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2020 a year to remember

For many Covid and 2020 will forever be intertwined with a negative connotation associated with them. I however will share and remember a different experience from 2020. For me 2020 has been a great opportunity to travel and explore without the crowds and seeing things in a more natural & pristine beauty. Yes there are the worries in the back of your mind that you may get sick or someone you love many get sick. You also have to worry about the small things like: always carrying a mask around with you, or having to prepare to not be able to enter a restroom or dine inside an actual restaurant or even will the restaurant even be open for business. But in 2020, I had the unbelievable opportunity to do 3 major trips and every one of them was phenomenal. The first trip was to ride the GAP & C&O Canal Trail from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington DC. Not only did we ride this during the pandemic, but also during race riots and major protesting in Washington DC once we had arrived.

Near Ohiopyle, PA. Our album cover picture
GAP Trail
Eastern Continental Divide
Washington DC
BLM Protests

The second opportunity was when we spent a few days in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in Munising, MI and hiked the Chapel Loop of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and went on a Pictured Rocks Cruise. Northern Michigan has some unparalleled beauty that a lot of the World or even this country doesn’t know about and we had the opportunity to see it in person.

Chapel Rock
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Upper Peninsula, MI
Lover’s Leap Arch
Pictured Rocks Cruise

And then if course, the epic Grand Canyon hike to finish out 2020 in style. This experience was just a over a week ago, but I am still pumped from the opportunity to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and return back to the rim in a day with my oldest daughter. An experience we will both share for a lifetime.

Early start to the day at Bright Angel Lodge
O’Neill Butte in center of picture
Cedar Ridge on Kaibab Trail
The black bridge and mighty Colorado River
Bright Angel Trailhead pose (post hike)

So hopefully the World will be able to return to normal (pre-Covid) and people will take with them a little bit better perspective on life and the freedoms we have, especially here in the United States of America. I know that the extra time my wife and I have been able to spend with our children has been invaluable to continue to connect with them. This 2020 experience has definitely made us closer as a family and will always be fond memories we will cherish as they continue to grow into adulthood.

If you are interested in these 2020 adventures you can read all about them and our many other adventures in the “Latest” tab of the blog. Here’s to 2020 and an even better 2021. Happy New Year everyone!!!

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Epic Grand Canyon Hike down South Kaibab Trail to Phanton Ranch and up Bright Angel Trail

For Christmas this year we had planned on visiting my parents in Arizona and doing some side trips to the Grand Canyon and other National Parks in California. However, as the vacation date neared and Covid cases continued to increase in California, we had to amend our travel plans and predominately stay in Arizona. My oldest daughter had agreed to do the 18 mile, one day Grand Canyon hike with me. I had done several weeks of running stairs and often will a full Camelbak, while my daughter had done some training She reminded me she was taking 18 hours this semester and was pretty busy. I’ll give her that, she was very busy at college.

Leaving Bright Angel Lodge early in the morning

We stayed at the Bright Angel Lodge on the rim of the Grand Canyon where the Bright Angel trail begins/ends right behind our cabin. That was nice knowing we wouldn’t have to manage any vehicles after a long day of hiking. The morning shuttle was what we had to manage in order to get to the South Kaibab Trailhead. I would say we woke at 5:30 am, but I am not sure how much I really actually slept since I was so excited for this epic hike. Anyway, we caught the first blue shuttle right outside the Bright Angel Lodge at 6:00 am. This shuttle goes through the rest of it’s route and dropped us off at the Visitor’s Center at 6:25 am, just in time to catch the orange shuttle at 6:30 am, which would take us to the South Kaibab Trailhead. As we rode the orange shuttle to the trailhead, the driver was very friendly and pointed out the headlamps of the earlier hikers that could be seen on the South Kaibab Trail switchbacks.

