For the Love of Running

The story of how me and Lisa met is remarkable and, even still, a little unbelievable.  We’ve known each other now for nearly two years and I’ve been living in Oregon now for 8 months and both of us still have moments of “How in the world did this happen?”.  It all started with a simple question of advice,she asked how to transition from a 100% indoor, treadmill runner to running outside.  This led to several days of talking about future races and training plans and then when she told me she was running the Tinkerbell and we’re both Disney nuts, the conversation turned to other topics a shocking number of which we had in common.  Food, beer, wine, travel, Disney, humor, movies, books etc one right after the other rang bells with both of us.  As Lisa so eloquently puts it “We started talking and just never stopped”.

This past Saturday was a big day for both sides of the coin, Love and Running.  First the running.

Foot Traffic was hosting an “Event Expo” on Saturday morning.  Like a race expo where vendors get together to sell their wares to the race crowd, this expo was a group of event managers who were plugging their events.  We had several races we were going to register for anyway and the expo advertised discounts we were sold. The three races we were going to sign up for were:

Oregon Spring Half – May 3, 2013 (Canby, Oregon)
Vancouver USA Half – June 15, 2013 (Vancouver, Washington)
Foot Traffic Flat Half – July 4, 2013 (Portland, Oregon)

We got discounts of 10-15$ off each race and saved almost 50$ on registrations. One of the tables had a prize wheel you could spin for various prizes, most were trinkets like a water bottle, a pack of Gu, a beanie (which is what I won) but one was a free entry.  It was a tiny slice sandwiched between the Water Bottle slice which was split in two.  Lo and behold, Lisa landed on free entry.  This continues her string of prize luck after she won a free entry to the New Years 5K while we were at the Holiday Half.  The event she choice to use her free registration on is the Columbia River Gorge half in October of this year.  If I join her for that one (and I surely will) that will be 4 half marathons this year which will be most in a year for both of us, and the possibility of a 5th if repeat the Holiday Half (which we would like to).   This also presents me with an interesting scenario since there were a few races I had looked at in August and September and that would present the opportunity to complete 6 in 6 months.  This would “moon me up” to the next level of the Half Fanatics and earn my second moon.  Lisa may or may not be able to complete those with me depending on her fall class schedule, but her 3 in 90 days (May, June, July) will qualify her for the Fanatics at the first moon level.

To finish the day a new chapter was opened up on the Love side of the coin.  I surprised Lisa with a trip to McMenamins Edgefield property out in Troutdale where I had made us reservations at the pretty swanky Black Rabbit Restaurant.  This isn’t your normal beer and burger McMenamins, here they serve steak and fish and wild boar and fancy salads and all the usual Five Star items.  We walked around the property and visited all the outlying bars and got our stamps for our Passports and then headed downstairs to the Winery to do a tasting flight.  All of the wines we tasted were fantastic! Then, right before dinner, when the opportunity presented itself and we were alone, I pulled out her Grandmother’s engagement ring which I had secretly obtained from her family, dropped to a knee and asked her to marry me.  She said yes (well.. nodded and cried, but that’s universal right?) and we hugged for a while and then headed down to dinner.  For me the nerves were over and I was relaxed, for her it was time for butterflies and nerves and head spinning.  Dinner was impeccable and it was an enchanted evening.

From a simple email about running styles to being engaged to be running partners for life.  It’s amazing what a run can do for you.

I don’t know how this happened.. and I’m not sure I ever will.. but I am so thankful it did.  I didn’t realize it two years ago, but I know now I am well and truly blessed.

First Run 2014 – Portland, OR – Jan 1, 2014

I logged 319 running miles in 2013, which is a pretty serious drop from 700+ in 2012, but injuries and moving cross country had a lot to do with that.

For the third year in a row I started the year off with some mileage as soon as I could, a 5K that started at midnight.  For the second year in a row I’d be running the midnight race with Lisa although this time it was in Portland!

The race started at the World Trade Center in downtown Portland about a block off the riverfront.  We got there about 10:30 to enjoy some of the pre-party.  They had a DJ spinning tunes and had some snack foods for us.  Despite having space heaters it was outdoors and it was COLD! We were ready to get moving! We finally got started with everyone counting down the last 10 seconds and then shouts of happy New Years and couples kissing all around us and then we were off.  It was a slow shuffle to the starting line as we had a big crowd trying to get through a narrow area.  We made it to the start and then made our way onto the West waterfront area and we turned North.  This is where things got real interesting.  The road where we started was closed, but once we got onto the sidewalk it was wide open and there were people milling about along the waterfront and we either had to dodge or accept the offered high-fives as we ran by.  Several people at various levels of intoxication shouted out Happy New Years! as we ran by and one guy even called us all heroes! It was interesting to say the least.  There were also a couple people sitting on the benches who were smoking weed and celebrating and that was not something you usually see/smell along a race course.  At the Steel Bridge we turned East and crossed the river and then turned South along the Eastbank Esplanade.  Things finally opened up here and you could tell since our 2nd mile was a full minute faster than our first.  At the Hawthorne Bridge we looped up and around to cross back West across the river and return to the start.  A short jog South and then we looped back North to the World Trade Center and the finish.  Ironically enough, this same loop is part of our downtown 10 mile training loop, but we always run it in reverse (Eastbank, Steel, Westbank, Hawthorne).

We finished in 42 minutes, which was not a bad time at all considering the congestion and people dodging, and then the fact that neither one of us had run at all in the 2 weeks since the Holiday Half.

Another fun part was the people watching as we traveled to and from the race.  You know it’s New Year’s Eve when you get on the MAX Train in black running tights, shorts, two different colored shirts and a beanie cap and you are NOT the strangest dressed person on the train.  There were people in all kinds of costumes including sparkles and wings or fancy tuxes or a smoking jacket/jeans/sparkly converse combo.  We saw all manner of dress and it was pretty crazy.  After the race (about 1AM) people were spilling out into the streets and yelling and partying, pretty much a typical downtown New Years.

2013 Year in Review

Last year I had this to say about 2012.

“2012 was such an amazing year I’m not sure how I’m going to prevent 2013 from being a letdown.  How do you follow up that act?”

Well, needless to say 2013 blew 2012 out of the water.

The Move:

This was the biggest thing that happened this year so I might as well mention it first.  On May 28th, 2013 (a day after my birthday) I got in my car and started driving.  I would drive for the next 4 days nonstop through 10 states and all four time zones.  Until that day I had lived in North Carolina for my entire life.  I arrived in Portland on Friday May 31st at about 7PM local time (by that point I had no clue what time it was anymore, my body still thought it was 10PM).

There are two major “life changing” aspects of this move.  The first is that somewhere (and I still don’t know where it came from) I found the guts to uproot everything and leave everything behind, for all intents and purposes jumping off a cliff and hoping someone at the bottom would catch me.  The fact that a multitude of people, including Lisa’s family, friends and church community did catch me is astonishing and leads me into the second aspect.

From June until November I was essentially “homeless”.  Yes, I was not the traditional “sleeping on the streets” form of homeless, but I had no place to call my own and very few possessions.  I cycled through a series of “foster” homes and couch surfed while I looked for jobs and looked for places to live on my own.  If it weren’t for the people who opened their homes to me I wouldn’t be here.  To know that everything you have at a certain moment in your life, food, warmth, roof, bed, access to a phone to call loved ones, is provided by someone out of only the goodness of their hearts is incredibly humbling.  It is a debt I can never repay, and one that will never be called upon.  No repayment was asked or is ever expected from these amazing people.  Lisa’s church preaches to help the poor and those less fortunate.  These people surely took that to heart and “practice what they preach”.

You can read about the Westward Journey HERE.

