Sunday, August 19, 2018

Gulfport TDY

New Orleans, Bourbon Street

Work is an exciting thing for me these days. I have three big hats that I wear right now and one of them took me to Gulfport, Mississippi on for a week-long training course this month.

Now, before I get more into the story--let me tell you about these 3 hats. The first, as you already know, is my Security Forces Operations Officer role. I'm not doing that position full-time right now, though some days it still feels like it. I'm still assigned to SF militarily and still work my drill weekends there. But the job I had been doing for them full-time was only temporary and didn't come with any benefits. So earlier this year in March, I accepted an indefinite Federal Technician job in the Inspector General's office as the Wing Planner. I was excited about learning something new and having a bit more of a permanent job (it was intended to last for a year). Well, the same day that I started that new job, our Vice Wing Commander came in and asked me to also take on the "extra duty" as the Wing's Chief of Information Protection, or Information Protection Officer. I agreed, looking forward to even more job experience and another role to learn. Well, fast forward to August and that "extra" duty now takes up approximately 90% of my time. I really, REALLY love the job, and have been having a great time learning all the ins and outs of information protection, including information security, personnel security to include security clearances, industrial security, and bits and pieces of operational security. I have my fingers crossed that it can turn into a full-time opportunity, but until then I'm happily plugging away in the IG office with IP as my third hat.

Anyway, back to Gulfport. So my IP position has an annual training course and this year I was lucky enough to go back to Gulfport, Mississippi to attend it. Gulfport, or Biloxi if we're being specific, is where I spent 6-weeks for my enlisted Personnel Technician training school, and I loved the area. I didn't have a car last time I was down there, so this time it was a lot more fun to be able to do whatever I wanted to do!

The course ran Monday - Friday and about 0745 - 1430 each day. That meant there was a lot of time for fun after each day's lectures. We had all sorts of lectures and discussions from professionals in the field, and I was able to meet about 100 other people across the Air National Guard who are doing the same job. I made some great connections--many of them have been doing the job for 10+ years, so I will be utilizing their experience in the future!

Each day, I woke up at 0430 and went to go lift or run from 0500-0630. Then I'd attend classes and plan an activity for the evening with my new friends. We honestly had so much fun, and I didn't really take many pictures of the training... only of the fun stuff!

Check out some photos from the trip below:

Gulf of Mexico, Gulfport Mississippi Coast
That's about as far into the Gulf of Mexico that I was willing to go. The water was warm and inviting, but horror stories of bacteria infestations kept me (mostly) out of it. But gosh, it was so beautiful.

Felix's in Gulport
I enjoyed a beverage (or two) during the week. This Corona and the view from Felix's in Gulfport almost couldn't be beat.

Charbroiled oysters, Shaggy's Gulfport
I sure had my fill of oysters throughout the week! There wasn't a day that went by that we didn't get our fill of seafood.

Gulfport Nature Trail
Taking a nature walk along a path in Gulfport.

Hardrock Casino Biloxi Mississippi
This was the group of friends that welcomed me and my coworker in... they were from Kansas and Connecticut and they were an AMAZING group of guys. I couldn't have been luckier to have found guys who wanted to go on fun adventures, eat lots of seafood, and who were just an absolutely blast to hang out with. I still talk to each of them weekly... hoping to see them again soon!

Bayou Vista Golf Course Gulfport
We golfed in an impromptu scramble at the Bayou Vista municipal course in Gulfport. We didn't golf so well, but we sure had a fun time (and took 2nd place!).

New Orleans
My two best friends on the trip. This was in New Orleans on our last day.

NOLA 300, New Orleans
When you're only an hour and a half from NOLA, you MUST go. I didn't love it at first but I was sure having fun by the end of the evening (and after a Hurricane!).

New Orleans penny press
Tourist stop to a NOLA penny press--complete!!

Mississippi River New Orleans
Overlooking the Mississippi River in New Orleans.

Despite only lasting a week, I could have stayed in Gulfport for so much longer. The friends I made, places we went, adventures we had, and laughs we shared made the trip what it was. I was so grateful to be able to attend the week-long course to gain valuable training for my job, but man--that trip was A TRIP!

Traveling with the military is such a big passion of mine. I love to see new places, meet new people, learn new jobs or skills, and have so much fun while doing it. Already looking forward to the next one...

