As soon as we entered the terminal at the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, we knew we were in Alaska. Of course, that was where we planned to be but the surroundings instantly confirmed it.
Even though our plane had landed in the middle of the night after traveling from Maine, we were mesmerized by the Alaskan art. It was instantly clear that indeed we had arrived in Alaska, a place that had seemed exotically remote and mysterious to me.
We were especially mesmerized by the aurora display.
A snafu with the opening of the baggage compartment on the door of our plane delayed the arrival of our luggage so much that the rental car desk had closed. So at about 2:30 a.m. we were dropped off at the address of our Airbnb by our Uber driver. Exhausted and apprehensive, we dragged our bags across the lawn in the dark to (hopefully) find the door to our apartment. After attempting to go into the garden shed, we found our door and with immense relief collapsed into our bed.
We had scheduled our travels so that we would have a couple of days in Anchorage before the race. By the morning of the race we felt rested and acclimated. We awoke to surprisingly strong winds and significantly cooler temperatures. Fallen leaves were strewn across the lawn and the car crunched over small branches as we drove to the race.
We were able to park within an easy, but blustery, walk from the starting line. The temperature had dropped so much from the previous day that we were freezing and the wind was truly becoming a force to be reckoned with. We found ourselves seeking sunny enclosed doorways …and we often found other runners tucked into those spots already.
But as the start of the race neared and we lined up with the rest of the half marathon runners we warmed up and soaked in the fact that we were in ALASKA and we were running in our 40th state on our fortieth wedding anniversary. It felt a bit surreal but also fabulously exciting.
And then we were off and running. Before we even hit the one mile mark we had run past someone playing the guitar on the side of the road. As we made the sharp turn onto the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail we could hear bagpipes. That sound just heightened my emotions and sent me off with a feeling of extra celebration.
The course followed the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail which borders the Anchorage coast. As we traveled along we ran past an impressive variety of performers. Some of our favorites included these drummers.
Entertainment along the course also included a string quartet, a polka band, someone playing a snare drum, as well as a group of children playing stringed instruments.
The mood was upbeat and congenial. We chatted with fellow runners and enjoyed the scenic, winding paved trail. But the wind was a force that couldn’t be ignored. After we turned at the halfway point we continued running back along the same route we had just traveled. Before we had gone far we encountered this.
This huge tree had fallen across the path! We were slightly unsettled thinking that this could have landed on a runner. Luckily, it just provided an unexpected hurdle.
We forged ahead, feeling the effects of the wind more and more as we neared the end. Both Mike and I were experiencing tightening muscles and the head wind was pretty remarkable at times.
The on-course photographer captured Mike running steadily while I, in the background, am slowing down to make some sort of adjustment-before I noticed the photographer.
But then I perked up and struck my “I’m running really well” pose. Oh brother.
We were really feeling the effects of the wind during the last mile or two. Huge gusts would pummel us, at times making it feel as though forward motion was no longer an option.
I was running behind Mike just enough to capture this somewhat surreal video of him running through a tunnel where a saxophonist was playing and high-fiving runners as they passed. It was just the perk we needed at that point.
As we wound along the course off the trail back onto the roads and up a hill we were greeted by a guitar duo playing “Chariots of Fire” which perfectly capped off our race.
Mike waited for me to catch up so we could cross the finish line together.
We took a few minutes to savor our accomplishment and take some photos to document the occasion.
The post-race refreshments included this delectable artisan bread. Somehow whatever I eat after a longer race is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.
The wind was so strong that at least one pop-up tent briefly became air-born. Keeping our blankets semi-wrapped around us became a challenge.
So filled with a huge sense of contented accomplishment we headed back to our Airbnb to pack up and head out for the rest of our Alaskan adventure.
Quest Race #: 40
Date Run: August 18, 2019
The Bottom Line: I can’t think of a more fitting way for us to mark the occasion of our 40th wedding anniversary than to run a half-marathon in Alaska.
Although we planned our long weekend in Savannah to run our Georgia quest race, we found that in addition to the quintessential Savannah landmarks, we uncovered several slightly less well-known gems. Here are 10 of the things that we loved about Savannah.
The Best Damn Race
Having run the Best Damn race in Safety Harbor, Florida we knew that the inaugural Best Damn Race in Savannah would absolutely live up to its superlative name. Plus, the opportunity to leave frigid Maine in February to travel to a semi-tropical locale (at least in our minds) seemed perfect.
We woke to gray skies and temperatures in the low 60’s on the morning of the race-my favorite running weather. We followed the pumping music to the starting line and with an enthusiastic send-off from the race announcer we were on our way. Our 5K route was flat and traveled past squares fringed with trees dripping with moss and through residential blocks of homes ranging from modest to stately. The entire race was heaven after running in single digit temperatures on snowy, hilly roads at home. We crossed the finish line together feeling strong and pleased with our run. We collected our medals…and were soon enjoying a hand-mixed cocktail for me and a beer for Mike. All by 8:30 in the morning.
Apparently we haven’t officially completed a race unless I coerce Mike into taking what we refer to as our “awkward requisite selfie”. (Thanks for humoring me once again, Mike.)
Savannah allows open containers throughout the city so post-race festivities were very lenient.
2. Meeting An Instagram Friend in Person
I was thrilled to meet Judy of Chocolate Runs Judy, who was running the half marathon. This was the first time I had the opportunity to meet one of my Instagram friends in person and it was a true delight to have a chance to chat with Judy and her husband, Lloyd.
Judy’s husband, Lloyd, kindly took this photo of us.
3. Booking an Airbnb Three Blocks From the Race
Choosing an Airbnb just three blocks from the start of the race meant there was no need to arrange transportation or figure out where to park. Instead we enjoyed a scenic three block warm-up on our way to the starting line at Forsyth Park.
During our quest travels we have run the gamut (pun intended) of lodging to starting line distances. The Best Damn Race in Safety Harbor absolutely wins the prize. The starting line was immediately outside the front door of our hotel. Having the opportunity to stay in our warm hotel room with our private bathroom until it was time to line up at the start was true bliss! On several occasions complications with actually finding the race have made for a less than cheerful start to our morning. Having learned the hard way, we now try to swing by the start the day before the race.
