Training begins and racecation news

First international racecation is booked! I’ve been vaguely aware of Zooma from MCM Mama Runs and Wendy (? I think) when she posted about Great Lakes, but when MCM & Marcia posted about Bermuda, it went from vaguely aware to ooh! Bermuda is one of those places I’ve always thought about going but never acted on, so I’m glad running gave me a reason. Can’t wait to meet some of you.

As I think I mentioned, a colleague and I ended up signing up for Jack Rabbit’s Rogue Training. It’s reasonably priced at $85/month, or about $10/run. The best part is the schedule (6:45p Wednesday, 8a Saturday) works for me in that I can make almost all of them.  The 15% discount on non-electronics is great too as JackRabbit’s stock is more extensive than the New Balance store at NYRR.  Workouts began last Saturday but I was out of town so picked up with the group on Wednesday. More on that below.

I’m calling June 19 the official start of marathon training as that’s when I started with the group. To keep myself accountable, I’m also donating $1/mile to the Joyful Heart Foundation. Although I have my own bib, I still wanted to run for a cause. It’s always one of those I donate to regularly, and wanted to tie my marathon fundraising to it. Since I don’t know if my legs are going to reliably hold up to Sunday’s recovery run, I’m calling Saturday the end of the week for mileage tracking.

Not post related at all, but I read a really interesting post about “bad” race recovery. Some really good and out of the box advice.

Weekly Run Down with Deborah and Kim:

  • never miss a Monday: strength training edition. This was TBD cross or strength but when I walked into the gym, the decision was made. If there was AC, it was at 1% and it was way too humid for that nonsense. So full PT and weights cycle and some yoga.
  • Tuesday: treadmill was the plan. Drinks with colleagues was the reality so I walked home after.
look at that pace!
  • Wednesday: Rogue training day 1. I was super nervous about this. Mostly about keeping up with the group. The delayed start for latecomers and then dynamic stretches in the Time Warner Center did not help the anxiety. The prescribed run

Runners will do 2 miles of warm-up then 8-10 strides on a ~100m section of road or track. Then, runners will cool down for 2 or 3 miles to finish the workout. Runners will build their speed for 1/3, hold it for 1/3, and then coast to a stop letting off the gas in the final 1/3. In that middle 1/3, runners will reach ~90% of peak speed in a controlled sprint. Runners will walk back to the start after each stride and repeat. Walk, not jog the recoveries back to the start b/c we want full neuromuscular recovery.

  • the actual run was more like a .5 mile warmup to the Mall because they were worried about the weather and moved the Strides from the bridle path at Engineers’ Gate to the Mall which is paved v. gravel. The strides were a challenge, but not an impossible one. If my Garmin is right, I actually hit something resembling fast. Holy crap though I cannot imagine running at that speed for a 5K let alone a marathon. We then ran the “long way” out via Bethesda Terrace and down the east side before finishing at Columbus Circle. We finished with some fun foot exercises before dispersing. I followed this with a stint at the gym to stretch and do more of my PT. There are two others who are about my speed which gives me some comfort as I definitely could not do the 9:40 warmup that the main group did. I guess this could be called my first proper speedwork?
so thankful for a tub!
  • Thursday: holy soreness Batman! Did not expect that from the strides. Mother Nature finally sorted herself out for a moment and I squeezed in a 3.5 mile recovery run before the skies opened again. Oddly I had no plans of running near home. In fact when I forgot my sneakers this morning I came home between meetings to get them because I thought I’d need to run in the gym and if I went home first it wouldn’t happen. But when the skies cleared it was too late to stash at NYRR and I knew lockers would be full so I hopped on the train and changed quickly before dashing back out. The coaches last night emphasized recovery runs being slow, I think I took that to heart. Also, 90% humidity. When I picked this apartment I was indifferent to a tub. Now? I can’t imagine running without it. I’ve hopped between brands but this is my favorite, I love the eucalyptus.
you are not an XL
  • Friday: off. Lots of steps, some shopping and a sunset ferry ride. I went to see if I could exchange the Pride tee shirt for smaller, but they were out. I did find this shirt hiding among the Queens 10K clearance! The sizing was stupid, but I bought it anyway because I really love it.
  • Saturday: first long run with the group. We met at JackRabbit just before 8 and after an icebreaker and dynamic warmups we hit the park. The coach said at the beginning that as it got warmer we’ll go out earlier. I fell behind the pack in the first mile, which I expected and was fine with. Trying to keep up in mile one would mean I cratered at halfway. Besides, it’s the Park and that’s (part of) why I chose this group. Uncertainty of marathon training but in the comfort of my favorite terrain. Plus, if I can survive the CP hills, I’ll survive the bridges. I ended up catching up with one of the women I finished with Wednesday, who I learned is planning to run not only NYC, but the 60K a few weeks later! I was happy with the run, it was about on par with the women’s mini although the heat meant I felt a little less strong. It was also my first without music in a while as I didn’t think to grab headphones before I left. I got back to the stretching area outside JackRabbit just a few minutes after the main group.  Finished the day with some well-deserved laziness and a very good book, Richard Grant’s Dispatches from Pluto.
  • Sunday: short, hot shakeout. I woke up on time to go out early, but an attack of the lazy Sundays hit. I was also underhydrated due to sushi for dinner Saturday night.


2019 NYC Marathon Training Miles (eek! In writing. Legit): 12.82

$ Raised for Joyful Heart: $12.82

Plan for the Week:

  • Monday: off, dinner plans with friends. And I think Mondays are going to become an off day if I regularly manage the Sunday recovery runs.
  • Tuesday: run
  • Wednesday: off, planned work event and can’t make the group workout
  • Thursday: group workout, 30/90 fartleks
  • Friday: off (as actually scheduled in the plan)
  • Saturday: Pride5M with run to and from for extra miles. They changed the course this year, so I see I’m going to be all Harlem Hills all the time. Self: this is a good thing.
  • Sunday: Pride March. Not calling that an off day

Running and travel

So I think I’m back. But I runfess that there is almost no chance that I’m going to catch up. I’m trying though and if there’s a post you think I should see, please drop a link. In case you missed it, here’s where I was the last week.

Since I booked this conference and add-on road trip, I was wondering about how to accommodate training. This was more or less the same issue as last year when I had the Brooklyn Half on the heels of this conference. On the plus side, I thought it would mean the chance to run in three more states (hotels in Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee). Prior to the trip I’d raced in three (NY, NJ, FL) and run in seven  (CA, FL, NY, NJ, SD, VT, WY). After all said and done, I ran in Louisiana and Mississippi as the Tennessee hotel had no gym. So new total is nine states run in.

no flat me, but all the things because this post has too many words and not enough photos

Before I get into a massive Run Down, a little on today’s #ItalyRunNYC. I was nervous going in. My first race since my minor scare and my first remotely long run into two weeks. I knew last year’s time wasn’t remotely in the cards, but I didn’t have a proper plan. Or any plan really.

I also was bummed not to have my red shirt here. My Skirt Sports Redemption shorties in Holiday print under the race belt skirt was festive – and clean. Three weeks of laundry still in a bag meant my options were limited.

