Archive for category Travel

Literary Graveyard: Which Cemetery is the Most Literary?

Found this on Twitter. What an interesting article.

I have an inexplicable attraction to cemeteries. It’s weird. Spiritually I know they’re useless–the body is only a vessel for the spirit and the soul. And if I’m going to mourn someone, I’m not going to go visit their final “resting place,” because their spirit never spent any time there while it was in the body, so why would I have any connection to a place they have no connection to? Doesn’t make sense.

But there are people out there that are very committed to gravesites. And I suppose that’s why I like them. Not that think that a cemetery is the **most* appropriate memorial, but it is nice that people take so much time to upkeep and decorate. Shows, in a way, how much someone was missed.

Back to the author topic, I think I may have to design a European tour around famous cemeteries. And then an author cemetery tour. Sweet.

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Taos “Up & Over” 10K Trail Race

My alarm goes off at 6 the morning of, even though the race doesn’t start until 9. I don’t want to miss it! Coffee, yoga, rather pitiful breakfast of granola & soy milk—I didn’t feel like buying eggs and then having a ton of dishes to do. Of course a banana.

The one confirmation email I didn’t print out for this trip was the race registration. I’m pretty sure the race is at 9, but the hotel doesn’t have Wi-Fi so I can’t check. Around 7:30 I start to notice a lot of cars going by, and I get a little nervous. The hotel is only a mile from the resort (pure accident–lucked out on that one) so since I’m ready, I get in the Soul and go.

It doesn’t start until 9, so I’m early for once. I check in and wander around for awhile. One of the EMTs at the bottom took my photo for me, and told me about where we run. I went over to the big map and tried to follow what she was talking about—some trail called “Bambi.” Sounds pretty wussy but turns out it’s a Blue that would probably be rated a Black in VT. We would be starting at the bottom with a couple of windy, connecting trails—switchbacks, if you’re a hiker—then take Bambi to the top: straight. up. OK.

Finally the timers call everyone together. No chip time on this race, only 80-some people. And the leader calls roll before the gun goes off! They seem to be having a good time with it, but my legs get cold while we’re standing there waiting. Oof.

The gun goes off and I realized I haven’t set my music. Crap. The sun is blazing and I can’t see a thing on the screen. Oh well. I’m near the back and keeping off to the side like I normally do. Less than half a mile in, my heart is pounding and I’m gasping—the start is at over 9,000 feet and it climbs to 11,800. I’m still running though, and I realize I’m passing people who are walking. Forget that! I walk too and take deep breaths. Soon nearly everyone passes me. Up ahead I see the older lady I had been talking to at the start—Carol—who had run a race in Colorado a few weeks ago. There’s one other lady in front of me with long dark hair, who’s obviously having a tough time of it, hands on her knees and gasping. I trudge up to her and she groans. “Why didn’t I quit smoking last week? Damn my boyfriend for making me do this.” etc. I don’t quite have the heart to pass her—not that I would have been very much faster—so we hike together, trying to breathe.

In a minute she points out a small yellow sign, “1 km.” “And what, exactly, is a killo-meeter?” she says in between gasps. “It means nine more like what we just did.” It took us nearly two hours to get to the top, talking when we could, counting the “Kim” signs and taking a nice long break at the only water station on the uphill climb. Nearly three miles uphill with only one water stop? I had debated on whether or not to bring my own Nalgene—it’s huge, and heavy as crap—but I’m glad I did, the . The organizers said there were five water stations total, but we only saw three. I probably wouldn’t have made it without water, the air was really dry.

The hike was manageable until maybe the last 200 yards to the top. One last steep switchback, and the climb got tough. My guess is that’s where we crossed 11,000 feet. I started seeing little red flashes of light, like blips on a radar screen, and my head started pounding right along with my heart. And right at that moment, it started thundering. Great. Fortunately we were still below the tree line.

We heard a different rumble, and a beat up blue truck with a sign that said “Taos” came over the peak that we were aiming for.  A couple of people piled out and cheered. We had to laugh. We had to have been at least 45 minutes behind everyone else. “Are you ladies okay? Want a ride back down?” Two ladies and two middle school boys, and an adorable young Golden Retriever. We gasped and refilled from their water jug, and I eyed the crest of the hill, only about 50 steps away. “Can you give us a ride to the top?” I laughed.

