Adventure Race (pt 2)

As we turned the corner on the way to the canoe ramp, we decided to take refuge at the gas station on the corner.  We picked up some provisions (Sports drinks, Combos, etc.) and used the bathroom.  While I was standing around waiting on my team to finish up a guy walked up to me.  "Are you in the race?"  "Yes, why?" "Well, turns out it's taking the lead teams longer than they thought to finish up the canoe section.  They decided to not let anyone else start the section after 6:45pm."  It was 6:50, we had just missed it.  On the plus side, not finishing the canoe section didn't count against our officially finishing the race.  And we got bussed to the take-out location to start the next section.  On the negative side, this was the one section of the race I was really looking forward to doing.

As we waited for the bus we chatted with a couple other teams.  We also ate our Combos.  Frankly, they were the best Combos I've ever had in my life.  After over six hours of moving, the combination of pretzel and pizza flavored filling was heavenly.  We talked about how amazing they were for the rest of the race.

We arrived at the take-out site greeted with quizzical looks from the teams who actually did the canoe section.  The next part of the race was orienteering and bushwhacking.  Stephen was a great help with this section.  Mad props to his land navigation skills!  Instead of taking a long way around this hill to get to the ridge, we climbed straight up.  This was a bit taxing on my already tired self.  I was really impressed that we found the check point at the top of the ridge.  We then had to bushwhack through blackberry bushes. Good thing we all had long pants to put on for this area.

As the sun went down we saw an amazing sunset.  It was time to break out the headlamps.  My Princeton Tech has an amazing ability to produce daylight.  One section went walked through was covered by about a foot of leaves.  It reminded me of walking through snow.

After a couple hours we found ourselves in what looked to be someone's private property.  This was a bit disturbing because we were pretty sure someone was going to come out of the house and shoot at us.  After we found our way off the property we saw the sign that said, "Private land designated for public use."  Whew.  That was a relief to know, but information we could have used a half mile earlier!

We ended up walking down a road for about an hour before we arrived at the beginning of the last section.  They had moved out bikes from the drop off to this new location.  We decided to take a 10 minute break before we jumped on our bikes and headed off.  It was around 2am at this point.  This may not have been the brightest idea.

To be continued...

24 Hour Adventure Race (pt 1)

70-90 miles.  Paddling, running, biking, and bushwhacking.  24 hours.  What the crap was I thinking?!?!  I'm not sure what delusional frame of mind I was in when I agreed to join a four person team for a 24 hour adventure race.  A race that was taking place in the Blue Ridge Mountains for West Virginia.  Training for those conditions in Orlando was going to be a bit of a challenge.  And I would find out very early into the race that I was not prepared.  Unfortunately, this realization came in hour one.  We completed the race another 18 hours later.

Our four person team met in Annapolis, MD.  Two of us flew in from out of state, the other two were from the Naval Academy.  The first day was spent searching for bikes.  Since two of us flew in, we didn't come with mountain bikes.  We borrowed one bike from a crazy adventure racing guru USNA student and another one from student none of us knew.  The other two people had their own bikes.  One of those bikes was made overseas and the brake system was backwards from a US bike.  This wouldn't have been a problem expect the owner didn't ride it.  He rode another bike.  This caused for a couple braking, bike flipping issues on the trail.  We had two bike riders using brake systems that were opposite to what they were used to.

After driving around town and gathering the bikes we headed out to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The drive was a bit tight.  Two of us were sharing the back seat with a couple front bike tires and other random race stuff.  We arrived at our hotel in the late evening, repacked our gear for the race and went to bed.

The next morning we went to the lobby to have our pre-race breakfast.  It was a bit difficult trying to eat with the race nerves building.  I believe I slowly ate a bagel and some cereal.   Soon we were packed back in the car and headed off to the race.

The race was sponsored by Odyssey Adventure Racing.  If you are unfamiliar with adventure racing, the length varies from a few hours to a few days long.  They usually include several different activities.  The race is not marked out, that's the adventure part.  When you check in for the race you show them all the required gear and get your map and coordinates.  The next thing you do is take your map and mark out the checkpoints.  The purpose of the race is not only to finish in a decent time, but also to hit each checkpoint along the way.

****As a side note.  I'm not sure how we managed to get past the gear check-in with our bike repair kit.  I'm not sure we had  anything we needed, or could use.  We definitely would have been finished if any of our tires blew out because we brought no spares.  And frankly, none of us knew how to repair a bike if a chain broke, tire blew, etc.  Oh yea, we were totally prepared for this race.  Not to mention one of the bikes already had issues.  The front tire was losing air throughout the race.  We pumped it back up at least three different times.*****

The first part of the race consisted of a run to spread out the teams.  Then it was on to the first biking section.  That section lasted approximately 5-6 hours.  We only got lost by about a mile.  This was impressive since we ran into some 'experienced' adventure racers who got 15 miles off course.  And we found a bunch of ripe blackberry bushes.  At one point we passed a group who were fixing a chain.  They gave us some good advice, "as long as you are moving forward, you are going in the right direction."

At one point in this section the rest of my team had gotten ahead of me (this happened most of the race actually).  I was going down a section that had a switchback on it.  When I turned the corner my bike flipped over me.  I laid there for a moment, realized my team was out of shouting distance for help, and I really hurt my pride more than my body.  So, I got up, got back on my bike and continued to ride.

Some time during the biking section I pulled my upper left calf.  I concluded this happened because I was resting on that leg during the downhills and it was putting a ton of strain on it.  This happened about 2.5 hours into the race.  Probably not a great idea to continue for another 17 hours, but I wasn't going to let down my team.  Plus, I paid $175 to run this race and I was going to finish it!

At the end of the first biking section we had to run about 2 miles to the paddling.  Along the way we stopped by a Trail Angel's house.  Trail Angels are folks who take care of people hiking the Appalachian Trail.  She was really excited to see us and let us fill up our hydration packs.  She was disappointed that she didn't know about the race, or she would have put up a tent and had refreshments for the racers.  God bless her!

After leaving her house we ran to the pier for the canoe section.  We were not prepared for the surprise waiting for us there.

To be continued.....

Praying My Way to Hawaii

In the fall of 2000 I found myself living in what was once a bustling coal town.  Doesn't sound appealing yet?  What if I told you I woke up one morning to find that my room smelled.  I left my room to discover that the whole house smelled.  After breakfast I left the house to find out that the entire town smelled.  I also lived close enough to the Ohio river that I could both see and hear the dynamite blasts from a hill in West Virginia.  If these descriptions haven't sold you on the amazing beauty of Steubenville, Ohio I'm not surprised.  I felt the same way.  And that's why I needed to get to Hawaii in October.

My sister and her family were currently living in Okinawa, Japan.  That fall, my parents and I decided to meet them in Hawaii for a vacation.  Since the weather in Ohio had been cold and dreary since late August, this trip was the highlight of my fall.  I had talked to some friends from school about getting a ride to the airport.  They agreed to pick me up at 5:45am and drive me to the Pittsburgh airport.  It's about a 45 minute drive.

The morning of the trip arrived and there I stood in front of the house, in the freezing cold, waiting.  I waited for about 30 minutes.  At this point I had to make a decision.  Should I continue to wait or jump in my truck and park in long term parking.  My flight was to leave just after 7am.  Giving up hope that my friends would show, I jumped in my truck and hauled it to Pittsburgh.  I later found out that all my friends slept through their alarms.

On my drive to the airport my truck kept making a strange vibration.  I would later find out this was a combination of my fuel pump going out and a leak in my transmission fluid line.  At the time it was just known as the mystery problem that could possibly hinder my trip to Hawaii.  This was my first bout of intense prayer for this trip.

