Race Review: Blues Cruise 50k

Blues Cruise 5.jpg

As I rounded a turn at the base of a downhill section, corn fields stretching to my left and woods to my right, I felt a twinge on the back of my right leg. “Ouch!” I thought. I felt a second twinge. Grabbing at my leg, I batted away the attacker, a bee with an inferiority complex. Just my luck.

The Blues Cruise 50K ultramarathon this past weekend was full of highs and lows – an incredible race, well-marked and well organized, with environmental factors outside of any race directors control dictating the general commentary of the race this year.

It was ‘hot’ and humid – 80 degrees in early October, with 100% humidity at the start. I went into the race with the mindset that I had trained in much worse throughout the summer, so I was prepared for whatever might be thrown at me. What I wasn’t prepared for was a bee sting, and how that sting would shake my entire race plan early on in the race.

The Start

Chris and I stayed in a hotel about 15 minutes from the race start the night before, so that we didn’t have to make the 2.5 hour drive the morning before. We feasibly could have done that, since this race starts at a very comfortable 8:30AM. I haven’t started this late for a race in a very long time. Based on the day’s weather, I wish we had a bit of an earlier start to avoid the heat of the early afternoon sun, but I can’t complain about leisurely waking up at 6AM and extending out my morning race prep routine for a full 1.5 hours, which included a lot of extra hydration and caffeination.

When we got to the race start area, we headed straight to packet pick-up, which didn’t have any line when I showed up! We grabbed my bib and race swag and headed back to the car to drop it off. I made a pitstop at the bathroom, and then headed up to the starting line to get ready. A 8:30, we were off to the races.

The First 9 Miles

The Blues Cruise is a 30.something mile race around Blue Marsh Lake in Pennsylvania. Each year, the course changes directions, with even years running clockwise around the lake. The clockwise direction is considered the ‘easier’ route, because you get the climbing and major hills out of the way in the first 20-miles, rather than saving all those hills for the final miles of the race, which the counter-clockwise years do.

I had an incredible race the first 9-miles. I was cruising along, crushing miles at a sub-11 pace, which is quick for me on trail. I felt strong, I felt relaxed. The first few miles were relatively flat with rolling hills that were completely manageable. I navigated around some clusters of crowding and found my groove with a handful of fellow runners, each trading off passing and leading the small pack.

As we came down the hill at mile 9, the course takes a sharp u-turn and prepares to send us back up another hill. As I rounded the bend and kicked into the flat straight-away before the next hill, I felt the bee sting me. It got it’s stinger straight through my running shorts, right on one of the seams near the bottom. I began to panic.

I haven’t been stung by a been in over a decade – and I had no idea if in that time I developed an allergy. My roommate in college developed an allergy for bees as she got older, and we realized it when she got stung an at ultimate frisbee tournament sophomore year. I got to ride in the ambulance with her to the hospital, where she was treated for said allergy. Needless to say, my mind was racing.

Once I was certain I wasn’t going to die from anaphylactic shock, a new concern set it. My toes were tingly, my leg was burning, and I could feel it swelling up.

Miles 10 through 20

I chose to ignore the bee sting as much as I could. I kept playing in my mind the several songs I had purposefully set in my head, focusing on the music in my mind to try and distract from the nervous pain I was feeling. I kept it up through mile 12, and then backed off the pace a bit to make sure I wasn’t overcompensating on my other leg.

The hills at this point were rolling and steeper – we had some solid climbs that required good power hiking. I was happy to have these moments to hike, and recollect myself and reassess my leg. All was going as OK as I could hope for, but certainly not as good as the first 9-miles. My race, in my mind, was slipping from me.

Blues Cruise 4.jpg

Tragedy struck me at mile 14. On a downhill, my leg all of a sudden gave out from under me. My right knee was experiencing some sort of strange discomfort and pain I had never felt before. I assume it was related to the swelling and pain from the bee sting – my leg was still tingling a bit and visibly swollen. I couldn’t run downhill anymore, the pain was too much. This was devastating to me, because my strength is in my downhill running. My mind started collapsing with my body – losing faith that I would even be able to finish at this point.

