Thursday, April 18, 2013
Thirteen years ago this month I had lived in Denver for just over a year and a half and I thought I knew everything about my new home; adjusted to the altitude, converted to the Broncos, learned the short cuts to downtown at rush hour. So when my mom and brother came for a weekend visit that April, it proved how little I did know about living in the Centennial State.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning as we prepared for a day trip to the mountains. The sun was shining gloriously in a bright blue cloudless sky, warm and welcoming on my face. Even my cat Snickers was enjoying a sun bath on my apartment balcony before we left. My brother, who was on Spring Break from the university, was already in the mountains with friends and would meet us for dinner after a day of skiing. Because of the warm weather I wore sandals and a short sleeve shirt. Mom wore jeans and tennis shoes, but also had on a t-shirt. With little more than a wallet and a camera, we headed west.
The drive to the mountains that day was as gorgeous as a drive in the mountains could get. In the spring sunlight, the trees and shrubs along the interstate were a brilliant green; the rocks had trickles of snowmelt running down to the side of the road. Patches of white snow still clung to the summits. We were headed to the town of Breckenridge. To get there we traveled west on I-70 through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel , the highest vehicular tunnel in the world at over 11,000 ft. straddling the Continental Divide. As we emerged from the tunnel, we arrived in Summit County, one of Colorado’s best skiing areas with resorts such as Keystone, Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge. We turned off the interstate at Frisco and took Highway 9 into town.
In some ways Breckenridge is the quaint mining town it was a hundred years ago with Victorian homes and street lamps, yet in other ways is a modern ski resort village. It’s filled with craft shops, trendy and not-so-trendy restaurants (Bubba Gump?), and a smoke shop or two, if you know what I mean. We spent the afternoon walking up and down the main street, walking into this jewelry store or that t-shirt shop. Some stores were closed with signs on the door that said, “On vacation, back in two weeks.” That’s what happens in the time after Easter, but before Memorial Weekend during what locals the “mud season,” when the skiers dwindle before the mountain bikers arrive. We had agreed to meet Chad and his friends for late lunch/early dinner at Breckenridge Brewery around 3 PM.
When people think back to the beginnings of the craft beer movement in Colorado, three breweries come to mind. The Wynkoop in Denver, New Belgium in Fort Collins and Breckenridge Brewery. All gained a foothold in the 1990’s and led the Western US out of the dark ages of beer brewing into a new and exciting century. Breckenridge is now the 41st largest craft brewer in the county. At the time we were there, brew pubs were still a novelty.
Chad and his two friends couldn’t stop talking about how great the snow was on the mountain and how much fun they had. That is until the food came and we all stuffed our faces. What we didn’t notice from inside the pub was that the clouds were rolling in off the mountain. The blue sky quickly turned white, then grey, then dark. As we left the pub to walk back to the car, the loudest crack of thunder ever heard by human ears jolted us out of our shoes. As the roar subsided, fat white snowflakes began to fall, both beautiful and scary. Chad, the weather student, said we needed to get going because thunder in the mountains was not a good thing. He left with his friends and Mom and I left in my 1993 Dodge Shadow to head back to Denver. The fluffy white snow grew thicker and thicker and got darker and darker as we drove. By the time we got on I-70, the wind had picked up and was blowing the snow straight at the windshield making it hard for me to see. If we could just get through the Eisenhower Tunnel, I knew the weather would be better on the other side.
We were driving the steep downhill heading into the valley where the towns of Dillon and Silverthorne met. I was only going about 35 mph because the blowing snow made it hard to see. Fortunately there wasn’t much traffic. As we approached the off ramp to Dillon, a state patrol call with its lights flashing was stopped and turned sideways in the middle of the road. There were two cars ahead of me and both of their brake lights came on. Then one car began a slide and bumped into the car next to him. A state trooper was waving both cars to the off ramp. Trying not to panic, I gently tapped the brakes to slow down and the trooper holding a large electric torch waved us off the highway too. We had no idea what was going on. Once off the interstate and in the city of Dillon, I tried to get back on the interstate at the Dillon on ramp. A large metal gate was blocking the on ramp and four cars were lined up behind it. I got in line behind them. Then it hit me. State patrol closed interstate because of the snow. Who knows when it will open up again? Minutes, hours, days? I realized we only had two options. Stay in line and hope the weather changed or find a place to stay quick. If we stayed in line, I’d have to run the engine to keep us warm and that would use up all our gas. And what if the highway didn’t reopen? I had to act.
I pulled the car out of line to great protests from Mom. We were going to lose our place in line! Where are you going? What are you doing?
“We’re finding a hotel,” I said. But why, she asked.
“Because we can’t spend the night in the car.” That was when the reality of the situation hit her. Right next to the interstate on the Silverthorne side of the valley was a Days Inn. I’d passed it many times driving to the mountains, but had never stayed there. Mom went inside while I stayed in the car. She came out almost 30 minutes later. The power had gone out and the hotel had to book rooms manually. She also said the line was long, but she had managed to get us one of the last rooms in the hotel.
We went up to the hotel room, but with the power out we couldn’t watch TV. We needed to find something to do. Connected to the Days Inn was an Old Chicago restaurant and even though we had just eaten, we decided to go in. Since we weren’t driving anywhere I might as well have a beer and Mom wanted some dessert. The Old Chicago was packed to the rafters, obnoxiously loud and nowhere to sit. A couple who had a hightop table, but didn’t have any chairs let us stand at the table with them. I ordered a beer and Mom asked for a menu, but the waitress shook her head. The desserts were gone and with the power out they couldn’t cook any food. Our only option was chips and salsa, so we took it. We wondered aloud if Chad and the other boys were OK and if they made it to tunnel before the interstate closed. I had a cell phone, but reception was spotty and I couldn’t get a signal. Mom didn’t have a cell phone at that time.
We enjoyed chatting with the others around the table. Most had been skiing for the day and were on their way home when the interstate shut down. The couple that gave us space at the table had been sightseeing like we were and stopped in Silverthorne to shop at the outlet mall. They had ordered a salad to share and may have gotten the last leaves of lettuce in the building. A shout came from above the din.
“May I have your attention please?!” said a short older women standing on a planter. She wore an Old Chicago polo shirt so I assumed she was a manager. “I’m sorry, but we have run out of food. Colorado law states that we cannot serve alcohol without serving food so we are going to have to stop serving. You’re all going to have to leave.” A collective groan came from the crowd.
After settling our tab, we walked back to our hotel room. The power was back on so we were able to watch TV. However, their cable or antennae or whatever they used for a signal was having technical difficulties so we were stuck watching a local channel that was showing a Saturday night cheesy made-for-TV drama with a fuzzy picture. Finally, Chad was able to call my cell phone on his friend’s cell. They were staying at a hotel not too far from us in Silverthorne. They were all OK, but their power was out and they were in the dark. We agreed to meet at the Village Inn Restaurant about a block away the next morning. At 10 pm the news came on and that’s when we were able to learn about the storm that trapped us in the mountains. Could have used that information 12 hours ago.
