Friday, August 5, 2016

Close Encounters With Everything

Running allows me to feel close, like I am being hugged by a moment, a person, God, or nature. It allows me to see the things that are invisible, hear the things that are inaudible, feel the things that are untouchable. Emotions flow like a meandering river cutting through deep gorges of the Earth sometimes flat and serene and other times raging and powerful. My thoughts pervade my mind. I feel the presence of those who are gone and the prominence of those who are here. I connect as I run with walkers, cyclists, dog walkers, other runners and those going about their everyday lives. I talk to things that don't talk back like cows, dogs, bunnies, squirrels, trees. I embrace the weather; rain, snow, heat, cold and the perfection of fall. Running is truly a close encounter with everything.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Don't Feed the Animals - Banff Maraton (and vacation)

The sign is all over the parks in Canada and everywhere else for that matter. "Do Not Feed The Animals!" It’s detrimental to the animals and also to your own safety. You may
become food yourself and being food for a wolf would not be cool. Due to aggressive wolf activity in the area the Banff Marathon course was changed to its contingency course. In the prior weeks, the alpha of the pack had become aggressive toward humans and their food and posed a safety problem. Unfortunately, it seems that a tough decision was made to put down the alpha. I fully do not know all the circumstances so I cannot pass judgement on this decision, but it is a big deal.

The marathon course was supposed to run on the Bow River Parkway, a beautiful scenic traverse of the Bow Valley, an out and back on a paved trail and the road itself, the Bow River flowing swiftly on the side, mountains piercing the sky, trees close enough for lurking critters.  Instead, we ran a contingency course on the Legacy Trail between Banff and Canmore. The Legacy Trail is nearly 22 miles meandering along the Transcanada Highway. It still nestled in a valley with 4,000-7,000 foot mountains on the sides but with the highway just a stone's throw away not as intimate as the Bow River Parkway. The trees are not as close and the opening to the sky more expansive. I guess it is better to be safe than chased and eaten by a wolf or mauled by a bear (yes, this happened on the same weekend in New Mexico, a woman was mauled by a bear at mile 23 of a marathon), especially at the pace I run these days.

I enjoy small marathons and this one had only 218 finishers. Initially we were unclear as to where to line up due to the change in course but it turned out to be right at the finish area.  It rained for nearly 18 hours prior to the start and with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees, I thought it was going to be one of those cold rainy runs. It stopped raining and the temperature turned out to be perfect, high 40’s to mid-50’s. At 9:01 (late start for a marathon) we were on our way.

Frankly, the course was a bit arduous because of a mini-out and back that was used to accommodate mileage. This was my first marathon measured in kilometers and my first international marathon. My watch actually measured it a bit shorter than 26.2 where it typically measures a course a bit longer mostly due to me not hitting all of the tangents.  The kilometers came quickly, obviously, being .62 miles but mentally it felt like the markers were just clicking by. It’s just that there were 42 of them instead of 26. The course started at the finish then ran through Banff on a street parallel to Banff Ave., the main drag, for about 2K, then onto the Legacy Trail we went. It’s basically a paved trail 10-20 feet from the highway. The mountains were pretty and the course relatively flat for a while. We ran 12K to a pretty decent incline which was the start of the mini-out and back. Another 4K uphill to 16K turnaround, down 4K to the mini-turnaround and then back up to the 24K turnaround to head back into Banff for 18K. Coming back down to the 20K point and knowing I had to do the mini-out and back was mentally tough primarily because it was uphill and straight.  I like courses with turns and rolling hills.  In essence, we ran straight for most of the time with minimal turns.

Course aside, I didn’t have a good marathon. I struggled through the latter stages. It was one of those “one foot in front of the other” races. Go straight, get to the finish and get on with vacation.  I need to train better, put more effort into the fundamentals, lose a few pounds, and be excited to be running 26.2 again.  I finished in 4:46. Marathon 93, first international marathon complete. Frankly, being 56, I'm just glad to still be running and getting to the start and finish lines but I still know that I can run better times.

I love destination marathons that are combined with some travel, exploring and vacation, of course with Cynthia Anne. We’ve made it an art and we always make the most of our time. Here is a summary of our travels in the Canadian Rockies but the pictures at the end(only a smattering of the 1400 taken) tell a more complete story and provide a pictorial essay of those of you who are non-readers.

