United States: Gardiner, Montana (Yellowstone National Park) to Jackson, Wyoming

Posted Posted in Canada, Round The World Trip

Yellowstone National Park

We left the Super 8 Motel relatively early (for us) and drove into Yellowstone for the last time.  We were going to drive through the park and exit through the South Gate.  The 4-7″ of snow they were predicting yesterday never showed up, and it was a lovely sunny day today.

About twenty minutes on the north road, we ran into a large amount of cars and people walking and we knew right away that we would find the bear cubs somewhere near.  Sure enough, they were about 100 yards from the side of the road eating their breakfast.  Their breakfast was a very large deer that they had apparently killed either last night or early this morning.  Most of it was gone, and they were munching on the spinal column when we arrived.  We hung out and watched them for about an hour, and then decided it was time to move on.

The Bears at Breakfast

It took us a few hours to leave the park, and we saw lots of bison and deer and one coyote on the way out.  We stopped for a bit because Jon found a nest in a tree which we think was a bald eagle.  But it was so far away that it was difficult to see.

The Grand Teton

Immediately outside the south entrance of Yellowstone is Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.  It’s not as large as Yellowstone, and we got the impression that it’s not as closely guarded either.  It seemed more like a highway through lovely scenery instead of a national park.

The Grand Tetons

We stopped a few times for pictures of the lovely mountains, but the weather became a bit burdensome.  Once we hit the cloud layer, our lovely drive turned into a rainy one.  But we did manage to see a moose… sort of…

A Moose’s Butt

Jackson, Wyoming

We arrived in Jackson around 4:00 and were so charmed by the little ski town that we decided to stay.  Our room at the Super 8 Motel (just outside of town) had a microwave in it, so we nuked some soup for dinner.  Then we crossed the parking lot to the movie theater to see the 7:00 showing of Spiderman.  I really, really enjoyed the movie but Jon didn’t.  He thought it was silly.

United States: Gardiner, Montana (Yellowstone National Park)

Posted Posted in Canada, Round The World Trip

We woke up to snow.  Huge flakes were flying around Gardiner, and it looked like the entire day was going to be overcast and snowy.  But we decided to head to the park anyway.

Yellowstone National Park

It snowed for our first twenty minutes into the park, and then – out of nowhere – the sun came out!  We stopped by the Information Center just past Mammoth Falls and chatted with the Ranger about where to see the best stuff.  He told us that there were two bear cubs out on the plains last night, which is just where we saw the crowd of people.  But the bears were gone by then.  Unfortunately, the Ranger also mentioned that they’re predicting 4-7 inches of snow tonight, so we may end up staying in Gardiner an extra night if we get snowed in.

Old Faithful

Our first stop for the day was Old Faithful.  But because of our somewhat late start and the two-hour drive south, we didn’t get there until 1:30.  The next geyser eruption was predicted at 2:30ish.  (Contrary to popular belief, Old Faithful does not erupt every hour.  So we went back to the car and made lunch of turkey and cheese sandwiches until 2:00.  Then we sat in front of the geyser and waited with the rest of the small crowd.

Old Faithful actually went off at 2:25, and the eruption lasted for about 3 minutes.  What happens, apparently, is that steam and water clogs up the spout until the pressure becomes too much.  Thus, the Old Faithful eruption.  Anywhere between 3,700 to 8.400 gallons of water are expelled, depending on the length of the eruption which ranges from 1.5 – 5 minutes.  It was pretty extraordinary, and I half expected the crowd to applaud at the end.

Old Faithful Erupts

In Front of Old Faithful, Post-Eruption

We spent about an hour and a half walking around the geysers surrounding Old Faithful.  There are quite a few smaller geysers and tons of hot springs.  Yellowstone is the site of the world’s greatest concentration of hydrothermal features, with approximately 10,000 including more than 300 geysers.  So that’s a lot of steaming springs and a lot of sulfur smells.  It reminded us of Rotorua, New Zealand.

Driving Lessons

We drove around the south side of the park, past Yellowstone Lake and up to the Canyon.  Because this half of the park is at a higher elevation, there isn’t quite as much wildlife as in the other parts.  Nor are there as many cars.  So I had a go at driving the car, which is a stick shift.  I’ve known how to drive stick since I was a teenager, but I’ve never had the need to practice it.  In fact, I’ve never actually owned a car before, if you don’t count the one we owned briefly in Australia.  This is a whole new experience with me.  Jon was very patient with me, and kept his cool when I once accidentally shifted from first gear to fourth gear.  (Don’t ask).  So I drove for an hour or two until we got to the Canyon.

The Canyon

The Canyon is on the North-Eastern side of the Yellowstone loop, and has been carved out by the Yellowstone River.  We drove to “Artist Point” for a lovely view of the falls.  The falls are around 300+ feet, and are surrounded by thermal springs.  It’s incredible to look down and see a crisp, cool river surrounded by steaming spouts from underground hot springs.  And the canyon has some gorgeous colors on the rocks that were caused by this thermal activity.

