Carter Notch Hike

This past weekend, Debbie and I were in Carter Notch for the first time since last summer’s Supermoon Hut Traverse. Our 2013 traverse turned into an epic day and near disaster. This year, we returned with our two children for a low-key hike to Carter Notch Hut and back.

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After we spent Saturday morning on Mt. Washington, we returned to our campsite at Dolly Copp. We packed the car and met our friends, the Schomburg’s, at the 19 Mile Brook Trailhead. They helped us shuttle the car back to the campsite so that it was in a better spot.

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The 3.8 mile hike to the hut took us a little more than four hours at a leisurely pace. Our four-year-old walked most of the way, though we insisted that we carry her for sections so that we would make the 6:00 P.M. dinner in time.

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We got there with 10 minutes to spare. Dinner and the evening (an early bedtime) were fun. We did spend a few post-sunset minutes out on The Ramparts, a large boulder field behind the hut, listening to the Hut Naturalist talk about the history of the notch.

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Our hut stay was short, but enjoyable. The bunk rooms were recently redone in the same fashion as Madison Spring Hut’s, which we visited last month. Our son has now been to all eight of the AMC’s White Mountain Huts at least once. Our daughter has three more to go to complete hers. After breakfast on Sunday, we returned to The Ramparts to climb on the rocks again.

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Last week was the official 100th birthday of Carter Notch Hut, so it was nice to be there near the milestone. After packing up and bidding the Hut Croo adieu, we hiked back to the valley. We didn’t have time to ascend any mountains on foot, but it was a good time nonetheless.

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On the way home, we had a late lunch at Cafe Noche in Conway. Then we drove the Kancamagus Highway across to Woodsville, NH, crossed the border in Wells River, VT, and after a brief stop in Putney, VT, were home by 7:00 P.M. Like I said, it was a short, but fun return trip to the White Mountains.

2014 Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb

Yesterday, I returned to the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb after a 13 year absence. I’ve been ailing since May with a stress fracture and bone spur in my left foot; and hadn’t done any kind of race in 10 weeks. That’s a long stretch for me, especially in the heart of the summer. I average 40 races a year, so there has been some adjusting to do. My heel still hurts with every step and I’m going to have to deal with it (rest) after cyclocross season, but for now, I’m plugging ahead, though with no running. My triathlon season was a bust and my trail running season ended early, so I was looking for something “low impact” and fun to focus on. Late last month, I put my name on the wait list for the hill climb, and it wasn’t long before I got the invitation to register.

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Sadly, my 1:17:33 was the slowest time of the five times that I’ve done the race, but that was to be expected. A 1:12:00 would have been preferred, but it just wasn’t in the cards. I haven’t had the time to train and I don’t climb like I used to. Work and family responsibilities are greater than ever and with my injury limiting me, I was forced to just gut this one out. I was really hoping to pit my 41-year-old body vs. my 28-year-old body. My best time was in 2000 when I was 27. The 1:08:04 I rode that day might stand as my best ever, though I’ve got the itch to return in 2015 and give it another shot. 2001 was 1:11:04, 1999 was 1:10:37, and 1997 was 1:14:54. I’m happy with all five of these races. I’m pumped to be able to do what I do.

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The 7.6 mile climb from the base to the top of the road, just shy of the 6,322 summit, gains 4,618 feet at an average grade of 12%. The final pitch is notorious for its 22% grade. The race is paved for most of the way, though there is a long section of dirt in the final third. The scenery is amazing. This is the most beautiful hill around, and one of the most amazing bicycle courses in the world. It’s a short race, but a painful one. My GPS data is worth checking out.

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I rode my Seven Axiom SL, which is my everyday bike. It’s the same bike that I commute to work on. I got some great compliments, even in the middle of the climb. One guy couldn’t get over my fenders, and the fact that I was hauling useless weight to the top. He was yelling over the howling wind at his buddy, who was one switch back up, to check them out as I passed. It is my favorite bike because it can do it all. I’ve ridden it on paved roads, dirt roads, in criteriums, to work, and now on Mt. Washington. I didn’t have any special gearing. I rode the 39 x 27 “stock gears.” The only modifications were that I removed my headlight, my rear rack, and my tail light. That saved me a few pounds, but it was largely irrelevant. The big change in weight was my own. I’m lean, but in 2000, I was really lean. I had a different kind of body that was built for riding. I was 15 pounds lighter. Over the past 13 years, I’ve ridden less, run more, and aged a bit.

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I don’t know why it took me so long to return to one of my favorite all time races. Like I said, I haven’t done as much pure road riding in recent years. The $350 entry fee has been a mild deterrent, but really shouldn’t have been because the proceeds are for a good organization, the Tin Mountain Conservation Center. Horst Engineering and the Livingston Family have a strong interest in conservation/environmental philanthropy, so it is nice to support Tin Mountain’s good work. I think the first four times, it was only $100 for the entry fee, and that was steep back then. This race is an amazing fund-raiser. There were 517 finishers and probably nearly 600 registrants.

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I’ve climbed Mt. Washington many different ways over the years. In addition to the bicycle hill climb, I’ve done the running race once, and hiked the mountain many times. However, the 2006 Sea-to-Summit remains my second toughest one day race (after the 2010 Ironman Brasil) and it was my hardest ever day on Mt. Washington. The race consisted of a 12 mile kayak up the Piscataquis River to Berwick, Maine. Then, after a transition, we rode 90 miles to Jackson, New Hampshire. From there, we ran four miles uphill on Rt. 16 to Pinkham Notch. Then, we ran/hiked the five and a half miles up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the summit in gale force winds blowing cold rain and sleet at 6,322 feet, the highest point in New England.

