Sunday, January 24, 2016

Nancy Lake Snowshoe Run

Monday was a holiday, so I was determined to enjoy the extra day off of work. Brooke and I had tentatively decided to go on a snowshoe run, and I was really looking forward to it. I slept in, til almost 11:00, and then texted Brooke. Brooke had also slept in, and was just waking up. We each grabbed some breakfast and then Brooke showed up at my house, ready to go. We loaded my snowshoes, gators and other winter gear and my puppy, Daisy, into her truck and off we went.

We had talked about going to Red Shirt Lake, which is accessed by a trailhead at the very end of the Nancy Lakes Parkway, and we know that the summer trail to Red Shirt Lake was about 3 miles, so 6 miles round trip. Then Brooke’s boyfriend told us that the Nancy Lakes Parkway is closed in the winter, at least a couple miles before the trailhead, which would have made for a hike of unknown length, but at least 10 miles. With the short daylight this time of year, we decided against Red Shirt Lake.

In an exploratory frame of mind, we headed down the Nancy Lake Parkway, after being assured that there were lots of winter trails we could run on. Sure enough, after a couple miles, we came to where the borough had quit plowing the road, and a sign in the middle of the road saying that from that point, the road was closed to highway vehicles.  Brooke probably could have put her truck in 4 wheel drive and we probably could have kept going, but we didn’t want to get a ticket. So we parked at the winter trailhead parking lot just before the sign, and headed out.

There was probably 6 inches or so of snow, so the snowshoes weren’t absolutely necessary, but they kept us from constantly post holing in snow past our ankles. Snowshoes make any snow more than 3 inches or so easier to run or walk in. Since there were only a few vehicles in the parking lot, once we left the parking lot itself and were on trails, I let Daisy off her leash and let her run the whole time. We ran 4.78 miles:

We made a couple of turns, and wound up on a trail marked as the way to public use cabins #2 and 4. Oddly, we never saw a sign for cabin #3, although the map clearly showed it as being located right where logic said it should be, between 2 and 4. The public use cabins are right on Nancy Lake. When we got out there, we found the lake solidly frozen, and there was 2 or 3 inches of fresh snow on the ice. We saw some snow machine tracks on the snow, so we figured the ice was solid enough to be safe for two girls on foot, so across the lake we went:

We ran across the lake, around an island, and back to the public use cabin. This was only my third time out on foot on a lake like that, but the snow machine tracks were very reassuring, and I wasn’t afraid at all. While we were out on the lake, we were passed by a couple on fat bikes. Daisy loved running around on the lake, and wandered around the shoreline too, checking out peoples’ yards and probably getting into things she shouldn’t. One time I called her because I couldn’t see her anymore, and then I saw just her plume of a tail bouncing down the side of the hill, and once she ran out onto the lake, she lost her footing and slid several feet on her bottom, making us laugh.


The lake was definitely the high point of our run. I loved it. It was absolutely beautiful. The very idea of running around an island just struck us as totally cool. After we rounded the far side of the island and started heading back, we were treated to an amazing view of Denali:

 After we got back to shore and the cabins, we hit the trail again.  We stopped when the sun was setting and did some yoga:

 (Brooke in Dancer pose)

(Warrior 2)

(extended side angle pose)

And some falling, because really, balancing on one foot on snowshoes and uneven terrain is not easy:

 (not quite Eagle)

(the dance is over)

and then we turned around and headed back to the truck. Neither of us brought our headlamps, so we didn’t want to take a chance of being out in the dark. We were both pretty happy to cover almost 5 miles in our snowshoes without being completely exhausted, as it was our first snowshoe trip this winter, and neither of us have done a lot of high mileage runs lately. It was a total blast!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Northern Lights Resolution Run recap

On New Year's Eve, 2014, my friend Brooke and I ran Skinny Raven's Northern Lights Resolution Run, a fun 5k in Anchorage. It was a really fun run, enough that we decided that we had to do it again this year, and we did.  There were a few changes from last year, including a different starting and finish point, which was on the APU (Alaska Pacific University) campus this year.

(This is a Skinny Raven pic, not mine)

 This meant that we had a little bit of a walk to the starting area, but really, if we are about to run 5k, we can't really complain about a half mile walk, right?? The only problem was that the roads into Anchorage were pretty slick and icy that night, and it took us longer than we planned to get there, so it turned into a half mile jog instead of walk, and we got to the starting line only about 5 minutes before the race start.

The route changes this year, all in all, were a positive thing. Last year, we had to go up a narrow flight of stairs, which was really a bottleneck, with people walking slowly up them, so as not to fall on the ice. I was glad that the route did not include the stairs this year. The one disappointing this is that there was a tunnel we ran through last year that was all lit up, and the route did not include that this year either. Here's this year's course:

There were almost 1,000 people running it this year, which made for a crowded start line:

The route included some roads and parking lots, but mostly was on trails with packed snow and some ice. Even the roads, though, were snowy and icy. I wore my Icebugs and Brooke wore Yaktraks on her running shoes, and we were very glad to have them. It would have been a pretty slippery run without them. Skinny Raven did a great job of updating runners through email in the day or so before the run about the course conditions, and strongly encouraged people to have some sort of traction, like the Icebugs or Yaktraks.

