5K in Every State – Utah!

Y’all, this one was A. Mazing! And yes, it’s the third one this year…I do believe I’m on a 5K roll!

Twelve states done!

This trip was quite last minute. In July I joined a makeup company (this is going to blow your mind, btw), so now in addition to my full-time day job, I’m also a Maskcara Beauty Artist in my free time (more on that in another post). Before my Artist kit even arrived, the opportunity arose to attend the company’s annual conference in Salt Lake City and I said “why not?” My cancer diagnosis five years ago gave me a new perspective on life and a greater appreciation for positive life experiences, so where I used to hesitate and err on the side of caution, now I’m saying yes to a whole lot more. This is making me very happy.

A downtown Salt Lake City mural. Who else loves murals?!

Since Utah had not been checked off my list yet, I figured I should work a 5K into the 47 hours I’d be there. Why wouldn’t I, right? This one was tricky because I didn’t want to miss any of the conference. Well, it just so happened that The Launch Team 5K/10K was happening Saturday morning at 6:30. That’s race start time, folks. I had to be at the designated meeting place by 5:30 a.m. to catch a bus that drove us up Emigration Canyon, and then we ran the 5K back down the canyon. The morning speaker at the conference was scheduled for 9:00 a.m. Y’all, this was a test of my efficiency if I’ve ever seen one.

We literally stumbled around in the dark looking for the registration table.

There’s so much to say about this race. First, the group trains teens and young adults of all athletic abilities to run a half marathon. A half marathon. You can’t see me, but I’m bowing in awe. These folks are amazing. They coach kids not only to run, but to develop a healthy lifestyle, to be accountable, and to develop a passionate and positive attitude. I’m so glad I gave these people my money and ran down a hill with them. All the feels!

Second, the scenery. Gahhhh! It was middle-of-the-night dark when I arrived, and it took a while to find where/who was handing out shirts and bibs because all we had for light were the school bus headlights parked along the street. Not to be deterred, we packed in and rode up the canyon, unloaded, and it was still dark. This actually made for some quiet, meditative pre-race time as opposed to the usual hopping around and stretching. It gave me the opportunity to get a little zen vibe going on.

And then the sun started rising. I didn’t actually see the sun until after the race because we were in a canyon; it simply became light enough to see, and the mountains of the Wasatch Range were revealed. Gorgeous.

The mountains as seen from Emigration Canyon.

With the run being all downhill, one would think I would have pulled a fantastic time. No M’am. I did an all-downhill 5K in 42:47 minutes, just 2 minutes faster than my flat Minnesota run in June. Hmph. Yes, I stopped to take pictures a few times, but that can account for maybe 3 minutes at most. They say these downhill runs are so people can get crazy fast times to qualify for marathons. Well, I’m not trying to qualify for anything. Obviously.

Check out this home nestled in the canyon. The Sound of Music anyone?

But, I made it down the canyon, and the sun was at my back as I triumphantly breathlessly crossed the finish line.

They pronounced my name correctly when I crossed the finish line! #saymyname

I collected my second place winnings (for my age group, and there were only three of us) which consisted of a ribbon and a couple of coupons for local eateries, and as I crossed the street to await my Uber I saw this.

Day made right there.

I’ve been struck by ridiculous, overwhelming, natural beauty on each of my 5K trips. Salt Lake City was no exception, and it was crazy easy to navigate. The TRAX Light Rail from the airport to downtown was quick  and I paid for my ride with an app. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

Waiting on the train.

TRAX coming to take me home. Well, back to the airport. The cars were super clean, which is always a welcome relief.

I didn’t see much of the city because my time there was short and I was committed to the conference and the predawn 5K. But y’all, I’m so glad I set out on this crazy journey! Some of these races I’m half walking, and some day I might be walking them entirely, but good grief it is so worth it. If you’re thinking about seeing more of our breathtaking United States, do it. I highly recommend taking it all in. Let it fill your eyes with beauty and your heart with joy. Running shoes optional.



5K in Every State – Minnesota!

Yep, another 5K in another state. That’s number eleven and the second this year…so far. Eleven! I’m well into the double digits. Ha! Before I give the deets on my Minnesota run though, and for the benefit of the folks just tuning in, I want to revisit why this lofty goal is even on my bucket list (lest anyone think I’m plain crazy).

11 states done, 39 to go!

In 2013 I was diagnosed with stage IIB invasive breast cancer, and understandably, I got way in my head about it. Even with the prognosis of a 93% 5-year and 83% 10-year survival rate, hearing the words “you have cancer” had me questioning everything. For the first time I seriously contemplated my own mortality, I mean seriously realized it could happen and definitely would happen some day. The good news is that it lit a fire in me to get busy living!

My treatment plan included lumpectomy, radiation, meds, healthy eating, and regular exercise. Physical fitness has never been my jam. Starting programs is my forte; sticking with them is not. But, I joined the YMCA LIVESTRONG program where a group of us survivors were instructed in workouts twice a week for three months. It’s a great program, and I thought after doing something for three months it would stick. No M’am. Within a few weeks of completing the course I was skipping the gym more than I was going.

