Category Archives: November 2016

The Campout

This post doesn’t involve as much running, although I did some intervals and a three miler during the week. Now, apparently when I say “intervals”, people get the impression that I am fast.

Back before college, I used to drive a diesel VW Rabbit (this was before most diesel cars had turbo). It was a feat to go more than 45 mph, but on the rare occasion when I wanted to pass somebody on the highway, I had to plan a half hour ahead. Ok, there’s a downhill coming up. I would roll up the windows to reduce drag and stomp on the gas as hard as possible. With a loud bang, the exhaust would belch a great black cloud and gradually the speedometer would notch up… one mph… two mph… As the car gained speed, I checked oncoming traffic and the cars behind me, calculating the time and speed necessary to make my move, praying that a big bug wouldn’t hit my windshield and slow my momentum. The time came and I made my move into the next lane. Inevitably, some fancy Yugo or Gremlin would come up behind me, honking for me to get out of their way. Too bad! I’m committed now! Slowly, I passed the target car giving the driver a smug nod while inside I was sweating bullets as the life-and-death game of chicken with the oncoming semi played out. “Come on, baby. You can do it!” I coaxed. The truck approached, not even slowing. Doesn’t he see me?! I looked at the car next to me, “Slow down!” I screamed, waving my hand. At his mercy, I narrowly passed before the semi roared by the other way. And then we would come to the bottom of the hill heading back up where I would begin to accumulate a long line of irate drivers behind me.

That’s me running intervals. Of course there was the time my gas pedal got stuck on Interstate 10 driving to U of A. That was a little stretch of terror I’ll never forget. But that’s never happened to me on a run (unless you count G.I. issues).

Now that we’re clear on that, I did do some fun outdoor hiking and camping over the weekend. My younger son, Carson, is a Cub Scout. So he, me and my older son, Parker, left Friday for a three day campout at nearby Lake Pleasant with his pack.

campsiteWe left after school and got there early to find a good spot – close to the water spigot and upwind of the restrooms. Carson and I slept in the larger tent. Parker slept in the little orange pup tent. He could barely stretch out in it, but he likes having his own place and I’m pretty sure he had snacks stashed in there as late at night I could hear the rustling of a chip bag and the whooshing of what I now believe was a battery operated Cappuccino machine.

Behind us, you can see part of a wall where the side of the hill was cut away. Digging and chipping away at that hill was the favorite pastime at the campout. The cubs were all over it like ants on a cookie and I soon found myself singing the dwarf song from Snow White.

“We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig in our mine the whole day through.
To dig dig dig dig dig dig dig is what we like to do.
Heigh-ho, heigh-ho…”

One boy said, “I’m digging for diamonds!” I suspect Minecraft was an influence.

At one point, they all got excited as someone said they saw a clown hiding in the bushes. This was a false alarm but stuck in the back of their heads for a while.

On Saturday, we went with the den on a hike up a nearby hill. It was steep and full of cacti and loose rocks. Some boys struggled. One slipped and scraped his leg. Others needed a boost. Finally, we crested the top feeling satisfied and accomplished. “We’re the kings of the world!” we shouted, then looked down to see a smashed beer can. Bummer. Great view from up there, though.

lake-pleasant
View from the top. Lake Pleasant in the distance.

The boys and I visited the Nature Center, then hiked a bit more and played by the lake skipping stones.

“Watch me skip this one!” Carson hollered, stumbling to the water’s edge with a boulder the size of his head. Parker and I were bent over looking at shells.

“Wait!” we yelled. Too late. Lake water in the mouth.

selfieWe had a blast, laughing and giggling as we pulled barbed stickers out of our shoes. At day’s end, we had walked or hiked over six miles and enjoyed sitting by the campfire that night.

The way they lit it was clever. A wire was threaded through a roll of toilet paper and ran from a tree branch to the fire pit. Then the toilet paper was suspended near the top. All lights were extinguished and near the tree you could hear the “flick, flick, flick” of someone trying to ignite a lighter. With a flash, the fluid saturated roll caught fire and all eyes went to the tree branches above. “Ohhh!” said the crowd of 75. The roll sat there dripping fireballs as a guy with kitchen tongs tried to nudge it along, dancing all the while to avoid catching his shoes on fire. Finally, it sailed down the wire as the “tongs guy” swatted at his now burning leg hair.

