Adventure Goals for 2013

As 2012 is left behind and a new year begins, I have some goals (lofty in some respects, realistic in others) to have a more adventure filled year than 2012.  The biggest adventure I’ll be having, is that my wife and I are expecting our second son in March.  Nothing on this list will give me more joy than the joy I’ll be experiencing on March 19th (assuming baby #2 is punctual).  With all of these things I aim to accomplish in the new year, they will only happen if I can successfully balance adventure and family.  It’s very important for me to spend quality time with the fam, and adventuring out in the wild while my wife is at home with two kids both under the age of 4 would put me in the running for worst husband of 2013.  So, there needs to be a balance.  As part of that balance, I’m looking to try to have more local adventures.  Things I can do close to the Twin Cities or the rare northern Minnesota trip.  Obviously I’d love to take my wife and sons on all of these excursions, but the boys aren’t old enough for most of them yet.
With that in mind, here are the things I hope to try to do in 2013.

Run a 50 mile Trail Ultramarathon
Last summer I ran my first ultra, the Afton Trail Ultramarathon.  It was a great experience, albeit a very tough and challenging one.  This biggest commitment of this isn’t the race itself, but the time investment the training necessitates.  By my estimation, if I can run 30 miles, what’s another 20?  Right?  Right?  I’ve got my eye on you Superior Trail Race.

Climb at Barn Bluff in Red Wing and Blue Mounds State Park
Taylor’s Falls is great for a Twin Citian such as myself, and there’s still a lot of routes I haven’t done there, but a trip to either Barn Bluff in Red Wing or Blue Mounds our in Luverne would be a lot of fun  I believe Barn Bluff is mostly lead climbing, so…
***Bonus Goal ***
Learn how to lead climb..

Mountain bike Cuyuna Trails
Two falls ago I biked Cuyuna and loved it.  I hope to be able to take another crack at it.
***Bonus Goal ***
Mountain bike way more often than I did in 2012.  After getting a new bike towards the end of 2011, I found it tough find time to hit the trails.  Shame on me.

Paddle the Minnehaha Creek Watershed point to point
This is basically in my backyard so I have no reason not to do it, other than low waters because of a drought and the need for an aluminum canoe.  But other than that I don’t have a good excuse.  It’s pretty meandering and easy from what I understand.  Bonus points if I take my (then) 3-year-old son on his first canoe ride.


Hike section of the Superior Hiking Trail
I love hiking in northern Minnesota, but haven’t been able to hike the SHT for a few years.  Even if I can only get up there for one or two days, it’d be worth it.  I’ve never been up there for the fall foliage….

Run a marathon; either Grandma’s or Twin Cities
I’ve ran a lot of half-marathons and an ultra-marathon  but I haven’t run a regular road marathon since I ran Twin Cities in 2008.  I’d like to run Grandma’s since I’ve never done it – new experience – but Twin Cities is a lot more convenient.

Sleep outside in the backyard with my son
On the eve of his 2nd birthday I set up the tent and we camped outside in our backyard.  Awesome and memorable.  

Birthday camping is the best!
Birthday camping is the best!

Rock climb Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin with my uncle
My uncle who lives in the Northern suburbs of Chicago takes a trip north with a group of guys to climb at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin.  He has invited my brothers and I on the trip numerous times but the timing has never worked out.  Crossing my fingers for 2013.

Participate in the Hoigaard’s challenge
This is a prime candidate to be the first thing on my list I don’t accomplish.  A friend of mine recently asked me if I was interested in trying to accomplish the Hoigaard’s Challenge.  This includes participating in all three of the following events: The City of Lakes Loppet (XC skiing, Feb. 2-3), The Tri-Loppet (paddle, MTB, trail run, June 23), and the Surly Trail Loppet (trail half-marathon, Sept. 21).  Complete all three and you get a pin.  Neato.  I’ve done the Surly Trail Loppet before and really enjoyed it.  The Tri-Loppet is particularly appealing to me because I’ve thought of doing tris before but I don’t swim a lot (not those distances anyway) and I don’t have a road bike.  I do however enjoy mountain biking quite a bit, so this is right up my alley.  The City of Lakes Loppet however…although it’s something I want  to get into more, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve XC skied in my life.  That’s why if we ever get around to actually signing up, we’d just be participating.  Not competing.  But hey, gotta start somewhere right?