Ready for this awesome hike

As soon as we got off the shuttle, we hit the restroom, then began to look for the huge stone Kaibab Trailhead marker, like the one we had taken pictures with the night before at the Bright Angel Trailhead. After groping around in the darkness with only our headlamps for light, I couldn’t only find it so I took a quick pic of the signboard of the Kaibab Trailhead, which apparently is the only trailhead marker at the trailhead. At the time I was kind of disappointed that I couldn’t find the large stone one I had envisioned in my head.

The elusive South Kaibab Trailhead marker
A dark start to the hike

When we started down the trail the temperature was hovering right about 32 degrees with winds up to 25 mph on the rim. The dust was blowing everywhere and it looks like it was snowing when the dust blew in front of our headlamps. We didn’t want to be hanging out on the rim too long with all of this going on so we began our journey into the abyss of the canyon.

Headlamps on the trail
One of the first pictures we were able to take as the sun started to light things up in the Canyon
Our first glimpse of the beautiful Canyon walls as the sun started to rise
Watch your step

For the first 30 minutes of the hike we had the headlamps on and we definitely needed them since the canyon was pitch black and the trail footing was sketchy in spots, due to the mule trains rutting out the stairs. Making things worse was the fact that we were moving incomplete darkness and dust constantly blowing around and in our eyes. Once we could see pretty well without the headlamps, we took them off and began to enjoy the incredible views the canyon was offering us. We were going pretty slow down the trail, but didn’t want to miss out on a lot of the experience by going too fast.

Couldn’t beat these views to start our day in the canyon

The views on the South Kaibab Trail were absolutely the best part of the entire hike in my opinion, but part of that could have been the time of day when we were on the trail. The sunrise cast beautiful colors onto the canyon walls and we were just beginning our day, not 8 hours in and climbing switchback after switchback like at the end of the Bright Angel Trail climb out of the canyon.

Ooh Aah Point
Incredible sky and canyon views to begin the day near Cedar Ridge
Cedar Ridge was a bit windy

As the trail continued to descent down switchback after switchback, the views continued to change as we went through layer upon layer of different rock formations and changing colors.

O’Neill Butte in the center of this view
Cedar Ridge
We were having a lot of fun on this hike
Switchback after switchback
Enjoying using those trekking poles
Descending further into the canyon
A great day for a hike
Tip Off for a quick break

At Tip Off, the views were stunning in every direction, while there was a small shelter to take a break and grab something to drink.

Resting her legs at Tip Off and getting a snack
Tip off had some of the best views

After leaving Tip Off, you get to see the first glimpse of the mighty Colorado River and the Inner Canyon Gorge.

Cool view of the river
Nice views of the Colorado River
My favorite part of the Kaibab Trail
Beautiful section of Kaibab Trail
Someone has to help keep the boulders from rolling down into the canyon
Black bridge is coming into view
Tunnel leading to Black bridge
Looking upstream from the Black Bridge
Just after crossing the black bridge
After crossing over the black bridge to the north side of the canyon
Indian ruins at the base of the canyon
The shortcut trail down to Boat Beach
Might be the most remote beach we have ever visited

After crossing over the black bridge, we walked along the north side of the Colorado River past the Indian Ruins and found a shortcut trail down to Boat Beach. Once at the sandy beach area, we pulled our shoes and socks off and waded out into the river. The river water was cold, but not nearly as cold as Lake Superior in July. There was another hiker at the beach and he asked us to record him jumping into the icy water. I thought about it for a short second, then decided I didn’t want some serious chaffing on the hike out of the canyon. I was still gauging what kind of climb it was going to take to get both of us out of the canyon without pushing it too hard.

Just had to dip our feet in the Colorado River

After trying to get all the sand off our feet and putting on stinky socks and shoes back on, we started up the Bright Angel Canyon to Phantom Ranch for a midday lemonade.

Phantom Ranch cabins were decorated for Christmas

Phantom Ranch was incredibly beautiful and a welcome sight at the bottom of the canyon. The cottonwood trees still had yellow leaves on them, while the beautiful boulder filled Bright Angel Creek ran down the length of the Bright Angel Canyon. It seemed like the clock had been turned back to mid fall with all the leaves still so colorful.

