Isn’t this fun? Isn’t fun the best thing to have?

Four laps around the track and I was already negotiating with my training schedule. Maybe I’d make tomorrow a rest day. Maybe I’d cut this run short and add the miles to Sunday’s run.

Six laps around, I had earned the upper hand in the negotiation and settled the dispute – I’d take two weeks off. A few steps later I said out loud, “What am I waiting for?” I stopped running and began a two-week holiday.

It’s a double-edged sword – learning to push the envelope of training without getting injured – although I’ve decided being downright pooped may be a form of injury in and of itself, and knowing when to hit the pause button is the next lesson to be learned in my journey as a runner.

Last year, when I got thoroughly pooped, I threatened to go to the doctor for a full set of blood work. Or was that the year before? A few weeks ago I finally went. The nurse called, “Everything is within normal ranges.” It wasn’t my thyroid, and I wasn’t deficient in this or that (although I could still blame it on menopause).

As usual, my husband was right. It’s training error. Fine.

Cross-Training 2017

On the first day of holiday, I went for a long walk around Lake Junaluska where the landscaping is positively inspirational. My husband went with me. This little slice of paradise is less than a mile from home. I did not even contemplate wearing running gear for this lovely walk.

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Lake Junaluska is a conference and retreat center (part of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church) that first opened in 1913.
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There’s a 3.8-mile walking trail around the lake via sidewalks, paved trails, and a wooden bridge.

There were several days of all-day gardening while my bike enjoyed a full tune-up at the local bike shop. Then I rode my bike.

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After a brief 1-mile torturous trek along Hwy 19 into Maggie Valley, my bike route turns right onto Jonathan Creek Road, which is amazingly flat.
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The fog hangs just below the top of the mountains in early morning. That’s a lumber yard and log cabin builder across the street. There’s also farms, old barns, cows, a produce co-op, oodles of churches, RV ‘parks’, a creek, and a few weeks ago, a fox that ran just off the road alongside my bike for several minutes.
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Much to my delight, this route can extend for more than 30-relatively-flat-miles by turning left onto Cove Creek Road. I used the parking lot of this adorable church as my turnaround on yesterday’s ride.

My husband and I decided paddling would be fun and spent several afternoons searching for canoes on Craigslist – until I went for another long walk around Lake Junaluska and realized we could rent a kayak or canoe on the shores of their sandy beach for just $5/hour. A whole new world was opening up all around.

Then my friend, Maria, and I went for a hike – 1-1/2 hours up the mountain to Waterrock Knob and 1-1/2 hours back down again. It was delightful. We’ve already planned another even longer hike for next week.

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The view from my Jeep on the ride up the Blue Ridge Parkway to the trailhead.

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We stopped along the trail to take a picture.
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Maria and I at Waterrock Knob – the highest peak in the Plott Balsams and the 16th-highest mountain in the Eastern United States.

My two-week hiatus from running ended about six weeks ago, but I haven’t forgotten the lessons learned from being too narrowly focused on running: there’s lots of fun things to do, and isn’t fun the best thing to have?

The Road To Nowhere

“Be careful not to compromise what you want most for what you want now.”
Zig Ziglar

The last post on this blog was barely hot off the press when I realized there were significant conflicts in my fall training schedule.

The draft race plan was being discussed over coffee this past Saturday when I announced to my husband that this semester’s Swift Water Rescue class may interfere with the half marathon race that fits so nicely in my schedule. This came after an earlier realization that my chosen winter marathon would conflict with a trip that accompanies a new job I’ve recently taken on. Rescheduling the marathon to December requires that I work around both mine and my son’s graduation ceremony. The calendar was a mess! 

We were discussing the half marathon race when my husband asked, “What is your priority? The race or school?” I admitted that if he had asked me that question before I went to bed the night before my answer would have been the race. With the sanity that came with morning light, I realized my priority should be school. There would be other races.

School began for me in January of this year. In one of those first classes, Land Based Activities (aka Hiking), our group hike was on the Lakeview Trail. Driving to the trailhead in the school’s big white van, Paul explained to us we were on The Road to Nowhere.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Swain County gave up the majority of its private land to the Federal Government for the creation of Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hundreds of people were forced to leave the small Smoky Mountain communities that had been their homes for generations.

