Thursday, October 12, 2017

Three Rivers Wine Trail- Coshocton County, Ohio

Three Rivers Wine Trail
Coshocton County, Ohio
April 2015

As is tradition, the girls assembled for an afternoon of wine tasting to celebrate Di’s birthday.  I’d done a little research into wineries we hadn’t visited before and decided on Coshocton County’s Three Rivers Wine Trail, less than an hour south of Canton.  I asked Joanna, who usually does not attend winery events because she supposedly doesn’t like wine, to be our Designated Driver.  Jan offered her van and seven of us piled in for a spring Saturday afternoon of wine tasting. 

Our first stop was Yellow Butterfly Winery, a converted barn in picturesque farm country.  We all made our selections at the Tasting Bar, each trying various sweet fruit wines- except Joanna because she was the DD. I took a sip of raspberry wine and asked Joanna if she’d like to try it.  She downed the whole glass the same way I’d knock back a shot of tequila.  I raised an eyebrow but continued on with my other selections.  So did Joanna.  Our ‘DD’ managed to finish quite a few sips of wine at the very first winery we visited.

Jan drove us to our next location.  Rainbow Hills Winery is located even deeper into Coshocton County countryside.  Jansportation (what I like to call Jan’s minivan) barreled down dirt roads, took on the steep inclines of one-lane passes and kicked up a cloud of dust as we made our way down the winery’s long driveway.  We walked into the cozy Tasting Room with a roaring fire and immediately felt comfortable.  The owner told us all about the property, the B&B on site, summertime BBQ parties while we sampled various wines. 

Our last destination was Raven’s Glenn Winery.  By this time Megan was telling Joanna to lay off the booze, we were all hungry and the restaurant had a long wait.  We decided to wrap up the evening at a Mexican restaurant and head home.  Jan drove the whole time, Joanna got pretty drunk and, as always, we all had a blast on our winery adventure.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Anniversary Trip Part 4- Granada & Managua, Nicaragua

Anniversary Trip Part 4
Granada & Managua, Nicaragua
February 18-19, 2015
Days 11 & 12 of a 12-Day Adventure

We were happy to see Francisco again for our drive from the Pacific Coast to Managua.  We were flying out early the next morning and planned to spend the night in the city after visiting Granada for the afternoon.  The drive was scenic- changing from the commercialized Pacific Coast to rural farm land to the Spanish Colonial buildings of Granada.  We enjoyed chatting with Francisco the whole way and the few times we couldn’t understand each other, he’d call his brother to translate for us.   He told us of his family, his business and how the proposed canal through the country would affect him.

The roads narrowed and traffic slowed as we pulled into the historical center of Granada.  Francisco told us we could wander all we wanted- he’d be relaxing near the square when we were finished exploring.  The Main Square was bustling with vendors and tourists and after snapping a few pics of the Cathedral, we walked away from the crowds in search of lunch.  We found Senor Tortugas in the courtyard of a beautiful Spanish Colonial building and enjoyed a quiet lunch prepared fresh. 

We just meandered through the streets of Colonial Granada after lunch, taking in the brightly-colored buildings, tiled sidewalks, aged churches, rusting gates.  At one point, a brass band poured off a purple bus and onto the sidewalk immediately starting to play a lively tune.  A procession of revelers dressed in masks and chanting paraded down a side street - we’re not sure what that was all about but we’re guessing it had to do with it being Ash Wednesday- I don’t know.  We made our way back to the Main Square, bought some last minute souvenirs, easily found Francisco and were on our way to Managua in the late afternoon.

We spent our night in Managua at Casa Naranja, a colonial building with beautiful décor, a lush walled garden and a clear blue plunge pool.  The suite was situated at the back of the property and was very peaceful and private.  We ordered food to be delivered and had a quiet dinner in the garden.  I passed out pretty quickly in the extra comfy bed so J spent his evening reading in the lounge area.

