Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Alex's Blog: Zion National Park

Zion National Park: Now I want to tell you about Zion. Oh, the horseback ride we did was great and it was lead by real cowboys! Although there was a cowboy who was grouchy. Now, we also had shuttle rides around Zion National Park and completed our ranger booklet and got a ranger badge.

The Value Tree Blog

Someone asked me for The Value Tree blog site the other day, and here it is in case you are looking for more blog reading...www.thevaluetree.blogspot.com. THANK YOU for reading, and feel free to comment, as your comments are not publicly shared.

Grand Canyon-Bright Angels Trail

The Grand Canyon is truly breathtaking. It looks like a backdrop for a movie, painted in the distance. Coming here with the kids has been a blast. The Canyon is really developed, which means that it is easy to get around on the shuttles with the kids, attend awesome ranger programs, work toward ranger badges and run the rim trail. The IMAX movie on the park is excellent too. The trails are BRUTAL! I have always wanted to run the Rim to Rim race, which starts on one rim, runs down and across and back up to the other rim, and then back again. I sort of did half that. I ran down Bright Angels Trail all the way down to the Colorado Rover, then across the bridge to Phantom Ranch, and then back again. I started to peter out about 3 miles from the top of the rim, then really petered out at the 1 mile point when the trail goes almost straight up on switchbacks. I refilled water three times at stops. In total, over 20 miles with over 5000 feet down and then 5000 feet back up again. AMAZING views of the canyon, nice interaction with the mules taking people for multi-day rides, and changes in scenery, like the Indian Gardens which are like a tropical oasis suddenly popping up in the middle of the desert, that made the run exciting. Sore today.

Passing through Ivins, Utah

The St. George area of Utah remains my favorite place to run. I love running with incredible views of mountains, but I also like to run, not hike, and I am not quite in the shape needed to pop up 1000's of feet of elevation. So, I love the long trails with views that do not require so much up and down, and St. George is truly the place. There are trails absolutely everywhere you turn, great for runners and mountain bikers. We stopped in Ivins, which is next to St. George, to spend the night with friends. It was quite the luxury to sleep in a real bed, but the highlight of the trip was the hike into the hills. The kids loved it because they could run freely without worrying about tripping over a rock or falling off a cliff. We even passed petrogliphs, hanging out on the side of the rock, undisturbed. After a beautiful hike in the hills, with views of the mountains, morning fog still lifting, we headed out again, off to the steep trails again.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bryce Canyon National Park

So, I thought that Capitol Reef was the most incredible place I had ever been. And in fact, it was, until a few hours later when we entered Bryce Canyon. We had planned to run an ultra here, but the timing is off on this trip, so once again, we save that for another day. May something go always unharvested (Robert Frost). After some exploring with the kids, I put together a run plan for the following day. The Rim Trail follows the edge of the park, looking down over the tall spired hoodoos, an absolutely stunning sight. It looks like the backdrop of a movie set, something out of Star Wars or an imaginary land. So, I hopped on the Rim Trail and then headed downward toward Tower Bridge, incredible twin rock bridges, then on to Fairyland Trail, running amid the pastels of the hoodoos all around, and then back up a calf killing 1/2 mile to the Rim Trail and then back to the RV. Total a little over 8 miles. I stopped periodically to photograph the world around me, which I imagine will fill my dreams for years to come.

Sunrise Run with Alex

My dream, from long before Alex was born, was to be able to run with my children, to share the trail, the mountains, the oceans from viewpoints only seen on foot. Alex’s many health complications have clouded that dream at times, but still he and Izzy and I run, and as they get older it gets easier. Inspired by the fact that I ran through the Narrows without him, and wishing that he was able to run that far with me, Alex asked me last night if we could sneak off in secret for a sunrise run the following day. He didn’t want to tell Daddy, but imagined a scene where he and I returned from our run, tired and sweaty, to enjoy a hot breakfast just cooked by Daddy. So, of course, I had to tell Erik because the hot breakfast part might have still been sound asleep had I not done some pre-planning. And like a little alarm clock, Alex was up before sunrise, ready to go. We quietly dressed, filled a water bottle, tied our shoes and headed out. The campsite was sound asleep. We quietly jogged along the river to an old access road that led to a trail up the mountain. We followed that, chatting as we trotted along, talking about life next year and what his new school would be like and what our plans for the summer would entail. As we climbed to a good sitting place, I held onto him because the footing was difficult. And then we arrived. Just as the sun was sneaking into view, lighting up the mountain peaks all around us, we sat and watched. Borrowed time, that’s all we have. And this morning, we shared one small moment that will shape our memories for years to come.

