Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Great Basin National Park, Lehman Caves, and Cathedral Gorge State Park~May 27-29, 2016

The boys at the parks entrance.

We decided to spend the long Memorial Day weekend exploring Nevada's only National Park. Great Basin National Park is located about 5 hours from Las Vegas. We planned on camping at one of the campgrounds in the park. They do not take online reservations so we left early on Friday morning in order to get there in time to secure a spot. Shortly after we left town, I realized we had forgotten the hot dog/marshmallow cooking poles. We decided to stop along the way and pick some up. FYI, you go through a few small towns on the way there but nothing big so the selection of stores is very limited. We ended up finding some at the hardware store in Caliente. The only other town we passed of some size was Pioche. We stopped for lunch and gas in Pioche. There are no fast food options once you leave Las Vegas. We ended up eating at a small diner that took a really long time. This set us back a few hours. I'm telling you all of this so you can plan accordingly when traveling through this area. 

We arrived at the main Visitor Center, just after 2:00 PM,which is located outside of the park in Baker, NV. This is where you need to fill up your water containers since the campgrounds do not always have reliable water. I ran in and grabbed a park map and asked the ranger about the camping situation. We had hoped to camp at Lower Lehman Creek Campground. She told me that Lower Lehman was probably already full but there may be a few spots still available at Baker Creek Campground. If not, then we could camp outside the park in Strawberry Creek Campground. She notified me that they are able to take online reservations for Grey Cliffs Campground for future reference. We drove straight to Lower Lehman and saw that she was right. They were all occupied. We made our way over to Baker Creek. It is the largest campground in the park. We made our way through the different loops and were losing hope. Finally, at the last site, we found a perfect spot for us to camp. 

We quickly unloaded the car and made camp. We had reservations for a 3:00 PM tour at Lehman Caves that we didn't want to miss. The boys put their tent under the pine trees next to a small stream while I put our tent in the designated tent spot. It turned out to be a great campsite. We had the bathrooms and trash cans next to us so it wasn't a long walk to take care of business. The sound of the stream was a pleasant backdrop and it was also nice that we were able to space the tents out a little. 

The boy's tent by the stream.

Our view looking across the valley.

Our tent in the shadow of Wheeler Peak.
We made it to the Lehman Caves Visitor Center with about 10 minutes to spare. We had reserved the Grand Palace Tour. It was $10 for adults and $5 for kids for a 90 minute tour. There were about 20 people on our tour. 

We have been in many caves because it is something we enjoy seeing while on vacation. The special thing about these caves are the "shields" throughout the cave. There are more than 300 in the Lehman Caves. There was another interesting thing that happened while we were on the tour. The power went out! The guide was turning off the lights to an area we had just left when everything went dark. We waited there for a minute to see if the lights would come back on but they didn't. Luckily, some of us had flashlights and most of us had cell phones so we were able to light those up and make our way safely back to the surface. It was a fun way to finish the tour. It made it seem more natural and more of an adventure. 

Enjoying the tour with my family.

An example of a shield.

Two shields.
 After the tour, we went back to our campsite and made dinner. We had decided to not bring our stove since there was no water and we wouldn't be able to wash dishes. All of the food we ate was able to be cooked over the fire or prepared at the table. We had purchased wood for the fire before we left Las Vegas and I'm glad we did since there was no place to buy any there. You are allowed to collect dead, dropped wood around the campground so we were able to get plenty of kindling.

The entire weekend was forecast to have scattered showers and the forecast was correct. We had several small showers throughout our weekend. One even was accompanied with hail. Luckily, we were driving in our car during that storm. The good part about the storms were that they were all short lived and didn't really affect our time there.

One of Great Basin's claim to fame is the fact that it is one of the last true dark skies in America, On a clear, moonless might, thousands of stars, five of our solar system's eight planets, star clusters, meteors, man-made satellites, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Milky Way can be seen with the naked eye. The park offers astronomy programs April through May. Unfortunately, with the scattered rain came lots of clouds and we were unable to attend the program.

On Saturday morning, my husband and I woke up early for a run. It was a beautiful morning running in the fresh mountain air. Once we returned, we woke up our boys and ate breakfast. Since we had nice blue skies, we decided to do the scenic drive to Wheeler Peak, Nevada's tallest peak at 13,065 feet. It is a paved 12 mile, steep and winding road. It has some vehicle restrictions and is not open all year depending on weather.

We took advantage of the several pullouts along the route to view the mountains, valleys, creeks, and wildlife. We planned on hiking the Alpines Lake Loop Trail which starts at the Bristlecone Parking Area, near the Wheeler Peak campground. Once we arrived at the parking lot and the end of the scenic drive, we realized that we were not going to be able to do the hike since it was still snow packed. We spent a short amount of time exploring the area around the parking lot and made our way back down the scenic route.

Standing in front of Wheeler Peak.

Looking at the big turkey in the valley below. 
Taking in the amazing view. 
At the upper parking lot.
My boys in the aspens.

Aspens are my favorite trees.

