Hardrock 100 Ultra-Marathon

Two weeks ago I flew through Phoenix, AZ to Durango, CO on a Thursday afternoon. I’d never been to either airport before and I wasn’t even really sure where in the great state of Colorado I was landing. But when I stepped off the second plane, I was instantly surrounded by the gorgeous San Juan Mountains and I knew it was going to be an amazing weekend. My sister-in-law (Meggan), her father (Richard), and my two adorable nieces (Rachel and Ava) picked me up and drove us back to Silverton, CO. This would be our headquarters for the next four days.

Rachel and Ava waiting for the race to start!

Rachel and Ava waiting for the race to start!

Maybe I should pause to explain why the five of us, my brother (Jason), our cousin (Glen), and family friends (Eric, Randy, and Lori) were all converging on this small town in the mountains of Colorado. My brother ran the The Bear 100 last year as his first attempt to complete 100 miles of running in a single event. He was successful and I was present to help Meggan “crew” for his race. As a result of that finish, he earned one ticket in a lottery for entry into the Hardrock 100 this year. In the ultra-running world, Hardrock is an elite event and one that many experienced runners shy away from due to the extreme course topography. You can read about the exact odds on Jason’s blog, but suffice it to say that his name should not have been pulled last December.

Ava and I on the shuttle to the first aid station.

Ava and I on the shuttle to the first aid station.

But it was. Along with 151 other mildly insane runners who would toe the starting line with him in July 2015. And so, he started to train for the 33,992 feet of climb and 33,992 feet of descent that he would encounter along the course. Couple those drastic elevation changes with the fact that the LOWEST point on the course was at 7,680 ft above sea level while the peak was at 14,048 ft above sea level. Yes, you just read all of those statistics correctly. Yes, it helps that Brother’s family currently lives in Boulder, CO where he has fairly easy access to mountains. Yes, he ran A LOT in the months leading up to this race.

Cunningham Gulch aid station

Cunningham Gulch aid station

So where do I come into this whole equation? Well after crewing last year, I offered my organizational services again. Last year I was the second in command at aid stations, taking commands from Meggan and letting her do most of the communicating. This year, I was told that Meggan was going to primarily be wife/mom while I was going to be in charge of Jason. Oh goodness. I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous! I knew that Jason had much more experience and confidence going into this race than The Bear last year. I knew that I had more of a grasp on what was happening and what my role would be throughout the race. But I also knew that ultra-running, especially in the wild mountains of Colorado, is unpredictable and that I would be responsible for making sure Jason was safe and had everything he needed. Luckily, Jason spent the week leading up to the race in Silverton exploring the course and laying out his drop-bags for each of the aid stations his crew could access.

My crew-mates: Meggan, Ava, Glen, Rachel, and Richard.

My crew-mates: Meggan, Ava, Glen, Rachel, and Richard.

Thursday night, I shared a quiet room with Jason while the rest of the family slept upstairs. We wanted to ensure that J got good sleep and would wake rested for his 40 hours (or so) of running. At 5:30am we walked the few blocks to the high school gymnasium where he checked in and we waited for the start. At 6am the runners were off and the crew headed back to the hotel to eat breakfast and gather our gear. Our first aid station was Cunningham Gulch, which was 8.2 miles into the race. We had fun playing with the girls while waiting to see J come down the mountain and cross the creek. He was here only a short time to refuel and then he was off heading back up the other side of the mountain. We wouldn’t see him again until mile 42.1 at Grouse Gulch, sometime around 7pm that night.

Jason coming down into Grouse Gulch.

Jason coming down into Grouse Gulch.

While Brother was running up and over several mountains (no big deal), I went for a run of my own in town. My four-mile run felt short and difficult as I struggled to breathe at just over 7,000 ft above sea level. It rained off and on during the day and the adults all took turns entertaining the girls between meals and packing. In the early evening, I drove the girls and Richard up to Grouse Gulch to hook up with Eric, Meggan and Glen. They had gone up earlier to cheer on earlier runners and to make sure Eric was there and ready to go. He would be pacing J for miles 42-82, through the night and across the most technical terrain. They run together weekly in Boulder and Eric has completed Hardrock before, as well as a number of other 100-mile races.

Meggan and I chilling with Santa at Ouray aid station.

Meggan and I chilling with Santa at Ouray aid station.

