December 28, 2011
“This is the best trail! This is the best hike I’ve been on all year!” I kept exclaiming to my mom and brother yesterday. We were tromping through snow at Stevens Pass, about an hour and a half northeast of Seattle. Once we returned, peeled off wet clothes, and I started writing this post, I remembered my hike up the Wild Great Wall this past summer, aka my favorite hike of the year. So I guess the Stevens Pass hike was my second favorite of 2011.
For anyone looking to go snowshoeing or cross country skiing in Western Washington, Stevens Pass Nordic Center is the place to be. From Seattle, take I-5 north to Highway 2. Head east. Five miles past the downhill skiing area you will find Stevens Pass Nordic Center. It will be on your right. Check the snow level first by calling 206-634-1645. If you don’t have snowshoes you can rent them here. Restrooms and a small snack shop are also on site. This is also the place to pick up your pass, $12 for adults.
Before hitting the trails we loaded up our backpack with oranges, cookies, and a thermos of hot water. Due to our lack of hiking boots, my brother and I donned a nice layer of plastic bags between our socks and shoes. They worked perfectly. My shoes were soaked at the end of the hike, but my feet stayed warm and dry.
Upon recommendation of the guys at the Nordic Center, we took the easy two kilometer “Clickity Clack” trail up the mountain. Then we headed back down on the intermediate “Steppin’ Stoker” trail, for a total of four kilometers. The hikes were very well marked, which I always appreciate. The first half of the trail was fun, but things really got going after we crossed the main cross country sky trail and made the hairpin turn down to the creek. Make sure that you look down towards the creek to find the orange tape marking the “Steppin’ Stoker” trail. If you just follow the signs you’ll go back the boring way. Down by the creek there are snow covered logs to climb over and branches to duck underneath. We were the only ones on the trail that day, and the three inches of new snow was fun to crunch through. On a clear day, there are views of surrounding mountains and Mill Valley. However, this is Western Washington. Good luck chancing upon a clear day. Luckily, the trees, creek, and blanket of snow are gorgeous themselves. You can appreciate the beauty of this trail even if it’s cloudy and rainy. Just make sure that you have some waterproof sock-bags.
Some snowshoeing tips:
- It’s not hard! If you can hike, you can snowshoe. No skiing experience is needed. My snowshoeing mates included my mom, who is sixty (or “fifty-something,” in her words). She’s pretty in-shape, and had no trouble with the hike. My brother was also with us. If things had been up to him, he would have chosen a more out-of-the-way trail (he doesn’t like groomed snow paths, or pre-designed hiking trails. Then again he also goes backpacking for days on end without a tent or food, so mom and I generally ignore his outdoor wishes), but he really enjoyed this hike as well.
- When going uphill, make sure to get up on the balls of your feet and really plant your toe. This makes the hike easier and keeps you from sliding backwards.
- Check the weight limit on your snowshoes. If you will be carrying a pack, be mindful of what your weight will be including that backpack. If you weight too much for the shoes you may be prone to punching through the snow.
- Poles are unnecessary.
- If you can swing it, head up to the mountains the day after a good snowfall. New snow is much more fun to walk through.
December 25, 2011
My favorite Christmas story just happens to be about traveling. Kinda. Convenient, as this means it is an acceptable thing for me to write about here. My favorite book is not traditionally thought of as a Christmas tale. It is not read out loud by families on Christmas Eve (or ever). It is not displayed on Barnes & Noble’s holiday table. However, when I place the book between branches of my parent’s Christmas tree, it looks much more festive.
But my favorite Christopher Moore book really is Christmas-y! “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal,” is my go-to-gospel even though it’s not really a gospel or in the Bible and liberally uses the word “fuckstick.” The premise of this book is that Biff has been resurrected by an angel in the year 2000 to write another gospel, this one about Christ’s life starting at age seven. While the angel watches soap operas, professional wrestling matches, and MTV, Biff writes his gospel. He tells about how he and Jesus (called Joshua in the book) TRAVELED through Asia (see, traveling) to find the three magi that followed the star to attend his birth in Bethlehem. They then return to Jerusalem to round up the disciples. An excerpt, if I may:
“What can we do?” said Andrew. “We’re only fishermen.”