Meanwhile, as I was avoiding the gym, I was working on my bucket list which included a vague reference to travel–something I used to do more often–and I was also racking my brain for an exercise routine that wouldn’t bore me to tears (no stationary exercise equipment please) and didn’t require me to go to a place (because when I get home from work, I’m in). Then it hit me: a 5K in every state would get me traveling again AND would force me to stay active because I’d have to train for each of the 50 races. And all I had to do was run out the door–no going to the gym. Genius! Except I wasn’t a runner. Aye-aye-aye.

Now you’re up to speed, and my most recent run in Minnesota was the 8th Annual Tanner’s Team Walk/Run which raises funds for the Tanner’s Team Foundation. TTF helps families with children fighting life-threatening illness or serious injury in 45 central Minnesota counties. Any time a charity involves children, it tugs at my heart, and seeing some of the kiddos at the race that have been helped by this group gave me all the feels. I was honored to run this one. Well, I sort of ran it. I was just a few weeks into the Couch to 5K program 11.0, so I did run/walk intervals (sounds familiar–same as the last race!) that got me 44:37. Safe to say this was not a personal best, but hey, I showed up and I finished.

The Tanner’s Team Foundation bear?

Finished! And not last!

The day prior, I flew into Minneapolis, rented a car, and marched myself straight to the Mary Tyler Moore statue. It’s Mary who reminds me that I’m “gonna make it after all,” so it wouldn’t have felt right visiting the city without paying homage to the Mary. If I had a hat with me…

I didn’t have long to poke around the city, but the tiny slice I saw was beautiful. At population 420,000, the city has two light rails, a commuter rail, and the Minneapolis Skyway System, which is seven miles of enclosed pedestrian bridges linking eighty city blocks. It’s ranked the 9th most walkable city in the nation. Not bad when you consider the average yearly high temp is 55.2 (that’s for the whole year–it gets into the 80s in July). There’s an artsy vibe downtown, and I stumbled upon some darn good food, too. Do you get the feeling I was absolutely enamored with this city? Me too.

The Mary. A true pioneer.

The Mercury Dining Room and Rail – awesome eats at the former Soo Line train station.

My final destination, however, was a family get-together about an hour and a half from Minneapolis, so off I went to see the brother and the sisters. And in-laws, and nephews, and nieces, oh my! One of my nephews I last saw at Dad’s funeral in 1999, and the last time the sibs were all together was at Mom’s funeral, so this light-hearted gathering with the perfect weather, the games, and more food than we could possibly eat was incredibly relaxing, needed, and good for the soul. My family really needs to do more socializing outside of funerals. These last two trips (I did New Hampshire in May) have made my heart smile.

The setting for our reunion could not have been more beautiful.

We each tie dyed a shirt as a family reunion keepsake, cuz we’re groovy like that!

My next race is to be determined, but I’ll keep you posted. I hope y’all have some fun stuff planned this year. It’s wonderful to get out and explore, and to quote the MTM show lyrics, it’s time you started living!


5K in Every State – New Hampshire!

Hello, my dears, I’ve missed y’all! The winter season hit me hard this year and I’m guilty of having hibernated, procrastinated, and generally couch-potatoed. That is, until a couple of months ago. I got off my behind and started the Couch to 5K program again and checked New Hampshire off my 5K in Every State list. Ten states done. TEN. Can I get a woot woot!

10 states done! Only 40 more…

I did the 16th Annual Mont Vernon 5K which supports the Neighbor 2 Neighbor program serving Mont Vernon residents who find themselves needing help with necessities like groceries and heat. Don’t you just love when people help each other? That’s community.

While the scenery on this course was breathtaking, the run itself was nothing short of ugly. I did a run/walk interval and still felt like c.r.a.p. the entire time. In my defense, I’m not quite half way through the C25K program, and my time was 47:01. A real runner might scoff at that (it’s a full 20 minutes behind the fastest in my age group), but I’m proud of (and thankful for) finishing without assistance from the medics. Damn proud.

One of the many gorgeous views along the 5K course

As we lined up and awaited the start gun, I asked a couple with a baby in a jogging stroller if the course was fairly flat. They’re pushing a baby in a stroller, so the course can’t be too tough, right? Well, given the state in which this particular 5K was hosted, that was a nitwit question. It’s New Hampshire. No, the course is likely not flat. However, the couple looked at each other quizzically and said “there’s one big hill, but otherwise it’s pretty flat.” I thought to myself, wow, did I ever get lucky!


I wanted to hunt them down after the race, stroller and all, and explain how they needed to educate themselves on the definition of flat vs. G.D. lung-collapsing hilly. But, being the polite traveler I am, I didn’t. And maybe because it would be a half hour before I could breathe well enough to actually speak.

Shin splints and wheezing aside, it was awesome to have participated in this little local race supporting such a great cause. Mont Vernon was beautiful, the folks were friendly (although topographically confused), and they had a lovely Spring Gala happening along with the race. If you’re checking out small towns in New Hampshire, add Mont Vernon to your list.

