Thursday, December 27, 2012

X-rays and Health Insurance

I have a high deductible health insurance plan.  If you work for corporate America, chances are you do too.  To paraphrase the HR representative of the company I’m retired from, “we switched to high-deductible, account-based health benefit plans, because, frankly, we can’t afford not to.”   In my interpretation, these plans are intended to:

      1.  Reward preventative health maintenance – most of these plans pay preventative services such as annual physicals and lab work as well as preventative medications – at 100% with no deductible,

2.  Protect against catastrophic loss.  If I’m looking at a $500,000 medical bill, my out-of-pocket maximum of $5,000 seems quite reasonable, and

3.  Drive responsible spending on the part of the patient.
When I went to the hospital to get my foot x-rayed last week, I told the admitting clerk that I had a high deductible plan and would end up paying the bill anyway – and asked the cost of the x-ray.  She smiled, said she had a high-deductible plan, too, and proceeded to tell me that she didn't know and couldn't accept payment anyway.  “Just wait for the bill to come and pay it,” she advised.

How am I supposed to spend responsibly when I don’t know what the cost will be?  Granted, I had only the one hospital that would accept my insurance plan (or so I was told), but surely they know the price of an x-ray.  Even though I was a captive audience, it would have been nice to know what to plan for.  

Just for fun, I went to the web site of the hospital where I had the x-ray.  The only reference to cost – anywhere on the site – was a mention that uninsured patients that did not qualify for any other discount could get a discount of 25%, with an additional 15% off if they paid the bill in full at the time of service.  Good to know – but because I technically AM insured, I suspect they wouldn't have offered me a discount anyway. 

As more and more people find themselves with high-deductible health plans, we’re going to want to know what we’re paying for – before we pay for it.  We may choose to decline tests – or at least defer them – based on our own cost/benefit analysis.  My own example – I really wanted to know whether or not my foot was broken, so I went forward with the x-ray even though I still have no clue how much I’ll end up paying for it.  But if I had to pay for the cholesterol test my doctor ordered, I would have skipped the test this year.  My cholesterol levels were just fine last year and I have no risk factors for any of the diseases that high cholesterol would indicate.

Turns out that cholesterol testing is considered preventative.  Now we know.  

Epilogue:  Fast forward about six weeks.  The hospital dutifully billed the insurance company, which dutifully told them to apply their agreed-upon discount and send the bill to me because I had not yet met my (high) deductible.  The bill was about $176, which is less than I had anticipated.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Chi Running - Strengthen Your Feet

Roll the sole of your foot over a golf ball
to help strengthen your feet
Every time I've had foot pain after a long run, I've thought about telling my doctor about it, but haven’t done it because I was sure he’d tell me not to run.  I finally told him about it at my annual physical on Tuesday.  He poked and prodded, and told me he suspected a hairline fracture of the big toe at the point where it reaches the arch of the foot.

A bit of history – the fracture he suspected is called a “march fracture” because soldiers would often get fractures in the same spot after long days of marching.

I had the foot X-rayed on Wednesday, and got the results back on Thursday.  The x-ray was normal!  Big sigh of relief.  But – the doctor still wants me to stop running for a few weeks.  Nooooooooooooooooo!  He recommends non-weight-bearing exercise for the non-running period.

Sigh.  I guess it’s swimming, stationary bikes, and some serious foot-strengthening for the next couple of weeks.  Danny and Katherine Dreyer, authors of Chi Running, recognize just how important the feet are to running and recognize the need to keep your feet both strong and flexible (not to mention relaxed) while running.  They have devoted a section in their Injury Prevention and Recovery chapter to exercises focused on stretching and strengthening your feet. 

Runner’s World Magazine agrees.  Kelly Bastone states in a July 11, 2012 article, “Runners' mighty quads and glutes reach long-mileage readiness well ahead of the smaller muscles in the feet and ankles. Yet this supporting cast plays a key role in achieving peak endurance.”  And while the Runner’s World article seems to assume that runners are pushing off with their feet (explicitly contraindicated in the Chi Running technique), it goes on to affirm that “[strengthening the feet] develops the muscle control you need to prevent overuse injuries from high-mileage workouts."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Chi Running – Lesson 7 – Upper Body and Arms

Chi Running Lesson 7 is about what you should do with your upper body, your arms in particular.  I mentioned when I wrote about Lesson 5 that it seemed that my upper body was also rotating around the pivot point (T12 – L1 – Hut Hut).  Lesson 7 had me practice keeping it focused forward and swinging my arms to the rear.

Balance is a key tenet of Chi Running.  As your column falls forward (leveraging gravity) and your legs swing out the rear (leveraging the force of the road), the arm swing to the back acts as another force going in the opposite direction of the body, or another form of balance.  Gotta love physics!

I had to think about what I was currently doing with my arms, and the answer came back, “pretty much nothing.”   I keep my arms bent at the elbows, close to my sides, with hands relaxed.  Granted, it took me a long time to unclench the fists, but that was well before I started practicing Chi Running.  So I had to make a conscious effort to do something with my arms – keep them in the same position but swing them to the rear.

I did the lesson as the authors intended – for the most part.  My course for the day was a 10K.  I ran the first ten minutes focusing solely on swinging my arms to the rear.  It was a little awkward but I got used to it.  The next ten minutes, I added a focus on the pelvic rotation.  Check.  The next 10 minutes I attempted to add the lean.

Here’s where it got tricky.  There was a fairly strong wind from the south, and it seemed like when I was running against the wind, nothing worked right.  I’d lean and the wind would push me back.  I felt my legs tense from the glutes all the way down to the big toes.  When I was running against the wind, it was all I could do to focus on keeping my legs relaxed.  The wind was a force I hadn’t expected - and a force to be reckoned with.

