Thursday, October 20, 2016

South Dakota - Buffalo Round-Up & Volksmarch Weekend 2016

As I mentioned in a previous post, the weekend of September 30th through October 2nd my family flew out to Rapid City, South Dakota.  While our main purpose of the visit was to participate in the volksmarch up to Crazy Horse, we had no shortage of other things to do to help us fill our weekend. 

Below is a listing of things we did while visiting.  Even if you can't make it to South Dakota, I hope that this information inspires you to consider a trip to your local National Parks as well!



Custer State Park - Buffalo Round-Up

Before I get in to detailing what we did do, I want to start this post by mentioning something that we DID NOT do (despite it sounding really interesting to watch): the Custer State Park buffalo round-up, which takes place the same weekend as the Crazy Horse Volksmarch.  **Photo credit above to Google, not me!

Unbeknownst to me, every year at Custer the park managers bring in professional cowboys to round up the wild buffalo heard that resides in the park.  Apparently, they do the round up to bring the entire herd into one location for corralling and counting. 

I read some information online that explained the process, basically stating that this round-up allows the park to control the heard both in numbers and in health.  The process makes sense for two reasons: (1) since Custer only has so much land mass, this yearly counting ensures that the herd does not over-populate itself and  (2) capturing and counting every animal each year enables trained professionals to evaluate the health of each animal, offering treatment for sick/injured animals or vaccinations to those newly born into the group.

Since the herd is publicly held, being that they reside in the park and are gated in, any excess population is sold to other farmers in the area who keep buffalo and the profits of the sale go back into the park.

Wall Drug

Wall Drug is one of those weird, gotta do it kind of places, so of course I had to start my trip day one by going there.  Since it was a considerable drive from our hotel in Rapid City, it seemed to make sense that we'd drive there and let our little boy nap along the way, then when he woke up cruise through the shops. 

That's pretty much exactly happened, with the entire visit being capped off with a feeding and a diaper change.  Gotta love it when your kid's nap schedule fits into your travel itinerary.

Minuteman Missile Silo

My husband is a bit of an air & space nerd, so when we were done at Wall drug he mentioned this site was not too far away and he was curious to see it.  Since we had no real agenda on the first day of our visit to South Dakota anyway, I was game for a visit.  Off to stop two!

Overall this site is fairly small and there's not a TON to see, but what they do have is both interesting and bone chilling.  Having never lived through the "duck and cover" era myself, just the sign in log was an eye opener.  The fact that people were recalling having air raid nightmares as 6 year old children ... depressing.

However, visiting this museum (of sorts) definitely gives you a healthy dose of respect to the value of world peace.  Especially when you see a map like this that notes the fallout ring of a 1 mega ton nuclear attack ... my home is just outside of the blue ring, slightly south west of the city of Eden Prairie.

By the way, my husband had no qualms pointing out that typical blasts these days are 15MT+.  So in reality, we wouldn't even survive the "average nuke" to Minneapolis ... if it were to happen.  That cheery thought gave me a stomach ache as I left the exhibit.
At least there was a gift shop.  Nothing like good old American consumerism to wipe away the fears of another cold war or missile crisis, huh?
That gift shop actually brings me to my next topic...

The National Parks Passport Program
In the gift shop of the Minuteman Missile Silo, my husband and I noticed they were selling these little guys:

Now, I don't know if you are familiar with this program at all, but I certainly was not prior to this trip.  You can watch the official video about the program here, but in a nut shell: the passport is around $10, includes little maps of various geographic areas in the US (IE Midwest, rockies, etc), and each geographic area has a small blurb talking about points of interest there. The novelty of the passport is that at most points of interest you can visit, there is a stamping station where you cancel your passport. Additionally, there are also special stickers that you can buy to put into the book (not all sites sell the stickers, so it’s an extra special find when you visit a site that sells one; you can see below the Badlands sold a sticker - it was $1.00).

Since this year is the centennial for the National Parks program and there are additional stamps available to commemorate the year, PLUS this is also the birth year of our son, we decided it would be a neat way to encourage our son to enjoy traveling as much as we do. 

Buy the passports online here.  Buy the centennial stamp collection online here.

The Badlands

After picking up the above passport, our agenda for the weekend shifted focus a bit.  Although we had already planned to visit the Badlands, now with passport in hand our goal was to also get a stamp there (of course, duh!). 
The Badlands have always been a favorite of mine, simply because they are so unique.  Even just driving through is an interesting and oddly relaxing experience.  This year we even hiked the area ... sort of.  We would have been more adventurous and REALLY explored the area had it not been for the fact that the volksmarch was the next day and we didn't want to wear ourselves (or our son) out too much.  So basically, we parked at a couple of the designated view points and walked around on the marked trails provided.  In the future though ... for sure, more exploring here.
Bonus points on this one, btw, because when we flew out on Monday we skimmed along the edge of the area.  I was able to take the photo above from the plane.

