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Posts Tagged ‘Adventure Foot’

Black Hills National Forest and the Black Elk Wilderness

Black Hills National Forest and the Black Elk Wilderness

I’m typing this blog from around 8,500 feet over the South Dakota Badlands. My friend Tim is piloting his Cherokee 6 towards home and his wife and my husband round out the crew on board. We’ve had an outstanding long weekend in South Dakota and it’s clear to me looking out over the wing that it’s all thanks to taking the road less traveled.

Rushmore snap!

Rushmore snap!

An adventure vacation doesn’t always mean going to an exotic location, but if you’re lucky enough to go somewhere different, my suggestion is to do your research and find the little gems that make a place special.

Day one in South Dakota served up the obligatory visit to Mount Rushmore, but day two started bright and early in Custer State Park near Sylvan Lake at the base of Harney Peak.

Harney Peak is a a mountain in the Black Hills that tops out at about 7250 feet; it’s the state high point of South Dakota as well as the highest peak east of the Rockies in the entire USA!  There is a fire lookout on top of the granite mountain that on a clear day gives a bird’s eye view of the entire Black Elk National Forest; that was our destination.

This is Harney Peak Lookout as viewed from the top of Little Devil's Tower

This is Harney Peak Lookout as viewed from the top of Little Devil’s Tower

Besides being a high point, Harney is also a place of special significance to the Lakota Indians. Their Chief Black Elk was on the mountain as a child and had a vision of the “great hoops of the world” which he recounts in the book Black Elk Speaks. I highly recommend the book for a read.

When we planned our route we decided not to take the most commonly hiked trail and opted for trail #4.  4 is a more rugged path that traverses wildflower meadows before turning rocky and passing amazing granite formations like Little Devil’s Tower and the Cathedral Spires.

The meadows in the early morning were lovely beyond words. Gray jays and juncos called out over the grass, a few mule deer and some marmots ran around just off the trail. The meadow was in full bloom with familiar plants like fleabane, dandelions, and black eyed susans, along with dozens of flowers in dazzling colors whose names I didn’t know.

The Little Devil's Tower intersection

The Little Devil’s Tower intersection

We moved along at a pretty good clip and came to the intersection leading to Little Devil’s Tower before the dew was off the grass.

Little Devil is so named because it resembles the famous Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Little Devil is just shy of 7000 ft tall (making it almost as big as Harney Peak) with about a 1000 foot prominence off the trail we were on.

Justin in one of the tight spots on the Little Devil's Tower Trail

Justin in one of the tight spots on the Little Devil’s Tower Trail

The climb to the summit of Little Devil was a rocky and steep boulder scramble which included a fun section where we needed to wedge ourselves between two huge granite slabs and shimmy up a few dozen feet.

Little Devil's Tower as viewed descending trail #9

Little Devil’s Tower as viewed descending trail #9

We were richly rewarded for the tough scramble up Little Devil because the clear blue sky offered us impossibly beautiful views of the park. To the west we could view the famous Cathedral Spires and to the north, we could see our second destination: the lookout tower on Harney.  We snapped photos, soaked in the view, had a snack and were on our way.

The glorious view from atop Little Devil's Tower!

The glorious view from atop Little Devil’s Tower!

It was almost tougher going down Little Devil than up and it took a little time to get back to the beginning of the spur. At the intersection we met the first other people we’d seen all day: a group of women from Springfield, IL! They asked about Devil and we quickly told them it was tough but totally worth it! (PS Kathy from Springfield: if you found my blog.. I hope to see you on the Capital City Century!!)

The trail then wound around the Cathedral Spires and through some lodge pole pines for a few miles before beginning to really climb. A section of steep switchbacks with feldspar scree was the final obstacle before Harney Peak Lookout came into view.

Adventure Foot on the lookout!

Adventure Foot on the lookout!

The lookout was crammed with people who had taken the shorter trail to the top. It was neat to be there at the top of the Black Hills, but our group agreed that Little Devil had been a bit more exciting since we got to stand on it alone.

Still, the vista was gorgeous and we could look back at Little Devil and see how far we’d come. Pretty amazing to have the two summits all before noon!

As it is with all summits, we had to leave all too soon. We eased back down the common trail. Trail #9 is less rugged and is down in the forest section, so views weren’t as pretty as they had been on #4. Occasionally though, we’d round a corner and be greeted by an enormous chunk of granite we didn’t even know was there!

Justin on top of Harney Peak

Justin on top of Harney Peak

As we reached the bottom of the mountain, we could see an afternoon thunderstorm firing up over the ridge and were happy to be back down at the lake.

You could spend weeks and weeks in Custer State Park and the Black Elk Wilderness and not see all there is to see. I’d love to go visit again and backpack to some back country areas. This was a short trip though and a second adventure awaited us underground at Wind Cave the next day…

Adventure to be continued….

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Hey Barred Owl! You're going to need a permit!

Hey Barred Owl! You’re going to need a permit!

Summertime provides ample opportunity to get out and follow your Adventure Foot, and one of the very best ways to do that is to go camping!  Whether you’re tent camping with the kids out of the back of the mini-van or planning a backpacking excursion “off the grid,” a few simple steps can make your next camping trip a safe and fun adventure!

