Tag Archives: Travel

My 2016 Year in Review – Topping My Charts

I have just returned from another fabulous Winter weekend in the Adirondacks to celebrate the New Year. While I was there I had gotten in some ample cross-training time skate-skiing, hiking and some photography. This outdoor time gave me a good amount of time to reflect upon the last year. I keep hearing others saying over-and-over how 2016 was such a horrible year, but for me, not so much.

Cascade Moutain – Lake Placid, Adirondacks, New York

You would think that as one gets closer to the big 5-0 that PR’s and things would become less frequent. But my 48th year was full of them. What is up with that? Perhaps the fact that I had well preserved myself well during my 20’s and 30’s may have something to do with that.

December(2015) was full of Winter cross-training in Banff National Park in Western Canada. They had gotten a good amount of early season snow there and Lake Placid had none. We hit the downhill slopes at Lake Louise and Sunshine Village, got some snowshoeing in on the Bow River and a ton of photographing the beautiful Winter scenery on the Icefields Parkway leading to Jasper.

Business, Canada, Company, Corporation, SmugMug, banff, feature, lake louise, mountain, rockies

First Light on the Icefields Parkway

In January, we had plans to spend a week in the warmth of Sedona, AZ but that was cut short due to a blizzard that delayed flights for several days. We still ended up with an amazing, activity packed long weekend there. We got out for some amazing hikes and photography some beautiful scenery. I replenished my vitamin D store with the clear skies and bright sunshine. It was a great reset before turning my attention back to the long Ironman training season that lies ahead.

Chillin’ on the Bell Rock Vortex

In February I started up my official Ironman training season with Todd Wiley. I had gotten to know Todd over the last year or so through some of his workshops and Lake Placid training camp and really like his personality. He was a prior pro triathlete and has had a lot of success with some pretty high-level athletes over the years, so I thought I would see what he could do with this old, average dude. My goals for the season was to increase my IM run performance while maintaining my bike and swim and finalizing that with a sub-12 hour Ironman.

In March, I had my first official race of the season, The St. Pat’s Allentown 5k. While it is only a 5k, this would be the first test of my fitness to see what I had accomplished during the last two months. I would also use this as my Lactate Threshold(LT) test for my training. It did not disappoint. I finished with a 1 sec PR of 22:45(chip time) over my prior PR from 2013. 3 years older and getting faster.

St. Pat's West End 5k 2016

St. Pat’s West End 5k 2016

In April, I took things up a notch and competed in the local St. Luke’s Half Marathon which I hadn’t run in since 2013 when I ran with my wife. I was planning to run it in 2015, but got a stomach bug the morning of and had to bail. My current PR for this race, and half marathons in general, was from back in 2010 when I finished with a 1:46:41(chip time). I also had challenged my co-worker Steve, who is what I would consider more of a “runner”, to a duel for this race. It was a bit of a stretch, but I thought the extra competition would bring out a little extra in motivation for me. Although I didn’t come close to beating him, I did manage to eke out another PR for myself finishing in 1:45:10 after 6 years. 2 races and two PRs…not too shabby a start to 2016.

Next up was my first triathlon of the season, the French Creek Olympic Triathlon. I had never done this race before, so I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I knew it was a pretty brutal race with a very hilly bike and run, so you could not even compare it to any other Olympic Distance race. I obviously did not PR this race, but I did end up on the podium by taking 3rd in my age group. This was the first podium since my very first multisport race, the Belleplain Duathlon, back in 2008 where I finished 1st in my age group. So now 3 races and 3 top outcomes.

French Creek Tri Podium

French Creek Tri Podium

In June I traveled up to Syracuse, NY for the Ironman 70.3 Syracuse triathlon. Another race I had never done before, but was hoping for a good finish here given the prior results so far this season. The race started off well with one of my best half-iron swims and a decent bike leg where I felt I hadn’t “burned too many matches.” The run leg was a different story. The sun came out and the heat turned up towards the end of the bike and my body turned to mush. Reminiscent of the Ironman Couer d’Alene run I fell into a walk-run for the very hilly run course. Ok, you can’t have them all! So with no PR to be had this time, I took my setbacks here and turned it into motivation for the true goal “A” race of the season at Ironman Mont-Tremblant.

Finish Run Ironman 70.3 Syracuse 2016

Hurtin’ for Certain – Ironman 70.3 Syracuse 2016 – High Temps on the run left a little to be desired for this race.

July turned out to be a pretty hot month, so I gained some pretty good acclimatization to the heat while training. If Ironman Mont-Tremblant (IMMT) was going to cook me like Syracuse, I was now prepared. Well, as much as someone who does not like the heat can be.

August came around quickly and tapering was in full swing as we made our way up to Mont-Tremblant for the peak race of my year. When race day came I could not have asked for better weather conditions. It was very cloudy in the morning as I prepared to hit the water. A fighter jet buzzed us so close it brought tears to my eyes. Then the cannon blasted and we were off. The rain started during the swim and poured down all day! For me, that was perfect conditions. I was like a pig in the slop.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 Bike Rain

Terrential Downpours on the bike leg of Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016

Due to some choppy lake conditions, my swim was not as fast as I thought it would be, but still one of my faster IM swims. My bike was one of my fastest so far but yet I still held back as I planned to save something for the run. The run was my best ever Ironman run. The rain came down and kept me cool while cranking out some 8:30-9:00 pace miles. I felt amazing the whole time. I blew away my sub-12 hour goal by about 14 minutes and coming away with an Ironman PR of around 50 minutes! I chopped off almost 30 minutes on my IM run time alone. Mission accomplished!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Finish

So now 5 races completed for this year and 3 of them were PR’s and 1 podium. What more could I ask for? A fabulous end to an epic season for sure. Proof that aging does not mean you get slower. At least not yet. Maybe by the time I am 50 I can qualify for Kona? 🙂

Usually with the last race of the season comes a little depression that it is all over for another year. I like to schedule something big for after my last race that keeps me on the up-and-up. Just when you think things can’t get any better we headed to Iceland for a two-week journey around the island in a camper.

Kirkjufellfoss – Iceland 2016

I let my body recuperate a bit and broke out my camera for an incredible trip. It was the perfect diversion for someone who has only thought about training for the last year. The scenery was out-of-this-world and it was a great end to all the hard work that was put in over the last 8 months. I have been working on a full report blog post on this trip which I hope to be published very soon. Stay tuned for that.

While you would think that was all for this year, I had to do one more race. I signed up for the local South Mountain 10-miler run which was kind of a birthday run for me. I had never done this race before, but it looked to be quite challenging. It starts not too far from the Lehigh Univesity’s Goodwin Campus fields and a makes it was up to the very top of South Mountain, turns around and heads back down again. It is very steep and a big slog. I ended up 40th overall and 6th in my age group. Not a great result really, but I maintained a 8:12 pace which is just a bit off my half marathon pace. It was more for fun so I am not too worried about that.

I concentrated on my photography a bit for the remainder of the year, which tends to play 2nd fiddle to my training. I made a couple trips to Lake Placid and a short trip to Salt Springs State Park(PA) for some photography sessions. I came away with some keepers and also started getting more active with my Instagram feed. I dug back into my photo archives and found some great pictures I had taken in the past that never made it off my laptop.

So now as we head off into 2017 and I set my sights on Ironman Boulder and the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid this year, I have great memories looking back on the amazing year that was 2016. Despite what many others have felt. I have so much to be thankful for. I can only hope that 2017 is even half as good as last year.

I can only hope that 2017 is even half as good as last year. Although, it is already shaping up to be a pretty full one. I have several races on the docket and plans are already being hashed out for an amazing trip to Croatia and Slovenia during post-race season. As for goals, Ironman Boulder should be a challenge in itself given the altitude so I am not putting any time goals on myself for that. Perhaps working on pacing myself would be enough. I think Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid may be my A race for the year and I would like to shoot for a half-iron distance PR there.

My other goal for 2017 is to get back to regular blogging here. I have fell off the wagon a bit over the past year so I hope to pick that up again. I have just “cut the cord” and cancelled my cable TV subscription, so besides saving money I plan on spending a little less time in front of the tube.

If you are reading this, I hope you had a great 2016 and a even better 2017 as well. Thanks for reading!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2016 – Feeling pretty relaxed after finishing and just coming back from my post-race massage.

Sedona 2016

It is hard to believe we actually had two vacations in two consecutive months, but here we are heading off to Sedona, Arizona for a week at the end of January. This trip was actually supposed to happen last February, but we found out our dog Yuki had lymphoma two days before we were supposed to leave so we ended up having to cancel at the last minute. Fortunately, our AirBnB host EllenE, was gracious enough allow us to reschedule our accommodation for this year despite our last minute change. Every host we have met on AirBnB so far has been so great and Ellen exceeded that with her hospitality.

