Monday, May 21, 2018

2018 Blooms to Brews Marathon Race Report and Video

Here's Holly's report from the 2018 Blooms to Brews Marathon in Woodland, Washington.   This is state number 49 of her quest to complete a marathon in each state.   Hawaii is the last state left.     At the end of her report will be our race video (with some bickering) and some spectating comments from Dave.  We did have a few other experiences while in the Portland (OR) area that we will highlight in another post. 
I think Washington State has the most marathons to choose from.  I was initially looking at the Rock and Roll in Seattle, but I’m not a huge fan of the Rock and Roll races and it runs through a really long tunnel.   I heard about the Blooms to Brews Marathon in Woodland, WA and it sounded perfect.    You run through lilac fields (well, that wasn’t perfect, I hate the smell of lilacs), tulip fields (I love those!) and then finish up with a great party with plenty of beer!   Yep, perfect!

We stayed in Woodland the night before the race and packet pick up was quick and easy.   The race shirt was actually a tank top, which is a new one for me, but I’m sure it will get worn on the boat this summer.   This is a small race with only a couple hundred marathoners and a few hundred more half marathoners, 10kers and relay people.   Lee and Laura would be running the relay with me.    They planned to switch off at the normal 4 person relay points.    
Rain was in the forecast and I was really hoping it would hold off.   We got lucky when we woke up and the rain hadn’t started yet.   We easily made it to the start area and before we knew it the anthem was sung and we were off and running.   Lee was going to run the first quarter with me.    I had a good training cycle and I was really hoping to have a good race.   We were quickly at the back of the pack with only a couple of runners behind us.    The half marathon was starting about 10 minutes after us.    When they caught up to us, I made sure to not speed up and kept to my target pace.    We ran by the lilacs early and thankfully they were not very fragrant!   We also ran by some other bushes and we couldn’t figure out what they were.  We later learned that they were blueberry bushes.   It was a beautiful course and the weather was holding.    

Soon it was time for Lee to take a break and have Laura join me.    This worked out really well for me.  It was nice to break up the race into four sections and recount the previous section with my new partner.   They were both great company!   We ran by the river now and by some gorgeous houses!   We also ran a military mile to remember those lost.  The majority of them were lost due to PTSD.  This was very sad and moving.  It was so many faces. The armed forces make so many sacrifices for all of us and these all made the ultimate sacrifice. 

Soon it was time for another swap and Lee was back while Laura got a break.   This was a loop and Lee was kind enough to point out how far away the swap point was from where we were.  Thanks Lee!   Around this time the sky started getting dark and I could see rain in the direction we were headed.  Lee said it was fog, Lee was wrong.   Also we literally saw the cows coming home.   A huge line of cows were marching single file back to the barn.  They knew the rain was coming.     The rain came!  It started of as a drizzle but then turned into a deluge.   Thankfully it was only for about 4 miles.   Lee got the brunt of it, but Laura got some of it at the last swap point.     The sun actually came out towards the end while we were running on a beautiful section by the river.  It was really pretty.   I was getting tired at this point, but Laura knew I wanted to get in under 5:30 and she was very motivating and never let me give up.  
We finally got to the tulip fields and they were amazing.   We didn’t have much time for a picture as I was trying to hit my goal!   The finish looped back on the start of the course so I knew how far I had to go to get to the finish.   It was far, I was tired, but I kept pushing.   I kept my intervals the entire race and I crossed the finish line in 5:28.   Success!

The medal was very cool.   They still had beer!  They had BBQ sandwiches at the end, but I can’t eat that right after a race.  It would have been nice to have some other easier to digest food.    It started pouring while we were finishing our beers so we headed to the car and hit the road to celebrate in Portland.    I can’t thank Lee and Laura enough for the great company and for keeping me on track.   I had a great time with you both.  Thanks to Dave for braving the weather and being my drive by Kleenex guy.    I highly recommend this race.  It was a beautiful, flat course; great race organization and I loved the medal. 

Here's the video!

Dave's Comments

The process for Race Chasing this one was luckily very simple.  Although they asked drivers to stay off the course the roads were fully open to traffic.  I had the added pressure of getting Laura and Lee to their relay stops.  If I wasn't able to one of them was going to be in for a lot more miles than they planned.

It was great to have company for this race.  Nothing but farmland out here. There was not one business along the course (except for the tulip place at mile 24) so no chance for snacks or fresh coffee.  Luckily we had some Voodoo Doughnuts and cans of iced coffee to hold me over.   The course did have some pretty views along the river and some nice houses to look at.   