I texted my boyfriend as I was climbing one of the hills, and desperately asked him to bring Advil to the next aid station at mile 17, which he already planned to meet me at. I told him I was in pain and needed something to help with the swelling. Tears welled in my eyes for just a moment, then I shook myself off, knowing that relief was just a few miles in front of me.

Blues Cruise 6.jpg

I rolled into aid station 4, which was at the top of a hill, grabbed Gatorade, downed an Advil, kissed Chris, and got back to work. Right after the aid, we cross a road, and start climbing again. I took my time here, hoping that the medicine would do it’s job.

The stretch between Aid 4 and Aid 5 are arguably the hardest on the course, in my mind at least. This section is where we see our steepest climb. As we climbed to the top of the hill at Mile 20, all I could think about was the dread of going downhill – a foreign concept to me, except for in this race. I LOVE running downhill, but I had to walk this one – a long, steep section that was pounding on my knee. I could tell the Advil was setting in at this point though, as my knee wasn’t too bad but I was not willing to push it.

Needless to say, this 10-mile section was my least favorite of the course, though on any other day, I think I would have loved it. A great mix of hills and rolling fields that will challenge and entice any trail runner.

Mile 21 through 30

I saw Chris again at Aid 5 – he parked on the other side of the road and cheered me on as I crossed the bridge and headed into a flat section of the course.

From Mile 21 to Mile 26, the hills let up and allowed me to kick my pace back up a bit. The Advil was doing its job at this point, and I was feeling a surge of strength and hope that I thought I had lost many miles ago.

I kicked along the course, getting my speed back up to almost what it was on the first section of the course. I felt strong, I felt good.

From mile 26 through the end, the hills came back, and sections of the course opened up in corn fields, exposed to the sun and the heat. I honestly hated this whole section of the course – and desperately wanted to race to be over.

I commiserated with a fellow runner as we climbed a steep hill in this section. What happened to flat and easy!? My solace was knowing we only had a few more miles to go.

At mile 29, I kicked into higher gear, ready to be done. I felt the pull of the finish line in front of me. As my fellow runners hiked up the final hill, I surged past them, power hiking up to the top and then cruising down the road towards the finish. I saw Chris and then kicked in, crossing at 6:15, a solid 30-minutes faster than I have run an ultra before.

The Finish

With all the trials and tribulations of this race, it was an incredible experience and one I might consider doing again one day. As I passed through the finish line, I was informed I placed 3rd in my age group, and was handed a finishers paddle as an award!

WOW is all I can say to that. I knew going into the race that I had the potential to do well in my age group, but never thought an age group award was a possibility. How cool.

Chris met me with our camping chair and my change of clothes, and helped me stretch and get some fluids in me. I changed, washed the mud off my legs, downed a grilled cheese, and we headed home.

I can officially say I am a 3-time ultramarathon finisher now.

Blues Cruise 3.jpg

Solo Adventure Series: Bryce Canyon National Park

From August 3rd through 10th, 2018, I traveled solo across Southern Utah. This blog mini-series is a snapshot of my adventure that is meant to encourage other female travelers to embrace adventure. Please reach out if you have more specific questions about my itinerary or details about my trip.

20180806_085741.jpg

The first word I use to describe my experience at Bryce Canyon is: otherworldly.

The landscape, the colors, the geology. It is an incredible experience and one that I wish I had had more time to explore. Bryce was mind-bogglingly beautiful, jaw-dropping at times, and I had to pinch myself on several occasions to remind myself I was not dreaming of far off planets.

Getting there

My adventure to Bryce began at 4:30 in the morning. The milky way looked down upon me while I woke up in my tent – my third night of sleep officially concluded in Zion National Park.

I had packed my car, laid out my clothes and made my food the night before. I changed, brushed my teeth, packed up my tent, and 30 minutes after rising, hit the road.

The darkness was incredible.

I turned right out of the South Campground onto Route 9, sad to know my time of sleeping in national parks was over, but excited at what the day ahead would bring. About a mile into my drive, high beams coating the air in front of my car, I quickly began to climb. And climb. And climb some more.

