Runners gotta run

To run a marathon, or not to run a marathon?

That is actually never the question in our house; we’re most likely already training.

Are we old and tired? Yes.

Do we have WAY too much going on? Also, yes.

Does this even matter? Sadly, no.

Mark and I thrive on creating epic stories and making the kind of memories that you can feel in aching knees and scars.

If only it was appropriate to show the full-butt bruises that lived with me through the winter from our ultimate sledding sessions. Instead, just picture the black and blue mottled skin of a bruise, a bad bruise, one that’s ringed by green and puffy after the full damage makes its way to the surface and it takes away all excitement that you were thinking about a butt.

Bring on the snow.

But until then, we run the thing.

The most recent thing: the Mount Desert Island Marathon in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Since late 2019 this race has been on the agenda:

  • We’ve never been to Maine, how better to explore a new place than to take a 26.2 mile tour on foot?
  • Cool medal.
  • Increased odds of seeing a moose.

But then COVID hit and burst our bubble.

Twice.

Eventually we forgot we had even signed up. We stopped running and started packing on winter/spring insulation. Life was grand and carefree! Nothing ruling our days but the things we wanted for ourselves!

But wait…

…ah sh*t.

“Training starts this weekend…”

“…with a 6-mile run.”

Friends, perhaps you are familiar with the phrase, “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”** We did not use our running legs so we lost our running legs and had to suffer extra to get back our running legs in the four months it takes to get ready for a marathon.

**Fun fact: the origin of this phrase is believed to be less euphemistic and more beaurocratical: if your agency does not spend all of its budget it must give the money back to the treasury.

But this is not a post about our toils through the ups and downs of training for an impossible distance that would take us through 1,700 feet of elevation gain. Nay-nay. I am here to slather you with the good, the bad and the truly ugly that made this race an A+, 9/10 adventure that will be forever imprinted in our brains, laminated and saved in our memories for future visits.

Points taken off for no moose sighting.

First, The Town.

Bar Harbor is the start of the race and so it’s where we stayed. It is Cabot Cove come to life; small and quaint and you should never visit because I’d like for it to stay charming and untouched by commercial entities capitalizing on increased tourism, mmmkay?

The seafood: aces.

Acadia tchotchkes: a’plenty.

Views from the harbor: bury me, I died.

Of course we also had to do our part to support the wild blueberry industry in Maine. My advice: when you don’t take your trip to Bar Harbor, don’t try the blueberry pie. And certainly don’t eat at Jeanie’s Great Maine Breakfast.

Now, The Race.

Hard. The race was hard.

Early on we clocked a mile-and-a-half hill; a lot of runners hit the wall on that hill, you could almost see the bonk in their gait. It was an accurate indication of what was still to come; but we were prepared, we trained in the hilliest sections of our neighborhood.

And our bodies held out well beyond the halfway point.

But then we broke down HARD.

Mark had struggled with a nagging Achilles issue. A trainer looked at it the day before the marathon, felt around his calf and told him to skip the race. He specifically used the words “crutches” and “ruined for life.” Obviously Mark ignored his qualified advice and ran, overcompensating with other less-developed leg muscle groups and spent the last four miles on pins and needles.

For me it was the angle of the road that derailed my life’s ambition of making Mark eat my dust. The pitch was so extreme that it threw my right hip out of alignment causing my leg to give out every 50 yards for the last few miles.

We walked the last two miles. Didn’t even attempt a light jog. Couldn’t even attempt a light jog. But we still finished; we collected our medals and our pizza slices and celebrated with everyone else who just did the same. I’m not even mad at the women who commented that we looked like we’d been on a nice Sunday stroll as we crossed the finish line.

I mean, I’m not mad now.

I do hope they see this, though.

Broken bodies aside, I said at mile 15 I would do this race again and I still mean it.

The weather, the course, the scenery, the runners behind us blasting Queen from a portable speaker; it all lined up perfectly. The golden lobster claw medal, the finishers’ dinner party and a thousand people hobbling around town, nodding in solidarity, were the added bonuses.

It’s the full picture that will keep me coming back, the things you don’t necessarily hear when runners talk about their races: four months of my life dedicated to training, the excited buzz at the starting line, counting down the miles of the race, the instant relief at the finish line, and then reminiscing about it hours, days, months and years later.

It also helps if there’s chowdah at the finish line.

But speaking of pictures…

This tree is what the race logo is modeled after; I felt like I was meeting a celebrity when I finally saw it
Still smiling at the halfway point!…but not for long

Of course we’re already training for our next race; the start of our next four races if 2023 is kind to us. Myrtle Beach 26.2 or bust!