Suddenly the fire alarm went off; the second loudest noise that day that almost gave me a heart attack. With all the electrical problems the hotel was having, we didn’t know if this was the real deal or not. I stuck my head out the door into the hallway. A woman in a bathrobe was standing there and asked me if I thought it was the real thing. I told her I didn’t know. Mom called the front desk and was told that it was indeed an electrical glitch so we did not have to leave our warm rooms for the cold and snowy parking lot. TWENTY MINUTES went by before the alarm stopped.
After the news and the alarm ended we started watching Saturday Night Live. We got about ten minutes in when the power went out and the room went completely dark.
“Well, I guess that means good night,” Mom said with a sign. Still in our clothes we crawled under the covers for some sleep. It didn’t last long because at 2 am the fire alarm went off again jarring us awake. The power had also returned. For a second time I stuck my head in the hallway, but saw no one. Then the alarm suddenly stopped. We turned out the lights and TV that all came on when the power came back. Once again in a dark room, we went back to sleep.
We both woke up around the same time later that morning. The lights and TV worked still worked so the power was still on. Looking in the hotel’s bathroom mirror, I was completely disheveled and desperate for a toothbrush. Couldn’t do anything about either. I called Chad on my cell phone. They were up and getting ready to head to the Village Inn. The restaurant was close enough for us to walk to in the chilly morning air. Fortunately, we could see the sun.
In another packed restaurant over a breakfast of pancakes and orange juice we all talked about the trials and tribulations of our overnight stay. The hotel the boys were in still didn’t have power. To avoid their dark room they spent some of the evening bundled up in the hotel’s courtyard chatting and cloud gazing. Unlike us they at least they got some sleep last night. As we ate, the lights in the Village Inn would flicker with power surges. As Mom and I returned to my car we saw vehicles buzzing by on the elevated interstate next to the hotel. As we drove back to Denver, it was once again a sunny day and as we emerged on the eastern side of the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel no one would have guessed there had been a blizzard by looking at the blue sky and green trees. By the time we returned to my apartment in Denver, the temperature was 65 degrees. What a difference 70 miles makes.
I have since learned from this experience to ALWAYS check the weather before heading into the mountains. I have also learned that for every 1000 feet of altitude change, there is a 10 degree difference in temperature and when there is thunder during a snowstorm, it’s called Thunder Snow (actual weather term), something that only happens in spring. It is the loudest, most bone rattling sound you will ever hear. I now carry a winter emergency kit in my car with a fleece blanket, a candle and matches, jumper cables and a tin can full of kitty litter. What I find amusing about this story is that it occurred before there were smart phones and 4G, etc., and how much trouble we had calling each other and how far we’ve come with mobile technology. I also thought I had photos of this trip, but I can't find them.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Four days in Ft. Lauderdale
We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale before noon. Not bad considering we started in the Mountain Time Zone. We found a cab and were heading to the beach, the Westin Beach Resort and Spa specifically. The cab took us down Ft. Lauderdale Beach Boulevard with the wide inviting beach attached to the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the promenade filled with shops, seaside restaurants and resorts large and small on the other. The day was warm, but windy.
The Westin lobby was utter chaos. Ft. Lauderdale is a major cruise ship port and the lobby was full of families who were either heading to board a cruise ship or heading to the airport to go home. An entire corner of the lobby was filled with bags next to a line of impatient people waiting to pick them up. The families going on cruises were extremely impatient, some even shouting to whoever would listen. We waited patiently in the SPG check-in line and once we got our turn, the check-in process was fast. Soon we were in our partial oceanview room. It was in the second building on the property and a long walk from the lobby, but it had a great view of the beach and boulevard and the quiet side street next to us.
We were in Ft. Lauderdale for two reasons. My reason: It was my 45th birthday. My husband’s reason: His alma mater, Northern Illinois University, was playing Florida State in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day. Since it was lunchtime, food was at the top of the activity list. During the cab ride, a three-story complex with bars, shops and restaurants caught my eye. On the top floor was a place called Big Kahuna with umbrella covered tables, green fake palm trees and tiki torches on a rooftop deck.
We walked two blocks south to the complex, which held a variety of places to eat and drink including a Hooters restaurant and a Fat Tuesday frozen drink bar. Even though I thought the name Big Kahuna was cheesy (Hawaii in Florida?) those rooftop tables on the top floor appealed to me. We found a table that was close enough to the bar so my husband could see the Bears games on the TV, yet close enough to the open doors for me to be in the sun. A young pretty blonde handed us menus.
“Um, well, we can probably give you a shot,” she said. I glanced at the back of the menu to the dessert list.
“I was hoping for some cake.”
“Nah, it’s a shot.”
“Whatever you want.” I asked for a gold tequila with a splash of lime juice. She came back with a small plastic cup and said it was Cuervo Gold. It was actually quite tasty, but I really wanted was the dark chocolate lava cake they had listed on the menu. We dined on a series of appetizers and Coors Lights. The beer menu at this establishment was minimal and the choices of draft beer were downright dreadful. At least the food was good. We had takaki (seared tuna) and wings. Not an unpleasant way to spend an afternoon.
My birthday dinner was at Shula’s on the Beach, a steakhouse inside our hotel. It was a steakhouse that was part of Don Shula’s Florida restaurant chain, which according to what I found on the internet, had a good reputation. The menu was fairly typical of a steakhouse, but again the beer selection was lacking. I ended up drinking a raspberry martini made with berry-infused rum. We both had steaks, mashed potatoes and green beans. Good, but nothing special. Since I didn’t get cake for lunch we also ordered Shula’s molten lava chocolate cake for dessert. It was so big that even with both of us eating it, we still couldn’t finish it.
The next day was New Year’s Eve and it was a beach day. Well, it would have been if it hadn’t been for the intense winds coming off the Atlantic. If you were a kitesurfer, a windsurfer, a paraglider or even a kite flyer, it was a great day. The wind didn’t stop people from hanging out on Ft. Lauderdale’s wide sand beach or dipping in the water, however, the lifeguards were busy keeping people close to shore because of the large waves. Apparently Speedos are making a comeback as evidenced by a game of co-ed volleyball at the public courts near the Sheraton Hotel.
Lunch was at Margarita Cantina Crab and Seafood House on the beach boulevard a few blocks south of the hotel. We picked it because it was close and it had tables on the front sidewalk so we could eat and watch the beach. Once again we were disappointed in the beer list, Coors Light and Bud Lite. They did have Landshark Lager in bottles so I had one. The food was typical American Mex. After the giant steak last night, I settled for a chicken taco salad and avoided the shell.
The only clothes Christian brought on this trip all had NIU logos all over them. T-shirt, polos, jackets, hats, he was all in. As we ate our lunch people walked up and down the boulevard and every now and then we’d hear shouts of “Go Huskies!” as similarly attired supporters walked by. Sometimes we even started the chants when we saw other Huskie supporters walking past.
