Happy Birthday, Stephen and Avian!

To commemorate Stephen and Avian’s 12th birthday, I thought I’d recall their entrance into the world, while I still remember the details so vividly. Not that I expect to forget any time soon.

Finding Out

Our first ultrasound, Jon asked Dr. Coll (who had twins herself) nervously, “so, um we would know if there was more than one baby, right??” She said “oh yes, there is just one heartbeat, see it right there?”

Turns out, one of them was hiding. The good news was, we’d had some time to embrace the initial surprise of being pregnant, so by the time we found out there were two, everyone we told just laughed. “Of course you are! Twins!”

Names

When we found out their genders, Stephen (Twin A) was named in honor of Jon’s younger brother, Stephen, who had died at 18-years young. As for Twin B, our girl, we’d been tossing around names, when my sister Lynette’s friend Mark came to town. Mark studies birds, and kept saying “Avian” -this and “Avian”- that. I loved it, and hoped the Avian Flu wouldn’t become too much of a thing.

Waiting

I’d been on bed rest since July 25, which meant I had a lot of time to worry, eat, read, and lay out on the deck in my bikini (at 175 pounds and growing every day).

My only “field trips” from bed were to see the multiples specialist in Reno, where she’d do a 3-d ultrasound and check on the babies. After one Dr. visit, we went to Macy’s (totally against the rules, but I “needed” something). I was excited to go out in public, and actually wear some of the cute (I thought) maternity clothes, and put on makeup and make my hair look nice. I thought I looked “pretty”.

The young woman behind the counter saw me and exclaimed, “oh my goodness – you look like you’re going to EXPLODE!” She continued on, laughing at me. I tearfully left Macy’s, without buying anything. I went out to the car, told Jon the story, and he marched back in to find her manager. He came back out with a complimentary purse and makeup kit. Hopefully, that clerk never made fun of a fat pregnant woman again.

For my birthday, I got a double jogging stroller – I spent hours staring at it.

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The Big Day

After months of bed rest, the Specialist in Reno decided it was time for Stephen and Avian to come out. I was secretly hoping for a c-section, that just sounded so much more pleasant, but our team of Truckee Dr.’s (Taylor-Thompson-Coll)  were confident that we would be ok, and scheduled the labor to be induced on the morning of September 26, 2005, one day shy of 37 weeks. The day before, I ventured out for a 3-mile hike, after months of doing NOTHING. I was sure the babies would come flying out, but, no.

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Heading to the hospital, Sept 26, 2005

Jon and I met our good friend Sheila at Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee. Sheila had two kids of her own, but didn’t have the best birth experiences (I think she nearly died), so she wanted to see a birth when everything went well (fingers crossed).

After taking the drugs to induce labor, I wanted to see how long I could last without the epidural. Turns out, not long at all (Huge kudos to all you tough women who did it without the pain relievers). Before I got it, I was barely able to breathe through the pain, and got seething mad at Jon for turning on the tv (cnn at this moment – seriously!?). After the epidural though, I was in heaven – childbirth is easy! This is fun! Bring out the babies!

Sheila went shopping and bought Stephen and Avian the sweetest little clothes to wear home from the hospital. The hospital room was fairly quiet throughout the day as we waited.  But when the time came to push, the room quickly filled with nurses and multiple doctors, just in case there was a problem.

Our boy, Stephen Patrick, was born at 5:58 p.m. Dr. Taylor told me “Wait!”

Four minutes later, at 6:02 p.m., Avian Rose was born.

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Stephen (5 pounds) and Avian (4 pounds, 3 ounces)

We were instantly in love with these tiny creatures.

Party

The babies were cleaned up and friends arrived to celebrate.  We had Chinese food right there in the delivery room. After a couple hours, I asked a nurse if it was ok to get up – no one had realized I’d been sitting there since the delivery. It was pretty gross.

While in the shower (epidural wearing off, now everything is hurting, birthing is actually hard…), a nurse came in and told me Stephen had jaundice and would need to get under the lights asap –  that worry and anxiety leading up to the birth came rushing right back.

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Avian’s weigh-in

Hospital life

The next few days, while waiting for Stephen’s jaundice to clear up, we enjoyed being in the hospital and having nurses to call for help whenever we couldn’t figure something out, or whenever we needed to sleep, they magically whisked away the babies and we could rest. I think we were both pretty terrified at the thoughts of “how in the hell are we going to manage this at home without two full-time nurses helping us?”

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Jon and the kids
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Burrito babies. Avian on the left.
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Avian: Hey, where did my brother go?
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Avian visiting Stephen, who had to stay under the lights for a few days
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Marveling at the tiny feet

The staff at Tahoe Forest Hospital was amazing, we had a huge room with two beds all to ourselves, they served us delicious food including a special king-crab leg dinner (and friends brought us some pretty amazing food from favorite restaurants around town). We were very lucky that the maternity ward was so quiet and we were taken care of so well.

I asked the doctor, “when can I start running again?” He laughed and said, “Right now, if you feel like it!”

I tried, starting out with a walk, and it HURT. Running would have to wait a bit.

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Brinn and her daughter Sophia, with me and Avian

My mom (aka Grandma Rosie) arrived at the hospital to help with her first grandchildren. She was a lifesaver.