A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

Justin putting up a tent at Sand Ridge State Forest

Justin putting up a tent at Sand Ridge State Forest

We’ve all forgotten something important on a trip before, but when we forget something important on a camping trip, it tends to cause more inconvenience than usual.  I’ve found that the way to become a better camper and to forget fewer things is to make a list!  Make a list of the items you’ll need and lay the items all out on the kitchen table before you start packing them in your bag.  When all your items are laid out, you can make sure you haven’t forgotten anything crucial to the trip- matches, bug spray, sunscreen, toilet paper…   don’t leave home without them!

Just as important as what you bring is what you do not bring.  If you’re taking the kids, leave the Nintendo DS at home! Camping time is unplugging time and you will thank yourself for giving all the technology a rest.  Also look for things you can leave out of your life for a day or two.  Pare down the things you’re bringing to just the necessities.  Decluttering is part of the beauty of the outdoors. Besides, whatever you don’t bring, you don’t have to carry!

I like to keep a running list for camping trips.  At the end of the trip, I look to see if there are any items in my pack that I haven’t used at all, and I cross those off for next time.  It lightens the load and helps me to be a more efficient camper.  Likewise, if some item would have made my life easier, I add it to the list and next time I’ll have it!

Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires

Putting the Mmmmmm in Mmmmmarshmallows

Putting the Mmmmmm in Mmmmmarshmallows

Fire safety is every camper’s responsibility.  When building a fire, find out if the campground or space has any rules in place for fire building.  Check for dry conditions and don’t build fires any larger than necessary.  Fire pits or rings are great assets at campgrounds; use them!  They’ll keep the debris all in one place and also help keep the fire from spreading.   If there is not a fire pit, look for a campfire site that is downwind and at least 15 feet away from shrubs, overhanging branches, tents or any other flammable objects.

Please remember: do not transport firewood from one place to another.  There is plenty of loose wood around to collect and burn, and moving firewood is one of the main vectors of invasive species like the extremely destructive Emerald Ash Borer Beatle.

The Bare Necessities

I love Ryan's trail hammock.  Lightweight and even has a bug shield.

I love Ryan’s trail hammock. Lightweight and even has a bug shield.

Water, shelter, food, and waste disposal.  That’s what you’ll need for a camping trip.  If you’re heading out to a state park or campground, water might be easy to come by and all you’ll need is a few water bottles.  If you’re backpacking or going on an especially long hike you may need to bring water purification equipment or tabs.  Plan ahead and know where your water sources are.

Shelter is important too.  Check the weather forecast before you go and pack appropriate gear. In my experience, a forecast for 25% chance of rain turns to 100% if I forget my tent’s rain fly or my poncho.  It’s just the way it works.  Also, pack appropriate gear for the temperatures.  You don’t need that sub-zero sleeping bag if it’s not going to dip below 70 degrees at night.  Likewise, a nice day doesn’t guarantee a warm night, so check and double check the forecast!  It’s not a bad idea to look for safe places to go in case of a storm even if none are forecast.

Food safety is especially important on camping trips, and I’ve heard more than one story of a great camping trip spoiled a day later by intestinal distress.  Don’t forget your safe food handling practices just because you’re out in the woods.  Make sure you cook any meat you are eating thoroughly, be aware of opportunities for cross contamination (don’t touch the fish and then the apples!!), and store food safely.  Make sure you’re storing your food and trash out of the reach of wildlife too.  Even though there aren’t bears in Illinois, a cranky raccoon wandering through camp isn’t much fun either.

Check the Visitor Center for park rules and regs!

Check the Visitor Center for park rules and regs!

Waste disposal doesn’t often get much forethought, but it’s important to plan for too.  Bring trash bags and make sure you keep your campsite clean. You’ll often hear the phrase, “leave no trace.”  This basically means: bring everything out of the woods that you took into the woods.

And while we’re on the subject of waste… sometimes you’re by a porta-john or latrine, and sometimes you’re not.  If you’re in the back country, protect the ecosystem and other travelers by following trail rules.  This often means digging a small hole 10-15 feet off the trail and away from any water sources, doing your business, and covering it up.  If my cats can cover up their dootie, so can you.  In especially delicate ecosystems, you may be required to bring any solid waste with you out of the woods.  Obey rules and posted guidelines!

Maps, Flashlights, and Emergencies

My smartphone has Google Maps, a flashlight, and can call 9-1-1.  Guess what doesn’t usually work in the woods though? My cell phone!  Come on people, you knew that!

Trail tortoise at Fall Creek

Trail tortoise at Fall Creek

Make sure you’re bringing several light sources for your trip.  I’m a fan of hands-free headlights and small LED flashlights.  On longer backpacking trips, I like a hand-crank flashlight and radio combination, which can be used regardless of battery life.

Bring basic first aid equipment for emergencies and even consider a flare or other signaling device if you will be a long way from emergency services.

And bring a printed park map.  Keep the printed map in a plastic bag or have it laminated.

 Hazard Inventory

Riding and camping are a great combination! This is at RAGBRAI 2012

Riding and camping are a great combination! This is at RAGBRAI 2012

The last great piece of camping advice comes to you courtesy of my grandpa.  He said, “Beware of things that bite, sting, itch, or get you all wet!”  Make a list of the hazards you might experience in the area you’re camping.  Know how to identify poison oak and poison ivy.  Know how to identify and safely remove ticks.  Know if anyone in your party is allergic to bee stings and bring appropriate first aid materials for that person.  Know how to identify a potentially hazardous snake or a harmless one (clue: most snakes in our area are harmless).  And lastly, be aware of any water hazards, especially if you have kids around.  Don’t build your tent close to the creek; flash floods can happen whether it’s raining where you are or not.  Keep the kids away from lakes or ponds after dark.  Don’t cross flooded streams.  Just use your common sense!