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The auto road is an amazing feature and has a rich history. The summit of Mt. Washington isn’t my favorite. I much prefer remote mountains, but you can’t ride your bicycle up remote mountains, so I make an exception for this race. I’ve been up a few of the other hills in the BUMPS Northeast Hill Climb Series, and New England has some other fine climbs. Mt. Washington is considered Hors Categorie by European standards, and is likely the hardest road bike climb in the world. It’s tougher than Alpe d’ Huez, Angliru, Mortirolo, Mt. Ventoux, and many of the other famous mountain top finishes. In the past, I started in the Top Notch first wave, but yesterday, I was in the third wave with my age group. That was OK. We started 10 minutes behind the first wave and five minutes behind the second wave. I had many riders to pass, but it wasn’t an issue. Seeing people gave me someone to chase. My Horst Engineering Cycling Team mate, Gerry Clapper, is one of the best climbers in New England and he is an amazing masters rider. He rode 1:05:09, good for 14th overall and first in the 50-54 age group.

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Yesterday, we had decent weather. It was mild in the valley at the start with a temperature in the low-60’s Fahrenheit. The temperature was cool above tree line. It was about 37 degrees Fahrenheit at the summit with a wind-chill in the high 20’s. The wind was blowing at a steady 20-25 miles per hour, with higher gusts. There are multiple switch backs, so sometimes the wind was at your back, and some times it was in your face. The headwind did slow me, but the temperature was perfect. Naturally, I was chilled when I finished. Debbie and the kids were fantastic. They drove up ahead of me to meet me at the top and were waiting for me when I finished.

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The four of us scrambled the final feet to the summit for a photo opportunity, though the kids were frozen solid, as was the camera. Thankfully my iPhone worked. Then we descended to the summit building and checked out the recently renovated Mt. Washington Observatory museum. After the kids drove the virtual snow cat, and after we checked out the anemometer that recorded the record-setting 231 mph wind gust in 1934, we found our car and waited for the race to end. The fog and clouds cleared a bit, giving us some momentarily spectacular views. Everyone has to cross the line before they let the cars back down the mountain because the road is closed for the riders. You are only permitted to ride the auto road four days a year. Once for each race (Newton’s Revenge is held in July) and once as a pre-ride for each race.

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One of the last finishers was a unicyclist, which was an amazing sight to see. It took him three tries to negotiate the final 22% grade, which has two wicked switchbacks. The crowd roared in approval as he made his way to the finish line. The summit was a zoo, which I can deal with for special circumstances like this race. We drove down to the base in about 30 minutes, grabbed a plate of food from the tent, and returned to Dolly Copp Campground, where we spent Friday night. We visited briefly with some friends at the 19 Mile Brook Trailhead, before hiking four miles up to Carter Notch Hut on the other side of Pinkham Notch, where we spent Saturday night. This morning, we hiked back down and made our way back to Connecticut after stops in Conway, NH and Putney, VT. It was another action packed weekend for the Livingston Family, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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I’m already planning my return to Mt. Washington for 2015 or beyond.

Race Results

2014 Soapstone Assault & Shenipsit Striders Summer Picnic

Today was the Soapstone Assault. For info about the race and its modified Dipsea Race style handicap start, check out last year’s post and prior year posts. The Assault was the 5th of 10 races in the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series. Next up is People’s Forest this coming Saturday.

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Thanks to both the Series and the Shenipsit Strider summer picnic, we had a record number of starters (57) at today’s race.

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We have a wonderful running club and there was quite a spread. Our newest tent debuted last week at the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run. Our club took over the Pretty House Aid Station and will likely man it again in 2015. I can’t wait. If it wasn’t for our Lake Tahoe trip and the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs, we would have been in Vermont to help out. That tent came in handy today.

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Brett Stoeffler won today’s race outright and also had the fastest handicap time. The day started muggy and it was dry at the start, but about 30 minutes into the race, a massive thunderstorm rolled through, drenching the runners and volunteers.

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We made the best of it. It was warm, so everyone was in good spirits. I saw a lot of smiles on the trails today. The picnic was fantastic and many of the runners lingered to join us in the fun. I rode to and from Soapstone Mountain, so I got wet too.

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Race Results (will be posted when they are available)

1994 Belgian Summer & Le Tour de France

It’s 20 years ago today that I was in Paris for the final stage of Le Tour de France. It is the only Tour stage that I’ve watched in person and it was a fine spectacle that day on the Champs-Élysées. I recall that Frankie Andreu, riding for Motorola, made the break, and I think he finished second to Eddy Seigneur, who made all of France proud on that day. It’s amazing how far professional cycling has come (and fallen) in the past 20 years. I left a bit of my love for the sport in Paris that day and in Belgium that summer.

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The best cycling that summer wasn’t the cycling we watched, but rather the cycling we did. With a small group of friends, including Jon Gallagher, Peter Brennan, Joe Cady, and Rob Dapice, we embarked on an adventure to test our skills against the top Belgian amateurs. I rode in 12 kermesses over six weeks in July and August. We were thoroughly outclassed by the Belgians and other Europeans, but we also didn’t take amphetamines and other drugs like many of them did. It was demoralizing to compete with cheaters, but we gave it our all.

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Our base camp was a rented house in Merchtem, Belgium, about 20 minutes outside of Brussels. Merchtem was famous for being the European home of Sean Kelly, the decorated Irish cyclist. Peter and Joe had connections and arranged the trip. They had been over there before, but it was the first time that Jon and I traveled to “live the dream.” Jon returned several more times in the following years as he honed his skills and speed.

