Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Race Recap: The Grand Island Trail 50k Edition

So, I decided that this race recap couldn't just be about the race.  For most races, I either drive to the race very early in the morning, or get there the night before and have a hotel booked for an overnight stay.  This time, I decided I wanted a full-on adventure.  We hadn't been on the motorcycle since we drove to New York via Canada to a friend's wedding in 2014, and we were itching for a trip, so I suggested Jason give the bike a little tune-up and we'd take that.  We'd be traveling from Gaylord to Munising, which is only about 200 miles each way, so I wasn't worried about any aches and pains from the ride on race day.  When we tried to find a hotel in the area, our options were very pricey, as I had only signed up for this race a week in advance and most of the cheaper places were booked.  So, I suggested we stay at the local campground.  In a tent.  Neither of us had camped since college, and I figured it was high time we gave it another go.  The only tricky part would be packing not only for a 50k trail race, but also camping, and getting it all to fit on the motorcycle.  Somehow, we managed to fit two pairs of running shoes, my hydration vest, bug spray, sunscreen, race fuel, four pairs of socks, four pairs of undies, four pairs of shorts, four shirts, two phone chargers, travel sized toiletries, an extention cord, two sleeping bags, a tent, a tarp, and two pillows all in the two saddle backs and one big travel pack on the back.  And yes, I am a magician.

We headed out after breakfast on Friday morning, leaving the kids with Nana and Grandpa at the cabin.  Our first order of business was crossing the Mackinaw Bridge, which connects Michigan's Lower and Upper Peninsulas.  Generally, the bridge doesn't bother me at all, but construction forced all of the traffic to travel on the inside lanes, which aren't pavement, but metal grating.  Riding on this grating on a motorcycle causes the bike to be pushed randomly sideways, which is not a good feeling when you're 155 feet above the water, and I poked Jason more than once which he knows means SLOW DOWN OR ELSE!

After we got across the bridge and paid our toll, we had to make a little pit stop.  Last year, we stopped in Trout Lake for lunch on the way home from this race, and much to Jason's dismay, we were a white minivan in a sea of motorcycles and ATVs.

This year, we might have been the only vehicle in the parking lot, but we were on two wheels only, and Jason got his redemption.

We popped inside for a little snack and then we were off again.

With about an hour or so until our next scheduled stop, I broke out the watermelon gum.  It's not a Harley road trip without watermelon gum and we always have it in stock.

Then we headed to Grand Marais. This town is located right on Lake Superior and is the eastern gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  We had lunch at a little brewery there and watched the kayakers and sailboats enter and leave the shore.

And then it was time to head to Munising.  The road from Grand Marais to Munising was gorgeous- full of twists and turns and the air was still cool enough to be comfortable in my jacket.

We stopped along the way, on the recommendation of some fellow bikers we met at lunch, at a place called Logslide Overlook.  The story is that it takes one minute to get down the sand to the lake and up to three hours to climb back up to the top.  We decided to enjoy the view from the top only, before getting back on the bike!

Once in Munising, we headed straight for packet pickup.  While I got my race bib and shirt, Jason met with the race director to get details on volunteering on race day.  On the way out, I bumped into some Bay City runners I had met up with a couple times over the winter.  There would be some familiar faces on the course this year!

We hopped back on the bike and headed to the campground.  Every single campsite had been rented for this weekend, and it was bustling.  We found our little tent site and started to unload.  It didn't take long to put up our tent, lay out our sleeping bags and get situated.

The next order of business was food.  We headed back into town and decided we weren't very hungry-yet.  So we had a beer and chatted with some fellow bikers while we waited for our pizza to-go-I'd just heat it up later over the fire when I got hungry!  Then we stopped at a convenience store and grabbed some more beer, water, and of course, marshmallows.  And then we headed back to camp, on a motorcycle, with me holding down my very precious cargo-PIZZA.

There was firewood available for purchase at the campground, but we decided we could get more for our money if we rode a few miles down the road.  We pulled off on the way and I found a great marshmallow stick and carried it with me.  Then we found a great place to buy the wood.  Just one problem: too much wood and not enough room on the bike!  Even with the saddle bags filled, along with all I could carry, we still had to make two trips.

When we got back to camp and got the fire going, we took a little walk down to the shore, and there it was: Grand Island.  The site of my race was looming in the distance and I could envision the trails I'd be on the next day.

Back at the campsite, several of the Bay City runners stopped in and we talked for a long time about running and racing and strategies and life. In my opinion, this is the best part of traveling to races-meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I was excited to run with them on what would be a first ultramarathon for several of them.  After that, we ate fire-roasted pizza and it was fabulous.

I topped that off with a few perfectly roasted marshmallows-yummy!

And then, Jason had the crazy idea that he wanted to swim in Lake Superior.  So we headed back down to the beach where he quickly decided that it was way too cold at that time of night for a swim, so we enjoyed the sunset for a few minutes before heading back to get ready for bed.