Sturgis & Deadwood

The unique thing about South Dakota is how its daily life and culture has been influenced by the wild, wild west.  In Deadwood you can see the historical side of that influence, while Sturgis continues the modern day wild west vibe via its yearly bike rally. 
Of course, there are other cities in South Dakota that you can experience the wild west feeling at, too, but ... I'm a sucker for tourist traps.  Sue me.
Since we were still in the Badlands, and Sturgis was closest of the two cities from there, we drove to Sturgis first (yes, it was a fair drive from the Badlands to Sturgis - but a napping baby and a scenic view made for an easy drive). 
Now - neither my husband nor I are big into motorcycles.  But, I have an uncle who over the years has religiously made the pilgrimage to Sturgis for the bike rally.  Unfortunately, for various reasons, he ended up skipping that trip this year.  So in his honor, albeit a bit late for the rally, we stopped in Sturgis briefly just to be lookey-loos.  And, I do have to say, there's something to be said about visiting a city that's famous for some sort of event AFTER the event is well past having happened.  Sturgis was pleasantly quiet, and we were one of maybe three cars visiting the Harley shop.  Bonus points that all their bike rally gear was 50% off - merry Christmas, Uncle Mark.  LOL!
After driving through Sturgis and trying to imagine this tiny town overwhelmed with a seedy crowd of bikers, we headed out towards Deadwood and did a similar driving tour that was equally brief.  Then we turned around and started to head back towards Rapid City.  **Photo credit above to Google, not me!
The Air & Space Musuem - Rapid City

Before we threw in the towel for the night, we decided to make one last stop in Rapid City itself.  Lucky for us, we cruised right up to the Air & Space Museum at 4pm, which allowed just enough time to make a quick loop through the museum and plane displays outside prior to its closure at 4:30pm.
You might guess by our 30 minute visit that this museum is pretty small.  If you made that assumption, you would be correct.
While the things inside are interesting to see, there's basically two or three large rooms of memorabilia to look at and that's about it.  If you're an aviation nerd like my husband, you'll enjoy it.  As for me ... well, I was most amused by my son's reaction when a jet simulator started making a noise like it was revving up an engine for take off (a little background on this one: my husband had sat outside with my son at the airport the day previous, while they were waiting for me to arrive for our departure for this trip, and my little boy was ... less than impressed ... by the loud noise of passing jets - his face in the museum was basically "oh no, not this again!").
As we were getting ready to leave, I pointed out the above plane to my husband, wondering out loud what the R on the tail was all about.  With a deadpan face, he looked directly at me and said "it's a pirate plane, obviously".
Well, thanks for that one, husband.  Good thing our first day of touring in South Dakota was complete, because obviously one of us needed a beer and a break from all the driving we'd been doing in the car.  Heh!

Jewel Cave 
On our second day in South Dakota, after completing the volksmarch, we were back at it with the passport.  Since neither my husband nor myself had ever been to Jewel Cave, we decided to hit that up next.  **Photo credit above to Google, not me!
Of course, with just minutes before we were to arrive the cave, our little boy fell asleep in the car.  D'oh!  Being that neither of us even knew what this site had to offer, my husband suggested that he stay in the car with the air on while our son napped, and that I go inside to determine what to do next. 
As I made my way up to the visitor's center, I already had a feeling that this location was not going to be baby friendly.  What lead me to think that?  Well ... perhaps the sign with a box next to it that was posted well outside of the entrance.  First off, the sign had information on it about how you cannot have any packs or bags on your person once inside the cave ... that did not fit inside the box.  And the box, by the way, was about the size of a commercially produced loaf of bread.  Great, I thought - we had been carrying our little boy around in a pack most of the weekend, so that was obviously not going to work here.
Once inside, my concern was confirmed.  To quote the website verbatim: Children may NOT be carried on any portion of the Scenic Tour route.
Well, there went that visit.  Oh well!  For that day, I simply took a brief loop through the free informational museum and grabbed a passport stamp before departing.  Going back to the car, I told my husband the situation at hand, and we both agreed that we'd save this stop for a future visit (when our son is old enough to appreciate it ... and walk through it on his own). 