New Year’s Eve would be at McSorley’s Bar about a mile north of the hotel. We chose it because they had a replica of the Time Square crystal ball on the roof made from PVC pipe wrapped with Christmas tree lights. As we walked into the old brick building shouts of “Huskies!” from everyone at the bar greeted us. Unbeknownst to us an NIU alum group had chosen this very bar to have their New Year’s Eve celebration and Christian in his NIU polo was immediately recognized as a good guy. The bar held a mix of recent grads and older alums (meaning “our age”). I sat next to one of the recent grads. He was there with a group of buddies who drove down in a tailgate van and proudly showed us pics on his cell phone. The van was the size of a small apartment and had a big, flat screen TV, detachable grill and its own bathroom. Like most of the rest of his group, they graduated from NIU last spring, but then never left. Some actually had jobs with the University. One of two girls in the group was giving another alum a Sharpie tattoo of the letters N-I-U on his arm. We could see her calligraphy on several other arms around the bar.
On the other end of the spectrum were the alums who were our age. One was a corporate pilot, another was a financial advisor, and another was in insurance. There was a woman with them who was the alumni coordinator. She’s the one who picked McSorley’s for the alumni bar because it was close to the hotel they were staying at. All of us were here to celebrate the Huskies playing in their first bowl championship series.
McSorley’s Beach Bar took up space in the entire building. The first floor was the bar. The bar was oval and covered the entire first floor. It also had the prerequisite tattooed bartenders, both men and women. We asked our bartender if she had any local brews on tap and were disappointed with the answer. McSorley’s Ft. Lauderdale is actually an offshoot of an Irish bar in New York City and she offered us the beers that were brewed there, which she said they send down to Florida. They were good, but it was becoming clear that Ft. Lauderdale didn’t seem to have any craft beer of its own. McSorley’s also didn’t have a kitchen, but patrons were welcome to order a pie from the pizza parlor across the street and eat it at the bar. Christian went over and ordered one for our dinner. After pizza and beer, the group including us went upstairs to the rooftop bar. The evening was still early and we were the only ones up there at first. The rooftop bar had a DJ and that tiny Christmas light ball in the corner. As we chatted and drank with our new NIU friends, the rooftop slowly filled up with New Year’s Eve revelers. Oddly enough the younger members of the group left early because the guys in the van had to be at the stadium at 10 a.m. to set up the tailgate. It was left to us old people to keep the party going.
With less than a minute before midnight, the DJ got on the mic to let everyone know he needed a countdown. Time to see that Christmas light ball in action. As we counted down from 10, the DJ used a pulley to drop the ball about five feet from the top of the pole. Shortly after midnight, our new friends left to get some sleep before the big game. They were all going to the stadium about noon to tailgate at a game that wouldn’t start until 8 p.m. Because it wasn’t yet midnight in Colorado we considered staying and ringing in the Mountain Time New Year. We didn’t make it.
New Year’s Day was sunny and bright, but still windy. When I opened our window, the ocean blast entered the room. A small plane flew over the water along the beach pulling an Orange Bowl banner behind it. Our good friend Trace, another NIU alum, was flying in for the game tonight and scheduled to arrive at the airport about noon. He was also getting a rental car and picking us up for the game. He would stay with us at the Westin and take us to the airport the next morning. We decided to get some lunch so we could leave for the stadium as soon as he dropped off his stuff at the hotel. We wanted to get in on some of that tailgate action too.
We went back to the 3-story shopping/eating complex near the hotel. We passed on the Big Kahuna and Hooters and instead chose Lulu’s Bait Shack, a very woodsy place as in old wood bar and walls, and wooden stools. It looked a lot older than it probably was. We were walking to some seats at the bar when we passed a table with a family of Huskies around it. “Go Huskies” we all shouted to each other. Sitting down at the bar we ordered the only thing they had on tap, Coors Light, along with some sandwiches.
An older gentleman sat down next to Christian and ordered a beer. He wore an NIU t-shirt, a brother in arms. Seeing our NIU attire he offered up his backstory while lighting up a cigarette. He lived in Baltimore and worked in DC. He was supposed to be the game with several of his college buddies, but they all backed out. He flew in to Ft. Lauderdale that morning, took a cab to the beach and planned to sit in a pub until it got closer to game time where he would hail another cab to take him to the stadium for the game. Then after the game he would take a cab back to the airport where he would spend the night until his flight left at 6 a.m. the next morning. He offered to buy us a shot, but we politely declined. He then offered to buy the pretty young blonde bartender a shot. She said that even though she drank too much on New Year’s Eve and only got two hours of sleep before she had to be at Lulu’s, she’d be happy to share a shot with him. He bought us two more beers and we bought him one. Christian’s phone rang. Trace had landed and was getting the car. He would be there in an hour.
We arrived at the stadium around 4 pm. After parking the car we began walking around the large parking lot. We were looking for Lot 10 because that was where ‘The Van’ would be. We walked around the entire stadium and couldn’t find Lot 10, but saw plenty of tailgates, both NUI and FSU. Flags were flying and tents were set, stereos and TVs were blaring, drinks were hoisted, grills were smoking, bags were thrown, taunts were shouted - a classic football setting. Despite being held in FSU’s backyard, we could see NUI was well represented. However, we still couldn’t find Lot 10 or “The Van.” The lot numbers started at 11 and went up from there. What the heck was going on? We stopped to figure out what to do next, continue looking or go inside, when some familiar faces walked by. It was two of the guys we met last night. After hellos and introductions to Trace they showed us to Lot 10, which turned out to be in some annex parking lot as far from the stadium as you could possible get and still be on stadium property. Despite the distance, the tailgate was rocking. It was the largest NUI tailgate we had seen with an entire row of cars, trucks and vans, tents, lawn chairs and flags. We found the group of alums from McSorley’s and they offered us grilled hamburgers and chicken legs along with beer and chips. Trace, Christian and several other people were wearing NUI jerseys so a group picture was necessary for the alumni blog. ‘The Van’ was everything they said it would be, gigantic and painted a deep red with a giant TV hanging from the back. The doors were open and sure enough I saw the in-vehicle toilet with a line of people waiting to use it. It was like a camper toilet and placed behind the driver’s seat. A steady stream of people stood at the side door. The area was mass chaos with people shouting and singing and I didn’t know any of them, but we were all comrades in football.
It was an hour before kickoff and with so much optimism in the air we were all so… happy. We were hugging and cheek kissing and saying Go Huskies! Someone broke out singing the school song and everyone joined in. We toasted football and Huskies and friendships and held our Coors Lights high. In that moment we were on top of the world, the MAC school that could. We were going to prove Kirk Herbstreet wrong! That euphoria would last until a fumble and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach by FSU. But at that moment…we were the best college football team on earth.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
This ain't so tuff (8 Tuff Miles, Part II)
At this point, the road flattened out a bit, as much as it could flatten out on a volcanic island, so I started running again. The mile markers on the road said I was only three miles in. Ugh. At the next uphill I walked what I thought was a good pace when two young blondes glided right past me chatting loudly as if on a park stroll.
“Why I could do this drinking a Heineken!” said the first one. “Why I think after we’re done, we need to turn around and walk back!” said the other.