Days were long  in the Northwest particularly in late June.  We experienced over 16 hours of daylight and nearly 18 hours of light.  We never really saw dark.  To start our days early, we were up by 5:30. It helps getting to places as early as possible to beat the tour buses and RVs.  Since we packed so much into the days, we were generally back by 8 PM. There was little snow on the mountaintops but what was there made it majestic. The animals were also confused.  Much of the snow had melted in April due to a warm trend, then they received snow in May and early June so the animals were yo-yoing up and down mountains for their food. On the morning the marathon where it had rained overnight, the treetops in the mountains did have a light dusting of snow. The cool temperatures were a welcome relief from the 90's and high humidity of North Carolina.

All flights went as planned which is always a welcome relief flying through Chicago to Calgary, Alberta.  We checked into the Caribou Lodge on Banff Avenue, had some lunch at the Keg and ventured over to the Expo. It was a small expo but well done. My number was 6 likely because I was the 6th to register, not because I was an elite runner by any stretch of the imagination. After the expo we ventured up to Norquay Ski area to get a birds-eye view of Banff. I highly recommend making the drive and stopping to gaze at the Bow Valley and Banff.  On the way up, we came across some big horn sheep on the side of the road.  Once at the ski area, we took the chairlift up to the top of the mountain, only 6800 feet but well worth it for the view. We then drove down the mountain and took in Vermillion Lakes, a beautiful and serene area near Banff.  Continuing our exploration, we found our first water falls, Bow Falls, just a short mile from Banff but really beautiful.  Of course we are partial to exploring waterfalls, anywhere we can find them.  We walked around Banff for a bit, got some snacks and headed back to the lodge.

In the morning we walked part of the 10K course. On the Bow river trail, we met up with two Elk.  One wasn’t taking too kindly to Cindy, probably not paparazzi friendly. We continued to Bow Falls again over the pedestrian bridge, up through a neighborhood (also coming across two more Elk) and back across the river over the Banff Bridge stopped for a couple of hot chocolates and enjoyed our walk back through town to the lodge. We traveled out to Lake Minnewanka and took an hour boat tour of the lake, then visited Two Jack Lake on the way back to the lodge. At the lodge we spent some time in the warm water spa and relaxing. Being the day before the marathon and a cold rainy afternoon, we just hung around the lodge (and took a little nap) before dinner at Carlittos.

Marathon Sunday
After the marathon, as described previously, we ate at Magpie and Stumps, fine tacos and beer.  After cleaning up and resting a bit, we went back into town for dinner at Saltlic and a little ice cream desert at Cows.

Monday was our most active day.  We drove from Banff to Lake Louise hoping to drive the Bow River Parkway the entire way.  It was closed for half of it, likely due to wild animal activity. So, we drove the Transcanada highway until we could get over to the Bow Parkway and then up past our cabin chalets at Baker Creek.  We continued into Lake Louise and out to Morraine Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. We hiked the lake trail for a little over two miles. Upon returning. we decided to rent a canoe and get on the lake of beautiful blue.  The lake is majestic in both its color and serenity. After Morraine, we drove to Lake Louise.  Be prepared for parking nightmares. Luckily after about 20 minutes, we were able to park although we hear that this can take hours in July and August. We walked to the Fairmont Chateau for some lunch and was able to eat outside overlooking the lake and mountains, the lake a gorgeous bluish-green.  We ate well at the Glacier Saloon (any place with the word saloon, tavern, pub in the name is our kind of place). I had a great big 32 once local beer, a fine beer I must say and the food was great as well.  After lunch we decided to hike the lakeshore trail, not getting enough of the beauty of the lake, mountains, and glaciers, we just wanted to keep walking.  Contemplating hiking to the tea houses far above in the mountains, we decided to continue on to the Six Glaciers Tea House, a challenging hike up to nearly the mouth of the glaciers. Yes, it is a tea house that serves beverages and food, all helicoptered and horse-packed in.  Built in 1924, it served as a stop-over for mountaineers. The round trip was 7 miles and with stops, pictures, etc. took us 5 hours, longer than it took me to run the marathon! So, we spent all day hiking and canoeing walking an additional 13 miles.  We headed back to the cabin and ate at their bistro, which had very good food. With the marathon day and hiking, I logged over 90,000 steps in two days. Cindy had over 30,000 on this day alone and 138 floors climbed.  And you call that vacation?  Yes, we do!