Whoosh! went the firewood which had obviously been heavily doused with something flammable and we all scooted back a few inches.

Bobcat ceremonies, skits and cheers ensued followed by flaming marshmallows on sticks. It was a grand old time with chocolate-mouthed kids running about and parents comparing camping gear. “It’s a water purifier and a coffee grinder. See here?”

One of the leaders decided to have some fun and had his wife bring up a clown costume. As the boys were all hopped up on S’mores and hot chocolate, he climbed the hill in the dark and had his wife tease the cubs about hearing something. Their eyes grew wide, intrigued but not willing to admit it. Then the clown stood up, turned a flashlight on himself and laughed maniacally. At first they were spooked, but then they picked up sticks and rocks and challenged the clown to show himself again. “Ok… who wants s’more S’mores?!”

I led a little service the next morning and then the place cleared out like a classroom at recess time. Packing up and then unloading at home is never fun but we’ve gotten pretty good at it and I looked forward to a shower and a big cup of coffee.

cup-a-joe
I’ve finally found a coffee mug that’s just the right size.

Tonight is non-turbo intervals and I’ll try to get in my regular run schedule this week. Another speedy friend has asked to run trails with me so we’ll see how that goes this weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving and cool runnings to you my friends!

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A Tour of the Trail

Ok, except for my son losing his next-to-last baby tooth, it’s been a rather slow unexciting week since Ragnar last weekend. I took my legs for a two mile test drive around the neighborhood Tuesday just to be sure they still worked and they were ok, albeit a little tired. My muscles were wary of the exercise. “What’s going on here?” legs asked brain. “You better not be putting us through that hell again! I swear, we’ll give out right here in the Azaleas!”

“Relax,” brain replied. “It’s just a little two mile jaunt to keep you from getting lazy. If you’re good, I’ll reward you with a nice foam roll later.”

“Really? A foam roll?”

So that went well, but I took it easy for the rest of the week until Saturday morning. In lieu of some exciting adventure, I thought I would take you on a tour of the trail I ran.

Some new trails recently opened up at Skyline park including a couple of loops that, according to the map, were fairly level (an elevation gain of 280 feet over six miles). I woke up early to catch my legs unaware, hoping to get in a few miles before they knew what hit them.

granite-falls-trailFrom the parking lot, I took the Turnbuckle trail to the first loop, Granite Falls. The route would wind through the above pictured valley and intersect with another loop, Chuckwalla.

It started off nice and the elevation gain was minimal. However, soon there were deep washes to cross and small hills to climb. I had brief flashbacks to the Yellow Loop at Ragnar and broke out in cold sweats. My legs woke up, “What’s going on here? Hey! Where are we?” Brain was wise though and slowed the pace, walking the ups and running the downs and flats with about 200 breaks to take pictures. It was a gorgeous, cool November morning.

saguaro-cactus

two-barrel-cacti
Two Barrel Cacti

Take a look at the above two pics. One of the most fascinating things about the desert, to me, is how plants and animals adapt. Saguaro cacti, among others, often grow under a bush or tree such as the Palo Verde. The shade helps them survive the hot sun. Personally, I prefer a hat and some iced tea.

trail-at-sunrise
This is just a picture of me on stilts and a really tall cactus in the background.

chuckwalla-trailheadAfter almost two miles on Granite Falls, I crossed to the Chuckwalla trail. This is where things got interesting. As the trail took off into near unexplored territory, I found a dead body! The flesh had decayed and rotted away so all that was left was the skeleton. I could see the ribs and everything!

saguaro-cactus-skeletonYeah, it’s a Saguaro cactus skeleton. Did I have you going? When it rains, such cacti soak up the water into a fleshy center and the ribs expand allowing it to survive long periods without rain. The surface of the cactus, or skin, has a waxy coating to keep the moisture from evaporating. What a wise design!

saguaro-bootThe needles keep large prey away from the smaller critters who make the cactus their home. The hard white shell-looking thing with a hole is actually a scar that forms when birds such as woodpeckers dig in. It’s rare to find one like this, intact. Sometimes, it’s called a boot for the shape. Woodpeckers burrow the holes and typically stay for one season then move, leaving a vacancy for other birds. They used to have a timeshare type of agreement but that led to all sorts of lawsuits so now it’s more of a co-op. Here are some other pics.