The road through Zion, Mount Carmel Highway through the tunnel and up past Checkerboard Mesa is something that I’m kind of glad I experienced at night – if only because I didn’t have the opportunity to fully grasp how high, and how exposed, I was.

The switch backing mountain climb brings you up and over the cliffs in Zion, which based on my hiking, means around 2,000 feet – straight up. At a conservative 15 to 20 mph, I slowly crept up the mountain, thankful there were no cars behind me to rush me up. I gripped the steering wheel and prayed to whatever God oversees Zion that I would make it to the top.

Once up and over and out of Zion, the remainder of my drive to Bryce was easy and uneventful, albeit beautiful.

I pulled in to Bryce around 7:30AM, early enough to beat the official opening of the park. That meant I had easy parking at the Sunrise Overlook parking lot, first access to trails, and at least early on, beat a good portion of the crowds.

The Trails

  • Hike Time: ~6 hours
  • Hike Distance: ~15.5 miles
  • Overall Rating: 100% would recommend, and suggest allocating some good time to explore this park.

I only had one day in Bryce, so I aimed to get in as much as I could. I hit the Navajo, Peekaboo, Queens Garden, Sunrise, and Fairyland Loops – the hikes in the uppermost section of the park. Ultimately, I hiked around 15 miles by mid-day, and suffering from a bit of heat exhaustion, called it a day.

  1. Navajo, Peekaboo, Queens Garden & Sunrise Loops: These loops are all technically independent, separate trails. If you read a park guide, they are each billed independently. However, they are all connected to one another, and I would suggest that anyone planning time in this section connect them all in their minds as they plan out the trails for the day.

I started the morning heading down the Navajo Loop, going clockwise around the loop to see Thors Hammer. Dropping steeply into the canyon, the morning sunrise over the hoodoos was a spiritual moment. The deep orange of the rocks complimented by the morning orange, red and yellow sun, with shadows cast across the canyon as the sun crept higher into the sky. After a short hike down, I came to a junction in the trail, and followed the ‘connector trail’ to the Peekaboo Loop – a moderate length trail that explored the canyon beyond the rim.

Peekaboo was beautiful. I had my reservations at first, because it is billed as a highly trafficked, horse caravan route. However, thanks to my early arrival, there was neither heavy traffic nor horses. And I’m so thankful for that. I was able to stop, observe and soak in the landscape, the incredible geologic formations and panoramic views of the canyon. Only about 4 miles in length, this loop was a perfect introduction to the park, and one I would highly recommend. I took the clockwise route to this loop as well, branching off  to the left when I first came to the formal loop trail.

Coming back to the start of the Peekaboo, I headed back down the connector trail to the original junction I hit on my way down Navajo in the early morning. Instead of hitting the second half of the Navajo Loop, I continued straight along the canyon floor, to see what Queens Garden had in store. This trail was flat and fast and filling up with tourists. I powered through quickly. There was a junction in the trail maybe a mile down that I was originally not expecting (I only had a National Geographic map of the park, as the Visitors Center was not open). The junction suggested Sunrise Point was to my right, maybe .6 or so miles.

Not knowing if that was an out and back distance, or a loop, I decided to hook right and see what this had in store. The trail meandered for a bit, then began to climb, eventually taking me back up to the top of the canyon, to Sunrise Point along the Rim Trail. I stopped for some photos here, then made the .5 mile walk back to my car to rest, re-evaluate and decide my plan for the rest of the morning.

All told, these trails combined took me around 2.5 hours for the 6.2 miles. I was running out of water and starting to feel the heat and exposure of this location.

At the Parking Lot, I filled my two water bottles and my hydration bladder for a total of 4.5L of water total. I chugged my 1L bottle, headed to my car, drank a Gatorade, sat down and turned on my air conditioner for a bit.

It honestly was not that hot there, I just was feeling tired, exhausted and the dry heat was getting to me. I spent some time in my car, thinking through my options, contemplating my next hike, how far I wanted to go, and what I would do with the rest of my day.

