In May 2015, Mike did a Wellness Bucket Challenge, and the very last challenge was to sign up for a fitness event. His just so happened to be an item from his bucket list, an ultra-marathon. At that time, we were living in Massachusetts, but were in the process of moving to California, so he signed up for the Catalina 50-mile race in January of 2016.
So, come January, we made our way to the island. This was my first visit to the island and I was pretty excited. I of course did my research and prepared for an awesome weekend catered to Mike for his big race.
Now, with it being “winter” in California, I figured it would be off season; however, I did not expect almost half of the island to be closed. Honestly, the island people were so friendly that it was really pleasant coming in the off-season. However, my itinerary did not work out as planned.
The trip began with our drive to Dana Point to board the Catalina Express ferry. We had some pretty gnarly El Niño storms the week prior, which created ridiculous waves. Needless to say, that was the first time I actually felt nauseous and experienced motion sickness. That felt like the longest 1.5 hour boat ride of my life.
We finally made it to the island and we walked straight to our hotel, Hotel Catalina. We then walked around the island and stopped in a few shops. With not many places open, we decided to grab a bite at a wine shop called CC Gallagher, which had great tapas and wine. As we were making our way back to the hotel, a local stopped us and suggested we go to Bluewater Grill for their happy hour.
To say the least, we had a great time there. The GM, Shawnene, was very friendly and her bartender made some great cocktails (he also let us sample the buffalo milk). After visiting with a part-time local – we ended up spending the majority of our evening there. Our intentions were to go to Maggie’s Blue Rose for dinner; however, as soon as we walked up, the doors were closing. So, we ended up going to the Lobster Trap. I’m not sure if it was the late night menu or if we were just a little turned off from the fact that we got turned down at Maggie’s; but we were not a fan of the food or service.
However, Friday was a new day. I was up to catch the beautiful sunrise over Dana Point from my hotel window. We grabbed some pastries and coffee from the Catalina Coffee and Cookie; and this became our regular morning spot.
As the afternoon approached, we went on a four mile jog around the island. Although the island is fairly large, we ran into a few dead ends and had to make a couple circles for the mileage work. Nevertheless, the island and views were magnificent.
Here is where the planned itinerary also took a turn. We intended to go to an early dinner at Villa Portofino; however, they were closed for the season. So, we had to make alternative plans. And before we left for dinner, I double checked the movie time, and for the week prior – the theatre was advertising “Joy” and when I checked the day of, they decided to play “Daddy’s Home”. Although a comedy is always on the top of my list, we weren’t in the mood and decided to skip it. (the theater only plays one movie).
We walked over to the hotel where they had the race sign-in and a short FAQ. After grabbing his gear we headed straight to dinner. Our second option for dinner was the very popular, Antonio’s. This place has an “original” location and another by the water. Due to off-season, the original location was only open. We only had about a 20 minute wait (as you can imagine all of the runners were wanting this place for fuel), and were soon served a pizza and pasta plate with wine, of course.
After our delicious meal, it was still fairly early, so we walked around for a bit and ran across this small arcade, so we got some tokens for the island style bowling. It’s identical to tenpin, just smaller. That was a first for me, and I absolutely loved it (probably because I won). 🙂
After a bit of fun, we decided to call it an early night (due to the race the next morning). I was a bit tired; however, Mike found enough energy to look up possible encounters with buffalo which kept him up all night. Womp womp.
Saturday morning came quick with the race beginning at 5 AM. As we made our way down to the starting “line” – you could feel the energy around us. So many runners, all excited and nervous. There wasn’t much of a countdown or a gun shot for the starting time; but as soon as 5 AM hit, the head lamps were turned on and the runners were off.
I headed back to the room thinking I would take a nap, however, that was not the case. I think I was pretty nervous for Mike. What was he thinking? Was he doing ok? Did he see a buffalo yet? So, I decided to work on a few things, and before you knew it – it was almost time for him to finish the race!
Now, we didn’t know if he would have cell service or not, so we designated a time for me to be there. I showed up a little early and went back to the wine café to pick up a salad and sandwich to go. (As I talked to a local – born and raised – he did confirm what a few others had said – the place to eat, when in season, is Mr. Ning’s (chinese); who would’ve thought). While I was there, I picked up a “high five” card and a giant cookie as a small congrats for Mike.
I made my way back to the finish line to wait impatiently for his return after 10 hours. I waited almost an hour before I received a text saying that he had four miles to go. There were many runners still completing the race, so it was fun being within the energy and cheering on those still coming in.
Finally, Mike was on the home stretch. It was so hard to try and hold two cameras while he was running in. I wanted to yell and scream at the top of my lungs when he crossed that line! What an amazing and emotional accomplishment! He did it. I could not be more proud of him. He has provided so much inspiration to others, not only by this race, but also the work he does through The Wellness Bucket.
After a couple pictures and a handful of M&M’s, I knew he could barely walk. However, a couple friends that had participated in the race before advised that he take a dip in the ocean (freezing water) to support muscle recovery. So, as instructed, he headed to the water and took a “to the knees” dip.
After that, it was a slow walk to the hotel and up the stairs to the room. After some stretching and a small bite to eat; it was time to relax. We planned on dinner, however, Mike’s body had a different schedule. After a small power nap, we decided to enjoy dinner at Steve’s Steakhouse. This wasn’t planned either, however, it was the running machines choice and it was a mighty fine one. Our view was overlooking downtown Avalon and the harbor. After dinner, it was an early and well deserved night of rest.
Sunday approached quickly and we had all intentions of using our hotel hot tub for recovery. However, maintenance was refilling the tub and advised we wait 30 minutes for it to be filled and warm back up. We had our hesitations, but decided to give it time. We checked on it a bit later and were given the same story. So, we decided to head down to the dock to travel back to Dana Point. The trip back was much more enjoyable.
Overall, Catalina Island was a success, despite the fact that not one item on the itinerary worked out. I am looking forward to going back during their busy season where all of the shops are open and to explore the island a bit more.
If you have visited Catalina Island, I would love some suggestions for my next trip!