Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Just Haven't Been the Same Since That House Fell on My Sister

Of the six New Year's Resolutions I made this year, I've already succeeded at one: seeing two plays this year. I've seen Jersey Boys and Wicked and I highly recommend both.

Four years ago on vacation I picked up the book Wicked, The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. I enjoyed the book. A couple of years later a friend of mine asked me if I'd seen the play. I didn't know there was a play. It was in Charlotte and she said it was great. I didn't get to see it and was really disappointed. Then it came back this year. I had waiting 2 years to see the play and heard from everyone I knew who'd seen it that it was amazing. I was worried it wouldn't live up to the hype.

We got to Oven Auditorium with about 10 minutes to spare. We found or seats which were in the lower section to the right of the stage and twenty three rows from it. There was a big monster, either a pterodactyl or a dragon with wings made of metal above the stage as part of the frame. There was a curtain with a map of the Emerald City and the surrounding region hiding the stage. A green light was shining behind the map highlighting the Emerald City. We didn't have to wait too long before the orchestra started and the ptero-dragon began to move, his eyes glowed red, steam spewed from his nostrils and his wings flapped. And we were in for three hours of excellent entertainment.

The play or the tale, starts with the villagers celebrating that the witch is dead. Glinda the good witch arrives to celebrate with them and one of the villagers asks if a rumor that Glinda and the wicked witch were friends is true. Glinda then begins to tell the story of the life of the 'wicked' witch.

The story is tragic, but the play does have a lot of funny moments. I had heard it described as a play that anyone can relate to. The characters are certainly relate-able. It is a great tale and in the end good does trump evil, but it challenges your idea of what you thought was 'good' is in this story.

The cast was phenomenal. Elphaba (the wicked witch) had an amazing voice. The dancing, the lighting and the stage forced your imagination to see story as bigger than the stage. It definitely lived up to the hype.

So other than hanging out at the theatre I have been ramping up my mileage. I don't officially start training until next week, but I've been getting into a new routine to prepare for it. My next big races are Hood to Coast (H2C) in Oregon, the Ashville Half Marathon and Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota. For training I'll be using the F.I.R.S.T. beginner program again, but adding an extra 5-7 mile run close to the long run in order to prepare for H2C. I'll also be adding hill repeats in addition to the speed work to prepare for H2C. I've never done a relay race and I haven't gotten any good advice on how to prepare. I've heard "you have to be in better than marathon shape' and that's been it. Not helpful. There are no training programs on the web for it either. So I'm winging it. The tough part is going to be getting in that extra run and still having a life.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eureka! I Made It!

So it's been a while since my trip to Northern California, but it's been pretty crazy since I got back and I'm just now stealing some time to write about it.

In short, the Humboldt Forest is gorgeous and Napa contains the best landscaping I've seen since Italy.

We got to San Francisco at around 11pm local time after leaving Charlotte at 4:30 and stopping briefly in Houston. Exhausted, we managed to find the hotel shuttle, get checked in and hit the bed by some time around midnight. It was a great hotel that was conveniently located near the airport. That's about as much as I can say about San Fran as we left out the next morning after picking up the rental car and headed north to packet pickup and Eureka.

Our road trip was pretty much confined to HWY 101, which was an easy road to follow. We passed through the usual small towns that have highways running through them similar to what you see on the way to the beach. Only this was Northern California, not Eastern Carolina. So instead of seeing industrial styled strip malls with barber shops, "home-cooking" diners and little shops with rebel flags in the windows, we saw tie-dye shops, cafes and cute restaurants with healthy and tasty food in old refurbished buildings.

We found packet pickup at the start line for the race in the Humbolt Forest. It consisted of about 8 tents, lots of volunteers and only a few items for sale by one running store in the area. We didn't have any trouble getting parked and getting our packets. The volunteer who handed me my bib number repeated my city and state to me. 'Yes' I said. Again he repeated it and said 'you came all the way from North Carolina?' That was the first clue that this was a small, rather local, race. I took my bib to another tent where I switched from the full to the half. The lady at that tent asked me if I knew some relatives of hers that also live in Charlotte. I didn't know them. After getting my race shirt, which rocks!, we headed back out of the forest after stopping for some photo ops, and headed to the Red Lion Hotel in Eureka.Eureka is about 40 miles from the Humboldt Forest and about the closest place to stay if you're visiting Humboldt. I have searched for words to describe Eureka. If you live in Charlotte, it's very similar to NoDa. You have very industrial parts mixed with cool victorian homes or cafes or restaurants. There are no tall buildings. There is waterfront and the waterfront is very beautiful. Overall, it has a sad feeling to it. I don't know the history of the area, but I had the sense that is was once a booming area and a nice place to live, but something, maybe the recession, hit it hard. I don't recommend a trip to Eureka.

We went to a neat restaurant called Lost Coast Brewery and enjoyed a nice meal, some great micobrews and then hit the bed early for the race the next morning. Race morning we woke up, got ready and headed 40 miles south to Humboldt. I was a bit worried in the morning that I would be cold. I hadn't brought a long-sleeve shirt to run in and I was afraid that had been a mistake. When we got to the race start and parked I realized I would be fine. Actually I knew it would be hot! I was pretty glad I wasn't running the full. The temps were in the upper 50s and it later got into the 60s. Not terrible, but a bit warmer than a good race temp.