Races:

After “The Year of the Race” in 2012 with 15 races in four different distances, 2013 was certainly a step back, but not in a bad way and certainly for good reasons.  2013 featured 7 races including 3 half marathons stretching from Florida to Oregon.

2013 started the same as 2012 with the Running of the Lights 5K at Tanglewood park.  The run through the Christmas lights that started at midnight on New Years day was a repeat for me.  However, this year Lisa had flown out from Portland to come visit me and happened to be here on race day and so she ran this one with me and this was our first race together.

A few weeks later I would travel down to Orlando Florida to run in the Walt Disney World half marathon.  This was a pretty amazing race but unfortunately was marred by a serious knee injury.  I was able to finish the race, but had to walk from mile 9 to the finish in the surprisingly hot Florida sun.  My parents and brother and sister were there to support me and cheer me on and also cheer me up after my disappointing finish.  3:36 was my worst finish ever, but I finished.  I suppose I had plenty of points where I could have dropped out and told the race crew I quit, but I plodded along and made my way to the finish.

In February, I would suffer my first DNS (Did Not Start).  I had signed up for the Pilot Mountain Payback “Heavy” half marathon before I was injured at Disney and I decided I was going to try my best to still complete it.  I had completed the 3 in 3 months I needed to qualify for the Half Fanatics, but now was going to try for 6 in 6 months.  Due to my injury I was not able to run for several weeks and not able to put in any serious mileage at all.  The “Heavy” was about 14 miles so longer than a half and would have been my longest run to date.  I was still dead set on running it until the night before the race.  I was literally in a panic.  I wasn’t sure I could do the distance, it was snowing that night and conditions on the course were going to be horrible.  After a long conversation with Lisa, who told me that if I was so upset about the race I should skip it, I decided not to go.   A few days later, I found out how awful the course was, with creek crossing that were waist deep, and how many people skipped and how many people did not finish and I knew I had made the right choice.  I wasn’t happy with it, but I was at peace with it.

In March and April I ran a pair of 10Ks, a repeat of the St Leo’s 10K and then a new race, the Hope for Hospice 10K.  The first one I merely wanted to finish, which I did in a respectable 1:13, while the second one was part of the training for my second half marathon and I finished a tough course in 1:11 which was only 3 minutes slower than my 10K PR from last year.

In late April I ran my second half marathon of the year, the Kings Mountain Half in Kings Mountain SC.  I was excited to run this race since it ran through a Revolutionary War battlefield, but that ended up being a huge disappointment since the “cannons and monuments” portion of the battlefield was nowhere near where we ran.  An out and back on some access roads with nothing by trees to look at was a HUGE letdown.  Also, towards the end of this race my calves cramped up really bad and I ended up walking from mile 11 to the end.  My 3:08 finish was better than Disney, and slightly better than my first half in New Orleans, but nothing close to a PR.  About the only saving grace was this was my first race in South Carolina, so it was a new state for me.

At this point, the rest of my 2013 race calender got completely erased.  The races I had planned for the Fall were not going to happen and the races for May and June I needed that money for my move across the country.  It would be a while before I would race again, but me and Lisa started running together as often as we could once I got settled in Portland.

In November we ran our second race together, a 10K, and my first race in Portland.  The Cause and Event 10K was a fantastic event that supported many different causes.  The course was mostly greenway through west Portland/Beaverton neighborhoods.  Of course, being Portland in the fall, it rained on us during the race, but it was mostly just a slight drizzle.  I got to meet some of the people who help run Camp Lutherwood and raise some money for them so that was all good!

In December, we finally ran our first half together in Portland, the Foot Traffic Holiday half.  A nice run through Northeast Portland, it was COLD and rainy, but a really nice course and well supported.  Other than my bad cramps for the last two miles it was also a great run.  Lisa rocked it! We finished in exactly 3 hours which was not a PR for either of us, but not our worst finish either.

The next run for Lisa and I will be another midnight New Year’s Day race, but that’s for 2014!

Hiking:

While we didn’t do as much running over the summer as we planned, we certainly took advantage of the gorgeous weather and Lisa introduced me to one of her favorite past times.  Hiking! What else does one do in a place full of mountains and trees? I was quickly hooked.

We started out with an “easy” hike that turned out to be quite a journey.  The loop around the Trail of Ten Falls was about 7 miles or so of mostly flat terrain, but then at the end there was some steep switchback stairs and a steep uphill climb to the last falls which really took it out of me.  I was completely exhausted by the time we finished but it was totally worth it.  The scenery was unbelievable and you couldn’t believe you were just a short drive outside of the city.  It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.

The next hike, merely a week later, was the shortest in distance, but by far the most challenging.  We drove up to Timberline Lodge, which is about halfway up Mt Hood (roughly 6000 feet elevation) and hiked out to Zig Zag Canyon.  It was only about 2 miles there and two miles back, but it including dropping down into several smaller canyons, as well as the terrain shifting as we skirted along the edge of the timberline.  At times we were deep into an old growth forest bushwhacking through underbrush and giant ferns and then at other times we were sliding through a sandy/rocky type landscape with not a tree in sight.  We lost several hundred feet of elevation on the way out to the canyon and while the way out was a nice “walk” the way back to the lodge was suddenly extremely uphill and turned into a “climb”.  This however, was an incredibly rewarding hike.

About two weeks after that we embarked on our third hike of the season which started out innocently enough but turned into quite an adventure.  We had planned on hiking up to Wahkenna Falls and then taking the trail back down along Multnomah Falls.  Unfortunately, through a combination of a poorly marked trailhead and a confusing printed map we ended up parking and starting at the wrong place.  We got onto the Angel’s Rest trail and of course we were several miles into it before we realized it but we continued on to the top of Angel’s Rest. We climbed about 1400 feet along the way and were rewarded with an amazing view up and down the Columbia River.  Across from us was Washington State and we could almost see all the way back to Portland.  At this point we continued along the trail which we thought would take us to Multnomah Falls.  We crossed a creek and then lost the trail and were a few minutes away from becoming very lost.  A couple and their dog emerged from the brush and warned us not to go that way since the trail was overgrown and faded.  It turned out they had just come from where we wanted to go, so they showed us the way.  We parted ways at the top of Wahkenna falls as they headed to Multnomah but without them we would have been seriously lost.  We made our way down the side of Wahkenna falls which was absolutely breathtaking and made our way back down to road level.  Now because of where we parked, we had about a 2 mile walk along the side of the road to get back to the car.  This was terrifying since there was no shoulder and warnings to NOT do what we were doing, but we had no choice.  What was supposed to be an easy 4 mile hike turned into a very challenging 9 mile hike, but we survived it and made it.

Travel:

Lisa loves to travel and we’ve done our fair share of it even if only in the local area.  Shortly after I arrived in Portland, we headed out to the Oregon coast and took in Cannon Beach, Tillamook, Lincoln City, Depoe Bay and Newport.  The Oregon Coast is not like anything I have ever seen before.  Rocks and cliffs and lava flows and trees right up to the water line.  It resembles close to what I expect the Northeast looks like up around Maine.  Also, a month ago we went to Seattle which was a really cool trip and a place I’ve wanted to go for a long while.  We will certainly be headed back there soon I’m sure.

Job:

Changing jobs is never fun, but moving all the way across the country meant quitting my job and then trying to find a new one.  After 3 months that felt like FOREVER I landed a job in Vancouver at a company that makes vitamins and herbal supplements, so I got back into the Food Science industry to a certain degree.  I’m doing quality work but also a decent amount of paperwork and regulatory responsibilities.  They weren’t kidding that the job title “Lab Administrator” is a “little bit of everything”.

