Monday, July 20, 2015

Product Review: First Impressions of the Buff Minnesota UV Half Buff

Going through a month's worth of mail this morning, guess what I found?
Disclaimer: I received a Buff UV Half Buff as part of being a BibRave Pro.  Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador) and check out to review, find, and write race reviews!

Going through a month's worth of mail this morning, I opened a package to find my new Buff Minnesota UV Half Buff.  This particular Buff as one can see in the picture above and below is of the state seal and outline of Minnesota.  (The UV Half Buff has several different designs including a few of the states. Check out: Half Buff options).  I chose Minnesota as my design since it's the only one of the five states I am racing in for 2015 that Buff currently offers.  

The Minnesota UV Half Buff.
The great thing about the Half Buff is that there is just enough fabric here to cover your ears and give a bit of warmth on a cool summer evening or morning run, especially one in the mountains.  Yet, being "Half" as much fabric as the full size Buff, it's not too much fabric to simply use it for a headband to soak up the sweat and humidity of a Mid-Western morning.  The UV part of the Half Buff says that it "blocks 95% of UV radiation."  That's great for keeping our foreheads from getting too much sun exposure in the summer months.

I love the size, color, and design, (as well as the UV protection) of this Minnesota UV Half Buff, and hope that they come out with more state designs in the future.  I'll have a fuller product review later after I get some use out of it, and I will also show you my full Buff collection, including my other two Half Buffs, one that I wear proudly with the logo of a recent mountain race I completed in Montana on July 4, 2015.

A quick selfie this AM in the Buff Minnesota UV Half Buff.  P.S., Yes, I'm growing the full beard back in time for Fall and Winter running/racing!  :)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

2015 Racing Season: Bark Beetle Trail Race-10K, June 13, 2015, Custer State Park, SD

Saturday, June 13, 2015 was the first day I spent in Custer, SD where I really wished I could have slept in longer.  The day before I had hiked/run Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota, from the northern, harder approach.  I was physically pretty spent.  In total since June 4, I had hiked Harney three times in eight days, run/hiked Hell Canyon and injured myself, raced the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon Fast 5K, and run a couple of times on the logging roads outside of Custer.

Originally I was also suppose to race the Dino Trail Run as well in Rapid City, SD on June 4, but it was cancelled due to the heavy amount of rain the trails had absorbed in recent weeks before the day of the race.  These rains also affected the Bark Beetle Trail Race 10K/5K I would race on June 13, and I knew that going into it.  Instead of being a trail race with about six stream crossings, it would be a mostly paved trail race with only a little bit of trail.  The river in Custer State Park was gushing strong and speedily as anyone could tell driving through the park.  This made crossing it, as the Race Director told me, very hard. She and her son had tried the weekend before the race and fell and got very wet.  In addition some of the trails were submerged. To be safe, the race had to be rerouted.  As I said, I knew this, and knowing it would be more of a road race than a trail race, I had elected to climb Harney Peak, with a gain of over 2000+ft the day before the race as prep for the upcoming Bangtail Divide 38K in Montana I would be racing on July 4.  However, I was now going to race on very tired legs.

This picture and the two above it are from the original flooded course.  The RD's son stands in the middle of the trail in this picture.

Some of the racers along the Bark Beetle Trail Race.
(Ignore the date stamp, it's not correct!)
This race was an old school, simple trail race.  The race director and her crew set up and checked people in, but there were no bibs.  We were told we would simply get a popsicle stick with our place on it.  Simple and efficient.  The 10K racers were identified from the 5K racers by having a small swatch of black cloth pinned to their shirt.  (I think some of us weren't sure if we were racing or mourning someone after we pinned these onto our kit.)  Again, simple and efficient.  The 10K and 5K course ran together the first half and then the 10K continued on past the finish line to make a figure 8 with the finish line as the mid-point.  

The first half of the first loop of the figure 8 had most of the elevation gain and included running along a paved trail and over a nicely crafted wooden bridge.  My legs were exhausted as soon as we began the race.  I resorted to walking most of the inclines and running the flats and downhills the best I could.  After we turned around and started coming back downhill towards the finish line for the 5K and our halfway point, I started walking even more frequently, especially in the second half of the race.  This was now mostly survival and seeing if I could get the 10K in under one hour.

