Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Marathons, Mountains and Microbrews - Michigan & Minnesota

Alternative titles:
(What I did when I didn't go to Brazil)
(We're Going With Plan B)

"Right now, we should be walking down the beach looking at hot Brazilian babes," Paul said yesterday, as we pulled off for lunch in the middle of Wisconsin. "Yeah, but Plan B wasn't bad either."

It all started out to be a great adventure to South America. Perennial traveling companion Paul sent me a text on my birthday last month, wondering if I wanted to run Rio on the 28th. Sounded like fun. We booked the trip and signed up for the marathon.

On Friday, I headed for Paul's place in Chicago and we took the train out to O'Hare. Check in. "Do you have a visa?" It turns out that while most of the South American countries will let you get an entry visa at the airport, Brazil won't. We called the local Brazilian Consulate. Six days minimum, and that's if you come in during the three hours they're open on Tuesday or Thursday and come back to pick it up during the three hours they're open on Monday, Wednesday or Friday.

So, here we are at the airport, trying to figure out how to make the best of the situation.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch....

The lovely Francine is getting ready to head to Charlevoix for a marathon tomorrow. After a check of other international and domestic marathons we might do, we decided the best plan was to head for Charlevoix. We got on the train back to Paul's, and into my van. It was about a five hour drive plus a stop or two for gas and food, and at about 9:30 we arrived. Francine was happy to have our company, so happy in fact, that she proceeded the next morning to blow away her age group by about 20 minutes. About a half hour later, Paul and I crossed the finish line.

Well, just doing a marathon in Michigan instead of Brazil wasn't quite enough. Since we were already up north, Paul and I said goodbye to Francine and headed UP north. To the Upper Peninsula, that is. We stopped on the way up at Legs Inn in Cross Village for a beer and a snack, then headed across the Bridge and across the UP to L'Anse, Michigan.

We stopped at the Marquette Harbor Brewery in Marquette for dinner and a pint on the way there, and enjoyed the Lake Superior scenery on the way.

Mt. Arvon, the highest point in Michigan, is only about 20 miles or so east of L'Anse, and we headed out on Sunday morning, driving on roads that gradually diminished in width as we got closer to the trail head. It was only a half-mile hike once we got there. At only 1979 feet, Mt. Arvon isn't all that hard, but if you're going to do all 50, you have to do the easy ones too. At least they make you walk a half-mile uphill to get there. The worst part was the mosquitoes! I think I was about a pint low on blood as we returned to the car.

Check off another thing from my list. Next--Swim in each of the Great Lakes. So far, I've done Michigan, Huron, Erie. And look, here's Lake Superior. We drove back to L'Anse, pulled up to the public beach, and jumped into the VERY COLD water. Refreshing would be a good word. Significant shrinkage would be a good phrase. Lake Superior. Check!

On to Duluth, Minnesota, then northeast along Lake Superior about 90 miles, then north into the wilderness for about 22 miles to the trail head for Eagle Mountain. We barely got out of the car before the Minnesota State Bird (the mosquito) started attacking us, draining even more of our blood. We decided to keep moving, since the faster we walked, the less they drank. The rain was steady but not hard as we followed a rocky trail to the top. We ran into a couple from Texas coming down that we had seen earlier on Mount Arvon, and they were kind enough to share some skeeter-dope with us.

Most of the actual climbing happens in the span of about 15 minutes, and that started right about the time we left our Texan friends. We had to search around a little at the top to find the actual high point, since on the rocks the trail tended to disappear. But after just a couple minutes we had arrived at the top of Minnesota!

The wind started picking up and getting colder, and we wondered if we were going to get some serious weather as we headed down the mountain. My bigger concern was if we could get back to the nearest brewery in Duluth so that I could collect a beer glass before they closed for the night.

Eagle Mountain, the high point of Minnesota, elevation 2301 feet. Check.