Get Me Outta Here

As we came down to departure date on Friday, January 22nd, a big “Noreaster” snowstorm, named Jonas, was bearing down on the East Coast. It wasn’t predicted to hit until early Saturday after we left, so we figured we were in the clear. We left home around Noon on Friday and stopped in Easton for some lunch before going to the airport. As we were being seated my phone beeped and I recieved notification that our flight was CANCELLED???!! What??!! It was another 12 hours before any snow was supposed to fall and the paranoid United Airlines were already cancelling flights? We sat through lunch speechless and in shock. Something or someone does not want us to go to Sedona.

We got home and started cancelling rooms, airport parking and rental cars, then trying to reschedule flights for after the storm on Sunday. The storm came and unleashed 3 feet of snow on the area. We ended up being glad that we were home and could shovel out of it. It would suck to come home and not be able to get in the driveway. Our roof was loaded up so I had clear some of that off as well.

The airlines would continue to cancel our flights 3 more times until I finally realized it was more of a Newark Airport issue than an airlines issue. I ended up getting flights in and out of Philly leaving on Tuesday afternoon and returning on Sunday. Our 7 day trip was now only 4 days. The weekend was a roller coaster of anticipation as we kept rescheduling and they kept cancelling. I was starting to wonder if this trip was going to happen at all.

Finally, we got to a very mysteriously empty Philadelphia Airport and our flight went off without a hitch. Actually, all our flights from there on out were effortless. We have been pretty lucky with our air travel over the years, so we were due for a bit discourse. If it had to happen this was probably a good one for it to happen. We also ended up pairing our down our baggage to all carry-on suitcase and a backpack so we didn’t have to deal with any checked luggage. This definitely made things easier, but I had to ditch some of my biking gear(bike shoes, pedals, etc) in the  process.

We arrived in Phoenix around 10:30-11PM, picked up our Prius rental car and made our roughly two-hour drive to the Village of Oak Creek(VOC) in Sedona by 1AM on Wednesday. We found our cozy little apartment, unloaded our unchecked  It is always interesting arriving somewhere new at night, cause it is like big surprise the next morning when you can actually see things.

Day 1-Sedona…Finally!

Despite our late arrival, we were up before Sunrise on Wednesday. Well, my wife was and then she woke me up by pulling the shutters totally open on the window on my side of the bed. I was immediately presented with the “Magnificent Red Rock Views” that the condo is named for on AirBnB. This got me quickly out of Bed.

We walked a couple blocks away to the Red Rock Cafe for breakfast. Breakfast was really good and they were very accommodating. Denise likes to have veggies with eggs in the morning and most places back home look at her cross-eyed when she asks for that. I had French Toast which was very good too. Another older couple near us ordered the Cinnamon Roll which is a claim-to-fame dish there. We found out why when it came. It was the size of a cake! It smelled really good.

We decided to take a walk/hike up to Bell Rock/Cathedral Rock which was only a mile or so away. We walked from our place which added a couple extra miles. Denise was looking forward to feeling the “vortex” energy there but she wasn’t sure if she felt it or not. What I did feel was the warm sun on me which felt pretty good after shoveling snow the past few days. It was a beautiful warm,  blue-sky day. Not the greatest for photography, but I didn’t really care.

We stopped at little place called “Taste of Marrakech” on the walk back to the condo. They had some really good hummus and other Middle-Eastern type dishes. I had a Falafel Gyro which was quite tasty and not dried out like some falafel tends to be. It can be like eating sawdust.

For dinner, we went to the famous Elote Cafe. Usually people line up there at 5-5:30PM to eat since it is a first-come, first serve place. We ended up getting there a little later and were able to walk right in and be served. Dinner was very unique and had a lot of corn-related, Mexican-style dishes. I also tried a special House Margherita which was very different from the typical drink and made with their own house-made Tequila. Our waiter was also quite an interesting character as well.

Day 2-Sunrise and Smoothies

So I have been on this habit of waking up earlier in the morning. Well, I kept this going during our vacation which I thought would benefit my photography. My wife is always saying “you can never be a professional photographer since you can’t get up early.” So I decided to prove her wrong. Never tell me I can’t do something. Anyway, I was up early to try to catch a sunrise photo shoot over near Red Rock State Park which is supposed to have good views of Cathedral Rock. Well, it does but unfortunately, a clear sky doesn’t really provide a great photo in the early morning. Shut out!

After my disappointing early photo shoot, we stopped at Berry Devine for a smoothie breakfast. We got some great smoothies and some entertainment to boot. The fellow working there, Dave, was quite an interesting guy and he kept us entertained for our breakfast. They even had an “Iron Man” smoothie which was my favorite. Coffee there was less than exciting, so we stopped at the Java Love Cafe after for some locally roasted beans. Dave also gave us some tips on some local hikes that would get us away from the tourist crowd.

We headed up to Chimney Rock after breakfast and hiked around it and then on to Andante Trail. It was definitely sparse with hikers. The hike Chimney rock was half decent, but the Andante part was less than exciting. It would have probably been better for mountain biking.

 

For lunch, we stopped at the Mariposa Grill which is perched on a ledge along the highway with amazing views of the surrounding mountains. The place is amazing too. They have a large deck to take in the view which no one was sitting at. We asked to sit outside and they thought we were a little crazy. It was in the mid-60’s and I thought it was quite comfortable. They even turned on the overhead heaters for us. It ended being really nice private dining. The place is fairly upscale so we resorted to just lunches there which were the price of our typical dinner. Food was amazing and the Yuca Fries were out of the World!

Next, we headed into town for some window shopping. One of the annoying things in Sedona is all the outdoor adventure places are fronts for selling timeshares. So when walking by stores you get the line “are you staying in town for the night?” I quickly learned to say no and move on. We then headed up to Fay Canyon for a late afternoon hike. It is a quick hike but we ended up getting up into the canyon when it was dark and we had to partially bushwhack our way off of a ledge. I had my headlamp, but the batteries died quickly. Fortunately, I remembered that I had my trusty iPhone and used the flashlight to light up the trail. It worked great too.

desert, red rock, sedona, vortex

Fay Canyon-Sedona, AZ 2016

We stopped at the Choclatree Organic Eatery in town for a vegan dinner. It was really good food and their deserts are quite amazing. My only wish was that the portions were a little bigger. If you are looking for some healthy, it is a worth a stop.

Day 3 – Chuckwagon

We were up bright-and-early again and headed to the Airport Mesa Vortex to catch a few sunrise photos. We made a quick stop at Oak Creek Roasters coffee shop to get a little caffeine coursing there my veins. We arrived at the Airport Mesa parking lot while it was still dark out. There were only a couple cars in the small parking lot, so there was no problem finding a spot. While I got my photography gear together, Denise checked out the information sign. I saw there was another girl with asking her a lot of questions. We then high-tailed it up the steep and rocky path to the top of the vortex. The girl and her boyfriend/husband were struggling to stay with us and I could hear them sucking air as I flying up the path. Apparently they are not planning on doing any Ironmans this year. 🙂

We got up to the top of the rock and Immediately claimed a nice little platform and setup my tripod. There were a bunch of younger Asian kids up there in shorts and lighter clothing. It was pretty cool up there and the wind picked up as the morning continued making it even worse.

I ended up kicking over my entire coffee on the ground, which did not make me very happy. The sun eventually worked its way up, but there were no good cloud formations to really  gather the color and provide some drama. Regardless I did get a couple ok shots of the valley and rock formations across it. Looking behind us after the sun came up were a couple hot air balloons that I thought might make some good images, but they were a bit too far away.

After the morning photo shoot, we headed back to Berry Devine again for another round of breakfast smoothies. Our buddy Dave was kind of busy this time and didn’t have much time to chat and entertain us. We also headed back to the Java Love Cafe for our morning coffee and latte. Funny how it was the same bunch of people that were in there the previous day too. Definitely a hit with the locals.

Today we had planned to do some mountain biking. My friend Greg had ridden the Chuckwagon trail there in the past and recommended it, so we thought we would give it a whirl. We headed over to Over-The-Edge Bike(OTE) off of Route 89a to pickup some rentals. We had rented bikes from these guys in Fruita, CO a bunch of years ago, so we figured they would be good. And they were. We got a couple nice Trek full-suspension bikes and a rack for the car and we were off to the Chuckwagon trail.

The Chuckwagon trail was pretty awesome. It was fast-and-fun singletrack with some nice views. It was challenging enough, but not too crazy so that Denise was able to enjoy it as well. She wasn’t in super great shape and hasn’t mountain biked in quite some time. It ended up being about 10 miles in one loop. This got us back to the parking lot just in time for some lunch.


We headed to Picazzos for some lunch. Picazzos is a healthier, gluten-free pizza shop and it was fairly busy for a weekday lunch. Denise was excited to be able to have pizza since it was gluten-free. I was psyched because they had Beyond Meat Chicken as a topping option, so I was able to have the Thai Chicken pizza and not have to strip off the animal flesh. Beyond Chicken has a very close texture to real chicken meat, has a better nutritional profile, and is made using pea protein. A great option for those bridging the gap to a plant-based diet. I use it at sometimes when meat is kind of a key element of a dish. Lunch was freaking awesome and we gobbled down pretty much everything. All the calories we burned on the trail were instantly replenished. Better get back out there again.