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The Merchtem house was home for several cyclists. That summer, in addition to the American contingent, there were four or five Norwegian cyclists too, including several who rode for the Norwegian national team. One of them, Svein Gaute Hølestøl, was really talented and rode in the Olympics a few times. He was on a different race scheduled than the others, and would often return on Sunday evenings with trophies, flowers, and other prizes.

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Our house was right on a popular Sunday ride route. Thousands of cyclists would go by in a day. Many times, they were in large groups of club riders complete with a sag wagon and mechanic. It was awesome to watch. On several of our training rides, we would come across the legendary Eddy Merckx. He often rode with a friend and we would see him on the roads outside of Brussels where he lived and worked. We would ride by and yell, “Eddy!”

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We all wanted to ride like Svein Gaute did, but he was a class above. I got my first taste of how a “team doctor” could help your fitness. The Norwegians used to fill their water bottles with the contents of IV bags that they sliced open. They had a good pharmacist too.

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That summer was the last time that I raced a bicycle on European soil. Belgium is an amazing little country if you are a cycling fan, and we soaked up all of the cycling we could. That summer, there was a race every day of the week in a tiny country that isn’t much bigger than Connecticut. Each race had its own character.

The 12 I rode (in reverse order) were:

Merchtem Kermesse
Dendermonde-Grembergen Kermesse
Bellingen Kermesse
Londerzeel Kermesse
Borgt-Grimbergen Kermesse
Blaimont Kermesse
St. Ulriks Kapelle Kermesse
St. Niklaas/Sinaii Kermesse
Grimbergen Kermesse
Zottergem Kermesse
Eizenringen Kermesse
Londerzeel Kermesse

In Dutch or Flemish, kermesse means festival and each race was a party.  The start was usually at a bar and the finish was at a different bar. There were lots of food trucks with frites and other tasty foods. Many times, there was a carnival complete with amusement park rides. Weekdays, the races started late in the afternoon, usually around 3:00 P.M. We did some evening races too. Most of the circuits were 5 kilometers to 12 kilometers long and there were many laps.

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A highlight was the race that we were paid “start money” by the promoter. He wanted some Americans to liven up the race. We rode our butts off. I think we spent the money on a trip to the movies and beer, but my memory has faded during the past 20 years and I don’t remember as much about that summers as I would like. It would have been a great summer if Facebook and Twitter were invented!

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This trip was also long before I had a digital camera, so the few film photos I have paint a picture, but by no means tell a story. We rode our bikes more than 500 kilometers a week and at least on one occasion, 700 kilometers in a week. We traveled many of the roads made famous by the spring classics, including the Tour of Flanders, Ghent Wevelgem,  Het Volk. We had occasional access to a car, but we rode everywhere including the grocery store, and of course, the races.

That confined us to Flanders most of the time, though we did do one race in the French-speaking south of Belgium. We “rested” on most Mondays, which was our day to take side trips. We visited Amsterdam, Antwerp, Ghent, Waterloo, Luxembourg, and many other places around Belgium.

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The trip to Paris was a long weekend that we took off from bike racing. We took the train from Brussels on a Saturday afternoon. We wandered around Paris late into the night before sneaking onto the grounds of the Tuileries Palace and sleeping on park benches. There were gendarmes everywhere, standing guard for the big race and the crowds that came with it, but we were able to get a little shuteye. The entire summer was spent on a tight collegiate style budget and we stretched our Belgian Francs a long way!

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We got up early on Sunday and walked all over the city. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and had nice, but hazy views of the city. We got over to the race course fairly early in the afternoon in an effort to stake out a spot close to the Arc de Triomphe, where there is a hairpin turn on the course that slows the riders. It’s a popular viewing spot and there was like a 1,000,000 people watching the race that day.

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As the day heated up, Peter, Jon and I took turns saving our spot against the barriers while the others rested in the shade and went for snack and bathroom breaks. Late in the afternoon, the race caravan rolled through, followed by the riders themselves. It was a fun festive atmosphere. We had watched nearly every stage live on Eurosport at the Merchtem house, usually with the viewing session sandwiched by long rides of our own.

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After the race was over, we lingered before catching a series of trains to Euro Disney, which was a very American thing to do. Our move was fortuitous. We split the cost of a hotel room at the park. On Monday, we spent the day at the Magic Kingdom. We chose a restaurant for dinner and splurged. We chose the right restaurant because a large party arrived to sit at the table next to us. It was a special event and it included multiple past Tour winners and famous cyclists including Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon, Charlie Mottet, and others.

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We got to meet several of them, including Kelly, who we shared our Merchtem stories. Hanging in my garage, I have a large poster of Stephen Roche winning the 1987 World Championships. He won the Triple Crown that year by winning the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the World’s. In the corner of the framed print is a Disney postcard that I got that day with his autograph. When he signed the postcard, he chatted with us about our own experiences racing in Europe. He had a yellow jersey slung over his shoulder the entire time. We were excited to have ended a trip with such luck and partied late into the night. On Tuesday, we were back in Belgium and riding hard again.

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed, and I was never going to be a professional cyclist, but I look back on the experience and realize that it was a good one. We had fun.

2014 Lake Tahoe Trip

Lake Tahoe has to be one of my favorite places. We first visited in 2013 for the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs and returned this year so that Debbie could run again.

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We stayed in Incline Village, Nevada, which is a fantastic mountain town. We went to the beach at Sand Harbor, just like last year. We went boating on the lake and anchored off of a secluded beach. That was so much fun.

