Monday, October 31, 2016

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend! I got back from Anchorage yesterday morning (and am now in catch-up mode on blogging). I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Vanitha over the past few days. It was such a wonderful treat to be able to spend so much time with her and to really catch up.

Alaska really touched my heart. I'd been there in the past on a cruise, but thanks to Vanitha I was able to explore more below the surface this time. It was off-tourist season and I loved being able to experience life there from a more local perspective. I found the Anchorage area to be an amazing, stunningly beautiful destination with some of the friendliest people I've ever met in my life.
View from the window as my flight was approaching Anchorage's airport
I have a lot to share about the weekend, so I'm going to break things up into a few more-manageable posts. We'll start by talking about the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Vanitha and I spent a lot of time there over the weekend and it was my favorite of all the things we did.

From their website:
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through conservation, education, and quality animal care.

The center maintains large land spaces to house and take care of animals that are orphaned, injured, or displaced. When the animals cannot be released back into the wild, the center gives them a permanent home.
The AWCC currently cares for the only active herd of wood bison in the United States.
Vanitha and I are both animal lovers so we both consider the AWCC a very special place.

The center does different animal feedings once an hour, which were really fun to watch. Here are the feedings we got to see:

Adult black/grizzly bears
The staff explained that they always try to mimic the bears' natural diets. During warmer seasons, the bears are fed meat. However, at this time of year, bears in the wild are either hibernating or getting ready to hibernate, which means their diets naturally get sparser, too. Accordingly, that day the staff fed the bears a mixture of apples, plus some dog food for nutrition.
The staff threw the food over the wire fences and the bears would sniff around and find everything. They mentioned that bears have an extremely acute sense of smell which is seven times greater than a bloodhound's.

The pictures don't show size scale very well, but the bears are enormous. I think someone said they weigh around 900 pounds. Check out the bear claws!
One of the staff threw an apple over the fence that accidentally hit one of the bears. The crowd gasped, but the bear barely reacted. It was a comical moment!

Here are two of the bears sniffing around.
At one point, one of the bears plopped itself right behind the wire fence and gazed around at the crowd. It was so close you could read the expression on its face.
A few minutes later, the bear wandered back a few feet before plopping onto its behind to observe the crowd again:
I've heard some native Alaskan tribes consider bears to have human-like spirits, and now I understand why. It was really fun watching the bears interacting in such a relateable way.

I grew up with pet cats, so I have a special affinity for felines such as lynxes.

We learned about the history of the two lynxes living at the center. One had been rescued from a wildfire, and the other one had been rescued from an illegal domestication attempt.

You can see both lynxes here:
The one in front was much more sociable than the other. The staff said this one was considered the "alpha" lynx, plus the other lynx was shy after having negative experiences with humans in the past.

Both were fed pieces of chicken, and both were quite tentative about eating.
We learned the "alpha" lynx was getting old, so she had some arthritis and was developing a cataract in her eye. True to form, we witnessed her slip while trying to climb up one of the tree branches. That made me sad. The staff said they would be keeping an eye on her to make sure the slip didn't hurt her.

Here she is crouching under one of the trees afterwards. She is a beautiful creature.
I wasn't expecting to be charmed by a porcupine, but found Kit Kat the porcupine to be surprisingly endearing. (I remember his name in particular because there is another porcupine on site named Snickers. Clever names, yes?) Kit Kat was brought to the center after being found wandering with a snare caught on one leg, which eventually had to be amputated. Thankfully, Kit Kat looks very happy and healthy in his new home.
We learned that porcupines are vegetarians with very few natural predators, and we learned about the characteristics of their quills and how they defend themselves. We also learned that porcupines are surprisingly intelligent and respond well to training. The staff frequently takes the porcupines out to schools and other places for educational visits, et al.

Here is Kit Kat chomping away at a sugar snap pea from a staffer:
 He was an eager little fellow!
After a few minutes, the staffperson gave Kit Kat the bowl, which was filled with peapods, berries, and some vegetable fiber. The staff told us that Kit Kat didn't like broccoli or brussel sprouts, which made me laugh.
Kit Kat was so excited at the contents of his bowl that he soon buried his entire head inside and stayed that way for at least 5-10 minutes. The staff tried to push the bowl back down to the ground but Kit Kat wouldn't budge. It was the cutest thing ever.
From now on, any time I need something to make me smile, I am going to look back at the pictures of Kit Kat with his head in the bowl. =)

Baby Bear
The center has a baby bear which is currently kept separate from the adult bears until it is old enough to interact with them. It was extremely energetic and playful.
The baby bear was small enough that the staff could still go into its enclosure to interact with it directly. They said they worked with the baby at least three times a day, and that it was very receptive to training and interaction.

