Categories
Running

Race Report: 2018 Kenai River Half Marathon

(Note: I’m writing this report more than a year post-race. I reviewed my notes and logs to complement my memory of the day.)

Following up on my August half marathon debut, I had something to prove. I finished that first race with a time of 2:00:54. Albeit somewhat arbitrary, that 54 seconds beyond the two-hour mark taunted me. Fortunately, I had a chance at redemption a month-and-a-half later, at a local half marathon.

After the Skinny Raven half, I ran a reduced mileage week before basically jumping right back into a modified version of the training plan I had been using.

To beat the 2-hour mark, I knew I just needed to average below 9:09 minutes per mile. I kept track of my estimated finish time via an app installed on my Garmin watch.

There’s not much noteworthy about this course. It started at the Kenai Visitor’s Center, took a quick tour of ‘Old Town Kenai’, before dropping down Bridge Access Road. From there, you get on Beaver Loop Road and begin your long circle back to the Visitor’s Center.

I just ran my race, enjoying the music in my headphones and taking in the sporadic crowd support (basically, a few isolated groups of people waiting to cheer people that weren’t me). After exiting the far end of Beaver Loop and getting back to the path along the Kenai Spur Highway, I grabbed a cup from the aid station. I wasn’t thirsty, but I was a little hot so I figured I’d toss a cup of water on my head to help cool off. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding between me and the aid station volunteers and I ended up dumping a cup of blue Gatorade on my head. Oh well, it still served the same purpose–except for the minor burning as some of it worked its way into my eyes.

I had my location shared via Google Maps so that my family could track my progress and meet me as I passed the street our home is on. Unfortunately, there was some delay and I saw them pulling up to the intersection as I passed it. The support still registered, and looked forward to meeting them at the finish line just a few miles ahead.

Back into town proper, there was one point where we had to cross Bridge Access Road again. I had assumed there would be some sort of traffic control to give racers the right-of-way. There wasn’t. I had to wait for a break in traffic, losing precious seconds, before I could cross the road and get back to the sidewalks that would carry me to the finish line.

In the final mile, my nephew appeared out of nowhere and ran next to me for a hundred yards or so. We didn’t speak. After he broke off, I wondered if I had imagined the whole thing.

My legs were starting to fatigue, but the finish line was close and I wanted to finish strong. I picked up the pace over the last quarter mile or so.

I finished the race with a chip time of 1:58:37.5, safely under my sub-2-hour goal.

During the race, I felt comfortable and in control. I didn’t experience any pain, just a little fatigue. That evening, some soreness started to develop near the side of my right knee. I woke up in the middle of the night barely able to bend my right knee without some severe burning sensations. While this pain mostly subsided by morning, it was a harbinger of a bigger issue that I would have to spend the next couple of months struggling with.

Categories
Running

Race Report: 2018 Anchorage Runfest – Skinny Raven Half Marathon

Race information

Goals

Finish< 2 hours
YesSo dang close

Background

Over the past couple years, I ran up to 3 miles a couple times a month. I almost never ran in the cold Alaskan winter months (October through March). In mid-June of this year, I started running regularly and got hooked. I attribute this, at least in part, to signing up for a Smashrun account. I kind of obsess over stats and was anxious to start filling it with data and earning badges. After a week or so of regular running, I set a goal to run a half marathon by the end of the year.

Training

I started with the Hal Higdon Novice 1 plan. About halfway through, I switched to the Novice 2 plan, essentially because it worked better with my schedule. I did jump ahead a little bit in my training, but I was careful to listen to my body to avoid injury. For example, I jumped from an 8-mile long run to a 10-mile long run, because I was just too excited to hit that milestone. I also did not crosstrain–I rode my kid’s bike a little here and there and went on walks, but nothing really structured.

The half marathon I was initially training for was schedule for September 30. Since I started my 12-week plan more than 12 weeks prior to that date, I was left with trying to decide to stretch out the training or find another race that fell in line with my training. I was fortunate to find a half marathon nearby (3 hour drive) from my home that lined up perfectly with my training.

