Category Archives: Travel Info

Race Report: Ironman Boulder 2017

Last season was a banner race year for me. Heading into Ironman Boulder I wasn’t sure if this would be a continuing trend or become more of a “hangover” season. Training for this race started early in December 2016, but after a nasty bout of bronchitis in February I lost a few good weeks that set me back. Despite the loss, I was feeling pretty good heading into my taper for Ironman Boulder.

I decided to fly out to Colorado about a week prior to the race to acclimatize to the altitude. I spent about 4 days up near Breckenridge, CO and another 3 days just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park in Grand Lake. This gave me a full week at around 8500 to 10,000 feet elevation, which is a few thousand feet above the elevation of Boulder, which is around 5300. I usually don’t have too much issue with elevation, so I figured this could even make things go a little better than normal.

Mountains, National Park, RMNP, Rocky Mountain National Park, Travel, paddleboard, rockies, sup

SUP-ing on Grand Lake, CO – Rocky Mountain National Park

We got down to Boulder on Friday before the race and headed right to registration. Registration and the expo was all centered at Boulder High School, which is also where T2 was. Parking in Boulder was a bit messy. There isn’t much parking on the side streets near the high school, but if you head a few blocks over near Pearl Street there are some parking garages. I love how they make you walk so much at these Ironman events. Like 140.6 isn’t enough?! Downtown Boulder, or rather Pearl Street, is loaded with places to eat and shop. It is great for your support crew to spend time while you are taking care of business.

I shipped my bike via TriBike Transport again. I am still loving this service. I just wish that my local bike shop would become a pickup/drop off point so I didn’t have to drive down to Philly twice to drop off and get my bike. Still It is better than shipping it myself or trying to fly with it. I also shipped a bag of gear which slimmed down my checked bag a bit. I was able to pack some tools, bike bag, spare tires and tubes, etc. I picked that up at the expo on Friday, but left my bike for Saturday when I have to come back for run gear bag drop and then take the bike up to Boulder Reservoir.

Ironman Boulder swim takes place in the Boulder Reservoir which is a few miles Northeast of downtown. The reservoir has been both wetsuit and non-wetsuit legal for races in the past, but those were all in August. This season they moved the full Ironman to June and the 70.3 is now in August. Chances are that it would most likely be wetsuit legal for the full in June unless they had an abnormally hot May-June. I think this year it was around 73 F degrees.

Run Bags on the Track

On Saturday morning I dropped off my run bags at the high school and picked up my bike at TriBike Transport in the event expo area. I took it out for a ride along the Boulder Creek Trail which is where the run course would be. I was pretty stoked that there were no big hills on the course. The course was also well shaded and the creek provided some additional cooling as well.  The only downside was that I would be running 26.2 miles on concrete. Not sure what that would do.

Bike Racks at T2 – Boulder High School Football field.

We then headed up to Boulder Reservoir to drop off my bike and my bike gear bag. Again, Ironman doesn’t think 140.6 is enough so it was a long walk to the transition area to drop off my bike and bag. It was really hot Saturday, reaching upwards of 92 F degrees. Fortunately, it was supposed to be a bit cooler on race day.

There was apparently some practice swims at the reservoir earlier in the week and also one on Saturday too. Which I found out later. Ironman did a pretty crappy job communicating this since I only heard about it afterward. I would have really liked to get an open water swim in since I hadn’t done any this season yet,

Instead of cooking my traditional pre-race Sweet Potato Chick Pea Curry dish, I opted for a Massaman Curry(not very spicy) at Basaba Thai Restaurant in Louisville. It was pretty good and seemed to sit well with me. Later I put together my usual race nutrition of Skratch Labs Hydration, Hammer Perpetuem, Amrita Bars, and a couple Honey Stinger Waffles with Peanut Butter.

On Race morning I downed a quick smoothie and some coffee and we headed to the high school from Louisville around 4:30AM. We ended up parking in one of the Boulder Parking garages(free on Sundays) and hoofing it over to the high school. The Special Needs bag drop was, as usual, a additional hike past the high school and back again to get on one of the shuttle buses to go to the reservoir. The shuttles where pretty quick and free flowing. This was the only way to and from the swim start and back again. My wife had to pack accordingly since she would be there for the swim and most of the bike leg. The bike leg comes through the reservoir for each loop of the 3 loop course.

When we got to the reservoir, we stepped off the bus to an amazing sunrise over the water. It was pretty spectacular. Then it was off to get body-marked, drop off water bottles on my bike and then head to the swim start. I said my goodbyes to the wife and seeded myself at the back of the 1:00-1:15 swim group. Denise then came down along the fencing right next to me for a bit until the race staff chased everyone away. Not sure why though.

Boulder Reservoir Swim Start – This was the scene after stepping off the bus in the morning before the race.

SWIM

The Course

The IM Boulder swim course is a one-lap, modified triangle that is swum in a counter-clockwise direction. The entry point and the exit point are about 100 yards from each other. The best thing about this course is that you never have the sun in your face the whole time. The water should usually be a wetsuit swim with the race being in early June, but with the amount of climate change these days, that is not a given.

The start is a rolling start where you seed yourself based on expected finish time. They have a very narrow entry gate that only allows one person through at a time, so every is well spread out. It is kind of nice.

My Take…

The canon blasted and the Pros were off at around 6:10 am. A second blast went off at 6:15 AM  for the Pro women. Then at 6:20 AM, the age groupers started heading into the water.

It took me several hundred meters to get in the groove of swimming since this was the first time in a wetsuit and in open water this year. Eventually, I settled into my normal stroke. Sighting was going pretty well, but the buoys never go by quick enough. The good thing was the altitude did not seem to affect me too much from what I could tell. Others I had spoken with who had done this race from lower elevations said that the swim would be the toughest part in regards to the altitude. I think my acclimatization plan had worked well for me.

I checked my watch a couple times during the swim and saw that I was pretty much on par with my typical Ironman swim pace. The last half mile or so seemed to get a little wavy. Although the waves were coming from the side and back of me, they still were throwing me off a bit. I don’t know what was causing them. The Wind or a safety boat…no idea? Before I knew I was touching the bottom and up and out of the water.

America, Colorado, Endurance Sports, FinisherPix, Full, Ironman, North America, Race, Sports, Triathlon, USA, United States, boulder, multisport, tri

Huh??!

A volunteer had stuck his phone in my face as I came out of the water and I was wondering what the hell we was doing. I ran up the boat launch and almost ran right through the wetsuit strippers. They actually stopped me and I said “Oh yeah I guess I need to ditch the wetsuit?”

T1

The first transition is pretty short from swim exit to when you get your bike. The point from getting your bike off the rack to the mount area is a different story. It is probably longer than the swim exit to the bike rack and it is also uphill. Seems especially long since you have your bike shoes on too.

I ran through the lines of bike bags and grabbed my bag from the volunteer. A quick change into my bike gear and I was off. Denise was standing right at the gate before going into the bike pickup area. I ran over to give her a smooch and was off. Once I got the bike it was a nice longer uphill trip, in bike shoes, to the mount area. Finally off on the bike.

BIKE

The Course…

On paper, the course is listed as having 4,436 ft elevation gain. For comparison, Lake Placid is listed as 6898 feet and Mont-Tremblant is 1800 meter or around 5906 feet. Both are well over 1000 feet elevation gain more than Boulder. Also, my Garmin 520 showed an elevation gain of 4944 feet and when corrected on Strava showed 4797 feet.

Ironman Boulder 2017 – Bike Course Elevation

Ironman Lake Placid – Bike Course Elevation

Ironman Mont-Tremblant – Bike Course Elevation (1800m = 5906 ft)

The course starts at the Boulder Reservoir drive above the bike rack area. It consists of 3 roughly 35-mile loops of the following:

Head South out the Boulder Reservoir gates and make a quick left turn and are immediately met with a short, but steep little hill. A nice welcome for your swim legs to bike legs for the start of the first loop. You then make a right turn onto Jay Road and eventually another right on Route 36. This is a gradual uphill for the next 7 miles until you reach the right onto Neva Road. You definitely want to keep things in check on this section.

From the exit onto Neva Road, left on 63rd Street until you reach the left on Nelson Road is about 7-8 miles of mostly downhill to flat. This section is where you can regain some speed lost from the previous section, so hammer it here.

Next, you will make a left onto Nelson Road and life will suck for the next 5 miles until you reach the St. Vrain Road exit. Especially, when you hit this section for the 3rd time. It is about 500-600 feet of elevation gain each time.

The sections on Route 36 are open to two lanes of traffic. So you basically have the shoulder which seems rather narrow and close to traffic. I also had to go around some cars when exiting the ramps off to Neva and St. Vrain, which was a bit too close for comfort.

The next 10 miles back to the Boulder Reservoir is mostly downhill or flat. Again, here is another place you want to hammer and make up for whatever you lost on Nelson Road.

As you enter the Boulder Reservoir you start to feel a sense of relief knowing you finished another loop, but that is quickly eradicated when you hit the little energy stealing incline reservoir drive. Eventually, you pass the band and fans with some downhill and re-energize a bit. Then, oh no another loop. Ugh.

After three of the above loops, you make a quick left and right instead of the right onto Jay Road again. Then you make a right onto the narrow Boulder Creek recreation trail for a mile and a half which is net uphill. Next, you make a left onto 26th Street and head South. The next 3 miles is a rather technical labyrinth of turns making your way back to the Boulder High School culminating in a total of 113.5 miles of fun. Not just 112, so you get your money’s worth here!America, Colorado, Endurance Sports, FinisherPix, Full, Ironman, North America, Race, Sports, Triathlon, USA, United States, boulder, multisport, tri

My Take…

I headed out the gate of the Boulder Reservoir, made a left and immediately hit with a steep little incline. Nice start! What a way to wake your legs up from the hour plus swim where they were just along for the ride. As I showed above,  the Ironman Boulder looked pretty tame compared to Lake Placid, Coeur d’Alene, and Mont-Tremblant. It was listed at over 1000′ less elevation gain than the others. The first uphill section on Jay Road and then left on 36  seemed like there was a pretty good headwind to add a little more resistance.

The first uphill section started on Jay Road, and then turned right on Route 36 until it exited onto Neva Road. It was not terribly steep, but just a constant uphill and false flat in some sections. It also seemed like there was a pretty good headwind to add a little more resistance.

America, Colorado, Endurance Sports, FinisherPix, Full, Ironman, North America, Race, Sports, Triathlon, USA, United States, boulder, multisport, tri

The left onto Neva Road until you hit Nelson was a blast. I was hitting high-20’s and 30’s here pretty easily. Weee!!! I was definitely reclaiming some speed in this section that was lost on the previous. I remember seeing my average speed go from 17’s up to 18.5 or more.

Next up was Nelson Road. Ugh. Again, this didn’t seem too bad on paper, but this one really sucked the life out of my legs. Especially after the 3rd time! Nelson also leads to a right turn on Rt. 36, which has a short uphill.

The weather was pretty nice early on. A lot of cloud cover and a cool wind that seemed to always be hitting me head on. As the bike progressed the clouds burned off and the sun started to blast. I think the heat and the Nelson grind took its toll on my legs. I was feeling it towards the end.

My back was extremely stiff the entire bike. It was causing me to have to have to stretch everytime I hit a downhill. I had never had this stiffness before on any of my long training rides. I didn’t understand it. The only thing I can come up with is that I had not done any open water swims in my wetsuit at all this season and perhaps that had caused it.

Our friend Pat, who we were staying with while we were out there, rode her bike out on the course to cheer me on at different points. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone I knew and it surely was nice to see her out there. I went through 2.5 bottles of scratch in two loops and another two on the second loop. I also took on a couple bottles of water from the aid stations too. I had around 3-4 Amrita bars, a Honey Stinger Waffles Peanut Butter sandwich, and a bottle of Hammer Perpetuem. I don’t think I ever finished the perpetuem though. As the temperature rose, I had less and less of an appetite. This probably didn’t help things.

My Stages power meter actually worked this race since it was dry and it didn’t rain. I was able to watch my power numbers the whole bike ride. I was shooting to stay around or under 0.68 Intensity Factor, which would put me under 300 TSS for the whole ride. I was on track  and actually dropped off a bit on the 3rd loop. That 3rd loop sucked. Not sure if it was the mental aspect of 3 loops, my screaming back or that the heat kicked up, but I kind of tanked on the last loop. And to top it off, I got stung by a bee that flew down my jersey on the 3rd loop.

America, Colorado, Endurance Sports, FinisherPix, Full, Ironman, North America, Race, Sports, Triathlon, USA, United States, boulder, multisport, tri

If you couldn’t tell, I didn’t really like this course. The course being open to traffic was too close for comfort!  There were a couple times where I was stuck behind or had to navigate around vehicles. One time I was actually stuck behind a box truck and was basically drafting it since I could not get around it. Since the course is 3 loops, you have access to your special needs bag 3 times. I guess you can only access it once and then you are done though.

It was such a relief to finally finish the 3rd loop and make the left onto Jay Road instead of a right. The section back to the high school kind of sucked. Riding on the recreation path feels rather odd after being on the road. For some reason it made me not want to go fast. Then it was a series of streets and turns making your way back to the high school which seemed to go on too long. I saw 112 miles come and go and thought “are we there yet?” What the hell?

T2

I finally saw the high school and hit the dismount area. My wife and our friend Pat were standing there. I told them that that was harder than I thought it would be. My wife told me later that I didn’t look good there. Not sure if that was my bee sting or just that I was pretty exhausted.

