Aspen Adventures

Two Months Later.

So, 2017 has been a year of shit. On 25 January I lost Jephy. He had a bad bout of colic and had twisted his intestines and would not have made it the three hours to a University for surgery, though I would’ve done it in a heartbeat, regardless of cost, had he been able to travel. My dad and brother were with me the entire time the doctor was out, and I would not have made it without their support. I wasn’t aware of my suffering, just my poor Jephy’s. I’ve never seen a horse in his condition, and the fact that he was my entire world did not help the cause at all. Making the decision to end his suffering was easy, in a way. I couldn’t let my best friend continue to suffer. He was in pain. My dad and brother were with me in his final moments, just the four of us. We all sat around him, petting him, telling him what a great boy he was and sharing some of our favorite stories.

About 10:30 that evening he was gone.

The doctor was very kind and understanding, she gave me a hug as did her husband. I would’ve been an absolute mess the entire time if it weren’t for my family. My dad kept helping the doc, trying to rock Jephy up to a sitting position and to stand so he could be tubed. My brother couldn’t help with that as he had had back surgery not even a week prior, but he was either pulling me into giant bear hugs and letting me cry on his shoulder or pushing me to Jephy, telling me to talk to him, touch him, let him know I was there.

We buried him the next day. Dad and I talked over the best spot that evening. Originally I had thought in the yard by the house, as is tradition with the rest of our lost pets. Jephy loved to graze on the lawn, it had black dirt hauled in when we built the house and had the richest grass. But it had been oddly wet, not snowy, that month, and my dad worried about running into water while digging. Jephy was by no means a small horse, he was my big brown moose after all, and so we nixed that idea. Another came to me, the north pasture. It wasn’t fenced in, and Jephy and I spent many hours there together. Riding leisurely, working on barrels or him just grazing and keeping me company. I picked a spot full of clover; there was no snow on the ground and I could easily pick out the biggest patch of wilted clover. He lived for a clover patch. It was a perfect final resting spot.

Unfortunately Jephy was put to sleep in his stall, we couldn’t get him outside to administer the final injection. That hadn’t bothered me at the time, I knew we could get him out and to his final resting place. But the next morning, I realized I couldn’t be there for it; I couldn’t handle seeing his body moved in odd ways to get him out of his stall. My dad understood completely, though I know it wasn’t easy for him either. He loved the big brown moose just as much as I did. Before that, I cut off his mane and tail. Making the decision to end his suffering had been easy, but cutting off my final keepsake of him, god damn it was hard. It was reality slapping me in the face. I could only cut for a few second before I was fighting tears. His pain was done, and mine had just begun. How was I going to live without my best friend?

My dad and brother got Jephy to the pasture where my cousin had come over with his John Deere ho to dig a hole. My dad had removed his halter, which now hangs in the farm shop with his lead. I have at home his first halter and lead he came home in, and the one my amazing friend Faith gave me for christmas the first year I had Jephy.

I always knew that some day I would have to say goodbye to him, but I never dreamed it would be so soon. He was 25 years young. And do I mean it when I say young- my goofy gelding never acted his age. He was such a spitfire when he wanted to be, full of piss and vinegar. I thought I had at least until he was 30 or more. But one of my worst fears came to fruitation way sooner than I anticipated. And I won’t lie, I don’t know how to go on. What the hell does it even mean to be happy with a giant, gaping hole in your chest? When I do feel happy, I feel guilty. It has been two months today. Two months, and I think the only progress I’ve made is being able to sleep. Sort of.

I have more thoughts on this, but they’ll wait for another day. Honestly, I’m surprised I even made it this far. I’m not going to reread this so I apologize for any typos, words that aren’t actually words, or shit that just plain doesn’t make sense.


P.S. My mom had opted to stay inside during the vet visit.  She has lost a horse in the past at the ripe age of 32, and I don’t blame her for not wanting to experience the pain again.  She has been incredibly helpful and has wished on multiple occasions she could take my pain away, as she knows all too well what it’s like.

Going Forward in Baby Steps.

I swear I will get into a more regular habit of blogging, but so far things with Aspen have been going nice and slow.  They’re progressing for sure!  Just nothing ground breaking.  Just fence breaking (that’ll be a separate post, it’s a doozie).  Aspen is coming along nicely and treats new things as completely non-eventful like a good baby.  Except lunging, she’s really not keen on lunging just yet.  She picks up her front feet quite nicely, and she’s getting better about holding them up for longer spans of time.  She thinks if I want her on three hooves it’s a health hazard, but when it’s her decision to stretch out in some ridiculous fashion to bite the living hell out of an itchy spot that takes a hoof off the ground, well they’s just fine.  Can you hear how hard I’m rolling my eyes right now?  It’s pretty intense.

One reason I haven’t been good about blogging is media.  I take sogoddamnmany a lot of photos and several videos, but getting them to my computer is a pain.  I need to make it more of a priority, especially because my wonderful iPhone just lost a bunch of my photos the other day.  Among the lost were some adorable photos of Jephy and Aspen standing in Jephy’s stall and looking out.  The stall was pretty dark so it was mostly their faces and parts of their legs, and they were both looking at me, eyes open ears forward, and their height difference was pictured so well it make me laugh to look at.  Le sigh!

This post is going to lack media unless I edit it in later because I just realized I let October slip by without a single post.  D’oh!  Since harvest has wrapped up Aspen will be getting more training time with the hopes of having our first ride before Thanksgiving.  Or I’ll just wait until my brother comes up for Thanksgiving and give him the honor of having it.  No, no I’m not saying that because I’m doubting my ability to back a horse, not at all.


Canal Ambush Triathlon Parts III & IV

Part Three – 1.8m paddle

Sooner than I expected I was up and over the interstate and heading back to the bike drop.  I got off of my bike onto wobbly legs and jogged over to my boat.  I grabbed the front handle and started to drag it to the launch.  The volunteer from earlier grabbed the back handle as I was halfway there and said he would’ve helped me.  I lightheartedly said something close to “if you really want to help you can paddle this thing to the finish”.  He declined, but it got some laughs from the people who heard.  I asked him if I needed to wear my life jacket and he said no, it just needed to be in the boat per regulations.  Perfect.  I had hoped this was the case, as it is the law, but didn’t know if the race would require us to actually wear them.

The launch was quick and I thanked the man for his help before I scooted away.  Right away we had to go through a large tube to get under the road.  I accidentally bumped into the lady in front of me an apologized, but she wasn’t worried.  She said she would be out of my way shortly.  I told her not to worry about it, I was a strong paddler but had steering issues, which made her laugh.

Photo from Canal Ambush's Facebook page.
Photo from Canal Ambush’s Facebook page.

I let her pick a side before I quickly moved past.  This was not going to be a leisurely paddle, I had to boogy and make up time.  At this point the wind was definitely the most difficult to battle.  We were going downstream, not that it mattered.  The Hennepin Canal is nice for some things, but for kayaking, eh, not so much.  There’s no current and little variety in the scenery, so even short distances seem to take a long time.  On top of that, we were going into the wind, and it was causing rough water at the surface.  Like I said, I feel I’m a pretty strong paddler for how few miles I have under my belt, but this was not an easy paddle.

I leaned forward in my seat, braced my feet on the pegs, and stuck my paddle in deep with each stroke.  Water droplets were flying each time a paddle end came from the water, typically landing on me.  I was moving!  I utilized my entire upper body, twisting my torso with each stroke.  I know I was pulling some weird faces and I wish someone had been there to snap a few photos for laughs.  During the paddle I took two more big drinks of water and only rested for 5-7 seconds at a time, typically less.  I could see a large group of people up ahead and I wanted to catch up.

As with my bike, I have a nice boat.  It’s technically my mom’s but she hasn’t used it much the past few years and I’ve put over thirty miles on it in the last six or eight weeks.  Many people who raced don’t own kayaks, and the organizers recommended a business were kayaks or canoes could be rented from, and they would even bring them to the race.  I thought this was a really great option

Kayaking the Rock River
Pictured: a $200 kayak that required much effort.

and reasonably priced.  The downside?  They’re cheaper kayaks.  There’s nothing wrong with cheaper boats and they work just fine.  But I know from experience that they’re more work: they don’t glide as nicely or as straight.  I imagine most people didn’t care, they were just happy to have a boat.  I’ll admit I was okay with it, because it gave me a chance to catch up.  Between lower quality boats and inexperienced paddlers, I started to pick people off.

When I say I’ve a nice boat, I mean it.  Today a Wilderness Pungo 120 kayak is pretty expensive.  My mom’s is several years old and was several hundreds of dollars cheaper.  It also doesn’t look quite like the one pictured, it doesn’t have the pole mount, front hatch or such a nice seat.  But it’s still a very nice boat and I love being able to use it.

Anyway, enough tangents!  This is the final leg of the race and I was scootin’.  I picked off eight or nine people before I hit the final tube.  One gal was kneeling on a stand-up paddle board, she said it turned her into a kite if she stood up in the wind.  I didn’t doubt it and was secretly very happy to not have her problem, though I would love to try a stand-up board.  I reached the boat ramp and was very happy to see a slew of volunteers pulling boats out.  I followed them as they moved my boat into an open spot in the grass and thanked them before I started to peel off my gear.  From there I headed to the food area to get a bottle of water.

I didn’t even cross the finish line.

I didn’t even see it until I had a banana and drink in my hand and was watching other people finish.  I couldn’t see the banner from where my boat was due to a tree, the volunteers didn’t say anything, and there wasn’t loud cheering to draw my attention to it.  Thankfully I had been recording my own time and didn’t need theirs, but I was a little annoyed about the set up of it all.

Part Four- Trying to Leave

Yeah, this was such a nightmare it gets its own heading.  I had completed the event in just under an hour and a minute, which I couldn’t believe!  I was expecting a lot bigger struggle on the biking portion and was pretty thrilled with how quickly I had knocked it out.  After I had a banana, blue Gatorade and a bag of chips, I wandered back to my boat.

The set-up for the finish was not handy for removing boats.  There’s a turn-around for the boat ramp and the finish line was situated on the road to the turn-around, with people milling all about.  People with friends or family could easily remove their boats, those with rentals didn’t have to worry, and the people with lightweight boats could haul their floats solo.  Not me.  I was looking around and trying to find someone I thought was a volunteer, with no luck.  I’ll admit I was getting a bit upset by this point.  I’d had a stressful week and didn’t want to bother a stranger for help, especially if they were to say no.  But it was the man in flannel to the rescue, yet again.

He came over and asked what I was doing, if I needed help.  I told him I was wondering how to get my boat to my truck since I couldn’t carry it for very long on my own.  He told me to just drive my truck over and use the turn around, and a volunteer would help me load.  I thanked him again and told him I appreciated all the help he’d given me as I set off to my (dad’s) truck.  While pulling my truck around I met the gentleman who had helped me, he was leaving. I waved and smiled but wasn’t happy to see him go.

I didn’t use the turn-around like he had advised, because people were still wandering all over and no one else had used it.  I pulled it off into the grass relatively close, dropped the tailgate and headed back to my boat.  After looking around I sighed and realized I might be own my own for hauling to dang thing.  I threw my gear into the back compartment and secured the lid, put my paddle in as far as possible, grabbed it by one side and started walking.  Again, many people saw me attempting this and said nothing.  One man did though, and I was so grateful.  He grabbed the front end and I grabbed the back and off we went.  We got it thrown in and I thanked him profusely before he left.  I ran a strap to secure my vessel before getting back in the truck.  Then I sat for a moment.  How was I going to get out?  I could’ve easily backed down the one lane road, but there was a blind corner and I knew it was likely I would meet someone.  In front of me a van was leaving and was opening up a little room to turn around in.

Wilderness kayak on the Rock River
Kayaking the Rock River in August. Blue boat > orange boat.

It was a tight squeeze and there wasn’t much grass on the water side of the road, but I made it.  It took an embarrassing amount of pull-forwards-back-ups but at the time I didn’t care, I was getting out of the damn place.  It took forty-five minutes from me getting out of my boat to getting on the highway with my boat in tow.  I wasn’t a very happy camper.  This would’ve been a much, much smoother process if the volunteers had been wearing damn volunteer shirts.  I don’t want to sound like the organizers didn’t put a lot of effort into the race or anything, but come on!  My day would’ve been so much more enjoyable had I known who was there to help me out and if I could’ve easily identified them.  I really don’t think I’m asking for too much.

And to make matters just a little worse, one of the organizers is my brother’s friend, and she sent him a text message.  My dad and brother both have black 2008 Silverado’s and she asked my brother if I was struggling in his truck.  Siiigh.

Final thoughts.

Will I do another dry-tri?  Absolutely.  Will I do this one again?  Probably not.  If I do, I will bribe a friend or family member to go with me and help carry my boat.  I like that this race is so close but overall, right now, the frustrating parts stick out the most.  Could I have asked people to help or if they knew who were the volunteers?  Sure.  But that didn’t guarantee me help or an answer.  Such a simple thing of volunteers wearing the same shirt with the word ‘volunteer’ would’ve made this a much smoother and enjoyable process.  Some instructions in the final race email about how to easily extract boats would’ve been nice, too.  Or a volunteer at the exit telling me the finish line was straight ahead, just follow the road and they would record my time.  Or having people in volunteer shirts so I easily knew who they were… It’s almost like there’s a trend.

Canal Ambush Triathlon Parts I & II

Saturday I tried something new!  I did a dry mini-triathlon along the Hennepin Canal.  It consisted of a 1.5 mile run followed by a 6.7 mile bike and the final leg was a 1.8 mile paddle to the finish line.  It’s called a dry-tri because of the paddling portion instead of swimming, and I am very much a fan of the idea.  As I was by myself, as is normal, I don’t have any media save for the first photo, the rest are unrelated by relate-able and exist to break up the giant block of text.  So here we go!

I pulled up to the bike and boat drop area and it was mildly chaotic.  I had emailed one of the organizers and she said there would be volunteers to help unload boats, but I didn’t see anyone in a volunteer t-shirt.  I unloaded my bike first and took it and my helmet to the bike stands and found a spot to cram it in.  After that I decided it was time I tackle my boat.Annawan Canal Ambush  Or try to.  See, I have a really nice Wilderness kayak and it’s 48 pounds and about 12 feet long.  Really nice, really fast, but really cumbersome to carry solo when you’re 5’4″ such as I.  In grass I will drag it, but no way I was doing that on the paved road.

I had made it about twenty feet and had to switch to my other hand to carry it.  By this time I was coming upon a group of people, mostly men, who just looked at me.  Now, I don’t want to sound like an asshole or anything, but clearly I was not having an easy time.  It is my instinct that if I see someone struggle, I go help them.  Not just at events, but in every day life.  I’ve been waiting in a vehicle in the winter time and saw a lady with a cane trying to navigate the slushy sidewalk to find a spot to cross the street at.  Did I get out and offer her my arm?  Yes. Yes I did.  Not so I could tell the story, but because it’s what you do, you help people.