Wind Cave National Park

Since Jewel Cave was a bust and we had a baby sleeping on board, my husband and I both agreed a driving tour of Wind Cave might be a more viable option to pursue.  I knew nothing about this park, so once we got to the entrance we just followed the signs to the visitor's center and hoped for the best.
Lucky for us, the rangers at the park were incredibly helpful.  When I explained we had a sleeping infant in the car and wanted to (hopefully) take a scenic drive through the park that would allow him to continue napping, the Ranger handed me a free map and highlighted a few potential driving routes. 
With the Park Ranger's advice in hand, my husband and I opted to drive north through the park (taking 385 leaving the visitor's center and heading to 87) and then followed the gravel road loop through the far side of the park (the road marked with a 5).  This path eventually dumped us out on the south side of the park, with an easy transition back to Rapid City (5 fed into 101, which got us to 79 - a straight shot back to Rapid City).  If you're wondering - this entire route was perfectly fine in a sedan rental car, no off roading required.
Though Wind Cave also had ... surprise, surprise ... a cave we could tour, skipping that for the above scenic drive was actually a lot of fun.  There were quite a few nice spots along the drive to park and take in various overlooks, and we saw several buffalo roaming the park throughout (as you can see in the sub par photo I took and posted above). 
The most entertaining part to me, though, was when we exited off 87 to 5.  Wow was there a TON of prairie dogs there.  Prairie dogs were everywhere!!  We even parked on the side of the road for a little bit to just watch them scamper around - which resulted in one dog actually yelling at us through the car window (ok, squeaking).  Hysterics.  I loved it.

Mount Rushmore

On our drive out of Wind Cave, our little boy was still sleeping.  To this point he had already taken quite the extended nap (from Jewel to Wind and up 79), so we decided to hedge our luck that he'd wake up a happy baby and be game for one last stop.  Cutting off 79, we headed towards Keystone to see Mount Rushmore ... with the goal of getting the final stamp for our little guy's passport, of course.

As you can tell by the above photo, our bet paid off.  With a happy baby in hand, we got one last stamp for his passport and spent a few minutes enjoying the monument.  Plus, we even had some time for a snack!  Well, us adults who can eat solid food, anyway- lol.  In the cafeteria, my husband had a pie made from locally harvested rubarb, berries and apples. And since supposedly Thomas Jefferson had his own recipe for ice cream, and they were all about pushing that at their ice cream booth, I was down for some praline pecan.

Once we had eaten our snacks and collected the last of the 5 available stamps in the South Dakota Black Hills area, our trip drew to a close.  With a quiet evening back at our hotel and one last dinner out, the next morning we packed up and headed for home.

But of course, now we have this passport in hand so ... where to next?!  Ha!  Time will tell ...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tim Gunn & Fashion to Fit Normal Bodies

My goal of this blog has always been to promote the fact that no matter who you are, you can be active and work towards a healthier lifestyle. 

Most of you know I started working out when I was extremely overweight years ago.  Even today, at my more fit end of my weight spectrum, I still tip into a clothing size of 12-14 ... maybe a 10 when I'm not carrying extra baby weight.  While I'm not trying to comment on a size 12-14 being big or small, you have to admit - it is by no means tiny; and depending on where you shop, it sometimes even qualifies as "plus sized".

Recently, I came across an article by Tim Gunn that brought this topic to front of mind, and emphasized a point that I still somewhat struggle with given my clothing size. 

Since I've always been a fan of Tim Gunn, when I saw said article the other day, I was thrilled.  (Below is the article in full, since sometimes links tend to break and I'd like you to be able to read the article whenever you happen to find this blog ... not just for the week the link works at the Washington Post.)  Since the article is pretty long, I've highlighted my favorite parts in yellow in case you're strapped for time. 

And by the way, if you haven't seen the red gown referenced below, it was really stunning on Leslie.  Which by the way, absolutely dumbfounds me ... how can a woman like her struggle to find a designer?  Really!?  Aside from the fact that she's about 6' tall (and I am 5'8"), I feel like she and I have a similar body type.  No one wanted to dress her?!  Unbelievable.


Tim Gunn: Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women. It’s a disgrace.

Far more women in this country wear a size 16 than a size 6, but the industry seems not to have noticed.

By Tim Gunn

When I was chief creative officer for Liz Claiborne Inc., I spent a good amount of time on the road hosting fashion shows to highlight our brands. Our team made a point of retaining models of various sizes, shapes and ages, because one of the missions of the shows was to educate audiences about how they could look their best. At a Q&A after one event in Nashville in 2010, a woman stood up, took off her jacket and said, with touching candor: “Tim, look at me. I’m a box on top, a big, square box. How can I dress this shape and not look like a fullback?” It was a question I’d heard over and over during the tour: Women who were larger than a size 12 always wanted to know, How can I look good, and why do designers ignore me?

At New York Fashion Week, which began Thursday, the majority of American women are unlikely to receive much attention, either. Designers keep their collections tightly under wraps before sending them down the runway, but if past years are any indication of what’s to come, plus-size looks will be in short supply. Sure, at New York Fashion Week in 2015, Marc Jacobs and Sophie Theallet each featured a plus-size model, and Ashley Graham debuted her plus-size lingerie line. But these moves were very much the exception, not the rule.

I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women. It’s a puzzling conundrum. The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to new research from Washington State University. There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013). But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.

In addition to the fact that most designers max out at size 12, the selection of plus-size items on offer at many retailers is paltry compared with what’s available for a size 2 woman. According to a Bloomberg analysis, only 8.5 percent of dresses on in May were plus-size. At J.C. Penney’s website, it was 16 percent; had a mere five items — total.