I came back from the 6.25 miles a little sorer than I would have liked.  My right foot was especially sore.  Ouch.  Did I re-injure it?  Or is it just not strong enough to withstand the pounding on the long runs? 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Chi Running – Lesson 6 – Swing your legs to the Rear

Chi Running Lesson 6 combines the pelvic rotation and the lean.  If this is done correctly, it will allow your legs to swing out the back of your stride.  Key words: if done correctly.

As I did this exercise, my legs didn't feel different.   I wasn't worried about my legs swinging to the rear, because my footprints in the sand earlier this week showed me just how long my “out the back” stride is.  I did feel my pelvis rotating – some of the time.  What was happening – I think – is that I would level my pelvis and notice the rotation.  Then, shortly thereafter, I would notice that I was feeling tension in my calves and ankles.  In an attempt to relax my lower legs, invariably I would let go of the lower abs, too, and there went the level pelvis and the smooth rotation. 

I still have not mastered the art of keeping my lower abs contracted while relaxing everything else.  This is what I will work on for tomorrow’s fun run.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chi Running – Lesson 5 – Pelvic Rotation

T12!  L1!  Hut! Hut!  Sounds like a quarterback calling plays, but actually, it refers to the “pivot point” in your spine – the place where the curve of your upper (thoracic) spine meets the curve or your lower (lumbar) spine.  In Chi Running, this is the point from which all of the motion of your lower body begins.

Lesson 5 is an interesting lesson because the focus is strictly on awareness.  You don’t actually do anything different.  The point of the lesson is to feel your pelvis rotating.  Well, OK, for me there is something I will have to consciously do.  Relax.  Relax.  Relax.

Here’s the exercise – lovingly referred to by the authors as The Pool Running Drill.  What a great visual image!  I think every kid has had the experience of running alongside a pool and hearing that dreaded whistle followed by a loud “WALK!”  My daughter was a lifeguard for several years and put many a child in timeout for continuing to run.  So, to avoid timeout (and to do the exercise), the idea is to transition to the fastest walk you are capable of.  According to the authors, this exercise will really allow you to feel your pelvis rotating (at T12/L1).

I ran about a mile before my inner lifeguard blew the whistle.  Shifted into the fastest walk I could muster, and sure enough, I could feel my pelvis rotating.  Success!  When I shifted back to a run I could still feel the rotation, but it seemed like it was my upper body rotating rather than my lower body.  Hmmmm – this is not right.  I tried it a few more times over the length of the run.  The exercise did what it was supposed to do; it made me feel the rotation.  Lesson 6 will show me how to use the rotation.

Let’s see – when do I get to the upper body focus?  Not until lesson 7.  Sigh.  Gradual progress…

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Chi Running - Back to the Sand

After a couple of fun runs – one with a new running group I’ve joined – it’s back to the Chi Running lessons.  I decided to repeat Lesson 4 – which is learning to relax your lower legs and develop a proper mid-foot strike – in my new shoes.

On the run to the park, once again, I focused on relaxing the lower legs, ankles and feet.  I caught my left calf tensing up more than once, and made the deliberate effort to “let it go.”   I didn’t feel any tension in my right calf, so I assumed that it was perfectly relaxed.

Well, it may have been relaxed, but I’m still consistently pushing off with my right toe.  When my left leg is relaxed I get beautiful, even footprints in the sand.  But even when my right leg feels relaxed, I get the toe divot, which indicates that I am still pushing off with my toe.

I brought the camera along and took this photo of the footprints.  I did note something kind of cool – look at how far apart my footprints are.  I am 5’ 2 ½ inches tall (yes, I count the half), and when I run with my feet under my column I feel like my stride is pretty short.  Au contraire – it appears I have a pretty long stride out the back.  I kept my shadow in the photo to remind me to keep my posture tall.

I plan to move on through the lessons and come back to the sand next spring.  I suspect the sand will be covered with snow until then.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Chi Running - Treadmill Time

I have to confess – my first time on the treadmill after several months running outdoors was, well, less than optimal.  It seemed that once I pushed the “start” button everything I had learned about Chi Running left my brain.  I was back to my old habits.  I wasn’t holding my posture correctly, and my feet – even in my brand-new shoes, felt heavy.  To top it off, my right toes went numb during the run.  I hate that!

The second treadmill run was a little better.  Per the authors, I focused on keeping my posture tall, keeping my lower legs relaxed, and lifting my heels.   I slowed the treadmill down from the last run.  I noticed, however, that I struggled with keeping a lean and when I wasn’t leaning my feet were hitting in front of my column.  And once again, my right toes went numb during the run.  I really hate that.

Is it the treadmill?  My technique?  The shoes?  My feet?

I emailed Brian at Wasatch running.  He suggested we take on the easy one first – the shoes.  In his experience, numbness in the toes is caused by the shoe not being wide enough.  He had put me in a narrow-width shoe, and was happy to exchange it for a normal-width equivalent – in a better color, too.  Bonus!

The third treadmill run was much better.  My feet stayed with me this time, instead of straying off to never-numbness-land.  I continued to focus on relaxing my lower legs.  And while I haven’t gotten to the lesson on cadence, the authors suggested checking my cadence on the treadmill.  At 6 mph my cadence is 88 bpm.  At 6.3 mph my cadence is 88 bpm.  At 6.4 – 88 bpm.  At 6.5 – 88 bpm.  According to Chi Running, this is a good thing.  In Chi Running, your cadence stays the same; your lean controls your speed.  Can’t wait to time my cadence on the pavement.

I’m ready to resume my lessons – outdoors!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Taking a Break to Break in my New Running Shoes

I buy my running shoes at Wasatch Running Company.  They do an amazing job of matching runners with the exact shoe to meet their running style, running goals, and budget.  The fitting process takes about half an hour. 

They measure your feet.  They watch you run.  They watch you balance on one foot and then the other, and then they bring out shoes for you to try – on the treadmill.  After I tried the first pair of shoes, I ran with two different shoes several times – to compare the feel of the shoes and to choose the one that felt better.  At the end of the day, I had a new pair of Mizunos – which is what I had been wearing before.  Maybe it was familiarity, but they were the shoes that felt the best.

