Ragbrai – we made it!

OK, so we only did one day. But considering how insane things have been lately, I consider it a huge accomplishment. We rode about 55 miles, from Clear Lake to Charles City. I had never actually been to the lake part of Clear Lake, so it was nice to sit by the water. We also had amazing accomodations in a local’s lake house.

The day before had been brutally hot and humid, but we got lucky that overnight rain cooled things off, and it stayed overcast most of the morning. I will say, though, that even when it’s in the low 80s it feels pretty toasty when you’re out in the sun for several hours. And I have the dorky tan lines to prove it.

Dad with rhubarb pie.

We skipped Chris Cakes pancakes for breakfast and opted for Farm Boys burritos instead. Check out the line!

During the ride we had burritos, fruit smoothies, corn on the cob, pie, and Pastafari pasta. That doesn’t include breakfast or dinner, or the Clif bar that I dropped on the ground and ate anyway.

The best part of the day was definitely when we stopped for corn on the cob.

Someone had rigged a giant swing over their pond, so people were paying $5 each to swing into the water.

Erin’s fiance, Jason, took a turn. He executed a perfect back flip and the crowd cheered.

Apparently later in the day they had to close it down because too many people decided to go topless.

My stepmom got a nice shot of a windfarm on the side of the road.

The scenery was just what you would expect from rural Iowa. I could have done without some of the smells, though!

Afterward we were pretty wiped out. Can’t remember the last time I’ve slept so hard.

Congrats to Erin and Jason for completing the whole ride. You’re amazing!

Wyoming kicked my ass

Most people probably don’t travel 11 hours to Wyoming for a weekend, and they probably don’t go in February for a wedding. But we are not most people.

We took our crazy trip last weekend for my lovely friend Julie’s wedding. She and her husband, Blinn, had their reception in the tiny town of Centennial, about a half hour from Laramie. And when I say tiny, I mean the population sign says 100.

We stayed at the Old Corral, a place that takes the western theme very seriously.

We only really had time to do one outdoorsy thing while we were there, so instead of downhill skiing (which I know I cannot master in one day), we decided to go cross country skiing in the woods. I’d done it once before, on a groomed course in the suburbs of Minneapolis. But this time was a lot different.

Let’s just say that if the person leading you climbs mountains for a living, maybe you should ask just how long this route is before you agree to do it.

I’m not sure how long it took everyone else in the group, but it took me three and half hours. It was as much downhill as it was flat. I must have fallen a hundred times. It was one of those moments that was a true test of character. But I did it. I’d like to think with more practice I’d get better, but all I can say for sure is that I made it, and with only a couple bruises to my knees.

At one point we did stop and take some photos because it was just gorgeous back there. It snowed this perfectly calm, picturesque snow. I wish I could have enjoyed it more!

Next time … massage?

My first yurt

Our long weekend on the north shore was wonderful, and of course, complete with all kinds of weather events on our drive. With our habit of going in January we’ve been snowed in not once but twice with the same set of friends in Minneapolis on our attempts home. Another time we drove back with such a load of boxes from IKEA that a fender bender probably would have severed my head. This time it was 30+ degrees the whole time (it was 30 below last year) and rainy, of all things. The temperature varied enough to give us both freezing rain on the way up and snow on the way back, but we made it safe and sound.

Anyway, we got to meet some of the locals this time, and they were so much fun. The only store within 10 miles of the cabin is a little grocery and restaurant that just happens to grind their own grains for the homemade bread and pizza they make. Our server was a girl about our age who had just moved up there from Minneapolis. And then we met this couple, Gary and Nannette, who told us that they lived a few miles down the road in a yurt. And we could come check it out anytime. Oh hell yes.

Our friend Brigid had just been telling us about how her husband, Aaron, dreams of living in a yurt in Montana, but she just can’t get on board. So since they joined us the next day, we all decided to check one out in the flesh. I’m sorry I don’t have photos, but maybe this Wikipedia entry will give you some idea of what it looks like. It’s basically one big, round room with a high ceiling. I have to say, having seen the tight quarters, I can’t imagine living there myself. But the place was plenty warm inside, and they even had a full kitchen and high-speed internet. I don’t think Aaron’s ready to give up on his dream quite yet.

Unfortunately we saw a lot of these.

And I spent a lot of time watching Mike do this.

We are making a video for our wedding website featuring a lot of north shore spots. It’s going to be newsreel-y and ridiculous and fun.

The rest of the weekend we spent finalizing some details on the wedding, and eating. Oh my, the eating. I am madly in love with the cinnamon bread from that store I was telling you about. I ate almost a whole loaf myself.

Then we checked out a few other restaurants in Grand Marais, and everything we ate was just incredibly good. You don’t expect to go to a town of 1,300 (even a touristy one) and find menus that have more local, organic and vegetarian options than some of the biggest restaurants in our city of 200,000. But that’s what we found. I gotta tell ya, I’m getting a really soft spot in my heart for this place. But it doesn’t take much more than good food to put me over the edge.