I’ve spoken to many designers and merchandisers about this. The overwhelming response is, “I’m not interested in her.” Why? “I don’t want her wearing my clothes.” Why? “She won’t look the way that I want her to look.” They say the plus-size woman is complicated, different and difficult, that no two size 16s are alike. Some haven’t bothered to hide their contempt. “No one wants to see curvy women” on the runway, Karl Lagerfeld, head designer of Chanel, said in 2009. Plenty of mass retailers are no more enlightened: Under the tenure of chief executive Mike Jeffries, Abercrombie & Fitch sold nothing larger than a size 10, with Jeffries explaining that “we go after the attractive, all-American kid.”

This is a design failure and not a customer issue. There is no reason larger women can’t look just as fabulous as all other women. The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape. Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions. The textile changes, every seam changes. Done right, our clothing can create an optical illusion that helps us look taller and slimmer. Done wrong, and we look worse than if we were naked.

Have you shopped retail for size 14-plus clothing? Based on my experience shopping with plus-size women, it’s a horribly insulting and demoralizing experience. Half the items make the body look larger, with features like ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads. Pastels and large-scale prints and crazy pattern-mixing abound, all guaranteed to make you look infantile or like a float in a parade. Adding to this travesty is a major department-store chain that makes you walk under a marquee that reads “WOMAN.” What does that even imply? That a “woman” is anyone larger than a 12, and everyone else is a girl? It’s mind-boggling.

“Project Runway,” the design competition show on which I’m a mentor, has not been a leader on this issue. Every season we have the “real women” challenge (a title I hate), in which the designers create looks for non-models. The designers audibly groan, though I’m not sure why; in the real world, they won’t be dressing a seven-foot-tall glamazon.

This season, something different happened: Ashley Nell Tipton won the contest with the show’s first plus-size collection. But even this achievement managed to come off as condescending. I’ve never seen such hideous clothes in my life: bare midriffs; skirts over crinoline, which give the clothes, and the wearer, more volume; see-through skirts that reveal panties; pastels, which tend to make the wearer look juvenile; and large-scale floral embellishments that shout “prom.” Her victory reeked of tokenism. One judge told me that she was “voting for the symbol” and that these were clothes for a “certain population.” I said they should be clothes all women want to wear. I wouldn’t dream of letting any woman, whether she’s a size 6 or a 16, wear them. A nod toward inclusiveness is not enough.

This problem is difficult to change. The industry, from the runway to magazines to advertising, likes subscribing to the mythology it has created of glamour and thinness. Look at Vogue’s “shape issue,” which is ostensibly a celebration of different body types but does no more than nod to anyone above a size 12. For decades, designers have trotted models with bodies completely unattainable for most women down the runway. First it was women so thin that they surely had eating disorders. After an outcry, the industry responded by putting young teens on the runway, girls who had yet to exit puberty. More outrage.

But change is not impossible. There are aesthetically worthy retail successes in this market. When helping women who are size 14 and up, my go-to retailer is Lane Bryant. While the items aren’t fashion with a capital F, they are stylish (but please avoid the cropped pants — always a no-no for any woman). And designer Christian Siriano scored a design and public relations victory after producing a look for Leslie Jones to wear to the “Ghostbusters” red-carpet premiere. Jones, who is not a diminutive woman, had tweeted in despair that she couldn’t find anyone to dress her; Siriano stepped in with a lovely full-length red gown.

Several retailers that have improved their plus-size offerings have been rewarded. In one year, ModCloth doubled its plus-size lineup. To mark the anniversary, the company paid for a survey of 1,500 American women ages 18 to 44 and released its findings: Seventy-four percent of plus-size women described shopping in stores as “frustrating”; 65 percent said they were “excluded.”  (Interestingly, 65 percent of women of all sizes agreed that plus-size women were ignored by the fashion industry.) But the plus-size women surveyed also indicated that they wanted to shop more. More than 80 percent said they’d spend more on clothing if they had more choices in their size, and nearly 90 percent said they would buy more if they had trendier options. According to the company, its plus-size shoppers place 20 percent more orders than its straight-size customers.

Online start-up Eloquii, initially conceived and then killed by the Limited, was reborn in 2014. The trendy plus-size retailer, whose top seller is an over-the-knee boot with four-inch heels and extended calf sizes, grew its sales volume by more than 165 percent in 2015.

Despite the huge financial potential of this market, many designers don’t want to address it. It’s not in their vocabulary. Today’s designers operate within paradigms that were established decades ago, including anachronistic sizing. (Consider the fashion show: It hasn’t changed in more than a century.) But this is now the shape of women in this nation, and designers need to wrap their minds around it. I profoundly believe that women of every size can look good. But they must be given choices. Separates — tops, bottoms — rather than single items like dresses or jumpsuits always work best for the purpose of fit. Larger women look great in clothes skimming the body, rather than hugging or cascading. There’s an art to doing this. Designers, make it work.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

I WAS Featured!