Weightloss:

This part hasn’t gone so well this year, but I’m not too terribly upset about it.  I started the year at my lowest weight ever at around 235, but my Disney injury sidelined me for a long while and I ended up putting a little weight back on, probably close to 245.  Then after I moved I’ll admit that I put on several more pounds as I ate my way around Portland (no regrets AT ALL).  I’ll be finishing this year in the 260′s so I’ve actually gained weight, but I’m still way under where I was in 2011 and most of 2012, so I’ll take that and jump into 2014 with both feet.

Can 2014 build on an incredible 2012 and then an epic 2013? Stay Tuned!!!!!!

Foot Traffic Holiday Half – Portland, OR – Dec 15, 2013

After having met while training for half marathons and having run 7 other races between the two of us, Lisa and I finally got to run a half marathon together.  After I moved out to Portland Oregon in June we looked for a race that would give me time to get settled and plenty of time to train together and the Holiday Half fit the bill nicely!

The Holiday Half would be my third half marathon this year (6 total) and also Lisa’s third total half, all three from this year.  I was excited to run my first half marathon in the state of Oregon and also the city of Portland.  The course started at the Adidas campus in Northeast Portland and headed north along the bluff and up through St Johns and under the St Johns bridge and back in a pretty straight out and back.  The route was about as flat as you could get and still be within the city itself and the weather, while not great, was about the best we could ask for.  It was quite cold, starting out in the 30s and warming up to the 40s but the weekend before had seen lows in the teens and highs in the 20s so this felt downright hot by comparison!

The race started a little after 8AM complete with a Santa and fake snow.  Despite being a small race (approx 2500) it was very crowded at the start.  We were weaving through some neighborhoods while we made our way to the big main road that would take us along the bluff and back.  Our first two miles were a little slow at 12:43 and 12:30, although this was faster than most of my training runs.  At mile 3 we really hit our stride with mile times of 12:03, 12:15 (20:15 with an 8 minute bathroom wait), 11:57 and 12:02.  Everything felt good at the time, but in hindsight this may have been a little quick.

At about mile 6 we ran under the St John’s bridge and there was a group of singers there singing carols (one of whom Lisa knew!) and the acoustics under the bridge were amazing.  It sounded great and what a uplifting moment to push us on.   The route included a cutoff section on the return trip, so the turn around point was a little beyond halfway at a little over 7 miles.   We had slowed down a little but still were cruising along with miles 7-9 at 12:20, 12:45 and 12:59.  Right at mile 9 we stopped to take our gels, taking the ones that were offered on the course.  This stop cost us a few seconds and mile 10 was 13:55.  We got some of that back, but not all, in mile 11 at 13:12 and then that’s where things starting going bad.

Towards the end of mile 11 I could feel my legs starting to twitch and convulse a little but they weren’t cramping.  I got very tired and had to stop and walk for just a few minutes to rest and catch my breath.  At the mile 12 marker we started running again but sadly that didn’t last long.  At about 12.5 miles both of my calves cramped up so bad it stopped me in my tracks and I shuffled to a walk.  After a while the pain in my calves eased but it moved up to above my knees.  At this point even walking was extremely painful.  We stopped very close to mile 13 for me to stretch a little bit and then continued on.  We turned the corner and could see the finish line and the pain in my legs had eased enough to try to run to the finish but halfway there I cramped up again and limped to the finish line.

We finished at exactly 3 hours.  Not the best time for either of us but a long shot, but not our worst either.

It wasn’t a great experience, but we finished it and gutted it out.  There were some issues that probably led to my problems so I’ll try to work on that in the future.

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Took home a nice medal for finishing!

Seattle Restaurant Reviews

I’ve been without access to my blog for a while, so I’ve got some serious catching up to do.  Starting with my trip to Seattle which I just realized was a MONTH ago.  Wow, time flies.

I don’t often do restaurant reviews (in fact, this may be the first one) but a couple of the places we ate in Seattle I thought deserved special mention because they really blew both Lisa and I away.

The first night we were in Seattle we drove out to the Fremont Neighborhood to visit the Fremont Troll and also hunt down some dinner.  As we passed through the streets nothing really caught our eye until Lisa spied a joint with a large red neon sign proclaiming “WHISKEY”.  Being an aficionado of the brown stuff Lisa was intrigued.  We circled around a second time and again nothing jumped out at us so we decided to give the “Whiskey” a shot.  As we walked up we discovered the name of the place was actually 9 Million in Unmarked Bills.  We stepped inside and the theme was Prohibition era speakeasy with nods to bank robbers and ransom artists which included a drink named after the famed Northwest robber D.B. Cooper. (*Side note: I looked up DB Cooper, and his ransom that he requested was only in the neighborhood of 75,000$.  That was a lot of money for the early 70′s, it’s about a million and a half in modern dough, but it still seems like a paltry sum of money to hijack a plane for, but as Lisa noted, it’s a small enough amount that he could live comfortably and yet not draw attention, although it is presumed he did not survive his parachute jump from the airplane).  Being a whiskey bar the first thing we looked at was the drink menu.  Lisa’s first drink was an Old Fashioned which included bourbon, orange and a brandy soaked cherry, she said it was good but wasn’t too terribly impressed with it.  My first drink was a Mint Julep made in the traditional fashion with bourbon, sugar and mint.  It was fantastic.  Next came food and it was incredible! Lisa got a little skillet steak cooked with peppers and onions and was on the happy hour menu.  We also split an order of the truffle fries which were served with truffle oil, Parmesan cheese and herbs and they were divine.  I got a small pizza with fresh mozzarella, wild mushrooms and truffle oil and I was astonished at how good it was.  After eating we ordered a second round of drinks so we could try some different things.  Lisa got the aforementioned DB Cooper which was made with bourbon, sour mix, lime and frothed with a shaken egg white.  She really liked this, and I was a little iffy on the egg white, but took a sip and it was good.  I got a drink called Red Sky at Night which was a nod to sailors and included (appropriately) rum and was served hot and garnished with a cinnamon stick.  It was really really good.

The second day in Seattle we spent the majority of the day at Pikes Place Market, and of course being right on the waterfront the goal of the day was to find some good seafood.  After wandering around and looking at menu’s we decided on the Athenian. Lisa had seen several things she liked right away, while I had to search for a little while.  I didn’t want to just get something fried, and also I wanted something local.  Several things with the large prawns looked good but they were from the Gulf of Mexico.  I was going to have to step out of my comfort zone if I wanted to have an experience of the local flavors.  Lisa had decided on the Seafood Saute which included whitefish, salmon, clams, mussels and those giant prawns (which were HUGE) cooked up in a white wine sauce with peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes.  It looked amazing, and she said it was.  I tried one of her fries which had soaked up some of the broth and it was amazing.  I ended up ordering the seafood fettuccine which came with mussels, clams, those huge prawns and “seafood selections”.  I know for a fact it had salmon, and I assume it had the same whitefish that Lisa’s dish had.  I like oysters, and I had tried fried clam strips when we were at Mo’s in Cannon Beach, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to like clams and mussels from the shell (essentially steamed and then tossed with the pasta).  Turns out, it was really incredible.  I also wasn’t sure about the salmon, but it also was very good.   The atmosphere couldn’t be beat either.  Up on Pike “street level” which is about 3 stories above the waterfront streets which gave us an amazing view of the piers which included shops and the Seattle aquarium as well as the ferry boats coming and going.  After lunch we would take one of those ferries out to Bainbridge island and get a view of the city from the waterside.

If you’re ever in Seattle I highly, highly recommend these two places.