“No. We can only give you a ride down. No partial rides.” I looked at Brandi, my running buddy. “We didn’t just go through two hours of hell to NOT make it to the top, not when we can finally see it!” I said. “Thanks anyway.” We kept climbing, and just over the crest of the hill was the “5 km” sign…and right before we made the turn to the first downhill switchback, there was a huge boom of thunder and we saw a spike of lightning hit something. Time to run.

But the downhill was treacherous! So steep we kept slipping, and the trail was covered with loose rocks and scree. We both fell a couple of times, fortunately no blood. It was at least another kim before we could even think about running. And once we started we still had to stop a few times in places where there were just too many rocks to get a foothold. More than once we could see our destination straight below, but the trail turned us sideways. (Straight below, down a Black diamond trail at an 80 degree pitch, I should say.) I was tempted to cut them off more than once, but Brandi had a point. “There’s a reason they made us go this way. There might be a bear waiting, or something.” A light rain started, but it wasn’t too bad, and it only lasted about 15 minutes.

Just past the 8 km sign, the truck came back up, same people in it. They cheered and the driver called, “Less than a mile left!” That woke me up. I could run another mile, sure. My hip was pinching like hell and my quads were burning, but I pulled out some energy from somewhere. Maybe it was the Gu that I’d eaten at the first rest stop. (Side note: Not a fan.)

The 9 km sign brought us in view of the bottom, which we hadn’t been able to see since km 3 or so. A few racers were still lingering down below and they cheered as we came into sight. I whooped back, Brandi behind me, and we rounded the last switchback, then crossed the finish line together as they all cheered. I think Brandi was embarrassed but I thought it was hilarious.

And that was my first trail race. Heck, it was my first trail run, even, since I never got to practice. But as tough as it was, it was beautiful. Mountain and valley views at every turn, wildflowers in all colors lining the route. A waterfall and a few streams down near the bottom. Would definitely not recommend as a first time race, but if you’re used to running mountains, I’d say it’s worth the attempt.

A note about acclimatization. I didn’t, at all; I arrived in Albuquerque early Friday morning (6,000 feet), then drove to Taos (9,000 feet). Honestly I’m not sure it would have made a difference whether I had spent another few days at altitude. You’re still climbing as you’re running. Maybe if I’d stayed a few weeks and trained it would have made a difference, but for a weekend runner like me I think an extra day wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

And that’s 3 states down, 48 to go!

Too bad you can't see the mountain in the background

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Upgrade Me!

My flight landed in Albuquerque at midnight. About a week before, I had realized that this was much too late to rent a car and make the two-hour drive to Taos as planned. So I found a Best Western near the airport with a free shuttle (pool and hot tub too, bonus) and booked online for ninety bucks—the night before I was supposed to arrive. I’m sure if I had planned ahead, it would have cost at least 50% more!

But when I landed and called to find out where I met the shuttle, the front desk told me that the shuttle stopped running at 11. Oops. So I had to take a cab—$7 worked out pretty well! I probably could have walked if I’d known where the heck I was going!

I’m not sure if the front desk girl felt bad for me missing the shuttle, or someone else had requested a different room, but somehow I ended up with a Presidential Suite. First thought when I opened the door: This is not my room. Out quick! Before they see you! French doors separating the bedroom from the “suite” part. Am I paying more than they said I was?  Two bathrooms. Big screen tv. Somebody must have screwed something up. I felt almost like royalty (yes, in a Best Western). I never did find out what the mix up was. My room key envelope had a number crossed out and the suite number written in, so it must have been done on purpose.  I didn’t want to know. But for whatever reason, they didn’t charge me any more than they said they would. Free Upgrade!

Then I went to pick up my rental car. The girl driving the shuttle was pretty inspiring—had just finished her bachelor’s degree after six years of part time school and being a single mom. She said she was the first person in her family to graduate high school, and was only one more year and an externship away from a pharmacy degree. Her family couldn’t She was stressing over the heavy course load she was facing as well as the unpaid 60 day externship, but she said if she finished in one year, it would all be paid for her through a grant. Stories like that have a strange effect on me. I think it’s great that someone is able to overcome so much. But then at the same time, it makes me think I’m stressing out over absolutely nothing so difficult in comparison. We are who we are, I guess.