General Store in Mont Vernon, NH

But, the real reason for my visit to The Granite State, the OG, was to celebrate a friend receiving her law degree. Completing law school is an impressive accomplishment in and of itself, but the Fabulous Miss M did this after having been in the workforce for…a certain number of years. She had a wonderful network of friends and family supporting her, but I know from personal experience the drive, commitment, and forgone sleep it takes to complete a degree as an adult. Congrats, dear friend, you never fail to impress.

With the graduate. I liked it better when we lived in the same state!

Do y’all have that one friend who knows exactly how to make everyone feel welcome? Whose home feels like home. This is that friend, and it was an incredibly lovely weekend spent with she and her husband, and a load of family, friends, babies, kids, and dogs. The food was potluck exquisite, and it went on forever! You know, when every guest brings the most amazing dish? It was that times a hundred. And with beer. And a bonfire. The weekend could not have been better.

Two of the FOUR pork butts slow cooked on the smoker. #drooling

The bonfire came in handy against the dreaded Mayflies. Next time I’ll visit in June!

I came home after this long weekend feeling recharged having reconnected with friends. When I think about the folks in Mont Vernon hosting a race each year to raise funds for their Neighbor 2 Neighbor program, I see that same spirit in the circle of friends around my New Hampshire peeps. The genuine kindness that exuded from this group was palpable. New Hampshire, the 10th state on my list, was host to a great trip. Beautiful vistas, really good food, and awesome people!


5K in Every State: South Carolina!

The year nearly got away from me without tending to my 5k in every state quest. Yikes! Most of 2016 was consumed with a crazy load at work, my move into an older home (read: I now exist solely to do home repair and yard work), and helping my Mom transition from independent living to assisted living. It’s been a blur…and I’m not talking about my running, because truth be told, I usually walk anyway.

Now that the chaos has quieted, and realizing I hadn’t had a vacation yet this year, I took off to Myrtle Beach, SC for a long weekend with a couple of good friends and, of course, my sweet Grace. I’ve been living in North Carolina for 16 years and had never been to Myrtle. Crazy. From what I’ve heard, Myrtle Beach is a love-it or hate-it kind of place depending on your level of intro- or extraverted-ness. I wander from one camp to the other, so I went with no expectations.

Seven states done!

Since Miss Grace was traveling with us, I booked early to secure a dog-friendly room. Sidebar: there is a huge opportunity out there for nice, dog-friendly hotels. Seriously, the first entrepreneur who realizes that people traveling with their dogs (over 20 pounds) deserve a clean, well-maintained hotel room just the same as people sans pets is going to become a billionaire. But for now, it appears that the equivalent of a dilapidated EconoLodge is what we have to work with. Sigh.

Even though I booked our room well in advance, Hurricane Matthew said “No, no, no!” Yep. The storm hit a week prior to our arrival, but I received an email from the hotel stating  “the coast is clear!” So to the beach we went. Much to our dismay, the coast was not clear. The hotel was damaged. I stood in line for an hour to check in to a room I did not reserve. A room without an ocean view and without two beds. One of our group was sent to a property six blocks away. The three of us, four counting Grace, spent much of our long weekend playing musical rooms and a new game I call “stump the shuttle driver” before it was all sorted out. But we had lots of laughs–I mean my cheeks and belly hurt kind of laughing–and enjoyed the weekend anyway. Put three ladies at the beach next to a great burger joint with a few beers and voila! You can’t stop the laughter!

Speaking of burgers, if you want a seriously good one, I highly recommend River City Cafe. A hefty menu–more burgers than I knew existed, incredibly reasonable prices, and delish. Don’t get all gussied up because you’ll be walking on peanut shells and craning your neck to read the license plate covered walls. Your server will get your beer and your burger with a smile, but she’s not going to take your jacket. Anything more than a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops is unnecessary.

Burger at River City Cafe

And the weekend begins!

Saturday morning was the run, which was a one-miler that I did with Grace. That’s right, not a 5k at all. This is my bucket list, so I call Lady’s Choice! We were up early and off to The Market Common where we ran the Doggie Dash to benefit the Grand Strand Humane Society. This was Grace’s first run that involved other dogs, many other dogs, and she did great! She trotted her little behind off, sometimes gently pulling me along. We had to stop a few times for me to catch my breath because it’s been a while since I’ve done anything more strenuous than get the mail. The important thing here is that we finished; not record time, but somebody’s got to be at the back of the pack, right?

We finished!

My second recommendation if you’re in Myrtle, especially if you’re traveling with your pooch, is the The Market Common, which is a mixed-use development with shops, movie theater, restaurants and pubs, residential living space, and a beautiful park complete with a pond. No big, you say? These things are everywhere? Well, yes. However, at this particular shopping center, the stores allow dogs! It was travel-with-your-dog-heaven! Charming Charlie, Chico’s, Handpicked, everywhere we went, Little Miss was allowed in the store and browsed right along with us. Awesome. Sauce. Here’s a shot of HRH refusing to play giant chess at The Market Common. Perhaps she thinks she is, quite literally, the Queen.