At the bib pickup, they handed out T-shirts if you bought one, as well as a Salomon buff, flashing light up rings and wands. The buff was much nicer looking than last year's. It was black with Salomon written in grey, with red, yellow, and blue blocks of color in what looked like random spots. The wands were big, but not heavy at all. They were made of styrofoam, and they were much less annoying to carry than I anticipated, and they lit up and blinked and were pretty fun:

Along the course, which they said was "about 5k", and which Map My Run said was 2.76 miles, there were several places where they had set up lights of various types. There were colored lanterns in big paper balls:

There was a tunnel made of what appeared to be rebar, with color changing lights strung along it:

There was a spot where some big screens were set up with lights shining on them, so that your shadows showed on the screens as you ran by. Some people jumped or posed by them. We kept running.

The coolest thing, however, is something I wasn't able to get a good picture of. The course completely circled University Lake. As you ran around the lake, you could see runners all the way around it, with their lighted wands, headlights, and other lights moving and bobbing as they ran. It was really neat, and very pretty.

There were so many people, and because we were late, we started so far back in the crowd, that it was really impossible to get a good run on. I felt like we were constantly getting trapped behind slower runners or even walkers. There were very few places along the route where we were really able to stretch our legs and run at a good pace. Brooke and I are pretty good running partners, and run at roughly the same pace, but I was constantly worrying about us losing each other in the crowd. Thus, our time wasn't impressive, but we had fun, and that was the whole point!

The finish line was in the same spot as the start, and we ran through these inflated arches that were lit up and changed color. That was my last finish line of 2015. Unfortunately, there were so many people finishing at once, that there isn't a good picture of me crossing the finish line. I hate it when that happens.

(This is a Skinny Raven pic, not mine)

They had a great after party, with a DJ, hot apple cider or coffee from Kaladi Brothers, and lots of swag giveaways, which is always awesome. I won some more light up rings and wands for the kids, and a ceramic travel coffee mug which will be perfect for hot cocoa on cold mornings.

This was a really fun race, and a great way to celebrate New Year's Eve. I think the only thing that would have made it cooler is if it started just before or at midnight. But maybe they would have less runners because people would be partying instead, IDK.

My favorite active lunch break: Bodenburg Butte

Bodenburg Butte is weird. It's just outside downtown Palmer, a 10 minute drive at most.  It's perfectly situated so that if I have a court hearing or other work in Palmer, I can easily zip out there on my lunch break.

It is placed sort of between massive mountains on two sides, and a relatively flat valley on the other sides. It's a little lump of land that just sticks up like a wart or a blister.

There's two main access points, both with parking lots at the trailheads. The southern, and older, trail is all dirt, and fairly steep, with some rock scrambling at the top.  The parking lot for the trailhead on the northern side of the Butte is actually just down the street from the trailhead, so you have to park, and then walk/run past a few houses to get to the trailhead. The trail on the north side is much more developed than the south side, and in my opinion, a much funner (I'm not sure that's even really a word. Is it??) hike. That's the way I always go.

The first .85 mile or so of the northern trail is a fairly wide gravel path that seems to be pretty well maintained. Right now though,  in mid-January, it's icy and snowy. Last week, there were patches that were glare ice and very slippery. Even with my icebugs, it felt precarious and there were places I walked along the edge of the path where there were grasses and leaves frozen into the ice to give it some texture for my icebugs to grab. Today, it had an inch or so of new snow, which stuck to the ice, making it much less slippery.

At the top of the gravel path, which seems to me to be the psychological halfway point, although in distance it's more than half way, there are a couple of benches overlooking an amazing view of the valley. It's a nice spot to rest if you need to, but don't stop there!

Continue another 50 feet or so to the end of the trail, and you come to a flight of steps:

This is the beginning of what is for me, the real challenge. There are more than 400 stairs between here and the top of the Butte. The first time I climbed them, I thought I was going to pass out. For the past two summers, I've tried to do this climb about once a week, and I can now trudge all the way up without stopping, but I'm slow. The fastest I've made it up was in just over 25 minutes, from the parking lot to the very top. Last week, with all the ice, it took me 31 minutes.

Now I'm working on running them. Today I was able to run a few of the smaller groups of stairs, but only a tiny fraction of the whole. It took me 28:31 today, and I stopped to take a few pictures at the bottom of the stairs, something I don't usually do. But the snow was pretty:

There are cable handrails most of the way up, but not all of the posts are very stable, so don't completely depend on them.

This trail climbs from the valley floor to the top of the Butte in about 1.25 miles (counting from the parking lot, not the trailhead), with .85 of it being trail and .35 of it being the stairs. Overall, it gains about 900 feet in elevation, but the trail has some rolling hills, so you actually climb a little more than that.

The view from the top of the Butte is amazing. You can look directly across the valley to Pioneer Peak, which is always beautiful, no matter the season or the weather. Today it looked stunning and imposing:

To the left of Pioneer Peak is a glacier: 

and a bunch of mountains, including Lazy Mountain:

Turning to the left some more, the valley stretches out in front of you:

Every time I am up there the view is different. Even going up there once a week, I don't get bored with the view, because it's just never the same twice.

The Butte isn't tall enough to have its own weather like some mountains do, with one notable exception: the wind. Most of the time the wind is blowing up at the top. Sometimes it's hard enough I think it's going to blow me over. Often, dirt and dust is blowing around, and getting in my eyes. Be prepared for windy conditions even if it seems calm on the ground at the bottom.  Today, though, it was completely calm.

It was 9 degrees out. Cold enough that I had to dress carefully, and protect my face, throat, and lungs from the cold air. I wore running leggings, wind pants, a long sleeved Underarmour coldgear running shirt, a lightweight puffy jacket, a buff to cover my face, a hat, mittens, compression socks, and my icebugs. For once, I managed to dress perfectly and I wasn't cold, and I didn't get too hot. Sometimes trying to get the layers right in the cold is challenging, but today I got it just right: