Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Friday, June 06, 2014

The Unintentional Mud Run, or How To Bond With Your Daughter (and get a new iPhone in the process)

I went for a run with my daughter last Saturday morning. We were camping at El Rancho Manana for our fifth Homegrown Kickoff Bluegrass Festival. El Rancho Manana is a beautiful campground located in some rolling terrain just west of St. Cloud, Minnesota. It has the only access to Long Lake, a beautiful little lake with some nice bass and sunfish.

We started out about 7 AM on Saturday morning. It had rained the night before, so much that Nina and I had canceled our plans to see a band at 10 pm on the main stage. So I knew trails would be kind of muddy. And, it looked like rain was threatening again. So I slipped my iPhone (3GS, old model) into a Ziploc bag in my fanny pack. I was going to use Map My Run to track our mileage, and I wanted to be able to access my phone, so I did not seal the bag.

At first we ran around the camp sites by the lake. Then we found a trail that cut from the lake camp sites to the main stage area. So far, so good. Then I found a trail that would lead from the stage area to the rough campground that I had planned would be the halfway point of our run. It was a bit muddy in some areas, but nothing we could not handle.

Then, at some junction, I took a wrong turn. But, I told myself, even if I took a wrong turn, this campground has a good system of trails, and they would all lead back to the campground, right?

Then it started raining. At first I thought, how exhilarating to be running in the rain! In the pouring rain! And, this trail will turn back to the campground soon...

Then the trail started going uphill, and it was washed out in places from previous heavy rains. Kind of hard to run, but oh well.

Then the trail led through piles of saturated horse manure, way out in the woods. Not so fun. I began to question my navigating, but it was still raining, and I did not want to get my phone wet!!! (Irony to follow!)

Then the trail alternated between bogs and uphill runs. It seemed like the trail was going uphill forever. I kept waiting to hear Ms. Map My Run tell me we had gone one more mile, but she seemed strangely silent. Then we passed a sign: "Old Smokey, Highest Point in Stearns County". No wonder it seemed I was running uphill so much. I think it was about 1460 feet, about 200 feet above our camp site.

I was starting to hear some mutterings from Nina. Some curse words maybe. I was feeling kind of uneasy myself, but if life has taught me one thing, it is this: Just keep swimming!

We came to an open pasture, with a faint trail across it. It had stopped raining, so I decided to pull out my phone to see where the hell we were. Because I was pretty unsure at that point. I thought surely we would have circled back to the campground by then.

When I pulled out my phone, I realized I had not sealed the bag, and there was water around the phone. So much, that I could see water creeping underneath the screen. Crap.

We crossed the pasture because it was easy running/walking, much easier than washed out hillside trails and bogs. Nina was still muttering curse words, and I was starting to think of a few myself.

Then we came to a sturdy barbed wire fence, with a gate we were not meant to open. I hate to stereotype, but this fence must have been built by a German immigrant farmer, it was so solid and meticulous. The family dog could not have found a way under this fence. But at that point I saw water, and a house next to some water. So I commanded that we find a way under the fence, towards civilization. We crawled under the fence where a tree had fallen on it, and slogged across the open field and some low lying, waterlogged meadows. We reached another fence, and another, and crawled under them. Finally we reached a road. Big Fish Lake Road.

I had read enough maps to know that Big Fish Lake was one lake over from the campground. For a moment, I thought the lake whose waters we could see was Big Fish Lake, and we had gone a whole land section off course.

We started down Big Fish Lake Road, with the intention of finding an occupied cabin, knocking on the door, sheepishly explaining our situation, and asking for a ride back to the camp ground. By this point I was sure Nina would not be speaking to me for, well, a couple weeks minimum.  But, as luck would have it, we came to a dead end. Which, it turns out, was tantalizingly close to the camp ground. But we did not know if we waded along shore, we would be back to camp in ten minutes. So we turned around up the road. We walked to the first road junction. There was an SUV approaching, towing a pontoon trailer. I flagged it down, and luckily it was a nice guy about my age. I explained our situation, and he gave us a ride back to the camp ground.

All in all, we went a little over 4 miles. When we finally arrived, soaking wet, back at our camp site, Nina and I said little to each other. Then we drove to St. Cloud, where I upgraded to an iPhone 5C. I was long overdue for an upgrade, and I think at that point I had earned it.