 

Upcoming Races

I haven’t been blogging as much lately and a main reason is I haven’t been doing as much lately of the stuff I used to blog about.  However, things are starting to finally get settled down here in my new home of Oregon.  I’ve found a job and been working for about a month and here in the next couple of weeks I’m going to be looking for a permanent place to live.  In the meantime, life goes on!

Lisa and I have registered for a half marathon in December and our training started this week, which is one of the ways things are starting to get back into a routine.  Here’s a look at some upcoming races that I am either registered for, thinking about registering or just hoping to maybe sign up for.

November 16, 2013 – Cause and Event Portland:  This is a really unique event.  Rather than benefiting one major charity this race which includes a non-timed 5K, a timed 5K and a timed 10K supports 20-30 small local charities and the runners choose at registration which of the charities they are going to support, so your money goes to the charity you want it to go to! Lisa and I are registered for the 10K and we are supporting Camp Lutherwood, which is a camp down near Eugene which is for middle school and high school kids and Lisa takes her youth groups there quite often.  Not only do we get to help out people we know in person, but this will also be a really good “prep race” 4 weeks before our half marathon.

December 15, 2013 – Foot Traffic Holiday Half:  This will be my third half marathon of 2013 following up Disney and Kings Mountain to start the year.  This will also be my first race in the state of Oregon and my first half marathon with Lisa.  Very exciting! Training through the fall and winter will be an interesting ordeal with all the rain and cold, but it will just be part of the experience.  There’s a good chance it will rain on race day so might as well train in it.  I needed a training routine to get back into and signing up for a race is the best way to do that!

April 19, 2014 – Hip Hop Half Marathon: Foot Traffic sent me an email about this race and registration opens today.  I’m seriously thinking about doing it.  It’s a small race (1500 people) along the Marine Drive greenway, which runs right along the shore of the Columbia River.  A very scenic area of North Portland (even the airport is cool).  The one catch to this race is that Lisa won’t be able to do it with me.  It’s the Saturday before Easter and Lisa will be at the church prepping things for the Easter breakfast and other festivities the next day.  I may still do it, but I’m thinking about it.

May 18, 2014 – Rock and Roll Portland:  This race has been on my list since before I moved out here but I’m not sure if next year will be the year for it or not.  The Rock and Roll Seattle follows this race in June and there is a special medal for completing both of them in the same year.  Eventually I’d like to do the double.

July 4, 2014 – Foot Traffic Flat Sauvies Island Half: After playing spectator and sherpa for this year’s half I’m planning on running this one next year.  Lisa, Kyle and Laura all said it was an awesome, scenic course, with great support and of course strawberry shortcake at the end! Looking forward to this one!

Stay tuned! More races will be added to this I’m sure!

 

Hiking the Pacific Northwest

I haven’t been doing nearly as much running since I’ve moved to Oregon, something I need to get back into, especially now that Lisa and I have registered for the Foot Traffic Holiday Half here in Portland on December 15th.

However, one thing we have been doing in some serious hiking! In the last month we’ve gone on several pretty intense hikes.

The first hike was on August 4th at the Silverfalls State Park near Silverton Oregon.  The trail we hiked is called the Ten Falls Trail and is a long (approx 7 mile, we weren’t sure the exact distance) loop that passes by (you guessed it) ten waterfalls along the North and South Forks of Silver Creek.  I have to say, despite the name “creek”, the water is very wide and very deep in parts and would certainly be what I would consider a “river”.  It is small by comparison to the nearby Columbia and WIlliamette rivers, but a “creek” is something 2 feet across and ankle deep you can cross on foot (which we will later in this post!).  Here is a map to the trail system at the park – MAP We started at the South Falls Day use area and took the Rim Trail east until we got to North Falls (we did not go all the way out to Upper North Falls, so we didn’t see all 10) and then followed the trail counter-clockwise to join the Canyon Trail which took us by 8 of the waterfalls (we also missed Winter Falls on the side trail in the middle) and then back to the parking lot area.  This hike took us about 4 hours to complete and I felt really good the whole way, until the very end we had to climb some very steep stairs and then a steep uphill climb to the last falls which took the last out of my legs.  The coolest part of this hike was that the trail went behind at least four of the water falls into caverns that had been hollowed out by the water.  The parts of the rock that stayed behind is basalt from ancient volcanic eruptions.

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This is the view from the cave behind North Falls.

The following Sunday, August 11th, we headed up to Mt Hood for our first Alpine hike.  We drove up to the Timberline Lodge which is at around 5000 feet elevation and about halfway up to the peak which is around 11,000 feet.  From our starting position on the south face of the mountain we headed west on the Timberline trail, which circles the entire peak at or around the timberline.  Our destination for this hike was ZigZag Canyon, which we had read about in our hiking book and seen on the map, but we weren’t really 100% sure where it was.  So we struck out and tried to see how far we could get.  As the trail meandered along we would dip above and below the timberline and we would be for several hundred yards of rocky ground with nothing growing but sparse hardy wildflowers and then turn the corner into a dark thick forest of evergreen trees and moss, then emerge back out into a landscape that I can only describe as “lunar”.  It was like hiking on the moon.  It was so interesting to see where there was no top soil the ground consisted solely of small rocks, some as small as beach sand.  We dipped into a canyon with a very small creek at the bottom that we could cross on foot, and we weren’t sure if that was the canyon we were looking for (if it was we were sorely disappointed) and so we continued up the far face and continued on.  As we continued to wonder when and if we were going to discover the canyon we soldiered on.  We turned a corner and we could hear water and looked down to see a strong rushing river several hundred feet below us but we couldn’t find the source of the water, and we hadn’t crossed another stream.  As we debated whether it was emerging from beneath the rocks somewhere beneath us Lisa suggested that at the very least, we should continue up to the next large ridge we could see in front of us and see what kind of view we could get from there.  We kept going and as we approached the edge of the ridge you could tell the ground dropped off sharply on the other side.  A few steps from the summit as I was trailing behind Lisa I called forward to her “I have a feeling this is about to be amazing” and then as we stepped to the top all of a sudden the ground fell out from under us and we could immediately hear the roar of rushing water from the river below us.  Now THIS was ZigZag canyon! We had found it! We stopped along the ridge for water and a snack and to enjoy the views before we headed back to the lodge.  This hike was only about 4 miles round trip, but with some pretty severe elevation changes and what felt like “flat” trail on the way out to the canyon was actually a gentle decline as the canyon rim was several hundred feet below the timberline lodge, and so we had to regain all that elevation on the way back.  The way out was smooth and effortless, the way back was a serious hike.

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The pictures will never do it justice, but that “tiny” stream of water in the middle, is actually a large glacier fed river some 700 feet below where we were standing.

The third in this series of hikes was the past Friday, Aug 30th and this time we headed out to the Columbia River Gorge area to the Northeast of Portland.  Our intention was to hike from Wahkeena Falls to Multnomah Falls and then back.  This would be an easy 5 mile loop. Multnomah Falls is the second highest year-round waterfall in the US according to the US Forest Service.  However, the hike we intended is not the hike we got.  Based on faulty directions we ended up starting our hike at the wrong trailhead.  Lisa thought we could get to Wahkeena from the Angels Rest trailhead (and there may be a way but we didn’t find it) rather than from the Wahkenna Falls trailhead.  So we set off from the trail and a couple miles in realized that things were not going as planned, but we continued on.  Lisa was trying to remember landmarks and turns from a previous hike with some of her friends but was struggling to make the connections.  After several miles she finally realized we were headed not for Wahkeena falls but rather to the peak of Angel’s Rest.  While this was not our intended destination, it was a still  a very worthwhile goal.  The exposed bluff about 1400 feet above the river gives a remarkable view of the entire Gorge east to west along the Columbia River than separates Oregon from Washington state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What a view right?