With just six hours before we'd have to wake up to make it to the island before the race, we plugged in our phones to charge and tried to get some sleep.  (This is where I make a little side note about things I would bring the next time I go tent camping in a packed campground: AIR MATTRESSES AND EARPLUGS!)

Soon enough, my alarm went off and it was time to get going.  Because camp checkout was earlier than we could be back from the race and Saturday night was booked solid, we had to pack up everything we had brought with us. At 4am.  In the dark.  Trying to be quiet while everyone else slept.  Except not trying to be TOO quiet because the people in the tent next to us had chosen to loudly brush their teeth for several minutes at midnight, just inches from our tent.  And also not too quietly because can you really be THAT quiet on a Harley at any time of day?!

We bolted into town for coffee, wearing race clothes and our jackets, and with me holding a large garbage bag I filled to the brim with things that had somehow fit on the motorcycle when I had packed it the day prior in the daylight and not in a rush.  We parked at the high school, and stuffed our jackets and the garbage bag under the back tire, and hoped things would be as we had left them when we returned later that day.  It's kind of an unspoken rule with runners that you respect peoples' belongings.  We've all seen each others' hiding places for keys and wallets and all sorts of things and I wasn't too worried about leaving our things unattended.  We hopped on a bus filled with racers and volunteers and headed out to the ferry.

The ferry ride is listed as "a short 8 minute ride over to the island" but the whole thing lasted no more than four minutes-hardly enough time to get cold or to get splashed by the waves that were crashing up the sides of the boat.  And then we were there-on the island!  Most of us gathered in the little lodge near the start line, mainly because the mosquitoes were unbelievable outside.  I had completely doused myself with insect repellant, hoping it would last at least a few miles before I completely sweated it off, and those pesky little bugs seemed to be keeping their distance from me.  As our group began trickling in, again we talked of races and running and discussed race fuel and hydration packs and admired each others' gear.

With just a few minutes before the official start, we all headed outside and got together for a group picture.  Next up: 31 miles or BUST!  What would the day hold?

And then it was time to go.  We started out together as a pack, but soon enough we settled into our desired paces, and as Brian and I were at a similar pace, we decided to run together for as long as we could both keep up with each other.  This was his first ultra, and I had trained with him earlier in the year in Bay City and also happened to run both the Rock N Roll Nashville Marathon (his first) and Bayshore Marathon with him.  He had said that this would be his first and last ultra, but I had bets on him changing his mind.  The first seven miles came and went fairly easily and I was feeling pretty good and happy to be back on these trails for another year.

After Mile 7, we headed out onto the shore for a mile.  This is a gorgeous beachfront and the water is so calm and pristine and there are amazing views in every direction.

I have heard that in previous years the beach has been wide and runnable.  Last year, I was barely able to keep both feet on the hard, wet sand without getting wet, and this year, after about 25 yards, we all gave up and resorted to splashing through the water for the remainder of this section.

At Mile 8 the beach portion was over and the trail took us back into the forest.  It was only around 7:30am and the forest was still calm and still and mostly asleep.  After a few more miles, we came to a great spot to view the Pictured Rocks and catch the sunrise.  Somewhere, out across that water, lies Canada!

As we ticked off the miles, we got slightly slower but not too much.  By about Mile 15 we were walking most of the uphills and wondering where, exactly, the downhills were!  At Mile 16, we made out first stop to refill our packs and promptly received multiple mosquito bites.  I guess that insect repellant was long gone!  The volunteers had the right idea, dressed head to toe in complete beekeeper outfits, with no bare skin showing.  At Mile 19, we took a short break to take some photos at one of the highest points on the island.  The views were amazing and I wished I wasn't running a race so I could stay a little longer.  At Mile 21, I remember telling Brian that I had NO idea how I had run a 50 mile race just a month prior.  These last ten miles were going to be challenging, and I knew there was a big climb just ahead...

We came into the Mile 22/27 aid station where Jason was volunteering, refilled our packs, re-covered ourselves with bug spray and headed into the out-and-back section that everyone was dreading.

At Mile 23, there was a small, rocky stream crossing, but the water was cool and refreshing and we happily crossed it and headed up the hill.

This section was almost exclusively walking and it was precisely at this time that the black flies came out in FULL FORCE.  So much of my energy was spent trying to swat away these flies that were at least twice as large as any normal black fly I'd ever seen.  About 1/2 mile from the turnaround at the top of the hill, I came around a corner and spotted Sharon, from our group, coming down the hill at me.  She said, "Did Brian not make the turn up the hill?" and I joyfully informed her that he was right behind me!  Brian had injured his hip a few weeks prior and wasn't sure he'd be able to go the distance.  He had told us that if he wasn't feeling it, he would just skip this five mile stretch and head for the finish, but he did it!  Just after the turnaround at Mile 24.5, Brian caught back up with me and we headed back down the hill.  This was short-lived, however, as I was once again swarmed by black flies and had to literally sprint down the hill, making Mile 26 my fastest mile of the entire race!  I took a quick picture of Echo Lake as I crossed the stream once again and headed into the Mile22/27 aid station.