I had not ever really had the experience of feeling lost. I usually have a good sense of direction, but on these winding trails in the pouring rain, I had lost it. I think Nina was genuinely scared at some point, but I always knew we could not get so far lost we could not find our way back. And by the way, she kicked my ass running. She can do an eight minute mile, while I still struggle to do an eleven. I think we both learned something about ourselves that day. And we can laugh now!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Breaking the silence

This blog post title has a double meaning. I am breaking my own personal silence on this blog, silence which was brought about by a winter that tried the best of my abilities to cope, as well as this mental block thing which challenges my every effort to write. And, lately, the question of the futility of blogging when most of the bloggers I know have given up, and blogging has gone from a platform for everyone to a means to "create content", "attract followers", and "monetize". And sell something. And hope someone hears you out there.

It seemed so much more friendly and open in 2006. But, times change and technology marches forward. It also means that few people are likely to ever read this. Given my innate nature to avoid controversy, that's a good thing. But sometimes, things happen that I just can't keep quiet about.

The second meaning of this post title has to do with something that was going on in 2006, actually from about 2000-2008, about 20 miles away from here. Apparently no one knew, or if they suspected something, they kept their suspicions to themselves. Minnesotans are like that.

On Friday, April 11, Victor Arden Barnard, age 52, was formally charged with 59 felony counts of criminal sexual conduct. His whereabouts are unknown; he was last seen in Spokane, Washington. He was the leader of a religious group (cult) called River Road Fellowship, which operated near Finlayson, Minnesota, until 2008. I won't link to the news stories; they can be easily found.

This pervert represented himself as a Christ like figure to the men and women whom he convinced to follow him, and to the children who had no choice in the matter. They had a religious community around here, and pretty much kept to themselves. I think I know some of the land areas which they communally owned, at least by the looks of it, and every so often I would see people in the grocery store whose manner of dress suggested that they were following some rules I did not know of. But, I have nothing against people dressing and living simply. Maybe they have something to teach the rest of us, if only they will interact.

This pervert established a "camp" for select young women in the community. With their parents' blessing, these young women went to live in a commune type situation, with Mr. Barnard presiding. I know the place; it was sold to the Salvation Army and is now a camp for inner city youth. But this "camp" the young women lived in was something different. These young women were supposed to be the "chosen", to remain virgins and never marry. Except when Mr. Barnard wanted their favors...

The group broke up in about 2008, when some of the men in the congregation found out that Mr. Barnard had also been taking liberties with their wives. The group scattered, with some moving to the Spokane area. In 2012, two young women who had been part of the camp came forward, and a long investigation ensued.

The reason I am writing about this is the inevitable image problem it gives Pine County. But further, it is about the apparent willingness of most of the people of this county to accept these stereotypes, and think there's no way to fix it. Most people around here, given this news, will say "Well, that's Pine County for ya!" I have seen tweets by young people that give into the myth that somehow this is just the worst hick place to grow up in. My response: If you feel that way, you aren't living, and you aren't trying.

Stuff happens everywhere. If it ain't yours, don't own it. If it happens to have happened in your county, but happened in an isolated group of individuals who refused to associate with the rest of the community, don't own it. There are derelicts everywhere. To think your school has more of them, or to think that once you graduate and move as far away as you can, your life will be so much better, does not solve anything. I am proud of my kids for acknowledging that not everyone is good, but still being proud of their school and becoming good members of their community.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

This cross country skier is back!

I have always loved cross country skiing. From my early beginnings, on wooden skis crossing Rush Lake to explore the mysteries of Heron Island, to my high school years, competing on my high school Nordic team although I didn't really know how to be an athlete, or didn't think I could be one, to my honeymoon and anniversaries at Gunflint Lodge, and early adult years getting to know the trails at Wild River State Park, skiing has been a part of me. But I never realized quite how much, until this winter.

Until the weekend after Christmas 2013, I had not skied for several years. This was a combination of my not making the time for it, a succession of winters with scant snowfall, and my having outgrown my old boots and having broken one of my fiberglass poles that had been with me since high school. I kept telling myself I would buy myself boots and poles if there was a winter when there was good snow, and I had time, etc. I see all of these now as nothing more than self defeating excuses.

