Aspen Adventures

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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