Sailing to St. Michael’s, MD

On the first leg of our journey, we traveled from Annapolis, MD to St. Michaels, MD.

annapolis to st michaels

It took 6 hours, a combination of sailing and motoring. Sail-motoring. I would venture to say it’s not really easy to get to St. Michaels by car either. On previous sailing trips we have seen houses with seaplanes. 

We docked, and after a quick investigation, I decided to get into the pool because I’m still pretending I’m in Key West. It was cold, and that didn’t last long. We had a crab dinner, and then endured one of the loudest nights I’ve ever had sailing. The way the dock was set up meant that we were approximately 10 feet away from a bar that was having a wedding reception with a live band. I understand, I guess we just had bad luck in our spot. But the reception ended, and then it was just the usual drunks and loud music. Imagine trying to sleep on the patio of a rambunctious bar, and that’s exactly what it was like. Ah well…

The Church

Despite getting little sleep the night before, of course I woke up at an ungodly hour. So early, stores weren’t even open yet. We had breakfast and set to exploring the empty town.

Lots of neat looking buildings
eastern shore
Ghost town

When the stores starting opening, I found a store that offered key lime pie on a stick, covered in chocolate. Yes, this directly and completely goes against my diet, but I’m still pretending I’m in Key West.

st michaels maryland
It tasted like heaven.

We found a farmers market and stocked up on more things that directly violated my diet.

Cheese and ham croissants. Omg, so bad for me
We didn’t get cookies, just admired them.

 

eastern shore maryland
Obviously, there were cute bikes, it’s a small town!

There’s lots of little stores that sell all sorts of random things with St. Michaels markings. There’s also a heavy emphasis on Old Bay, it must be a requirement to sell Old Bay in Maryland.

Overall, it was fun to walk around, but we check out was noon, so we were soon underway. We spent a night anchored out in Tillman Creek, and then we were headed back to Annapolis!

 

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Sailing

We were supposed to travel down to Key West last week, but hurricane Irma decided to come through and leave a trail of destruction. I’m not so out of touch that I think losing out on a vacation is the most horrible thing that could have happened. Obviously, the people whose homes and businesses and lost their lives are victims. They have lost so much, and some will never get back what they have lost. So, me losing out on a vacation is hardly suffering. 

Still, I got to endure a week of watching it approach, begging it to go back to the ocean and disappear, turning on all my fans to point in the direction of Irma, threatening it with weapons, etc, etc, desperate for it to just go away and leave the beautiful Carribean in peace. Instead, it did the exact opposite and became a record-breaking hurricane. Of course, it did… never ask me to wish for anything for you because my positive vibes will somehow poison the water and ruin everything in your life. 

After the hurricane hit Key West, there were two days of “OMG how bad is it?! Will we still be able to go?!” The obvious answer is no, obviously not. I was holding out hope that since there were no pictures showing the Key West damage, there must not be much. Instead, the pictures were delayed because they had no internet, power, or cell service and had to revert back to the stone age method of communications, pony express, or maybe 4-wheeler express, nowadays.

We finally determined we couldn’t go when they announced that the island was closed to visitors. There were no utilities on the island, and there is damage, although really it’s a best-case scenario for the damage level, all things considered. We did have a clue of non-entry coming when they wouldn’t even let in residents. I saw they literally just started letting in residents Monday. 

I called the airline to get my money back, and the first thing they told me is that my flight wasn’t canceled. I actually had to argue with them that Key West isn’t letting in visitors, there was a giant hurricane, did you not notice?! But eventually, I got my refund, so that’s fine. I still need to make sure I get my refunds for the other aspects, but I’m confident I’ll get my money back, which I will later use to rebook the exact same services once Key West is up and running again. 

But, in the meantime, I now had planned vacation days with literally no idea what to do. We tossed around some ideas, and finally, we had the idea of asking my parents to take us sailing. Luckily, my parents graciously agreed. 

 

Arrival at the docks

As I was preparing for this different trip, I had the thought that it would be hilarious to make a video log of me pretending to be in Key West, doing things I would have done in Key West. But, I didn’t pack until the last minute and forgot my supplies, including my snokel mask and fins, which would have been essential to create the illusion. I guess next failed vacation I’ll try it again! 

In the meantime, here are some pictures in Key West!

sailing
Lounging on the ferry to Dry Tortuga!

We had planned to take a day trip to Dry Tortuga, operated by the park service, but in addition to not being in Key West to begin with, Dry Tortuga took damage and closed down the ferry until further notice. Instead, we sailed across the Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis to St. Micheals, Md, on the eastern shore. 

Chesapeake bay
Wow! The Carribean sure has dark blue water!

I grew up sailing, thanks to my dad. I used to hate it because it scared me. The boats we had before were smaller and tipped over easily, and I was scared of the water. The Chesapeake Bay water is dark and has low visibility. What if there were sharks in there?! (Sidenote, there totally are – Bull Sharks have been found in the Potomac River, which was our primarily sailing area growing up.)