The Falls and the Yellowstone River

‘Daaaaa Bears!!

On our way back to Gardiner, we left the Yellowstone loop and headed up the north road.  As we rounded one corner, we suddenly found ourselves among a few cars and some serious photographers.  Jon said, “What is it?”  and I saw out in the distance – the bears!  We pulled over and grabbed our cameras.

The two bear cubs were about 1/2 mile out in a field playing in the snow.  They were romping around and wrestling with one another, and really looked cute.  Of course, that’s because they were 1/2 mile away.  We sat on the edge of the road, snapping photos and watching them through the binoculars.  One of the photographers told us that they are grizzly cubs, and their mom just “kicked them out of the den” yesterday.  Apparently, these photographers just follow the bears around the park and burn film.  They all knew each other and spent time swapping film acronyms and war stories.  And suddenly, they all picked up their tri-pods and backed off.  The two cubs were headed our way.  And these two fuzzy bears weren’t slow about it, either.

They spent some time playing around and digging in some dirt not far from us, but then decided it was time to cross the road.  We all scampered back behind our cars and watched them stroll by.  It was incredible!  For two bear cubs who are, we’re told, in their third season, they weren’t small!  You can tell from the picture below how big they are in comparison to these cars.

The Bear Cubs – Out Cruisin’

Once they crossed the road and walked up the neighboring hill, Jon and I decided it was time to move on.  An hour of bear-watching had done us in.  And we figured that we wouldn’t be able to top the bear interaction  we just had.

About five minutes down the road, we saw two more bears.  They were also about 1/2 mile out in the field, and they were much larger than the bear cubs.  One of them was definitely a grizzly, but we couldn’t figure out if the other was a grizzly or a black bear.  But they were wandering away from us, so the longer we deliberated the harder it was to figure out.  And then we hit the road and headed back to Gardiner.

For dinner, we drove around town and found three places to eat.  One was too expensive, and the other two were scary looking.  So we went to Helen’s Corral again instead.  And the burgers were just as good as they were yesterday.

United States: Gardiner, Montana (Yellowstone National Park)

Posted Posted in Canada, Round The World Trip

We left Butte, and on the way out we stopped at Safeway to get some bagels.  Then we hit the road and headed to Yellowstone, which was about 2 hours away.  We passed an exit with a sign for “Clay Pottery” and so got off to check it out.

Clays in Calico

This was a little house-type place with dark brown pottery, run by a woman named Linda and her husband Ron.  Linda just loved to talk and talk and talk, and we heard all about her two years in Upstate New York.  It sounded like it just wasn’t meant to be, between the car accidents and her mysterious stalker who once tried to break in to the house.  So they moved back to Montana and they’re much happier.  We really did enjoy chatting with her, and we learned a lot about the pottery process they use.

The pottery was unique because it’s made from a “Pre-Cambrian Grayson Shale body located near our shop.  The Shales are used in their natural colors of dark chocolate brown, a lovely medium shade of brown and an ivory.  These various shades are mixed together and form lovely free patterns.”

We bought two mugs, to replace the tall mugs that Jeff and Amy gave us for our wedding which we loved but unfortunately broke.  Because of space limitations in the car, however, we asked Linda to ship them for us.

Drive to West Yellowstone

Linda gave us some “local” directions to the west entrance to Yellowstone, which is a favorite among locals but not known by other people.  So we drove on through the snowy roads and lovely scenery.

At one point, we passed two very large birds.  One was on a telephone pole and the other on a fence post.  We quickly realized that they were eagles, which we thought was worth a turn-around and some pictures.

Eagle on Fence Post (picture courtesy of Jon Connal)

So we continued on until we landed in West Yellowstone, the western entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  West Yellowstone is a lovely little town that re-vamp itself in recent years.  It’s now a town filled with log-house type architecture among all its buildings, including McDonald’s!  Definitely very cute.  But we didn’t stay very long because we were anxious to get into the park.

Yellowstone National Park

Our 2002/2003 Annual Parks Pass has officially paid itself off.  We bought it in Muir Woods, CA and it gives us unlimited access to all the US National Parks.  Between Muir Woods, Crater Lake, Olympic National Park, Mount Rainer, and Yellowstone, not only have we broken even, but we’re technically making money off it since we don’t have to pay the park fees.  Pretty cool how that works out for us.

So… onto the park…

Right away, we noticed the results of the 1988 fires.  There are quite a few bald spots with some new growth on it.  One of the flyers the ranger gave us details the benefits of fire on the park.  Although they are devastating, they create new life and new opportunities.

Within no time, we started seeing the buffalo.  (“Tatonka”).  We found our car surrounded by them as a sizable herd walked along the road to the water.  It was like being on safari all over again.  We pulled over at the riverside and took some photos.

Jon and His Fuzzy Friends

A little further down the road, there were signs that we were entering an “Eagle Nesting Area”.  We weren’t supposed to stop to take pictures, but we’d never seen a bald eagle in the wild.  So we were excited enough to quickly slow down and take a picture.

