Monday, December 28, 2009

Part 3 of My Trip Out West

So to continue my backwards recap of my trip, I'll end where it began with Zion/Springdale, UT. When I arrived in Vegas, Will picked me up at the airport and we drove down the strip to head out of town. We stopped to walk through the Wynn and Encore hotel/casinos as we had heard they are the newest and we wanted to see them. (The Aria opened the last day of our trip.) We stopped and had lunch at a great little restaurant in The Wynn. It had 'terrace' in the name, but I don't remember the whole name. It was warm enough to sit outside so we enjoyed a nice view of the hotel pool and ate salads among the many birds on the terrace.
We left Vegas and headed East to Utah. There really isn't much in the 2.5 hour drive between Vegas and Springdale. We did drive through St. George, but couldn't see much from the road. It was mostly flat. Mostly desert. Mostly deserted.

We arrived at the Desert Pearl Inn, just off the road while it was still daylight. The hotel was nice and the town was very quaint. It was off season so there were very few tourists in town, but the locals were out and about.

After we settled into the hotel, we went for a short run through Zion National Park, which was about 3 miles from our hotel. I wore shorts, two shirts, a hat, gloves and my trail running shoes. We were in the shade most of the time so it was still pretty cold. We got in a decent run and just took in the sights. It was so beautiful! In Zion you start in the canyon and hike or run up.

Will had to work some while we were there so I had some time to myself to run, take pictures, read and relax. The first morning we were in Springdale, I got up and went for a run. I wore some running pants, two shirts, a hat and gloves. It was 27* or less. I had planned to run for an hour, but after 33 minutes, I headed back to the hotel for a warm shower and hot coffee. I relaxed on a sofa in the gift shop with my coffee and read Nelson DeMille's 'The Gatehouse.'

In the afternoon, we hiked Angel's Landing and the West Rim Trail. Angel's Landing is the most popular attraction at Zion. If you make it to the top (pictured left) you can see the entire canyon.

Will had been telling me about his previous hike up Angel's Landing. He told me that there's two spots where it's really, really scary. He also told me about a conversation with his uncle where he learned that a week before we were there, a woman died in a fall off of Angel's Landing. The second such death this year.

Angel's Landing

Walter's Wiggles - along the path to Angel's Landing

We walked the paths up Angel's Landing and then got to the technical section. We started climbing using the chains available. We didn't get far. I started getting a little dizzy and decided it wasn't a good day for me to go all the way to the top of Angel's Landing. I wasn't 100% and was feeling shaky already. We hadn't even gotten to the scariest part. I have to admit that the stories of the women dying this year got to me. It was humiliating seeing people coming down walking upright past us. But I still feel that day wasn't a good day for me to attempt it. I will have to go back and attempt this again!

We went left and hiked the West Rim Trail from the landing. It was still very gorgeous and a great hike.

The second day we hiked the East Rim Trail. Below are images from that hike:

This hike was gorgeous and longer though not as strenuous. We found a few arches along the way.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Now Here's Something I Hope You'll Really Like!

The holidays are hectic! This one is even more so because I've been spending time with Adam's family as well as mine. So it's taken me a couple of weeks to get back and post about my favorite part of my trip out West!

We left Springdale, UT (where we stayed when we hiked in Zion (more on that later)) on Friday evening and headed to Bryce Canyon. I think the drive was about 2 hours and as we went we saw more and more snow. I wish our car had had an outside temperature gauge so I could have taken pictures of the temperature dropping. It was so cold!

The drive went through a lot of very small towns that sprouted up between vast areas of nothing. In the South, where I spend most of my time traveling, you see pine forests along the interstates and even the back roads are lined with houses, pine forests and the occasional corn field. But in Utah, it was bare mountains, bare fields and the occasional cow pasture. A small amount of snow was on the ground, though, and it made everything look so beautiful. We finally arrived at Ruby's Inn near Bryce Canyon where we stayed the night. It was pretty dark when we arrived and a good 20* colder than where we'd left. The area where Ruby's is, is not very populated. There were about 3 hotels, a gas station...and that's about it. It was also not tourist season so most places had closed for the season. It reminded me a little of the movie 'The Shining.'