We left Angel’s Rest and continued on along the trail to the east towards Wahkeena falls and this is where things got interesting.  First, we had a glorious walk through a wooded trail that was shaded and cool and offered more great views of the river and few hills as we walked mostly along the top of a ridge.  Then the trail started to narrow and become overgrown and we were starting to wonder if we were still on the main trail or not.  As we nervously debated about whether we should continue or turn around we came across a fork in the trail and a sign with a man standing there.  We asked which way he had come and he told us he had come from Wahkeena Falls, which is where we were headed, and the fork led up to Devil’s Rest and straight ahead was the way we wanted to go.  So we continued on, we saw a few more people, but this was very obviously a less used trail.  We got to a point where we had to cross a much wider creek and there was a temporary bridge made of boards and logs that hikers had built after the original bridge got washed out.  It was a little dicey but we both made it across.  The trail appeared to go to the right and dead end and then continue on to the left.  We went left and had just turned the corner when a barking dog suddenly ran at us which startled us both pretty seriously.  The owners ran up and grabbed the dog and apologized and as we caught our breath they told us we didn’t want to go that way as it was seriously overgrown with vines and stinging nettles.  We talked about where we were headed which ended up being where they had just come from and they said they would help us find the way.  We headed back to the creek and along the path that appeared to dead end and then climbed under one huge log and climbed over another one and suddenly we were on the trail again.  Without the help of our new found friends we would have NEVER found this trail.  A short while later and we intersected a large major trail and it was the Wahkeena Return Trail #420, the trail we had been looking for ALL DAY!  A short while later we parted ways with our new friends as they took a branch of the trail that headed out to Multnomah falls, which was part of our original loop, but now would have to wait for another day.  We had already gone nearly 5 miles just to get to this point.  Our hard work, some good luck and some saving grace would be rewarded handsomely though.  The path we were now on started at the top of Wahkeena falls and worked it’s way down the side of the mountain in a series of steep switchbacks to return down to street level.  The views were amazing each time the switchbacks turned back towards the falls, and the force of the rushing water pushed a blast of cold air in front of it that was like standing next to an air conditioner.  Very refreshing midway through a long hard hike.  I even stood in one of the smaller falls and very much enjoyed the cold water.   We finally made our way back to the street level and the Wahkeena Falls trailhead and the end of a 7 mile fairly intense hike.  However, our adventure was still not over.  We now had to walk along the road to get back to the Angel’s rest trailhead where we had parked.  Consulting a trail map, it didn’t look that far and so we headed out.  For both of us, this was the part of the hike that made us both nervous, even more so than the sheer drops off up at Angel’s Rest.  We slowly approached the curves, unsure whether cars could see us and crossed the road several times to make use of a wider shoulder or a better angle to see along the curves from the other side.  What looked like a short distance on the “not to scale” map turned out to be a little over TWO MILES.  Taking the grand total of the hike to 9 miles and the last part was very much mentally exhausting.  But the good news is, we survived to toast our accomplishment at the McMenamin’s Edgefield pub.  Food and beer was very much the order of the day.

One of our next future adventures will be to head up to Mt St Helens which famously erupted two weeks before I was born in May of 1980.  Apparently the moon like terrain of Mt Hood is nothing compared to that.  Lisa has told me several times “Just wait until we go to Mt St Helens”… well.. I can’t wait!

Coffee Culture

I’ve sort of forgotten about my blog here recently as I’m still trying to find work and a place to live and get settled here in Portland.  I’m sure all four of my readers are very upset at this.  I apologize.

It’s very much cliched that the Pacific Northwest is a heavy coffee culture.  Like most cliches, there is a strong ring of truth to it.  People here love their coffee.  People are loyal to certain brands, certain coffee shops and certain baristas.  I think I mentioned in an earlier blog post that it surprises me that the “chain” stores like Starbucks and Seattle’s Best can stay in business since everyone seems to prefer their local corner shop, but apparently they do well enough.

Lisa and I got coffee yesterday evening while we were grocery shopping, jet lag for her and just a lack of caffeine for me, interestingly at a Starbucks, since that was what was available in the store, and Lisa was beside herself giddy that I ordered my coffee with no room for cream.  She said she takes enormous pride in the fact that she has (quickly) converted me to a black coffee drinker.  A combination of “pressure” from her (not really), my desire to try things, and I think the largest part is, access to fresh, good quality coffee, have contributed to this transition.  My first cup of black coffee was at Lisa’s favorite shop Rain or Shine at the corner of 60th and Division.  The store allows you to pre-order refills and knowing we were going to be there a while I ordered two cups.  They had two styles of coffee to offer and I just picked one at random and made my normal cup with milk and simple syrup.  When it came time for the second cup I wanted to try the other style and I figured if I wanted to taste the difference I should try it with nothing in it.  I figured if I didn’t like it I could take a few sips and then add the stuff to it.  Well, I ended up not needing it.  The coffee was mild and smooth, not bitter at all, and even had a little bit of natural sweetness.  Now when I go back to Rain or Shine, this is the coffee I get and it doesn’t need anything added to it.

The coffee in question that blew me away was the El Salvador coffee from Portland Roasting.  Portland Roasting, along with Stumptown Coffee Roasters, is one of several local coffee roasters that hail from the Portland area.  The fact that the coffee was roasted fresh only a few days ago and shipped locally, rather than sitting in a can on a grocery store shelf since God knows when makes all the difference in the world!  This is not Folgers.  Some coffee shops, such as the Water Avenue Coffee Company and McMenamin’s roast their own coffees in house.  The smaller local places also create a relationship with the farmers and know exactly where their coffee comes from.  Some of them will even pay a premium for a farmer to grow and supply coffee beans ONLY to them.  Higher quality coffee and higher pay for the farmers is a win-win all around.  Dealing directly with the farmers also ensures the farmers are actually getting paid and not getting ripped off by a middle man or distribution company.

On the other side of that coin of course is the fancy, expensive espresso based drinks like mochas and lattes.  Lisa doesn’t drink these very often, but I occasionally indulge.  I like a good mocha from time to time.  One of the first mochas I ever had was from a coffee stand in EPCOT and it had such a strong flavor of chocolate that I couldn’t even taste the coffee, which at the time I liked it that way.  Lisa says around here that’s just known as hot chocolate.  Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a couple other mochas and they’ve run the gamut of being very chocolatey and dressed up with whipped cream and chocolate syrup, down to the traditional drink with foam only and just a slight chocolate flavor on top of the espresso.  The mocha I had at Water Avenue (which I wish now I had taken a picture of, but that just seemed very out of sorts) kept the design in the foam all the way down to the last sip, which is a sign of a perfectly pulled espresso and well made foam.  It was delicious, and it was the one previously mentioned that only had a slight chocolate flavor, you could still very much taste the coffee.

I still don’t see any point to drink the godawful iced whatever stuff from Starbucks that’s laced with sugar syrups and milk and 2000 calories, but a good traditional mocha or latte or cappuccino can be a nice treat without breaking the waistline.  100 calories or so for the added milk is really all you’re looking at.

And yes… if you walk into a non-Starbucks and try to order a “Frappaccino” which is a nonsense drink that doesn’t exist, yes they will laugh you out the door.  For example, a macchiato is a cup of espresso with a very small amount of milk.  This will be served to you hot and in a small cup.  What they call a macchiato at Starbucks is some monstrous iced thing with milk and whipped cream and who knows what else.  Lisa’s barista friend Jeremy says depending on how nice you are, he may give you exactly what you order (which is not what they are trying to order) or he may give you what you really want, which is actually an iced caramel latte.

So when you come to the Pacific Northwest make sure to try some good fresh local coffee! You’ll be glad you did.

