What the Hill

On September 28, 2017 · 3 Comments

My wife keeps signing me up for running races. I guess she wants some company during her crazy pursuits. It seems harmless enough so I join her even if I’d rather be doing something less competitive. Those are the kinds of compromises one makes to keep peace in the house, and we’ve been together a long time so something must be working. Anyway she got a great discount on a whole series of races sponsored by a local running store because she bought them as a set. Wait, is this a geography blog or a running blog? Don’t worry, I’ll work geography into this. They’ll share equal billing while I examine an interesting overlap.

Clarendon Day


Clarendon Day 5K
Clarendon Day 5K. Photo by John Sonderman on Flickr (cc)

The Clarendon Day 5K in Arlington, Virginia came next in the series (map). My wife actually ran both the 5K and the 10K back-to-back, although as I mentioned, sometimes I question her sanity. Nonetheless, 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) seemed quite enough for me on Sunday. We could walk to the starting line from our house so I couldn’t find a reasonable excuse to skip it even if I tried.

Running came to me only recently — really the last couple of years — although I enjoyed hiking, biking and other outdoor activities well before that. I discovered pretty quickly that I could run decently well, at a respectable pace although not spectacularly, and I generally finished just barely within the top ten percent for my age group. Ditto for Clarendon Day, 4th out of 48 in the geezer man category.

I got a great time, shaving almost a full minute from my Personal Record, finishing in 20:46 with a 6:41 mile pace. I’d never completed a 5K with a time of 20 minutes in front of it nor managed to keep a pace with a 6 in front of it until then. How was that even possible? Gravity.


Clarendon Day Elevation
Clarendon Day 5K Elevation Elevation
via Pacers Running

Some readers might remember the race I described in Regurgitated. I ran down that same steep hill and then back up! This time the course only went down the hill. I wanted to finish with a sub-20 which is one of those iconic 5K milestone times. Sadly, I think I left any possibility of that behind me long before I took up running. I’ll have to be content with those age adjusting calculators. They said I might have finished sub-20 if only I ran a couple of decades ago.


St. George Marathon


Finish Line
Finish Line. Photo by Nate Grigg on Flickr (cc)

Using gravity seemed almost like cheating. However, those times counted just like any others certified by USA Track and Field and other organizations. People have long used terrain to boost their PR’s especially for marathons. I heard of a race awhile ago that went almost completely downhill, the St. George Marathon. This point-to-point race (map) ran from the Pine Valley mountains into the city of St. George, Utah. In this marathon, runners began at an elevation of 5,240 feet (1,600 metres) and finished at 2,680 feet (815 metres). Nearly eight thousand runners signed up for this event held each October.

I don’t know how they could do it. My quads felt tight after the steep mile of my little neighborhood 5K. I couldn’t imagine how one would feel after running downhill for a full marathon. They probably couldn’t walk for a week.


Mount Charleston Marathon


Mount Charleston, Nevada (35)
Mount Charleston, Nevada. Photo by billy kerr on flickr (cc)

Just a couple of weeks ago, someone I know told me he intended to run the REVEL Mt Charleston marathon next April in Las Vegas, Nevada. This one descended even more rapidly than St. George on its path from mountaintop to city streets (map). Runners began at 7,633 feet (2,325 metres) and finished at 2,507 feet (765 metres), dropping nearly a mile in elevation. Race organizers described it as "incredibly fast and remarkably beautiful."

Why would people subject themselves to such a sustained and drastic 4% downhill? The organizers left no doubt.

Featuring a smooth downhill slope and spectacular scenery in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, this race will be sure to help you set your PR and finally hit that Boston Qualifying time

They even offered a helpful chart that showed finishers at Mt. Charleston averaged 3:57:26 versus 4:28:54 for those at St. George. This race was all about people wanting to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That was the exact reason why my acquaintance will head to Las Vegas too. His current times fell just shy of BQ and he needed that extra boost.


Apparently This is a Thing

Plenty of other downhill marathons hoped to scratch that same itch. It’s quite an honor to qualify for Boston and BQ times are brutal. A simple understanding of geography and terrain could make all the difference between running Boston next year or watching from the sidelines. Just the first page of search engine results produced a long list of possibilities.