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Washington Summer Road Trip 2018

Maxwelton Beach 4th of July, Maxwelton Day Parade

The first week of July treated us right this year with a trip to Seattle and Whidbey Island, Washington. If you've been reading my blog for long enough (it's been around for seven years now, jeez!), you know that my family makes the annual trek over to Washington every year. Typically, we go for the Fourth of July, to spend the week with my family on Whidbey Island, but in the past it's been other weeks in the summer if we can't get over during that week.

This year, we took full advantage of some paid time off from work and spent eight whole days over at the Puget Sound. We visited my sister and grandma in Seattle and visited my other grandparents as well as aunt, uncle and cousins on Whidbey Island. It was such a fun trip this time around. We ate at all of our favorite spots, like Village Pizzeria and Ivars (and tried a couple new ones like the Mukilteo Cafe).

See photos and stories from our trip below.

Ebey's Landing, Washington Agates, Best places to find agates in Washington, Ebey's Landing Agates, raw agates

Ebey's Landing is always a great spot to hunt for agates. We dropped in for our walk at a different spot than where we normally go in at this time, and it was an entire rocky beach filled with agate-hunting potential. We ended up coming away with a few good finds (see below).

Whidbey Island Agates, Ebey's Landing, Washington Agates, Best places to find agates in Washington, Ebey's Landing Agates, raw agates

These were the 17 agates collected from our Ebey's Landing walk. While Ebey's Landing is typically a great place to find agates, we were a little late to the party on the day we went, so it was a little bit picked-over. But Daniel still was able to find a big one, and I cleaned up on the small game. One of mine was like a completely round marble. Agates are the coolest!

Langley, Whidbey Island Agates, Washington Agates, Best places to find agates in Washington, Langley Agates, raw agates

The above agates are from our walk on Langley Beach. After we dined on pizza (see below) and shared a couple drinks, we were walking around Langley and decided to travel down to the beach for a short walk. We were surprised--we don't know anyone who has had luck on Langley Beach... but that day we sure did!

Village Pizzeria Langley, Pesto Pizza, Best Pizza on Whidbey Island

Now, the photo above is a little slice of heaven. You've heard me mention Village Pizzeria before, but guys--seriously--if you're ever on Whidbey Island, Village Pizzeria is a MUST MUST MUST! Order a slice (or a whole pie) of their Pesto and you'll be singing Village Pizzeria praises for the rest of your life. Want fast(er) service? Sit at the bar. Just trust me.

Maxwelton Beach 4th of July, Maxwelton Day Parade

On the day of the Fourth, we had the absolute pleasure of spending the entire day with family. We stayed with my cousin Annie, and she was literally the sweetest person we could have stayed with. The four of us hosted the Fourth at the house we stayed at, and it was a huge party with about 20 family members and friends. My grandparents, above, were such a blast to spend time with on this trip. I got to listen to stories I've never heard before and had so much just being with them. Time with grandparents is so valuable these days.

For the day of the 4th, we started the afternoon off at the Maxwelton Day Parade on Whidbey Island at Maxwelton Beach, and enjoyed the festivities of the parade and games to follow. They always have games after the parade like 40m foot races, sack races, three-legged races, and an egg toss. Of the hundred or so people who participated in the egg toss this year, my sister's boyfriend and his brother won it. It was a magnificent feat! My brother and I attempted to compete in the three-legged race, but if you've seen how tall that kid is, you could imagine the disaster we were headed towards. Right when they lifted the rope so we could go, the two of us bobbled at the start and I went face-first into the dirt, with him rolling over me out of the sack. We sucked some major three-legged sack. Hey, you can't win at everything, right? But it was hilarious, and if you see what my brother is wearing below (or in the first photo), you'll see why the crowd loved it so much.

Maxwelton Beach 4th of July, Maxwelton Day Parade

The Driflot/Stone/Rowe family on the fourth. I love my family so much! After all the hanging out at the beach cabin, we finished the evening with s'mores and a beachfire as we watched the fireworks go off overhead. The firework display on Maxwelton Beach on the Fourth is a show to be reckoned with. Never have I ever seen so many fireworks that individual families light up... it's truly one of my favorite nights of the year.


