Waterfalls of Hamilton

I am incredibly lucky to live along the Niagara Escarpment in the Hamilton Area. As noted on the Bruce Trail website, “[t]he spectacular Niagara Escarpment encompasses farms, recreation areas, sweeping scenic views, 1675 foot cliffs, clear streams, wetlands, pebbled beaches, rolling hills, pristine waterfalls, wildlife habitats, historic sites, villages, towns and cities.”

The geography of the Hamilton area means that there are many gorgeous waterfalls, both in the City of Hamilton itself, and within four of the cities and towns that were amalgamated into Hamilton years ago: Waterdown, Dundas, Ancaster, and Stoney Creek.

All of the waterfalls are easily accessible without having to cover too much distance on foot. I’ve been exploring close to home lately, and in the last couple of months (February to April), I have run to all 12 of the waterfalls! Many are on the Bruce Trail main trail (Iroquoia section), others on Bruce Trail side trails or not far away.

The City of Hamilton’s Waterfalls Guide will give you all the information you need to plan your visit. Note that reservations are required during certain times of the year to visit Webster Falls and Tew Falls. In some places, you will need to pay for parking.

February 19: Borer’s Falls

I ran 7k from the Sydenham lookout in Dundas East along the Bruce Trail to Borer’s Falls and beyond (and back).

Borer’s Falls

March 12: Sherman Falls, Tiffany Falls, Canterbury Falls, Hermitage Cascade

I ran 12k from Artaban Road to Sherman Falls and Tiffany Falls along the Bruce Trail and a side trail, and then through Dundas Valley Conservation Area to pick up the Bruce Trail again to see Canterbury Falls and the Hermitage Cascade.

Sherman Falls
Tiffany Falls
Canterbury Falls
Hermitage Cascade

March 29: Webster Falls, Tew Falls, Dundas Peak

I ran 11k from Crook’s Hollow to Webster Falls along a trail beside Spencer Creek, then along the road to Tew Falls, and along the Tew Falls side trail to Dundas Peak (and back).

Webster Falls
Tew Falls

April 1: Smokey Hollow Falls

I ran through Waterdown to the falls.

Smokey Hollow Falls

April 5: Felker’s Falls, Devil’s Punchbowl, Albion Falls, Buttermilk Falls

I ran 18k, from Mud Street along the Mud Street side trail to the main Bruce Trail East to Felker’s Falls and the Devil’s Punchbowl, then West past where I parked to Albion Falls and Buttermilk Falls.

Felker’s Falls
Devil’s Punchbowl (upper)
Devil’s Punchbowl (lower)
Albion Falls
Buttermilk Falls

All of the waterfall pictures were taken with my iPhone – I was running, after all! I guarantee that each one is more spectacular in real life!

Looking for more waterfalls? Here’s an incredible map of the waterfalls and cascades of Hamilton (thanks Mary T for pointing it out!).

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Running the Bruce Trail End to End: Getting Started + Iroquoia Section

At some point last year, my husband Alasdair decided to run the entire Bruce Trail, so I thought it would be fun to take on the challenge too, knowing that it would take us several years, and that we would do some parts together, and some parts separately. We each downloaded the Bruce Trail app, and started tracking our runs.

What’s the Bruce Trail? According to the Bruce Trail Conservancy website, the Bruce Trail is “Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath. Running along the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario from Niagara to Tobermory, the Bruce Trail spans more than 890 km of main Trail and over 400 km of associated side trails.”

There are 9 sections of the trail. I live in the Iroquoia section just 2 km from the trail – lucky me! You can learn more about all the sections here:

Niagara – Queenston to Grimsby (Maps 1-5) (read summary here)
Iroquoia – Grimsby to Milton (Maps 5-11)
Toronto – Milton to Cheltenham (Maps 11-14) (read summary here)
Caledon Hills – Cheltenham to Mono Centre (Maps 14-19) (read summary here)
Dufferin Hi-Land – Mono Centre to Lavender (Maps 19-21) (read summary here)
Blue Mountains – Lavender to Craigleith (Maps 21-24) (read summary here)
Beaver Valley – Craigleith to Blantyre (Maps 24-28) (read summary here)
Sydenham – Blantyre to Wiarton (Maps 28-35)
Peninsula – Wiarton to Tobermory (Maps 35-42)

I was strictly a road runner until a couple of years ago when I started orienteering, which got me running on and off trail looking for controls (checkpoints) in the woods. However, it wasn’t until I started this end to end goal that I became a regular trail runner! I love it. It is so much more peaceful than running on the road, and way more scenic. I’m hooked.