I took sailing lessons, and one lesson was actually to force the boat to tip over, to show that it wasn’t so bad. Tipping the boat over turned out to be way more fun than I realized. Those sailing classes made sailing much less scary and enjoyable.

Eventually, my dad upgraded to yachts, and they do not tip over. It took a few times to grow comfortable with the heeling, and sometimes it still makes me nervous, but mostly it’s okay. I can appreciate sailing much more now. Plus, a lot of the time we run the engine and become a motorboat anyway. 

dachshund rafting
Here I am kayaking with a stray dog I found!

 

Since I don’t sail regularly anymore, I’m basically a sailing idiot. I know some of the basic terms and can follow instructions, but I would not be able to sail a big boat by myself. I might be able to figure out a little laser style sailboat, but bigger than that is much too complicated for me. There are way too many lines, and I am not good at reading the wind. Maybe if I had more practice I could relearn/learn how to sail. 

So our sailing trips basically amount to my dad saying things that don’t sound like words, and we try to figure out what he’s saying by trial and error of pulling on random ropes. I think we’ve really mastered this system.

Chesapeake Bay shore
Key West sure has a lot of sand grass, driftwood and stray dogs!

It was so much fun to be back out on the water again, and one of the highlights is always looking for wildlife. There were lots of fish boils, and lots of fishing boats out. I’m always looking for sharks, but I have yet to see any. I KNOW YOU’RE THERE SHARKS, REVEAL YOURSELF! But in the realm of things that did actually happen, I saw a turtle and a stingray. And hundreds upon hundreds of jellyfish. 

harbor water
I got a (terrible) picture of the local fauna! One time, I accidentally pushed my friend into the water on top of one. She got stung but luckily she didn’t hold a grudge against me!

I really want to understand how and why these things exist because they seem to have no purpose in the ecosystem. Ask me in 6 months, and I’ll be a jellyfish expert by then, but for now, what do they do!? Sometimes they are in huge swarms, seemingly everywhere, and sometimes there are none. There were a bunch in the docks and just occasional ones where we anchored. They get stuck on each other, on seaweed, on sticks, and they just pulse around, doing seemingly nothing. What is your purpose?!

It seems like their main purpose is to annoy me and make me scared of the water because there is no way I’m going in the water with jellyfish ready to sting. In the past when I’ve gone in the water, I jump in, and then swim like my life depends on it to the ladder to escape. So far, this system seems to work because I haven’t been stung yet. I guess I’ve outsmarted those brainless jellyfish. 

We did spend time on land, but I ended up taking so many photos, I will leave that to the next post. 

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Warrenton Old Jail Museum

I’ve been very interested in travel recently, but it made me start thinking – what about being a tourist in my own area? It seems pretty convenient since I’m already in the area. I decided to check out a local museum that I didn’t even know was here, despite walking past it several times. 

We investigated, and luckily someone was walking out of it when we approached or we would have missed it again. 

Old Town Jail
“But, what’s around THAT corner!?”

We were greeted immediately by a very friendly woman, who enthusiastically told us the history of the jail. Once she went over the basics, we were handed a map and left to self-tour. 

The old jail is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a building that used to be a jail, turned into a museum. The original building was built in 1808 and consisted of four cells. The cells are approximately 14 by 14 each, and each could hold up to 40 prisoners. Just hearing that made me feel claustrophobic. The cells each had a bucket of water and a bucket for waste. The two on the upper levels were a slight upgrade because they actually had floors. The ones below were just dirt. 

Eventually, they decided that was a bit cramped, so they built a second building and converted the first into a home for the jailer. The prisoners would come right down the hallway of the house to reach the prison behind. 

Warrenton Virginia
First a cell, then a kitchen. The wife of the jailer was paid to feed the prisoners.

The family must have been tired of having to go past prisoners to access their house, and a second tiny staircase was put in behind the kitchen. 

window
Dave contemplates by the window.

In the second building, the cells were still set up, and there were some manikins for extra creepiness. Behind the cells, the exercise yard… and the ending for some prisoners. 

 

gallows
A replica of the gallows in the back courtyard. We were told that for every hanging a new one would be built, enabling the prisoners to hear their own gallows being built.

For those with morbid curiosity, there was a display of murder and crime weapons. It was horrifying to see that a tiny pocket knife included among them. They also discribed some of the more infamous crimes and punishments, including one married man who ran away with a young girl. After a few days, he was caught and brought back, but apparently, adultry angered the citizens so much, they stormed the jail and had him hung immediately. 

Other than the history of the jail, they had information about the history of Warrenton and Fauquier County. Virginia was a battleground during the Civil War, and the town of Warrenton switched back and forth many times. Each time, the jail held soldiers of the opposite army. 

I thought it was especially neat that they had a paint sample from the jail house walls analyzed. They displayed the results, with approximate years and ingredients of the paints, and found smoke from a fire. There was a big fire in Warrenton in 1905, and they believe the smoke in the paint is from it. 