Justin out on a long hike!

Justin out on a long hike!

So there you have the Adventure Foot Guide to Safe and Fun Camping!  Be sure to check out these related blogs about some of my favorite local state parks.  I highly recommend Wakonda State Park in La Grange, MO, (second winter Wakonda link here!)  Cuivre River State Park in Troy, MO and Siloam Springs State Park in Liberty, IL (second Siloam link here!) for local camping adventures.  You might also check out Sand Ridge State Park near Peoria.  This park is enormous and especially fun in the late fall and winter! Oh and don’t forget Mark Twain Lake!  There’s no excuse not to camp with so many great places to go!

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heartland road runners club

The Heartland Roadrunners at Bridge the Gap 2013

You know, I owe my readers a race report for the Bridge the Gap Half Marathon that I ran with my training partner Doug this spring, and I’ve been thinking a little about it.  My summary of the race would go:

jjk

Jackie Joyner Kersee and I after Bridge the Gap 2013

– Jackie Joyner Kersee (who gave out the medals) was AWESOME.  If there’s something better than getting a half marathon medal from an 8 time Olympic Gold Medalist, I can’t think of it.

– Crossing the bridges over the Mississippi in the beginning of the race is BEAUTIFUL.

– The support was pretty good, though they were out of water at the first 2 stops and I don’t drink Gatorade because the sweetness gives me a tummy ache during races (And that’s why I love Nuun…!)

… and that’s about it.  Oh, I would probably mention that it was the warmest day Doug and I had run so far for the year and that was a little tough on us.  Despite the heat, I cut 9 minutes off my time from the Allerton Trails Half Marathon a few weeks before.

Now readers, don’t get the wrong idea when I tell you my feedback about this race, because I don’t want you to think it was a negative experience!  The entire staff of Bridge the Gap does a terrific job of putting together a solid run and should be congratulated for raising a lot of money for MedAssist and for growing the sport of running in Quincy each and every year.  The beef I’ve got with BtG as compared to any of the other half marathons I’ve run in the past 2 years is:

Where were all of the spectators?!

I’m not going to lie, when we were hot and exhausted in the endless bottoms of mile 9, I could have really gone for a, “Your feet must hurt from kicking this much butt!” sign.  Or how about a poster reading, “Run Faster! Zombies Don’t Like Fast Food!”  Or my training partner’s favorite sign, “Worst. Parade. Ever.

occupy finish line

“Occupy Finish Line” at the Occupy Little Rock Protests.

You see, I love the crazy spectators.  It’s my favorite thing about a large race.  Without the spectators, it’s just another training run out a long and lonesome road.  I hit low spots. I want to give up.  I want to walk the next 4 miles or perhaps steal a car.  I need the energy of a crowd and the encouragement of an electric race environment to keep my mind off my sore knees and to keep me moving forward.

When I was in Little Rock, AR doing my first half marathon, a random person in mile 11 yelled, “Yeah Laura! Doing Great!” when they read my name off my bib.

the course is strong

My husband can draw Darth Vader. It is the only thing he draws.

When I was in Lexington, KY for Run the Bluegrass half marathon there were bands around every corner and crowds of people chanting, “Go, Stranger, Go!”

For the half marathon in Illinois, there was a spectator with a table full of Dixie cups with a sign that said, “Free Tiny Beer for You and Steve!” (I don’t know who Steve is, but I bet he enjoyed his mid-race tiny beer as much as I did.)

photo 1

Bike rides can use signs too! My friend Jen at the RAIL (Ride Across Illinois) ride

At the Allerton Trail Half Marathon (Decatur, IL) – even on a decidedly quieter trail course – there was a section late in the race where a line of 15 people were lined up giving a row of high-fives to the runners who went past.

I love you, crazy fans. I really, really do.

photo 2

My stick zombies could use some work, but rider Gary Clay still got a smile out of this one!

Here’s my suggestion for BtG 2013: We need to get more spectators and awesome signs on the half marathon course!  I’m not talking about fans at the start/finish (there were a good number of people in that area) but I’m talking about some hard core, awesome, “Pain is temporary, finishing is forever” sign holders sitting out on lonely mile 8.  If at all possible, I’d suggest that said sign holders also dress like 80’s hair bands or perhaps Batman.

Yes. That’s it.  I would like 15 people dressed as Batman at mile 8. 

whoop azz sign

Quincy Sketch Club Members Jamie Green and Charlie Martin helped me make signs for an Ultra Marathon in Vermont.

So next Spring when you’re asking a friend if they want to run Bridge the Gap with you and despite your pleading they turn you down, tell them they can still help with the race. As a matter of fact… don’t wait.  Tell them now.  Maybe they can pick up their Batman costumes at an after Halloween sale! Hook them up with a pack of those huge, smelly magic markers and a pile of neon poster board.  Get them a cowbell and a tambourine and tell them to go nuts.

This one goes out to you, Crazy Marathon Sign Holder Person.  Thank you for all that you do!