The distance from the dismount to the high school track seemed really long. Again running in bike shoes on concrete. My feet were also partially numb which actually hurt when I stepped. I dished off my bike to a volunteer as I entered the stadium and then grabbed my run gear bag which was in rows in the track lanes. I stopped a took my bike shoes off since my feet killing me now. Much better.

I entered the tent and took a little longer to get changed into my run gear. It was kind of hot now and I was not sure what lay ahead for me in the run. I finally headed out the change tent, stopped to get re-lubed with sunscreen again and headed out onto the run.

RUN

The Course…

The Ironman Boulder run course takes place entirely on the Boulder Creek Trail recreation path. The good thing about this is that it has a lot of shade and some coolness coming from the creek running right next to it. It also doesn’t have any major hills on it either.

The surface is concrete, which can be rather unforgiving. The course was also open to non-competitors, which could be pretty annoying if you are trying to get a PR. I am not sure if they were supposed to be on there, but no one was telling them to get off.

The course has two out-and-backs, or three, depending on how you look at it. They call it the “Flux Capacitor!” From the start at the high school football field to the first out-and-back is about three miles of slight downhill.  Then, you have the first out-and-back which is about 3 miles total. It is a slight uphill, but very gradual.

The next out-and-back immediately follows. This one is about 4 miles total and no major hills here either. There is a little less shade on this stretch too. Then you head straight back to the start and then past for what I would call the third out-and-back. From the point that you turnaround on the second out-and-back to the turnaround on the third out-and-back is about five miles of gradual uphill the whole way.

And repeat.

America, Colorado, Endurance Sports, FinisherPix, Full, Ironman, North America, Race, Sports, Triathlon, USA, United States, boulder, multisport, tri

My Take…

I started out on the run and saw Denise and Pat standing there as I hopped on the path. My back seemed to be fine on the run and at first thought I might have some running legs. That didn’t last very long though before things started to cramp up. I took my handheld water bottle and filled it with ice and water at every aid station. The legs were obviously not working and I began a walk-run rather quickly.

Immediately, the negative thoughts started to flow. Another DNF? I battled with my head for a while and finally overcame it. I knew I could walk the whole thing, but then I thought about my wife having to stand around waiting for me all day. The first 13 miles was a battle of pushing myself to run, which didn’t last very long. I was so dejected. There were a lot of other people walking too, which made me feel a little better. But that’s not me.

I always feel so unworthy or almost patronized when people cheer for you and you are walking. It is so humiliating. I started playing games of trying to get ahead of some other people. Mostly we were just hopscotching each other all day. Another thing that took my mind off the pain.

Another thing that took my mind off the pain was that the run course was open to non-competitors. There were people whizzing through the athletes on cruiser bikes. Whole families pushing baby carriages.  There was barely enough room for two-way runner traffic, let alone regular people lollygagging. I literally had to stop, during a one of those short bouts of actually running, to get around a family walking down the path. If I was actually having a good race and running I would have been pissed. But I wasn’t.

Eventually, I made it back to the start and saw Denise standing there. She had a slight look of panic on her face, wondering what was going on with me. I broke down a little bit thinking I wasn’t going to finish. Once she realized I was basically fine and could at least walk, she quickly said well at least you can walk and finish. I think that put me at ease cause I was more worried about her having to wait around that long. My whole attitude changed at that point. I told her go get some dinner and I would see her in a few hours.

The second loop was more of the same although this time I had a more positive outlook. Yeah no PR this year, but I was going to finish. There was a lot of people partying and having a good time along the trail, so I just took it in and enjoyed the experience. Maybe that sweet smell in the Colorado air had something to do with my change in attitude too, who knows. LOL!

Something went awry with the GPS on my Garmin(920xt) watch at about the 6 mile point that caused it to add a few miles. This really screwed me up cause I always thought I was farther than I was. I was making sure that each mile stayed under 15min/mi, so I would run as much as I could to keep it under that. I actually started to pick it up a bit and was fearing that Denise would miss my finish.

Finally, I passed the finish line for my last out-and-back section. It was just starting to get dark and they were putting the utility lights on. Fortunately, I still have not had to wear a glowstick to this day. The closer I got to the finish, the more I was running. I could feel it now. I ran the last mile straight through to the finish.Where did that come from? Mike Reilly finally got the full phrase out “Brian Schwind from Alburtis, PA…You are an Ironman!” Funny how he got it right on my worst finish to-date…LOL!

America, Colorado, Endurance Sports, FinisherPix, Full, Ironman, North America, Race, Sports, Triathlon, USA, United States, boulder, multisport, tri

#4 in the books! Not pretty, but done!

I slapped the hands of some random people as I came down the finish chute and shot up 4 fingers as I crossed the line, so someday I can remember my fourth Ironman finish. Not pretty, but got it done!

Overal Time: 14:08:33

The Finish

America, Colorado, Endurance Sports, FinisherPix, Full, Ironman, North America, Race, Sports, Triathlon, USA, United States, boulder, multisport, tri

The finish line was pretty unimpressive after Mont-Tremblant. What no massage? No Poutine? One thing that was nice was that they didn’t fence off the athlete food eating area, so you could sit with your family or wife to eat. The bad thing was there was no where to sit down and eat either. We had to sit on the grass, which is pretty difficult to get to and up from when you just went 140.6 miles. They also had Domino’s pizza which is so lame. What about giving a local pizza shop some business instead of some corporate slop pizza?

I waddled over to the football field to get my bike and gear bags, then dropped my bike off at TriBike Transport. I love TriBike Transport! We walked down the street to a local pizza shop and bought a couple slices to take home. The walk to the parking garage seemed like forever. I threw my stuff in the 4Runner and headed back to Louisville. Another Ironman down.

After Thoughts…

I am still mulling over what went wrong with this race. The only thing I can come up with is the heat got to me. Yeah it wasn’t 107 like Coeur d’Alene was, but I also really hadn’t trained much in temps over 80 degrees. In some of my recent training runs after the race where it has been in the high 80-90’s I was really feeling it. My pace was slow and my heart rather was high. The heat also makes you not want to eat much and that is never good.

Although I was not short of breath from the altitude at all, I wonder if it still has some other effects on your physiology that are not as physically apparent. The dryness at altitude can also play a factor too.

Regardless, I don’t seem to do well at early season races, races on the Western half of the US, and races in warmer temps. This was all of the above. Given that, I will take a finish even if it is 14 hours. It was also NOT my A race for the year. Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid in nice cool September is my A race and the last one for the season. I also still have Rev3 Pocono Half as well. Still a lot to look forward too. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

IM Boulder Week 22 Wrap-Up – Down the Shore

Week 22 was the 2nd of two solid build weeks. At least it was supposed to be. The middle of the week a good blend of two-a-days mixing up some interval/tempo work with some easier Z2 workouts. I was feeling a little fatigued, but not too bad. Good enough to have some decent workouts with intensity.

A Team of horses at an Amish Farm on one of my weeknight rides. Thought it was a cool scene and worthy of a stop. Shot with a GoPro Hero 5 in HDR mode. Not too bad.

Topton, PA. Train restoration.
GoPro Hero 5

We were heading down to Cape May, NJ for the weekend, so I was looking forward to some different scenery for a 4+ hour bike ride. When we arrived on Friday it was quite windy out. I did a easy hour run up and down the streets of Villas, NJ. It is really flat, but the wind provided a little challenge in lieu of the hills.

On Saturday I headed up to the Pine Barrens around Belleplain State Park for my long ride of the week. The roads in this area are either really nice or really bad. The size of the shoulders on the roads make for awesome riding. Some of the roads though are bit in need of repair. The wind showed up again to provide some decent resistance. I stil think that flat courses are not as easy as people think. There is no resting or coasting here. You are just hammering the pedals for 4.5 hours straight! Anyway it was a nice ride.

 

Bayside – Villas, NJ

Sunday did not start off too well. We decided to skip going out for breakfast and I headed to the local Wawa to grab something. I made the mistake of getting this big-ass glazed coffee ring. This really put me down for the count. I decided to delay my long run until we got home since it was still really windy and I was kind of board with all the flat roads.

Congress Hall – Cape May, NJ

Unfortunately, I was still feeling crappy when I got home. I pushed myself out the door for my run, but I was struggling to hit 3 miles. I packed it in and decided give it another shot tomorrow. My legs were sore(yes from a flat 85 mile ride!) and my stomach was feeling really nauseated.

So my week ended up being only 12 hours instead of 16. Next week was supposed to be an easier week, so hopefully things will be turning around soon. I am starting wane in motivation here.

Touring Icelands’ Ring Road

The following post outlines our recent trip to Iceland where we toured this most beautiful country via the Ring Road. The Ring Road, or Route 1, encircles the outer perimeter of entire island. It makes for the perfect guide to view everything this country has to offer. We branched off here and there, but always returned back to the Ring Road. Our trip ended up being about 2000km(1242 miles) total .

We decided to travel “the Ring” in a clockwise direction. The main reason for this was hit the Northern areas first before it got colder since it was late September. You can hit snow at this time of year in those areas and we did see fresh snow on some of the mountain tops in those areas some morning. We also wanted to save the South, which is comprised of the highlights of Iceland for the end. The other way might have been more anti-climatic.

Transportation & Lodging

We chose a small motorhome as our transportation and lodging the trip. Ours was a 3-person which ended up being perfect for us. They do have 2-person ones but they were sold out when we booked our trip. The motorhome is nice because you have a nice bed, bathroom, refrigerator, and cooking. There is also a nice size table and you can relax in there when the weather is bad. There is also ample storage to put stuff so it is pretty easy to unpack your bags a bit.

Heading out for our Iceland Adventure.

We used Motorhome Iceland to rent from which was really just Geysir Rental Car. They were ok, but we had to take the rental car bus from the airport to the Geysir Rental car place and then another guy came in a van and took us to their main office to get the motorhome. Also, the guys that transported us to and from the rental car office, were less than friendly. Especially the guy that took us back there. He just sat in the van and let us take our bags out ourselves.

Our pickup was supposed to be 8 AM, but after all the transporting and going over the vehicle, we didn’t get out of there until at least 10 AM. They also ended up overcharging me $1000 for some reason, but they quickly resolved that once I notified them about.  There are other places to rent, so you may want to check out reviews on some others like McRent and Camper Iceland for example.

You can also rent a “campervan”, which is basically a small utility-type mini-van with some bedding and cooking appliances in them. They are a bit more rustic than the motorhome and from what I saw can get a bit cramped. We saw several people ripping everything out trying to find stuff. Also, they have to cook outside, so when the weather gets really crappy, and it will, they just look miserable. If you are on a budget though they will do the trick.

The motorhome got around 22-23 Miles/Gal when said and done. We drove a total of 2207km, which cost us about $384 USD in fuel. The motorhome runs on diesel to which is a little cheaper in Iceland than regular fuel.

Cellphone/Data/Navigation

Before I left for Iceland I had my iPhone unlocked by AT&T so that I was able to put a local SIM card in when I got to Iceland. I purchased a Vodaphone Starter Kit at the register of the Duty-Free store in the Arrivals Hall baggage claim area. They are about $15 for unlimited calling/texting and about 300mb of data, although mine said it was a special deal with 1GB of data. You can top off your card along the way too, which I did. I think I paid about $20 for another 5GB of so I would not have to worry about it. I left cellular data on the whole time, tethering to my laptop and my wife’s phone, uploading pictures and still only used ~4GB.

Coverage was mostly 3G/4G, but there were only two times that I got no service and it wasn’t for very long. It isn’t super-fast LTE, but it was more than adequate for using Google Maps and uploading a few pics here-and-there.

I used Google Maps on my phone the whole time for navigating. It worked perfectly. I had taken a bunch of paper maps, but only used them for planning where I was going the next day or so. I also had cached the entire maps of Iceland on my phone before I went, so if I lost cell coverage I could still use Google Maps. I don’t think I had to fall back to that very much.

Dining & Food

Dining out in Iceland is super-expensive. This is where the motorhome/campervan pays for itself. Bonus grocery stores are quite prevalent throughout the country and food is much more reasonable in the grocery stores.

Day 1 – Keflavik/Reykjavik to Bogarnes

We arrived into Keflavik airport pretty much on time. We were a little groggy though due to sitting in an exit row without the ability to recline the seat. We grabbed some breakfast in the airport before heading down to pick up bags. The conveyor belt had stopped and our bags were the last ones just sitting on there.

We headed out to the pick-up area for the yellow rental car shuttle bus. It was pouring rain out and really windy. The bus came pretty quick and shuttled us over to the rental car area. We got off the bus too soon because the Geysir office was around the block, so we had to walk through some parking lots to get there. Next, we had to wait for about a half hour until some guy came with a van to take us to the place to pick up the motorhome.

After filling out paperwork and going over the vehicle, we were finally on our way. The road from the airport area to Reykjavik was very exposed and the wind was whipping against the side of the motorhome. I decided to pull off the road and park in a small picnic area just off the highway and we took a nap. About a 3 hour one!

Finally, the wind calmed down and we headed on our way again. Now, we were hungry though and we could not read any signs. In our search for a restaurant we found a Bonus supermarket, so we stopped there to stock up with some food. It was a bit challenging trying to shop when you cannot read the labels. I tried used my Google translate app in offline mode, but that didn’t work. I had even downloaded the entire Icelandic library. We searched near the Bonus for somewhere to eat, but nothing looked that great.