We got back to the car and shut the doors before any more of our six-legged friends could get in, and started following the directions on my GPS back toward Duluth, rather than just following the road we came in on. Unfortunately, the GPS turned out to be kinda stupid on the little roads, and after driving on continually worse and worse roads and coming upon a small "lake" in the middle of one and turning around. Fine, we'll go out the way we came.

So, after a bit of detouring, a back window that we couldn't see out of from all the mud that had splashed on it, and a 40-minute-longer-than-it-should-have-been drive, we got back to Duluth to Fitger's Brewery. The kitchen had closed, but the beer was still flowing. A pint of Parr's Porter really hit the spot. I asked about beer glasses, and the bartender brought five different designs, none of which matched the beer I just drank. So, I had to drink a pint of Big Boat Oatmeal Stout before I could justify the glass I had just picked out. Darn it!

Collect a beer glass from Minnesota. Check!

We got a referral for a Pizza Luce and had a great pizza before heading back south. By that time is was about 1:00 a.m. We got just into Wisconsin for a few minutes and stopped for the night. I don't think either of us took more than a few seconds to fall asleep. It was a good day. Two mountains, one Great Lake, and a micro brewery.

By late afternoon, we had traveled the length of Wisconsin, and pulled back into the driveway at Paul's condo, completing a full circumnavigation of Lake Michigan. I headed for home, where the lovely Francine awaited my arrival.

Plan A was travel to Rio, run a marathon, and be tourists for a couple days. Oh well. Rio will still be there. Plan B included marathon #179, state high points # 34 & 35, Great Lake #4, and 32 state beer glasses!

and the adventure continues....

Monday, June 15, 2009

Marathons, Mountains and Microbrews - Iowa, South Dakota

Fear. Well, maybe that's a strong word, but I was really wondering what was going to happen. It was my first double-marathon weekend since 2007, and my first double since having surgery on both knees.
The mission--collect a beer glass from Iowa. Run the Marathon to Marathon from Storm Lake to Marathon Iowa. Run the Swan Lake Marathon in Viborg, South Dakota.
The reality? Pretty much like the mission, only more fun. I left Thursday night to get a few hours in and make Friday a little more leisurely. I called Paul in Chicago, went to his place, and watched the Lakers come from behind to beat the Magic while enjoying a couple beers with one of my best friends.
Four a.m. on Friday morning, I got up, took a quick shower, and headed out to beat the Chicago rush traffic (by about 3 hours) and headed for Iowa. Turns out that the road took me within about 10 miles of Charles Mound, the high point of Illinois. I drove up there just in case there would be a way I could visit that one too, however, it's on private property with only restricted times to visit. The signs said closed, and not wanting to mess it up for future high pointers, I respected the signs and decided to do it another time. At least I know how to get there though.
On to Waterloo, Iowa, where I visited Becks Sports Brewery and enjoyed a lunch and a pint of Red Dragon Ale and another of Thirsty Buzzard Cerveza.
A few hours later I pulled into Storm Lake, site of the Marathon to Marathon. This is year 14 for their marathon. Back in year two, I ran this marathon, and met Lois Lind, a very sweet older lady who, along with her husband, started the marathon. He died before the first one, but she remained, as race director. Since then, she's been promoted to "Spokesperson" and is still there, shaking hands with finisher and sharing her love for life with all of us.
Though I may have had reservations about running two consecutive marathons, I didn't have any reservations for a place to stay. The whole town was booked up. I had stuff in my van to sleep on/under, but stopped by a small motel just to ask. They were "almost full" but told me to check back in an hour or so.
After picking up my packet, I called back. YES! There's a room. Cheap too!
Watched the Redwings lose the Stanley Cup along with new friend, Gordon Bennett in the lobby of my motel. So much for the home team.