4. Rancho Alegre
The colorful, festive atmosphere of Rancho Alegre caught our eye as we strolled by on Friday evening in search of a spot for dinner. After a wait of just a few minutes we were settled in, listening to a fabulous live jazz trio, and enjoying what is truly the best chicken I have ever eaten. And I’ve eaten a LOT of chicken.
It was a wonderfully serendipitous dinner choice that was not originally on our Yelp-curated list of possibilities. In fact, some of our most memorable dining experiences have occurred when we have literally veered off the beaten path and have chosen a restaurant that we have encountered by chance or that has been suggested by someone “in the know”.
The music was fabulous although this photo is not.
5. Rum Runners Bakery
Another lucky find was the Rum Runners Bakery which we walked past after the race as we returned to our Airbnb. We were hungry, chilled, and ready for more sustenance than the post-race cocktails and bananas.
The cozy interior was charming. Shelves filled with cake stands circled the shop. We sipped hot cups of coffee and tea as our quiche was heated and our turnover was packed up for us to bring with us. Once again we had found just what we needed-without even knowing it was what we were looking for.
6. The Squares and Architecture
Having visited Savannah once before we knew that we would be happiest if we avoided renting a car and relied on walking to get around. Savannah is said to be the first planned city in America. The grid layout of streets and squares, designed by General James Olgethorpe, (I just love that name) makes Savannah a very pedestrian friendly city. Strolling along the streets offers a chance to really take in the architecture. The trade-mark squares that appear every few blocks, like little verdant oases of trees and flowers, are also absolutely packed with historical markers that tell the story of Savannah’s colorful past.
Forrest Gump’s famous “Life is like a box of chocolates” scene was filmed in Chippewa Square.
Virtually every block offered spectacular examples of a myriad of architectural styles which we happily perused as we traveled along Savannah’s streets.
7. The Book Lady Bookstore
After walking several miles throughout the day we were ready to head back to our Airbnb for a break. Mike was in the market for a book so we were on the lookout for a second-hand bookstore. We were thrilled to find The Book Lady Bookstore right off Chippewa Square.
We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect spot. Within minutes we had lost each other as we meandered from room to room each with ceiling-high bookshelves brimming with old and new books.
I purchased a copy of the quintessential Savannah book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. As soon as we got back to our apartment I started reading and was soon captivated by the story as well as the fact that we were surrounded by the very places mentioned in the book.
8. Mercer Williams House Tour
One of the most notable settings in the book is the Mercer Williams House which is an integral part of the story. By the end of the first couple of chapters I had made tour reservations for the Mercer Williams House for the next day.
The tour through the house was one of our absolute favorite parts of visiting Savannah. The house itself has a fascinating history and if you were to simply walk through the house the architecture and antiques would be sufficiently enthralling. But our engaging guide packed the forty minute tour with a multitude of mesmerizing details, secrets, and tidbits. This included divulging that the dining room baseboards designed to look like marble were actually artfully painted wood created by the owner, Jim Williams. A famous statue in the hall has an unexpected feature. And a surprise behind a closed door was revealed. If you visit Savannah I highly recommend this tour.
9. Soho South Cafe
After our tour we were ready for lunch and happened to walk by Soho South Cafe. We were delighted to have discovered this welcoming, whimsically decorated restaurant.
We were serenaded by non-stop live piano music.
The décor was ecclectically appealing.
I ordered their signature combo-a grilled cheese sandwich with pimento aioli and a cup of Soho tomato basil bisque. It was divine. I think Mike ordered an equally regional fried chicken sandwich but I was so engrossed in my lunch I didn’t pay much attention.
10. The Flowers and Gardens
Coming from the frozen north we were desperate for a landscape that wasn’t monochromatic. As soon as we stepped out of the airport we breathed in that intoxicating scent of grass and vegetation that had been absent at home for months.
The grass was green, flowering trees were exploding with blossoms, and colorful gardens popped up everywhere.
A peek through an iron fence revealed this stunning landscaping that in a moment of completely irrational fantasizing I fleetingly imagined recreating at home.
Even the pansies surrounding this well-known fountain in Forsyth Park warmed my heart.
We reluctantly left the color and warmth of Savannah but felt rejuvenated by this enchanting city.
Quest Race #: 38
Date Run: February 16, 2019
Bottom Line: Start with a well organized, scenic race paired with a chance to meet an Instagram friend, add in a taste of springtime and some scrumptious unexpected restaurant discoveries and top it off with a chance to learn some of the fascinating history of Savannah and you have the “best damn” trip to Georgia.
After considering a number of options for our run in Tennessee we decided the Zen Evo Chocolate Lover’s 5K would be a good choice. Our goal was to coordinate so that Amelia could run a race with us. Knoxville is about a 3.5 hour drive from their home in North Carolina so it was a good option. We met Amelia there and drove to Knoxville along with their sweet pup, Jameson.
We took turns snuggling with him in the backseat.
We had booked a house for the weekend through Airbnb and couldn’t have been happier with our decision. The home was spotlessly clean, cozy, and full of welcoming details.
Judy, our host, even left a goodie bag of treats for Jameson, as well as goodies for the humans in our group. The pint of Bluebell ice cream in the fridge with a note saying “in case of emergency” really made us feel pampered-and luckily we did experience an ice cream emergency. Thanks, Judy!
Since the race didn’t start until 10:00 on Saturday morning, I had plenty of time to put the finishing touches on our couple’s costume.
Mike’s enthusiasm for wearing any sort of costume is non-existent. He prefers to stay out of the spotlight and he worried that agreeing to run with 6″ conversation hearts on his back may not allow that anonymity. Undeterred, I persevered with my project in case he relented but I, uncharacteristically, refrained from pestering him into agreeing.
When this wording popped into my head I thought I might have a chance.
He decided with that disclaimer he would go ahead with yet another of my whacky plans…definitely “true love”.
The race was held at the Victor Ashe Park which was about a 20 minute drive from the house. The forecast sounded dire.
It is was dark and threatening rain when we arrived.
We opted to take our requisite awkward selfie before the race.
Although he had relented and agreed to the hearts on the back of his jacket, I didn’t even ask him to add the heart headband.
The course was an out and back on the paved path through the park.
We appreciate out and back courses when we run with Amelia because we can watch for her on her way back while we are still heading out. When we found her she was the third woman but she pushed it up the last hills and ended up coming in as the overall second place female finisher! After completing her race she looped back to us on the course and then dashed back to the end to snap a few photos of us finishing.
