Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why Northern Michigan is My Happy Place

I grew up in Michigan, spent 9 years in the hustle and bustle of New York City and now reside in the western metropolis of Denver and spend my days toiling at a computer in the center of 25 square miles surrounded by reality, otherwise known as Boulder.

My Grandparents and parents, instilled in me a sense of wanderlust. I remember sitting in my grandparents basement watching slide shows of their recent travels, attending travelogues and carefully inspecting their giant wall map covered in colored push-pins indicating the 90+ countries and countless cities they had explored. My absolute dream job would have me traveling the globe as a travel writer or photojournalist, meeting interesting people in far off locales, running through historic cities, hiking idyllic country sides, and digging for treasures in street markets.

While reality is far different from my dream, thankfully I had enough smarts to marry a man who also loves to travel and wants to explore the world. We balance our desire to travel with our need for financial stability, by taking only one week-long vacation a year supplemented with a few long-weekend trips. While I have loved exploring cities like Montreal, Seattle, Charleston and Basel, Switzerland, and our must-visit list is long, there’s one region that will never get crossed off no matter how many times we visit.

My happy place, the place we visit every other year, is our family cottage and Northern Michigan. I was 3 months old the first time I visited. It’s not the most modern of cottages, having been built in 1954 (yes, this year we celebrated the 60th anniversary of Mill Point), but nevertheless, I know exactly how lucky I am to have this place.

We spend lazy days here – filled with kayak trips around the lake, walks in the woods, hours reading on the porch or by the water, and many games of scrabble. We also use it as our home base to explore other areas of the region. There are so many great places to visit and explore. Often, people who aren’t familiar with the area don’t realize how fantastic it is. So… I wanted to share with you a few pictures from our vacation and tips for creating a fantastic visit.

Mill Point

Traverse City is the largest city in Northern Michigan. There are plenty of flights in and out of the Cherry Capital Airport (TVC) every day on multiple airlines so it’s not that difficult to get here.

While I love Traverse City and can spend several hours perusing the shops along Front Street, enjoying ice cream from Moomers and running along the TART Trail or The Boardman Lake Trail, the region is dotted with charming little towns, all with their own reasons to visit – many situated along inland lakes or Lake Michigan. Here are a few of my favorites (from SW to NE along the coast):

  • Glen Arbor
  • Leland
  • Suttons Bay
  • Harbor Springs
  • Petoskey
  • Charlevoix

There are endless opportunities for outdoor adventures. Hiking, trail running, road biking, kayaking, boating (sail, pontoon, power, take your pick!), SUPing, whatever you like to do, you can do it Up North. Two years ago we did the Dune Hike in Sleeping Bear Dunes, which was hot and a bit tough, but rewarding. This year after the Running Bear 5k in Glen Arbor, we rented kayaks from Crystal River Outfitters right in town and went kayaking on the shallow, perfectly clear river for a relaxing, yet quality upper body workout.

Crystal River Kayaking

While Woody went golfing twice (there are likely more than 200 golf courses in Northern Michigan), I went running – the Boardman Lake Trail in Traverse City and around Alden on the shore of Torch Lake with a few miles on the Coy Mountain Trail.

Boardman Lake Trail

And beyond Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, Northern Michigan is dotted with one beautiful lake after another. A few favorites, beyond our own little lake:

  • Crystal Lake
  • Elk Lake
  • Glen Lake
  • Lake Leelanau
  • Torch Lake

Torch Lake

The fun isn’t relegated to the water and the woods though. The Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas are known for world-class wines. The diverse microclimates in the region allow for a variety of wine grapes. With more than 30 wineries on the Peninsulas alone (there are many others throughout the area) producing award winning varietals including Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc, the wine tasting party options are pretty much endless. There are several wine events each year but the tasting rooms, many with breathtaking views, are open no matter when you’re in town. You’ll find that most of the wineries have varietals incorporating the regions fruit beyond just grapes – mostly cherries. I personally find these to be a bit too sweet, but we recently found one from Cherry Republic – the Great Hall Riesling – that is 90% Riesling, 10% cherry wine, perfect for a hot summer day. Unfortunately, due to state regulations we can’t ship Michigan wines to Colorado. Which just means we have to enjoy them while we can! A few of our favorite wineries, plus one of many great breweries in Michigan:

Hayo-Went-Ha 

So, now you know a bit more about Northern Michigan and why I’ll forever be drawn to this little neck of the woods. If you’re ever interested in visiting, I’m happy to answer questions and help you create an unforgettable trip!

Tell me a bit about your happy place.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Running on Goals

It’s been a while since I’ve had any real, focused running goals. This past year I’ve been running for fitness mostly – getting acclimated to running at altitude – with Bolder Boulder as the race I was running towards. Since I started running in 2006, I always used races to set my goals. But after moving here I kind of lost my focus.

But that’s changing.