I’d arranged to meet a New York Skirt Sister and as we chatted in the corrals she mentioned she was going to run walk as she does Galloway and I was welcome to join her, but to not feel bad if it was too slow. I found I really enjoyed her company and conversation and planned to stick with her.

It was the perfect decision. Although it was in the mid 60s, it was 85% humidity so this wasn’t going to be a fast race. I was erring on the side of caution anyway and the walk intervals made it all work out. I’m not sure it’s something I want to do long term as I think paying attention to my watch would be one more thing to stress me out, but it was easy to follow at someone else’s direction. And fun to run with someone in a race. My achilles chirped briefly toward the end but went mute after a good stretch. A week of less than stellar compliance with PT caught up with me, but I’ve spent this week trying to be 110%.

I was also pleased that they had the sprinklers on as it was very warm in the sun. Plus, who doesn’t like to run through them? If you ever find yourself asking who doesn’t like Nutella? That would be me. I caught up with another friend at the end and then walked home. All in all, a good day

Massive Run Down catch up with Deborah and Kim:

Week of 5.13: Rain Rain. Go Away. Oh and this Gothamist post on MetroCard math made me laugh given the number of times I’ve weighed the literal cost of laziness

  • Monday: I was a literal drowned rat walking between four meetings. For those of you who know Manhattan: Whitney Museum, East Village, Bowling Green, southeast side of Union Square (Webster Hall). Quick cross train after work.
  • Tuesday: office run group moved to Tuesday due to schedules and subsequently rained out due to icy rain. My gym treadmill run went as well as could be expected, and I bailed after 1.3 miles, which already included two walk breaks.
  • Wednesday: what a glorious weather shift. Almost 20 degrees warmer and full sun. We hit the Harlem Hills again and although it was slow, it felt good. I officially hate Cat Hill more than the Harlem Hills. Go figure. Up side, no racing heart so glad that incident is over.
  • Thursday: trying to get a lot in at work meant a short run. Three miles on a gorgeous day. I got a new VO Max. Yay?
  • Friday: off day. A million errands before my early flight
  • Saturday: I tried to run in the hotel gym but I was coming off three hours’ sleep and hadn’t had coffee so it was a fail. Instead I had a nice long walk around the French Quarter and found the convention center so I’d know where to go before sessions began.
  • Sunday: two treadmill miles before a site visit/learning excursion to New Orleans’ Plantation Country

Week of 5.20: meetings and driving. New Orleans actually featured a lot of walking. Alas it and the subsequent road trip was all treadmill and elliptical as the weather & road trip hotel locations were not conducive to outdoor running.

  • Monday: I actually went to the barre class I mentioned. EEK. It was a mixed bag of beginners like me wanting the chance for a free trial and veterans. I actually kind of enjoyed it, but won’t be doing it again any time soon. It’s my usual complete lack of coordination and they’re expensive! One day I will find The Class for me. One day.
all the data
  • Tuesday: could not get a treadmill so did three miles on a very fancy & data heavy elliptical before sessions began.
  • Wednesday: knew second half of the day would be heavy driving for the start of the road trip, so was happy to run/walk two miles in over heated gym.
  • Thursday: two miles before I got on the road. Small, but well air-conditioned gym in Jackson, MS.
  • Friday: oops, in a last-minute change of hotels I booked one without a gym. I found out on check out that they actually had a relationship with a commercial gym over the road, but a day off was probably needed at this point.
  • Saturday: I had never stayed at a Tru by Hilton before. What a fun chain and great, well equipped gym for two miles.
  • Sunday: Holiday Inn Express Ocean Springs, on the other hand, had the crappiest gym. Manual treadmill and ancient elliptical, but I did the best I could with the elliptical before getting on the road back to NOLA.

Week of 5.27: re-entry is hard. This was a really interesting read as I was getting up early, but the workouts still weren’t happening.

  • Monday: I was so glad to get to run outside. I really missed it with all the treadmill time.
  • Tuesday: I was up early and in the office by 7 to try & dig out from a week away. Somehow I was still there at 7 PM and there was a tornado watch. I was starting to feel niggles in the achilles from insufficient PT while away (lots of rushed exercise), so did a focused strength session with weights and the full slate of PT.
  • Wednesday: full day monsoon, two after work events.  This was a weird day because I was up early and got dressed in my run clothes and still could not get out the door. Ugh. Need to fix my mornings.
  • Thursday: I was up early, and in the office determined to find some gym time. That came at nearly 9 after another packed day. It was a really good, strong  speed session: .5 mile warmup, .5 at 5.7, .5 at 6.0, ,5 at 5.7 and then 6.0 to close with a 6.2 flying sprint.
  • Friday: no formal exercise, but a wonderful walk home through Central Park from an after work event.
  • Saturday: utter and total off day. Needed it mentally and physically. Not even sure I got in 4K steps.
  • Sunday: Italy Run.

Plan for the Week: this is going to be a tough one.

  • Monday: cross or strength train
  • Tuesday: run in the morning
  • Wednesday: Global Running Day 5K
  • Thursday: office run group
  • Friday: off
  • Saturday: Women’s Mini 10K
  • Sunday: off/walk

GoTheDist May 2019

  • 481,389 steps
  • 211.57 miles run/walked
  • 53.14 miles run

It was shaping up to be a better running month, but then life happened. Slowly getting back on track.

GoTheDist YTD:

  • 2,235,609 steps
  • 987.55 miles run/walked
  • 267.25 miles run

Travel Tuesday: Dixie Road Trip

I’m back from my week away and will most likely have a mega Weekly Run Down next Sunday since I didn’t get it posted today. In my defense, I didn’t get home until 2 AM due to some weird flights.

Although there were no long runs, it was a good, active week. Somehow, despite a ton of sedentary time on a 1,760 mile road trip, I came back weighing less than when I left. I don’t get it, but I’ll take it.

Quest for #50Before50, a 1760 mile journey through the American south Click To Tweet

I’ll recap the conference separately as there’s still a lot to digest from those four days. As I may or may not have mentioned, I decided to tack on a southeast road trip that I originally planned three years ago. Life happened, other trips took precedence and that slipped to the bottom of the plans. And then AAM announced New Orleans for the 2019 conference and with it the week before Memorial Day, I knew I could simultaneously make this trip happen with minimal time off work and solve the “back from a trip, don’t want to travel again so what should I do for Memorial Day?” conundrum

this was actually NOLA, but it set the tone

This won’t be a chronological journey, but more the thoughts that stuck with me. I also really miss a functional Flickr because I took so many photos. Major themes that showed throughout the Wednesday – Sunday trip:

  • flooding
  • Civil Rights
  • Katrina
  • legacy of the Civil War

The latter two showed the most through the two books I was flipping between throughout the week: Chris Rose’s One Dead in Attic which I spotted in bookstores throughout the French Quarter and Tony Horowitz’ Confederates in the Attic, which was a re-read. I actually finished neither due to the conference’s schedule and the insanely long driving days, but nearly finished Rose’s on the plane home Sunday night.

Off the bad I’d say that if you’re going to do this trip, don’t do it in late May. It’s already way too hot and humid especially along the gulf and I found it hard to enjoy sightseeing. I may or may not have melted into a puddle along the Great River Crossing when I walked to Arkansas because I’m that kind of crazy traveler.