I had left the mountain bikes on the car rack while we ate lunch, so I was relieved to get done eating. I kept running out to check on the bikes. We then drove back towards Oak Creek for the afternoon and rode up the connector trail around Bell Rock and then eventually to the Llama Trail. The connector trail was a tad bit technical and it was also uphill. There was a lot of on-and-off the bike and Denise was started to get a bit tired…and grumpy. We eventually hit the Llama Trail and that was also a bit challenging. I saw Denise was walking the bike a lot and she was not a happy camper. We eventually hit a shortcut route out and headed back. We took the easy paths and it was mostly downhill to the parking lot after Bell Rock.


We were pretty tired after about 16 miles of mountain biking. We dropped off the bikes and headed back to Picazzos for some dinner. Another good feed fest! After dinner we stopped at the Oak Creek Brewpub and I sampled a couple of their Pales Ales. Denise was having trouble keeping her eyes open so we then headed back to the condo for some sleep.

Day 4 – Road Trip to Jerome

We were up again at 5am on Saturday and made a b-line for Red Rock State Park to hopefully get some good sunrise pictures of Cathedral Rock. Denise dropped me off at the park gate entrance which was closed and it didn’t open until around 9AM. I blindly made way through the park following the river. I searched for a good spot to shoot some pictures of Cathedral Rock with the river in the foreground. It was a bit difficult since I could barely see. I walked and walked some more until finally I found this huge opening where the river which would have been perfect. Apparently it was a bit too perfect. There was another photographer standing right in the middle of the area with one of those old, large format cameras with the black sheet that goes over your head.

I quietly made my way around her so not to startle her. Not sure if she ever heard me since her head was under the sheet. I tried to find a spot up river a bit, but it ended up being too close. I started making my way back again and was kind of throwing in the towel at this point. The lady photographer waved as I passed by her.

I was almost back to the front gate, where Denise dropped me off, when I found the killer spot. Argh!! Despite that the sky was pretty uninteresting anyway. Oh well, maybe next time?

After another breakfast at Berry Devine and some coffee at Java Love Cafe, we took a ride up to the town of Jerome. Jerome was an old Copper mining town that is situated high up on a ridge which overlooks the Verde Valley below. Kind of cool little town with some shops, bars, and restaurants. We cruised through but were really into stopping, so we headed back to Sedona.

We decided to do a short hike to see Snoopy Rock. The trail was called Marg’s Draw and it was pretty close to town. It was actually a pretty nice, easy hike. Perfect end for our trip.

We headed back to Phoenix after our hike and had a nice dinner at True Food Kitchen. We then checked into the Hilton Garden Inn for the night and then back to Philly the next morning.

Despite the rough start, it was a really great trip to Sedona. Our shortened length forced us to make the most of our time. We had some amazing food and adventures. The only thing we didn’t get much of was relaxation, but we really aren’t into that anyway.

Thanks for reading!  Until our next adventure!

 

Winter Trip to the Canadian Rockies

We originally had made plans to go to Lake Placid in mid-December for a little Winter ski vacation. We had plans later in the Winter to head to Arizona for a week, so we needed to get a little Winter-fix before going to some warmer climate. Planning a ski vacation to the Adirondacks in December can be a little questionable as to whether they have snow or not. Last year they had a lot of snow then, this year practically none.

So, with only a few weeks to go, we decided to change things up. Denise checked around with her friends living out West and there was not much snow to be had there either. She then came across Banff & Lake Louise in Western Alberta, Canada. They had a good November snowfall and conditions were perfect for some early season skiing. We had always wanted to go there too, so no time like the present. We quickly changed our plans and locked in our flights to Calgary.

Our departure out of Newark was an early one. We were up at 3:30 AM and on our way to

Early Morning Wake-up at 3:34 AM

Early Morning Wake-up at 3:34 AM

the airport. We dropped the car off at the usual parking place, ABC Airport Parking, who quickly whisked us away to the terminal. The airport check-in and security checks went pretty smoothly and we were on our flight just in time to see the sunrise before take-off.

 

Sunrise Take-Off from EWR

Sunrise Take-Off from EWR

Houston…We Have A Problem…

Our flight to Calgary went fairly well until we tried to land in Calgary. There was a low-lying, dense fog that we had to go through to land. We could not see anything as we entered into it at the very last part of our landing. All of a sudden the runway appeared out of nowhere within feet of touching  down. Before the wheels were about to touch the pilot “hit the gas” and we were ascending at a steep and fast pace. Denise and I looked at each other saying WTH??!

Before long the pilot got on and said that the visibility was too low to land and they were going to give it another try. I believe we were possibly too far down the runway when we were about to touch-down. We then made a long sweeping turn and got back in line to land again. Fortunately, the 2nd time was much more successful. I usually don’t have an issue with flying, but I was a little uneasy after that episode.

We picked up our bags and rental car and made our way to West from Calgary to Banff. Calgary had a fresh inch or two of snow on the ground, which was a welcome sight after the warm start to Winter we had back home. The outskirts of Calgary are filled with these large walled communities of very tightly clustered housing. It seemed a bit strange to me. After flanking the city we started heading West over large open plains with the Candian Rocky Mountains looming in the distance.

Canadian Rockies in Sight

Canadian Rockies in Sight

We reached the town of Canmore after about an hour and turned in to get some lunch at CrazyWeed restaurant. Denise had found this place as being one of the best ones in Canmore. She did not let us down with her research either. We had a nice lunch there and then drive through the downtown area and up to the Nordic Center to check that out. It is a pretty lively little place with lots of shops and restaurants. I think it is a more reasonable option as compared to Banff which gets a little more upper-class folks and everything is a bit more pricey.

I pre-booked the first few nights of the trip at the Juniper Hotel in Banff, which is located across  Highway 1(Trans-Canada Highway) from Banff. It sits up and above the highway and overlooks the town with a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. Our room had a big window that allowed you to take it all in from your bed. The rates here were quite reasonable too. They have a nice restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We wish we would have dined there more cause food was really good! They also have a hot tub which was not far from our room.

Canada, banff, lake louise, mountain, rockies

Juniper Inn Room-Banff, Alberta, CA
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We also dined at the Banff Brewpub(twice) and the Bison Restaurant. I really like the brewpub since they had a wide selection of food and the beers were really good. The Bison was a bit more upscale, but I didn’t find the food all that great relative to the price. There wasn’t much choice for vegan/vegetarian, so maybe carnivores would have a better luck here. Melissa’s was our go-to place for breakfast.

Skiing at Lake Louise

On Sunday, we headed about 40 minutes up Highway 1 to Lake Louise to ski. We didn’t have high expectations for the mountain, so we were pleasantly surprised by the terrain. The snow conditions were also very good for early in the season. We headed over to the Larch area in the morning which seemed to have the best conditions according to some people we talked to. There were some gnarly areas, but we found a few good runs there. After lunch, we made our way to the back bowls which contained a good amount of fluffy snow. Although with overcast sky it was impossible to see anything. It was like white-out conditions. At times I had no idea what the pitch was or if it was bumped up or not. I just pointed my skis down and hoped for the best.

All-in-all it was a good ski day. The temps were around 25F which was perfect. We had lunch at the sushi restaurant in the lodge which was quite good. We sat next to a couple of guys who pretty much ran the mountain so they gave us the scoop on the hill. We rented equipment at Wilson Sports just down the road in the Village of Lake Louise. Equipment was nice, but our skis were wider and more powder skis, so they weren’t the best match for conditions.

White Knuckles on the Icefields Parkway

On Monday, we decided to take a break from skiing and take a drive up the Icefields Parkway towards Jasper, Alberta. The parkway starts at Lake Louise and heads Northwest through the heart of the most beautiful sections of the Canadian Rockies. It is supposed to be one of the most scenic drives in the world and takes about 3 hours to get Jasper in good weather. The only problem is that it was now the middle of the Winter and they don’t maintain the road very well during that time. Another factor was that my wife decided she wanted to drive that day. Since I can be a little bit of a control freak where driving is concerned it left me a little grumpy for the start. When we hit the start of the Parkway there was a flashing sign indicating that the roads not in great shape and to proceed at your own risk. The start of the road was covered in very bumpy ice which appeared to be several inches thick. I was not having a warm-and-fuzzy feeling for this 3 hour+ drive. My grumpiness ended rather quickly though once we got into the mountains. It was amazing! The mountain scenery with all the snow was one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen.

The road eventually mellowed out but was still covered with snow most of the way. Locals flew passed us in large 4-wheel drive trucks like we were standing still. We ended up stopping pretty often so I could take pictures, so the trip took even longer than expected. We knew we would not get to Jasper in time to come back again before night, so we ended up turning around just past halfway where Route 11 intersects. We stopped at Peyto Lake and did a little hike through woods to a lookout overlooking the lake.