From behind, I heard a woman say, “Lizard Hill is the most vertical part of Centerline, even more so than Bordeaux.” Not sure if she was talking to me, the woman caught up and we walked side by side. Wearing a white t-shirt, white visor and grey shorts, she started to get a slight edge at the top of Lizard Hill when a sharp left turn took us back down again. Downhill was my time to run. This particular section was especially steep and I had to concentrate to keep control of my feet so I wouldn’t go flailing and get a bad case of road rash. At the bottom several Jeeps were parked along the road, which meant two things - the entrance to Reef Bay Trail and the halfway point to Coral Bay. After the trailhead was another steep uphill. I ran about halfway up before walking again. More switch backs, then up and up and up. At the end of a gravel driveway a woman clapped and shouted. “The downhill is coming soon! You’re doing great! Keep going!”
For most of this middle part, I had been in the shade of tall trees. As I neared the top of a curve, the trees opened up to the sky. A vinyl sign hung next to the road. The woman in white had caught up to me again and read the sign out loud. It said our current location was the highest point of the race.
“This is the highest point?” she asked out loud. “I thought Bordeaux Mountain was the highest point?”
“I did too,” I replied. At the start of the next downhill, I began running again. I could hear drums beating in the distance. Coral Bay was getting closer.
My running was short as another uphill began. I had no trees to shade me, but clouds still clogged the sky, although they had whitened considerably since the start. It was only a matter of time before they would dissipate and the sun would bear its full force on the asphalt road. As I turned another switchback I could hear a harmonica. A welcome sound! At dinner the previous evening, a local woman said the harmonica player was the best part of the race because he marked the start of the final downhill. She said the player was an old guy and he stood on a rock. As I rounded the corner, there he was just like she said. He was dancing on the rock and puffing his harmonica. He stopped playing to cheer for me.
After the harmonica player was Colorful Corner, so named because of the three brightly painted buildings at the spot where the Northshore Road met Centerline. Many people had gathered here to cheer. The drummers were here as well. Six guys pounded out a marching rhythm on some bongo drums, a snare drum and one steel drum. The beat was perfect for charging up the rest of the hill since I didn’t want that woman in white catching me again.
As I passed Colorful Corner, picturesque Coral Bay finally came into view, blue and green and full of boats. Several runners stopped, some in the middle of the road, to take pictures. I had to dodge around them. Apparently they didn’t see the perfectly good scenic perch on the side of the road.
Finally, the last two miles into Coral Bay, all downhill. I began running again concentrating on large strides and landing gently, trying not to jar my ankles, knees, hips, spine, brain, etc. My legs felt like lead, but here gravity was my friend so I had push on. The sun poked out from behind a cloud.
While concentrating as hard as I was, amazingly I still found things to annoy me, like the bead of sweat that refused to fall off the tip of my nose. I kept wiping it with my hand only to have it immediately reappear. Then I ran up to a guy who was walking and just as I got even with him, he began to run. Really? He shuffled his feet too, even more annoying. He shuffled a short distance ahead and began to walk again. I caught up to him and he took off running again. When he stopped to walk, I caught up to him a third time and he began to run again. Com’on dude, seriously! I pressed on and passed his shuffling ass. The shuffling stopped when the guy finally gave up and walked.
I rounded another curve and several signs on the road greeted me, bright yellow signs and they read in succession – “One Mile”…”To Go”…”Lime Inn.” At the end of the third sign was a water station sponsored by the Lime Inn restaurant and manned by volunteers wearing yellow t-shirts. I grabbed one last water cup, swallowed half and dumped the rest over my head. One tuff mile to go.
The road flattened out so I didn’t have gravity’s help anymore. The tuff miles were taking their toll as I saw more walkers than runners ahead of me. Unfortunately, this was also the section of the course that was open to motor vehicles and several cars slowly made their way to Coral Bay alongside me, which created lovely exhaust fumes to breathe.
As I approached town large groups of people stood along the road. The school soccer appeared ahead. That marked the finish, but the race organizers didn’t make it easy. I had to run past the finish line on the outside of the field to the school building. A volunteer in an orange vest pointed me into the school yard entrance where I ran onto the field itself. Lined with colorful flags and a huge crowd of people cheering the way, I sprinted to the finish. A familiar voice startled me.
“Com’on honey!” It was my husband. I pushed even harder. The timer above the canopy displayed 1 hour, 53 minutes with the seconds ticking away. As I crossed the line a woman, a race volunteer, told me good job as she pushed me off to the side to make room for the runner behind me. Another person put a medal around my neck. Suddenly my husband appeared giving me a hug.
“You made it!”
I was in a bit of a daze so he led me to a water station and then to the t-shirt tent so I could claim my finisher’s prize. I could already feel my quads tightening so I asked to walk around. He suggested we walk to Skinny Legs and get a table. As we walked he asked about the race. I told him it was brutal and I stopped running after the first mile. He was shocked to learn I didn’t run the whole thing.
“And you still made it in under two hours?”
He was impressed and I realized I should be too. I conquered the 8 Tuff Miles. My reward: A cheeseburger and Presidente at Skinny Legs with a table full of other runners. After a second round of Presidentes, we had all made plans to run it again someday. St. John wasn’t so tuff after all.
8 Tuff Miles (Registration is already closed for this year)
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
The world’s smallest bathroom
We were fortunate enough to be invited to help out with the PA Beer Festival at the Philadelphia Convention Center in November. The two-session event was a lot of hard work and we stood on our feet for almost 14 hours. However, it was an incredibly successful event and lot of fun too. The event feature 96 breweries and over 250 kinds of beer. Nice!
After a well-deserved Sunday morning sleep in (we slept in for Philly, it was only 8 a.m. in Denver) we were grateful to have a day in Philly all to ourselves. We had two items on our agenda: The Liberty Bell and the perfect Philly cheese steak.
The first part was easy. After checking out of the hotel we hailed a cab to the bell. Our feet were exhausted after the beer fest and even though we were told the bell was only six blocks away, we opted for a ride. The cab dropped us off at Independence National Historic Park and the first thing we noticed was the line already stretched out the front door of the Liberty Bell Center. Fortunately entrance to see the Liberty Bell is free, as it should be since it belongs to all of us. My husband and I hauled our carry-on bags to the back of the line. The reason for the long line is the security check-in at the entrance. It was almost like boarding an airplane, but I can understand. The Liberty Bell is a symbol of freedom and a symbol of the United States. They don’t want any funny business. However, it was more than slightly embarrassing to have the security agent open up my carry-on and go through my underwear and pull out my make-up bag to examine the contents. And since we had such large bags, it took longer to check us in then those with just a camera or purse. We made it a point to smile and say thank you to the agents. I even asked the door agent how her day was going. She said she couldn’t complain, after all it was a nice day outside, almost 55 degrees.
After getting our carry-ons back we began walking down the large window-filled hall. There were posters and placards and even video screens all explaining the history and significance of the Liberty Bell. My husband looked at me.
“Do you really want to read all this?”
“Not really, I just wanna see the bell.”
“Let’s go then.” So we walked past all the people who were ahead of us in line and straight to the back of the building where a crowd gathered around the country’s most prized possession. As we approached a family moved away and we were granted a full-on view of the Liberty Bell.