If you’re in Warrenton, the Old Jail is definitely worth a visit! It takes about a half hour, maybe a full hour if you read everything, and it’s only $3.50, so not exactly a bank-breaker. I also put myself on the email list to hear about ghost tours when they start up. Although I am a complete skeptic, it could be fun! 

 

 

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Cruising Part 3: More Island Photos

Because it’s hard to get people to come over and look at my scrapbooks, here it is in digital form to be forced upon you.

St. Thomas
The Harbor at St. Thomas

This picks up from my earlier complaints about my cruise, and then my post on how amazing flamingos at the zoo are.

St. Thomas

The next cruising stop was St. Thomas, in the American Virgin Islands.

american virgin islands
Lots of wild iguanas all around the port. My farrier says they taste like chicken.

Because I’m collecting National Park passport stamps, I had booked us an excursion to go to St. Johns, where the national park is.

american virgin islands
The holy grail of National Park passport stamps.

We disembarked the cruise ship, and immediately got on the ferry for a 40 minute boat ride over. Unfortunately, we picked the wrong side of the boat to sit on, so while the guide told us about different areas of the coast as we passed, we saw this:

We passed the time by inventing names for the random islands we could barely see.
We passed the time by inventing names for the random islands we could barely see, like “No one wants to live there Island”, and “Do you think there’s a freshwater spring on that island Island?” We can not be trusted to come up with decent names for islands.

We passed over the exact spot where the Carribean Ocean becomes the Atlantic Ocean. The water became shallow and clear enough to see to the bottom. It was actually a very neat spot. Unfortunately, my pictures did not capture the brilliance of the spot, and they look exactly like every other ocean photo in existence, so they will not be included.

St. Johns
The harbor at St. Johns

The guide described St. Johns as the Beverly Hills of the AVI. The average price of a home is $1.4m. This crushed our fleeting dream of just staying on the island and never returning home.

Once we were docked, we unloaded for the next part of our tour – a guided bus tour of the island. This tour was a reinforcement of not having enough time in any of these places. It was just a tiny nibble of an island that contains so much more. I would have liked to have gone on the beach, hiked in the National Park, and explored the ruins, but nooooo, I have to be back on my boat.

st. johns virgin island
The beach that I can look at, but have no time to enjoy. What a tease. (also, not a bruise on my arm, there was paint or grease on the bus that rubbed off on me)
national park
A mere glimpse of the ruins of the plantation.

We passed by the beaches, the vacation rentals, and a resort, and they all look exactly as beautiful, rustic and perfect as you’d expect an island that 80% national park to be. We were told there were wild donkeys, but I did not see any in person. Later on the ferry ride back to the dock, I befriended a woman from another cruise ship, and she showed me the pictures she took with a wild donkey. It looked highly annoyed by her presence, with a nasty, pinned eared expression, so maybe they aren’t too friendly. I did see free roaming cattle on the side of the road, though. Everything I saw of the island was tropical forest with no open land, so I guess their pasture is the shoulder of the roads.

Our tour ended, and we had a little bit of time to explore the harbor town. Naturally, I flocked towards the stray chickens that wander the streets.

wild chicken
I dream of a world where chickens can cross the road without their motives being questioned.

As the chickens got sick of me following them, we moved on to one of the best parts of visiting a tropical island – sampling the local alcohol. First, we all got frozen drinks. The vendor was a tiny shop right on the street with a huge selection of flavors. She had a full menu of her creative offerings, but there was also the option to create your own. I could have been adventurous, but I know what I like – Miami Vice, which is pina colada mixed with strawberry daqurri. But, I did have her throw in pineapple, and that was a risk that paid off deliciously.

After finishing those, we decided to be adventurous and headed to a bar down the road. The sign was offering 16 oz drinks, and we thought that sounded like a good value. Unfortunately, that was a risk that did not pay off, as my brother-in-law and myself both ended up with horrible stomach pains from too much alchohol or sugar or both. Dave was oddly completely fine.

Luckily we managed to schedule our sickness far enough in advance of the ferry leaving that we were both fine moments before we left the dock. That would have been a horrible trip back otherwise.

Feeling fine on the ride back!
Feeling fine on the ride back!

We picked a way better spot on the return trip and were able to appreciate the tour. The guide, a California boy who wore no shoes, entertained us the entire ride. My favorite story was about when he had first moved here. He had been excited to learn that you can actually drink and drive at the same time. One day, he decided to drive down to the beach, so he ripped off his shirt, hopped in his car, popped open a beer and started driving. Not long after he started driving, a cop pulled him over. He protested when the officer walked up, saying it was legal to drink and drive. But, it turned out the officer had actually pulled him over because he wasn’t wearing a shirt. That was the illegal part. The cop held his beer while he signed the ticket, and then he held the cop’s beer while the cop signed it.

st. thomas harbor
A fort at the entrance to a harbor. There was a chain connected from this fort to one on the other side of the entrance. If someone they don’t like tries to come into the harbor, they raise up the chain! Now, this fort collects water that the wild donkeys drink, and can be accessed by a hiking trail.