We’re crossing the finish line hand-in-hand as we do with all of our quest races. Besides being kind of special, it keeps me from lagging too far behind.
The rain picked up after we finished so we were grateful the awards ceremony was held under a pavilion. We thought the addition of several heaters was brilliant and wished more races offered this luxury.
Apparently stuffed bears are a signature feature of this race. We were handed a bear after we finished. We received one for placing 4th in the couples’ costume contest. Mike placed second in his age group and I got third-and we each got another bear.
But even more exciting was Amelia placing as the second overall female and receiving this gigantic bear. It plays a Shakira song and has flashing red lights! I love the sequence of her expressions as she received the bear.
There was a post-race party at the Hexagon Brewery later in the day which we happily attended.
Although the crowd was a bit small when we were there we enjoyed talking to the bartender/owner who impressed us with the number of activities at the brewery and with the variety of beers they are producing.
Our plan was to venture out into downtown Knoxville for dinner. When we inquired about restaurant recommendations our bartender had enticed us with a multitude of options. However, as we drove back to the house for the afternoon through a downpour the thought of walking around the city in the rain became less appealing despite our sincere desire to explore and experience Knoxville. Eventually we somewhat reluctantly conceded that the option to have dinner in our cozy house and watch the Olympics sounded the most appealing.
We awoke the next morning confident that our decision to stay in had been the right one but feeling really disappointed to be heading home without having visited the center of Knoxville. A quick trip into the city for donuts and coffee gave us a tiny (and sweet) taste of the city. Thanks to Amelia’s research we arrived at a perfect donut shop, Makers Donuts.
They had a delectable array of options.
Although they didn’t sell coffee they were connected to another hip establishment that did.
Amelia and Matt drove us back to Charlotte while we enjoyed some more quality time with Jameson.
As we waited in the security line at the airport Amelia sent us this shot of Jameson looking out the car window after us.
We were sad to be leaving, too.
Date: February 10, 2018
The Bottom Line: Although our plans to experience Knoxville didn’t transpire as we had hoped, we loved having a chance to spend the weekend with Amelia, Matt, and Jameson. Our Airbnb home made the weekend exceptionally comfortable. The race was fun and filled our suitcase with more stuffed bears than we’ve ever traveled with. Mike was a great sport by once again putting up with my crazy ideas and showing his “true love”. What a guy!
The following entry is our last post about a race that we ran prior to starting this blog. Although it is ridiculously belated, our trip to New Orleans was one of our absolute favorites on this quest so I am sharing our adventures to perhaps inspire others to add it to a travel checklist.
We figured that running in New Orleans would be fun. And it was. But experiencing NOLA, as we learned it was referred to, went beyond our expectations. In keeping with our goal of escaping from Maine winters, Mike had proposed the Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon in New Orleans in February 2014. We dutifully put in our long miles despite desperately cold temps and snowy roads. As we trudged along, visions of a warmer climate kept us going…literally.
We arrived at Hotel Provincial on Rue Chartres and were delighted to find that the city was decorated for Mardi Gras although the height of the season was still a few weeks away.
After a few minutes in the room, we hopped on the elevator to head out to the packet pick-up. We were excitedly chatting when we realized the elevator wasn’t moving. Pushing buttons did nothing to change this. We were stuck in the elevator.
I snapped a photo while we waited in the elevator to capture this moment…and to help distract me from my impending claustrophobia. I had the hotel number in my phone and amazingly there was service in the elevator
“Hello, I’m calling because my husband and I are stuck in the elevator and we wondered if you could help us out.” They said they would call the elevator repair people and offered to send someone over to us while we waited. Shortly, we heard the pleasant voice of the lovely employee dispatched to attend to us. She kindly offered to sing to/with us but we opted for small talk. In a surprisingly reasonable amount of time, the elevator repair people arrived.
They worked for a while but we remained contained in our little space. Eventually, after some movement, the doors opened and we found ourselves at eye level with the floor. Although we could have hoisted ourselves up and out, they cranked some more and the next time the doors opened we walked right out – back at the floor where we had started. We took the stairs down a flight and saw the employees that had been sent to keep us company chatting outside the closed elevator doors. We introduced ourselves as the couple that had been stuck in the elevator, thanked them for their help, and left the building.
We boarded a trolley for the Convention Center where the packet pick-up was located. Another couple about our age sat across from us and mentioned that they were running the race. We told them we were running, too. They told us that the woman was trying to run a marathon in every state. We told them that we were trying to run a race (albeit not a marathon) in every state, too. As we chatted, they told us their son was getting married on June 7th and we said our daughter was getting married on June 7th, too. At this point I began to worry they thought we were some sort of copy cat weirdos despite the fact it was all coincidentally true.
After picking up our packets we returned to the vicinity of our hotel to look for a place for dinner. The Palm Court Jazz Cafe looked intriguing and they had a table available so we went in. We were exhausted, having begun our travels from Maine before the crack of dawn, and gratefully relaxed with a drink while a band assembled on the stage just feet from our table. When we heard the first notes of jazz music I began to realize just how integral music is to New Orleans. The music was absolutely phenomenal. We truly couldn’t stop exclaiming over our good fortune to have happened into this spectacular restaurant with amazing food and unexpected and absolutely fabulous live jazz.
We returned to our hotel, took the stairs to our room, and fell into a blissfully deep sleep.
The next day we walked the few blocks from our hotel to Jackson Square. Those blocks were lined with quintessential New Orleans architecture.
Jackson Square was filled with artists, performers, and musicians.
As we strolled along we encountered a young man sitting behind an old-style typewriter perched on a tiny table. His sign said, “Pick a subject. Get a poem.” We, of course, told him about our quest. He told us to come back in half an hour and he’d have a poem for us.
This is one of our most unique and cherished travel mementos.
A number of canine friends caught our attention.
This dog lay perfectly still and drew a great crowd and plenty of donations for his “proper burial”. When I bent over to add my dollar he turned his head and opened his eyes which elicited a laugh from the spectators.