Thankfully it wasn’t much longer and a gentleman in a flannel shirt jogged up and grabbed one side of my boat.  We got it positioned and he helped me figure out my sticker sheet, which I liked and disliked.  It was nice to have a way to identify all of my equipment, but the stickers would not stick to my clothing or skin.  It didn’t take long into the 1.5 mile run that i was messing with them to try and keep them on…  But after throwing my paddle and life jacket in the boat I was off to the starting line.

Let’s back up for a second though, shall we?  This gentleman, who was very, very helpful and I’m most appreciative of (he would help me two more times later) didn’t have a shirt that said volunteer on.  The ladies doing sign-in didn’t have them on either.  Perhaps I’ve gotten spoiled in the running/OCR world, but why in the hell didn’t they have volunteer shirts?  I had no idea who to go to for assistance, no idea who was in charge or running the event.  At a Spartan Race or a Warrior Dash the volunteers are in red shirts that say volunteer, nice and big.  I should know as I have seven of them.  Point is: volunteers should be easily identifiable to help a race run smoothly.  Period.

At the starting line I was busy getting my gear adjusted.  It was unseasonably chilly with the high expected to be 74 degrees Fahrenheit.  I was in a t-shirt and shorts and would be wearing a CamelBak (and I’m about ready to destroy the god damn thing, but that’ll be a separate post).  I ended up being very happy for the water supply because there wasn’t much provided on the course, and I do not like to be thirsty.  Perhaps they would’ve had more if the weather would’ve been warmer, I don’t know.  Regardless, I don’t care how silly I looked to have it, I was happy.

As there was no official timing for the race I was happy to have my FitBit Charge HR from L.L. Bean.  I’m not thrilled that in less than two months the screen had cracked and in less than six months the device had broken to the point of not being used (and I am gentle on my gadgets), but L.L. Bean has a great return policy so within a week I had a replacement.  I planned to track each individual event to see how long they took.

Since it was trying to rain as we waiting for the race to start, I put my phone in a sandwich bag before putting it in my arm band to give it extra protection.  I started my audio book and kept my headphones off until I crossed the start line.  I desperately need to replace my headphones with something water/sweat proof and hopefully wireless, but I’ll have to do some reading to see how much bluetooth headphones drain batteries.

Ten minutes after the listed start time we congregated at the start.  There was something said about two kayaks still being delivered?  Couldn’t hear too well so I’m not entirely sure.  The national anthem was sung very nicely while a service member held the flag, and then we were off!

Part One – 1.5m Run

I’ll be blunt: my run was pretty bad.  I had eaten less than an hour from the start of the race and it showed.  I.  Was.  Struggling.  I made a decent time, but it was brutal.  And there was only one person behind me when I got to the biking portion, which was pretty embarrassing.  Yes, I know that just by being out there I’m already a head of most everyone else, but I wish I could’ve carried a sign.  It would’ve said ‘I ate too recently and food is digesting and not letting me run plus I am recovering from a would-be injury last month so I didn’t train very much so quit judging me please’.  Or something.

Running at home.
Running at home.

The run was along the canal with the wind to our back, which I knew I wouldn’t like in the next to phases.  It was pretty windy, averaging 15mph and up to 20mph gusts.  I decided it was going to be a rough morning and just accepted it.  The race was the same day as the local car show in town and my dad was there with the car, and I was eager to join him.  I had anticipated taking two hours to complete the race; I had little faith in the biking section.  As I came up to the nearly empty bike racks I tried to ignore how poorly I was doing and swung onto my Trek.

Part Two – 6.7m Bike

Now, before I get into the biking too far, let me take a moment to explain my hips.  To put it lightly, they suck.  I was not blessed with great joints (thanks genetics) and biking has been a very painful experience for me.  While at University I would try and do some low impact cardio on the stationary and recumbent bikes in the gym, but I couldn’t last long.  My right hip in particular does this real fun thing where it hits a spot in the peddling motion and it gets caught.  I usually have to throw my knee out to the side and change the way my joint is moving to get past the spot, then go back to normal until I get back around to it.  If I try and push past the trouble spot it is very painful.  FUN RIGHT?

So now we have established how much my hips suck, let’s talk about my butt.  Perhaps I’m sitting on my bicycle wrong, perhaps my pelvis is at a funny angle, but despite all the padding my butt has, too many miles on a bicycle leaves me with a sore derriere.  Right at the seat bones it gets tender, and I’ve no idea why.  I have a junk in the trunk, it makes no sense!  Ugh.  So, naturally, I was looking forward to the biking section.  (That sentence was so heavy with sarcasm it almost crashed my server. [Good god I’m a dork.])