After dinner, we spent some time warming up in the hot tub. The Inn had an indoor pool and hot tub. Unfortunately a loud, rowdy group of boys had taken over this area and made it less than relaxing. So we got out and turned in early. We decided to go to Bryce Canyon very early so we could see the sunrise over the Canyon. I'd seen pictures of the sunrise and I was excited to see it for myself. I had a roommate 11 years ago who had been to Bryce and showed me pictures. I'd wanted to go since then and I was almost too excited to sleep!

The alarm went off around 5am so that we could get ready for a 7:20am sunrise. I got right out of bed without hitting snooze. That has likely never happened before. The night before we heard it would be a very, very cold morning so I'd mentally prepared my outfit for it. I turned on the TV while Will started getting ready. It was 8*. Officially the coldest temperature I've ever experienced! But it's a dry cold, right? I was most shocked to see on the Weather Channel that it was snowing in Houston, TX!

I put on a pair of running pants that I'd brought for lounging around in. Then I put on my hiking pants over it and was excited to see that I could fasten them over the other pants. This was looking good! Then I put on my UnderArmor shirt, then the thin shirt I'd been hiking in, then the shirt I'd brought to run the race in and then the warmest sweater I own which really isn't for hiking. Then my jacket. Luckily it all fit. I put on my hat and gloves and then noticed Will had taken everything out of his suitcase and had flipped the case over and was shaking it.

"What are you looking for?" I asked.

"My other glove." He replied.

Will had either lost or left his other glove at home. After checking the suitcase and the car, the other glove was not found. We grabbed coffee and hot chocolate from the restaurant downstairs and headed towards the park. It was cold and dark and we were the only people in the park that early. The only fools!

We parked and walked up to 'Sunrise Point.' There was some snow and ice on the paths so you had to be careful where you stepped.
I began passing the time by snapping some pictures of sights I found interesting. It was so incredible even in the low light before dawn. Will spent the time trying to get warm. He ran around and did jumping jacks, keeping one ungloved hand in his pocket the whole time.

Unfortunately, and as is my luck, it was cloudy this morning and a clear view a picture of the sunrise over Bryce Canyon was not to be. It was still gorgeous and still worth seeing. There is nothing else like Bryce Canyon in the world. After we gave up on the sunrise, we did a short hike through the Canyon. It was about 3 miles and it took us through "Wall Street."

The hike was gorgeous and I did end up warming up by the end of it. I'm happy to report that Will didn't lose any digits as a result of his one-gloved hike!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Vegas Baby!

Yeah, I hate my title too.

I had a wonderful time out West! But I'll start with my least favorite part. The half marathon in Vegas.

The race started at 6:15am in front of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. I stayed at the Wynn. When I looked at the map provided by the marathon, my hotel looked like it was roughly 2 - 2.5 miles from the start. "Cool, nice warm up, I thought." I left my hotel at 5:30am to head to the race. I had a little trouble getting out of the hotel and onto the strip. They make it so confusing so you'll just stay and gamble at the casino! Anyway, I ran into a line of people waiting to take a shuttle to the race. I thought about taking the shuttle, but I was too antsy to stand there in the freezing cold (it was 30* at the start) and I thought "It's only two miles." So I started running down the strip towards the Mandalay Bay. The street had been closed to traffic and me and one other person were the only crazy people running in the street to the start. It was actually pretty cool. While I hate getting out of bed early in the morning, there is nothing like being outside when people and places are waking up.
But of course this is Vegas which is open 24 hours a day. I wasn't surprised to see people stumbling out of casinos at 5:45am, I was surprised at HOW MANY people were stumbling out of casinos at 5:45am. I passed one group of five or six drunk people who asked me "Has the marathon started already?" so I replied "Yeah, I'm winning!" They cheered for me. After I'd run about half a mile, I still couldn't see the Mandalay Bay. I asked a cop blocking a side street if the Mandalay Bay was in the direction I was heading and he said "Yeah, a long way that way." I laughed thinking "Not if you run marathons."