Portland Food Scene

Portland is a food lover’s haven.  Whether you are looking for something healthy like grilled fish and veggies, or something decadent like poutine (french fries with cheese curds and gravy), Portland has you covered.  Any sort of special dietary needs, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, kosher, halal, nut allergies etc and Portland has you covered.  Any kind of ethnicity you can think of, to the standard Greek, Chinese, Mexican, to some that I have never seen before like Peruvian and Lebanese and ironically enough even “Southern” and Cajun/Creole.  I’ve yet to try the “Soul Food”/”Southern” to see how it stacks up to the real thing.   Here is just a slight taste of some of the good eats I’ve tried in the two weeks I’ve been here.

Food Carts:

There are food carts/food trucks EVERYWHERE in Portland serving everything from Crepes to Cajun.  I’ve been to three so far.  The first two were in the same place off of 12th Avenue.  We couldn’t decide what we wanted so we got some different stuff to try.  First from a cart called Potato Champion we got an order of Poutine which I’ve always wanted to try. It was really good, but the gravy was a little thin, I would have been perfectly happy with just the fries and cheese curds.  The fries were some of the best I’ve ever had.  Then, from a cart called Pyro Pizza we got a wood fired four cheese pizza with a paper thin crust.  It was amazing, and totally worth the 20 minutes we had to wait for it (we were eating our fries anyway).  The third cart we ate at was in Downtown at the Saturday Market and it was called A Taste of Poland, and that’s exactly what I got.  They offered several different sampler platters and the one I got came with pirogis, potato pancakes, a kielbasa link, and chicken meatballs.  My only complaint was they forgot to put the applesauce on my potato pancakes but they were good with the sour cream that came with it.  It was amazing!

Burgerville:

Burgerville is a fast food burger chain here in the Northwest, most of their locations are centered around Portland.  What makes them different from your typical chain is that they source everything locally.  They use local grown beef for their burgers, Tillamook cheese and local veggies.  They offer seasonal specials based on what’s in season, which right now is strawberries.  They also offer some special items such as a turkey burger, a veggie burger, and a gluten free bun is available.  They also compost and recycle most if not all of their waste.  (Commercial curbside composting is available in many places in Portland alongside trash and recycling which is something I had never seen before).

McMenamins:

McMenamins is another chain, if you can call them that, of casual restaurant/bar locations here in Portland.  The reason I hesitate to call them a chain is, while they have many locations, they are all different and have their own flair.  They’ve taken over several old theaters, one that plays movies where you can eat dinner while you watch the movie, and one that hosts live music concerts.  They’ve turned several old buildings (including a former school) into hotels that they run along with their pubs.  In true Portland fashion, they also have several breweries and they brew their own beers.  The different locations will stock different beers as well as rotating seasonals so it certainly behooves you to visit as many of the locations as you can.  So far Lisa and I have been to two different ones.  One in Clackamas off Sunnyside road, which is a standard strip mall restaurant location, and then the one in Oregon City which we’ve been to multiple times.  I don’t know what the Oregon City location used to be, but the porcelain in the men’s room is dated 1919 (which is a copyright date and may not be when it was actually made, but it’s still old!).

Coffee:

If you love coffee, Portland is the place to be.  Sure they have chains like Starbucks and Seattle’s Best, but who needs those?  There are HUNDREDS of independent coffee shops around town.  There is quite literally one on every corner.  Portlanders, like those in her sister city of Seattle, love their coffee and are damn serious about it.  I’m honestly surprised the mega chains like Starbucks stay in business but I guess enough people go there to keep them afloat.  Lisa loves coffee and so we’ve already stopped at 3 or 4 different spots while we were out and about.  I’m not a huge coffee drinker, usually just a cup in the morning, but I’ve always dressed my coffee up with cream and sugar since (like beer and other things) the bitterness of coffee takes some getting used to.  Since I’ve been here there’s been several occasions where I’ve drunk my coffee black since getting actual fresh coffee that was roasted 3 days ago and ground that morning is such a HUGE difference to coffee that has sat in a grocery store shelf for 6 months.  The coffee is mild and even slightly sweet, with almost no bitterness at all.  Also, if you are in a hurry (as most people are) dotting the roads everywhere (even out in tiny Canby) are drive through espresso stands.  There’s one in the parking lot of pretty much every grocery store and strip mall and some just on a pull off on the side of the road.  I used to make fun of the people who would pay 4 to 5 bucks for a coffee drink, but I have to admit, every once in a while I have to get a mocha because they are just SO good.  Now I get what the fuss is about.  And the mocha’s here, even with the chocolate you can still taste the coffee, unlike the “warm chocolate milk” mocha I got at EPCOT, or as Lisa would say “Around here we call that hot chocolate.”  A lot of the local shops carry either Stumptown Roasters coffee or Portland Roasters coffee, both of which are very good, and sometimes you stumble into a shop (like we did at the Water Avenue Coffee Co.) that roasts their own in house!

Grocery Store Produce:

I haven’t done a whole lot of grocery shopping yet but I’ve noticed a few things in the produce aisle that has caught my attention.  Lisa and I were discussing some of the things and it makes sense, but it’s still shocking to see the major differences.  Bananas here are about twice as expensive as in NC (still only 64 cents a pound, but I’m used to 35-40 cents a pound), but offsetting that, the apples are WAY cheaper.  The “plain” varieties like red delicious, granny smith, etc are 99 cents a pound, and fancy varieties like Fuji and Gala are $1.49-$1.99 a pound.  Lisa got some organic Fuji apples for something like $2.49 a pound which is cheaper than I’ve paid for non-organic apples back in NC.  I’ve never seen apples for under 2 dollars a pound much less under a dollar a pound! Considering most of the apples come from Washington state, this makes perfect sense.  I’ll probably never have to worry about running into apples from Chile around here! Strawberries here are also way cheaper.  The 8oz packs are about two dollars, which would have run 4-5 dollars at home unless they were on special.  The strawberries come mostly from California, so this also makes sense as being close.  The Williamette valley is home to berry central, so they have a huge variety of berries grown locally including raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and local cultivars of Boysenberries and Marion berries which only grow around here.

Beer:

Of course, it wouldn’t be Beervana without beer right? There are so many micro/small brewers around here it will make your head spin.  There’s quite a few brewpubs where you can only get the beer on tap at the place it’s made, there’s also a few that are big enough to ship nationwide (Rogue Ales and Full Sail to name two) but are still independently owned.  So far I’ve tried beer from Full Sail (which I got back in NC), Portland Brewing Company (Brown ale and McTarnahan’s amber), McMenamins who make their own I’ve tried several off, had a taster tray at Rogue Ales which included a hefewiezen, brown ale, amber ale and nitro stout.  Lisa, Lexie and I went to a place called Roscoe’s which had a very cool set up.  They had 16 beers on tap, but they only had one keg of each so once it was gone it was gone, and they tapped a new one, so the beer selection is constantly rotating. The happy hour food is great and dirt cheap.  The beer I got there was a belgian Dubbel and I recognized the brewers name, but now I can’t remember it.  Next up on the list of places I want to try are the Hopworks Urban Brewery which makes organic beer (and from what I hear amazing food), Sasquatch Brewing company just because it’s cool and several others.

So there you have it.. come visit Portland and Eat, Drink and Be Merry!!

The Westward Journey

I’ve been in Oregon for almost two weeks now, and between seeing the sights, meeting a LOT of people, and spending as much quality time with Lisa as I can (and a job interview!) I’m finally getting a chance to sit down and write about the trip itself.