Stephen and Avian had their photos taken for the baby wall, so we dressed them up in the new outfits from Sheila.

 

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Stephen and Avian

After five days, it was time to go home. Fortunately, we wouldn’t be leaving alone, my mom would stay with us for a couple weeks to help.

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First car ride, 5 days old. We were terrified.
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My mom, Grandma Rosie, expertly juggling her grandbabies
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First walk with Stephen and Avian, in front of their first house in Squaw

Life with two babies

I won’t pretend it was easy and blissful and happy – it was full-blown triage.  The evenings were the worst- the babies (both of them!) would start crying around 4pm and wouldn’t stop for hours and hours. We spent so many nights walking around the house carrying them, trying to console. Breast-feeding was a nightmare and near-impossible when I was alone- I couldn’t just leave one poor baby screaming while feeding the other – I spent hours in bed with them, crying often, trying to survive. We tried desperately to get them on the same feeding and sleeping schedule but failed miserably.  Oh wait, back to the happy birthing story…

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Cousin Katie with Avian. Katie lived in Truckee at the time and came over to help me when Jon had to work.

Jon’s parents came out from Massachusetts to meet their grandchildren a few weeks later. We met them at the airport, along with Cousin Katie. Grandma Bev and Grandpa Bill fell in love with them instantly. They moved here and helped take care of them – for which we are forever grateful.

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Grandpa Bill and Stephen, Grandma Bev and Avian
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Stephen spent a lot of time like this with Grandpa Bill.

Twinning is winning

There’s nothing easy about raising twins, I post a lot of pictures of the happy times, but we struggle.  A lot. But 2x the trouble means 2x the love – and having Stephen and Avian come into my life has been the best thing that’s happened to me.

Happy birthday, Stephen and Avian. I love you both so much.

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Avian and Stephen on a recent road trip

Fall Equinox/ First Snow – Truckee, CA

It was the first snowstorm of the season yesterday, September 21, 2017, which appropriately (or inappropriately, depending on who you ask) fell on the Last Day of Summer/ Fall Equinox.

I’ve been melancholy lately at the thought of losing our trails to winter again, many of which have only recently melted out from last year’s unforgiving snow season.

But as the snow came down, instead of sadness, I was filled with excitement- and a strong desire to bake cookies and light a fire. I don’t know why I’d been dreading this day so much – I really do love the snow…

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Last Day of Summer Hot Tub Party. Stephen and his friend Jake.

The snowstorm was short-lived, but our mountains are still blanketed in beauty, and I’ve been listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – Autumn throughout the day; embracing the changing seasons. Here are some shots from around town this morning, and Donner Pass/Castle Pass this afternoon.

Happy Autumn!

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View from the Trout Creek Trail, Downtown Truckee, California
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View from the Trout Creek Trail, Downtown Truckee, California
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Running up towards Castle Pass this afternoon. Near Donner Pass and Truckee, California
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View from Castle Pass, looking South towards Anderson Peak, Tinker Knob, and Squaw Valley.
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Castle Pass, as the clouds break up and the sun starts to shine.
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Despite the snowy trees, the trails up to Castle Pass were mostly dry by the afternoon.
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Wildflowers with snowy Castle Peak behind.

Soundtrack for today:

Oyster run – birthday miles

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2:00pm Saturday afternoon, September 9, 2017, Lucas and I sat at the Bread and Butter Bakery in San Anselmo, looking at gaia maps on his phone and figuring out our running route for my birthday run- matching miles for years, to celebrate my upcoming bday on 9/12.

The goal was 39 miles. We’d both heard about Devon Yanko’s (an elite ultrarunner) bakery, and Lucas’s idea was to have brunch here then run to the beach and back.

We ordered a Tam Fog drink (lapsang souchang tea, steamed milk, golden syrup, and lemon twist), a beer (St. Bonita Rustic Lager), a fried egg sandwich (with 2 yr. cheddar, bacon, avocado, and roasted tomato basil aioli), and creamy polenta (salsa verde, poached eggs, sheep feta, and cilantro). The food was INCREDIBLE, and the sandwich was so big I got to take half of it to go, for what we thought might be a “midnight snack” later in the run.

 

 

We parked a couple blocks from the bakery to avoid the 2-hour parking issue, and headed up towards Oak Avenue.
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As we passed a seminary, hauntingly beautiful piano music drifted out the open windows. The sign on the lawn said “no dogs on grass” but the bark coming from inside as we ran by the door indicated dogs WERE allowed in the church.

After climbing Oak Avenue, the residential street turned into a fire road, which then led to the series of trails and fire roads in the Bald Hill Open Space Preserve that we meandered through to the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed.

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Bald Hill Open Space Preserve

The trails and fire roads were well-marked and this combined with Lucas’s route-finding on Gaia left little room for error. It was the hottest part of the day, and the heat radiated off the dry earth.

We met a couple at an impeccably clean porta-pottie 5 miles in, near the Rocky Ridge Fire rd and chatted for a bit. Lucas asked how we should get to Bolinas, and the guy responded “start about 6 hours earlier”. He laughed and gave us some suggested trails to hit along the way.

From mile 6 on, I thought about significant events that occurred during each matching mile-year of my life, sharing stories with Lucas, and asked for his memories from each year as well.