As it turns out, this was a good winter for snow early on, and I received a sum of money on Christmas morning that would pay for boots. The day after Christmas I went to the nearest store, T & M Athletics in Willow River, who happened to have the exact boots and poles I needed. I am lucky to have a local store like that! I would have hit the trails that day, had it not been for a family Christmas gathering, and the Christmas Bird Count was the day after. I had promised my kids I would take them shopping to spend their Christmas dollars on Saturday, but not before I had a chance to try out my new boots and poles.

I was a bit awkward at first, and my skis could have used a fresh glide wax. But I skied a couple miles that first day back. I went back the next day, though it was below zero. I skied with a friend on New Year's Day. I started going to Banning State Park every chance I could get. I enjoyed seeing open water on the Kettle River when it was ten degrees below zero, I enjoyed gliding down slight inclines, I enjoyed finding the courage to ski down Skunk Cabbage hill and the Deadman's Trail both in the same day, without falling. But mostly I just enjoyed being out on the trails, my heart pounding and lungs bursting. Skiing.

In January I happened to hear about a ski race in Ashland, Wisconsin. 10 kilometers, flat course across Chequamegon Bay to Washburn, Wisconsin. I had a place to stay in Ashland, so I figured "Why not?" Yeah, why not ski my first, longest ever race in nearly thirty years?

The week before the race, I was home four days out of five with the kids and myself sharing a nasty stomach bug. The day of the race I decided I would not eat anything I would not want to see again hours later. But I felt pretty good.

The starting line was divided into areas where skiers were supposed to "seed" themselves by suggested times. I, not knowing what to expect for a time, hung out between the 45 minute and 1:15 signs. 

The start was like a freeway jam slowly freeing itself into motion. The first ten minutes of the race, I felt like I was inching along with the crowd, waiting for things to thin out. There were a couple bottlenecks where ice conditions forced everyone to merge into a small crossing area. I did not feel like I got up to speed until about the third kilometer. I started feeling confident. I started passing people. I was amazingly agile at changing lanes. With classic style cross country, there are a couple grooved tracks set in the snow. If you want to pass someone, you have to find an opportunity, and switch over to the passing lane. I only fell once while doing that. 

Even as the skiers along the course thinned out, I found myself pushing harder all the time and getting frustrated when I got caught behind slower skiers for any length of time. I though maybe it was good that I got behind people, to pace myself, but I realized two things: I felt good, and I felt competitive! I would push myself as long as I could, and pass people whenever the opportunity arose. 

There were rest stops set up every kilometer or so, with hot cider and water, maybe a bonfire, and maybe even live music, or a snow sculpture of a fire breathing dragon that breathed real fire. They go out of their way to make this race fun! That said, I only stopped at one rest stop, because I had this horrible gob of mucus in my throat and I needed water. Even so, I felt bad when I saw skiers passing me.

I had thought at first that the course would be a straight shot across the bay, with the lights of Washburn growing ever larger. Not so. The course, lit by thousands of candle luminaries, zigged and zagged in order to bring it up to 10 kilometers. Every time I rounded another bend I thought I was headed into the final stretch. The last hour of the race was a blur of dark, lights, staying on the trail, passing skiers, and thinking the next rest stop along the way was the finish line.

When the real finish line finally came into view, I was still amazingly not tired. In the last minute, I left the grooved track to pass a couple more skiers. Hey, I wasn't in this just to have a leisurely ski at this point. When I crossed the finish line, I was sprinting. So fast I missed the display that showed my time. 1:31:13. A bit longer than I thought, but hey, I finished! And I could have skied a lot harder, I felt so good!

Later at the apartment, I looked up my time and standing. Overall for skiers I placed 732nd out of 2266; I was in the top third of all skiers! That includes skate skiers, who are always faster! For women I placed 280th out of 1174; for my age class, 36th out of 180. Pretty darn good for a woman who had not skied in years until the weekend after Christmas. 

