Friday, July 27, 2012

Talkeetna, Anchorage and Seward, Alaska, June 25, 2012

When we checked into our hotel Tuesday evening, we were told on check-in that the toilet wasn't refilling as fast as it should. It worked, they said, but that for the inconvenience (it really wasn't), we were provided with two free breakfast buffet coupons.

Safe to say, we planned our day around being right there when the buffet opened at 5 a.m. to be able to safely make our way from Denali to Talkeetna in time so Waverly could go ziplining.

That's right, I said, "Waverly," and not me.

Not that I don't have a spirit of adventure, because I do, but it is something that she wanted to do when she first looked at things to do on the trip and it was also a fair trade-off for her to have an activity all by herself as she waits on me at races.

Up until the drive south, we hadn't yet seen Mount McKinley because of all of the cloud cover and bad weather. However, we were treated with numerous opportunities to see the largest mountain in North America, especially on the drive on the 14-mile spur road back north to Talkeetna.

While Waverly ziplined, which she did for the first time since youth camp the summer before in Tennessee, I got two hours of solid sleep in the car. Wonderful

She had a great time as she often does.

We almost pulled the trigger on taking a flight up near or around Mount McKinley. And while I had the money (in cash on me), it was a study on whether it provided enough meaning to us compared to the other activities that we had planned and would continue to do during the trip.

While we definitely determined it would be cool to do, it actually didn't compare to the hot air balloon ride that Waverly took when she was 10 years of age during a weekend vacation to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I worked one summer for about four months.

Needless to say, we didn't. We drove to Anchorage for lunch at The Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria (some really, really good pizza), filled up with gas and then headed south on the Seward Highway towards Seward and the Kenai Penisula.

As I have stated before, we know where we need to get to - to stay for the evening - but we make things up in between. We stop at the places and things that we think are interesting and don't look back.

I thought about trying to get over to Kenai and down to Homer, but we stopped for some tourist information and I saw something that was rather unique.

We took a short detour to go through the longest tunnel in North America - 2.5 miles long - that would take us to Whittier, the gateway to Prince William Sound. What was interesting about the tunnel is that it is used by both vehicles and trains. It was originally built for the railroad in the early 1940s, but opened to vehicular traffic in 2001.

Whitter is called the "strangest town in America" because it could seem very claustrophobic from the rest of the world. It is primarily a commercial fishing area and is used as a jump-off point for cruises to explore a number of glaciers - up to approximately 30 - in Prince William Sound. And PWS is best known as the site of the 1989 Exxon Valdex oil spill.

You could go through the tunnel at the bottom of the hour and return only at the top of the hour. The rest of the time on the clock is used for railroad traffic. So unless we went in and right back out, for $12, we were there for about an hour.

Once we were done, we drove straight to Seward, checked in to our hotel and then explored the town. Seward actually has no fast food. No McDonald's, Burger King or KFC, which actually isn't a really bad thing. There's a Safeway grocery store, three gas stations (Shell, Chevron and a local company) and a lot of local businesses. The iconic Iditarod Trail actually begins here, even though the dog race itself starts in Anchorage.

We drove around the small town and found the Mount Marathon trail. It is a point of about 3,000 feet in height that hosts a very, very difficult Fourth of July race each year. I don't think any time soon that I'll be giving up my announcing assignment on the Fourth for the Bud Heat Wave ... but maybe some time.

Today was another day where Dungy's devotional didn't necessarily have too many parallels with what we did today.

The title was "Disbanding the Me Generation" and the verse - from 2 Timothy 3:2 - was, "For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred."

I think I passed the money test (earlier)! Actually, that was an exercise in using money wisely I thought.

"We are living in a time when people refuse to see where God is directing or listen to what God is saying," Dungy also wrote. "And we perpetuate our focus on self through Facebook, Twitter, MSpace, and on our own individual blogs. They all reflect our insatiable desire to express ourselves, to tell others what we think, what we do, and where we go.

"They all highlight our desire the world to oursevles -- to lift ourselves up and to somehow feel the world's affirmation."

When I read that I'm thinking to myself, "Is that what I'm doing?"

I dialed back my thought, looking inward, and said, "No. I have people in my life who enjoy knowing some of the fun, neat things that I get to do in my life. That's all."

There have been a number of times, though, where I've examined the purpose of what I've posted before and, yes, some of them have gotten me into trouble. But instead of people trying to understand why (and what was behind it), they simply assumed it was directed at them when - in fact - it was me working through some hurts of my own that I had already worn out with a number of people.

Nonetheless, it is a good check to ensure why we are doing what we are.

So what's behind this post? I'm just trying to challenge myself, live life to its fullest, be a good father and hopefully be a little bit of who God hopes that He wants me to be.

Denali National Park, July 24, 2012

Tuesday found us spending the majority of the day inside Denali National Park as we took on two or three trails between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

We passed up taking a shuttle into the Park past Savage River (or mile 15 on the Park Road).  The time commitment that it was going to take in addition to giving up control - of going from point-to-point at our pleasure - kept us from buying shuttle tickets or a tour package.