After winding around the beautiful lakes/reservoirs, the trail started climbing into beautiful redwoods along the Cataract Trail. We found a gorgeous little waterfall and pool to stop and cool off in.

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After climbing out of the redwoods, we came to a road (Ridgecrest Blvd) that we followed for a couple of miles, taking little trail detours here and there.

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Coastal trail near Ridgecrest Blvd
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first glimpse of the ocean, looking down towards Stinson Beach and Bolinas, our destination for dinner
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me heading down the Coastal trail, high on a ridge above the ocean
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Lucas on the Coastal Trail
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Coastal Trail

I pulled something in my piriformis area (recurring issue lately) around mile 14, which made mile 15 the hardest of the run, which corresponded darkly with year 15 of my life. I silently pushed through, keeping the despair to myself. I seriously doubted that I would be able to continue on for another 24 miles with this.

We hit mile 16 and Lucas commented that I’d missed some years – I told him what was going on and how glad I was to be over that horrible year and mile. My leg loosened up and miles 16-23 brought us closer to the beach and I happily recalled some of the best years of my life.

We reached the bike path leading to Bolinas, a beautiful little seaside community, as the sun began to set.

 

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Bolinas

 

We ran through the funky and artsy little town, noting our dinner options, and decided that oysters would be amazing after we went down to the water and back.

On the way to the water, we again heard gorgeous piano music, this time coming from a sweet house built on stilts over the bay.

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fisherman with a dog that wasn’t his
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Bolinas, looking towards Stinson Beach
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Lucas at the beach
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fog moving in brought a nice reprieve from the heat

 

We made our way back to the little town center, and chose Eleven Wine Bar Bistro as our dinner spot.

We were 23.5 miles in and it was just after 8pm. 3743′ of elevation gain so far.

to the beach

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Eleven Wine Bar Bistro
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so hungry

We ordered a half dozen oysters, a couple beers, and a pepperoni pizza. There were no leftovers; it was phenomenal. The best oysters ever; we both agreed.

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bathroom at Eleven
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looking slightly haggard as we packed up for the return trip

Lucas studied Gaia and found us a return route that would cut some miles off – the goal was 39 miles but we’d be going over a bit.

On the way out of town, we found a 24-hour self-serve farmer’s market with the freshest, most beautiful produce. We purchased a melon for dessert.

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love this

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We followed a paved road, dodging cars, until we reached the Martin Griffin Preserve, where we went around the fence and crept passed the employee houses with our headlamps off. A deer (we think) bounded across the trail in front of us and scared the crap out of me.

After a bit of stumbling around, we found the Bourne trail that would take us back up towards the ridge between the ocean and Mt. Tam watershed. The further we got from the ocean, the temps rose, and it became quite hot again.

We took our time, as Lucas’s stomach seemed to be rebelling against the oysters/pizza/beer we had for dinner. We stopped for a short nap on a picnic table once we got down again from the ridge.

I had the 2nd half of my delicious egg sandwich from 10 hours earlier, around midnight in the middle of the woods. Lucas had stopped for a break, and as I stood eating my sandwich, a chorus of coyotes howled loudly in the darkness. I love being out at night.

We made it back to the streets of San Anselmo around 2am.

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glad to see I’m reflective at night

The return trip brought our total to just under 41 miles with 6500′ of climbing. We were out for 12 hours, which included many breaks and about an hour for dinner.

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from Bolinas back to San Anselmo. 17.3 miles

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It was my favorite birthday run to date.

 

Isle Royale Part 6 – 21 mile run on the big island

It was day 4 at Isle Royale National Park, a trail running mecca spread over 400 islands with over 165 miles of trails and 99% designated wilderness, and my sister Lynette (the Ecologist for the Park) and I had plans for a 21 mile loop on the main island.

Monday morning, August 14, 2017, Lynette and I set out in her boat, the Universal Special, to head from Mott Island to the big island, for our “big” run of the trip.

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Captain Net

We discovered that the Universal Special was capable of going faster than 7 miles per hour when not loaded down with 5 people! We easily skimmed across the channel towards Daisy Farm, our start/finish for the run.

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Rock Harbor Lighthouse
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a few of the 400 islands that make up Isle Royale

From Daisy Farm, we took the Mt. Ojibway trail up 1.8 miles to the fire lookout. It was a surprisingly good climb to start the run.

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Lynette heading up towards Mt. Ojibway

Just after reaching the Greenstone Ridge Trail, we heard a terrible racket from some sandhill cranes:

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Lynette climbing up to the top,
Mt. Ojibway fire lookout. She pointed out a nearby radio tower that she and her colleague Leah had built by themselves, which meant they hiked in all the building materials from the boat. 
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One of many inland lakes as viewed from the fire lookout on Mt. Ojibway
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Lynette heading back down

From Mt. Ojibway, we headed west on the Greenstone Ridge, the trail that bisects the entire island, about 44 miles across (that Lynette and I plan to run next summer).

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Crossing many boardwalks

We followed the Greenstone Ridge Trail for about 6 miles to the East Chickenbone Trail, which we would follow down and around Chickenbone Lake.

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Boggy
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Me running towards Chickenbone Lake
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Lynette on a slightly overgrown section
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Lynette stopping for Thimbleberries

Around mile 9.5, our halfway point, we turned left on the Indian Portage Trail, which led us back down towards Chickenbone Lake again.