When we arrived at our gate at the Managua Airport, we ran into Jenn and her grandma (who we met in San Juan del Sur earlier that week)- they were on the same flight!  We recounted stories of our travels and compared notes on many of the places we visited before getting on the plane to head home sweet home after an amazing anniversary trip around Nicaragua.  It was everything we were looking for- culture, history and adventure!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Anniversary Trip Part 3- Playa Yankee & San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Anniversary Trip Part 3
Playa Yankee & San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
February 15-18, 2015
Days 8-11 of a 12-Day Adventure 

The drive to the Pacific Coast from the ferry dock was easy- no more than an hour and a half- and the area got noticeably more commercialized as we got closer to San Juan del Sur, a little fishing village turned tourist hot spot with huge resorts and condo communities stacked up on the hills surrounding the bay.   But as we drove beyond SJDS and onto our destination of Playa Yankee, things became noticeably less commercialized again.  The last few miles were dirt roads and hills so steep that our driver had to turn off the AC and back down to get a running start for one of them.

Walking through the gates of Orquidea del Sur felt like walking into a secret garden.  Staff grabbed our bags as one of the owners welcomed us, walked us around the property and showed us our room.  This is the most luxurious place we've ever stayed.  The infinity pool that overlooks Playa Yankee beach is the heart of the lower level with lounge chairs and covered hammocks creating intimate spots within manicured garden of palms, flowering bushes and cacti.  We had lunch at the Main House on the upper level and then settled into a relaxing day of having drinks brought to us and napping the afternoon away.  Our first dinner was at a private candle-lit table under the stars with a bottle of Champagne, a scrumptious meal and shared dessert.

The next morning they drove us to Da Flying Frog in the San Juan Del Sur area for a few hours of rappelling and zip lining- one of the highlights of our trip.  Gustavo, the Aracne Rappelling guide, is a very interesting well-traveled person and I enjoyed chatting with him while we were waiting to get started.  We had one other person in our group, Jenn a girl from California on a trip with her grandmother.  We all hit it off quickly and had a fun day!  First we rappelled down a 50-meter (dry at this point in the season) waterfall.  I was freaked out the whole way and inched down cautiously but gradually felt more comfortable… just as I reached the bottom.  Whew- glad I got that out of the way so I could relax and take pics of J and Jenn dangling over the cliff.    

We climbed a steep trail to a platform near the top of the ridge and were soon zip lining across some pretty long lines through wooded areas and high over jungle-like ravines.  The guides kept us all moving pretty quickly - my adrenaline was pumping.  Breathtaking vistas of the SJDS bay would come into view as we soared through the treetops.  J and I have done quite a few zip lining courses now- this was one of the very best! 

After zip lining we rode into the heart of San Juan del Sur to have lunch at a nice beach restaurant El Timon.  While we waited for our meals, I walked out onto the sand and to get a closer look at the boats bobbing in the bay.  Although this is a very touristy part of Nicaragua, the beach was not crowded and the views were impressive.  After lunch the hotel picked us up and we headed back so that I could enjoy a relaxing massage in a pool-side cabana.  That evening, dinner was set up at one long table- a dinner party for the 9 guests and the owners of the property.  It was lovely chatting with people from New York, Idaho and Canada. 

We woke up early on Tuesday morning so we could leave in plenty of time for our next adventure- another day of zip lining at Parque de Aventura las Nubes.  The harrowing 4x4 ride up the hill to the starting point was quite an extreme adventure in itself- the driver really knew how to drive around hair pin curves on what seemed like 70% grade, all while stopping to point out animals like sloths and monkeys along the way.  After we donned our harnesses they took us on a short walk up a ridge – the Continental Divide- so we could see amazing views as far as Ometepe on one side and the SJDS bay and Costa Rica in the distance on the other.  The canopy tour was slower paced than the day before but it had some interesting elements including a portion where we were roped down a steep incline on the cable and a part where we climbed a 78-step free-hanging staircase that bounced and swayed.  At the end of the tour we played a pretty intense game of checkers while waiting for our ride back to the hotel.