As I came around the final turn and ran down the paved path towards the finish line, I crossed around 57 or 58 something for just over 6 miles. (My Garmin said 58:34 but race results had me as 55:56 and 14th out of 29 finishers for the 10K.)

A volunteer points out the course mown into the grass towards the end of the Bark Beetle 10K on June 13, 2015 in Custer State Park, SD.
There were plenty of snacks afterwards and we each received a hand-crafted wooden finisher's medal.  The overall winners received hand-crafted wooden trophies. All in all it was a simple and good run despite my exhausted body.

The trophies for the winners!  Our woden medals were smaller but with a similiar stamp.
The finish lne for both the 5K & 10K.  The RD, Connie, is in the middle with the race jersey and sunglasses.

A tranquil setting for start and finish of the Bark Beetle 10K & 5K races in Custer State Park, SD.

(The proceeds from this race benefitted kids with scholarships for the local YMCA which has a great impact in the Custer, SD area.  Thanks to the Race Director Connie Tye for the photos used in the updated version of this blog post.)  

Friday, July 10, 2015

Product Review: Gin Gins Arjuna Ginger Bar

Recently I received an invitation to become an Authentic Ginger Tastemaker with the Ginger People, the company that many may know as the one that makes Gin Gins.  I love Gin Gins and regularly use them during my trail running and racing.  They provide a nice bit of sugar and spice during a run and help keep my stomach from getting nauseous.  (I will review them more at a later time.)  Today, I want to review one of the Ginger People's newest products, the Gin Gins Arjuna Ginger Bar.  Arjuna is the name of the volcano overlooking the ginger farms where the ginger is grown in Java, Indonesia, by a small village of organic ginger farmers.  The Ginger People have created a revenue sharing program with the farmers paying market price plus 15% as well as .5% of sales revunue from the Arjuna Ginger Bars sold worldwide.   

My bar came with quite a bit of information about how the bar itself is grown on local farms and made at local confectioners.  Notice, the low GI index of 44 as well.

The bar itself is just four ingredients: Coconut sugar, ginger, tapioca starch, and pectin.  The first three ingredients are all certifiend organic and the bar is gluten free, vegan, and packaged in a compostable foil.  

While my bar came with quite a bit of literature introducing it, it is actually packaged in mix packaging cardboard and a compostable foil wrapper.

The bar is dusted in some additional coconut sugar which is the scattered light brown dusty looking substance in the picture below.  The sugar gives a nice balance to the spiciness of the ginger.  The bar does have a bit of a ginger bite which brings a little heat for a few seconds, but it's real nice if you like spicy foods.  As I taste tested this today, my youngest, (let's just say, recent accomplishments in this child's life include potty training), wanted a taste too.  She enjoyed the first two bites, and it was only on the third bite when the spice overcame her younger tastebuds.  Even then, she was back a minute later wanting more!  The consistency is slightly different than Gin-Gins themselves, though similar.  I would say it is closer to a quality piece of licorice.

The Gin Gins Arjuna Ginger Bar unveiled!

Overall, I would say that the time and quality spent in making the Gin Gins Arjuna Ginger Bar was well worth it.  This is a great snack/pick me up and tastes awesome without too much of a sugar spike.  In addition, the thoughtfulness to make it easily compostable, vegan, and gluten free as well as profit sharing with the ginger farmers, makes this a bar you can feel good about in a lot of ways. Enjoy!  You can buy them here in a 16 pack: Arjuna Ginger Bar 16 Pack at

Disclaimer:  As noted above, I am an Authentic Ginger Tastemaker and was given a sample of this bar to taste and review.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Trail Review: Harney Peak, (via 3 Different Routes), Custer, SD

Harney Peak is the highest point in South Dakota at 7242 feet.  There are two main trails up Harney Peak, the Southern Approach and the Northern Approach.  The first time I went up Harney Peak I meant to go up the Southern and easier approach, but misunderstood some directions from someone I asked about where the trail was when I parked and instead of taking trail #9, I took trail #4-->Harney Peak Trail OptionsCuster State Park Trail Guide PDF.  Oops!  