Bald Eagle’s Nest

So we spent the afternoon driving from the West Entrance to the North Entrance.  It wasn’t a short drive, but it was so nice.  We saw a coyote on the side of the road, feeding off an old carcass.  Pretty cool stuff.  My sister would be appalled, because we had a hard time deciding whether it was a wolf or a coyote.  But we had a flyer on the Gray Wolves of Yellowstone, so we figured out pretty quickly that this was a coyote.

Coyote

On our way up the North Road, we passed by a large group of vehicles on the side of the road.  There were people there with high-powered lenses on their cameras and some very fancy looking equipment.  We stopped to see what was going on, but all we could see were some crows scavenging something.  I suppose there was a kill at some point, but we came in on the tail end of it.  It was getting dark and we were hungry.  So we headed through the North Gate and into Gardiner, Montana.  We found a Super 8 Motel for a really good price, and settled there for the next two nights.

Helen’s Corral

For dinner, we went across the street to a dive called “Helen’s Corral”.  This was recommended by the people at the front desk at the motel as having “fantastic burgers”.  And that was for sure.  Jon had the buffalo cheeseburger and I had the regular cheeseburger.  While we waited for them to cook our dinner, we had the choice of sitting at one of the three picnic benches inside or playing one of the three video games.  So we plugged some quarters into the X-Men arcade game and entertained ourselves for a little while.  Then we sat and waited for a short while.

Helen is an ancient woman who’s run her Corral since the late sixties.  There are signs on the wall proclaiming Helen’s Law, such as “An Order is Bought as Soon As It Is Ordered!!!!”  and “We Do Not Accept Canadian Currency!  No Exceptions!!!”  and finally, “Do NOT Remove Ketchup, Salt or Pepper Shakers From Premises At Any Time!!!”.  All of these proclamations ended in multiple exclamation points so that we would not confuse the veracity of the statements.

We took the burgers back to the motel room and watched “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace”, which really doesn’t improve with age.  Sadly enough.  But the burgers were spectacular.

Canada: Vancouver, British Columbia to United States: Butte, Montana

Posted Posted in Canada, Round The World Trip

Today was a driving day.  Since we stayed an extra day in Vancouver, we needed to get to Yellowstone as soon as possible in order to keep our self-inflicted schedule.  Unfortunately, we had to bypass Glacier National Park because of the snowstorms and blocked roads.  And for similar reasons, we had to nix the trip to Mount Rushmore.  Just too much to do in only five days.  (We have to be in Utah by May 13).

So we drove and drove and drove and drove.  We passed through Seattle and across Washington.  Then through the northern tip of Idaho until we finally got to Montana.

An Old Farmhouse That Jon Thought Was Cool

At one point, the windshield was so covered in bugs that we had to stop just to clean it off.  We do it whenever we stop for gas (the windshields are my job), but we passed through a swarm somewhere along the way and so had to make a special stop.

Montana is sparse, spacious, and beautiful.  My little sister went to school here, and now I can see why.  It’s a lovely state, and there’s almost no one here.  You can drive for miles and miles and not see a soul.  We passed through different weather patterns along the way: sunny and warm to cold and snowy.

Snow Covered Trees in Montana

But we finally ended up with a gorgeous sunset, just outside Butte, Montana.   This is where we ended up staying the night.  We’re about two-three hours away from Yellowstone, but – with the time change – it was 9:00 when we checked into the Motel 6 a few miles outside Butte.

Sunset Over Montana

Canada: Vancouver, British Columbia

Posted Posted in Canada, Round The World Trip

We had planned to leave today, but the news yesterday was filled with the unexpected May Snowstorm that was dropping 60 centimeters of snow on Calgary.  And since we were planning on driving near Calgary to get to Glacier National Park, we figured we should probably wait it out another day.

But we need to be in Utah by May 13, because we told my little sister we’d be there and she arranged to take some time off.  So we actually have dates to abide by.  Therefore, it looks like we’re going to have to pass up Glacier National Park (only one road is open there anyway) and head straight to Yellowstone.  That will be about a 900 mile drive, which we hope to crank out tomorrow.  So we’ll see.

Today, we spent the day running errands and stuff.  We took about 3 hours and went to a nearby laundromat to do our three loads of laundry.  We had lunch at Wendy’s and treated ourselves to Frosties too.  We also re-arranged the car and the luggage rack on top.  This involved cramming things in and around until the lid closed shut and locked.  How exactly did we accumulate all this stuff?

We packed up our stuff and then went to Han’s for Chinese take-out for dinner.  So that was our exciting day.  Pretty thrilling, but I suppose we’re entitled to some boring days.

Canada: Vancouver, British Columbia

Posted Posted in Canada, Round The World Trip

Built-In Recovery Day

We knew that today would be a recovery day for Jon, so we made no plans to go anywhere or do anything.  Sure enough, he slept in until 10:00 (a full 11 hours of sleep) and – as soon as he woke up – asked if I would go for a doughnut run.  So I drove over to Tim Hortons and got a 1/2 dozen doughnuts for him to choose from.