St. Maartins

The very next day, we went on our last excursion – “Kayak and Snorkeling Adventure”. I’ve been snorkeling (I’m actually a certified scuba diver), but I’ve never been kayaking before. It was described as being “strenuous”, and that sounded perfect. I was craving a lot of activity!

I did not bring my camera on this trip because I assumed it would get either wet or sandy. Based on how I looked afterward, I would say that was a good decision to make. But, luckily my sister in law brought her underwater camera! An underwater camera is now a must have for all future water excursions. (Side note: I already have one… I just didn’t bring it on this trip. Foolish decision!)

excursion
Setting out on our kayak adventure!

We now know that it is super hard to steer a two man kayak. I thought it would be like paddling in a canoe. This is not the case (then I guess we’d just be canoeing, and not kayaking!).  We smashed into lots of other kayaks as we tried to figure out this kayaking situation.

The sad part about this excursion turned out to be that we were literally only kayaking to the next beach over. It was a disappointedly short kayak adventure.

kayaking2
But, we did make it, so success! 

We landed our boats and secured them, and then it was time to snorkel. Even though I love the water, I’m a huge baby about actually getting in the water, so I had a brief mental struggle before I finally went in. The sight of everyone else leaving the beach, swimming away and abandoning me, was great encouragement in getting moving. I waded in, cringing at the freezing water, but turned out I got used to it quickly, and it was very pleasant.

underwater picture
Ahhh, cool pleasant water!

We were all given life preservers to hang on to. Being in the water is second nature to me (thanks, years of forced swim team!), so at first I thought they were treating us like a bunch of babies. I wanted to be offended, but having been around lots of people who claim they are expert riders after a single tourist trail ride, I see where they are coming from. But, the life preservers had a second reason: Lots of boats go by, and it helps us be seen by the boats, and therefore not be run over and mauled with propeller blades. I do enjoy living to see another day.

I was having sooooooo much fun. I can’t believe I have gone so long without going snorkeling. Our little group ended up being the last group still out in the reef, and that had it’s benefit. The guide who was snorkeling with us found me a sea urchin to hold. He set it on my hand and I could feel its little tentacle shifting around. After a minute or so, he told me to tip it off my hand back in the water. I tipped my hand over, and the sea urchin was stuck to my hand. It had suctioned on to me. We all had a laugh, and then the guide graciously peeled the little guy off me. I was afraid of damaging him.

The guide told us the light colored sea urchins are harmless, but the black ones had spines on them. Don’t touch them.

seaurchin
The sea urchin and me. Also, our snorkeling guide (he’s shy). 

We headed back to the beach, and kayaked back. This time, Dave and I got the hang of it, and we shot through the water. If it was a race, we would have won. We were right behind the guide in getting back to our beach. We have decided that we both really like kayaking, and we’re going to find a way to keep doing it back in Virginia.

The excursion ended with a run drink. As all excursions in the Caribbean should! Then, it was back to being imprisoned on the boat for two whole days for the journey back to Ft. Lauderdale. It cemented in my mind that I really just want to spend time on the islands. Next time, I’m flying here straight here, and skipping the middle man. Instead of being stuck on the boat, I’m going to use all that time for hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling. And drinking rum. Obviously.

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Cruising, Part 2: The Bahamas

This was our first stop. We only had from 7am to 1:30pm to explore. We had no excursions planned, we simply walked off, and starting looking around town. There are many shops right by the pier, from the straw market and tourist souvenirs to high-end luxury brands, screaming out their “Duty-free” status.

One of the main streets. They were setting up for the Junkanoo Carnival.
One of the main streets. They were setting up for the Junkanoo Carnival. 

There’s a public beach about a 10-minute walk from there, and as we weren’t sure where else to go, we headed there.

beach
The beach, featuring the type of boat I’d much rather sail around the Caribbean.

Junkanoo Beach is a small strip of beach with a few bars and vendors, and people willing to put out seats for us. We declined. It was early, and there was only another couple on the beach, setting up for their day of lounging. We weren’t looking to swim, and were not dressed for it, so we shortly moved on.

 

Exotic attractions, like stairs with no railings!
Exotic attractions by the beach, like stairs with string for a railing!

We really had no plan, so I decided we were going to to go the zoo. The men, having no better ideas, followed.

I felt like a very experienced traveler, as we walked down the street, frantically looking for a taxi. We all turned and stared at every car that drove by. Eventually, my step-brother-in-law managed to flag down a bus. As he was in a parking lot, and the bus was at least 30 yards away, driving down the street, it was impressive he managed to flag it. For $1.50 each, we took a ride over to Ardastra Zoo.

Since it was still early, we got there before the zoo opened. Luckily, they had a convient bench outside for us to wait on.

 

benchseat
This is the infamous bench. Sorry I’m blocking the view. 

Eventually, the zoo opened. Inside, we were greeted by lots of exotic birds on perches.