I will continue to ski this year as long as there is snow. This spring and summer I will run, keeping up fitness for skiing while training for a half marathon. Next winter, more ski races! Mora Vasaloppet 42k classic? We'll see. As long as it's fun. :)


Friday, January 31, 2014

Knowing the cold

Before this winter, I thought I knew a few things about cold weather. After all, I'd been blogging about it since 2005, and we've lived in this house, more or less, since 2008. But, every winter is different. This winter is challenging my nerves, but it is different. So here's what I have learned:

1) I can tell the temperature in the morning by the action of the storm door. If it is below -15, there is no pressure in the pressure door closer thingy. So the door slams, and it's cold.

2) I can tell the temperature by the bedroom floor. If it is below -20, my feet will go numb in less than a minute. It's cold.

3) I can generally, but less accurately, tell the temperature by how my nose feels when it's sticking out of the nest of down comforter and wool blanket. It depends largely on whether I stoked the wood stove in the middle of the night (most nights unfortunately I cannot muster whatever it takes to do that!)  

4) My car will start at any temperature it has encountered thus far. The battery gets a bit sluggish when the temperature is below -30.

5) The creak of the compacted snow underfoot sounds a lot different at -30 than it does at 0.

6) When you set out with the specific goal of seeing a snowy owl, you will not find one.

And so it goes. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Where the rivers freeze and the summer ends

The winter of 2013-2014 has, by all accounts, been brutal. I am proud to be a Minnesotan, and I take a certain sinister pleasure in hearing weather reports from states on the Eastern Seaboard, where six inches of snow and 10 degrees above zero is considered a "snowpocalypse". We Minnesotans are winter tough. The city of International Falls regularly reports the lowest temperatures in the nation. But this winter has been unusually relentless. I hear it is the second coldest winter on record in Duluth, MN. And that is from a city that has seen its share of cold.

It started in early December, the day I finally bought a car for Vinny, a 2010 Ford Fusion with high highway miles but in beautiful shape. We had decided the 1990 F150 pickup had too many things that needed fixing, and gas mileage was not acceptable. The day after we signed the papers and brought it home, it snowed. So much snow that both of our cars got stuck in the driveway coming home.

Then it got cold. Seriously, bone chilling, 30 below zero cold. We got the cars dug out, and paid $85 for having the driveway plowed. Too much snow for our 4 wheeler with plow attachment. We realized the recent delivery of wood was comprised of mostly birch. Any Minnesotan or New Englander will tell you that, while birch is great for starting a fire, it burns hot and fast and does not have the staying power of oak or maple. Still, it is wood and it is heat, so that's a good thing.

Still, we use propane to heat the cabin. A very inefficient setup, but we like having that space. I bought 250 gallons in early November. Right after New Year's, the tank was at about 5 percent, and we called for an emergency weekend delivery. When I saw the bill, I was floored. $2.29 a gallon, plus a $100 "off hours" charge. Luckily I have credit with the company, and did not have to pay it in cash.

That seems like a bargain now, with prices above $4 per gallon and rising daily. The Midwest, for various reasons, is in a propane supply crisis. If the tank had not run low when it did, the 300 gallons would have cost us twice as much. And that is for "luxury" heat. We could close up the cabin and have everything, including the Xbox, in the house where the wood stove is. But for now, we're good, but if the propane runs out, I will not buy more.

We will get through it, and spring will come. And I have many more stories to tell

Friday, October 18, 2013

The payoff

Vinny called me on my cell phone while I was still at work today. "Mom, can I take the bass boat to Island Lake? Austin and I want to go muskie fishing!" 

Of course I said yes. This being late October in northern Minnesota, the chances for good fishing days are getting slimmer by the day. And today was the annual Minnesota teacher's conference, a school holiday. And, a 16 year old, still grasping the idea of being able to take a boat to a lake, and with the knowledge and experience to launch and load a boat. Perfect opportunity.

Nina went with the boys and operated the trolling motor. It was a chilly day out there, with intermittent rain showers. They talked with a few locals, who were mostly taking their pontoon boats out of the water for the winter. They came back well after dark, Vinny triumphantly carrying a landing net with two nice northern pike into the house, oozing pike slime onto the floor. "What should I do with these tonight?"

"Put them in the cooler on the deck, or back in the live well." With nighttime temperatures hovering around freezing, those fish should be fine. And I am looking forward to a fish fry tomorrow!