Although we didn’t venture into the Lower Ninth Ward where Hurricane Katrina had wreaked the most devastation in New Orleans nine years earlier, the impact that catastrophe had on the city was still widely evident. Artisans in Jackson Square used materials salvaged from the wreckage to create works of art. Bookstores sold reading material on the subject. The event was mentioned in conversations. Virtually every aspect of the city offered a reminder of what the residents had endured but also reflected their strength in rebounding from this tragedy.
On a much lighter note a bonus of our trip was an opportunity to visit with Victoria, a great friend of Matt and Amelia’s who would be a part of their upcoming wedding. Not only had she provided us with a fabulously detailed list of possible places to visit and things to do while in the city, she also arranged to take us out to dinner at a popular seafood restaurant, Superior Seafood. Mike and I thoroughly enjoyed our evening and Victoria’s gracious company and conversation.
It was still dark the next morning as we left our hotel to walk to the race. The streets were foggy as other runners silently joined the stream of people heading to the start until a veritable parade of runners poured into the staging area. The race was organized by corrals and we walked several blocks and turned down another street before reaching our starting spot.
The scenic course traveled through various New Orleans neighborhoods with musical entertainment including jazz, rock, Cajun, blues, country and high school bands lining the course. We particularly appreciated the sense of divine support from the gospel singers clad in choir robes as we approached the finish line.
We crossed the finish line in our traditional hand-in-hand fashion.
Although there was some post-race entertainment, we were ready to hit the town to truly embrace NOLA after having refrained from all of the “fun” the city offers prior to the race.
a drink that the day before we had enviously watched people sip while strolling through the streets.
Our spur of the moment decision to take a pedicab tour provided us with an unexpectedly rich insight into New Orleans.
Our driver recommended Three Muses on Frenchmen Street for dinner.
The restaurant was cozy and lively, offering a variety of music, delectable food, and opportunities to easily converse with fellow diners seated inches away. We loved it. On our walk back to our hotel we gathered with others to watch several boys tap dancing on the sidewalk. This was one of many impromptu performances we enjoyed during our stay.
We loved immersing ourselves in New Orleans.
This description of a potential residence caught our attention.
music on virtually every block,
and the culture
created an experience that made our run in Louisiana particularly fabulous.
As we reluctantly checked out of our hotel the next morning we were amused that the desk clerk encouraged us to write a review of our stay on an online site. We thought that perhaps she was a tad optimistic given our elevator adventure. But actually that experience had just added a fun story to be woven into the myriad of others that are giving dimension to these quest journeys.
Quest Race #: 16
Date: February 2, 2014
The Bottom Line: The Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon was a flat, festive race but New Orleans itself was the true prize in this trip.
I heard the text ping as Mike and I headed into the second mile of the Shamrock Run in Richmond, VA. Although I didn’t look at the message then, I was pretty sure I knew what it would say. When Amelia ran back to us from the direction of the finish line she confirmed what I had quietly been anticipating. She was the first female finisher!
We had known that Richmond would be the site of our Virginia race ever since our niece, Annie, moved there a few years ago. When we chose this race in late January, Amelia signed up for the race, as well, and Hannah and Todd signed on for the trip. Having run the majority of our quest races on our own, it was such a treat to have Amelia’s husband, Matt, Hannah and Todd, and Annie and Sam braving the chilly temperatures and cheering us on.
Having personal photographers was an added bonus. Annie snapped this shot of Amelia at the start.
And Hannah captured this photo as Amelia zoomed to a win and PR finish. I love the outline of her shadow.
Amelia had been putting in the miles and hard workouts to attempt a PR. We were thrilled that she had accomplished her goal and that we were all able to celebrate with her.
My winter training was decidedly less stellar but we had a good run and were pleased with our finishing time. I even ended up with third place in my new age-group.
Hannah took this photo of Mike and me finishing. We’ve decided she should always come along. We love her company and she took one of my best finish line photos. Plus having her take pictures alleviates the need for our signature awkward post-race selfie.
I think that the person behind us looks a bit like a leprechaun, albeit a big one.
We were a bit dismayed to hear the announcement at the starting line that they wouldn’t be holding an awards ceremony after the race as they had advertised on their website. They had also promoted post-race live music at the brewery. That didn’t happen either. But since we had our own enthusiastic crew to celebrate with we toasted Amelia’s win and enjoyed having the opportunity to share our race experience with family and friends.
We had plenty of time for other fun throughout the weekend. Annie and Sam provided outstanding hospitality and expertly steered us to one perfect restaurant or activity after another.
and dinner at Vagabond on Saturday topped off with a leisurely visit to Carytown on Sunday provided us with a well-rounded sampling of some of Richmond’s delights.
Sure, venturing to unfamiliar locations, exploring the local venues, and chatting with strangers on our own has resulted in many memorable adventures on our quest. But having the opportunity to spend the weekend with people we know and love and celebrate Amelia’s win truly made completing our 28th state race awesome.
Quest Race Number: 28
Date Run: March 12, 2017
The Bottom Line: Running a race accompanied by family and friends is something we hope will happen again. With 22 states left on our quest list there should be plenty of opportunity for more festivities, great photos, and fast finishes.
Some portions of our Washington State and Oregon trip were planned in advance. We had registered for our races and made reservations at two hotels. But we had opted to leave some flexibility in our plans. There was so much flexibility, in fact, that after our visit to Mount Rainier National Park we had nothing else on our agenda for a few days.
Thanks to this priceless Mother’s Day gift from Hannah,
and a bit of research we eagerly headed to Walla Walla, Washington. Besides being a stellar wine area, I just couldn’t resist being able to say I had been to Walla Walla, Washington.
Leaving Mount Rainier National Park meant re-entered “civilization”. Cellphone service suddenly returned in a barrage of pings as day-old messages popped up from our daughters. They were checking in to see if everything was alright since they hadn’t heard from us in 24 hours. As much as we appreciate modern technology, once we had realized there was no service on the mountain we had stepped back from our typical urge to share our spectacular experience via Snapchat, texts, and Instagram. We snapped photo after photo but delayed sharing the experiences until we had left which meant we were truly able to immerse ourselves in the moment.
As we continued on our drive we suddenly realized that the landscape had changed dramatically and unexpectedly from verdant woods to this.
We drove through miles of rocky hills that were punctuated by acres of irrigated vineyards and orchards.
There were scores of buildings like this along our route with wooden or plastic apple crates stacked stories high.