It is time for some whitewater. We were up early again to drive to the Kicking Horse River in British Columbia.  Before starting our journey, we stopped at Laggan’s in Lake Louise for some pastry's and coffee. Hydra Raft adventures is on the other side of Yoho National Park beyond Field.  Being glacial water and having some class IV rapids, we were suited up with wet suits. The first 40 minutes was a float and then we hit the rapids alternating among class I-IV. It was a really fun trip with folks from the UK, LA, and Toronto.  A BBQ lunch awaited us upon return to Hydra – burgers, salads, and brownies.  The return trip was an exploration of some areas of Yoho. First up was Wapta falls via a 2K hike. We visited the small community of Field, saw the spiral railroad and a passenger train chugging up the mountain.  We then explored the Natural Bridge and Emerald Lake.  The road was closed to Takakkaw falls so we were unable to see this magnificent sight. We got back to the cabin around 7 and ate at the bistro again.

Our day trip today started early at 6:30 wanting to beat the tour buses and crowds to the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca glacier.  National Geographic chose the Icelands Parkway as one of the most beautiful drives in the world. There are a myriad of places to stop along the way.  Our first stop was Herbert Lake, just for a brief view and the possibility of bears arlong the shoreline – there were none.  Our prize came next at Peyto Lake.  This stunning lake with its bright blue water came with not one, but two rainbows.  Being early, we were the only ones at the lake and just as we had arrived, sun streaming down, it began to rain a little and formed the brightest rainbow I had ever seen across a lake of blue.  Then not long after a second rainbow appeared.  Its one of those, right place at the right time moments that shows the beauty of God’s creations. Truly, this is intelligent design. Amazed at the sight we had just seen, we continued on the parkway to the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier.  When we first arrived, we decided to hike up to the toe of the glacier.  Sadly it is receding with climate change but the moraines show just where  the glacier has been. Heading over to the Discovery Center, we bought tickets for the Columbia Icefield/Glacier people mover and skywalk.  The people mover drives onto the glacier and allows you to explore for 20 minutes. We drank a little glacial water, took some pictures, listened to the tour and headed to do the skywalk, perched above hundreds of feet and a modern wonder, the bottom was made of glass allowing you to see the mountain floor. 

We then decided to continue to Jasper, the town center of Jasper National Park, our third Canadian national park during our trip.  On our drive we saw some mountain goats and our first black bear.  He/she was meandering along the road in the grass and brush. Finally we saw a bear!  Lunch was in Jasper along with a short stroll around town. We had a casual drive back to our cabin, stopped a few places for the sights to behold and saw two more black bears, both appeared to be together.  As the locals call it on the highway, a bear jam, where cars stop along the highway to see and photograph bears.  We ended our 12 hour day back at the cabin with dinner at the bistro. The cabin was about 7 miles from Lake Louise on the Bow River Parkway next to Baker Creek - a beautiful property. It had no phone service, no TV and spotty wifi. It was good to be disconnected.

Our last day in Banff National Park but still to be an active day.  Again, we started out early for the Lake Louise Ski area. They advertise that it is the best bear viewing due to the concentration of bears at the ski area.  We decided to do the chair lift instead of a gondola so that we could see better and feel the cool morning air.  Sure enough, on the way up, we spotted a grizzly off in the distance.  But not that much farther, we spotted a second grizzly close enough for some good photos.  The discovery center at the top is very informative.  We decided to do a guided trail of the bear walk with a guide. Due to bear activity, they have an electric fence to keep the bears and humans from one another.  However, we did venture into the bear area, calling out, “Hey bear!” The guide told us about the area and about bears on this 45 minute walk.  She also mentioned that bells actually attract bears, kind of like a dinner bell! 