When we reached Lake Louise we decided to continue our scenic journey and head down the Bow Valley Parkway instead of taking the highway back to Banff. We were rewarded with more magnificent views and even had an Elk sighting along the way.

Skiing at Sunshine Village

On Tuesday, we headed over to Sunshine Village  after a nice breakfast at the Juniper Hotels’ restaurant. Sunshine Village is only about 6 miles up Highway 1 from Banff. It is actually behind Banff, nestled in a narrow valley between the mountains that open up to a wide bowl at the top. A 20-minute gondola ride takes you from the parking area just to the base of the mountain. You can stop off part of the way up to hit the Goat’s Eye section.

When we arrived at the base we were greeted by a very friendly staff “greeter” that gave us the whole low-down on the mountain. It was a beautiful morning with the sun shining away before the snow clouds filled in later in the morning. We played around in the Wawa Bowl and Birdcage area for a bit in the morning and then eventually wound around to the Mount Standish area.

We had lunch at the Chimney Corner restaurant in the lodge, which ended up being a rather unpleasant experience. Our wait for our food took an exceptionally long time and when it finally did arrive the waitress indicated that my wife’s meal was accidentally served to another table. When my wife’s meal finally arrived, it was overdone and she asked to send it back. She also asked to get something else instead, like poutine, that would be quicker since she was hungry and we had wasted enough time in the place. When we got the bill, we noticed they had obviously comp’d us for my wife’s burger which she didn’t eat, but they still charged us for the Poutine. Given the poor experience, we were kind of surprised they didn’t just comp her meal all together as most places would typically do. We said something to our waitress who said she would talk to her manager.

Not soon after we were greeted by a slightly nervous looking younger guy who said he was the manager. We explained the situation to him and he then proceeded to tell us that we were basically wrong about our observation of how my wife’s burger was done. Really? Growing up in the restaurant business, I can tell that you that the customer is never wrong and that if they are not satisfied with their dining experience, you do whatever it takes to make it a good one. This kid was obviously a little puppet for someone else and was just following orders, but I was amazed at this. Especially in a country where everyone was so nice, this really stood out. And really, comp-ing a $10 entree to “make things right” would be no skin off their back. We are obviously not going there again, not that would have anyway. We were planning to hit one of the other bars there for Apres ski that day, but decided to bag it because I didn’t want to be paying them any more money.

Skiing at Sunshine Village pretty nice. We found a good bump run with a little tree section leading up to it.  We spent most of the afternoon on that before making our way down the Gondola back to the parking lot. We headed back into town to return our ski rentals and then grabbed another dinner at the Banff Brewpub before heading to our next destination.

Baker Creek Mountain Resort

We drove back up Highway 1 towards Lake Louise again and then about 10 minutes back down the Bow Valley Parkway to our accommodations for the next couple nights at Baker Creek Mountain Resort. Baker Creek is a somewhat remote little outpost consisting of really nice little log cabins and deluxe rooms. We got there late and they left a note on the office door indicating which room we were in. The room had a little kitchen, a gas fireplace, and big hot tub. The perfect little retreat for a couple days of rest and relaxation. The temperature was also dropping to below zero(C and F)  for the next couple days, so skiing was out of the question anyway.

We were a little disappointed to find out that the restaurant at Baker Creek was closed for everything but dinner, so we would have to drive up to Lake Louise Village next day for breakfast and get groceries for any meals we wanted to eat there. I was kind of looking forward to just hanging out there, but was not meant to be. They had also just sold the place to new owners, who had taken over only a few days before, so they were in a bit of a transition period. Despite that, the place was very nice and we had a very relaxing time there.

On our jaunt up to the Lake Louise Village, we enjoyed a great breakfast at The Post Hotel and then equally good lunch at the Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise. I also got out on the lake for some photography, but it was so cold there I could not stay out there for very long.

We also managed to get out for a little snowshoeing around Baker Creek and I was able to get a few images along the river at sunset.

Last Stop…Canmore

For the last couple nights we headed back to Canmore, Alberta to stay at the Falcon Crest Lodge. The room at Falcon Crest was more like an apartment than a room. It was very spacious, clean and new. The only bad thing was we had no view of the mountains from our room. Instead, we looked out on a walking path and another building which looked similar to it. It did have an underground parking lot which was kind of nice.

On our fist full day in Canmore, I was able to get out to the Nordic Center for some skate-skiing. Their nordic center is pretty elaborate and I was looking forward to checking it out. The only bad thing was there was a bunch of signs warning of bears still on the prowl and mountain lions which are always around. I was a little uneasy at first, but there were enough other skiers out that it didn’t appear to be an issue. I ended up getting about 10 miles in which was sufficient.

Dining out in Canmore was not a problem. We headed back to Crazyweed again which was very good, but there wine prices were outrageous.  We also tried Rocky Mountain Flatbread Pizza Co. which was also very good. Our Favorite though was CommuniTea Cafe which we ended up eating at 3 times in 2 days! They had really healthy food and it was much needed at the end of a vacation where we were eating a lot of less healthy stuff.

After dinner at the Pizza place, we headed over to the Canmore Curling Club to check that out. The bartender there was really nice and sat down and explained it all to us. Super-nice guy! There was recreational leagues going on and it was pretty funny to watch them. Looks like a very fun social thing.

On our last, full day of the trip we did a little hike up to Grassi Lakes. It was a pretty well-established trail, but it was a constant ascent on a snow covered path which made it a little tricky. I only brought one pair of YakTrax, so we had to share them by each putting one on one foot. We were quickly rewarded at the top with some beautiful little crystal-clear lakes and cascading brooks linking them together. The walk back seemed to be a little more tricky with the traction since gravity was coming into play.

We then talk a more leisurely walk along the footpath that runs along both sides of the Bow River in Canmore. Still snow-covered, but a nice little path to view the river and surrounding mountains.

This trip ended up being one of my favorites. It is surprising such a last-minute decision. We didn’t have a bad meal the whole time other than the Chimney Corner at Sunshine Village. The exchange was also a nice surprise after getting my credit card bill when I got home. I would definitely like to head back here again in the warmer months. I know it will probably be much more crowded, but if we spend more time in the backcountry we may be able to escape some of that.

Thanks for reading!

 

A Really Off, Off-Season 2014

Well, I am back. This off-season has been pretty uneventful ever since I completed Timberman 70.3 back in August. We did take a trip to Italy back in September which I just finished posting yesterday. I have continued to train and I did complete the 180 mile City-to-Shore ride, but I have had more achievments on Untappd than on Strava this fall. With those acheivments comes a snug waistline and around 15 lbs extra weight above my racing weight I need to shed. The lowest point was the week of Thanksgiving where I literally did absolutely no training that week. Unheard of! Apparently I needed this little break and I am trying to listen to my body a bit. Keeping up that motivation for Ironman training after 3 years is not always an easy task. 2013-07-27-16.31.42.jpg

But, I am back in the swing again and I am getting geared up for Ironman Coeur d’Alene in June and the St. Luke’s Half Marathon in May. Other than that I have nothing else planned but hoping to do so late season local races. I was tossing around Ironman Maryland as well as Steelman. Still thinking that over.

PMC Chart 2014-12-22_16-16-10

Training Peaks PMC Chart 2014-12-22_16-16-10

The last couple weeks I have been back at it pretty steady and I am feeling pretty well. I seem to have carried over my endurance because I am go out run a half-marathon, swim an easy 3000 meters, or ride my bike for 3 hours  without issue. Given that I trying to focus more on developing some speed and power for this season. I still have a goal completing an Ironman in under 12 hours which I carried over from last season.

In the pool, I have started using a Finis Tempo Trainer.  I have a very low stroke rate and am pretty much a glider. With that my lack of ability to do flip turns my typical stroke rate shows up at around 56-58 spm(both arms) on my Garmin 910xt. That translates to around 2:00/100m which is not great. I typically swim around 1:46-7/100y in open water which basically washes out the need to turn. So my plan is to try to gradually increase my turnover rate in the pool to increase my pace. I know that when I get my strokes/min into the high 60’s or low 70’s I can get down to about 1:50/100m which equates to about a 1:40/100y. If I can work on maintaing that pace for IM swim it would be cut down to about 1:11 or so. Actually I would be happy to get to a 1:15, which is 2 min improvement over the last 2 years.

TrainerRoad Pain Cave Amrita

TrainerRoad Pain Cave

On the bike, I am back using TrainerRoad again through the Winter months. This software helped me make huge gains in the bike last year. I went from a 223 FTP to a 253 which is 13% increase. It really showed on the bike too, I cut about 15 minutes off my Lake Placid bike leg and I had a great ride at Timberman finishing well under 3 hours. I am doing the same training plan I used last off-season and am looking for 10% gain edging to maybe 275-280 FTP.