We didn’t do anything today but got caught up on journals and television.  I spent some time installing the zip drive and archiving some pictures, but I’m nervous about deleting anything off the laptop so the pictures are still taking up space.

Jon spent the day in bed, with the exception of the occasional limp into the bathroom.  He’s been icing his knees – 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off – and did manage to stretch a bit.  But all in all he’s pretty incapacitated.  He actually took a hot bath, which is something he never does!

For dinner, I ran across the parking lot and got some subs from Quizno’s.  And we watched “Notting Hill” on TV later in the evening.

Canada: Vancouver, British Columbia

Posted Posted in Canada, Round The World Trip

The Adidas Vancouver International Marathon

We woke up at 4:00 and left at 5:15 to head downtown.  First, we stopped by Tim Horton’s for bagels and coffee.  We parked on the south side of the Cambie Bridge and walked across to the Plaza of Nations to the starting line.

There were 10,500 participants in the race, but this included runners in the 5 mile race, the half-marathon, the one mile kid’s run, and the full marathon.  We figure that only about 3,500 ran in the full marathon.  That’s a pretty small marathon – the 2001 New York Marathon had about 35,000 runners and the last marathon Jon ran, the 2000 Marine Corps Marathon, had about 25,000 runners.  In any event, the relatively small size of the marathon made it easy for me to find Jon throughout the day.

The Start

It was cold and very overcast – perfect weather for a marathon.  Jon says that he doesn’t want any sun at all, because that always increases the temperature by 10 degrees.  The start was at 7:15 and I started to make my way to the Burrard Street Bridge – where Jon and I had agreed I would be for two of the three cross-overs (one at around 5 miles and again at 17 miles).  For a map of the course, click here.  I was walking around with my backpack, full of Jon’s warm clothes, his change of clothes, his fleece, an umbrella, our camping chair, and five bottles of Gatorade.  I also had the three-sided sign sticking out from the top of the backpack.  So Jon could see me wherever I was in the crowd, and he watched me walk over the starting line bridge.  When I decided to stop and take a picture of the starting line, he was waving at me to get my attention

Jon At the Starting Line

The start, according to Jon

The start was pretty tame – the usual attempt to cram all of the runners into a small area about five minutes before the start.  The only difference is that since this marathon has about 32,000 less runners than the NY Marathon, there really wasn’t that much cramming to be done.  By comparison, the last time I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in DC there three starts, each about 5 minutes apart, because there are so many runners.  I spotted Heidi about 2 minutes before the start and was really thankful that she was carrying her neon yellow sign!

My New Runner Friend

After the start, I began the two-mile walk to the Burrard Street Bridge, which the runners would run over three times on the race.  The first time being after about five miles.  On the way there, a man from Uganda struck up a conversation with me about my sign.  (I WAS a bit of a spectacle with my backpack and bright yellow sign).  I could tell by looking at him that he was a runner, and he said he had a few friends running in this marathon.  Apparently, he’s run every major marathon in the US a few times and is waiting for the lottery results for the NY Marathon.  This will be his last one, he said, because he turns 49 on July 4 and is ready to retire.  “Retire?”, I thought, “I wonder what that means?”.  By this time we neared the Burrard Bridge.  The leaders were just coming across after their first five miles.  A few of them called to my new friend by name and waved at him.  He looked at them a bit wistfully and said to me, “Here are the leaders.  I used to run right next them.”  So that’s what he meant by “retire”.  He’s a professional distance runner – and a good one at that!  We parted ways on the bridge because I wanted to walk closer to the center of the bridge.  But it was cool to meet a world-class runner!

The First Five Miles

I stood on the side of the bridge and cheered on the runners.  Whenever I’ve done a race, I always appreciated spectator cheering so I stood there and clapped and cheered accordingly.  It was especially rewarding when the runners would smile at me or wave or say “thanks!”.  I was so surprised at the lack of spectators on this race.  Granted, the weather was a bit of a handicap, but I’m used to the three-deep crowds of the NYC and Washington DC marathons.  So the lack of audience participation made me continue clapping even when my hands hurt.

I had my bright yellow sign up and ready.  The dowel was stuck in my jeans pocket, so the sign itself was just next to my head and easy to see from far away.  The “Yeah Jon!” part was facing the runners, so many of the runners would run by and say, “Hey!  I’m Jon!”.  Or “Did you find him yet?”.  Or – even funnier – “I wish I were Jon!”.  All of this made me laugh and helped to pass the time until the real Jon showed up.  He started waving at me about 50 feet away, so I had his Gatorade ready for him when he ran by.  He looked much happier than he did during his first marathon in 1999, and this was a good sign.  After he was gone, I put the sign down and kept cheering.  The sun had come out at one point, but then it went away and the air got very cold again.  As the runners began to thin, I moved to the other side of the bridge for the second cross-over.