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A perfect spot for moose, but we didn’t see any on this run.
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so many fun things to look at
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The sun came out as we neared Chickenbone Lake again

The Indian Portage Trail led us along two more lakes, Lake Livermore around mile 11.8 (as we crossed the Greenstone Ridge Trail), and then LeSage Lake at 12.5, before reaching Lake Ritchie (where we would filter our water), at mile 14.3.

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so many lakes

Before Lake Ritchie, each time we passed water, I asked Lynette if we should stop, but she insisted on Lake Ritchie (there is now an algae bloom at Lake Ritchie so the water is no longer safe to drink).

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so much green
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Taking a break at Lake Ritchie

At mile 15.3 we left the Indian Portage Trail for the Lake Ritchie Trail, which would lead us back down to Daisy Farm, our starting point.

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making our way back down to the boat

We completed our 21 mile loop, which had about 2600′ of climbing, and some fairly technical (rocky and/or overgrown) trails, in 5 hours.

21 mile run

elevation profile- 21 mile run

No speed records were broken, but we took our time, running casually and stopping frequently to enjoy berries and scenery.

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Daisy Farm dock after the run

We had a celebratory beer with our sandwiches on the dock just as the raindrops began and the glassy lake became covered in perfect little ringlets.

After returning to Mott Island, my mom and I went out for a hike, and saw our friend the bull moose. I chased him down the trail for quite a ways but couldn’t get any clear photos. Lynette and my dad went fishing, after making ice cream with Avian and her friends. Avian said “thanks, I’m out” and didn’t come back until after 10pm.

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my mom on the Mott Island loop
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Mott Island trail along Lake Superior
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little island off Mott Island

It was a beautiful end to an incredible day on Isle Royale.

Next up, Part 7-  Edisen Fishery, Bangsund Cabin, and Rock Harbor.

(for more stories on my visit to Isle Royale, see parts 1234, and 5)

Isle Royale Part 5 – Three Mile Hike

(for more stories from my trip to Isle Royale, see parts 123, and 4)

It was Day 3 on Isle Royale National Park and although I’d already had 7 moose sightings (on solo runs), my parents and daughter were missing out. Lynette took us by boat to Three Mile, where we tied up to the dock, and headed out on a 3-mile loop.

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The hike started out along the rocky, blueberry covered shore
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It was slow-going, because I couldn’t stop eating the blueberries
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Heading inland, towards a lake. Speaking in whispers, or not at all, in hopes of seeing moose.
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There are many long boardwalks through the boggy sections.
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Lynette educating us in the swamp
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bees love Isle Royale
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My mom, Rose, climbing through a cave that was part of the trail
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not a moose, but still pretty sweet

We reached an inland lake, and the whispering ceased. We would need to be really quiet if we wanted to see a moose.

I heard a distinct sound – like something heavy moving through the water. I waved to Avian and Lynette to stop – shhhh – look – Lynette led us very quietly down an animal trail that led to the water, and sure enough, Avian saw her first moose, standing next to an island in the middle of the lake, taking a drink. It probably goes without saying that we would have missed this moose entirely if we hadn’t been very softly creeping through the forest, on full alert.

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Moose hanging out at an island (35x zoom)
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(this is how far we were from the moose- it was standing in the water in front of this island)

My parents also saw the moose, before it got in the water and swam across the lake (I later learned that moose can swim at a pace of six miles per hour for 2 hours at a time!). I took about four pictures of the moose and then my camera battery died before I could get any more. Technology.

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quiet contemplation

We continued down the trail, frequently stopping to check out sounds, hoping for more moose. The entire length of the lake, we were serenaded by the haunting call of the loon, which became louder and clearer the closer we got to it. This peaceful one mile walk along the lake was one of my favorite hiking experiences ever.

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The writing on the wall, in one of the primitive cabins on Isle Royale.

We returned to the boat and headed back to Mott Island.

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Me and Ave, on the return to Mott Island
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Avian helping Captain Net secure the boat for the night

Lynette and I had big plans for the next day – we would boat to Daisy Farm, then run a 21 mile loop. Avian would get to hang out with her girlfriends, and my parents would have some down time for hiking and relaxing. Next up: Isle Royale Part 6 – 21 mile run on the big island

Isle Royale Part 4 – Raspberry Island

(for more information on Isle Royale, see parts 1, 2, and 3)

Sunday morning, my parents, sister, daughter and I set out in the Universal Special from Mott Island to Raspberry Island.

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Lynette (captain) and Ave on the Universal Special

The old boat was taking on a lot of water, and the bilge wasn’t really working, so my dad and I took turns using a hand pump to bail out the water, then racing up to the front of the boat (where I took this pic) so the back wouldn’t sink. The boat could only go about 7 MPH with all of us in it. All of this made for a bit of an exciting trip to Raspberry Island, which my sister had said was her favorite place in Isle Royale.

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Captain Net bailing water while Buckshot takes the wheel.

We pulled up to the dock, and it was apparent we had the entire place to ourselves. We set out at a very leisurely pace, thoroughly enjoying and appreciating the diversity of the island.