Pre-race

Basically followed the same plan I did for all of my long runs. Wake up, eat some oatmeal, drink a cup of coffee, use the bathroom. I was careful to remain hydrated and get sleep during the days leading up to the race. I followed my race plan’s taper (I actually skipped the last 2 mile run and rested that day).

Race

The race didn’t have corrals. We were basically told to just organize ourselves according to our expected pace. I had two problems: being my first race I wasn’t sure what my pace was going to be (I wanted to start with 9:30 miles and evaluate midway), I had no way of knowing the pace of the people next to me. So, I just put myself somewhere in the middle.

The gun fired and we were off. There were over 700 of us sharing a narrow bike path for the first few miles. The first half mile was downhill, but there was no speed to take advantage of because of how tight we were packed. It was extremely difficult to pass anyone. The pace of the pack was slower than my goal by 15 to 30 seconds. After about 3 miles, things opened up a bit and I was able to find a comfortable pace with some space.

At 5 miles, I ate my first GU. The first half of the race was at a slight uphill, with a few steeper sections. Many people walked on the steeper sections, but I actually powered through them and used the flat parts to get my heart rate back down.

I hit the halfway turnaround and enjoyed the downhill for most of the remainder of the race. I somehow missed the Mile 7 beep on my watch and saw the one for Mile 8. I caught my second wind and started picking up my pace. Around Mile 10 I ate another GU.

I watched the race predictor on my watch tick down. Estimated finish of 2:07:00, then 2:05:00, down to 2:01:00. I was making up my time and set to hit my 2 hour goal.

Then I hit that hill at the last half mile. Halfway up, my legs started to feel like they were shutting down. My body felt really tight and I started to feel like I was going to pass out. I figured I’d just finish out the hill by walking up it, but that was even worse. My legs did not want to lift. I began to perform some sort of zombie shuffle to get to the top. Once the course was flat again, I didn’t have a problem getting back into my stride. I finished strong in good form through the finish line. ​

Post-race

I crossed the line. They put a medal around my neck. I saw my time. I was so happy to have finished the race, the extra 54 seconds beyond my 2-hour goal didn’t bother me. For me, that was close enough. My family greeted me and we took some pictures together.

Next

I’m going to run the half marathon I was initially training for at the end of September. I’m taking this week to do some lighter recovery runs and I’ll hop back into the program again next week. I’ll be adding a mile to two of the shorter runs and perhaps some other changes based on advice from other runners. Now I have an idea of what to use as a race pace, and I’ll be able to train more efficiently.

I’m excited to shave those 54 seconds off.

After that, well, there’s another half a couple weeks after the September one… I think I’m hooked.

Categories
Running

And Then I Ran

In 2018, I became a runner.

I had run before. A few years ago, I trained using the Couch-To-5K training method. I had recently quit smoking cigarettes and it felt good to regain some lung function. I was elated when I completed my first three-mile run without walking. But after completing the program, I endeavored just a few three-mile runs before putting my running shoes away for the season. Without a goal, I lacked motivation to run and I certainly wasn’t interested in running during the cold, dark, Alaskan winter.

I went for a couple of runs last year: a whopping 29 miles during the entirety of 2017. 2018 was looking to end up the same way; by the time June rolled around, I had run a total of less than 20 miles.

I ran a few 3-4 mile runs the first week of June but I didn’t run again until the 13th. That’s when I discovered Smashrun.com, a website that aggregates data from your runs and serves up useful and interesting stats. I’m a stats nerd, and I wanted to see what Smashrun could do–but first I needed to feed it data. I ran again the next day, and then the next, and so on. I ran 5 days in a row before taking a break. I’d run blocks of consecutive days, rest, and then do it again. I began researching running, and became active in online running communities. Heeding the advice of experienced runners, I forced myself to take rest days (something that I ironically found to be torturous). I ran more than 50 miles in June. I was hooked.

Example of Smashrun data
Example of just some of the data Smashrun gives you. Sign up for your own free account.

My obsession only grew from there. I ran just over 79 miles in July, 89 in August, and 91 in September. Early on, I went out on my runs without a plan, aiming only to push myself a little more each week compared to the previous one. But then I decided I wanted to commit to a real challenge. I set a goal of running an organized half marathon race (13.1 miles) before the year ended. I researched some training plans and picked one that seemed both manageable and challenging.

I ran my first race at the end of June: a 10K run in Homer, Alaska that fit into my training plan. 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) would be the furthest I had ever run up to that point, but I felt ready. I completed it without an issue, perhaps even leaving a little too much gas in the tank (it helped that the entire course was slightly downhill). That race made me confident that I’d be able to run a half marathon this year. I decided that I would run it during the annual local Kenai River Marathon scheduled for September 30.

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Let’s do this. #running

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I followed Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 training plan, with some modification. The plan has a couple of races built into it, but there wasn’t always a race available that lined up with my schedule. I ended up running an extra mile on those weeks, which essentially jumped me ahead a week in the program each time I did this.

Running training plans are designed to allow you to peak on race day. Since I had been using race weeks to skip ahead in the schedule, I was going to peak well before the September 30th half marathon. Fortunately, I found a half marathon in Anchorage, Alaska that fit perfectly with my schedule.

I registered for the August 19th race, the Anchorage Runfest Skinny Raven Half Marathon, and continued my training. I didn’t skip a single day of training. I discovered a sense of discipline that I never knew I harbored. I got up at 5am and ran before work. Wind, rain, fatigue… it didn’t matter; if I had a run scheduled that day, I ran it. Towards the end of my training, my plan looked something like this: Rest on Saturday and Sunday, run 5 miles on Monday, 4 miles on Tuesday, 5 miles on Wednesday, rest on Thursday, long run on Friday (I generally added one mile to my long run each week, peaking at a 12 mile long run the week before my half marathon).

Excitement built as race week approached. My plan called for a taper week before the race, where you run fewer miles than you had been in order to get your body in a rested state for the race.

August 19th arrived. My training was complete. Now it was just a matter of cashing-in my training for a good experience, a shirt, and a medal.

Categories
Space

John Glenn’s Orbital Journey

Cross-posted from my space blog, The Star Splitter.

54 years ago today, the Atlas rocket boosters that John Glenn, inside his Friendship 7 capsule, was strapped to the top of ignited. Millions of Americans watched as the resulting 350,000 pounds of thrust vibrated the vehicle that was about to take the first American into orbit around the Earth.

CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator): 3… 2… 1… 0.
John Glenn: Roger. The clock is operating. We’re underway.

Launch of Friendship 7
Launch of Friendship 7, the first American manned orbital space flight. Astronaut John Glenn aboard, the Mercury-Atlas rocket is launched from Pad 14. / Source: NASA

Minutes later, John Glenn became the fifth human in space and the first American to enter Earth orbit. Previously, Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom became the first and second, respectively, Americans in space; however, John Glenn was the first American to reach the important milestone of completing orbits of the Earth.

For the next 4 hours and 55 minutes, John Glenn completed three orbits of the Earth, reaching speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour. NASA was still concerned about the effects of spaceflight on humans and this was the longest one an American astronaut had been subjected to yet. John Glenn remarked a number of times during the mission that he felt just fine, and was rather enjoying himself.

Five minutes into the mission:

John Glenn: Oh, that view is tremendous!

View of Earth from Friendship 7
View of earth taken by Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. during his MA-6 spaceflight. / Source: NASA

John Glenn witnessed three sunsets from space during the flight.

John Glenn: The sky above is absolutely black, completely black. I can see stars though up above.