When in Madison…

A couple times now we’ve stopped overnight in Madison before driving the rest of the way to see Mike’s family in Wisconsin. We never have time to stick around and do much other than sleep, but we like to have breakfast at this place, Lazy Jane’s, before we head out.

In addition to giant scones so good they have a limit of 6, the place is known for calling out orders as loud as possible (due to the fact that diners are spaced between several rooms on two floors). Knowing this, people often submit a fake name to make everyone laugh (think, Stellllllaaaaahhhhhh!).

But we’re in it for the food. We split a lemon cream scone along with giant cups of coffee before our eggs and potatoes came.

So good. You must try it if you’re ever in Madison. Just beware of icicles!

Home sweet home

I’m back! It was so nice to have a true break from everything for a few days, even if it was boiling hot just about every day in Kansas. I watched more Food Network shows than I care to admit, finished a book, worked on my ripple blanket and rode my bike a couple of times. I caught up with a friend from high school, spent some quality time garage-saleing with my mom (more about that later), and cuddled with Charlotte, the Boston terrier.

One of the best things we did was the first night when we had a barbecue on the deck. We made kabobs and fresh corn on the cob. The veggies just looked so colorful and yummy.

Don’t you love my mom’s little flower setup with the old red lawn chair?

The next day I chopped up all the leftover grilled veggies, mixed them with the rice and added garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and herbs for a nice Mediterranean salad.

We ate it with a fresh Caesar salad with crunchy croutons.

I also added blueberries to my favorite bran muffin mix for some of the best blueberry muffins I’ve had. Good fuel for garage sale-ing…

And, of course, if you visit Lawrence you have to eat at some of the longtime local restaurants like Free State Brewery, Yello Sub (the original Planet Sub), and Pizza Shuttle. Pizza Shuttle has been around as long as I can remember, and the pizzas look and taste the same as they always have. The only thing that changes is the price of the walk-in special (one six-slice pizza and a drink for $4.75 now).

My mom and I love the cream cheese version. Cream cheese on pizza might sound weird, but I assure you it’s a combination you’ve got to try.

And in case you’ve been missing that doggie eye candy, I recorded Charlotte doing the only two activities she cares about: chasing a rubber tire toy, and sleeping.

I came back with some new stuff to sell, stuff to keep, and one antique typewriter table that needs a paint job. Can’t wait to start that project, but first I’ll be starting my Nia training course. I’ll be in class 8-6 every day, sometimes longer, so posting may be light for the next week.

Denver – the food

If there’s one thing Denver does well, it’s breakfast. And everywhere you go the specialty seems to be Eggs Benedict. Regular Benedict, crab cakes Benedict, and this one that I tried at DJ’s Berkeley Cafe, California Benedict. I pronounced it awesome. Also, high praise for a restaurant that gives you both breakfast potatoes and fruit, instead of forcing you to choose between them.

The morning before we left we also ventured to Snooze, a great (and very busy) restaurant in LoDo. To be honest, I liked the decor better than my breakfast scramble (hello chefs, do not put 1/4 cup of raw onions into anything!), but Mike’s banana pancakes were pretty awesome.

In Boulder I was excited to go back to the Hungry Toad, which was one of my favorite restaurants in my old neighborhood. I always got the Cajun fettucine alfredo, which is something I would never usually order, but it is so good there. And it’s just generally a great neighborhood pub type of restaurant.

Back in Denver and despite the rainy weather, we also ventured to Liks Ice Cream (a mere couple of blocks from our host’s apartment) for some amazing waffle cones.

I think we just scratched the surface of the restaurant scene, though, so I’m pretty sure we’re gonna have to go back and continue eating our way through Denver.

I left my heart in the Rockies

We went to Denver without strict plans other than to run the Bolder Boulder 10k race on Memorial Day, and to see friends and family throughout the trip.

Race day was a little maddening. We took the park-and-ride to save time, and then proceeded to sit in traffic, not even picking anyone else up, for about an hour. By the time we got to the start both Mike and I had missed our waves, we hadn’t eaten in quite a while and I had to pee. Thankfully they had portapotties, and we were able to jump into another wave and start the race. But those waves were mostly consisting of walkers, which made it very difficult to try and weave in and out to keep running.

About halfway through, some kind of dehydration hit me, I guess, and my forearms started cramping up really badly. This had never happened to me before so it kind of freaked me out and I ended up walking a lot of the second half, grabbing Gatorade wherever I could. I very nearly thought maybe I shouldn’t continue, but when I got into Folsom Field and the whole place was just going nuts (people were walking on their hands and leap frogging to the finish), and I ran the rest of the way. Mike told me later that someone handed him a beer instead of water early in the race, and he ended up doing a Slip ‘n Slide in someone’s yard. It’s that kind of run, and you should totally do it if you get a chance. Just drink a LOT of water beforehand.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about going back to Boulder (a place I never wanted to leave in the first place). I guess I thought things would have changed a lot, but they really hadn’t. Vendors were still peddling dream interpretations and Lara bars at the Creek Festival. Houses are still half a million dollars. Coffee shops still sell fair trade coffee and vegan cookies. Everyone still looks fit. I think I lost three pounds just entering the city limits.