We had specific instructions to make sure Jason ate a lot at Grouse Gulch and were also in charge of replacing SPOT tracker batteries, filling water bottles, restocking his pack with gels, swamping out sunglasses and short-sleeves for rain jackets and long-pants, adding in warm hats and headlamps, etc. I felt a little overwhelmed at some of these aid stations because it was my job to keep J focused on changing his socks, eating his quesadilla, and telling me if he needed more or less layers. All while Glen was videotaping and getting hot foods, Meggan was saying hello and accessing the condition of Jason’s body, Eric was asking about the course, Rachel was trying to show J her good luck drawings, and Ava just wanted to hug her Daddy.

Looking up the mountain for J while waiting at Chapman aid station.

Looking up the mountain for J while waiting at Chapman aid station.

Writing it all out makes it sound more chaotic than it really was, but there was certainly a lot happening at these stops! Once Jason and Eric headed off into the night, we had about 1.5 hours worth of driving to get to Ouray where we had a second hotel room for the night. Glen, Meggan and I dropped off Richard and the girls to sleep while we waiting to see J through the Christmas-themed aid station. He left around 1:30am with Eric after a fairly long stop (20 minutes) to change clothes and eat some real food. We headed back to the hotel to rest for a few hours and awoke to find that J and E had had a great night. They were already over their next mountain and were working their way down to Telluride, our next aid station. The only slight issue with that was that they had five miles to run and we had an hour to drive. Whoops? So Glen and I quickly showered and jumped in our car to “race” the SPOT dots to Telluride while Richard and Meggan got the girls up and joined us when they could.

Goofing off with my older niece, Rachel.

Goofing off with my older niece, Rachel.

This divide-and-conquer strategy paid off because Glen and I walked into the aid station to get set up a mere ten minutes before the boys arrived! At this point, they were 72.8 miles into the race but had made it through the night. Jason looked good, in spite of a slight complaint about his knees on the downhills. They had come through rain, snow, and a fairly chilly night but had not had any major mishaps, which was great news! Off they went while Glen and I drove to meet Meggan’s car for breakfast. The next section of driving was more off-road and exciting, and we had to park 0.25 miles from the aid station and walk in. The girls enjoyed the adventure and were fairly good with lunch at Chapman aid station. I took a turn entertaining Rachel here, so we explored the log bridge over the creek, used binoculars to scan the mountain-side for J, and played “sack-of-potato” countless times. It was fun to interact with my nieces throughout this race and they continue to amaze me with how quickly they grow up!

Jason coming through Chapman aid station... almost done!

Jason coming through Chapman aid station… almost done!

Chapman aid station was mile 82.2, and the last time we would see Jason before the finish that night. Eric finished his pacing duties and Randy picked up for the last sections of the trail. I continued to try to manage Jason’s needs but had to get a little creative here since we did not have all of his extra clothing and food options from the car. Fortunately, we did have Eric’s race bag so he lent Jason the rain pants he needed. Then the crew (and a tired Eric) hiked back out and drove just over two hours back around to Silverton. We opted not to take the 4WD-only option over the mountain pass, but instead retraced our steps through Telluride and Ouray. Back in town we unpacked, had dinner, and then went to the high school to wait Jason. He had been right in the middle of his timing goals up until Chapman, so we expected to see him between 8-10pm.

Rachel and Ava waiting for Daddy at the finish line.

Rachel and Ava waiting for Daddy at the finish line.

Their friend, Kari, who was also at The Bear 100 finished about an hour before Jason so we got to see her kiss the Hardrock. Then we spent the rest of the time playing with Rachel and Ava, who were quite tired at this point but excited to see their Daddy. We got the radio from Glen that Jason had crossed the river along the road and was heading in with only two miles to go! By this point it was dark again but J still had over an hour to accomplish his original goal of finishing in under 40 hours. We were all excited to see him finish, but cheered on several more runners while we waited. Finally, we made out the outline of three runners without headlamps (Eric, Jason, and Randy) and Rachel ran out to greet them. The whole family jogged the last hundred yards or so with Jason and then watched as he kissed the Hardrock at 9:22pm on Saturday night. This was 39 hours and 22 minutes after he started, which is almost exactly what he predicted! After resting for quite some time in the gym, we headed back to the hotel and put the girls to bed. Then J and I actually went back to the medical tent to confirm that his slight wheezing and coughs were “normal”. They assured us he would be fine after he got some sleep, so we did just that! Runner, pacers, and crew were all tired but happy and had no problem sleeping through the night. I even shared a room with the little girls and had no problem falling (or staying) asleep.

The infamous Hardrock that stands on the finish line.

The infamous Hardrock that stands on the finish line.