The Queen

Sunday we headed to Murrells Inlet and checked out the Marsh Walk. Another thing on the “highly recommend” list. The Marsh Walk is a 1/2 mile wooden boardwalk along the waterfront and natural saltwater estuary.

An egret on the Marsh Walk

There are plenty of restaurants along the way. We took a seat at Wicked Tuna, which is at the southern end of the boardwalk. Spectacular view, cold beer, and damn good food. Grace was a trooper and found some shade at our feet beneath the table while we relaxed and enjoyed the afternoon.

Shrimp Tacos at Wicked Tuna

My favorite little gingerbread pup

No beach post is complete without gorgeous sunrise and sunset photos. That is, after all, the reason one goes to the beach. Seeing that giant ball of hydrogen peak over the horizon and come to life, bringing the world with it, exhilarates me.

Sunrise on the beach. I love it!

Then, when it settles in for the evening, seeming to dip into the water and wrap the world in shades of crimson and magenta, it comforts me.

Sunset on the beach is soothing.

Back to my earlier statement that people either love or hate Myrtle, I say no matter what your taste, where there’s a beach, there’s food for the soul. Add a couple of dear friends, and you have the perfect place no matter where you are.


5K in Every State: Alabama!

After the run through Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge, Ga and a beautiful dinner in Atlanta on Saturday, we hit the road Sunday morning in search of breakfast. As noted in “5K in Every State – Georgia!” we found the best little diner ever. We got off track a bit and didn’t leave there until nearly 12:30. Um, that’s a 2.5 hour delay! But, it was the last day of the tri-state tour, and by this point we were pretty chill about the whole thing. Here is what Sunday’s schedule looked like:

10:00 On the road to Birmingham (we messed that up)
11:15-4:30 (time change to CDT) Explore Birmingham (turned out to be 3:00-4:30)
5:30 Magic City AIDS Walk & 5K Fun Run
7:00 Dinner

We pulled into town a little behind schedule, but still had time to poke around. We saw the 16th Street Baptist Church (from the outside), and stepped across the street to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It’s tough to put into words the flood of emotions as I walked through, saw, and read. Anger, sorrow, heartbreak, shame, overwhelming sadness. But it felt right to feel those things. If you are ever in Birmingham, please see this. I cried a lot, as I suspect many people do while visiting this museum. This is a horrific part of our Nation’s history, but it should not be forgotten. In my opinion, we can only move forward by learning from the past, which means we should never forget.

16th Street Baptist Church was Birmingham's first black church to organize in 1871.
16th Street Baptist Church was Birmingham’s first black church to organize in 1871. The current church, however, was built in 1911.

The Bham run was the Magic City AIDS Walk & 5K Fun Run to benefit the Birmingham AIDS Outreach organization. It was held at Railroad Park, which is a beautiful park in an area that is experiencing some development. Lots of apartment/condo/townhouse type buildings going up with a handful of little restaurants and a brewery nearby.

I’m going to be up front about this–there was absolutely no chance I was going to run one step of this race. After two runs in two days, I could barely move. I felt like I needed a six-hour yoga class followed by a couple hour sports massage. Since I was going to walk it, and barely walk it at that, Kathy joined me for this one. I’m glad she did, because we were so slow that the event volunteers and police officers all left the course while we were still out there! I’m sure they had no idea we were that far behind. But there we were, walking through a deserted warehouse district on a Sunday evening in a city to which neither of us had ever been. The sun was just beginning to set as we returned to the park to see volunteers hauling tables and coolers away. No party here, folks. The race was done.

The sun setting on Railroad Park in Birmingham.
The sun setting on Railroad Park in Birmingham.

Surprisingly, we had a tough time finding a restaurant that was open on Sunday evening. I thought that was odd for a city of over 210,000, but we finally happened upon Babalu Tacos & Tapas. It was on the printed list given to us at the hotel, and that alone put me in a skeptical sort of mood. I figure if a restaurant has to depend on a hotel to provide its customers, they’re likely not reeling them in on their own merit. But oh, how pleasantly surprised I was. Babalu had sort of an urban, upscale garage vibe (actual garage doors for walls and lots of flannel and man-buns), and we were accidentally given complimentary queso & chips when we sat down. Already off to a smashing start!

The food was good. I had shrimp and grits, and the grits were different from any I had ever tasted. They were way cheesier–somewhere between a salmon color and baby aspirin orange–and the granules were larger than what I consider normal grits. It was tasty. They also had a great drink menu. I tried the CAT 5 which involved Cathead vodka, mint, agave nectar, soda, lime and bitters. That thing was amazing! It was like a Mojito, but a thousand times less sweet. I seldom drink liquor drinks, but I wasn’t driving, so I drank that one and swiftly ordered another. Our server told us they are planning a store in Charlotte, so heads-up to my Charlotte friends–keep your eyes peeled for Babalu!