We stopped at a road side market selling the famous Walla Walla onions.
Tired and hungry as we drove down Walla Walla’s tree-lined streets that hot August night, these signs assured us the trip had been worth it.
A dinner of scrumptious sandwiches at Olive paired with a glass of wine from their expansive wine list revived us.
The next morning we enjoyed an early run through neighborhoods close to our motel. Having an opportunity to see the regional architecture in new locales is something we have appreciated as we’ve been on this quest.
We loved the quirky coffeeshops that we spotted throughout the trip. Living in Maine, we can count on a Dunkin Donuts every few miles. However, we were much more impressed with the individual creativity of these western caffeine kiosks.
We were determined to take advantage of at least one of the multitude of tasting rooms in downtown Walla Walla before heading out to our next destination. As a result, we were in the Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room at 10:30 in the morning…and we weren’t their first customers.
Although we had chosen Spring Valley due to their early opening time, in retrospect we didn’t think we could have made a better choice. It is a family-owned and operated vineyard whose history in the area goes back for generations. The wine tasting was extensive, sophisticated, and delicious and the staff was cordial and impressively informative.
Although the layout of numerous tasting rooms within a few downtown blocks makes it conducive to multiple samplings within a single stroll, we were content to hit the road and head towards the Columbia River Gorge. I had made reservations at the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Oregon before leaving home to celebrate our 37th anniversary (a day early). As we drove to Hood River the landscape was mesmerizing once again. The wind turbines were everywhere. We couldn’t stop exclaiming about them and, of course, taking more pictures.
Once we arrived at the Columbia River we were even more enthralled.
The hotel was exactly what I had hoped for with its elegant, historic accommodations, gorgeous views, and impeccable service.
As we settled into our riverside room we were treated to an opportunity to watch scores of windsurfers who were zipping along at alarming (to me) speeds. We had read in our road trip book that this area offers some of the best wind surfing in the world.
The placement of the hundreds of wind turbines along the river now made even more sense.
The view from the dining room where we enjoyed a delectable dinner and breakfast was gorgeous.
We wished we’d had time to embark on a bicycle wine tour offered from the hotel.
Although we were reluctant to depart the next morning we were looking forward to our next race in Bend, Oregon.
Along the route a last minute decision to pull off the road into the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint provided us with a spectacular view of another river gorge, some enlightening information about how the bridges were constructed, and the most dramatic signage we had ever encountered.
As we approached the canyon we were relieved to see a solid, waist-high rock wall along the edge. Thinking of the sign that claimed that “many dogs have died here” we could only imagine wildly hyperactive canines who upon scaling the wall well over their heads had inexplicably flung themselves over the edge. Thankfully we could see no way a pup could inadvertently venture too far and slip into the gorge.
A display beside the canyon documented how the bridge was built out from each side until it eventually met in the middle. They showed photos of workers casually traversing a single plank suspended between the two portions. Just looking at the black and white photos left me feeling woozy.
If you look closely you can see the bungee cords hanging from this bridge. We watched several people take the plunge.
We had chosen the Deschutes Brewery Twilight 5K Run as our Oregon race without realizing what a popular area Bend, Oregon is. We were envious of the throngs of people who were swimming, tubing, and paddling down the Deschutes River that runs right through town. We regretted not planning to add more time here in order to take advantage of this spectacular vacation spot.
As the name suggests, the race was run in the evening. I ALWAYS run in the morning, usually before I eat anything and never having had more than tea and toast. So I was consciously calculating what and when to eat prior to the race.
As we drove into Bend we chose a restaurant online and carefully followed our GPS directions to the location. When we arrived at Bangers and Brews I was dismayed to realize they only served sausages…and beer. How had that not been obvious to us? I chose what I thought would be a mild order and hoped for the best. But, alas, I have learned that consuming sausage and beer, even hours before a race, is something I will never do again.
But despite that unfortunate lunch choice and a toasty starting time temperature, we were psyched to be spending our anniversary evening at a race.
We started on the grounds of the Deschutes Brewery and made a loop along the river. The course was scenic and often shady and the route gave us a sampling of the fun this area offers. We ran past people stand up paddle boarding down the river, enjoying cocktails on riverside decks, and generally savoring the gorgeous summer evening.
Mike was a great sport and stayed with me despite my snail pace although he was in much better shape and could have cut several minutes off of our time.
However, we finished hand-in-hand on our 37th wedding anniversary and completed our 27th quest race.
The plentiful beer and great music made for a festive finale. We met a couple from Florida who were spending the summer in Bend. As we often do, we filled them in on our quest and I think we inspired them to give it a try, as well.
Our final destination of our week-long trip was Portland, Oregon. Since we had no reservations yet we used part of our driving time to peruse a number of online sites and apps such as Hotel Tonight, Priceline, and Hotwire to get a good deal on a nice room. We have had great luck with websites that offer you a guaranteed star-level and city area without learning which hotel you are booked in until you commit to purchase the room. We like the suspense, not having to make the final choice, and knowing that we’ve gotten a terrific bargain.
We ended up at Hotel De Luxe which is a boutique hotel within an easy walk of the popular Nob Hill district. The room had nifty features to support the “Hollywood’s Golden Age” era feel that is the hallmark of the hotel.
Vintage music was playing on this retro radio when we entered our room.
We appreciated the efforts to “set the scene” including this new take on “Do not disturb” and “Please make up the room” signs as well as the creative bar cart.
Portland was uncharacteristically hot the day we were there.
After a short walk to NW 23rd Street we revived ourselves by slipping into McMenamin’s Ram’s Head for a fabulously refreshing cocktail.
Then a stop at Salt and Straw satisfied our yearning for something cold and sweet.
Making a choice from this menu was a challenge. Enjoying our choice was not.
It was easy to see why this establishment was a hot spot on a sweltering day.
We made reservations at Papa Haydn then returned later in the evening for an absolutely perfect dinner to top off a completely fabulous trip.
It seemed fitting that this view of the mountains, which had truly been omnipresent throughout our trip, would provide us with our parting image of Washington and Oregon as we flew home.
Quest Race #: 27
Date: August 18, 2017 (our 37th wedding anniversary)
The Bottom Line: Running a race on our anniversary was the absolute perfect way to mark the day. Embarking on this quest to run a race in every state has brought us immense pleasure and tons of surprising adventures together.
