Monday, November 18, 2013

Arizona Trip

Leavin’ on a jet plane!  Ok…unfortunately in the wrong direction as we are heading home from a long weekend in Arizona where I was once again reminded that there are tons of places on this ball called Earth that don’t ever get cold and therefore don’t completely suck for 3-4-5 months a year……
Our trip was multi-purpose as we were spending time with Mark’s Dad, spectating for the Arizona Ironman and trying to have something resembling a vacation. 
Thursday we had a really, really early flight which got us to the Phoenix area I think 9am-ish.   Having lunch on an outdoor patio reminded me there is hope for life between November and April and definitely de-stressed my brain.   I told myself I would try to stay off my phone/email as much as possible on this trip and for the most part I succeeded.  We also got to go for a great trail run on Thursday PM before heading over to have dinner with Brandon and Theresa and catching up with them pre-Ironman.    It was a wonderfully warm, difficult trail run.  At least for us coming from the Midwest.  450 feet of elevation change, lots of rocks, switchbacks and “stairclimbing” made me really feel like we were doing a REAL trail run.  I loved it.  It was harder than hell but I absolutely loved it.  Such a great change of scenery from the paved world we live in.

Friday we got to go visit White Tank Mountains and go for a long birding hike through the park.  Mark’s Dad was able to join us and put up with our crazy random stops to try and hunt down birds we heard in the distance.  Little fact I picked up this day was that the standard cactus we all know grows so slow, it takes 50 years for it to get its first “arm”.  And we came across a number of little lizards that seemed as curious of us as we did of it.  Best photo of the day I think though was us finally getting our eyes on a Gila woodpecker not on a tree but in the middle of a trail munching on what looked like a smashed cheeto.

Saturday was an early wake-up call.  We did it to ourselves.  As usual we couldn't help but see if there was an interesting race worth running while we were in a new area and found the Pass Mountain Trail Run.  We signed up for the 12k and once again learned how difficult real trail running can be and how much fun it is.  Honestly, most of the race course wouldn't never fly in the Midwest.  They would rope it off and consider it too dangerous to navigate.  Here in the Southwest, you run on singletrack type hiking trails and just try not to trip on the rocks or slip on the way up or down hills so steep you would call it mildly technical.  Oh and no “passing in the grass” like you do in Midwest trail runs.  Here you’re likely to meet up with a cactus plant that wants to burrow into your skin.  (more on that here shortly…..).  But we had a really fun time and will absolutely continue with trail running.

After the run, since we were way on the other side of the Phoenix area, we decided to stay over there and do some sightseeing and birding and geocaching.  Our trek took us on a long and winding road up at Superstition Mountain to the Tortilla Flat.   This is via one of those roads that makes you a little nervous. Up a winding, super skinny road on the mountain side with very few places to pull over and not go hurdling down the cliff-side.  The actual town of Tortilla Flat is an old cowboy type place with a restaurant known for its hot chili and dollar bills lining all the walls.  Highlight I think though was the Prickly Pear gelato from the General Store.  Seriously….if you ever see this on the menu….get it!
We went after a few geocaches on our way back down and one of them we ended up getting close to but didn't make the grab since it felt a little too much like one of us was going to fall to our death off the cliff.   It was a terrain of 3 but honestly with the way I was having butterflies in my stomach getting across a few spots I’d say it bordered on more of a 4.  Granted we got a couple really cool scenery pictures and while lining up a photo of Mark I caught a bald eagle fly overhead.

And then as if our legs weren't tired enough, we found a beautiful hike at Lost Dutchmen State Park.  2.4 mile loop up very close to the mountain side and again on trails that would without a doubt be closed in any park in the Midwest.  If you weren't pretty sure of your strength and footing then this trail was not for you.   Our legs were exhausted but I would recommend it to anyone.  We were lucky enough to be there an hour or so before sunset too so the lighting was super pretty.