“Come with me and I’ll make you fishers of men.”
Andrew looked at his brother who was still standing in the water. Peter shrugged and shook his head. Andrew looked at me, shrugged and shook his head.
“They don’t get it,” I said to Joshua.
Thus, after Joshua had some food and a nap and explained what in the hell he meant by “fishers of men,” we became seven.
We came to another small village and Peter pointed out two brothers who were fitting a new oarlock into the gunwale of a fishing boat.
“Come with us,” I said, “and we will make you oarlock makers of men.”
“What?” said Joshua.
“That’s what they were doing when we came up. Making an oarlock. Now you see how stupid that sounds?”
It is hands down the funniest and most thought-provoking book I’ve ever read. Although some would describe it as sacrilegious, I actually feel more spiritual and okay with Christianity after reading it.
Although most of the story is made up, the setting, events, and characters are meticulously researched. There are many references to the Bible in the story, some of which are real Bible verses and some of which are made up (from the books of Amphibians and Excretions for example). Author Christopher Moore has this to say on the subject:
…if the reader knows the Bible well enough to recognize the real references, there’s a good chance that he or she has decided not to read this book. [We]…advise those who are not familiar with the Bible to find someone who is, sit them down, read them the passages in question, then say, “That one real? How ‘bout that one?” If you don’t know someone who is familiar with the Bible, just wait, someone will come to your door eventually. Keep extra copies of Lamb on hand so they can take one with them.
I often want to go look up this and that in the Bible after reading Lamb. I’d been re-reading Lamb last Christmas and hadn’t had a Bible handy in some time to look things up. That Christmas Eve, my brother, father, and I were drunkenly headed to midnight mass after a lively family dinner. We rolled up late, ignored warning glares from my mother in the choir, and found a pew. Then my brother and I had the following exchange:
Me: “Where are all the Bibles around here?
Jay: “They don’t have Bibles in church.”
Me: “Why not? I want to look up something questionable.”
Jay: “That’s exactly why they don’t put them in church.”
This was extra hilarious after several glasses of wine. We couldn’t look at each other for the rest of the service without laughing. It should be mentioned here that Jay and I are loud and not discreet even in sober circumstances.
My parents were so glad that we’d come to church with them.
A final Lamb quote:
“Nobody’s perfect…Well, there was this one guy, but we killed him.”
Purchasing Lamb via the affiliate link in this post will earn me a bit of money, so thank you!
December 21, 2011
Posted by jennavandenberg under Teaching
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So I’ve been in Las Vegas for a whole two and a half weeks, aka the longest I’ve been in any city since May. (Well, I was technically in Hangzhou for a couple months but they kept moving me from school to school, so I was still moving around a lot).
Plus I’ve been working. Like getting up and six in the morning and actually driving to a place of employment.
I’d planned on writing a post about the injustice of such a situation, but actually…I kinda like it. I’ve missed teaching like crazy, to the point where I wanted to follow a school field trip around Liberty Square in Philadelphia. My friend wouldn’t let me. She oh-so-kindly pointed out that I could be mistaken for a stalker. I thought she would change her mind after catching a glimpse of their teacher (who wasn’t bad to look at, to say the least), but no.
So when I got the chance to take over my friend’s class in Las Vegas for a couple weeks I was thrilled. She gave me a run down on all the bad kids and the bad things that they have done (some so bad that they can’t even be mentioned on this blog!) but I was still excited. Who cares if I would just be a sub? I would get to TEACH.
And they are great! Well. Mostly. I’ve had to call a few parents and issue a few zeros and mean looks, but I’m pretty happy. I love putting on my work clothes and seeing my old teacher friends. My narcissistic self loves hearing the excited calls of “Ms. Moore! You’re back!” from my students last year.