 

Alas, a Thai restaurant was found! We had a really good meal at Krua Thai just off the highway. After filling up our bellu, we were on our way to Bogarnes.

We parked down by the Settlement Center and then walked around the town a bit. It was a quaint little town. During our walk around town, we stopped at a cool little café in Bogarnes called Kaffi Kyrrð. Worth a stop.

We had dinner at the Settlement Center and it was really good. Their bread is amazing! They also had a veggie burger too which I was pretty stoked about. It is expensive, but all meals are in Iceland. This one was worth it.

Campground in Bogarnes

We ended up camping at the campground in Bogarnes. There was no attendant or caretaker, just an honor box. It has electric, toilets and  a nice view of the bay.

Day 2 – Bogarnes to Grundarfjörður(Kirkjufellsfoss)

Enjoying our first breakfast in our motorhome

After a good nights sleep and breakfast in the camper, we headed in a Northwesterly direction towards the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Our first stop was a little brown church that sits among fields of jagged lava rock near the sea called Búðakirkja.

Europe, Iceland, Travel, West

Budir Kirka, church, Snaefellnes, West Iceland, Iceland

We then headed over to Arnastapi where we cooked up some lunch in the parking lot waiting for a passing rain shower to pass. We then sauntered along the coastline hiking trail to the neighboring town of Hellnar. The rocky, basalt lined coast was quite breathtaking. There were a fair amount of people on the trail, but it was worth the hike.

Europe, Iceland, Travel, West

Coastline Between Hellnar and Arnastapi

There is a small cafe at the end of the trail in Hellnar that has really good food. My wife loved the veggie quiche. We took a more direct trail back after we filled our bellies with some snack in Hellnar.

Fjöruhúsið café – Hellnar

We then headed around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, through Hellisandur and eventually getting to the place I had been eagerly awaiting…Kirkjufellfoss. Unfortunately, it poured all afternoon and the tide came in and flooded the easy path up to the waterfall. I tried taking an alternate route through some farmers fields up the road but each time I got drenched when the rain kicked up again. I got in a few shots, but was mostly spending all my time wiping my lens off.

Europe, Iceland, Travel, West, aurorahdr, instagram

Kirkjufellsfoss

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Kirkjufellfoss

We started off camping in a little pull off just down the road outside the nearby town of Grundarfjordur. The wind and rain pounded the camper making it almost impossible to sleep. The wind was hitting the camper sideways and rocking it back-and-forth. I was just waiting for it to flip over. I finally got up and drove into town trying to find a more protected spot.

I ended up parking in the parking lot next to the liquor store and N1 in town with the nose of the camper pointing into the wind. It helped but the wind never ceased until early the next morning.

Day 3 – Grundarfjörður to Siglufjörður

We were awakened quite early the next morning when 2 SUVs packed with Asian tourists pulled in next to us in the parking lot. I didn’t realize it but we were in a car washing area of the N1 gas station parking lot. The one SUV pulled directly behind us within a few inches of our camper. They were all our running around and yelling like it was a fire drill or something.

We hit up the market in the N1 for some more grocery items and fresh coffee before heading back on the road towards the seaside town of Stykkishlomur.

We parked down by the Ferry to Flatey and hiked up onto the hilltop overlook of the ocean.

Stykkishólmur

Lighthouse in Stykkishólmur

We then stopped at Narfeyrarstofa for a really good lunch. Again expensive, but pretty typical for Iceland dining. Must have been a popular place since it was packed by the time we left and I heard waitress say they were booked for dinner that night.

Narfeyrarstofa in Stykkishólmur

After a delicious lunch, we started out on the long drive up to the Trollaskagi Peninsula towards Siglufjörður, or Siglo for short. The drive and scenery were really gorgeous, but there wasn’t a whole lot worth stopping for. We did end up stopping at the northern most tip of the peninsula to catch the sunset while having some dinner.

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Northern Coast of Iceland above Siglufjörður

We then headed into Siglo and setup camp at the campground which is on a patch of grass right in the middle of town. We found a spot to park and setup camp or the camper rather. They had a nice shower in the campground and it felt really good to clean up a bit. It was a Saturday night, so I was in the mood to go out on the town a bit.

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Siglufjörður Campground

The most popular and colorful restaurant in town, Hannes Boy, was a stone’s throw away from our campsite. I could see it was filled with people enjoying their fare on Saturday night. We walked over there and were quickly turned away by the waitress because they were closed for a private birthday party. Really…Closed on a Saturday night??

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Hannes Boy and Kaffi Raudka

Next door to Hannes Boy is the equally colorful Kaffi Raudka. This place has the shortest hours I have seen. Daily from 12pm to 5PM. So naturally they were closed.

We walked around town a bit and never really found anything worthwhile. We spotted the very new looking Siglo Hotel across the docks and headed over there. This place was very nice and open to the public. You could tell this had some American influence to it. I enjoyed a couple Icelandic IPA’s in a nice little lounge area that looked out on the water. Turns out the own had lived in the States for some time and came back to open this hotel. It was a very nice place.

We were abruptly woken by a group of young drunken revelers yelling at the top of their lungs walking down the sidewalk directly behind our camper. One of the disadvantages of camping in the middle of a town. There is another campground just up the hill outside of town too, which was totally empty when we were there. Not as convenient and no bathroom and showers, but probably a little less noisy too.

Day 4 – Siglufjörður to Ólafsfjörður

We managed to get back to sleep and woke at fairly decent hour. We walked through town and found our way to the Aðalbakarí Bakery, which was surprisingly open. I enjoyed some good coffee and some really good fresh baked pastries with some locals and a few other tourists too. Note: public places do not open very early in Iceland. Even places that claim to serve breakfast. It is a bit annoying at first, but if you plan accordingly you get used to it. It is helpful to have a camper with cooking utilities.

We putzed around the camper and caught up on some social media stuff in the later morning. We drove around a bit and found a small ski area up the mountain on the southern part of the town. It was a cool vantage point to see the whole area. The other campground was not too far away and we parked there while we hiked up the mountain side towards the avalanche fencing  on the top of the mountain which is named Hafnarhyrna. It was quite a breathtaking view of the whole fjord.

Pano View of Siglufjörður

We originally planned to stay in Siglo for 2 nights, but at the last minute we decided to head over to the next town of Ólafsfjörður instead. The Siglo campground has good facilities for dumping gray and toilet water as well as filling up with water, so we emptied out the camper before we headed down the road to Ólafsfjörður

The route to Ólafsfjörður is through a long single lane tunnel through the mountain. It was pretty crazy and when cars came through the other way they would sit in little pull-offs that they had every situated through the tunnel Ólafsfjörður felt practically deserted. The campground was totally empty except for us. We walked around the town a bit which seemed almost deserted. It was a Sunday night though, but nothing was open so we just ate in the camper. Another younger couple pulled in the campground and pitched their tent not too far away. It was getting pretty cold that night and I felt kind of bad for them out there while we were nice and toasty in the camper.

Little Church in Ólafsfjörður

The campground attendant stopped by to collect the tariff for the night. He was really friendly guy and we shot the breeze for awhile asking him about life in Iceland.

Day 5 – Ólafsfjörður to Reykjahlíð(Lake Mývatn)

We headed out of Ólafsfjörður pretty early making our way down to Akureyri, the largest city in the north of Iceland. It was rainy pretty hard that morning and the drive was pretty dismal.

We parked in the public parking area in downtown Akureyri. It is sectioned off my the amount of time you are parking there. There was no indication of how you were supposed to designate you paid or not so I was a little nervous when we headed to the little downtown street. I stopped in a tourist information center and asked and the girl said just leave a note on your dash telling what time you parked. Pretty loosey-goosey here. And why don’t they tell you that somewhere when you park? I headed back to the camper and put the note on the dash.

We did a little window shopping in town and stopped in a cafe for a cup of coffee while we waited for the rain to clear a bit. Before we knew it it was time for some lunch.

We made several back-and-forth trips on Hafnarstræti Street between Kaffi Ilmur and Símstöðin Restaurant trying to decide where to eat. We eventually settled on Kaffi Ilmur which was a little more homey. They had a fish buffet(~$20) upstairs, which Denise took advantage of, and I settled on the Falafel Fritters with gluten-free bread(2480 ISK, which is about $22). Everything was very good but typical expensive Icelandic prices.

We got back on the road after lunch making our way North, then West to Goðafoss (waterfall  of the gods). This was the first big Icelandic waterfall we had seen so far and it was pretty impressive. I was now in Photographer mode.

Europe, Iceland, Travel, instagram

Goðafoss Waterfall

It was a little tough shooting this falls since it was the middle of the day and the sun was immediately behind it. Not the optimal time to shoot a waterfall. It also had a lot of spray and the wind was blowing it right at us. There was also a bunch of people there too which makes things challenging too. I didn’t come away with any real barn-burner pics from this one.

We headed towards Lake Mývatn next. This was the less expensive, northern cousin to the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik. I was looking forward to a good soak at their nature baths there. It was really cold and windy when we got there, so Denise was a bit apprehensive at the thought of going swimming. When I told that it was ~$35(USD) each to go she was even less motivated. I eventually convinced her to go though.

It was well worth it! While it was freezing cold going from the showers to the nature bath, once you got in it was awesome. The pools were set on the top of a rise and had a horizon pool-style edge. The sunset was beautiful and everyone was taking pictures. I on the other hand, forgot to bring my GoPro and took none. What was I thinking?

We headed back to the Bjarg Campground perched on the east shore of Lake Myvatn in the town of Reykjahlíð. This was there last night open before closing for the season, so we unknowingly timed that perfect. Unfortunately, we had to walk to the bathroom and showers at the main building since the one close to our campsite was closed up. The bathrooms were also co-ed which was a bit odd. I wonder how people from North Carolina would deal with that? LOL!

I had been monitoring the Aurora Borealis(Northern Lights) activity since we had gotten to Iceland using a couple iOS apps on my phone. There had been some sightings of it before we had gotten over there, which was a bit odd for mid-September. This night was showing some good probability for seeing them and the sky was the clearest it had been thus far. I set my alarm for 1:30AM so I could take a look outside.

My watched buzzed at 1:30AM and I took a look out the back window of the camper. I saw looked to be clouds and they appeared to be moving a little more than typical clouds. I kept staring at them, wondering if I was just still in my sleep-fog or if they were really moving. Finally one triggered me to get out of bed and get dressed.

I walked outside and stared at the sky. I was now pretty sure this was the Aurora. I reached in the camper and grabbed my tripod with camera attached. I set the ISO to around 4000, opened up my aperture as far as I could, and set my shutter speed to about 8 secs. I aimed the camera at the sky and hit the cable release. As the image displayed on the back LCD I saw the bright green of the aurora displayed in all its glory. BINGO!!

My photographic adrenaline exploded. I was now wide awake! I ran back to the camper to wake Denise up.

Europe, Iceland, Lake Myvatn., Travel, aurora borealis, northern lights

Aurora Borealis above Lake Myvatn

The one thing I had forgotten to do was set the focus on my camera, so the first shot was quite blurry. It is pretty hard to get focus on a camera when it is dark out. I found a nearby light that I was able to key on and get some focus set. I then proceeded running around the campground shooting images of the sky like a kid having a shopping spree in a candy store.

It was really cool that when we saw these lights that we were in a lakeside campground with tents pitched all over the place. Made for some cool foreground elements. I also got a shot of Denise staring at the sky while they lights bounced across the sky.

The moon was pretty bright out this particular night so it kind of diminished the actual color of the Northern Lights when looking at it with the naked eye. Denise was a little disappointed by this. A friend from work who had been there previously had told me this, so I had a little bit different expectations.

Europe, Iceland, Lake Myvatn., Travel, aurora borealis, northern lights

Aurora Borealis above Lake Myvatn

The lights danced until about 2:30-3AM before they fizzled out.  I headed back to the camper to go back to sleep thinking about all the aurora pics I get to process the next morning. Really cool.

Day 6 – Reykjahlíð to Egilsstaðir

We headed just up the road to Mt. Namafjall/Hverarönd geothermal area after breakfast. It was kind of touristy place with a large parking lot and lots of cars and buses. Right next to the parking lot was a bunch of hot pots of bubbling grey goo and steam vents shooting geothermal mist into the air. The good thing was the people didn’t venture too far from the parking lot, so we took a little hike up the barren side of Mt. Namafjall and were quickly away from them. The view up top was pretty amazing. You could see the whole Lake Myvatn area on one side and then the barren geothermal plains on the other. it was a nice little hike, but it did get a bit steep as you approached the summit.

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Hotpots at Hverir Geothermal Area

The only thing bad about this area was that it stinks like rotten eggs! I cannot stand eggs or the smell of them and it was a bit unnerving. Denise loved it. You do get used to it though.

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Hverir Geothermal Area

Next stop was Dettifoss waterfall. This was located on an out-and-back Route 862 off the main Ring Road. It seemed to take longer to get there than I anticipated. We had some lunch in the parking lot before taking the hike down to the falls. It is a big powerful falls and quite impressive. I again hit this falls in the middle of day. but atleast the sun was behind me this time. I was able to get some good shots with rainbows across the falls which was pretty cool. Selfoss falls is also a short walk up river from Dettifoss, but I didn’t find that one all too photogenic. This was definitely a worthwhile stop.