Midnight hiking

When I was a wee-babe of 11 my fifth grade class went on a weeklong field trip to Camp Hi Hill in the Angeles National Forest; cabins, bunk beds, KP duty, it was everything you saw in Parent Trap minus the twin sister. My city school district owned a camp and every year would ship city kids off to have a little slice of nature. Among the many, many, memories I still carry with me, like my crusty beech counselor and her obsession with shaving her legs, was the most exhilarating yet totally inappropriate activity for children: the night walk.

Picture this: the mountains of Los Angeles, at night, in the dark. Our counselors take us to a trail and we are instructed to turn off our flash lights and walk a half mile of the trail, alone, to a counselor at the other end.

In the dark.

It was both terrifying and exciting, and I had ZERO hesitations despite the obvious fact that serial killers live and thrive in all dark places.

Mom, I survived. Calm down.

But this little adventure now lives in my brain and lingers in that area that pushes me to say ”YES!” to terrifying, exciting, and dumb ideas. Like running a marathon after just running a marathon, or baking Mario and Sonic cakes for my nephews’ birthdays.

Kids are serious about their cakes.

So last week when Mark said ”let’s do a sunrise hike!” I did not even have to agree. It is an unspoken rule that I am ON BOARD for a challenge. Then he said ”let’s hike Wright Mountain!” and I just kept packing my damn bag.

For context:

Sunrise hike: what to expect

Option 1: pack a sleeping bag, drive to the trail the night before and nap in your car. Wake up with enough time to strap on your shoes and your pack before hitting the trail.

Option 2: book a bunk at a local hostel, sleep commune style with strangers, hope for the best. Wake up with enough time to drive the short distance to your trail.

Option 3: sleep in your comfortable bed. Wake up and drive for hours in the middle of the night to the trail. Pass the cool kids who are heading home from a night on the town.

Headlamps. You’ll need headlamps. And Mark asked that I instruct you to make sure you pack extra batteries because hypothetically speaking if your headlamp did not function properly that would be bad.

Wright Mountain: what to expect

An Adirondack High Peak; over 4,000 feet, with 2,800+ elevation gain.

Windy. So windy. Nearly blew me off the peak the last time we hiked.

Not sure why anyone would choose to go here.

Cool plane crash just off the summit.

Beautiful summit, tho!

And so, after running 6 miles Saturday morning and doing chores all day, we decided on option 3 and settled into a nice comfortable bed for a hot second before waking up and rushing out the door with gear and snacks at midnight.

Oh but it wouldn’t be a true Agostino adventure without a touch of mayhem.

Picture this: the last potty break for our dogs just before we left. Also the last potty break for, Lucy, a neighbor dog. Mid-pee, my two realized they were not alone, and so they darted across the road, dragging me in my sandals, then after I fell, dragging my full body across their lawn. Dog fight ensued. At midnight. With me still attached to the end of the leashes.

Everyone was fine.

Annoyed. Furious. But fine.

And then it was off we go!

Fortunately, no more hiccups. Just driving and chatting, and dancing to House of Pain. After that, hiking and cursing and completely missing the sunrise.

Our legs were tired. Our entire bodies were tired. The climb took so much more out of us than we expected and we made it to the mountain in the full light of day.

Did I mention it was cold?! Like, 13 degree wind chill, cold??

(We wouldn’t have seen much anyway; a cloud came and enveloped the whole mountain range until we were well into our descent.)

Happiness.

Leading up to the peak, though, in the darkness, it was cool, quiet, and serene. The forest critters were all still nestled in their beds.

Every now and then I’d remember that behind me (I was following Mark) was absolute darkness, and then I’d remember that serial killers lived and thrived in absolute darkness; filling me with terror and dread for just a quick second.

A sunrise hike that starts in the darkest part of the night is the adult version of my childhood night walk at camp. Maybe that experience is what nurtured an adventure streak in me. Regardless, walking in the dark, not knowing what’s out there, is just so creepy cool.

As long as you stay clear of the serial killers.

How to: poop in the woods

Alternative title: Does an Agostino poop in the woods?

This is going to be a fun, TMI-filled, topic, friends.

I’ll give you a moment to consider your next move.

*checks nails*

*looks around, awkwardly*

*pretends to read something*

*realizes it’s upside down*

*resumes awkward gazing*

Ok. If you’re still with me, you’re about to learn a valuable, yet obscure skill: how to do your business in the woods while considering your fellow, future explorer.

Look around you; the world can be your bathroom!