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With little snow this past winter, the water level is lower than normal. The water temperature is also higher than normal. We had a blast swimming and jumping off of the rocks.

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We did a few things that we missed in 2013. We visited Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. We took the gondola to High Camp. Debbie was just in Squaw at the end of June for the Western States 100 where she crewed and paced a friend. When we were there, they were setting up for Wanderlust. Debbie wanted to go back later in the week to see the yoga festival, but she didn’t get there.

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We took the tour at Vikingsholm in Emerald Bay that we missed in 2013. It was really neat to go inside the house and learn more about its history.

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Like last year, I rented a road bike for a day, but rather than riding around the lake, I did a long ride with my friend, Tony Lillios. We did sections of the Ironman Lake Tahoe course. We rode the length of Donner Lake and back. We went through Truckee, where we both got written warnings for riding through a red light. That was a crazy experience! We rode up to Northstar. The last part of the ride was up the monster climb of Mount Rose Highway.

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I also rented a mountain bike and did a nice solo ride from the village up Mount Rose Highway to Tahoe Meadows. Then I took the Tahoe Rim Trail to Tunnel Creek. From there, I took the famous Flume Trail south for about 30 minutes before returning to the Tunnel Creek Trail. I descended to the road and then rode back to the house in Incline Village. The trails are fantastic. The views of the lake were spectacular.

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Last weekend was all about the race, which ended well with a fine finish by Debbie. Her race report covers that story. I’m not sure what will draw us back to Lake Tahoe next. We don’t need a race to go there, but Debbie winning an entry in the Western States Endurance Run lottery would be a nice ticket back to Squaw Valley. Another great adventure would be doing the entire Tahoe Rim Trail, which could be done as a multi-day backpacking or fast-packing trip. One thing is for your, there are many more Tahoe area trails to explore…and we will be back.

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2014 Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs

“A glimpse of heaven…a taste of hell.”-Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs slogan

It was so good to return to Lake Tahoe last week for the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs. Once again, Debbie ran the 100-miler, but unlike our 2013 adventure, she finished. I’ve crewed her at more than 60 ultras over the past 15 years and this was one of the more emotional races to watch. Debbie has her own take on the race. When you finish reading my story, click here for her race report.

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Last year, we had such a fun family trip to Tahoe, but the race turned out to be a debacle with a rare DNF at 67 miles and then an awful experience with losing our gear bags at the finish line. In the end, we got back our stuff, but not without a whole lot of worry and added stress to an already difficult race weekend. The moment that Debbie was thinking clearly after last year’s race, she declared that we were returning in 2014 so that she could finish what she started.

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The 2013 TRT100 DNF taught both of us several lessons. She continued to struggle with her fitness and health at the Vermont 50 and at Hellgate, but both races were part of a process to regain the form that has allowed her to run at a high level at so many other ultras. A few mysteries were solved, but we view the process as a journey that has no ending. Her 2014 races have been OK with some good results, but she hasn’t had the speed like in the past. Age is certainly a factor, as is the other stuff going on in life. 16 years of competitive trail running has an impact on the body and the mind.

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Debbie made changes to her diet and her training. She was more focused than ever before in the preparation for this year’s race. It is her only “A race” and she will now take a break and do some other things for a change of pace. She is registered for some off-road sprint triathlons and an obstacle course race. I predict that she will run another ultra before the year is out, but it will be fall or winter and I’m almost certain it won’t be 100 miles.

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She told the family within an hour of finishing TRT100 on Sunday that she was “done with 100-milers.” The family knows her pretty well and we paid no heed to her statement because I would bet she runs another, and maybe as soon as 2015. There are too many fun courses that she is still interested in. If she can continue to improve her strength, deal with some of the imbalances/injuries that have been slowing her, and stay healthy, then she can keep running these for a while. After she paced Larisa Dannis at the Western States Endurance Run in June, she caught the bug to try that track. She has said that if she ever gets in to WS100, that she would consider the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. She has also been in the Hardrock 100 lottery twice before, but didn’t get lucky either time. Then of course, she has unfinished business with her first 100 at the 2007 Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc (UTMB).

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So, feel free to join me by putting money on her running the 100 mile distance again. Let’s just give her some time to process last weekend and the past year since she stopped the 2013 race lying on a cot at the Tunnel Creek aid station in a state of nausea and exhaustion. Others have told me that she is a hard woman, and I would agree. I’ve got my own description for who she is and what she does. I get to see it up close and it really is amazing. I have total respect for the runners who ran through the Sierra Nevada Mountains this past weekend.

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I love to crew these races for many reasons, not the least of which is the source of inspiration that it gives me to lead my life with purpose and a sense of adventure.

It took a team effort to get Debbie to the finish line. Our kids are super. They exhibited wonderful patience throughout the event. They had to deal with the heat, elevation, rain, and sleep deprivation like everyone else. They are about as professional as a crewing family can get and they pitched in every chance they got. For them, Mom running 100 miles is normal, so they are totally comfortable in the mountains, at aid stations, and wherever else we go during these events.

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The race weekend started in Carson City, the capital of Nevada. Last Friday, the registration and pre-race meeting were at the State Senate office building. We drove over from Incline Village. Like last year, we were hosted by our friend, Tony Lillios, another fantastic endurance athlete. We have met so many great people through our sports and cherish our network of friends. This year, our time at the Lillios household was even more fun because his 10-month old daughter joined the fun.