I’d been to New Orleans before about 18 years ago, but didn’t have strong memories of it beyond the heat and humidity. It’s also a very different city when visited as an adult conference attendee vs. a young adult with extended family for grandma’s birthday. Was Katrina an element of the difference for a visitor? Not really until I chose to make it one, although there was an eerie element to being in the Convention Center and knowing what happened there. Like 9/11, I was overseas for Katrina so I have a weird distance from it, even though I still remember exactly where I was when we heard it had it & was bad: waiting in the parking lot in Adelaide, Australia for a friend to pick up her VCR/DVD player from being repaired.

he’s about three steps up, and in the river

I knew New Orleans was vulnerably located, but it didn’t hit home just how vulnerable it was until I sat on the steps in Washington Artillery Park/on the back side of the “Moon Walk” aka the levees that protect the French Quarter. That gentleman was about three steps up and was ankle deep in the Mississippi. Although Katrina had significant human failure (more later), there is very little keeping the Mississippi and/or Lake Ponchartrain from taking back this city. And that’s sad.

I really didn’t recall hearing news of the last six months’ floods. It isn’t like the ‘93 floods, which I remember vividly, but rather a season long high water with it being 200+ days long at this stage.  As we drove out to Valcherie, LA on Sunday to see the plantations, the guide mentioned that the Bonnet Carre spillway was opened for the second time this year, the first time in history that it happened. There are plans to open the Morganza spillway for only the third time ever. I could see all of this in action as we drove over Bonnet Carre and got absolutely soaked while visiting Laura. As we drove across the Mississippi there we also saw trees that should have been on land but were submerged. It’s a fragile ecosystem for sure.

Route 552, Port Gibson, MS
Windsor Ruins

I ran into the flooding again in Port Gibson, MS, while trying to get back to the Natchez Trace after visiting the Windsor Ruins. I’m the queen of detours and ooh look, there’s a historical marker! but the level of missing roads was frightening. I also ran into this in Tennessee when I was trying to get from Counce to Shiloh. Getting off the interstate and taking the Trace was among the best decisions I made for this trip, but I was not prepared for the flooding. I had a feeling that Google Maps weren’t going to be the most reliable – they weren’t in South Dakota either – but I’m not sure anything was going to have helped with the recent impairments.

sunset on the Mississippi!

The detours were ultimately worth it. Although I got to Vicksburg way too late to see the battlefield, I got a sunset on the Mississippi! Wow. This was a bucket list item I didn’t even know I had.  The River is such a feature in history and literature it has almost a mythical quality – wonder if I’d feel the same about the Hudson if I hadn’t grown up literally on its shores. You can’t actually see it here, but there were a ton of sandbags on the land side of the museum (the former Yazoo & Mississippi Valley RR Station, turned museum). This is despite the large levees behind it. Speaking of levees, I’ll never forget the first time I heard American Pie. We were driving home from Toronto and about to get off I-87 when it came on. I’m pretty sure that, despite memorizing the lyrics, I had no idea what a levee really was and this trip was the first time I really took notice of them. The one thing I’d change about this trip other than timing was I’d have stayed in Vicksburg and not Jackson. I saw absolutely nothing of Jackson and if I’d stayed in Vicksburg I could have toured the battlefield in the morning. That would have made for a seriously long day though as that day’s drive was already some 360 miles/11 hours.

State Collecting Silliness

don’t mind me, I’m just sitting on the state line between Tennessee and Arkansas!
and standing on a bench between Florida and Alabama

Is it just me, or do road trips bring out our inner silly? While I wanted to explore this region in general, the reason behind the long loop was because I was state collecting. I want to see all fifty states before I turn 50. It’s somewhat fitting that I ended this trip at 39 states. Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama were the new ones on this trip.

I know counting a state means different things to different people. After a philosophical debate – coincidentally four years ago this weekend per FB memories – about whether Oregon counted after I touched the soil but didn’t leave the train station I changed my criteria. In order for a state to “count” I need to spend money and see/do something interesting. I don’t count Utah despite taking the train through it since I didn’t do either of those. This was first a challenge when I drove up to Cheyenne after bailing on Pike’s Peak due to altitude. The railroad museum was free! I finally bought a post card before visiting the state properly in 2017. AZ was similarly questionable – was the purchase at Four Corners in Navajo Nation or AZ? Luckily that was remedied last year for a conference. Montana and Arkansas are currently questionable, but I have plans to return to both.

I’ve seen states in some fun ways but Arkansas is definitely the first I’ve ever walked to. On first encounter anyway. I’ve walked between NY and NJ on a few occasions but NJ never counts in that way as it isn’t new. Walking across the Mississippi was amazing. And hot. There was nothing for sale at that end so I hopped on I-55 and drove to West Memphis for a purchase at the Welcome Center. I actually look forward to returning to see the Clinton Library, Crystal Bridges and Hot Springs.

And why the detour to Florabama when I didn’t need Florida? That’s one of those road trip must sees. It has some fun history, is full of kitsch and honestly, I needed it after Friday’s heavy sightseeing.  If you can’t have fun with state lines, there’s something wrong with the world. Well, lots of things including Alabama, but that’s for another time.

Civil Rights

the balcony where MLK was shot
Oxford’s slavery legacy
as well as its Civil Rights’ struggle

Conjoined and complicated. After my Arkansas sojourn on Thursday, I had an all to brief visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and spent a nice leg stretch exploring Oxford, MS. I was left with a lot of thoughts swirling in my head. It was powerful to stand in front of the spot where Dr. King was shot. They’ve also converted the houses from where James Earl Ray took his shot into the “legacy exhibit”. The museum tells Dr. King’s story well and contextualizes the ongoing fight for Civil Rights, but I felt it a little lacking. I think, like with Auschwitz/Birkenau, less museum and more living history is the divider.

Oxford was a relatively short drive from Memphis and I explored the Ole Miss campus before heading down to the Square. Oxford is, in a word, conflicted. They’re still the Rebels and among the first things you see when you drive on to campus is a large statue to Albert Sidney Johnston. My head was already full of swirling confederate statue thoughts after hearing Mitch Landrieu give the keynote Monday and subsequently buying his book. This was also a major theme in last year’s conference. I think Robert E. Lee had to come down in New Orleans – the man had no tie to the city – but in other places I feel like I shouldn’t have a voice. It’s not my city (I neither vote nor pay taxes) and I’m a white northerner whose family was not in America at the time of the Civil War. Ole Miss has made some amazing progress in interpreting its campus (great article here), but it’s still jarring to see prominent statues here & in the Square. It was powerful (a word I used too often on this trip, along with poignant) to stand near the Lyceum and understand what happened there. I softened the edge of this with some football silliness, visiting Manning Way.