Wasatch Running stands behind their fitting process.  I know.  I took them up on their guarantee last year.  It seemed the very feature I liked when I tested the shoes – support under the balls of my feet – didn't work so well on longer runs.  My toes went numb.  Wasatch Running not only took them back, but went through the entire fitting process again to get me into the shoes I just retired.

Only one caveat:  they ask you to take your first few runs in the new shoes on a treadmill.  So I am prepared for some treadmill time.  Not my favorite place to run.  Good thing Danny and Katherine Dreyer included some tips on treadmill running in their book.  I plan to devote my treadmill time to practicing posture, leaning, and keeping my lower legs relaxed.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chi Running Lesson 4 – Playing in the Sand

After practicing the passive lower leg, the authors recommend “taking it to the sand.”  By running in the sand and then examining your footprints, you can tell if you’re still heel striking or if you’re pushing off with your toes.  

It would have been much more fun if I had been able to run barefoot on sand in Hawaii.  But I live in Utah and it is winter here.  Finding sand proved to be a bit of a challenge.  I ran to the junior high school, where they have a great track but no sand.  I ran to the elementary school in hope of finding sand around the playground equipment.  Asphalt?   That won’t help.  I thought about trying the golf course, but most of the sand traps are more vertical than horizontal.

I finally found a sand volleyball court in a city park about half a mile away.  I ran to the park, focusing on keeping my lower legs relaxed and peeling my feet off the surface, and ran straight through the sand once I got there. 

The sand does not lie.  Every strike had a divot at the toe.  I’m pushing off with my toes.  Keep practicing.  Lift the heel and peel the foot.  Relax.  Relax.  Relax. 

The next run was better.  My left foot made beautiful, even footprints.  My right foot left divots in the toe.  I cleared the sand and tried again.  Same result.  I did this about five more times, and while my left foot has it right, my right foot is obstinately insisting on pushing off with the toe.  I may be the only person I know who has ever wished to have two left feet.

One of the key premises of Chi Running is maintaining balance.  I seem to have an out-of-balance condition between my right foot and my left foot.  I’ll have to focus on what’s different and work on making them the same.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Chi Running Lesson 3 – the Passive Lower Leg

Lesson three is about relaxing the lower leg, lifting the heel and effectively peeling it off the surface and then putting it down in a mid-foot strike.  The authors recommended practicing this first while walking, so it took it for a long walk.

During my first half-mile of “peel” walking, I found myself peeling up and then “rolling” down – the peel in reverse, rolling from the heel to the ball of the foot as it came down.  I know that in running this should be a midfoot strike, but that’s really awkward walking.  It took until the second half-mile to figure out what I was doing wrong.  I was still reaching out with my step, and it’s difficult not to heel strike when you’re reaching.   I let my step fall under my column.  Problem solved.

I had the mechanics down enough to try this running, but I really needed to concentrate on relaxing.  An oxymoron?  Perhaps.  Concentrate is the wrong word.  It connotes the intense, furrowed brow that is anything but relaxed.  The authors use the word focus, which to me connotes more of a line of sight to a goal.  I took a deep breath, and alternated my mind focusing on the peel and focusing on letting go the tension in my lower legs.

The authors used two visuals that really helped me with this exercise.   The first was the wheel.  I found myself singing my own tweaked version of the Journey song, “wheel in the back keeps on turning” under my breath.  The second visual was the roadrunner – speeding along with his feet spinning behind him. 

I ran this way for 30 minutes.  I discovered that the more I relaxed my feet and ankles, the lighter my strike felt.  This could be a breakthrough!

Beep beep!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chi Running Lesson 2 – Stop trying to defy gravity!

Lesson 2 is learning to lean into your run.  Per the authors, leaning allows gravity to pull you forward.  Then, as you fall forward, the rearward force of the road pulls your support leg out behind you, allowing your leading foot to land under your center of mass to catch you from falling.  This leg then becomes the support leg and the process starts again.

Two forces – the force of gravity and the force of the road – collaborating to make me run more efficiently instead of conspiring to injure my feet and legs?  This sounds good. 

With column alignment in place, the way to start the lean is to focus on the bottoms of your feet, which should be hitting at the bottom of your column.  Then let the whole column fall, ever so slightly, in front of where your feet are hitting.

Today’s run was 5.5 miles.  I practiced running with a straight column and feeling my feet directly underneath, then tried the lean.  Just letting myself fall didn't work for me; I had to point my shoulders into the lean.  I immediately noticed that my stride had lengthened and was slightly behind my column.  I alternated the slight lean and running straight up several times along the course; pulling myself into the “C” shape each time I straightened up.  Yes, I still lose the lower abs from time to time, although I am definitely feeling them stay engaged more often than not.

There are exactly zero full-length mirrors on my running course, so I have no idea what my lean actually looked like.  I tried to observe my shadow on a couple of stretches, and it looked like I was in a slight lean with straight posture, but I think I’ll need to engage a more vocal observer – very soon.

An interesting observation – I had tried to engage the lean in a semi-walk in the house and it came out a very comical backward shuffle.  I was skeptical, until I tried it on my run.  It really does work when you are running.  I suspect the shuffle occurred because I wasn’t truly using the force of the floor.

I am still struggling with keeping my right foot and ankle relaxed.  Perhaps it’s because that was the foot I injured and I’m subconsciously not allowing it full range yet.  Good thing Lesson 3 – the passive lower leg – is coming up next.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Chi Running – Lesson 1 – Keeping the Posture

Today was a 4-mile run, which is my normal “baseline” run.  Before I started, I aligned my feet and legs, lengthened my spine, engaged those pesky lower abs, formed my column, pushed my hips back, re-engaged those pesky lower abs, and started off.

As I ran I not only concentrated on keeping the posture in the right place, but I focused on feeling my feet hit the ground all at once – the midfoot strike.  I kept the pace slow.

