Mar 28, 2016

The Great Outdoors

I love being outside. I love camping, hiking, backpacking, trail running, road running, running in general...really any activity that involves being out in the sun and out in nature. Except with bugs. I am not a fan of bugs. That being said, it's so awesome that Alex also enjoys the great outdoors. With the weather taking a turn toward spring, we picked up a National Parks pass and a Texas State Parks pass and started exploring nearby parks.

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah
In January, we made a road trip out to Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah so that we could look at potential colleges. On the drive back to Texas, we saw signs for Arches National Park out near Moab, Utah. We were tired of being in the car and thought it would be a great idea to stretch our legs on a hike. And we did just that.
Learning about geology at the visitor center

Balanced rock

Double arch
There was still plenty of snow on the ground, which made for some pretty muddy trails. Since we didn't pack hiking shoes, we were limited to a few not-so-muddy trails just off the road. With these hikes being fairly short, we did a number of them to view as much of the landscape and geology as possible for our brief stop. We saw the Moab fault, petrified sand dunes, balanced rock (a sandstone boulder perched on top of a rock pedestal), garden of Eden (a series of rock towers and formations), and double arches (two rock arches attached to the same anchor rock). Each of these are incredible rock formations, and having a geologist right there with me made the experience even better. I'll admit it, I'm a science nerd, and I loved learning about how these rock structures were formed.

The view from underneath Double arch

After a couple hours, and a brief tour of the visitors center where I got June a souvenir park patch and myself a park magnet (because I collect them from trips), we had to get back on the road. There is still so much more we want to explore in that park, and so many more trails we want to hike. The views are just so surreal and so different from what I'm used to viewing. I'm really glad we stopped there. I'm hoping we make this a regular road trip tradition: taking rest stops at national/state parks.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon, Texas
Our local state park is Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States. Full of hoodoos (tall, thin rock spires) and caves, this park has many areas to explore. The most famous hike, and my favorite one, is the Lighthouse rock trail. This is the hike Alex and I did together earlier in February. It's a 6-mile round trip hike up to the signature feature of Palo Duro canyon, a hoodoo called Lighthouse Rock.

The trail is easy at the beginning, then becomes more challenging the closer to Lighthouse Rock you get with the final segment being a decent climb up to the formation. It's a gorgeous trail however, with stellar views of the canyon's other rock formations such as Capital Rock and Monkey Head Rock. Trees even line the trail toward the end and that shade feels so good when the weather heats up. Even on this trip, where it was a bit chilly, the shade felt good.

I wore my brand new Emerald City Skirt Sports dress for this excursion. I've never felt so dressed up, or so comfortable, on a trail before in my life. I got so many compliments on the dress, and the Skirt Sports shorties I wore underneath (I wore the 5.5 inch shorts) had enough pockets to hold my phone, keys, and some Powerbars. I find that when I feel like I look cute in my workout outfits, that I perform better and just plain feel better. This was proven true today as I scaled rocks, then climbed back down them to complete this hike.

On the way back of the hike, the sun was starting to set and the weather was getting cooler. We could hear the coyotes in the distance howling over a kill. We even saw a recently-hatched rattlesnake making its way across the trail. That day was a great day to hike, a Monday evening. There were only a couple people on the trails and we basically had the path to ourselves.

Following this hike were many day hikes out to Palo Duro with June and other family members. We explored the Big Cave, and a smaller cave in a mesa, and did a couple easy hikes with the kids. June loves hiking and being outside, and I really enjoy my time with her and Alex, geology facts and all.
We found a hidden alcove with beautiful plants, where Alex was explaining the geology

Family day hike to explore the Big Cave
Caprock Canyons State Park in Quitaque, Texas
Since Alex also had Leap Day off, we decided to go hiking again. This time, we went to Caprock Canyons State Park. When he was attending college, this was the place that they did a lot of their field work, so Alex was eager to show me some of the geology he had to identify, map, and study. And I was eager to hear all about it.

We hiked a couple trails that added up to a total of about 6.5 miles. We started with the upper canyon trail which followed right alongside a creek and led up the canyon wall, and that trail led straight into the Haynes ridge trail through the brush of the canyon rim, and that led to the last third of the canyon loop trail which took us back into the canyon and to the car.