A little over a week ago, I mentioned I was going to be featured in an article.

Well - check it out!

See the full article here.

And not to pat myself on the back or anything, but we were basically the only runners in the entire feature that weren't either (A) super heros, (B) wearing a tutu, or (C) in some cliché outfit.  Well ... except for the pirate.  Can't talk smack about that one being it was InkNBurn, heh!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Crazy Horse Volksmarch - October 2016

Earlier this year, during the prime of family vacationing due to summer break from school, several people's photos of road trips to South Dakota and beyond crossed my Facebook feed.
Now, as you may well know, I'm no virgin to that area.
But what caught my eye in all those photos was a comment mentioning this:
Hm.  A 10K Volksmarch?  Granted I'm not a big hiker, but the chance to walk up onto a monument that will likely not be accessible at that point in another 5-10 years definitely got my attention.
Since I was on maternity leave at the time and had nothing else to keep my attention (hahaha, like that joke?), I did research the event a bit, but not much.  Overall I thought it sounded interesting enough, and looked to be free, so I showed it to my husband.
Of course, being that we could easily fly to Rapid City, he was down. 
And so it came to be!
About three months later, on a Friday afternoon, I found myself boarding Bubba for the longest flight I've taken in a small plane yet.  The flight out to Rapid City was estimated to be about 3:15 to 3:30.  Yikes!  That's a long time in a small plane for someone who's not exactly a calm flier.
Luckily, the air proved to be smooth and my little boy napped the vast majority of the flight, so that helped a lot. 
It also helped that we landed just as a rainbow was starting to form, and that the scenery was beautiful as well.  I mean ... it looked like a postcard out there!

I particularly liked that I could see a full rainbow just as the gas truck pulled up to refuel our plane.
Well, the rainbow ... and I liked the airport's call sign and souvenirs for sale as well.

KRAP really was the call sign for Rapid City.  No joke.  And I still wish I would have bought a coffee cup there.  Dang.

Anyway - after making our arrangements with the airport staff to store our plane for the weekend, and getting our rental car, we were finally off and running on our adventure ... which was, for the evening anyway, simply a short drive from the airport and a hotel check-in.

The next morning, Saturday, we spent the day being true tourists.  More on that in a future post.  For now I'll just say we maximized our car rental during our trip.  Proof positive: we put almost 500 miles on the car during our stay.


Fast forward - Sunday.  March day.

From what little I was able to read online about this event, I had basically knew two important things that I needed to adhere to day of:

(1) I absolutely had to get to the monument's welcome center & parking area when the doors opened - that meant 8am.
(2) I needed to be prepared to HIKE, not just walk around on a flat surface.

Since the day was relatively warm and clear skied, I opted to wear a supportive pair of tennis shoes, jeans, a basic cotton t-shirt and sunglasses.  My husband, as you can see below, chose more traditional hiking shoes, a hat and shorts ... but I suppose he could afford to dress a bit lighter since he had a little insulator on his back to keep him warm, haha.

Despite our early start, we ended up arriving to the monument's welcome center at about 8:15am.  Thankfully, we were still early enough to get prime parking.  That was a much welcome bonus with a baby on board.
Since my little boy is still not on solid foods, though that is coming soon, around 8:30am we wrapped up feeding and changing him in the car one last time and then loaded him into his hiking pack.  When all was said and done, maybe around 8:45 we walked up to the start point of the hike (pictured above).
Much to my surprise, as I had thought the hike was free, it turns out you had to pay $3 per person to join the march.  No big deal ... though I was a little annoyed they charged for my 5 month old son as well.  Whatever.  Not like it matters - clearly money was not an issue, since I did opt to upgrade one of our passes to the $15 fee so we could take home a medal as well. 
Speaking of, the medaling process was somewhat of an oddity to me.  Rather than giving you a coupon to redeem at the end of the march, as soon as you paid at the front door they handed you this:
Well then.  Seems like a bad omen to take a medal at the start of a hike.  AND I have to carry the medal with me on the entire hike?  OK, I guess!
After paying our entry fees and getting our check point cards (there were various check points throughout the march where we were to get our card "stamped"), we were off.  Into the woods we went.

The first mile or so was a fairly easy hike, but on a somewhat unlevel surface.  You definitely needed to be mindful of your step, and watch what the person ahead of you was doing (many unstable seniors and inattentive children were on the walk and it wasn't uncommon to see someone stumbling along the way). 
The path wasn't always well defined, either, so at times there were yellow ribbons in the trees or markers like this to guide our way:

The first checkpoint also offered a porta-potty (yes, ONE potty).  Since I sort of needed it, I did stand in line for a second ... and then realized the line was just too long and opted to wait for the next check point instead.
Though the hike through the woods was pretty and enjoyable, it was a little disheartening to realize that, upon hitting the second check point, we had essentially walked about a 2-3 mile loop in the forest and come almost back to our start point.  Honestly, I wouldn't have noticed this myself if it weren't for a Lakota man in front of me at the second porta-potty line.  At least he had a good sense of humor about it when he pointed it out to those of us in line.  And I do have to admit ... it was kind of funny.
The good news was, despite the gratuitous hike we just completed, after clearing that second porta-potty line we were on to the meat of the adventure - starting our climb up to the Crazy Horse monument.

