Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Walking UK's Coast to Coast path

“Eli and Gem,” the handwritten sign on a small whiteboard in a Lake District village in the UK read, “on a walk on the wild side.”

The two British women who signed their names weren’t kidding. They’d allowed themselves 14 days to walk 191 miles from the east to the west coast of England carrying everything they needed to eat, sleep and survive in enormous packs on their backs. (Gem, we discovered later, considered her selfie stick an essential!)

When we met them, they were a bit down but far from out. “We’re tired of navigating,” they admitted following a day when they’d taken a wrong turn and ended up bushwhacking their way up a steep, rocky slope, been drenched by needing to walk through a waterfall, and wandering for several hours not knowing where they were.

Yes. They had a guidebook with maps, but it is no simple task to stay on the appointed trail during this increasingly popular walk. It’s almost as if the sign-posting powers took delight in withholding markers in the spots where they are most needed. I can just hear a Brit insisting, “What fun would it be if the trail were all properly marked? Take all the adventure out of it, you know.”

Being directionally challenged myself, I was so happy to be part of our walking group that included expert map readers and a willingness to consult at every turn. Over six days and 85 miles, we did not get lost. Our trip took us from the tiny seaside village of St. Bees to Kirkby Stephen, a small town less than half way to the end of the Coast to Coast path at Robin Hood’s Bay. Following their “bad day” Eli and Gem became part of our group which added tremendously to our enjoyment.

We had such a good time that there’s been some serious talk of returning next year to do the second half of the trail that Alfred Wainwright devised in 1972.  He was already well known for his guides to walking England’s Lake District when he walked across the width of his native land and wrote a guidebook describing his path. Since that time up to 10,000 people annually attempt the trek.

In typically British understatement, our guidebook by Henry Steadman describes the path as “a long, tough walk.” All you need, it says, is “suitable clothing, a bit of money, a backpack full of determination and a half-decent pair of calf muscles. In the 190-odd miles from seashore to seashore you’ll have ascended and of course descended the equivalent height of Mount Everest.”

I think the seven of us who set out together all felt as if we’d stepped totally out of our everyday lives during this magical week. For me, the joy came from the companionship, the charm of English villages, precise tiny gardens, small winding roads, ancient stone walls, countless sheep grazing in the fields, the exhilaration of having nothing more to do than put one foot in front of the other for as long as eight hours a day and the ever-changing weather from mist, fog and mizzle (that’s a combination of fog and drizzle) to an occasional visit from the sun.

I’m ready to go back!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Names and letters

What’s in a name? What’s in even a single letter in a name? I’ve been pondering these questions in some weird ways lately.

This morning when I addressed an envelope, I included my maiden name in the return address, I’m sure the first time I’ve used it since my last name changed so many years ago. I was so relieved to have a simple, easy to pronounce name that I never considered incorporating “Frey” into my official signature.

I was tired of having it spelled Frye, being pronounced “Fray” and being referred to as a “small fry.” The only problem I’ve ever encountered with “James” is having people assume it is my first name resulting being addressed as a mister instead of a mrs/ms, and that hasn’t happened very often.

So why this spontaneous use of Frey? I think it is because I suddenly feel closely connected to my past and my extended family having recently spent time at Fort Frey, a home in Palatine Bridge, New York, recently returned brought back into the family by a cousin, Jon Frey, who has strong feeling about history and family. The place was built in 1739 and was sold out of the family in the early 1950s. Jon and his wife, Gail, spend most weekends there and they welcome all family members who want to pay a visit.

Thank goodness, I’ve been thinking, that this cousin does not have an “h” in his first name.  Unlike the “Johns” who are my brother, another cousin and a second cousin. Those are the live ones. After reading some family history and visiting the tiny graveyard close by Fort Frey, I’m totally confused by the John Freys that appear generation after generation interspersed with a nearly equal number of Henrys—too much already!

The huge benefit of this visit last month is the connection that is forming as long-lost family members are beginning to communicate with each other. We’ve found that we have lots of catching up to do. I’d be very surprised if the independent-minded members of this group ever actually committed to getting together for a reunion, but who knows?

I never thought I’d use my Frey name ever again and today I did. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Sunday morning walk

After running two races within a week and with a six-day, 83-milk walk on the horizon, I decided to quit running for a while and walk, just WALK. At 7 a.m. last Sunday morning, three of us met at Edora Park and set off for downtown Fort Collins on a classically clear Colorado day. Snow covered peaks towered in the distance, pale blue sky above and just a touch of an early morning breeze.