I need to generate some more speed on the run for sure, especially after a long bike. My goal would be to finish the IM Marathon portion in around 4:10, which equates to a 9:30/mi pace. So, this is my floor pace for all my longer(LSD) runs this season. Other than warm-ups, I am going to make this the slowest I can go or I will have to cut distance in order to maintain it. I know I can run the distances at 10+ pace, so now it is time to step back and take it up a notch. I also want to incorporate some longer brick runs off the bike. I seemed to suffer more after the first 6 miles during IM and I need to work that out. During the week I will continue the tempo and interval runs as I did before.

Getting back to racing weight will also be critical for all this to happen. I feel I have my race nutrition plan pretty solidified, which is anchored by my good old Amrita Bars, but my off-season nutrition needs some work. A few too many pizzas and IPA’s this year, so I will be cutting that all out come January 1st.

Here are a couple good articles that I recently read on off or base season training that provide a little different twist on the traditional approaches…

Reverse Periodisation by Coach Brett Sutton

How to Maximize Your Winter Base Training | TrainingPeaks.

20 Winter Triathlon Do’s and Don’ts by Endurance Nation

If any of you are on the Zwift beta program and you are looking to ride with someone let me know too.

So I hope to get some more posts going here very soon. I have a couple training excursions and some product comparisons and reviews coming up too which should be interesting. So if you have stuck around, I hope you will continue to read on. Thanks for reading.

 

Tuscany, Italy 2014

I have been slacking on blogging lately and this post is long overdue. If you read my previous post about the start of our Tuscan holiday you know it did not get off to a good start. While it was not one of my favorite trips, looking at the pictures now I can hardly complain. It just wasn’t quite the active trip that I enjoy.

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Our flight arrival in Copenhagen, Denmark

We eventually made our way to Bologna, Italy after a couple short layovers in Oslo and Copenhagen, although it was a day later than planned. We were originally supposed to stay in Bologna the first night, so it wasn’t a huge loss skipping that one evening. Instead we just headed to the place we would have stayed the second night in Florence. It turned out that one day in Florence was enough anyway.

Florence

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Our Italian Wheels-The Fiat 500

While planning this trip we had read horror stories about how crazy the drivers were on the highway was from Bologna to Florence. They apparently have never driven with my wife. Denise drove to Florence from the airport and she fit right in there. Actually, it was fine and we had no problems until we got to Florence that evening. Florence is pretty confusing to drive in with the crazy streets, circles and traffic. Fortunately Google Maps app on my iPhone was AWESOME! I don’t know what we would have done without it.
We arrived at the Il Palagetto Guest House a bit late the first evening, but they waited up for us and were very accommodating. They even made us reservations at one of their favorite restaurants, Trattoria da Sergio, while we unpacked. We then walked a few blocks through the large gates of the old city of Florence and enjoyed a fabulous dinner. Now we were feeling like we were on vacation!

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Denise enjoying some wine at Trattoria da Sergio-Florence, Italy

After a good nights sleep and some breakfast, we headed into Florence for the day. As we got into the main part of the city it became very crowded! Loads of tour groups with their little flags and earbuds filled the streets. I was not diggin’ it. The area around the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo were the worst. We had hoped to go in the Duomo, but the line was around the block. Instead we opted for our first(of many!) gelatto tasting. Yum!

We had 2pm reservations for the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David statue, which everyone says you have to see. We headed over that way to find where it was and to pick up our tickets. People were lined up the street to get in there. Seemed kind of strange when all they had to to was purchase tickets on the other side of the street or online beforehand. Then they can walk right in the door at their reserved time. I don’t know why people would not do that? Whatever. We walked down the street and found Ristorante Accademia. We enjoyed a nice lunch while we waited for our entry time.  The food was delicious, our waiter was really nice and spoke good English too.

We headed back to the Accadmia with full bellies and entered pretty quickly. We started looking at some of the works around the entrance and then quickly skipped right to the main hall where the David statue was. We are not really “art” people so this was a stretch for us. I was not blown away by the David statue at first as some had said it would do. Perhaps the masses of tourists distracted me. It wasn’t until I got up close that I was really amazed. The size and articulate detail of this statue was amazing. Carving veins and bodily details out of solid marble like that just blew me away. Definitely worth seeing. We spent a bit of time looking at David and then sauntered through the other statues, but the other stuff was snoozeville compared to David.

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

David by Michelangelo-Accademia, Florence, Italy

The rest of the afternoon was spent “lolligagging” around the city. My wife enjoys this, but it just bores me to death. It is like mall-shopping for me. We got a good lay of the city and ended up at Piazzale Michelangelo where there was a gelatto-fest going on. The view of the city from there was amazing too. We decided after this we had enough and made our way back to the Il Palagetto House and started on our way down to Lucca. We would be staying at Il Gallo Guest House just outside of Lucca for the remainder of our trip.

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Il Gallo Bed & Breakfast

Culture, Europe, Italy, Lucca, Travel, Tuscany

Our place at Il Gallo B&B-Bozzano, Tuscany, Italy

The drive to Il Gallo went suprisingly fast. Google Maps directed us precisely up the winding little road up the mountain and into the driveway. We were immediately greeted by our friendly hosts, Robert & Katinka. They showed us lovely accomodations and invited us down for some local wine and snacks after we unpacked and settled in. We immediately felt at home with Robert & Katinka. It felt more like we were getting together with friends we had not seen for a while than hosts we had never met before. They are actually Dutch, but have lived in Italy for quite some years and new the lay of the land. We had told them of our dietary preferences, me being plant-based and Denise more a hybrid paleo, and they were very accommadating with our breakfasts. They even adjusted the breakfasts throughout the week based on what we did and didn’t eat. The first night Robert drove up the road with us to the little village above. He took us into the local restaurant and translated the menu and ordered for us in Italian before driving back home. The little restaurant in the town of Bozzano was pretty much only locals and was only open a few nights a week, but the food was amazing and so inexpensive. It is one of those places you just don’t find on your own.

Every morning, weather permitting, we make a short walk up into Roberts’ olive grove to our private terrace for breakfast. Robert had already delivered our wonderful breakfast which would be wating for us there. It was just an amazing scene looking out over the mountains that surrounded us. I didn’t want breakfast to end. On days when it was cooler or raining we would eat down by the main house which was very nice too and still provided the spectacular views. My only complaint about the week was that we didn’t spend more time there hanging out a bit, but we had all these cities to visit.

Denise enjoying breakfast on the terrace at Il Gallo, Lucca, Italy

Denise enjoying breakfast on the terrace at Il Gallo, Lucca, Italy

Isola Santa, Barga & Lucca

 

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Denise walking through Isola Santa, Italy

On our first day we drove north towards Castelnuovo di Garfagnana then west to a little ghost village in the Alpuane Alps called Isola Santa. Isola Santa is tiny town nestled into valley surrounding a beautiful spring lake. The town is so small and hidden we almost past by it. The parking area is basically just a turnout on the road. We walked through the little town and explored some of the hiking trails around the lake. By the time we got back to the tiny village, it was almost lunch time. There was one place with some outdoor tables that looked like they would serve food. No one else was eating yet, but we sat down at a table and a girl came out with silverware and things. Immediately after that several groups of people came in and sat down too. It now looked like this would take much longer to eat than we planned since they were not heavily staffed. We decided to leave and get something at one of the towns down along the Garfagnano valley.

We ended up stopping in the city of Barga for lunch. Barga has a very large Scottish population, which is highlighted by there Sagra di Pesce e Patate(Fish & Chips) festival every year. So we figured it would be easier to order and eat there since they most-likely spoke more English. We ended up eating at L’Osteria located in a small courtyard in town. It was quite good and the waitresses spoke decent English with a slight Scottish accent. We followed up our late lunch with a little gelato at the shop around the corner too.

We walked around Barga a little more after luch and then made our way down to check out Lucca. I think Lucca is one of my favorite towns in Italy. It has all the characteristics of an old medieval city but a little smaller and less touristy than some of the others. It is surrounded on all sides by a wall which you can run and bike around. I did neither of those, but we did walk a little bit around it 🙁 . To get into the city you must go through very narrow tunnels through the wall entrance which has cars on the outside and people on the inside. This leads to a bit of confusion when you get to the inside and everyone collides in the street.

Culture, Europe, Italy, Lucca, Travel, Tuscany

Lucca town center panorama

The labrynth of streets in the city are lined with many shops. There is a central piazza called, Piazza Anfiteatro, which has many shops and restaurants. Our host Katinka works in one of the shops so we decided to stop in and say Hi. While there she gave us some things to see in the city such as the Guigli Tower and also an opera that was going on that night. The tower was pretty cool. It had trees growing on the top and provided a magnificent 360-degree view of the city. The opera, well, was not really our bag. I tried to keep an open mind but neither of us was into it and we left at intermission. 50 Euros down the tube.

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

View of Lucca from the Guinigi Tower

We then went in search of somewhere to eat dinner. We ended up walking back-and-forth across town because Denise could not make up her mind where she wanted to eat. We ended up eating at Gigi Trattoria, which Katinka and Robert had recommended. It was a good meal, but we were a bit grumpy for the undecisive walking about we had done. We naturally followed up dinner with some more gelato sampling in town.