First, why this is important to talk about:

  • You probably assume people doo as the dogs doo, squat and go; and you’d be incorrect. Dogs are down with OPP (other pups poops); people are not.
  • Poo is gross and no one wants to know that yours is out there. A squat-n-go will leave some kind of trace. A trace your nose knows.
  • It’s just good manners to “dispose” properly, wherever you are. Period.

As we know, sh*t happens. Like, literally everyday. And so those all-day, multi-day adventures will most definitely include a bathroom break of the No. 2 variety.

The poop-bladder, as my sister calls it, will not cease on command.

So it’s best to be prepared. And I don’t mean with just toilet paper.

There is a process.

So let’s dig right in!

(lol, #funwithpuns)

The faces of relief.

Let’s say you’ve spent weeks planning a special day out. You’re hitting the trails; you’re climbing hills, crossing streams, feeling the wind in your hair! It’s going to be friggin’ magical.

You fuel up on coffee and bran, lace up your best adventure shoes and leave all modern conveniences behind!

You are having the time of your…..

“Oh crap.”

Oh crap, indeed; something’s happening.

If you’d read this post prior to making plans, you’d be ready. Although, most likely a little apprehensive, you first-world, enclosed-room, privacy-pooper, you.

You would have the right tools.

Like at home, you’d have toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Not like at home, you’d also have a little, portable shovel, like THIS one from Walmart. The newbie outdoor poopers that Mark and I were, we bought a plastic shovel that doesn’t adequately pierce the undergrowth layer that sits on top of the dirt like a metal one would. The plastic shovel is lighter, but my preference, and that of most I’m going to assume, is that I erase allllllll traces of my deed with a tool that is made for digging holes and burying things.

This girl comes prepared. You know there’s shovel in that pack.

You would know where to go.

Once the urge hit, you would start looking for that special place. You would know to walk the recommended (in New York State) 70 paces away from the trail, and 70 paces away from water; although you’d use your best judgement and not walk yourself over a cliff or into an unsafe area. You would naturally look for privacy.

I pooped there.

**Pro-tip: be mindful of the trail and where it twists and turns; your private place might be in direct line of a trail that makes a sharp bend in your direction**

You would know what to do.

You would dig a hole with your trusty metal shovel. Only you know your body, specifically what your body does, and so only you know just how deep that hole should be. But you would dig that hole and *ahem* fill it. You’d include the toilet paper (it’s biodegradable) and cover everything with the dirt, leaves and whatever else covered the ground before.

Then you’d feel a pep in your step as you carried on with what’s probably shaping up to be a pretty great day and wonder why you were so apprehensive to do what bears do every day.

Yes. Agostinos poop in the woods, and you should too.

Two happy poopers!

Let’s get dirty

I’m relieved for the break in regularly scheduled adventure posting to get that beaver nonsense off my chest. Because if you’re going to get to know me, you should really know me.

The good, the bad, and the mortally embarrassing.

Amiright?!

But let’s get back to it.

The dirty business of getting out and having yourself and honest-to-goodness adventure.

Muddy boots
The muddiest of adventures! 33 miles over 19 hours and at least a thousand mud puddles

Don’t let this scare you from strapping on a pair of sneaks, filling up your water bottle, throwing on that sweat stained ballcap you keep finding buried under junk in the garage meant for the dump that your significant other swears they know nothing of how it got there, and heading out for super fun time.

Because as they say, God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt.

Clean!…but soggy, oof!

It can be a nuisance, though, especially for those clean-conscious. I am that tribe, friends. I know the anguish of planting a hand on a log while hoisting the body up and over a protrusion only to find said hand covered in sap, and eventually every particle that wafts by.

But you must know: if you’re dirty, you’re doing it right.

You’re getting down and really in it. Literally, in the weeds.

You’re invested and making those damn memories.

Resign yourself at the very beginning to stepping in mud at some point, or scraping a knee, or sweating through your clothes. Tell yourself that this is your day, as Mark tells me every single time we stare down a real monster of a hike or training run. Your day is going to be full of unexpected good, bad and uglies.

Hurray!

Mid-half marathon; before death set in at mile 8

This is my own on-going journey since I first wrangled my man and we became adventure buddies. Because of said cleanliness-focus, I am constantly aware of…my state, and so I’m constantly reminding myself that my dirt is like a completion patch so many of us hikers covet. It’s my badge that I earned, and that I wear and share with others.

You smell me coming?

Well yeah I just ran 26.2 miles, what did YOU do today?

Like I said, a journey.

Early on, though, I was not so proud of my badges.

Years ago, while still baby hikers, Mark decided we were ready for back-to-back hikes over one weekend; 13 miles one day and 12 the next.