Bad news at the finish:  They ran out of 3 varieties of the beers offered at the party.  The halfers and relayers drank them almost dry.   Fortunately there was some bbq beef left and that was pretty tasty.  We didn't stick around too long so we could get on the road and start our afternoon/evening of fun at McMenamins Edgefield.  We were looking forward to spending the day at this cool property that included a brewery, distillery, and winery!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

2018 New Orleans - Part Three

Link to Part Two

Easter Sunday gave us another clear day of weather - perfect for our agenda.  Our plan for the day was to watch three French Quarter Easter Parades, eat another gut-busting brunch, and discover why everyone kept telling us to visit the bars and clubs on Frenchman Street.

Being used to the crowds for Disney World Parades we left our room about an hour before the start of The Historic French Quarter Parade.   Our predetermined viewing position at Conti/Dauphine was empty upon arrival. We occupied ourselves by checking Facebook instead of visiting the corner bar for their wonderful Easter drink specials.   By the time the parade started the street gained a number of spectators, most of them were families with children.   Many people (like us) were dressed for church or a meal out.  This was probably the shortest parade we’ve seen: a couple of convertibles and horse-drawn carriages filled with middle-aged/older women not coordinated enough to throw out the trinkets quickly.  Holly was lucky enough to score a small stuffed rabbit (sourced from Oriental Trader) while Dave got a plastic egg with some peanut butter cups inside.  It was over before it really began....  We had some time to kill before brunch so we sat on a bench outside St. Louis Cathedral in time to watch folks leaving mass.   

Our brunch location was at one of the corners framing Jackson Square: Muriel's.   Their brunch gets pretty high ratings, and there were many things on their menu we wanted to try, but since today was Easter we got a special Easter Menu.  Unfortunately this menu no longer exists online so our entrees will be described as "some kind of fish".   Muriel's was divided into several separate dining rooms with a bar in the back.  The exposed red brick walls helped to highlight the art, empty window frames, and other decor elements.  A jazz band alternated between the two main dining rooms and thankfully did not walk around serenading the diners.

Service at Muriel's was very good, but it did not have the polish that Commander's Palace staff displayed.   Brunch today was also three courses with the price determined by your entree choice.  We could order a al carte so we eliminated one dessert which saved us about $2.  It was more about controlling the food amount vs. saving the money with all courses in the $30-$50 range.   Dave started with the goat cheese/crawfish crepes (a little too much goat cheese but still tasty) and Holly had the gnocchi bolognese.  For entrees Holly chose some kind of pan fried fish and Dave had some kind of other fish with stuffing.  For dessert we shared a profiterole.  Overall a nice meal but if we were to go back we'd sample more off their appetizer and main menu.

After brunch we went back to our hotel to change into more comfortable clothing.  Our next event was parade #2 of the day: The Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade.  We found decent curb space on the skanky section of Rue Royal.   The parade was about 15-20 minutes long with a lot of cars, floats, and dancers.   If you wanted beads this was the parade to watch.    This parade gave viewers a mini Mardi Gras experience with limited hassle and a short time commitment.  Unfortunately Dave did not get a stuffed bunny during this parade.

After the parade we headed back to the Jackson Square area and down Pirate's Alley to have a drink at the Pirate's Alley Cafe.  This is the place we visited on our ghost tour that served absinthe.   Dave decided that 2pm on a hot day was the perfect time to try this drink.   We watched the waitress melt the sugar cube over water, turning the liquid into a cloudy green color.   We found some seats outside to people watch and enjoy the sun.  We thought Dave would enjoy absinthe since he likes liquorice.  He equated it to shoving a whole box of Good n Plenty into his mouth.

Later in the afternoon we headed further down Bourbon Street to watch the Gay Easter Parade.  This was a decent sized parade with a few small floats, bands, and cars.   The emphasis of this family friendly parade was mostly on the costumes.  We acquired more beads that we eventually handed over to children.

