Thursday, November 20, 2014

Homes Away from Home

I try to strike a balance between the new and the familiar.  I like to experience new races and visit new places, but I also return to the ones I like best.  If you visit the same area enough times, you gain a familiarity that makes it seem like a home away from home.  I now have several homes away from home.

Tropicana resort in Las Vegas
Last weekend, Deb and I were in Las Vegas.  When we arrived at the airport to fly home, I started to wonder when I would be back.  I’ve only run two marathons in Las Vegas, but I’ve flown into that airport for several other races that are nearby.  I usually end up staying at a hotel in Las Vegas for at least one night.

I’ve been through McCarran International Airport enough times that I know my way around.  I know which gate I’m likely to fly in and out of, where I can find an ATM, which restaurants are nearby, and where there are tables and chairs that are never crowded.  I also know my way from the rental car center to the strip and which gas stations I’ll drive by on my way to return the car.

The first time Deb and I traveled to Las Vegas, we stayed at Tropicana.  That was in 1999.  We stayed there because we got a good deal on an airfare and hotel package.  That hotel is still called the Tropicana, but now it’s been rebranded as a Doubletree, making it part of the Hilton family.  I’ve stayed there three more times since then.

On our 1999 trip, we became familiar with hotels at the south end of the strip, including MGM Grand, New York New York, Excalibur and Luxor.  On subsequent trips we became familiar with hotels farther north on the strip.  Our favorite is The Venetian-Palazzo, but it’s expensive.  We were only able to stay there on this trip because they had a special rate for the marathon.

A view of Mt. Hood from Portland
I've run 12 marathons in Portland, Oregon and its suburbs.  My favorite is the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon on Sauvie Island.  That race is always held on the 4th of July.  The first time I ran it, I stayed at an Extended Stay in Hillsboro.  It was half the cost of the downtown hotels, and I could get to Sauvie Island just as quickly driving north on Cornelius Pass Road.

In recent years, that race has been part of the Firecracker Triple or Quadzilla.  I’ve done the triple twice and the quadzilla once.  Each time, I’ve stayed at a hotel in Beaverton or Tigard.  I’m getting familiar with the western suburbs of Portland.  I know where the various race venues are, as well as nearby grocery stores.  I have a few favorite restaurants in the area too.

I love traveling to Portland in July.  This year it was hot, but usually the weather is beautiful at this time of year.  Doing three or four marathons in one trip gives me a chance to settle in for four or five days.  I always get a hotel room with a fridge and microwave.  I like to stop at the Pumpkin Patch market and buy a raspberry pie (or two).

Luther Glass Park in Peachtree City
In 2007, I joined the Darkside Running Club, and Deb and I traveled to Atlanta for one of their races in Peachtree City.  We stayed at a hotel near the airport, allowing us to drive down to Peachtree City for the race, but also take the train for sightseeing in downtown Atlanta.  Since then, Atlanta and Peachtree City have both become homes away from home.  I’ve returned to Peachtree City for several Darkside races.  Twice, I’ve combined the Peachtree City 50K with the Soldier Marathon in Columbus, which falls on the same weekend.

I’ve also stayed in Atlanta a few times.  The Georgia Marathon starts and finishes at Centennial Olympic Park, which is really convenient if you’re staying at a downtown hotel.  There are at least two hotels in the Hilton family that are close to the park.  I’ve also stayed in the Atlanta area for the Atlanta Marathon and the Silver Comet Marathon.  Last year, those two races fell on the same weekend.

Because I usually fly on Delta Airlines, I also think of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport as a home away from home.  I’ve made connections in that airport more times than I can count.  I know that airport like the back of my hand.

Atlanta is only one of the cities where I’ve used the trains to get around.  Others include Boston, Washington, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland and Seattle.  Internationally, I’ve learned to use the subways systems in Paris, London and Tokyo.  My favorite is Boston.  Having done the Boston Marathon four times, I’ve had time to learn the train network.  I like staying at the Doubletree, because I know it’s next door to a T station.

Sign at an entrance to Black Hills National Forest
Not all of my homes away from home are in cities.  I love the Black Hills on the west side South Dakota.  When I was growing up, we used to go there on long camping trips.  Now I return to do marathons and ultras on the Mickelson Trail.  I’ve done the Lean Horse 100 twice, the Lean Horse 50 three times and the Run Crazy Horse Marathon once.  I’ve become particularly well-acquainted with Hot Springs.  When I was growing up, we used to go swimming at Evans Plunge.  I’ve stayed in Hot Springs five times while running the Lean Horse Ultras.  I usually do some sightseeing while I’m out there.  There’s a lot to see and do in the Black Hills.  I also love the smell of a pine forest.

Sign in the lobby of Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel
I’ve only been to Lake Tahoe three times, but each time I’ve stayed for five nights.  I’ve done the Tahoe Triple three times.  I always stay at the same hotel in South Lake Tahoe.  It’s now called the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, but it used to be an Embassy Suites.  For the last two years, it’s been the headquarters hotel for the Tahoe Triple.

The nearest airport is in Reno.  I’ve learned to save money by spending the first night in Carson City and then driving to South Lake Tahoe the next morning.  Arriving early gives me a chance to do a scenic drive around the lake.  Then I spend the next three days running around the lake.

The Space Needle in Seattle
The most recent addition to my homes away from home list is the greater Seattle area.  In a week, I’ll travel there to do the Seattle Quadzilla for the second time.  I’ll spend three nights at a hotel in Renton and two nights at a hotel in downtown Seattle.  I stayed at the same two hotels last year.  I’m also familiar with all four race venues.

This will be my third trip to the Seattle area this year.  In April, I flew into the Seattle-Tacoma airport and spent one night in Renton before driving to Yakima for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon.  In July, I stayed in Bellevue for the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon.  Both times, I had dinner with other Marathon Maniacs at Smoking Monkey Pizza in Renton.  We’ll dine there again when I return for the quadzilla.

Someday, one of these places may become my real home.  I love the Seattle area.  When I was growing up, my family spent two summers in Mount Vernon, which is 60 miles north of Seattle.  Seattle is also Deb’s favorite city.  Jobs and family ties have always kept us in Minnesota, but if we ever decide to move, Seattle would be awfully tempting.  I’m not a big fan of rain, but it sure beats snow and sub-zero temperatures.

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