Sure enough, the baby bear acted very similar to a puppy:

Super adorable!

We had a funny moment where the baby bear was sniffing the ground and a bird flew up behind it. The baby bear turned around and literally jumped in terror at the sight of the bird. Based on the reaction, you would never have guessed that the bear is literally about a million times bigger and heavier than the bird. It was hilarious.

Moving on from the feedings...
Unfortunately we weren't able to see every type of animal onsite get fed, but we did get to see plenty of the other animals going about their normal days. Here are a few:

To me, this scene was quintessential Alaska:

Those antlers are no joke! At one point, we even saw two of the caribou briefly locking antlers with each other. The drama! I can imagine things can get ugly when this happens in the wild.

Here's a close-up. It must be tough to maneuver with those antlers in wooded areas. Also, it's not visible here, but we got to see this guy answering nature's call. It doesn't get any more real than that, yes? =D

Musk Oxen
I wasn't familiar with musk oxen, but enjoyed watching them sniffing around and finding ridges in the grass to plop down and make themselves comfortable.
Vanitha told me that musk oxen have extremely warm hair, which natives use to make winter clothing and other garments. She said there is a musk oxen farm near Anchorage, which I would have liked to visit with her if time had permitted! Next time. =)

There were a few different types of deer onsite. They were very graceful and reminded me a lot of the deer I see back home.

When I saw these, the lyrics to Home on the Range immediately started running through my head. There were a few baby bison amongst the herd, and you could see the others being careful to keep the babies a bit more protected.

V and I attempted a selfie with the bison in the background
It's a little hard to see in the picture, but there are two foxes - one on the ground, and one hiding on the ledge in the corner:
The fox, which had a really beautiful fluffy tail, was very active trotting around.

Seen But Not Pictured Here...
Wolves, an owl, and an eagle.

The wolves looked so much like domesticated dogs that Vanitha and I asked a staffperson how to tell them apart. We learned it can be quite difficult to distinguish the two, to the point that it may require genetic testing. Wow.

In conclusion...
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center was an incredibly heartwarming destination. I loved seeing all the animal interactions in such a natural environment. The staff members are all extremely knowledgeable. They clearly love what they do and it is obvious the animals are very well cared-for. I wouldn't hesitate to visit again and again, if given the opportunity. If I lived in the area, I would love to volunteer there.

To anyone traveling Anchorage or the surrounding areas, this center is a must-visit!

I will be linking up with LaurenVanIsabel and Marcella for Wanderful Wednesday; with Chris and HeatherLaurenAshleyAmanda and Brian, and Carolann and Macrae for Weekend Wanderlust; and with Arnie and JoSally-AnnAnda, and Anisa and Katherine for The Weekly Postcard.  

Friday, October 28, 2016

Alaskan long run

Greetings from Anchorage! Here is a sampling of the scenery during my plane ride in:
I'll talk a lot more later about the travels up here, but first I want to talk running shop. Yesterday, I did a 10-mile long run, mostly on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. This is an 11-mile trail that runs along the Knik Arm and Cook Inlet.
First, some trail preparation:
I'd heard stories about wildlife encounters along the path, so I asked Vanitha for advice on what to do if it happened. She said I might run into moose or bears. With moose, she said you could probably just slink away quietly. With bears you should either play dead or fight back with everything you've got, depending on the type of bear. She also mentioned that the animals might act more defensively if they had their children with them, and that bears may "bluff charge" to try to scare you.
Vanitha said she thought bears would be an unlikely sight, since most of them are already in hibernation. That certainly made sense, as winter has definitely already arrived here. Daytime high temperatures have been in the 20s and 30s, and there is snow and ice on the ground.

Then, Vanitha said she had a bear bell, which helps warn bears of your presence in advance. She suggested I carry it around with me on the path. I found the concept of a bear bell humorous, but apparently they are readily available in grocery stores and all kinds of places here.