I pulled into the airport with a limping truck and ran through the terminal.  Good thing the Pittsburgh airport isn't very big.  I got on my plane with minutes to spare.  After sitting down and getting situated in my seat I felt a huge sigh of relief.  I was on my way to Hawaii and leaving Ohio far behind for a few days.  Then the next glitch happened.

From the cockpit the pilot announced that they were having trouble with one of the engines.  The mechanics were going to look at it, but it may mean delaying the flight.  "NO!! This can't happen.  I need to get to Hawaii!"  After the initial shock ran through my body and I started to get really sad, I began praying once again.  Ten minutes later the pilot came back over the speakers and said they fixed the problem and we would be leaving shortly.  Whew!  I'm not sure how many more moments like this my nervous system could take, but I was glad to be up in the air.  Off to Houston, TX for my layover.

The layover was long enough in Houston that I wasn't rushed to the next plane.  Finally, I was one plane ride away from Hawaii and I was already many hours away from Ohio.  The plane loaded and tookoff without a hitch.  Then, when we were in the air for about 30 minutes the announcement came.  This time the problem dealt with air pressure.  The pilot announced that, "We are having trouble stabilizing the air pressure in the airplane.  We are working to get it fixed, but if we can't we will have to turn the plane around and return to Houston."  "Oh no!  I need to get to Hawaii.  We can't turn around!"  I believe I actually hoped we'd get far enough from Texas that it would make more sense to continue to Hawaii instead of turning around.

And once again I was asking for a little help from God.  And once again after about 10 minutes of praying, the pilot announced the problem had been corrected and we were continuing to Hawaii.  Finally, I could go to sleep and dream of a warm beach that was far, far away from the bleak blandness of the Ohio valley.  And six hours later I safely landed in Hawaii.

ENO River State Park

Last weekend a friend and I decided to try the primitive camping at ENO River State Park.  It's on the north side of Durham, NC.  Actually, I few weeks prior I volunteered at a Mountains to Sea Trail workday.  We were helping build a new section of the MST in the ENO River State Park.  I got two really nice volunteer shirts which I can use on future outdoor trips because they are both polyester blends.

We headed out to the park on Friday morning after a solid visit to the local coffee shop for breakfast.  When we got to the park we registered for our campsite and headed out.  We had brought a few pieces of firewood with us since the camp sites, though "primitive" had fire rings.  When we got there we found they already have a wood pile set-up for all the sites.  It was just over a mile to the campsites.  They were nice, only five in the area.  Each one had a tent pad and a pad with a fire ring and bench.  Apparently, in a high traffic state park, primitive camping really just means you have to hike out to the spot and there's an outhouse.

We set up camp so we didn't have to worry about it after we were done hiking.  I was going to try out my new ENO hammock (no relation to the park), and headed out on a hike.  The campsite was in the western section of the park, near Few's Ford trail.  Off of that trail we hoped on the Cox Mountain Trail.  That trail looped back to the camping area.  We noticed a bunch of people on a trail across the river (Buckquarter Creek Trail) and wanted to check it out.  Since we had seen a few possible crossing spots, we decided to cross the river near the campsite instead of walking all the way back to the hanging bridge we crossed earlier in the day.

This turned out to be a mini "trust activity."  About 3/4 across the river there were two rocks just far enough away from each other to cause a balance problem.  Yes, both of us would have been fine if we got wet, but that's not a challenge.  Combining our extensive knowledge of challenge course activities, from years of summer camps and college club outings, we came up with a plan.  My friend would cross first and I'd act like a balance for her.  This could have been disastrous since I wasn't exactly balanced when she grabbed my hand and stepped forward.  Luckily I got myself collected and no one got wet.

Once we were across the river and walking on the next trail we had a debrief of the activity.  We both joked that it was a good thing we had a trust activity planned so earlier in the camping trip, now we could really trust the other person.  We walked another 4-5 miles on that side of the river before calling it a day.  We found an easier section to cross back over a little ways down the path.

At one point on the walk we came to a low hanging branch.  I stopped and looked at it.  My friend goes, "I was just thinking of doing that...."  and then stopped as I put my water bottle down, grabbed the branch, and flipped upside down.  "Ok," she said, "I wasn't thinking that. I was going to do a pull-up."  I looked at her while still hanging, "Nope, I just wanted to see the world from this angle."

That evening we hung out by the fire and ate dinner.  At one point we both commented on the vast amount of acorns that were falling from the trees and yet none had hit either of us yet.  Had this fear of getting pelted in the head while I slept, and dealing with ticks the next day, not been looming in my mind, sleeping out under the stars would have been great.  Instead, we both retired to our respective outdoor shelters for the night.

My hammock worked great.  The only problem is that in the future I need to get the correct tarp for it instead of using my tent rainfly.  Needless to say, ENO River is a great little escape for a weekend trip close to Raleigh/Durham.

Wagon Wheel and the Mobile Delta

September 2008 I drove to Fairhope, Alabama to go on New Staff Training for Outward Bound Discovery.  It was a nine day expedition style training that had us paddling somewhere around/near/in the Mobile delta.  Most of the trip can be captured in one word, "mosquitoes."  There were lots and lots of mosquitoes.  In fact, for a couple nights I just slept in my rain gear.  It was the best way to prevent myself from being eaten alive in my tent.  It didn't matter how fast you zipped and unzipped the door, they got in.  Ah, but that's a story for another post.  This post is about a very long paddle.

Our group was placed on "Final" the last night on the river.  Our trainers said "good-bye" and paddled off into the dark of night.  We'd see them again at the takeout spot.  Unfortunately, the person assigned as navigator that night was blind as a bat after the sun went down.  We had about 15 miles to cover.  All we had to do was get to the takeout by 8am the next morning.  It was around 10:30pm when our trainers left us with an inspiring note to help us along the way.

We had barely slept the day before.  Most of us were running on about four hours of sleep or less.  And we had already covered over 30 miles in the past thirty-six hours.  We also had one trainee who had hurt his back.  In lieu of this we made "power cats" with our canoes.  This basically means you strap two canoes together.  That way we could operate with three paddlers for each power cat.  We figured we'd keep that up until people got really tired and then we would make a raft.

There were a couple funny moments just prior to our decision to become a raft.  One of our guys had fallen asleep while paddling.  This did not stop him from paddling, mind you.  Several of us used this as amusement for quite some time.  We were able to coach him enough so that he would still paddle in his sleep.  We even came up with a chant for him, "Put your paddle in the water and pull."  Every so often we'd have to remind him to get the paddle in the water.  At one point he tried to argue with us that he wasn't asleep.

Finally more people were getting tired and falling asleep.  Unlike our sleep paddling friend, they weren't able to multi-task.  We pulled all six canoes together and rafted up.  In this formation we only needed four people awake at one time.  Everyone else could sleep.  The idea was that we'd trade off every so often as people needed a break.  Two of us ended up staying up the whole night paddling.  Ok, I didn't paddle for thirty minutes, but I spent that time keeping the other all-night paddler awake by chatting with him.

It was amazing how you can just get into a rhythm paddling and forget you are tired.  We rotated sides of the raft to switch arms a couple times, but besides that it just became very mechanical and meditative.  It was a beautiful clear September night in lower Alabama.  Orion was rising in the eastern sky.  

At one point in the night one of the non-paddlers started singing Wagon Wheel.  It seemed an appropriate genre of song for a paddle down the delta.