And if there comes a day that I’m not running in the race, I’ll still be down there.  Look for me at mile 11.  I’ll be holding the, “I Think Chaffed Nipples are HOT!” sign.  🙂

Also check out this Buzzfeed article of more fun signs!

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At the start of the New Belgium Cruiser Century

At the start of the New Belgium Cruiser Century

This past weekend I followed my Adventure Foot to Des Moines, Iowa to ride the New Belgium Cruiser Century with my husband and our two friends Ryan and Jayme.   Basically, when we heard there was an easy-going 100 mile bike ride featuring beer tastings at every stop we sad, “sign us up!”

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At Court Ave. Brewery

Our hosts showed us a great time in Des Moines the night before the ride.  Highlights included the Court Avenue Brewery where the beer and the food were both superb. I had braised duck with sweet potato hash… good lord. It was delicious.  And my husband and I partook in the Capitol’s Beer Flight, which was full of surprises and great flavors.  If you ever go, be careful with their 21st Amendment brew; its high alcohol content will sneak up on you!  We made one more stop at a really neat German-themed bar before we called it an early night.

Anyway, what was I talking about?  Oh, right.  Bike ride.

Jayme and Ryan on the High Trestle Bridge

Jayme and Ryan on the High Trestle Bridge

The New Belgium Cruiser Century, we discovered, was just conceived by 3 guys out having some beers.  They wondered if they could get guys on New Belgium Cruisers to go 100 miles.  Then they decided any cruiser would do.  Then they changed their minds a third time and decided to allow any kind of bike, so long as the rider knew this ride was about fun, friends and beer, but not speed.  Basically, this was a perfect first century for our friends, because it was very low pressure.

The route was a combination of 3 Iowa Rails to Trails projects- the Raccoon River Trail, the Great Western Trail and the High Trestle Trail.  These three trails combine to make over 80 miles of paved multi-use recreational paths through Central Iowa and are frequented by runners, walkers, bikers and more.

We rode to the start at a bar called Mullets (Party in the Back) that is just across from the Iowa Cubs’ stadium near downtown Des Moines.  The organizers of the ride had originally planned for about 30 riders… and then 150 showed up.  What a crowd! I’d say the mix was about 50/50 road bikes to cruiser bikes.  The oldest bike there was from the 1930s and was a true classic cruiser.

Justin "hydrates" with some Fat Tire by New Belgium

Justin “hydrates” with some Fat Tire by New Belgium

The route started out through Des Moines proper and over a gorgeous pedestrian bridge that’s suspended over the Des Moines River.  We were off to a good start and headed to an offshoot of the Des Moines called the Raccoon River.  The trail meandered with the river for 4 or 5 miles and the big group of bikes all stuck together.  It was lovely.  Until…

When we got out of the river valley, the route went up a climb and then out onto the prairie.  The windy, windy prairie.  The story of the next 45 odd miles was all about wind.  20-30 mph headwind.  The. Whole. Time.

The headwind wasn’t too hard to handle at first because our legs were fresh, but it can really start to wear you down mentally to pedal that hard and have such slow speeds into that wind.

There were stops along the way to resupply, but no organized SAG.  At around 15 miles we stopped at a gas station and then at 35 there was a bar called Night Hawks where we stopped for lunch and to wait out a short downpour of rain.  When the rain stopped and it looked a little better we hit the road until…

Kinda soggy after a downpour near the Flat Tire Lounge

Kinda soggy after a downpour near the Flat Tire Lounge

Not 3 miles out of the bar, another little black cloud decided to rain on our parade.  With nowhere to go, we just got soaked.  The water in my shoes was the worst.  Someday I need to find a pair of shoes with drain holes in the bottom.  Does that exist?

Anyway, we kept trucking until the rain stopped and shortly thereafter pulled into another bar called Flat Tire Lounge.  It was pretty neat to have so many bicycle-themed establishments there on the trail.  One of the best features of Rails-to-Trails projects is the impact they can have on local economies.  It’s neat to see the bike-themed restaurants thriving. I laid my shoes and socks out in the sun while we sampled New Belgium’s Shift Lager and then we hit the trail again.  Which was great…. except that the headwind had gotten even worse and it rained on us again.  Sigh.

It was a Century by a beer company, afterall ;)

It was a Century by a beer company, afterall 😉

On the High Trestle Bridge

On the High Trestle Bridge

The highlight of the entire ride had to be the High Trestle Bridge.  This artful half mile piece of trail spans the Des Moines River Valley from 13 stories above the water.  You can see for miles and miles in any direction.  The old railroad that was here before has been transformed into abstract squares over the bridge which give a tunnel effect.  It was my favorite part of the trail and I’m told it’s even more fun at night when the iron arches are lit!

Jayme and Ryan: Happy despite the rain!

Jayme and Ryan: Happy despite the rain!

The ride turned around in Woodward, Iowa at a bar called the Whistling Donkey.  Oh! It’s worth mentioning that somehow at nearly every single stop I ran into another rider named Jo and her husband. I told her she would make the blog- so Jo, if you’re reading, here you are!!

Ignore the grammar and embrace the beer.

Ignore the grammar and embrace the beer.

The whole ride was different when we turned around to head back to Des Moines. Excepting a few miles of crosswind at the beginning, once we turned around we had the wind at our backs and really flew.  We were riding 18-22 mph and barely pedaling. Our clothes dried out and the sun came up.  Ahhhhhh! Sweet, sweet tailwind.