Daniel Roy, our cousin, joined our crew again. He paced Debbie at the 2012 Vermont 100 and repeated his role. Danny is my youngest first cousin on my Mom’s side of the family (the Roy’s) and he grew up in Madawaska, Maine on the Canadian border whereas I’m from Connecticut.  I’m the oldest of the generation and have 17 years on him, but despite the age and geography gaps, have forged a real connection with him. He has developed into a very talented athlete, and ran a Boston Marathon qualifying 2:55 at the San Diego Marathon in May, so he has the legs to handle pacing duties well. The cool thing is that he just started running seriously four years ago, and has a bright future with only a handful of marathons and ultras under his belt.

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Dan met us at the meeting and we got the race details. It is always fun to return to a race with experience, especially one like TRT100 where logistics are important. We returned to Incline Village on Friday night for final preparations and a family meal. All week, the weather was  mixed with warm sun in the mornings and then afternoon clouds and thunderstorms. Tahoe was seeing its first rain in more than a month. The entire region has been locked in a two-year drought, so it was very uncharacteristic to have as much moisture (rain and hail) as we had this past week.

In addition to support from Dan, for the second year in a row, we got help from another first cousin, Tim Nelson, and his wife Sara. Both joined us in 2013 to help crew and watch the kids. This year, they were joined by their five-month old son. They didn’t arrive from their home in San Francisco until 2:00 A.M. on Saturday, so it was a short night for me because we got up at 3:30 A.M. for the 5:00 A.M. start at Spooner Lake State Park.

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Danny, Debbie, our 7-year-old son, and I went to the start together while our daughter and the others remained asleep. The race kicked off with the usual fanfare. The temperature was even more mild than last year, but that was likely due to the humidity. The three of us boys drove to the Tunnel Creek trailhead and made the 3.6 mile hike up to the aid station. It’s a tough walk with 1,500 feet of elevation gain. Tunnel Creek is a major junction on the course with the 100 mile runners passing through six times. Our son kept us entertained on the climb. He had Dan and me laughing constantly. The kid is a real trooper and I was proud that he woke up early to experience the start and the hike. We had awesome views of the lake.

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We saw Debbie at mile 11 and mile 17 before and after she completed the Red House Loop for the first time. The 100-milers do two “laps” of the course. Early in the race, she was complaining about foot pain. Over the past 12 months, she has dealt with gastro-intestinal issues, glute, and back pain; and most recently has been struggling with a sore left forefoot. It goes numb on her, particularly when she is ascending. The subsequent pain throws off her stride and that causes all kinds of other issues. She was wearing her custom orthotics in a pair of La Sportivas, but said that she wanted to change shoes. Unfortunately, we hadn’t carried her extra shoes (another pair of La Sportivas and a pair of Altras) with us, and I’m still kicking myself for that. She was forced to go a long 13 miles to the Diamond Peak Aid Station before we could swap them out.

She forged ahead as the day was heating up while we descended back to the truck. We were able to clearly make out the hundreds of swimmers in the Trans Tahoe Relay. I saw this swim last year, and once again, our friend, Tony, was out there on the lake with his team. We heard that in addition to the ultra and the relay, the Northstar ski resort was hosting the Tahoe 100K Mountain Bike Race. Lake Tahoe is the ultimate outdoor playground and I’ve totally fallen in love with the place.

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We picked up the rest of the clan at the house and made the short drive to Diamond Peak. Debbie got there in 6:17, not too far off her 2013 pace, but she was limping badly and a bit out of sorts. After some discussion that included indecision and concern, she switched to the Altras without her orthotics. She has rarely had issues like this in the past. Her feet have been bomb proof for 16 years and it is discouraging to deal with that kind of pain so early in a race. In addition to the pain, she had developed blisters.

Climbing is her Achilles heel, and TRT100 has more than 20,000 feet of elevation gain and another 20,000 feet of loss. Factor in the altitude between 7,000 and 9,500 feet and you have a fearsome course. The climb out of Diamond Peak Aid Station goes 2,000 feet up in 1.8 miles up to the Bull Wheel Aid Station. That’s serious! After we saw her at Diamond Peak the first time, she was on her own for 20 miles. We weren’t going to walk back up to Tunnel Creek until the 61 mile mark.

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I took the family to lunch in Incline Village. We ate at a sandwich shop. Tim, Sara, and their son returned to the house for the baby’s nap and to prep for later. Dan, the kids, and I drove back to Spooner Lake at the start/finish. We camped out at the 50 Mile Aid Station and made many new friends. The weather was starting to change. The morning sun gave way to patchy afternoon clouds that were getting darker by the minute. We watched many of the lead runners (men and women) come through. We were hoping to see Debbie at 3:30 P.M., but she didn’t arrive until 4:40 P.M.? This was more than an hour off of her 2013 pace, but then again, she didn’t finish last year. In 2013, she was 2nd woman at 30 miles, 3rd woman at 40 and then 4th woman at 67 when she dropped.

With finishing as her main goal and the early race struggles, she was 8th at the 50 mile mark, but moved up to 7th by the finish. Her past 100 finishes were 2008 Javelina Jundred (2nd), 2011 Grindstone ( 1st), 2012 Vermont (3rd), and 2012 Pinhoti 4th), but there are no complaints about her result. She had a tough race but persevered and we are proud of her. The kids were  a little restless with the delay at Spooner, so we walked a little ways down the trail for a change of scenery. We hung out with Catra Corbett, a ultrarunning friend we have known for more than a decade. We have seen her at most of the west coast ultras that Debbie has run, and I paced her at the 2012 Javelina Jundred. Catra is a real character in the ultra community and the kids had a blast goofing around with her throughout the day.