Phantom Ranch was so pretty
Might be the toughest journey for a $5 lemonade

After the delicious $5 lemonade, we loaded our backpacks to our backs and started the ascent out of the canyon.

Silver bridge to take us back over the Colorado River and onto the Bright Angel Trail

The silver bridge rattles every time you would step on one of the 4 foot sections. It took some getting used to, but it was quite obvious that this bridge was very sturdy.

View of the mighty Colorado River
Look back after crossing the Silver Bridge
Pipe Creek on Bright Angel Trail

From the Colorado River the Bright Angel Trail pretty much follows Pipe Creek, where the trail crosses back and forth over it several times. There was a small amount of water coming down the creek, but a few times we had to use stepping stones to get across without getting our feet wet.

Mules headed down the Bright Angel trail to Phantom Ranch

The only mules we saw all day were when he had just about reached Indian Garden. We saw plenty of mule droppings on both the Kaibab and the Bright Angel trails however. Just after stepping aside for the mule train, we saw a small cave across Pipe Creek, so I went over it check it out. It was man-made and only went about 10 feet into the rock formation, but abruptly stopped for some reason.

Found this cool cave on the way up Bright Angel Trail
Indian Garden was a great place to get off our feet and grab a bite to eat

Indian Garden provided another much needed break, where we could grab something to eat and get off our feet for awhile. It was hard to believe the temperature was 90 degrees, especially when we were freezing at 6:00 am waiting for the bus in 25 mph winds.

The temperature hit 90 degrees according to this thermometer at Indian Garden
3 mile Rest House

A quick stop at 3 mile Rest House afforded us more breathtaking views looking back at the many switchbacks we had already climbed.

1.5 mile Rest House

We stopped at 1.5 mile Rest House, but as you can see from the picture, it had more steps to get into it. We climbed on in and took another break from the climb to enjoy more water and more BLOKS energy chews.

Yep it sure it good to get off your feet at this point
The climb out of the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel switchbacks
Lower Tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail
Upper tunnel on Bright Angel Trail

This girl did a great job of tackling this monumental hike without much training, but she got her second wind once we hit the upper tunnel.

Post hike pic
Bright Angel Trailhead post hike

Once we reached the top of the canyon, we were greeted by our family and took the ending poses with the Bight Angel Trailhead marker. This epic hike was a phenomenal experience with unmatched beauty throughout the whole hike. We will definitely be doing this hike again and will be looking forward to the opportunity to return to the bottom of the canyon.

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Devil’s Bridge Hike in Sedona

View from Devil’s Bridge in Sedona

On our visit to Sedona, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to do as many hikes as we had hoped, however this was the one hike that we thought would be a must. We had read that you must get up early and get out on the trail before it starts getting too busy, so that’s just what we did. My mom, two daughters and myself hit the trailhead at 6:30 am. We turned on our headlamps and started down the trail.

The first mile or so is a gravel road with large boulders and huge potholes which is suggested only to be driven by a 4 wheel drive vehicle. I would definitely agree with this suggestion due to the fact that we saw several 4 wheel drive vehicles struggle over a couple of spots if they didn’t have a lot of clearance. One guy in an older beat-up Suburban with Texas plates however made it though without much of an issue. I guess it’s what your comfortable with in regards to driving your 4 wheel drive vehicle. We didn’t have a 4 wheel drive vehicle so we walked the extra 2 miles roundtrip.

I don’t have a lot of pics from the beginning of the hike since we were hiking in the darkness with our headlamps on until about the last 3/4 mile from the top. Thankfully, it was light enough when we hit the most treacherous climb up the rock stairs.

Devil’s Bridge Trail sign

Once you hit the actual Devil’s Bridge Trailhead marker, the hike begins a steady ascent, then takes a much sharper ascent once you start scrambling over rocks the last 1/4 mile near the top.