I had previously hiked many different short bits of the trail over the years, but I’ve been enjoying rediscovering sections that I’ve been on before, and running on sections that are completely new to me. So far, I love the waterfalls along the trail the most.

As the parts of the trail that I need to cover get further and further away from home, things will get more complicated, and will definitely require some overnight trips. For now though, I’ve started close to home!

IROQUOIA SECTION

Started the Iroquoia section: October 27, 2018

Finished the Iroquoia section: December 26, 2018

Note: While I completed the Iroquoia section, the part of the trail that runs through Kelso Conservation Area in Milton was closed, so I ran the rerouted section along Appleby Line instead. I’ll go back in the spring to do the Kelso section.

Run details

  • October 27, 2018 – Rockcliffe Road, Waterdown to Borer’s Falls, Dundas – 14.3k
  • October 28, 2018 – Rockcliffe Road, Waterdown to Grindstone Falls, Waterdown – 5.7k
  • November 2, 2018 – Borer’s Falls, Dundas to Davidson Boulevard, Dundas (with a side trip to Tews Falls) – 22k
  • November 4, 2018 – Mount Nemo/Walker’s Line, Burlington to No. 8 Sideroad, Burlington – 10.8k
  • November 14, 2018 – Grindstone Falls, Waterdown to Highway 5, Burlington – 12.4k
  • November 24, 2018 – Highway 5, Burlington to Mount Nemo/Walker’s Line, Burlington – 10.2k
  • December 1, 2018 – No. 8 Sideroad, Burlington to Crawford Lake, Milton – 11.8k
  • December 8, 2018 – Crawford Lake, Milton to Hilton Falls, Milton – 13k (northern end of the Iroquoia section)
  • December 14 – Davidson Boulevard, Dundas to Filman Road, Ancaster – 12k
  • December 16, 2018 – Filman Road, Ancaster to King’s Forest Golf Course, Hamilton – 16.2k
  • December 22, 2018 – King’s Forest Golf Course, Hamilton to Millen Road, Stoney Creek – 19.5k
  • December 26, 2018 – Millen Road, Stoney Creek to Elm Street, Grimsby – 19.7k (southern end of the Iroquoia section)

Run stats

  • # runs: 12
  • # solo runs: 5
  • # runs with my husband Alasdair: 6
  • # runs with friends: 1 (Laura – yay to having similar running paces!)
  • shortest run: 5.7k
  • longest run: 22k
  • average length of run: 14k

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With Laura at the Hermitage, Ancaster

Run highlights

Hardest section to run: between Millen Road in Stoney Creek and Elm Street in Grimsby, because of the abundance of wet and loose rocks

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Albion Falls, Hamilton

Most waterfalls: between King’s Forest Golf Course in Hamilton and Millen Road in Stoney Creek – Albion Falls, Buttermilk Falls, Felkers Falls, and the Devil’s Punchbowl

Most scenic: see most waterfalls!

Scariest moment: while running through the Royal Botanical Gardens in Dundas, I encountered an illegal hunter in full camouflage carrying a bow and arrow, standing just off the trail and looking down the hill into the woods – I said to him, “Whatever you do, please don’t shoot me!” to which he replied, “I won’t.” (I made a report to the police, the Ministry of Natural Resources, and through a friend, to the RBG.)

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After the hunter incident, on my next run I wore a reflective safety vest, a flashing light on my leg, and a bear bell on my foot! Since I ran through Dundas on this run, several people turned and wondered what all the jingling was about. One kid started singing Jingle Bells.