We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool.  I worked on convincing J to try jumping in- it is no more than 5’ deep.  By the end of the day, I had video of him running and jumping into the pool!  He had totally transformed during this trip from someone who was afraid to go in the water to someone who would literally jump feet-first into it!  We sat quietly and watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean while enjoying an intimate dinner on our last evening.

Our last few hours at Orquidea del Sur were spent soaking in as much as we could.  We walked up to the top of the hill to get even higher views of Playa Yankee, the rocky outcroppings that dot the coastline and Costa Rica just miles away.  I explored the entire property just like I did the first day to get one last look.  When our driver arrived, it was hard to say goodbye. Orquidea del Sur is the most spectacular lodging we’ve ever stayed in- the views, the service, the grounds- everything was marvelous.  This blend of laidback luxury and a little adventure was a splendid way to spend a few relaxing days on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Anniversary Trip Part 2- Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Anniversary Trip Part 2
Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
February 12-15, 2015
Days 5-8 of a 12 Day Adventure

We were very excited to make it to Ometepe, an island in Lake Nicaragua formed by two volcanoes which have grown together - the only thing that stood in our way was an hour-long ferry ride.  We opted for the larger ferry rather than the rather rickety looking wooden flatas- good thing, too, because the ride in what was supposed to be the more stable boat was still pretty choppy and I had to close the window to avert the water splashing into the cabin.  I found it exhilarating.  J found it nerve-wracking. 

When we arrived at the dock a driver arranged by Ometepe Secret Adventures picked us up and drove us across the island (on a road that actually crosses the one airport runway on the island) to our hotel Xalli Ometepe Beach Hotel in Playa Santa Domingo.  I tried to take in as much as I could as we drove past tobacco fields and through small towns waving at school children riding their bikes along the road.  Located on the isthmus between Concepción Volcano, an active volcano on the north side of the island, and Maderas Volcano, an inactive volcano on the south side, Playa Santa Domingo is a quiet stretch of beach with soft black sand.  We were met with fresh juice drinks at Xalli and were shown our room which was updated, immaculate and comfortable.  I instantly felt relaxed.  We ordered lunch from the hotel restaurant which features all local and organic ingredients.  While there, I saw the dessert special was Bananas Flambé’, a dish I personally LOVE, and we shared a decadent snack later that night.

We spent most of Friday just lounging around- sat on the beach in the morning, watched horses running in the water, laid in hammocks and read, took a walk along the lakeshore and spent some time in the lake, which is extremely wavy but also very shallow in that area.  J wasn’t scared at all to enter once he saw it was barely waist deep.  We had a blast jumping into the waves and splashing around.  That evening we walked to town and ate at Comedor Gloriana, a rundown beach bar that served J a giant fresh fish steamed whole (something he’d never had) while I had the best plantinos con queso (plantains with local cheese) of my trip.  It was dark by the time we walked up the beach toward the hotel and I noticed something at my feet- GIANT toads- way bigger than my hand- all over the beach! 

Saturday was our 11-year ‘Prime’ Anniversary and we had a big day of exploring the island planned.  Our driver picked us up in a pretty pimp truck with a Punisher sticker on the side and we drove around the island from spot to spot, getting a little taste of everything.  I loved passing through small villages and taking in the local way of life- women doing laundry in a stream, teens herding cattle down the road, men hanging from ropes to get a better reach while painting the local church. I felt a distinctive spirit in the rural communities, much like the spirit I feel when I return to the farmland I grew up on.  

Our first stop was Punta Jesus Maria, a sandbar that extends out into Lake Nicaragua making the illusion of one walking on water the farther out they get.  There wasn’t anyone else there that morning and J really enjoyed walking out onto the strip with the waves coming from two directions rolling over his feet.  The beach was covered with opalescent shells and I chose a few for jewelry projects.