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Dettifoss Falls

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Dettifoss Falls

Next, we headed to the town of Egilsstaðir for our final stop of the day. Egilsstaðir is a larger town and bit more commercial. There is a decent campground there on a side street in town and plenty grocery stores and places to eat.  There is also a bar right at the campground, but I didn’t check it out so not sure how it is. We ate at Salt Cafe & Bistro, which was quite good. There pizza and desserts are excellent!

Day 7 -Egilsstaðir to Seydisfjordur to Egilsstaðir

We made our way over the pass to the fjord town of Seydisfjordur after eating some breakfast. It was a pretty cool drive making our way up and over the fairly steep mountain. It was a very rainy day, so visibility was not so great.

I stopped along the way down into Seydisfjordur to take some pictures. It was quite scenic and there were some nice waterfalls along the way. Of course, when isn’t there waterfalls in Iceland?

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Falls along road coming into Seydisfjordur

We cruised around the small town that flanks the banks of the fjord in a U-shape. There was a very large ferry ship docked in the apex of the fjord, but didn’t seem to be much action there. They say that the town can get VERY busy when the ferry arrives or departs from/for the continent. I believe this is usually on Wednesdays but you should probably research that.

There are a lot of hikes in this area and we settled on one with an obvious trailhead marker and parking lot off the road on the sourthern side of the fjord. It was right across the street from the Brimberg Fish Factory. The followed a dirt road before eventually heading off onto a much smaller rocky trail. The rain picked up the farther and higher went.

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Tvísöngur – Seydisfjordur, Iceland

We eventually came upon these five interconnected domes called the Tvisongur Sound Structure. Each dome has a different tone in it and we took turns testing that out. It was also a welcome refuge from the rain. We headed farther up the mountain on the trail and hit some steeper rocky sections. While normally I wouldn’t think twice about these, the downpouring rain made them a little tricky. We walked on some more which basically was a bit flatter pastures.

Pano view of Seydisfjordur, Iceland

We decided to call it and turn around. The visibility was not great and the rain just kept pounding. So we headed back to the camper. We stopped at the Skaftfell Bistro but it didn’t open until 3pm. The guy inside said Hotel Aldan had a nice lunch buffet.

 

We drove back to the infamous “Blue Church” and parked the camper taking the rainbow colored road through the quaint little town. Not much was open, but the Hotel Aldan and the Kaffi Lara/El Grillo Brewpub. We checked them both out and settled on the buffet at Hotel Aldan. It was a wise choice. We had to share a table with two guys but not a big deal. Buffet was great and there was a ton of vegetarian options for me too. Iceland is far more veg-friendly than I thought it would be! We also saw the guy from Skaftfell Bistro come and start working here. I guess thats why he doesn’t open until 3PM! Life in a small town.

We headed over to Kaffi Lara so I could sample a couple of their craft brews after lunch. They were ok, but I ended up have one of my favorite IPA’s Úlfur Nr.3 Borg Brugghús . The rain continued on harder and harder. Seemed like a good day for drinking beer! Others had the same idea because the place filled up pretty quickly.

We then drove back over to Skaftfell Bistro and parked in their parking lot until they opened at 3 PM. Denise took a good nap and I headed into the bistro. I was the first person in there and found a nice booth by the window with a power cord. I set up my laptop and got to work downloading and editing all the pictures I took so far. It was a much-needed break.

The bistro was playing some music that I had never hear before but was really diggin’. Not sure if it was just the music itself or the fact that the bistro kept playing the album over-and-over again, but it seemed very familiar. I Shazaam’d it and it was a guy named Rodriguez, Sixto Rodriguez actually. His music seemed kind of 70’s -ish and rightly so it was. Kinda reminded me of Bob Dylan but much better. Turns out it is a pretty interesting story there.

The Bistro was also filling up and Denise awoke from her nap to join me. Several people ordered pizzas and they looked really good. I decided to indulge in one myself. I had had a couple beers too so I needed to soak those up a bit too.

We later decided to head back over the pass and stay in Egilsstaðir campground for another night. There wasn’t much going on in Seydisfjordur, so no sense in making the next day’s drive longer.

Day 8 – Egilsstaðir to Höfn

The next morning we ate, showered and headed to the N1 station to refuel. I also had to get a new tank of propane since ours was getting close to empty. I wasn’t sure if there would be any places to get more on the way to our next destination, Höfn. It was also about halfway so I figured that it was a good point to exchange it.

The drive got a bit windy early on and I had to make a couple stops since the camper was feeling like it was going to be blown over. Eventually, the road turned to stone as we headed up and over a pass. As we crested the pass we were presented with the most spectacular view. It felt like we were driving down into a crater. The waterfalls coming over the edges were actually blowing back up from the wind whipping up the valley. The land below was a patchwork of greens, yellows, and orange colors. It was simply breathtaking.

As we lowered down into the valley we were flanked by pastures of beautiful Iceland Horses and the farms they belong to. The high mountain walls behind them made for a spectacular backdrop.

Europe, Iceland, Photographyg, SmugMug, Travel, colt, feature, horse, waterfall

Iceland Horses in the East Fjords of Iceland

Eventually, we reached the coast again and encountered some different, but still beautiful, seaside views. We reached the town of Höfn as it was just turning dusk. There was a field full of Icelandic horses on the road into town and we had to stop off and take some shots of them. They had a bit of a moat around the fence line of the field, so you couldn’t get too close to them.

We drove around the town and checked things out. It had a small part with restaurants and supermarket, but most of the town was warehouses and industry buildings. We stopped at the Nettó supermarket and stocked up on some groceries. I got another bag of those little cinnamon rolls too…Yum! The beer store in the market was already closed up, they have VERY limited hours everywhere, so I had to settle for a couple 2%-ers in the market.

Next, we traveled down the block to Kaffi Hornið for dinner. There wasn’t a whole lot of options and this place looked decent. There also wasn’t much in the way of vegetarian either except one main dish that was way too expensive. This place is ALL about the Langoustine…aka Lobster. I ended up settling on the Langoustine Pizza which would fill me up without too much damage to the budget. They also had a good craft beer selection too. This place was crazy expensive even for Iceland. I think they knew you didn’t have too many other options so they nail you good. We also ran into the couple we met back in Egilsstaðir here and caught up with them a bit.

We decided to do the camp at the Campground in Höfn for the night. We had to pay, but it is so much easier than trying to find somewhere to pull off for the night. Plus, we get a shower and regular bathroom.

Day 9 – Höfn to Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon

Sunrise in Höfn Campground

Next, we headed to Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon. On our way, we saw the large glacier spilling down into the flats. You could see along the road how the glacier once met the ocean, but now it had retreated pretty far back to the mountains above. Sad.

Blue, Color, Europe, Glacier, Iceland, Joklarlson, Travel, ice, instagram

Happy to be in Jökulsárlón

We got to the lagoon pretty early, before the masses came. It was a photographers paradise. We walked around a bit but then headed West a bit to escape the crowds. We took a decent walk that flanked the West shore of the lagoon heading north towards the glacier. There were only a few other people here since most of the typical tourists don’t leave the visitor center parking lot.

Blue, Color, Europe, Glacier, Iceland, Joklarlson, Travel, ice

Jökulsárlón bay and the Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier

We were able to get some really good views of the icebergs, glacier and even a sea lion hanging out on a floating chunk of ice.

Blue, Color, Europe, Glacier, Iceland, Joklarlson, Travel, ice

Sea Lion hangin’ out in Jökulsárlón Iceberg Bay

We had reservations in the afternoon to do a Glacier Kayak Adventure with Arctic Adventures, so we headed over to their meeting place at Skalafell Guest House after having some lunch. Once there they suited us up in dry suits and headed over the terrain in a tundra buggy. We stopped at a parking area overlooking the Heinabergslón glacier lagoon. Below was a fleet of kayaks waiting for us.

The trip was pretty cool. We paddled all around this massive chunks of ice that calved off the Vatnajökull glacier. We docked the boats a large chunk about the size of a football field that had a massive ice cave going through it. Our guide handed out MicroSpikes for us and we all went and explored the cave. We paddled around for another hour and a half and then headed back. My toes were pretty numb at this point so I was ready. It was kind of an expensive excursion but I think it was well worth it.

After the kayaking, we headed back to Jökulsárlón again. This time we went across the street to the Black Sand Beach where the Icebergs empty out into the sea and then get discarded on the beach. It is really cool since the ice becomes almost crystal clear and the contrast with the black sand makes for some amazing pictures. I could have spent a week here. I was on the beach until the last shred of light before heading back to the motorhome and having some dinner.

Europe, Iceland, Ocean, Travel, Water, black sand, ice, instagram

Black Sand Beach at Jökulsárlón

The rain and wind picked up while we were eating dinner, so we headed back across the street and set up camp in a lower parking lot of the visitor center. There was another large camper there and we were a little more protected from the wind. Another rainy, windy night!

Day 10 – Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon to Skógafoss

The next morning I was up early to get some pictures of the glaciers in the lagoon before we headed on. It was a very dreamy like morning and made for some really cool shots. The light was so surreal. Such a cool place!

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Morning in Jökulsárlón Glacier Bay

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Misty Morning in Jökulsárlón

Next stop was the Skaftafell Visitor Center at Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður National Park. The main feature here was the Svartifoss Waterfall. It was a nice little hike up to the falls and there were several other falls along the way. The Autumn colors were really brilliant too and made for some stunning views.

There is also a nice campground here too which was fairly empty. We did take advantage of it to empty out all our tanks and fill up with some fresh water.

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Canyon at Fjaðrárgljúfur

Next, we stopped at Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. The canyon is a short drive off the Ring Road, but the road is a bit rough. Especially for a motorhome. The canyon is really cool and we could have spent a bit more time exploring it than we did. I think at this point we were getting a little tired and kind of kept this short. I think the quantity of other tourists in this region, compared to the North and East, was a bit overwhelming for us.

We got to Vik as was getting dark and found the Halldorskaffi restaurant for some dinner. They had some good pizza and beer selection.

The wind and rain had picked up a bit while we were eating dinner. We stopped at an N1 and retooled a bit with some snacks, before heading Westward to camp for the night. We stopped at a small pull-off which was right next to the road and started to setup for the night. The truck traffic was a bit loud and there was not much cover from the wind here, so we decided to push on to Skógafoss falls. This would be a good move.

Skógafoss had a campground right next to the falls, so it would be perfect for getting some early morning shots. The wind and rain had also ceased and the Northern Light decided to light up the skies for a second time now.

I was out by the stream taking pictures and a girl from another camper came over and said “Do you think we have any chance of seeing the Northern Lights?” I said “Yes…there are right there.” and proceeded to show her the back LCD of my camera. She ran away yelling to her friends.

Day 11 – Skógafoss to Reykjavik

The next morning I was looking forward to some early morning shots of the Skogafoss waterfall. Denise was not in the camper when I woke up, so I figured she was in the bathroom. I took some shots of the falls from behind the motorhome. So glad I did this because pretty soon after the falls became loaded with tourists. I went back to the motorhome and Denise was still not back yet. I waited and waited, still nothing. Now the throng of cars were pulling in and filling up the previously empty camping lot. A large van full of Japanese models and photographers pulled up right next to our van and were making all kinds of commotion. I was starting to lose my cool now.

Denise eventually texted me and here she had hiked up the waterfall and back to the falls laying behind it. I waited for her to come back and then I left and did the same thing. Skogafoss is cool, but the falls behind it were amazing. I could have spent the entire day there. Unfortunately, it started pouring rain but I did get a few good shots.

Next stop was at the Seljavallalaug pool. It was a dirt road back into a little village nestled between some mountains. The road got a little rough before hitting the parking lot. Then a short little hike up to the pool. The pool was not super hot, but it was relaxing nonetheless. It got a bit crowded after I got in.

Enjoying a “soak” in Seljavallalaug pool

Europe, Iceland, Travel

Seljavallalaug

After my refreshing dip in Seljavallalaug, our net stop was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. The parking lot was packed with tourists. At this point, I was having my fill of tourist crowds. We had some lunch in the motorhome first and then headed up to the waterfall. It was a procession of tourists up, around and under the falls. Between the people and the heavy mist from the falls, I had a hard time getting some decent pictures here. It just didn’t have the same mystique that all those images I had seen of before had. We didn’t hang around here too long.

 

We continued on our way back to Reykjavik. I had planned to stop at Selfoss falls, but could not find it. I had kind of had enough at this point and was looking forward to getting to Reykjavik now. I didn’t really expend too much energy trying to find Selfoss either. I never thought I would ever get tired of photographing waterfalls, but I think I was pretty close at this point.

We finished up our Ring Road tour and set up our last camp at the Reykjavik Campsite which is right in the city. The campsite is really nice for being right in the middle of the city. Very spacious and nice facilities too. We took a nice walk into the downtown area for some dinner.

Walk into downtown Reykjavik

We made our way up and down Laugavegur Street and finally settled on a place called Harry’s. While it may sound pretty generic, it was a really nice place. I had a really good Vegetable Curry. They also had pretty assorted menu that would cover all tastes.

We did some more walking around town after dinner and made a stop in the Irish Pub for one last Iceland Pale Ale before we left. They even had my favorite, Úlfur Nr.3, on tap. While walking around we noticed something strange above us in the sky. Looking up we were presented again with another showing of the Northern Lights. Third time! Unfortunately, I only had my iPhone and no tripod to brace it. It was the perfect end to an amazing trip!