Wildlife sightings: 2 close-up raccoons (separate runs), and a salamander at Crawford Lake, which my husband nearly stepped on as he ran – we placed it gently in mud close to a log, covered it in leaves, and wished it well!

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At Crawford Lake, Milton

Favourite run: the waterfall run!

Most memorable encounter with other hikers/runners: a little girl hiking with her parents, who said as I passed, “She runs so FAST!”; a couple carrying pruning shears and a saw to do trail maintenance; the hunter

Neat finds: caves just East of Twiss Road in Burlington; Devil’s Punch Bowl Market & Bakery for post run treats!

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Cave off Twiss Road, Burlington

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Race report: Don’t Get Lost Knockout Adventure Run

“Did you meet a vampire out there?” I was asked at the end of the race. You can never predict what’s going to happen when you’re out in the woods orienteering! The Don’t Get Lost Knockout Adventure Run in Stoney Creek was a 2-hour race in which you could find as many – or as few – of the controls as you wanted to, but with a twist! There were 2 race maps, with only the first map given to racers before the race began. This meant that strategy would be very important – we were told during the pre-race briefing that the second map would have about 65% of the available points. There were 2 spots on the course where you could pick up the second map, but you had to hand over your first map when you did so – in other words, if you didn’t find all the controls on the first map, and later wanted to look for them, you couldn’t! The other key detail was that you could only pick up the second map from 10:15 to 10:45 at one location (the race started at 10 AM), and from 10:55 to 11:45 AM at the other location. How would it all play out? I talked to other racers before the race and we all had different strategies for maximizing our points. Time would tell who had the best plan.
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Last minute route planning. [Photo by Don’t Get Lost]
Both maps had a mixture of green (25 points), blue (50 points), black diamond/difficult (75 points), and double black diamond/expert (100 points) controls. The race began, and I set out for the south west corner of the map. There were 3 distinct clusters of controls on this map, and I was hoping to be able to clear it (find all the controls) within 1 hour, so that I would still have 1 hour to find as many controls as I could on the second map. I wasn’t the only one heading for this area of the map, so I ended up in a group of people running for the closest control. I found all 4 in this section (3 greens and one black diamond), then headed for the middle area of the map. Some people skipped the first section I did since 3 of them were of low point value, and instead headed for the middle or upper sections.
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Where to next? [Photo by Don’t Get Lost]
The middle section included 5 green controls, none of which took too long to find. The upper part of the map had 3 blue and 1 double black diamond control. I had done an X-league race here before, so was a little familiar with the area – I think this helped! After finding these 4 controls, I headed for the closest pickup location for the second map. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how quickly I had cleared the map (my very first time doing so!), and when I arrived at the parking lot, I had to wait 12 minutes to get the map! I could have run to the other location, and maybe should have, but wondered if I’d really save any time by running there and back (I would have had to run back because the rest of the controls were on the other side of the parking lot.). So instead I chatted with other racers as we waited for the maps to arrive! It was here that I met David, another racer. Once we got our second maps, we headed off together. We skipped a cluster of 5 controls on the way out – I figured if I had time at the end, I would go for some of them. Instead, I wanted to head for the furthest away controls, which were also worth the most points. We quickly found 6 and 7, then descended the escarpment to find 8. We ran toward the Red Hill Parkway, jumping a creek and climbing a hill to find 10. We then crossed under the Red Hill Parkway, found the two double black diamond controls, and then crossed back over to find two more black diamonds. At that point, we had to climb the escarpment again to head back to the finish. I wasn’t sure whether I would have time to get any of the controls we had left near the end. We did get an easy green after climbing the escarpment, but by the time we got to the cluster of controls, I only went for one of them. David headed for another one but quickly changed his mind. We reached the finish line with 12 minutes to spare – we should have gone for at least one of the remaining 4 controls! I didn’t realize how quickly we would reach the finish line. Nevertheless, I found 23 of the 27 controls, which was a great result for me!
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Done! [Photo by Don’t Get Lost]
It was once I went back into the gym that many people pointed out my war wound! I don’t even know when it happened. It looked worse than it was – the cut was actually quite small.
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War wound. [Photo by Don’t Get Lost]
A couple of the women who placed ahead of me skipped the 4 controls that I did at the beginning of the race on the first map, and instead ended up getting more controls on the second map, which were worth more points – so, their strategy was better! However, they cleared the second map with time to spare, but couldn’t go find those 4 controls – had they cleared the first map, they may still have cleared the second one and likely placed higher. Who knows! Strategy was definitely key! Race results
  • Time: 1:48:43
  • Points: 1175
  • Placing (open women): 5/13
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Race Report: Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer Adventure Run 2016