Devil’s Bridge Trail marker
Posing in front of Devil’s Bridge
Only two were interested in the final walk out to Devil’s Bridge
Looking at the Hot air Balloon, while out on Devil’s Bridge was very cool.
View from Devil’s Bridge
How the path looks walking back across Devil’s Bridge
The number of people waiting to walk out on Devil’s Bridge just after sunrise
Stair-like steps up the red rocks to get to the top of the trail

On the way up the trail we saw the side trail to the bottom of the Devil’s Bridge arch, but it wasn’t until we had already been to the top did we decide to take the side trail and check out the arch from beneath.

View from under Devil’s Bridge
Scrambling down the rock stairs
Climbing back down seemed like a quick descent
Enjoying the views of Sedona

The girls did a great job and grandma was so excited to share this memory with them. She talked about it quite a bit on the way down, once the tough part of the climb was over. The view from the top of the trail was awesome like so much of Sedona, but I am so glad we started when we did, because on the way back down, we passed so many people just getting started on the trail. The parking lot was packed and was spilling over to the alternate parking spots down the road by 9:00 am. When in Sedona, this is a fairly easy hike that would be worth you time.

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Hiking in a Winter Wonderland

Just over an inch of snow changed the whole look of the woods

After spending dozens of hours in my basement spinning in a virtual World on Zwift, I jumped at the chance to spend the day with some buddies hiking out in the fresh air of mother nature. I thought today’s hike would be kinda of a letdown since returning from my Grand Canyon hike, but it was such a serene day in the woods with friends.

Just one lone set of footprints nearly the whole hike
Pine tree forests are my favorite
A highlight of Oak Openings
Taking a moment to goon for the camera with Evergreen Lake frozen over in the background.
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Virtual Century Ride vs Actual

I have done several century rides over the years, both solo and in groups, but I have never cared to do a century ride on a smart trainer in my basement. Until today. Well, I didn’t exactly start out this morning with the intent of riding for nearly 5 hours and not moving a single inch. I started my ride this morning just trying to stretch my legs, but before I knew it, I was pushing 60 miles and I began thinking about the longest ride I had ever done on Zwift. I remember getting a white virtual kit for 100k, which my avatar wears quite a bit.

White 100k kit

After a quick restroom break, a snack and a change of dry clothes, I hopped back on my bike and started cranking out more miles with the new goal of hitting the 100 mile mark today and getting the black 100 mile kit.

iPad battery at 10%

This started to get a little dicey as I neared 70 miles and the low battery notification came up on my iPad. The iPad was plugged it, but all of the sensors and the app pull quite a lot of energy from the iPad. I had 10% battery life remaining before the iPad would die and my 100 mile goal might be in jeopardy. I started ramping up the speed as the battery life diminished.

Less than 5% battery life left and cutting it close

With 3 miles to go, I got another notification. This time it was the 5% battery life notification, but I was able to make it to the 100 mile mark and get the black century kit with 2% battery life to space. Good thing I ramped up the pace the last 25 miles.

Black 100 mile kit

After all the worries about the battery dying and potentially not getting the black kit, I made the goal of an indoor century, but it left one lingering question. What this indoor century harder than the usual outdoor century? Well here is my take on it. Shear boredom is the biggest thing you are fighting on the indoor trainer. There are plenty of people to draft off in the virtual world, which helps your pace, but without a doubt boredom is the biggest issue. I did have my EarPods in and was listening to country music the whole time, making me feel like it was summer again, but that didn’t totally solve the issue. When doing an outdoor century there are very little options for drafting and the wind can be darn right brutal where we live.

The answer to the question: No, the outdoor century is still the toughest, but also more enjoyable and rewarding. So now that I have the black 100 mile kit, I will probably stick to outdoor century rides.