Sunday morning we went to the race breakfast and award ceremony and heard some of the incredible stories from the race. Like the runner who choked on a piece of watermelon in the first half of the race, but was rescued by an aid station medic who performed the heimlich maneuver. Or the runner from Boulder who had a tough race, but managed to sprint to the finish at kiss the rock with literally one second to spare. His official time was 47:59:59! All of the finishers, 123 officially, earned their respective awards and everyone ate well in that gymnasium.

The dream team: Eric, Randy, and Jason.

The dream team: Eric, Randy, and Jason.

Unfortunately, I had to hit the road back to Durango airport immediately after the award ceremony so I said my good-byes and hopped in the car with some other friends who were going my way. Shortly after checking in, my flight to Phoenix was canceled and after a lot of phone calls and waiting in line, I finally got rebooked to Denver much later Sunday night. Then I spent the night in whatever hotel US Airways put me up in, where I logged a nine mile run on the treadmill at 11pm before crashing into my king-sized bed. Monday morning I went back to the airport for my connection home, which left with no issues. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of Jason’s race weekend and while I don’t think I was as helpful or prepared as I could’ve been, I do hope that I pulled my weight on the team. It was great to see Jason/Meggan and the rest of their family and friends, as well as explore a new part of Colorado!

My Crazy, Busy but Blessed Life

I got home from Mexico on June 3rd. That was 25 days ago. But it feels like months. Since that day, I have kept quite busy and thought that I would share snip-its of what I’ve been up to with a list and some pictures. So far in the month of June I have:

– attended birthday parties for two friends (both with amazingly delicious, home-cooked meat!)

IMG_2157– played in a pick-up kickball game and organized our team for this season

– driven through LA to Turlock, CA to spend time with my boyfriend’s family and explore the town where he grew up

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– gone on walks, seen movies, or grabbed meals with some of my favorite people

– taken care of a pair of adorable cats for a week

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– attended my first four Spanish classes (and take my first test!)

– gone on several incredibly fun local dates with Sean

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– flown to VA/NC for my friend Paige’s bachelorette weekend

DSCN1209The list could go on and on, but I don’t want to bore y’all. I think you get the point by now that I have been loving life… even if it’s been a bit crazy 🙂 On top of all of this fun stuff, I have been working 25-30 hours a week at Halstrom Academy. For those of you that don’t remember, it’s the same company I taught and wrote curriculum for before I moved. I’m loving my group of students this semester and am really enjoying being back in the classroom.

Going forward, I will try to update some more but I will be honest with y’all… I am going to be all over the United States this summer with another trip to NC/VA, a long weekend in CO, a drive up to SF, and a flight to Iowa. All before Labor Day. But you know I love it and I wouldn’t change my wanderer lifestyle for the world, especially since all of those trips involved celebrating special people doing incredible and wonderful things (race and weddings)! For now, I’m going to stretch my legs before boarding a flight from RDU to ORD on my way home from an amazing weekend at Wrightsville Beach… more on that soon!

Cal Poly Robotics Roadtrip

At the last minute, I decided to join my boyfriend in his weekend plans. It was Open House weekend at his alma mater, Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo, and also the twentieth anniversary of a robotics competition he once helped run. This is a good time to apologize for all of the details of this wonderful experience I mess up, there was so much to take in and it was all new to me! As always, I will write what I experienced but keep in mind that this weekend was all about Sean and I was merely an observant bystander 🙂

Friday morning we hopped in the car fairly early to push through LA traffic as quickly as possible. We had a few close calls with fellow drivers in a hurry to escape for the weekend, and even had to call 911 to report an accident that happened right in front of us, but we arrived unharmed in the early afternoon. We didn’t have too many set plans for the weekend, so we started off with a walking tour of the town of San Luis Obispo. I thought it was adorable with its winding creek, local coffee shops, and great weather. It helped that we had lunch at Firestone Grill, which is known for AMAZING tri-tip sandwiches. I can confirm this, 100%. The pulled pork and seasoned fries were exceptional as well! After walking off our full bellies, we checked into our hotel in Pismo Beach before heading to the first planned event of the weekend.

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So in college, Sean was vice president of the IEEE Computer Society that hosted a competition every year. Teams built robots to perform a particular task, which changed over the years, and then competed during Open House weekend each spring. Most teams were composed of Cal Poly students but there were a mix of computer science, mechanical engineering, etc. majors who participated, many for their senior projects. Anyway, this was the twentieth year so the alumni were invited back to check out the event. Friday night, the participants were allowed to practice on the course and make any modifications necessary to get them ready for the next day. We enjoyed light refreshments while catching up with other former club members and while looking at the projects. Then a few of us headed back into town for a drink and to continue hanging out. It was really fun for me to hear some stories about Sean back in the day and to get to meet several of his college friends. There were even a few classic photos shared 🙂

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Saturday morning, Sean and I wanted to get in a long(ish) run to help shake out our legs in preparation for the La Jolla Half Marathon we have coming up this weekend. We did a fairly hilly six miles through Grover Beach before calling it a day. Our legs are still both having a decent amount of pain as we adjust to new training plans and try to nurse our injuries. Then it was back to campus for the main competition and I have to admit that I was really excited! I had picked out a few favorites from the night before and was interested to see what the other teams we hadn’t seen would bring to the table. The task this year was to move as many rings from horizontally mounted posts across the table and place them on vertically oriented posts. It was a head-to-head, double-elimination bracket with three minute rounds.