The bell was back lit by a large window making it a nightmare to take photos. I took some anyway, playing with the settings on my camera and hoping for the best. The bell isn’t that big in size, maybe four feet by four feet, but it weights almost 2000 pounds and is made of 79% copper, 25% tin and small amounts of lead, zinc, arsenic, gold and silver. The bell hangs from its original yoke made of American elm. It’s quite beautiful. A magnificence surrounds the bell because it is a tangible symbol of America, something we can see and touch. Well, actually, they won’t let you touch it, but you could if you don’t mind being arrested. The bell has a well-documented history. It was made in London in 1751, but cracked after arriving in Pennsylvania. American craftsmen John Pass and John Stow cast a new bell using the metal from the English bell in 1753.
“By 1846 a thin crack began to affect the sound of the bell. The bell was repaired in 1846 and rang for a George Washington birthday celebration, but the bell cracked again and has not been rung since. No one knows why the bell cracked either time.” (Liberty Bell Center website)
Independence Park National Historic Park is also home to Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, Old City Hall and Congress Hall, all together made for a beautiful outdoor setting decorated with pumpkins and hay bales for the season and several horse-drawn carriages to give people tours. Children played in the park grass and the trees still had a few leaves on them.
While I took pics of the buildings, my husband called a colleague who happens to live in Philly because he had a very important question. Where could we find the best cheese steak sandwiches near the Liberty Bell? After a lengthy discussion my husband was given a destination: Steaks on South.
Hailing cab #2 we told the driver we wanted to go to Steaks on South. The driver said no problem and proceeded on 6th Street through what appeared to be a very historic and very old residential neighborhood crowded with small, colonial brick houses. After only a few blocks the cabbie pulled over on a corner and said, “Is this OK?” My husband said yeah, sure. But when we got out, we were next to a dry cleaner.
“Is this it?” he asked.
“Well, it’s about two blocks that way,” he said pointing east. “Do you want me to drive you?”
“No, no, we can walk two blocks.” With that we paid the fair and got out. We walked the two blocks and arrived at Jim’s Steaks with a line outside the front door.
“Is that it?” I asked.
“No, it’s Steaks on South.”
“Maybe he meant Jim’s Steaks on South?”
“No, it’s Steaks on South.” Not sure where to go, Christian fired up his smartphone to get a map. The phone took 10 minutes to warm up, but he found it.
“No, it’s Steaks on South.” Not sure where to go, Christian fired up his smartphone to get a map. The phone took 10 minutes to warm up, but he found it.
“Oh, man, we need to go a few more blocks that way.” We continued walking east. Despite the confusion, the walk was quite pleasant. South Street was a bit of an anomaly with old storefronts painted and decorated in contemporary palates. Bright shades of green, pink and blue along with vibrant murals made each building stand out. And the shops were a hodgepodge of florists, cafes, smoke houses, cheesy bric-a-brac, art galleries and bars. The residents strolling the streets were just as decorated, such as the mod lesbian couple with piercings, tattoos and old-school high top sneakers. One pushed a baby stroller with baby girl all decked in princess pink toile inside. Then there were the guys hanging out on the street. One guy compared a Ford Focus parked out front with his sister’s new Toyota Prius. “That car is the shit!” Really? Car talk has come a long way since I debated Camaros vs. Corvettes in high school.
We finally arrived at Steaks on South, or SOS, and the place was empty. Not the line out the door like we saw at Jim’s. What could that mean, we pondered. Could Jim’s be the best place because it had a line or was SOS a hidden gem no one new about? We stuck to our friend’s recommendation and ordered up at the counter. Christian ordered the Cheesesteak hoagie. A Cheesesteak sandwich is literally just steak and cheese, unless you order it as a hoagie, where they add tomato, lettuce and onion. His cheese of choice, Cheese Whiz. I chose a Cheesesteak hoagie with Swiss.
The sandwiches were everything we had hoped they would be. While we savored our bites, a few people walked in and ordered lunch; an older couple, a group of women and then a group of about 12 college students, prominently displaying Greek letters on their shirts. SOS was no longer empty. It was almost 1 p.m. by the time we left and we asked one of the cooks if there was good place to watch NFL football nearby. He suggested O’Neal’s and said it was just around the corner.
O’Neal’s Irish Sports Bar was a tall skinny building with both a front door and a patio door wide open so we could easily see inside where a long wooden bar stretched way into the back. We walked inside and there were still several seats at the bar even through the first set of NFL games were about to start. Christian asked the bartender, a guy about as wide as he was tall, if we could get the Broncos game on one TV. He said no problem and even told us which TV we were getting. We had two beers in front us just as the game kicked off.
During a commercial I happened to glimpse a tattooed skinny man place a burger and fries plate on the back of the bar, and then walk away. The giant bartender came over and ate some fries off of a plate. A minute later the skinny guy returned and noticed some fries were missing.
“Did you eat my fries?” he asked with a British accent. Then he looked at us. “Did he (pointed at bartender) eat my fries?” Not sure of the work dynamic in place here, I said, “Maybe.” From the other end of the bar came a reply.
“So what if I did? I’m your boss, watcha gonna do about it?” the bartender said, more than asked.
“That’s my lunch man!” and then the two of them broke out in hysterical laughter. “When you get your lunch, you own me some fries.”
A guy came into the bar wearing a Broncos hat and asked if the seat next to me was taken. We sensed we had a comrade in football , but before we could introduce ourselves the bartender came over and told him he would have some extra fans helping him out and pointed at us. The guy turned out to be a Boulder native who lived nearby. He wound up in Philly because his wife was getting her Master’s Degree there. O’Neal’s was his regular Sunday football haunt because the bartender, who was also the owner, would accommodate just about anyone who came in with their favorite game. He said there was one time when he arrived late and there was only one TV left in the bar. It was behind him above the front door. He had to sit the whole game with his back to the bar. Broncos’ fans do whatever it takes.
He told us there is a Pittsburg contingent that gets to watch their games on the second floor. He also said there was one obnoxious guy who was huge San Diego fan and just as he said that, the guy, wearing a dingy SD t-shirt and hat walked in the front door and said, “Hello everybody!” By second quarter, our new friend’s wife arrived, but the bar was full so he gave up his seat to her and the two of us were able to chat during the game.
One of the things we talked about was the mellow 70’s music played over the loud speakers. Apparently the bartender loves that kind of music. Music like You’re in my Heart by Rod Stewart, Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John, Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts, Green-eyed Lady by Sugarloaf. (Tell me if you remember that one?) The bartender would sing along and he had a very nice voice. A cook from the kitchen came out and begged the bartender to change the music station. He was granted his wish and soon Enter Sandman by Metallica came on followed by Shook Me All Night Long by ACDC. I also heard Mas Tequila by Sammy Hagar. By then the bartender had had enough and switched the music back.
Here’s a conversation I overheard between the bartender and a patron.
“So anything new going up in the building on the corner?”
“Nah, guy wants 10,000 dollars a month” said the bartender.
“Does the Greek still own that Place?”
“Yeah,” the bartender replied. The bartender knew pretty much everyone in the place and greeted them all and asked how their families were. When Christian ordered an IPA that turned out to be the last drops of the keg, the bartender let him have the foamy beer for free, even though it was still a full glass. With the unseasonably warm weather and bright sunshine flowing in through the open doors and windows, I decided I could easily live near this bar. Maybe even in the bar.