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My Zwift Experience and the Pandemic

In January of 2020, a couple of my local cycling buddies and a decided we wanted to get into better shape during the winter months here in Ohio. We wanted to explore the virtual world of cycling. We ended up purchasing “Smart Trainers” and monthly Zwift memberships to see if Zwift was as engaging as we had heard. We all had older “dumb trainers” that we had been riding previous winters, but these older trainers don’t automatically adjust the difficulty of the flywheel like the newer “Smart Trainers” do when in conjunction with an online program such as Zwift. Anyway, after a few weeks of riding Zwift as a group and individually, we started to find the experience not horrific. Horrific, is pretty much how I felt in previous winters riding my dumb trainer while staring at my basement wall, listening to music or watching an old Netflix series. Zwift however has a competitive factor where you are not only constantly competing with yourself but also with other riders from around the globe. It is another form of social interaction almost like Facebook, Twitter or any other social media platform.

Lots of data to calculate on Zwift

After riding Zwift from January through the beginning of March, I was about ready to let my monthly membership run it’s course. Then in mid March, the Covid pandemic hit America and with it… lockdowns, so I ended up riding both indoors & outdoors through mid May. It was clear that my cycling fitness level was much better heading into spring then in previous years. My total virtual milage on Zwift from January until mid May was roughly 3,000 miles. The time in the saddle was up significantly from previous years.

New York’s Central Park

Zwift has several “Worlds” you can ride, such as London and New York City, which are pretty much the same streets as in the real cities, but the main “World” is Wapopia. Watopia is a just a made up island that they continue to add to each year. Last year during the pandemic many people were locked in their homes and joining many virtual cycling platforms, Zwift and others grew exponentially which caused some sustainability issues from time to time. After 6 months of not being on Zwift, I recently returned to Zwift this January and found out they actually added two new “Worlds.” France & Paris are the two newest additions to Zwift and my guess is to help keep the thousands of Zwift riders, at any moment, spread out so they are less technical issues with too many users.

Watopia World

In summary, I am committed as a Zwift user and plan to continue to use the platform as long as I continue to see it’s benefits. Feel free to ask me any questions if you are in need of some clarification.

Zwift fence so riders don’t get too far ahead of the group during a group ride
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Sedona Trip

We wanted to take advantage of our trip out west as much as we could, so we took the 3.5 hour drive east from Lake Havasu City to Sedona. As you near Sedona from Flagstaff, you drive scenic State Route 89A into the Sedona area. The views are absolutely stunning and your stomach may feel it too as the road switches back and forth on it’s route into Sedona.

The view from the Airport Mesa Lookout

Our first stop was the Airport Mesa, where we drove up to the top and paid the $3 parking to get some of the best views of the Sedona area. Once we parked the car, we started hiking the Sedona View Trail, but my mom and dad ended up returning to the car due to the large number of boulders and uneven walking surface. They had a wonderful view from the top of the mesa, so they didn’t mind taking in the beautiful view.

Sedona View Trail might have been the roughest trail we hiked while in Sedona
Beautiful views over Sedona on Christmas Day

The trail ran parallel to the Airport Road we took to get to the top of the mesa, but after about a half mile we came to the a pull-off parking spot we passed on the way up to the top. This Airport Mesa viewing area gave some beautiful views over the whole Sedona area.

Airport Mesa Trail heading down to pull off parking

To get tot he top of the Airport Mesa, you had to do a little bit of rock scrambling. They had guide wires to assist with the climb, but it was fairly easy.

View from the top of the Airport Mesa

Once on top, there were quite a few people practicing yoga and taking in the views. Apparently this area is one of the many parts of Sedona known for it vortex. You may be asking what is the deal with the vortexes in Sedona. Actually Sedona is quite popular for it’s vortexes. What is the definition of Vortex: A Vortex is a place in nature where the earth is exceptionally alive with energy.  The term Vortex in Sedona refers to a place where the earth energy swirls and draws to it’s center everything that surrounds it like a tornado. At these magical sites, trees often exhibit this swirling or twisting of their trunks due the powerful vortex energy at the core of a Sedona Vortex. So we actually visited 2 of the 4 main vortexes in the Sedona area. Not too bad for not know anything about vortexes prior to this trip.