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After nice introductions from the Dean and President, competition was underway! We watched the entire first round of battles before needing a stretch break, so we ventured out into the courtyards in search of food. More tri-tip was consumed in the sunshine before heading back inside the gym. There were tons of booths set up from various engineering clubs, organizations, and majors so we looked through those as well. The student MCs did a great job commentating the battles, so even non-engineers like myself had some idea what was happening and why certain robots were or weren’t doing what they were programmed to do. Some spun in circles, others lost wheels, but overall the robots were really impressive while completing their tasks. It was interesting to see how the teams chose to attack the task at hand and the top robots were super stream-lined and efficient! We were a little disappointed that a company team ended up winning, but the students did an outstanding job as well.

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The rest of our Saturday was spent exploring campus, checking out new buildings, driving through areas that Sean hadn’t seen before, and spending some time in the Engineering alumni beer and wine garden. Again, the weather was absolutely perfect and it was really relaxing to just go with the flow and not really have a set plan. At the same time, I got to see a new college campus and hear tons of stories from Sean about his time spent there. Saturday evening we drove back to Pismo after saying good-bye to his friends and enjoyed a nice seafood dinner at Brad’s Diner. Everything was really fresh and delicious and the icing on the cake was having Trivial Pursuit cards on each table to entertain us while we waited. Between our run that morning and walking all over campus that afternoon, our legs were quite tired from the 20,000+ steps we’d already taken, so we called it an earlier night and went back to the hotel to relax.

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Sunday we were up early again to hit the road, but we lucked out with traffic through Santa Barbara and LA, making it home in just enough time to suit up for our kickball double header. The only downside to this weekend for me was that it made me miss Charlottesville and my UVA family, but in a good way. Maybe I’ll have to bring Sean to Reunions Weekend next summer to show him around, lol. As with most weekend trips, it seemed like too much time driving and not enough time at Cal Poly. But we have already decided that another trip to SLO will need to get on the books, because there are some great hikes, beaches, and wineries we want to check out and some other friends we missed seeing this trip. Overall, I had a blast and learned a lot about Sean (and robots), so I deem it a success! Have a great Monday and hopefully I’ll be able to write again this week 🙂

East to West: STAT

My last update was posted from Virginia, where I was spending the week after moving out of North Carolina. I told y’all that I sold my car, Funshine, with no major issues. But that was last Friday morning, so what have I been up to since then? Maybe it’s better to ask what I haven’t been up to, lol. I’ll try to give you the quick overview below… but you’ll have to hustle to keep up 😉

Friday after delivering Funshine to Carmax, Mom and I worked on a few projects at her house before she drove me to Dulles Airport to pick up my rental car. I took advantage of the (free) airport lanes on the toll road to cruise into Arlington to see my east coast girls. We met up at MexiCali Blue… in Clarendon?… to grab dinner and drinks. I absolutely love the three girls that met me (shown below: Katie, Katie, and Claire). We spent a few hours talking about life, work, boys, family, etc. It was very relaxing and fun, in spite of the cold weather and snow everywhere. Then I spent the night with little sister Katie in Arlington before heading down to Richmond on Saturday.

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Why was I driving to Richmond on Saturday (leaving at 8am)? Because the fourth of my lovely east coast girlfriends, Paige, is getting married this summer and has asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding! I feel so honored and excited, but Saturday was the day she’d picked (after learning that I was moving again) to have all of us bridesmaids get together to go dress shopping. We had a great time and settled on both a color and a style of dress fairly quickly before enjoying a nice lunch with the two mothers. I won’t post pictures from that group as I don’t want to leak any wedding details 😉 After lunch I drove myself to Richmond Airport, returned my rental car and started my journey west!