Northern Lights in Downtown Reykjavik

 

We returned our motorhome early the next morning. The guy from Geysir that met us there and took us to the airport was less than friendly. He literally dumped us of at the Geysir Car Rental Office. We rented a car for the day and drove around the city for the day. We had originally planned to go to the Blue Lagoon for the day, but realized that you needed to make a reservation beforehand.

This trip was one of my favorites. Despite not being quite as active as some of our past trips, the scenery and photography surely made up for it. Having the motorhome made it easy to be close to the good spots and get there before the masses of tourists invaded them. Typically, when we are on trekking trips you are kind of slave to a schedule so you don’t always get to the great photographic spots at the right times. The motorhome also made the high expense of eating out in Iceland a non-issue. My wife was on a specific diet, so she was able to stay on it since she could make her own meals. I will definitely consider doing the motorhome trip again.

 

My 2016 Year in Review – Topping My Charts

I have just returned from another fabulous Winter weekend in the Adirondacks to celebrate the New Year. While I was there I had gotten in some ample cross-training time skate-skiing, hiking and some photography. This outdoor time gave me a good amount of time to reflect upon the last year. I keep hearing others saying over-and-over how 2016 was such a horrible year, but for me, not so much.

Cascade Moutain – Lake Placid, Adirondacks, New York

You would think that as one gets closer to the big 5-0 that PR’s and things would become less frequent. But my 48th year was full of them. What is up with that? Perhaps the fact that I had well preserved myself well during my 20’s and 30’s may have something to do with that.

December(2015) was full of Winter cross-training in Banff National Park in Western Canada. They had gotten a good amount of early season snow there and Lake Placid had none. We hit the downhill slopes at Lake Louise and Sunshine Village, got some snowshoeing in on the Bow River and a ton of photographing the beautiful Winter scenery on the Icefields Parkway leading to Jasper.

Business, Canada, Company, Corporation, SmugMug, banff, feature, lake louise, mountain, rockies

First Light on the Icefields Parkway

In January, we had plans to spend a week in the warmth of Sedona, AZ but that was cut short due to a blizzard that delayed flights for several days. We still ended up with an amazing, activity packed long weekend there. We got out for some amazing hikes and photography some beautiful scenery. I replenished my vitamin D store with the clear skies and bright sunshine. It was a great reset before turning my attention back to the long Ironman training season that lies ahead.

Chillin’ on the Bell Rock Vortex

In February I started up my official Ironman training season with Todd Wiley. I had gotten to know Todd over the last year or so through some of his workshops and Lake Placid training camp and really like his personality. He was a prior pro triathlete and has had a lot of success with some pretty high-level athletes over the years, so I thought I would see what he could do with this old, average dude. My goals for the season was to increase my IM run performance while maintaining my bike and swim and finalizing that with a sub-12 hour Ironman.

In March, I had my first official race of the season, The St. Pat’s Allentown 5k. While it is only a 5k, this would be the first test of my fitness to see what I had accomplished during the last two months. I would also use this as my Lactate Threshold(LT) test for my training. It did not disappoint. I finished with a 1 sec PR of 22:45(chip time) over my prior PR from 2013. 3 years older and getting faster.

St. Pat's West End 5k 2016

St. Pat’s West End 5k 2016

In April, I took things up a notch and competed in the local St. Luke’s Half Marathon which I hadn’t run in since 2013 when I ran with my wife. I was planning to run it in 2015, but got a stomach bug the morning of and had to bail. My current PR for this race, and half marathons in general, was from back in 2010 when I finished with a 1:46:41(chip time). I also had challenged my co-worker Steve, who is what I would consider more of a “runner”, to a duel for this race. It was a bit of a stretch, but I thought the extra competition would bring out a little extra in motivation for me. Although I didn’t come close to beating him, I did manage to eke out another PR for myself finishing in 1:45:10 after 6 years. 2 races and two PRs…not too shabby a start to 2016.

Next up was my first triathlon of the season, the French Creek Olympic Triathlon. I had never done this race before, so I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I knew it was a pretty brutal race with a very hilly bike and run, so you could not even compare it to any other Olympic Distance race. I obviously did not PR this race, but I did end up on the podium by taking 3rd in my age group. This was the first podium since my very first multisport race, the Belleplain Duathlon, back in 2008 where I finished 1st in my age group. So now 3 races and 3 top outcomes.

French Creek Tri Podium

French Creek Tri Podium

In June I traveled up to Syracuse, NY for the Ironman 70.3 Syracuse triathlon. Another race I had never done before, but was hoping for a good finish here given the prior results so far this season. The race started off well with one of my best half-iron swims and a decent bike leg where I felt I hadn’t “burned too many matches.” The run leg was a different story. The sun came out and the heat turned up towards the end of the bike and my body turned to mush. Reminiscent of the Ironman Couer d’Alene run I fell into a walk-run for the very hilly run course. Ok, you can’t have them all! So with no PR to be had this time, I took my setbacks here and turned it into motivation for the true goal “A” race of the season at Ironman Mont-Tremblant.

Finish Run Ironman 70.3 Syracuse 2016

Hurtin’ for Certain – Ironman 70.3 Syracuse 2016 – High Temps on the run left a little to be desired for this race.

July turned out to be a pretty hot month, so I gained some pretty good acclimatization to the heat while training. If Ironman Mont-Tremblant (IMMT) was going to cook me like Syracuse, I was now prepared. Well, as much as someone who does not like the heat can be.

August came around quickly and tapering was in full swing as we made our way up to Mont-Tremblant for the peak race of my year. When race day came I could not have asked for better weather conditions. It was very cloudy in the morning as I prepared to hit the water. A fighter jet buzzed us so close it brought tears to my eyes. Then the cannon blasted and we were off. The rain started during the swim and poured down all day! For me, that was perfect conditions. I was like a pig in the slop.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 Bike Rain

Terrential Downpours on the bike leg of Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016

Due to some choppy lake conditions, my swim was not as fast as I thought it would be, but still one of my faster IM swims. My bike was one of my fastest so far but yet I still held back as I planned to save something for the run. The run was my best ever Ironman run. The rain came down and kept me cool while cranking out some 8:30-9:00 pace miles. I felt amazing the whole time. I blew away my sub-12 hour goal by about 14 minutes and coming away with an Ironman PR of around 50 minutes! I chopped off almost 30 minutes on my IM run time alone. Mission accomplished!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Finish

So now 5 races completed for this year and 3 of them were PR’s and 1 podium. What more could I ask for? A fabulous end to an epic season for sure. Proof that aging does not mean you get slower. At least not yet. Maybe by the time I am 50 I can qualify for Kona? 🙂

Usually with the last race of the season comes a little depression that it is all over for another year. I like to schedule something big for after my last race that keeps me on the up-and-up. Just when you think things can’t get any better we headed to Iceland for a two-week journey around the island in a camper.

Kirkjufellfoss – Iceland 2016

I let my body recuperate a bit and broke out my camera for an incredible trip. It was the perfect diversion for someone who has only thought about training for the last year. The scenery was out-of-this-world and it was a great end to all the hard work that was put in over the last 8 months. I have been working on a full report blog post on this trip which I hope to be published very soon. Stay tuned for that.

While you would think that was all for this year, I had to do one more race. I signed up for the local South Mountain 10-miler run which was kind of a birthday run for me. I had never done this race before, but it looked to be quite challenging. It starts not too far from the Lehigh Univesity’s Goodwin Campus fields and a makes it was up to the very top of South Mountain, turns around and heads back down again. It is very steep and a big slog. I ended up 40th overall and 6th in my age group. Not a great result really, but I maintained a 8:12 pace which is just a bit off my half marathon pace. It was more for fun so I am not too worried about that.

I concentrated on my photography a bit for the remainder of the year, which tends to play 2nd fiddle to my training. I made a couple trips to Lake Placid and a short trip to Salt Springs State Park(PA) for some photography sessions. I came away with some keepers and also started getting more active with my Instagram feed. I dug back into my photo archives and found some great pictures I had taken in the past that never made it off my laptop.

So now as we head off into 2017 and I set my sights on Ironman Boulder and the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid this year, I have great memories looking back on the amazing year that was 2016. Despite what many others have felt. I have so much to be thankful for. I can only hope that 2017 is even half as good as last year.

I can only hope that 2017 is even half as good as last year. Although, it is already shaping up to be a pretty full one. I have several races on the docket and plans are already being hashed out for an amazing trip to Croatia and Slovenia during post-race season. As for goals, Ironman Boulder should be a challenge in itself given the altitude so I am not putting any time goals on myself for that. Perhaps working on pacing myself would be enough. I think Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid may be my A race for the year and I would like to shoot for a half-iron distance PR there.

My other goal for 2017 is to get back to regular blogging here. I have fell off the wagon a bit over the past year so I hope to pick that up again. I have just “cut the cord” and cancelled my cable TV subscription, so besides saving money I plan on spending a little less time in front of the tube.

If you are reading this, I hope you had a great 2016 and a even better 2017 as well. Thanks for reading!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Feeling pretty relaxed after finishing and just coming back from my post-race massage.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 Race Report-Perfect Execution

The alarm on my Garmin buzzed at 4:15am. I popped out of bed after a so-so night of sleep. Probably one of the better nights’ sleep before an Ironman event. I felt pretty rested and amazingly relaxed given I was about to be racing for ~12 hours. Hopefully less though. I was about to embark on my second attempt of my goal of finishing an Ironman in under 12 hours. Since my fastest time so far was 12:37 at Lake Placid in 2013, I had my work cut out for me.

Last year, I had made my first attempt at breaking the 12-hour mark at Ironman Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had something else in mind and provided 107 degree(F) temperatures that forced me to bail out with 13 miles left on the run. The dreaded DNF(Did Not Finish). This year, I was more determined to hit the goal I had hoped for last season.

I made and downed my usual morning smoothie along with a couple cups of Kicking Horse 454 Horse Power coffee, packed my special needs bags and headed out to the race venue. Denise drove me the 3 miles down to the swim start area and then I walked around a mile or so to the transition area. I dropped off my bags, loaded my water bottles and Amrita Bars on my bike and walked back to the swim start. I found a nice quiet place under a pine tree to just sit and chill until Denise and her parents came down.

I had turned off my Garmin 920xt watch in order to save the battery bit, but when I turned it on it just sat there with the “Garmin” splash screen. Hmmm…ok this is not good. I started pressing combinations of buttons to try to reset it. Finally one worked. Not really sure which one though. I restarted it and it finally started correctly. Whew! Not having a watch for a 12 hour race would not be good.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant Race plan forecast IMMT 2016

This was the race plan I had given to Denise the day before doing Ironman Mont-Tremblant. I always give her this before races so she can figure when to be where while watching the race. You may want to refer to this after finishing this post.

It was getting close to race start and I hadn’t seen Denise yet. I started to roam around a bit but still didn’t see her. They started playing the Canadian National Anthem, so I stopped and listened to that. No sooner did the anthem end and this fighter jet came soaring up the lake directly over our heads!! BOOM!!! WOW! It practically brought tears to my eyes! Not sure why that does that?! If that doesn’t fire you up for a race, I don’t know what would. Now I am fired up!

Right after the jet buzzed me, I spotted Denise in her “Kale” T-shirt. She was looking a bit panicked and emotional but was so relieved to find me. We were both amazed at the jet and could not stop talking about it. A few minutes later the jet buzzed by us again and fireworks at the swim start went off. What a start to the day! Next, the canon went off as the pro men started to hit the water.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - Me acting like a goofball prior to the race start. Feeling pretty loose that day.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Me acting like a goofball prior to the race start. Feeling pretty loose that day.

After the pros started it was a constant stream of age-group wave starts. We headed down to the very crowded beach and spotted my in-laws. We chatted a bit and then I realized I should get going. Good thing because I realized my wave was up next and I had to walk a little distance around to get in the start chute. I had to navigate through about 3-4 waves to get to me wave, which started right after I got there. And away we went…

The Swim

The swim started pretty comfortably. It was a beach start and I slowly made my way in on the outside edge of the group. I settled into a nice easy stroke. Everything was going great until about halfway out the first 1.2 miles(swim is one, 2.4 mile loop). I took a mouthful of water while taking a breath and started to choke on it. I do this on almost every swim, so I don’t panic about it. I just have to let my throat clear a bit to start swimming again.

The  swim was pretty calm until about 2 pylons from the turnaround. The wind was at our backs and it was hitting the water at this point, so it was getting a bit choppy. As we made first turn it got REALLY choppy. I felt like I was in a washing machine! I had to breath to my left only cause I would get clobbered with waves breathing right. I just kept my stroke and pushed on. It felt so clumsy with the waves bouncing me up-and-down. Eventually I reached the second turn bouy and made the final turn back to the swim finish.  The waves continued for 4-5 pylons(13 per 1.2 miles). Eventually, things calmed down a bit and the waves flattened out a little bit.

I was feeling pretty confident in my swim since I was passing many different color swim caps from wave groups ahead of me. I also was not seeing many silver caps from my wave so I had hoped I left many of them behind me. The first time I looked at my time was not until after the 2nd turn and it read around 38 minutes. Pretty much on par for my swim. I was hoping for 1:13-1:14-ish.

I thought I was getting really close to the swim finish, but then realized the course turned in to the right a bit. So I had to start heading in and it seemed to add some time until the finish. It got very shallow too and I had to stand up a bit and then was able to swim a little more when it got deeper again. Finally I hit the finish and ran up to the wetsuit strippers. I had trouble finding a stripper that was free so I probably lost some time there. Done…Time: 1:15:50…meh.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - Swim exit. Only swim picture I got.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Swim exit. Only swim picture I got.