The first part of the biking featured a moderate hill over the interstate and I wasn’t excited.  But, thankfully, we started on a slight hill over the canal and so I had plenty of room to get up to a good speed and tackle it.  The gal in front of me reached the peek and I heard the tale-tell sign of chain

Biking at home.
Biking at home.

issues and instantly felt awful.  “Is the chain off the spoke?”  I asked as I came up to her.  She looked up from it and said it wasn’t, but commented that it was going to be a long day.  I was so sympathetic and it changed my outlook.  My bike, though very old, is a nice Trek and was quite expensive when my mother purchased it new.  She’s moved on to a hybrid bike so I inherited the sage green Trek, which I’ve always quite liked.  So unless I were to hit a nail on the road, I likely wouldn’t have any troubles.  This gal was three tenths into a 6.7 mile ride and was struggling.

Right at the descent I stopped my bike and waited for her, listening to see if she needed help.  I wasn’t afraid to get a little oily if she needed help getting her chain back on and would’ve been more than happy to do so.  “Is it going to be okay?”  I asked her as she got close enough to hear.  “Yeah, it just might be a long day.”  I smiled sympathetically “Thank you for stopping!” She said, to which I responded with “Of course!”.

Shortly after I descended the hill and started along the level path I realized I hadn’t started and stopped my FitBit.  I swore and hastily did this and made a mental note of how much time I thought had passed since I’d gotten on my bike.  Oops.

Tangent: I think it’ll be difficult for me to be truly competitive in races.  Yes, I do have a competitive streak and like to win, it really shows up when I play soccer.  But it’s much more important to me that everyone completes.  In the OCR world, one of my favorite obstacles are the muddy hills.  There are always hands reaching down to help you up, especially when you can’t get your feet out of the sloppy mud to try and get some grip.  After I’ve been helped up, I flop down on my stomach on the peak to do the same for following racers.  Talking to strangers at the top of obstacles that challenges your fear of heights is something I frequently do.  And as I am always working on conquering my own fear, I know I won’t patronize them or say things like “don’t look down”, which tends to cause people to do just that.  It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished so much more when I cross that finish line, knowing I helped even one other person do the same.

Now, let’s get back on track.  The bike route was straight forward and a road I’m very familiar with as it’s right in front of the ethanol plant (yay for renewable energy sources!).  The first quarter was to the west with some slightly southwest portions which meant riding into the wind.  I picked a middle gear that wouldn’t be too tiring into the wind and hunkered down on my handle bars.   I was meeting quite a few people who had very fancy bikes and knew these were bikers doing teams.  There was the option to sign up as a solo participant or as a team of two: one person to run and paddle, the other person would bike.  The teams had a huge advantage with a fresh person to bike, but I feel these people might’ve just been overall fitter, too.

As I rest my forearms on my handlebars, since I don’t have the actual grips for this, I noticed I was the only person riding like this without the proper grips.  Oh well!  Ride smart, not hard.  It helped me quite a bit, too.  Twice I sat up to shake out my arms and instantly I felt the extra drag it became harder to peddle.  The first water stop was at the first turn on the bike portion.  Maybe this isn’t too far, maybe I hadn’t had enough water that morning, but it would’ve been too far for me.  I had already taken some sips while running and some big gulps while on my bike.  My lungs were screaming in protest, begging my to train before I do something like this again.  Oops.

But after that turn I flew!  I jumped up to twentieth gear on my twenty-one speed bike and started peddling like a mad woman with the wind at my back.  Shortly after the turn I met the lady who had been having chain issues and was happy to see her still going and offered her some words of encouragement, which I believe she appreciated.  Then I was down to business.  This stretch

Race map.
Race map.

would take us to the intersection with the lights and was the longest section and would be the easiest.  And man did I start picking people off.

Before the turn I had passed six people and I was feeling great.  No hip issues, whoo!  The first half of the last quarter wasn’t bad, but I did drop two gears. Then we got to a long gradual uphill grade.  I had been so worried about going over the interstate I’d forgotten about this part.  I dropped a few more gears and bent low over my handle bars and headed uphill into the wind.  One guy did pass me at this part, a guy who passed me right at the beginning riding a bike with off-road tires.  He’s a pretty large and broad guy and I couldn’t believe how easy he was making the biking look, just trucking along at the same pace the entire time.

Quicker than I expected I reached the level road again.  I met the bike chain gal while going up the grade but opted not to say anything and focus on my biking, I knew I needed to focus because I didn’t want to have to get off and walk.  Now, this was never a real worry, but as soon as it got into my head it was what I focused on.  And who says scare tactics don’t work?

The next half of this is incredibly long so it’s getting a separate entry of its own.

Monthly Adventures: August Races Edition.

August just flew by!  I can’t believe it’s already September.  Harvest will soon be upon us and then the flurries will fly.  Today’s expected high is 92 degrees Fahrenheit, with a heat index over 100.  Did I really just mention snow?  Oi.

August was a busy month, and one of many firsts.  To start with, I ran four 5k races.  I originally had two races picked out for the month, and on the last Saturday of July I signed up for them, then got a brilliant idea!  Why not run a 5k a week?  I was already halfway there, and the area is flooded with races this time of the year.  Some quick searching on Google found me two more races that supported great causes.  I filled out the entry form, input my credit card information and was registered.  Piece of cake!