Below is a petroglyph I found left by the Yavapai Indians of a studly warrior. Impressive. I bet he lost his other arm fighting off a bear or mountain lion to protect his tribe.

studly-warriorAs for the wildlife, I didn’t see much running around, but I did see signs that they had been there. The sand in the washes had lots of tracks: coyotes, quail and below is a pic of a javelina hoofprint. They travel the trails at night searching for trail mix and popcorn dropped by unwitting tourists.

javelina-hoofprintBy now you’re saying, “Ok Doug, how much running did you actually do with all this picture-taking?” As I said, I took it easy and didn’t check my pace. Legs and brain worked out an agreement and everyone was happy with it.

field-of-chollasHere is a field of Cholla cacti at sunrise, also known as Jumping Chollas. They strike fear into the hearts of all Arizona hikers and trail runners. You will be running by, minding your own business saying, “Oh, look at the pretty cactus holes” when all of a sudden Hah! one launches itself at you and digs into your leg. You will lose a pound of flesh getting that sucker out. Ok, well, they don’t really fly off the plant at you. It just seems that way. And the hooks on the needles will make you want to leave it in.

“That? Oh, that’s just a souvenir of my trip to Phoenix. I’ve named it Cholly.”

Here’s a picture of the Cholla balls (for lack of a better term). They are all over the place, patiently waiting for an unsuspecting passerby with tall white socks.

cholla-ballsOne brave critter that’s not afraid of these balls is the pack rat. They gather sticks and leaves to build a burrow then place these strategically around the outside to keep predators at bay. Tough little creatures. I once saw one with a patch over one eye and asked him how he got it. He said, “Don’t ask,” then flicked his cigarette butt at me. [shiver]

pack-rat-nest
Pack rat nest
sad-saguaro
This is just a sad Saguaro that needs a blue pill.

prayer-circleTowards the end of my run, I came across this structure (above). I got excited and thought, Cool! It must be an old prayer circle or maybe a famous tribal leader was buried there. I approached with reverence and wondered at the history of the site. Then I saw what was at the center.

markerIt was a survey marker from the Army Corps of Engineers. So I didn’t feel bad about stepping all over it to get the shots!

turnbuckle-markerAnd so Chuckwalla turned back to Granite Falls which connected once again with Turnbuckle and soon I was within a half mile of the parking lot. Rounding a corner, I swallowed the last gulp of water and let out a satisfying belch as two young girls came into view, jumping with surprise.

“It was a rat,” I said. “Watch out for the one with the patch.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and maybe learned something about the desert. If not, I hope you had a nice nap.

Cool runnings, my friends!

Ragnar Trail Relay McDowell Mountain

THE WARMUP

It finally arrived. The Ragnar Relay at McDowell Mountain Park was upon me and my excited brain shouted, “Oh crap!”

The thing about relays is this: other people rely on you. There is more pressure to stay on top of things and do your best. So regardless of what people say, it’s hard to relax completely. No stopping every 50 feet to take pictures or smell plant leaves, “Oh, a creosote bush. Mmm, smells like fresh rain.” Ok, maybe I did do that once. Believe me, it was the only thing that smelled fresh the entire race.

So, after checking off list after list and freaking out a few times about having enough food, I was finally packed and ready to go.

“Where are my shower caps?” my wife asked.

“Uh, I packed them.”

“Why,” she pressed. “Do they have showers?”

“No, they’re for my shoes. I don’t want to track dirt into the tent.”

A few of us were heading out Thursday night to get a good spot and set up camp, but dark clouds were spitting big drops of rain. We checked the forecast continuously. “Ok, it’s supposed to blow over by 6pm.” The rain came harder. “Now it says 9pm. Now 11…” and so it went.

One guy on the team, Frank, offered to drive us out there in his truck which had a covered bed. So three of us drove to his house, relieved to see a monster quad cab diesel dually that could fart thunderous exhaust and roll over a VW Beetle without noticing instead of the ancient Datsun 620 we had envisioned.

When we got to the park, some friends of my buddy, Steve (frequently mentioned in my blogs), had already picked a primo spot for us and set up a tent next to their own site. The rain was spotty and we quickly set up another tent, a pop-up canopy and some chairs. The other four members of our team would be arriving in the morning.