So back to the rental car. I had made a reservation for this, with my new Enterprise member number (whatever that is). I got talked into an upgrade by the guy at the desk, under the assumption that the “great $7 a day promotion” he was talking about was the whole cost—not in addition to my existing cost (yes, I know, I’m new at this). I picked the Kia Soul, because I like the commercials with the hamsters and it’s similar in size to what I’m looking to upgrade my own car to. After almost everything was said and done, I noticed the final cost was $80 more than what I was expecting! When I told him we should cancel it and go back to the compact car I had originally requested. He stalled and said no, he’d made it work. I said good and rode off down the highway in the Soul. Groovy. We’ll see what happens when I return it…

Renting a car is such a racket. I already pay for insurance, and I think you HAVE to have insurance in order to rent at all. So then why do you need their additional damage waivers that would cost you up to $40 a day more? I could take the insurance off of my car and switch it to the rental car for 10 days and not pay $40 a day. I think I’m going to be checking out the Advantage Rental Car next. They seem to have the most competitive rates, according to Priceline. But I’m sure there’s some kind of racket with that too.

In the meantime, I’m going to be putting this Soul through it’s paces…it doesn’t seem to like going more than 60 miles an hour. This is a problem when the speed limit is 75. I did double check that there was unlimited mileage with the rental, which is a good thing—I’m probably going to be putting more than 300 miles on this bad boy! Let’s see what it can take.

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If you’re happy and you know it, be a pilot

On the airplane, finally. Not really nervous at all right now. Flying to Phoenix in the late afternoon, directly into the sun. I don’t know how pilots do that. Are the windshields like “Transitions” lenses? I mean, when I drive and the sun is in my eyes, sometimes I’ll end up with tears streaming down my face as I try to read the road signs and stay straight in my lane. And this is with sunglasses on. Pilots don’t really have the option of flying into shade, at least not when the plane is above the clouds. But the airplanes must have something to stop that. Four hours flying into the sunset every day would make someone go blind pretty quick.

Something else interesting about pilots and flight attendants. I’m not sure what made me notice this, but I think it’s that new Pan Am teevee show that’s coming out. But whenever you pass a flight attendant or a pilot in the airport, they are smiling like they just won Publisher’s Clearing House and then had dinner with the President, who gave them each a million dollar beach house after dinner. I was standing in this ridiculously long line for security, and a gang of airline employees walked by. They walked by this mile-long line of us miserable people, and just smiled and laughed the whole time. It must be part of their contract. (And, if you’re a pilot, also having a mustache must be part of the contract too.)

And it’s true I guess, nobody wants to get on a plane knowing their pilot is grumpy. I think being a flight attendant might be fun, but it would get pretty tiring. Not just the smiling I mean, the job. I remember one flight attendant awhile back saying, “Enjoy your stay in Chicago,” when we had just landed in Philadelphia. A passenger called her on it and she had laughed, embarrassed. “Oops, you’re right, I was in Chicago this morning.” Our flight had departed from St. Louis. I know I wouldn’t be able to keep all the airports straight.

On the flight from Phoenix to Albuquerque (an hour long), the flight attendant was HILARIOUS. “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to US Airways flight to Albuquerque. If that’s not where you were headed, too bad. The doors are closed and we’re pulling away from the gate.” “The overhead lights will now be dimmed until we have reached our cruising altitude; this is to enhance the appearance of your flight attendants. The lovely Denise needs no such assistance, but I sure do.” The entire safety presentation was so hilarious, I wish I had a recording of it. It was refreshing and props to the flight attendant for making what must be a rather tedious job a little more interesting for her!

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Above the clouds

Come fly with me, let's fly let's fly

I love flying. Being in the airplane I mean. (Airport security etc. makes it almost impossible to like the entire traveling process between getting out of the car at the terminal and takeoff. Three to four hours of the first level of hell, right there.)

But when you’re over the clouds it’s awesome. When there’s a heavy overcast sky, far below you, it’s like flying over a carpet. Sometimes it’s like flying over a field of cotton balls, or shaved ice or homemade vanilla ice cream or something. I always feel a little smug knowing that it’s probably pouring down rain under there, but I’m above all that and I can stay nice and dry. Then we land in a rainstorm and it’s back to reality. I also love flying above the little fluffy clouds. C.S. Lewis in the book “The Silver Chair” said they looked like little sheep. And they totally do! Little balls of cotton fluff. It’s such a different perspective from above though. On the ground it’s just little bits of white on blue. But from above you have the backdrop of the Earth below you. And then sometimes when you’re right on the level of the clouds, and you can see the big cumulonimbus forming off in the distance, like castles in the air, or mesas floating on water.