The trail at this point opened up to a nice, wide, gravel road.  It was a bit of a slow killer, since it was a constant incline, but the road offered stunning views all around the front and side of the monument as you went.

The gravel road, though well groomed, was long and meandering.  At times it felt like it would never end.  But finally, after the last steep climb you see in the photo above, we were there.  At the top! 

Of course I had to take a quick selfie under the nose to prove I was there.  I know it's a little vain, but at least I didn't try to "pick his nose".  And please - if you go there yourself - DON'T DO THAT!  This is a memorial to the native people's struggle in the United States.  Posing as if you're picking his nose is tremendously disrespectful.
Once at the top, it was impossible not to be in awe of the view.  I tried to take a couple of panoramas to capture it, but still this does the view no justice.  (The first of the below is off the back side of the monument, the second is a view off of Crazy Horse's pointed finger).

Also, not to lose sight of how high above the ground we were, I took a picture off the front edge of the monument.  If you look closely in this photo you can see the welcome center and parking lot in the upper left corner. 

Eventually, though I could have stayed up there an enjoyed the view for hours, it was time for us to move on.  *Sigh*
Descending, the trail directed us towards the back side of Crazy Horse, or the "arm pit" if you will.  At that location, there were some people from the build team talking to hikers about the monument.  I didn't stop to chat, but I did walk up to the opening ... just because I could.  I was curious immediately when I saw red spray paint circles and what looked to be metal tie rods scattered on the "ceiling" of the opening - see the 2nd photo below.

After that last view, that was pretty much it for the hike.  The rest of the walk dumped you back onto the gravel road that lead directly back to the visitor's center.  Just before the building came in to view, though, there was one last sign:
And that was it!  In about 2 hours time, including various porta-potty breaks and a long pause at the top, our hike was done.  Thirsty and hungry for lunch, we tried to eat at the restaurant in the visitor's center.  Obviously, that was a huge mistake - having waited for the hostess to seat us for over 10 minutes, with ample tables open, we finally decided to bag it and eat elsewhere.  (There's something to be desired when it comes to service in South Dakota - must be the small town atmosphere, they are SO SLOW).
Before we left, I snapped a quick picture of our check point cards and then threw them into the trash.  I'm not into hoarding every little paper scrap as a souvenir, as you can tell. 
A word on the check point "stamping".  You'll notice in the photo above that they marked each check point on our card with a letter, eventually spelling out the word VIGA.  One of the girls at the later check points informed a hiker, who had inquired about the word, that it was "the name of one of his daughters".  Cool, I thought, they're honoring Crazy Horse's kids.
**Buzz**  Wrong.
Without getting too political about this monument and the family who's building it (because I see the good of wanting to honor the Natives of this country despite the fact that it's taken the Ziolkowski family over 65 years so far to build the damn thing, while their family is estimated to net a combined salary of almost $450,000 a year to do so), I was highly disappointed to learn that Viga is the name of one of Ziolkowski's extended family (hence the comment about being a daughter). 
Really?  They couldn't have found anything related to Native culture?  This reeks of narcissism to me.  Especially when you factor in the back of the finisher's medal from the hike.

But I guess when you consider all the attention the Borglums get for doing Rushmore ... ?  I don't know, maybe it's justified.  It just feels self serving to me.

Regardless, overall the event was a good time and I'm glad we did it - all THREE of us!


A few closing notes:

- Obviously this hike is doable for entry level hikers and for people carrying a pack (with or without a baby in it, *ahem*).  As I mentioned above, I saw hikers of all levels partaking in the event ... and a few more aggressive people doing trail running, too. 

- Aside from a handful of steep steps down, the overall hike is fairly easy to navigate.  There is a significant climb to get to the top, however, so don't expect to just cruise through the trail.  At a fair but not overly aggressive clip, you should be able to finish in around 2 hours.

- Do come prepared.  Dress in layers appropriate for your current weather conditions.  Wear supportive shoes.  If you struggle with stability at all, consider a hiking staff of some sort (I actually kind of wished I would have brought one since my husband wasn't able to help me on a couple of steep spots being that he had the baby).

- There are water and bathroom stops, some of which also sell snacks.  Don't rely on these to be your sole source of water or bathroom facilities, though.  Meaning: don't be dumb like me, go before you start, and have water in your car for when you finish.

- Carry cash when you hike, single bills if possible.  The rest stops are staffed by volunteers who are fund raising for their various groups (IE churches, sports teams, etc).  I wish I would have had some cash to chip into their tills.