After two beers it wasn’t long before nature called and I made my way to the far end of the bar where the restrooms were. There were two, but they weren’t designated men and women. People could use whichever one was open. It didn’t take much to realize these were some unique bathrooms. I’m only 5’4”. The blue tiled bathroom ceiling was dropped so low I could touch it with my elbow bent. I had to stand to the side of the toilet to shut the door. A teeny, tiny little sink was tucked into the corner. I had to sit with my knees to the side and under the sink because the door almost touched the end of the toilet. I haven’t seen a port-a-potty that small. I mentioned the tiny restrooms to our new friend’s wife and she laughed.
“Yeah, you get used to it after a while. I don’t even notice it anymore.” She explained that a lot of the area’s buildings were originally old houses dating back to colonial days. Rooms were smaller then. I’ll say. I was so astounded by the bathroom’s size I had to go back and take some photos because no out west would believe me.
After another Bronco’s victory, we paid our tab, said goodbye to our new friends and then walked into the sunshine to grab a cab to the airport.
Summer Breeze by Seals & Crofts
Saturday, November 3, 2012
Hello people! Like what you read here? Great, because now there is more of me to love! I have two new places where my work will be featured and I'd like you to check them out. I'll still be posting to the personal blog once a month or so with my quarky little stories, but I have joined the professional blogosphere with two new columns. Here they are:
Deal Angel - The world's first hotel FINDER, Deal Angel links you to the best prices in hotels around the world. Much like Kayak for finding air fare, Deal Angel does the work for you to find discounted rates at hotels. And for fun they have a travel blog featuring all kinds of great events in cities near and far. Learn more about the places you want to visit by reading the Deal Angel Blog. You'll find articles by myself and other great writers from around the country.
Drink Denver and Drink Nation - Want to find the best happy hour deals in your city? Want to know what restaurants, bars and night clubs are opening up near you? Drink Nation has the answer. This website features where to get the best adult beverages in cities around the country. Based in Philly, this national website currently features six awesome cities: Baltimore, Denver, Gotham, Jersey Shore, Philadelphia, Portland and Washington DC. Find great happy hour deals, discover new pubs and restaurants, read beer and wine reviews, and get to know the craftspeople behind your favorite libations. If it's got alcohol, we've gotcha covered. They are working to add new cities to the group so if you don't see your city listed, keep checking. I'll be contributing to Denver and hope you enjoy what I find.
I still write for Examiner.com and for the TV show Drinking Made Easy.
You can also follow me on Twitter @whereiscdnow. I post links to new articles as they appear. This is a great place for one-stop shopping of my work around the 'net.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Life in the fast lane, Porsch World Roadshow 2012
This was only the second time ever I have driven east of Denver International Airport on Interstate 70. The first time was almost a decade ago and that was a cross-country road trip to Florida. On this day our destination was away from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains toward the great plains of eastern Colorado halfway between Denver and the Kansas state line. It was a day we will never forget.
About a month ago I was filing through the mail and came across small flyer with my name on it and a picture of a beautiful Porsche Boxster. I assumed it was from our neighborhood Porsche dealer and as lovely as the picture was, no way short of winning the lottery was I ever going to shop for a Porsche. Opening the cabinet door that housed the trash can, I stooped over the garbage when two words caught my eye: “Invitation Only.” I took a peek.
“Sign up now for an unforgettable driving experience. You are invited to the 2012 Porsche World Roadshow – USA. This is your opportunity to feel the G-forces as you drive some of the world’s most exhilarating vehicles in a closed-course driving environment. You and a guest are invited to get behind the wheel of the Panamera, Boxster S, Cayenne, and the original racing icon – the 911. Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime chance to drive a Porsche the way it was intended – on specially-designed driving courses, with coaching from certified Porsche driving instructors.”
All I had to do was log onto PorscheWorldRoadshowUSA.com and enter a special nine-digit code from the invitation. Intrigued I headed to my computer where the website had even more interesting information:
“Porsche will bring vehicles spanning most of the model range, accompanied by the specially-trained and highly-skilled Porsche Sport Driving School – USA instructors. Learn skills from past and current champions who have experience in all aspects of the sport…Participants will experience the 911, Panamera, all-new Boxster S and Cayenne in various high-performance exercises such as handling, braking and on-track driving.”
Without questioning how this invitation ended up in the mailbox of someone obviously not capable of financing a Porsche, I logged in and entered all sorts of personal information about myself and my husband into this possibly dubious website. The event was divided into four sessions and both morning events were already booked. I selected the 12:55 p.m. session and clicked the register tab. For the next several days I waited for two things to happen: A virus getting unleashed into my computer and for my identity to get stolen. When neither of those things happened, I showed the invitation to my husband. Not finding anything to raise his suspicions he rearranged his travel schedule to be there.
High Plains Raceway, our destination, sat in the middle of nowhere just off Highway 36, 17 miles east of Byers. Byers the town was located at the fork in the road where Interstate 70 turned southward toward Limon and Highway 36 continued east. We realized we were in for something special when we saw the canary yellow Porsche pass us on the highway. Intimidation began when a dark blue Porsche with Kansas plates shot by.
Now with the mountains far behind us, we pulled into the raceway’s parking lot directed by young gentlemen in red Porsche logo Polos. Behind us in the lot were three red Porsches covering several decades and Porsches of other colors and decades dotted around the lot. We felt self-conscious with our Ford Edge until a Toyota Tundra pulled up next to us.
We followed the crowd of mostly older gentlemen, some with wives and girlfriends, to a large white tent with five sparkly Porsche models parked out front. We registered with the Porsche staff and received our track badges. Orientation wouldn’t start for another 15 minutes so we milled around the air conditioned tent admiring the fully loaded, ruby red Panamera GTS with suede interior. Then we perused the display cases filled with all kinds of Porsche swag such as $26 Porsche logo golf balls, $60 model cars and $250 Porsche watches. We couldn’t even afford the swag! We helped ourselves to the snack buffet and then went back outside to admire the model cars. Next to each car was a spec sheet with information such as:
The newly designed Boxster S had 315 horse power and went 0-60 in 4.8 seconds. Top speed 173 mph and 22 mpg in the city. Base price was $60,000 with options topping $80,000.
The 911 Carrera S had 400 horse power and went 0-60 in 4.3 seconds. Top speed 188 mph and 21 mpg in the city. Base price started about $86,000 with options up to $100,000.
The Panamera had 300 horse power and went 0-60 in 6 seconds with a top speed of 160 mph. Gas mileage was 20 mpg city. Base price about $100,000. I believe it topped out at $180-something thousand.
The Cayenne was Porsche’s family car and it looked like a small SUV. It had 400 horse power and 0-60 in 5.6 seconds with a top speed of 160. Gas mileage was 19 mpg city. Base price…$110,000. I didn’t bother looking at the options.