 After the drive, we decided to stop by the main Visitor Center again to watch the video, pick up my souvenir magnet, and read about the park. After looking at the park map again, we noticed an off-road way back into the park and decided to take it. The road made it's way from Baker, out of the valley, weaving in and out of the park boundary, with a few water crossings. It is definitely a road that needs a high clearance vehicle, preferably with 4 wheel or all wheel drive. It was quite the adventure.

The view as we headed out of the valley.

4x4 driving towards Wheeler Peak.

 After our off-road exploration, we decided to go for our first hike. We were a little worried about getting caught in a rain shower but thought we would risk it. We did the Baker Creek Loop Trail. The scenery was beautiful! It made me think I was hiking in the Pacific NW. The wildflowers with the snowy Wheeler Peak in the background were gorgeous. The trail had a bit of everything; hills, valleys, creeks, aspens, teenage attitudes, and only a few rain drops.
Leading the way.
The boys showing their excitement to be hiking.

At one of the creek crossings.

The boys hiking together.

On our way back to the campsite, we saw our first Yellow-Bellied Marmot. There is a crossing sign near our campground entrance so we were excited to actually see one!

Say hello to my little friend.

Caution, Marmot crossing!

Once back at the camp, we made our dinner and enjoyed our time together. The boys took it upon themselves to gather more firewood (a.k.a. complete fallen trees). I sat there listening to them laughing and carrying on and it made my heart smile. I love our time unplugged and together in nature!

On Sunday morning, we all woke up early to start another hike. We did the Pole Canyon Trail and were able to start from our campsite. It was another beautiful hike. It offered amazing views into the valley, weaving trails through the aspens, multiple turkey sightings, and trails along the creek.

Leading the way again.

Heading into the aspens.

Looking into the valley (it was so much more beautiful in person).

Looking to the sky.

Hiking with my family.

As we finished this hike, we decided to break camp a little early. More rain was coming and we didn't want to be stuck in our tents for the remainder of the day. We had paid for 3 nights but decided to leave after 2 and chalked up the extra night as a donation to the park. We made the right decision because as we were driving away the skies opened up.

As we made our way back to Las Vegas, we decided to make a short stop at Cathedral Gorge State Park since it was literally right next to the road we were driving on. I had heard great things about the park from a friend and she was right! We stopped for lunch at the overlook before heading into the park. The boys loved exploring the endless maze of slot canyons. They crawled through holes, squeezed through tiny openings, climbed ropes over walls, and loved every minute of it. It was super hot in the sun but once we entered the canyons, it was a lovely cool temperature. We spent a couple hours there and that was plenty. I'm glad we decided to stop since it was still 3 hours from Las Vegas and would have been a long drive for not too long of a stop.

The boys loved exploring here. 

Making my way through the gorge.

Looking up from a cave.

Me and my family at Cathedral Gorge State Park.

We all loved it!

We packed a lot of adventure into 3 short days. I would recommend this trip to anyone! Great Basin National Park is beautiful and I think that we went at a great time to explore the lower parts of the park. I would love to return in late summer to explore the upper parts of the park. There are several hikes that I still want to do.

This was a great way to spend the weekend together as a family. My boys are growing up fast and we only have a few more years with them. I'm so glad that we get the opportunity to get away with them. They may not appreciate it now but one day, they will look back on these trips and smile. To quote Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

Thursday, June 2, 2016

First triathlon since ACL replacement and Meniscus repair~Sand Hollow Sprint Triathlon~May 21, 2016

Last October, as I sat in the doctor's exam room listening to him tell me that I would be out of racing for a year, my heart sank. I had so many plans for the 2016 race season. He said that I could probably race a sprint triathlon by the fall, or a year after the injury. That news hurt more than my knee. I accepted this news and settled into the reality that I would have to cancel all of my plans for the upcoming year. 

That lasted for about one month. By mid-November, I got the crazy idea that maybe I could still do most of the races I had planned for 2016. I talked with my husband about my plans and he was 100% behind me (as always). I called my coach and told him about my plans. He thought about it for almost one second and was on-board too. He warned me that it was not going to be easy but if I stuck to an aggressive rehabilitation plan and met all the benchmarks set into place that I should be able to do it.

With that blessing, I set about planning my 2016 race schedule. The first triathlon that I would do was Sand Hollow Sprint Triathlon. I was able to start swimming in the pool by mid-January, bike on the trainer by the end of January, bike outside by mid-March, start running at the beginning of April, and open water swim by mid-April. 

Race weekend finally arrived. We drove to Hurricane, Utah on Friday night for packet pick-up. It was at a new location but I liked it better than the past locations. It was in a small strip of shops with a few eating places attached. We decided to eat at the pizzeria next door. After dinner, we went to our hotel. We stayed at the Comfort Inn Zion which was located between Hurricane and the race sight, Sand Hollow State Park. We got everything ready for the morning and went to bed.