Alabama State Capital
Voting Rights March marker just down from the Capital and nearly opposite Dr. King’s church
Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma

All the recent Alabama news broke on the eve of my trip and I weighed what to do ethically. In the end I opted to change two hotel nights so as not to give the state any of my money via taxes and, if any spending was required, to do so in places of support because the state’s Civil Rights history was too important to skip out on. We need to learn from our history. I got there too late to see the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, but I’d have spent there. In the end I spent zero there

Montgomery was probably one of my favorite stops, and it was one that almost didn’t happen. The plan on the drive south from Shiloh was Birmingham and then Tuskegee, but I hit awful traffic and wouldn’t have made it out there with time to see the history so I skipped Tuskegee. I feel awful but realize that’s probably possible from Georgia and the itinerary for this trip was just too much for the time I had. Instead, I parked in Montgomery and explored Dexter Street, and had a driving tour of some of the other sites including the Freedom Riders memorial at the bus station. I drew the line at visiting things like the First White House of the Confederacy or Beauvoir in Biloxi. There’s learning from history and then there’s a step too much for me personally. To paraphrase Mitch Landrieu, you can remember history without revering it.

I really need to get back when it’s cooler as it was too warm to do more – even the outdoor sites that were accessible after the museums closed. Have you ever been somewhere with such conflicted history / present? How did you handle it?

In some senses, the shift of this night’s hotel to Meridian, MS made for a saner journey as Selma was a halfway point. As had become a theme throughout this trip, I got there too late for the National Parks’ interpretive center but had read some mixed reviews of that anyway. On the eastern side of the Bridge I explored the Civil Rights Park which covers Selma’s long history: lynching, slavery and more. I actually didn’t realize you could walk over the bridge until I drove across it. Luckily, there was a parking spot and I was able to walk back via the small Songs of Selma Park. Powerful, and couldn’t help but hum Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction

Think of all the hate there is in Red China! Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama! Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space, but when you return, it’s the same old place.  The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace. You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace. Hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace,
And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend,
You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

A complicated state indeed.

Civil War / War of 1812

Shiloh National Cemetery
Pittsburg Landing/Shiloh

Some people want to  visit Tennessee to see Nashville for music or Memphis for BBQ/Elvis. Me? All about Shiloh. I am my father’s daughter. It’s in a relatively inaccessible part of Tennesee, but the drive wasn’t too hard from Oxford via Tupelo.  I stayed in Counce – near Pickwick Landing State Park, which was beautiful and hit Shiloh early. One of the best things about some of the battlefields turned National Parks is they’re open all hours so you’re not stuck to 9-5 if you don’t need the facilities of the book store/visitor’s center.

Shiloh was absolutely serene. I knew nothing could or would ever compare to Gettysburg, but it was nice to be there without a ton of Civil War tourists. Like Gettysburg, it’s relatively undeveloped in some aspects and you can still “hear the guns”. You can certainly envision the troops’ river arrival.  I wish I could have made it to Corinth to see the rail element, but there just wasn’t time. This was also where I was really feeling the heat — at Gettysburg I drove the tour route but still hopped out at most monuments. Shiloh, not so much.

I hit the bookstore on the way out for my stamp and I got a talker. He had some fun ideas about New York and New Yorkers – mostly coming from The Jeffersons. As I was browsing their books on offer I was pleased to see they stocked Confederates in the Attic, validating the book I planned to read while on this trip.

The dual naming thing always surprises and catches me off guard. Shiloh just sounds more antebellum than Pittsburg Landing, and it’s how I’ve always known it. Never heard of Sharpsburg before Horowitz’ book and I always get confused with Bull Run/Manassas.

I’ll never do a purely Civil War trip, but I love incorporating it into trips, as I remember doing as far back as the mid ’90s when a college visit trip incorporated Bull Run, Fredericksurg and, I think, Antietam. This book by Michael Weeks was a great resource as to what I’d find and helped contextualize Vicksburg, Tupelo and Shiloh. I wondered whether I’d run into Horowitz’ comment that North, East and West are directions but The South is a place. I really didn’t – I saw a few Rebel flags in Alabama but generally felt it more in Charleston and Richmond. It might have been different if I were staying at more local places and time wise nearer to the battle’s dates.

I’ve been talking about Karen Cox’s book Dreaming of Dixie since Charleston (still haven’t read it) and just found Destination Dixie. I was thinking of it as I drove around when I saw signs for Bayou La Batre on Saturday evening as I headed to Biloxi – there are definitely some places I’m really only familiar with thanks to their role in TV and film.  And would someone please tell me how Forrest Gump is twenty five years old?! Have you ever been somewhere you only knew from media?

Chalmette Battlefield and the Beauregard House

This could fit either in this section or the next. I didn’t have any plan to visit the Chalmette Battlefield but I saw a sign for it as I was driving back into New Orleans to visit the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum. It got me excited because I’d skipped Fort Morgan on Saturday due to lack of time and had realized I wouldn’t get to Fort Jackson despite being inspired by this post.

As I got off I-10 I saw abandoned roller coasters and realized it was the former Six Flags that was destroyed by Katrina. It’s an eerie site.

Although I visited the Jean Lafitte Visitor Center in the French Quarter and generally knew about the role of New Orleans in river access in both the War of 1812 and Civil War, I was a little fuzzy on the details. The Chalmette Battlefield is small but well preserved and like Shiloh, you can still imagine what went on here if you don’t look to the left and see the industrial elements of St. Bernard’s port. As the ranger said, the only thing different is the levees are a bit higher now.

This was totally a driving tour due to heat, limited time before my flight, but I’m so glad I got there. Something about visiting a site makes the history more real to me.


Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum
standing where the levees went

I wasn’t even aware of the aforementioned Lower Ninth Ward Museum until someone I met at last year’s conference tweeted about it. I very much wanted to go, but wasn’t sure I’d have the time. Despite seeing the abandoned Six Flags and the Ranger mentioning the levee, I didn’t realize how close Chalmette was to the Lower Ninth – I was only about ten minutes’ drive from the museum. Nor did I realize until I got to the second half of Chris Rose’s book that Chalmette was decimated by the storm. I know some of this is shaped by my being overseas during and for 10 months after Katrina, but I feel like all we heard was the Lower Ninth Ward.

There are no words to describe the museum – a small five room portion of a house in the Lower Ninth Ward. Some of its back story is here. I realized, even while reading Chris Rose’s book, that so much of what I “knew” about Katrina and the Lower Ninth Ward was wrong, or at least wrongly portrayed by the national media. The museum goes in depth to explore the issues around looting, evacuation, the Danziger Bridge shooting and puts faces to some of the stories. It’s powerful and I’m so glad to hear they’re moving to a larger space to better tell the stories. It’s one we all need to hear.

I would not have stopped alongside the Canal had I not spotted the historic marker. Disaster tourism gives me the willies, and that’s why there are no photos of the Lower Ninth other than the museum and the marker/walls. I feel like the marker gives license, whereas the homes-in various states of fixed and not fourteen years later-are private and not meant for tourist consumption.

Standing beside the Industrial Canal was my last stop in New Orleans, but it wasn’t my first encounter with Katrina. In fact, I made a point of seeking it out in the former of Biloxi’s Katrina Memorial.

To further quote Chris Rose,

“It’s funny, but out there in the Great Elsewhere that is America, New Orleans seems to get most or all of the focus of the national media. As if this whole thing happened only in a place called the Lower 9th Ward. As the memory and images and impact of Katrina fade in the national consciousness, so, too, it seems, does the geographical and emotional scope of its damages, not to mention Rita’s. From the Texas border to Mobile Bay, a huge swath of America took a grenade. And everything changed everywhere.