Week One – Freedom Run 5k

This race has been on my list since late last year.  Their description on their website had me hooked: “What started out as a dream and a desire to help the Quad Cities area’s Veteran and active duty Military and their families became a reality. Come out and give something back to your Military and their families – They’ve all given so much to us.”

The race was on a Thursday evening and a hot, hot, hot one.  I got off work a little early to ensure I had time to get home, change and get to the starting line without a rush.  I grabbed a bottle of water from a tank to carry with; I wasn’t going for time, just to complete in one piece.

Freedom Run 5k
Click through for photo credit.

During the opening ceremony we were advised to take care of ourselves, not push for a PR and to stay hydrated.  I had already planned to do just that.  It was hot.  The air was so full of humidity it could’ve been wrung out.  Perfect weather for 3.1 miles!

The race route was very nice.  It featured two small uphill portions in the beginning and a large downhill section near the end.  And talk about volunteers.  The streets were lined with people holding full size American flags, a lot were held by veterans, too.  I thanked nearly every person I came to, especially the seven or eight that had set up sprinklers for us.  The cold water was so appreciated.Freedom Run 5k

I crossed the finish line with a grin on my face, it’s hard not to when so many people are cheering you on, and collected my finisher dog tag medal from a soldier with a thank you.  Then it was to the beer tent!  As much Mississippi Blonde as I could drink?  Yes please!

I grabbed a cup and a fresh water bottle before heading to find a secluded curb to sit down and rest.  It didn’t take long for my water bottle to empty and I started on the beer.  It really hit the spot.  I stretched lightly and had another beer while I waited for the awards ceremony.  By then the sky had an ominous darkness to it and a cool breeze had picked up.  The weather held off for the awards and closing ceremony, which was an enjoyable and humbling affair.  Taps was played and the story was told of a soldier who had helped found the race but had recently died.  Before his passing he’d written a poem about why he races and it was read aloud and quite moving.

Overall, it was an amazing race.  It is one I will be doing annually if at all possible.

Week Two – Tug Fest 5k

Tug Fest is one of the area’s biggest events in August.  It’s a tug-of-war between Illinois and Iowa across the Might Miss, and the only tug-of-war across the Mississippi River.  My brother has been on a tug team for the past three years, but was on doctor’s orders not to tug this year due to his back.  The morning of had a 5k race, and it was more humid than I would’ve preferred.

Before the race started I saw a familiar face, the lady I spoke with before my half marathon in May!  It turns out she lives in Port Byron and had also done the Firecracker in July and Freedom Run.  Those two races had thousands of people, so it wasn’t surprising I never saw her.  We chatted a few minutes while we waited for the start.  She’ll be at the QC Marathon to do the half, but I’m certain I won’t see Tug Fest 2016 5kher; that race draws many thousands of racers.

Rain the night before had caused some unexpected obstacles, ones that are not Alley Cat friendly.  The course started on the river road, went up a slight hill and onto the bike path.  We reached a water
station at the lollipop and turned around to head to the finish line.  Along the bike path were two wooded foot bridges that were slimy from the rain.  I’m a very clumsy cat and wasn’t too excited about this or the railroad crossing.  I made it through everything fine though, for which I was happy.  How embarrassing would it have been to get banged up at a 5k due to my clumsiness?  I’m sure I’ll find out some day…

The post race ceremony was rather enjoyable, there was a large variety of food, a keg of beer and not many racers.  I was surprised by the small turnout, though I hoped it would be a good race for me next year to be competitive.  Y’know, once I take my training seriously and stop using Thirsty Thursday with $2 beer at the ballpark as my way carb loading.

Week three – Gabe’s Gift Memorial 5k

Week three’s race was a little tough.  Not just because it was a hilly route, but because it was for a child that had died of pediatric cancer.  Gabe’s Gift Memorial 5k was founded to help local families who had a child that had been diagnosed with cancer and to help the ones who had lost a part of their family to pediatric cancer.  The race started and ended at the elementary school Gabe had attended.

The race is in its second year and I felt that showed.  I didn’t receive an email in the days prior to the race with the important information as I had with my other races this year, and it would’ve been quite helpful.  We couldn’t park at the school, but instead were parking at a church down the street where a shuttle would bring us over.  I asked a volunteer where packet pick-up was and she said she thought it was still at the church.  It wasn’t.  But it was in the parking lot that I ran into someone who did know what was going on and let me know about parking and the shuttle.

I had arrived with plenty of time, but several things ate up my precious minutes.  For one, the volunteer who I asked about packet pick-up said to take a left to go to the church, when I needed to take a right.  Between driving around in the wrong direction and going up to the three different doors on the church, which made me hope I didn’t look like a creep, I was getting a bit frustrated.  I just wanted to get my bib and run the damn race.