I don’t have a burning desire to run a marathon. However, if I do someday, I doubt I could ever achieve a BQ time even with a sharply downhill course. Maybe I could age into it though. The 80 and Over BQ seemed reasonable if I can hold things together long enough.

Fire

On September 24, 2017 · 3 Comments

It seemed like wildfires burned all across the American West this summer, each one worse than the other. A fire in Montana burned so long and so intensely that many nearby towns experience perpetual nightfall for days. Amazingly, the fires of 2017 stripped an area as big as the state of Maryland. For the European audience, that equated to an area about the size of Belgium or Albania. All reduced to ashes.

Twelve Mile Circle featured a number of natural disasters previously (e.g., hurricanes, floods) so why not fire? I considered pinpointing the largest fires in recorded history. However I wanted something I could mark distinctly on my index map. Maybe I could shift my attention to famous city fires instead.

First I had to get this out of my system:



You know you wanted to see it. Or maybe that was just me. Fortunately it lasts only eight seconds.


Great Fire of London


The Monument
The Monument. Photo by Gabrielle Ludlow on Flickr (cc)

The Great Fire of London in 1666 may be the most well-known. It began in the bakery of Thomas Farriner/Farynor late at night. First it spread west and then north as winds shifted. Nearly all of the original medieval part of the city went up in flames. Firefighting techniques barely existed at the time and couldn’t contain it. The main defense involved fire breaks, literally removing anything combustible before flames arrived. However, officials didn’t move quickly enough to create breaks so the fire spread far-and-wide. Reputedly very few people died even though the fire covered a sizable portion of central London. That might have been because the city government didn’t keep good records of the poor and destitute. They may have simply been incinerated. The true death toll will never be known.

Anyone who studied English History of this time period probably remembered hearing about the fire in the diary of Samuel Pepys.

So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson’s little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge…

The fire left an indelible impression. Five years later the city commissioned construction of a large Doric column near the site where the fire began on Pudding Lane. Christopher Wren designed the monument while he did the same for the reconstruction of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The column rose 62 metres (202 feet) upon completion and it still stands. Visitors can climb to the top of the Great Fire of London Monument for panoramic views of the city. (map)


Great Chicago Fire


Impact vs Chicago Fire
Impact vs Chicago Fire. Photo by abdallahh on Flickr (cc)

The most famous fire in the United States might be the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. According to popular legend — disproved long ago — the fire began when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lamp. The disaster did indeed start near the O’Leary family’s barn on an alley behind DeKoven Street (map). However, nobody knew the true cause. The story of a clumsy cow sold a lot of newspapers so it stuck.

The fire created utter devastation in downtown Chicago, consuming more than three square miles of densely-populated neighborhoods. By the end, more than a hundred thousand people lost their homes and three hundred people lost their lives. The city’s business district laid in ruins. It might have been worse except for rain on the third day. The fire finally began to burn out as it approached more sparsely-settled areas farther away from the downtown core.

As in London, the people of Chicago created a lasting memorial near the site where the fire began. The Chicago remembrance took a much more practical turn. The city constructed a training facility for the Chicago Fire Academy on the site. Firefighters now learn how to combat blazes at the place where the city’s most horrific conflagration began.

Memories of the disaster remained strong even more than a century later. The local Major League Soccer team named itself the Chicago Fire.


Great Fire of Meireki


Meireki fire
Meireki fire via Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

I’d never heard of the Great Fire of Meireki before I started researching this article although it certainly deserved a mention. Meireki referred to the Japanese imperial era when the fire took place, specifically its third year, 1657. That put it just a few years before the Great Fire of London. This one also brought a capital to its knees, the city of Edo, now known as Tokyo. Its legendary origin put the Chicago story to shame. Supposedly the blaze began when a priest attempted to burn a cursed kimono. Actually, nobody knew how it started although the spot traced to somewhere within the Hongo district (map).

Edo suffered through an extended drought leading up to the fire, leaving buildings tinderbox dry. Wooden homes clustered tightly along narrow streets became the perfect fuel. High winds that day fanned flames widely throughout the city. Up to seventy percent of the Edo burned before the fire finally subsided. Perhaps a hundred thousand people died.