Our flight was at 10:30 the next morning, and on our way out of town Monday we drove up to Vulcan Park to see the original iron man. According to the Vulcan Park & Museum, “Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge, watches over all of Birmingham as a symbol of the city’s iron origins–and the ever-present spark of its indomitable spirit.” It’s an impressive iron statue of a muscular, burly man with a bare bottom. He is 56 feet tall, and with the brick pedestal he reaches 173 feet. Vulcan is the largest cast iron statue in the world. We didn’t have time to check out the museum, but I did get to walk around the grounds and take in the view of the city below. That might be just as impressive as the iron guy himself.

Vulcan, a symbol of the nation's iron and steel industry, was cast in 1904 and weighs 50 tons.
Vulcan, a symbol of the nation’s iron and steel industry, was cast in 1904 and weighs 50 tons.

The view from Red Mountain at the feet of Vulcan. Breathtaking!
The view of Birmingham from Red Mountain at the feet of Vulcan. Breathtaking!

Since we’ve never heard of a pilot holding the plane for folks to sight see, Kathy was waiting in the car with the motor running. I hopped in and just like that our tri-state tour had come to a close. It was a whirlwind for sure, and I wish we had more time in each city, but I’m thankful for seeing what I saw, for the good food and drink, and for the wonderful company. This 5K-in-every-state thing may not be so bad…except for the running!


Tip: See the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Tip: Visit Railroad Park, 19 acres of downtown green space, and Vulcan Park & Museum. There is so much I did not see at Vulcan Park (the observation deck and the museum), but it’s worth the twisty-windey drive up the hill just for the panoramic view of the city below.
Tip: Eat at Babalu Tacos & Tapas and while you’re there, throw back a CAT 5 liquor drink!



5K in Every State: Georgia!

The second stop on the great tri-state 5K tour was Georgia. We had lunch in Chattanooga Saturday, and as scheduled, hit the road to Stockbridge, GA (just outside of Atlanta) at 1:30. Hotlanta, ready or not!

Saturday’s schedule looked like this:

9:00-1:30 Explore Chattanooga & Lunch
1:30 On the road to Stockbridge, GA
5:00 AWARE Panola Mountain State Park Night Owl 5K
6:15 On the road to Atlanta
7:00 Check in at hotel
8:00 Dinner reservation with a friend in Atlanta

We hit traffic again through Atlanta, but got to Panola Mountain State Park in plenty of time for me to check in and pin my bib. This run was put on by AWARE (Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort), and there were a few critters there to welcome us–a barn owl, a hawk, and something in a cage I didn’t get my eyes on. These birds were impressive creatures.

Windy Sue Whoo is a Barn Owl whose right wing was permanently injured by a homeowner who thought she was a threat to the family cat. Windy now lives at the AWARE center.
Windy Sue Whoo is a Barn Owl whose right wing was permanently injured by a homeowner who thought she was a threat to the family cat. Windy now lives at the AWARE center.

It is an understatement to say that Panola Mountain State Park is picturesque. It is a 1,600-acre park with pavilions, picnic shelters, campsites, fishing lakes, bridges, and flat out breathtaking natural beauty. It’s a quick 30 minutes South of Atlanta, and I highly suggest you check it out. There are paved trails, so you don’t need to be a seasoned hiker to enjoy the beauty.

Paved trails at Panola Mountain State Park. I had hoped the entire course would be flat like this, but it was not so!
Paved trails at Panola Mountain State Park. I had hoped the entire course would be flat like this, but it was not so!

There were volunteers stationed along the run with more wildlife. How cute are these two?
There were volunteers stationed along the run with more wildlife. How cute are these two?

Picture-perfect views at every turn.
Picture-perfect views at every turn.

For an experienced runner, this course was probably cake even in the rain. For little old, non-runner me who had fully run only her second 5K the day before, my legs said it was out of the question. So I ran the flats and the downhills, walked the uphills, and stopped to take lots of pictures. My time was 44:59 (6th of 10 in my age group–not too shabby), which is about what my time was the first time I completely ran a 5K (without walking or taking pics). Hmph.

Feeling pretty darn good post-race!
Feeling pretty good post-race!

It was nearly 6:30 by the time we hopped in the car (15 minutes behind schedule–gasp), but we had a dinner reservation and I surely wasn’t going to show up rained on and muddy. We checked into the hotel, I showered myself back to human, and off we went to dinner at Lure, a seafood restaurant to please even the foodiest of foodies. I had the Whole Bramlett Farms Trout which was done to perfection. Trout is a tricky fish to prepare, in my opinion, because when it is filleted in half, it is thin and there is a fine line between fully cooked and over cooked. It’s easy to end up with a slightly dry, but still tasty, piece of fish. The chef at Lure prepared the Trout whole, which allows the fish to be cooked through and retain its moisture. Our server de-boned it table-side, which was a show in and of itself, and the result was a flaky, tender, and tasty fish that wasn’t even in the neighborhood of dry. It was a treat.