We loved visiting Bend and Portland. The Twilight 5K was a festive, scenic race. We only wish we had spent more time enjoying all that the regions have to offer.
While the iconic Space Needle is synonymous with Seattle, flying fish, a ferris wheel that soars over Puget Sound, and a phenomenal blown glass exhibit were what really made our Seattle trip memorable.
Having checked all but four states east of the Mississippi off of our quest list but only three to the west we signed up for races in Washington and Oregon. We flew from Boston to Seattle on Virgin America. This was our first time using this airline and we had a great experience.
The cool purple lighting added a neat ambiance.
Strangely, one of the highlights of our flight was their safety video. And stranger still, when we got on our connecting flight we were actually excited that we would be able to watch the video again!.
We headed directly to Pike Place Market on Saturday morning following a tip from some Washington runners that we had met in Maine earlier this summer.
As soon as we entered the market we knew we were in the right place because the fish market was surrounded by scores of tourists with their cameras poised to snap a picture of a flying fish. When a customer chose a fish the fish monger at the front of the display tossed it to the guys behind the counter. Often the fish flew back and forth a few times accompanied by a distinctive call. I wasn’t able to capture this on video but this excerpt from YouTube depicts it perfectly.
The market is also known for its flowers.
Everyone seemed to be walking by with giant, gorgeous bouquets. One man told us he had paid only $10.00 for his stunning collection of blooms.
We walked a mile from the market to the Space Needle but after discovering that there was a two hour wait to take the elevator to the top we opted for the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit adjacent to it. We paid our admission and planned to wander around the display for a bit. But we were immediately transfixed by the overwhelming color, design, and extravagance of the creations. We truly could not refrain from taking photo after photo. I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere where so many observers also seemed to be overcome by the magnificence of the exhibition.
We left the exhibit a bit stunned by our unexpectedly fabulous experience and made our way back to the market. We were tired, thirsty, and hungry so after climbing a small mountain of stairs back up to the Market we arrived at Red Cedar and Sage.
Just sitting down at the bar felt great but sampling two local beers accompanied by a remarkably delicious egg salad sandwich felt even better. When we were joined by a pleasantly chatty fellow traveler we couldn’t resist convincing him to venture to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit. As we conversed, two complimentary orange rosemary sorbet mimosas were placed in front of us. They were fabulous.
It would have been easy to have wiled away the afternoon drinking and conversing at the bar but we departed and walked the short distance to the Seattle Great Wheel.
The views as we rode over the water were spectacular.
The almost surreal sight of Mount Rainier never failed to thrill us-even when it was more than 60 miles away.
We left downtown Seattle to pick up our race packets and shirts for the Lake Union 10K which we were running the next day. We loved the gender-specific race shirts.
Finding the race location the next morning was a breeze. We thought it was fitting that we could see the Space Needle from that location, too.
As the name suggests, the race takes place around Lake Union. While we waited for the race to begin we wandered down to the waterfront where we were pleasantly surprised to find a display of historic boats.
Strolling along the dock learning about various noteworthy vessels was certainly a new but entertaining way to spending the pre-race time. We encountered a local couple and when they noticed Mike’s Beach to Beacon volunteer shirt we began talking about running in Maine.We urged them to attempt to get into what we think is one of the best races ever.
When the race started we joined about 1200 other runners on the course around the lake. The mostly flat course traveled through lake-side neighborhoods, across two draw bridges, and along various paved trails.
We were pleased with our finishing time and the completion of our 26th state.
Notice the Space Needle popping up behind my head.
A signature feature of this race is the post race breakfast provided by Portage Bay, also the major race sponsor.
We were thrilled that the beneficiary of this race is Girls on the Run. I even chose Girls on the Run on my Charity Miles app and wracked up an additional donation while I ran.
We left the race feeling delighted to have completed another state and eager to continue with our traveling adventure.
The story continues in our next post-Whidbey Island and Mount Rainier National Park.
Have you been to Seattle? What was your favorite part?
Do you use the Charity Miles app to earn money for terrific causes?
Quest Race: #26
Date Run: August 14, 2016
The Bottom Line: The Lake Union 10K was a pleasant, scenic race in Seattle which provided us with the opportunity to explore Seattle and support a fabulous cause.
With only a couple of weeks to go before Amelia and Matt moved away from Pittsburgh, we finally arranged a race in nearby Ohio. Matt’s M.B.A. graduation from Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University offered the perfect opportunity to coordinate a visit and a race.
Perusing our traditional trusty race resource, Runningintheusa.com failed to locate any Ohio races in the area close to Pittsburgh. But after doing a little research, I found the Austintown Lion’s 21st Annual “5K in May”. With less than an hour and a half drive from Pittsburgh and a 9:45 a.m starting time, this seemed like exactly what we needed to check Ohio off of our quest list.
Matt’s parents, Bill and Terry, kindly offered to accompany us to the race. We all enjoyed the scenic rolling farmland and the opportunity to visit during the drive to Austintown. Thanks to excellent details on the race entry form, we arrived exactly at the starting location right on schedule, thus sparing Terry and Bill the “excitement” of navigation challenges that we have endured when traveling to a few other races.
The rainy forecast made us particularly thrilled to discover that registration and other race activities took place in an attractive heated building with indoor facilities. It proved to be the perfect spot for our spectators to be able to watch the race and stay cozy and dry.
We seldom have companions for our races so this was a real treat. Bill had the foresight to take a photo of us before we headed out into the rain to document our pre-race status.
He even got a shot of us at the starting line. Normally if we have any visual documentation at the start it’s an awkward selfie or a random shot of the crowd.
The group of runners who lined up at the start may have been small but it was undeterred by the weather. After a few brief announcements, we were off and running.
The race took place at the Austintown Township Park and was run on a pleasant gravel trail that wound through woods and past a small pond.
The route is a double loop that goes past the main building where registration and awards took place. Terry and Bill were able to see us four times during the race without having to leave the building. But being the great sports they are, they even popped out to cheer us on as we ran by. There was excellent volunteer support along the route, including a water stop which we ran past twice.
We loved the course, despite the rain, and were pleased with our time. Here is our post- race shot where we are looking (and feeling) decidedly soggy.
Numerous door prizes were distributed and Mike and I were lucky enough to both win something. I won a bucket packed with Avon treats.