Fuori dal Centro Gelateria, Lucca, Italy

Fuori dal Centro Gelateria, Lucca, Italy

One stop was at a place on the main piazza which was ok. The better one was a place on the street outside of the main city, named Fuori dal Centro, which was right where we had parked. Denise had spotted some locals in there, so we figured it must be good. And it was!

 

Monte Forato Hike

We enjoyed anothe great breakfast before heading north again to the town of Fornovolasco to do the Monte Forato Hike. The Fiat 500 was getting bit low on fuel so we needed to stop and refuel. There is a gas station down the bottom of the hill from Il Gallo, but Denise said she had seen numerous other stations along the road we had taken the day before. As we drove on we didn’t see any and we were quickly approaching our turn to head up into the Alps. I finally spotted one on the other side of the road and made a turn in. I filled up the tank with around 50 Euros of petrol and then gave the attendant my Mastercard. Rejected!! I then gave him my Debit card VISA…Rejected! WTF!! I asked him to try my credit card again…still nothing. I didn’t know how much cash I had and started digging into my pockets. I managed to piece together the 50 Euros using every little piece of coinage in my pocket. Whew! Apparently gas stations in Italy use some special card for their gas purchases that is different from a regular credit card. I would highly suggest looking into this beforehand or just carry cash.

We eventually drove through the small town of Gallicano which had a ATM and a grocery store. We were also out of water, so we needed to stock up. I ended up purchasing a 6-pack of large bottles, but I unfortunately didn’t notice the word “sparkling” on the side. We noticed this later after we getting ready to start our hike in Fornovolasco. Not a good start to the day.

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Fornovolasco, Tuscany, Italy

We headed across the little bridge and up through the town. I somehow lost track of Denise while I was taking pictures, but eventually found her down at the lower end of the street. She was all mad about it, which I didn’t get since I thought I had seen her go up the way I had gone. I like to take my time hiking and take pictures and she is all focused on hiking, so she just takes off without me. We followed the stream uphill and eventually got off onto some trail going past some small gardens. There were some nice waterfalls along the way, but heaven forbid I stop and take pictures, so I just kept hiking. We eventually straightened things out at the next trail junction.

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Rainbow on Monte Forat Hike-Apuane Alps, Italy

The trail is mostly uphill for the first half before topping out on some rocky peaks. There are some great views of the valley and the coast on the opposite side. The trail had also gotten a little tricky to follow at the top as well. We ran into another couple on the climb up, who we chatted with a bit on the top. They John & Sarah from Massachusetts. We told them we were from Allentown, PA and John said he had done a Tough Mudder at Bear Creek Ski Area which is just up the road from us. They were a really nice couple and we had much in common with them. We hiked together for a little bit and then went our separate ways but kep running into each other again. We ended up hanging out with them at the bar back at the trailhead afterwards. We never got their contact information though, which I have regret.

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

The great stone arch of Monte Forato-Apuane Alps, Italy

The climax of the hike is the rock archway with a view of the valley in the middle. It was really clouded in when we first got there, but eventuallly cleared up to give us a view. We also got a nice little rainbow on the other side too. The hike down was not as much fun. It has briefly rained and made for an extremely slippery descent. Denise and I both fell several times. One of my falls was pretty intense too and my wrists were hurting. It was a pretty nice hike and we could have lengthened it a bit more if we had more time.

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Fornovolasco, Tuscany, Italy

On our way up to Fornovolasco, we noticed a small church nestled in the cliff side of the windy road up the mountain. We decided to take a ride up the small driveway to check it out. The Santuario Mariano Eremo di Calomini was lit up really cool as it turned dark out. Unfortunately, they had it gated off so you could not get up close to it. We also noticed a very narrow driveway that skirted the cliffside and a sign indicating a agriturismo and restaurant. We decided to check it out. Threre was a sheer dropoff on the right side of narrow driveway. We eventually came upon the Agriturismo Antica Trattoria dell’Eremita. It appeared to be open so we went in and had some dinner. It was pretty basic, but good. The best part was that they had some local spelt beer which I had yet to try. Definitely a good add for my Untappd profile.

Montepulciano & Siena

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Toscana View from Montepulciano, Italy

Wednesday morning we got up a little earlier, had breakfast and were on the Autostrada heading to Montepulciano. Montepulciano is one of our favorite types of wines, so we were looking forward that. It was about a 3 hour drive down there via east to Florence and then due south. The scenery was nice, for being on a highway, but the landscape was a bit browner than I would have expected. Perhaps it was that time of year. We got into Montepulciano around lunch time, found a parking spot in one of the parking garages on the Southeast side of town and headed into the city center to get some lunch. Denise had picked out La Pentolaccia as a good place to eat in the Rick Steves Italy book and it ended up being right in front of us when we walked into town. Perfect!

La Pentolaccia translates to “The Stinkpot” in English, but there was nothing stinky about it. We grabbed the last table outside which we shared with anothe couple from Arizona. They were really nice and we ended up chatting away with them. The lone waittress there was really sweet, but she was so busy you could tell she was really struggling to keep her composure. The food took a little long, but it was so worth it. I had some bean soup and gnocchi for my main course. We also had a small bottle of wine to wash it down with. Rick Steves did not steer us wrong there.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the town, which my wife likes to do. I tend to get a bit antsy when there is no particular destination in mind. We stopped at the de Ricci wine cellar which was really cool I got some pretty cool long exposure shots in there. The best part was at the end when you pass through the sliding glass doors into the tasting room. People in front of us were paying for wine tastings which were served at the counter. When we flashed our Rick Steves book at the wine stewards, we were immediately whisked over to a nice table and chairs complete with snacks and a full flight of tastings. Wow…Thanks Rick!

We then wandered around some more and then to the main Piazza Grande, which is the main square in town. I ventured into the Duomo and took some photos in there. It was fairly dark, so I had to do some longer exposures on the tripod. Next, was a short walk down the street to the left to Cantine Contucci to see the ever popular Adamo (Pallecchi) and taste some of the legendary Vin Noble. Adamo is known to be a bit of a character and he surely did not let us down. When Denise asked him if she could get her picture taken with him, he immediately starting fondling her and went in for the kiss. On the lips no less. Everyone was cracking up, including Denise and I. I didn’t manage to get the kiss shot because I was laughing so hard. It was so funny. Oh yeah the wine was pretty good too!

Europe, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Adamo putting the moves on Denise

We left Montepulciano in the late afternoon and decided to drive the more “scenic route” back to Lucca. We wanted to see more of the countryside and also avoid rush hour traffic on the autostrada. The countryside was beautiful, but much more brown and dry than you typically see. Most of the fields were plowed and the soil has very ash gray color to it. Nonetheless, it was still beautiful country. We decided to stop in Siena for dinner and check out the town.

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Montepulciano, Italy

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Duomo of Siena, Italy

Siena was really cool. Very old and has many tiers to the streets. The most impressive part was walking out into the Piazza del Campo, which is a large, amphitheater-like courtyard which is surrounded by the large Tower of Mangia on the lower end and numerous restaurants on the upper side. We headed past the Tower to dine outdoors at Antica Trattoria Papei, another Rick Steves recommendation.  Rick did not let us down this time either. The food was really amazing and they allow you to order a bottle of wine and only charge you for the amount you drink which I had never seen before.

Culture, Europe, Florence, Italy, Travel, Tuscany

Panorama of Il Campo-Siena, Italy

As if Piazza del Campo was not amazing before, it was even better after dark. The tower was all light up and there were tons of people just hanging out in the piazza. We got some gelato’s and sat down for a while and took in the view. There was something really cool about that place, but I just could not put my finger on it. We then made our way back to Lucca and Il Gallo. But the excitement didn’t quite end there. I noticed that the gas gauge was going down pretty quickly on the way home. It was around midnight at this point and there were no open gas stations. I was sweating it out towards the end. The warning light came on and we still had a 12 miles or so to go. As I was winding up the steep and narrow road to our place, the warning light began flashing and some italian words came up on the dash. I pulled into the driveway on fumes around 1am! Whew..made it!!

The Cinque Terre

The next morning I literally coasted down the little road to the gas station at the bottom of the hill to fill up. Now that we had relieved ourselves of that stress, we jumped back on the autostrada and headed west to the city of La Spezia. La Spezia is the main trainstation for getting up to the towns that comprise the Cinque Terre along the coast. You can drive up there but it is not recommended since there is not many places to park in the tiny cliffside coast towns. We parked in a underground parking garage below the train station. The was a big sign on the door saying to take your parking ticket with you, which I would not normally do. But I suppose there was a reason for this. After taking some time to figure out where to get our train tickets we eventually got on the train and headed up to the town of Monterrosa, which is the most northern of the popular towns. It is also the most touristy and less quaint, but we were just there to get some lunch and then hike the trail down the coast to Vernazza.