After the ski area, we had a little breakfast at Lake Louise Lodge and then started our trek back to Calgary.  On the way, we stopped at Johnston Canyon, just a beautiful canyon of waterfalls, rock, and river, even a small cave.  We hiked to the lower and upper falls, about 3 miles roundtrip.  It was well worth the time. One last stop was in Kananaskis Country at Barrier Lake.  There was not much water in it, not even enough to flow through the dam. We finished our trip spending the night at an airport hotel and having dinner at Moxies.

All flights went well and we just needed the weekend to recover!

It was a fine vacation in the Canadian Rockies!

Friday, June 17

Driving from Calgary to Banff
The Caribou Lodge - our home in Banff
Big Horn Sheep along the road to Norquay

Camouflage Sheep
On the way to Norquay

The town of Banff

Banff and Vermillion Lakes

Norquay Mountain

The town of Banff and the Bow River

Vermillion Lakes

Vermillion Lakes

Bow River Falls

Cynthia Anne at Bow River Falls

Bow River Falls

Bow River Falls
Saturday, June 18

Cow Elk pretending not to notice Cindy

Elk on the running trail

Bow River in Banff

Bow River in Banff

Cindy with her Elk friend

Bow River from the Banff bridge

Banff Marathon finish line - day before

Breakfast with a  view

Lake Minnewanka boat tour

The end of th mountains and beginning of the prairie

Lake Minnewanka panorama

Two Jack Lake

Marathon Day, Sunday, June 19

Clouds and snow at the tops

Three Marathon Maniacs and 50 Staters

Start/Finish Line

Already to go


On the Legacy trail about mile 7 and 19

Marathon with a view

Running across the pedestrian bridge

Bow River near the start/Finish

Finally to the finish!

Celebratory brew from Banff Ave. Brewery
Lunch after the marathon

Not a bad place to run!

Monday, June 20
Morraine Lake

Morraine lake

How beautiful!?

Yes, the water really is that color from the glacial silt.

On our hike on the lake side trail

Canoeing Lake Morraine

Could be called mirror Lake with the reflection

Worked up a thirst for Lake Louise

The Glacier Saloon overlooking Lake Louise

Lake Louise before hiking

See those glaciers out in the distance, we nearly hiked there - Six Glaciers

Fairmont Lake Louise Chateau

We've now started out hike

The beach at the end of the lake, of course the water is about 37 degrees

Strike a pose but do NOT feed!

Now starting the Six Glaciers Tea House hike

We've climbed and climbed and now see lake Louise off in the distance

We've reached snow!

The ridge has steel cables to hold onto if needed

A bit of rest with Lake Louise off in the distance

Better with horses?

Finally make it to the Six Glaciers Tea House

The view of glaciers from the tea house

Tea House tucked in the woods

And back to the lake

Tuesday, June 21

Wet suit becomes me!

All dressed to raft - bring it on!

Our whitewater crew

Class I

One side looks like it is having fun!

Ice water bath

More fun on the Kicking Horse, British Columbia

Hiked 2.4K to Wapta Falls

Wapta Falls

Wapta Falls

Natural Bridge

Down river

Best picture of the Natural Bridge Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Rocky Mountaineer in Field

On its way to the spiral tunnels

Near Takakkaw Falls

Our Cabin

Our Bistro
Wednesday, June 22

Herbert lake

Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake with a double rainbow

A gem at Peyto Lake

On the drive to Columbia Icefield

Hike to Athabasca Glacier

Ice Cave

Where the glacier was in 1982, now can't even see it from this point

Athabasca Glacier in background

The Ice Explorer to Columbia Icefield and glacier

On the Athabasca Glacier

Also had a little glacial water

View from the sky walk looking down

On the skywalk

Cindy suspended in air

The Skywalk

Falls along the road

Falls in a canyon

First view of a bear

Meandering bear


Second (and third) view of a bear

Lake at Num Ti-Jah

Baker Creek at our Cabin

Railroad near Baker Creek

Thursday, June 23

Saying goodbye to Izzy

Lake Louise Ski Lift

Grizzly at Lake Louise Ski area

Elk with jewelry

Johnston Canyon

Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon

Middle falls

Small cave

Other side of cave

Upper falls after 1.5 miles

Big Horn Sheep on the Bow River Parkway