The Narrows

Arriving to Capitol Reef is like entering an enchanted world. We traveled through snow capped mountains to get there, climbing some major climbs in Big Bertha, and passed through practical ghost towns. We also passed through an area I plan to revisit at some point, Otter Creek Reservoir, a running gem on an enormous reservoir with beautiful ATV trails in all directions. We were off to Capitol Reef, and could not stop. Saved for another day. You arrive into Capitol Reef heading downhill and all around is the reef, once under water and now exposed. The colors and shapes of the enormous mountains are hard to describe-every shade of orange and red and pink and white. We did a number of runs, but I will only describe my best one. Around noon on our first full day, when the heat was at its spring peak, I set off from the camp, going straight up Cohab Trail. I wasn’t sure if I could do the whole loop I had planned, about 14 miles, just 7 days after an ultra, but I kept an open mind. From Cohab, I went into the Frying Pan, aptly named for its hot, undulating sandstone and incredible views in all directions. It was more of a hike at that point, but I tried to run where I could. I finally reached the peak and started down, now on a gravel running trail, past Cassidy Arch and then down, down, down into the Narrows, also called the Wash, which took me through the river basin between rock that soared a few hundred feet up. The views were so incredible, the trail so challenging yet runable, I just kept going. I had my camera in my camelback, and took pictures often. After nearly 4 hours, I looped back via road and trail to the campsite, exhausted, triumphant. I think that run had been calling my name for months. I will be dreaming of red rocks this winter.

Zion National Park

We finally arrived in Utah! I think I must have been a cowgirl in a past life, because when I enter this land of red rocks and mesas, dry air and beautiful sun, I feel that I have returned home. Everywhere we drive I see running and horseback riding trails, and I am happy, excited to get out to start moving. We spent several nights in Zion, a place I know well from our month living there three years ago, and it was a fun return. We ran, rode horses and enjoyed camping in the park by the river. Erik hiked Angel’s Landing, which was scary when a cold front moved in just as he reached the top. What a difference a few years makes in terms of enjoyment as a family. Our kids are at such a fun age now, more independent and able to enjoy everything from the history of a place to the local views.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Dale Ball Trails, Santa Fe, NM

The day after my race, we headed up to the Dale Ball Trails north of Santa Fe. After a long stop at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which enthralled the kids because we have been studying her art and trying to recreate it in our painting, we got outta town. The Dale Ball Trails have been ranked in the top 10 of the USA by many magazines. The trails were indeed awesome. My screaming left quad kept me from doing more than a couple miles of walk/run with the kids. These trails are very narrow and the drop off the side is steep and covered in cacti, I held onto the kids and dog. Despite our best efforts, Izzy took a digger and we needed our first aide kit. No cactus, but plenty of red dirt in the wound. Alex fell into a cactus in TX, and we are still picking out needles. Erik had a long run on the Dale Ball Trails and reported that they lived up to their reputation. I am still dreaming of Utah, and looking forward to getting there…those are my best trails. Last night we spent the night in Grants, NM, at a KOA that was awesome (some of them are not so great and we try to stay in the parks as much as we can). There was a flat 1/2 mile running trail we hit this morning before Mommy School, set beneath mountains with the sound of a distant train running all night long. It was truly magical.

Alex's Post: The RV Trip

Ok, so now let’s get to the RV trip. We have been running some great trails. We are now in Amarillo, Texas. We just explored a great canyon range.Though I have to admit it’s hot out there! So far it’s been awesome through the parks we have gone and the Civil War history we have learned. The carriage ride we did in the heat of 90 degrees in Charleston, SC was great too. It was so hot I dozed off. In Palo Duro TX, we heard coyotes while we were running on the Comanche Trail. I said it sounded like the Troubles coming out of Pandora’s Box. Mom and Dad said “run! run!” I mostly hear those devilish coyotes at midnight.

Cedro Peak Ultra Race

This past weekend, I ran the Cedro Peak Ultra, a 45k through the Cibola Mtns southeast of Albuquerque, NM. The race was extremely challenging, and we were either going up or going down most of the race-not much flat. Some areas had beautiful pine covered trails and lovely views of the surrounding areas, and then other parts were covered in ankle crushing rocks. At times I felt I was attacking some adventure in Harry Potter, where every step up meant rolling several steps back. I could have used a flying broom. Great race overall and the other runners and organizers could not have been nicer. As I was noticing all the cranky, crying, whining, fussy kids who were there to support one parent while the other one waited and waited, I once again gave thanks that we were in the RV. My kids, who would have joined that group of fussy children had we driven there in our car, had a grand time because they had the oasis of the RV. They hiked and played lacrosse, then spent time in the RV to have snacks and lunch and get some chill time in their beds. They watched and cheered at the race, and joined me at the post-race BBQ once I finished. When the race was over and most families were melting down, my kids were in the RV loft watching Despicable Me, while Erik and I drank beers outside in the sun. Then we had a light dinner of cheese/wine, veggies and hummus while finishing our day in the park. Then off to bed. LOVE the RV.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