As he did last year, Jason decided to run in to the finish ahead of me at this point, so he would be there for the finish.  Brian found his own groove and also took off on ahead of me in the last four miles.  We had agreed that if either of us wanted to go on ahead, they should and I was proud to watch him finish his first (and hopefully not last) ultra strong.  Those last four miles were quite brutal for me as the black flies continued to torment me and the temperature was steadily climbing.  I had a small moment of superhuman strength where I decided to lift this tree out of the way, and it somehow was captured by photograph!

But then, much to my dismay, I discovered that the tree had left my hands covered in sticky sap.  Perfect.  Luckily, I had stuck a random hand wipe packet in my pack that morning and managed to get most of the stickiness off.  The miles seemed to be passing sooooo slowly, but then I saw that Mile 30 marker and I knew the finish line was just a few minutes away.  As I turned the last corner and headed in, I was focused in on the finish line.

That's when I heard it-I'm not sure which of the Bay City runners it was, but one of them yelled out, "YOU DIDN'T EVEN GET A GOOD POOP STORY OUT OF THIS RACE!"  I crossed that finish line laughing, and happily accepted my medal.

The medals for this race are a little different-a wood medallion, imprinted with the race details and island, with a neck loop which is hand knit from Alpaca wool by the race director's wife.  It's not the biggest or fanciest medal out there, but I think it's completely fitting for a trail run on an island that is pack-in, pack-out, and very in tune with nature and preserving our surroundings.

I finished this race 18 minutes slower than last year, but I have no complaints.  I felt I ran a solid race and looking back at my race as a whole, I am content with my performance.  With over 1800 feet of elevation gain throughout the course, it definitely provided challenges.

But that's not where this story ends.  After catching the ferry back to the mainland, and taking the bus back to our motorcycle, we found that yes, in fact, all of our belongings were right as we had left them.  I crawled onto the bike, a sweaty, wet, stinking mess, and headed back to the campground where the manager had thankfully agreed to let us shower before hitting the road.  While I sloooooowly peeled off my disgusting clothes, showered and re-packed the bag more efficiently, Jason headed out to Lake Superior to give that lake swimming thing another try.  He came back refreshed and ready to go, with his mission accomplished.

The only thing left to do now was park my butt on my SMILE pillow on the back of the bike...

...and hit the road.

I wasn't really sore, aside from my feet, but I found that letting my legs dangle instead of putting them on the footrests provided a lot of relief.

After an enormous amount of Mexican food in St. Ignace, we once again crossed the Mackinaw Bridge.

The sky had been threatening to rain almost the entire trip home, but somehow it stayed dry for us the whole way back to Gaylord.  In fact, by the time we arrived, the sky began to clear a little and I was pretty happy to relax on my favorite beach, watching my kids play in the lake as the sun began to set.

30 hours, 400 miles on motorcycle, 31 miles on foot, a million memories.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Alayna Turns Eight

I can't really believe that my baby girl turned eight years old today. EIGHT.  It feels like I was just writing about moving to the farm and how much Alayna was loving it here, but it's been a whole year.  Last year, Alayna was a timid first-grader starting over in a new school.  This year, she tackled second grade.

And she was even selected as Student of the Month in March!

Last year, I told you about Alayna's new birthday twin BFF, Chloe, who lives across the street.  This year, I have watched them become nearly inseparable.

Last year, Alayna's gymnastics consisted mostly of handstands and round-offs, but this year, she has really gotten serious about improving and is this close to nailing that back handspring.  I'm not really sure how she can bend like that, but she makes it look very easy!  Dad even made her a balance beam with barn wood, which provides hours of entertainment.

Last year, she was coming off of her Elsa phase, but her love of makeup and dress-up has not wavered.  Here are just a few photos of what everyday Alayna is like:

Though she loves dressing up and making up her face, what Alayna loves the most is being outdoors with the animals, including her pets as well as random creatures that make their way into our yard (and her hands.)

There's one more birthday blog about Alayna would be complete without mentioning it.  That hair.  That white-blonde, curly hair that cannot be tamed.  It sneaks into every photograph and completely has a mind of its own.  At this point, there's only one way to handle all that hair-Let it GOOOOOOOOOO!  Alayna wouldn't be the same without that wild mane, and even when it's a snarly, tangled mess, it is her.

She can sprint on the track.

ride circles around me on the dirtbike,

take a tumble in the fall leaves.

race down a snowhill on a sled,

ring the bell for dinner,

and still have time to gather a bunch of flowers for me.

She is sunshine and laughter and sweetness and everything that is good.

She is my Laynie Lou, and today she is eight.

Happy Birthday, Alayna!  Mama loves you!