My anticipated downsides of not having a home or not having writing time turned out to be non-issues, as I’m gotten into a little routine: School, writing at Starbucks, going to the gym, writing at Starbucks and then falling into bed in the room I’m renting from my friend’s mom. Oh – and that friend’s mom’s grandma made fudge last night, so I’m extra happy. I feel more productive working and writing. Although I haven’t matched the mad querying spree I was on last month, I’m still getting in at least 1,000 words a day on weekdays.
So although I don’t want to be in Las Vegas forever or even for another few months, it’s been a nice landing spot after a half of year of traveling. It makes me realize that although living in a different hotel room every night is fun and exciting, having a town to call my own (and more importantly STUDENTS to call my own) is just as important.
That being said, it’s time to get out of here. I’m excited to be headed to Seattle tomorrow.
December 18, 2011
“So future Venetians fled to the marshes and built their houses on stilts. Today Venice is an aquatic city of no cars, vaporetto transportation, and hundreds of bridges.”
My 8th graders look at me blankly.
“You know The Venetian, on the Strip?” I ask.
They perk up, nodding.
“It’s like that.”
“Awww,” murmurs my class in a collective hum of understanding.
I sigh, disgusted with myself.
Venice is a glorious city with thousands of years of history, famous art museums, a decadent and sordid past, and the glittering St. Mark’s Basilica. To compare the sinking city with its casino counterpart is probably not the recommended way to teach 8th grade World Geography. On the other hand, you gotta start where your students are.
And my students are in Vegas. And Vegas apparently wants to be in Italy. The Venetian is one of THREE Italian themed Vegas hotels, not to mention the whole wanna-be Italian village northeast of the city.
The Venetian: This gorgeous hotel and its twin The Palazzo does sort of look like Venice. Besides the striped-shirt wearing gondoliers, this hotel has a Venetian plaza façade, a replica of St. Mark’s Campanile, and a fake Grand Rialto. The casino canals are just a tad cleaner than I remember the actual Venetian canals being.
This winter The Venetian has pulled out all the stops, making it THE place to experience fake winter in Las Vegas. Chefs are selling hot roasted chestnuts, there is an ice skating rink over the canal outside, and the biggest white tree on the Strip stands next to that tower. No Christmas markets or rows of food stalls though, which was my favorite part of Venice – real Venice.
The Bellagio: Inspired by Italy’s Lake Como, the Bellagio is (in my opinion) the most elegant hotel on the Strip. Unlike Venice, I’ve never been to Lake Como, so I can’t really compare the two, but I’m guessing that Lake Como does not feature dancing fountains like The Bellagio does. Watching the fountain shows are my favorite Las Vegas activity, and a must for any tourist. Hopefully you’ll see “Time to Say Goodbye,” sung by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. It is the hotel’s theme song. The fountains dance daily from 3pm – 7pm every half hour, and run every fifteen minutes from 7pm until midnight. On Saturdays the shows start at noon, and the fountains start dancing on Sundays at 11am. Inside the hotel, make sure you check out the world tallest chocolate fountain and the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which change seasonally.
Caesar’s Palace: This place keeps getting bigger and bigger, taking up a ginormous Las Vegas block. Caesar’s is the home of Celine Dion’s famous show (which is coming back to Las Vegas, by the way), a huge mall (the forum shops), and the nightclub PURE (which I can’t say much about because my PURE memories are very sketchy for some reason. I remember a lot of white couches I wasn’t allowed to sit on). Romanesque statues are ALL OVER Caesars. Much like counting the fountains of Kansas City, to get an actual statue count would take some serious mapping skills.
Lake Las Vegas: Famous for housing Celine Dion, this fake little Italian village is about 30 minutes outsides of Vegas. Take Highway 215 east until it becomes E Lake Mead Drive. Turn left at the big sign announcing you’ve arrived at Lake Las Vegas. The super swanky mansions plus the ongoing housing bust equals a depressingly quiet and empty Lake Las Vegas. The community here tries hard to keep things afloat with outside movie nights and concert in the summer and ice skating and caroling in the winter. There are a few restaurants and shops open along Strada Di Villaggio, and Monte Lago is a nice casino to gamble at if you want to get away from the screaming hordes of the Las Vegas Strip (but who really wants to get away from that? Have a few tequila shots and join in!) With its cluster of shops on the lake and hills rising from behind, the village does look a tad Italian.