When I woke up the morning of the race, I wondered if my pre-race dreams were foreshadowing how the day would unfold. Would I find my teammate? Would my map be complete? Would I figure out where I was on the map? Only time would tell.

After taking the Don’t Get Lost Navigation 101 clinic in October, I decided that I wanted to enter the Raid the Hammer Adventure Run, but I wasn’t sure how to find a team! I quite easily recruited my husband, and after putting out an all points bulletin asking for 1 adventurous friend to join us, Rebecca was in! The three of us had raced together twice before in sprint triathlons as team ARK de TRIumph, and knew we would have fun no matter what happened!

This was to be my 3rd orienteering race (the first two being Don’t Get Lost X-League weeknight 30 minute races), and the very 1st for Alasdair and Rebecca.And this year marks the 50th year of adventure racing in the Hamilton area. We signed up for the Half Raid, a 12k race (“as the crow flies”) which would likely take us between 2 and 4 hours to complete, with the average being about 3 hours. Essentially, we would have to get from Point A to Point B while finding a whole bunch of controls (checkpoints) on our way using a map, compass, and some good old common sense.

Several days before the race we learned that the “finish” location would be Saltfleet High School in Stoney Creek, but we didn’t know where we would start from. A couple of days before the race, Felker’s Falls Conservation Area was announced as being the best location for spectators.

On race morning, Alasdair and I met Rebecca at Saltfleet at 8:30 AM, where we would pick up our race kits, get pre-race instructions, and be bussed to the start line. We each arrived with the required individual gear, including a compass, a whistle, an emergency blanket, a permanent marker, a toque and water, and I had the required team gear, a first aid kit. We didn’t know if all teams would get the map at the same time, or whether it would be advantageous to arrive at the start of race kit pick-up. Since we did get our map right away, we had more than an hour to plan our attack!

At race kit pick-up we received 3 maps each (!), 1 overview sheet describing the challenges and the controls (e.g. in a valley, or in the corner of a field), a legend of map symbols, a plastic sleeve to hold the maps, a race bib, a Sport Ident timing chip to be worn on one teammates’s finger, food tickets and a pair of technical socks each!

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We grabbed a section of table and 3 chairs in the cafeteria and started trying to figure out exactly where we were on the map and what it was we needed to do to get to the finish line. We learned that we would need to stay within 25 m of each other at all times (and within eyesight), and at certain checkpoints be even closer. Alasdair said that he would just do what we told him to do.

With 3 distinct sections of the race (covered by one map each), we set to figuring out what we thought our best route would be. We weren’t sure if we should take some bearings and write them on the map as a group near us seemed to be doing. In the end we only wrote on the maps that 1 cm = 50 m or whatever the scale was, since the scale changed between maps. For controls 1 to 5 (map 1), we would be in a forest, and would need to find these controls in order. For controls A to F, we would be in a sports park, and would need to split up to cover 5 of the 6 controls between the three of us, arriving at F together. For controls 6 to 13, we would be in the forest and then fields, and would have to do the controls in order, choosing between two 8s, and finding a mystery 9 and 10 along the Bruce Trail. Finally, we needed to arrive at the finish together.

There was a bit of confusion due to a printing error on the instruction sheet (wrong control numbers), but that was straightened out during the pre-race briefing. We also learned that for controls A to F we actually had to stay together, but only had to do 5 of the 6 and could do them in any order. By this point, all our questions had been answered and we were pretty much ready to go!