With five minutes until the scheduled start time I made it to the registration table.  I asked the volunteer if I could pick my t-shirt up after since I was close in time and thankfully she let me.  It was a humid morning and I did not want to carry a shirt or wear two.  Unthankfully, my bad luck hadn’t yet run out.  While lifting my knees to my chest in a quick stretch when my knee ached.  Weird, I’d never had knee issues before.  Ankle, shin and hip, sure!  But not my knees.  The right Gabe's Gift Memorial 5kone was the worse of the two, with what seemed like the tendon on the inside of my knee acting up.  Walking didn’t hurt and it had been too much of an ordeal to get to the start line, I wasn’t about to back out.

Thankfully, I had some luck left because my knees didn’t hurt while running.  The course was hilly and went though Black Hawk College’s campus, which I really enjoyed.  It’s a pretty campus and the roads are nice.  Along the route were signs that had photos of local children along with their names and ages, the ages they were when they lost their fight to cancer.

The finish line had a huge crowd of people cheering, I hadn’t been expecting so many, that’s for sure!  The last stretch was, of course, uphill.  I was careful to pick the spot where I resumed running because once I start my last stretch I will not walk until I cross the timing mat.  Even with the sizable hill I kept with tradition.  I think part of it was the energy the cheering crowd gave me.

Volunteers were waiting to cut off my timing chip and hand me a bottle of ice cold water.  I found the snack table and they had massive cookies that were individually wrapped.  “Can I take two?” I politely asked the volunteer, having seen the number of runners and knowing they had enough food to feed twice as many.  “Go ahead!”  I smiled and thanked her before grabbing a chocolate chip M&M cookie and a snicker-doodle.  I tucked them under my arm before grabbing a banana to peel back and eat.  The banana was delicious and really hit the spot.  I kept the cookies to give to my dad once I showered and got to the farm.

I headed to the registration table to pick up my shirt and get a wristband Gabe’s Gift wristband.  I promptly put the band on and haven’t taken it off except when my all of my other jewelry comes off.  After that I waited for the shuttle to leave so I could walk to my car and give my legs a stretch.

Week four – Jordan Rahn Forever Young Run 5k

The last week of August had arrived and it brought an obnoxious amount of rain.  Between three rains we ended up with over five inches in the gauge.  That’s plenty for an entire month, but not needed in less than a week.  Race day was a little humid, as is the trend.  The Jordan Rahn 5k race was a memorial for a nineteen year old boy that had died unexpectedly due to cardiomyopathy.  His family had been a foster home for children and the proceeds went to two organizations that help kids in the foster system and those who had been subject to abuse, neglect and abandonment.

Jordan Rahn Forever Young 5k RunThe route had plenty of volunteers to direct racers, which I appreciated.  There were many turns to get the mileage to add up and Atkinson is not a big village.  My favorite part of the race were the numerous motivational signs.  They had the typical ones such as “Even if you finish last you still beat the person sitting on their couch” to some funny ones like “Run as if a hot guy is in front of you and a creepy one is behind!”.  My favorite was easily the sign that read “Run like a Kenyan, drink like you’re Irish”.  I even stopped to pull my phone from my arm band and take a photo.

The one thing I wish had been differently were the water stations.  I felt the first one was too far into the race.  They had a trash bin less than twenty feet from the water table and I’m not a person who can guzzle water down.  Seeing as how no one else had thrown their cup on the ground, I wasn’t going to be the first one to do so.  The second water station came up quickly after that and I was able to toss my water cup.

It wasn’t much longer and I was crossing the finish line to the commentary of two brilliant MC’s.  A volunteer offered me a cold water bottle and I took it with a word of thanks.  I walked around a little bit sipping my water before heading to the beer tent.  With beer and water in hand I wandered over to stand next to a table to pull off arm band and headphones.

I had well over half of my water gone before I cracked open my beer.  The water on the course had a very strange taste and hadn’t quenched my thirst, so the bottled water was extra amazing.  I listened to the MC’s while I enjoyed my beer and found myself wish I could’ve heard them the entire time I was running, they were hilarious.  After my second beer was gone I pitched it in the recycling before heading back to my car.  I was in bad need of a shower.

Having races every week might have helped the month disappear without my noticing.  Maybe it was working with Aspen and kayaking 39 miles during the month (entry on that coming soon), who knows.  All I know is August is over and I need to get my butt in gear with Aspen if I want to ride her before the ground freezes.

Throwback Tuesday: hauling home.

I’m going to take a moment to go back in time to when my dad and I brought Aspen home.  I’ve a friend who hauled a young horse a long distance so I asked her for some tips.  She said offer water when we stop, but don’t be surprised if she doesn’t drink.  Have hay available but again, don’t be surprised if she doesn’t eat.  She warned that a long haul can cause legs to stock up, but it would go away once she was home and could walk around.  Add in the fact that Aspen hadn’t ever been hauled and we were looking at fifteen to sixteen hours, I was starting to wonder what I’d gotten myself into.  And she wasn’t halter broke, she’d just had one on a few times.  Oi!

Mingus Lake
We interrupt this wall of text to bring you a photo of the lake on the ranch where Aspen came from.