When we arrived back in Des Moines a few miles shy of 100, we decided to head back up the Great Western Trail to finish the Century off.  I counted down the tenths of miles and shouted out 100 just as we were passing a pair of runners.  They clapped and I know it made us all feel good!

The 1st New Belgium Cruiser Century was a saga of ups and downs, but mostly I’m glad to have gone to Des Moines to share Ryan and Jayme’s first Century experience.  I presented them with Quincy Bike Club First Century Certificates and we celebrated with meatball subs and pizza at a restaurant Orlando’s on the Bike Trail.  I hope this becomes an annual event, and maybe sometime soon I’ll get up the nerve to try it on a Cruiser!

The Victorious Hundred!

The Victorious Hundred!

Jayme and Ryan finished their first century ride!

Jayme and Ryan finished their first century ride!

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Hey Everyone!

I know what you’re thinking.  Where in the world has Adventure Foot been!?

Adventuring, of course!

IOU some major blogging and I’m really going to get it done this week, so check back often.  I have to tell you about my run at the Allerton Trails Half Marathon and Bridge the Gap Half Marathon, about getting my bike professionally fitted, and the Folks on Spokes metric century bike ride we did a few weeks ago, what I learned about the curse of flat tires, our Ride of Silence Event… I’m just saying, there’s a lot.

How’d I get so far behind?!  That’s primarily due to my Quincy Bicycle Club media blitz!  I was recently elected President of the Quincy Bike Club and my first order of business was getting the word out that it’s the best club to ever hit wheels.  To that end, my outstanding Vice President and I got on the horn to the local media and booked gigs with The Quincy Herald Whig, KHQA-TV, WGEM-TV, Y101 Radio, and WGEM Talk 105 all in the same week.   Also, I redid our entire website.  Check it out at http://www.quincybikeclub.org

Anywho- excuses aside, I’ve got announcements RE: Adventure Foot Contest Winners and my excellent blog sponsors!

As you all know by now, Adventure Foot is proud to be an ambassador for Nuun Hydration and VI Fuel Endurance Gel.  These are two products I really believe in and use allllll the time on my adventures.

Nuun Hydration tabs are electrolyte drink tablets that you just drop into your water bottle.  They’ve got lots and lots of great flavors (my faves are Lemon Lime and Tri-Berry) so I’m sure you’ll find one you love.  The best part about Nuun is that these tabs are not over-sweet like many sports drinks.  That kind of gatorade junk upsets my adventure tummy- especially in extreme heat when you need hydration the most. Nuun is delicious with just a hint of sweetness and the electrolytes keep me going!  Nuun tabs come in a handy little tube of 12 too- so they fit in your bike seat pack or that little pocket on your hiking bag or wherever!  I also love that they create so much less waste than a big plastic-bottled sports drink.  Oh! And if you’re out adventuring to loose weight, Nuun is the electrolyte drink for you!  While a bottle of Gatorade has 75 calories per 12 oz (or 130 for a 20 oz. bottle), Nuun tabs have only 7 calories!  It’s a good decision!   Check out my Official Nuun Ambassador Page by clicking here! 

Anyway- by random number drawing- the winners of a Nuun Water Bottle and 1 tube of Nuun are Cindy and Jacob!!!!!

cindy

Cindy’s yoga Adventure Feet!

jaco

Jacob out for an Adventure Foot bike ride!

Now, onto the second sponsor!  I first discovered V-Fuel Endurance Gel through a friend in the Heartland Roadrunners Club.  I was in the middle of training for my 2nd half marathon at the time, and I’d had a “bad day” of running after eating 2 Gu brand gels on my 10 mile route. I think runners can all relate to what I mean by “bad day.”  Anyway, my friend Dave said that I should try a different brand of energy gel, V-Fuel.   He promised it was different.  He promised no upset tummy.  He promised great flavors.  And he promised better performance.  Guess what?  He was TOTALLY right.  Seriously you guys.  This gel is different.

V-Fuel comes in 3 flavors: vanilla, chocolate and peach cobbler.  The consistency of the gel is thinner than what you expect from a Gu, which I really like on the run.  And the boost in performance is huge, especially on the long runs or rides when you’re trying to avoid the dreaded “bonk.”   But the very most important thing to me is that V-Fuel doesn’t upset my stomach and has never, ever caused an unexpected bathroom break. I asked the creators of  V-Fuel why it was so much easier on my tummy and here’s what I learned:

“VFuel, like other energy gels, starts with maltodextrin as the primary carbohydrate. But from there, we take a very different path. Most other gels use Fructose, or some sort of rice syrup or evaporated cane juice, all containing Fructose. VFuel uses Dextrose as its secondary carb, a more expensive (on our end) option, but one that is drastically easier to digest.”

All of that adds up to a happy Adventurer!

And speaking of happy Adventurers… I have 3 winners to announce for V-Fuel prizes but you are ALL winners today!  V-Fuel has offered my readers a SPECIAL 20% off Discount for your first order! Believe me when I say your first order won’t be your last.  Some people buy their significant other chocolate for special occasions…. my husband and I buy each other chocolate V!  (That’s true.  You just ask him what I got him for Valentine’s Day!)  So where was I?  Oh yeah. Discount.   Type in ADVENTUREFOOT and save 20%. Woohoo!!