Headed down south to the land of the pines
And I'm thumbin' my way into North Caroline
Starin' up the road
And pray to God I see headlights

I made it down the coast in seventeen hours
Pickin' me a bouquet of dogwood flowers
And I'm a hopin' for Raleigh
I can see my baby tonight

And after a long nights paddle we arrived at our takeout two hours early!  We were all hoping to take a nice nap at the dock while we waited for 8am to arrive, but our trainers were there waiting.  Fine, I've had four hours of sleep in the past 48 hours, what's a few more before a nap?  Before we left the dock, our instructors gave us beads to pass out to another member of our team.  We were supposed to give it to someone and then say something about what they did to help the team during our Final paddle (or something like was early in the morning and I was tired).  I still wear mine on my necklace. It reminds me of a great night of paddling, of a brief escape from the craziness of life, and of some great people I was blessed to travel with.

After the bead ceremony we loaded up our gear and boats on the trailer and headed back to base.  After gear clean-up we were given time for lunch.  Most people ate really quick and then found a place to nap.  To a visitor the base must have looked like a war zone.  There were people crashed out in the front and back lawn of the base.  We had just laid down in the grass an fallen asleep.  It was one of the best naps I've had in a long time.

(Serious Finger!)

Finding a Place to Stay

In 2005 I went to World Youth Day in Germany.  I took a couple students from the Orlando Diocese with me.  This was their first trips overseas so I gave them the sage advice to keep one day's worth of stuff in the carry-on.  It turned out to have been a good idea since the baggage handlers were going on strike at the Heathrow airport in England.  This wouldn't have been an issue if that wasn't one of our connecting airports.  We realized that our luggage was held hostage in England for at least another day.  Lufthansa airlines gave us each a lovely overnight bag with an XL white shirt, toothbrush/paste, and hairbrush.  With our carry-ons and supplies from the airline we headed to the train station to catch a ride into Cologne.

We arrived in Cologne after a short train ride.  Our next destination was the check-in building at the World Youth Day headquarters.  After a long wait in line, we got ourselves registered and collected all the necessary paperwork.  They told us the name and location of our sponsoring parish and sent us on our way.  We navigated the public transit as well as could be expected for our first tour around town.  And after a few wrong turns we found our parish.  This is where we ran into our first problem.  The church appeared to be locked.  I remember when I went to WYD in Toronto a few years prior, they had a welcoming committee at the church.  Finding this one closed was a bit of a shock.

We walked around the church for about 10 minutes.  We tried all the doors and knocked on the windows.  Finally a priest came to one of the doors.  Oh good, we aren't going to have to sleep outside tonight!  After introductions, I explained who we were and that this was supposed to be our host parish.  The priest gave a quizzical look and explained that the WYD committee never gave him names of people who were coming, so he assumed they were not getting any pilgrims.  He had also sent back all the backpacks that were sent to the church.  This was a problem since the backpacks contained much needed maps, our public transit access cards, and schedules among other things.  Also because they didn't think they were getting any pilgrims, there were no families waiting for people.

He said they had people volunteer to help house pilgrims, so he was going to call a couple of those houses to see if he could find us a place to stay.  While he was doing that we decided to take the subway back to the check-in to get ourselves WYD backpacks.  That was a chore.  The volunteers were having a hard time understanding our predicament.  After explaining myself to about five different people, we were finally given backpacks.  We took our backpacks and headed back to the parish to see if we had a place to sleep that night.

***I can't remember when this happened sequentially, but at some point we were told to look for a place to stay at the volunteer housing.  When we got there we were informed that we couldn't stay there because we weren't volunteers and they didn't have any more room.  Great.  Homeless in Germany.***

The priest had gotten a hold of two families in the parish.  He found one house for the guy in our group, and one house for us ladies.  The guy was going to a house that apparently didn't speak any English.  The other two of us followed a very nice German lady, a professor, back to her house.  I had a "why yes, I am an American" moment.  We left the church and the lady said, "It's only five minutes to the house."  My brain automatically thought in terms of a five minute drive.  I quickly realized as we walked a few blocks that there was no car involved in this five minute trip.

Shortly after we got settled into the house there was a phone call from the guy in our group. "Sarah, I can't stay here.  These people don't speak English and they are just starring at me!  It's really weird."  I talked with our hostess and explained the situation, that it was ok if we all stayed in the same house, and that he really didn't feel comfortable where he was staying.  She called the family and then explain that to them.  I'm not sure any of them, our hostess or the other family, really understood what the problem was, but he came to our house and stayed there the rest of the week.

Oh, and the luggage, we got that the next day.

Getting Locked In the Car

Last spring I went to visit a friend of mine in California.  She plays on a pro team out there, so every morning she had practice.  One morning I was going to go watch.  I rode in with her and a couple teammates.  We got to the field and they headed off to the locker room.  As a normal routine she took the car keys with her and left them in the locker room across the street from the practice field.  I stayed in the car and waited for her to get back so I could walk with her to the field.

When I saw her returning I opened the door and the alarm started going off.  "Crap, what to do?!?!"  She didn't have the keys, and going back to the locker room would have made her late for practice.  I got back in the car and started pressing all the buttons I could find.  After about tens seconds the alarm stopped.  Unfortunately, it stopped right when I pushed a button.  I thought I'd figured out the trick.  By this point she was already walking towards the field and getting ready to be out of site.  Since she didn't motion for me to catch up with her, I just stayed at the car.

I sat in the car for some time before I was just really really bored.  Then I remembered I had my backpack with a couple books in the trunk.  Thinking I had turned off the alarm I pressed the trunk release button to get my backpack.  As soon as I did the alarm started going off again.  Well, I did grab my backpack and quickly got back in the car to try pushing buttons again.  I'm not sure why, but I also decided to close the door.  Again, after pushing buttons and closing the door the alarm stopped.  I was really nervous that it wouldn't stop and my friend would be hearing her alarm sounding during practice and get mad at me.

There I was, stuck inside the car.  Not knowing if I opened the door if I would be able to make the alarm stop again.  The car was pretty cool when we first arrived.  As I sat there in the closed vehicle it started to get hotter and hotter.  I started to get more and more anxious about the whole situation.  Good thing I had a water bottle with some water in it.

After about 45 minutes of being in the car, I couldn't take it anymore.  Sweat was dripping down my forehead.  I was feeling claustrophobic.  That was it.  I opened the door.  The alarm sounded.  It turned off in about 10 secs and I finally figured out that it would all by itself.  That's a really long time when alarms are involved.  Fresh air never felt so good in my life!  I ended up calling a friend while I waited for practice to end.

When my friend walked up I recounted the events of the previous two hours.  She wondered why I didn't follow her into practice, but promised the next day she'd leave me the keys.

Camping Trial Run

Early this year I visited my sister and family in southern California.  I was planning on taking my nieces on a camping trip while I was out there.  The camping/hiking trip was modified since I didn't bring all of my gear and didn't get the time to plan out a trip.  Instead we stayed at a local RV campground for a night.  This turned out to be a great idea, since I was able to quickly determine which of my nieces was up for the challenge of a 2-3 day trip hiking, and which one would rather be at home on her computer with the modern convenience of the microwave to cook food.

We set up camp and then walked around the complex.  Next to our campsite was a cow farm.  Yes, a thousand happy California cows were grazing next door.  In addition, they were creating an unpleasant aroma in the air that gave me flashbacks to going to the county fair as a child.

We had brought hotdogs to make for dinner over the fire.  The girls both gave a try at cooking their hotdogs.  And both of them ended up with burnt hotdogs that were cold inside.  After I finished cooking mine and explained that mine was just fine, they had me make their next ones.  We had a fire making clinic after dinner.  Mine was going just fine, but they both had a little trouble with theirs.  One of my nieces was able to keep a decent fire with a little work.  The other one decided the best way to fix fire problems was to start over each time the flame died by scattering the wood.  Her fire never stayed burning for more than about 3 minutes at a time.