So Saturday night at 6pm EST I boarded a plane to Dallas, TX. After a 1.5 hour layover (barely enough time to find my gate and grab a quick dinner), I left there at 10pm Central time to fly into San Diego. I landed at SAN about 11:30pm Pacific time, which was the equivalent of 2:30am EST except that it was also daylight savings time so really like 3:30am. Woof. Luckily both of my flights were on schedule and I avoided any weather concerns. Sean picked me up and helped me lug my 100+ pounds of luggage to his car… don’t judge me, it’s the only stuff I have access to for the next 2-3 weeks.

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Sunday morning started with a walk to a cafe for breakfast burritos before getting in a 5.5 mile run. It was definitely warmer than I’ve been used to, but it felt great to see the ocean and not have to wear a hat and gloves! Then I headed up to Carlsbad for the first week of our spring kickball season 🙂 I’m on a new team this year, because our old team decided to disperse. Although most of us are still playing in the league which means I have friends on all the teams. I was a bit nervous on Sunday because I hadn’t played since the last season ended in… September? I had also been asked to help line ref the game before ours. Luckily it was week one and everyone was still learning the rules and working out the kinks. I pitched half of the innings in our game and didn’t allow any runs to score, so I felt good about that!

After spending a few hours catching up with friends at the bar (Erica, Christy and Sean are pictured above), I called it a day. Monday I rented a car in Encinitas and drove out to Temecula to look at Subaru Foresters. I had found from my internet searching that they had the model and accessories that I wanted, and the price was the cheapest. After less than two hours, I had test-driven the SUV, gotten insurance, processed the paperwork, returned my rental car out there, and was driving away in my brand new vehicle! It was a whirlwind, but I knew what I wanted so I went for it. So far I LOVE it, but the first real test will be this weekend when I take four adults with our stuff on a mini-roadtrip. I’ll keep you posted how it holds up but I’m also taking any suggestions for names of this vehicle… even though I probably won’t get vanity plates since they are so expensive in Cali.

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On another note, I do also have a job lined up (yay!)… really two. I’ll be teaching at Halstrom Academy again, but only teaching this time around, not working with corporate as a lead teacher. And I will dominantly be teaching math (Algebra/Geometry) instead of social studies, although I already know I’ll have some ACT/SAT test prep courses and an AP World History. Since it is mid-semester, my hours will build as the weeks go on which will give me time to move into a place when I find it and just adjust to living in SoCal again. I’m really excited to get back to working with kids and helping them in an area where so many seem to struggle.

My second job will start in April and is working with Pearson Learning, Inc. who publishes a ton of textbooks across content in the USA. I will be acting as an online test scorer for their end-of-course Geometry testing this spring. The project lasts April-June and I am allowed to log as few as 20 or as many as 40 hours a week grading test. This will help fill my time until summer semester starts at Halstrom and I have full hours there. It’s completely flexible as far as when I grade in a day, which will be perfect for my Halstrom schedule, and it will give me more experience in the testing/grading world.

Other things I’ve done this week include: getting a TB test, completing a LiveScan fingerprinting test, run with my good friend Dahlia, toured 3-5 potential apartments, gotten groceries, gone to a farmer’s market, and just enjoyed being back in SoCal! For now, my biggest focus is finding a place to live and enjoying being back in the place I truly feel I belong. Thanks for reading and I’ll talk to y’all soon!

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Saying Good-bye to my Partner in Crime

Almost exactly twelve years ago, I went to the Volkswagen dealer in Charlottesville, VA with my parents to “look at cars” for the second or third time. Much to my surprise, there was a 2003 silver VW Golf with my name on it! It was a manual transmission with a CD player, four doors, a sunroof, and a hatchback. All of my “requirements”. It had to stay at my parents through that school year (UVA policy) but once I got home that summer, Funshine and I were together all the time. I settled on Fnshine as the license plate/name of my car because growing up, Karebear had been a frequent nickname of mine. My favorite CareBear was Funshine, whose personality is described on wikia.com as  follows:

In the original series, Funshine always looks on the sunny side of life. Happy, perky, and ready to rise with each day, he’s equally ready and willing to help others, bear or child alike. Using his tummy symbol, he can light up the darkest night or shine a beacon for all to see. However, he has a tendency to be a practical jokester, which can sometimes land him in trouble.

Beginning with the early 2000’s franchise re-launch, Funshine was given a more outgoing, athletic personality, but still retains the overall fun-loving spirit of the original. This thrill-seeking bear lives to seize each day, whether through extreme sports or games, and can’t stand being cooped up for even a moment.