I would not exactly plan any class field trips to have my students study Italian culture based on these places. Likewise, if you are in the mood for gondoliers, gelato, and statues glorifying the Roman physique, I recommend that you go to Italy. But if you need a quick classroom connection, or can’t afford a ticket to Rome, I guess Las Vegas will do.
December 14, 2011
In Las Vegas, restaurant setting doesn’t always matter. Don’t get me wrong, I love the poolside tables at the Mandalay Bay Buffet and Simon Restaurant at Palms Place. Drinks at Top of the World Restaurant at Stratosphere are always fun, if only because you get to watch people plummet past your windows to the ground (don’t worry – I’m not that morbid. These Sky Jumpers are strapped in and paying at least $109.99 for the privilege).
Nora’s Italian Cuisine isn’t by a pool, overlooking anything, or even on the Strip. It’s actually in a strip mall. You can get a tattoo or a payday loan right across the parking lot.
And you’ll have time to do just that if you don’t make a reservation. A “hidden gem” no longer, Nora’s is well known among Las Vegas locals. It’s busy Monday thru Thursday and packed on Friday and Saturday nights when live music can be heard from the bar/lounge area from nine until midnight.
Originally opened by an Italian couple (Nora and Gino), the tiny place became so popular that they’ve had to take over the surrounding storefronts. The resulting layout is a tad odd. The bar is off to the right, with a small stage, table seating, and a private dining room in the back. The kitchen is down the middle of the restaurant and three unfortunate tables and tucked along that corridor. Off to the left is the main dining room area. One of Nora and Gino’s sons is now the general manager.
The place is cute, with the requisite paintings of wine barrels and Italian scenes, but you don’t go to Nora’s for fancy decorations, crown molding or cute tables. You go to eat. (And drink. Their bar is apparently fabulous, although all I even get is cheap white wine and Amaretto Sours.)
No matter what you do, start with the Antipasto Salad. In a strange but wonderful way, the ham/provolone/salami spirals atop the Italian salad remind me of a New Orleans muffaletta. Comparison to a muffaletta is my version of very high praise. Enjoy that with a basket of very garlic-y bread and you won’t be hungry for your dinner. Luckily Nora’s is good left over. I capitalize on this fact by taking out-of-town guests to Nora’s before dropping them off at the airport. That way I get their leftovers also. Very sneaky, I think.
I always get Fettuccine Alfredo, although I suppose I should be recommending the Crazy Alfredo with chicken, sausage, shrimp, peppers, tomatoes, jalapenos and two types of mushrooms. I’ve also had their Shrimp Scampi, Veal Parmigiana, and Gnocchi. All are great (especially the gnocchi), but I keep returning to my old calorie-ridden standby. My favorite person to go to Nora’s with refuses to even look at the menu, sticking to his order of Fettuccine Carbonara. Oh, and the pizza is really good here too. We had it for free in the bar once when our table was taking longer than expected. To go with great food is an easy-to-swallow bill at the end of the meal. I have no idea why Nora’s hasn’t raised their prices. I think it’s cheaper to eat here than at Olive Garden. My fettuccine is $9.50. Seriously.
Nora’s is several miles west of the Strip on Flamingo and Jones. It is right behind the Arby’s. They are open Monday through Thursday from 11am – 10pm, Friday 11am – midnight, Saturday from 4pm – midnight. Nora’s is closed Sunday’s which sucks if you are hungry and have friends flying out that night, but is great if you want to rent out the restaurant for a private Sunday party. You can also reserve the bar area for private functions any day of the week. About fifty people can fit into the space, but it will be tight.