John Glenn: This is Friendship Seven. At this, MARK, at this present time, I still have some clouds visible below me, the sunset was beautiful. It went down very rapidly. I still have a brilliant blue band clear across the horizon almost covering my whole window. The redness of the sunset I can still see through some of the clouds way over to the left of my course. Over.

Sunset from Friendship 7
Orbital sunset photographed by Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. aboard the \”Friendship 7\” during his Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) flight. / Source: NASA

From his fantastic vantage point, he observed dust storms and fires in Africa and the lights of Perth, Australia.

And then there was his “fireflies”, which he first noticed at about 1 hour and 15 minutes into the flight:

John Glenn: This is Friendship Seven. I’ll try to describe what I’m in here. I am in a big mass of some very small particles, that are brilliantly lit up like they’re luminescent. I never saw anything like it. They round a little: they’re coming by the capsule, and they look like little stars. A whole shower of them coming by.

They swirl around the capsule and go in front of the window and they’re all brilliantly lighted. They probably average maybe 7 or 8 feet apart., but I can see them all down below me, also.

CAPCOM: Roger, Friendship Seven. Can you hear any impact with the capsule? Over.

John Glenn: Negative, negative. They’re very slow; they’re not going away from me more than maybe 3 or 4 miles per hour. They’re going at the same speed I am approximately. They’re only very slightly under my speed. Over.

They do, they do have a different motion, though, from me because they swirl around the capsule and then depart back the way I am looking.

Are you receiving? Over.

There are literally thousands of them.

These “fireflies”, as Glenn called them after the mission, were later determined to be ice crystals that would accumulate on the craft on the dark side of the Earth and then begin to break off of the capsule when the Sun’s heat returned. 1

Back on the ground, serious considerations were being made. A flight controller received a warning from a sensor on Friendship, indicating a loose heat shield. If the sensor was correct in its reading, the only thing holding the heat shield in place was the straps from the retrorocket package. After debate, a decision was made; Glenn was instructed to refrain from jettisoning the retropack — a normal procedure for re-entry — in hopes that it would hold the heat shield in place during re-entry; the alternative was the craft and Glenn disintegrating in the Earth’s atmosphere. Control offered no explanation for the procedure until after successful re-entry. Glenn suspected a problem with the heat shield, but remained focused on the parts of the craft he could control.

CAPCOM: This is Texas Cap Com, Friendship Seven. We are recommending that you leave the retropackage on through the entire reentry.

John Glenn: This is Friendship Seven. What is the reason for this? Do you have any reason? Over.

CAPCOM: Not at this time; this is the judgment of Cape Flight.

The sensor ultimately proved to be faulty and the heat shield remained securely attached to Friendship. 2

Aside from using more fuel than expected for attitude corrections, a hot spacesuit that had to be regularly adjusted for cooling, and excess cabin humidity, the rest of the flight was essentially flawless.

Glenn fired his retrorockets and descended back to Earth. He splashed down in the Atlantic, 40 miles downrange from the expected landing site. The USS Noa reached Friendship seventeen minutes later and hoisted it onto the ship. Glenn was supposed to exit the capsule from the top hatch, but instead decided to blow the side hatch instead. With a loud bang, the hatch blew open and Glenn emerged and jumped to the deck of the Noa. With a smile, his first words were: “It was hot in there.”

Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. in his Mercury spacesuit
Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. in his Mercury spacesuit. / Source: NASA

Glenn returned to a hero’s welcome and a ecstatic ticker-tape parade in New York City. Americans were energized with the progress in the race with the Soviets. And with John Glenn’s help, America — and mankind itself — took another step forward into the uncharted heavens above.

*This post was originally published February 20, 2011, on my space blog, TheStarSplitter.com. Small updates have been made since then.