And here are the winners!!!

stephen

Stephen coming with the double threat… cycling and ultimate frisbee! That’s the kind of multi-tasking I can get behind!

sarah

Sarah with the tron-looking 5 fingers!

jared

Jared out on a “casual” birthday ultra-run 🙂

Congratulations to all my winners! I’ll be putting together a new banner this week featuring your Adventure Feet!  Everyone else, please check into these two companies and click their links.  I wouldn’t endorse them if I didn’t think they were the very best for my money and for my adventures.  Folks local to Quincy, you can find Nuun Hydration at Madison Davis Bicycle Shop as well as Hy-Vee on Harrison in the heath food department.  V-Fuel is only available online at this time, but my code is good through July, so order some today!  I happen to like chocolate best, but I think the most popular flavor is peach cobbler.  If you have any questions about either of these products, please don’t hesitate to ask!

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Doug and I take in the view from the top of Monk's Mound at Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site.

Doug and I take in the view from the top of Monk’s Mound at Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site. You can see the St. Louis Arch in the background.

Have you ever dreamed of visiting something iconic, inspirational, and culturally significant to the history of humanity?  The Pyramids of Giza. Persepolis in Iran.  The archeological remains of Pompeii in Italy. The Temple of Apollo Epicurus in Greece.  The Taj Mahal in India. Stonehenge in Northern Ireland.

In 1994 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched an initiative to compile a list and work on the preservation of the most important cultural and natural sites in the world.  This list of World Heritage Sites is awash with one jaw-dropping wonder of the world after another.  It includes all of the sites I listed in the paragraph above and more.

Stone artifacts/axe heads found in various burial pits near Cahokia.

Stone artifacts/axe heads found in various burial pits near Cahokia.

Now to visit the amazing sites I listed above would take a whole lot of time and a whole lot of money.  But what if a true wonder of the world, a record of the technological achievements of man, a significant stage in human history preserved in the archaeological record, and an exceptional example of a civilization that has disappeared was located just two hours from where you’re sitting now?  Don’t you think you owe it to yourself to go and check it out?

Ladies and gentleman, I give you: Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, Illinois.

Recreated village scene at the visitor's center museum

Recreated village scene at the visitor’s center museum

My own trip to Cahokia (pronounced Ka-Hoke-ee-ah) came from one simple truth: we were tired of being in the car.  My friend Doug and I had just run the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon in Lexington, Kentucky and were headed home.  Over 5 hours into our trip home, I spotted a brown historic site marker on the highway and exclaimed, “We’re right by Cahokia Mounds! I’ve always wanted to see it!”  Doug made an impressively quick decision and an equally quick lane-change with the car, and just a few miles down the road, we arrived at the park.

Cahokia Mounds is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico.  At its height, the chiefton-based civilization covered 4000 acres, included numerous villages around the main city structure, and was home to nearly 20,000 people.  These Mississippian people flourished from 800 AD to approximately 1200 AD and had highly structured communities with a complex social system which included art, agriculture, community, trade networks, and many scientific and engineering achievements.  In AD 1200, Cahokia was larger than London.

The Cahokia Mounds site today, as it was in AD 800, is organized around a central Grand Plaza and the largest earthen pyramid in the US, Monk’s Mound.  Monk’s Mound and the 100+ surrounding mounds are made of earth and wood using stone and wood tools.  The earth was transported primarily on people’s backs in woven baskets.  It is estimated that Monk’s Mound- with a base that covers 14 acres and a height of 100 feet- is comprised of over 22,000 cubic feet of earth.  Anyone else’s back sore thinking about moving that much dirt?

Monk’s Mound was a cultural focal point and once was topped with a massive building where the most important chief would run the government and conduct ceremonies. Other mounds were built for other purposes.  Most contained burials, and some may have just been built to elevate the residence of important figures in the society.  Today some of the mounds have been excavated and amazing artifacts have been recovered and preserved.

Infographic at the main plaza. Monk's Mound can be seen to the left in the distance.

Infographic at the main plaza. Monk’s Mound can be seen to the left in the distance.

All of the mounds have been cataloged and numbered.  Of particular interest is Mound #72.  The excavation of this small mound found over 300 ceremonial burials, mostly of young women in mass graves.  Atop of this, an elite male, estimated to be 45 years old was buried on a platform of flat beads made out of shells.   The shells were arranged around the body to resemble an eagle or hawk.  There is a recreation of this chief’s burial inside of the park’s interpretative center which is truly amazing.

The interpretive center of the park is very nice and the displays are engaging for kids and adults alike.  There is no admission to the center, though there is a suggested donation of $4 for adults, $2 for kids and $10 for families.  Along with many wonderful artifacts like tools, beads and pottery, there is an auditorium which shows a film every hour as well as a recreated village to explore.

Since Doug and I had stopped on the way home from an exhausting weekend, we did not have the time to explore the true breadth of the park, however we did take the opportunity to climb to the top of Monk’s Mound.  Under cloud dotted skies, the view from the top of the mound was vast and gorgeous.  The St. Louis Gateway Arch and skyline, 7 miles away as the crow flies, was clearly visible to the southwest. Farm fields and lakes spread out to the north.  And all around, you could see tops of the mounds which made up this ancient city.  It was easy to imagine how inspiring this vantage point would have been to the people who lived here.

"Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi" by Timothy R. Pauketat is available at the Quincy Public Library.

“Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi” by Timothy R. Pauketat is available at the Quincy Public Library.