I had no idea just how many died in Mississippi although I learned some of its impact there when I read The Washington Post’s ten year retrospective.

I know this is the tourism professional in me coming out, but it felt so wrong to only see the waterfront casinos, the French Quarter and think everything is and was fine. It wasn’t. It isn’t.


April Runfessions: planning and (not) racing

The Ultimate Coffee Date

I love this LinkUp and I rarely remember it’s time until I see the first post. Therefore I runfess that I’m ridiculously proud of myself for remembering that it was on tap. Joining Marcia for April and honestly, all of 2019. ETA: and then I realized Runfessions was postponed. Hahah. Oh well. But I am going to make coffee happen too since I literally put it on my calendar when Deborah and I discussed it in April. Linking up with her and with Coco there, although the graphic isn’t working for some reason.

story of my life

and because that has been exceptionally so the last few weeks, I haven’t made as much progress on March’s too much coffee as I’d like. I did trade the Starbucks for 7-11’s Irish Creme which was at least a wallet savings. At least I can tell my life story in my mugs.

yep, pretty much

I runfess that as much as I love distance, I’m glad I didn’t sign up for the Women’s Half or the Hot Chocolate 15K. My legs and brain needed the four weeks off and I’m truly enjoying running longer and building strength vs. winging the Halfs. I think/hope this is going to be a solid training cycle. However, I runfess that I’m nervous about injury. I think the achilles is healed, and I’m keeping up the PT to hopefully strengthen glutes, hips, legs, core to keep it from happening again. Since I don’t have a complete understanding on why/how beyond overuse, I’m not super confident I’ll avoid another. Eek

As much as a Yankee fan as I am, I runfess that I’m skipping this year’s Damon Runyon 5K. It’s two fold: I love running on the warning track of Yankee Stadium, but I take no pleasure in running the stadium stairs or even really the stadium decks. I also think running stairs and ramps is bananas on a recovering Achilles. Re-reading last year’s review makes me glad I didn’t do it — I think I love the idea more than the reality. This weekend I’m racing my first flat 5K in nearly two years. Although I’m not in PR shape, I’m hopeful for a good, strong showing. Actually my race PR is 33:22, and a minute more than my run PR so maybe? I just want to have fun, I’m not going to worry about hitting a precise time. I runfess that I’ve enjoyed a limited spring racing slate which feels bizarre to say.

I runfess that I mostly have the fly by the seat of my pants elements of many Sagittarians. However there’s a planner element in me too and when those collide. Ooph. I was all set that I was going to use a modified Higdon Novice 1 to train for November in combination with Mile High Run Club’s Training program. But then I started overthinking it. A number of folks in the Run the Year FB group swear by Hanson, so I had to go order their new book. What I really need to decide is if I’m planning to try and run or a run/walk. I know I’ll walk the 59th Street Bridge, I’m hoping adrenaline will get me over Verrazano. Re-reading March’s coffee talk, I can at least say I made good progress with re-building my base. I’m pleased with this. I think/hope I’m in a good place.

I runfess that I signed up for a barre class at a conference I’m attending this month. I don’t really know why, I’m not good with classes but I think it will be a nice start to the conference day especially since New Orleans is not conducive to late spring outdoor running. I can’t do the yoga they’re offering as I’m pre-registered for a breakfast that morning. I runfess that, aside from this conference and a tacked on road trip, that I have virtually no summer travel plans. I should get on that as I’d really like to run somewhere that isn’t NYC’s mangy swamp. I also need to find a 40th state to visit in honor of my 40th year. I really wish my conscience would allow me to count Utah. Rule I made after Oregon (got off the train & touched the ground, but didn’t do anything) is that I have to spend money and see/do something interesting. Have you been to all fifty states?

includes states I’m booked in this month

Besides your home state (because we’re all biased), what’s your favorite state? For the international folk, what’s your favorite country?
What’s your conference strategy for staying active if the hotel/convention center commute is less than your normal level of activity? Have you taken a class as part of a (non-fitness) one?
Any fun travel plans?

TOTR: The best city I ever ran in is…

I love Tuesdays on the Run. And I love having the “cheat sheet” of the topics early so I can get these written at the weekend. This week? This best city I ever ran in is…

Linking up with: Erika at MCM Mama, Marcia at Marcia’s Healthy Slice, and Patty at No Guilt Life.

And I’m going to cheat and purely look at destinations, because otherwise there’s no way I answer this as anything but home. There are so many great places to run around Manhattan, especially Central Park. And it has been true for two hundred + years! 😀

“Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now!

History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be
In the greatest city in the world!

I’m only counting cities where I’ve run outside (so no Amsterdam or Reykjavik) and actual cities, so no Nyack, Avon, NJ, Palm Springs or my friend’s subdivision in suburban LA. (Yes, Palm Springs is a city but I only ran on the resort grounds, so it doesn’t count). My Birmingham adventures with Liz feel like a hybrid as we took a bus from the city center to her neighborhood but our running route had a decidedly suburban feel so I’m putting that in the same bucket as Nyack, Avon. If the question were places, this would be a lot harder.

So that said…Montreal, London, Washington, D.C.,  Santa Monica, Fort Lauderdale.

Ugh. This is hard.

I think off the bat I’m ruling out Fort Lauderdale since none of the runs felt like city runs. The half marathon is great and I look forward to running it again in 2019, but to me it’s against the spirit of the question. True the hotel fun run did run down a major thoroughfare, but… It has to go.

By the same token, I’m throwing out Santa Monica. It’s heartbreaking to think about the Woolsey Fire in Malibu as I ran just south of that from the Santa Monica pier north to Pacific Palisades and then back down to Venice before finishing on the Pier. But it was a paved path on the beach, so that isn’t a city.

So that leaves London, Montreal, and Washington D.C.

Each has really good things about it. Montreal was a way to explore the area near the hotel and get the lay of the land. Washington D.C. was cherry blossoms! Can’t imagine a more beautiful race course, yes cherry blossoms > oceanfront somehow. London is… London. Running through history.

peekaboo Victoria Tower, I see you!

Yeah, that’s my answer. From the day I arrived where I sightran along the Thames to get the lay of the city to a short run for a view, to my pre-airport farewell, London was nothing but magic. Weather was perfect, it was easy to add distance when seeing new things, and the city’s architecture is just out of this world.

What’s your favorite city?
Is there a city/race you recommend?

TOTR: If I had $1,000

I love Tuesdays on the Run. And I love having the “cheat sheet” of the topics early so I can get these written at the weekend. This week? If I had $1000 to spend on running I’d…

Linking up with: Erika at MCM Mama, Marcia at Marcia’s Healthy Slice, and Patty at No Guilt Life.

if a had a million dollars, or at least a thousand #RunTheYear Click To Tweet

One thing I know for sure, it wouldn’t be clothes or sneakers. Why not? I’ve tried a couple Under Armor options and didn’t find I liked them any more than RBX. Lululemon doesn’t appeal. And to be honest, I can find the former at TJ Maxx. Sneakers? I like the brand I wear and don’t have where to stash more.