The first thing I will say about the trip is this should NOT have been a four day drive.  I seriously underestimated some of the times and distances and several of my “12 hour” days turned into 14 hour or longer days.  This should have been a 5 or even 6 day drive. Yes, I made it safely and in one piece, but it was a very stressful trip when it didn’t need to be.  I don’t plan on doing it again anytime soon! Next time I go back to North Carolina will be by plane!

I knew the trip would be an adventure, but I started out with a little more adventure than I really planned on.  I had two more boxes of books that I needed to mail before hitting the road.  I used Media mail rates to ship most of my books to make room for other things in the car.  One of my boxes they refused to mail because it was in an old liquor box which is what the books had been packed in.  My first thought was to use tape to cover the logos, but you could still see them even through duct tape, so I had to find a box at KMart to repack the books so I could mail them.  Then I had to go back to the apartment to get the last few things (the items for the front seat now that the boxes were gone) and pack them into the car.  As I was putting them into the car I realized to my dismay that it wasn’t all going to fit.  I pulled a bag out of the trunk, pulled things out and stuck them into little pockets of empty space and then threw away a few things that could be easily replaced and made room for my overnight bag in the trunk instead of the front seat.  Now I was finally ready to hit the road.

I left North Carolina at about 10:30 AM on Tuesday May 28th.

The first day’s drive was an easy one and I had planned it that way since I wasn’t expecting to leave until about midday on Tuesday.  The first day I was stopping in Nashville Tennessee, about a 7 hour drive from Winston Salem, all of it (until I got into town) on 40 westbound.  I got on the road and started heading west.  Because of how my car was packed I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try to navigate through narrow city streets so I decided to forgo my attempt to get into downtown Nashville.  I also happened to hit the city right at 5:30 local time in the middle of gridlock rush hour.  I was stopped for a good little bit and then crawling at 5MPH and by that point I just wanted to get off the road and get to my hotel.  Thankfully, my hotel was the first exit after I got off of 40 and onto I-24 that would take me North towards Missouri.  My hotel was on a access road that paralleled the interstate, but I missed my turn and stayed on the road that the exit was for and as I looked for a spot to turn around I happened to pull into the parking lot of a BBQ joint.  Well, I think I had just found dinner!

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Jack’s had “Tennessee Style” pulled pork, which is what I got, as well as beef brisket, which I also like.  They had several sauces to choose from.  The first one I tried was a Texas style sauce, which had some sweetness but was very spicy and the second one was a Kansas City style sweet sauce that I liked and so I went with that one. Mac and cheese and baked apples as sides and a decently good cup of sweet tea and it was a great dinner.  Settled into the hotel and relaxed, which at that point was exactly what I needed.

If I remember correctly, I think I set my alarm for 7AM local time (8AM EST), but I ended up waking up early, I think around 6:30, so after a light breakfast of a muffin and coffee at the hotel I think I was actually hitting the road about 7.  From Nashville I headed North on 24(West) until I got into Kentucky and passed through the western part of that state and into Illinois.  Around Paducah, Ill I took 57 west to about Mount Vernon, Ill.

 

 

 

 

 

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How’s this for old school? This was at a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Illinois and I had to drive several miles off the interstate to get to it.  I had stopped one exit earlier which said it had a “normal” gas station which ended up being closed.  I could tell by my mileage (and that it took 12.8 gallons to fill me up) I was running on fumes at this point. I was seriously afraid of running out of gas but along that stretch of highway there was NOWHERE to stop.

At this point I got onto 64 West and headed towards St Louis.  I had left early and was making good time, and I had some fun things planned in St Louis so I decided this time I was going to stop and see things.  I got into St Louis and had no problems finding Market Street (where the Hard Rock was supposed to be, it’s actually two blocks off Market but has a Market Street address because of the mall it’s attached to) and then I turned off to look for parking, and started to go into a lot that turned out to not be public parking and then I promptly got lost.  I finally found parking off of 6th street which was fairly close to the Arch, but I wanted to eat first, so after calling Lisa to help me with directions I set off in the direction of the Hard Rock, which was on Market (supposedly) between 18th and 19th street.  That doesn’t sound like that far, but oh it was (Lisa mapped it at about a mile) and it was HOT in St Louis, upper 80′s or low 90′s and bright sun.  But that meant great pictures, like this one.

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So, I finally asked someone on the street who was able to point me in the direction of the Hard Rock and I finally found it.  I’m happy to say it was totally worth the effort, I got one of their “Legendary” burgers, which had bacon, cheddar cheese, BBQ sauce and grilled onions on it and it was amazing.  I also had a free birthday dessert coupon from the rewards club and it was a brownie with ice cream that was also pretty amazing.  At this point I either needed a long walk, or a nap.  Turns out a long walk was in order to get back down to the arch.  I made it to the Arch and paid my 10$ and took the elevator up to the top.  Warning if you haven’t ever been, the little elevator cars that take you to the top are very SMALL.  They have 5 seats in them, but the way they are arranged only three adults max could get in one since the other two spots would not have room for their legs.  I honestly didn’t stay at the top very long, maybe 10 minutes, but it’s such an amazing view and such a unique experience I’m very glad I did it.

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Here is a view of downtown and Busch Stadium from the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is the view looking straight down from the Arch.  Surprisingly looking up at it from the bottom made me more dizzy and unsteady than looking down at the ground from the top.

Having killed about 4 hours in St Louis it was time to hit the road again, I had a long way still to go to the second stop in Lincoln, Nebraska.  I headed out on I-70 towards Kansas City and motored along.  Unfortunately this is where things start to get a little crazy.  Eastern Nebraska including Lincoln was experiencing some bad thunderstorms including tornadoes.  Lisa was very worried, although I was still 8 hours away and the weather where I was was fine, so I was trying not to get to worried about it.  Since I wasn’t stopping to eat in KC I took the I435 loop around KC until I got onto I-29 North.  At this point I thought I only had a short drive until I got into Nebraska. Boy was I wrong.  I still had several more hours of Missouri to go, and it was starting to get dark and was beginning to show flashes lightning off in the distance. Also, I hadn’t looked at the map and instead of counting down, the exits were counting up and so I really had no earthly idea how much further I had to go which was a bit of an unsettling feeling.

I stopped at a rest stop and noticed the highway I was looking for (State Route 2) actually didn’t cross I29N until I got into Iowa.  I wasn’t expecting to go into Iowa so this was a little bit of a shocking discovery.  By this time it was starting to rain.  As usual when you are passing through an area rather than sitting still, the rain doesn’t last long, but it would be really heavy before it went away, and then 20 minutes later, pass through another area of downpour, as I made my way through the bands of the storm.  I stopped at a gas station in Iowa once I got on Hwy 2 to get a drink and I asked the lady behind the counter how far away I was from Lincoln Nebraska. She said it was about 45-50 miles.  I sighed in relief and said “Oh thank God, I thought I’d never get out of Missouri” and she said, “Oh? The Black Hole?” Seriously… No kidding.  It took me at least 8 hours to drive through Missouri.  Later I realized I had driven the entire width of the state East to West, and then also most of the distance across the state North to South.

