Saturday, September 21, 2013

Catching Up...Our Annual "Couple Adventure"

It's hard to believe that it's already been a month since I last blogged.  I want/need to catch up, not only on the rest of our summer, but also on the end of our homeschooling year--yes, I still need to wrap up everything we did way back in May and June.  However, for now I'll just talk about our annual "Couple Adventure."

For the past four years, Connor and Mikaela have gone to Camp Chanco, a two week, sleep away camp located in Surry, Virginia.  They absolutely love it and claim they would stay there the entire summer if we let them.

Bob and I absolutely love it as well, because it gives us two, kid-free weeks each summer to reconnect and have some adventures on our own.  This year, our plan was to head to Banff, Canada and mountain bike part of the Great Divide Trail --the 350+ mile section from the trailhead in Banff to Whitefish, Montana.  (I probably should mention that one of my remaining "athletic goals" in life is to mountain bike the entire 2,700 miles of the trail.)

Anyhow, the more we looked into just riding a section of the GDT--one way--the more we realized the logistical challenges would make it almost cost prohibitive.  Fortunately, the decision as to whether we should go or not go was made for us when we received an e-mail from the Adventure Cycling Association in June stating that due to extensive damage from severe flooding, the trail in Canada was closed for the remainder of 2013. Needless to say, it was time to come up with Plan B.

We bandied about all sorts of ideas but ultimately decided that more than any adventure, we needed to head down to Florida to visit  Bob's ailing father (more on that later).  However, we tried to squeeze in a few adventures along the way.  For example, after we dropped the kids off at camp, we drove about 10 miles to the Surry Courthouse and got on a ferry which took us across the James River to Jamestown. The ferry was free and was a great way to begin our vacation--it felt like we were somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, rather than just an hour from Richmond.

The reason we decided to take the ferry was because we I wanted to go mountain biking at Freedom Park in Williamsburg.  For the past year or two, I had heard nothing but great things about the trails at Freedom Park and had been dying to check them out.  Fortunately, Bob, who prefers road biking, was up for the challenge. 

Bob enjoying some sweet single track
I've got to say that Freedom Park definitely lived up to its' hype.  The trails were fast and fun and I can hardly wait to go back with "the Chix." (More on them later as well).

Me enjoying a sweet drop

The following afternoon, we packed up Scarlett (our mini-van) and began the drive south.  The first night, we decided to stop someplace in Georgia to spend the night.  We pulled out our National Geographic Adventure Atlas and found an exit off of I-95 that had cheap hotels and was very close to Crooked River State Park.  We decided we'd stay near a park so we could go for a trail run in the morning and explore someplace new.

Crooked River State Park is located along a tidal river on Georgia's Colonial Coast.  The park is small, but has a four mile nature trail which we ran.  I have to be honest and say that it was the fastest four mile run I've had in a long time--but not because I was lean and fleet on my feet.  Rather, there were so many mosquitoes that unless we kept going at a good clip, we were swarmed by them.  That said, the trail was well maintained and wound it's way along the river and through pine and palmetto forests.  All in all, a great way to start the day.

Crooked River State Park:  This picture came from Google Images--I didn't have my camera with me on the run.
Our next stop was Gainesville, Florida--the home of Bob's alma mater, the University of Florida.  Bob hadn't been back since he graduated and I had never been there, so we decided to stop and tour the campus.  We walked around the school for an hour or two and visited the Mechanical Engineering and Air Force ROTC buildings--both places Bob spent many an hour.  We chatted with some of the current students and ate lunch at Bob's favorite pizza parlor.  All in all, a good visit.

From there, we headed to Bob's parents' house in Tampa.  We spent time with his parents and the rest of his family and helped out as much as we could.  I have to say, it's very difficult living so far away and not being able to do our fair share to help.

We were in Tampa for my birthday and when Bob asked me how I'd like to celebrate, I told him I wanted to go mountain biking at Alafia River State Park located less than an hour away.  Alafia State Park is an IMBA Epic Ride and one of the highest rated places to mountain bike in Florida.

Here is how it's described by SWAMP, a bike club in Florida:

  "The Alafia River State Park trail is one of the most favored off-road biking choices in Florida. Skilled riders are traveling from all over the state to ride this collection of scary drops, off-camber hillside ledges, high speed banked turns and intimidating ridge top trails. This single-track is built on the rugged terrain of what was once a phosphate mining site. Currently there are about 20 miles of trails at Alafia."

Alafia was awesome!  The "roller coastery" trails with banked turns wound through misty forests, complete with Spanish moss draped trees, palmettos and swamp land.  I loved it and can't wait to go back! 

There were some surprisingly steep drops, especially for Florida.  This one is much steeper than it looks in the photo.

I also love wildlife encounters and we had a cool one with this armadillo.  We saw him walking through a grassy area heading directly towards us.  I got off my bike and stood waiting for him.  He came within 2 feet of me and when I snapped his picture, he jumped into the did I as well.  We later learned that armadillos have extremely poor eyesight.

After spending several days in Florida, we headed to Hilton Head, South Carolina.  My sister Jill and her husband Paul have a vacation home there and they generously let us use it whenever we want.  Hilton Head was just what we needed.  I'm normally not a beach person, but I have to say that I really like HH.  There are bike trails everywhere, miles of uncrowded, gorgeous beaches and tons of great restaurants--so what's not to love?!  Seriously, we parked our car at their house and for the next 3 1/2 days, we never got into it.  The first two days we were there, we rode our bikes about 90 miles.  We explored the vast majority of the island and ate at some really great restaurants.


One of the highlights was the fact we could ride our bikes on the beach for miles,

and miles,

and miles.

In fact, the only time we had to get off our bikes was to carry them across a thigh-deep stream that was flowing into ocean.


We also went swimming and fortunately, one of the days had pretty good waves.  Bob and I spent about 2 hours having body surfing contests, getting tossed about and laughing our butts off. 

Our last morning in HH, we decided to get up at zero dark thirty and ride our bikes to the beach and watch the sun rise while doing our own mini-triathlon.  Can I just say that there's nothing like an early morning bike ride and run on a beautiful beach with the man I love, to make me realize just how extraordinarily blessed I am!?

Needless to say, we can hardly wait for next year's adventure.