Vanitha's bear bell
The bear bell is a pretty cheery looking contraption, no? Maybe Santa and his reindeer are actually wearing bear bells. =D

Local conditions:
Sunrise is already pretty late here - yesterday, it rose around 9:15 AM. Overnight, temperatures were in the teens. While living in Chicago my whole life means I am definitely used to cold weather, I still didn't want to go out in conditions THAT cold. I waited until about 11:00 when the temperatures were in the mid-20s, then finally bundled up and headed out. While it was very chilly, the sun was shining brightly and thankfully there was no wind.

On the trail:
The scenery was beautiful. I can imagine in the summertime it must be even more spectacular. This was a small inland lake:
This was the view of the ocean. If you look closely, you can see mountains in the far distance:
There were a lot of spots with benches facing out towards the water. During warmer weather, it must be heavenly to sit in those spots and enjoy the view.

Some parts of the path were clearer than others. Certain areas were icy and/or had a lot of drifting snow, so I had to be careful of my footing.
Part of the trail was closed for bridge construction, so I was only able to run about 3 miles before the trail took a detour into town via sidewalk. I followed the detour for about a mile, but some of the surfaces hadn't been plowed. Therefore, I opted to come back to the path and do some out-and-backs to get myself to 10 miles.

How it felt:
Beautiful scenery aside, I didn't feel great during this run. My body wasn't acclimated to the cold and it was tough. By Mile 3 I was already feeling the exertion so I used every mental trick I could think of to get myself through. I've heard cold can mask dehydration. Sure enough, I never felt thirsty, but forced myself to drink from my handheld water bottle. Obviously the contents got icier and icier as I progressed. At Mile 5, I took a GU, but the cold had hardened it to the point it was difficult to squeeze out of the packet.

It was an enormous relief once I finally did finish! I was so happy to come back to the warmth of Vanitha's apartment, take a hot shower, and pass out on the couch like a cat hogging the sunshine. =)

More on Alaska to come!!!

Linking up with LaurenVanIsabel and Marcella for Wanderful Wednesday; with Chris and HeatherLaurenAshleyAmanda and Brian, and Carolann and Macrae for Weekend Wanderlust; and with Arnie and JoSally-AnnAnda, and Anisa and Katherine for The Weekly Postcard.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Oct 17-23 training week recap, race do-over

Quick post today. I've been in scramble mode over the past few days (hence also the delayed nature of this post!) Over the weekend, I had family in town from Maryland, and tomorrow morning, I'm off to visit Vanitha in Alaska. Since I'll be out of the office the rest of the week, I've been trying to get as much done in advance as possible.

Normally I'm pretty organized when it comes to packing and preparing in advance, but last night saw me up at midnight stuffing things into a suitcase (!!!).
Side note:
I'm sure a lot of folks are either sick of hearing about the Chicago Cubs in the World Series starting tonight, or can't hear enough about them. I'm not a diehard fan, but in general I have a knack for being out of town when my teams of interest are late in the playoffs or finals. Sigh.

In short, my best hope is that the Cubs take the series in five. If so, they'd close out in Chicago and I'd be home in time to watch it!
Here are my workouts from the week:
MONDAY - Yoga class, 20 minutes strength work (biceps, triceps, core, lower back, squats)
TUESDAY - 10 minutes stationary cycling, 35 minutes strength work (upper back, shoulders, chest, quads, hamstrings, core)
WEDNESDAY - Zumba class, Mobility 101 class
THURSDAY - Strength Max class
FRIDAY - Yoga class, 3.3 miles of speedwork on the treadmill (warm up 10 minutes, 2:1 tempo/recovery interval ratio at 7.5/3.0 MPH, repeat 8 times)
SATURDAY - 35 minutes stationary cycling

My speedwork surprisingly went very well this week, and I was happy to be able to strength-train on 3 days. It also felt really good to get in a pure cycling workout on Saturday. These days I usually treat the stationary bike just as a warm-up machine, but I might have to revisit using it more consistently.