Then the wind hit.

This wasn’t just a kite-flying kind of wind. This was a blow your toupée off and glasses too kind of gale that sent the SS Minnow hurtling to a desert island kind of wind.

The inside of the tent was wall-to-wall cots with not an inch to spare. Our gear was stashed underneath. I had to flip my bunk on its side to get clean undies.

thursday-night-storm
Thursday night storm.

The storm raged and we four men decided to turn in and pretend that we would nicely go to sleep and dream about giving news interviews as the Ragnar grand champions. After lots of cursing and a few banged shins, we finally settled into our sleeping bags.

I was on one end and Frank was on the other. The wind blew all the harder, thrashing the tent and I heard him say, “The side of the tent keeps smacking me in the face! And there’s rain coming through. Pluh! It tastes terrible in case you were wondering.” Occasionally, you would hear someone in the distance cry out as their pop-up flew away or their tent blew down. We would say, “There goes another one.”

Unsurprisingly, there was a group of people 30 or so yards away up partying and having a grand old time. I thought, Man, who can sleep in this cacophony? The thought no sooner entered my mind than I heard the two guys in the middle snoring, like the great lumberjack Paul Bunyan going to town on the Redwood forest.

Around 3:00am, after fading in and out of sleep, I had to pee. Damn it! The thought of climbing out of my cozy bag and banging my shins all the way to the door again did not appeal to me. When I could hold it no longer, I clamored up. Greg, who was next to me was awake wrestling with the same dilemma and said, “I’ll go too.”

Apparently, our graceless fumbling woke Steve up as well and we all three spilled out of the tent, flashlights in hand, on a mission to find the port-a-johns. The good news was that the storm had stopped.

Finding them was easy. Getting back, not so much. The campground looked like tornado alley. Flattened tents and debris littered the area and nothing looked like it had. The three of us tried to navigate the carnage back to our tent and sure enough, the laughing Larrys were still up partying, pickled like a bunch of Herrings. “Hey look!” they shouted, pointing at us. “Random wanderers looking for their tent that blew away hours ago! Ah ha ha ha…”

Thenceforth, we called ourselves the Random Wanderers.

RACE DAY

The next morning I awoke feeling good, having gotten a few hours of sleep at least. The air was crisp and cool and I was excited to meet the other members of the team, explore the Village and get the race started. We were due to start at noon.

Upon emerging from the tent, I took in the magnificent clouds, glistening flora and the parade of mourners marching their mangled tents and pop-up frames to the dumpster. I kid you not, the large semi-truck sized trash bin was full. I felt like singing a dirge.

Soon, the four other team members arrived and our first runner was off! The sun was out in full force and, even though it’s November, it was unseasonably warm. She was taking longer than expected and we began to get worried. It was the Green Loop – the short one. However, our team name soon popped up on the monitor indicating that she was a quarter mile out. She came in looking beat. The combination of heat and breakfast did not sit well. Later, we would discover that she had missed a trail marker and ran farther than necessary on the first leg. She’s a strong runner, though, and nailed the other two legs.

Some of the other team members I had never met before, but they were all great people – friendly, fun, encouraging and supportive. I am grateful to team captain, Tiffany, who covered all the details and allowed us to have a snag-free adventure. Plus, she scheduled my hardest loop first and easiest one last. Not sure if that was intentional, but “Thank you!”

backdrop-and-booths
Coffee booth, device charging station, and photo backdrop.
feeding-tent
The feeding tent. They showed a movie here Friday night.
home-sweet-home
Home sweet home.
schedule
Course maps and schedule.
tent-city
Tent city.
tv-monitor-and-transition-tent
Transition tent and tv monitor to see when your runner is a quarter mile out.

Our team progressed through the legs, managing the afternoon heat reasonably well, mainly due to the fact that we were fresh and anxious to run. I was sixth in line out of eight, and my first leg came up at 6pm. The Red Loop. 6.6 miles.