I eventually decided to go with my original plan of hiking the Fairyland Loop, but figured I might just do an out-and-back on it, rather than the entire 8 mile loop as advertised.

2. Fairyland Loop – I headed from the parking lot back towards Sunrise Overlook and towards the junction with the Fairyland Loop Trail. I hooked right and headed down the canyon and onto the trail. Pretty quickly, I ran into another solo female traveler. She asked me to take her picture, then asked if I was planning on doing the whole loop. I told her, probably not. That comment however, sat with me, and ultimately led me to hiking the whole loop. I am thankful, and also regret, letting that comment guide my ultimate decision to do the whole loop, primarily because I was already hot and tired, and didn’t need to be doing so much hiking.

Regardless, I continued downwards, past the China Wall, which was jaw dropping, and down to Tower Bridge. At Tower Bridge is where I made my decision to keep going. After some photos, I hopped on the main trail, and instead of going back from where I came, I pushed forward. It was so hot at this point, I actually took my shirt off and hiked in just my sports bra. If you know me, you know how big of a deal this was. I was pretty self-conscious of my attire whenever I passed an occasional hiker, but it was so darned hot I couldn’t imagine putting it back on.

It was around this time that anxiety set in for me. I don’t talk a lot about my anxiety, but this experience stands out to me because of the irrational nature of it, the impact it had on my hike during the rest of this loop trail, and a recognition that my thoughts are sometimes a bit crazy.

Earlier in the morning while sitting in my car, I was trying to charge my solar charger which had not been working the whole trip. I set it on my bashboard while hiking the first loops that morning, and when I was resting, I grabbed it and tested the charge. In my mind, all I could remember was how HOT the charger was, having sat in the morning sun. That HEAT stuck, and caused me to panic while hiking. I set it back on the dash, and headed to the Fairyland Loop. While I was hiking, I had this thought that the heat was going to cause my charger to catch fire, catch my car on fire, then catch the park on fire. For 6 or so miles, this is all I could think about.

My pace per mile had averaged around 25 minutes for most of the morning. Once anxiety took over, my desire to go back and check on my car kicked my walking pace up to 17 minutes per mile at one point. I was practically jogging. I kept glancing over my shoulder to make sure plumes of smoke were not rising from the rim, and straining my ears to hear if there were emergency vehicles moving into the park to put out the blaze I knew for sure was going to be ignited from my car.

Obviously, this anxiety was irrational. But for someone who suffers from pretty extreme anxiety, compounded by being alone in a wilderness area, exhaustion and heat muddled my brain and made it worse.

I eventually made it out of the canyon to sweeping, incredible views from Sunset Point. At this point, my anxiety had dissipated to some degree (primarily because I just couldn’t keep the pace up and resigned to jail should my solar charger be the cause so burning down Southern Utah).

Walking along the top of the Rim Trail, through the pine forest, overlooking the mars-like landscape of the canyons below was breathtaking in every sense. I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich under a pine tree while watching birds fly over the canyon. I walked slowly, soaked in the views, and eventually returned to my car.

After taking some time to calm down after realizing jail wasn’t my destiny, Southern Utah was still standing, and my car was still in its original manifestation, I drove down the road to the main entrance of the park, stopped by the visitors center for some air conditioning, and then headed to my campsite to check-in.

The Campground

All of the National Park camp sites were booked up when I planned this trip, so I had to find a commercial location to pitch my tent. I found what I am assuming is the monopoly of RV campgrounds in the Bryce area – Ruby’s Inn – to be my resting place.

I pulled into the campground, surrounded by huge RV vans and trailers, headed to the main office and checked-in. They showed me where the individual campsites were, which I could pick out myself, and suggested I avoid the group campsites, as they were large and exposed. I drove around the gravel road that housed the tent sites, examining pros and cons of the open sites, and eventually chose a spot nestled next to a bunch of Europeans who had pitched a few tents and planted a flag of a country origin I am unsure.

I pitched my tent, then drove over to the bath house, where I enjoyed my first shower in 4 days. I was impressed by the cleanliness of the showers and bathrooms, pleased to see they had outlets in the bathroom for me to steal some charge for my phone, and felt incredibly refreshed after a nice shower.