The prizes also included many gift certificates to local restaurants. Since we were all getting hungry we were keeping our fingers crossed that Mike would receive one of those…and he did, which allowed us to later redeem his prize at the Korner Restaurant on our way home.
I was thrilled to win second place in my age group.
As I went up to receive my medal I commented to the announcer that we had chosen their event for our Ohio race in our quest to run a race in every state. There was a kind response from the other runners and spectators when he shared this with the group. I think it drives Mike crazy when I do this but I can’t resist sharing our enthusiasm for our adventure. I also have found that people seem to appreciate knowing that their race had a special attraction.
What started out as a random race to check Ohio off of our quest list, once again became an event filled with unexpected bonuses. It was a well organized race with a pretty course and generous awards and prizes. We had an opportunity to meet wonderful people, including the woman who won my age group who is on her own quest to run twelve races this year. Having Terry and Bill join us made the trip much more fun and provided vastly better race photography!
Ohio is the 25th state in which we have run. It seems fitting that rather than marking this halfway point milestone with a fancy race in a flashy destination, we once again were treated to the unexpected pleasures of a small race in a less famous location. Our experience here solidified the philosophy that has emerged during our adventure. It is the journey, not just the destination, that truly matters.
Quest Race #: 25
Date Run: May 14, 2016
The Bottom Line: We loved everything about this race! We only regret that it’s unlikely we will have a chance to see the people we met again and that Bill and Terry aren’t going to be able to accompany us to and provide outstanding support at the next 25 races.
When Mike and I were in Boston on Saturday we unexpectedly came across the Janji pop-up store. I had seen some Instagram posts recently and had been vaguely aware of a Newbury Street location. However, I was unfamiliar with this company and the work they are doing. So when we walked by their storefront with their company motto on the window, I was excited to have a chance to go in.
We were met by Eugene, the engaging store manager, who filled us in on the company’s mission. Every piece of clothing that is purchased provides quality drinking water for a person in a designated country for an entire year! After hearing that, I was determined to buy something -a real sacrifice, I know!
As I began browsing through the nifty racks created from metal water pipes the challenge became narrowing down which item(s) to buy because the clothing is so uniquely appealing. I decided on a long sleeve shirt adorned with giraffes that will provide water for someone in Kenya and a windbreaker that benefits someone in Guatemala.
Thank you, Hannah, our fashion designer daughter, for the use of your dress form to showcase this great shirt.
I love the lining of this windbreaker.
We had an opportunity to meet the company founders, Mike and Dave, as well. They were enthusiastic and welcoming. Their passion for their mission and running was contagious.
I am thrilled to have became aware of this incredible running apparel company and I look forward to continuing to support their efforts. Janji apparel is available in a number of running stores but they also have a website where you can view their extensive line of running clothing and learn more about their inspiration and work.
The pop-up store on Newbury Street in Boston will be there until May 8. It is located just around the corner from the Boston Marathon finish line. They are offering a variety of upcoming events related to the marathon, running, and fitness. Check out their website for more details.
I encourage you to learn more about this inspirational company. Supporting their mission is easy. Their apparel is exquisite and affordable. By making a purchase you receive the benefit of cool running apparel for yourself while helping another person have the even greater gift of access to water.
Janji means “promise” in Malay. For me, running provides me with the promise of accomplishment, strength, health, and peace. Now when I head out for a run in my Janji apparel I will also carry with me the knowledge that I am indeed “running for another”.
With a hand shake, the deal was sealed. Mike and I were enjoying drinks at our hotel in Boston the night before we were due to fly to Pensacola to begin our trip to run races in Mississippi and Alabama. But the forecast was predicting a winter storm to begin the next morning pretty much at the moment our plane was due to depart. Mike was so sure that our flight would be delayed at least 2 hours that he wagered footing the bill for lunch the next day. I was betting we would be able to escape just in the nick of time.
When we arrived at the airport early the next morning (or what seemed like the middle of the night), our flight was still on time. The plane was boarded on schedule just as the snow began. The pilot informed us that we just needed to go through de-icing and we’d be on our way. After an interesting but slow de-icing process we finally took off…about an hour late. We had about an hour layover for our connecting flight in Charlotte so this delay did not bode well for making this connection. Throughout the flight I was able to monitor the status of our next flight (on time, of course) and determine which gates we would arrive at and depart from (different terminals, of course). We landed with 20 minutes before our next flight was due to depart. Figuring we had nothing to lose, we opted to try to make it to the plane before it left. We bolted from the plane and began running through the terminals to our next gate. You might think that as runners, we’d be all set for this type of challenge. Our problem is that we had not had the foresight to include running with a backpack and pulling a suitcase into our training. We did learn that you can make really good time when you run on the people-mover conveyor belts. Once we were in the right terminal we only had to run past 28 gates before reaching ours. As our gate came into view the area was alarmingly empty with the exception of the gate attendants at the desk. I waved to them as we careened up to the desk “Home Alone” style. They greeted us by name and called down the boarding tunnel to alert the crew that we were on our way.
As we boarded the plane, the flight attendants pointed out the two remaining seats. I settled into my seat beside a gracious stranger, gratefully caught my breath and said a silent thank you that I had remembered to apply deodorant after I showered at 3:00 a.m.
We had signed up for the Bob Coleman Winter Run 10K in Mississippi on Saturday so planned to drive to Jackson on Friday. Our route went right through Mobile, Alabama where we were running on Sunday so we decided to stop for lunch there on our way. The Dumbwaiter Restaurant came up as a good option on Yelp so we decided to give it a try.
This gumbo was divine.
Mike, being the gracious gentleman that he is, made good on our earlier wager and paid for lunch since we had miraculously arrived on time.
It was chilly, even by Maine standards, the next morning when we arrived at the start of the Bob Coleman Winter Run 10k in Clinton, Mississippi. The drive from Jackson along the Natchez Trace Parkway was beautiful and serene and gave us a preview of our course since the race is run along that road. As we picked up our numbers and shirts and made the inevitable trip to the (amazingly short) port-a-potty line I was struck with the thought that no matter where we are running, runners are always the same. It was somehow reassuring to be surrounded by a group of like-minded, enthusiastic, pleasant individuals even though we were in a completely unfamiliar location.