We also took some much-needed time to spend with my grandma who lives in Seattle.  She is the kindest lady and always is so much fun to be around. I love hearing her stories, told in her Norwegian accent, and the ins-and-outs of her life in her retirement home. She's such a special person to me!

Best Ice Cream in Washington, Kapaw's Isekreme, Salt And Straw Ice Cream, Ivars Soft Serve

The trip recap wouldn't be complete without a tale of three ice creams. Now, this definitely wasn't all the ice cream we got (maybe it was half... honestly), but it's a recap of my favorites. On the left is Ivar's soft serve at Mukilteo Landing. Yes, they're known for their chowder and fish n' chips, but I personally can't get onto the Mukilteo Ferry without stopping at Ivar's first. The second is Kapaw's Iskreme in Coupeville on Whidbey Island. They make all of their own ice cream and the flavors are creamy, chunky, and SOOOOO tasty. On that cone, I had cookie dough, butter brickle, and wolf tracks. YUM! The third cone is a new staple in the Ballard area called Salt & Straw. Similar to Molly Moon's in Seattle, they make all their own flavors and have some funky and outlandish ones. That cone had a scoop of birthday cake and blackberries with a scoop of Beecher's cheese and peppercorn toffee on top. If you like ice cream, please please please add these three to your road-trip musts in the Seattle area!!

Leavenworth Washington, Bavarian Town

Ok enough of my ice cream obsession and back to the trip. On the way home, we drove through Leavenworth, Washington, the cute Bavarian town off Highway 2. To say that it is a step back in time is an understatement. It's authentically Bavarian, with the most delicious brats, beers (and bier gartens!), and Danish pastry creations. We had a blast traveling through there. It was super busy and we still had to drive back to Boise that night, but we sure had a fun time while we were there.

Leavenworth Washington, Leavenworth Hat Shop

Of course my brother and I had to stop into the Hat Shop in Leavenworth. The town war sehr gut, ja!

Gold Bar waterfall, Highway 2 Waterfall Washington

On the trip back to Boise, we also discovered a gorgeous bend in the river near Gold Bar. We explored the area before heading to Leavenworth. It was a great little stop and would have been perfect for a dip had we had more time.

Oh... our Seattle trips. Boy, do we love them so. I'm grateful that I have family in the area that gives me an excuse to head that way every year. Having an entire week that we could spend there this year was absolutely priceless. My favorite memories were late-night Fortnite battles (and near victories!), playing with Darwin the pup, spending some QT with my grandparents and cousin, and the best beach walks I could ask for with Daniel. I am so looking forward to our next trip. DAS GUT!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Oregon Coast Friendcation


Well I don't know if I've ever had travel expectations blown out of the water like they were when we visited Florence, Oregon and the Oregon Coast. I mean, I've always heard, "You HAVE to go to the Oregon Coast..." and I knew going into the trip that I'd probably like it, amid the wind and clouds and rain and blah, blah, blah. But what I didn't realize was that I would love Florence and the coastal beaches we visited—and there was absolutely no way I could have predicted how much fun I was going to have when we got there. It was the best (and first!) friend-cation to date!

We went with our good friends Jason & Andi to the coast over the long Memorial Day weekend. We battled rain on the road trip through Oregon, but by the time we finished our lunch in Bend, it had mostly cleared up. We enjoyed treats at Voodoo Doughnuts along the way (yum!) and made it to Florence on Friday. The skies were blue with a few clouds and it was a bit brisk, but we braved the wind and headed to the beach before dinner. The beach in Florence was beautiful, and so different than the beaches I'm used to in Seattle, Washington.

Oregon Coast, Florence Beach

We don't really get waves or expansive beaches like that in Seattle (where I "grew up" (kind of) and visit annually) so I really enjoyed these beaches. We walked up and down them until sunset.

Oregon Coast, Florence Beach

We enjoyed dinner that night at the Bridgewater Fish house and were more exhausted than we thought after the long drive. We were lights-out shortly after dinner!

Our rented condo for the weekend was right in the heart of downtown Florence on the Siuslaw River. It was above a nail salon and was a "party in the front" with the storefronts, restaurants and taverns at the front of the condo, where the master bedroom was (perfect for trying to fall asleep at night with the tavern music blasting! ha!) and "peaceful in the back," where the guestroom, living room, and deck overlooked the river. It was such a fantastic vacation rental and was the perfect fit for our two couples.