The evilest bird that kept trying to attack me when I was trying to get a picture.
The evilest bird that kept trying to attack me when I was trying to get a picture. He’s not a fan of tourists.

With the exception of evil parrot, the animals here pose for photos. Every cage we went up to, the animals came over to strike up some poses for us. Are they somehow trained to do this? Why else would they all want their photos taken?

animal
It looks just like my dog!
The most beautiful and noble bird.
The most beautiful and noble bird. 

We made our way around the zoo, but once we saw the food vendor, we had to stop. They had the most delicious homemade popsicles. They had bits of fruit on them, and they were amazing. A bit pricey at $4.50 each, but I would buy one again. As we were standing there, a white peacock came strolling by, out for its morning walk.

whitepeacock
“Top of the morning to you!”

Despite the loose parrots, this was when we actually realized that there are loose animals at this zoo. There were two other green peacocks, and a big flock of flamingos just casually hanging out.

standing with flamingos

We mingled with all the birds, and ooohed and ahhed over the other animals.

capybara
This is a Capybara, the world’s largest rodent. I don’t think the picture can show the full scale of the size of this thing. It was huge! 

After viewing all the animals, we decided to head back to town to get some conch. But first, we stopped back at the vendor and bought rum punch, because buying mixed drinks at the zoo is a thing in the Bahamas.

path
Dramatic foliage filled walkway.

We had to walk from the zoo back to a main street because taxis do not come by the zoo regularly. We caught another bus, and although we discussed getting the van driver to give us a tour of the Bahamas, we decided against it. But know if you do go there, you don’t need to book the tour excursion from the ship, all taxi drivers are required to go through some kind of tourism class to learn enough about the island to give tours.

Back in town, we decided to seek out the Bahamian special, Conch. This is basically the animal that lives in those big conch shells. There are many resturants that offer it, we decided to go with The Bearded Clam, because I was with 3 males, and it made them giggle.

bahamas alley

conch
Fried conch

They ordered both fried conch, and conch balls (cue more giggles). Everyone was very happy with the conch, and they were having 2 for 1 Bahama Mamas, so we were doubly happy.

We made our way back to the ship slowly, stopping at other bars who were also doing 2 for 1 Bahama Mamas. We finally stopped when our stomachs were hurting from the excessive sugar. Ah well, we don’t get very long in the Bahamas anyway…

I was going to make this one post, but it got too long, as I had too many pictures I wanted to share. Next up, more beautiful paradise islands!

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Cruising, Part 1

Despite my earlier stance that cruises are terrible and I’ll never go on another one, I ended up on another cruise. Except I justify this by saying that it was (mostly) paid for, and Dave’s entire family was going on it. It was a family reunion of sorts.

We were booked on the largest cruise ship in the world, the Titanic. Just kidding, it was Harmony of the Seas. But we were told so much that it was the largest cruise ship in the world, I felt like we were going to be hitting an iceberg, or small island. Good thing the water is warm, so instead of freezing to death, we’ll just all be eaten by sharks.

cruise ship
Docked in St. Thomas, in the American Virgin Islands.
Lined up with other cruise ships. It's the big one, on the left.
Lined up with other cruise ships. It’s the big one, on the left.

The islands were fun, but being on this ship has not changed my opinion that being on a cruise ship is like being locked in a hotel. This time, it was like a hotel/mall, but pretty much the same. If you like being locked in hotels and malls, cruise ships are the perfect vacation. If not, well, probably should pick another place to vacation.

My favorite part of cruising is definitely eating in the fancy dining room. We ate there almost every night, and I like that it’s like eating at a fancy restaurant, except I don’t have to pay anymore than I already paid to be on this ship. I ordered delicious tender beef in various forms every single night, and I tried escargot, except I’m not classy, so I just call it snail. It was weird and chewy, but I’m still alive so I rate it a 3/5, so-so, would eat again if I was starving at a fancy French restaurant. I also like dressing up, so formal nights are fun for me.

Formal night 1. Obviously spent with Puss in Boots.
Formal night 1. Obviously spent with Puss in Boots.
Formal night 2
Formal night 2, because I’ll be damned if I’m paying $20 for an official photo.

We signed up to go to every show. Some of them were a bit mind boggling.

Columbus! The Musical, included sharks and dancing cheeseburgers.
Columbus, The Musical! included sharks and dancing cheeseburgers.

It was amusing and featured lots of modern, popular songs. The plot went all over the place.

Life raft of backup singers.
Life raft of backup singers.

There was an ice skating rink on board, and they also had a show put to popular songs. It was like watching a music video on ice.

"Hit me with your best shot", or something similar.
“Hit me with your best shot” included actual hitting.

There was a second ice show, 1887, but I had trouble following the plot. A woman somehow got trapped in some kind of time warp which took her into space and under the sea. That’s about as much as I could figure out.

Other than shows, they had some activities on ship to help you through the long stretches at sea.

minigolf
Mini golf occupied at least an hour.
That's about as high as I got.
That’s as high as I got.