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Raspberry Island Trail
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Avian on Raspberry Island, checking out Lake Superior
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These flowers growing among the rocks, at the edge of the big lake, are anything but delicate.
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The old man and the sea
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My dad is pretty agile at 76 – very inspiring
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Fireweed on Raspberry Island

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I could spend all day here

After checking out the rocky shoreline, Lynette led us up the trail and into the Boreal forest.

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Avian, Lynette, and my mom, Rose, on the Raspberry Island Trail
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Indian Pipe, Avian and Lynette
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Indian Pipe

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My dad went missing for a short time, but we soon learned what he had discovered. The name of the island doesn’t lie.

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Trail snacks. Raspberries on Raspberry Island.

After wandering around the perimeter of the island, we took an inner loop trail through the bog.

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Lynette and my mom, Rose, in the enchanted bog
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Lynette teaching us about the carnivorous plants
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Flower of the Pitcher Plant, a carnivorous bog plant
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Canadian Bunchberry
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Hawkweed (Hieracium)
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moss everywhere
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Wild Iris

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We completed our 1.5 mile hike on Raspberry Island and headed to the big island to look for moose (see Isle Royale, Part 5 – Three Mile hike).

raspberry island map

Isle Royale Part 3 – where are the moose?

After Net and I returned from our Paddle-Run-Paddle adventure, we found Avian playing with her island friends at the dock.

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Clearly, she hadn’t missed us.

We regrouped with my parents and decided to head out for a Mott Island Loop in search of moose.

It was great fun; however, no moose. After dinner, I decided to try another loop. This time, heading out solo, I focused on treading as lightly as possible, and just listening to the sounds… Isle Royale is so peaceful and quiet, you can distinctly hear my favorite sound: the call of the loon.

About 1.5 miles into the run, I heard a soft crunching noise down a ravine – I stopped, and crept to the ledge – to my absolute delight, there was a moose, standing about 20 feet back from the water, snacking on some brush.

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moose down by the logs

The trail would lead me down near the moose. I contemplated this, and decided it was still best to continue, but as I went down the steep embankment, I saw that the moose was not alone… there was another one, much smaller, but still quite huge. Lynette had told me there was a mother moose and her twins on the island… and yes, there was the other kid! I crept down the trail towards them.

The sweet little (huge) family seemed to realize I was there, and ran off through the woods.

 

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twins following their mama

It was then I realized that moose, despite their enormous size, can run pretty fast. I looked it up – moose can run 35 miles per hour. They can also swim 6 miles per hour for two hours at a time.

I was feeling pretty high on adrenaline-  I saw not one, but three moose!

I continued on my way and soon after came across a huge bull moose, standing right in the middle of the trail.

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Whoa. Ok, so the mama and twins didn’t scare me too much, but after seeing how fast they could run, I started wondering what kind of damage this Big Guy could do. Lynette had told me moose don’t usually charge people until Sept-Oct, and she had mentioned climbing trees as a way to safety. I was surrounded by trees, but none looked very climbable.

I decided my only option was to keep going, so I talked to the moose and walked towards him, hoping he would move over. He eventually did.

The run back to Lynette’s was accompanied by a gorgeous sunset, and I couldn’t wait to tell my family what I’d just experienced.

Next up: Part 4: Isle Royale – Raspberry Island

 

Isle Royale Part 2 – Paddle-Run-Paddle

(also see part 1 – Getting to Isle Royale)

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Coffee on Lynette’s deck before our day

After the best night of sleep in a LONG time, followed by coffee and a quick breakfast, Lynette and I packed our running gear in dry bags, and walked from her place across the island to set out on our adventure.

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Net introducing me to kayaking. Ours would be a short paddle each direction, but she has done multi-day trips with this thing.
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Lynette totally catered to me; carried the kayak into the water, stood over it so I wouldn’t capsize while trying to get in and out; and she completely eased any hesitation I had.
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Following Lynette away from our island towards the big one

Our goal was to beat the Ranger III before it came back from Rock Harbor to Mott, so as to avoid the wake. It worked, and we were treated to glass-calm waters.

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Once on the big island, we stashed the boats and transitioned into running gear.

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boat shoes to running shoes

As Lynette had warned me, nearly every backpacker we met looked stunned to see us running- they thought we were studs, and told us as much. What they didn’t realize, was how easy running was compared to what they were doing; we were carrying minimal gear- just water and a few calories, not to mention the fact that we were sleeping in real beds at night with indoor plumbing, electricity, a kitchen, and so on. But, we enjoyed the praise and didn’t correct them.

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Lynette crossing a marsh

It was pretty special to have a running tour of the island with The Island Ecologist as my guide. Lynette pointed out flowers, plants, and my favorite, raspberries and thimbleberries, which we gobbled up along the way.

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Thimbleberries

She also introduced me to some of the island’s carnivorous plants.

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Insects beware

From the boat, we followed the trail along the lake about 3 miles to Daisy Farm campground (a walk-in or boat-in rustic campground), then continued up to Mt. Ojibway (1143′ above sea level), which has a fire lookout to climb (and guess who had a key?)

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Lynette looking for moose
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so many lakes

From Mt. Ojibway, we followed the Greenstone trail to Mt. Franklin. Along the Greenstone Trail (the 42-mile trail that crosses the entire island), Lynette pointed out a plant that is endemic to Isle Royale- it only grows in one, 8-foot long section, on this one part of the island.

