their vivid and unique fitness products there, which means no outsourcing!  All of their styles are created with endurance runners in mind, but everything crosses over easily to other activities and endeavors, and even work and play.  Their focus, goals, and processes are outlined here.  As a small company, they are about much more than just high profit margins and a bottom line.  They are involved in the fitness community, and are truly interested in providing amazing clothing for training and racing that help athletes achieve their goals in comfort and style.  I’m really looking forward to bringing INKnBURN along this year on all of my Alaskan adventures!  To try out any of their goodies for 15% off, use code INBSK14 at checkout!

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