Later, I shocked myself by going in the pool and going down a slide. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a pool. The pool space was incredibly crowded, and I got bumped into the whole time. Other than that, it was fun.

The real fun was in visiting the islands. That’s coming up next.

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Hiking in the Shenandoah

Before we go back in time, this weekend, I managed to have my car break down in DC. Ever the gracious wife, I agreed to a quick trip to DC to reset some computer equipment. I offered to just circle the block, but Dave insisted we just park. So I park, but then when I realized I parked illegally, I tried to start the car to move it, and it wouldn’t start. In the thirty seconds it was off, my car turned on me. Fiats are CRAP. It was a good commuter car, but now it’s broken my heart. Six hours later, I finally make it home, quickly ending my dreams of getting a ride in before dark.

But let’s go back in time to a happier time, to a two weeks ago, when I went hiking in the Shenandoah.

hiking trail in shenandoah
Some of it looked like this, but some of it was narrow and windy, requiring single file line. At one point, I had to pull onto the shoulder/boulder to let some people through.

Going into the Shenandoah in late October, I was expecting lots of beautiful fall colors. Well, there really wasn’t. What a waste of a trip into nature!

"Hmm, looks a bit too green in here."
“Hmm, looks a bit too green in here.”

The main reason my hiking partner and I go hiking is to collect stamps in our National Park Passports. I mean, I guess there’s that whole nature and exercise thing, but we are serious collectors. We need to collect stamps from all the parks in the U.S. It’ll be a difficult journey, but so far we’ve got a couple of VA ones, and nearly all the DC ones. It helps that all the DC ones are so close together.

Even further back in time to when we collected DC stamps. Here I am with a very important DC monument: The paddling boat dock.
Even further back in time to when we collected DC stamps. Here I am with a very important DC monument: The paddling boat dock.

But back to the past, except less past than the time I was in DC. There are bears in the Shenandoah. In actuality, there are bears in 95% of Virginia. There are a lot of bears around. But, especially in the Shenandoah. And especially in Virginia. There was a warning sign of what to do if you encounter a bear. Make yourself big, and if they attack, fight back. We had our own personal technique.

We made sure to practice our bear poses.
Practicing our bear poses. She was inspired by “The Scream”.
I am posed for flight.
I am poised for flight, ready to use my coat as a distraction.

So after acting stupid in the woods for a bit…

Ahhh!! She's been trapped by a vine!!
Ahhh!! She’s been captured by a vine!!

…we eventually continued on and got to a fork in the trail. On the right was gravel road on a steep incline. On the left, a wooded trail descending into the woods. Guess which trail we took!

Yes, my terrible, awful navigation skills took us up the gravel path. To be fair, the map descriped the trail as continuing on a fire road. It looked like a fire road to me.

The gravel road went on for about 1 mile, and it was all uphill. The entire trail we were hiking was only supposed to be 3.8 miles. The gravel road twisted around, doubling back on itself, and then had a few stretches of straight. While I am glad we got the exercise now, it was agony. Eventually, we reached a weather station on top of the mountain. While not our first clue that we weren’t on the right trail, it was a pretty big indication that perhaps, just maybe, we weren’t where we were supposed to be. Especially with all the warning signs around, telling us of dire consequences should we start touching things.

Luckily we did end up finding an unauthorized footpath that led back to the actual trail. It seems we weren’t the only ones to make such an idiotic mistake. And, it was all downhill and then level after that. It seemed amazing easy after that horrible trek. And this is how I learned I will never be able to be a true mountain climber. My pipe dream of climbing Everest has vanished after that 1-mile hike up a moderate slope.

Hurrah for downhill!
Hurrah for downhill!

Once the footpath reconnected with an actual hiking trail, we interrupted a man’s date with his lady friend to beg directions. He spent several minutes with us, thoroughly explaining where we were, and the correct path to take to continue his hike, while his lady tried to hint to him they should move on. But, he knew his directions, and he wanted to make sure we went the right way.

The correct route!
The correct route!

The rest of the path was so simple, it felt way too easy. We’re probably ready to move on to more challenging trails at this point. As long as the challenge isn’t a really long, uphill gravel road.

We eventually made it back to the car, and began the next leg of our journey: The journey to food. Skyline Drive is really long, especially when the speed limit is 35 mph. Eventually we buy some at the hiking cafe, and then, it was time to head home.

While driving, we came across a traffic jam. There was a bear! People were getting out of their cars to stare. We stayed in the car, it seemed way safer. But the bear got bored of the crowd and left after only about 30 seconds. Oh well… at least I can say I saw one.

Thus concludes Shenandoah hiking adventure.

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Horse Wanderlust – The Mongol Derby

It’s common knowledge that taking care of horses basically means, I never go anywhere. How could you? There’s horses to take care of, chores to do, and no one can take care of your horses the way you do. When you do end up going someplace, you spend the whole vacation worrying if everything is alright.

Except those of you that board, of course. You lucky ducks.