So is it pure running costs, or could it be a racecation? I’m taking liberty and going with a mix of the two. Plus um, blog name? 😀

A couple of years ago when I knew I needed to replace my former laptop and was trying to decide how to finance it, I stumbled upon the 52 Week Challenge. It’s basically the old Christmas Club wherein you put money aside each week. Since then I’ve used it for my laptop, some travel (including the Fort Lauderdale Half racecation), miscellaneous needs and holiday gifts for the kids in my family. I try to spend it on fun things; or fun necessities, not bills.

But if I could spend the majority of that $1300 on running? Whoa. In no particular order:

  • I wouldn’t blink at the entry fees for NYC Marathon or Half. Together they’re about $500. I’m still going to do them, but it would be nice not to raid my regular savings account
  • I might do Cherry Blossom again. I loved the race experience and the race itself is a very reasonable $45, but the related costs are high due to cherry blossom season. I probably won’t repeat this anytime soon as I’d rather experience races in other cities.
  • I wouldn’t blink about whether I was accepted into the London Marathon lottery. No, $1,000 won’t pay for a(nother) trip to London, but it would be a nice offset
    • I’d do an exotic racecation. What’s exotic? My perception is so skewed due to travel I’ve done, but probably an island somewhere
  • I might do one of the Vacation Races series. The altitude on those concerns me more than the cost, but they’re still not cheap. I’d also pair it with a vacation more broadly, because I’m a complete National Parks nerd
  • While I’m not particularly trying to do a race in each state, I’m about 13 states from 50 and it would be fun to tie some of those state visits into racecations

Can I spend it on someone else’s running? Have some friends fundraising for fall marathon races and I’d like to support some at a greater level than I currently can.

Gadgets? Maybe. But I just bought myself a Garmin so that doesn’t appeal right now. If it was after this morning’s run with my watch hiccuping without a Garmin on the way? Maybe.

And yes, I have Bare Naked Ladies’ If I Had a Million Dollars … in my head. Don’t you?

TOTR: Running on Vacation

It’s funny, even though I’ve “met” so many fun folks via the Weekly Wrap, new linkups still give me blogger newbie nerves. I was just going to comment on Darlene’s post, but then that comment was turning into an essay and I decided to make it a post. Plus, the theme is travel: how could I not with the roots of this blog!

Running on vacation, yes or no. For me it’s a definite yes as running has become a big part of who I am in the last eighteen months. This is the biggest difference between other forms of exercise which I was happy to use vacation as an escape from. Thanks, Strava, for this walk down memory lane

Linking up with: Erika at MCM Mama, Marcia at Marcia’s Healthy Slice, and Patty at No Guilt Life.


It was a decision I had to face early on in my running “career” when I took a vacation to Iceland and Amsterdam in mid-February 2017. While there wasn’t enough daylight to run outdoors in Iceland, I made it to the gym on two occasions after days spent sightseeing. Amsterdam was a very walk/runnable city and I probably could have run outdoors, if I didn’t use every inch of daylight for sightseeing. While some of this could be attributable to newbie excitement, I couldn’t imagine not running in this week. It was also a good way to help deal with the jetlag.

The next time I had to face it was on a trip to Southern California in May. I got both a beachside and clifftop run in and then explored my host’s neighborhood in my first real experience running at altitude. This was a great way to get some activity in on a trip that featured a lot of car time.

July brought my first international outdoor runs, which was also my first time needing to work runs around a business trip. I could get in a morning warmup and then explore old Montreal, where my hotel was. This was a great way to get in some me time during a fully packed conference and balance out some indulging meals. Plus riverside in Montreal made the summer weather easier to cope with.

August featured humid runs at the beach (some cut short by running in a “forbidden” area) and running at altitude. Also, a quickie to experience a new state (to which I subsequently returned). I can honestly say I never factored in hotel fitness centers prior to this trip. I’d hope they had one, but didn’t worry about kind or quantity of treadmill(s).

Even when not on vacation but just outside my normal comfort zone, I found new places to explore and get in some exercise. And I didn’t let holidays keep me from running.


2018 brought a new to me kind of vacation: the run-cation. Not only was I running on vacation, but I traveled for the express purpose of running!

sunrise over the Atlantic, along A1A

When I went to Florida for the A1A Half Marathon, I also had my first experience with running out of water on a hot run. Twice. Who said vacations aren’t educational? I also joined a hotel fun run to further acclimate to humidity. It was a good balance to the rest of the long weekend spent lazing by the pool with a book or six.

Cheese ball! So glad for the heat wrap

Next up? Washington DC for the iconic Cherry Blossom 10 miler. While in Florida I didn’t sight see but had to take care this trip not to walk my feet off before the race. Race day ended up being a 50k step day because I walked the tidal basin after to keep from stiffening up.

May brought 108 degree business travel, so I was grateful for a well-furbished hotel fitness center. I continued to squeeze in runs, chase a PR and stretch before the redeye home. Other activity that trip included a walk at the south rim of the Grant Canyon. Is a business trip really vacation? I count it because it’s out of my routine. Later in May was a long road trip where I explored before we headed east to Palm Springs (warm, but scenic) and subsequently back west to Santa Monica. One day I’ll have a decent pace on the beach, but so many photos. Don’t regret a single one. Running is a great way to see a new area.

So far I’ve run outdoors in: New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Washington D.C., and Montreal and indoors in: Wyoming, South Dakota, Arizona, Iceland, and Amsterdam. In the near future I hope to enjoy outdoor runs in Vermont, London. I like using running as an avenue to visit new places. Sometimes the cities are the draw, other times the races are.

What’s your favorite place that you’ve run?



Review: Run the World

I can’t remember when Becky Wade’s Run The World  first crossed my radar, but it made a visit to Mt. TBR prior to this reading as when I downloaded it from the library, I was 4% in. I didn’t recall any of it, so re-started and finished it this week. If I had any quality reading time this week I probably would have finished it in two days-it’s just that compelling and readable.

Becky is a 2012 Rice University graduate who took advantage of a Watson Fellowship to travel the world and visit with runners in a number of countries. As I mentioned on the Runners’ Bookshelf, what I loved about this book was that it’s a gap year travelogue at its core.  Although she didn’t officially turn pro until a race in her second country when she won 50 Euro at a race in Ireland, I consider this the first memoir I’ve read by an elite pro. She certainly came across wiser than her age.

Wade’s adventures began in London where she was able to be a spectator for the Olympic Marathon before nearly getting run over when she met her first group of Parkrunners in a Teddington park in which she frequently trained. (I subsequently learned it was the park where Parkrun was born. Also, that sentence is my running TBR in a nutshell: Michael McEwan’s Running the Smoke and Debra Bourne’s parkrun are both stalking me.) In between those extremes she trained with and learned from a number of elite Kenyan runners and had the chance to meet Usain Bolt via one of her flatmates. The kindness and network of strangers was a theme throughout, with Wade spending far less on accommodation than anticipated as someone always seemed to know someone in her next destination.

After England, the other countries that Wade visited were: Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden and Finland. She wasn’t able to visit Kenya due to the Watson Foundation’s policies with respect to travel advisories.

