Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trip 32: Warrior Dash

State Parks visited: 29

Sometime last year, Chris showed Rob a website for an endurance obstacle challenge called Tough Mudder.  It's designed by former military servicemembers, set in mud, and billed as the toughest endurance race on the planet.  What makes it unique is that the concept of not leaving any fallen brethren behind is the standard throughout, from taking an oath at the starting line to helping your friends through the obstacles and all the way to the finish line.  It isn't so much a race as it is a personal challenge.

I was intrigued at the idea and soon learned that Tough Mudder isn't the only event of its type.  Names kept springing up out of nowhere: Muddy Buddy, Champions MudBash, Spartan Race, Warrior Dash.  Other similar events came to light, too, minus the mud:  BeachPalooza and the Great Urban Race. 

I'll admit, I've never been afraid to get a little dirty in the name of fun.  And this past year has been a year of firsts for my family...first camping trip, first kayaking trip, etc.  Why not add first mud run to that list?  So began the research, and I determined that the nearest mud run was in the city of Lake Wales:  Warrior Dash.

But hold on a second.....there was a major event going on at the Speedway that weekend, and Rob and Chris had to work.  Was I going to let their inability to take part in Warrior Dash keep me from participating as well?  Granted, I did have Olivia to see to, but thankfully I have great parents.  And with their help, and the support of the rest of my wonderful family and friends, I set to prove to everyone...especially myself...that I have it in me to complete a 3 mile mud/obstacle course. 

Because I registered for the 10:30 wave on Sunday of this two-day event, my parents...who watched Olivia while I raced...suggested we drive down to Lake Wales on Saturday.  We got into our hotel after a nice dinner at the Outback Steakhouse.  At check-in we found out that several other Warriors were staying in the hotel.  My excitement peaked the next morning when we were waiting for the elevator and a guy walked up with a race t-shirt on.  It was really happening!!

We showed up at the event location, Triple Canopy Ranch, a little before 9:30. There weren't very many people around at that point, but I knew it would just be a matter of time.  The first wave was scheduled to start at 10:00.  I checked in, got my race packet, tied the chip timer onto my shoe and put on my race bib.  I also put on the souvenir hat that came with my registration:

Yeah, Viking girls are hot!

Speaking of hot, we stood around and people-watched for a little while when something caught our attention:

That's right, smoke.  Smoke comes from fire.  I knew there would be some kind of fire obstacle at the end of the race, but this was where I realized just what I had gotten myself into.  Closer inspection revealed...

Yep, that's all 5'2" of me standing next to those built-up, triple-stacked Duraflame fire logs.  Oh yeah, and there were two different fire obstacles set up.  Great!

Let me just add that this is where Olivia got really scared.  It took lots of hugs and some really cool souvenirs, but eventually she realized that mommy wasn't in any real danger.  Right??

So, the first wave of people lined up and that's when we first saw the crowds.  We also started seeing lots of people in costumes.  Yep...costumes are highly encouraged for this event!  There were some pretty funny ones:

I'll let you figure that one out.

And you can figure that math out, too.  Sunday's event went from 10:00-4:00, with waves starting every half hour.  Multiply that by the sold-out crowd of six hundred people PER WAVE, and then double that for the exact same amount on Saturday.  Wow.  And just to add a little good karma to the mix, Warriors were encouraged to donate their dirty post-race shoes to a charity group (whose name I've since forgotten...sorry!!) that cleans them up and gives them to the less fortunate.  There were so many shoes left that they required special equipment to move them:

Those 30 minutes after the first wave of Warriors began were some of the longest of my life.  I spent the majority of my time questioning my sanity and my capabilities.  But then I started thinking of Rob and the encouraging emails he sent me.  Chris, too, had surprised me with an early-morning text wishing me good luck and lots of fun.  Several friends posted encouragement on my Facebook page.  And eventually, each and every one of those thoughts brought a smile to my face and added another brick to my wall of confidence.  I could do it!  Of course I could!!

And with that, we were off.

I got to about the point in this picture when I realized something:  I am not a runner.  I never have been.  And then I realized something else:  If I was going to practically kill myself to complete each of the obstacles, I surely didn't want to kill myself getting to each of them.  That was the point when I realized I would be better suited walking the remainder of the course. 

That was also the point when I started noticing pieces of people's costumes, abandoned and thrown by the wayside.  Shoes, too.

The first obstable was a mud pit.  Nothing too serious, just a knee-deep stretch to prepare us for things to come.  I should mention that, even though it was the last weekend in January, the weather was close to 70 degrees and blissfully sunny.

The obstacles had scary sounding names like Alligator Alley and Deadweight Drifter.  I was looking forward to them, and I'll admit...they were a lot of fun!  Aside from the first mud pit...and the mud pit between each other obstacle on the course, were hay bales we had to climb over, a huge M-shaped balance beam, a couple of different types of cargo nets, over/under walls and fences, fallen trees over mud pits to climb over, wrecked cars and a tire maze to get through...whew! 

We were just past the halfway point when the next wave started.  I was getting off the first cargo net when I got passed by one of those runners.  A man wearing a dress, of all things.