Switching gears now. This week's Tuesdays on the Run topic asks: "What race do you want a do-over on? Either to train/race differently or to relive the awesome."
Easy answer. I'd want to re-do my one and only marathon, the 2012 Chicago Marathon. Reasons:
  • At the time, I was dealing with various injuries which resulted in horrific groin pain and very wonky hips and knees. Over the past few years, I've done a lot of strength work which has significantly alleviated those issues.
  • I'm at least 12 pounds lighter now than I was back then, quite possibly even more.
  • Experience has taught me a lot more about proper pacing, fueling, and nutrition.
  • At the time, I did minimal cross-training, yoga, or speed/hillwork, and I probably did my long runs at a faster pace than necessary. I feel like I'd know how to train smarter and more effectively now.
  • I am more familiar with the course now and would know better how to tackle it.
  • Running gear continues to improve all around in the marketplace.
What about you? What race(s) would you like to do over and why?

Belatedly linking up with HoHo and Tricia for the Weekly Wrap, and linking up with MarciaPatti, and Erika for Tuesdays on the Run.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Five Things Friday

When I learned MarCourtney, and Cynthia were discontinuing their Friday Five linkup, I was bummed as it is one of my favorites. What a thrill to learn today that Fairytales and Fitness and Running on Happy started a Friday Five 2.0!
Let's kick off the inaugural 2.0 linkup!!!

1) Gift card that keeps on giving
Six weeks ago, I received a $50 gift card to Roti, one of my favorite quick-service restaurants. Each time I go, my order totals around $9. Obviously that means I can use the certificate for about 5.5 orders. I've been using the card once per week.

Today I went to use the card for the sixth time, and had my credit card ready to cover any unpaid balance. Much to my surprise, they told me no balance was due.

You better believe I didn't question it! I just said thank you and immediately headed out the door. =D

Back at my desk, I tried to look up my gift card balance/activity. The result? Error messages that the gift card number cannot be found. To quote Alice in Wonderland, "Curiouser and curiouser!"

I wonder if I somehow stumbled into a "bottomless" gift card? That would basically be the equivalent of hitting the lunchtime jackpot, in my opinion. Or maybe their system was just down? Who knows.

Either way, I've already eaten the evidence. =)

2) Going bananas
At yoga class today, our instructor had us do a new-to-us pose that she called the banana pose. It looks very similar to this:
You can see the resemblance:
The banana pose made me want to giggle. It reminded me of a friend who was born outside of the US, and thinks the expression "going bananas" is a weird idiom. (Taken literally, I think we can all understand why, yes?)

Let's just say it's really hard to do yoga when you are trying not to laugh!

3) Hey L.A., whadya say?
This past Tuesday, Adam's colleague Reid gave us two tickets to that night's Blackhawks vs Flyers game at the United Center. Thank you, Reid!
Action shot of Marian Hossa tossing one of the pucks into the stands for a fan souvenir during warm-ups.
Congratulations to Big Hoss on scoring his 500th NHL goal that night!
For the second consecutive time, we got to watch the Cubs game on the United Center scoreboard in between periods. Always really cool.
Reid has a known history of undergoing very last-minute travel to see our teams on the road. E.g., last year, he flew to Anaheim to watch Blackhawks-Ducks Western Conference Finals Game 7. I jokingly said to Adam, "Maybe the reason Reid is giving away his tickets is because he's in Los Angeles watching the Cubs?"

I found out later that Reid did not attend Tuesday's game. He DID, however, fly out to LA yesterday afternoon to watch last night's game! Apparently his flight landed at LAX around 3:00 PM, and the Cubs-Dodgers game started at 5:08 PM. Wow. Just wow.

That, my friends, is living on the edge!

4) I get a good feeling
The latest addition to my workout playlist is "Levels" by Avicii. I've heard it at seemingly every single race start line over the last year. It's also one of the songs that might get played at the UC when the Blackhawks are warming up.

Today I watched the video for the first time. The first half is really funny! It reminded me a little of the Office Space movie. Check it out:
5) Alaskan frontiers
Next Wednesday, I am headed up to Alaska to visit my best friend Vanitha. I am very excited to catch up with her!

This trip has really snuck up on me. I haven't done as much preparation as I would have liked. Thankfully, V is filled with great recommendations on things to see and do.
Also sneaking up on me is the Rock N Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon on November 13. Ideally I'd do two more double-digit long runs in preparation. The weekend of November 6 is a gimmee, and then I can choose either between this coming weekend or next weekend. From a planning standpoint, I've got family in town this weekend from Maryland, and next weekend I'll be in Alaska.

I'd really love to be able to do my long run in Alaska, but I know the wilderness and wildlife there is no joke. Essentially, I need to make a decision and prepare quickly, either way.

Happy Friday, everyone!