I did find myself losing the engagement of the lower abs – frequently – and having to re-engage my posture.  Of course, then I had to relax everything except my lower abs.  I have to confess – relaxing isn’t my strong suit.  Normally the word “calm” and my name are never used in the same sentence – unless of course, that sentence is a declarative addressing my lack of calm! 

Take a deep breath and breathe out.  Unclench the fists. Smile.  I’m running, and even with focusing on a new technique, running is something I love.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Chi Running – Lesson 1 – Engaging the lower abs

A key tenet of Chi Running is the ability to focus.  I did a two mile run focusing strictly on keeping my lower abs engaged throughout the run. 

The focus started even before my run.  I reluctantly dismissed my long-time running partner – my iPod – so that the music would not distract me from my focus.  I did my best to relax everything but my lower abs, and started a slow-paced run. 
It was interesting that, while I focused on my lower abs, I really didn’t pay any attention to what my feet and legs were doing – other than making sure they avoided any patches of ice left from the previous day’s snowstorm.  The air was clear and crisp and the run was really quite enjoyable. 

Tomorrow I’ll do the posture run the authors recommend, which includes keeping the lower abs engaged but also includes all the alignment work. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Chi Running Lesson 1 – Posture

Posture is foundational to the Chi Running technique and critical to building the strong core muscles needed to run efficiently.  I went through all six steps to getting my posture aligned for running

The use of the word “aligned” is significant.  The objective is to have as many of your body parts as possible moving in the same direction you’re headed.  Makes sense.   Back to the six steps:

Step 1: Align your feet and legs so they face forward.  No ballerina-style turnout allowed.  Check.

Step 2:  Align your upper body by lengthening your spine.  Yep, stand up straight – just like your mother told you.  Check.

Step 3:  Level your pelvis by lifting your lower abs.  Huh?  Until I read the book I didn’t even know I had lower abs.  OK – well, perhaps I ignored them the same way I ignore the rest of my abs.  Not a fan of crunches.   The authors go on to tell me I can feel my lower abs by faking a cough.  Cough – cough – there they are.  Now let me get this straight – I am supposed to consciously engage muscles I only use when I cough or sneeze to help me run.

That’s not all – I am supposed to do this without tightening my glutes.  (I do know where those are.)  The first time I tried to engage my lower abs, not only did I tighten my glutes, but every muscle up the spinal column up to and including pursing my lips.  Deep breath.  Try again.  And again.  And again.  Seems the best I can do is lift the lower abs and then try to relax everything else.  I’ll need to keep working on this.

Step 4:  Create a column that ensures your shoulder, hip, and ankle form a straight line.  After doing steps 1, 2 and 3, look down to see if you can see your shoelaces.  Nope.  Need to push my hips back to the rear.  Interesting.  The authors say that many of us stand with our hips too far forward and that making this adjustment will make us feel like our butts are sticking out.  That’s exactly what it feels like; but the side view mirror does not lie – I really AM straight.  Check.

Step 5:  The one-legged posture stance.  While maintaining the correct posture of steps 1 – 4, I practiced shifting my weight between both legs to feel what the legs and feet should feel like while running.  This emphasizes the midfoot strike, which really means the force of each landing is distributed equally over the full foot.  Why don’t they call it a “full foot strike?”  I may ask them someday.   Check.

Step 6:  The “C” Shape.  This is actually an exercise in quickly aligning your posture, or realigning it mid-run.  I practiced it several times in front of a mirror.  Check.  Practice is over – I’m ready to run.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Chi Running

I've hit what runners call a “plateau.”  I had been gradually increasing my distance while I was running at Hoop Lake, topping out at seven miles.  I thought that continuing this path would work just as well “down the mountain” but I've found that I can’t run any further than seven miles without my feet hurting.

I land on the balls of my feet.  I have since I started running again in my forties.  It just felt right.  This is probably a fallback from my “ballerina-wanna-be” days.  The good news – my knees are just fine.  The bad news – at about mile 6 the balls of my feet just ache and the muscles on the inside of my big toes hurt.  Weird.

This is not good.  I really want to run the Salt Lake half marathon next April, but as of now I can’t even run half a half marathon without pain in my feet.  What am I doing wrong?

Several months ago I read an article about a 70-year-old woman who was running ultra-marathons using a technique called Chi Running.  Chi Running utilizes your core muscles and leverages the laws of physics to make running more efficient and injury-free.  And while my problem may be as simple as needing to replace my two-year-old running shoes (I’ll do this anyway), the idea of a better running technique is intriguing.

So I got a copy of Chi Running by Danny and Katherine Dreyer.  I’m about halfway through the book and am ready to start incorporating their techniques into my running.  The authors recommend a gradual approach to learning the technique and have laid out ten lessons which they encourage both beginning and experienced runners to do sequentially.  So starting next week, I’ll start the lessons and log my progress.  May the chi be with me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I Voted

Today is Election Day – one of the most important days of the year when you live in a country where you have the privilege of electing those who will represent you in government.   I voted – and my vote counts. 

I grew up in a family where voting mattered.  My father was always active in local politics.  He served several terms on the City Council of our small town, and many years later was elected County Surveyor.  But my strongest memory of his political activity was the one election he lost. 
He was running for a position on the County School Board.  He campaigned hard, but his opponent campaigned equally hard, and when the counting was done, Dad had lost by three votes.  Yes, three votes.  And after he conceded the election, many of his friends told him, “If I had known it would be this close, I’d have voted.”  Can one vote make a difference?  You bet it can.

What do negative campaigning and telemarketing have in common?  We all hate it, but they keep doing it because it works.  That said, I will be so very glad when the results are in and the negativity is over – at least until the next election.  It is my fervent prayer that our newly elected officials will reach across the aisles, both nationally and in our respective states, for the good of our great country.  God bless America.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Retirees and CPEs

I am a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).  This is an internationally-recognized certification issued by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC2).   OK, way too many acronyms.  To earn this certification, you have to have four years’ experience in Information Security and pass a six hour exam.  The exam was the most difficult I’ve ever taken – ISC2 should hand out coupons for stiff drinks upon completion.