The next morning I woke up to see the older sister sitting up shivering.  We had a big tent and she decided to sleep by herself on the other side.  I asked if she was ok, and she explained she hardly slept because she was so cold.  I explained that I had two long-sleeve shirts next to my sleeping bag that she could have used.  Her response was, "I didn't know you had those."  I then asked why she didn't just come over to our side of the tent and sleep next to us.  "There was no room."  This made little sense since I slept in a two person sleeping bag.  I looked at my other niece who had slept next to me and asked if she was cold last night.  Her reply? "Nope, actually I had to pull up my pant legs because I got too warm."  Now, part of this was probably exaggerated in order to aggravate her older sister.

We brought poptarts for breakfast.  The older sister said in shock, "We don't have a microwave.  How are we supposed to heat them up?"  "We can heat them over the fire," was my reply.  Well, her's ended up warm and burnt on the edges.  They didn't taste like they do from the microwave, so she refused to eat them.  I tasted them and told her there was nothing wrong with them.  After her sister and I warmed ours up, her sister gave her one from her pack.  I was less compassionate towards the situation.  Natural consequences: the poptarts were fine, she refused to eat them, I'm not sharing mine.  

After the whole event was over, I was glad I had gotten a trial run camping with my nieces.  I found out that the older one was not interested in this tent camping thing.  The younger one was ready for my next trip out to visit so we can take off hiking.  Hopefully, I'll get that trip in next spring.

The Start of "In Tents" Adventures

The summer of 2007 I got it in my head to take one of my three day weekends and go rafting.  I convinced a couple friends and one of my nieces to join the adventure.  I use the word "convince" very loosely, since most of them didn't need much persuasion.  We left on Friday morning and headed up near Bryson City, NC.  We had a reservation at a campground about a mile from the NOC.  It was a really nice campground and the people there were friendly.  The first night we experienced sport overload.  The campground had a patch of grass about 30 yards by 30 yards.  They had a basketball hoop, a swing set, and a volleyball net.  People were engaged in all these activities.  We started playing frisbee in the free space.  Added to that was a couple dogs who were running around.  Yep, it was an organized chaos of activity.

The next morning we headed to a local rafting outfitter to rent our raft so we could run the Nantahala.  One of my friends had run the Nantahala a hundred times by kayak, so he was going to be our guide.  This made the rental much cheaper for all of us.  Shortly after we hit the water, I was questioning this decision since several times he ran from the back to the front of the boat and flipped into the water.  Last I checked it was helpful if the guide stayed in the boat.    Luckily it's not a difficult river.

That afternoon we grabbed lunch and then packed into a car to drive to the Ocoee.  We were running the middle Ocoee that afternoon.  On the way to Tenn someone in the car mentioned that this trip was intense.  To which another person replied, "As opposed to cabins?"  Several people laughed after a brief pause, but my friend who had made the intense comment didn't get it.  About halfway in the drive he shouted, "I get it!  In tents, instead of cabins.  Oh, that's funny."  And at that moment "In Tents" adventures was born.  The joke was funny all weekend.  Really, it didn't grow old at all.

The next morning a few of us were up early and sitting around the fire.  Someone suggested it would be fun to try and have an entire conversation using only song lyrics.  This started a hilarious conversation that lasted about 30 minutes.  This is a prime example of why I enjoy my guy friends.  They are easily entertained, which is nice to join in on.

We were going to run the Pigeon that morning, but it wasn't running.  Instead we headed back to the Nantahala.  This time we ran it in kayaks and duckies (inflatable kayaks).  I ran it in a kayak.  It's a whole different river in a kayak than a raft.  My blood pressure rose to about 230 after the first rapid.  Needless to say, I did not run the last class 3 rapid at the end.  At some point I'd love to learn to whitewater canoe.

After running the Nantahala on Sunday, we ate lunch and all parted ways.  The group I traveled with from Florida was back in town about midnight.  So, in 72 hours we drove to NC and back, ran three rivers, and altogether had a great time.  There was no "In Tents" in 2008, but a group did get together in 2009 for another trip.  I've already posted a few stories from that trip.

Plans for "In Tents 2010" include running the Cheoah and doing some more camping.

Camping at Black Balsam

I'd been chaperoning the senior class trip at the school I worked at for two years.  It reminded me of a choose your own adventure book.  Every morning they would give us options for different hikes, canoe trips, and climbing.  There were usually about three options in the morning and a few more in the afternoon.  One night of the trip you could opt to sleep out on Black Balsam.  The elevation is about 6,000 ft.  No tents, just sleeping bags and ensolite mats.  I think they kept letting me chaperone because I loved this part of the trip and the other female chaperones could stay back in the warm cabin.  It was interesting how unprepared some of these students were for the trip.  It was much colder and winder than most expected.

The first year we camped up there, a group of girls thought they could get the group to leave if they screamed enough.  So, about every three hours they would start yelling and complaining, etc.  Luckily, our guides were used to this and were not effected by the silliness of these students.  We didn't leave until the morning.

The next year a student came just because she knew that there was about five minutes on the drive where she would have phone service.  In the middle of the night I woke up to hear her sobbing because she was cold and couldn't sleep and didn't want to be there.  Since there was nothing I could do to help her situation, I just turned up the volume on my iPod and went back to sleep.

The last year I was there we weren't able to sleep on top of the mountain because it was raining.  This was disappointing for me since I thought I'd finally figured out how to make it all night without getting cold.  The first year it was really windy and I brought my shorter sleeping bag, so wind kept getting in.  The next year the only thing that got cold were my feet.  And the third year I wasn't able to face the mountain, so I don't know if my revised plans were going to work.

Anyone want to take a trip to Black Balsam?  I have some unfinished business with it.

Camping in the Smoky Mt. (pt 2)

Great, the campsite was closed.  Now what are we going to do?  When in doubt, pull out the handy dandy map.  We decided to travel about 10 miles down Hwy 32 to another campground.  All the primitive sites were going to be too far for one of my friends to hike out in the morning because she needed to get to work.  We sucked it up and headed for a normal campground.  The map doesn't do Hwy 32 justice.  That's a really curvy road.  My arms were getting a workout for those 10 miles.  Towards the beginning of the road we passed the painting truck laying fresh yellow paint on the center lines.  Apparently the truck driving told my friend in the car ahead of me to not touch the yellow lines.  I thought he was just telling her to slow down.  She grew up driving mountain roads, so she tends to go a bit faster than me.

I quickly figured out not to touch the yellow lines.  Let's just say the road has my tire marks painted on it, and I have splashed yellow paint on the bottom of my truck.  Farther down the road we found evidence of someone who was having too much fun crossing over the lines.  There were tire marks all over the place.

When we arrived at the campground I went to register a site.  One of my friends ran into the park rangers.  They informed us 1) to set up camp and then register and 2) to keep all food items (including toothpaste) in our cars.  They had a bear sighting earlier that day.  The primitive camp (#37), who's trailhead started at the campground, was also closed because of bears.  Even though it was a regular campground, it was rather small.  It only had nine campsites.  A river ran right next to it.

The next morning we tore down camp and tried to figure out if we were all going to be able to hike to the Moose Creek waterfall.  Unfortunately, it wasn't going to work.  My friend of TN left us to get back to work and we went in search of the Moose Creek trailhead.  It was an easy hike.  The waterfall was only two miles in.  Again, because of the rain two days earlier, the waterfall and creek were moving fast.

After the hike we hoped in the car and headed back to Raleigh. It was a fun birthday weekend.

Camping in the Smoky Mt. (pt 1)

This past weekend I traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to go camping/hiking.  A friend and I headed out from Raleigh on Saturday.  We were meeting up with another friend who lives in Tennessee.  The weather forecast was not looking promising for Saturday night.  There was a cold front coming through and it was being ushered in by thunderstorms.  It looked like it was going to be a wet night camping.