Let’s say, hypothetically of course, you do manage to get away for a vacation. Do you pick your spot based on what horse activity you can possibly fit in? Or maybe after you’ve picked your spot, you’re immediately googling for nearby horse attractions. This is definitely me. We have a vacation planned in the next few months and I’m instantly googling to see where I could ride. I was pretty disappointed when I found that the gorgeous tropical islands we will be visiting do not have horses. Honestly, what’s the point of a tropical paradise if you can’t ride on the beach, splashing in the waves?

I do want to see the world. I would love to be one of those magical people on Instagram whose job seems to literally be traveling. Other than not understand how that is possible, how could I be without horses? This is why I’m fantasizing about vacations that are all about the horses. The best way to take a vacation from your horse is to go see and ride someone else’s horse. Obviously.

Since I fantasize about being extreme and tough, the top of my list is the Mongol Derby.

Horse and Hound UK

This race is run by Adventurists, a British company that specializes in the craziest adventure vacations I have ever seen. Some of their other vacations include driving an antique motorcycle across a frozen Russian lake, driving a rickshaw through India, and a dugout canoe sailing race. They are certainly interesting ways to see the world.

The Mongol Derby, which started in 2009, is a 621 miles race over 7-11 days, via local feral Mongolian horses. It includes beautiful Mongolian scenery, sleeping under the stars or with the nomads, riding barely trained horses for 14 hours a day, and tons of potential injury. If that doesn’t sound awesome, I don’t know what does. This is the Everest of endurance races. You do it because it’s there.

The race costs $11,237 American dollars. It’s a pretty hefty sum, but it includes the horses, a saddle, a support team to care for you if you get hurt, tracking so your support team can find your battered body, and 3 days of training. I might be a crazy person, but it seems worth it to me… as long as they include airfare. Including airfare makes me feel like I got a good deal, no matter what the cost of something is.

Telegraph UK

The course runs through the steppes of Mongolian, a re-creation of the routes of the very first long-distance postal system (circa aproximately 1200). Using the system of stopping at gers, the tents the herders live in, and swapping out their horses, messengers could make it across the country in days. You can pretend you’re the messenger as you switch your feral horse for the next feral horse, although you can’t just ride your horse into the ground. Veterinarians will check your horse at each stop to make sure its still in good shape. Riders who don’t care for their mount are penalized.

Riders are provided a Mongolian horse to ride. The horses are actually pony sized, vital to the modern day life of the nomads, and they haven’t changed much since the days they were first used, as they are left free most of their life, and rounded up as needed. There isn’t human interference in this breeding program, it’s still darwinism at work. At each stop, you switch your feral horse for the next feral horse, although it should be noted that veterinarians will check your horse to make sure its still in good shape. Riders who don’t care for their mount are penalized. But I’m impressed by the apparent athleticism of these little horses, as many riders have said that they could easily have galloped the entire 25 miles, or in the case of the video below, did gallop the whole 25 miles.

ABC

My first thought was, If I really liked my horse, can I buy it and bring it home?! Sadly, there is no information on the website about this, but I have a feeling that these horses who roam freely over hundreds of miles, would probably be pretty sad in my 3 acre pasture. I would just have to appreciate them while I’m there, I suppose. Assuming they don’t throw me off and break my limbs, which would make me not appreciate them at all. According to some articles, the horses could bolt the entire time, fall over, or perhaps worst of all, completely refuse to go faster than a walk.

As someone who has ridden some green horses before, I think I’m up to the challenge. I want to see Mongolia, I want to ride for hours, sleep in gers, and experience something that I’ve never experienced before. Who’s with me for 2018?! (I need some time to work up my endurance, although I think I can practice on Pony, he looks kind of like these horses. Also I need to save some money, and convince Dave this is an excellent use way to burn some money.)

If you need some inspiration, here’s mine: I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade, by Diane Wilson. I read this book as a kid, and it’s stuck with me every since. It’s about a Mongolian girl who is “chosen” by the horse when her foot is crushed by a horse’s hoof. She is forever a cripple, but she finds freedom on the horse’s back. When she’s a teenager, she pretends to be a boy and is drafted into the service of the great Khan, where she ends up becoming a messenger along this very route. It is a book for children, but it’s a pretty damn good book for children. Although I do intend to eventually find some adult reading inspiration… being an adult and all.

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Maryland Renaissance Festival

It’s that time of year again – Time for me to set aside my horse-ing so we can do something Dave enjoys.

The Maryland Renaissance Festival is the second largest in the country. It just started this last weekend and runs for the next 8 weekends. This past weekend had the theme of “Children’s Weekend”, but it seemed to contain an average number of children to me. They will be there for all the other weekends too, you can’t avoid them.

We (Dave, our friend, and I) got there as soon as it opened and managed to avoid all the crowds. There was no line to get in the parking lot, and no line for delicious breakfast crepes, although I did have to wait for them to be made. I guess it would have been asking too much for them to already know my order before I got there.