It was good to catch up with my Atlanta peep. The three of us ate, drank, talked, and laughed. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed so much, and it was good for my soul. But after one large fish, a little dessert, and a couple of libations, it was once again time to rest my aching bones–remember, this was my second 5K in as many days. The AWARE Night Owl 5K was by far the coolest run I’ve done so far, and there’s nothing better than spending time with friends. This crazy trip was turning out to be pretty darn good.

My head no sooner hit the pillow and I swear it was daylight and time to find our way to some breakfast. Kathy suggested we do the old fork-and-knife-icon-on-the-phone trick, and we hit the jackpot at an awesome little place off the beaten path. We weren’t too far outside of Atlanta when we happened upon the Thumbs Up Diner. If you lived there, this is the place you’d have breakfast every Sunday. I had the Greek Scramble which checked off both of my breakfast boxes: delicious and big. Bonus: my tab was $7.44. Seriously. This is the kind of place where the servers wear their street clothes and the only thing that distinguishes them from everyone else is how quickly they’re moving.

Thumbs Up Diner. No-nonsense good food!
Thumbs Up Diner. No-nonsense good food!

Our bellies were full, and Atlanta was in our rear view. Next stop, Birmingham!


Tip: Take a stroll through Panola Mountain State Park and bring your camera!
Tip: Stay at the Atlanta Marriott Suites Midtown. Modern, spacious, clean, and a full-service lobby bar.
Tip: Breakfast at the Thumbs Up Diner. Great breakfast/cheap eats.
Tip: Dine at Lure. Excellent seafood, and you must sample the pistachio ice cream. Out. Of. This. World!


5K in Every State: Tennessee!

I’m on this quest to run a 5K in every state, and I’m not really a runner. For those just tuning in, I was diagnosed with Stage IIB breast cancer, which was a frightening and life-changing event, but I’m now 2 ½ years cancer-free and working on my Life List. Most would call it a bucket list, but that term doesn’t sit right with me, so Life List it is. I needed to inject some exercise into my sedentary life, and I missed traveling something awful, so I decided to throw “5K in every state” on the List. Stay physically fit and see the entire country while I do it. Super!

I knocked out a few states right off the bat: my first 5K was in my home state of North Carolina, next was a nice little trail run in Wisconsin while visiting family, and then I took a long weekend to South Beach with a friend and did a 5K through the Miami Zoo. How cool is that? But that was all a while ago, and if left unchecked, I’ll fuse to the sofa before you can say Netflix. A good friend told me I better get moving, and so I did.

My Wisconsin run near Madison was beautiful!
My Wisconsin run near Madison was beautiful!

I planned a ridiculous “three 5Ks in three states in three days” trip, and I actually convinced a friend to join me. Truthfully, she took pity on me. This junk isn’t even on her list, so she’s crazier than I am, right? I joke. Kathy made it clear she was not running anywhere, but she was coming along to have fun (yay!), and to be sure I didn’t get lost somewhere on my way from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Chattanooga to Atlanta, or Atlanta to Birmingham. Basically, to be an awesome friend.

So I sent her the itinerary and off we went. Kathy confessed at the close of our tour that she thought I had lost my marbles and there was no way that schedule was going to fly, but it did. Mostly. The one fault in my planning was not allowing enough time for the beast that is called Atlanta. The airport. The Disney-long line at Thrifty car rental. The TRAFFIC. So we were behind schedule from the get-go. Here’s what the first day was supposed to look like:

1:15 PM Land at ATL
1:45 On the road to Chattanooga, TN
4:00-6:45 Check in at hotel and explore Chattanooga
6:45 On the road to Dayton, TN
8:00 YMCA Funky Monkey 5K in Dayton
9:00 On the road to Chattanooga
10:00 Dinner in Chattanooga

Since we were a couple of hours late out of Atlanta, we didn’t get to see Chattanooga at all on Friday. We blew into town and barely had time to drop our bags at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, change into running gear, and hit the road to Dayton 45 minutes North for the YMCA Funky Monkey 5K Glow Run. The Choo Choo was a disappointment, but the only let-down of the entire trip, so success in my book. I had great expectations for the train depot once called Terminal Station turned vacation complex in 1973 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The lobby, which is what used to be the old train station, is gorgeous. Hotel 3—not so much. Once you are welcomed into the grand opulence of the hotel lobby, you are given a map, directed to get in your car and travel to Hotel 1, Hotel 2, or Hotel 3, none of which looked anything like a train station. Hotel 3 brought to mind “Orange is the New Black.” But we weren’t spending much time there anyway, so what the heck.

Hotel 3
Hotel 3. How’s that for warm and inviting?

We drove into Dayton with just enough time to circle around town searching for the race, to ask directions from folks who could not comprehend that we were not from there and had no idea where 3rd Street, the florist, or the funeral home were, and finally made our way to the event. Persistence. I got my glow on (one yellow tube around my neck—the Y kids wrapped themselves head-to-toe), and pop went the start gun! This was an 8pm run on a flat course with a cool temp. I ran the entire 5K (only the 2nd time ever) and came in with my best time ever by 10 minutes with a time of 33:57! I never thought I would do better than 40:00. I struggle that much. But, no time for celebrating–I caught my breath, and we high-tailed it back to Chattanooga to the Terminal Brewhouse for some food and drink. After running 3 miles, inhaling a hefty black bean burger and a glass of red wine, Hotel 3 didn’t seem so bad.