During the drive, the friend in Tenn called and said her parents had offered their mountain cabin for the night.  It would add another hour to the drive and put us near Pigeon Forge, TN.  After reviewing the radar and discussing the options, I was told to make the decision.  In spite of my plan to hike out and camp that night, I opted to get my butt kicked again at pool at the cabin.  Yep, I lost 4-2.  This has been an ongoing quest to finally beat my friend in pool.  She's many games ahead of me right now.  It all started with a fun trip earlier in the year where we had our own version of the Olympics (air hockey, bowling, pool, darts, mini-golf, arcade basketball, skee ball).  I won overall, but she consistently schools me at pool.  To my defense, games 2 and 3 this past weekend were lost due to my own inabilities.  I scratched on the break and then hit the eight ball in too early.

While we were playing pool and watching Auburn beat Ball State (I had to explain to my friend where Ball State was located since I'm originally from Indiana) our other friend was upstairs making a great hiking resource on her Smoky Mountain map.  She had all these hikes outlined with mileage.  The next morning we discussed where we were going to hike.  Since my Tenn friend had to go to work (apparently they didn't get the email that it was my birthday and she should have the day off) and would be joining us later, we choose an area on the northeast side of the park.

She went to work and we headed to Cosby, TN.  Don't blink or you'll miss the town.  We had planned on camping at site 34, but it was going to be too long of a hike out in the morning.  We also learned that the trail was flooded in a couple spots because of the rain the day before.  Since we weren't camping on the trail we decided to make it the morning/afternoon hike.  There was a waterfall about 3 miles into the trail.

Also because of the rain the streams and waterfalls were really rushing.  I ended up taking a bunch of photos.  After we saw the waterfall on this first hike we kept going to see the campsite we weren't staying at that night.  We hiked about 3/4 mile before the way was flooded.  This wasn't going to deter us, so we split up and tried to find the best way over the water.  Yes, walking through it was an option, but that would be too easy.  My route ended with me stuck.  My hands were on a log and my feet were on dry land about 3 feet back.  I looked over to my friend and explained, "I'm stuck."  Her idea was to use the plants behind me to pull myself back.  This resulted in my left arm slipping into the water and brushing some plant along the way.  This caused my lower left arm to turn red and start burning.  Since I didn't pack any Benadryl (lesson learned) we decided it was best to head back incase it got worse.  In about 10 minutes my arm was covered with bumps.  By the time we got back to the car it was almost cleared up.
We still had a bit of time before our other friend joined us.  With nothing much to do since the other trail was the one we were going to do hike to our campsite, we decided to check out the like in Cosby.  We went into the only bar in town.  My friend was ready to leave quickly after arriving.  I was enjoying the hole-in-the-wall southern experience.  I thought, this must be the stereotypical view that some liberals have of southern Republicans.  It was like being transported back in time.  I think we stayed for about fifteen minutes.  We then decided to run back into Gatlinburg.  That idea was quickly abandoned when we passed a smalltown used bookstore with coffee.  I was compelled to turn around and check this place out.  I didn't get any coffee, but I did leave with a copy of Into the Wild.

Since we spent so much time at the bookstore, when we left we headed back to the hiking parking lot and made dinner.  Once everyone was there we finished prepping our packs and headed out to the trail.  Oh, the plans of mice and men.  Just after the entrance to the trail we were greeted with this sign....

After a good laugh, we came up with plan B.  I'll explain that in the next post.

Confessions of a Humanities Major

When I was in college, my favorite professor said once, "I became a Humanities professor because I like books with pictures in them."  He also told us to go play in traffic after class each Friday.  I'm not really sure how that fits into this story, but I think it's funny.

I started college as an education major with my emphasis on history.  Then I became a history major believing I should spend my time in college learning the material I wanted to teach.  And then I stumbled into a humanities course the spring of my sophomore year and quickly changed my major.  Within the humanities major at Stetson you picked three areas of study.  One of my areas of study was art history.

I took two or three art history courses.  Why they scheduled those classes for 9am is beyond me.  It was early in the morning, and due to the slides we had to watch, the room was dark.  This combination made it difficult to stay awake.  In order to prevent this from happening, I purposely sat in the front row.  I figured that the guilt of falling asleep in the front row would keep me awake.  Honestly, I wasn't bored in the class and it wasn't the professor, it was the environment.  This method worked about 90% of the time.

During grad school I took a 17th century art course.  And that winter I visited Rome.  During our trip we did the obligatory visit to St. Peter's and the Vatican Museum.  As I mentioned in a previous post, it was great to see the statues and paintings I had only seen in books, but really it was way too crowded a place for me.

We went to the Vatican Museum after St. Peter's.  We went from room to room looking at lovely art.  As we passed through each room there was a sign that read, "This way to the Sistine Chapel."  Ah, the one thing I was looking forward to at the museum.  After what seemed like the tenth room, and tenth sign, the whole event was becoming more annoying then exciting.  Finally, we made it to the Sistine Chapel.

**I did not take this photo.**

Here's my confession:  I wasn't impressed.  There was no standing in awe, or moment of breathless wonder at where I was standing.  Frankly, the room was packed with people.  There was a guy yelling at people to be quiet and to not take photos.  The ceiling is really high and I can look at the art in better detail in my books.

Ok, I feel better now :)


The last weekend of World Youth Day events ends with a pilgrimage to the camp area where the Pope will say Mass.  No tents are allowed in the area (rule not followed by some).  There was roughly 300,000 people sleeping out under the stars.  We walked four miles to get to the location.  And there were hundreds of port-a-lets.

At the edges of the area were a bunch of vendors selling everything from food to religious items.  During the week I had thought about getting this really pretty crucifix.  It was on a stand and was gold in color.  It was about 14 inches high.

That night one of the youth decided to go walk around.  He asked if anyone wanted anything.  I gave him $20 and said if he saw the crucifix again to get one for me.  And away he went.  I went to bed.

Early in the morning a rain storm came through.  Not the best way to find out, but my sleeping bag is pretty rain proof.  It just leaked along the zipper.  I slept as long as I could, but at one point my sister woke me up.  "Hey, we've got something for you."  I slowly opened my eyes.  The area was still foggy from the storm and it being around 6am.  As I opened my eyes a gold crucifix started to come into focus.  All I could reply was, "You brought me Jesus?"  I felt like I was in the middle of a Monty Python movie.

Religious Flag

World Youth Day happens each year around the world.  It was started by Pope John Paul II.  Every few years they have a huge gathering of the youth in one country.  In 2002 it was held in Toronto, Canada.  I joined my sister's group that was coming from Okinawa, Japan.  There was a group going from my home diocese, but it was going to cost $1800.  My trip cost about $400.  The difference?  No fancy tour bus and a hotel.  We stayed with a host family and relied on public transit.  I met my sister and the youth she brought at our host church in Misasaga, Canada.  It's a small town outside of Toronto.

The students didn't bring a country flag with them and felt out of place since all these other groups had a flag.  Even though they were all military kids they didn't want to get an American flag since they were coming from Okinawa.  We finally found a Japanese flag and they wrote "Archdiocese for the Military Services."

While walking around the main exhibit area we were approached by a man from Japan.  He inquired about our flag.  Turns out that the Japanese and Vietnam Catholics fly a different country flag when they are at events like this.  It's a way to know they are not enemies with each other.  They have a national flag that's also a religious flag.  The things you learn.