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the trail was slightly overgrown in places
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Mt. Franklin, photo taken by backpackers, who thought we were pretty cool
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Looking out towards Canada from Mt. Franklin
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Lynette running down trail from Mt. Franklin

From Mt. Franklin, we went down to the Three Mile Trail which eventually led us to the water.

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The trails, although faint or overgrown at times, were very well marked at intersections.

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a perfect spot for moose to hang out, but we didn’t see any here
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back down along the lake, headed towards our boats

We reached the boats in about 3 hours- our loop was 12.2 miles with 1,234′ of gain, and lots of stopping and exploring along the way.

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After the run, the water felt so good

Photo Aug 12, 12 31 32 PM

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Lynette leaving the big island
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that’s me

We put the boats away and headed back to find our family.

trail map
We took Siskowit Mine to Daisy Farm to Mt. Ojibway to Mt Franklin to Three Mile and back down to complete the loop.

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Next up – Isle Royale Part 3 – where are the moose?

Isle Royale Part 1 – Getting There

Isle Royale National Park (pronounced “I’ll Royal”), a pristine (99% wilderness) archipelago comprised of 400 islands and 200 inland lakes, is located way up north of where I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the “U.P.”), in a very isolated section of Lake Superior. Isle Royale is the least-visited National Park in the lower-48 – only 3 parks in Alaska have fewer annual visitors.  Isle Royale is a trailrunning mecca, with 165 miles of pristine trails throughout the 45-mile-long island. The park is also ideal for backpacking, hiking, camping (accessed by boat or on foot), kayaking, and fishing.

Isle Royale location map from National Park Service

The rest of my family has spent significant time in the park- my brother, Marcel, helped with wolf-moose research under Rolf Peterson during grad school, which is where Marcel met his future wife, Anne, who was also doing research for her Phd; my parents have visited several times, and my sister landed her dream job there last fall, as the official Ecologist for Isle Royale National Park. Thanks to a Christmas gift from my sister (tickets for the Ranger III, the ship that takes visitors from Houghton, MI to the island), I was ready to finally make it happen.

Best Christmas present EVER!

Part 1 – Getting to Isle Royale

Isle Royale is only open to visitors from April 15- October 31 – it’s the only National Park in the U.S. to completely shut down in the winter. From what I gather, late June through August seem to be the most ideal time to visit: the trail crews have had time to complete their winter clean-up (the trails can be obliterated by the harsh conditions of snow, ice, and wind  – more than 1,600 trees had fallen across the trails this season), and the moose generally don’t start charging people until September-October.

Isle Royale is in a very remote location – for Avian and I, travelling from Truckee, CA would take more than 20 hours – including 7 hours of air travel, 7 hours of driving, plus 6 hours on a boat (we could have increased the air travel and decreased the driving time, but more than half of the flights going into Houghton are delayed or cancelled, so it seemed more logical to fly to Milwaukee and have my amazing parents pick us up there instead).

Since my sister is a park employee, and my dad is a senior citizen, we were given a state room on the ship, which was truly a luxury, considering how long the journey was.

Avian and my dad, Buckshot, departing Houghton
Avian having breakfast on the Ranger III, which has an adorable cafe with real food!
My mom and Avian in the state room
Avian on the Ranger III

The first couple hours were fairly smooth, but as we got further out into Lake Superior, the waves picked up, and I was grateful for the Dramamine AND the state room, where we all hunkered down to sleep it out.

Avian on deck, as the waves began to pick up

After a few hours, Avian excitedly announced that she could see land  again- we’d arrived at Mott Island, Isle Royale!

Most visitors would continue on the Ranger to Rock Harbor (on the big island of Isle Royale), but we got off at Mott Island, where my sister (and many other park employees) live during the season.

Ranger III unloading at Mott Island
Mom, Ranger Net, and Ave at Mott Island (she’s not actually a ranger)

The park employees were wonderful with unloading our luggage and later delivering it for us – we were really treated like royalty (thanks, Net!)

Obligatory family pic with the official sign

We walked across the small island, and through the charming cluster of park service buildings, which Lynette had accurately described as a summer camp for adults.

A dorm for employees – they also had shared kitchen areas (aka “The Kitchens”), a rec room, exercise room, and a sauna
Phone booth. Because there is generally no cell service on Isle Royale

Lynette took us for a walk to see her boats – she had a boat for personal use (thanks to Uncle Dick and Aunt Sharon; she had a lender for the island) AND she was captain of an official park service boat!

Lynette blew us away with her new knowledge and expertise.

crossing the bridge from Mott Island to Caribou Island, where the boat is parked
Net’s boat for the summer, aka the “Universal Special”, as my dad lovingly called it, after a family junkyard/auto repair shop where my brother and I had each worked for our favorite uncle and gotten our first cars (which were not in pristine condition, much like her boat)

We crossed the island (about 1/2 mile from the boat dock) and reached Lynette’s summer residence- a beautiful duplex, surrounded by wildflowers, raspberry and thimbleberry bushes, and right smack on the shore of Lake Superior. She had electricity (thanks to a generator across island that we couldn’t hear), running water, a huge kitchen, an electric PIANO, a deck over the water… does my envy come across?