Terminal Brewhouse in Chattanooga
Terminal Brewhouse in Chattanooga

The next morning we finally saw a little bit of the city. Chattanooga is nestled in a valley between the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau with a population of about 175,000. We checked out Coolidge Park which is part of the Tennessee Riverwalk, a 15-mile long public greenway that runs along the Tennessee River. The park is beautiful with a 100-year-old restored carousel and an interactive water feature. The Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge is near the park entrance, and you get a great view from the bridge.


A view of Coolidge Park from the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge
A view of Coolidge Park from the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge

Looking across the Tennessee River from Coolidge Park
Looking across the Tennessee River from Coolidge Park

While we were at the park, we happened upon the Skyhoundz Word Championship disc competition, which had me beside myself, and then one of the competitors was a rescue dog! I had to take a moment and pull myself together. Seriously. Those dogs were incredible!

One of the competitors at the Skyhoundz World Championship disc competition
One of the competitors at the Skyhoundz World Championship disc competition

From there we walked to an adorable little art gallery, Tangerinas, and then drove to the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar. If you remember nothing else, remember this. We dined on the deck overlooking the Tennessee River and the Riverwalk. The menu was vast, with lunch options from a $6 Wedge Salad to a $30 Wood Grilled Rib Eye. The Catfish Poboy dialed my number. It was served with slaw and fries, and I added Wood Fired Okra. You need to pay attention here: if anyone ever offers you wood fired okra, you take it and you never look back! That stuff was plain good food. It had the smokey wood-fired flavor, was slightly charred, and had a pinch of salt and olive oil. It was tender, it was flavorful, it was delicious. I can’t say enough about it. The catfish was excellent, and my meal was around $15 (because I added the okra). The place was fairly busy, yet the owner came over to check on our food and ask if we had been before and where we were from. He then came back a few minutes later to chit-chat, and then the chef came out to see if we were enjoying our meal. For $15! Repeat in your mind over and over “Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar…Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar…”

Catfish Poboy with Wood Fired Okra at the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar
Catfish Poboy with Wood Fired Okra at the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar. If you are in Chattanooga, you need to check out the Boathouse!

No sooner did we finish lunch and it was time to make our way back to Atlanta because the itinerary said so. I can’t say enough about Chattanooga and wish we had more time to take it all in. It is gorgeous! I’d love to go back some day, but I’ve got 44 5Ks in 44 other states and just two legs. Next up is Atlanta!


Tip: Eat at the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar and the Terminal Brewhouse, but if you must choose, definitely the Boathouse.
Tip: Check out Coolidge Park along the Tennessee River with a restored historic carousel and interactive water feature. It sits below the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge from which you can enjoy a beautiful view of the park and the city.
Tip: Check out Tangerinas studio across from Coolidge Park. An aunt/niece duo making art from recycled materials. I little piece came home with me!


5K in Every State: Florida (welcome to Miami!)

My first 5K of 2015 was in Florida–at the Miami Zoo. I was super excited to pull out my Life List and knock out another race in another state! I invited one of my friends to join me, so off to Miami Beach Mel and I went.

Before I get too far into this story, let me come clean about something. I went to Florida to do a 5K, and these are the things I forgot to pack:

Sport bra, arm band, ear buds, mini backpack
Things I forgot to pack. For a race.

No arm band or ear buds for music, no sport bra (a must-have; there was shopping), and no micro pack. Do you know what that means? I carried my purse. I carried my purse while interval running 3.1 miles. What is wrong with me?

Back to the story.

We stayed in the historic Art Deco District of Miami Beach, and the architecture was beautiful. Miami Beach was beautiful. The weather was beautiful! My opinion of Florida has forever changed. I have been to Orlando several times and never saw the draw, but I should know better than to judge an entire state based on one city. Shame on me. Anywho, as soon as we dumped our luggage at the hotel, I started snapping some photos.

The Kent Hotel on Collins Avenue, built in 1939, is one of my favorites. I love the right angles, smooth planes, and softly curved corners. Gorgeous!

The Kent Hotel on Collins Avenue
The Kent Hotel on Collins Avenue

Mural on building on Collins Avenue
Mural on Collins Avenue

Condos at 226 Ocean Place
Condos at 226 Ocean Place

On our second day, we got up long before the crack of dawn, rustled up the valet to fetch the car, and headed to the race at the Miami Zoo. We arrived under the cover of darkness and yawned as the sun came up. I don’t think the animals were even awake yet. It was a small group for the race…maybe 50 runners. We saw gazelle, rhinos, and tortoises. And a couple of zebras in the parking lot.