Learning to Dance

While I was in the Dominican we helped paint the church and ran a summer school to help the children get ready for school in the fall.   After four years of French class, I found myself teaching eight year olds Spanish numbers, colors, and vowels.  It was helpful having Sesame Street flash cards.  I'm still not sure why I took French.  At some point I want to take a conversational Spanish class.  It was really funny because with our host family I could say a sentence and not conjugate a single verb and the kids knew what I was saying.  They would then explain what I was trying to say to their parents.  It worked well.

What did not work was trying to ask a question with my mouth full of toothpaste.  Before I started brushing my teeth I forgot to ask where I should spit.  This was hard to do once I had started brushing.  After about five minutes of funny hand motions she figured out what I was asking and took me out back of the house and showed me where to spit.

I learned a lot during the trip.  One fun thing I learned was how to Spanish dance.  The families there didn't take a second thought at clearing out their living rooms so that we could dance.  Oh course, Sister Bernie did end up telling us we couldn't have dance parties every night, these people need to sleep.  I learned how to dance the merengue and the bachata.  And when there are five American girls and ten Dominican guys, you don't get much of a break from dancing.  It was also fun watching the older ladies dance.  They are really good.

Learning About the Poor

During my senior year in high school I signed up for a mission trip through my church to the Dominican Republic.  The Diocese of Orlando has a sister Diocese in the DR.  There are medical trips, habitat for humanity trips, and one trip just for the youth.  I had to fill out an application packet and once accepted I had to attend three retreats to prepare for the trip.  It was a great experience.

The main activity at one of the weekend retreats was to really learn about how people think in third world countries.  What does it really feel like to be poor in one of these countries.  As part of that lesson we had an 18 hour fast.  At the end of the fast, and the end of the weekend, they brought us all in for dinner.  Once we were in the dining room they split us up by a color dot that was on our name tags.  Four people sat at a lovely table with lasagna.  Six people sat at a picnic table with fried chicken.  The rest of us sat on the floor with plain beans and rice.

Sister Bernie explained the rules for the evening.  People at the lasagna table represented the upper class, those at the picnic table were the middle class, and the rest were the poor.  The people at the upper and middle class tables were allowed, one at a time, to come and give the poor some of their food if they so choose.  But the poor were not allowed to go to their tables and eat.  This was even more discouraging since I had recently broke my leg and was trying to find a comfortable way to sit on the floor.  I was rather depressed about this whole situation.  I was hungry and uncomfortable.  No special privileges for the injured.

At the end of the meal Sister Bernie asked those in the poor section why we didn't just get up and eat at the other tables.  To which we answered, "Because you told us that we weren't allowed to."  And her reply, "Exactly, and now you know how the poor feel.  They've been told they aren't allowed and so they don't.  They feel like they are destined to live their whole lives in this situation and it won't, can't change."
That was probably the best exercise I've ever been apart of in learning about poverty.

When we got to the Dominican, Sister Bernie made it clear that we were not allowed to let people call us Americans.  If that happened we were to go introduce ourselves to them.  We are all individuals and need to interact on that level, not on some preconceived notion of what an American is in their head or Dominican is in our head.

God Must Like Chevy's

Last August I went to the Outward Bound base in Yulee, FL to take a Wilderness First Responder course.  Because we were extra folks on base, we were either living off base, or on base in a tent.  All throughout the week we were hearing updates on Tropical Storm Fay and her approach to the Florida shore.  As she was getting closer to shore they started taking precautions around base.  The night TS Fay was going to be crossing the Jacksonville/Yulee area, they had us all take down our tents.  Those of us who had been living in tents that week spent the night in the staff lounge house.

In the middle of the night TS Fay paid us a visit.  You could hear the winds pick up and thunder booming.  Apparently, at some point in the night a tree on base was hit by lightning.  When I woke up the next morning, someone from base asked me, "Are you the owner of the black truck?"  "Yes."  "You're really lucky!"  Then they proceeded to walk me out to my truck where I saw where the lightning hit.  It hit the tree I was parked next to.  And it split the top in half.  One half landed to the side of my truck.  The other half landed behind it.  Not a scratch on my truck.  The Dodge next to me was not so fortunate.  The front end of his truck had a big dent.

A Little Miracle In Ireland

My friends were going to meet me in Shannon.  We all flew in and out of that airport.  My flights went fine from Orlando to Ireland.  Not so for them.  They had a late flight leaving Chicago and their transfer was in Atlanta.  I'll rank airports in another post, but let's just say Atlanta is not on the top of my love list for quick transfers.  My friends ran to their next plane and made it just as the doors were closing.  Unfortunately, their luggage was not so athletic and did not make it on the plane.  They didn't realize this until they arrived in Shannon.  This would have been a more devastating predicament had the newest, and last Harry Potter book not come out that very day.  When I stepped out into the main terminal I saw them at the rental car desk, each with a huge book in hand.

We left the address to our cottage in County Wicklow with the airline, got in our Yaris, and headed east.  It took us a few hours to find our cottage.  First, the Irish don't believe in posting street name signs.  When reading the map, go from town to town, don't bother looking for street names, you'll just get lost and confused.  Once you let go of this ingrained way of driving it's a snap to get around Ireland.  Too bad it took us till almost the end of the trip to learn this trick.

The airline said we should call them in a day and they would give us more details about the luggage.  The gentleman we rented the cabin from was nice enough to call them for us that next day and he said they would be delivering it the following day.  Since we knew nothing was being delivered that first day, we took off and explored County Wicklow.  Did you know there is a beautiful waterfall just south of Dublin?  And sheep will get REALLY close to the edge of the road.

The day for delivery arrived.  We were a bit stomped on how they were going to get ahold of us since we didn't have a phone in the cabin and no international coverage on our phones.  The plan was to hang out all day waiting for the arrival of our luggage.  Once it came we were jumping in the car and heading up to Dublin!  What to do all day?  My friends settled in with their Harry Potter books and I took lots of naps.

By midday we were getting a bit concerned that the luggage had not arrived.  Heidi and I decided we would walk down to the nearest gas station and call the airline.  This was a dangerous task since the gas station was about a mile away down a road with no shoulder and lots of big trucks.  With cat-like reflexes we made it safely to the gas station.  We first tried to find a pay phone outside of the store.  Found one, but it wasn't working.  Guess we'd have to see if they have a phone inside.

The lady at the counter was really nice and let us use the phone.  It was a pay rotary phone.  First time for everything I suppose.  Heidi called the airline, but the call dropped.  Arg!  Not to be dismayed, she called again.  While she was talking to the airline an older gentleman walked into the gas station.  We were at the counter making the phone call and he walked up next to us to get directions.  As we listened in on his conversation, we realized he was looking for our cottage.  He was our baggage guy!!  Heidi quickly hung up the phone and we introduced ourselves as the owners of the luggage.  He explained that he couldn't find the cottage and was about to give up and drive back to Shannon.

We went out to his truck, got the packs out of his car and walked triumphantly back to the cottage.  And that night we headed up to Dublin to celebrate our little miracle.

Welcome to San Jose?

Last spring I made a two for one trip to California.  I spent a week out there.  The first part of the trip was in So Cal visiting my sister and her family.  This was a lot of fun.  I got to watch my nephew play t-ball, take my nieces on a "camping" trip, and zipped around on Molly's pink scooter.  At the end of the visit I flew up to San Jose to visit a friend.  She played pro soccer in San Jose.  My sister and family joined me for my friend's game in LA before I flew north.  The soccer team was getting into San Jose a few hours after me, so I needed to find something to fill the time.

I took a taxi from the airport to what I thought was going to be the closest Starbucks to her apartment.  The taxi pulled into the lot and while he was filling out my credit card slip he kept the meter running.  At the point we pulled into the parking spot the meter was around $16.50.  By the time he was done it had reached $19.10.  Well, I had already decided to give him $20, so it was his loss that he made less of a tip.  I'm not paying for your time running my credit card.