Lynette’s summer home
my dad on Lynette’s lakefront deck
Lynette’s kitchen, which is the largest one in the family…
Avian serenading us on the deck, with Lake Superior lapping gently against the shore behind her

After a snack Lynette and I headed out for a lap around her island. When she’d first told me the island was only 3 miles around, I wondered if I’d feel a little stir crazy. That wasn’t the case at all. The Mott Island trail itself is a 2.4 mile loop – right out her front door. The trail is very technical, and broken up into very diverse, spectacular sections. At first, we were running on a narrow trail through thick thimbleberry bushes, then the trail climbed a quick hill and we were high above the rocky shoreline, then a quick up and down and we were running through a dark, mossy, quiet and creepy section of the forest, another turn in the trail and we were running across smooth pebbles on a different, more spectacular shoreline, then another quick up and over and this time high on a ledge above the water with wild blueberries along the trail… the scenes went by so quickly, it was impossible to get bored.

I really believe I could run this loop all day long, repeatedly, and not tire of it.

a mossy section on the Mott Island Trail
Mott Island views from the trail
Mott Island trail

Before bed, we discussed the plans for the next morning- Lynette and I would take kayaks from Mott to the big island (about a 20 min paddle across), and venture out on a 12 mile run. I was nervous (scared of crossing the water!) but excited (going running on the big island!). Avian was looking forward to spending time with her new girlfriends, who she’d met as soon as we got off the boat (kids of park employees). My dad would accompany a park service employee on an all-day boat journey around the big island, delivering groceries to other park camps. My mom was looking forward to relaxing and hiking.

I fell asleep listening to the waves crash against the shore, so grateful to be in this magical place.

up next –  Isle Royale Part 2 – Paddle-Run-Paddle

TRT 100 – a glimpse of heaven, more than a taste of hell

“Whoa, look, you don’t want to end up like that guy!”

      “wait, is it a guy or a girl?”

   “I can’t tell…”

How had I become “that guy“, an example of “what not to do” in this race?  Lying in an indiscernible pile on the ground, mile 65, 10:00 pm or so, at the psychedelic Alice and Wonderland -themed Red House Aid Station, I listened as an intermittent stream of runners entered, refueled, and then continued on their way.  The sting of being passed had faded over the past 6 hours, after being reduced to a jog-walk-stop-poop rotation for the past 20 miles, until I could go no more. I had fallen down the rabbit hole.

No stranger to GI issues during 100 milers, this time was different: sharp, stabbing stomach cramps left me frozen in place, doubled-over with pain. I’d entered mile 50 in tears, not wanting to continue, pleading, “I can’t finish this if I can’t take any calories in!” to which Chaz replied, “use some from here!” as he pinched my waist, “or here!” – my arm.  My friends kicked me out and sent me off with Lucas, my boyfriend and pacer who’d been sentenced to pace me the last 50 miles.

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running until I couldn’t. Photo: Lucas

My legs felt strong, but running didn’t last more than 5-10 minutes before I had to stop and hold my stomach, or hide behind a bush. I wanted to stop at Hobart, mile 56, but my friends just laughed and pushed me on.  We came across Jim Buckley about halfway to Tunnel Creek, and I laid down in the snow as we discussed our various ailments – I enjoyed hearing his story; misery loves company. Jim shared a few ginger chews, which would become my primary fuel source for the next several hours.

Photo Jul 15, 7 34 52 PM
Lucas and Jim from my point of view

I was negative. It was ugly. Lucas never told me, “you can’t stop”, but he made suggestions like, “think about why you wanted to do this” and “think about why you love it out here”. I couldn’t come up with any reasons. I was a disaster.

I’d been dreading the Tunnel Creek Aid Station (which we loop past 6 times total during the race), as I knew that Jill Anderson, Kaycee Green, John Trent, JoAnn Ellero, Michelle Edmonson and countless other happy, encouraging volunteers would be there, with their relentlessly cheerful “never give up” attitude. They would be a tough crowd to convince that I was dropping. Sure enough, they smiled and joked and pushed me on towards the dreaded Red House Loop.

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Annie and Jill at sunset, Tunnel Creek Aid Station, before Red House Loop

We watched the last, glorious light of day fade as we descended into the Red House Loop, which is the “Taste of Hell” referenced in the TRT race slogan.  We trudged down 1,000 feet to the bottom of the 6.2 mile loop and began to climb back up towards the aid station, as I convinced myself “enough is enough”. I was certain that if I kept going, I’d end up with serious stomach problems that would land me in the ER, and being sick for days was not an option. This was DUMB. I run 100s because they are fun and I love the experience – this was not fun and I was a mess. I wanted out.

I thought about Lucas, and how miserable he must be, plodding along with me, at a pace of 1-2 miles per hour (and slowing), listening to me whine and complain nearly the entire time. Comforting me when I’d sit on the side of the trail, holding me as I cried. I’d completely failed – I went into the race feeling so good, so confident… and now it was over. I told Lucas I needed to lay down, so we did, right on the trail. Headlamps would approach, runners would ask if they could help, (they couldn’t) and move on. Laying down was less difficult then walking, but I was still gripped with pain each time my stomach seized up. There was no relief, so I got up and trudged along.