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We had lunch at Cantina di Miky, which was right on the beach. To my surprise they had a full menu of Italian microbrewed beers! My Untappd profile got a few nice additions of some international brews and badges. They food was also good. Denise had some anchovies that were nothing like the ones we typically see in the States. These actually looked like fish and they didn’t even taste fishy. There was a group of four next to us who just arrived from St. Louis who gave them a try too. After several IPA’s, one a double, I was ready for some hiking! But, we couldn’t do that until we had some gelato first.

We made our down the crowded promenade towards the end of the beach to pickup the trailhead. Throngs of tour groups crowded our the walkway making it difficult to move at times. We eventually reached the narrow trail and began our making our way up. Two German women in full packs and hiking gear played hopscotch with us until reached the ticket booth of the trail to pay our trail fee. The trail was pretty narrow and with amount of people on it it made it very annoying. You would get behind people in high heels or flip flops who should have stayed on the promenade and then you would need to wait for a time when someone was not coming the other way to pass them. I was getting irritated with it quickly. This is not my idea of hiking.

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Monterrosa, Cinque Terre

Despite the traffic, the views along the coast were beautiful. This made all the more difficult since it was really hard to take it in. The highlight was when we rounded the final bend to get our first views of the town of Vernazza. It is so picturesque with the brightly colored buildings which bend out on a penisula into to the sea. The beauty becomes afterthought though when you enter the town into the masses of people bustling about. We wandered around the town a bit and stopped into the closes gelateria to refuel a bit. I don’t think we missed having a gelato in any town in Italy yet.

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Locks on the Cinque Terre trail.

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Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

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Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

We decided to skip the hiking since it was not what we were hoping for there. So next we headed up to the train station after checking out the town a bit more. They never checked our train tickets on the ride in, so we decided to try and ride for free this time. We skipped the next town of Corniglia and headed to Manarola.  It was a pretty quick ride, but it seemed longer since I was stressing about not buying a ticket. I don’t think it was worth the stress to save a couple dollars. Karma will come to play later in the day for doing this.

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Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy

We spent some time walking around Manarola looking for prospective restaurants for dinner. We walked out the walkway to the North where the classic picture of the town is taken. It was early yet, so we walked to the little outdoor restaurant just above it to have a cocktail and take in the beauty of the town. By the time we were done, crowds of people had accumulated on the walkway to get their evening photos. Most were just smartphone or handheld shooters, but there was one or two other guys with tripods to get a real shot. The lighting was not spectactular, but it was still beautiful regardless. I took a bunch of shots including one of Denise and I in front of the town. Then we were off to find some dinner. We settled on Trattoria la Scogliera at the lower end of town. It was busy, but they had room for us. Food was very good too.

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Happy Travelers at Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy

 

After dinner we hopped on the train again, this time with tickets, and headed to the next town of Riomaggiore. After a long walk through a tunnel, we popped out right in the middle of town. Riomaggiore is a very narrow town that is nestled between the mountain that surround it. It is very difficult to get a good shot of the town without going out on a very craggy seawall. The waves were pretty large crashing into it so I decided against that. We walked up the street into the town and found what else but a gelateria. Why not have a gelato! After finishing up our gelatos we made our way back down towards the train station. It was around 9:30pm now and the last train was at 10 or so. As we walked I started digging around my pockets for our parking garage ticket. Hmmm…nothing? We stopped and I went through everything to no avail. Ugh…Karma had struck. To make matters worse, the train we were waiting for was delayed so we stood there just anticipated the adventure that awaited us. Would we be stuck in the garage all night? Could we even get in to our car? I could see Denise was stressing much more than I was. With the train being even later was making our exit of the parking garage even less likely.

The train eventually came about an hour later and we were on our way back to La Spezia. We departed the train and made our way down the steps into the parking garage. We walked over to the ticket machine and tried to figure out what to do. There was nothing on the machine to indicate some option for help. Meanwhile, Denise ran up to the upper level and was trying to talk to a taxi driver who didn’t speak English. He didn’t know what to do. I had pressed a button which had an icon that resembled an RSS feed icon on it and a voice spoke in Italian on the speaker. I said “I lost my biglietto!” which is ticket in Italian. He said something I didn’t understand and then “drive to the gate”. There is a metal curtain gate at the exit to the garage. Right after he said that, I saw “€25.00” pop up on the little screen. I slid in my credit card and out popped a ticket! My stomach immediately eased. I ran up the steps to the upper deck and Denise was actually walking past the top of the steps. I said “Come on, I got it!”. We fired up the Fiat and headed out the gate.

So, we would have had to pay €17.00 to park had we not lost our ticket. So it cost us €7 more because I lost the ticket. That is about the same amount it would have cost us for the train ticket from Vernazza to Manarola. Karma?

We made the hour or so drive back to Lucca without too much issue. It was so nice to crawl into that bed though, since I had started wonder if we were ever going to that night. Friday was going to be a chill day at Il Gallo since it was supposed to rain and we had no real plans. I was looking forward to it.

 Chill Day in Lucca

I slept in a bit on Friday morning. There was a light rain which made it easy to roll over for some more z’s. Not that I have a problem with that. We had breakfast down on the veranda at Katinka and Robert’s home which offered just as nice a view as our terrace, but shielded us from the rain. It eventually started thunder & lightning and Katinka invited us in her home to hang out for the morning reading or catching up downloading photos. I was able to help them with some computer problems as well, which was cool. We invited them out for lunch and they took us to one of their favorite places in Lucca, Locanda Buatino. It was a really good meal and very inexpensive. Katinka had an appointment in town that afternoon, so we said we could walk around town some more and then take her back home.

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Our Favorite gelateria in Tuscany, Fuori Dal Centro, Lucca, Italy

We made a B-line for our favorite gelateria in Tuscany, Fuori dal Centro. It worked out great and we stopped at the grocery store and picked up some snacks too.

We lounged around during the afternoon and then had our last nights dinner at the little local restaurant up at the top of the hill. It was another fabulous meal and a great way to finish off the trip. We enjoyed a couple bottles of the local wine and some good dessert and cappucino before sauntered down the hill back to the house.

The next morning we packed up and said our goodbyes to Robert and Katinka. It was a wonderful place to stay and they are magnificent hosts. I would HIGHLY recommend staying here if in the area. We loaded up the Fiat and drove back to Bologna.

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Room at Radisson Blu Stockholm Arlandia Airport

 

The flights home went pretty smooth. We had a long layover in Stockholm, which we had picked because we love staying at the Radisson Blue by the airport. The rooms are awesome and the breakfast buffet is one of the best I have ever seen.

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Part of the breakfast buffet at Radisson Blu Stockholm Arlandia Airport

While this was a very nice trip, it probably wouldn’t be one of my favorites. The main reason for that is that it was it was just too short. I felt like we were just rushing all over the place to see everything. I like to just settle in to an area and really focus on that and do more hiking. I also am not into aimlessly walking around cities, but my wife is so she really like that part. I get kind of bored with it and I don’t like dealing with crowds of people. I also wished I could have had more time to do some cycling. The area we stayed is a mecca for road cycling and their were cyclists everywhere as drove to the next city. But the place we stayed was excellent and the area is beautiful. I would go back in a heartbeat, but I would just do some things differently next time.  Thanks for reading!

 

Tuscany 2014-Not Off To A Good Start

The day finally came and we were off to Newark Airport to begin our trip to Tuscany, Italy. We had a late flight so we made a stop at Pru Thai in Clinton, NJ for dinner on our way. Pru Thai is our favorite Thai restaurant and it was a good way to avoid the rush hour traffic too. We dropped our car off at the ABC Airport Parking and were quickly whisked away to Terminal B at Newark Airport. As we rolled up to the terminal it was starting to sink in that we were finally on our way. Or so we thought.

The SAS Ticket Counter

The SAS ticket counter was rather vacant of travelers, but there were several ticketing agents standing there. Hmmm…that’s strange? The ticket agent swiped our passports and said “do you know your flight was cancelled?” WHAT??!!! Suddenly I felt like I was in a dream and this was not really happening.

There was a lot of back and forth and the eventually all of the agents had come over and were huddling around trying to figure out alternatives for us. There wasn’t any, other than to fly out the next day. One option was to fly a little earlier on Friday morning with another airline that had a connection that was less than an hour. It would get us there 8 hours earlier, but we would risk missing the connection and possibly our luggage. The other, safe option was to leave at 6:55pm EST Friday via SAS with 2 stops and get to Bologna at 5pm on Saturday.

We chose the safer option and they put us up for the night in a hotel in Newark. Yippee!! The girls at the ticket counter were really nice and they told us we could use the airline lounge the next day since the one girl would be working the counter.We headed down to the welcome center at the airport to line up a hotel and shuttle pickup. Our voucher was for the Wyndham Garden hotel, but when I called the number the Hilton Garden answered. They said they would take our voucher and we needed to head to the P4 parking area to meet the shuttle.