I needn’t have worried.  Aspen hauled like an absolute champ.  Every time I offered her water she drained the bucket.  I was concerned she wasn’t eating but rather pushing the hay around.  Upon closer inspection she was pushing the hay around, but it was to get the rich alfalfa leaves.  I rolled my eyes and realized I likely had another snobby hay eater on my hands.  We only had to stop at a gas station once because I had had a genius idea.  My brother has a 100 gallon drag up tank he used to fuel his trucks up.  If we put that in the truck bed we wouldn’t have to find gas stations.  We merely pulled onto a ramp or rest area, my dad pumped fuel and I checked the horse.  It was wonderful and so convenient.

At the one gas station we stopped at we both used the restroom and my dad got a sandwich.  We also had a cooler full of drinks, snacks and a bag of baby carrots.  While I waited on the fuel to pump and my dad to return I fed Aspen the carrots.  She stuck her nose out the little door every time we opened it to check on her.  Not in an anxious way, she simply wanted to see what was going on.  I thought I had taken a photo of this but apparently it was just to my snapchat story and I didn’t save it.  I’m a terrible horse mom.

What really eased my worries about Aspen was when we stopped on a large shoulder to check on her and fuel up.  Traffic was flying by at more than seventy miles an hour and she didn’t give a hoot.  She just wanted some water and some petting.

We hit the farm just before one in the morning; we’d gotten a later start than we intended because the sun rose later than what we were used to.  My dad and I had never put much thought into how much further West myAspen and I on her first day home. oldest brother is; it isn’t something that matters after driving for fifteen hours.  Still, we made great time considering how many times we stopped.  My dad drove a longer leg coming home because I was fighting to keep my eyes open.  He’s pretty great like that.  Plus, he managed to back the trailer right up to the round pen gate in the dark, which is tricky enough in daylight due to the surrounding pasture fence.  We had anticipated that Aspen might barrel out of the trailer once the door was open but nope.  It took a few minutes of us coaxing before she came out.  We pulled her halter off and watched her inspect her new digs for a few minutes.  She quickly found the water trough and the flakes of hay and settled in.

We moved the trailer and shut the gate before stopping in the shop to have a well deserved beer.  I gave him a big hug and a million thank yous before I left to drive up the hill to my bed and kitties.  2,133 miles and 19 hours of driving gave me my third herd member.

Six week update.

Aspen has been on the farm for about six weeks now.  She has settled in amazingly; the first day she didn’t even seem to miss her old her.  There wasn’t much vocalization between her and the other two, either.  Had we not told the few people that saw her the first couple of days they wouldn’t have known she’d just been pulled from the only home she’s known and hauled a thousand miles.

At first she wasn’t keen on being haltered, but would follow us around like a puppy on a string.  She didn’t care that the halter was on, it was getting it on she disliked.  I could slip the halter over her nose, but getting that crown strap buckled?  Nah, she wasn’t interested.  She would simply back up, I would follow her and quietly continue haltering her.  As soon as it was buckled she stopped.  Eventually this turned into me throwing the leadrope over her neck, once she didn’t mind a flying rope, and using that as a brake.

Now she’s to the point where haltering is no big deal, and thankfully it was a quick process to get here.  I spent a lot of time simply leading her around, stopping and backing.  She backs up nicely but ‘whoa’ still needs some work.  She humors me when I set up obstacle courses in the round pen with barrels for her to go around and between and large planks of wood for her to step over.  Small things done consistently have helped her to develop ground manners and patience.  When she was first turned into the south pasture she had to stand quietly for five seconds.  If she fidgeted too much while I removed her halter, I stopped and waited for her to quiet down.  One thing I’ve really learned with her is to be confident.  At first she wasn’t sure about going through the gate back into the round pen, it was scary.  If I walked purposefully up to the gate she never gave it a second look.  Good filly.

Aspen after being hosed down.
Shiny from just being hosed down, looking thrilled with life as usual.

Now, one of the best things about getting a new horse, and one of her size, is tack shopping.  I went online and purchased a rope halter for her as the one she was sent home with is horse size and well, she isn’t.  Sorry Aspen, you’re a pony.  Her pink halter works fine for leading but the rope halter will make training much easier.  I found a seller on Etsy and while I’m disappointed it isn’t royal blue as I had expected from the rope sample photo, the construction and fit are nice.

She doesn’t buck and throw fits when she’s feeling frisky, but she’s been known to take off running for no apparent reason and do a few laps around the pasture.  I’m looking forward to getting her on a lunge line and just staring at her cute little trot while she circles me.

Yesterday I threw a saddle pad at her and that didn’t bother her in the least.  I’m eager to see if any of my saddles fit her.  If not she’s going back to Texas.  Kidding!  … Sorta.

The weather is starting to get gross featuring obnoxious temperatures and humidity levels.  I doubt Aspen minds as she’s from Texas, land of outrageously hot weather.  I certainly mind though and her training will either happen in the morning before it can get too hot out or in the early evening once the pesky sun has disappeared.  Nothing major to report except for a growing relationship between me and the little filly.  And her and Jephy.  Her and Horse?  Eh, not so much.  Mares.

Aspen and Jephy

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