The rest of that night was uneventful. I read my book at my picnic table for a while, headed to a gross fast food place where I had a ‘vegetable sub’ (sub roll with romaine lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo) and French fries. I also grabbed a Sprite, which surprisingly made me feel a lot better – I guess I was lacking some fried food and sugars in my life.

I went to be pretty early that night. I wasn’t waking up early the next morning, but my body had been through a lot that day, and couldn’t handle being awake much past 8.

This was the only night on my whole trip that I regretted not bringing a sleeping bag. The temperatures that night dropped to ~45 degrees. I put on all my long clothes (long shirt, sweatshirt, Patagonia jacket and sweatpants along with socks) and curled in a ball most of the night shivering under my blanket. Pro tip: Bring something warm for the upper desert nights.

Ruby’s wasn’t horrible, but I’d like to grab a site in Bryce proper next time around. And, I’d make my own dinner next time too.

20180806_190917-001.jpg

Overall Experience

INCREDIBLE

I highly recommend Bryce Canyon, and suggest to any traveler that they should spend a few days there. I only scratched the surface of the park and can’t wait to go back and see the rest.

Solo Adventure Series: Zion National Park

From August 3rd through 10th, 2018, I traveled solo across Southern Utah. This blog mini-series is a snapshot of my adventure that is meant to encourage other female travelers to embrace adventure. Please reach out if you have more specific questions about my itinerary or details about my trip.

P1015854.JPG

Zion was ... Incredible. For those of you looking for incredible views, good and varied hiking, sweet campgrounds and easy access to a small touristy town, this is the place for you.

Here's my adventure:

Getting there

My trip started in an early morning whirlwind of transportation. To save money (and avoid flight transfers) I booked a 6:40AM flight out of Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport. Living in DC, that meant I needed to get myself to BWI by around 5AM to check-in, check my bag, get through security, grab a coffee, and board the flight. I booked myself a cab for 3:30 that morning, and right on time, it picked me up. I had it drop me off at Union Station, where I had booked a 4:30AM Amtrak Train to BWI. I hadn’t taken Amtrak in a long time, but was familiar with the station and general protocol for the trains, so my nerves were at ease. I grabbed one of the seats at the front of the coach that face each other, and set my big backpack across from me. Two stops later, I arrived at the airport, passed through security, hopped on my flight to Vegas and settled in for the ride.

Arriving in Vegas around 8:30AM local time, I grabbed a rental car, looked up the closest grocery store and headed there to stock up on some staples for the week to avoid eating out each meal. My general grocery supplies consisted of the following foods:

  • Cranberry White Chocolate Granola Bar (1 box)
  • Protein Bars (1 box)
  • Bread (1 loaf)
  • Peanut Butter (1 jar)
  • Honey (1 container)
  • Gummy snacks (1 box)
  • Trail Mix (1 container)
  • Gatorade (8 bottles)
  • Cutlery (I should have packed my own)
  • Ziplock bags (1 package)

I got all non-perishable foods because I wouldn’t have any refrigeration options while camping, since flying with a cooler is complicated.

Once I bought my supplies, I plugged in Zion National Park to my GPS and headed on my way [tip: while GPS is great, don’t rely on it to be your only navigational source. I always print out driving directions and a few key maps for the areas I’m driving to in case there is poor cell signal].

20180803_150749.jpg

The Campsite:

A few hours later, I pulled in to Zion National Park, paid the $35 entrance fee (good for 7 days), and proceeded to South Campground. This was one of the most picturesque camp sites I have ever had the opportunity to sleep at.  While it is located on a relatively trafficked foot path open to the public, it’s hard to be mad when your tent is facing beautiful thousand-foot cliffs.