December 11, 2011
Posted by jennavandenberg under Maryland
| Tags: Cheap motels
Fifty dollars can get you a motel room in Drummond, Montana that features five overlapping wall paper patterns. Or a night at a chain motel room in San Diego’s Mission Valley with a heated pool. Or two nights stay in a trailer/tent campground in Glenn’s Ferry, Idaho. Or a room in downtown in the upscale Baltimore suburb of Towson. Or a cockroach ridden hotel in New Orleans that doesn’t believe in providing their guests with working light fixtures. Or a night at Mandalay Bay – two free buffet passes included.
There is no apparent rhyme or reason for this variety. Yes, I know it’s all about supply and demand. I get that there are not thousands of people who want to stay at Mandalay Bay (famous for their pools) on a Wednesday night in December, but really? $50!?! Not that I’m complaining, but that’s how much we paid for a night in the Sky Motel in Drummond, Montana. And they definitely didn’t give us buffet passes. Or bathtubs. The Drummond bathroom did feature towels though, which was way beyond the capabilities of the staff at the Midtown Hotel in New Orleans.
So, how does one end up in these establishments? I don’t really believe in booking places ahead of time or researching anything, so I happened upon all these fine nightly accommodations randomly. And each time I end up paying $50 for two nights in a tent in some white trash Idaho town, I promise myself that I will do my homework next time and stay somewhere either nicer or cheaper. Next thing I know I’m in Baton Rouge, driving through a lightning storm while simultaneously trying to book a New Orleans room via Expedia’s mobile “cheapest price” search tab.
But even when I try to plan things, it doesn’t work out. While in Baltimore, my friend Denise laid down the law. She refused to camp, sleep in the car, or stay in a ghetto. She facebooked some friends in Baltimore and reported that Towson was an acceptable area of town to stay in. Since we’d just come off of three nights in a Charleston suite, she decided she could tolerate a night in a motel. Great. I booked a $50 room. We pull into Towson and are immediately pleased. It looked like an area of town where stay-at-home-moms-that-employ-nannies live so they can shop for high end merchandise while drinking soy lattes. Not that I’m knocking that lifestyle. I’m currently wearing Ann Taylor clothes and drinking a nonfat caramel macchiato. Anyways, my $50 obviously landed us in the armpit of Towson. “America’s Best Value Inn” was in an alleyway between strip mall and the only shady looking group of condos downtown. Which I wouldn’t have really minded, except for we’d already paid for the place through Expedia and the owner of the motel demanded full payment. Again. After a good hour of fighting with him and talking to Expedia on the phone we gave up and canceled our reservation. We’d seen the room by then and were not sad to leave.
We spent the rest of our Baltimore nights at aLoft hotels, part of the Westin chain. They were not $50.
We didn’t dip back down to $50 hotel rooms again until Montana. By this time, we were trying to stay ahead of winter storms because I am afraid of driving in snow like Denise is afraid of motel sheets. (That would be very, very afraid.) We were in Vermillion when snow warnings across Montana started showing up on my phone. We left at four in the morning the next day, determined to beat the snow. Unfortunately Vermillion is in the southeastern corner of South Dakota (where Nebraska, South Dakota, and Iowa meet. It’s a really happening town, lemme tell you), so it took us sixteen hours to get to Butte, Montana where the snow was supposed to start. It was dark when we drove through Butte, but not snowing yet. We decided to keep going. Why stay the night and wake up just to drive though snow? Of course thirty miles out of Butte is started DUMPING snow. I’m sure it wasn’t really as bad as I am about to describe, but it seemed like the road was a white blanket in about two minutes. Important things like lane lines and mountain pass drop-offs were suddenly invisible. I couldn’t see two feet in front of me, and there were a big flashing signs warning me of herds of wild life crossing the road ahead. To say I started freaking out would be putting it mildly. I’m sure Denise was rolling her eyes at me the whole time, but I couldn’t take me eyes of the road to confirm it. Twenty agonizing miles down the road we pull into Drummond, Montana and check into the gas station/café/motel. The motel owner informs us that, this being Montana, we could wake up to half an inch or four feet of snow tomorrow. Denise takes one look at the room and wants to get back into the car, stating that if we were going to get stuck in the Montana, then Missoula would be much more acceptable then the Sky Motel in Drummond, Montana. However, my fear of driving on dark snowy roads trumped her fear of small towns and motels. Drummond was our $50 home for the night.