  1. In fact, it was solved during the next Mercury mission, Aurora 7, by Scott Carpenter. To test his theory, he banged on the side of the capsule and watched as they broke off of the exterior of the craft!
  2. And it provided a nice fireworks show for Glenn during re-entry. “My condition is good, but that was a real fireball, boy. I had great chunks of that retropack breaking off all the way through.”
Categories
Vacation

Oahu Vacation Wrap-Up

We’re home. Our tans are fading, our wounds are healing, the sand is almost out of our shoes. The current feelings seem to be mixed: some of us are glad to be home and back in our own beds; whereas, I’m already looking forward to the next trip. I could have used another week.

Man-O-War SignWe spent our last days mostly snorkeling. On one of the last days, we figured out the tide situation in the beach behind our house and realized we had an amazing snorkeling location a few steps from our backdoor. We also spent a day at Hanauma Bay State Park. This beautiful beach is well-maintained and requires a small entrance fee. It’s very popular and thus somewhat crowded, but they do control the number of people allowed on the beach at any given time. The wind and surf was strong the day we went and we didn’t end up seeing a lot under the water (the reef areas were a bit too crowded for me).

My nephew was swimming near me when he announced that a Portuguese man o’ war was near him. I told him to try to get away from it, but as the words were coming out of my mouth he shouted, “It stung me!” I urged him to head towards shore and I followed. He swam extremely fast. He reached the beach and the lifeguards there had already figured out what was going on. They met him with a spray bottle of vinegar. They sprayed it on his hand where he had been stung and cracked a few jokes with him to keep his spirits up. The wound began to really sting and swell up. They told him there really wasn’t much that could be done, he just had to wait it out.

Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay

Portuguese man o' war
Portuguese man o’ war

The next day, we were snorkeling at our beach. These man o’ wars were ubiquitous on the beach, apparently an unusual outbreak owing to strong trade winds. My nephew took a stick and drew big circles around them in the sand, pointing them out to anyone unaware. Still, he would not be deterred. We swam and played on bodyboards. Then he felt something bump him. “I think I got stung again!”, he shouted. He got out of the water and I noticed what had hit him. It was a beautiful white jellyfish, the top of it about the size of a quarter with thin ghost-like tendrils drifting behind it a couple of inches. He waited around to see if this would start stinging like the man o’ war. A decent-sized welt appeared, but he didn’t seem to be bothered too much by pain this time around. He was the only one that managed to be stung, and he got stung twice by two different species of animals. The seas might be out to get him.

man o' war stingI was seriously regretting not having a waterproof camera. In the Hanauma Bay gift store, my wife found a contraption that allowed me to use my phone underwater. It’s basically a plastic case that’s clear where the camera lens is and half-inflated with air to ensure it floats. The plastic allows the touchscreen to be used even while underwater.

Back at our beach, I was able to use it properly and captured some decent video clips of the world below the sea’s surface. The photos aren’t that great, but the sun was setting and it was getting dark quickly. I wished I had had it earlier in our trip, especially when I was swimming with the turtles.

I apologize for the crappy photos below (cellphone in a bag, what do you expect?), but hopefully you get an idea of the wonders I found below.

Underwater photo of reef fish.

Underwater photo of reef fish.
The video turned out a little better:

We had a fantastic time on our vacation. It was relaxing and exciting all at once. There were some things that I had hoped to see but we ran out of time: Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Waimea Canyon, etc. I’m already looking forward to planning the next trip.

Categories
Exploration Vacation Wildlife

Snorkeling

Oahu's North Shore at Laie

I can’t believe I’ve never been snorkeling before now. Well, I guess it’s sort of understandable considering I spend most of my time in Alaska. But seriously, the snorkeling I’ve done over the past few days has changed my life and I nearly regret not experiencing this sooner.

I’ve floated above countless species of angelfish, rainbow-colored wrasse, and various tangs. I’ve swam beside trumpetfish, puffers, and butterfly fish. I’ve even been up close and personal with Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (pronounced: who-moo-who-moo-noo-koo-noo-koo-ah-pooah-ah).