First up – next Tuesday, Woody and I will be running the Running Bear 5K in Glen Arbor, Michigan. It’s a small, local race on a weekday morning in a beautiful Northern Michigan town. We ran this race two years ago, and were slightly disappointed by the lack of lake views along the course, but were overwhelmed by the abundance of post-race refreshments. It’s a great community event with little pressure. While the race definitely pulls in fast runners, it’s really just a big party. My goal for this is to run a strong, fast and smart race. I’ve been pushing myself a bit harder on my training runs in Wash Park and I’m feeling good about how hard I can go. But, it will be interesting to race at sea level again!

Next on the line is BirdCamp in August. I’m beyond excited to travel to Bend, Oregon for the first time, to meet many of my amazing Oiselle teammates and to catch up with others I haven’t seen since moving to Denver. I’m feeling stronger and more confident in my running now that I’ve gotten acclimated to this altitude. That said, I will be running with women who are so much faster and stronger than I am, so my goal is to run hard, run smart and hold my own. And to have fun. To do that, I’m pushing myself harder, running more often, and training on a variety of surfaces – gravel path, asphalt/concrete (sidewalks and streets) and real mountain trails. I’ve also been pushing myself harder in the gym with weight training. I’m feeling stronger than I have for a long time. Now I just have to stay injury free for at least another month!

Lastly, I want to become a trail runner. With our two trail runs at Chautauqua (oh yeah, we went again this past weekend!), and a few others, I’m on the right path but still have a long way to go. I’m not sure when I will feel like a real trail runner – or what that really means – but perhaps it’ll be once I feel comfortable enough with my footing that I can actually look up and enjoy the view for more than a split second, and when I buy my first pair of trail running shoes. To reach this goal, we’ll keep exploring trails! This is on the list because the few times we’ve gone, I’ve loved the variety of the terrain, the fresh air, the endless places to explore and how strong I feel when we finish a really challenging run. I want to do more of it.

I’m going after my running goals, what are you working towards?

Chautauqua Trails

Monday, June 30, 2014

Trail Running Chautauqua

Trail running is big here. I mean, big. There are all sorts of trails throughout Colorado – some more suited for hiking or mountain biking, some paved, and many miles perfect for running. My running life started in the urban jungle of NYC, where the extent of my trail running was the bridle path in Central Park.

Trail running for me is not something I’ve done much of. Woody and I did venture outside of the city to Rockefeller State Park last spring when we actually had access to a car for a weekend and then we randomly ran through rainforest-like terrain in Florida instead of on the beach this past March – wearing the same Oiselle jacket for both runs. Now, my trail running consists of the gravel path in Washington Park. I need to break out of this urban park trail running rut!

As we’ve now lived in Denver for a year, I made it a mission to get us on a trail. A real trail. Thankfully, I have awesome Oiselle teammates who seem to live on the trails around Boulder. So, I enlisted their help.

Twitter convo

I know Chautauqua fairly well, and as it’s also pretty easy to get too, we decided to try the Mesa Trail. I did a little research before we went but still wasn’t entirely sure what we were in for. All I knew was that a lot of people run this trail and that we should be ready for a steep climb right out of the gate (that’s just how things work at Chautauqua).

Chautauqua Park - Mesa Trail-001

Well, I was definitely right about the start. Beyond what you can see in the picture above, we were faced with a pretty steep, rocky climb. I promised Woody I wouldn’t take pictures along the way, so this is all of the trail I have to show you. We did just about 5.25 miles total. I believe the Mesa Trail runs just under 7 miles from end to end, so we didn’t even get half way, but we still got a great workout.

What I loved most about the run:

  • There was a lot of shade, which is ideal in sunny Colorado
  • There were a lot of people on the trail, but everyone was respectful. Walkers moved to the side (all you need is a nice “on your left”) and runners greeted each other
  • The terrain was diverse so we never got bored and always had to pay attention
  • The few times I looked up from the ground (I’m a klutz and convinced I’m going to crash and burn) all around were stunning views of the Flatirons, front range and miles and miles of open space

Chautauqua Park-flatirons

Hopefully before the snow comes again I can get out for a few after-work trail runs near Boulder, and a few more weekend on the weekend with Woody. It was challenging, fun and I felt like I had really accomplished something by the end. For once I wasn’t the one hiking, watching a runner fly by and thinking to myself “wow, that’s hardcore.” I may not have been flying by anyone (yet) but I definitely felt good about what I did.

Chautauqua Park - Post Run-001

I’m heading back to Michigan to celebrate the 4th at our family cottage – where we’re also celebrating its 60th anniversary! I haven’t been there for the holiday since the 50th. Needless to say I’m quite excited, even though I’ll be sharing a bathroom with 33 other people. That aside, It’s going to be great to catch up with family I haven’t seen for a long time, relax, hang out on the boat, and stuff my face with s’mores and cherries! A retirement party is also on the schedule. An action packed weekend is ahead!

What are your favorite 4th of July traditions? *  How do you like your marshmallow – burned to a crunch or slightly browned? * Any holiday travel tips?