From there we headed over to Museo el Ciebo, a museum of artifacts found on Ometepe, many of them Pre-Colombian, including pipes, musical instruments, cooking utensils, jewelry and funeral urns.  We were lucky to have a museum guide to ourselves that answered all our questions about the items displayed there.  He told us the ancient inhabitants of Ometepe were Mayan and descended from Guatemala looking for their own ‘Promised Land’- when they saw Ometepe they believed they’d found it. 

We took a late-morning stroll around Laguna Charco Verde, a peaceful reserve with easy walking trails, dense tropical foliage and an abundance of wildlife to see- monkeys, birds, lizards, turtles, butterflies.  At one point I saw a long but skinny bright green snake wrapped around a branch just like a crawling vine- eek!  J and I had an amazing lunch at the restaurant near the park entrance- sadly I did not get the name.  It was like an open air pavilion with updated décor and a beautiful view of the lake and mainland. 

Ojo de Agua, a mineral spring-fed pool with medicinal properties and is nestled in the shade of a thick canopy, is a popular spot to spend a hot afternoon.  Although there were plenty of people enjoying the water or lounging beside it, J and I found a quiet spot at the far side and cooled in the water while watching monkeys in the trees and kids enjoying the rope swing and slack line set up at either end of the huge pool.  Artisans display their crafts outside the pool area and I watched as a woman showed me how she polished stones she found on the island and then made them into jewelry. 

We wrapped up our island tour at Finca Magdalena, an organic coffee plantation set on the slopes of Maderas Volcano.  I was afraid the Punisher was going to sustain serious damage from the condition of the road but it seemed to handle it okay.  We hiked through the coffee fields and into the woods, up rocky inclines, over fences, around a volcano in search of ancient petroglyphs carved into the stone hundreds of years ago.  What an interesting tribute to the history of the island- that ages ago someone had carved the shape of the sun or the face of a monkey or another symbol into a boulder and it sits in that place still.

We walked up the beach to another restaurant I’d noticed the day before- Comedor Jackaling- a little open-air beach restaurant with sand floors, dim bar lighting and delicious food for dinner.  There was just something about the vibe that made it a very comfortable place- it was a chill spot to have a casual meal on our last evening in Ometepe.  That night I made sure to spend a moment standing barefoot in the sand between the volcanoes, allowing all my senses to feel the island’s energy.          

Ometepe is the magical place everyone said it was with secluded beaches, spectacular scenery and a calming energy.  The streets were full of people walking to church on Sunday morning and I felt lucky to get one last glimpse into local life as we were driving to the ferry.  Transport across the lake had been cancelled the day before but the boats were operating that morning- still the waves were VERY big- this time even I was a bit wary!  But we arrived safely and saw our driver holding a sign with our names as soon as we exited the ferry.  As it turns out, it was Francisco’s (our driver from Apoyo to the ferry) brother and we were quickly on our way to our next location on the Pacific Coast.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Anniversary Trip Part 1- Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua

Anniversary Trip Part 1 
Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua
February 8-12, 2015
Days 1-5 of a 12-Day Adventure

I wanted to go to Costa Rica for our honeymoon back in 2004- J was hesitant to leave the country.  But a lot has changed in the 11 years we’ve been married- J’s become more adventurous and open to new experiences. And I now see the value in taking a little time to unwind instead of packing in as much as possible into a trip. So when planning our 11-year ‘Prime’ anniversary trip I tried to find a destination that accommodated both our interests- local culture, outdoor adventure and pure relaxation in a tranquil setting.  Although we considered Costa Rica, I was somehow drawn to the energy of Nicaragua from the very beginning and the less expensive flight and accommodations helped to convince J. 

This is the very first international trip I’ve ever taken that I did not experience a weather delay, mechanical malfunction or other act of god.  In fact, this trip started off on a high point when the gate attendant complimented my passport photo and continued on throughout the rest of the journey- we had comfortable flights from CAK to ATL and ATL to Managua, saw another plane fly by at what seemed like a crazy speed at one point, easily passed through Customs & Immigration and found our driver in the swarm of taxi drivers holding signs or yelling out to score a fare. 