I would have paid $100.
Which was what I figured we would pay for rooms in Las Vegas and San Diego. After Denise and I returned home (Seattle), unscathed from our cross country trip, we realized that life on the road was way better than life in Seattle. So we headed south. A friend in Vegas found us the $50 Mandalay Bay room rates and we stumbled upon our San Diego room at the King’s Inn in Mission Valley on good ‘ole Expedia. That $50 was for the weekend! Crazy, huh? San Diego was wonderful in December, by the way – tank top weather and everything.
The best thing about $50 hotel rooms is that you are much less likely to be disappointed. When I pay $100 or $200 for a hotel room that turns out to not have an iPod dock or is not as centrally located as advertised, I am PISSED. But if I only pay $50, the hotel is allowed to be bad. It’s best to travel with low expectations, and a hotel room that costs less than six caramel macchiatos (working on my sixth right now) does just that.
December 7, 2011
Okay, seriously. How many times can someone drive between Seattle and Las Vegas? Since starting this blog eight months ago, I’ve done the twenty-one hour drive six times. I’ve gotten sidetracked in Utah (skiing), Yosemite (biking), and San Jose (wine and cheese-ing). I’ve driven straight through as fast as possible and I’ve been on a route so roundabout (via Wisconsin) I don’t even know if it still counts. I’ve just arrived in Sin City again (with a quick San Diego sidetrip this time) and I just stumbled upon a story about one of my earlier trips. Convenient timing, because I really didn’t have time to write a whole blog post today, as I again have lesson plans to prepare and 8th graders to ponder. (Sigh). Here goes:
I look skeptically at my Nevada/Utah road map. I typically take the well populated I-15 when traipsing back and forth between Las Vegas and Seattle. But this time Highway 93 seems to be throbbing on my map. Not only is 93 a straight shot through Nevada, but veering slightly west would take me to Rachel, Nevada – the closest town to Area 51. A few hours later I can take highway 50 east to Great Basin National Park. Very tempting, especially when considering never ending road construction around Salt Lake City.
I ponder the fact that I don’t know how to change a tire or deal with squeaky breaks (and I should, as evidenced here and here) and decide to take the road less traveled anyway.
After one last round of video blackjack, I head north out of Vegas on 1-15 and take US 93 deeper into the desert. After 85 miles, I add my AAA bumper sticker to the famed Extraterrestrial Highway sign and head another 40 miles down the road, stopping for cows that amble freely across the road.
I pull into the first and possibly only commercial establishment in Rachel, Nevada (Human Population: 98). You can’t miss the Little A’Le’Inn Restaurant, with its UFO crane in the front and trailers that double as motel lodging in the back. I grab an A’Le’Inn burger with extra ‘secretions’ and take a quick glance around town to make sure I haven’t missed any alien sightings. Then I re-trace my steps and head north on Highway 93 again.
Two and a half hours later I cut east on Highway 50, officially titled The Loneliest Highway in America. It isn’t nearly as lonely as I’d worried about. The two lane highway is well maintained and the straight lanes between buttes and mesas make it easy to pass trucks. There are some stretches where my vehicle is the only one in sight, but there is enough traffic so I didn’t feel as if I’m alone on Mars.
I follow the signs to Baker and Great Basin National Park and pull into the visitor’s center, wondering if I’m really here. I haven’t come across a National Parks pay station in the middle of the road yet. But I had indeed arrived. The bored looking ranger informs me that this National Park is free. Well, free except for camping fees ($12) or the charge for a guided tour into the Lehman Caves ($10).
I grab an ice cream cone from the café, meander through the guided nature walk behind the ranger station and head up the mountain to find a place to camp. The ranger had suggested that I bypass the Lower Lehman Creek site, as it’s mostly an RV hangout. The Wheeler Peak campground apparently has the best sites, but requires a bumpy drive up the mountain. Since it’s getting dark and I’m afraid of mountain lions and wrecking my car, I leave Wheeler Peak alone.