What are your goals for more adventure in 2013?  Leave a comment below.

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MTB Trail Review: Chequamegon, Hayward Cluster

Long overdue post.

I spent some time in Turtle Lake, WI this summer for work. Turtle Lake is very, very small and outside of the casino that’s there, there’s not a lot to do in the way of entertainment. So, I decided to bring my mountain bike and see what northern Wisconsin trails I could rustle up.  After leading a workshop one day, I quickly changed and drove over to Hayward, WI check out the Chequamegon trail system. This is a huge network of trails in Northern Wisconsin that has some of the best singletrack trails in the entire state.  Chequamegon is built on and around the storied Birkebeiner ski trails and so there are a number of areas that cross a ski trail.  Now, by the time I actually got there, it was near 6:00 and I had precious little time remaining seeing as how I needed to drive all the way back to Turtle Lake. With that in mind I chose the Hayward cluster of trails since they were the closest.

The Chequamegon trail system has miles and miles worth of quality trails. I probably only scratched the surface on about 10% of trails offered, but still really enjoyed my time. Starting from Mosquito Brook Trail Head, I did portions of the Kakwa trail, Sugarbush trail, and Birkie trail and Plantation trail.  Overall, the trails are well maintained and followed the descriptions in the trail guidepretty much to the letter.  Most of the trails I were on (except for the Birkie trail) were “rolling singletrack, moderately technical”.  Nothing too bad, still a great time.

Single track meets Birkie trails

After getting back to my car I had to find something to eat and settled on finding something local in Hayward.  Luckily for me, I stumbled upon the Angry Minnow  Brew Pub.  The bartender there talked me into getting the Jalapeno Slaw Burger, which – aside from riding trails – was the second best decision I made all day.  The River Pig American Ale and Tre Svend’s Imperial IPA are fantastic as well.  I really wish I had more time to explore the area and try different clusters (and go back to the Angry Minnow).  Guess I have an incentive to go back!

Angry Minnow in Hayward. So Good.

Tracked with my phone, not completely accurate.

Cougar Mountain Trail Run

This post is overdue, but towards the end of June my family packed up and went to Seattle where my uncle and his family lives and we had a family reunion.  At the time I was entering the final few weeks of training before my first ultra trail race, and need to do a few more runs.  I absolutely love to run in new locations, especially if the terrain and vistas are different so I always try to bring running gear with me whenever I travel.

On this trip, I really wanted to run more mountainous trails since the Twin Cities area of Minnesota is pretty flat.  My brother and I were able to sneak away one morning and do exactly that, heading off to Cougar Mountain.

Misty mountains

The day started out as typical Seattle weather with overcast skies and drizzly precipitation.  I had overdressed and wore a long sleeve shirt which proved to be a big mistake.  Although it rains a lot, I worked up quite a sweat throughout the run and wished I had clothing I could take off or ditch.  Despite this, the run was a lot of fun.

Good trails, good times.

There were definitely challenging hills to climb and great single track and wider horse trails to run on.  My brother had never really done trail running before so it was a pleasure to watch him experience the thrill of bombing a hill after putting in the grueling work to get to the top of a hill.  The vegetation in the area is so lush and incredible, the forest seemed so vibrant and alive.

Previously on LOST…

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go quite as far as I wanted because we had to get back to family obligations, but I thoroughly enjoyed the run we did get.  If you’re in the area and are looking for a good run that’s easily accessible from Seattle, this is a great place to check out.

Trail Run: Minnesota River Bottoms

The old adage of “practice how you play” certainly applies to trail races.  A lot of my training up to this point for the Afton Trail race 50k has been on streets and “managed” paths and yes, even the treadmill. But with the warm weather showing up sooner than expected I’ve been able to get out on some trails and train the way I’ve been wanting to.  I should have gotten out even sooner when there was snow on the ground but it is what it is.