The top of Monk’s Mound is made even more significant by its placement in relation to the rest of the structures in the society.  Its crest falls at the point at which the sun rises during the equinox, making a strong connection between the chief and the life-giving sun.  Another unique structure at Cahokia is a sun-calendar known as “Woodhenge.”  This site, discovered in the 1960’s, was built of concentric circles of enormous cedar posts that aligned with the sun at the equinox, and would have probably been important as both markers in the calendar and for ceremonial gatherings.  One of the rings of “Woodhenge” has been recreated at the park and can be viewed both up close and from the crest of Monk’s Mound.

Now listen, AF readers… I don’t normally get bossy with my advice, but I’m telling you:  Go to Cahokia. 2 hours from Quincy lies a site of significance to the whole world, and you shouldn’t miss it.  I’m glad I finally had the chance to visit, and I plan on returning to walk more of the grounds and explore.  For further reading on Cahokia, visit:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/198

http://www.cahokiamounds.org

And check out this book (also available at the Quincy Public Library): http://www.amazon.com/Cahokia-Ancient-Americas-Mississippi-American/dp/0143117475

PLEASE CLICK HERE TO ENTER MY ADVENTURE FOOT PHOTO CONTEST! WIN AMAZING PRIZES FROM NUUN HYDRATION AND V FUEL ENDURANCE 

Also, a special hello to Amanda… who we met on the top of the pyramid.  🙂  Hope your adventure was fun and educational!

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Doug, Glenn and I show off our medals after Run the Bluegrass

Doug, Glenn and I show off our medals after Run the Bluegrass

When I signed up for the Run the Bluegrass half marathon in Lexington, Kentucky, I had many lofty expectations that probably seem silly.  I pictured rolling green pastures, enormous old estates, chickens in the yard, babbling streams, horses running the fields, and miles and miles of white fence framing it all in the perfect picture of the South.

As it turns out- I was spot on.

Pre-race Sponsor Pics! It's Nuun Hydration and VFuel! Love it! Click here to enter my contest to win both!

Pre-race Sponsor Pics! It’s Nuun Hydration and VFuel! Love it! Click here to enter my contest to win both!

I came to this race by way of another race selling out really fast. I had originally intended to run the Quivering Quads half marathon through Cuivre River State Park, but when it was full in a day, I did what any red-blooded American would do: whined about it on Facebook.  A high school friend who once lived in Lexington posted a link to what was billed as “One of the prettiest half marathons in America,” and I was sold.  I quickly talked my training partner Doug into the race, and not long after that- primarily by reminding him that Kentucky was the heart of bourbon country- I had convinced our friend Glenn from the running club to join us too.

Training for this race didn’t always go smoothly.  The first few months of this year, our hometown was blanketed by over a foot of snow not once, but three separate times. It seemed like our choices for times to run revolved around which was worse: freezing temperatures or freezing rain. But we slogged through long runs and hoped for spring to relieve the need to run bundled up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Night before the race drinks in the hotel lobby. My first ever bourbon. When in Kentucky...

Night before the race drinks in the hotel lobby. My first ever bourbon. When in Kentucky…

Due to a death in the family and an unexpected trip to Chicago, I arrived in Lexington late Friday night, after 10 hours in my car, having missed the expo.  My friends Doug and Glenn were already there, and I was barely in the door before Glenn had his expo prize out to show me: a bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon that was specially-selected for this race which he had gotten signed by Runner’s World’s Hal Higdon.  The guys had also each purchased an etched Run the Bluegrass rocks glass, and Doug had kindly picked one up for me too.  Happy to finally be out of my car, we all went to the lobby to have a nightcap and then were off to bed at a pretty decent hour.

We woke up at 6 am for the 9 am race.   We stayed at the race hotel, the Hyatt Downtown, so we were pretty close to the race start.  We grabbed breakfast at the hotel lobby. I had hot cereal and some fruit, which is evidently my pre-race ritual now.  Then we were off to the race.

Beautiful drive to the race.

Beautiful drive to the race.

The drive there is worth mentioning actually.  There was a low fog hanging over the low spots of the farms along the way, and temperatures just around freezing had frozen the fog in spots and added a gorgeous sparkle to the landscape. The sun was working hard to burn the fog away and the scene was another perfect picture of the South.

We arrived at Keenland Thoroughbred Race Track over an hour before the race.  Walking up to the spired main building I could see the finish line off to my right.  Perhaps the little detail of pre-race that made me the happiest is that the racetrack had plenty of inside bathrooms.  There is nothing in this world better than knowing you don’t have to go to the port-a-potty before a race.  I popped a lemon-lime Nuun Hydration tablet in my water bottle (what, you didn’t think I was going to mention my sponsor!?  CLICK HERE to see my brand new Ambassador Page!!) and then it was time to go.

I'm betting on the right horse to win!  These ladies did the whole race in costume. Awesome.

I’m betting on the right horse to win! These ladies did the whole race in costume. Awesome.

We made our way down to race start about quarter to nine, and maybe it’s just the speed of the South, but no one seemed in much hurry to get to the start.  We found our spot in our corral among the other 4000+ runners and chatted with the people around us.  Mainly, I talked to a guy named Andy, who was funny and kind and kept my mind off of the 13.1 hilly miles in front of us.  The race started just a little late and by the time we hit the start line, the temperature outside was absolutely perfect.