That leaves me pitching my tent at Upper Lehman Creek. The site is fine: quiet, next to a stream, and near a hiking trail (the seven mile Lehman Creek trail). The 24 site campground has three pit toilets. Pay showers were available in the nearby city of Baker. Or I could take a really cold bath in the creek for free. I don’t do either of those things. Instead, I assemble my pop up tent and fall asleep before I can worry about mountain lions or wild turkeys tearing my tent to shreds and having me for a midnight snack.
I wake up at sunrise and snap pictures of Wheeler Peak. Great Basin National Park is where you can summit the 2nd highest peak in Nevada. I don’t though, as I’m way too busy fighting with my shelter. The tent, which had popped up so amiably the night before, is refusing to snap apart. After pulling on the poles, acquiring two blisters on my hands, eyeballing my car to see if I could get a mostly un-assembled tent in there (that would be a no), and exhausting my repertoire of swear words in English and Norwegian, I swallow my pride and ask the guys at a nearby camp site for help.
For all you people making fun of me, know this: The guys couldn’t get the damn tent apart either. I end up snapping a pole in half just to get the contraption in my car. Beyond frustrated, I give Great Basin a curt goodbye and head towards Boise where there would be hotel rooms, showers, and nothing that I would have to disassemble. Highway 93: Fail.
But I calm down as I get back onto the lonely road. Sure, my tent is a little broken, but my tires, brakes, and self are still in tact. I hadn’t been eaten by a mountain lion, abducted by aliens, or stranded on a lonely road. Highway 93: Success.
December 4, 2011
After venturing from Seattle, to Key West, to New England, my friend Denise and I decided that we might as well go to San Diego so we could hit all corners of the lower 48 this autumn. Granted, we did not make it up to Maine, but Boston is pretty close, right?
Denise and I had several “themes” on this road trip. We had to eat a lot of desserts, we had to tour old baseball stadiums, we had to run a race every weekend, and we had to ice skate outside. Having grown up in the Kristi Yamaguchi era, we ice skated a lot as kids. We were obsessed over the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan debacle during those Lillehammer Olympics, and we routinely thought that WE were going to be famous ice skaters.
As it turns out, holiday outdoor ice skating around the US is a little harder than you would think. Lots of rinks weren’t open in early November and prices were ridiculous. We missed the rink in Syracuse, (I know! Syracuse! Isn’t it always winter there?), the Frog Pond in the Boston Commons, and the rink in Chicago’s Millennium Park. According to Denise who skated in Chicago last year, the Millennium Park rink was the biggest and most fun due to its location within the city. But we did make it to a couple places.
I seriously think we would have stayed in Manhattan until this rink opened up. This was a must for us. Yes, there was also skating in Central Park, but we’d dreamed of Rockefeller skating since we were, like, five. Luckily for our itinerary, the rink at Rockefeller Center opened in mid-October.
It didn’t disappoint. We got to the touristy place at five, but waited until the zamboni machine had done its job so we could have clean ice. Our wait turned out to be entertaining as the crowd got to witness one man’s proposal to his girlfriend turned fianceé. Our semi-single selves restrained from gagging, but really? It was cute. Once the couple finished their obligatory public make-out session we were allowed on the ice, and it stayed smooth for about an hour.
The rink was on the small and crowded side, but it was possible to glide in and out of people with relative ease. There were the usual host of characters at the rink: the little girl in the tutu who was attempting double axels in the middle of the rink, the overgrown hockey player who was purposefully dodging in and out of crowds, and the groups of pre-teens were clumped against the railing, giggling instead of skating. We couldn’t make fun of them because that was us some years ago. This was New York, so there were some more eccentric skaters out enjoying the ice as well. I especially liked the Michael Jackson look alike (post surgery) who was clearly skating to his own tunes.