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Once Debbie arrived, we were relieved, at least for a few moments. She indicated that along with the Tylenol that she took, the shoe switch made a difference. The problem had slowed her, but at least our worries that the issue would worsen and put her race in jeopardy, had waned. She stayed long enough at 50 to freshen up. We cooled her with some ice and she swapped packs. I walked down the trail a ways with her and gave her as much encouragement as I could muster. I knew she was suffering and wanted her to get to the finish so badly, and it was emotional for me. We both knew that she was off the pace a and that it would take a miracle to break 24 hours, and get on the podium, but that really wasn’t a priority.

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Rain started to fall as we packed up the gear for the return trip to Incline Village. The sky had darkened though there still were patches of clear blue sky dotted by clouds. The weather was weird. Changeable (like New England) is a good description. It was very uncharacteristic for Tahoe in July, especially in a drought. With more cloud cover and a drop in pressure, the temperature cooled quickly. A storm was brewing, so we hightailed it back to the truck. The shuttle service from Spooner to the parking lot was fantastic. The drivers were excellent and it saved us from having to haul the gear and the kids, as far. All the volunteers at the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs were fantastic. The race organization is top-notch and the runners get great value for their entry fee. That is also due to the fine sponsors that the race committee recruited for support.

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Heading north, we outran the storm, but that wasn’t the case for the runners-up on the ridge. Debbie said that when it hit, the rain, hail, wind, lightning, and thunder were violent. It was scary for them. The aid station at the top of Snow Valley Peak above treeline was temporarily evacuated, but the runners were on their own to continue. You bear the burden of risk when you play in the mountains. Thankfully, no one was hurt, though the storm had a big impact on the race. We heard that it lasted 30-45  minutes. The crazy thing is that as bad as that storm was, it was nothing like the one that hit after the finish of the race.

Dan and I delivered the kids back to the house. I showered them while Tim and Sara prepared dinner. Dan and I packed the truck again and returned to the Tunnel Creek trailhead. We trusted our math, but still pushed it on the ascent to the aid station to ensure that we got there in time. The only vehicles allowed past the locked gate and on the steep, winding, and sandy dirt road are official race vehicles. Half way, the aid station captain approached from below in her pickup truck. She and her passenger offered us a ride. I glanced at Dan, and despite my own left foot stress fracture/bone spur, forcefully declined the offer. Dan thought I was crazy, but I said that “it would be cheating” and would “cheapen the experience.” By the end of the race, between crewing and pacing, Dan covered more than 50 miles of his own, so I know where he was coming from when he playfully frowned at me, but we soldiered on up the dusty road by foot. I know that I’ve taught him a thing or two about life during our time together at these races, and I know he gets it.

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She had 11 miles to cover from the halfway point, but we didn’t know she had to deal with the brunt of the thunderstorm. Once we arrived at the aid station, I got all of her stuff ready and Dan ran backwards on the trail to meet up with her. 15 minutes later, the two of them came around the corner. She told us all about the hail storm and said that her foot was stable, which was a good sign. She looked pretty haggard when she arrived and requested some solid food for the first time all day. Up until that point, she had gone on EFS energy drink, Tailwind energy drink, and gels. The EFS was working best for her so we refilled her flasks every time we saw her. She used straight water in her Ultraspire hydration packs. Dan officially started pacing her at that point. I hung out at the aid station, which has an amazing amount of activity, while they headed out on the Red House Loop. Last year, I ran the loop with her and it is no fun. It’s downhill for quite a ways and then up and down until you get to the Red House Aid Station. Then, its more climbing on the way back to Tunnel Creek.

Tunnel Creek is my favorite aid station of all time. I was hoping that they would be back in 90 minutes, but it was more like 125, so I had time to kill. I helped some other runners, cheered, and took photos. We only got drizzle at Tunnel Creek, which was the opposite of what the runners experienced five miles south. Like I said, the weather really was crazy. The remnant clouds overhanging the mountains and the glow of the lake made for one of the best sunsets of my lifetime. One reason why I take so many photos at these races is to pass the time and avoid the worry that comes with standing around and waiting for dinner. I got some money shots of the sunset, including a few of fellow New Englander, Nate Sanel, who we first met at the Peak Ultras last month.

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I’m holding back the images of Nate and a few other runners because they were too good to share right now. That sunset really made my day and gave me new energy for the big push to the finish. I saw Catra again. I also got to say hello to Craig Thornley, Race Director of the Western States Endurance Run. We first met Craig at Grindstone. He finished right in front of Debbie, so we were with his crew all day long. I also met Gordy Ainsleigh, the legend who started this whole ultrarunning thing when he created Western States 40 years ago in 1974. Like I said, Tunnel Creek is a magical place. The volunteer there are very dedicated. In 2013, we got to know all of the medical staff. I informed many of them that Debbie was back to finish.

The sun set and Tunnel Creek became even more vibrant with runners coming and going in four different directions. I got to see Bob Shebest, the eventual overall winner, fly through on his way to the course record. That was impressive and I’m glad I got a chance to take his picture. I was lucky to my wool long sleeve shirt, down sweater, and a hat because it got cold. I turned off my headlamp and walked ¼ mile down the trail. I greeted all of the arriving runners and impatiently waited for Deb and Dan.

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When they arrived, I gauged her feelings on the walk up the hill to the aid station. Dan said that she was “peppy” and that was because she took her first caffeine in the form of a gel at the Red House Aid Station. I was thinking, good, whatever it takes. This was the point, at 67 miles, where her race ended last year, so it was a big deal to get her turned around and on her way to Diamond Peak for the second time of the day. Up until this point, she had none of the gastrointestinal issues (sour stomach) that have plagued her in races since early 2013.