When I notified ISC2 of my retirement, I expected to surrender my certification.  I was delighted to learn that I could keep it, as long as I met the requirements for continuing education and paid my annual maintenance fees.

I decided to keep my certification, to keep my mind active and my options open.  Of course, it is now October 30, which gives me only nine weeks to get the remaining 20 hours of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) I need for this year.   Yikes!  This is a lot – and not being employed by a major company has limited my access to training. 
So I called in the big guns – my former security teammates.  Many have reached out to me with books and web sites.  So far I’ve taken a webinar on the top ten application vulnerabilities, a webinar on data and IT service excellence, a webinar series on Identity and Access Management, and am in the middle of a self-study course in writing. 

I’ve always known I would keep learning in retirement – the CISSP continuing education requirement is just the thing to kick myself into really doing it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The New Routine

Now that we’ve finished winterizing and storing the trailer, cleaned up the overgrown jungle otherwise known as our back yard, and completed road trips to Phoenix, AZ and Cody, WY, I think we might be settling into a routine.

Not necessarily surprising, it’s similar to the routine we fell into at Hoop Lake.  We wake up and have coffee and read the paper.  I run.  We go to work.
Wait – I’m retired.  What’s this about going to work?  Since coming home from the lake, I have mowed lawns, fertilized lawns, sprayed for weeds, sprayed for bugs, picked up trash, hauled trash to the dump, replaced switches, painted decks, and taken door knobs in to be re-keyed.  Whew!  I have to confess that I had completely taken for granted all the work that it takes – and that Paul has done all these years – to manage our rental properties. 

I had hoped to be more prolific in my writing once things settled down at home.  Here’s another confession – I was somewhat annoyed that the schedule we’ve adopted has me doing manual labor during the morning hours, which have always been my peak time for energy and creativity.  But I step back and realize that I should directly contribute to the business that is funding my retirement.
I also should write.  It’s what I’ve been planning to do in retirement since I was in my early 20s. 

So it’s back to the Hoop Lake schedule, and I’m writing in the afternoons.  Trying to do so without caffeine – most days I succeed.  Also trying to do so without the distractions of the Internet.  Wish me luck on that one!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Camp Hosting in Island Park Next Year?

After we left Cody on October 6 we drove west, through Yellowstone Park, to the small resort community of Island Park, Idaho.  Our mission – to see the campgrounds in the area and find out what organization manages them.

Island Park boasts the longest Main Street in the nation.  The area is absolutely beautiful, with mature trees lining the streets and log cabins dotting the hillsides.  From the north end of the city it is only 20 miles to West Yellowstone and the west gate to Yellowstone National Park.  Recreation opportunities include fishing, boating on Island Park Reservoir, ATV trails, and river rafting.
Our hosts, longtime friends Kevin and Roxanne, put us up in their summer cabin and guided our tour.  The National Forest Service campgrounds in the Island Park area are on two rivers, the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River and the Buffalo River.  They sit at around 6500 feet in altitude.  The sites are improved, with tent spots in every site.  Several are large enough for the mega-trailers people are bringing camping these days. 

Cell phone service is available at all but one of the campgrounds, and – get this – the Manager’s site in every one of them has electricity.  Whoo hoo! We’re ready for something a little less primitive, especially if we are planning to move further from home next summer.  Island Park is about a 5 hour drive from Salt Lake.  There are several medium to large cities between Island Park and Salt Lake.
The Island Park campgrounds are managed by Audi Campground Services.  They also manage campgrounds in Wyoming, Oregon, and Utah.  I emailed the area manager from Island Park and received a reply within the hour.  “We will probably have openings in Island Park for next summer.  The application is online.  Need one from each of you.  Call if you have questions.”   That was easy.

Island Park has definitely made the “short list” for consideration for next summer’s adventure.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Thrill of Victory

“You’re going for the win, aren’t you, Mom,” my son asked after I asked him to help me put together a fast-paced playlist for my iPod. 

I had never thought when I started running that I was terribly competitive.  Turns out – I am.  I trained all summer – at high altitude, no less – for the 4th Annual Run for Hope sponsored by Soroptimist International of Cody, Wyoming.  Running this race meant a lot to me.  The race raises money for the Lainey Cole Memorial Women’s Cancer Fund, named for a Cody Soroptimist who lost her battle with cancer five years ago.  The fund provides assistance to women undergoing cancer treatment.

I knew Lainey Cole.  I bonded with her when we sang “I Hope You Dance” together at a karaoke night.  It was her favorite song.  I still get teary-eyed when I hear it. 

This year was the first time I've had the time to drive the 456 miles to Cody to run the race.  We arrived at the same time a huge cold front from the north drove temperatures down into the mid-30s.  We woke on the morning of the race to sunny skies and 25 degrees.  Brrrrrrhhh!  Traded the shorts for sweats – I guess I need to break down and buy those cool running pants that the serious runners wear.

By race time it had warmed up into the 30s.  I was given the honor of singing the National Anthem at the starting gate (check another one off the bucket list), and then off we ran. 

While it’s true that as runners we primarily compete with ourselves, there’s something to be said about hearing your name called out to come to the podium to receive your ribbon and prizes worth dollars.  I was pretty excited when they called my name as first place in my age division.  My first 10K and my first win!
Reality has since set in.  There were only 28 runners in the entire 10K race, five of which were in my age division.  I need to keep working on speed if I expect to ever make as good a showing in a race in SLC.

The real winners of the Run for Hope are the Soroptimists of Cody.  At last count they had raised over $11,000 for the Lainey Cole Memorial Women’s Cancer Fund.  I am honored to have been able to play my small part in such a worthy cause.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Bucket List - Ute Football Road Trip

Paul hates to fly.  It’s not the actual flying part that gets him; it’s the fact that you turn control of your life over to the commercial aviation system from the moment the automatic glass doors shut behind you.  They tell you what you can carry, what you can eat, what you can wear and when to take off your shoes.  We both agree that this is a small price to pay for the safety of the American skies.  Paul’s solution is – drive, don’t fly.