The View From the Burrard Bridge

Commentary on the marathon so far

Training for this marathon was a bit difficult because most of the training was in Cairns during the peak of the summer, so I didn’t really have much in the way of a time goal for this marathon.  I definitely would have been happy to shave some time off of my 1999 effort at the Marine Corps Marathon…my plan was to run 10 minute miles for the first 13 miles and then see how I felt after that and maybe take some time off of my mile-splits.  About 6 or 7 miles into the marathon I realized that despite the fact that I was trying to run 10min splits I was running 9:00-9:30 splits.  That sounds great, but until you’ve been out there running the 19 or 20 miles that follow these first 6 or 7 you’ll never know how painful the remaining miles can be.  I told myself to slow down some and just keep going.

I did make two bathroom stops of 2:00 and 2:30 each.  Most of the time was spent waiting in line at the Port-a-Johns located at some of the water stations.  Don’t ask why I didn’t use the bushes like many other people were doing!

I did meet a few people along the way.  Around mile 6 or so I noticed a guy with a New York Road Runners t-shirt and told myself that if I caught up to him I’d say Hi.  About 2 or 3 miles later I did catch up to him and his girlfriend and asked him if they were from NY.  He said that the shirt was from the 1998 NY Marathon and that this was his marathon shirt…but that he wasn’t from NY.  It turns out they were from Vancouver and we talked for a bit about running in Vancouver and a bit about NY too.  I lost them when they stopped to get water at an aid station and I continued on to the Gatorade tables a bit further down.

Around mile 10 or so, just as we had entered Stanley Park, a man caught up to me from behind as I was checking my watch.  He had accidentally pressed the STOP button on his stopwatch so he was looking to figure out how much time he had missed.  He was running the marathon using a program that has become increasingly popular:  the run/walk combination.  He was doing 10min of running and then 1min of walking so I was with him for about 10min.  He did warn me that the hill that was approaching was the steepest on the course, and then he walked.  He wasn’t kidding me!  It was a bit of a hill, about as bad as the steepest hill in Central Park but it had switchbacks that made it that much longer.  Oh well, it too passed.

Mile 17

About an hour later, the leaders came running by.  They’re not nearly as much fun as the ordinary runners, because they don’t respond to the cheering and applauding.  They’re much too focused for that.  So I was glad when the “real” runners started showing up.

Because I was slightly uphill from the bottom of the bridge, it was easy to see me and my sign.  There were more people on the bridge by this time, but almost none of them were cheering – just watching.  I got a number of the same silly comments about the “Yeah Jon!” sign, but they were less enthusiastic because the runners had been going for 17 miles by this time.  But that made the wobbly smiles even more special and I kept clapping and cheering.  One girl ran by and said, “I see you EVERYWHERE!”.  Yeah, I guess I’m hard to miss since almost no one else at the race had any signs.

When Jon saw me and started waving, I grabbed him a Gatorade, a Chewy Bar, and two Motrins.  He had a HUGE smile on his face which is a vast improvement from his first marathon, when he looked completely miserable.  So this made me really happy.

Jon Leaving Mile 17

Two minutes after Jon ran off, it started to hail.  HAIL!!!!  I’m not kidding.  It came down in droves and dropped the temperature by a good 10 degrees.  I was really glad we’d bought a golf-sized umbrella the other day because it came in very handy for me as I tried to keep me, my sign, and my backpack dry.  Five to ten minutes later, the hail had turned to rain and then stopped all together.  Strange, strange weather!

Miles 17 to 26.2

Seeing Heidi on the bridge at Mile 17 was great.  It really helped knowing that there was someone along the way that was there for me, cheering me along.  She had everything I needed:  Gatorade, Motrin, and a granola bar.  I was only about 300 feet away when it began to hail.  As the smaller than pea-sized hailstones bounced off of the pavement I started to feel them bouncing off of my head.  I laughed to myself about the humor of the circumstances:  I mean, what are the chances of it hailing on the day of the marathon, less than nine miles from the finish??!!  It stopped about 5 or 10 minutes later and I wasn’t too soaked since most of the precipitation was frozen and not actually rain – I guess that was lucky.

The last two marathons that I’ve run I have become so hungry that once I had hallucinations of dancing Snickers bars around Mile 22.  I mean this was hunger bordering on delirium.  So I held onto the granola bar until after Mile 21 then happily tore into it as the hunger started gnawing at my stomach; the timing couldn’t have been better.  Speaking of Mile 21, this was also just after the turn-around between leaving the bridge at Mile 17 and heading back to it around Mile 25.  Not knowing the city very well, I found myself constantly wondering “where in the hell is that *@#% turnaround?!”  Most people said that the turnaround was at “the wall” for them, but I don’t think I really hit the wall during the race.  There was a bit of difficulty running up a hill at Mile 24 (which wasn’t marked, by the way!) but once I got across the bridge the last time and crossed the Mile 25 marker I knew I was going to make it to the finish and would even be happy with my time.

The Finish Line

I packed up my stuff and made it toward the finish line.  The faster runners were already crossing over the bridge for the third and final time and running the last mile to the finish.  Jon still had a ways to go, but I wanted to be near the finish when he got there.