Out of Season

On September 21, 2017 · 4 Comments

A strange sight confounded my older son as we walked through a warren of shops near the Santa Fe Plaza during our recent New Mexico trip. He spotted a year-round Christmas store. It didn’t register on my mind until he pointed it out, I guess because I’d seen plenty of them before. Although, as I thought about it longer, the notion did seem peculiar. Christmas felt impossibly removed from the high desert in the middle of July. Yet, the shop attracted plenty of foot traffic and presumably did well enough to keep momentum even outside of the advent season. Twelve Mile Circle once posted a story on seasonal towns so it seemed like a fine opportunity to now study seasonal businesses that defied the odds.

More Christmas


DSC_0040
Bronner’s West entrance. Photo by Sue Talbert Photography on Flickr (cc)

I imagined that Christmas stores probably did better than many other off-season enterprises. As I mentioned, they didn’t even register on my mind until my son pointed one out. They’ve done so well they’ve been "normalized" in many people’s consciousness, even though they catered to an event that happened just one day each year. Amazing.

The granddaddy of all shops must be Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan (map). I have a relative that simply must stop there whenever nearby, as just one example. Apparently "over 2 million" other people per year agreed. Wally Bronner founded this epic Christmas extravaganza in 1945 and it grew to cover several acres of shopping space with 100,000 lights, 800 animated figures and parking for a thousand cars.

I enjoy Christmas as much as anybody although I don’t really understand the year-round phenomenon.


Fireworks


South of the Border Billboard
South of the Border Billboard. Photo by SeeBeeW on Flickr (cc)

I understood year-round fireworks just slightly more than permanent Christmas. Sure, almost every firework in the United States detonats on July 4 for Independence Day. Sometimes people saved a handful for special events though, like New Years Eve or if their favorite sports team won a championship, or things of that nature. Generally though, little plywood fireworks stands tended to pop-up a couple of weeks before July 4 only to disappear just as suddenly like mushrooms on a lawn. Operating an all-year fireworks stores didn’t seem like a great business model, yet they existed.

Lots of them seemed to flourish around state borders, generally in South Carolina although I’ve seen them in other states. They found a niche wherever the laws of one state fell out of balance with its neighbor. I mentioned that situation in Right up to the Line when I discussed the ever-tacky South of the Border (map). Plenty of other fireworks warehouses also clustered nearby, tempting drivers along Interstate 95 as they entered South Carolina. Practically anything that blew up could be sold there legally.

Unlike a Christmas shop, a fireworks warehouse probably couldn’t stay afloat just anywhere as an all-year business. It needed to work by osmosis. Sales seemed to focus on outsiders that wanted to bring "the good stuff" back to their home states.


Ice Cream


The Freeze
The Freeze. Photo by Travis on Flickr (cc)Yo

I switched my thoughts from annual events to extreme weather patterns. Near my home, and I’m sure near yours too, an ice cream shop kept selling its chilly treats even through the dead of winter. What if we took that notion to its utmost? Could a business like that survive all year in Alaska? Well, yes.

In Fairbanks, the average low temperatures generally hovered around -20° Fahrenheit (-29° Celcius) in the winter. It could get a lot colder than that, too. I found a bunch of ice cream shops in Fairbanks and most of them opened only during mild months, like May through August. That made perfect sense. Who would want ice cream warmer than the outside temperature? However, I did discover one place that remained open all year, College Town Creamery. They also offered non-frozen items so I’m sure that helped carry them through the cold, dark winter.

Really, I wanted to find something a little more Alaskan, a bit farther away from the city. The Freeze in remote Glennallen, Alaska (map) seemed to fit that definition. Unfortunately it appears they’ve closed. I guess ice cream in Alaska had its limits.


Hot Yoga


Hot Yoga
Hot Yoga. Photo by Todd Lappin on Flickr (cc)

Some people swear by hot yoga. This trend gained popularity largely through a style created by Bikram Choudhury. Other styles of hot yoga also existed. In Bikram yoga, room temperatures hovered around 104° F (40° C) as practitioners cycled through 26 predefined positions. I imagined people felt rather baked after an hour and a half-or-so in that oven. Maybe 12MC readers who’ve tried hot yoga can elaborate on its benefits or drawbacks.

I thought of Phoenix, Arizona where summertime temperatures often topped 110" F (43° C). I’ve never been hotter in my life than a summertime visit to Phoenix a few years ago. Would hot yoga businesses survive year-round there? Indeed they could. I found so many of them that I had to stop counting. It seemed people in Arizona could tolerate a lot of heat.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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