One of many trail heads 

Since it was so warm and beautiful out yesterday I decided to make the short trip from my house and drive down to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge/Minnesota River Bottoms.  I had never ran this trail network before and now that I have, I’m very eager to go back.  Starting at the Bloomington Ferry Rd. access point, I went for a 22 mile out and back.  Because of the quick and drastic snowmelt, the trails were muddy.  Really muddy.  My Scott’s were constantly caked in mud and I was sliding all over the place.  Whenever possible, I tried to run on the “shoulder” of the trail so that my feet could find better purchase in the soft ground.  On multiple occasions it was unavoidable that I would plunge my foot into icy and muddy water up to the ankle and just when I thought it was drying out it’d happen again.  Often times I thought this is what I Atreyu must have felt like in the  Swamp of Sadness.

Despite the trail being in less than ideal conditions (including having to cross a waterway by way of a fallen tree), it was an awesome time.  The undulating trail is relatively flat overall and though there’s not very many steep climbs, the terrain does change.  Transitioning from running on mud, to sand, to hard-pack, to gravel, to dirt service road, and back to mud forces you to not only change your running strategy, but makes you work different muscle groups as well.  The refuge itself is beautiful, and it wasn’t overly packed with people, despite being housed in the large suburb of Bloomington.  In fact, if not for the occasional reminders of a highway I would run under, or a factory I’d catch a glimpse of on the other side of a lake, it’s very easy to forget that you’re in a major metropolitan area.  The trails wind through beautiful trees and marshy areas and there are a lot of migratory waterfowl flying around and overhead.  At one point on the return leg, I saw a pack (herd?) of no less than nine large white-tailed deer out for a forage in the warm weather.

Thank you bridge.
Water crossing option #1
Water crossing option #2
Option #2 it is

Thanks for nothing
This was my turnaround point

Training in all types of conditions and preparing for all variables is all part of the training process.  Whether it be a trail or road race, mountain bike race, backpacking trip, or climbing event, ideal conditions are rare.  It is therefore imperative to put your mind and body into a space so that it can handle whatever, whenever.  Hopefully running on mud trails will put me one step closer (pun intended) to be in that head space.

Running on Glass

Although there’s a plethora of paved and manicured trails in the Twin Cities area, I’m having trouble finding close and accessible trails to my house (I have a 20 month old son at home who needs his naps, which shrinks my optimal running time and distance).  Even though I’m training for the Afton Trail Run, I’ve been doing a lot of running on the aforementioned streets and manicured (crushed limestone) trails and, yes, the basement treadmill.

While I would love to spend every day running outside on trails, that’s just not a possibility at the moment.  Once the weather gets warmer I’ll be venturing out more and experimenting with trails in the vicinity of the Twin Cities (Theodore Wirth, Murphy, Carver) and other parks and trails throughout Minnesota.

Today I was able to run outside and for the first time experiment with my new trail shoes on some actual trails. These were short and nontechnical trails in some local parks in Minnetonka, but they were fun to run nonetheless. Because the weather has been unseasonably warm last few days and there has been a lot of recent thawing, the trails were mostly covered with ice and very, very, slippery ice, as ice is wont to do.

Icy path

At first I was tentative about this and ran cautiously, but barely over a mile into my run I slipped, fell, and hit the dirt. And that’s when…my run got fun. See, I have the opportunity to run on straight and paved surfaces every single day. I can put ear buds in and listen to music and tune out. All I have to do is follow the pavement or concrete in front of me. But on trails, where the conditions are not always the same and you’re forced to pay attention to your surroundings, its so much more invigorating. When there’s the potential to fall, slip, stub your toe, get muddy, catch a branch or worse, your body is tuned to the environment around you.

Here in Minnesota, we don’t have the luxury of running in mountains, but we do have snow and ice and cold. And if that’s all I can get during these months, I’ll take it. It sure beats running only on man-made surfaces.