Turns out the cop had the last laugh. By the time I got to my corral, I'd run at least 3.5 miles. I had 2 minutes to spare and had to stand in line to get into my corral. I saw a guy climbing over the fence to get in to the same corral. I recognized him as the guy standing in the back of the line to get onto the shuttle at the hotel. I felt that I'd made the right decision to run to the start. I would have gone mad standing in line and cutting it that close. As it was I felt pretty good and really ready to run a good race.

The race started and being in corral 4, I was 3 minutes off the line. I felt really strong and ready to run. I ran the first mile at an 8:42 pace. It was really cold. I wore shorts, an Under Armor shirt with another dry fit shirt over that. A hat and gloves. I should have worn tights.

The first part of the race heads from the Mandalay Bay towards the airport then you turn 360* and head back up the strip. When I made that turn, I was running directly into the wind and the sun was barely up. Brr! The course, however, was completely flat and for that I was grateful. At mile 2 I was still running sub-9 miles. At this point we were running past where we'd started and I could see a significant number of runners still waiting to start. There were 27,000 total runners in 30 corrals starting both races. I wondered why they'd hurried to get into their corrals.
I ran sub-9 miles until roughly mile 5 or 6. Into mile 7, which was really mile 10.5 for me, my foot started to hurt and I was tired. I began slowing down at that point. Luckily, there was no surprise hill at the end, like Chicago! I managed to finish at 2:09. I was happy with that, all things considered. It was really the 3.5 mile walk back that killed me!

There were a few things I liked about this course in addition to the flat course. The hotels broadcasted race coverage on the screens on their signs along the strip. It was pretty neat to see where the leaders were on the course. There were plenty of water stops along the course. The crowd support was adequate given the time the race started and the temperature. The start and the finish line seemed to be well organized. There were lots of great goodies in the race packet and at the finish line.

Things I didn't like include the lack of bands. It was a Rock 'n' Roll series race and I remember 3 bands on the course for the half. The organizers claim there were 35, but I don't think they know what they're talking about. The packet pickup parking was disorganized and we spent 15 minutes looking for a spot in the parking deck. We finally gave up and parked across the street. Some direction would have been nice. Additionally, finding the packet pickup area was difficult. We had to walk probably a mile through the Mandalay Bay to find the small room we needed. The place was packed with people and there were no signs directing you. The expo was small and pretty crappy.

There were a number of interesting sights on the course, as you can imagine. There was a small temporary wedding chapel set up at mile 3 or 4 and 50 couples were married during the race in a 3 minute wedding ceremony. I counted 7 Elvi (the plural form of 'Elvis'), 3 Amigos running together, 3 Santa Clauses, 1 Superman (there's always a superman!), one cheesehead, and one Captain America. The Captain America was a first!

Overall it wasn't bad, but I don't plan to do this race again. I'm glad I did it, but Vegas just isn't me. Too cheesy, too sad, really.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Las Vegas here I come!

I leave very, very early tomorrow for Vegas. 6am flights should be outlawed. I'm looking forward to being out West, but not getting there. I have a layover in Cincinnati. I met Adam in the airport in Cincinnati8) Still a layover by yourself is no fun. I'm bringing Nelson DeMille's latest book 'The Gatehouse.' Heard it isn't one of his bests, but I still love the way he tells a story.

I'm looking forward to hiking in Utah's Zion National Park. I've never been to Utah, but I've heard it's "by far the most beautiful state." I'm bringing my camera and hope to get some good shots.

As for the race, I really don't know how it's going to go. I'm on my second round of antibiotics for a sinus infection and it doesn't seem to be going away. I'm hoping between now and Sunday I make a remarkable recovery!

Pics and more to come!