Sure!

Sounds GREAT!

Great Range Traverse, Adirondacks
…and it WAS great! Look at those Adirondacks

But, um, what do we do after the first hike? Like, what do we do with all the sweat and sunscreen and bug spray?

Lucky for us, there is a lodge used for campers and hikers; they offer info and pay-by-the-minute showers!

Unlucky for us, the lodge was in the middle of construction on this very weekend and the showers were closed. Not just closed, removed. Forever and EVER.

Sleep dirty? CANNOT do it.

Cannot. Will not.

I can hike for miles and miles, I can run for miles and miles, but at the end of the day there is usually promise of a hot soak and fresh clothes. On this day there was no respite from the stink. I saw my tired self crawling into my sleeping bag and utterly corrupting it. And I broke down.

I cried and yelled.

I yelled and Mark saw my head spin.

I became irrational and tried to ”bathe” in a Stewart’s bathroom; foot in sink, zero shame, zero dignity.

(Out-of-towners picture gas station/convenience store bathroom.)

Needless to say, It did not work. I was not going to effect the kind of clean my standards demanded. Mark was not surprised, he offered another option: beach bathrooms, maybe they have showers?

They did.

A completely wide-open-to-anyone-walking-in-to-do-their-business shower.

Oh…..

HAPPY DAY!!!

Inside, I was deliriously happy. Outside, I stripped down and washed my day of fun and adventure and dirt and smells down the drain. Later, in my sleeping bag, I dreamed the dreams of a delicate princess who rests atop the mushroom clouds of Fairyland.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Bring cleaning implements. NOW, we fill up a pesticide sprayer with water and ”hose down” at the end of a particularly messy day. It works on sandy feet, it works on muddy boots, and it works on sticky peanut butter and jelly hands. It takes up little space and holds plenty of water.
  2. Sometimes hostels offer up their showers, and just their showers, for a small fee. We found out too late that the hostel across the street from where we ended this fateful hike would have rented us a shower for $5/each.

And that’s all. That’s all I learned.

No self improvement, no growth or realization of my short-comings.

Just how to clean myself when I am dirtiest.

And for that I say, ”you’re welcome.”

Extreme Sledding

**Warning, controversy alert.

We are going to cover a topic that on mountain forums is hotly debated.

And no, for anyone with a single minute of winter hiking experience, I am not talking about the “P” word.

Me: looks around nervously.

Absolutely no one:

Post-holing, I mean I’m not talking about post-holing. For now at least. That’s an argument that deserves a good amount of rest before tackling.

Vague much?

Today we cover EXTREME SLEDDING! Also known as hiking up a mountain and instead of trudging down, weary and cold, sliding down…on your butt!

WOOSH! WOOSH!!

Start ’em young!

For me, this is the number one reason to hike in the winter.

Maybe tied for first. The views are spec-tac-u-lar.

The quietness and serenity: also grand.

So one of the TOP THREE reasons to hike: sledding.

The controversy comes in when you find a group of purists who believe you walk up a mountain and then walk down, as nature intends for you to travel. You leave the trail in pristine condition, and anything other than a snowshoe track is an affront to the mountain and to your fellow man.

Please. People who are more knowledgeable: educate me. Because after years of sliding on my backside down trails of all conditions, after climbing up trails after someone has previously slid down, I cannot find a way that this practice is a no-no.

In light of no contradictory information, let’s talk about BUTT-SLEDDING!

I always end up carrying the baboon-butt-sleds up; small price to pay.

STEP ONE

Get yourself a real sled. You are not going to be able to fashion something small and sturdy enough on your own with everyday household items.

Like dollar store plastic placemats and twine.

Like cardboard and duct tape.

Like grocery bags.

Like your plain ’ol snow-panted butt.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

THIS (pictured above) is the sled that we use. Inexpensive and sturdy. Came quick and the whole family has gotten many fast and furious miles of enjoyment out of them.

STEP TWO

Find your climb.

In THIS POST I directed you to our favorite hiking implement, the AllTrails GPS hiking app. In addition to keeping you from wandering blind and lost through the wilderness and the inevitable death by hypothermia, AllTrails also tells you the grade of your hike! A 20% grade is great for meandering up to the top. A 20% grade is not going to be steep enough to make a grand descent.

We’ve found that sweet spot around 35%.

Of course that depends on the condition of the trail and weather. Is it a warm, above freezing day? Great! But the snow is going to be mushy and bunch up under your sled. Look for trails with a steeper grade. Is it cold? Cloudy? Icy? Hang on to your butts because you are in for a teeth-rattling ride at any grade.