Not to be outdone but the rest of the day, getting to my hotel once I got into Lincoln was also an adventure.  Hwy 2 would join Interstate 80, which is how I would be going out the next day, so my hotel was right on the interstate, but when I got to the exit I had two choices, I80 East or I80 West.  I had written I80E on my directions, but based on a map I had looked at I thought I needed to go West, so I took I80W.  First thing I noticed was I had written down exit 199 for where my hotel was, but the exit numbers were in the 300′s.  The first one was 397 and then they went down from there.  I called Lisa and she was trying to help me, but I had a bad signal and it kept dropping the call.  I figured I probably wrote it down wrong and needed exit 399 instead of 199, but I was going the wrong way.  By the time I figured this out I had passed the last exit out of town and I had to go another 12 miles before I found an exit to turn off and turn around at.  So here I am in the pouring rain, at midnight trying to find my hotel somewhere in Lincoln Nebraska.  Not that I could have after the day I had, but while I was driving down 80 west I had the fleeting thought of “Well, hell, at this point I might as well keep going”.  I finally got turned around and got back into town and of course, much to my chagrin, the Hwy 2 interchange was exit 398 and my exit at the hotel was the very next exit.  Would have saved about a half hour if I had gone the right way.  After leaving Nashville TN at about 6:30AM, I arrived at my hotel in Lincoln right at Midnight.  An 18 hour day.  Yes, that included 3.5-4 hours in St Louis, but still that was 14 hours of “seat time” which was more than I had estimated. I had thought the third day of driving would be the worst, but hopefully it couldn’t be any worse than this.

Since I had gotten in so late, I let myself sleep until 8AM (which I still woke up a little bit early) and so I didn’t hit the road until about 8:30.  The weather had cleared out and it was a nice day, but sadly there wasn’t much to look at.  There’s not a whole lot going on in Nebraska to be brutally honest.

HalfwayThroughNebraska

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had to drive for a while, but I found the middle of nowhere.

I did stop at a pretty good place for lunch in North Platte Nebraska, I can’t remember the name of it, but it was a BBQ type place that also did steaks and burgers etc.  I got a baked potato that had beef brisket on it.  It was really good, and although it was small it was really filling.  Quite tasty. The best news about Nebraska was that I got 410 miles on one of my tanks of gas because it was so flat and straight.  A couple hours after lunch I got into Wyoming, and I was starting to get into some hills just a little bit but not mountains quite yet.  I was planning on stopping in Cheyenne, but I was doing good on gas and also not hungry so I kept going along a little bit further into Laramie before I stopped for dinner and gas.  At this point I was about to get into the Rockies and wanted to make sure I was good to go.

This is the point I wish I could have taken pictures while I was driving.  The Eastern Wyoming landscape is just amazing.  There are no trees (it may technically be High Desert but I’m not sure) and the hills and mountains just look like random piles of rock strewn about.  It really reminded me of Radiator Springs from the movie Cars, I even saw a rock that almost looked like a hood ornament.  The other thing was, the Rockies at that point don’t seem so high, but when you’re already at 8000 feet elevation, that’s deceiving.  I could see snowcapped mountains both to the South (in Colorado) and to the North (Possibly in Montana, or northern Wyoming) but that one spot was a pretty straight shot through the mountains without getting to curvy or high up.  I imagine that’s why they put a wagon trail through there 200 years ago.  Makes sense.

At this point it was getting dark, and I knew I was going to have to stop for gas soon, and I was passing through the town of Rock Springs, which really did make me thing I was driving through Cars Land.  Just this little town dwarfed by these huge rock formations.  I kept looking for a Shell station since I had gift cards but didn’t see anything, and then as I got back out of town I was thinking, well I hope I can make it to a gas station.  I knew I was getting close.  I had seen signs for a huge truck stop that was about 30 miles away, and I figured I could make it there.  My “get gas” light turned on about 15 miles away from the exit I needed, and in my head, I know I had plenty of time to get to the place, but it was a little nerve wracking since I knew I was going to be coasting in on fumes again.  I stopped and got gas and also a cup of coffee since I still had a couple more hours of driving to do.  I was about an hour away from the Utah border and then had about another hour until I got to Ogden where my next hotel stop was.  It was dark now so no more sight seeing, just driving.

The roads getting into Ogden were very hilly and curvy and yet had a very high speed limit (65MPH) which made me very uncomfortable.  If I was a local who lived there, or if it had been daylight it might not have been that bad, but as it was in the dark after another long day of driving it was extremely tense for the last hour or so.  I finally got into Ogden and had a little bit of a mini adventure as the exit numbers were not even remotely close to what I was looking for.  But in this case it turned out to be because another highway joining in and then the numbers changed.  This hotel was much easier to find and I got settled in for the night.  I checked into my hotel in Ogden at 11PM local time.  My watch was still on Eastern and my cell phone was updating automatically, but at this point I really didn’t have a clue what time it actually was, and I wasn’t even sure what day of the week it was anymore, I just knew I had one more day of driving.

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Good morning from Ogden Utah.

Finally, the last day of the trip.  The day I get to Oregon.  I was ready to hit the road, but also by this point I was so done with driving.  Each of the days weren’t too bad until late into the night when it was dark and I was tired, but this day I was only about two hours down the road and I was mentally done.  I was just ready to be done driving.  There wasn’t really anything exciting about this day, but Utah and Idaho were fairly scenic up in the mountains.  I stopped for lunch in Boise Idaho at a place called McGrath’s Fish house (a chain that is here in Portland as well) and got Rainbow trout for the first time (it was really good!).  It said it was “from Idaho” so I figured why not give it a try? I’m glad I did, it was very good.  At this point I was about an hour away from the Oregon border.  I still had a long way to go, but at least at that point I would know I was almost there.

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I made it!

I had finally made it to Oregon.  I had about 6 more hours to go before I got to Portland, but at least I was in the right state.  Lisa had asked me to pay attention to what I thought about Eastern Oregon so I could compare it to Western Oregon and I have to say, Eastern Oregon really threw me for a loop.  It was like driving through a topographical map.  The hills and mountains were grass covered but had NO trees.  You could see every dip and crease and crevice in the hills and it was like driving along the surface of a 3D globe where the surface was 2D but it had “depth”.  It was pretty surreal.

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This is what they mostly looked like, many of them with even less trees than this one has.  It was kinda crazy.  After I passed through the Cascade mountains the scenery changed to more of what you expect of the Pacific Northwest with very tall evergreen trees (Mostly different types of Fir trees as opposed to the Pine trees back home).  At this point I was following the Columbia river right along the Oregon/Washington state line as I made my way into Portland.

At about 7PM Local time (which my body still thought was 10PM) I finally made it to Portland!!!!

MeandLisainOregon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is what it’s all about! Finally get to be here with Lisa. I’m glad I finally made it.

So, all told I drove about 2800 miles, starting at 10:30 AM on Tuesday and finishing at 10PM (eastern time) on Friday for a good 84 hours of travel (about 42 of which was “seat time” in the car). I passed through 11 states along the way counting North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Oregon (and made it to Washington State my second day here to visit Lisa’s family).

VisitedMapBefore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is my state’s visited map from before the trip – 16 states (and DC), although I feel like I’m missing a couple from here.

 

VisitedMapAfter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this is my states visited map from after the drive (including Washington from Day 2), 26 states (plus DC).  I’ve now visited half the country! You can see where I cut a swath through the middle of the country.  I’ve got the Eastern seaboard from Pennsylvania – South and most of the Southeast taken care of.  The Northeast is still unexplored (I’ve been to Mass. for a job interview and NYC for an airport layover, but those don’t count).  Somehow in all of my adventures in the midwest, Indiana got missed but I’ve been everywhere around it.  I’ve got the entire West coast covered now, but I know me and Lisa are planning a trip to Seattle at some point, and also eventually a trip to Disneyland, so Washington and California will be repeats I’m looking forward to!

And that my friends, is how you drive across the country in 4 days.. although I don’t recommend it.

(Totally worth it though!!)

  • About Me

    I am a recent graduate in Food Science (NC State, 2009) and I work for a major food manufacturing company. I love food, but I can no longer eat anything that crosses my path. About 24 months ago I begin a serious struggle to get my obesity under control and reduce my chances of developing Type II diabetes. Since September of '09 I have lost 50 pounds and I still have a long ways to go. I've started eating better and exercising more, including taking up running.

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