The sun had set and I took off, grateful for the relief from the heat. Ok, the first mile and a half is uphill on rocky terrain, I thought as I gazed down the side of a hill. Watch your step. There were a few people in front and behind me and, as I neared the top of the hill, I chanced a look around at the stars and glowing horizon and smiled at the string of headlamps slithering up the hill. Just then my foot hit a big rock and I took about three giant stumbling steps forward trying to avoid tumbling off the precipice. “Tell my family I love them!” I yelled as I wobbled like an ox in ice skates trying to regain control. Every light on the hill turned toward me. “Nothing to see here.”

The rest of the Red Loop was downhill and that was the fun part. I barreled down the trail like a giant snowball. “Gang way! Coming through! On your left! No your OTHER left!” I yelled, jumping over rocks, ducking under branches, leaping small washes with a single bound. My breath was huffing and my knees were cracking like a well-oiled antique sewing machine. Wow! If this is the hard loop, the others must be cake! Yeah, then came the Yellow Loop – the Widowmaker!

The Yellow Loop was almost two miles shorter than the red one at 4.7 miles. In talking to others who had survived it, I learned that it consisted of many small ups and downs. I began it at 2:30am with a slow pace, wanting to save my energy, estimating an hour and fifteen minutes to finish it. It started off innocently enough, but then came the first major downhill. “Holy Crap!” I said aloud looking down the 15 foot drop. “I need some sort of repelling gear.” Then I heard, “On your left” as some young skinny dude leaped past me and skipped down the hill like a deer on its way to the prom. Ok, here we go. I crossed myself and plunged onward picking up steam as I descended.

I can’t stop, I screamed inside my head. My mouth was frozen open in fear, catching whatever unfortunate bug happened to be flying by. I prayed my legs could keep up with my runaway body and finally made it safely to the bottom as my momentum carried me halfway up the other side. “Ha ha. No problem,” I said loudly, looking around for witnesses.

The rest of Yellow was smaller hills and washes – very technical – so I tried to keep somewhat of a stable pace and made it back to the transition tent in about 75 minutes.

transition-tent
Inside the Transition Tent with color coded mats.

The relay “baton” that we passed off to each other was an elastic belt with the team bib attached which has a tracking chip on it. As I entered the transition tent, I saw my smiling teammate ready to go. So I unclipped the belt and held it out to her, slick and dripping with sweat. “Go get ’em!” I said. Poor girl. I didn’t look but wouldn’t have been surprised if she had run the entire leg holding that thing out at arms length with two fingers.

green-trailThe final leg, the Green Loop, came up for me at about 12:30pm on Saturday. The sun was beating down and even on that easiest, level 4.1 mile loop, people were whipped, walking the first half. I too walked. My legs had no energy after two nights of little sleep, two hard runs and now the heat. I had no gas left in my tank. My legs were on autopilot as I trekked across the desert like Clark Griswold searching for a gas station.

me-finishing-leg
Finishing my final leg.

I finally made it back and handed off the belt, then went to our camp to rest. We were all pretty ripe, but the inside of that tent… whew! I think I killed some brain cells inhaling that stench. Everything was moist. Wet socks stuck to the window with hopes that the sun would dry them. Underwear here. Shorts there. Candy wrappers and wet wipes scattered about.

Someone said, “Forget packing it up. Let’s just burn it.” I felt bad for Steve. It was his tent. Plus, the whipping wind Thursday night had torn holes in it, and when we did pack it up one of the legs ripped out.

However, as our last runner came in, all the pain and fatigue was forgotten. We donned our Ragnar t-shirts and joined him on the trail to cross the finish line as a team. It was a great feeling. Like kids on Christmas morning, we eagerly awaited our cherished medals and then ogled over them with “Cool! This edge is a saw!” “Oh, this edge is sharp!” “Hey, it’s a bottle opener!” and so on.

Overall, it was a tremendous experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was my 50th birthday marker and it was awesome. Sure I joke about the hardships, but what made it good was the people. The cheering on, the laughs, the encouragement… and meeting some really cool people. I was in awe of Frank the whole time. He was eager to run every leg and just tore up the course. Thanks to my friend, Steve, for getting me in on it.

On to the next adventure.

Cool runnings, my friends!

Howling Halloween 5k

The focus of my running for the past few years has been mainly on half marathons with a couple of 5k’s thrown in for fun. This year, one of my favorite 5k’s has gone the way of the Sony Walkman – disappeared, vanished, all but forgotten with no regard for its contribution to society and its inspiration to countless masses yearning to break free from the bonds of conformity, existing merely as a dust-covered memory in the dark shadows of our minds. Uh, where was I? Oh, so I was looking for a fun Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas themed run as I haven’t done one before.