See why I always liked him? Of course, Funshine wasn’t available with the VA DMV so I deleted the “u” and settled on Fnshine… which has been mistaken for “Finish Line” or “F’n Shine” over the years, lol. I just counted and in the 152,000+ miles we have traveled together, Funshine and I have been to 32 of the 50 states including two cross-country trips. One in 2012 with my friend Paige to get me to California and one this past fall with my mom (for part of it) to get me to North Carolina. Funshine has been registered in three states (VA, CA, NC) and had “FNSHINE” in both VA and NC. Of course, California being the land of fun and sun, the plate was not available.

I won’t bore y’all with too many details of my adventures in Funshine, but suffice it to say that many of my friends have had many exciting, scary, interesting, shady, and amazing trips with us. I detailed last week the current contents of my car, but I also know that over the years I have transported tons and tons of items. Funshine has taken me (and my bike!) to numerous races, driven my teammates to gymnastics meets through college, and carried my life’s most precious possessions across the country (twice). I’ve ripped the undercarriage off on an off-roading trip, popped a tire and deployed the airbags in a pothole, torn open the oil pan in the desert, blown a speaker (or two?) blasting music a bit too loud, and done my fair share of scraping curbs and such. But I have never been in an actual accident in Funshine and I have tried to take good care of my precious car!

So why this post about Funshine? Because tomorrow I plan to take it for one more drive, this time to Carmax to sell. It is old and showing its age and probably wouldn’t make it back across the country without a new timing belt, which is an expensive repair to make when I have already been thinking about getting something a little bigger and newer. I’ll buy a replacement car once I get to California, but for now I am just sad about leaving Funshine behind. Crossing from North Carolina into Virginia earlier this week felt a little like driving an elderly person back to their hometown to quietly slip away from this earth. I know that Funshine will most likely be resold and/or junked for parts… but I’m trying not to think about that. For now, I invite you to enjoy a few pictures from the last twelve years and share any favorite Funshine stories y’all might have!

Brand new car!! 2003

Brand new car!! 2003

Definitely up to no good in college - 2006

Definitely up to no good in college – 2006

Snowpocalypse - 2010

Snowpocalypse – 2010

Snowpocalypse - 2010

Snowpocalypse – 2010

Leaving to drive to Cali with Paige - 2012

Leaving to drive to Cali with Paige – 2012

Gorilla taping the undercarriage back on - 2012

Gorilla taping the undercarriage back on – 2012

Being towed to replace the oil pan - 2014

Being towed to replace the oil pan – 2014

Driving back across county, here in Utah - 2014

Driving back across county, here in Utah – 2014

Fnshine with NC plates - 2015

Fnshine with NC plates – 2015

Big Sky and Yellowstone Ski Trip

As many of you have probably seen on Facebook, I went on my annual ski trip last week! My two best friends from California and I have gone to Mammoth and Whistler in past years, but this year it was time for Montana 🙂 We planned this trip before I moved and I was SO looking forward to spending time with the boys and getting out on the slopes! Traveling from Greensboro, NC to Bozeman, MT was an adventure. Especially going through Chicago (ORD). In the snow. We had to use de-icing spray on the plane to take-off. This California girl was thinking “WTF. Just get me to Bozeman”, lol. I landed before the guys and enjoyed sitting by the fireplace while I waited. Once they arrived we got our (free upgrade) Expedition, which was WAY too big for three people, but it turned out to be great for our equipment!

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We got groceries, picked up our condo keys, grabbed our equipment for the week, and had some mediocre barbecue for dinner. Our place was super close to the slopes, which was the point, but it was also fairly small. We settled into our studio (with a murphy bed and sofa bed for sleeping, lol) and headed to bed fairly early? Morning one we were all (especially me) quite pleased that the weather was in the mid to upper 30s. After bundling up, we skied ALL DAY. From 9:30am to 4:15pm. Snow was in pretty good condition, great for me! I’m not an icy skier, it’s harder on your legs and edges. Especially since I hadn’t skied any yet this season. But we all held up well and had a blast. At lunchtime we paused at the Lone Peak Cafe at the base of the mountain. One disappointment that continued throughout the week was the lack of on-slope amenities. But I guess it added to the rustic, Montana charm 🙂 For dinner after showers, we cooked up a delicious pasta-beef-salad dinner before playing games long into the night.

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Day two we set out with the goal to explore the right side of the map. One minor snag was that we didn’t really know how to get there… and we ended up essentially cross-country skiing on downhill skis for a bit. Other than that, day two was another amazing day of skiing and we even got some sunshine in the afternoon! For lunch we checked out Whiskey Jack’s bar and grill, which was better than the cafe and the tacos really hit the spot. We skied harder this day, tackling some un-groomed blues and even escaping into the trees! Everyone was skiing really well and we did another full day on the slopes with no injuries (yay!).