I love to try and guess where we are in the country, flying west to Phoenix as we are now, or north to south, or whatever. The long ribbons of Appalachian Mountains,  the wide snakes of rivers, the patchwork of farmland over the Midwest, the Rocky Mountain pyramids with their crazy steep shadows on the eastern side and snow on the peaks. I would love to know if I’m right in my guessing. I wonder if there’s an app for that? There really should be. On one flight a few years back, the plane had a little GPS locator on the movie screen that told you where you were. Ah-Maze-Ing. I watched it the entire time and then would stare out the window to see what that part of the country looked like from space. I always get a window seat, and I love that both American Airlines and US Air know this. Of course window seats limit your bathroom opportunities, but that’s okay.

Speaking of, this US Airways flight is a pretty cushy deal. Only two aisles, pleather seats, and  completely unexpected, an almost ridiculous amount of legroom. Not that I’m complaining. But I’m actually almost comfortable here. Which is good because it’s sort of the way I’m thinking about life these days.

I think this trip is going to be good for changing my perspective. Work has been a little tough lately, not difficult but the hours are a little long and I have to work with a lot of different people on a lot of different things, which is not bad just complicated. And then personally too, I’m getting a little tired of always being an organizer and I’m starting to feel a little taken for granted. Add that to the left out feeling that started a couple years ago, and it’s kind of depressing. But I think traveling by myself will be good for me—a chance to just do what I want. I’m a little worried that I’m going to be lazy and not do everything I want to do. A big part of the reason I’ve done so much in my life so far is because I set up an activity and other people were counting on me to lead it. At least a third, maybe even half, of the activities and trips I led, I never would have done on my own—either because I was exhausted and couldn’t drag myself out of bed, or I just really wasn’t in the mood, or I would have gotten cold feet about doing something by myself and not gone alone.

But at this point in my life I realize I’m going to have to get used to doing things alone if I don’t want to “organize” them. And I really need to get used to that. I have a lot of things left on my life list, and if I’m afraid of being by myself or procrastinating too much, I’m not going to do them, and then I will have regrets. I already have a few, but I want to minimize those if possible. Having goals are good but if you aren’t trying to accomplish those goals then what’s the point.

Taking a cue from this video, which is lovely and really puts things into perspective. To quote the adorable but sage Ricky Nelson, “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

90 minutes to Phoenix. Let the adventure begin!

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The Get Out Girl is FINALLY getting out again

I’m kind of surprised at myself this summer. I really haven’t done….much of anything. Meaning, I’ve been staying home most weekends, not camping. I guess I’ve been saving money. But I had the idea to go visit Andrea Weatherby in Albuquerque. She moved out there about five years ago and I haven’t seen her since. Had plans to go last year, but ended up starting a new job right around the time I was planning to go. So, there went that. Good thing I stuck with it too, because that temp position led to another which led to a promotion and now I’m full time with that company!

At any rate, I finally got things together for this trip. I found a race in Taos, which is another place I’ve wanted to go, so it became one of my “Race the World” tour stops this year. (Have three more planned, hoping I make it to all of them!) Unfortunately, this race looks pretty tough. It’s called the “Up and Over” 10K, because you pretty much run straight up a ski slope for three miles, then down the other side for three miles. I didn’t really read the description too well, just saw “New Mexico race” and jumped on it. (More about the description of the race, my thoughts about what I’ve gotten myself into, and training for the race on my new blog, Elephants in the Closet.)

My trip is going to be a loop of the northeastern corner of New Mexico. I’m going pretty far off the beaten path, as it turns out. Also crossing at least four, maybe five National Parks off my list too, which is even more exciting. I’m renting a car, which I have some financial reservations about, but it’s really the only option. Staying in a hotel for my race so I’m not too stiff & sore before and after I run, but then I’ll be camping and hiking as I go sightseeing.

I can’t WAIT. I had some initial reservations about traveling by myself, but I’ve been a bit stressed the past few weeks so it will be nice to be on my own for awhile. Then I’ll be spending a few days with Andrea and her family in Albuquerque. I am hoping to blog the whole time, but we’ll see how that goes. I’m pretty sure I won’t have much Wi-Fi access out here, but my goal is to keep writing and post at least once per day! I do a lot of writing for work and my novel is coming along pretty well (link to original story about how it came together), and I feel like I have other life journeys I want to think about, so I’ve created a few new blogs. Hoping to get them all started, more details soon.

Finalizing the itinerary for my trip, so I’ll put that up tomorrow. I change my mind daily. This is good too. I need to be a little more spontaneous! More on that in a future post.

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