Ultramarathon For Newbies

The desire to push myself further comes and goes.  There are times when I get a bee in my bonnet and I have to do something right away to fill the impulse and need I have to get off the couch and challenge myself.

2008 was like that.  For really no specific reason, I felt the urge to sign up for my first marathon.  Now, I had never done a marathon before and never considered myself a runner.  In addition to playing a lot of team sports up to and including college, I was in track for two years during my high school career.  Not because I really loved running, but because I needed something to do.  Other than that, I held virtually no desire to run anywhere.

Signing up for the Twin Cities Marathon in ’08, it was therefore atypical of me.  Part of the reason I signed up was because my two brothers and father wanted to run as well, so the prospect of it be a family venture was appealing to me. But, I also wanted to challenge myself. I don’t think I’d ever run a 5k previous to this and certainly not a half marathon. Since then I’ve run the Twin Cities marathon and a handful of half marathons and team relays. My first trail race was last fall when I ran the Surley Trail Loppet through Theodore Wirth Park and it was an awesome experience.  I loved it.  It was a lot of fun, very challenging and although it gave me the desire to want to run another trail race it also inspired me to push myself further and more outside of my comfort zone.  If I can already run (and train) for a marathon, what more am I capable of?

Finishing is the goal.

So I’ve made the decision to go all out and try a trail ultramarathon. This should prove to be quite the challenge for me since I haven’t run a full marathon since 2008 and running a trail race is a lot different from what I’m accustomed to. I’ll have to learn how to hydrate and feed my body throughout the course of a 50k and I’ll have to come up with new ways to train myself to deal with the hills I will encounter. Fortunately the race I’m eyeing is in Afton State Park so I won’t have to deal with any sort of extreme altitude gains or mountains of any sort, but there is still a big difference in the way that I prepare for a race. So far the biggest change I’ve seen in my training is that the running emphasis is put not necessarily on distance ran but in logging a lot of time running. Which is freeing in a lot of ways because I care less about my pace and more about the overall picture. To help prepare myself for the grueling pounding my body will surely take I also want to place more of an emphasis on strengthening my core and my muscles. In the past when I would train for a race I would pretty much only focus on the running itself and neglect the strength and nutrition (if I go for a 3 hour run, I should be able to eat whatever I want, right?).  That strategy has worked in the past but this is a different ballgame so for this race I would like to lose some weight.  The less weight I have to carry for 31 miles the better.  I would also like to strengthen my core muscles so I that I’ll be able to be a stronger runner for a longer period of time.

The Afton 50k sign-up isn’t until March 8th, so there’s still time for me to back out and make this all irrelevant.  I’ve told enough people now so that I have some accountability and it’ll be harder for me to not follow through on my (lofty?) ambitions.

Side note: If you’ve ever run a trail ultra before, I’d love to pick your brain.   

MTB Trail Review: Cuyuna

I’ve only had my new ride since August so most of my riding has been around the Twin Cities with an exception just over the border in Wisconsin.  A couple of weekends ago I had the privilege of presenting at Super Hero Tech Camp and thought it’d be a perfect opportunity to haul my bike up north to ride in the iron range at Cuyuna.  Word on the trail was that this spot was not to be missed, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

The middle of a Thursday isn’t usually when you’ll see a lot of traffic on a trail (especially up north) so I had the trail mostly to myself.  Only two cars were in the parking lot as I pulled in around noon.  The day was cool and crisp and the chilliest ride I had done to date this year, though as it warmed up it worked out perfectly, accentuating the fall colors of the trees which lent itself to a very distinct Minnesotan autumn.