We arrived at our first spot- Hotel Selva Azul, a laidback retreat on the west shore of Laguna de Apoyo, a dormant volcano crater lake, around 10:pm on Sunday night.  We couldn’t see much of the property but we could hear the waves splash against the beach below our balcony.  The next morning I woke up early and looked out the window to see the sun rising over paradise.  Everything was so lush- green palms and ferns, yellow, red and fuchsia flowering bushes, sparking blue water- temperatures already in the high-70s but with a cool breeze off the lake.  The Laguna is a protected nature reserve and is said to be the cleanest water in the Americas- I’ve never experienced water so clear, seen so many fish and birds, or swam in water that didn’t make my eyes sting, my sinuses burn or my skin smell just a little bit.  

We decided to spend the whole day relaxing on the beach with no more than a handful of other people sharing the entire area- J moved in and out of the sun while I swam, dove off the docks, enjoyed the water. J usually doesn't like the water BUT I somehow convinced him little by little to first venture in waist deep, then to float farther out on an inner tube.  We enjoyed a peaceful day in the water together- we also got burnt to a crisp in the 90F sun despite slathering on sunscreen.  Luckily, the hostel had aloe plants so we could sooth our skin.  That evening we walked up to the corner store, a small open-air pavilion of sorts that had rice, beans, onions, drinks and snacks set up on shelves made of crates for our first of many bottles of Flor de Cana rum.  For dinner, we enjoyed an amazing pizza made in a large outdoor oven at the Monkey Hut, the hostel next door.  We paid for most food & drink in Cordoba but $USD is widely accepted.  

We spent Tuesday morning relaxing on the beach again, watching birds such as magpiejays, colorful motmots and lanky egrets, had a late lunch at the hotel and prepared for what turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip- a night tour of the Masaya Volcano National Park.  Our guide Gustavo from Tierra Tours picked us up and drove us to the park while giving us information about animals in the area, natural and national history.  We learned that there are several volcanoes at various stages of maturity within the park- from baby volcanoes which have yet to open up and grow at rate of about 1cm/yr. to dormant craters that have long ago collapsed into themselves- but the most spectacular sight is that of the active Santiago Crater, which constantly spews gases, and very occasionally ash and rock, into the air.  The week before our arrival, a landslide rendered the observation deck unsafe so we were not able to see the glow of the lava but just standing on the edge of an open volcanic crater was quite an experience.  Little did we know what was in store for us next.

They gave us hard hats and flashlights and led us down a small path to a small set of stone stairs that descended into an opening in the ground- an actual bat cave!  I thought we were just going to be observing the bats flying out of the cave at night fall- I had no idea we were going to hike about a kilometer deep down to an area where activities ranging from ancient human sacrificial ceremonies to people hiding from warfare during the revolution took place, all the while housing thousands of bats.  I could feel the flutter of bat wings against my skin but catch just glimpses of them flying in and out of the beam of our lights.  Gustavo explained that snakes hunted in this area, bats being their main prey.  Say what?  Snakes AND caves- my two favorite things- let’s get out of here!  What did we see just then?  A snake eating a bat!  It was neat in a National Geographic kind of way. 

Wednesday morning Gustavo picked us up again, this time set for Mombacho Volcano.  Mombacho is an inactive volcano with a few steam vents, lush cloud forest, dense vegetation, a coffee plantation, medicinal plants and orchids growing wild on the mountainside and exquisite views.  We hiked for about an hour and a half around the top of the volcano where we could see Granada, the Isletas (small islands formed in Lake Nicaragua from a previous eruption of Mombacho), Laguna de Apoyo and the Nicaraguan countryside.  On the drive back we stopped outside Catarina to take pictures of the Laguna from the crater rim high above our hotel- we could even see the two docks in front from the lookout point. 