Using the power of Facebook, I put out an APB to see if any of my local friends had one they were doing. Crickets. So I searched and found a Halloween themed 5k at a nearby park complete with glow-in-the-dark shirts and medals (which doubled as bottle openers) and even had a Groupon. Jackpot!

the-howling-night-runAgain, I harnessed Facebook to see if anyone wanted to run it with me. One friend offhandedly showed some mild interest, so I quickly pressured him into signing up with his wife and we were set!

Now I needed a costume. So I hit the Goodwill store and saw that they had clown wigs (or maybe they were shower poufs). Perfect! I had a red nose at home and picked up a big bow tie at another store. Clowns are funny, I thought. Oh sure, clowns have gotten a bad rap lately, but I won’t look like one of them. I’ll be a happy clown spreading good cheer and laughter.

WARNING:  The picture below is not for the faint of heart. Do not scroll down if you have a pacemaker or high blood pressure. Pregnant women in their third trimester should consult their gynecologist.

I parked and got out of the car. Various people were milling about, none of whom were in costume, of course. Although as more people arrived, a few princesses and aliens popped up. It was a nighttime run on an unlighted course so we all had headlamps.

Here’s a picture of me that my friend, Steve, took.

skittles-nightmareI call it the Skittles Nightmare. Now, in my defense, it was unusually hot and that wig made my head sweat. It hasn’t seen that much hair since I turned 40. The red nose made me sound like Rosie O’Donnell and I couldn’t breath with it, so that disappeared. As for the look on my face… don’t know what to tell you… it’s a cyclops clown with a five o’clock shadow who just ate a lemon.

Needless to say, I did not spread laughter and cheer wherever I went. Women gasped and little children ran away.

It was dark when we started the race. I was a few steps ahead of Steve and, as we passed through the starting arch, they flashed a strobe light in our eyes just as we ran over the timing sensor bump. I stumbled and looked back to warn Steve but he was already doing the zombie two-step, nearly doing a face plant. I should have given him my rubber nose, I thought.

It was a well set up course with the expected ghosts and ghouls hanging in the trees. The first half mile had a slight incline but after that it was a very pleasant level course. As I said, it was a warm night and I paced myself comfortably. A little boy and his mom were running alongside of me. He wore a black suit with skeleton bones and a skull mask. He yelled something unintelligible through his mask about the heat, then ripped it off and pitched it to the ground taking off like a cheetah, his mom in pursuit.

Around the halfway mark, I came upon a table on the side of the road with a man laying on top and a crazy doctor cutting him in half with a saw. There were some girls near me and we all approached to get a closer look. The patient had a turkey baster or something and squirted us with it. My shorts now had a wet spot, but it was dark so it was ok.

Towards the end there were some Sheriff’s deputies and my first thought was to yell, Don’t arrest me. I’m not one of those creepy clowns. I’m part of the race. But instead, I shone my light in their eyes as I passed. The funny thing is, the bright clown colors attracted bugs. I must have swallowed the equivalent of a trucker’s windshield by the end of the race. Speedy Steve waited at the finish line to cheer me in and a cute little zombie girl handed me a medal. “Don’t eat my brains,” I teased as she inched closer to her mother.

I was looking for the water station as my mouth was coated with wings and legs and, upon finding it, discovered there were no cups left. It was like that milk commercial where the guy finds himself surrounded by delicious cookies and starts chowing down, only to find the milk carton empty and that he has died and gone to hell.

“I have some water in my truck,” Steve offered.

“Oh, I’m ok,” I choked. “I do too. (hack, hack)”

Overall, it was a pretty fun race although $45 is steep for a 5k. I wouldn’t have done it without the Groupon. For the next 5k fun run, I will plan further ahead and get my kids to join me. I thanked Steve and his wife, Cece, for joining me then headed home to my family and a bottle of nut brown home brew.

Tonight I will take my kids trick-or-treating. Parker as an old man. Carson as a Phantom. The clown outfit is nicely tucked away until next year.

This Friday is the Ragnar trail relay and I’ll have a full report after it’s over.

Cool runnings to you, my friends!