We boarded the school buses with everyone else at 9:45, and after a short drive, arrived at a small parking lot. Alasdair, Rebecca and I each wore a camelbak, with all the gear we needed plus some food to snack on (a banana, granola bars, and almonds with M&Ms for me).

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On the school bus en route to the start line.

Like a few others, I had to pee, so I ran into the bush and returned ready to go! It wasn’t long before the race started – the most anti-climactic race start I’ve ever experienced. No gun, no horn, no 3-2-1 countdown, just a few hundred people starting to run!

Start to Control 5 (Escarpment Challenge)

Since everyone was heading for control 1, we were a big mass of runners at first, but it didn’t take too long for the speedy experienced navigators to lose the slower newbie ones. And despite how easy we thought it would be to find the first control, it wasn’t long before we were trying to figure out exactly where we were and where we needed to be. Before race day, Rebecca and I ran 100 m and counted the number of steps it took us to get there, so that we could estimate our pace (every 2 steps) for 1 m. Our pace counts were similar, and we practised counting from the beginning of the race. It really helped us to know how far away the next control or turning point or landmark was. It took us 15 minutes to find the first control, but only 8 to find the second. We got into a groove after that and things were going well! At each control, since I was wearing the timing chip, I had to be the one to stick it into the chip reader. I made sure I heard a beep so I knew it recorded our arrival!

Control 5 to F (Sprint and Scramble)

We had a game plan in place for which of the lettered controls we planned to find, but when we reached the park and clued in to just how close they all were together, we changed it up. We went for A, B, C, E and F, giving a pass on D. None of these were too hard to find, but I was starting to feel my legs from having run the Road2Hope 1/2 marathon just 7 days prior. We didn’t need our compass for any of these, just the map. And these ones didn’t have electronic timing chip readers – instead, we had to use hole punches to prove that we arrived at the controls.

Control F to 8 (Waterfalls and Fork’n Hills)

Things were going well, we were having fun, and no massive arguments had broken out as to which way we should be going! As we left Mohawk Sports Park and crossed the road to go back into the woods, my compass (dangling from my waist) snagged on a metal road barrier and broke. Alasdair offered me his and we were on our way again. It was at this point that we made our biggest mistake of the day: we didn’t listen to Alasdair. I know, I know, he said he was going to just do what we told him to do, but this isn’t exactly how things played out. Alasdair suggested following the road to control 6, but Rebecca and I were sure that following the trails was the better bet. Alasdair agreed to follow our route, but we quickly became confused as to which trail we were on.

We reached a cliff and knew that we had to descend it to reach the checkpoint, but it looked very steep. So we carefully picked our way down, and did a silly pose for the cameraman who was at the bottom – Alasdair suggested that we each point in different directions, so that’s what we did. We found the control, and then just could not reconcile the landscape with the map. Alasdair was sure which way to go. Rebecca was sure it was a different way. I couldn’t make the map fit. And then Rebecca heard someone say that this was control 7, not 6 as we believed. That explained it! And, our error forced us to climb back up the escarpment at that very steep point!! Had we been following along with the descriptions of the controls as we went (or had we listened to Alasdair), we would not have made this mistake. It clearly said that “The route to CP7 can be treacherous.” Lesson learned!

We climbed back up the escarpment, confusing several teams as they made their way down. We found control 6, where you had to record the initials of the person to whom the bench is a memorial, rather than check in using a timing chip. This was also the aid station, so I enjoyed some gatorade, pretzels, and smarties! There were also bananas and a salty snack mix. One volunteer recorded our team number, and another verified that we were carrying a whistle.

As we headed to control 7 (again), we encountered Dr. Waddington and his team, who Alasdair spotted before the race started at the high school – Dr. Waddington was Alasdair’s 1st year physics professor at McMaster in 1992! Apparently he looks the same now as he did then (he’s actually in my picture above of us on the bus – he and his wife are right behind us). Later I learned that this is the same man who I follow on Facebook, who along with his wife, have spent the past 40 years hiking and canoeing across Canada to find the sites of some of the most famous paintings done by the Group of Seven. If you’re interested, check out their Facebook group or this Hamilton Spectator article. And by the way, while his team was walking, and we were running, we were essentially progressing at the same pace, with their far superior navigational skills!