Things I particularly liked about this site:

  • Tree coverage – it’s HOT in the summer in Zion. My site had a tree shading the tent area, which was a life saver, especially on the days I came back from hiking mid-morning. Do your research before booking to make sure the site you choose has tree coverage. Not all of them do
  • Bathrooms – nothing fancy, but close by, with toilets, sinks, and access to potable water directly outside the bathroom. Unfortunately, no showers, so you’ll have to be OK going a few days without a shower [TIP: bring baby wipes with you – I recommend Sea2Summit – and wash your body with them before you change into you pajamas for the night]
  • Access to the park – being IN the park, getting to the access points for park activities was as easy as walking about .5 miles down the road. Some folks I spoke with had to camp up to 45 minutes away (which is what I would have been doing too, had I not gotten this site) and when you need to be at the park really early, that driving sounds horrible.
  • Camp Host – the evening camp host was this incredibly friendly older man. I made a point of befriending him the moment I arrived at check-in. Being kind to the camp host will make your stay much more pleasant, especially if you have any questions or issues. I, for example, found myself walking the wrong way to the visitors center my first day. Luckily, he pulled up next to me on his golf cart to say hello, and asked where I was going. He laughed at me, and sent me headed in the right direction (the opposite way I was heading).

Some tips for booking a site at South Campground:

  • Research ahead of time which site you want and make sure you have 2 or 3 other back-ups.
  • Register at Recreation.gov prior to the site booking date (see below)
  • Make sure you know exactly which dates you want to stay at the park
  • Book exactly 2-weeks prior to your arrival date. For example, I started my stay on August 3rd. That means on July 20th, I could book a site. For East Coasters, the booking window starts at 10AM 2 weeks prior to your trip. Make sure you book right at that time. Sites booked out in about 5-minutes when I was looking for a site. I didn’t get my first-choice site but was lucky and got my second choice.

The Trails

The draw of Zion is it’s immense beauty, incredible geology, and varied trails with exhilarating views. While I was at the park, Angels Landing and the middle/upper Emerald Pools were closed due to a major rock slide in the park a few weeks before. Sounds like the trails might be closed for up to a year or more.

Since I was only in the park for 2.5 days, I wanted to cram in as much as I could, and was willing to do longer days in the heat to accomplish it. Below is my itinerary, which should be manageable for most folks who are relatively fit and capable of dealing with some hot afternoons on the trail

Day 1 – Visitors Center & Watchman Trail

After arriving in Zion in the afternoon and setting up camp, I wanted to utilize the late afternoon to visit the Visitors Center, pick up some park maps, talk with a Ranger about the best trails and my Itinerary and familiarize myself with the shuttle system within the park (you can’t drive in the park b/c of the volume of visitors – there are 9 stops in the park, that are incredibly easy to navigate).

After stopping at the Visitors Center, I headed out on the Watchman Trail. This trail is relatively short, at just around 3 miles, but gives you stunning views of the Watchman (a mountain), cliffs up the park, and varied elevation. It was a good warm-up of hills that would be coming for me the next day. I took my time on the trail, and photographed the scenery as the sun was beginning to set. This is an out and back trail, so at the viewpoint, I spent some time sitting alone and reflecting on the beauty, before retracing my steps back to camp.

20180803_171103.jpg
20180803_171528.jpg

Day 2 – Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Weeping Rock, Virgin River Trail.

  • Hike Time: ~5.5 hours
  • Hike Distance: ~12.5 miles
  • Overall Rating: AWESOME views all day – would recommend this for anyone who is capable of doing some good mileage and elevation gain.

My first full day in the park started with a 5AM wake-up call. I changed, ate a snack, filled my water bottles (2L bladder, 1L Nalgene), stuffed my peanut butter and honey (PB&H) I made the night before in the bag along with some gummy snacks and trail mix, and headed towards the bus around 6AM. I missed the first bus of the day (not a big issue), but got on the second one, 15-minutes later. The bus was relatively full for this early, and a lot of the riders were heading to the same stop as I was (stop 7, Weeping Rock).

My objective for the morning was a trifecta of trails: Observation Point (8 miles), Hidden Canyon (2-ish miles) and Weeping Rock (.5 miles).