Once the parade finished we continued to the edge of Bourbon and walked down Esplanade until we reached the Frenchman's Street area.   This is a small 2-3 block section of town just off the quarter that is host to several bars, restaurants, and clubs.  It's out of the tourist fray and away from the crowds attracted by Huge Ass Beers.  It was still daylight and some of the bars were just getting ready to open.   We walked into the Spotted Cat where a quartet was playing a range of music including jazz and calypso.   We were actually getting hungry and were fortunate enough to get a table at Three Muses under the condition that we leave within 90 minutes.   While dining a guitar/horn duo entertained us.   Three Muses is small but worth the visit for the excellent small plate food.  We enjoyed tacos, mac and cheese, truffle fries, and beer braised pork belly.  We also found another beer we liked:  Korova Milk Porter.

We didn't stay in the area after dinner since we had a 2 mile walk back to the hotel.   Since the weather was so nice, and we'd be heading back to winter in a few days, we decided to spend more time in Pat O'Brien's courtyard.


We successfully avoided another day of hangovers.  Good thing since this morning's adventure involved an 8 mile bicycle tour.  While at home we booked a tour with FreeWheelin' Bikes.   We chose the Creole and Cresent Tour at the price of $50 each.  This tour was scheduled for 3 hours and was conducted mostly outside the French Quarter.  Our group of around 12 toured Treme, The Marigny, City Park, Esplanade Street, and City Park.  We picked this tour because it included a stop in St. Louis Cemetery #3, which was a location Dave wanted to visit.

Memorial/Grave of the Unknown Slave in Treme.
Our tour guide was excellent at both imparting knowledge and keeping us safe.   This was a great way to see parts of town we never would have thought to visit.  The tour was the right length of time and a good value for the price.  We decided the French Market would be a great lunch location  Holly could finally try a mufaletta sandwich and Dave could get his crawfish boil.  Unfortunately the crawfish were only available on the weekends so he "settled" for shrimp and grits.

We bar-hopped the rest of the afternoon visiting B.B. King's (the former Margaritaville,  A band was playing when we ordered our beers, then went on break),  Napoleon House, Chartres House (a favorite spot for a beer from our last trip), Pat O'Brien's, and dinner at Nola.  We have visited Nola (an Emeril LaGassee restaurant) during our other trips here and always enjoyed it.  However the concept has moved away from casual high-end creole cuisine to casual cuisine.  The food was good for what it was, but it was just a shell of its former self.

Napoleon House

Tuesday morning:  We had a mid-afternoon flight home which gave us enough time to have one more walk through The Quarter and two breakfasts.   Cafe Du Monde was pretty empty on a Tuesday morning.   after getting a few more beignets and coffee we visited the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park in the corner of the quarter we haven't visited yet.  The center was a large one-room museum covering many aspects of the city's history and culture.   It was nice to see a good number of visitors at opening.

Breakfast #2 came from the popular local chain Ruby Slipper Cafe.   Their locations always had crowds gathered outside waiting for tables.  Luckily Holly used their "no wait" app to give our name to the hostess before we arrived.   We waited about 5 minutes while other unlucky guests waited over 30 minutes.  The food was big and excellent.  They also offered a bunch of breakfast cocktails including a breakfast margarita.   It was a great final meal in the city.

This trip allowed us to experience more of the culture and diversity of New Orleans.  We had a great time, but unless we have a purpose to return to the Big Easy we probably won't be back for a few years.  

Saturday, April 28, 2018

2018 New Orleans - Part Two

Saturday was a lazy morning. Instead of hustling out of bed and taking a morning walk around The Quarter we sat around the hotel room and watched TV. We had one event scheduled today: Brunch at Commander’s Palace over in the Garden District. Since we had to wear pretty clothes we decided to use Uber to get us to our destination vs. taking the iconic street car.

Our Uber driver was a man well into retirement age. He grew up in New Orleans and pointed out places along the way that had a link to his childhood. We passed the Ann Rice’s home as well as many other pretty mansions. There were many tourists out-and-about on Garden District walking tours as well as rows of rental bikes outside of Lafayette Cemetery #1.
Commander’s Palace doesn’t look like a high-end dining experience from the outside. The light blue paint white stripes doesn’t scream "jacket required", nor does the overhanging sign spelling out the restaurant’s name in light bulbs. It has been a restaurant since 1893, and has been the epicenter of New Orleans cuisine for decades.
Inside the building it’s a different story. The décor downstairs had all the charm of a southern parlor room. As we were led upstairs to the sunroom we must have passed 20 staff members – all of them welcoming us to Commander’s Palace. We had a corner table in the bright sunroom made a little more playful with balloons at each table. A jazz trio was working the tables (Which we don’t enjoy. Stand in one corner and perform. It’s awkward to have our meal disrupted and be pressured to come up with a song for them to play.).