The Red House Aid Station would not be an easy place to drop – we couldn’t get out until the aid station closed, many hours later, so one of the volunteers brought me a sleeping pad from their own tent, and covered me in a quilt. I pulled it up over my head and laid there, bracing myself as the waves of stomach cramps continued. I thought about friends who’d had miserable stomach ailments but didn’t give up – Carrie did it twice here and survived. Chris just gutted out major issues at Western States and finished. I thought about Michelle who had given EVERYTHING she had, to be timed out by the clock at mile 85. My friend Sharon, who had pushed herself to mile 92 last year, with a completely messed up back. None of them gave up. I wanted to call each of them. HOW did you keep going? WHY did you keep going??

Perhaps an hour passed (time was no longer of consequence), when I decided to attempt the 3 mile climb back up to the Tunnel Creek Aid Station to officially drop. I just couldn’t do this anymore. Based on how long it took us to get down here, I thought it might take 3 hours to get out. Lucas and I headed into the darkness. By some small miracle, I started jogging. The stomach cramps came less often.  I thought about the friends who were injured and would have given anything to be in my place, diarrhea fest and all, for the opportunity to run. I thought about my kids, who would be so disappointed if I quit. I thought about my friends Sharon and Sean who were still out on course. I thought about Lindsay, who I ran the first hour with, who didn’t give up despite major foot and stomach issues.

Maybe I could do it. We got back to the Tunnel Creek Aid Station (in way less than 3 hours), with my favorite volunteers cheering us in, and I told Lucas, “I’d like to try and make it to Diamond Peak”. But first, I needed to rest. JoAnn and Mike helped me to a cot.

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Tunnel Creek Aid Station, post – Red House Loop. Photo: JoAnn Ellero

Shortly after laying down, I felt a baby kicking around in my stomach. I pulled back my shirt and watched as something protruded out and around – I asked Mike Holmes, aid station captain, if this was normal. “Am I pregnant?”

“No, that is just an alien”, he reassured me.

Mike gave me a little cup of noodles with broth- the most calories I’d had in over 8 hours. It was delicious. Coming back to life, Lucas and I headed out towards Diamond Peak, and I concentrated on the good things, like: my legs still felt great, the bathroom breaks were less frequent, and we’d see Spike soon to care for my feet. This was now my longest run without ibuprofen.

Coming into mile 80, I felt like I was almost home. One aid station at a time. If I wanted to survive, I’d need to fuel up and rest a little before the climb- even though my legs felt good, I was weakened from so many hours without food. More broth and noodles, foot care by Spike, and it was time for a nap.

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foil blanket burrito at mile 80. Photo: Elke

30-40 minutes of rest and it was time to get moving. I’d been on course for nearly 25 hours- last year I was already finished by now, packing up to head home. Let that thought come and go…

Photo Jul 16, 5 58 10 AM
watching the sun rise from the Diamond Peak climb. Day 2 of the TRT100

This was my 4th Tahoe Rim Trail 100. I’d gone into the race with high hopes.  I trained harder than ever, with the guidance of my coach, Meghan Arbogast. Physically, I was ready to run a PR. As it turned out, this race was all about the mental game, and I wasn’t ready for that.

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incredible views from the top of the Diamond Peak climb

Work and family obligations had ruled the week leading up to the race, and I didn’t allow myself to even think about the race until the night before- at which point I ended up completely panicked, hyperventilating and crying on the floor in the shower.  I could already taste my fate.

During the race, when things turned sour, and the cramping became intense, I’d let myself think, “there’s no way I’m going to finish this”. And once I told myself “there is no way”, it took about 8 hours to overcome that nonsense, and pull myself together. I couldn’t have done that alone. There are too many people to thank, but you know who you are (some of you weren’t even there, so maybe you don’t know who you are. But I know, and I’m forever indebted to you).

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TRT course, mile 83

Miles 80-95 were the some of the most glorious and triumphant of my life. I cried tears of joy when I reached the Tunnel Creek Aid Station for the 6th and final time, and my Silver State Strider friends gave me the loudest standing ovation I’ve ever had. JoAnn and everyone hugged me, Mike yelled “Still got the squirts?!” and Lucas and I pushed onward- I was definitely going to finish this thing.

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JoAnn and I at Tunnel Creek aid station, mile 85, my final time through
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Hobart Aid Station, mile 90, Photo: Scott Rokis

Miles 95-100 were the hardest of my life. Everything hurt. But I was doing it. I was finishing what I started. Before the race, Lucas had sent me some advice, including, “a laugh or a cry is 100x more potent than ibuprofen”. These words carried me through the pain. And I finally allowed myself to truly feel a hundred miler  – nothing to numb it. I was alive, my senses were heightened.

My friend Betsy met us about 2.5 miles from the finish – Betsy had coached and crewed me through my first TRT100 in 2011, and now she was back, yelling and screaming and cheering us in. She pushed us to the finish line, where I was greeted by my beautiful friends, who had all played a part in getting me through this day. More happy tears. It was over.

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Mike, Chaz, and my crew, Spike, fixing up my feet, while they fed me beer, chocolate milk, and coconut water. Photo: Betsy
Photo Jul 16, 12 47 09 PM
Done.

I quickly surrendered to the best nap of my life.

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earned.
Photo Jul 17, 10 25 36 PM
31 hours, 09 minutes, 05 seconds

 

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