Newark AirTrain

We made our way via the AirTran to the P4 Parking area to shuttle pickup. We waited while shuttle after shuttle came and went. None of which said Hilton Garden. There was Hilton, Hilton Newark but no Hilton Garden. There was even a Wyndham Garden! WTH? I asked the driver if that was the same as the Hilton Garden but he said no. Well we waited over an hour and saw the same shuttles come and go. We took the next Wyndham Garden.

We got a room at the Wyndham Garden, no problem, with vouchers for dinner and breakfast. I have no idea to this day where the “Hilton Garden” is or if it even exists. After checking in, I snagged some to-go Corona’s and water at the hotel snack bar and settled in for the night. I started cancelling and sending emails to change our reservations before falling asleep.

Wyndham Garden Newark Airport

We headed down for our free breakfast after a pretty decent nights sleep. We hung out in our room most of the morning until our late checkout at 1PM. I finalized changing our museum arrangements, rental car and cancelling our first nights room. We packed up our stuff had our free lunch at the hotel before heading back to the airport.

When we checked in at the SAS ticket counter and there was some more confusion with the ticket agents again. Now what?? The guy kept asking us what flight we were on and kept reminding him that they were supposed to be all confirmed for the day. He started going down the line asking the other agents something. Eventually he reached the last lady who seemed to know what she was doing. We walked down to her and got the scoop. She said there was two options. We could wait until 11:30pm and do a similar flight as what we were supposed to do yesterday with only one stop in Copenhagen. Or we could just do the two-stop flight that we were planning on doing which left at 6:55pm, but stopped in Oslo and Copenhagen. Either way we still got to Bologna at 5PM. We decided on the two stop flight just so we could get the hell out of the US. We made our way through TSA and headed to the gate.

The SAS Lounge - Newark Airport

The SAS Lounge – Newark Airport

I spotted the SAS Lounge and we looked through the doors and spotted the girl from the ticket counter the night before. She recognized us right away and we chatted a bit with her. She let us in to the lounge for free which was cool. It was free food and drink, comfy chairs and free WIFI. We enjoyed some nice snacks, wine and beer. They even had an open bar that you could make your own mixed drinks. It was pretty nice!

 

Before we knew it, it was time to head to the gate. We boarded the plane and settled into our seats. Our seats were at the exit door and bulkhead so we had a ton of leg room to stretch out a bit. SAS has gotten pretty stingy with their food & beverage service these days. They now charge for beer and wine on international flights which they did not the last time we flew with them. Oh well their flight was $400 cheaper(per ticket) than any other airline for the flight.

We taxied down the runway and we were finally off to our Tuscan vacation!

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In Flight Sunset

Timberman 70.3–Travel and Logistics

The following documents some of the travel and logistics details of our weekend up in Gilford, NH for Ironman 70.3 Timberman.

Getting There

Google Maps show the drive from Allentown, PA to to Gilford, NH to be anywhere from 6.5-7.5 hours depending on the traffic and route you choose. The shortest route takes up by New York City then onto I-95 through Hartford, CT. I had taken that route once before and it was a bit too insane for me. We were also leaving on a weeknight after work, so this would be all the more crazy. So, instead we opted to head north on I-87 up to Rhinebeck, NY, have dinner then take the Taconic Parkway to I-90 West.

Sunset Inn, Lee Ma

We also had decided to split the drive up and stay over night in Lee, MA where we found a nice little place to stay for ~$85 called the Sunset Inn. The place was nothing fancy, but it was clean and not far off the highway. The other benefit is that it is only a short drive to Kripalu Yoga Center, which is a favorite of my wifes’. Since we were close, we were able to head there for a very healthy buffet breakfast which was only $10 each.

We then headed East on I-90 towards Worcester, MA which is pronounced like “woo-sta!” We also continued to shout the name multiple times as we flanked the city via some connecting bypasses. Eventually we ended up on I-93 which took us past Concord, NH where we picked up Route 3 taking us into our final destination of Gilford, NH.

When I signed up for Timberman, I originally booked a room in Concord, NH due to the price and availability and lack thereof in and around Gilford. After Denise decided she was going to volunteer for the race and would have to be there earlier, I decided to seek out something closer. This was a wise decision! Staying in Concord would have made this weekend suck! It would have been too long of a drive and it was worth paying a little more to be closer.

Lodging

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The Fireside Inn-Gilford, NH

I happened to find the Fireside Inn with vacancy only a few days before leaving for the race. I had changed hotels in Concord twice before that and eventually cancelled them both. I don’t think the Fireside ever showed up on Hotels.com or it was just lower in the list because of the price was a little higher. I ended up paying $200/night there and it was so worth it. It was only 3 mile bike ride from the race site at Ellacoya State Park which you could get to by a light traveled road which happened to be the run course. It also provided beautiful views of Lake Winnipesaukee the entire way, which were even more spectacular at 5:30am when the sun was coming up. The bike and run course also went right by the hotel too so if you just wanted to stay there and watch the event you could see 2 of the 3 disciplines right there.

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You just never know what you’ll find in the woods of New Hampshire-A Hockey Rink?

The hotel was also very clean and had plenty of room. Some people in the review complained about the older TV’s but that was not really an issue for us. The rooms had a nice big refrigerator and microwave so you can make some things for your early morning pre-race breakfast. There is also a market/deli, liquor store and Pub right across the street too. A short drive will also get you into Laconia, NH which has basically everything you need.

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Our Room at the Fireside Inn-Gilford, NH

The staff at the hotel are also very friendly and helpful. They give you whoopie pies at check-in and make popcorn in the afternoons whose smell would drift down the hallway luring you in for some. They have and indoor and outdoor pool, nice weight room and access to a local beach on the lake which is $5/person.  They also have full suites which offer a full kitchen if you need that. All the rooms also have little balconies or patios which I liked.

The only negative I could think of was that the hotel was right in the flight path of the local airport, so there was a few planes landing and taking off from time-to-time. The one day I kept getting blasts of jet fuel fumes coming in the screen door, but closing the door and putting A/C on solved that.

Dining

My wife and I like to eat pretty healthy and avoid the chain or franchise restaurants at all costs. I am a plant-based vegan 95% of the time and my wife is more on the “paleo” side. Finding good places for us to eat is usually a bit of a challenge, especially when you are in more off-the-beaten-path places. My wife Denise is a pretty good researcher when it comes to finding places to eat and she did a pretty good job routing them out in and around Lake Winnipesaukee too. So here are our favorites around Gilford…

Tavern 27

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Tavern 27 Dining Room

Tavern 27 is located a little bit north of Laconia nestled between the links of the Mystic Meadows Golf Course. It is a family run, farm-to-table American-style “tapas” restaurant which are little larger portioned than your typical Spanish tapas. There are a long list of different dishes to choose from, but our favorite was the Chickpea Fries. My wife was also a fan of the Egg Cups and I though there little pizzas were really good too. The place is very small and it seems they are always busy. The owner told me he has been booked up for several days and has had to turn away many walk-ins. We had lunch there on our first day, but were able to get in for dinner on Sunday night. I would highly advise calling here well in advance unless maybe in the off-season.

The Local Eatery

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The Local Eatery-Laconia, NH

The Local Eatery was another favorite of ours. Also a farm-to-table restaurant and located in the old train station in Laconia. It is a small place but we were able to get reservations on a Friday and Saturday night here during Timberman weekend. Denise enjoyed their local burger so much she had it two night in a row. I had the Chana Masala on Friday night and the house made gnocchi on Saturday. The Chana Masala was a very generous portion while the gnocchi was a bit small. The gnocchi was a little more filling than it looked though and it also left me some room to have the Vanilla Crème Brulee for desert, which I think was the best I have ever had. I also had the hummus plate on Friday which was very good as well. Definitely a place to check out when in the area. They also have outdoor seating.

 

Kitchen Cravings

Kitchen Cravings is a little breakfast and lunch restaurant just a short drive or bike ride away from the Fireside Inn. It is basically at the other end of the airport runway. Their menu is extensive to say the least. They have tons of options and have no issues with substitutions. My wife was in heaven since she is the queen of substitutions. It isn’t very big inside so if there is something going on like Timberman, be prepared to wait.

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Bike Ride to Breakfast

Ellacoya Barn & Grille

The Ellacoya Barn & Grille is a little pub just up the street from the Timberman race venue at Ellacoya State Park. We walked here after the race to get some lunch. Not necessarily the healthiest of the bunch here, but the food was good and it is convenient to the race. I particularly like their Bruschetta and they have a bunch of good beers on tap. I ordered a pizza after the race which I thought was a personal size since it was only $10, but it was huge! I did end up eating 5 out of the 8 slices though.

Summary

We had a really nice weekend in Gilford, NH and I think much of that is due to the logistics of where we stayed in relation to the event venue. Staying in Concord would have made this a much less enjoyable weekend. We had an easy 3 mile bike ride to/from the event which allowed us to not be trapped or have to deal with vehicle traffic. We were able to easily get in and out via the bike course or the run course.