T1

I ran through the narrow, carpeted chute heading to T1 scanning all the screaming spectators trying to find my wife. I finally found her on the opposite side and cut across to give her smooch. I am sure I probably cut someone off for that, but it is worth it. 🙂 Transition was busy but I found an empty chair and put on my bike gear. I then headed to the bike racks and grabbed my bike and was off. Time: 7:40

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - Racked an Ready

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Racked an Ready

Bike

I headed out on the bike course and heard Denise yelling from behind the fence. I gave her a good “parade” wave on my way Montee Ryan. Montee Ryan had a few little climbs but nothing major. We then made a sharp right turn up onto Highway 117 which comprised the next 30 miles. As you entered the highway there was a long moderate climb, but most of the highway was fairly flat cruising road.  There was one pretty decent climb on the way back. The good thing was you got to go down it on the way out. I hit over 50 MPH going down it during the first loop, which was before the rain really started. Weee!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - Heading out on the bike before the rain had started.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Heading out on the bike before the rain had started.

Sometime after the big downhill and the turnaround on Hwy 117 the rain started. And it really started dumping too. There was also a pretty stiff headwind once you made the turn on Hwy 117 to head South. The raindrops actually hurt when they hit my arms. They were pounding on my helmet too making a very loud noise, constantly. It was like people were flicking the fingers against your helmet the whole time. The lenses on my glasses were just covered with water drops. Could have used some wipers or Rainx.

The rain continued to pour harder and harder as the bike went on. My Stages Power meter, which I had just replaced with a new rubber gasket, wrapped in plastic and black electrical tape began to fail. This device always fails on me whenever I wash my bike, so I thought that the extra wrapping would get me through a rainy race. Not the case. While it was still sending watts to my Garmin, the wattage numbers were getting lower and lower, which basically made it unusable.

I was now flying by feel. The good thing is that because I monitor my wattage frequently in training, I know what certain wattages feel like in my legs and in relation to my perceived exertion(RPE).

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - Bike - Weathering the storm!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Bike – Weathering the storm!

We then made a short loop through the downtown area of St. Jovite before heading back to the turnaround in Mont-Tremblant. My parents had decided at the last minute to come see the race and had found a B&B South of St. Jovite and I knew they would be spectating in the area. I scanned all the people on the street but didn’t see them as I made the turnaround on the main street. Then I heard my Mom yelling from behind me and turned around to see her standing back at the start of the turnaround. I gave her a wave and then got back into cruising mode again.

As we approached the transition area we then headed to the 20km out-and-back section on Chemin Duplessis. The 10k out to the turnaround is the toughest section on the bike I think. It is a bunch of little steep climbs that seem to step-ladder its way to the turnaround. It gains about 550 feet over 6 miles. The good thing is coming back is like a roller-coaster ride. I was not able to take as full advantage as I would have liked to due to the slippery conditions, but I did hit 40 MPH on it.

I finished the first 56 miles in under 3 hours which was a little over 19 MPH average. A little higher than what I was planning, but I knew I would drop a little bit on the 2nd loop. So far still on track. My legs were feeling a little crampy, but not too bad.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - Bike thumbs up!!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Bike thumbs up!!

I stopped at the Special Needs area and refueled with more Amrita Bars, 2-bottles with Skratch Labs hydration and one small bottle with my special race fuel mix.

My special race fuel is 4 scoops of Hammer Perpetuem Orange, a packet of beet powder(equal to 6 beets) and two dissolved Salt Stick capsules. I had one of these bottles on the first 56 miles, which I tend to occasionally sip between feedings of Amrita Bars. I had done this consistently in training and it worked so well.

I typically pack a peanut butter & jelly sandwich in my special needs bag, but this time I packed a peanut butter sandwich with 2 Maple Honey Stinger waffles instead of bread. Yummy! I chomped this down on the first climb on Highway 117 via the on ramp. A lady rode past me as I was devouring my little sandwich and said “lunch time!” I laughed and continued munching it down. You know it!!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - Bike - Torrential Rains pounded almost the entire bike ride.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Bike – Torrential Rains pounded almost the entire bike ride.

The rain got harder and the other rider seemed to be more spread out on the second 56 mile loop . I just settled into a nice consistent cadence and enjoyed being in my little helmet bubble. The puddles of water seemed to be more plentiful on the second loop too, so I made a little game of trying to avoid them.  The time felt like it went so much faster on the second time around. I was surely not looking forward to my second run on Chemin Duplessis though. I know it would hurt.

I took the long, fast downhill cruise on Hwy 177 a little slower the second time around due to the torrential conditions. Still managed to hit about 40 MPH. I was not looking forward to the turnaround since I knew the blustering headwinds were just waiting for me. They didn’t let me down.

I eventually hit the turnaround in St. Jovite. Gave Mom a couple waves and then back to the task at hand. I cruised back into Mont-Tremblant and prepared myself for another bout with the dreaded 10k of Chemin Duplessis.

There were tons of fans lining the road and cheering as you start out on Chemin Duplessis which is a huge help on that first climb. I was surprised to find that my legs actually felt better the second time around than the did on the first. I kept a nice easy spinning gear and made my way up and up and up. A great sigh of relief came as I reached the turnaround and knew it was pretty much all downhill know to the end of the bike leg.

Now I wondered how my legs would be on the run. When I did Syracuse 70.3 earlier in the Summer, I thought my legs were good to go for the run when I came into T2 but I quickly found out that was not the case. It is always a mystery and you don’t know until you get there. For now I could feel the anxiety of it.

I dismounted my bike and headed into T2 at 6:05:38. I averaged ~18.4 MPH over the 112 mile course which included about 5700+ feet of elevation gain. This was mostly right on par with the predicted time that Best Bike Split had calculated. This was somewhat surprising since I really had no power meter numbers to go by since my Stages power meter had failed miserably on me. Again!

T2

I gave my bike to a volunteer and awkardly shuffled my way in my bike shoes to the transition tent. I grabbed my run bag and quickly found an empty seat. I changed into a nice dry pair of running socks…ahhh! And put on my running shoes. It felt SOOO GOOD to have dry socks on my feet! I put on my run hat and run belt and headed for the run. There was no need for sunglasses or sunscreen since it was still raining. Now the moment of truth. Come on legs…don’t fail me know. Time: 4:30

The Run

Whenever you start out running after being on a bike for 6 hours, your legs are going to be a little wonky. The first mile of the run also had a nice little hill in it, but I easily cruised up and over it. As the road flattened out a bit I was started to get an idea that had some running legs under me. Nice!

My plan was to take all on course nutrition this race. In my previous Ironman races, I had carried my own bars and a FuelBelt with my own hydration. A bunch of extra weight. This year I decided to lighten my load a bit and just take it from the aid stations. I always carried bars, but ended up not wanting to eat them or having trouble getting them down while running. This year I trained with gels on my runs and it was an easy way to get the calories in that I needed and then wash them down with water. I figured if I ate the solid food, like Amrita Bars, on the bike I would have a good base in my stomach and the sugary gels wouldn’t be so rough on my stomach.

I downed a gel at the first aid station and followed it up with some water. Unfortunately they only had berry flavor and not my favorite Mocha with caffeine. Oh well. It went down fine and I was feeling pretty good.

There was some slight hills in the first couple miles, but my legs managed to feel good despite them. I lowered the pace a little just to keep them happy.

As I approached the crest of the last big hill for a while, I saw my wife and in-laws standing just down the road where the condo we stayed was. I raised my arms high in the air, Rocky-style as I came over the hill to let them know I was feeling good. They got a kick out that. They shouted some words of encouragement as I cruised by and I told them I was feeling awesome!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - Denise and her parents planning out their course of action for raceday. Spectating looks like a lot of work? I'll just stick to racing thanks!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Denise and her parents planning out their course of action for raceday. Spectating looks like a lot of work? I’ll just stick to racing thanks!

The next mile or so was mostly downhill through the old village before flattening out onto a recreational bike path for the next several miles. I was really feeling amazing. I felt like I was running on my favorite running path, The Ironton Rail Trail(IRT), on a training run. I was looking down at my Garmin and seeing paces in the 8:20-8:40/mi range. I was in the zone, feeling good with a nice steady cadence. The rain started again and I was loving it! I was thinking if this keeps up I could destroy my goal here.

I heard a voice on my left and it was one of the bikers that lead the pros on the run. I stepped to the right a bit and she was riding along side me for a longer than usual time. She even complimented me on my pace which was pretty cool. Eventually she moved past and Laurel Wassner came up next to me. Usually, the pros just whizz past me as I am slowly trying to maintain some semblance of a running trot. Not today. She actually took a little bit of time to actually get past me. You really get to appreciate the speed of the pros when you are arm-to-arm with them. I gave her some words of encouragement and then she was off down the path.

After the out-and-back on the path we did a shorter out-and-back on a packed sand path before heading back up the hill and through the pedestrian village. This was at around the 10 mile point and when my legs started to feel a little stiff. I am sure the uphill had something to do with it.

The 3 mile stretch from the top of the hill back to the ski village was probably the roughest part of the run for me. Strangely it was mostly downhill though. My stomach was feeling a little queasy, but I knew I needed to keep some gels going in for energy. I think this was more of a mental thing since I knew I was not quite halfway and I needed to do this again. That all changed after I made my way up the steep hill into the upper side of the ski village.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - running through the village with a bunch of Clifblocks stored in my cheeks. #LikeAChipmunk

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – running through the village with a bunch of Clifblocks stored in my cheeks. #LikeAChipmunk

As you come into the side of the ski village, spectators line the narrow chute through the cobbled street cheering like crazy. Little kids hands leaning out from both sides looking for high fives as you wind your way down through the quaint little village. I sure hope they washed those hands after! My mental state was instantly renewed.

I headed back out for the last 13 miles. I fast-walked up the steep little hill by the swim start and then settled into a nice cadence after that. My legs went on auto-pilot from there on out. While despite the stiffness, they just kept running. It almost felt like I couldn’t stop them if I wanted to.

I passed Denise and my in-laws as they were walking in towards the finish line. They shouted some words of encouragement and I yelled back that “I need more rain!” I guess they were confident I was going to finish at that point.

I hadn’t really looked at my overall time on my Garmin since I was just really enjoying the day. I didn’t want to ruin it by seeing that I may not make my goal time and honestly I almost forgot about that. I was REALLY just enjoying being able to swim, bike and run for an entire day!!! And on a cooler, rainy day too! That may sound strange to some, but I LOVE IT!!!

Before I knew it I was heading down the hill through the old village and onto the bike path. I also got that rain that asked for too! Thanks to the Dude upstairs! I settled back into my nice cruise mode cadence on the flat bike path through the woods for the next 5 miles.

I downed a few gels along the way and water at pretty much every aid station. Somewhere around halfway through the run, they broke out the soda at the aid stations. Well, typically it is Coke, but for some reason they had Pepsi. Yuk!! I am not a soda person, but there are two times I like to have a Coke: On an airplane and at the end of a race. Don’t ask me on the first one, but the second one provides a good blast of caffeine and sugar into my bloodstream to get me to the finish line. Personally, I think this is the ONLY justifiable reason for having the stuff.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - On the run. Must be getting tired here...starting to hunch a bit.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – On the run. Must be getting tired here…starting to hunch a bit.

So now I could really use a blast of Coke and my only option is Pepsi. I skipped the first few aid stations that had it, but eventually succumbed to the powerful nectar. And I almost puked immediately! Pepsi is the worst! I eventually got it down and then from there on, I mixed it with water to dilute the nastiness of it. Finally I had some caffeine and sugar coarsing through my veins to get my to the finish in a brisk fashion.

They also brought out the Mocha ClifGels with Caffeine too, which is my favorite. I did most of my run training with this flavor and assumed they would have this on course. Maybe they don’t break out the caffeinated stuff until later? Between this and the Pepsi I was back in action again.

I finally reached the uphill section starting at the old village and knew I was only 3 miles away from finishing. I looked at my Garmin… 11:12:?? Wow…I think I got this?!!! With a renewed enthusiasm I now cruised up the remaining hills knowing that I needed to keep a running pace to keep that goal. It seemed to get easier knowing the finish was in reach and I was going hit under 12 hours.

About 2 miles from the finish, the sky parted and the Sun came out to brighten up the last few miles of the most spectacular day. You could not have scripted this any better.

Next, my Garmin beeped and displayed the message “Battery Low”. A little panic raced across my mind. Please don’t die on me now Garmin! Then I realized that it really didn’t matter at this point, but it would be nice to have the whole race recorded. I guess the failure of my Stages Power Meter kind of invalidated it anyway. Argh!

I grunted out that steep little hill right after the swim start. I remember a little girl cheering me on “Come’on Brian…you got this!”, everyone yells your name since it is clearly displayed on your bib. There is no way I could walk now.

Finally, I reached the final uphill before we turn right into the narrow village street lined with screaming spectators. The reality of reaching my goal time had started to sink in. A ton of different emotions swirled through my head. The past 7 months of training flashed through my mind. The past 8 years of training flashed through my head. From struggling to run a mile and struggling to swim 25 yards to now putting together a solid Ironman in under 12 hours. WTH???!! I really did all that? I thought about all those people that helped me get there and supported me on this amazing journey.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - Heading towards the finish line!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Heading towards the finish line!

