Thursday, August 6, 2015

From the Lower 48 comes the 49th State -Alaska!

Hubbard Glacier Calving, photo credit D. Watkins
After a significant break from this medium, I believe this topic is worthy of the time!  I hope to add more photos and videos soon!  This will be a bit long - I tried to think of all the things I wished I'd known before I went. We got the Frommer's Easy Guide to Alaskan Cruises -- it seemed up-to-date and accurate.

We did the 7 day cruise through Glacier Bay and added 4 days at the end for Denali NP.  We embarked out of Vancouver, BC and disembarked in Seward, AK.  These are the excursions we took.  I do recommend booking excursions through the cruise line -- in most instances the upcharge is $5-$15 a head.  However, if there's an issue around timing and getting back to the boat -- the onus falls on the excursion operator and not you as the individual to get back to the boat.  If I don’t list a specific site it’s because there is only one operator in that area. 

Cruise -Online check in – I highly recommend this – there will be a specific time frame that you have to meet – we had to check in 10 days in advance.  The cruise line will send you stickers that correspond to your on-board accommodations.  Our travel agent recommended putting the stickers on our bags BEFORE getting on the airplane.  If your bags are delayed, obviously it is a lot easier for the airline to find your luggage and work with the cruise line to get them to you.  We did go out a day early – it took almost 2 hours once we got to the dock in Vancouver to get checked through the boarding process on the ship. 
Weather --The weather in Alaska can have a 20 degree range during the day.  The wind off the water is cool because the water is so cold.  It's a place to layer.  I took 3 pairs of outdoor pants (like ex-officio/columbia) and 3 pairs of shorts.  I did bank on finding a Laundromat-- which I did in Juneau.  I am warm natured, so I mostly wore shorts except when we had planned hiking.  It's what I call the three layer temp range --so for me that meant some sort of tank, short sleeve shirt and either a long sleeve shirt or "jacket."  Which meant -- I either wore a long sleeve shirt or a vest -- if I keep my trunk warm - I'm warm.  John is more cold-natured, so he generally wore a jacket and always long pants.  I don't think anyone needs hiking boots -- definitely two pairs of tennis/gym shoes in case one gets wet.  I wore my trail runners for the hikes and some old running shoes for "around" town.  I do tend to be conservative when it comes to new experiences – for instance even though it was pretty hot when we got to Icy Strait – I wore long pants for the zip line because I didn’t know what to expect. 
"Sunrise" from ship
Misc. -- take some sort of "daypack."  To carry the umbrella/jackets if the sun comes out and temp rises and the reverse -- if it's hot when you get on shore but cools off.  Take water bottles for everyone.  It's pretty dry out there.  You can carry water, sunscreen anything you buy etc.  Unless you’re planning on being on land after the cruise – don’t pack a hairdryer – you can’t use it on the ship - -one is provided in staterooms.  Normal ones pull too much amperage.  This will sound funny – but there is usually ONE outlet – with two sockets.  I brought an eight plate so charging phones, iPads, cameras and GoPro didn’t require a lot of thought.  There are 50 different types of mosquitos.  I took the extra deet bug spray just in case.  Bugs, in general, apparently like light coloured clothing. 
Wireless --I did not upgrade to international cell service - partly because I like disconnecting.  As such, I had crummy/to no cell service most of the time.  The wireless on board was $50 a DAY.  My sister-in-law got 40 minutes free a day because she had 4 people in her party. 
The Drink packages -- our travel agent got us ours for free.  However, if we'd had to pay for it we'd have only gotten one for both of us.  Ours covered $50/day.  There's a premium and mid-tier level -- I would get at least one per family because you get 2 bottles of water a day with it. 
Seasickness – I have no idea what this is like – I’ve never been susceptible.  Only twice did anyone in our party feel it.  Only when the boat was “at sea,” i.e. not in a passage banked by land on both sides, did it affect our family.  There are some bands you can get for your wrist that help keep the symptoms at bay and then of course Dramamine.  I think the latter can make you drowsy?  I saw a lot people wearing the bands. 
Gratuities – I highly recommend going to the Purser’s office 1-2 days before you disembark.  That’s where you get a copy of all the charges.  Once you’re on-board everything is charged to your room via the “room” key.  We gave our stateroom attendant an extra 10% at the end and our family sat together every night for dinner – we had the guaranteed dinner seating arrangement – and we gave that crew extra as well.  The list of charges will show any gratuities that are being charged anyway so each family can make their own decision. 

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau AK
The Lumberjack show in Ketchikan was pretty fun -- the kids had a blast - and it was pretty inexpensive.  The walk through Ketchikan was moderate - we saw some of the running salmon and the Totem Pole Center was interesting.  The snorkeling was pretty different from anything I'd done before -- the water is not clear - but we saw starfish, sea urchins, indigenous jellyfish and several other kinds of sea life.  That was run by -- there is an 80lb weight requirement and that's because the wetsuit is a 7mm wetsuit -- you are essentially a bobbing cork -- I had a weight belt and still had trouble really getting underwater.  You're covered from head to toe -- and the water was right at 63 degrees -- I was warm enough the whole time. 