On Saturday, we got ourselves ready and headed toward Yachats to find a beach for agate hunting. Along the route, we stopped at Bob Creek, just to check it out since it was right along the road and looked like a rocky, pretty beach. We thought we "might" find some agates there. As soon as we got there, I stepped onto the beach and found an agate. And then another. And then another! I kept finding agates almost at every step along the half-mile of beach—it was fate—that was the beach we were destined to be at for the day. We ended up spending two hours there and Daniel and I together found 235 agates!

Oregon Coast, Bob Creek agates, Bob Creek Beach Oregon, Oregon agates, agate haul, raw agates

In the photo above, there are 107 agates (the ones I found) in two hours at Bob Creek. To say that the Oregon beaches blew my past Washington agate hunting adventures clear out of the water would be an understatement. I cannot believe the abundance of agates at the beaches. I would bend over to pick up one decently-sized agate and would find 10-20 tiny others right around it. My best strategy for agate hunting is to WALK. Do not sit and dig—you'll only find baby agates—instead walk and scour to try to find the bigger, more impressive ones.

Oregon Coast, Bob Creek cave, Bob Creek Beach Oregon

There was also a really cool cave at Bob Creek and it marked as far as we went on that agate hunt. All four of us found a bunch of agates. One of my favorites was Andi's black agate, and another one was Daniel's with a geode core. Too cool.

After two hours of agate hunting, we traveled the rest of the way to Yachats to eat ling cod fish and chips at the Luna Sea Fish House. Boy, that was the BEST fish we had on the entire trip. It was incredible. After we stuffed our bellies, we topped it off with double scoop ice cream cones from Toppers in Yachats. We enjoyed our cones while we watched the waves splash the cliffs of Yachats.

Oregon Coast, Yachats overlook, Yachats Oregon

The best thing to do after spending the morning in the sun, stuffing your belly with food, and topping that off with ice cream is—of course—to take a nap. So power nap we did before we headed off on our next adventure.

Jason raved about this little floating chowder house called Novelli's Crab & Seafood off the boardwalk in Florence, so that's where we decided to do dinner. We all ordered crab chowder and garlic bread, and I'll be darned if it wasn't the best crab chowder I've ever had. I can't say it's better than Ivar's clam chowder, but it was some stinkin' good chowder for sure.

After dinner, we decided to go try one more beach for agates and to watch the sunset. Jason brought his kite, so he flew that while we dug in the rocks for agates at Big Creek beach. Now, I won't say we didn't find any agates at that beach, because we did, but it is not the kind of place you'd want to go agate hunting. There weren't any agates on top of the rocks, but if you got past the first layer, you might be lucky to find a few. As we watched the sunset, I found the agate below—one of my biggest of the whole trip.

Oregon Coast, Big Creek agates, Big Creek Beach Oregon, Oregon agates

Again, some of the random beaches between Florence and Yachats are not ideal places for agate hunting, but that beach afforded us a few agates, so we weren't disappointed. We just wouldn't choose that one again. Keep reading, and I'm sure you'd agree!

That evening after the sun was down and we weren't quite ready for bed, we visited the Three Rivers Casino in Florence. I wasn't so keen on the idea of casino-ing it up since I'd never gambled (shocker!), but I went along for the ride. While I didn't hit the jackpot, I ended up having some fun on the Deuces Wild poker machine and won just a bit of money ($10). I put in a $20, and once I was up a bit and hit a Royal Flush, I threw my hands up, declared myself done for the night, and skedaddled with my $10. It ended up being a slightly profitable (and lucky, most likely) trip. We topped off our casino fun with a lively (and LATE!) game of Catan. Note: do not start Catan at 11:30 pm and expect all players to be enthusiastic and awake for the duration of the game.

On Sunday morning, I woke up early and ran along the boardwalk in Florence and around the quaint town. I loved looking at the cute houses, rhododendrons, and beachy cottages. I've been taking it easy with my running lately due to injuries and following a different training plan, so after jogging around the town for a bit, I slowed it down and just walked, admiring the flowers, river, and little town of Florence.