But by far, the most remarkable experience has been within the presence of the green sea turtles. Referring to what these amazing animals do underwater as swimming feels like an understatement. They fly, soar, and glide through the ocean. Their motions defy effort, as they slip through the sea. They slowly flap their flippers, propelling themselves through the undercurrents. They appear to defy gravity, friction, or any sense of resistance. It’s almost as if they travel through an unseen dimension and we’re only perceiving their supernatural reflection.

I swam nearby, giving space to the creatures. I watched, and they watched me. They were fearless; I felt like they knew how I felt about them. One swam to the surface next to me. I lifted my head out of the water just in time to see one of these amazing animals break the surface just mere inches away from me, pulling in a breath of fresh, salty air, before returning to the cosmos beneath the ocean’s glistening surface.

I don’t yet have a camera capable of surviving these underwater encounters, so unfortunately I can’t share these wonders with you as well as I’d like. I’ll be better prepared for my next trip.

But for me I’ll have these images in my mind for the rest of my life, as the magnificent world under the sea fills my dreams and memories.

Sea Turtle graffiti

Categories
Uncategorized

Kailua Beach and Pineapples and Waves

We spent the previous couple of days exploring the nearby attractions. We spent a day at Kailua Beach Park, a gorgeous sandy beach with warm waters and a gentle surf. Here, we could bodyboard without fear of running up against sharp rocks. We brought our snorkeling gear, but there wasn’t much to be seen at the particular part of the beach that we were camped at. We all were in the water for hours: trying to bodyboard, snorkeling, swimming, and just floating around in the warm, buoyant water. The beach is a popular vacation haunt for President Obama and the First Family, and it’s no wonder why. (In fact, he’s slated to be in town for his Christmas vacation starting tomorrow.)

Alexis returns to the sea as Terry returns to the shore.
Alexis returns to the sea as Terry returns to the shore.

The next day, we toured a few spots on the North Shore on our way to Dole Plantation. We first stopped at a seemingly-unnamed beach near Kawela Bay. The beach here features rocky reefs right near the shore. The surf pulses through here, filling depressions into large pools before pulling the water back out to the sea. Alexis was taken a bit off guard as a big surge of water rolled in and rose up to her waist. We explored the small tidepools and admired the large waves that crashed just off shore.

Tide pools

We continued on the Kamehameha Highway around the North Shore. The Billabong Pipe Masters surfing event is in full swing, apparent via the endless line of vehicles parked along the highway and people in beach attire walking along the road. We found a parking spot and headed down to Pupukea beach. Massive waves pummeled the beach. We were all mesmerized by the size of the waves, rising higher than our heads before crashing down in front of us. A rocky outcropping that separated our beach from Sharks Cove was full of small pools that the kids loved to explore. Huge walls of foamy sea crashed over the wall of rock, refilling the pools.

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Alexis watches the North Shore waves.
Alexis watches the North Shore waves.

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We then headed over to Dole Plantation, the place where many of the pineapples you eat come from. The main attractions at the plantation are a guided train tour of the pineapple fields, and the proclaimed world’s largest maze. We ate lunch in the cafe: the usual fish sandwich, chicken strips, cheeseburger type fare. A few cats were on the patio dining area, adorably begging for food. The kids marveled at the size of huge snails browsing the foliage surrounding the dining area.

After lunch, we rode the Pineapple Express train tour. The little train chugged us through a sample of various plants and trees, some I had heard of and others I’ve already forgotten the names of. We passed by various machinery used to harvest pineapples while overheard speakers fed us bits of trivia. Did you know it takes 20 months for the first pineapple to grow on a plant? Then, a second one follows 15 months later before the field has to be replanted. 

We then entered the Pineapple Maze, which apparently holds a Guinness World Record for being the largest maze. You get a small map and are challenged to find seven stations within the maze. Each station has a slot you put your map card into to trace that station’s icon onto. The idea is once you find all seven stations you can exit the maze and consider it completed. We split into groups. Terry and Drew were the only group to find all seven stations. The rest of us settled for five or six. We spent about 45 minutes in the maze. By this time, the place was shutting down but we had just enough time to go back into the cafe for cups of Dole Whip, which I believe is just pineapple-flavored ice cream with pineapple chunks on top. Whatever it was, it was good.