I found a spot 500 yards away from the finish line and got the sign ready to spot Jon.  I got there around the 4 hour mark, and expected him to show up somewhere in the vicinity of 4 hrs 30 minutes.  So, naturally, I was shocked when he came skipping by at around 4 hr 15 minutes!

Jon In the Final Stretch

Heading Toward the Finish Line (only yards ahead!)

The Finish!

After the bridge I got to mile 25.2, only one mile from the finish.  I put my left foot down as I had done thousands of times before today and my left hamstring cramped up.  My whole left leg seemed to go solid as a tree limb.  I ran rather clumsily for a few dozen yards until either the cramps went away or I just couldn’t feel them again.  Either way I counted my blessings and saw Heidi soon after.  I checked my watch and realized that I could end up finishing around 4:15, a dream time for me, and poured it on.  My split for my last mile was under 9:00, which is really hard for me to believe considering I had run 25.2 miles by this time!

As I crossed the Finish Line I heard a running commentary over the speakers and for some reason tuned it in to hear that “Jon Connal, of New York, ran 4:15; trimming his personal best of 4:31 by 16 minutes”.  I couldn’t believe my time and also couldn’t believe that I had heard the announcement amidst the controlled pandemonium of the marathon finish.

Finding Jon

At the Finish Line, they veered the runners off toward the food and drink section and I hovered outside at the exit to try and find him.  My sign was sticking high out of the backpack so Jon could see me easily.  Because of the sign, a number of runners came up to me and thanked for cheering them on.  One guy said, “I saw your sign three times and it helped a lot!”  A girl walked by and – commenting on my “Around the World +26 Miles!” side – said, “It’s 26.2 miles!  That last .2 really hurts!”.  Another guy came up and said, “So did you ever find him?”  I laughed and we had a nice little conversation.  It was his first marathon and he finished in 4:17, which is great time for a first-time marathoner.  He told me that my cheering helped him and that Jon was a lucky guy.  Now I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Finally, I found a very cheerful Jon who was quite pleased with himself and his finish time of…

4:15 !

He shaved sixteen minutes off his previous best time!!!!  What a stud!

We trudged into the Plaza of Nations where Jon could stretch and get his massage.  We traded funny stories about our marathon experiences and waited for his turn at one of the massage tables.  Overall, I was completely and pleasantly surprised at Jon’s very happy demeanor.  Not that he shouldn’t be happy, but I’m used to a somewhat surly mood after he finishes a long run.  This was a lovely way to the wind up a very enjoyable day.

Receiving a Much-Deserved Massage

We walked back across the Cambie Bridge to the car on the other side of the river and went back to the hotel so Jon could have a shower.  He had grand plans of going to Moxie’s and having a few beers, but when he got out of the shower he said, “Let’s just order Domino’s”.  So we did, and spent the rest of the afternoon resting.

Later, for dinner, we DID go to Moxie’s and each had a beer in celebration.  Jon ordered a thick, juicy steak but actually passed up on the opportunity for dessert.  He was just too tired to think anymore.  He was also walking really funny.  We went back to the room and watched the season finale of “Alias”, and were both asleep by 11:00.

Canada: Vancouver, British Columbia

Posted Posted in Canada, Round The World Trip

Today was cold and rainy, but that didn’t stop us from heading into the city to see Stanley Park.  We’d considered the idea of going to Vancouver Island, but wanted to stay closer to the city.  Jon didn’t want to do much walking because he wants his legs comfortable for tomorrow.

Stanley Park

Stanley Park is a very large park on the east side of Vancouver City; apparently it is the “third largest city park in North America” as the tourism industry proudly states.  We drove around for an hour or two and stopped for a lot for pictures.

The Stanley Park Lagoon

It rained lightly through most of the drive, but we still got some lovely views of the surrounding areas.  There were tour buses full of Japanese tourists, which reminded us of Cairns.

One of The Vancouver Beaches

Lunch At A Bistro

We took a wrong turn out of the park and ended up in a little Vancouver neighborhood.  This suited us just fine because it was long past lunch and we were starving.  We ended up in a little bistro with coffee and toasted sandwiches.  They were showing the Yankees-Mariners game on TV so we watched it through the eighth inning.  Then we went to an Internet Cafe for a half-hour or so.

The Marathon Sign

Back in the hotel later that day, I spent a good two hours working on my masterpiece marathon sign.  I can’t take total credit for it, as the design was my father’s idea after Jon’s first marathon.  We’d spent four hours standing in the cold holding up posterboard signs with our hands.  Naturally, our arms got really tired and the wind made it even harder to hold up the signs.  But they were important so Jon could find us in the crowds.  (When hundreds of people are running by you, you can’t tell one runner from the other so it’s up to the runner to find you.)