  1. Observation Point – what an incredible trail with around 2,000 feet of gain over the 4-mile trek out and up to the main observation point. After a series of switchbacks that take you up a few hundred feet, the trail flattens slightly as you weave through a short canyon. Climbing again through the back section of the cliffs, you weave and switchback upwards, passing pines, dusty walls and shrubs. Continuing to climb, around mile 3, you weave back to the front of the cliffs, and navigate along the cliff edge with drops on your left side. Shortly thereafter, you top out at the plateau of the cliffs, and walk for another mile through shrub and pine forest, eventually reaching the observation point, which is incredible. Thanks to my relative fitness, I was able to pass most of my bus on the way up, and some of the stragglers from bus 1 as well. By my count, I was one of the first up to the top that morning, so had room to move around, take photos, sit on the cliff edge (yikes, 2000 feet up!) and eat my PB&H before heading back down.
  2. Hidden Canyon – about 3 miles in to my return journey, the trail splits. If you go left, you can take another trail to the Hidden Canyon, a slot canyon. This trail is exhilarating and not for the feignt of heart. There are portions where you are clinging on to chains nailed to the cliff wall, with drop offs to your right (going out on the trail) and slippery sandstone underfoot. If you can navigate the mile or so out on the trail, you will be rewarded with a slot canyon adventure. This ‘unmaintained’ trail is not that wild, but there are a few sections of rock scrambling. You should be able to climb up and over most of the rock obstacles, and in many places, there have been old tree stumps placed to aid in climbing.
  3. Weeping Rock – once you loop back from Hidden Canyon, returning to the split point on the trail, you turn down the canyon to where you started your morning. At the base of the mountain, take the side trail to your right, and head up the short trail to see ‘weeping rock’. Nothing extraordinary about this trail, but it’s nice to be in the shade, see water falling from the cliff face, and prepare for your break.

After this trifecta of trails, which took me around 4.5 hours (much faster than the expected time – Observation Point alone is expected to take 5 hours), I hopped on the bus to Stop 8, which is a low traffic bus stop in the park (exactly what I wanted).

Escaping all the tourists that had arrived while I was hiking, I headed down the short side trail that connected me to the Virgin River and river valley. I headed to the river, took off my shoes, splashed around in the water, took a nap on the beach, and walked a mile or so south back to Stop 7 along an unmarked (but obviously well trafficked) river trail. This time by myself was quite nice, and relaxing.

After that trail, it was around 1:30PM – just enough time for me to head to the Nature Center (Stop 2) and catch the Ranger Program on the Geology of the Park. Honestly, I was unimpressed by this presentation. I could have given a more compelling presentation to this audience. The ranger lacked a lot of energy and failed to really captivate the audiences attention. However, it was nice to sit, to listen, and absorb some information.

Right after the talk, the skies opened up and poured for about 30-minutes. Enough time for me to ride the bus back to Stop 1, walk to my campsite, and shake my tent out. I luckily had set up my rain fly, so the damage wasn’t too bad. There was some water on the inside edges of the tent, but nothing a quick wipe down with a towel couldn’t handle.

I used the rest of the afternoon to rest, read a book, organize my pack and supplies and find a spot for dinner. I chose Oscars for dinner, a local place in Springdale that served salads and beers. It was a perfect spot, and I ended up going there again the next night too (hi, I’m a creature of habit!). I walked around the stores for a bit, headed back to camp, and crashed around 8pm.

Day 3 – The Narrows, Lower Emerald Pools, Grotto Connector Trail, Court of the Patriarchs, Pa’arus Trail

  • Hike Time: 6 hours
  • Hike Distance: 12 miles
  • Overall Rating: 7/10 -- the Narrows were cool, on the way out ... other trails were fairly simple, but still beautiful

Another early morning was called for, as the Ranger on Day 1 warned me the Narrows became VERY crowded during the day. I headed out around 6AM again, grabbing Bus 2 to Stop 9 (last stop in the park).