A Porsche staff member announced they were ready to start and we filed back inside the tent. Although I call it a tent, it had wood flooring, windows, a few sofas and several TV monitors showing Porsche videos. We sat in a section of the tent that had several rows of the most comfortable folding chairs I have ever sat in. Our speaker was Cass Whitehead, Lead Instructor of the Porsche Sport Driving School in Birmingham, AL. He had quite a racing resume, named Rookie National Driver of the Year when he started. After earning an engineering degree from Georgia Tech, he raced and won many competitions including IMSA, Rolex Grand Am and the American Le Mans series. He helped Porsche win the Rolex Grand Am GT class Manufacturers Championship in 2002. Whitehead told us we were going to have fun today.
“You guys are going to get to do things in a vehicle you can’t do on a dealer test drive,” he said. “Just try telling a dealer you want to test drive four different models at 127 miles per hours. They probably won’t let you do that.”
Whitehead also talked about the Porsche Sport Driving School and its history. For our purposes, however, he mostly discussed the finer points of a racing turn: brake before the turn, enter at a 45 degree angle, gas at the apex of the curve and let the car roll 45 degrees back to the outside. There were other ways, angles, of taking a turn, he told us, but he didn’t recommend them.
“When you run out of pavement and talent, you are in trouble,” he said followed by nervous laughter from the room.
We also learned how the track driving would be organized. We were divided into groups by a color dot on our badges. Ours were red. Each color group would have four cars they would take turns driving with each group having an instructor in a lead car. Two people per car. We would follow the instructor single file around the course keeping 3 to 4 car lengths between. We would drive one lap around the track following specific instructions by the leader on a radio. Then we would pit the cars and the passenger would become the driver for the next lap. After that lap, we would then move to the car behind us. Those in the last car would move up to the front until we had all rotated through for a total of eight laps, four of them driving. It sounded simple enough except he forgot to mention we would be driving cars with an average sticker price of $90,000.
After the presentation Whitehead drew a name out of an envelope for the session door prize, a set of Bose earphones won by neither of us, and finally we were sent the racing pit where we were told to grab a helmet from a stack next to the cars (some drivers brought their own if that tells you anything about this group). Another red Polo Porsche person led us by dot color to a group of beautiful shiny cars in perfect alignment.
My husband and I were lucky enough to start in the Panamera GTS, the car behind the instructor. Surprising us in the pit was a photographer who snapped photos as we entered the cars. He asked my husband to roll down his window so he could take a picture and then said photos would be available the next day on the Roadshow website. As we got into the car we could already hear the instructor on an invisible radio. He reminded us to make sure our helmets and seatbelts were on. Make sure we were close enough to the steering wheel that our elbows were bent, closer than most people normally sit in a car. He pointed out the Sports and Sports Plus buttons on the console and encouraged us to try them as we drove, but we should all start out in “normal” when we exit the pit.
“OK, when the paparazzi are finished you can put the car in drive and we’ll get started.” The turn out of the pit was quite sharp and the car hummed and purred as my husband hit the gas. We kept turning and turning then finally an orange cone marked the start of the track and a long straightaway of open asphalt.
“OK people, time to give it some gas,” said the invisible voice. We were off! The engine growled, but it was a comforting, strong sound. The sound surrounded you, but it wasn’t deafening. Our eyes were completely focused on the car in front of us just as Whitehead said to do. So focused I had no idea what the surrounding landscape looked like. All I see is asphalt and a silver car getting smaller in the distance. Then we see the car’s brake lights.
“OK the first curve is coming up, time to hit the brakes. Slow down before you get to the turn, then ease out of the turn and give it some gas,” said the almost hypnotic voice. My husband did as instructed with perfect execution.
“OK we have S-curve coming up next. Gently we’re going to turn left, then right, then left using the orange cones as a guide.” I found myself swaying slightly as he said left, right, left.
“Here comes a right turn, brake first, then accelerate as you head up the hill.” The Panamera glided up the hill.
“OK we have a blind left turn coming up so brake, then accelerate…and another S-curve. Be sure to just touch the marked areas as we go through.” The marked areas were the apexes of each curve and impossible to miss with their blue and white striping. “OK now decelerate as we head back to the pit.” Like that it was over. We lined the Panamera behind the lead car and traded places. Our instructor reminded everyone to make sure the car was in park before we exited.
I sat in the Panamera’s driver seat and proceeded to move the seat up…and up…and up. Remember that ESPN/NBA commercial in the RV? Jeff Van Gundy sits in the driver’s seat after Amar’e Stoudemire and all you hear the seat motor humming while Van Gundy inched closer to the wheel? That was me.
Camera guy came over and asked me to roll down my window. I smiled as I wondered what I looked like with this giant helmet covering my noggin. Before I could worry about that more, the “voice” began. It was eerily familiar.
“OK when the paparazzi are finished taking their pictures we can get started.” I pressed my foot on the accelerator impressed with how smooth the car rolled out of the pit. The turn onto the main track kept getting longer and longer. I caught the orange cone out on my left.
“OK folks time to give it some gas.” Suddenly the lead car became awfully small.
“GO GO GO!” my husband yelled. I pressed the pedal, but I couldn’t find the floor. The engine hummed its quiet roar and my peripheral vision was all blurry. Then I saw the lead car’s brake lights and even though I wasn’t even close to him, I touched my brakes. The car responded immediately and smoothly as I entered the first turn.
“Way to catch up Panamera. Now we go through the gentle S-curve, first left then right then left. Boxster try to catch up as we head into the next turn…” It helped that my husband drove first because I could see the track without the pressure of driving it. I knew the next turn was the uphill and gave it some gas. Next came the blind left turn so I touched the brakes. Then the second S-curve and after each touch of the stripes, I pressed the gas pedal slightly. The car responded like a hover craft; it wasn’t even like driving. Before I could fully register that feeling, we slowed down and entered the pit. While most of the other drivers felt exhilaration upon leaving the vehicle, I felt more relieved that the car and I survived.
From the Panamera we moved into the Boxster S. A true sports car, this would prove a far more interesting ride. For the third time we heard, “OK, when the paparazzi are finished taking photos, we can get started…” His mantra continued through the same way each lap, however, it was reassuring and made it easy to remember what to do each step of the way. By the time we got to the fourth car, I had the track memorized. Sadly, that was the end of it.
For me the Boxster was the most difficult car. Although the engine and braking were smooth in all the cars (these things stop on a dime!), I felt I had to really work the steering wheel during turns and I finished my lap slightly tired. The third car was the 911 Carrera and the last car was the Carrera S. I liked both, but the Carrera S was beyond easy. No effort to turn the wheel, press the gas or brake pedals almost like it responded to my thoughts. It just went.
Since the Carrera S was the fourth car for us, we were done with the track portion of the afternoon. We next walked to a section of parking lot that was coned off into a small oval. Here the Porsche staff had people test the difference between their Cayenne and Panamera V8 cars verses their new hybrid models. We took turns first driving the V8, which included a ¼ mile of straightaway to accelerate as fast as we could, then we had to slam on the brakes before rounding the short oval back to the start. There was no difference between the V8s and the hybrids when it came to acceleration, other than the hybrid engines were quiet, and that was whole point of the demo.