Oregon Coast, Downtown Florence boardwalk, Siuslaw River

After Saturday's agate-hunting success, we were ready to tackle a new beach. We ventured off toward Yachats again, after Google reviews told us anywhere along that coastline was the best chance for us to be successful. Stonefield Beach popped up in one of the top hits, so when we passed its marker on the highway, we pulled off to check it out. It wasn't but a couple steps onto the slightly rocky beach (similar to the photo below in contrast to the photos above) when we were bending over and picking up several agates each, all bigger than we had been finding the day before. There were fewer agates at Stonefield, but they were greater in size and pretty fun to find because initially looking at the beach, it's not a place you'd expect to find many agates. The photo below is what I found in about 45-minutes on the small rocky patch of beach. We did not make it to the other side of the river at that beach, and I'm sure there would have been more had we been able to cross the small river.

Oregon Coast, Stonefield Beach agates, Stonefield Beach Oregon, Oregon agates

Since that beach wasn't too big, we combed over the rocks pretty quickly and decided to try a new spot. It was sunny on Sunday, but really windy, so we were trying to find a beach that might be a little more sheltered, similar to Bob Creek. A few minutes later, we came up on Strawberry Hill beach. We didn't remember seeing Strawberry Hill on any of the Google results for top agate spots, but it was still along that highway between Yachats and Florence, so we decided to give it a go. After seeing the rocks at the bottom of the hill, we knew we had to go down and just see if we could find any. Bottom line up front, YOU GUYS—this was THE beach for agates!!! Now, back to the story (because really, do you even care about agates like we do? No, you're not weird).

Oregon Coast, Strawberry Hill agates, Strawberry Hill Beach Oregon, Oregon agates, agate haul, raw agates

Strawberry Hill was a gorgeous beach. There were so many seals in the water and lounging on the rocks just off the beach. It was a great place to watch them play in the water. I kept hoping I'd see a shark fin or something really cool go down, but unfortunately all I got was the seals. Maybe next time! (Do you guys get excited about sharks? I am all about seeing a shark... shark diving would be so cool!).

Oregon Coast, Strawberry Hill, Strawberry Hill Beach Oregon

The other great part about Strawberry Hill was that there was hardly anyone there. There had been a lot of people at Bob Creek, but we pretty much had Strawberry Hill all to ourselves. I wasn't complaining! Andi and I sported some fun beachy braids for the day. It was so fun being with friends on this vacation.

Oregon Coast, Strawberry Hill, Strawberry Hill Beach Oregon

So I mentioned above that the agates at Strawberry Hill were the best. Does it help quantify "the best" if I say that I alone found 252 agates (252!!!) over the period of two hours? What if I also told you that Daniel found 231 on that same walk? That means that combined, the two of us found 483 agates in the same two-hour period. You guys, four hundred and eighty-three. Holy moly. That's four agates a minute! Need proof? Check out below!

Oregon Coast, Strawberry Hill agates, Strawberry Beach Beach Oregon, Oregon agates, his and hers agates, agate haul

I sent that photo to my family, who promptly replied with the :-O face emoji. That one agate haul trumps our entire seven years of agate collecting by about 600%. Not kidding. If you want to find agates, go to the Oregon Coast.

After our eyes uncrossed from all the agates, we realized we were starving so we headed back to Florence for lunch. We enjoyed an ahi sandwich and pizza from Restobar and wandered the downtown area of Florence, browsing the shops. We finished up with a stop at BJ's Ice Cream before retiring to the condo for the evening.

While everyone else took a quick power-nap that afternoon, I slammed out some homework for my Master's program before we all caught up and grilled some fresh oysters with cocktail sauce. That was an experience and we all were laughing as the guys tried to shuck those suckers open. After grilling out, we capped the evening off with a few rounds of Monopoly Cards. That was a fun game!

We drove home Monday morning, stopping to enjoy breakfast in Sisters, Oregon and visiting some cute gas stations along the way.

In case you did the math above (and since I need to bring up agates one more time), Daniel and I, over the period of two days, found 718 agates. It may not look like a lot (below), but they fill up a big glass vase at home, and they're about 700 times more than all of our Washington agates that have taken us seven years to find. Just saying.