This trail was probably a little more strenuous than trail #9, but about the same length overall and probably similiar in terms of elevation gain.  The above link puts it at about a 4-5 hour hike.  I made it up, (including going all the way to the top of the fire tower) in just under 66 minutes.  After a few minutes of a break to eat something and take in the view, I made it back down in just over 57 minutes for a total time running/hiking of just over 2 hours and 3 minutes.  You do, as with all 3 of these routes, have to check in when you enter the Black Elk Wilderness.  This means just stopping for a minute, filling out a quick paper registration that you take one copy of and keep on you person, about the size of a large receipt.  This route probably gains around 1100 feet over the course of 3-4 miles. Much of it is runnable, though obviously less so on the way up than the way down.  The final part to the top and up the stairs and including the fire tower is a little taxing as you gain alot of height in this final bit.  (Plus, stairs are a known nemisis to long distance runners!)  The first 6 pictures below are taken from this route.

This is looking down and to the west from the lookout tower atop Harney Peak, 7242ft.

This pic was looking south from the fire tower atop Harney Peak.

Some neat rock formations amidst the trail run back down trail #4.

View from trail #4.  Not sure if this is part of Cathedral Spires?

I ran trail #4 the day before I raced the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon Fast 5K.  Three days after that race, I finally went up Harney Peak the "easy" way from the Southern Approach, trail number 9.  This route definitely is the easiest of the three I ran/hiked.  The distance seemed about the same as trail number #4 but I did the whole thing, minus a brief break at the top again, in 1 hour 44 minutes.  (I had also fallen the day before in Hell Canyon and hurt my ribs.)  This is a busier route being the easiest but also very runnable, especially if you are use to the altitude and running hills/mountains.  (All three trails have the same final approach to the top, so that part as before included the steps and fire tower.  Sorry, I don't have any pics from this route.)

Three days after running/hiking the Southern Approach up Harney Peak, I finally did the harder, Northern Approach, a day before I ran the Bark Beetle Trail Race 10K elsewhere in Custer State Park. This trail gains over 2000 ft in ascent, (most literature I found online or in print put it at around 2200 ft, my GPS watch said 2441 ft in ascent, 2395 ft in descent, so I'd say 2400 ft each way.)  I left from the trail head just off Route 244 near the Willow Creek Horse Camp.  The trail starts off gaining ground immediately, but on a trail that is not too technical.  However, once you turn off the Willow Creek Loop Trail, then the trail continues to go upwards but becomes much more rocky, technical, and this day was even wet in some areas from the previous day's rains.  It reminded me of some of the trails I have hiked before in New England, especially in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Not as much of this trail was runnable, and I actually took and used my poles a few times for some extra footing and strength.  (Much of the time I hiked or ran with them however.  You certainly wouldn't need them, but I wanted to try training with them and they were useful occasionally.)  

I was getting tired from an active week as well as my fall four days before in Hell Canyon.  Gaining 2400 ft in 5.5+/- miles made this a good workout, and I did take a few very brief breaks.  Some I included in the time, and some, like a few minutes I took off at the fire tower, I did not.  Coming down was almost as hard in some stretches as going up because of the rocks and water.  I couldn't fall again with my ribs already sore and a race the next day plus 2 more coming up in Montana.  I was definitely not fast this day, but the 11.08 miles and elevation gain/loss was good training for racing in Montana.  Not sure what the average time for this more difficult route is, but minus a few short breaks, I got in done in about 3.5 hours.  I was exhausted.  Below are pics taken from this hike.

The large mass of rock in the center of this picture is the back of Mount Rushmore.

That's a wizened tree if ever there is one!

Coming back down the third time from Harney Peak, this time from the Northern Approach.
Harney Peak is definitely a worthwhile hike from any of these three approaches.  Pretty cool to get up and nab the highest point in the state of South Dakota and be able to do so in an hour or two one way, and then finish the whole hike/run off in less than half a day, in some cases, just a 1-2 hours round trip if you are really moving.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Trail Review: Hell Canyon, Custer, SD

Hell Canyon has some great views, but beware your footing, the ticks, and the sun!!!