Each was an interesting stop in its own right but the two I enjoyed the most were Ethiopia and Japan. At the outset of the Ethiopia chapter I thought two months here? and wondered if it would start to drag as I had no particular interest in Ethiopia, but I couldn’t have been more wrong once I met the “Yaya Girls”, with whom she lived and trained. It wasn’t just the runners she met that I enjoyed, her writing really brought the secondary characters such as the woman in the market who watched their bags to life. I enjoyed their interactions with her as much as I did their party at Haile Gebrselassie’s after the Great Ethiopian Run.

Japan intrigued me because, well, everything about that wonderful country does.  The second time I was living there one flatmate was a runner but I never thought much about Japan’s running culture. Wade got the best of both worlds with time spent with expats and locals as she explored a thoroughly foreign world  and foreign running landscapes with concrete far outnumbering trails, especially in Tokyo. And of course, the ekiden. I haven’t run The Way of the Runner but now I feel it joining the the others in glaring at me.

I really didn’t want this book to end. I enjoyed Wade’s travel and running experiences, and watching her grow. Although her volume isn’t anything I can even comprehend, I enjoyed that she had some of the same struggles when approaching the start of a race. It really brought to light the differences between distance and track specialists. On the distance front, the coda of her first marathon really brought the book and lessons she learned over the year together nicely.  I hope she writes again.

On an unrelated note, they’re calling for a major storm tomorrow, the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. Guess Poland Spring won’t be the only water on the course. Alas, rain means no adoraboo shirt as it’s a cotton tee. So alternate flat me is ready to go if all NYRR systems are go. More on that tomorrow afternoon.


Original shirt
Rain outfit

Beautiful Badlands

Either Flickr’s sale or the last WordPress update broke that plugin, so photos are here. I’m nearly done with my photos, but I still have way too many. The Badlands are almost beyond description though.

driving through colored rolling hills

Driving through scenery like that…

Sideview Badlands

with scenery like this in your mirrors.

It’s just surreal.

This was one of my shorter drive days and it consisted of Wall, the Badlands and Rapid City and because of that I started later. Wall was a great stop for a mid morning break. It’s pure kitsch and a jackalope explosion, but it was also an oasis on the drive when driving cross state/country was a lot more arduous than it is now. It’s also a reason for a town to be something more than a map dot. I had fun and got some of the only souvenir shopping of this trip done.

From Wall, about an hour east of Rapid City, it was a quick hop into Badlands National Park where once again I found it less crowded than I expected. Like with Spearfish, you found yourselves at the same scenic turn outs and I felt as if I got to know the people who also spent the day touring.

There was a lot of auto touring as this was the point in the trip where it went from warm to hot and I … wasn’t prepared. Sure, I had sunscreen, but no hat and not enough water. So I definitely wasn’t doing any trail hikes. The quick walk out to the “window” was gorgeous though and it all made me realize just how unearthly this landscape was. The Badlands reminded me of Purnululu National Park and the Bungle Bungles and I remember thinking when I was there that we just didn’t have anything like this in the US… because I’d never been to a non-urban area west of the Mississippi! Yeah, I still need to do the Grand Canyon We have the benefit of an understanding of earth science as we visit places like the Badlands, Grand Canyon, Bandelier, etc. I can’t help but think of the reactions of the tribes who called this area home (no wonder they considered it sacred) or first pioneers as they came through and caught sight. Some of the formations look so fragile that you can’t help but think a good rain would wash them away.

Although I was in AC, the heat was starting to zap me so I took an hour break between the main visitor center and adjacent lodge/restaurant to just decompress, take in some wifi and get something to eat. Eating was weird on this trip, I violated some major road trip rules (no chains, eat something local), but sometimes you just need to. This loss of time meant I’d miss Minuteman, but I was never too excited about that. I checked off some Los Alamos/Manhattan project sights while in New Mexico, but it didn’t grab me. And this year? Too much like news. So I had a leisurely wander out of the park, through The Badlands Ranch and back to I-90. Most exciting about the drive back to Rapid City was the approach to Wall from the east and the iconic dinosaur. That entrance makes much more sense as its gateway to the west.

Like the day before when I was chasing the sun to Rushmore, I was chasing it back to Rapid City as I wanted to see some of the president statues and maybe Rapid City’s dinosaurs. It was a quick flyby, but I did both: JFK and sunset through the legs of a cement dinosaur. It was a good way to end the day. Would it have been nice to stay in Rapid City? Sure. But I never had time to see it proper and the suburb rates were just fine for a place to stay. Definitely recommend the Home2Suites chain, and the Box Elder location was lovely.

Was glad to have an early ish night before the long haul back to Cheyenne. Those images are almost done

Days 1-3: Denver to Deadwood and Dead Men

I heard a lot of Montana ads while away and while I don’t remember it verbatim it was something about memories on the price of gas. Well that also fits this nearly 1,600 mile road trip. Total gas expenditures? $103.10. I’m not an organized enough driver to have also tracked the gallons that made for, but my rented Chevy Malibu was great on gas.

To go with the nearly sixteen hundred miles that this road trip covered, I took approximately one photo per mile: 1,573 photos. I’m still working through them, but my Instagram has a number of my favorites and I’m going to post them here as I write up the days they covered. Hopefully that takes less time than New Mexico did.

2017’s tackle of 50 before 50 started late with no new states earlier this year and to be honest, 2016 only added Wyoming* and West Virginia. As of now, and likely 2017’s year-end it’s looking pretty good.

States visited as of September 9, 2017

But, starting at the beginning. Labor Day has turned into a great travel weekend and I booked this when I realized going away July 4th wasn’t going to work despite having a four-day weekend. It was much cheaper to fly into Denver than anything closer, which made the road trip longer, but I always enjoy the chance to visit Denver.

So Wednesday morning I flew in, picked up a rental car and pointed north. Super easy to do so as the speed limit once you’re north of Cheyenne is an insane 80 on I25. Luckily it’s dead straight and the car had cruise control. My first planned stop on this crowd sourced itinerary was Guernsey for some Oregon Trail history. When I took the exit off I25 for Guernsey I saw a sign for Fort Laramie and asked myself if it was worth the additional mileage. Despite my usual easy interest in anything with the word “fort“, I opted not to as I was tired and the road wasn’t great. Later in the trip I’d be regretting it and contemplating going ~100 miles out of the way to get there – I really should have brushed up on my Oregon Trail history before this trip.

Oregon Trail sightseeing got ethically complicated once I visited Wounded Knee on the way from Rapid City to Cheyenne, but none of that was a factor in Guernsey where I explored the names inscribed at Register Cliff and the extant trail ruts closer to town. Amazing that the soil has allowed the ruts to survive and it’s possible to walk along side the path of the pioneers. I was surprised to see the Pony Express markers as well.

From Guernsey it was a quick hope to Douglas, home of the jackalope. I had no idea that jackalopes were a thing outside Wall Drug, but Thursday morning my first two stops before the long-ish drive to Devil’s Tower were to visit the jackalopes in town, the largest and the former holder of that title. It took me a lot longer to get to Devil’s Tower than I anticipated, and I’m so glad I went with an early flight to split this drive into two days. I technically visited Wyoming last summer but this feels like much less of a technicality and I’m happy to officially call it state 32.