I had managed to keep company with a couple of men, and it was fun having someone to banter with and cheer on while going through the obstacles.  We climbed over the final cargo net, and I knew what was coming.  One final mud pit...a hill...and then....FIRE.

Remember, up until here I had been walking.  When it comes to leaping over fire that's 7 stories tall, walking won't do.  I was mentally psyching myself up for the task ahead when several runners passed me, shouting encouragement.  It certainly helped!  With a smile on my face I began to jog closer...and closer...

Two things became apparent.  One...the fire had died down a little bit and wasn't nearly as tall as when they first lit it, and B...there was space between the stacks of logs.  My practical side won out in my great mental battle, and I leaped through the fire at an opening between the logs.

There, I said it.  I took the easy way out.  Twice.

But you know what?  I still DID IT.  I leaped over fire twice after completing the other obstacles.  And I wasn't done yet!  After the fire came the final mud pit:

It looks so calm and peaceful, right?  Wrong.  Immediately after jumping in...hello, what else are you supposed to do??...I sank.  The mud up until here had been knee, maybe waist, high.  This mud was quite a bit deeper.  It also had barbwire strands hanging over it, so we all had no choice but to dig in and go for it.  I did well until I was almost all the way through.  The next-to-the-last strand of barbwire got caught in my hair.  Instinctively, I reached up to free it.  My hand started burning, but I ignored the pain and focused on the finish line ahead.  That's when I saw my family and started waving.  That's when they saw this:

Yep, that's me.  That's me, crossing the finish line.  That's me, crossing the finish line after a 3 mile mud/obstacle course.  I did it!!  As we crossed the finish line we were given medals and bananas.  My mom had the camera and got a picture:

Those two girls on the right are too clean.  The looks on their faces tell me they realized just how dirty they were going to get.

At this point I realized my hand was covered in blood, and that's when I noticed that I'd cut it on the barbwire.  There was blood everywhere, so we made our way over to the medical tent.  The medics cleaned it up the best they could but recommended I go get a stitch because it was somewhat deep.  I proudly told them I laugh at pain, and we moved on with a bandaid instead.

I actually managed to dry off and, because I'm amazing, managed to change clothes in a porta-potty.  I'm amazing because this was the second day of crazy use for the porta-potties and they were in horrible condition, and yet I managed to change without touching anything disgusting or getting sick.  Hellz yeah!

After my changing act, we made our way to the refreshments.  And by 'refreshments', I mean 'beer.'  My entry to the event included one free beer, and I collected!

I'm sure you'll noticed my arms (and my legs, too) were still caked with black mud.  That didn't come off until two showers and a hot bubble bath later.  In the meantime I unwound as best as I could.  I finished my beer and we decided to head back toward home. 

I spent the drive thinking about my morning.  Had that really just happened?!?  Did I really just complete that course?  Indeed I did, in 59:56.  It was amazing and fun, and I am unbelievably proud of myself for accomplishing it.  Now I'm looking forward to the next mud run I can do, wherever it may be, and with whoever wants to join me.  Want to know why?

Because I'm a badass.  That's why.

W A R R I O R!!!!!!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Trip 31: Geocaching and Tiger Bay State Forest/Buncombe Hill Interpretive Trail

State Parks visited: 29

A Sunday off is a wonderful thing.  A Sunday off, spent with friends, is even better.  But a Sunday off, spent with friends, and then watching your favorite football team clinch the conference playoff title?  A beautiful thing!

Our particular Sunday began with some geocaching in the Daytona area.  Rob, Olivia, and I met up with Chris, Xandra, and Randy to conquer an interesting series of caches.  I'm not sure what kind of permission was granted for these caches, but we...ahem...broke the law in our pursuit of them:

This cache series has since been archived once we posted questions about its legality in our logs.  We were successful in finding the 6 or 7 caches, however, and logged each one the same way:

We even picked up trash and tried to help preserve the area.  Not all of the trash, however, made it out with us:

Xandra and I found a mudpit in the middle of the trail and had fun mud wrestling, too!

Okay, so maybe not.

Anyway, we finished geocaching in this area and then found several others down the highway.  Our final destination was the Tiger Bay State Forest.  Not only is it our closest state forest, it has several geocaches hidden within it and a trail that qualifies for our Trailwalker patch. 

We cached a little and then made our way to the parking area.  There's a lake there, Indian Lake, and we walked down to check it out:

Rob even managed to skip a few rocks:

Pretty soon we hit the trail.  The trail itself is just under two miles and not very difficult to maneuver.  We had a lot of fun!  A few pictures:

The trail was very well marked, and you could see where the rangers were clearing some of the brush.  They even marked some obstacles so you wouldn't trip...

Beware, the dangerous deer moss!!  Try not to trip over it, okay?

Olivia and Xandra held hands part of the way down the trail.  Olivia, being the cute and lovable kid she is, requested a couple of others to hold hands as well.  Being the fun-loving, agreeable types that they are, played along:

Trust me, it didn't last very long.