So Dad’s brilliant idea was to create a sign like the tall, thin signs you see during the Democratic and Republican Conventions.  This is the way I designed my florescent yellow sign.  It was three-sided, supported with cardboard on the inside, and held up by a wooden dowel.  Each of the three sides said something different: (1) “Yeah Jon!”  (2) “Around the World + 26 Miles!” and (3) “Yankees!!!”.  The latter is a joke of ours that relates to Mike Iovino and batting helmets.  (see April 13)  Then we taped it completely with clear packing tape since tomorrow’s forecast calls for rain.  It looks like a great little sign, and Jon should have no problem picking me out in the crowd.

Dinner at Moxie’s

For dinner, we went to the grill next door to the Travelodge.  It’s a great place that has some very good food.  Jon, of course, got the chicken pasta in order to carb-up for tomorrow’s run.  No beer or dessert for us, though.  Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and got all our stuff packed up for tomorrow.  Then we went to bed nice and early.

Canada: Vancouver, British Columbia

Posted Posted in Canada, Round The World Trip

Of course, we slept in today.  I wonder how we’ll be able to handle waking up daily to an alarm.  I’m sure we’ll figure it all out.

Packet Pick-up at the Plaza of Nations

The goal for the day was to go to the marathon packet pickup and get Jon’s race number and computer chip (the computer chip is tied to the shoe laces and registers each runner’s time for the race as they pass over special computer mats along the course) for the Vancouver International Marathon.  The only problem was that we didn’t know where that would take place.  We knew where the start and finish of the race was, and figured the packet pickup would take place somewhere around there.  So we drove across the Cambie Bridge and near the Plaza of Nations.  There, we saw some people walking with “Adidas” bags coming out of the building.  So we figured we were in the right place and parked the car.

Registration Inside the The Plaza of Nations

Because today is Friday, registration wasn’t very crowded.  Tomorrow it will be packed.  But today we have the entire exhibition to ourselves.  Registration for a big race like this includes booths and freebies run by the sponsors of the race, and so we spent time walking around.  There was a booth run by a Canadian Grocery Store that was doing free blood pressure and cholesterol checks.  We stood in line for about thirty to forty minutes before we finally got through.  We’re both looking very healthy, which is always a good thing to hear.  Sam the cholesterol-checker was shocked when my cholesterol level was so low that the little computer couldn’t even display it.  He said that readings below 2.0 showed up as only “Low”.  Jon was annoyed with me, because his was higher.  But it all comes down to genes anyway.

We also did the Adidas foot response system or something like that.  Basically, this was a running test to see where the pressure is placed on the feet when running.  So we ran down a little pad that registered the pressure points on our feet and displayed them on a computer.  From there, the Adidas girl recommended the types of support we needed in our running shoes and – of course – what Adidas shoes would fit that support level.  Jon puts a great deal of pressure on his heal and big toe, mostly because he has very high arches, and should wear a shoe with either support of stability; either way, the Adidas girl told him that his Asics shoes he’s been running in are ideal especially since his feet are too big for Adidas shoes!  I put pressure on my whole foot and, because of my arches, and I need a shoe with a great deal of support.  I’ll keep this in mind next time I’m in the market for a new running shoe.

Lunch On the Pier

We left the Plaza and decided to have lunch at a nearby restaurant on the pier.  Jon had the chicken wrap and I had the chicken caesar salad.  We sat in the sun and enjoyed a leisurely lunch before heading back to the hotel for the afternoon.

Lunch at The Pier

We got back to the hotel later in the afternoon and ran a few errands.  We stopped by an art store and got supplies for my marathon sign, which I’ll work on tomorrow.  We also spent some time in a huge grocery store/KMart/Costco type-thing.  Even though we only needed one or two things, we wandered around for a good while.

For dinner, we went to Quizno’s for subs.  Quizno’s is better than Subway because they toast their sandwiches.  So we ran across the parking lot and ordered our subs and brought them back to the hotel to enjoy them.

Canada: Vancouver, British Columbia

Posted Posted in Canada, Round The World Trip

It was raining this morning when we woke up, so we bagged the runs.  Instead, we said good-bye to Mel and Ken and began to pack up the car.  We hit the road by 10:30, and planned to spend an hour or two at the Experience Music Project in downtown Seattle.

Boy were we in for a surprise.

Experience Music Project

The Experience Music Project (EMP) was built a few years ago with funds donated by Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame and fortune).  The building was designed by Frank Gehry and so received a great deal of press and media attention.  It has also recently been placed on Forbes.com “10 Ugliest Buildings of the World” list.  Mostly because it looks like a mangled car yard.

Experience Music Project (EMP)

Of course, we didn’t care because we just wanted to see what was inside.  So we paid the exorbitant fees of $20 per person and walked inside.  Music was blaring and the entire lobby was lit up in crazy lights.  The people at the entrance told us that “the Funk Rhythm Ride is loading” and that we could get in line for it if we wanted to do it.  We had no idea what we were in for, but figured why the hell not?