Icy Strait -- This is one of the few places not "owned" by the cruise lines.  The zipline was AWESOME -- but I'm an adrenaline junkie so it might not be for everyone.  It is over a mile long with speeds upwards of 60mph.  The whale watching ( i.e. orca watching was spectacular - complete with extraordinary transient orcas.  There were several places just to walk around through nature as well.

***There is a decent Laundromat here*** It opens at 6AM and is about a mile from the boat docks.  It only took me 2 hours to get it all done.  Coin Op Laundry – big yellow building.  I walked.  I did bring my own detergent – they have a change dispenser.  11806 Glacier Hwy, Juneau AK
My in-laws took the Seaplane Glacier excursion ( they really enjoyed it -- they flew over several glaciers that can only be seen by air and ate lunch at a salmon lodge.  The “kids” took a van to the Mendenhall Glacier which is right on the outskirts of town (about $30 for 8 of us) we hiked around.  Then on our way back into town we took in the Alaskan Brewing Company (I am allergic to hops so I can’t drink beer) by brother-in-law is a microbrew fanatic and so he ferreted out all the micro-brews for us.  This was a neat experience – I did try a tiny bit of the winter white and it was pretty good.  They do free tastings at the top of the hour and 50 minute tours at half past the hour.  Taxis are easy to schedule – just grab a number once you’re on land and the dispatcher will get it set up. 
Skagway – My sis-in-law and her family did the dog mushing here – they had a tremendously good time – children’s ages were 7-11 girls and boys.  John and I did the mountain biking run by Sockeye Cycle Company – they were awesome – right blend of safety and fun.  It’s super easy – all downhill with one quarter mile uphill.   John then went to do Glassblowing with his niece – they all really enjoyed that experience – you get to make something and the company ships it back to your house.  They made ornaments.  I just went running.   The public library (8th/State Street) has free wi-fi for which you can give a donation.  It’s walkable from downtown.  Our breakfast friends did the train tour – said it was totally worth it.  My parents-in-law did the city bus tour and enjoyed that.  They were ready for a “rest” so to speak.  The train tour is an all-day commitment and bus tour is half a day.  
Alaskan Brewing Co, Juneau, AK photo credit O-Man

Seward – we arrived at 7AM.  Since our train to Anchorage didn’t leave until 6pm we went on another whale watching excursion in the Kenai Fjords NP.  If you are catching a train to somewhere else –you can check your baggage at the train station and then not have to worry about it.  The train from Seward to Anchorage is quite interesting and pretty – I recommend this open carriage view over the one from Anchorage to Denali.  

You may see a celebrity from the Discovery Channel if you're on the right train!  

Conductor Animal - ARR


Rafting on the Nenana River, Denali NP
South Mountain, Denali NP, photo credit D. Watkins

Denali – just in case you are considering it.  It is astounding – no doubt.  Having been to 4 continents, I can honestly say I’ve never seen landscape like that.  However, it is what is called an “intact” National Park.  This means that unlike what most other NPs – there is one road in and out and very few private vehicles are allowed in.  Only 1 in 3 visitors see Mt. McKinley/Denali – we saw the 8,000 to 12,000 part – but the 12,000 o 20,000 foot part was covered in clouds.  For me, I’m not sure I’ll remember seeing a moose/bear/caribou in Alaska more than one in Colorado.  For the camping family – I suspect it’s an entirely different experience.  I glamp … :)  which means running water, a bed and an enclosed sleeping area.  The accommodations are a monopoly run by Aramark – we paid almost $300 a night for an okay room.  Due to the train/bus schedule we opted to stay an extra night to have 2 full days.  I would recommend doing it that way but it does start to get expensive.  The Salmon Bake is some of the best food in the Denali area.  They had awesome drinks.  We also went river rafting with the Denali Outdoor Center -- again the perfect blend of fun and safety.  Our guide let the kids "drive" the raft - an experience I'm sure they're not likely to forget soon!  We wrapped up the Denali portion with an early bus ride back since it left earlier and was quicker. 

Celebrity Millenium Seward, AK

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Come with me now - Tri season is in full swing!

This year’s start to the season began with Rev3 back in Knoxville for an Oly.  Fortune smiled and I was entertained by teammate Holly Fraccaro on the ride.
With 5 triathlons under my belt in 2013, I am approaching this year in a much more relaxed fashion … perhaps too relaxed.  I forgot my helmet and had to stop at Dick’s to get a new one before Sunday.  As I write, I’m cringing to think my coach will ultimately read this….@tribirdie
Friday we rolled into town early enough to reconnect with our Rev3 team and help with the Glow Run.  Zoe Dix, the spunky and delightful daughter of Jamie Dix, was kind enough to let us be her entourage as she ran
the mile Glow Run.  