The Federal government promised to replace Highway 288, which would eventually be covered in water, with a new road. Lakeview Drive was to have stretched along the north shore of Fontana Lake, from Bryson City to Fontana, 30 miles to the west. And, of special importance to those displaced residents, it was to have provided access to the old family cemeteries where generations of ancestors remained behind.

But Lakeview Drive fell victim to an environmental issue and construction was stopped, with the road ending at a tunnel, about six miles into the park. The environmental issue was eventually resolved, but the roadwork was never resumed. And Swain County’s citizens gave the unfinished Lakeview Drive its popular, albeit unofficial name “The Road To Nowhere.”

imageThis was to be the site of our family outing on Sunday with my son, who has been visiting for a few days. I remembered from school that the trails in this area were interlinked creating a loop… meaning we shouldn’t get lost. We got lost trying to find the road to nowhere, and we remained in a perpetual state of “lost” for the duration of the hike… which lasted a good bit longer than we all expected.

Along the way, however, we saw wild orchids and adorable, itty bitty frogs. We walked for almost 2 miles along the shore of the Fontana River and marveled at the beautiful waterfall. We climbed into bursts of cool air and crossed rocky river beds. Finally we made it back home exhausted and hungry. That road to nowhere had taken us somewhere indeed.

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My life is a little like the road to nowhere. Eight months ago I confessed to my instructors I had no idea what I would do with the skills they would teach me. School seemed to have no identifiable end or purpose. Along the way, however, I have discovered so many things I enjoy, like hiking, wilderness medicine and experiential learning. I’ve become a Wilderness EMT and taken a job in the field… a job that will carry me to Belize next February (more on that another day).

So, the innocent quote I discovered by Zig Ziglar comes in handy this week as I confirm my fall and winter race calendar. It’s easy to become deterred from a path you’re unsure of, or become distracted by whatever excitement lies straight ahead, and in the process jeopardize something much more valuable that awaits us down the road.

At the moment, my race calendar is still under review.

A New Approach to Survival

Wednesday afternoon our plane crash-landed in the woods of northern Minnesota and southern Manitoba. The pilot and co-pilot were killed and shortly afterwards the plane sank in the lake. We were 20 miles northwest of a small town and discovered 12 items on-board that might be helpful to our survival – things like a ball of steel wool, a can of shortening, and a cigarette lighter that had no fluid. We all died.

Of course, this was an exercise – not real life. Still, we died.

I would have died on Tuesday, but when I got to school my name was on the roster for Wednesday’s class. I had gone to class on the wrong day.

A quick check of my schedule back home revealed the day of the class (WED) listed directly after the course code (which, in my defense, was also all capital letters… it all read as one big course code at the time).

Before we died in the crash, we introduced ourselves. We had to tell everyone the strangest thing we had ever eaten. I had eaten everything everybody else thought was strange and for the life of me I couldn’t think of anything else worth mentioning. I was the only girl in the classroom…. and the oldest.

imageThe instructor was telling us in no uncertain terms that if we were not dressed appropriate for outdoor activities on any given day we would be sent home and docked with an unexcused absence. He was looking at our feet under the table as he described “appropriate” footwear. Stefan wore his bedroom slippers to class – immediately I liked this kid, but bedroom slippers were not considered appropriate.

The syllabus says we will engage in physical pre-conditioning for backcountry travel. We were given a Physical Conditioning Log that is worth 25 points of our overall grade, and told to log at least a 2-mile hike each week. It did not seem probable that I would earn extra points by mentioning I had run 40.

We are to show appropriate self and peer leadership and practice Leave No Trace techniques appropriate to an emerging outdoor professional. We were told emphasis is placed on skill acquisition, no trace impact, and rescue techniques in various environments and conditions.

Thursday’s class had many of the same kids plus one girl. We played more games and were told we would not learn how to hike in this class, but we would learn how to teach someone to hike. I listened to my classmates describe what they wanted to do with the information they learn in this class and realized they are just beginning their life’s journey. There are so many things for them to experience, so much for them to discover about themselves. They are just beginning to bloom.

For the next year I’ll learn how to teach others to hike through the backcountry, climb an Alpine Tower, paddle through whitewater rapids, and poop in the woods without leaving any trace. For me, it will be survival of a different sort altogether.

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