We went into this meal knowing it represented the majority of our food consumption for the day. Brunch is a three-course event with appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Prices for the trio are based on your entrée selection. Our waiter brought over a plate of garlic bread and butter to start us off. There was no need for the added butter. For starters Holly had the soup trio which included gumbo, turtle soup, and the soup du jour of sweet potato. Dave had the crawfish gnocchi. Some crusty French bread replaced the butter-soaked garlic bread slices. Everything was top-notch and the pace of the courses was right. For the main courses: Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish with Blue Crab and BBQ Gulf Shrimp. Both were fantastic! Dessert consisted of a slice of pecan pie and the signature Creole Bread Pudding Souffle. The experience lived up to the hype and the prices were not horrendous for three courses ($39 for the shrimp and $45 for the fish – which included the appetizers and desserts). Actually, having this meal significantly reduced our food spending for the day since we could not eat anything for hours!

After brunch we walked a few blocks to Magazine Street. This is an area famous for its shopping, cafes, and bars. The little stretch near Commander’s Palace must have been the lame section of the street as there were not too many businesses on the block. Since Holly was wearing her uncomfortable "pretty shoes" we decided to get a car back to the hotel and get into more comfortable clothing.


After ditching the dress-up clothes we figured a good long walk would help with the digestion. We cut over to Bourbon Street to get a walkie of local beer from Beer Fest (tip: overpriced and has dirty taps. Local beers – especially Abita Amber - are available at most places) and headed towards the French Market. Before browsing the food and souvenir stalls we stopped in the Jazz National Historical Park. This tiny museum seems to exist to allow folks like us pick up our National Park Passport stamp and to host seminars and musical acts. While we visited a man was performing a steel drum demo.  

The market was packed on Saturday (as expected). We actually came here with the goal of eating Praline Beignets from Loretta’s  We waited in line for about ten minutes and stared at all the other great looking cookies and pastries in the cake. We had finally succumbed to the pressure and bought a King Cake cookie along with the beignets. Dave had cargo shorts so the cookie would be a before-bed snack. The praline beignets were filled with a caramel and pecan crème. They were good but we prefer the traditional style. We skipped browsing through the rows of vendors in favor of walking a few more blocks to a brewery.
Brieux Carre  is just around the corner from all the clubs of Frenchman’s Street. Upon arrival we were ID’d and wrist-banded. We lucked into their 1 year anniversary celebration. This meant more people in the tiny space to navigate around, and a lot more beer choices. We enjoyed a stout and sour ale while sitting in their outdoor space. As part of the celebration they were serving up crawfish, which were in season. Dave was hoping to get some this trip but the Commander’s Palace meal was still fresh in our stomachs. On the way back into the Quarter we found a fun spot for music – BMC (Balcony Music Club)  On stage was a 4-piece traditional New Orleans jazz band. We grabbed two reasonably priced Abita Ambers and enjoyed the show.

The weather was perfect today so we decided some quality time on the Pat O’Brien’s patio was required. It took a few minutes to get an empty table but the wait was worth it. Today’s crowd included several bachelorette parties and other folks whooping it up. Several of the large communal hurricanes were being served. On this trip we determined we couldn’t have two hurricanes – just too sweet. Fortunately Pat’s offers a wide variety of drinks. Still not hungry we decided to check out the Bourbon O Bar which was connected to the Omni hotel. This was an upscale retreat in the heart of the Bourbon madness. They had a great milk stout on tap for us to enjoy, but their food menu was limited. This meant we had to forage someplace else.
We finally gained some appetite and decided getting some food would be in our best interest. We headed into Cornet on Bourbon Street because it looked respectable. We lucked into a balcony table so we could watch all the antics from a safe distance. The menu was more chain restaurant than fine NOLA cuisine but that was just what we needed. Dinner consisted of appetizers that tasted good for chain restaurant food, but this was not destination dining.   

One "good" thing about having our hotel outside the Quarter meant we made a deliberate decision when we’d head back. If we were at the Four Points on the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse we might have fallen victims to the influence of visiting more bars to listen to the bands.  There weren’t too many appealing places on the side of Bourbon near our hotel. Back at the Roosevelt we visited the Sazerac Bar.  It was nice and old-timey but just lacked that certain vibe you get from a decent classic hotel bar. Finding no enchantment we headed up to our room and enjoyed our pocket cookie.