Devil’s Tower is weird. That’s the best way to put it. Fittingly, it’s home to a lot of UFO gatherings as it’s location for Close Encounters. What I found most surprising was that it’s much nicer looking from afar. In fact, my favorite photo was from outside the park grounds at the KOA where I stopped for a drink and wifi. While it was too warm and I was too time constrained to hike the base, I thought it was amazing. Is it the core of an old volcano? Petrified lava? Who knows. Like many stops on this trip I found myself imagining Native American and pioneers’ first sightings.

From Devil’s Tower I headed northeast and was pleasantly surprised to find that my route to Belle Fourche, SD would take me through Alzada, MT. My rules for counting a state, implemented after cheating to count Oregon in 2015, is that I have to spend money and see something interesting. This is why Utah doesn’t count despite taking the train across it last year. Both technically happened in Alzada, but it’s iffy. I’m not worried about counting it, as I plan to return to do Glacier and would love to see Little Bighorn. Heading east I was happy to see the South Dakota sign, my “home” through Saturday. Belle Fourche was missable but a nice, quick stop to stretch legs and enjoy the silliness of the Geographic Center monument.

I had no plans to do Sturgis, I didn’t really get it. But when I saw how close it was to Deadwood, I decided why not. That and I had a feeling it would be easier to get gas than in Deadwood. So I went, I didn’t get it. I did see a ton of Rally items on clearance throughout SD and Nebraska. I then spent the evening exploring downtown Deadwood. It’s certainly an interesting place – lots of Wild Bill history but overall faded glory. I broke the rule of not eating at a hotel restaurant as they all seemed the same along Main Street: casino buffers and the salad bar at Tin Lizzie appealed. It was an early night after a long day.

Friday morning started with a little back tracking up to Spearfish to come down through Spearfish Canyon. When booking this trip I’d originally planned to stay in Spearfish but then Deadwood appealed and the 20 minute backtrack didn’t bother me. It was nice to stay in a hotel with some flavor vs. anywhere USA. Spearfish Canyon was just magical. It had the expected trees, rock faces and streams, but also unexpected filming locations. I cannot believe Dances with Wolves is 27 years old!

When I hit Pactola Lake, a gorgeous oasis, I first found out why everything had seemed so hazy. Last summer I remember seeing the Rockies along I25 but when I didn’t I blamed it on the humidity in Denver. There seemed to be a haze in Spearfish, or rather it wasn’t as crisp as I imagined. I was surprised to learn it was fires in Wyoming and Montana that were affecting things-I’d have the smoke with me until I left Denver. Sad, frightening. The ranger at Pactola Lake was super helpful in fixing my map. I had print maps to go with GPS because I wasn’t sure about signal. She chuckled about a route I asked — she’d lived in the area for more than twenty years and hadn’t heard of it – except from people’s Google maps.

After asking if I was OK driving all afternoon she drew me a map that covered my route to Crazy Horse, Rushmore, Custer State Park and finally to Rapid City. Crazy Horse was the first stop and it was breathtaking, literally. The size is larger than I even imagined and there’s nowhere from within the campus that you can’t see it. Had it been less smoky I imagined I’d have seen it on approach. It’s just enormous and even if it’s never finished, what has been done is amazing -including one of the sons driving a piece of machinery off the mountain. The smoke made for some seriously hazy photos so I took a bus – literally, an old school bus, to the base where we got a stunning view including the back side which is more work site and less photogenic. Some grandchildren and nephews are still involved, which is great.

Aside from the aforementioned Dances with Wolves, Crazy Horse was my first introduction to the Lakota. (Sioux can be problematic, apparently). Sure, I knew Sitting Bull and I read Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee a long time ago, too long ago. But Crazy Horse’s intro video is where I first “met” Chief Red Cloud, whose quote lingered with me throughout the rest of the trip.

“They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”

I also met Chief Henry Standing Bear, the man who wrote to Ziolkowski saying, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.” and subsequently commissioned Korczak Ziolkowski to create Crazy Horse after receiving no response to his request to have Crazy Horse added to Rushmore. Whether or not Crazy Horse said “My lands are where my dead lie buried” and despite the controversies surrounding it, the whole monument makes you think. In that sense I think it’s closer to complete. It’s a learning moment and one that is relatively unknown. I hope that as they make progress on the memorial, more of the Crazy Horse story comes out.

I was already re-thinking my glib “have not died of dysentery” comment at Guernsey as I thought more about the parallels between the western exploration and the broken promises to the Lakota and other Native Americans. There was more of that to come when I went to Wounded Knee and followed the Mormon/Oregon Trail pioneers through Nebraska on my way to Cheyenne on Sunday.

After leaving Crazy Horse I doubled back north to the turn off for Needles Highway which is possibly the most breathtaking drive. Part of what I loved about Australia was scenery in the Kimberley at Bungle Bungles/Purnululu National Park and Three Sisters outside Sydney. I always thought the US didn’t have it. I realized somewhere around Bandelier and Kasha-Katuwe that wasn’t true-I just hadn’t looked for them. I expected to be wowed by the Badlands (Saturday, write up and photos TK) but I didn’t look up the Needles Highway once it was recommended to me, although I knew  about the tunnels. I didn’t expect to be thinking so much about Stonehenge and the Three Sisters as I made my way southeast through and into Custer State Park.

The wildlife at Custer is well known, but I was well into the “wildlife loop” and hadn’t seen anything so was expecting to be disappointed. Although I was OK with driving all afternoon, I was getting tired and antsy about making Rushmore before dark. I’m not crazy about driving in the dark even though the ranger had assured me it was a good road. As I crested a hill just before the road turned back north, I hit traffic. I was not happy until I realized it was due to burro and then buffalo watching. There was literally nothing to do but put the car in park and watch these silly (burros) and majestic (buffalo) animals.

Eventually, the road cleared and I headed toward Iron Mountain Road on approach to Mount Rushmore. I got my first view through one of the road’s iconic tunnels. My first thought? That’s it? It’s a lot smaller than I expected, especially having just seen Crazy Horse. That thought reminded me of my take on Seattle’s Space Needle having just been up to One World Observatory. As I drove closer, I debated whether I was going or not. This is apparently not uncommon. When I stopped at a scenic lookout outside the park for some photos, I still wasn’t sure, but I was curious to see it closer so I decided why not.

I’m glad I did. Comparing Rushmore and Crazy Horse doesn’t really help. Comparing Rushmore now to what it was in the 1930s when it was being done was the angle I decided to consider. Sure they’re relatively small, but they were an impressive feat. The light at sunset was great and as it was relatively uncrowded vs. what I expected, it allowed me time to contemplate the men memorialized on the mountain in light of current conversations about statues. I think now I might actually remember that it’s Teddy Roosevelt-fitting for his Parks’ heritage. Is it spectacular? I don’t know. I honestly think I was simultaneously awed and underwhelmed by it. That’s still true a week later. I’m very glad I went. The lighting ceremony was inspiring and Borglum’s work, especially the detail, is great. Is it a must see? No. Is it worth seeing? Yes. If you have a chance, do it before Crazy Horse so you’re not yet thinking of the size difference.

From then it was a relatively quick drive to my hotel outside Rapid City. If I thought Deadwood hotel dining was a bad road trip sin, McDonald’s at the hotel one upped it. I ended up with some odd dining overall this trip.  Sometimes you do what you have to.