We took a short break to find another geocache hidden just off the trail.  We used it as an opportunity to grab a snack and a few pictures.  I love love love this self portrait!  So many things going on in it:

A few other highlights from down the trail:

Olivia is very much like her daddy:

After this we found ourselves back at the trailhead.  We attempted to find a couple more geocaches, but they were hidden better than our ability to find them.  From here it was time to say our goodbyes and head toward home.  This was such a relaxing day!  It just goes to show you don't have to go far from home to have a good time with friends.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Post Script: Cedar Key Museum

I just wanted to update you all on the winning Christmas tree from the display at the Cedar Key Museum.  I called yesterday and talked to Ranger Charles, and he told me the elementary school won the contest.  The tree is seen here:

It also happens to be the tree I voted for.  Congratulations, kids!!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Trip 30: State of Florida's Nature & Heritage Tourism Center and Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park

State Parks visited: 29

We decided to start the new year off in true state park style, so a road trip was in order.  After sleeping through the midnight celebrations, we got up New Year's Day and hit the road, heading north three hours.  We had a couple of destinations planned, and thankfully they were in the same neighborhood.  Our first stop was the State Of Florida's Nature & Heritage Tourism Center.

After Olivia signed us in, we took our time wandering around this educational facility.  My head was close to exploding, because everywhere I looked were brochures for state parks and attractions.  Anything and everything significant to our great state was represented:

The Center is perched above the historic Suwannee River, made famous by folk musician Stephen Foster.  His ode to the river is our state song, but we learned that Mr. Foster never even set foot in Florida.  Still, it's a great song, and he contributed many other great songs like it during his short life.

We relaxed for a few moments on the back porch at The Center, gazing down on the dark waters of the Suwannee.  I was surprised at both its deep color and narrow width.  I realize that we are technically experiencing winter, but I still thought it would be much more grand.

We headed back inside and continued to collect brochures and dream of future trips.  My arms were so full that the ranger manning the desk offered me a bag!  I was thrilled when I saw it.  Yes, that is true joy on my face:

Once we had our fill, we wandered down the sidewalk to the remnants of the White Sulphur Springs.  Apparently this area was once known as a health spa of sorts, and the main building is still standing:

Current day (with Rob):
Previously known as:

This place was pretty cool!  We wandered around inside and out and got our first up-close look at the Suwannee River:

Pretty soon it was time to get down to the main reason for our visit:  Stephen Foster.  I had done some research and found that the park displays over 4 MILLION Christmas lights each year.  New Year's Weekend happened to be the last weekend for the display, so we planned to stay late enough to see the lights.  We made it into the park with enough daylight to see the sites:

Stephen Foster has a lot of things to offer, and we tried to experience them all while we had the chance.  First, we stopped in at the museum:

There are mementos from Stephen Foster's life, and also some very intricate dioramas.  Oddly enough, they were created by a company here in our hometown of DeLand!  The dioramas tell the stories of some of Stephen Foster's most notable works, and they all have some kind of moving parts.  The pictures aren't that great, but here are some:

There were also a couple of portraits of Stephen Foster by Howard Chandler Christie.  His name may not be that familiar to you, but one of his most famous works is titled Scene of the Signing of the Constitution of the United States and hangs in the U.S. Capitol Building.

From the museum we wandered the grounds to the 92 bell Carillon Tower.  The bells chime every hour with, can you guess?, Stephen Foster songs! 

While it isn't possible to go to the top of the tower and see the bells, the bottom floor is full of more Stephen Foster memorabilia, including a couple more dioramas.  After spending some time here, we decided the next best thing to do would be to enjoy the picnic lunch we brought.

Then it was playtime:

Pretty soon we decided to make another trip down to the Suwannee River.  A few photo highlights:

The pole here shows the water levels on the given years, compared to how low the river is in the background.  Wow.

After wandering around on the river bank for awhile we decided to hit the Florida Trail.  We didn't go very far, just far enough to reach a small primitive campsite.  Then we turned around and wandered back.

By the time we walked back up from the river, we noticed that the lights were coming on!  We knew it wouldn't be long until the sun was gone for the night and the magic of the Christmas lights would begin.  For the time being we decided to check out the Craft Square. 

There were several different buildings, each housing something different.  Beading, quilting, aromatherapy, stained glass.  There was an artisan at each stop, teaching their art and selling goods.  It was neat!  We also checked out the gift shop, which had a beautiful Christmas tree set up:

At the edge of the Square was a bonfire, and we sat down to enjoy some s'mores:

At this point let me tell you, we pretty much had the entire park to ourselves up until then.  It was as if we were in our own personal playground!  And just when I didn't think it could get any better, we did something very cool.  We took a horse-drawn carriage ride through the park to see the lights!  *sigh* I just wish I had better pictures to share.  I have a lot to learn about my camera and its nighttime settings!

After the carriage ride we walked around some more and took more photos.  Then we drove around and did more of the same:

And finally, our magical beginning to 2011 was over.  It was time to head home.  It was a very long day with lots of stuff packed into it, and I wouldn't change a single thing.  We got to see a huge park on our own terms.  Not a bad way to start the year, I'd say!