Before she arrived, I had the volunteers prepare veggie broth and vegan burritos. She downed both, changed her shirt, picked up an additional chest lamp, and got moving quickly with Dan. I packed up all of the gear and started down the trail in the dark. I figured it would take me an hour to get to the bottom. I was pretty tired and was happy to get caught by Cheryl, another crew/pacer. She was a Tahoe are resident and ultrarunning veteran. She told me stories for the next 45 minutes. We sort of shuffle jogged our way down the trail and her companionship made the time go by quicker. It was approaching midnight at this point and I was hungry.

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We parted company at the bottom and I got in the truck. I sat there briefly and ate some food. Then, I drove over to the Diamond Peak Aid Station, about five miles on the road. I thought about going to the house, but didn’t want to wake anyone, so I sat in the base lodge parking lot and drank a beer that I had in the truck. The aid station had been moved inside from the deck of the lodge. It looked like an 80 mile aid station with runners in various states. Some were sitting. Some were lying on cots. Crews were camped out on both floors. Some were attempting to get some sleep. Others were chatting.

I took a seat and just chilled out until Deb and Dan arrived. It was a 13 mile stretch, so I didn’t see them until after 1:30 A.M. I met the president of www.ultrasignup.com and he indirectly worked to convince me to switch the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race to his registration service. The NipMuck Trail Marathon already uses his company, so I didn’t need to be sold on its merits. It was a fun 1:00 A.M. conversation in between hoots and hollers for arriving and departing runners. Debbie calls the Soapstone shots, but I’ll tell her about my networking. Maybe we can get a Tahoe discount!

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I closed my eyes a few times, but never fell asleep. They arrived and it was a short stay. Debbie told us that her stomach had finally soured, but that she was going to survive. We knew it was going to be a long 20 miles and Dan estimated 6 to 7 hours. I thought about returning to Tunnel Creek for a third time, but another 7 miles of hiking in the middle of the night would probably kill me, so I took the easy way out. After she and Dan headed up the 1.8 mile/2,000 foot climb for the second time in 24 hours, I went back to the house. I did notice that somewhere between Tunnel Creek and Diamond Peak that she had lost her timing chip. She didn’t know where it was, so we let the timers know and she continued on without it.

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The house was a mile away, so it made sense for me to hit the hay. I was in bed by 2:00 A.M. with my son next to me and my daughter in the upper bunk, and I stayed there until my alarm went off at 6:30 A.M. I got up and checked the live race results on my phone, but without a chip, there was no update on her whereabouts. That was a bummer because it ultimately caused us to miss her finish by a minute. It took a while to get the kids ready. I thought about going on my own, but I decided to take them with me.

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While I was feeding and dressing them, an out of breath Dan called with an update. Debbie was at 93 miles and running hard and strong. I glanced at my watch and doubted we would make it in time, but we tried. Tim and Sara stayed back at the house. Dan called again as we were leaving Incline Village and said that they had 1.5 mostly downhill miles to go. We had a 20 minute drive, so it was going to be close. We got to the park, paid the fee, and parked the truck. The three of us ran down to the finish line, but she had just finished. The disappointment of not seeing her cross the line only lasted a minute. I love photos of her crossing the line and I didn’t get one, but it wasn’t a big deal. Someone had used Dan’s phone to capture nice finish line image after the two of them crossed and I knew in my mind that she was thrilled when she crossed the line, and would be cherishing her belt buckle.

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I missed her course record finish at the 2012 Laurel Highlands Ultra (70.5 miles) which was a far bigger sin. If my memory serves me right, I was across the parking lot assisting our tired and irritable 2-year-old daughter who picked a bad time to need to go potty. That one I won’t let go! Anyway, it was wonderful to be at the finish of the TRT100 with the whole family including Danny. The five of us make a good team. As long as Debbie keeps doing these, this band is going to keep getting back together. Dan had driven up from his home in Los Angeles and he shares our sense of adventure, which means he doesn’t care where and when we need him, he will get there.

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The weather was mild overnight and it had dawned cloudy, so the temperature wasn’t bad. Debbie had finished 12 Minutes behind Holly Pyle, who she flip-flopped with for most of the race. Holly pulled away on the last climb. Debbie did pass Molly Knox who was in the restroom at Hobart Aid Station, so she finished as the 7th woman in 27:17:49. Both Deb and Dan were tired, so we walked them up to the truck in the upper parking lot and drove them back to the house.

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They showered and napped until early afternoon while I cleaned the truck, washed gear, and prepared for the trip back to Connecticut. Around 2:00 P.M., we took Tim, Sara ,and the baby up to the scenic overlook on Mt. Rose Highway which is only a few miles from Tony’s house. We could see that the weather was changing again and like it had the four previous days, some big t-storms were headed our direction. You could see the huge cumulus clouds shaped like hammerheads/anvils on the opposite side of the lake. We said our goodbyes and then the kids, Dan, Deb and I returned to Spooner for the award ceremony, scheduled for 4:00 P.M. We were planning to go to the burrito truck, get some late lunch, and hang out.

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Post-race festivities are always a highlight, but before we even got to the Carson City line on the east side of the lake, the storm was rolling in. The column of rain over the middle of the lake was an amazing sight. This was some storm. I talked about pulling over to get some photos, but it hit way too fast. So, we continued on at 10 miles per hour until we got to Spooner. The rain was coming down in waves. We ended up sitting in the truck for 90 minutes while it dumped on us. Lightning struck within ½ mile of the vehicle multiple times. It was epic. Everyone was cool about it, including the kids. We were in as safe a spot as we could be with tall trees all around us.