We woke at 6:00 AM with a planned leave time of 6:30 AM. The hotel breakfast did not start until 6:30 AM so we ate the breakfast bars and bananas we brought just in case. We were in the car on time and on our way. The park required a parking pass for entry. We purchased it for $10 at packet pick-up so we were able to drive right through the pay station. We parked where we were directed and unloaded our gear. My race wasn't scheduled to start until 7:40 AM and my husband's was going to start at 8:00 AM. Since we arrived later than most of the racers, we had to park pretty far away. Once we arrived at transition, I was pleased to see that it wasn't too crowded and I was able to set up my transition spot with ease. 

After my gear was set up, I got my body marking done. I was then able to walk around and find some friends that were also racing. As my race time approached, I made one final stop at the port-a-potty, grabbed my wetsuit, swim cap and goggles and headed down towards the swim start.

With my biggest fan before the race
Once I was near the water, my nerves really began to run wild. I started to worry about being able to complete the race. There is one really tough hill on the bike that I was worried about and the entire run made my nervous. I kept repeating my concerns to my husband but he continued to remind me that I was ready. I gave him one final smile and kiss and made my way to the water.

A smile before the race masking my nerves
It was finally time for my wave. I followed all the other yellow caps into the water. I made my way towards the front of the floating herd. My goggles were fogging up so I made a few adjustments.

Getting a few final instructions from the race director
After just a minute or so, the horn was blown and we were off. There was heavy wind forecast for the day and it definitely followed up to it's prediction. Due to the wind, the swim course was altered to keep the swimmers closer to the shore. The water was so choppy that I swallowed more water that morning than I have at any other open water swim or race. The waves were coming in from the right so I was only able to breathe from the left but even then, waves would crest over my head and water would fill my mouth. I had to cough a few times but powered through. The wind had blown over the swim out arch that I usually use to spot my return route so I had a little more difficulty than usual. I finally reached the boat ramp and made my way out of the water. I completed the 750 meter swim in 18:27.

And we're off
Transition was short and sweet. I was a little nervous about getting my wetsuit off without pulling on my knee too much. I took a little more time just to stay safe and it came off without issue. I completed T1 in 2:50.

I started the bike portion feeling good. The beginning of the route is a nice little downhill which gave me a few minutes to rest my legs. Once at the bottom of the hill, I started pedaling. As you can see from the map below, there is a BIG hill that is about one mile long. It is affectionately called "The Beast". My goal for the bike was to not walk up the hill. I hadn't really done any hill training since I started biking again so I knew that this was going to hurt. It was very slow going but I put my head down and pedaled. I met my goal and stayed on my bike for the entire ride. Once on the other side of the hill, I was able to pick up speed to the turnaround. The remainder of the ride was good. The road had recently been resurfaced in chip and seal so it wasn't too fast or smooth. I completed the 12.4 mile bike portion in 53:21.
The bike course
I returned to the transition area and began to realize that I was going to be able to finish this race, even if I had to walk the run. As I was taking off my bike gear and getting my run gear on, I heard the announcer give me a shout out. I have raced with this company for several years and know most of the team. It was a nice added morale boost to have my friend cheer me along over the loud speaker. I finished T2 in 1:36.

The run course
My coach had given me the go ahead to run as much as I could and walk when needed. He reminded me to watch my speed out of the transition area. Since it starts with a downhill, he wanted me to make sure I controlled my run and didn't get ahead of myself. My Garmin watch was broken and off for repairs so I was completing this race without data. I had no idea how fast or slow I was running or how far I was along the course. The only point I would know the distance was at the turnaround spot. I ran for about the first 1.25 miles and then started to walk up the hill. I walked for about 3-5 minutes until I was at the top and then started running again. I made it to the turnaround and knew that I would be able to run the rest of the race since it was mainly downhill until the end. I started to run a little faster and let gravity help me. Once I reached the last uphill that led into the finisher's chute, I told myself that I was almost there and was not going to stop now. I pushed up the hill. I saw a few friends at the beginning of the finisher's chute and they started cheering for me. It gave me the final boost that I needed to pick up my pace. As I was making my way down the final few yards, the announcer told the crowd that I was about to finish my first race since my injury and major surgery. This caused the crowd to start cheering for me. It was an uplifting feeling. I tried to sprint the final few feet and crossed the finish line. At that moment, I started to cry. I was surprised at that reaction. Apparently, this meant more to me than I realized. I completed the 3.1 mile run in 37:26.

Finishing my first sprint triathlon since my injury and surgery
I received my medal, gave my timing chip back, grabbed a water and made my way to the transition area to grab my camera. I was still crying. I saw a friend who was working in transition and he congratulated me on my finish. I finally composed myself and returned to the timing table to see how I did. I completed the entire race in 1:53:42. It was good enough to place 2nd in my division of Athena, 40 and over. 
On the podium
While receiving my place medal, the girl announcing told the crowd about it being my first race back after my injury and I got another cheer. It was humbling. I was proud of myself for having completed this race less than 5 months after my knee surgery and about 5 months before the doctor said I would be able to. 

With my finisher's medal and  podium medal
I still have a long way to go in my training in order to achieve all the goals that I have set for this year but so far, I am well on my way.