Along the trail I finally had to give in to one of my random curiosities.   There are many different types of cactus plants in Arizona but this one really intrigued me.  It was little a tree that dropped these crazy green balls completely covered in thorns.  Maybe the size of a golf ball but we figured out these little balls likely rolled around in the wind and then would root themselves down in different places.   I wanted to know if I could pick one up.  The best way I can explain my curiosity is like that of a small child that keeps getting told “don’t touch that, it’s hot!”….until you know what “hot” is, you don’t really know why to avoid it.   So with extremely gentle touch I put my fingers around the little ball and it quickly burrowed itself into my fingers.  I’m telling you that little thing has a life of its own and grabs you more than you grab it.  Was sort of funny, while it stung at the same time. I had to have Mark step on it to get it to let go.  One small puncture wound later, I now have a better understanding of why you never want to come in contact with a cactus.

Sunday was Ironman Arizona so an extremely early morning to get up and over to Tempe before the swim start.  Having both participated and spectated the entire day of an Ironman before it was a lot of fun.  Knowing the little tricks like watching the swim start for no more than 30 seconds and then booking it to the nearest breakfast location before the line is out the door and around the corner.  And watching the final athletes make and not make the swim cut off time.  There was a group of 5 swimmers all coming towards the exit in the final few seconds and all of us spectators were yelling and cheering so loud for them to make it in time.  It’s very exciting and stressful and heartbreaking.  4 of them made it and 1 of them missed it by less than 30 seconds.  Missing the cutoff by a few minutes is one thing but missing it by seconds is so much worse I think.
We were able to catch Brandon and Theresa all over the course and it was fun to run into Jon and Dana along the bike course.  We didn't know they were going to be out from MN too spectating for Alex who was doing his 3rd Ironman.  Only saw a couple bike crashes which weren't anything serious.   Brandon and Theresa’s parents were out later in the day and we got to help them navigate and project times at different points along the course.  That was fun being with them and seeing their excitement.   Especially at the finish of course.  Brandon finished about 15 ½ hours and Theresa just under 16 hours which, if you’you've spectated an Ironman before, within that final 2 hour window where the finish line becomes a huge party.  Mike Reilly spends most of his time down on the carpet pumping up the crowd and personally congratulating the athletes as they go by.   The 17 hour cut off was a little stressful as there was a good number of finishers in that last 2 minutes.  One of which was pretty much dragged by Mike Reilly and the winning pro female.   He was on his feet but I’m not sure he had anything left to give and they were holding him up by the armpits to get him to finish as an official Ironman.

No one crossing within the first few minutes after midnight as we walked out of the park.  The worst is seeing someone come in within a minute or two and not be considered an actual finisher.  As we were walking back to the car we had a heartbreaking moment.  As we crossed the bridge over the lake, the streets and paths were all quiet and we were by ourselves.  Mark all of a sudden stopped, gasped and pointed down to the path below.   This was probably 10 minutes after the race was over and right about the 23 mile mark was two people walking with a lady who you could tell was shuffling one foot in front of the other as much as she could but at a painfully slow pace.  She was an athlete still heading for the finish line.  Probably not set to get there until an hour after it was all over.   Part of me wanted to go down there and walk with her to help get her there and the other part of me just wanted to see her continue slowly off down the path on her own journey to that finish line.  She wasn't alone so I wasn't worried about her, just heartbroken for her since she spent all day out there like most other athletes did but at the finish line wouldn't’t be a crowd, wouldn't be music, no Mike Reilly, no one telling her she’s an Ironman.    That’s one of the harsh realities of the race.

After a weekend with a lot of trail running and triathlon focus, it does make me start to ponder again what our race schedule for 2014 will be like.  It will continue to depend on our business schedule as we’re not quiet to that point yet where we are making enough money and have paid off enough debt to stop working 24/7.   Business is really doing very well but until something miraculous happens and we bust the street-rat theory, we just don’t seem to have enough funds to live the life we ultimately want.  (*end rant…..)  Part of me is thinking we will sign up for an ultra this year.  Especially after how much we enjoyed the trail running this past weekend.  The other part of me thinks maybe we will find our passion for morning workouts again, head back to swim and sign up for a few triathlons. Who knows.

So now here we are on a plane back to the friggin’ frozen tundra on Monday night unfortunately knowing that we both have to work tomorrow and I have a ridiculous amount of work waiting for me on all fronts.  Zap, USAT, UpTempo and RaceGuide365.   It was nice though to get away from the computer for a few days and a huge thanks to Mark’s dad for letting us stay at his place the entire time, borrow his car and treating us to breakfasts, lunches and dinners!

A few other random trip photos:

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