The course was simply gorgeous! When you looked into the forest, you couldn't see very deep into it. I couldn't really tell if you could even walk off the beaten path in this forest. The race course was on a paved road which contained some potholes and dips. The redwoods were right at the edge of the road. You could see where some of them had been chipped when cars or trucks or something large had brushed them. The first 6.5 miles was pretty much up hill. But it wasn't steep hills, it was more like slight inclines. It was a little deceptive. My asthma was still an issue. When I tried to push it up the hills, it pushed back. I took my rescue inhaler a couple of times and then decided I wasn't doing well enough to risk overdose on medication. I backed off and ended up walking more than I'd like. At the turn around point we started back down to the finish line. The downhill was nice and I really think it was a great course for a PR if you're in shape for it. After the race we took a few more pictures and headed back to Eureka for showers and lunch.

Chloe, my travel companion on this trip, had read about Arcata which was only about 10 miles North of Eureka, but was supposed to be pretty cool. I was relunctant to get back in car because I felt like we'd already spent too much time in it. However, I already knew there wasn't much in Eureka and agreed to head up to Arcata for lunch. After a lot of driving around searching for 'downtown Arcata' we finally found it, parked and headed out on foot to check out the shops. It was about 4pm on Sunday. FYI Arcata apparently shuts down at 5 or 6 on Sundays. That was a bit surprising considering it was a little college town home to Humboldt State. It did have a very 'college' feel to it and was much nicer than Eureka. We got some coffee in a little cafe and then checked out an outdoor store around the corner.

Then we went looking for lunch/dinner. Not an easy chore as most places were closing. We were referred to a place called Luke's Joint. It was delicious! Really great food! It was across the street from what must have been the town square. We got a table in the window and talked to the owner about the area. He told us about a wine bar around the corner that wouldn't be open for another hour. We headed out from Luke's and tried to kill some time in a little used book store. The store was two stories tall and packed with used books. We both managed to find a couple of books and then decided to just head back to Eureka rather than killing more time before the Wine bar opened.

Back in Eureka, we walked from the hotel to the Carter House Inn, which is a bed and breakfast that occupies about three Victorian style buildings in Eureka. There we were able to buy some wine and a cheese and fruit plate while we chilled out on comfortable chairs by a fire. It was chillier in Eureka than Humbolt by about 10 degrees. Not so horrible that you can't stand it, but cool enough that a nice spot by a fireplace was comfy.

The next day we left Eureka and headed South to Napa. On the way we stopped at a little town called Willits. We chose to stop in Willits because of a cafe that we saw on 101 that looked good. In California cafes serve coffee and baked goods. Not lunch, like they do back East. The guy in the cafe referred us to a Burrito Exquisito place across the street. "Organic, Natural, Fast Food." Really, it said that! We grabbed burritos and went to eat at plastic tables behind the building. The food was really good and surprisingly not greasy. After checking out a tie-dye shop we got back in the car and headed to Napa.

While checking into the Marriott, we asked the lady at the desk for some suggestions for downtown Napa. The lady began telling us that Yountville is 10 miles North and has some great dinner places. Again we asked her about downtown Napa. She said it was 10 miles South and yeah there are some places there. We were confused by her behavior but headed to downtown Napa. We found a beautiful park near downtown and left the car to go tour Napa. It was a Monday evening and there wasn't much going on. We found that most of the shops were closed or getting ready to close. We were surprised at how few people were around. The downtown area consisted of several small shops and a mall. Nothing special and not quaint. We walked down to the area known as Riverfront and found a large, newly built mix-use building. It was built to house shops and restaurants on the lower level and condos or apartments above. There was one shop occupying the lower level. It was bike shop that was closing for the day. The condos or apartments above looked mostly vacant. It looked like it had been started before the recession and then taken a hit.

We found a nice Italian restaurant and got a table without having to wait. The food was great and the wine was great too. Afterwards we found the car and headed back to the hotel.

The next morning we asked the concierge about places to rent bikes and which wineries to visit in the Napa Wine Country. She pointed us to Yountville for the bikes and gave us a map as well as vouchers for free tastings.

Driving through Yountville we realized why the lady at the desk had pointed us this way. It was so beautiful and quaint. We found the bike rental place, got the bikes, a map and were off. It was a beautiful day. It was sunny and warm but not too hot. We visited 3 or 4 wineries and did about 3 tastings. We took a lot of pictures! The pictures are beautiful but do not capture the essence of the area. We were there during a non peak time and didn't have to stand in lines or fight crowds to get to wineries or wines. A couple of the places where we tasted wine actually gave us additional tastings. Something we really didn't need, but we didn't want to be rude. We stopped after the second winery at a roadside deli and store for lunch. It was a small place that looked like a rural grocery store. They had a really nice cheese case and I got some cheese, bread and a salad. We ate at a picnic table behind the store.

We continued the tour after lunch and were surprised to find that we'd had the bikes for about 6 1/2 hours! We returned the bikes in Yountville just before the bike shop closed and started our walking tour of Yountville. We found a little place called Bistro Jeanty where we had dinner. It was a French restaurant and we were able to get a table outside.

After dinner we headed back to San Francisco and back to the same DoubleTree Hotel by the airport. After checking in, returning the rental car and catching the shuttle back to the hotel our buzz had worn off and we were in full on withdrawal. I hit the bed early because I had to get up at 4am to make a 6am flight. I made my flight and got home with a stomach ache from lack of sleep, dehydration and jet lag. Totally worth it!

In all it was a great trip and we spent just about the right amount of time in all locations except that I didn't get to see SF at all. If I had known what Eureka was like, I'd have stayed in Arcata and left after the race, still spent only the one day in Napa and gotten in a day in SF. But it was a great trip.