Though I only had a vague notion of where the trails were I was fortunate enough to snag the sole remaining trail map available at the trailhead.  Had I not been so fortunate, it’s very possible I would have ridden the same trails over and over, lost in repeating fashion.  Which I suppose can be both a good and bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

Time was of the essence (I did have a conference to get to, remember?) so I was focused on getting the most bang for my buck.  The Mahnomen Unit (inset B) seemed to offer exactly that.  I started with “Crusher”.  True to its name, it was a nice climb for someone who hadn’t been able to get out and ride.  For some reason I still can’t figure out, I ended up looping around and climbed Crusher at least three times, dominating (not) “Rocky Flats” and finally getting to “Miner’s MTN.”.  There were at least three times that made me stop and reflect on how awesome Cuyuna is, and Miner’s was one of those times.  After climbing up, you get to a point where there is a lookout (cars can get there too, but it’s better by pedal) and you can see no less than three lakes around you.  Although I had a lot of riding left to do and the clock was ticking, I did have to stop to take it in for a while and appreciate what the trail designers had intended.

One of the most beautiful parts of the trail

“Screamer” was a section that was just a blast to ride.  Steep with big banks and turns, it’s the kind of trail that forces you to pay attention.  Instead of wondering where the other trails are at or how to navigate to them, Screamer had my full and undivided attention from the start.  I appreciate that nuance of mountain biking.  There are times when you can coast, and there are times where on of the shortest sections of a trail demands that you listen to it or you’re not going to like the result.  It may exist, but I’m not sure that I’ve ridden a section in Minnesota that holds that much natural exhilaration and doesn’t need debris or perfectly placed obstacles.

Good advice

To round out my favorites, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include “Sidewinder” and “Roly Poly”.  Neither of these are particularly difficult or challenging, but they did bring a great smile to my face in a fun and exuberant way Screamer or Miner’s MTN did not.

I was running out of time but did manage to squeeze in the Portsmouth Unit (inset C) and basically just rode “Drag Line” around Portsmouth Mine Lake until I got to the state trail that would take me back to Mahnomen.  Even though it wasn’t as awesome, Portsmouth was still fun.  In fact, I don’t think my tires ever touched dirt that wasn’t fun for me, including all of the “easy” trails.

If you go, ride fast. But when you stop, take it all in.

Cuyuna is a different place.  It’s easily the most beautiful place I’ve ridden in Minnesota and has some of the more unique types of riding.  There weren’t any skills areas around that I knew of, but I’m totally fine with that.  It doesn’t need it.

What it needs to be is a place, a destination.  Judging by the “Mountain Bikers Welcome!” signs on some of the store fronts and bars I spotted while driving through Crosby and Ironton, it looks like that’s what it wants.  What’s more, it seems to have a vision.  On my ride back to my car on the state trail, I stopped briefly and chatted with Nick who maintains a lot of the trails.  He was putting stickers on some signs (all of the trails are very well-marked, by the way).  He spoke of Cuyuna with a tone that implied both a playful and reverential tone.  I congratulated him on the good work that was done on the trails and vowed that I’d be coming back next summer.  I missed not being able to stop by GPS 27 and take a dip in the Alstead Mine Lake then get back on the bike and ride some more.

He thanked me and seemed to be genuinely proud of what they’ve carved out of those iron hills.

Good.  They should be.

MTB Trail Review: Lebanon Hills

With summer gone and free time to mountain bike less and less frequent, I took advantage of the good weather until it really starts to get cold.  Over and over again I read and hear that Lebanon Hills is the trail of choice in the region if not the state.  The MORC trail review for Lebanon hills says “Plain and simple: This trail has developed into one of the “must ride” trails in Minnesota“, and I’d have to agree.  Not only is there enough mileage here to keep you busy for a good chunk of your day, but there’s something for everyone here.

Map courtesy of MORC

I’m on record that I’m a bit more of a novice trail rider.  The intermediate trails – especially “Dream II” – are fantastic trails that are equal parts good climbs and fast descents.  These trails gave me enough technical challenges but also made it fun to fly around curves after a climb.  One thing that quickly stood out to me was rocks.  Lots and lots of rocks.  Even on the intermediate trails, Lebanon Hills loves to test your ability to navigate large and small boulders and your ability to pick a clean line and stay with it, both uphill and down.  Good challenge.