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Debbie had gotten an email saying that all runners were off the course ahead of schedule by 3:00 P.M, so the ceremony was moved up to 3:30 P.M., but the storm had hit so fast that those plans were shot. Our phones were all buzzing with flash flood warnings. It turned out that 15 or so brave souls were still running near the 34 hour mark and got hit hard by the storm. Shortly after 4:00 P.M. the lightning slowed down and moved farther to the east. More cells were on their way, but there was a brief window, so I left the truck to collect Deb’s only drop bag  and to get some food from the burrito truck. It was still pouring and I got really soaked.

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Down near the finish, it was a crazy site. The trail had turned into a stream bed with lots of erosion. Massive puddles dotted the landscape. The previously dusty surroundings had been turned into a mud pit. Those last runners and a recent finishers were milling about in the pouring rain. Some folks sought cover in the few tents scattered about. There were no buildings. The timing system had to be shut down early, so official results took a few days to sort out. After waiting for the burritos, I looked around to see what they were going to do about the belt buckles and other awards. Underneath the last 10 x 10 canopy, at a picnic table, there was a small congregation of eight people including two of the race volunteers. Those two were working hard on the buckles. Each one was engraved with the runner’s finishing time.

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They were still working their way down the list. I inquired about Debbie’s, but because she lost her timing chip, she wasn’t in the results. However, they had her time hand written on another list. I presume that was a list of runners who also lost their chips. They suggested I wait, and in a matter of minutes, I had her beautiful finisher’s award complete with her 27:17:49 inscribed. The buckle also features a special seal commemorating Nevada’s 150th anniversary of statehood. That was a nice touch, but only for the 2014 race, so in retrospect, if Debbie had finished the 2013 race, there is a chance she wouldn’t have this year’s commemorative buckle. I’m sure she wouldn’t trade the suffering and DNF for an award, but at least it’s fun to rationalize it in this way!

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I thanked the two volunteers profusely before running back to the vehicle. Once inside the fogged up truck, I presided over a short ceremony with Danny, Debbie, and the kids where I presented her with her buckle. You should have seen the smile on her face! We ate our burritos while another wave of thunderstorms rolled through. This round included heavy hail. When we finished eating, we headed back to Incline Village for the final time. The narrow winding road was covered in dirt and rocks with most of it in the northbound right lane where steep hillsides had washed away. There was so much hail on the eastern slopes that it looked like it had snowed. As the storm’s intensity died down, we returned to the house to continue cleaning and packing. We had one final celebratory dinner at a local pizza place and ended the night while falling asleep with the Unbreakable DVD playing on the TV.

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Bob Shebest isn’t the only runner who had a fine performance. Second place was Mark Austin, and third place was Gregory Benson. The women’s race had an exciting finish. Roxanne Woodhouse, an incredible masters runner, took the win after passing the longtime leader, Jamie Frink, at the Hobart Aid Station, a mere eight Miles from the finish. Jamie hung on for second. She was followed in third by Amy Burton. There were 158 finishers. While last year’s race took its toll with extreme heat, this year’s event was marked by the storms.

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Race statistics also say that course is actually 101.5 miles, which further explains the race motto: “A glimpse of heaven, a taste of hell.”  Regardless of what ultras Debbie does next, or in the future, the 2014 Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance 100 will be a most special race for me. Crewing these events with our young family is a true love. Debbie is a true love and she is, as Danny puts it, “one of the most rugged chicks I know.”

Race Results

Bolton Summer XC Series

I was really bummed to miss tonight’s Pat Griskus Sprint Triathlon. I’ve done it five years in a row, but with my foot hurting so bad, triathlon has been deferred to 2015 at best.

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So, the next best thing was Race #3 of the Bolton Summer XC Series with the family.

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I’ve made all of the first three races as a spectator and photographer. It is such a joy to see the young children run and equally as inspiring to see the older adults.

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This race is a jewel and it’s within walking/riding distance of our house which makes it that much sweeter.

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The Bolton Heritage Farm (aka Rose Farm) is such a nice venue. I cherish these evenings with Debbie, the kids, and our community.

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Blanking a "Key, Machine" on our newest rebuilt #brownandsharpe #ultramatic #screwmachine Made from AMS 6370 low alloy steel rectangular bar stock. For an aircraft engine. #horstengineering #aerospace #madeinusa Very cool. I actually got back in line after dinner to purchase some of the rooftop produce. Looks like banana peppers and tomatoes on top of my Hampton Inn oatmeal for breakfast!  #wholefoods @wholefoodsmarket Debbie leads the #boltonlandtrust Evening of #Yoga at #boltonlake #shavasana Here is the fiercest chick I know in a serene moment. This was just minutes before she slipped and sat in a mud puddle and all heck broke loose. Mercifully I was able to convince her to begin walking again. I know that I'll miss these days in the future. For now, I have to deal with the wrath of the 4-year old and cherish these moments. :) #justthebestfrommexico #cafenoche #mexico #carternotch @appalachianmountainclub Yet another rainy #hike !!!! #ramparts #carternotch @appalachianmountainclub #teamlivingston Yes, this dude rode a #unicycle up #mtwashington #mountwashington It took three tries to negotiate the final 22% grade which he is just starting in this image. The crowd was behind him all the way! #badass #mtwashington #mountwashington Fun ride. #teamhorstsports

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