STEP THREE

Go. Hike. That. Mountain!

Scout out the sweet spots for sliding on your way up. Take note of any rocks, downed trees or other impalement hazards.

For the 40ish-and-over club, mentally prepare yourself for the eventual bruising and soreness to come because you are not made for this. I spent the winter of 2020 with bruises on my thighs the size of my face from bouncing off boulders and trees AND YET: totally worth it.

TIPS

Let’s talk safety.

First, you’re hiking a mountain in the winter, remember, so plan accordingly:

  • Warm clothes, socks and mittens
  • Insulated boots
  • Spikes and snowshoes
  • Water (remember, DLIFS: don’t let it freeze, stupid)
  • AllTrails App

And second, on your way down:

DO look ahead at the trail you’re planning to sled down. Are you near a cliff? Maybe DON’T sled there.

DO watch for hikers on their way up. DON’T run them over, plz.

DO use your spikes as breaks.

DO shriek with wild abandon.

DO freakin’ enjoy yourself, you wild and crazy kid.

Vacay in the ADKs

When they go low, we go high…in altitude!

While most kids head down south to warmer weather and sandy beaches for their mid-winter school break, for the past two years we’ve headed north with the 12-year-old to drag her up and down mountains in near zero temps.

Child abuse?

We prefer to call it ”character building.”

She loves it.

Golden hour on a picture-perfect day 😍

On deck for this year’s break were just two mountains, one super easy warm up, the other a bit of a ball-buster. (Down from two ball-busters because someone wanted to have a life and, like, go home early to make it to a sleep over birthday party, or whatever.)

(And with that I’m done saying ”balls” because I know it’s making my mom uncomfortable.)

The first day of our mini-break provided clear blue skies, views for miles and smiles, lots and lots of smiles. We have been climbing the firetowers in the Adirondack Park lately, and this one was short and sweet. A quick two miles, hard packed snow and only 200 feet of elevation gain.

A quick walk up to this lil’ guy

We didn’t even earn the mac ’n cheese skillets we devoured back at our hotel later on.

The second day brought a winter storm. One that dumped half a foot of snow before we even got to the mountain, and another half a foot while we were out trudging to the top. The kind of storm that weather guys and gals recommend you stay inside for.

It was miserable.

All ”smiles” on day two

Mark and I were miserable, and the poor kid was miserable.

The climb was hard on its own. Elevation gain from the very first step. The driving snow that filled in our tracks with every step and soaked into our clothes only made the hard stuff harder.

Snowshoes, a winter must-have for this very reason!

Every ten yards we stopped to breathe, and every hundred yards we stopped to remind the kid that we can turn around if she doesn’t think she can make it.

She made it.

This picture spells r-e-l-i-e-f.

Of course she did. Girlfriend is tough as nails. Despite all that pre-teen angst, she pushed through with strength and determination she might not have known was even there. But she knows now. And I’m so excited to see what she does with it.

(The pizza and ice cream promised at the finish was probably a bit of a motivator too, but let’s say it was a solid 90% strength and determination that got her there.)

Snowy tower

Take the mountains home with you!

Did you know…

…that I am now selling canvas prints from Mark’s and my hiking trips?!

You can find these prints in my Etsy store!

Just a little memento for YOU!

Now. These prints are not to adorn your walls in place of your own adventure mementos. These prints are to encourage you to find your own views!

And to add to your decor because that’s what photography is also for. Obviously.

The fog on Haystack Mountain, in my Etsy store!

Every one of these prints has a special story. This one is from a 15+ mile day in 2018. We had our eyes on this three-peak hike for some time, saving it for near the end of a 46 mountain hiking challenge because of the breathtaking views from the top and the difficulty of getting there (Saddleback Mountain cliffs, cringe).

But as we set out the rain started. Knowing we’d be hiking from sun up to sun down, this was devastating. Even more devastating given we had just hiked 16 miles in non-stop downpour over three peaks not long before this day.

We set out anyway; as Mark always says, ”this is just what we’re doing today.”

Then the rain cleared.

We were treated to a breathtaking cloud show from the bottom of the mountain all the way to the top.

Mark is there on the right, I promise.

I threw in a little bonus with just this one print.

Mark and his bright orange pack cover is in the picture!

Do you see him??

He’s there, I promise!

Guess you’ll have to buy the canvas to see for yourself…

J/k, he’s on the wrapped edge 🙂

But I do hope you bring one of these prints into your home and enjoy them as much as we enjoyed capturing them!

You can find my store here: http://www.fineandfir.Etsy.com.