As we left the track, a Porsche staff member at the hybrid tent reminded us to grab our parting gift before we left. The gift, a stainless steel Porsche water bottle, probably cost as much as a crystal goblet. With feelings of both sadness and exhilaration, we climbed back in the old Edge for the long ride home.
“Did you ever look at the speedometer?” my husband asked.
“No,” I said with sudden realization. “Did you?”
“No, they said to always look at the road ahead of you.” True, Whitehead did say to always look where you want the car to go, which was the road ahead.
“I guess we’ll never know how fast we went,” I said, noting the only disappointment in our fantastic afternoon.
There are still three dates left on the USA roadshow tour - Houston, Oct. 5-6; Central Florida, Oct. 16-18; and Charlotte, Oct. 31 - Nov. 1. See link below.
High Plains Raceway
Porsche Sport Driving School
Porsch World Roadshow USA
Thursday, August 23, 2012
8 Tuff Miles - Part I
The three of us nodded knowingly to each other as we boarded the taxi. Since we were all headed to the same place verbal pleasantries were unnecessary. Our silent taxi ride was dark; clouds so thick we couldn’t see a single Caribbean star.
We headed toward Cruz Bay and the start of the 8 Tuff Miles road race, the Caribbean’s most popular foot race held on the island of St. John. The taxi dropped us off at Mongoose Junction which was across the street from the National Park building where the race would start. Already people gathered around the park. Some stretched, some jogged and others stood around in small groups chatting. My first order of business was to register and get my bib number. I needed to get that out of the way quickly because in 25 minutes a ferry from St. Thomas would be arriving with 500 more people also running the race. After putting on my bib and race timer, I stretched my hamstrings and calves. The atmosphere slowly lightened revealing there were indeed clouds in the sky.
As more people arrived I noticed everyone seemed to know each other and stood in small groups. Feeling anxious and nervous I needed some distraction. I happened to see another young woman standing by herself, looking around. I caught her eye and she nodded. I asked her if she was running alone. She said she was actually walking with some co-workers. Her name was Suzanne and she told me in her seven years on the island she had never entered in this race. When I mentioned I was from Colorado, she said she was moving to Denver, a transfer for her job at the National Park Service. She would be working for the Department of Underwater Archeology on
Alameda Avenue. Funny,
the one stranger I chose to talk to would soon to be my neighbor. As we talked,
the ferry arrived. Soon waves of people were everywhere. Suzanne’s co-workers also
arrived and she moved on with them. Alone again, I continued stretching knowing
that my muscles needed it.
After several minutes a man and woman with bullhorns began telling us to move toward the start line behind the National Park house. A steel drum band began to play. A glimpse of a nearby participant’s watch told me it was 7:20, five minutes after the scheduled start time. Suzanne had said last year the ferry was late and the race didn’t start until almost 8 a.m. With people still filling in behind me, I wondered if we’d ever get this over with. Suddenly the steel band stopped playing. I couldn’t hear anything or anyone above the din of the crowd. Suddenly the steel band started up again and heads bobbed up and down in front of me. The race had begun!
I started running and immediately dodging people, weaving in and out. I ran past the band, a group of men so young they must have been high school students. I ran around the park and around the next corner to Mongoose Junction weaving and bobbing through the walkers and slow joggers ahead of me. The bobbing heads in front of me took a left turn. That turn was Centerline Road and the beginning of a two mile ascent. My jogging pace slowed to a crawl as entered.
“Holy crap!” I muttered under my breath. Not even a mile into this race and it was seriously steep. I was still running, but it wasn’t much faster than a walk. Trudging along I made it to the first switchback. As if I were in a stairwell, the runners ahead were now above me.
The 8 Tuff Miles began over 15 years ago. St. John resident, race founder and director, Peter Alter, took up jogging as a New Year’s resolution back 1997. Shortly after that he attended a meeting by the St. John Action Committee. The Committee’s purpose was to find ways to bring people from St. Thomas to spend the day, and their money, on St. John. They planned to have events on the last Saturday of each month with fairs, music and markets. Alter suggested a foot race from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay. Those who didn’t think him completely crazy agreed to stage the first race the last Saturday in February. That first race featured only 21 entrants, but most were from St. Thomas, so the plan worked. The 8 Tuff Miles is now the largest attended road race in the Virgin Islands.
The 8 Tuff Miles website warned me that the first two miles were uphill, but I didn’t realize the scope of that statement until I hit the next switchback. Absolutely brutal. In the days before the race, I met several other runners, many of whom had run it several times before. As soon as I mentioned I was from Colorado, they all said,” Oh, this will be easy for you!” How wrong they were. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway in Colorado has a grade of 15% and most paved Colorado mountain roads are between 5-7%, but this was beyond that. However, I will admit that practicing at altitude helped. I was breathing great. As I struggled up the steep hill I enjoyed each inhale of warm, moist Caribbean oxygen entering my lungs. Now if I could just get my legs to keep up.
Approaching the first water station I overheard another runner say the station was about the first mile mark. My original goal was to run those first two vertical miles, but as I turned up yet another excruciating switchback a 6-foot tall guy caught up to me…walking. Sadly, I realized running was just not optimal so I started walking. The larger walking strides enabled me to gain more ground and I kept up with the old guy, for a while. With his legs twice as long as mine, he soon pulled away. At another switchback I pumped my arms and pushed my legs up and around the corner. I felt like I was in one of those illusion paintings with all the staircases that went into infinity. Finally at the summit, was St. John
At the entrance a small group of people cheered and held signs for the runners.
I relaxed a little as I saw the small downhill before me. Wanting to optimize
what little speed I had, I ran the downhill. What welcome relief to my neck to
look down. At the right turn of the downhill was another water station that was
sponsored by the Animal Care Center of St. John, appropriate because of a special
runner that came up behind me. The tan and white pit bull mix followed us
runners along on the road. I thought he belonged to a runner next to me as he
ran steadily by her side, tail wagging happily. Then the woman’s running partner
said startled “Hey, there’s a dog.” The dog then passed them to another runner.
Every few yards a runner would notice the dog and say, “Hey, where’s your bib
number!?” As I grabbed a water cup, a race volunteer stopped him and gave him
“You need to be with us,” the guy said.
Gulping the water the road turned uphill again and I began to walk…and walk…and walk. This location contained several construction businesses, such as the lumberyard, the cement store, the woodshop, and each business had several people on the road with signs, cheering us on. I waved.
As I started running down the hill, a loud obnoxious screeching noise rose from behind me. It sounded like a steamroller and myself and several other runners started looking around. Flying over the hill came a guy with one hand on what looked to be the world’s ricketiest baby stroller. He had a look of concern on his face as he and his child sped precariously down the hill. One slip of his hand and that kid was headed for the ditch. This was not one of those stream-lined modern jogging baby strollers with the fat mountain bike tires. It was an old-fashioned aluminum four-wheeled up-right stroller that parents stopped using 20 years ago.
“Look out! Comin’ through!” he shouted as he passed. I wasn’t sure which was worse; the danger that kid was in or the fact someone pushing an ancient baby stroller just passed me.
Join us in 2013 when we run the 17th Annual 8 Tuff Miles, Saturday, February 23, 7:15 a.m. Registration begins in October.