Oregon Coast agates, best places to find agates in Oregon, best agate beaches in Oregon Oregon agates

Overall, our Oregon friend-cation was absolutely too fun. I meant to write this up as a short post and just add a few photos, but it was such a perfect trip that I had to tell the story to do it justice. We have been on family vacations and solo trips before, but this was my first couples friend-cation, and I don't think I would have changed one thing about it (except for possibly making it longer). Jason and Andi were such a blast to be around, and all the joking, laughing, stories, and sarcasm we shared over the four-day trip was a memory that I'll hold close for a long time.

Oregon Coast, Bob Creek Beach Oregon

Oregon Coast... we'll be back! 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Race to Robie Creek 2018

Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, Ruck Race to Robie Creek, Ruck Half Marathon, Half Marathon Ruck

The sun was shining, the weather was warm, my ruck was loaded, and I was ready to embrace the challenge of the Race to Robie Creek half marathon yet again.

The last time I attempted to conquer Robie (and got brutally dominated) was in 2011 with my mom. It was one of those runs that I hadn't properly trained for--it was my third half marathon and I hadn't trained hills... and Robie is one BIG, LONG hill--so it was one of my worst races to date. I told myself I'd never run another Robie, so when my colleague asked me to ruck it with him, I got all "Defender hooah" on him and said, "Sure, why not?"

Now, in case you're not familiar with the Race to Robie Creek, which has been hailed as the "hardest half in the lower 48 states," it's essentially 8.5-miles and 2200 feet uphill and then 4.6 miles and 2000 feet downhill. It's rough, it's tough, and it makes your legs and feet beg for mercy the entire way. That's why, when it kicked my butt in 2011, I said I'd never run it again. Here's a course map of Robie to give you an idea of the challenging route up and over Aldape Summit.

Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, Ruck Race to Robie Creek, Ruck Half Marathon, Half Marathon Ruck

Now, despite not wanting to run Robie again, rucking is a different story. I've trained for rucks before, since we had to run a 6-mile course with a 35-pound ruck to graduate the Security Forces Officer Course (of which I took second place out of 35 students) so I was looking forward to this training.

I began training 12-weeks out with a combination of Hal Higdon's Intermediate 2 half marathon plan as well as throwing on my 35-pound training ruck and rucking either through the hills of Palm Desert while we were on vacation, around base on flat ground, or on varied incline settings on the treadmill for anywhere from 30-120 minutes 3x per week. I documented all my training on my AunieFit Instagram account. My goal with the training was to train the full running distance without a ruck and then to train up to a little more than half the time with the ruck on. The thing about rucking is that it makes my hips really freakin' sore, so I didn't want to overdo it and injure myself before the race. In addition, I really liked the half marathon plan I chose and have used it before, so I knew it could help get me to the running distance I needed, while still helping me work on speed for my shorter runs. I was nervous that the ruck training I did wouldn't be enough for this race, but it turns out that setting the treadmill on "random" at 3.5 mph and rucking for 1-2 hours is a pretty darn good workout and totally set me up for success on this ruck.

OK--so race day. My teammate and I were the only people who signed up to ruck, though we thought we might have had a couple more people join us. Robie is tricky because they only let so many people run it, so we were glad that at least we had been able to get bibs in time. We wore matching "Honor the Fallen" Defender shirts that we got from the Security Forces schoolhouse down in Texas. We rucked with the names of 14-fallen Defenders and rucking in their memory was the most amazing, humbling, incredible thing we could have done. They gave us strength to get through it! Here's a pic of pre-race flat Lt Rowe.

Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, Ruck Race to Robie Creek, Ruck Half Marathon, Half Marathon Ruck

We met up at Fort Boise to start the race right around 1100. We had an hour before the race started so we chatted, got our rucks ready, and began to dread the impending doom ahead.

Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, Ruck Race to Robie Creek, Ruck Half Marathon, Half Marathon Ruck

My husband came to see us off at the start of the race. He was very supportive during this whole race since he knew how much it meant to me to ruck with my coworker and to proudly wear the uniform of the Idaho Air National Guard. It's not every day you get to do something so cool and honor your workplace by doing so!

Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, Ruck Race to Robie Creek, Ruck Half Marathon, Half Marathon Ruck

Sisic's ruck was 50-pounds and mine was 35. I had mine loaded with armored vest plates, water, and a change of clothes. He had a 45-pound sandbag, water, and clothes in his. They were all strapped up and ready to go!

Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, Ruck Race to Robie Creek, Ruck Half Marathon, Half Marathon Ruck

The theme for this year was a "Space Odyssey" so there were all sorts of people in fun space-themed outfits and even an astronaut who ran along with us. We took this photo right before we headed to the start line at 1200.

Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, Ruck Race to Robie Creek, Ruck Half Marathon, Half Marathon Ruck

The race kicked off promptly at noon and we were moving! We went right by the Veteran's Home and shook hands with all the vets outside--that was a really neat part of the race. We had originally started in the very back since we knew we'd be walking the entire race, and the back was where we stayed for the duration of the race.  It was kind of funny--when we started out, I said, "I don't care about time! Let's just finish" and "Well, at least we know we won't get last!" It's funny because for a good hour or so during the race... we. were. last.

The thing about races is that you never know if you're going to have a good race or a bad race until you're out on the course. And it's always those days that are perfect weather, you have a buddy with you, and you feel just super-prepared that "bad race day" sneaks in and destroys the mojo. Well that's what happened to us that day.

We had anticipated to ruck at about a 16-18 min/mile pace and finish around 3:30. It was Sisic's fifth time rucking Robie, so he had a pretty good idea of what to expect. We were right on pace until mile 3 when cramps took over my poor colleague and ravaged him for the next 5-miles--all of which were uphill, of course. Needless to say, I felt pretty good (which is what always happens when one training partner has a bad race, the other one is like more fly than a kite), so I did my best to ensure we stopped for water and bananas at every aid station and then of course also made sure he downed some Gu's and my emergency stash of jelly beans. I knew I'd need them in some capacity when I packed them!

Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, Ruck Race to Robie Creek, Ruck Half Marathon, Half Marathon Ruck

We trudged up the hill for 8-5 grueling miles (left photo is going up, right photo is coming down and you can thank those rucks for squeezing the crap out of our midsections in the pictures--ooh baby, so flattering). We stopped here and there for cramps and at all the aid stations, but kept moving slowly and steadily along. Most of the folks who run Robie actually RUN it, so it was no surprise that we ended up in last place for a while there. When cramps, rucks, and walking collide, you're bound to slow down and let the runners, joggers, and speed walkers pass. No biggie.

As we made it to the top of the hill, the Temptation Station called my name. I had waited all day for a stinkin' donut (I deserved that donut!) but they were fresh out... dangit! Instead, the gal at the top said, "We don't have donuts, but we do have shots of Fireball!" So I decided to compromise and indulged her shot of fireball instead of a donut. I think it even helped perk me up for the last 5-miles!

Heading down the hill really helped us out. We'd been going pretty slow on the uphill with paces of 16, 19, 21, 25, 29, and 39-minute miles (that last one was a KILLER, I tell you!), but as soon as we switched to the decline our pace quickened to 14-16 min/miles and we even managed to pass 15 or so people as we kicked it in to high gear. We were there, man. As we came to the finish, we began to shuffle our way toward the finish line and victory never felt so good. We didn't win any medals, but we finished and that was a win in our books.

Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, Ruck Race to Robie Creek, Ruck Half Marathon, Half Marathon Ruck

While our original goal had been 3:30, we were happy when it was over and we crossed with a 4:40:74. Nope, it wasn't our goal time, but we did it nevertheless and were happy we didn't finish dead last!

Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, Ruck Race to Robie Creek, Ruck Half Marathon, Half Marathon Ruck

The cool part about the finish was that since we finished so late, there was a HUGE line of 400-600 people waiting to get on the buses. They all clapped for us as we finished and said how neat it was that we had rucked the whole thing. We immediately dashed all feelings of being slow and felt like rockstars with rucks the size of small children on our backs. HOOAH.

We made it to the end and celebrated with a couple draft beers (two of their last!) and two dry deli meat sandwiches that the volunteers were nice enough to give us. The event normally has a really awesome catered array of food for finishers, but we kind of took too long and they had already cleaned it up. Whoops! So we sipped our drinks and ate two of the best ham and turkey sandwiches we'd ever had because after five hours of wearing our rucks and little to no food along the way--we were starving!

In the end, there was no "I'm never doing this again" that was uttered by either of us. We are both already planning to ruck Robie again next year, and hopefully with a few more Defenders by our sides. To ruck in honor of our past Defenders and to do it alongside each other encompassed a morale and espirit de corps that was too amazing. It was a humbling run, and one that I look forward to next year.

Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, Ruck Race to Robie Creek, Ruck Half Marathon, Half Marathon Ruck

I'd like to give a huge shout-out to my teammate, TSgt Sisic, who was right  there alongside me and put one foot after another all the way to the end. You're a bad-A, Sisic and I couldn't have been more proud to be your teammate from start to finish at this race. Thanks for inviting me to share this event with you!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Palm Desert Trip 2018


Last year was not complete without our annual trip to Palm Desert, California to visit my dad and his wife at their desert oasis home. So this year, it had to happen! In the end of March, we trekked 15-hours south to Cali for a week of hikes, pool time, margaritas and Mexican food, and quality time with family.

This year, unlike years prior, my brother and grandma were also down there for the first few days of our trip. That made it really fun because we spent a little bit of time in a hotel while my dad's house was full, but we also got to spend some great time with family. We even took my brother for a hike and he got to see a whole new side of the California desert that he had never seen before.

Like our usual trips, every single day consisted of getting a good sweat on at the gym at my dad's country club, hiking for 3-4 hours, delicious lunches out at our favorite Mexican restaurants, some pool time, nap time, or homework time (since we're both in school), and then dinner with the family. The week could not have been more fun, more relaxing, or more needed!

See photos from the trip below.

Hiking the Pushwalla Palms trail at the Coachella Valley Preserve. It was the coldest and windiest day out there, but once the sun finally came out it made for a really nice afternoon. The very top photo in this post is also from the Coachella Valley Preserve. It was my favorite photo that we took the whole trip.

Las Salsas Palm Springs, margaritas
Margaritas after our hike at Salsas. Their margaritas were really affordable and surprisingly strong!

The daily view from Dad & Karen's house.

Ducks at Desert Falls Country Club, Palm Desert
These ducklings were the cutest. They became so friendly and would waddle up to us when we were out on the patio, waiting for snacks!

Indian Canyon hiking Palm Springs, Palm Canyon Trail at Indian Springs, East Fork Trail
Hiking the Palm Canyon and East Fork Trail at Indian Canyons. Their trails are probably the most diverse of any of the areas we go to, so we love the variety of the landscape.

Indian Canyon hiking Palm Springs, Palm Canyon Trail at Indian Springs, East Fork Trail
East Fork trail at Indian Canyons in Palm Springs.

Indian Canyon hiking Palm Springs, Palm Canyon Trail at Indian Springs, East Fork Trail
We made it to the end! We got a little lost on our hike through Indian Canyons and gave my brother a longer hike than what he bargained for. We made up for it afterward with margaritas and nachos. Boom!

Learning to play tennis at the Palm Desert Country Club. I need some work!

Indian Canyon hiking Palm Springs, Murray Trail to Seven Sisters Waterfalls at Indian Springs
Hiking the Murray Trail to the Seven Sisters Waterfalls at Indian Canyons. We hadn't made it the entire way last time we did it, so this time was a success!

Indian Canyon hiking Palm Springs, Murray Trail to Seven Sisters Waterfalls at Indian Springs, Rosy Boa snake
We found a rosy boa on the Murray Trail at Indian Canyons. What a friendly snake. She was just hanging out on the walking path, so we stopped to take her off to a safer spot.

Indian Canyon hiking Palm Springs, Murray Trail to Seven Sisters Waterfalls at Indian Springs
Hiking the Henderson Loop trail in Palm Springs. We love that trail, it's very desert-like and hardly ever busy.

Enjoying the best Chiles Gueritos California has to offer. This was at our favorite Mexican spot, Armandos.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail South and Canyon Loop at Whitewater Preserve in Palm Springs. Their elevation changes and wildflowers are always the most difficult to hike but beautiful to look at.

Sitting on top of the Canyon Loop trail at Whitewater Preserve.

It's crazy to hike in 80+ degree weather at Whitewater Preserve and to see snow in the California mountains ahead.

Delicious veggie enchilada and chiles rellenos at Las Casuelas Nuevas. We love our Mexican Food!

Well that's the tip of the iceberg for this year's trip, but it's a little snapshot into all the fun we had. The photos and videos (video diary to come!) always help us to reminisce and look back on our trips with such fondness. They also make us crave a return trip as soon as possible!

Check out all our past Palm Desert & California trips here!

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