We went to the wine lane, and I got a cup of the most delicious riesling. I meant to get the name of it so I could buy lots of bottles of it later, but I failed to get it. Now it will be a life quest to get the name of it. I did figure out that the primary wine supplier is Linganore Wines, but I don’t see a riesling listed on their site. But I must know for sure so I will be heading there for a wine tasting.

heart bridge
The friend who conveniently turned away from the camera and I stand on a romantic bridge. I suppose technically it should have been Dave and me on the romantic bridge, but it wasn’t until afterward we saw the hearts, we thought it was just a random bridge. 

We stopped to watch the shows, including this very impressive display.

Aerial Silk Fantasy
I’ve always dreamed of hanging upside suspended from trees like a bat.

I wonder if I’m too old to learn this. I took gymnastics as a kid, that should count for something! I looked it up and introductory lessons are only $15, so I feel like I have to at least try it out. It looks fun, and that woman was super fit. I can’t even climb a rope and she scaled those silks like a monkey. I like the idea of having fun and being super fit. It seems like a win-win.

She must also have amazing stamina because she does this performance three times a day on both Saturday and Sunday.

We watched Wheel of Death again, which is always entertaining.

wheelofdeath Ichabod is very funny and puts on a good show, as evidenced by the huge crowd he draws.

wheelofdeath2

We also did archery. I thought I’d have a huge advantage because I have a bow and arrows at home, and manage to hit the target. I wondered why I was paying for archery when I could do it free at home, but I did secretly want to show off my archery skills.

There was no showing off. I was terrible. I probably should practice more. I think I hit the edge of the target one time, although in my defense, the feathers on the arrows were very frayed. I’m fairly positive that will contribute to missing the target.

Not me shooting the bow. She hit the target three times.
Not me shooting the bow. She hit the target three times, and she doesn’t even have a bow and arrows at home.

After walking around for a while, we headed out. Unfortunately much of the “to do” there involves spending money, so not the best place to go if you’re trying not to spend money. Still fun though, and now Dave has it out of his system… Until next year!

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A Blogger Meetup!

 

The nice thing about meeting other bloggers is you already know what you have in common: (obviously) horses. I’d been following Sarah from A Soft Spot for Stars for some time now, possibly as long as I’ve been blogging, and a few months ago we started talking directly online. One thing to led to another, and she invited me down to visit, and said I could come ride Copper if I wanted. Copper was having a bucking problem in the transition to the canter, and I was very interested in this!

Last weekend, I made the trip down to south west Virginia and it ended up being a whirlwind weekend of horses, exploring, and amazingly delicious dip. Seriously, it was the best dip ever!

We started out by immediately checking out her horses, and I took a ride on Copper. Based on the videos Sarah showed me, I was thinking his issue had to do with being behind the leg, so I worked with him for a little bit on immediately moving forward when I asked. Being a western pleasure gentleman, he was a little confused that I suddenly wanted a very forward trot, but he obliged, moving up into a nice big trot, and then easing back. Once he was responding well to that, I asked him to canter, and off he went, with no bucking. Hurrah!

Sarah got him immediately, and she set off doing transitions. There was also no bucking. She really has an excellent seat, and they looked amazing together.

Sarah also let me ride Highness. Since I love thoroughbreds, I had really been looking forward to this.highness

She feels a bit out of control because of greenness, but she tries hard. It was funny to ride her because she looks so similar to Berry, so from my view, she could almost pass for her, if it wasn’t for our uncertain communication. Still though, she’s such a sweet girl, and we haven’t been communicating for long, so I’ll give her a pass for it.

thoroughbred

Afterward, Sarah introduced me to her sweet little donkeys, henceforth called the Donks. One donk was especially sweet, and made me immediately want one of my own.

miniature donkey
Emma donk, of the overwhelming cuteness!

Although I actually don’t want to care for more animals, so probably not the best fit. But still, I can appreciate how insanely adorable they are!

After that bought of cuteness, it was time for exploring. Sarah took me up into the mountains to an overlook where it is possible to see 4 states. We made it up to the top of the lookout, even thought I had hesitations about the height as we went up.

lookout
From the ground, it doesn’t look so horrible, but once you start going up those stairs, and you peek out at how far below the ground is…

Once we actually made it though, it was pretty nice up there!

Ooooooh, aaaaaaahhh
Lovely view, but impossible to be sure which state is which. They need to install some signs. 

We then did the most logically thing, which was eat and drink wine. Sarah has the most incredible dip recipe that is so delicious, I think it could be a meal in itself. I’m going to be making it back at home soon.

The next day, we returned to the barn, but unfortunately it was raining, forcing us to stay indoors. It was still enjoyable just to sit and watch/talk while Sarah rode Copper around in inside. Definitely a plus of riding indoors, it keeps the conversation flowing!

Unfortunately I had to head off shortly afterward, but I’m really excited for the next visit! Hopefully it will be soon, as we still have much to do together! It was such a fun weekend, and so nice to meet up with another blogger!

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