Go ahead. Count the hills. But it will only make you cry. (chart from Taz Running.com)

Go ahead. Count the hills. But it will only make you cry. (chart from Taz Running.com)

Now, dear readers, I’ve been thinking for 5 days what to tell you about the race.  You see, I don’t want to scare you off because you should definitely do this race.  I’m not going to lie to you though, it’s hilly.  Real hilly.  And if I do this race again next year, I shall never, ever skip one of Brian Pahlmann’s hill repeat training sessions down at the river. Ever.

I noticed the first long hill we climbed had a name: Songbird Hill.  It was a good name, since I could hear some meadowlarks off in the field. The next hill was also graced with a sign at the top dubbing it Rose Hill.  And at the top of the next hill there was another sign and another name and I remembered what someone in the bike club once told me, “It’s only a real hill if it’s got a name.”  Well looking from the crest of the hill we were on across the rolling landscape in front of us, I thought, “Gosh, there are going to be a lot of names.”

Kim and Laura and myself at around mile 8...we stopped for a picture!!

Kim and Laura and myself at around mile 8…we stopped for a picture!!

In spite of the fact that we were woefully underprepared for a course like this, both Doug and I were surprised to see the first several miles melting away.  The course was very well-marked and large flags called out each mile.  Intermittently along the course there were bands playing a wide variety of music (Seriously: there was some screamo at one corner and a bluegrass band at the next.  WIDE variety…) but mostly the course was a quiet country road with little to hear aside from footfalls.

Another post race pic!

Another post race pic!

Near the bluegrass band was one of those scenes I’d clearly imagined before the race- a yard full of chickens and one proud Tom turkey out strutting his stuff, wearing his feathers tall like royal regalia.  Not far up the road was the first close-to-the-fence horse, a big black and white draft horse who stood by the fence waiting for the next runner who would come over and give him a scratch on the cheek.  He was very sweet and made me smile.  That sort of thing really helps me get my mind off the primary problem: the hills.  My god, the hills.

We were struggling mightily up one hill that Doug named, “The Widow Maker,” when (now don’t miss the irony here) a little old man came by us and said, “You know what a little old man once told me about hills?  It’s just ground!”

Somewhere just past the halfway point, I called out, “Well there’s no turning back now; it’s further to turn around!” which drew a laugh from a couple of girls in the vicinity.  The girls were named Kim and Laura and we ran with them on and off for the rest of the race.  Kim is also a blogger and writes one called This Healthy Endeavor.  It’s got recipes and race reports and more. You should go check it out. Half way is also the point I chose to eat a second V-Fuel Endurance Gel. The VFuel really helped me get through this tough race and didn’t give me any tummy problems at all.  That’s why I love it.  (Click here to see my contest to win Nuun and VFuel!!!!!)

My race goodies! Yeah, I splurged for the bottle of bourbon.

My race goodies! Yeah, I splurged for the bottle of bourbon.

Probably the most beautiful moment of the race for me was at mile 8.  We crested *another* hill and at the top there were 3 sets of mares and foals running wide arcs around their fenced pasture.   It was breathtaking to watch, and even though I was getting pretty exhausted, their enthusiasm for running returned the spring to my step and the smile to my face.

I’m not going to get too much into the end of the race… it was hilly, I was undertrained, and I did a lot of walking.   That’s okay though. Doug stuck right by my side and we did the thing together.  Then, just past a little marching band stationed at the last corner (WIDE variety of music…) the finish line came into sight.  We ran out the last “point-one” as quick as we could and were presented with what is probably my favorite half-marathon medal to date.

Sorry this blog got so long folks! Thanks for sticking with me! Run the Bluegrass was a terrific race.  I posted a personal worst time- but I also feel like I worked really hard for it and was super proud anyway.  I couldn’t have done it without my training partner Doug, who helped me through the long, bleak winter training and shared in the fun in Lexington.  Glenn finished in front of us, but he was great to have around and was fun the entire trip.

Doug, Glenn, Race Director Eric and I after the race (and after a Kentucky Ale!)

Doug, Glenn, Race Director Eric and I after the race (and after a Kentucky Ale!)

Special thanks go to the race director Eric Marr and his team for making every part of the race beautiful.  From the specially chosen barrels of Knob Creek Bourbon, to the ribbons based on the silks of the famous thoroughbred filly Genuine Risk, this was a race with an eye for the details that make an experience special.

Also, a big shout-out to Andy, Kim, Laura, Amanda Jones and her friends, and Lisa- new friends from the race.  I absolutely loved the size of this race. It made it easy to meet people, share a Kentucky Ale, and lament the hills like we’d been running together forever.  Lisa if you’re reading this: I’ll see you this weekend in Allerton. I can’t believe we were both silly enough to sign up for the same two half marathons on back-to-back weekends.

Doug at the Town Branch distillery tour.

Doug at the Town Branch distillery tour.

If you make it down for this race next year (and you totally should) make sure you take a little time to explore Lexington. It’s an awesome town with lots to do.  We toured the Town Branch Bourbon Distillery after the race and also got a taste of downtown at a really great creole joint called Bourbon and Toulouse for dinner.  Then we treated ourselves to pie by the famous Missy’s Pies at Ramsey’s Restaurant for desert.  I had coconut cream.  Wow.

Just remember: If you sign up for this race next year… don’t skimp on the hill training.  🙂

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