We’ve been tailgating at the University of Utah football games for several years, and our group goes to at least one road game a year.  Paul’s dislike of flying combined with my limited time off work had conspired in previous years to make it so we couldn’t go on the road trips.  Retired now – no more scheduling around work!  We purchased our tickets to the Arizona State game (September 22) in May.  We left for Phoenix on September 19, stayed two nights in Mesquite, Nevada and met our traveling Ute cheering section in Sedona, Arizona.  We drove into Phoenix on September 22 and arrived on campus in time for the Ute Tailgate Party.

We thought the tailgate party was great fun!  The food was good, the beer and wine were free, and the Ute marching band and cheerleaders ensured the school spirit was high.  Our more experienced friends said the tailgate parties were normally a lot more rowdy, but since this one was indoors it seemed a little more sedate to them.  An indoor tailgate party?  It was 105 degrees outside – we were grateful for the air conditioning!
Our heartfelt thanks go out to the Arizona State parking system.  We parked in the disabled lot closest to the stadium, where a golf cart was waiting to take us to the tailgate party.  After the party we hitched a ride on another cart that took us to the stadium, where we were able to catch yet another cart to take us to the nosebleed section where our seats were.  Paul was able to get in and out of the game with limited walking – yeah!  At 7:00 PM under dark skies it was still 101 degrees outside.

So we made it to the game – what happened to our football team?  It seemed like the Arizona State Sun Devils scored with every possession; the Utes couldn’t stop them.  Of course, every time ASU scored they set off fireworks.  Paul and I caught up on the fireworks displays we missed by being in the mountains on July 4.  A disappointing finish to a great road trip – but, oh, well.  There’s always next year.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Bucket List - A Glider Flight

Well, OK, this was really on Paul’s brother Jon’s bucket list.  I had never even considered riding in an airplane without an engine, but, hey, why not?

It was a beautiful morning for the ride.  The air was cool and crisp, the sun was shining and the wind was still.  Our pilots explained that we would each ride alone, in the front of the glider, while the pilot controlled the aircraft from the rear seat.  Paul went first.  They strapped him into the cockpit and lowered the glass, then connected the tow strap from the tow plane, a single engine Piper, to the glider.  I watched as the tow plane pulled the glider into the air, then cut the line and let the glider sail.  It landed about 20 minutes later, and my exhilarated husband exited, all smiles.
Then it was my turn.  They had to add ballast to the front seat to ensure proper weight and balance, jokingly telling me that I had to sit on the “lead butt.”  It was true – they put about 40 lbs. of lead weight under the cushion of my seat.   The weights made a nice booster seat; it’s always good to be able to see over the control panel.  No more short jokes today, please.
Jon, Paul, and Pilot Tom
After attaching the five-point harness that strapped me in, my pilot, Tom, showed me all the controls and told me how they worked.  He then lowered the glass and I snapped it securely into place from the inside.  Thumbs up.   We hooked up to the tow plane and Tom announced our departure on runway 22.
The plane rose steadily to about 2000 feet above the airport before the pilot released the tow strap, and we were sailing through the air.  We soared across the mountains.  My hand was on the control stick and my feet were on the rudder pedals, so I could feel what the pilot was doing to control the aircraft.  The glider responded to Tom’s slightest touch, as the physics of flight played into his hands.  There was no wind noise.  There was no turbulence.  The peaceful floating sensation was interrupted only by Tom’s enthusiastic commentary about the flight and the area over which we flew.
All too soon it was time to land.  I was startled when Tom lifted the spoilers, which interrupt the flow of the air over the wings and help to bring it down.  Whoa – the "lead butt" landed with a slight bump - about a foot off the ground. I felt like I could reach down and touch the runway.  The glider rolled to a stop in the exact spot where I had boarded, and an exhilarated Cheri exited, all smiles.
Jon took the last ride.  Our introductory flight was a “teaser” designed to give first time “soarers” a taste of the thrill, and the peace, of gliders.  It worked.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Easy Being Green - Solar Power at Hoop Lake

On April 7 I posted Easy Being Green about our plans to install solar panels on the trailer.  We selected the Go Power 50 Watt Solar Power Kit, had it professionally installed, and invested in 2 six volt batteries.  Our plan was to minimize the need to run a gas generator to keep the batteries charged and power the inverter.

The number one lesson about solar panels is – they don’t work so well when the sun is not shining.  When we arrived at Hoop Lake to snow, we used a lot more generator than we would have liked.  Thankfully, there weren’t many campers to disturbed with the loud noise and noxious fumes. 
As the weather warmed up, we rarely had to run the generator – the solar panels generated enough battery power to keep us in electricity.  Our solar power ran the lights, my curling iron, and most important – the stereo system.  We were able listen to music pretty much all day.  I was nervous about using the inverter to power the laptop directly, but was successful using it to recharge the battery.

We never did get enough power in the morning to run the percolator, but we adapted and truly enjoyed our “camp coffee” cooked the old-fashioned way – on the stovetop.  The solar panels didn’t generate enough power to run the microwave or the vacuum.  I used the microwave for storage, and yes, we ran the generator once a week to vacuum.  It was a small compromise for cleanliness.

We learned that the 2 six-volt batteries didn’t work together as well as we thought they might.  We will likely invest in a single 12-volt battery for our next adventure.
Our cost for the solar panels, including installation, was just over $880.  Our company advised us that most campground hosts used five gallons of gas per week in their generators. We stayed 15 weeks at Hoop Lake.  If we assume we used two gallons per week the first two weeks and one gallon a week after that, and assume an average price of $3.50 per gallon, we saved $206.  While this means the financial payback will be achieved over four+ years, the knowledge that we did our part to keep gas fumes and noise out of our little corner of the National Forest has been, well, priceless.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Farewell to Hoop Lake

A hint of fall has been in the air for the past two weeks, and finally the true color of fall at Hoop Lake is in plain view.  We have only one color – the vivid yellow of the aspens that share our forest with the lodgepole pines. 