We set off on the bike trail and in minutes encountered an enormous old turtle parked sedately in the middle of the path. Once he sensed our presence, he lumbered off down the bank and plopped himself into the river.  A few more minutes and we came upon his buddy, equally old and just as big, partly covered with green weedy stuff that sort of served as camouflage. This guy wasn’t shy, or perhaps he thought himself sufficiently disguised. He stayed parked right there in the trail as we admired him. The proverbial hare we saw a bit later scurrying across our path as we approached a water obstacle.

 There’s been enough rain in these parts lately that the river has swelled above its banks and across some parts of the bike path. We took off our shoes and waded into the cool water. It felt good, but when we came to the next fording opportunity we decided instead to find another path. Winding our way to Hoffman Mill Road, we discovered the old Nix Farmhouse and the City of Fort Collins Natural areas headquarters, places I hadn’t seen before.

Before long we could see what had once been a golf course, now sprouting the fast-rising Woodward Governor headquarters. The company has already planted hundreds of trees, created little paths leading to the river and placed  benches close by.

By the time we reached Old Town, we’d been on the road close to two hours and were ready for a break and some food. We bypassed a long line waiting to get into the popular Silver Grill and opted instead for the Little Bird Bake Shop where we found lots of goodies, friendly people and a perfect place to sit for a bit.

Refreshed, we made our way to Mason Street and followed the MAX route south for a while before picking up the Spring Creek trail headed east. I couldn’t help thinking how nice it was to do an “urban walk” and still be able to spend more than half our time on dedicated bicycle trails. By the time we reached Edora Park, we’d walked 12
miles and the day was still young. We weren’t exhausted. I couldn’t help wondering how we might feel if we’d added another nine miles to our trip.

We’ll find out soon enough. The walk we’ve planned through the Lake District in Northern England starts with a 16-miler and ends with a 21-mile day. In between the mileage ranges from eight to 14 miles and all but the last day’s walk are labeled “strenuous.” That last one is dubbed “long-moderate.”

We’ll see how it goes! Stay tuned and I’ll report.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Another race turns 37

Two of my favorite races turned 37 this year—the Bolder Boulder 10k in Colorado and Freihofer’s 5k for Women in Albany, New York.  Both are community festivals in the very best sense of that concept. I think that’s why they’ve endured and prospered over so many years. It’s also because of a core of dedicated race organizers and volunteers who work all year long attending to the thousands of preparatory details required to make these events successful. And where would these races be without the commitment of loyal sponsors who return year after year to provide funding?

These races draw elite runners from all over the world. Both races make significant commitments to charities. And these days, because they’ve been around for so long, both races have become “must do” events for many. John Tope of Denver, elite runner recruiter for Freihofer’s, is an example. Before he left for Albany, he HAD to run the Bolder Boulder because he’s done every single one of them. Despite the fact that he injured an Achilles tendon at the 1k mark, he HAD to hobble through the entire race or face ending an era. As a result, he gimped around at Freihofer’s protecting his sore foot with a borrowed boot about five sizes too small for him.

This year it was a bit of a squeeze for me to fit both races in immediately following a trip to Maine for a college graduation, but thanks to the friendly skies, it worked. Following the Bolder Boulder on May 25, I hopped a red-eye ride to Albany in time for a visit to Southgate Elementary School on Friday morning, the day before the New York race. One-hundred-plus highly energetic 4th 5th and 6th graders awaited.

“How many races have you run in your life?” one kid asked.

“I have no idea,” was my reply. “But I’ve been racing for 39 years, probably about 15 to 18 races a year. You do the math.”

A few minutes later a boy in the middle of the room piped up: “I did the math,” he said proudly.

Some questions were tougher. ‘If you had to choose between running and writing, which would you choose?” Given the circumstance of the moment, I had to say running.

Freihofer’s draws 4,000 women. More than 50,000 take off in 50-some staggered waves over a two-and-a half-hour period to tour the city of Boulder on their feet. The women’s race runs past the stately New York State Capitol building and swings through a shady Washington Park before returning to the capitol area. There are all sorts of teams: mother-daughter, grandmother-mother-daughter, sister-sister and family and friends. There are corporate teams and club teams and a big contingent of women who’d been training for 10 weeks to run their first 5k.

Nancy Gerstenberger, 85, running in her hometown, completed the course in 1:05:24 to become the oldest finisher. Winner Emily Chebet of Kenya took 15:38 minutes to cover the same ground.  Both winners. I’ve crossed the country fours years in a row to run a very special 3.1 miles. It’s hard to resist returning every year.