For the past several days, we have been camping out in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas. The trails here are incredible. Some are flat, some hilly, all excellent for running and biking, with views of the mesas all around. What I dislike about running in the east are the toe trippers. Alex has so much trouble with them--rocks and roots that come at us at all times. I usually have bruised toenails by the end of my long runs in the east, and Alex usually has bloody skinned knees. Running out west, we do have the occasional fall, but so far, no major bruises. Getting used to the heat has taken some time. Regardless of the weather, Alex continues to have headaches when he runs. We have tried everything to figure them out and make them better, but the only thing that helps is a small tylenol before the run. He gets them when he plays any sport. They seems to be activated by strenuous activity. I'm hoping he is going to outgrow this problem, but for now we need to numb the pain. This trip has been amazing. Coyotes sing to each other in the evenings and we wake to the sound of turkeys cackling to each other around our campsite. Signs of wild boar are all around, but so far no sightings. It has been too hot to take Potter on all the runs, so I find myself in the middle of nowhere, looking over my shoulder for tusks. Today, we went horseback riding, which is another awesome activity to do with kids, especially if you have a child who needs to quiet time. Today, we all fell into silence with the natural beauty of our surroundings and the quiet clop of horse hooves. It was mesmerizing. Then off to lunch and nap.

Running the USA

So, we have been on the road for over a week and have run some amazing trails. The RV is just awesome. I can’t stress enough how perfect RV travel is with kids. If we had teenagers, it might be a different story, or at least we would need a bit more space, but traveling with little guys is tons of fun. Our pattern is breakfast, trail run with the kids, Mommy School, then afternoon adventure or travel, dinner outside with our grill, then reading and bed. So, our first trails took us through the battlefields of Harper’s Ferry. Our kids are really into Civil War history and this was a an awesome morning of running. We read every informational plaque and enjoyed imagining what it must have been like to live in the 1860’s. In their journals that morning, the kids sketched out scenes from Gettysburg, where we had stopped on our way to Harper’s Ferry. Our next good run was near Natural Bridge, Virginia on the wooded trails of a national forest. Then on to Charleston, SC where we ran the neatly groomed trails of Patriot’s Point. Easy footing for the kids. Our latest trail was our best so far, at Sweetwater Creek in Talladega National Forest, Alabama. We camped out in the forest, which is must nicer than being in an RV park. More secluded and quiet. This park is a huge horseback riding destination, where people camp out with their horses. So, the trails were wide and not too rocky or hilly. There was a 2 mile nature loop around a lake, with really interesting facts about the local creatures. In Mommy School, the kids recreated the ecosystem in their journals. The following day, we continued on our westward journey into Tennessee and Arkansas. We stayed the night on the site of one of the Trail of Tears campgrounds west of Memphis. The nature center was fun, and we were the only ones in the audience of the 20 minute film on the Cherokee Nation and the history of the Trail of Tears. Very interesting for all, but as Alex said, very sad. We entered the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma the next day, as we followed Rt. 40 west.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

RV Travel for Kids with Disabilities

Traveling with a child with disabilities can be challenging. Not always, but sometimes, or even, most of the time. For us, traveling with a child who is sensitive to light and noise, and whose epilepsy is controlled primarily through diet, going on a long flight has always been exhausting. We've flown across the country a few times and I have a lot more gray hair as a result. Several friends of ours with disabled children mentioned that they only travel by RV, because of the comforts it provides. And so this spring, we are giving it a try. I am writing from the road, and am here to say that I am madly in love with RV travel. It has changed our lives as parents of a child with disabilities. We get around, we accomplish our travel dreams, without the added gray hair. And here is why. You have a refrigerator, so you can keep your necessary dietary needs at hand. You control the noise and light. The kids have their own space, their own bed, their own routine that is much like their routine at home. You can stop to use the bathroom (inside the RV), but you don't need to bring everyone inside a rest stop to do it. That is super convenient, especially when you have one child napping while another has to go, go, go! You cook your own meals, which means you avoid spending money on fast food, or restaurants, or wherever you happen to stop to satisfy everyone at the moment. In Alex's case, he gets very stiff muscles from sitting in a car or on an airplane, but in the RV he can stretch out (while still in his seatbelt) and we can stop often to get out to walk or run. And if anything does go wrong, if he gets sick or has a seizure, we have our privacy and a quiet place for him to recover, which is huge. The very nature of public travel, trapped on an airplane, has always caused me tremendous anxiety. In an RV, that goes away. Of course, we travel to see the world, to get out of our routines, to experience new cultures, people and places, and that is all still possible in an RV, while maintaining the important aspects of our daily life that help enable Alex to be healthy and successful. I believe it is good for Izzy too, because she never hears us fussing about this or that which might be unhealthy for Alex while we travel. We just go with the flow, and even Mommy is smiling.