To every adventure there is a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Our Hoop Lake adventure ended on Labor Day.  Labor Day weekend was the busiest weekend we had all summer – with campers and with friends and family who took advantage of our final weekend to come visit us.  We welcomed our daughter Lisa and her boyfriend, Josh; longtime friends Dave and Chris; and Rob, Paul’s good friend, who was there for the third time.  Party!!!!
Our water was shut down on Labor Day, September 3 – our last day as campground hosts.  The campground will remain open for an extended season to accommodate the deer and elk hunters during September and October.  The hunters, of course, have no problem bringing their own water.  They are also happy to have bathrooms, even if they are cleaned only once a week by Forest Service personnel.

We pulled the trailer out on September 3 and brought it down the mountain.  It was somewhat a comedy of errors.  Parking the trailer the first time was challenging. The angle at which the trailer was parked required a very precise angle of the truck to get it hooked up again, which took about seven tries.  Thanks to Rob for his assistance (and his patience) in hooking up the trailer.  It was a very good thing that I was all the way across the campground cleaning out fire pits.
Our original plan was to move the trailer into another, more level site, once it was hooked up.  But after a couple of tries at backing it into the site, it was clear that our trailer was too large to fit.  Actually, Hoop Lake was built when the largest trailers built were 20 feet – nothing like the 32-foot behemoth we own.  There are only two sites in the campground that easily accommodate a trailer this large. Plan B – pull down the mountain and then spend the night at the KOA in Lyman, Wyoming.  Good plan.  We got the trailer all the way out of the campground and to the base of the lake when we realized we’d left the sewer hose hanging on the signboard.  Sigh.  Since I was wearing my hiking boots – not my running shoes – I walked up to get it.  Picture me hiking down the road with about 20 feet of sewer hose wrapped around myself like a feather boa.  Too bad nobody got a photo!

Thankfully, bringing the trailer home was uneventful. 
Our adventure at Hoop Lake has ended, but our retirement adventure is just beginning!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What we Learned about Camp Hosting

We are often asked if we like camp hosting.  Like any job – and like any location – it has its good and bad.  The work itself was really not bad at all – even cleaning the toilets.  We had plenty of time to relax and enjoy our surroundings.  If you’re interested in camp hosting in the near or distant future, here’s a very brief recap of our experience.

What we loved:
·         Waking up every morning in the mountains.
·         Meeting the wonderful people who came to camp with us.  Most of the folks we met were respectful of us and of their surroundings. We had the added delight of meeting a man who had gone to high school with my father, and meeting the younger brother of a dear high school friend.
·         Having friends and family members come up – either for the day or to camp with us.  We had a blast showing off our home away from home.
·         Having our friends and family members bring us a newspaper when they come up.
·         Campers who brought us fresh fruits and vegetables, often home-grown.
·         Our area managers and the other camp hosts in our area. 
·         Riding the ATV on our “rounds.”
·         Running in the campground.
·         Getting videos from our local library. They allow you to keep DVDs for a week, and unless you return it late, it’s free!

What annoyed us just a little:
·         Having to nag campers to pay their fees.
·         Having to remind our younger ATV riders that our campground is not a racetrack.
·         Finding trash in the fire pits.
·         Finding mice in the trailer.
·         Shooing cows out of the campground.

Lessons Learned:
·         Paul and I had to learn to be alone in the same room. 
·         No matter how large a trailer is, they’re really set up for two people. 
·         Our campers did expect us to know about the surrounding area, the wildlife, and the national forest.  Glad we took the time to learn and explore.
·         Always back the trailer into the camp spot.  If you back the trailer in, you always know you can pull it back out.
·         Would we be camp hosts again?  Absolutely!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Decisions, Decisions

It’s hard to believe we have only two more weeks left in our assignment at Hoop Lake.  Our area managers have already approached us with the “year-end” paperwork, including the forms to either work at Hoop again next year or transfer to another campground.

Apparently quite a few camp hosts choose to stay at the same campground for at least two years.  Our Area Managers have had the same campground for nine years now.  Of course, these camp hosts can “lock in” their choice for next season at the end of this season.
Paul and I have always planned to do a different campground – in a different area of the country – every year.  We’ve thought about Lake Powell for next year.  We’ve also considered Island Park, Idaho – just southwest of Yellowstone Park.  Grand Canyon is another option we’re looking into.  We’re researching other options as well. 

The further from home we venture next year, the more critical it will be to have cell phone and internet access within a 20 – 30 minute drive, so we can keep track of what’s going on in our rental business.   Here at Hoop we can’t get access until just a few miles outside of Mountain View, WY, about 45 minutes.  It hasn’t been a problem, though, because we are able to get home every week.  American Land and Leisure operates several campgrounds within two hours of home; several of these look promising as well.
Our area managers are encouraging us to make a decision by October 15.  We’ll be doing some traveling in September, which should give us the opportunity to investigate Island Park and see what else is available in Idaho and Wyoming. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Meeting the Locals

Hoop Lake is in Summit County, Utah.  But don’t tell that to the people of Bridger Valley in Uinta County, Wyoming.  They claim the lake as their own.  There’s good reason for this.  The most direct route to Hoop Lake takes you through Uinta County, Wyoming.  There is a way to get to Hoop Lake entirely within Utah, but it would involve driving an extra two hours. One of those hours is on a road that ATV riders find rough.