To skate at Rockefeller, be ready to shell out some cash. Skate rentals are $10 and admission to the ice was $21 for adults. Rink hours are generally Monday thru Thursday 9am – 10:30pm, Friday thru Saturday 8:30am – midnight, and Sunday from 8:30am until 10pm. Rockefeller Center is on 5th Ave between 49th and 50th. Give the rink a call at 212-332-7654, as hours change weekly. The rink often closes due to private rentals, so really: call that number and double check.
Skating by the Sea: The rink at Hotel Del Coronado
Denise and I were home for less than a month before we went stir crazy in Seattle and decided to head to San Diego. Thus we found ourselves in the adjacent corner of the US, at an ice rink by the sea. Hotel Del Coronado set up its rink between their red turrets and the Pacific Ocean on November 23rd and the ice will remain there until January 8th. We had hoped that it would be cheaper than Rockefeller, which it kind of was. Evening skating for adults is $25, which includes admission and skate rental. “Matinee” skating is $20. There was no discount if you have your own skates, but it would have been very easy to sneak onto the rink. Each skater is given a wristband, but nobody appeared to be monitoring that situation very well.
The rink was smaller, more crowded, the ice wasn’t as clear, and it was generally not as cool as Rockefeller. Yeah, the sea breeze and lighted palm trees were cool, but you kind of forgot about the ocean being next to you.
As for the other two corners of the US, I definitely won’t be back in Miami anytime this winter, and Denise and I were there during bikini season, so I’m not sure about ice rinks in Florida. As for Seattle, we like the outdoor rink in Bellevue Park, but for a WAY better list of outdoor rinks in the west, check out this Sunset Magazine article, which features an impressive list of ten cool places to skate in the West.
December 1, 2011
With the Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon in the evening this Sunday, I thought I would offer up some evening race tips that I learned (the hard way) at the DisneyWorld Wine and Dine ½ Marathon this past October. The three main issues are sleep, food, and post-race partying.
The DisneyWorld race started at ten o’clock at night, so a bit of a sleep schedule adjustment was required. Some participants slept in late while some opted for a mid-day nap. This will be less of an issue with the Las Vegas Marathon, since the full marathon is at 4:00, the half at 5:30. I’d bet that most Vegas Marathon participants will be better rested than any other race, since most races tend to start at some god-awful hour in the morning. Sin City Runners will have all day to sleep in before working their way down to the start line.
Eating was my problem during the DisneyWorld ½. For no reason at all, I live in mortal fear of being hungry, so I unwisely decided to eat a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner before the race. After mile six or seven my stomach was not happy with me. I think it would have been better to mimic my typical morning race eating habits: I don’t eat at night (unless I’m sleep-walking and eating, which I hope isn’t going on!) and have a small breakfast a couple of hours before the race start. Mimicking this pattern for a ten o’clock race would have meant enjoying a carbo-loading type breakfast in the morning, skipping lunch and dinner, and then having a small snack a few hours before the race. For the late afternoon start in Vegas, I would go with a dinner the night before, a very small breakfast and a small snack around lunchtime.
An evening race in both Orlando and Las Vegas make sense because of the atmosphere of both cities. Although the type of partying that happens in Orlando is completely different than what happens in Vegas, each town survives on tourism and celebrations tend to be extravagant. So an evening race is perfect. In Orlando, finishers of the Wine and Dine event are treated with a free glass of wine and a gift card to spend at one of the many “around the world” eateries scattered throughout the park. In Las Vegas, runners get free admission to a variety of nightclubs (Tao, XS, and Lavo).
Therefore, this is NOT the race to kill yourself over. Don’t try and set a PR, qualify for the Boston Marathon, or reach any other running goals. You’ll want to ride that post-race high all night into your celebration.
Trust me. I didn’t do this. I was bound and determined to run my DisneyWorld 13.1 miles in less than two hours (on a full stomach, apparently), and was miserable after the race. I ran it in 1:57, but had no interest in wine or food afterwards. My plan to document and enjoy the post race party went by the wayside (you’ll notice there are no pictures here). I went home and crawled into bed.
So to those of you running in Las Vegas on Sunday, ENJOY IT! Have a nice easy race, high five an Elvis every mile, pump your fists at the finish line, and rock the night away.