I headed into the cobbled village street past the final aid station. I declined the cups of water and Pepsi this time and instead just thanked the awesome volnuteers, who endured the torrential rains all day. I slapped as many of the little hands from the kids that were sticking out along the way down the narrow-fenced chute of the cobbled street. I then reached the familiar fork in the road. To the right was to start the 2nd loop. To the left was the finish line. I very happily veered to the left and cruised down to the finish line. I heard Mike O’Reilly start to say my name…”Brian…” Silence…Pause….”Schwind!” Then right on to some other guys name. For the 3rd time now, he has still yet to say “You are an Ironman!” after saying my name. WTH Mike??!

I happily crossed the finish line, raised my hat in the air and hit the stop button on my Garmin! 11:46:37!!! YES!!! Well officially it was 11:46:47.

If you look up at the predicted finish time I gave my wife, you will note that it reads 11:46:09. Only 47 seconds off! LOL!

 

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - Finished 11:46:47!!!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Finished 11:46:47!!!

The Finish

I was quickly grabbed by both arms two really nice ladies. They got me a water, a COKE and a freakin’ HUGE finishers medal that almost pulled me to the ground. They escorted me to a guy that took my chip off my leg and another that gave me a finishers hat and tech t-shirt. They opened my can of Coke up for me too after I struggled with it for about 10 seconds. They asked if I wanted a massage? “A Massage??” I said “Hell Yes!” I was then instantly whisked away, out of the finisher area and up a hill into a round building. There were massage tables lined up everywhere and athletes getting massages. What I picture heaven to like.

The ladies led me over to Karen and said goodbye. I thanked them and then was instructed to lay down. Karen asked me what hurt and told her “quads and calves!”. She then worked her magic. I was so relaxed but was a bit worried because I never got to see Denise and my family at the finish. I had looked around, but never saw them. I was hoping they were not worried.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 - Feeling pretty relaxed after finishing and just coming back from my post-race massage.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Feeling pretty relaxed after finishing and just coming back from my post-race massage.

After my awesome massage I went down to the athlete dining area and headed towards an area where spectators where standing. Denise and her parents were there and she loooked very relieved to see me. We chatted a bit and then I headed back to the feeding area to get some post-race Poutine!! Yum!

Denise and I then took the pedestrian lift up to the top of the village and headed to La Grille for my post-Ironman tradition of a Pizza and Beer. Another Ironman finish was officially complete. This one was even a little bit sweeter than the others.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sedona 2016

It is hard to believe we actually had two vacations in two consecutive months, but here we are heading off to Sedona, Arizona for a week at the end of January. This trip was actually supposed to happen last February, but we found out our dog Yuki had lymphoma two days before we were supposed to leave so we ended up having to cancel at the last minute. Fortunately, our AirBnB host EllenE, was gracious enough allow us to reschedule our accommodation for this year despite our last minute change. Every host we have met on AirBnB so far has been so great and Ellen exceeded that with her hospitality.

Get Me Outta Here

As we came down to departure date on Friday, January 22nd, a big “Noreaster” snowstorm, named Jonas, was bearing down on the East Coast. It wasn’t predicted to hit until early Saturday after we left, so we figured we were in the clear. We left home around Noon on Friday and stopped in Easton for some lunch before going to the airport. As we were being seated my phone beeped and I recieved notification that our flight was CANCELLED???!! What??!! It was another 12 hours before any snow was supposed to fall and the paranoid United Airlines were already cancelling flights? We sat through lunch speechless and in shock. Something or someone does not want us to go to Sedona.

We got home and started cancelling rooms, airport parking and rental cars, then trying to reschedule flights for after the storm on Sunday. The storm came and unleashed 3 feet of snow on the area. We ended up being glad that we were home and could shovel out of it. It would suck to come home and not be able to get in the driveway. Our roof was loaded up so I had clear some of that off as well.

The airlines would continue to cancel our flights 3 more times until I finally realized it was more of a Newark Airport issue than an airlines issue. I ended up getting flights in and out of Philly leaving on Tuesday afternoon and returning on Sunday. Our 7 day trip was now only 4 days. The weekend was a roller coaster of anticipation as we kept rescheduling and they kept cancelling. I was starting to wonder if this trip was going to happen at all.

Finally, we got to a very mysteriously empty Philadelphia Airport and our flight went off without a hitch. Actually, all our flights from there on out were effortless. We have been pretty lucky with our air travel over the years, so we were due for a bit discourse. If it had to happen this was probably a good one for it to happen. We also ended up pairing our down our baggage to all carry-on suitcase and a backpack so we didn’t have to deal with any checked luggage. This definitely made things easier, but I had to ditch some of my biking gear(bike shoes, pedals, etc) in the  process.

We arrived in Phoenix around 10:30-11PM, picked up our Prius rental car and made our roughly two-hour drive to the Village of Oak Creek(VOC) in Sedona by 1AM on Wednesday. We found our cozy little apartment, unloaded our unchecked  It is always interesting arriving somewhere new at night, cause it is like big surprise the next morning when you can actually see things.

Day 1-Sedona…Finally!

Despite our late arrival, we were up before Sunrise on Wednesday. Well, my wife was and then she woke me up by pulling the shutters totally open on the window on my side of the bed. I was immediately presented with the “Magnificent Red Rock Views” that the condo is named for on AirBnB. This got me quickly out of Bed.

We walked a couple blocks away to the Red Rock Cafe for breakfast. Breakfast was really good and they were very accommodating. Denise likes to have veggies with eggs in the morning and most places back home look at her cross-eyed when she asks for that. I had French Toast which was very good too. Another older couple near us ordered the Cinnamon Roll which is a claim-to-fame dish there. We found out why when it came. It was the size of a cake! It smelled really good.

We decided to take a walk/hike up to Bell Rock/Cathedral Rock which was only a mile or so away. We walked from our place which added a couple extra miles. Denise was looking forward to feeling the “vortex” energy there but she wasn’t sure if she felt it or not. What I did feel was the warm sun on me which felt pretty good after shoveling snow the past few days. It was a beautiful warm,  blue-sky day. Not the greatest for photography, but I didn’t really care.

We stopped at little place called “Taste of Marrakech” on the walk back to the condo. They had some really good hummus and other Middle-Eastern type dishes. I had a Falafel Gyro which was quite tasty and not dried out like some falafel tends to be. It can be like eating sawdust.

For dinner, we went to the famous Elote Cafe. Usually people line up there at 5-5:30PM to eat since it is a first-come, first serve place. We ended up getting there a little later and were able to walk right in and be served. Dinner was very unique and had a lot of corn-related, Mexican-style dishes. I also tried a special House Margherita which was very different from the typical drink and made with their own house-made Tequila. Our waiter was also quite an interesting character as well.

Day 2-Sunrise and Smoothies

So I have been on this habit of waking up earlier in the morning. Well, I kept this going during our vacation which I thought would benefit my photography. My wife is always saying “you can never be a professional photographer since you can’t get up early.” So I decided to prove her wrong. Never tell me I can’t do something. Anyway, I was up early to try to catch a sunrise photo shoot over near Red Rock State Park which is supposed to have good views of Cathedral Rock. Well, it does but unfortunately, a clear sky doesn’t really provide a great photo in the early morning. Shut out!

After my disappointing early photo shoot, we stopped at Berry Devine for a smoothie breakfast. We got some great smoothies and some entertainment to boot. The fellow working there, Dave, was quite an interesting guy and he kept us entertained for our breakfast. They even had an “Iron Man” smoothie which was my favorite. Coffee there was less than exciting, so we stopped at the Java Love Cafe after for some locally roasted beans. Dave also gave us some tips on some local hikes that would get us away from the tourist crowd.

We headed up to Chimney Rock after breakfast and hiked around it and then on to Andante Trail. It was definitely sparse with hikers. The hike Chimney rock was half decent, but the Andante part was less than exciting. It would have probably been better for mountain biking.

 

For lunch, we stopped at the Mariposa Grill which is perched on a ledge along the highway with amazing views of the surrounding mountains. The place is amazing too. They have a large deck to take in the view which no one was sitting at. We asked to sit outside and they thought we were a little crazy. It was in the mid-60’s and I thought it was quite comfortable. They even turned on the overhead heaters for us. It ended being really nice private dining. The place is fairly upscale so we resorted to just lunches there which were the price of our typical dinner. Food was amazing and the Yuca Fries were out of the World!

Next, we headed into town for some window shopping. One of the annoying things in Sedona is all the outdoor adventure places are fronts for selling timeshares. So when walking by stores you get the line “are you staying in town for the night?” I quickly learned to say no and move on. We then headed up to Fay Canyon for a late afternoon hike. It is a quick hike but we ended up getting up into the canyon when it was dark and we had to partially bushwhack our way off of a ledge. I had my headlamp, but the batteries died quickly. Fortunately, I remembered that I had my trusty iPhone and used the flashlight to light up the trail. It worked great too.

desert, red rock, sedona, vortex

Fay Canyon-Sedona, AZ 2016

We stopped at the Choclatree Organic Eatery in town for a vegan dinner. It was really good food and their deserts are quite amazing. My only wish was that the portions were a little bigger. If you are looking for some healthy, it is a worth a stop.

Day 3 – Chuckwagon

We were up bright-and-early again and headed to the Airport Mesa Vortex to catch a few sunrise photos. We made a quick stop at Oak Creek Roasters coffee shop to get a little caffeine coursing there my veins. We arrived at the Airport Mesa parking lot while it was still dark out. There were only a couple cars in the small parking lot, so there was no problem finding a spot. While I got my photography gear together, Denise checked out the information sign. I saw there was another girl with asking her a lot of questions. We then high-tailed it up the steep and rocky path to the top of the vortex. The girl and her boyfriend/husband were struggling to stay with us and I could hear them sucking air as I flying up the path. Apparently they are not planning on doing any Ironmans this year. 🙂

We got up to the top of the rock and Immediately claimed a nice little platform and setup my tripod. There were a bunch of younger Asian kids up there in shorts and lighter clothing. It was pretty cool up there and the wind picked up as the morning continued making it even worse.

I ended up kicking over my entire coffee on the ground, which did not make me very happy. The sun eventually worked its way up, but there were no good cloud formations to really  gather the color and provide some drama. Regardless I did get a couple ok shots of the valley and rock formations across it. Looking behind us after the sun came up were a couple hot air balloons that I thought might make some good images, but they were a bit too far away.

After the morning photo shoot, we headed back to Berry Devine again for another round of breakfast smoothies. Our buddy Dave was kind of busy this time and didn’t have much time to chat and entertain us. We also headed back to the Java Love Cafe for our morning coffee and latte. Funny how it was the same bunch of people that were in there the previous day too. Definitely a hit with the locals.

Today we had planned to do some mountain biking. My friend Greg had ridden the Chuckwagon trail there in the past and recommended it, so we thought we would give it a whirl. We headed over to Over-The-Edge Bike(OTE) off of Route 89a to pickup some rentals. We had rented bikes from these guys in Fruita, CO a bunch of years ago, so we figured they would be good. And they were. We got a couple nice Trek full-suspension bikes and a rack for the car and we were off to the Chuckwagon trail.

The Chuckwagon trail was pretty awesome. It was fast-and-fun singletrack with some nice views. It was challenging enough, but not too crazy so that Denise was able to enjoy it as well. She wasn’t in super great shape and hasn’t mountain biked in quite some time. It ended up being about 10 miles in one loop. This got us back to the parking lot just in time for some lunch.


We headed to Picazzos for some lunch. Picazzos is a healthier, gluten-free pizza shop and it was fairly busy for a weekday lunch. Denise was excited to be able to have pizza since it was gluten-free. I was psyched because they had Beyond Meat Chicken as a topping option, so I was able to have the Thai Chicken pizza and not have to strip off the animal flesh. Beyond Chicken has a very close texture to real chicken meat, has a better nutritional profile, and is made using pea protein. A great option for those bridging the gap to a plant-based diet. I use it at sometimes when meat is kind of a key element of a dish. Lunch was freaking awesome and we gobbled down pretty much everything. All the calories we burned on the trail were instantly replenished. Better get back out there again.

I had left the mountain bikes on the car rack while we ate lunch, so I was relieved to get done eating. I kept running out to check on the bikes. We then drove back towards Oak Creek for the afternoon and rode up the connector trail around Bell Rock and then eventually to the Llama Trail. The connector trail was a tad bit technical and it was also uphill. There was a lot of on-and-off the bike and Denise was started to get a bit tired…and grumpy. We eventually hit the Llama Trail and that was also a bit challenging. I saw Denise was walking the bike a lot and she was not a happy camper. We eventually hit a shortcut route out and headed back. We took the easy paths and it was mostly downhill to the parking lot after Bell Rock.


We were pretty tired after about 16 miles of mountain biking. We dropped off the bikes and headed back to Picazzos for some dinner. Another good feed fest! After dinner we stopped at the Oak Creek Brewpub and I sampled a couple of their Pales Ales. Denise was having trouble keeping her eyes open so we then headed back to the condo for some sleep.

Day 4 – Road Trip to Jerome

We were up again at 5am on Saturday and made a b-line for Red Rock State Park to hopefully get some good sunrise pictures of Cathedral Rock. Denise dropped me off at the park gate entrance which was closed and it didn’t open until around 9AM. I blindly made way through the park following the river. I searched for a good spot to shoot some pictures of Cathedral Rock with the river in the foreground. It was a bit difficult since I could barely see. I walked and walked some more until finally I found this huge opening where the river which would have been perfect. Apparently it was a bit too perfect. There was another photographer standing right in the middle of the area with one of those old, large format cameras with the black sheet that goes over your head.