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That evening… I think by now we are at Friday… X had some work to do so Sean and I decided to seek out hot tub options around town. We learned that the Huntley Lodge right across the street had a spa with a heated outdoor pool and hot tubs. After wandering through the underground tunnel, we acted like we knew what we were doing and walked right in unnoticed. It was a great facility and we enjoyed relaxing after a second long day on the slopes. Then it was back home for another amazing dinner (these guys spoil me, but I’m a really good sous chef) of chicken curry. Poor X had more work, so Sean and I hit the town to check out one of the free concerts going on as part of the weekend’s blue grass festival. The band was really chill and it was nice to see what happens in Big Sky after the slopes close (bonfires, music, food… the usual ski bum life).

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Saturday was our last day of downhill in Big Sky, so we set out to cover as many new slopes as possible, which was easy since that place is HUGE. And it had snowed overnight so there was fresh powder to be had! Unfortunately, with the snow came gusting wind and several of the lifts were closed. Boo. We managed to get over to a new part of the mountain and made first tracks on a huge section of slope. But visibility was almost zero, between the wind and the snow and the low light. We pulled up at one point above a drop, and determined that we needed to keep speed to then cross the flats below. The line I chose was not the right one, and I didn’t see a steeper drop followed by an abrupt rise. Basically, my body folded in half into the far slope and I crumbled to the ground… losing all speed and one ski. My elbow hurt and my body was shaken but, with help from X, I got re-situated and skied down to meet Sean at the base. I was in pain. But nothing like my knee last year in Whistler!

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After the crash, we quickly learned that we were trapped on a small number of warm, almost slushy slopes. Luckily, a cowboy (bellhop) from the Huntley Lodge was dropping some people off and offered us a ride back to the main part of the mountain. We cruised tons of perfectly groomed slopes and even experimented with some moguls and blacks. My elbow was only painful when I fully straightened it, or put too much pole pressure on it. So I was good to go for the most part! We did make reservations for a fancy, slope-side meal at Everett’s (located at 8800 ft). The meal was over the top, but probably the second-best meal of the trip. I had an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich with an egg, apples, and some fancy kind of cheese on a sourdough-like bread. It was awesome! At the end of the ski day, we turned in our downhill equipment then drove straight to the other rental place in lower village to pick up our nordic skis for Sunday.

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We had booked a snow coach trip with See Yellowstone from West Yellowstone (an hour south of Big Sky) into Yellowstone National Park and added on a short cross-country ski section. After a late night out Saturday at another blue grass concert (this time with X!), we were all a bit tired when our 6am alarm went off. Admittedly, I was the slowest moving because my arm and back/shoulder muscles were on fire from my fall the day before. I was so stiff and I think the guys had coffee brewed before I was even out of bed. But we made it to West Yellowstone in time to hop in the snow coach and drive into the park. We were SO fortunate on this trip to see a ton of animals. Elk, coyote, bobcats, bald eagles, and of course bison. It was a long day with the tour lasting from 8:30 to 5:30, but I think it was absolutely worth it! Especially since we hopped out a few miles shy of Old Faithful to cross-country ski through the geyser fields. Not only did we get to stretch our legs, but we got to see more of the thermal features!

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We made it in to Old Faithful with a few minutes to spare before the eruption, which was just as amazing as it was decades ago when my family visited. We met back up with the group, loaded our equipment, grabbed a quick bison brat for lunch and headed back out. We didn’t get very far before we had issues though. The road had melted through to mud in several sections because of the unusually warm winter weather. This jacked up the tread on our snow coach and we were soon stuck. As we waited for help to arrive, we hung out with the nearby bison herd and cat-napped. We were picked up by Andy in another (bigger) snow coach and made it back to West Yellowstone fairly on time. Then we had to get our equipment back to Big Sky before closing, which wasn’t a problem. We rewarded ourselves with an AMAZING barbecue dinner “for two” at the Riverhouse restaurant. It was a sample platter with brisket, pork, chicken, sausage, and I don’t even know what else. Oh, and sides of beans, cornbread, coleslaw, and a corn mixture. So good. So, so good.

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Big Sky Trip 371Post-dinner we cruised the rest of the way up to Belgrade (where Bozeman Airport is) and checked into our Quality Inn for the night. The boys had a ridiculously early flight, so we wanted to be close. Monday morning we all got up, I dropped them at the airport, and then went back to the hotel to sleep for four more hours. Then I checked out, dropped the rental car and checked in for my flight. By this time they had already had a layover in Seattle and were well on their way to San Diego. Lucky them! I had a connection in Chicago again, but it was warmer this time so no icing issues. I finally landed in Greensboro about 10pm and drove the hour and half home to Wake Forest. I was exhausted but I was happy. This trip was great on so many levels and I can’t wait to see where we end up going next year (Colorado? Utah? The Alps?).