Alex's favorite Caprock geology spot
On our way up the climb of the canyon wall, Alex took me off trail a bit to show me his favorite spot in the canyon, a flat rock protruding off the canyon's side. The view from that spot was spectacular! I could see just about the entire canyon stretching out beneath us. It was the exact perfect place for us to enjoy our picnic lunch of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, apples, and PowerBars. I felt fairly dressed up for our canyon date in my Skirt Sports Jette capri and Eclipse tank top in Alex's favorite colors: blue and green. I also got a really great tan from those 3 hours of hiking and climbing and picnicking.
Playing around the creek

I tend to be fairly terrified of wasps, and there were quite a few of them out during our hike, but luckily they mainly stuck to the water areas and left us alone. I also have a fear of falling (not heights, but falling off heights), but this hike I felt much more confident on the trail--even the steep climbs and downhills! I think all this recent hiking is building my confidence and helping me to conquer my fears. Maybe my fear of wasps and spiders will be conquered next.

Hiking with Alex is such a blast. He makes everything more fun and just plain better. He even carried the camelbak full of water for the both of us and packed a lunch for us to eat while on the trail. He is so incredible, and my favorite hiking buddy.

Mar 14, 2016

Race Recap: Warrior Dash Texas

My amazing fiance Alex knows me so well that he got me the perfect gift for my birthday, a racecation to Austin to see my cousin and run the Warrior Dash.  And cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory. But, the highlight of this post is the race!

The last time I ran a Warrior Dash was in Colorado 2013, and it was a blast. Warrior Dash is one of my favorite race series. The course, the obstacles, the swag, the medals, and the entertainment are well organized and just plain fun. So, when Alex registered the both of us for this race, I was pretty excited.

We wore coordinated costumes: he wore a Superman shirt and I a Supergirl tank--complete with capes. I'll be honest with you, I was a bit skeptical about how the capes would perform with all the mud and obstacles, but they were no problem at all. In fact, the capes billowing behind us looked pretty cool, according to the comments we received on the course from fellow warriors and volunteers. I felt like I needed to perform better and run faster due to wearing such super attire, so as not to sully the Superman legacy.

My favorite thing about the Warrior Dash race are the obstacles.  Although they are pretty challenging, they are also do-able. The last mud run I ran, the Gauntlet, had obstacles so challenging that I could only complete about half of them, so this experience was a great boost to my confidence and helped me to feel strong, like a Warrior. I have a sort of intense fear of falling and of drowning. Many of the obstacles required us to climb a great height, then complete an additional challenge at the top of whatever structure we scaled (like a balance beam or crossing a net), then climb back down. With the encouragement of Alex, I completed all of these obstacles.

More terrifying to me were the two water obstacles. I have always hated the water. I don't really like swimming to the point where I took swim lessons for the first time when I was 28 years old. My head being under water terrifies me. So, on the Alcatraz obstacle, which had water about 6-feet deep, was frightening. My shoes weighed down by dirt and mud already, I had a hard time even floating, so I just kept grabbing onto Alex. Poor Alex had to help get me across that obstacle to the floating island, and then continue supporting me the rest of the way across to the opposite bank. I'm seriously so thankful for him, because I was pretty freaked out as I kept sinking under the water. Still, I made it and survived. Hooray!

The most iconic obstacle of these sorts of races is the fire jump. I always psych myself out with this one, but I gathered my courage and superman-ed over the flames. I hope this made for a good picture, but I usually tend to have a weird face when I get that close to fire.

You can't run a mud run without mud, and this Warrior Dash course had tons of it. The mud was so thick, it was like pudding. There was a muddy low crawl, a number of mud mounds to scale, and the final obstacle was essentially a swim through the thick pudding-like mud underneath barbed wire. We finished that obstacle covered with a thick layer of mud looking like the mud monster from the classic Scooby Doo episodes, and crossed the finish line to receive our now-muddied medals. The kids passing out the medals were pretty cool and wanted all of us muddy finishers to give them muddy hugs. I need to throw the word 'muddy' in about two more times because I feel like I just can't convey how muddy we got doing this muddy run!

We felt great at the end of that race! We braved the long shower lines to rinse off with the provided hoses, which really just got some of the dirt off. About two real showers later got most of the remaining mud out of my hair. But that's what just adds to the jubilant atmosphere of the Warrior Dash.  Alex and I proudly sported our finisher shirts, finisher medals, and fuzzy red viking helmets the rest of the day (okay, we only wore the hats for the drive back to my cousin's, but still). I had such a great time, even in light of the post-race soreness, that I want to do another Warrior Dash this year.

I do wish we had brought some people to take pictures of us though, because the Warrior Dash had these huge structures put up just for picture opportunities. It would've been a bit risky to try and carry a phone around when we were caked in mud from head to foot. I'm just happy that they provided free photography along the course and at the finish, but next time I will be sure to take advantage of the photo ops.