A rider flys over one of many bridges in Lebanon Hills

If intermediate trails are too, well, intermediate, Lebanon Hills also offers a lot of technical riding in their “Expert Loop”.  I tried it, and at times it was a ton of fun, but I wouldn’t say that I really excelled at it.  Huge log piles, tons of rocks, drop offs, you name it.  Numerous times there were large rock fields that kicked my A and I came to a grinding halt.  Had I known what I was getting myself into I would’ve approached the trails differently, but when you’re flying around corners essentially blind not knowing what to predict, it’s different.  My favorite sections on these trails were the massive log piles.  I had never hit logs stacked so high, so it was a good test.  My least favorite had to have been climbing up hill with at least 7 good-sized logs spaced about 10 feet apart from each other.  I’m not too embarrassed to say I probably only made it over 4 out of the 7 cleanly.  Better luck next time.

Not my favorite
Good times

There’s a lot to like at Lebanon Hills, and when there seems to be a constant movement to continually make it better and more of a destination, which isn’t the case for a lot of trails around the metro area.  I’d have to agree, it’s a must ride.

Check out my ride here (although the time’s a little off since I forgot to start my watch after a break, like an idiot).

Surly Trail Loppet: My First Trail Run

Phew.  This morning I ran my first ever trail race and half marathon, the Surly Trail Loppet held at Theodore Wirth Park.  I’ve run other half marathons and one full marathon, but never a trail race.  The prospect of running a trail race intrigued me.  The more I’m in the woods and on trails, the better.

Leading up to this race, I figured I could train the same way I have been, while maybe mixing in a trail run here and there.  Unfortunately for me, I was unprepared for the beast that lie before me.  I had been training as I usually would for a road race, but a trail race is a different animal entirely.

First of all, the hills are killer.  The beginning of the course featured a lot of hills and I admit I was overzealous on tackling these hills.  Normally, I pride myself on being able to handle hills pretty well so I figured that when the challenge arose, I’d be able to tackle these hills just the same.  Three quarters of the way through the race, I was regretting my early strategy of hill domination, and wished I would’ve taken a more conservative approach.

Tired, tired legs at the finish

My respiratory endurance felt good throughout the race, but it was my legs that failed me.  Had I done more hills during the course of my training, I could’ve handled this better.

The course itself was beautiful and was well run.  The terrain varied quite a bit with steep climbs, steps, paved surfaces, wooded areas, and lots of singletrack through the woods.  Part of the course used the mountain biking trails that wind through Theodore Wirth.  I absolutely loved running through the woods.  At times I had to remind myself that this race was in the middle of an urban area such as the Twin Cities.  There were specific times I can recall, where I was running on singletrack with two other runners right behind me.  As we ran through twisting singletrack, dodging trees no more than two feet apart from each other and jumping over boulders and fallen logs, I was struck with the solitude of it all.  All I could hear was the panting of our breath and the padding of our shoes on the dirt trail.  I’m sure they wanted to pass me, but the sense that we were running through the woods together in unison, was a much different feeling than I’ve ever had during a road race.

The Course

I loved the race, but wasn’t in love with my time.  When I signed up, my mindset was that since I had never ran a trail race before, I was just going to enjoy it for the experience and not try to over compete.  For me, that’s easier said than done once I get on the starting line.  Although I finished a respectable (I think) 44th out of 218 racers (male category), I felt like I could have done better.  But that’s part of racing, right?

If I was to put a message in a bottle and send it to myself before I run this race again, here’s what I’d say:

  1. You need trail running shoes.  Sure they’re not mandatory and people run just fine without them, but I can definitely see how they’d be beneficial.  My feet – and specifically my toe box area of my foot – felt like it was slip-sliding around.
  2. Run more hills in your training.  I know your son was sick that last week before the race, and you can’t always take him out in the BOB after daycare, but isn’t that what the incline feature on your treadmill is for?  Do something!
  3. Sometimes, walking up the hills actually is a good idea.  Don’t scoff when you see other runners do it, because while you’re busy exerting all your energy “running” up the hill, they’re saving theirs waiting to pass you on the way down.  Sucker.
#1 Fan
Hopefully, I’ll be able to put these ideas into practice and run it again next year.