By control 8 we realized the utility of control descriptions, and consulted the sheet for the rest of the race! There were actually 2 control 8s, and we had to choose which one we wanted to look for. We ended up searching for it with Dr. Waddington and his team, as well as a team of 3 ladies. It took a while, but we eventually found it (after Dr. Waddington, of course!) on the edge of a creek down yet another steep hill. Lucky me with the timing chip, I had to climb down the rockfall and back up a muddy hill to re-join my team. I learned after the race, when I re-read the race instructions, that we were actually supposed to “hand touch” each control as a team. In other words, each person had to actually arrive at all the controls. We missed this before the race began, and found that this is not what other teams around us were doing. Some were clearly sending a teammate (far) ahead to reach a control, then rejoining each other somewhere else. Perhaps a clear mention in the pre-race briefing would help newbies like us who want to follow the rules, but were slightly overwhelmed with everything to read and figure out before the race began.

Control 8 to 10 (Walk the Line)

Controls 9 and 10 were in mystery locations along the Bruce Trail, so as we ran (and Alasdair stumbled and fell – again) we looked left and right, not quite sure whether the controls would be right on the trail, or slightly off it. We figured they would be obvious, otherwise it would take forever. We had run quite a ways without finding 9, and wondered if we had missed it (there was a mention by the race organizers before the race that one had gone missing, and if we couldn’t find it, to just continue). Eventually we spotted a control, and confirmed with the group of 3 ladies that it was the first mystery one they had spotted too. A volunteer here jotted down our team number. And we were off to 10. This one was also easy to find.

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Along the Bruce Trail. Note the messy hair, the timing chip on my finger, and the fact that I’m holding the map perfectly for the shot (you can read the text clearly)!

Control 10 to Finish (Air Photo Finish)

As an added challenge, trails on the map between controls 11 and 12 were removed. And controls 12 and 13 were on an “air photo” rather than a topographical map. Control 11 wasn’t hard to find, but wasn’t easy to get to either. We followed the rules, navigating around the cliffs rather than going down and up them, but other teams did not. I spotted 12 and then we were off to find our very last control before the finish. There were at least 4 teams crossing the big field at the same time trying to find it, and we all pretty much arrived at it – adjacent to a dog park – at the same time. Then it was just a run back to the school and a final check in at the finish “line” control. My legs were pretty tired by this point, so when Alasdair suggested we sprint, I told him, “This is my sprint.”

We arrived at the finish line, which like the start was also very anticlimactic. I’m used to the cheering crowds of running races and triathlons!

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We made it to the finish! See that orange and white thing? That’s what all the controls looked like.

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Team ARK de TRIumph post-race!

Race stats:

Time: 3:10:47 (my watch had us at 3:08, so not sure where the extra 2 minutes comes from)

Placing: 35/50 open teams (not junior)

The winning team finished in 1:45:12 – wow!

Once we were done, we checked out the 2 food trucks providing post-race food for athletes (and food for purchase for spectators) – I never did eat any of the food I had packed for myself, just a few pretzels and smarties on the course. I ordered the Peachy Blonde from the Jonny Blonde food truck, grabbed – and downed – an iced tea, went inside to return our timing chip, and went back outside to wait for my food. I took it inside to eat in the cafeteria with Alasdair and Rebecca. My chicken/peach/brie on homemade flatbread was delicious!

 

Lessons Learned

  • In future events like this, I would write control descriptions right on my map.
  • If the landscape around me doesn’t match the map, I will assume that I am likely not where I think I am and should reassess!
  • I can get through a 3 hour race without having to pee (me!).
  • Sometimes men are right.

In summary, we had tons of fun!! The race was very well organized, the volunteers on the course were great, the aid station snacks were yummy, the free socks were a bonus, and the environment was very welcoming. There were some excellent photos taken too (note: individual shots of us, above, were taken by the race photographers, as was the one of everyone at tables near the top). I highly recommend this race, and would definitely like to do it again next year! (Final note: I fixed my compass!)