We decided to enjoy the Laguna one last time and ran down first thing in the morning for a quick swim before getting breakfast, packing up and getting one last hour of hammock relaxing in before our driver Francisco of Transfer Nicaragua picked us up at noon on Thursday to take us to our next destination- the dock for the ferry to Ometepe Island.  Something I noticed early on: everyone- the drivers, the tour guides, the hotel owners and all the other locals were very proud of the natural beauty and cultural heritage of their country.  With good reason, too- the way of life of the local people seems to be that of sustainability due to necessity.  They collect rain water which is heated by sunlight.  They utilize the shoulders of roadways for grazing livestock.  They build roads around trees rather than cutting them down.  Horse and oxen-pulled carts are still driven down the same brick-paved roads as tour buses and taxis.  But instead of old ways and new times clashing, they coexist.  There is an appreciation of the simple way of life, cultural history, natural resources, a balanced ecosystem.  That attitude is exemplified in a natural beauty of Laguna de Apoyo and the area surrounding- it was a wonderful location to kick off our Nicaragua adventure!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Another Amazing Adventure in West Virginia

Another Amazing Adventure in West Virginia
Summersville & Lansing, West Virginia
October 17-19, 2014

Gauley Season in West Virginia is one of my favorite annual events.  In the late summer I started watching for discounts on websites like Groupon and LivingSocial and found a deal which included whitewater rafting the Lower Gauley and an adventure obstacle course.  As always, I made the most of the weekend by following country roads and taking in roadside scenic stops as I made my way into West Virginia.

My first attraction was the Big Muskey Bucket in McConnelsville, Ohio.  Although the sign says it is only 20-ish miles from the highway, I didn't know that it is along a 35mph winding country road- State Route 78.  Although it took me a while to get there, the autumn drive was just beautiful and I passed a bustling country flea market on my way.  When I got my first glimpse of the bucket (which is left of what was once the largest earth-moving machine in the world), I wasn't so much struck by the size of the bucket as I was the links in the chain which was attached- that was one giant chain.  To be fair, the bucket is big, too.  The area has views of the valley the equipment was once used to mine.  Although Ohio is not nearly as well known for mining as West Virginia, this area is Ohio’s memorial to mining, miners and the land on which it occurred. 

From there I took my time making my way into West Virginia, staying off the highway for the most part and following meandering mountain roads deeper into the state.  I made pit stops along the way enjoying the atmosphere of the little country store/gas station/community gathering spots I encountered. It was after dark when I pulled into Summersville and checked into the La Quinta. I had dinner at a Mexican place within walking distance and got to bed.

I’d chosen Bridge Day- a local festival held on the New River Gorge Bridge, which is closed for the day to allow rappelling and BASE jumping for the crowds enjoyment- for the date of my whitewater excursion.  Adventures on the Gorge is within view of the Bridge and was an amazing host for all the fun I had that weekend!  My rafting guide was fantastic, the other rafters were a fun bunch and the river on the last day of damn release was ruthless- I witnessed so much carnage!      

That night I met my friend Drew, who was passing through West Virginia on his way from Texas to Ohio, for dinner and drinks at a local spot, hit the hot tub to relax my muscles and fell asleep early.  The next morning Drew and I met up at TimberTrek Aerial Adventure Park for one of the highlights of the weekend- an obstacle course of bridges, swings and zip lines connecting platforms high in the trees.  Five options weave through the woods- I completed the yellow (Easy) course and two Green (Moderate) courses- my legs were shaking, I was sweating and at one point I fell but it was a blast and a half and I felt pretty accomplished to have made my way through.  Drew completed a yellow, green and blue (Advanced) which was quite impressive as the advanced course is about 50 feet in the air with some intense challenges.  I called everyone in my family as soon as I was finished to tell them of the awesome challenge I’d just completed and how I hope they can all do it one day! 