The Marathon to Marathon is a nice little run (less than 200 in the full marathon) through prime Iowa farm country. At 6:00 a.m. we headed out.
Well, let me describe the course. You run around the block. You head east. You head north. You head east. You head north..... Eventually you turn west and run about 3 blocks to the finish line in Marathon, Iowa. OK, the course isn't very interesting. But the people sure are nice. I hooked up with four young girls, three of whom were doing their first marathon. We ran together for a couple miles before they dropped back. With about 4 miles to go one of them passed me. Then a couple more. I managed to hold off the fourth one.
At about 14 miles I caught up with a bunch of crazy 50-staters, who were singing, joking, taking lots of walk breaks, enroute to helping Mark Rudnicki finish his 50th state. I hung with them for a bit before going on ahead.
Felt good all day, though I was taking it easy and making sure I was replenishing as much as possible along the way. I finished in about 5:17, got a shower, had a real nice lunch sitting with my young-babe friends and then joined a few other double-marathoners on the shuttle back to Marathon.

Chapter 2.
I got back to my van and headed north for Hawkeye Point, the high spot of Iowa at 1670 feet. Yeah, yeah, but if you're collecting high points, you have to take the easy ones with the hard ones. Looking at my Garmon Nuvi in my car, it looked like I could just go north to 130th Street and head west 3 miles. Unfortunately, it was a "Class B" road, which in Iowa means someone packed down a path through a field and you enter at your own risk. I made sure to keep my speed up as much as I could and still keep things under control. By the time I reached the high point I had so much black mud packed under my wheel wells that I still haven't dislodged it all after arriving back here to GR. Had I approached from the west, it was paved roads to within about 100 yards. Oh well--guess I'll know better next time.
Hawkeye Point is pretty nice--they have a mosiac compass face on the ground, and five poles with signs pointing to each of the other state high points along with distances.
My legs felt good. What's wrong here?
I arrived a couple hours later at Swan Lake Christian camp for marathon number two. Again, I had no reservations, but for $15 I got to stay in one of the bunkhouses there. I went to bed pretty early after the pasta dinner and didn't get up until about 4:30. Another 6:00 a.m. start, and marathon #2 was underway.
I ran the whole first half with Tom from Omaha, and we managed to pass the miles pretty quickly. At least it felt that way--I was still taking it pretty easy. After he turned off to finish the half, I set my sights on the string of people I could see off in the distance. I had been following a guy in a white shirt since the start, but couldn't quite close in on him.
Going through the aid station at about 14 miles, one of the guys was saying, "Powerade, water, ... BEER" I picked up my head at that one and said, "Don't be messin' with me now." "You want a beer?" "Yeah!" What the heck, it was after 8:00 a.m. He grabbed me a MGD64 out of the cooler and I enjoyed it for the next half mile. I caught a couple of early starters, then headed down a long driveway they call the "keyhole" which goes to the end and around a flagpole. The guy in the white shirt was on his way out as I approached the flag pole. I told him I was going to try and catch him. He said, "I hope not."
We headed back onto the gravel roads, out about a mile, turn right and go out three miles to the 20 mile mark. I could see the guy in the white shirt, and every time he'd take a short walk break I drew him in just a little more. Almost to 20 and I made my move. We talked for a bit about the guy in the blue shirt ahead of us, and I took off after him too! I set my sites on Jeff and Nel, my next two victims. After catching them we stayed together through mile 25, talking and getting acquainted. We were going for sub 5:30, Jeff doing his second marathon of the weekend as well. They stopped for a walk break and I headed for home. I picked up my beer can to drop it back with the people who gave it to me earlier. When I got there, I had this flash of inspiration. I had them get me a beer and 3 glasses and waited for Jeff and Nel. We toasted our marathon and downed the beer before doing the last half-mile or so. I was pushing at that point, figuring I had blown the 5:30, but what the heck. A beer with some new friends trumps a few seconds off my marathon time. Still, I was running strong, feeling great, and at the end of 52+ miles in two days. Wow! Finish line in 5:30 and a few seconds. Close enough!

So, I guess my fears were unfounded. Now I have no more excuses. Guess I'll have to work and get myself back to my normal 4:30 marathon time. That's marathons in states 35 and 36 (second time around). State high point #33. And on the way back through Des Moines, I collected a beer glass from the Rock Bottom Brewery, where I enjoyed a nice pint of Lumpy Dog Brown. That's beer glass state #31.
and the adventure continues....