The “ride” started with us sitting in a lobby on benches and watching a documentary sort of thing about the reunion of James Brown’s original group.  There were a bunch of “funk legends”, none of whose names meant anything to us of course.  But we were jazzed about the ride anyway and followed our “host” to the next level.  The next level was a spiral ramp which circled around a giant-size platform boot.  There, we watched another part of the documentary which crossed into a silly story about two kids who wanted to learn how to “get the funk on”.  There were also snatches of performances by Chaka Khan and some other performers.  Then, we danced our way into the final part of the ride which was one of those virtual roller coasters.  We were seated and buckled in and then took off on the ride.  It was pretty cool because the seat section moved back and forth and up and down and left and right with the different effects on the screen in front of us.  The short movie included a James Brown performance and a bunch of dancers in crazy outfits.  It was actually a great show and we really enjoyed the ride aspect.  So much that when – about three minutes later – the lights came up and Jon and I looked at each other and said, “What?  That’s IT??!?!?!”

So we left the ride and continued on to the rest of the Project.  First, we had to get outfitted with our MEG devices.  The MEG (Music Experience Guides) are these crazy hand-held devices attached to a hard drive which is worn strapped over the shoulder.  Each time we got to an exhibit, we could “load” the audio and video surrounding that exhibit from the hard drive to the hand-held.  So in addition to reading the text on the exhibit and listening to the TV videos, we could also listen to accompanying narratives, songs, and music videos.  It was incredibly high-tech and very, very impressive.  It also bordered on information overload.  There is NO WAY we could possibly consume all this information in one day.  In fact, I don’t think we could consume it in one week.  Obviously, the $20 per person admission charge is needed to pay for all the gadgets and toys.  But it was definitely worth it.

We spent a good amount of time in the Guitar Room, which went into great detail about the history of guitar making.  Each guitar had a number we could select on our MEG to hear what it sounds like.  After that, we went into the “Northern Corridor” which demonstrated the development of the music scene in the Seattle area.  This began with the underground jazz scene in the 40s and continued to the grunge scene of the 90s.  The next exhibit was the very enlightening “Jimi Hendrix Room”.  I had no idea that Jimi Hendrix was from Seattle, nor did I realize that London was such a big part of his musical development.  But I listened to his Woodstock rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and got chills a few times.  I’ll just chalk that up to getting caught up in the moment.  The final exhibit was the “Memories” exhibit, which touched on the major musical movements and individual artists that shaped the music industry.

Jon In Front of the Center Guitar “Sculpture” with his MEG

The final stop was the Hands-On Room, where we could learn to play various instruments through an interactive on-screen tutorial.  I spent a very frustrating and hysterical 10 minutes in the drum room, and now have a grudging respect for drummers everywhere.  Their talent is to do something much like patting their head and rubbing their tummy at the same time – only more complicated.  Needless to say, I have no hidden drumming skills.  I also learned to play “Louie Louie” on the electric guitar.  I was so happy with my quick learning, that I moved up the difficulty and tried to learn Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  Then I thought my fingers would fall off because of the bizarre finger positions.  So I haven’t missed my calling as a musician, that’s for sure.

But I Looked Damn Good!

So.  FOUR HOURS later, we left EMP and got into the car just in time for the parking meter to expire.

We were starving, so we decided to stop by Subway for some sandwiches.  Then we headed out of town.  But of course, we got distracted again.

REI Flagship Store

Just on the way to Highway 5, we passed REI’s Flagship Store.  This was something Jon wanted to see and do while we were in Seattle because – as members of REI – we’d heard that it was the epitome of outdoor stores.  Complete with a rock-scaling wall.  So we decided to stop and have a look around.  The wait for the rock-climbing wall was about 1/2 hour.  Just enough time to browse the store and climb a wall.

I changed into the climbing shoes and harnessed myself up to the belayor named Dan.  Because I’ve never scaled a wall before, I opted to climb the “easier” route.  It quickly became apparent that the “easier” route was incredibly difficult.  I had to manage my balance, the weight leveled on my arms and legs, and my fear of heights.  This rock-climbing wall, by the way, is the tallest in the US.  Lucky me.  And while I knew it was absolutely safe because Dan had me completely supported, that didn’t stop my hands from sweating and my legs from shaking from the effort.

After about 10 minutes I made it to the top and – instead of looking out the windows at the view – I rappelled down immediately because all I wanted was to get back on the ground.

Heidi Rock Climbing

Then Jon went up and had a go at it.  He was doing really well and made it past the difficult overhang about 2/3 up the wall when he decided to bag and come back down.  This was actually a smart decision because he’s running a marathon in three days and shouldn’t be straining himself like this.  Good choice.

Jon On His Climb

Vancouver, Canada

Then we headed to Vancouver, where we checked into the hotel Jon had reserved for us when he decided to run the marathon.  The Travelodge we’re staying in is next to the airport and surrounded by Vancouver’s “New Chinatown”.  The entire area has stores with signs both in English and Chinese.  I suppose that this makes sense, given Canada’s generous immigrant policies and Vancouver’s accessibility from China.  All the better for us, though, because Jon was in the mood for steamed chicken and I was craving beef with broccoli.  We had a late dinner at a Chinese place called “Han’s” that really reminded us of China – between the poor service and the good food and being just about the only westerners in the restaurant.  But at least they had menus in English!