  • The Narrows – what a cool adventure. The first mile or so of this trail is paved trail, but then you drop into the Virgin River, and head north into the canyon, walking through the river. Trekking poles are highly recommended for this, as the current is a little swift, and footing can be tricky since you’re walking on cobbles in the water. I spent about 4 hours in the canyon. I hike north in the canyon probably 2 miles (remember, it’s slow going in the water) and turned around at a point where the water came up too high for me to safely walk without lifting my pack above my head. As a solo traveler, I thought this was a good point for me to turn around. Some folks pushed forward on the trail from that point, but many more turned around where I was. My way out on the trail was relatively quiet. I had the canyon to myself, as those of us on my bus did a good job of spreading ourselves out and respecting our space. The way back was a complete ZOO however. People everywhere. School groups, small children, old people. I was glad to get out of the canyon after the return trip, but very glad I did the hike.
  • Lower Emerald Pools – Taking the bus to Stop 5, I hopped off and spent some time outside Zion Lodge resting under a tree and charging my phone (TIP: bring a battery pack with you to charge your electronics and keep your phone on airplane mode to avoid sucking battery – I use my phone for additional photos). After 30 minutes of tree resting, I headed up the benign trail to the Lower Emerald Pools. I didn’t have high expectations for this very touristy spot, but I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful it was!
  • Grotto Trail – Afterward Emerald Trail, I took a side trail from Stop 5 to Stop 6, which has a picnic area. The trail was maybe a mile long one way. I ate my sandwich at the picnic area, used the restroom (since this stop was closed to buses due to the rockslides, there were NO tourists around) and returned back to Zion Lodge to pick up the bus.

I headed to Stop 4 to see the Court of the Patriarchs overlook (short trail) and then headed to Stop 3, where I would pick up the Pa’arus trail, which would take me straight to my tent, about 2 miles away.

  • Pa’arus Trail – This trail is very easy, flat, and paved. It meanders along the Virgin River, with several bridges and beautiful landscape views of the Southern portion of Zion. Besides the fact that I did this trail around 2pm, I loved its simplicity after a long morning.

Overall Experience

Highly recommend!

Zion was incredible! While the crowds are a bit overwhelming at points, if you’re smart, get out early, hike quickly and with purpose, you can have an incredible journey without the overwhelming sense of being in a city. I loved the landscape, the geologic features and the trails themselves.

For solo travelers, this park is great as well – it’s nearly impossible to get lost, you’re constantly close to civilization, and have cell access in town and in the camp sites.

Taking Care of Our Ocean

Taking Care of Our Ocean

Each and every one of us are responsible for the marine debris problem in our waterways and ocean. Each choice we make to use a piece of plastic means we are potentially contributing to a problem that has a solution well beyond the scope of any individual person. But each and every person can be their own tiny part of the broader solution. We must think clearly about the choices we make each day.

Always Prepared

I have always been one to think ahead. Planning is my modus operandi, it’s what gets me through my days. Some of that is pure anxiety – I can’t handle not planning for things, because it stresses me out. If I plan to not have a plan, then I’m OK – but I still have to consciously say ‘Katie, you’re going to NOT plan something and just go with it today’. 

It's been a crazy few months

Wow, what a crazy few months it has been. So crazy, in fact, that I haven’t updated this site since January. JANUARY! For that, I apologize.

It’s not that I haven’t been running. Quite the opposite in fact.

I’ve been running more in the last few months than I have in my entire life.

I trained for and ran in my first Ultra marathon (I’ll put up a race recap soon, for posterity sake)

I took a month off in May. Not because I was injured. Not because I was in a running slump. Simply because life had other plans for me. You see, I work full time and am a grad student part-time. And you know what May is? Finals time. This year, May was also the release of a major plan for the ocean off of New England, which is what I happen to work on in my day life. Sleep was hard to come by. I ran maybe a few times, nothing exciting.

But now I’m back.

I’m taking one class this summer, and my final paper is due tomorrow (hello, procrastination!)

I’m training for the New York Marathon in November (hello, excitement!)

I joined the DC Road Runners, and have never felt more connected to the running community (hello, happiness!)

I have so many updates, so many stories, and so much to talk about.

I can’t wait to share it with you.

Join me as I try to get my life back together, and share my exciting running stories with you. There sure are a lot of them, and I would hate to not share

Cheers,

Katie