Mel and Kelly wearing zebra masks pre-race
Zebras in the parking lot!

We did run/walk intervals, me carrying my purse, and my time was right on par with the one instance when I ran the entire 3.1 miles. So, you know running just went out the window. I struggle in humidity more than if I’m back home in dry Wisconsin. Not to be confused with the alcohol situation in Wisconsin–I am not saying it is a “dry state.” It is #3 in the nation for bars per capita, but I’m getting off topic. My point is, the air in Miami was moist and it made for a soupy run. Regardless, I’m just happy to have crossed the finish line!

Once the race was done, we motored back to the beach. I had no idea when I booked the trip that we were hitting South Beach during Gay Pride weekend. What a parade! Literally! We had a front-row seat, complete with fishbowl drinks, to a two-hour rainbow parade. Now that’s a mini-vacay! It was heartwarming to see the many banks, medical facilities, travel agencies, realtors, schools, churches, and so on marching in support and showing a whole lot of respect and kindness.

Shirtless man with life size blow up green alien
I love a parade!

Kelly with a fishbowl margarita glass of beer
My beverage for the parade. You can take the girl out of Wisconsin…

After the parade we hit the Lincoln Road Mall, which is a pedestrian-only shopping area that covers approximately six blocks. Shopping, cafes, and bars. I scored a chicken empanada at the farmer’s market–a scrumptious little treat between boutiques.

Chicken empanada with glossy pastry crust
Look at the glossy pastry crust on that empanada!

We had some good and tasty meals, but the place that won’t leave my mind is the Puerto Sagua restaurant on Collins Avenue. An authentic Cuban diner with food that’ll make you miss home even if you’re already there. Know what I mean? It is comfort food all. the. way. Expect a line stretched out the door, but it is worth the wait. I had the daily special which was baked chicken with rice, beans, and fried plantains. I don’t think I spoke the entire meal. Mel and I split an order of yucca fries, and they were served with garlic sauce that was so good it was startling. I mean SO good! This is not a fancy joint; it’s what I call a greasy spoon. If you’re squeamish about that stuff, get over it because you are missing some good nosh.

Bottle of cervesa hatuey, cuban beer
My first Cuban beer (although it has been brewed in the U.S. since 1995). It was a little heavier than I prefer.

This was a quick weekend trip, mostly for the purpose of checking off another 5K from my list, but also for a little R&R. Miami is a late city–most folks rise late and stay out late. We hit the beach one morning and got to relax in the sun with the ocean sounds lulling us into a sedated-like state of being. We were nearly the only ones out there.

Feet in sand, ocean, sunshine
Post-breakfast relaxing

I have to give a shout out to my friends and family for all of their support already through this crazy Life List of mine. My friend, Kim, ran next to me through my first 5K in North Carolina; my nephew and his family cheered for me at the finish line in Wisconsin; and my friend, Mel, hauled herself to Florida to run with me. I predict I’ll do some races solo, but I see many more friends and family members hitting the pavement with me in the days ahead. If you know me, get your running shoes on, because here I come!



On your left! Basic cycling etiquette

Sometimes I forget my manners–hopefully not often. I say please and thank you, write thank you notes (I’m old-fashioned and still love a hand-written note), allow people to exit through a door before I enter. I don’t consider myself a stickler about manners, but having them is definitely helpful. It makes interacting with others run smoothly. After all, everybody can’t fit in the revolving door at once.

With Spring upon us, a topic that comes up often among my group of walking, hiking, and running friends is cyclists giving the courtesy of an “on your left” call or ring of a bell. The greenway is filled with every type of forward-moving athletic modality imaginable, and for the most part it’s all rainbows and butterflies. Until you’re walking along, in my case with my dog, and suddenly a cyclist whizzes by without warning. It startles me to pieces, which I do not appreciate. My dog doesn’t react, but I know many, many dogs who lose it when buzzed by a bike. It’s incredible how soundless a speeding cyclist can be when approaching from behind.

Cyclists in Raleigh
Cycling for a cause in Raleigh

Not only is it courteous to call out or ring, but it’s also a safety issue. As a cyclist, you don’t know what the person you’re approaching is planning to do. My dog, strongly driven by her nose, could suddenly dart to the left. Now my dog is in your path and it’s not going to be good for either of you. If I know you’re coming up behind us, I’ll be sure we both stay put. You give the call-out, and I keep out of your way. See how that works?

For the bikers who don’t think the on-your-left call is necessary, think how motor vehicles don’t always safely share the road. Walkers and runners bemoan cyclists for the very same reason. Before you complain about not enough road space, about vehicles passing too closely, drivers simply being rude, perhaps you should pony up those same manners to pedestrians. “Share the Road” is applicable to you too.

Many thanks to those of you who give a heads-up as you approach. I want to shout a thank you, because that’s the polite thing to do, but don’t want to break your concentration, mess up your pace, or whatever it is that y’all chase. Know that your good manners are appreciated.

Have you been buzzed by a cyclist? Are you a cyclist? What has your experience been?

Cheers, and Be Safe!