On the way home I stopped to take a few pictures at a scenic overlook and pulled off the highway at a small-town Custard Stand that boasted that they were what fast-food used to be. I concur- my chili cheese dog was delicious!  As always, my annual excursion to West Virginia proved to be a true adventure!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sister Trip- Tour de Donut

Sister Trip- Tour de Donut
Arcanum & Dayton, Ohio
September 5-7, 2014

The Tour de Donut is one of my most anticipated events of the year!  We build a weekend around the occasion, visiting attractions in the Dayton area when not participating in the bike race/donut-eating contest. 

Last year Megan and I were late to pick up our race packets and almost missed out- this year we decided to pick up out bibs early on Friday afternoon.  When we arrived at the Arcanum Field House there was already a buzz of excitement in the crowd of fellow bike-riders.  We picked up our info, T-shirts and a list of nearby restaurants, deciding to dine at Pitsburg Pizza Grill just four miles away- we were famished.  We were not disappointed.  The pizza shop is a no-frills local spot with sparse décor, old booths and a bathroom door that was very hard to close but the service was friendly, the food was scrumptious and it was obviously a local favorite.  We loved it- we wolfed down quite a meal, carbing up for the race and all. 

Wegerzyn Gardens was our next stop, chosen mostly because it was on the way between the pizza place and our hotel.  But as soon as we stepped into the gardens we were amazed by the beauty of our surroundings.  Each garden has a different theme and we spent the evening exploring, captivated by the vibrant colors of the English Garden, taking in the tranquility of the succulent garden and wandering along the wooded paths that weaved between the garden plots.  From there we headed to our hotel to get some rest before the race.

We’ve done the Tour de Donut a few times now and have developed a strategy to optimize our performance.  No, it isn’t training heavily for the event.  We take a very relaxed approach to the whole thing. Instead of taking off with the pack when the starting gun goes off, we hang back for a while letting the crowd stretch out a little and cross the starting line about 15 minutes after everyone else.  As we were mounting our bikes to get our late start to the race, an older gentleman said ‘Are you two girls good and ready?’ We replied ‘We have a strategy!’ and set off.  It took just a few minutes before we were zooming past other participants in the 16-mile Mini Donut division of the race and we spent the rest of our ride focused on overtaking as many riders as possible.  About halfway through, the older gentleman we met at the starting line zoomed past us and commented that our strategy was working.  Megan and I enjoyed the ride through beautiful Ohio farmland at a good pace and ended up placing 11th (Megan) and 12th out of just over 120 women in our age group!

That afternoon we went to the Aullwood Audubon Center & Farm- I was pleased to find out they were currently hosting a quilt exhibit and was totally inspired by many of the amazing textile masterpieces.  We both relaxed in the bird observation area which had a huge picture window looking out to several bird feeders catering to many varieties of birds, including chickadees and hummingbirds.  Raptors were housed in an area a little further back.  We explored a few of the paths surrounding the center and followed one all the way to the Farm just about a mile away.  What a fun time!  I witnessed two pigs try to fit through one small barn door and get lodged in which was pretty funny.  They also had a huge vegetable garden, a culinary herb garden, horses, turkeys and goats- I love goats!  It was a crazy chill educational afternoon. 

At some point that weekend we’d gotten a crepe craving and, amazingly enough, Dayton has a crepe place in what has to be about the fanciest shopping center I’ve ever seen in Ohio.  That Crepe Place is one of many restaurants in The Greene Town Center in Beavercreek, Ohio- a multiuse complex that combines luxury living accommodations with high-end shopping and many dining options.  We parked on the outskirts of the commercial community and walked the few blocks past condos and retail stores to score two delicious crepes- one Bananas Foster and another Classic Parisian with butter and sugar.  They were worth the drive across town.

Our hotel, the Drury Inn and Suites Dayton North, hosts a happy hour each evening so we were able to enjoy a couple margaritas, glasses of wine and some snacks before settling in to relax after our full day.  We pulled chairs over to the window and enjoyed the view of the city in the distance as we relaxed for night.  As always, the Tour de Donut and the activities we use to fill up our weekend were a blast- we’re already looking forward to next year!