Aboard the Pineapple Express

We headed back past the North Shore towards our house. We made a final stop at Waimea Bay Beach Park, where we watched surfers and bodyboarders attempt the waves. Jett chased some of the wild chicken, one of which took flight to evade him. This effectively ended an argument we had a couple of days ago, where he insisted chickens can’t fly.

“Hey Jett… What’s that chicken doing right now? Huh?!”

 

“Shut up.”

My rambunctious nephew Corvin was doing his best “JOOOOHHHNNNNN CEEENNNA!” impression and wrestling with his siblings and cousins. Apparently, Alexis managed to get the best of him when she introduced him to ‘The Peoples’ Elbow’.

Little John Cena
Little John Cena

We ended the day with margaritas and play on the beach in our back yard.

 

 

 

Categories
Vacation

Oahu – The First 24 Hours

FlightOne should never take for granted, the technology that allows one to go from somewhere near the top of the planet, where the air burns one’s face with cold, to somewhere closer to the middle, where the air envelopes you in a warm embrace, by climbing into a winged cylinder with engines that suck, squeeze, bang, and blow you there in a mere six hours. It’s a fantastic time to be alive.

My family and I landed in Honolulu just before 7pm last night. My wife’s bag didn’t make the flight (the flight apparently was overweight and her bag was one of the lucky few that were held for the next day’s flight). This meant that as soon as we grabbed our rental car our first experience with the local shopping scene was a quick trip into Target for some of the essentials that were supposed to arrive with us in her suitcase.

Famished as we were, we ate at the first restaurant we could find: a joint I had never had been to before called Ruby Tuesday. Their smokehouse cheeseburger is a seriously good eat, but we all agreed that my wife’s Chicken and Broccoli Pasta was the best dish on the table.

We were excited to get to our house, so we hit the road. From Honolulu to Laie–the town we’re staying at–the highway cut us through the middle of the island towards the eastern coast, which we then followed north to Laie. It’s a one-hour drive, but that’s only because most of the drive has a speed limit of 35-45 miles per hour. Much of it was two-lanes winding along the coast. It was dark, so our views were limited. Occasionally, the road skirted close enough to the beach that streetlights illuminated the water. I think I even saw some turtles, but I’m the only one that believes me. Before we knew it, we had arrived at our home for the next week plus.

We rented a large, five-bedroom house right on the beach. We’re sharing it with my brother-in-law and his family who are arriving a day after us. After a most brief tour of the house, we went out back to check out the beach. Apparently, some of the beaches on Oahu are seasonal and we were expecting ours to be one of them. To our good fortune, a most quintessential sandy beach is just outside our back door and ready for our enjoyment. It was too dark to see much, but from what we could make out by the light of my LED headlamp (which I never leave home without!) we had quite a space to enjoy as soon as the daylight showed itself.

The stars were magnificent. Fortunately, the light pollution here is very minimal and I had a limitless view into the heavens. Stars and planets glistened brilliantly above the crashing surf below. The Geminids meteor shower peaking, it was almost too much to believe.

Jupiter rising above the Pacific.
Jupiter rising above the Pacific.

After a long day of traveling and the extra fatigue that always accompanies 3,000 miles worth of flying, we were all exhausted. The wife and kids went to sleep, but I was too excited to follow suit. I was up until nearly 2am sitting in the back yard, photographing the stars and watching meteors streak across the sky. Some of them brilliantly shot below the eastern horizon, appearing as if they were landing in the ocean. I sat out there on the wet grass and breathed humid air until Jupiter had climbed well above the horizon. I finally came inside and let the ocean lull me to sleep.