- Take your time.  Enjoy the hike.  Take in the views.  AND: engage with the people around you if you can.  (I was especially surprised by the number of Native Peoples who participated.  Many of them had interesting things to talk about as they walked - I didn't talk to many people but enjoyed listening to a lot of conversations as we went).

Thursday, October 6, 2016

I'm Being Featured -

Hahaha - I can't believe it.

Well ... technically, I can.

The other day,'s Facebook page posted a request for "spookiest race day costumes".  Well, you know me and race day costumes.  I mean ...

And let's face it - that's just showcasing a few.

Anyway, the next morning after submitting the above photos, I turned on Facebook to see this message:

So ... now I wait!  Let's see what happens next!
Want to re-read the recap that featured that costume?  Go ahead - do it!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Women Run the Cities 10K 2016 (Mermaids)

Women Run the Cities 10K (6.2 miles)
Average Pace 13:37/mile

It's no secret that I love Women Run the Cities.  In fact, I love it so much that for the last three years now, I have run this race.  In 2014 I ran the 5K with a friend, and in 2015 I dropped down from the 10 mile to the 10K to "run" (since I was pregnant I don't know that it was so much "running", but whatever). 

Of course, it would have been ultimate justice to have run the 10 mile for the race this year to make up for last year's drop down, but ... being that I hardly have time to eat and sleep these days, training has obviously taken a back seat.  Not that I'm upset about that, it's just reality. 

On a side note to that, my goal has been to get back into a more regular running routine this fall, which is actually happening.  But despite getting back into a somewhat regular running schedule, realistically I don't see myself taking on a longer race (IE 10 miles +) again until 2017.

Anyway - back on point.  Women Run the Cities.

For 2016, after much debate, I decided to do the 10K with my sister.  Both she and I have lost our running mojo in the last year due to various reasons, and we figured what better than a race on the books to get us up and running - literally.  And quite frankly, it worked, as we both obviously made it to race day:

Nothing ruins a race recap like putting the very last photo of the day first, am I right?  Oh well.  May as well jump right into it I guess!

As you can see in the above photo, Women Run the Cities takes place near Minnehaha Falls in St. Paul.  Overall the course is fairly flat, yet is terrifically scenic thanks to being along the river and passing through a fairly wooded neighborhood.  (In years past, the trees on course have been a beautiful highlight of fall colors, but this year it's been a bit too warm for the trees and they were mostly green still). 

Race day was pretty much show up and go, since I had gone to packet pickup at the Edina Galleria on the Friday prior to the race.  It's always nice to not have to worry about packet pickup day of ... but the trade off to that this year was a poorly organized check in process at the Galleria. 

Check in at the Galleria is kind of a long story, but basically what ruined it for me was the woman heading check in.  She was NOT friendly - like AT ALL.  On top of that, there were roughly 15 people working the check in booth, and literally 3-4 of us runners there to check in.  And somehow, although there were only 2 people in front of me, I still ended up waiting in line for close to 10 minutes while the majority of the 15 people working the check in booth either chatted with each other or stood around looking confused. 

Adding insult to injury, the woman heading check in allowed a runner who JUST WALKED UP to leap frog me and pick up their bib first, even though I had been standing and waiting for quite some time.  To be fair - yes, they were checking in for the 10 mile and I was doing the 10K.  But, you'd think with only 2 people ahead of me getting 10K bibs and 15 people staffing the check in table, someone else could have gone to the 10K pile and found my bib ... I mean ... how hard would that be?!

Both my friend and I left check-in feeling a little disappointed, since we have always spoken so highly of this race in years past.  But we agreed that despite the poorly organized check-in, the rest of the race was excellent and we didn't let it cloud our race day attitude.

Especially when we left the sub-par check-in with the beautiful race day swag in hand.

A hooded, wicking, embroidered jacket?  Wowza!  :-)

Ok - swag and check-in aside, back to race day.

So my sister, friend and I show up on race day ready to go. Since we did bib pickup in advance, all we needed to do day of is drive to the Fort Snelling light rail station, hop the train, and walk down to Minnehaha Falls.

Easier said than done considering the rain.  *sad clown whistle*

Of course, despite most weather forecasters saying the rain was supposed to be done around 7am, it is still pouring buckets during our drive to the light rail station.  And once there we discover it's surprisingly cold when the wind starts blowing against our damp skin and clothing. 

Needless to say, once we finally arrive to the race start, we discover the atmosphere was a little bit lacking.  But, despite the weather downer, the crowd still had a positive feel to it.  And, although I had a hard time hearing the announcer due to our position in the pack (we had chosen to line up towards the back 25% or so), the race appeared to have started on time because before we knew it - we were off! 

As the crowd started to shift and push through the starting gate, my sister and I said farewell to my friend, who was truly aiming to RUN the 10 mile.  Finally, we crossed the starting mat, I punched on my GPS, and we talked strategy ... which was basically, that we had none.  LOL! 