Neither one of us is the type to spend 11 to 13 hours in a park viewing scenery.  Maybe that's a little bit of a weakness.

We were perfectly content, however, to explore the trails near the Savage River and then hike approximately 1,700 feet up Mount Healy.

Both the Savage Rock and the Mount Healy trails challenged us a little bit. 

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the time - with a little bit of a slower pace - and reminisced about the hiking that we did in Yellowstone (2007), Glacier (2010), Kona (2011) and Yosemite (2012) over the years.

Earlier that morning, I read the day's entry from the "Uncommon Life:  Daily Challenge" devotional that talked about "An Infectious Love".

Dungy's "uncommon" key was that "God's passion for you is enthusiatic and real." 

He also made reference to people that "seemed to bring a childlike passion to almost every setting they are in".

I'm not a Debbie Downer by any means, but I'm not "that" type of individual either.  I wish I was, but often times the world sees that type of person as fake.  And not genuine.  That isn’t how I would like to be perceived.

But what Dungy was pointing out is that God wants us to communicate with Him.

I did while we were out on the trials:  In thought.  I couldn’t help but think of – upon seeing more of the Earth’s natural beauty – the worship song that we sing, “Our God is an awesome God, / He reigns from heaven above / with wisdom, power, and love; / our God is an awesome God.”

The other treat - as Waverly was ahead of me on the trail towards the top of Mount Healy – really was her having more of the childlike spirit as she was singing some of the songs from camp that even I was familiar with.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Denali National Park, July 23, 2012

We're outside Denali National Park this evening after a long day of exploration.

We travelled the Hutchinson Highway south to Paxson before coming west 130-plus miles to Cantwell across the "rugged" Denali Highway.

To be honest, we're kind of sighted out -- for the moment.

The bottom line is that this could be, dependent upon Waverly's activities next summer and beyond, the last major vacation that the two of us get to take together.

That time is priceless and is something that you don't get back.

"Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets." - Matthew 7:12

Tony Dungy wrote that "we often think about this verse in terms of being nice to others because we want them to treat us nicely", but he asked the question in regards to mentoring others.

He asked a couple of probing questions that I thought were interesting.

"How about honesty?" he wrote. "How about helping someone see where they need to improve by being candid and forthright about it -- rather than sugarcoating it or, worse, not pointing it out at all?"

In the news recently, we've seen the destructiveness of not pointing something out.

While I'm certainly not the perfect father, or mentor even, Waverly knows that I've never sugarcoated things with or for her. I've told her many times, and it isn't anything that is private and sharing out of school, that it is my job to tell it to her like it is.

Likewise, I'm honest with her when I discuss my dealings with others, regardless of whether I'm right or wrong. If she only hears from me when I think I'm right, she has nothing to go on in allowing herself to examine her actions and thoughts when she isn't.

I asked Waverly during our drive today across the Denali Highway if there was anything that she ever wanted to ask me, but that she was afraid to.

She didn't have anything, but I don't want her to be in a position one, five or 10 years down the road and think that she can't come to me with an issue.

And I also didn't want her to have questions about her Dad that she couldn't answer.

Plus I wanted to make sure that if I had one more test in "shooting straight" that I didn't fail.

These trips are more about what we see and the things that we do, but most about who we are and what we become from it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fairbanks, Alaska, July 22, 2012

This quote from a very good friend came to mind as I was running the 47th annual Gold Discovery Run - a 16.3-mile adventure just north of Fairbanks - in Fox, Alaska on Sunday.

I'm not the biggest fan of trail running in the world, but it can be a nice diversion from road races. My friend, Becky Spaulding, would probably like to see me do more trail races than road or at least she keeps trying to talk me in that direction.

I stated yesterday that I was going to get back into Tony Dungy's daily devotional book, "The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge".

"We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, "What amazing things the Lord has done for them." - Psalms 126:2.

Dungy's point was that "Christians can be some of the most dour people on the planet."

He added, "Times can get tough. I know; I've been there. But as followers of and believers in Jesus Christ -- if we have asked Him into our lives -- we have the joy and hope of the Lord of lords and the King of kings in our lives."

I didn't read the July 22 entry in his book until after we made it back to the hotel here in downtown Fairbanks, but I was reminded of feeling joy of doing something different and thankful that I had the opportunity and the ability to do so.

And more importantly it was a welcome respite from some negativity that I shouldn't have been embracing.

But back to running, the vacations that I take my daughter, Waverly, on always seem to be adventures and it is something that I annually look forward to.

We kind of plan on some major things that we want to do, where we want to go and then work details in between.

It seems like most major vacations have always included a race or two, and I'm thankful that Waverly lets me enjoy that opportunity.

While I was running on Sunday, I thought about all of the years and all of the places that I've had a chance to compete in over time while we've been on vacation.