Somehow Mike ended up being #1, confirming what we’ve known all along.
The relatively small group of 10K runners gathered at the start and after a few announcements we were on our way along the scenic route.
We ran along the side of the road since the route was not closed to traffic. Several police cars traveled up and down the course to ensure that drivers were cautious as they drove past us. The biggest obstacle for us (me) was watching out for raised reflective markers along the painted line. We don’t have these very helpful traffic markers in Maine due to repeated plowing of the roads so it was a bit of a new experience.
We felt great as we ran along the route. Although it was chilly and there were no leaves on the trees, the sound of songbirds definitely made it feel more spring-like than the weather we had just left.
The race benefited CARA-Community Animal Rescue and Adoption which is a local no-kill animal shelter. Having adopted many animals over the years from shelters in our area, we were pleased to be able to support this cause. Mike continued his lucky streak and won a nifty neon orange knit cap in the after-race raffle.
Here is our requisite awkward post-race selfie.
After quickly showering and packing up we left our hotel and headed to the nearest Waffle House for our post-race breakfast. Being Northerners, we had never been to what I’ve heard is a veritable institution in the south. Bon Appetit had a great article about Waffle Houses and I had heard on NPR that FEMA actually rates a disaster based on the level of operation at the local Waffle House. Getting to the closest one meant driving about two miles. They are everywhere, not unlike Dunkin Donuts in the north.
I’m blaming it on the post-race high but I was almost giddy to be eating at a Waffle House. I could hardly keep from blurting out that I was a newbie to our waitress. (Well, I think I may have actually told her but, like everyone else we encountered on our trip to the south, she was very friendly and hospitable despite having an endorphin-crazed Northerner on her hands). Pathetic, I know, but true.
Because Mobile was in the midst of its Mardi Gras, we had decided to head back there after the Mississippi race in order to experience more of the festivities. Once in the city we noticed that the majority of people were carrying empty bags. We knew that beads were often thrown off of floats but we were intrigued that spectators were clearly anticipating some significant loot.
We hadn’t eaten since our Waffle House experience so happily returned to the Dumbwaiter Restaurant. Since we just wanted a drink and appetizers we sat at the bar where we chatted with the bartender who filled us in on the Mobile Mardi Gras, which is actually the country’s original Mardi Gras.
Mike sampled a couple of beers including a Lazy Magnolia that he loved.
We liked this glass so much I bought one to add to our collection.
The Dumbwaiter’s green tomato stack and baked oysters bienville were a perfect pre-parade indulgence.
The Dumbwaiter Restaurant is just around the corner from the parade route so finding a spot to view the parade was easy. As we waited for the parade to begin we were surprised to be entertained by the Mobile motorcycle police officers as they drove in circles, zoomed up and down the road, and generally “cowboyed around” (Mike’s phrase) as they patrolled the area prior to the start of the parade. I later wondered if the Mobile police department is able to recruit new officers readily when young parade spectators are inspired to join the force after watching the fun the department exhibits during the parades.
Once the parade began, Mike and I were stunned by the incredible floats that the Mystics of Time presented.
Masked riders on horseback preceded most floats. As horse owners,we were truly impressed with the calm, steadfast horses that didn’t seem phased in the least as their riders flung strings of beads into the screaming crowds, while marching band drums beat so loudly they reverberated in our chests, and spectators hung from open second floor windows and called for things to be thrown to them.
You can see the masked throwers on this float.
People were at every second story window. Some even held nets out in order to collect the flying goods.
The high school marching bands were plentiful and impressive.
As the parade continued we went from casual spectators to completely enthralled participants as we waved and yelled to encourage them to “Throw me something, Mister!”. We were rewarded with beads, Moon Pies, a glow stick, giant sunglasses, a huge plastic toothbrush, a plastic oinking pig, a ball, and a plastic cup which conveniently listed the next five Mardi Gras dates. Luckily, a small boy was standing next to us so we were able to share/unload the items we didn’t want to pack into our suitcases. But we left the parade festooned with beads and more.
We had chosen to run in Mobile after reading about the Joe Cain Classic 5K race. The Mardi Gras theme appealed to us (even before we knew there was a full-fledged Mardi Gras in the city, as well). So it was not surprising to find the race volunteers dressed in extravagant Mardi Gras attire. Mike and I adorned ourselves with the beads we had nabbed the night before and felt ready to join the festivities.
The out and back course is billed as flat, fast, and ugly…and I don’t think they were just referring to me in this photo, although that certainly is awful! We ran past the jail and as the race website describes it, “a scenic scrap yard”. The proceeds from this race benefit challenged athletes.
We had a good run and were pleased with our efforts.
But the best part of the race was the block party after we ran. We have run a LOT of races and we’ve decided this was definitely the best after-race event we’ve ever been to. The block party was held on a little side street a few blocks from the end of the race. Houses were decorated for Mardi Gras.
The non-stop music was fabulous and absolutely added to the very festive vibe. There was a huge array of food including Southern treats like grits and pimento cheese sandwiches. We had enjoyed two beers by 9:30 a.m. and it seemed perfectly normal given the party atmosphere.
“Joe Cain” was at the party, as well!
We would have loved to stay longer and hang around for the official Joe Cain Day parade but, alas we had to head back to Pensacola to catch our flight. It was tough to leave such a great party but we consoled ourselves with lunch at Felix’s Fish Camp on our way out of town.
This provided us one more chance to drink sweet tea and sample more Southern cuisine. The atmosphere was fun and the service was excellent. We left Mobile reluctantly but grateful that we had, once again, had an opportunity to explore a new region with all of the varied food, drink, and experiences that it had to offer.
States: Mississippi and Alabama
Dates Run: Bob Coleman Winter 10K-February 6, 2016
Joe Cain Classic 5K – February 7, 2016
Race #: 23 and 24
The Bottom Line: Arranging to run two races on consecutive days took a bit of planning but the effort was totally worthwhile. The Bob Coleman Winter Run was a lovely 10K along a scenic, quiet historic route. We were pleased to be able to support CARA, the local animal shelter, with our registration fees.
Serendipitously ending up in Mobile during the height of Mardi Gras was a true highlight of our adventure. Although being on this quest to try to run a race in every state tends to interfere with our desires to return to places we have visited, we have already earmarked the Joe Cain Classic as a race we truly hope to run again.