Agreeing that we'd take a "try it and see" approach, my sister and I ran the first mile at about an 11 min/mile pace and then scattered walk breaks throughout the rest of our run.  Basically, we did a run/walk interval that resulted in 1 mile of running, roughly a quarter to half mile of walk break, and repeat. 

Each mile that we completed, I ended up being pleasantly surprised that I was holding to about an 11 min/mile and not feeling fatigued or sore.  Of course, I was working to keep the pace (not struggling, just working).  But given the most I've run in the last 6 months is 1 or 2 miles in one day, non continuous, I was pleased.

To motivate us along on our run intervals, it helped that we received plenty of "nice outfits" and "hey - look at the mermaids!" types of comments on our "costumes". 

As we ran, a few of my favorite callouts included:

- A young girl, perhaps 4-6 years old, in an absolute panic trying to show us to her mother before we passed by.  "Mom.  Mom.  Mom!  Mom! MOM!!!! MOOOOMMM!!!!  LOOOOKKK!!!!!  MERMAIDS!!!!"  (Mom's response, after being interrupted because she was legitimately trying to cheer for all the runners - "YES, I SEE!!")

- A male volunteer, cheering from the sidelines "Nice outfits!  Mermaids! ... um, right?"  (To which my sister replied after he was well outside of ear shot "Only a guy would follow up with the um, right!  LOL!  What does he think we are, walleyes wearing bikinis?!"  And I rebutted "No, we're OBVIOUSLY Jonah being eaten by the whale - duh!"  Snickers abounded.)

- A male police officer directing race traffic and cheering "I like your shirts!"  Which in and of itself isn't really that funny, I mean - yeah, they're more dresses than shirts.  But the better part was the response of a lady who was passing us as he cheered.  After the police officer was out of hearing range, she said "Well, I don't know if he likes the shirts so much as what is in them."  (I mentioned to her that I am breast feeding, and she could obviously see that my sister is ... well endowed herself.)  Her follow up response was "Well, whatever the reason, you girls have it.  Congratulations."  **Foot note: being congratulated on course for having big boobs - not something I expected at a women's only race.

Of course, I expect that wearing funny outfits on race day will garner a wide range of responses.  And to be 100% honest, that's part of why I do it.  I mean - first of all, the outfit is funny, and I enjoy making people laugh.  And second of all, what fun is it to run a race if you're not going to have a good time doing it?! 

So may as well enjoy the responses you get to your outfit, even if it's a comment about how big your boobs are, right??!!?!

Between my sister and my conversations, and the constant cheering for our mermaid outfits, I was totally distracted on the run.  I suppose then, it goes without saying, I could hardly believe my eyes when it registered where we were on course ... and that an hour had already passed.  Even better, my GPS was telling me we were within a mile or so of the finish line.  Sweet!

Honestly, I was a little tired at this point, and worried how sore I might be the next day after running so much.  Given my concerns, I talked my sister into walking most of the final mile, with the goal of picking up to run once we got closer to entering the park again - which I didn't time quite right, as I had figured we'd run the last quarter to half mile, and in reality it ended up only being a little over 1/10 of a mile.  Whoops!

Mileage calculation errors aside, we finished our run strong and were greeted at the finish line with an oversized water bottle (bigger than the standard 12-16oz one, or whatever you usually get - HOORAH!), and the 10 year commemorative finisher's medal:

Ooooh - shinny!

After getting medals, my sister and I made a quick loop over to the snack table and scurried right back to the finish line.  We tried to hurry because my 10 miler friend, per my pace estimations, wasn't too far behind our finish.  Our haul from the snack table included pretty much one of everything that was offered - a banana, a bag of potato chips, a piece of trail bread, a mini nut goodie and mini Laura Bar, and a chia/quinoa grain free granola bar of some sort that was actually pretty good. 

Being that I'm hungry 100% of the time right now with the breast feeding, I proceeded to stuff my face and vacuum up every crumb of food I had on hand before my friend came through the finish.  And when she was done, I was incredibly tempted to circle the table a second time with her as she got her goodies.  BUT - I restrained myself, since I know how much it pisses me off when I see some greedy jerk at the finish line taking multiples of something before everyone else has had a chance to eat.

I try to be good.  I really do.  :-)

Once everyone had a chance to get their snacks, the three of us made a quick loop of the vendor booths in the post race party area.  They were giving out the usual stuff - reusable totes, various types of bracelets (we ended up taking some slap bracelets for my sister's kids), flyers, etc.  Nothing was terribly exciting, so after a few minutes of browsing we decided to call it good and caught the light rail back to the car.

Luckily we had dried off enough at that point that we weren't getting my new car's seats wet ... though my feet were still pruny when I got home and took my socks off!


And that's the story of how race bib #76 joined my collection.  Here's to another race soon ... which now that I'm finally caught up on my back log made me realize ... I don't have anything more booked for 2016.  This might be the end of my race season this year.   I guess we'll see!