The next morning our plan was to get the rest of the things we needed for our stay: a trip to Costco, acquiring our snorkel gear, and arranging the delivery for our missing bag. My son and I swam in the ocean while waiting for the other two to get ready to go. The current is remarkably strong on our beach, almost impossible to swim directly against. It was fun letting the current pull me along the coast while I floated.

My first daylight view from our home in paradise.
My first daylight view from our home in paradise.

Everyone ready to go get our shopping out the way, we hopped in the car. We skirted the north shore on the way to the Costco in Waipio, driving past endless roadside shops, fruit stands, food trucks, and surfers. We passed myriad fields, growing coffee, sugar cane and pineapple. We stocked up on groceries and then made the return trip back. We stopped at a few places along the way. We bought fresh fruit and a few trinkets (I got a wooden beaded bracelet for $3.50 from a store that had the most docile cats lounging around. I thought being a cat in Hawaii might not be a bad reincarnation.)

Alexis taking in the roadside sights.
Alexis taking in the roadside sights.

Back at the house, the kids and I went to play in the water. I had warned my daughter about the current and had her experience it for herself as I swam nearby. Eventually, my son wanted to try out the bodyboards that came with the house. The waves, at that time, weren’t the best for bodyboarding but it was fun floating around on the things. I paddled out near a reef that’s just off shore and tried to ride the current back onto the beach. As I neared the beach, I came upon a shallower spot with jagged rocks below me. I scraped the top of my foot against one of the rocks. I tried to stand and wade away from the potential danger but it was too late. A larger wave crashed over my head and pushed my body down onto the razor-sharp rocks. I received a couple cuts on my wrist, one of my fingers, and my foot. Nothing serious, but enough to reinforce the potential danger to my kids. Unfortunately, they seemed less concerned with my wounds and more excited by the fact that my blood might attract sharks. “Stay in the water, dad! I want to see the sharks!”

The first battle scars of my war with the Pacific.
The first battle scars of my war with the Pacific.

We cooked tacos for dinner and sat around watching movies. I cracked my bottle of Laphroaig, which paired nicely with the sea breeze flowing through the beach house.

Jett absorbs paradise.
Jett absorbs paradise.

Categories
Cabins

Barber Cabin

Barber Cabin, in Chugach National Forest

The Barber Cabin is a public-use cabin located in Chugach National Forest, on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Nestled in the forest just off-shore of Lower Russian Lake, this rustic cabin is a well-built retreat and a wonderful place to go for a time-out. The cabin rental features a floating dock and a canoe to enjoy the lake with (life-vests are provided). Just off shore you can look south to an awe-inspiring view of Skilak Glacier and the icefield above it. If you explore the southern edge of the lake, you might even catch a glimpse of the crashed remains of an amphibious aircraft from a bygone era.

Skilak Glacier from Lower Russian Lake
Skilak Glacier from Lower Russian Lake

The cabin features a traditional wood stove, two bunk beds that will comfortably sleep 4 people (or more, if you’re friendly), a table and benches, and plenty of counter-space for meal preparation. Outside is a woodshed (with tools for gathering firewood but I highly recommend dragging in your own) and a surprisingly-well-maintained outhouse. Access is by an ADA-accessible trail approximately 3 miles from the trailhead in the Russian River campground.

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The rental fee is currently $45 per night. The Forest is proposing raising that to $75 over the next three years, so you might save some money by going sooner rather than later. Still, at $75 it will still be quite a value.

Categories
People

A Tired Companion

A tired Gretzky

After a long day and a 3.5-mile hike in the Alaskan wilderness, the youngest member of our family, Gretzky, takes a load off. We stayed at the Barber Cabin, at Lower Russian Lake near Cooper Landing, Alaska, for a few days in mid-August 2015. I snapped this photo as everyone was resting and unwinding after toting all of our gear in on the mountain trail. Gretzky didn’t carry anything, but he’s still a puppy and was just as tired as everyone else.