All the street performers were out in full force, including the digeridoo players and this guy juggling swords while balancing on a ball.

A lot of people, including some of my friends, hate Boulder. It seems to inspire either a love or hate reaction because it is such a unique place. I still love it, and I think I always will.

We took a side trip to Ft. Collins to check it out since neither of us had ever been there. We both had kind of the same reaction – it was just kind of meh. Feel free to convince me why I should love it, too.

It was nice to have some friends who’d moved to Denver show us around the great neighborhoods there. Apart from some seriously cranky drivers, I did like the area a lot, especially the cutesy brick houses and blocks of yoga studios and knitting boutiques. (See also, my next post about the food).

On our last day, blessedly sunny and gorgeous, Mike wanted to really get into the mountains. So we decided to drive up Mt. Evans, the only fourteener with a paved road all the way to the top. I’d never even heard of it, and none of our friends mentioned it, but I can tell you now YOU MUST GO THERE. It was so cool, and quite an adventure, even in the car. Some of the roads at the top just skim the edges of huge dropoffs with no guard rails. Every once in a while you see a marmot pop up around a corner.

Part way up you pass Echo Lake, which is just gorgeous. And you can hear the Aspen leaves rustling as you drive by with the windows open.

Near the nature center there’s an area full of 1,800-year-old bristlecone pine trees. They look like something out of a fairytale book with knotty branches that lean into the wind. This was also about where we started to see snow, and by the time we got to the top it was full-on winter.

At the summit there is a building that actually used to be a restaurant before it burned down. Mike climbed a slippery ridge to the very top of the summit, where he got to sign his name.

This one bowl was especially beautiful, and if you looked closely you could see that people had been skiing down it. It looked way too avalanche prone to seem safe to me, but people in Colorado are just a lot more hardcore than you can imagine. One guy even biked to the top of the mountain despite the fact that that meant sharing a tee-tiny road with other cars coming around the switchbacks with almost no visibility. Yikes!

I have to say I was pretty proud of my little Yaris for making it to the top (and then all the way down).

Denver – the weather

One thing I remember from living in Colorado is that the weather is consistently wonderful and hotter than you would expect from the mountains (mainly due to the intensity of the sun). So when we planned our trip, including running a 10k, I was mainly concerned about getting too hot. And then it just rained and rained almost the whole time.

On the way there as we were driving through Nebraska we went through one of those foreboding black-cloud rainstorms the plains tend to get in the summertime.

The rain just poured and poured, and then all the sudden it was over. About 15 minutes later we started seeing storm chaser vehicles going the other direction. Not a good sign! Mike checked the radar on his iPhone and apparently we had driven through a giant bean-shaped red spot, meaning very possible tornado area. Oh my.

The first few days in Denver it would be sunny in the morning, and then storm in the afternoon and evening. And when I say storm, I’m not kidding. At one point the tornado sirens went off in downtown Denver and then it hailed.

A lot of the time it looked like this. But it was still beautiful.

This is my old neighborhood in Boulder. I hardly recognize it with so many clouds!

We decided that Colorado was mad at me for leaving. But just when I was starting to get really mopey about the weather, the clouds lifted and we sort of got nature’s apology. It was like “wait, come back. I was only kidding!” You’ll see from my other pictures how amazing it was, and why we fell in love with it all over again.

Off to Colorado

Finally, we’re taking a trip to Denver/Boulder for a few days to catch up with friends and revisit my (brief) stomping grounds. I hope it’s the same, I hope it’s different. I hope it doesn’t rain as much as the forecast calls for.

We’re also running the Bolder Boulder, a 10k race (at altitude, am I crazy?). I’ve been training, not enough, but hopefully getting in those few long runs make it bearable. I need to sign myself up for this stuff or I will never stay motivated.

I’m just glad we’re taking a trip, a true vacation, to a place I really love. It may even be worth driving 10 hours across Nebraska.

Buddy Holly crash site

A few months ago was the 50th anniversary of the “day the music died.” Mike spent a long time building an online tribute to the musicians that died in a 1959 plane crash after playing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Ia.: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. On the anniversary he went up to Clear Lake, where they had a (freeeezing cold) tribute at the crash site. Since I wasn’t able to go, I’d been wanting to see the site, and so on our way up to Minnesota we took a side trip there.

There aren’t a lot of markers pointing to the site, which is actually quite far into the middle of a cornfield. But when you get there you see this.

I love it.

People have left an assortment of items at the memorial, especially glasses and identification cards.

Apparently while working on the tribute project our reporters discovered the owner of the plane still lived in the area and was planning on writing a book about the whole thing. He had to wait until the 50 year mark so he could no longer be sued, I guess.

Just being there, it kind of gives you chills.