I quietly made my way around her so not to startle her. Not sure if she ever heard me since her head was under the sheet. I tried to find a spot up river a bit, but it ended up being too close. I started making my way back again and was kind of throwing in the towel at this point. The lady photographer waved as I passed by her.

I was almost back to the front gate, where Denise dropped me off, when I found the killer spot. Argh!! Despite that the sky was pretty uninteresting anyway. Oh well, maybe next time?

After another breakfast at Berry Devine and some coffee at Java Love Cafe, we took a ride up to the town of Jerome. Jerome was an old Copper mining town that is situated high up on a ridge which overlooks the Verde Valley below. Kind of cool little town with some shops, bars, and restaurants. We cruised through but were really into stopping, so we headed back to Sedona.

We decided to do a short hike to see Snoopy Rock. The trail was called Marg’s Draw and it was pretty close to town. It was actually a pretty nice, easy hike. Perfect end for our trip.

We headed back to Phoenix after our hike and had a nice dinner at True Food Kitchen. We then checked into the Hilton Garden Inn for the night and then back to Philly the next morning.

Despite the rough start, it was a really great trip to Sedona. Our shortened length forced us to make the most of our time. We had some amazing food and adventures. The only thing we didn’t get much of was relaxation, but we really aren’t into that anyway.

Thanks for reading!  Until our next adventure!

 

Winter Trip to the Canadian Rockies

We originally had made plans to go to Lake Placid in mid-December for a little Winter ski vacation. We had plans later in the Winter to head to Arizona for a week, so we needed to get a little Winter-fix before going to some warmer climate. Planning a ski vacation to the Adirondacks in December can be a little questionable as to whether they have snow or not. Last year they had a lot of snow then, this year practically none.

So, with only a few weeks to go, we decided to change things up. Denise checked around with her friends living out West and there was not much snow to be had there either. She then came across Banff & Lake Louise in Western Alberta, Canada. They had a good November snowfall and conditions were perfect for some early season skiing. We had always wanted to go there too, so no time like the present. We quickly changed our plans and locked in our flights to Calgary.

Our departure out of Newark was an early one. We were up at 3:30 AM and on our way to

Early Morning Wake-up at 3:34 AM

Early Morning Wake-up at 3:34 AM

the airport. We dropped the car off at the usual parking place, ABC Airport Parking, who quickly whisked us away to the terminal. The airport check-in and security checks went pretty smoothly and we were on our flight just in time to see the sunrise before take-off.

 

Sunrise Take-Off from EWR

Sunrise Take-Off from EWR

Houston…We Have A Problem…

Our flight to Calgary went fairly well until we tried to land in Calgary. There was a low-lying, dense fog that we had to go through to land. We could not see anything as we entered into it at the very last part of our landing. All of a sudden the runway appeared out of nowhere within feet of touching  down. Before the wheels were about to touch the pilot “hit the gas” and we were ascending at a steep and fast pace. Denise and I looked at each other saying WTH??!

Before long the pilot got on and said that the visibility was too low to land and they were going to give it another try. I believe we were possibly too far down the runway when we were about to touch-down. We then made a long sweeping turn and got back in line to land again. Fortunately, the 2nd time was much more successful. I usually don’t have an issue with flying, but I was a little uneasy after that episode.

We picked up our bags and rental car and made our way to West from Calgary to Banff. Calgary had a fresh inch or two of snow on the ground, which was a welcome sight after the warm start to Winter we had back home. The outskirts of Calgary are filled with these large walled communities of very tightly clustered housing. It seemed a bit strange to me. After flanking the city we started heading West over large open plains with the Candian Rocky Mountains looming in the distance.

Canadian Rockies in Sight

Canadian Rockies in Sight

We reached the town of Canmore after about an hour and turned in to get some lunch at CrazyWeed restaurant. Denise had found this place as being one of the best ones in Canmore. She did not let us down with her research either. We had a nice lunch there and then drive through the downtown area and up to the Nordic Center to check that out. It is a pretty lively little place with lots of shops and restaurants. I think it is a more reasonable option as compared to Banff which gets a little more upper-class folks and everything is a bit more pricey.

I pre-booked the first few nights of the trip at the Juniper Hotel in Banff, which is located across  Highway 1(Trans-Canada Highway) from Banff. It sits up and above the highway and overlooks the town with a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. Our room had a big window that allowed you to take it all in from your bed. The rates here were quite reasonable too. They have a nice restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We wish we would have dined there more cause food was really good! They also have a hot tub which was not far from our room.

Canada, banff, lake louise, mountain, rockies

Juniper Inn Room-Banff, Alberta, CA
pp

We also dined at the Banff Brewpub(twice) and the Bison Restaurant. I really like the brewpub since they had a wide selection of food and the beers were really good. The Bison was a bit more upscale, but I didn’t find the food all that great relative to the price. There wasn’t much choice for vegan/vegetarian, so maybe carnivores would have a better luck here. Melissa’s was our go-to place for breakfast.

Skiing at Lake Louise

On Sunday, we headed about 40 minutes up Highway 1 to Lake Louise to ski. We didn’t have high expectations for the mountain, so we were pleasantly surprised by the terrain. The snow conditions were also very good for early in the season. We headed over to the Larch area in the morning which seemed to have the best conditions according to some people we talked to. There were some gnarly areas, but we found a few good runs there. After lunch, we made our way to the back bowls which contained a good amount of fluffy snow. Although with overcast sky it was impossible to see anything. It was like white-out conditions. At times I had no idea what the pitch was or if it was bumped up or not. I just pointed my skis down and hoped for the best.

All-in-all it was a good ski day. The temps were around 25F which was perfect. We had lunch at the sushi restaurant in the lodge which was quite good. We sat next to a couple of guys who pretty much ran the mountain so they gave us the scoop on the hill. We rented equipment at Wilson Sports just down the road in the Village of Lake Louise. Equipment was nice, but our skis were wider and more powder skis, so they weren’t the best match for conditions.

White Knuckles on the Icefields Parkway

On Monday, we decided to take a break from skiing and take a drive up the Icefields Parkway towards Jasper, Alberta. The parkway starts at Lake Louise and heads Northwest through the heart of the most beautiful sections of the Canadian Rockies. It is supposed to be one of the most scenic drives in the world and takes about 3 hours to get Jasper in good weather. The only problem is that it was now the middle of the Winter and they don’t maintain the road very well during that time. Another factor was that my wife decided she wanted to drive that day. Since I can be a little bit of a control freak where driving is concerned it left me a little grumpy for the start. When we hit the start of the Parkway there was a flashing sign indicating that the roads not in great shape and to proceed at your own risk. The start of the road was covered in very bumpy ice which appeared to be several inches thick. I was not having a warm-and-fuzzy feeling for this 3 hour+ drive. My grumpiness ended rather quickly though once we got into the mountains. It was amazing! The mountain scenery with all the snow was one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen.

The road eventually mellowed out but was still covered with snow most of the way. Locals flew passed us in large 4-wheel drive trucks like we were standing still. We ended up stopping pretty often so I could take pictures, so the trip took even longer than expected. We knew we would not get to Jasper in time to come back again before night, so we ended up turning around just past halfway where Route 11 intersects. We stopped at Peyto Lake and did a little hike through woods to a lookout overlooking the lake.

When we reached Lake Louise we decided to continue our scenic journey and head down the Bow Valley Parkway instead of taking the highway back to Banff. We were rewarded with more magnificent views and even had an Elk sighting along the way.

Skiing at Sunshine Village

On Tuesday, we headed over to Sunshine Village  after a nice breakfast at the Juniper Hotels’ restaurant. Sunshine Village is only about 6 miles up Highway 1 from Banff. It is actually behind Banff, nestled in a narrow valley between the mountains that open up to a wide bowl at the top. A 20-minute gondola ride takes you from the parking area just to the base of the mountain. You can stop off part of the way up to hit the Goat’s Eye section.

When we arrived at the base we were greeted by a very friendly staff “greeter” that gave us the whole low-down on the mountain. It was a beautiful morning with the sun shining away before the snow clouds filled in later in the morning. We played around in the Wawa Bowl and Birdcage area for a bit in the morning and then eventually wound around to the Mount Standish area.

We had lunch at the Chimney Corner restaurant in the lodge, which ended up being a rather unpleasant experience. Our wait for our food took an exceptionally long time and when it finally did arrive the waitress indicated that my wife’s meal was accidentally served to another table. When my wife’s meal finally arrived, it was overdone and she asked to send it back. She also asked to get something else instead, like poutine, that would be quicker since she was hungry and we had wasted enough time in the place. When we got the bill, we noticed they had obviously comp’d us for my wife’s burger which she didn’t eat, but they still charged us for the Poutine. Given the poor experience, we were kind of surprised they didn’t just comp her meal all together as most places would typically do. We said something to our waitress who said she would talk to her manager.

Not soon after we were greeted by a slightly nervous looking younger guy who said he was the manager. We explained the situation to him and he then proceeded to tell us that we were basically wrong about our observation of how my wife’s burger was done. Really? Growing up in the restaurant business, I can tell that you that the customer is never wrong and that if they are not satisfied with their dining experience, you do whatever it takes to make it a good one. This kid was obviously a little puppet for someone else and was just following orders, but I was amazed at this. Especially in a country where everyone was so nice, this really stood out. And really, comp-ing a $10 entree to “make things right” would be no skin off their back. We are obviously not going there again, not that would have anyway. We were planning to hit one of the other bars there for Apres ski that day, but decided to bag it because I didn’t want to be paying them any more money.

Skiing at Sunshine Village pretty nice. We found a good bump run with a little tree section leading up to it.  We spent most of the afternoon on that before making our way down the Gondola back to the parking lot. We headed back into town to return our ski rentals and then grabbed another dinner at the Banff Brewpub before heading to our next destination.

Baker Creek Mountain Resort

We drove back up Highway 1 towards Lake Louise again and then about 10 minutes back down the Bow Valley Parkway to our accommodations for the next couple nights at Baker Creek Mountain Resort. Baker Creek is a somewhat remote little outpost consisting of really nice little log cabins and deluxe rooms. We got there late and they left a note on the office door indicating which room we were in. The room had a little kitchen, a gas fireplace, and big hot tub. The perfect little retreat for a couple days of rest and relaxation. The temperature was also dropping to below zero(C and F)  for the next couple days, so skiing was out of the question anyway.

We were a little disappointed to find out that the restaurant at Baker Creek was closed for everything but dinner, so we would have to drive up to Lake Louise Village next day for breakfast and get groceries for any meals we wanted to eat there. I was kind of looking forward to just hanging out there, but was not meant to be. They had also just sold the place to new owners, who had taken over only a few days before, so they were in a bit of a transition period. Despite that, the place was very nice and we had a very relaxing time there.

On our jaunt up to the Lake Louise Village, we enjoyed a great breakfast at The Post Hotel and then equally good lunch at the Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise. I also got out on the lake for some photography, but it was so cold there I could not stay out there for very long.

We also managed to get out for a little snowshoeing around Baker Creek and I was able to get a few images along the river at sunset.

Last Stop…Canmore

For the last couple nights we headed back to Canmore, Alberta to stay at the Falcon Crest Lodge. The room at Falcon Crest was more like an apartment than a room. It was very spacious, clean and new. The only bad thing was we had no view of the mountains from our room. Instead, we looked out on a walking path and another building which looked similar to it. It did have an underground parking lot which was kind of nice.

On our fist full day in Canmore, I was able to get out to the Nordic Center for some skate-skiing. Their nordic center is pretty elaborate and I was looking forward to checking it out. The only bad thing was there was a bunch of signs warning of bears still on the prowl and mountain lions which are always around. I was a little uneasy at first, but there were enough other skiers out that it didn’t appear to be an issue. I ended up getting about 10 miles in which was sufficient.

Dining out in Canmore was not a problem. We headed back to Crazyweed again which was very good, but there wine prices were outrageous.  We also tried Rocky Mountain Flatbread Pizza Co. which was also very good. Our Favorite though was CommuniTea Cafe which we ended up eating at 3 times in 2 days! They had really healthy food and it was much needed at the end of a vacation where we were eating a lot of less healthy stuff.

After dinner at the Pizza place, we headed over to the Canmore Curling Club to check that out. The bartender there was really nice and sat down and explained it all to us. Super-nice guy! There was recreational leagues going on and it was pretty funny to watch them. Looks like a very fun social thing.

On our last, full day of the trip we did a little hike up to Grassi Lakes. It was a pretty well-established trail, but it was a constant ascent on a snow covered path which made it a little tricky. I only brought one pair of YakTrax, so we had to share them by each putting one on one foot. We were quickly rewarded at the top with some beautiful little crystal-clear lakes and cascading brooks linking them together. The walk back seemed to be a little more tricky with the traction since gravity was coming into play.

We then talk a more leisurely walk along the footpath that runs along both sides of the Bow River in Canmore. Still snow-covered, but a nice little path to view the river and surrounding mountains.

This trip ended up being one of my favorites. It is surprising such a last-minute decision. We didn’t have a bad meal the whole time other than the Chimney Corner at Sunshine Village. The exchange was also a nice surprise after getting my credit card bill when I got home. I would definitely like to head back here again in the warmer months. I know it will probably be much more crowded, but if we spend more time in the backcountry we may be able to escape some of that.

Thanks for reading!