Our normal route takes us through the towns of Urie, Mountain View, and Lonetree.  We’ve also accessed the main road through Fort Bridger and Lyman.  The locals refer to this area as the Bridger Valley, named for the famous mountain man, Jim Bridger.  In 1842, Jim Bridger established a supply post on the Blacks Fork of the Green River to cater to emigrants moving west, as the westward migration started along the Oregon Trail and other trails.
All are small towns with friendly people.  Not much industry – primarily farming and ranching.  Small businesses tend to cater to campers, as these towns are the gateway to several Uinta mountain lakes as well as Flaming Gorge.
One of my early childhood memories of going to Hoop Lake was seeing the sign for the town of Lonetree, which stated “Elevation 6800, Population 5.”  They’ve since taken the sign down, but I always found it amusing that there would be a town with only five people in it.  I also knew once I saw the sign that it was only another hour to the lake.
We’ve had the opportunity to meet many folks from the Bridger Valley area.  A gentleman from Lyman told us that his grandfather worked on the crew that built the dam.  A gentleman from Mountain View told a story about his grandfather’s unwitting involvement in a bank robbery when he was a boy.  Apparently the gang asked the boy to hang on to their horses while they went to the bank.  They proceeded to rob the bank, grabbed the horses and tossed the boy a gold coin as they rode away. 
The locals have been very kind to us, recommending restaurants and services and sharing the local lore with us.  Residents of Bridger Valley – we appreciate you!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

This Means War

I neglected to mention one of Hoop Lake’s more prolific wild creatures – mice!  That’s because until a few weeks ago I really hadn’t seen them.  Unfortunately, evidence of the mouse population has been found recently – inside our trailer.  Ewwwwhhhh!  I have the same agreement with mice that I’ve always had with spiders:  if they’re outside I leave them alone.  If they’re in my house, they’re dead.

We mentioned our mouse problem to our Area Managers, who assured us we weren’t the only ones.  He suggested that we put steel wool around the pipes (where the mice get in) and that we put moth balls under the trailer.  Apparently the mice don’t like the smell of moth balls.  My great-great uncle was a tailor, and his house always smelled like moth balls.  They do smell terrible.  Problem #1 – I haven’t been able to find them.  Problem #2 – we would have to smell them right along with the mice, and we don’t have the option of finding other accommodations.  Scratch the moth balls.
To the internet!  I found an article saying that mice don’t like the smell of Irish Spring soap (once again I agree with them) or dryer sheets.  I placed dryer sheets in the areas where we’ve trapped them, but they don’t seem to make much of a difference.  Apparently our mice like “April fresh.”  So our only defense at this time is the steel wool.

On the offense – we trapped several with the good old-fashioned Victor wooden traps with the metal springs.  That is, until the mice figured out how to lick off the peanut butter without springing the traps.  Off to the hardware store, where we bought two different styles of traps.  One, also made by Victor, is more humane – the mice go in to get the bait and then can’t get out.  Then we can release them – far  away.  So far this trap has caught zero mice.
The other, made by Ortho, looks like a set of sharp teeth, but the plate holding the bait is a lot more sensitive.  We have yet to have a mouse steal the bait from these traps.  Perhaps Ortho has really built the proverbial better mousetrap.

When we left the lake on Monday there had been no mice in the traps for two days.  However, the battle continues until we have successfully convinced the mice of Hoop Lake to find food and shelter elsewhere.  Wish us luck.

P.S. – the fire restrictions in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest have been lifted. So while we’re not completely out of danger of wildfires, it looks like the hunters that will be coming to the forest in the very near future will be able to stay warm in their camps outside of the established campgrounds.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Top Ten Reasons to Visit Hoop Lake

The fourth of July has come and gone.  We expected a lot of campers during the week, with the actual holiday falling on Wednesday.  And during this peak week of the camping season, less than one-fourth of our sites were filled.  The good news was that the people who came stayed the full week, and the better news for our campers was that it was a very peaceful camping experience for them.

July 24th was Pioneer Day, a Utah State holiday.  Again we expected a lot of campers planning on a long weekend.  We did get a lot of campers on Friday, July 20 – but most of them left on July 22.  We had only three sites used over the July 24th holiday.  What’s up with this?

Hoop Lake has to be the best kept secret in the Uinta Mountains.  It’s time to change that!  So here, for your amusement and possible enlightenment, are the top ten reasons you should make Hoop Lake your next wilderness camping destination.

#10 – We can accommodate just about any type of camping equipment.  Got a big trailer?  There’s a site for that.  Got a group with several tents?  There’s a site for that.  We have several sites on the lake, several sites back in the trees (lots of shade), and even a couple of remote sites for those of you who want to get away from it all even when you’re away from it all.

#9 – We love horses.  We have seven sites in our “horse camp” area that include corral space.  Some even have hitching posts.

#8 – We love ATVs.  There are several ATV trails accessible from our campground.  Several campgrounds in the Uinta Mountains don’t allow ATVs at all.  They’re welcome here – just remember that the speed limit within the campground is 10 mph.

#7 – The fishing is great.  The lake level may be down but the fish population is alive and well.  Our campers have had success with lures, flies, and good old-fashioned worms.

#6 – The hiking is great.  There are several hiking trails within walking distance of your campsite that take you into the Uinta Mountain Wilderness area.  Remember to sign yourself out and then back in again – so the Forest Service knows if they need to go searching for you.

#5 – The restrooms are clean and odor free.  Yes, they’re pit toilets, but between the design of the toilet and the deodorizers we use, they are not at all unpleasant.

#4 – We have cool wildlife. See Wildlife.  We also have cool wildflowers.  See Wildflowers of Hoop Lake.

#3 – We have cool temperatures.  So far the high temperature has been 85 degrees – at least 10 degrees cooler than the neighboring valleys.  Escape the summer heat with us.

#2 – We are a technology-free zone.  If you’re looking for a real vacation, your cell phone won’t work up here and we have no wi-fi, free or otherwise.  You can really get away – and work won’t follow you.

And the #1 reason to visit Hoop Lake – it is as peaceful as it is beautiful.  Come spend some quality time in nature.  We’ll be ready to welcome you.