Two days after I raced the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon Fast 5K, I headed out to the west of Custer, SD to run/hike the 5-5.5 miles or so of Hell Canyon.  [Hell Canyon Trail Data]  The trailhead parking lot is something to keep an eye out for as it is on the right as you go downhill and the road curves left.  The brochure, (which, btw, they had the wrong trail brochures at the trailhead, so get one from the ranger's office in Custer), gives the route proceeding up to the top of the canyon, around it, and then down and through it back to the parking lot.  Since it is a loop, you can go either way.  

I headed up and the trail does just that, steeply and quickly.  After about ten solid minutes of fast uphill hiking, I was nearing the top, and noticed my gps watch was not working right.  As I would later figure out, (since I kept fidgeting with it trying to get it to work for the first third of the hike), the casing was loose and the watch wouldn't stay on and was now basically useless.  At one point, as I stopped to fiddle with it, I looked down and noticed three ticks on my lower legs!  Ambush!!!  I got those off and kept going.  The hike after it tops out initially, has a short spur, which since there were some logs across it and the trail was faint, I actually did not go all the way on it thinking it was a mistake.  So again, you need a sharp eye.  Eventually the trail starts turning as you get more into the canyon and curves around and tops out again before you end up on a trail skirting the canyon along a shelf probably 20-30 feet below the top.  As singletrack and rocky, this is definitely not a place to trip and fall I thought as I went along.  

Some of the dead trees along the first part of the hike at the top of Hell Canyon.

Since I was being careful of my footing, still trying to get my watch working, and taking in the canyon, I didn't notice right away that the sun was getting hot and blaring down on me.  The top half of the hike really has little if any tree cover, so another thing to be aware of is the potential need of sunscreen.

A neat rock outcropping from the top half of the Hell Canyon trail.
For me, unfortunately, my adventure in "Hell" was going to take a tumble, (literally), as I headed down into the canyon.  The canyon starts to descend as you near the northern end.  The trail as it goes downhill puts you into tree cover which was great for dealing with the hot sun, but unfortunately, since I was back to running at this point, my foot caught a rock, and I couldn't catch my balance before I was landing off the side of the trail, mostly on my right side.  My right arm and leg got good and scratched up and my ribs really hurt.  I retrieved my camera and said a quick prayer that my ribs weren't cracked or broken.  (They weren't, but are still sore today.  Likely muscle damage below the rib cage and/or some type of bone bruise.)  At this point, I pretty much was ready to get out of Hell, which is, well, rather ironic, since I am a senior pastor on sabbatical!!!  The lower portion of the trail is mostly singletrack, rocky in places, almost overgrown in others, but good overall.  The picture below is one of my favorites of the day as it shows the trail in the bottom of the canyon and the walls surrounding it.  

Seeking to get out of Hell, I'm reminded of Psalm 23:4a "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."
A little bit after crossing the one stream that runs through the canyon, which I did on the rocks, I saw the parking lot and kept on running all the way to the gate and my Jeep.  A vehicle had just pulled in, and we talked about my adventure.  The lady in the group noticed another tick on me that needed to be brushed off, and then as I got ready to drive back, the three of them, a little bit older than me, headed out on their adventure.  It didn't take me long to realize that if I had fallen and gotten hurt worse than I did, it might have taken them as much as 2 hours before they would have found me, half way through the loop.  The data on the link at the beginning of this post rates the hike as moderate with a time of 2-4 hours.  Though my watch fritzed out, I was ambushed by ticks, the sun was blaring down, and I fell, I thing my time was around 90 minutes.  Not super fast for 5.4 miles +/-, but okay considering my interesting time in Hell Canyon.  

Psalm 23

"The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For you are with me; 
Your rod and your staff,
They comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever."

I'm glad I have a God who was with me in Hell Canyon, I'm even more glad to have a God who delivered me from Hell through the good shepherd His Son, Jesus Christ.

Below are additional pictures taken in Hell Canyon that I didn't realize I had access to when I originally wrote this post.  Enjoy!

Part of the initial steep uphill to get on top of Hell Canyon.

Great view.  Also notice the road access is as you come downhill going westward, before the U starts to curve.

On top after the initial steep ascent that begins Hell Canyon.

Notice the canyon walls on the LHS of the picture.

Pretty neat to run partway along some of the canyon wall just below the top of the rim, but just a bit freaky too on singletrack with the rest of the canyon beside you!  

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