Atop the Airport Mesa
Beautiful views over the whole valley
Trail heading back to get the car and my parents
Chapel of the Holy Cross

Our next stop was the Chapel of the Holy Cross. After navigating a very busy neighborhood, we were able to find a parking spot only to find out the church was closed. We walked a little way up the road to get some of these pictures, but quickly returned to our car. Hopefully the next time we visit Sedona will will be able to walk up the grounds and see the inside of the church.

Chapel of the Holy Cross

Our next two events while in Sedona were a climb up Baby Bell Rock to watch the sun set over Bell Rock and Courthouse Rock. Then early the next morning we went on a hike to Devil’s Bridge. You can read about either one of these hikes by clicking on the links below.

A road trip down Route 66 and back in time

We wanted to visit one of the historic towns on the famous Route 66. While returning from a trip to Sedona, we took a exit off Interstate 40 and stepped back in time. Seligman, AZ is just one of the small towns still preserved in time on Route 66.

The road sign that speaks for a generation
Phillips 66 sign
Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-in

Unfortunately Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-in was closed, but we were still able to see the outdoor garden of relics. I was looking forward to ordering a “cheeseburger with cheese”

Juan’s Garden at the Snow Cap Drive-in
Route 66 Sidewalk
We did get to hang out with this guy
Roadkill Cafe
Roadkill Cafe

We stopped in for cheeseburgers and fries at the Roadkill Cafe and boy did get enjoy that delicious meal. We also had a blast walking around and exploring the old boardwalk and jail from Seligman’s past.

1860 Arizona Territorial Jail
Seligman boardwalk

Mountain Bike ride at DTE in Chelsea, MI

For the past few weekends, the adults have been taking the boys to several different mountain bike trails to help them get more comfortable on their bikes and improve their bike handling skills. Today we headed to DTE (Detroit Toledo Edison) trail in Chelsea MI. This was by far the best trail I have ever rode. The trails have a nice flow and are smooth and fast. We will definitely be back.

Getting the lay of the land
The best maintained trails I have ever rode on
My loaner bike today was a nice addition
Group ride with the boys
Post ride lunch at a posh cafe downtown Chelsea

Ride Across Ohio

In July of 2018, we decided we wanted to ride across Ohio. We had already rode across Michigan in 2 days the previous year. We mapped out our approximate route and decided we wanted to start at Clearlake, IN and and finish up somewhere in Pennsylvania. Our exact destination was yet to be determined, due to our main navigator’s panache for shooting from the hip. Our wives would hopefully be nice enough to meet us in PA and drive us home. We had decided early on, that we would need a way to lure then to drive all the way across the state to pick us up, then drive us back home.

Day 1: Clear Lake, IN to Napoleon, OH We started our journey by ceremoniously dipping our wheels in the warm water of Clear Lake. Our ride on this day would take us roughly 60 miles and land up back in our own beds for the night. There would be 4 of us that would ride the whole way across Ohio, but we did have a fifth friend join us for just the first day of the journey.

Clear Lake, IN wheel dip.
Ready to ride. One didn’t get the shirt memo.

Day 2: Napoleon to Norwalk. As we rode eastward, we traversed some of the same roads we frequently ride as we headed due east. We tried to stay off the major roads and sometimes added extra miles trying to stay on predominately country roads. It seemed like the area near Sandusky we must have rode of over the Ohio Turnpike five times in a mater of an hour. Our ride this day would amount to around 90 miles. In Sandusky we rode on a rails to trails path for awhile, but that was kinda a pain due to stopping for traffic nearly every mile. Here is a youtube link for highlights of Day 1 & 2

Day 3: Norwalk to Beechwood. Our ride this day would be about 80 miles. As we wound our way through country road after country road, the scenery improved tremendously east of Norwalk. These were nice rolling hills and well paved country roads. Around lunch time we rolled into Oberlin, a sleepy college town. While filling our water bottles in a local park, we started to see older gentlemen riding high wheel bikes. The ones with the huge front wheel and the small rear wheel that you see in old black and white photographs from years gone by. Well, apparently the national high wheeler association was having their national convention that same weekend in Oberlin and we just happened to stumble into it. The guys we spoke to were very nice and we had a lot of things in comment when the subject of bikes came up.