After getting out of the taxi I set up shop in the corner of the Starbucks with my carry-on luggage, backpack and computer bag.  I was going to be there for about three hours.  About 20 minutes after I had settled in, a older gentleman entered the store and sat down at the table next to me.  He had a portfolio of room and building designs.  It was no surprise he turned out to be an architect.  This was good, since he didn't turn out to be a great person for the "San Jose Welcoming Committee."

He spent the next 25 minutes talking to me as he waited for a client to arrive.  In that short time I learned lots of stuff about this man.  Not all of it in sequential order.  These things I learned:  he left New York because of the blacks, he doesn't like San Jose because of the foreign nationals, and he sat down next to me because I was the only white person in the store.  I was stuck between utter shock and bizarre entertainment listening to this man expunge on his extremely racist and bigoted ideologies.  He was a self proclaimed racist.

At some point in the 'conversation' he started talking about the economic situation in the county.  From that portion of the conversation he explained that the main two groups destroying our country are the Jews and the Presbyterians.  Apparently, the Jews run all the banks and the Presbyterians run all the newspapers.  Both are controlling the national through their respective channels.  While I've heard the first accusation before, the second was a new one for me.  Conspiracy theories and Presbyterians aren't usually in the same conversation.

Eventually his client showed up and we parted ways;  me still in shock, and him unaffected by his thirty minute rant.  Welcome to San Jose?

What Country Did You Belong To?

I went to Nairobi, Kenya in 2001 for a soccer mission trip.  We were there for just over two weeks coaching soccer.  It was an awesome experience talking with the people there and really learning about the culture.  (Side rant: it's rather annoying when people speak about Africa as if it's a small nation somewhere on the globe.  Really?  It's a huge continent!!  With hundreds, if not thousands, of different cultures and histories.   Ok, rant over.)  We had chapel every morning before soccer started.  It was a nice way to start the day.

The first Sunday we were there we all attended the church that was sponsoring the morning chapels.  As I was sitting in the church, my eyes started wandering.  I really enjoy looking at the architecture of churches. There is so much said in how they are structured.  I think it's a lost appreciation, or art, in our modern "don't make it look like a church someone might get offended" mentality.  As I started examining the art work, I came across a rather large painting that made me laugh to myself.

I'm sitting in the middle of a church full of Kenyans, they're all black.  The only white people in the church were the four of us.  On the side wall at the front was a painting of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.   And it just so happened that Jesus was a blonde, blue eyed boy.  Wow!  I had no idea.  Frankly, I was pretty sure he was from the Middle East.  This painting would have been great for a game of, "which country was Kenya a territory of in history?"  If you said England, you are a winner!!!

And while the English apparently forgot to take home their completely inaccurate painting of the Holy Family, they also left their love for tea.  The Kenyans have both amazing coffee and tea.  Instead of using water, the folks at this church used hot milk (probably for sanitary/safety reasons, but it made the tea even better).

Best Place to Eat in Rome

My friends and I accidentally started a trend.  When we were in England we ate a lot of Italian food.  Which was great since our next trip was to Italy.  By the end of the trip we decided we should try in each country we visit to eat food from the next country we wanted to travel.  And so, the hunt for Irish food was on when we got to Rome.

By the end of the fourth day we were pretty much done with Italian food.  I like sauce on my pasta.  The Italians do not.  Since I was not going to change the culture, I thought it was a good time to change what I was eating.  One day while we were walking around the Roman Forum area, we decided to take a side street.  This was either an act of divine intervention, or extreme luck.  Either way, we found an Irish restaurant just one block from the main street.  It took us a couple minutes trying to decide if it was open and where the heck the door was located.  Finding the door helped us obtain an answer to the first question.

It was open and it had amazing food.  I ordered a roast beef sandwich.  Ah, the taste was enough to erase all the bad, no sauce, pasta memories from my taste buds.  We ended up going there a couple nights in a row.  In fact, the t-shirt I bought from there was the only souvenir I bought for myself while in Rome.

On one of our visits we decided to play some darts.  It was rather funny because we had to wait on these two guys to finish playing so we could use the house darts.  After their game we got up and took the darts from them.  We were pretty sure they were disappointed at the fact we were waiting on the darts, and not to talk to them.

Don't Trust the Clocks

Or, "This is not a trip of assumptions!"

I had just spent the previous semester studying Seventeenth Century art.  This was great timing since I was now in the mecca of 17th century art: Rome, Italy.  All the paintings and churches I had studied were at my disposal.  And even though I only got a B- in the class, I was the official guide of Bernini and baroque for the trip.  I think I learned more than my grade reflected.  So, I'm not that good at writing an outline of the book as I read.  I was never great at taking notes.  Ok, end rant now.  Moving on...

I really wanted to find the church where the "Ecstasy of St. Theresa" was located.  My traveling buddies were not so excited about this venture.  We decided I would get up early and take the bus to the church and then we would meet up at St. Peter's in the afternoon.  Great idea, yes?

Two things I learned from this endeavor: Santa Maria della Vittoria is not located on the tourist map and the clocks in Rome are not all set on the right time, nor do they all work.

I eventually found the church.  It's rather small.  If you've seen Angels and Demons, the church is in the movie.  It is a lovely church and much less "Disney" like than St. Peters.  Yes, I know it is the Vatican and all, but there were so many people there, it was hardly a place for a quiet moment with God.  I'll take a small church any day of the week.  

Of course, finding my friends was a different matter.  I was relying on the clocks around town to help me keep track of time.  I know, I know, I should have been wearing a watch.  Eventually I figured out that these clocks were all wrong.  None of them matched another on time.  This made for an annoying day trying to meet up with my friends.  I did end up finding them in the square at St. Peters.  And the quote of the day (it's officially in the travel journal quote page), "This is not a trip of assumptions!!"

You Can Drive with the Captain

We had spent a lovely morning at the Bunratty Folk Park.  For lunch we had the most amazing meal ever!  We all had Irish stew, Bulmer's cider, and freshly made apple pie.  The last item on the list being the most amazing.  It was made in one of the folk houses in the park by this very nice older lady.  That's her job, she makes pies all day for the restaurant.  Not a bad gig.  The folk park was built around Bunratty Castle.  It's a historic castle, and every evening they have a castle feast kinda like Medival Times in Orlando.  It was a bit too rich for our budget, so we headed off to see the Cliffs of Moor instead.

When we arrived at the Cliffs of Moor it was drizzling out.  Not letting this interfere with our fun, we got our umbrellas, put on our jackets, and headed out to the edge.  It was so beautiful.  Just like in the movies.  After spending about an hour walking around the top, we decided to check out one of the boat tour signs we had seen driving in.

We got to the boat tour, and after a small "discussion" as to whether Heidi was coming with us, we all bought tickets and got on the boat.  It was so much fun.  The only problem was that it was the last trip of the evening.  This meant that the boat was not coming back to this launch.  Instead, we would go all the way to the harbor where the boat was docked at night.  From there we would be given a ride back to our car.

As they were docking the boat, one of the deckhands informed the three of us that we would be getting a ride back with the captain.  Well, that was cool.  How did we get that privilege, and how were the rest of the people getting back?  Turns out the captain was an older gentleman, probably in his upper 70s.  He had a small beat up old silver car.  On the way back he told us his life story, how he got to be a boat captain, about his wife and grandchildren, and how the only thing different between winter and summer in Ireland is the temperature of the rain.  It was an entertaining ride back to the car.

And the rest of the group?  Oh, they waited for a little bus to come pick them up.