Here's a little bit of a recap:

2011 - Kona Marathon

2010 - Lewis and Clark Half Marathon (Bozeman, MT) and the Bear Lake Half Marathon in Garden City, Utah plus the Altoona (PA) Summer Biathlon and the Meet the Press 5K in Washington, D.C.

2007 - Lander (WY) Half Marathon and the Leadville (CO) Heavy Half Marathon

2006 - Squamish (BC) Days 10K

2004 - Cigna Healthcare Corporate Road Race 5K in Manchester, NH.

It seems like in other years, a race has been incorporated here or there but nothing is coming to mind and Athlinks wasn't triggering anything either.

There have been other times - such as the Philadelphia Marathon the last two years, the Alpharetta (Ga.) Marathon and the News and Sentinel Half Marathon in Parkersburg, West Virginia - where Waverly has come along for the trip. (Three out of those four have been to visit my grandparents.)

Two races this past weekend. The Alaska Men's Run in Anchorage on Saturday and the aforementioned race on Sunday.

I ran the Alaska Men's Run - a 5-miler - in a pretty good time for me, 48:12. It is a pace of 9:38/mile and just a few weeks ago, I finished a 10K in Texas City at a 10:17 pace. Yes, I know. Temperatures and humidity make a major difference, but I've been running better as a result of better and more consistent workouts.

It is very possible that the 48:12 may have even been a PR for me.

The Gold Discovery Run was tough. It had 1,648 feet of elevation gain, despite 3,198 feet of drop. Plenty of water on the course with a lot of the recent rains, especially on Saturday, that moved through the region.

It started high atop Cleary Summit and near the Fort Knox mine put. Interesting, to say the least.

Mile 1 -- 11:23.40
Mile 2 -- 12:42.72
Mile 3 -- 10:56.84
Mile 4 -- 11:37.25
Mile 5 -- 15:10.29 (included time going to "The Rock")
Mile 6 -- 13:47.87
Mile 7 -- 14:08.47
Mile 8 -- 12:12.26 (mostly downhill)
Mile 9 -- 14:08.46
Mile 10 -- 9:58.44 (definitely downhill)
Mile 11 -- 11:05.02
Mile 12 -- 13:46.60
Mile 13 -- 10:23.54
Mile 14 -- 10:54.25
Mile 15 -- 11:39.81
Mile 16 -- 12:07.43
Last .3 -- 3:59.29

Used the trail running axiom and approach of "walking the uphills and try to run everything else". Just two aid stations over the course -- one close to mile seven (7) with a cup-rationing worker and another just after mile 14.

Never saw any pre-race instruction about carrying water, but I'm glad that I carried two bottles the entire way. Of course, that is just getting ready for Rocky Raccoon in February.

The last mile was even slightly uphill and the downhills were actually punishing on the quads.

All in all, a great experience.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Anchorage, Alaska, July 21, 2012

It is a little after 7 a.m. here.

Waverly and I flew in last night from Houston Intercontinental.  There's just a three-hour time difference, much different, of course, from the time change that we exprienced last summer in Hawaii.

I'm already up (Waverly has an 8 a.m. wake-up timeline) as I've signed up for the Alaska Men's Run, a 5-miler that starts at 10 a.m. from the Anchorage Football Stadium and utilizes a part of the initial section of trail for the Iditarod race held early each spring.

I wish I would have started and maintained this type of blog a long, long time ago.  Just documenting life and what's transpired over time.  I'm 45, but I've experienced a lot of incredible things in my life.  The ability to travel and open up the world to my now 17-year-old daughter is something that I've always been very grateful for and thankful of.

To be able to earn enough and make the time to show her our great country, all of its peoples and expand her mind as to what is possible in her life to come is wonderful to be able to experience.

Our vacations - or even mini-trips like a month ago in California - are typically pretty action-packed, but we'll see how this trip goes.  We have places where we need to get to, but we'll make it up in between.  Kind of like we've always done it.

Last Sunday at North Park Baptist Church, where our new pastor, Randy Harp, was preaching, his message redirected me back to the basics of our faith. 

It all starts with sin - and we're all guilty, me included.  And it should be a goal to minimize it and walk as close to God as we possibly can.

At the start of the year, I bought Tony Dungy's book, "The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge".  I started reading it on a daily basis, but like many other things in my life I let it slide.

I just read today's entry about "Discernment Instead of Judgment".  The verse included - Romans 2:1 - was as follows:

"You may think you can condem such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse!  When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things."

I'm not sure what translation this is, but I've been guilty of this and I've also been wrongly accused of doing this (i.e. "extremely judgmental").  It really isn't a place that I want to be - in either case.

I want to give as much as I can to others, and never have to have this thought cross my mind.  It is why I tend to try and stay as busy as I can to avoid falling into this trap.

I'm also continually thankful for the people that I get a chance to work with to do some neat things in the communities that I'm fortunate enough to be a part of.  More about those individuals in the days and entries to come.