NC to NC Phase 5 – CO to VA

This was, no offense to anyone from these places and/or my mother who joined me, the least interesting stretch of my journey east. But I knew that going in, so I tried to make the best of it by convincing (it didn’t take much) Mom to join me. I warned her that this would not be a leisurely drive like our California coast trip earlier this month. The goal was the get from Brother’s house in Colorado to her house in Virginia ASAP. With quick overnight stops in Columbia, MO and Charleston, WV. Before I go too much further, let me give you the links for the last four phases of this trip:

1. California Packing

2. California to Utah

3. Utah to Colorado

4. Colorado Thanksgiving

Okay, now that we’re all back on the same page… Mom and I left my Brother’s family first thing Sunday morning. With a slight hiccup to go back and get a phone, we were still out of town by 8am. We had ten driving hours plus whatever stops we needed along the way. Our directions were to take 20 minutes to get to I-70 East and then drive for 787 miles. Our hotel for the night was less than a mile off the interstate. Here we go! Our first stop was just shy of the Kansas border and as we were pulling in, we noticed the dusting of snow on the ground and the chill in the air. Upon doing a quick search in the car, we realized that we’d left our heavy coats in Colorado. Oops! At least we would be in the car most of the time for the next three days.039

Kansas was next and it was a long, flat, brown state. Nothing wrong with that and we enjoyed the hay bales and oil rigs along the way. We also enjoyed the “Jesus, I trust in You” and the anti-abortion billboards that dotted the roadside landscape. It stayed grey and drizzled rain throughout most of the day but wasn’t too bad. Mom and I stayed busy by making lists of things we needed to do once we got home. That night in the hotel room we knocked out her Christmas card and got them ordered, which we were both quite pleased about!

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Monday morning we got up and hit the road by 7am, but unfortunately got stuck in traffic leading into St. Louis. It was the first freeze of the year and there was ice everywhere. Schools were delayed, the interstate was shut down for a short stretch. It was bananas! A guy merged onto the highway next to us, only to swerve and head straight up the roadside hill two seconds later. Scary! After about an hour delay there, we crossed the bridge into… Illinois? It was freezing rain at that point so I was focused on the road, except for the quick shot of the arch below.

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I have to admit that I don’t remember much about Illinois. We drove like… 50 miles through it? Maybe? Then we crossed into Indiana. And drove it in for… more than that? 100 miles? I really have no idea because we had similar scenery and didn’t really stop. We were pushing to get to West Virginia in time for dinner with my uncle Jim, aunt Beth, and cousin Matt. We’d originally said 5:30 or 6:00 but called to push back to 7:00pm after the St. Louis fiasco. Kentucky was surprisingly pleasant, maybe because we switched from freezing rain to “just” rain and the trees got a little bigger as the elevation got a little higher. I know we must’ve stopped at some point for gas or lunch, but again it was just a blur.

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We got to Charleston right at 7pm and were treated to a delicious chicken dinner with family! After a tour of the house and a few hours catching up, everyone turned in for the night fairly early. Tuesday morning we were up and out by 7am again, this time because I wanted to get home fairly early in the afternoon. It was my 30th birthday and I wanted to see friends that night in DC. But we did manage to fit in a quick stop by VMI to check on another uncle, Bill, who is the associate registrar there. It was nice to stand and stretch for a few minutes while we chatted and then we were back in the car and turning north for a change! Oh, at some point past St. Louis we had gotten off I-70 and had been on I-64 until Lexington. Now it was time for I-81 North and the 18-wheelers that come with it!

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We stopped for a quick Chick-fil-a dinner in Harrisonburg before pushing up into northern Virginia and home to Ashburn where my mother now lives. I have rarely felt more grateful to get out of a vehicle in my entire life. I immediately unpacked my car into my mom’s guest room and laid down to figure out plans for the night. It was still raining and was quite cold and my friends are all responsible people with jobs and such. So we canceled the DC plans and switched to our back-up, which was to meet my oldest friend, John, his mother and his sister for dinner. We were born eight days apart and have been friends ever since, so it was wonderful to catch up with their family!

Since Tuesday I have spent a lot of time helping Mom unpack, sorting through my own possessions, and getting my affairs in order for my trip to Argentina this month. I leave tomorrow and cannot wait to update everyone on how it is going! Be sure to keep an eye out for my updates over the next two weeks and happy December 🙂

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