Ghost Tour in York

I was going to name this post, "Why you shouldn't ever take me on a ghost tour," but that seemed obnoxiously long.  Or my other title was going to be, "Ghost tour, or just a bunch of really sad stories about people's deaths,"  Again, a bit long.  This story is about the only ghost tour I've ever been on in my life.  I guess it's good I experienced this activity in York.  It's been on the Discovery Channel as one of the most haunted cities in the world.  Since we were visiting England in the dead of winter (no pun intended), and there was nothing really to do in the evenings, we decided to go on the famous ghost tour one evening.

I learned two things that night.  No, three things.  You shouldn't take me on your next ghost tour, it seemed like a bunch of really depressing stories of death, and that English people think the sidewalk is called "the pavement."

When we started the tour, our lovely tour guide, who looked liked he just got done working a shift at the Haunted Mansion in Disney World, gathered the people together.  He insisted we all gather on the pavement.  Fine, I'll stand in the road.  I'm standing in the road like you asked, why do you keep pointing the the sidewalk and asking me to get on the pavement?!?!  At this point, my whitty side was overly humored and kept this 'discussion' up for another minute before complying with his confusing request.

During the tour he told us about kids being murdered and stored in the basement of an orphanage, about a girl being locked in her house because she had the plague and her family left her, and about this girl who fell three stories to her death in the middle of a party held by her father.  All in all, it was a rather depressing evening.  It was this last story that convinced me never to go on another ghost tour.

Our guide told us the story about the little girl.  He also said that on some nights they can get her spirit to appear in the window on the third floor.  As the people gathered for this impromptu seance, my friends and I all back away from the group.  None of us talked to each other until we were moving on to the next sad story.  As we began to talk we asked each other what we did when he asked the group to gather and call up the spirit of the girl.

We all had the same answer.  None of us did it.  In fact, quite the opposite, each of us stepped back and started praying for the repose of this girl's soul.  And this is when we decided that we should not go on any more ghost tours.  We were bad for business.  Instead of 'calling for the dead' we were trying to help them move on.  We all felt this was probably counter-productive for the ghost tour business.  Plus, who wants to walk around a town at night listening to depressing stories.

On a side note: we did learn a lot about the Roman soldiers and how far north in England they traveled.  In fact, there is still a Roman column up in the town.  Fine, no depressing stories, but I'll take a bit of history any time.

Finding the Middle of Town

We had spent three lovely days in York, England.  It's supposed to be one of the most haunted cities in the world.  One night, because there was nothing else to do, we went on a ghost tour.  Oh, but that's a story for another post.  Right now I'm going to tell you about our trip to find our next bed and breakfast.

We were headed to the Lake District of England.  It's pretty much due west from York, but since we had a limited visit to the UK, we decided to make a detour north and visit Scotland.  It was snowing and cold.  We left shortly after arriving.

The directions to the next B&B seemed pretty easy.  We just needed to find the middle of town in Hale, England.  At that point you turn left and follow the road up to the house.  Perhaps if we went straight to Hale instead of the little jaunt to Scotland we would have arrived in the daylight.  Again, my travels aren't about thinking that far forward.  Which is odd since I'm an ISTJ.  You'd think I'd demand more details.  I think I enjoy traveling with E_FPs too much.  They are quite the non-planners.

Well, Erica was driving, as she always does when we travel overseas.  This is also perplexing since she utterly detests driving and finds the whole experience stressful.  Add driving a manual on the opposite side of the road and you end up with several funny stories that you can laugh at later.  Laughing at the moment would probably result in a punch on the arm.  I've never tried this theory out, but the look on her face confirms my suspicions.

We followed the directions to the center of town.  Only problem, the center of town resembled a scene from a scary murder movie.  Were we in the right place? (A common phrase on my travels)  We had crossed over a small one car bridge that end at a 't' in the road.  At the other side was a small wooden sign that had Hale carved into it.  Behind the sign was a tiny church and a graveyard.  In the middle of the day I'm sure we would not have given it a second thought, but at night, we were a little worried.  After pausing for a minute to review the directions, and contemplate our apparent ensuing death by a crazy undertaker, we turned left and continued down a small dirt road.

Ah, we finally made it to our B&B.  It was winter, so we were the only tenants.  Our host was very friendly.  It would make a great escape for someone wanting to write the next great novel, or just get some peace and quiet.

Stuck in a Seinfeld Episode

Walking through Bernini Square looking for dinner, who would have thought it would end up feeling like a Seinfeld episode. We found overselves at the door to the Ristorante La Fontanella. There was a group of people standing outside the door. It appeared it was locked even though people were eating inside. The group said they were waiting for a table. Again, this was strange. Why would they be standing outside a locked restaurant? A few minutes later a lady came to the door and let the group in. Then she proceeded to lock the door behind them. Do we really want to eat here? The prices were reasonable, but what were we getting into?

An English party finished eating and left the restaurant. They recognized our confusion and simple said, "don't worry, it's worth the wait," and walked off. Eventually the lady came to the door and let us in, once again locking the door behind us. We never found out why she kept the door locked, although my theory was to protect the amazing deserts on display right by the front door. The food was really good. I'd definitely recommend the restaurant, but don't be surprised if the door is locked.

How to Shop at the Maasai Market

You'll find the Maasai market in Nairobi, Kenya.

Rule no. 1: If you hear a hissing noise behind you, GET OUT OF THE WAY!!! It's the sound of a "delivery" man bringing items to one of the 'stores'. A store consists of a platform made of dirt about a foot high and maybe 6' x 6'. The walkway between stores is about 2' wide. So when you hear that noise, you typically end up jumping onto one of the store platforms. If you don't he will run you over.

Rule no. 2: Learn the art of haggling. The first day we went shopping I wasn't that good at it and probably did not get really good deals. But the next time, the next time I was prepared. It was actually a lot of fun bargaining with the store keepers. In fact, one time I didn't get the price I wanted so I just left. As we were getting ready to pull away in the van a man popped his head in the van with the items and I got them for the price I wanted.

**Not at this market, but on the side of the road we had a fun moment of "men are the same all over the world." One of the ladies with us had negotiated a price for these sandstone animal figures. Then another salesman went up to the man in our group to see if he would want to buy any. After a few minutes of haggling, he finally told the salesman the price the woman bought the items for and the salesman's response? "Well, we can't have you beaten by a woman, so I'll sell them for that same price." Once again proving, men are the same all over the world :)

Rule no. 3: Items like pens, locks, sunglasses, etc. can be used as currency. These are items that are hard to find for cheap, so buy a lot in the States and use them when haggling in the market. I bought a chess set for $7 and two ink pens. Good deal :)

Rule no. 4: As in all open markets, keep your money in several different places on your body. That's just good practice when traveling.

Be Careful What You Ask For...

It had been a long day of driving in England. We'd had a lovely time in the Lake District, but were all three ready for bed. We had a reservation at a hotel chain in Reading, England. I was going to be leaving the next day back to the States. On our way there we stopped in Stratford-upon-Avon to say hello to Shakespeare's hometown. It was dark and everything was closed, but we were there and that's all we needed. We had a bit of trouble finding our hotel and by the time we got there it was rather late.

My friend went to the front desk and got our keys. She confirmed with the man that we needed a cot in the room because there were three of us. We walked down the hall and opened the door only to find a baby crib in the middle of the room. All three of us, with our heavy packs on our backs, fell over laughing at the sight. Why was there a baby crib in our room? And yes, my friends felt I should take the baby crib since I was the smallest. After composing ourselves, one of my friends went back to the front desk to clear up the matter.

Turns out, in case you ever need to know for your England travels, a cot is a baby crib. What we needed was a "put-up" bed. I'm not sure how the front desk looked at three adults checking into their hotel and not question the fact there were two beds and a crib in the room.