Dix Family- Post Successes
Glow run Antics

Obligatory run warm up...or something

Friday night found us out on Gay Street in downtown Knox where a table full of Team Rev3 kept me in stitches until it was time to retire. Thank you again Jeff Vanis for picking up my jacket!
Saturday I rolled out of bed pretty late, hit the Kids Tri in time to see some pretty terrific and inspiring family memories being made – experiences to be remembered by both parents and kids.  Jamie’s son did the tri and was the picture of persistence right down to the finish chute where a big hug from mom waited.  After the Kids Tri wrapped up a couple of us hit a local bike shop for some tweaks and then on to the SBR sponsored practice swim. 
GOberg at Bearden Bike in Knox
Post bike run through Saturday
who's that in Shimmer Suit ?!
WOW  - what a difference this year, from  58.5 degrees in the water to pushing 70, still wetsuit legal but not breathtakingly cold.  With almost a sense of giddiness I jumped in for a quick swim to the first bridge to get a handle on the currents and feel of the water this year.  Gentle reminders are the best -- open water swimming requires more of my brain than the pool.  Post swim a couple of us took a quick spin on the bike to shake out the legs and run through gears.  I figured the 1 mile “race” the night before gave my legs a good feel for the run.   Transition was in a slightly different place this year.  Last year it was in the parking garage and while that was excellent for last year’s bad weather, I prefer the openness and sunlight of a parking lot.  I got transition all set up except for a few add-ons Sunday morning.  
 Mellow Mushroom was the spot of choice for dinner and with the late arrival of Dave Callahan there were laughs to spare.  We all went to bed with the geriatrics…

All in all Sunday was pretty uneventful.  And with a face like Oilar's and a big hug to see you off how could you not have a solid showing !? 
I found the swim cooler than I anticipated and the current was not my friend.  I swam better in 2013 but I continue to work on sighting in the open water.   Transition to the bike this year was phenomenally better, not only is the distance shorter in the open parking lot, my feet weren’t frozen so I didn’t feel like I was running on chipped glass.  Shout out to teamie Lana Burl for saving my A$$  with Powerblends.  Not only did I forget my helmet but I also forgot my nutrition.  I was pretty excited this year for a dry ride to see how successfully I could ride the course and I’m guessing by the guy that yelled at me on the run for passing him on the downhills (he outweighed me by a solid 20lbs) that I did alright.  Starting late in the game this season my speed wasn’t where I wanted it to be but my nutrition was spot on.  Since I know I can hit the speed by the end of the season with focused training, I’m happy to start to feel like I have the nutrition piece in hand.  Bike to run was again uneventful and I as usual I should have been more aggressive in the run, keeping too much in the tank kept me from under a 9 min mile which despite the Achilles issues this year should have been doable. 
I improved my time year over year so I’ll take that in hand and look to continue to push the edges, with a strategies around staying in that uncomfortable Z4 and realizing that relaxing and letting it ebb and flow like the tide is what racing  is all about.

Packing up for the ride home

I have an ever evolving view of triathlon, what it means in my life and who graces my life as a result. That's you Wolf family!

The continuous focus on discipline and incremental success drives me to greater places more reflective of my true self.
As a long time member of the sailing community I have high expectations of an athletic community.  I am continually rewarded by my Rev3 Team mates and Race Directors at the caliber of competitors and race production quality!  What a fantastically fun weekend!!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wind it up

The 2014 tri season has been a study in patience and persistence with miniscule movement forward only to be pushed back like a running back going in for a touchdown.  After consistent pain in the lower leg/toes and Achilles region of my legs I went to the orthopedic doctor.  The good news is there is no bone or ligament damage just weak muscles.  Twelve weeks of solid physical therapy with Justin at Trinity Wellness Center and I am on the right path.  However, as a runner first and foremost being told that was off the table until strength and stability joined the party was tough mentally. 

And WOW … who knew PT was so tough.  At the suggestion of Justin, I went the Graston route and while it may not be for everyone it has worked wonders for me.  He said I’d eventually ask for it… and while I was writhing in pain on the table and threatening retribution I was thinking not in this lifetime buddy.  He was right – I don’t think it will ever feel “good” but it certainly accelerates the stretching I do on my own.  He also built out a set of exercises and stretches that compliments my current tri training schedule.  It is complete with specific timing to maximize my time strength training since tri training is a full schedule on its own.  It is now a regular part of my triathlon training and I don’t see it going anywhere.  I would be remiss if I didn’t note that my coach is 100% behind holistic training and the philosophy that a balanced athlete is a strong athlete. Without her support and flexibility, this Spring would have been a whole lot harder.

I ran my first half marathon of the season in April and it’s a stretch to call it a run.  My coach and I decided that a 3 mile run set with a 1 mile walk in between would keep me in the best health seeing as how my longest run had been 9 miles.  It was tough to stick to it on the front end but I am determined not to backslide as result of something I can control or arrogance.  Knowing when adrenaline is a friend or foe is critical.  I am running the Midtown-Raleigh 10k in two weeks to see what I can shoot for the remainder of 2014.  

With a full slate of races scheduled the sooner my legs are happy the stronger and faster I'll be.

Happy training!