We met this “High Wheeler” in a park in Oberlin
Lunch near Strongsville
Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Cleveland
Checking out the sights

We spend some time in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and checked out some of the major sights. I can definitely see why so many people visit here each year. There was an ultramarathon race going on the day were we there. We met some nice folks from Cleveland Triathlon Club who gave us some snacks and water. They were working an aide station for the ultramarathon.

Brandywine Falls in a major attraction to Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Admiring the waterfall before finishing the rest of the day’s ride

Day 4: Beechwood, OH to Pymatuning State Park, PA/Lago Winery. Our ride this day would be about 65 miles. Here is a Youtube link of highlights of day 3 & 4 At 1:10 you can see the high wheeler showing us around the park in Oberlin. The section just east of Beechwood was the highlight of the ride. The country roads were hilly, but rolled through lush country estates with split rail fences marking off the property of these huge mansions.

Eastern Ohio brings sharing the roads with the amish and these guys
“Everybody squeeze in”
Pymatuning State Park. We made it to Pennsylvania
Finishing pose
Very cool bus inside the Lago Winery

So it was the lure of the Lago Winery that drove our wives across the whole state. They were a few glasses deep into the wine when we arrived, so after getting some of our our drinks and some wood fired pizza, we enjoyed the views from the terrace of this beautiful winery. This was definitely the biggest and coolest winery I have ever visited. We will definitely have to visit this again in the future.

New York City 2018

Prior to my oldest daughter’s senior year, we wanted to visit New York City so my wife could take my daughter’s senior pictures in so many beautiful locations throughout the city. I will not bore you with the hundreds of those pictures, but I will show you some of the highlights of our quick trip to the Big Apple. We were only in the city for a few days, so we were constantly moving, while getting each morning started with a workout in Central Park. At this point all three of my daughters were running cross country and were trying to get some miles in while on vacation… what better place than in Central Park. Central Park has so many running trails and paths to explore. The Ramble was probably the neatest area we explored. You definitely don’t realize you are in the middle of one of the busiest city in the World. Unless you have explored the park for yourself, you probably wouldn’t believe how many cool things are tucked inside the confines of the park itself.

Bethesda Terrace in Central Park
Loab Boathouse in Central Park
A rickshaw could be a good retirement option for me someday

Our hotel was close to Columbus Circle, so we were nicely located to the edge of Central Park, the subway station at Columbus Circle & within walking distance of the majority of the sights we wanted to see. After checking into our hotel, our first stop was a stroll to Times Square. I have to be honest, the first time I ever walked into Times Square, I wasn’t nearly as impressed as I thought I was going to be. Granted it was mid-afternoon and it just seemed like a bunch of people walking around, taking selfies, and staring at the tall buildings. For three teenagers, this was what they thought it would be and more. To be fair, when returned later in the evening, I found the appeal so many people were looking for…the lights. It is so much more interesting at night with all of the light displays, while the people watching is off the charts.

Times Square – Is always so busy
At least Times Square has bleachers to sit and people watch
Grabbing a bit to eat, while people watching
Chinatown was a top priority for the girls
Taking in the sights of Manhattan from Central Park during our morning jog
Sheep Meadow in Central Park

After a quick subway ride to lower Manhattan, we explored the 911 Memorial & Museum. This was such a humbling and mournful experience. The museum was well done and definitely immerses you in the experience as if you were a ground zero during this fateful morning.

What a view & tower
Escalator heading down to 911 Memorial & Museum
911 Memorial & Museum
World Trade Center staircase
Original foundation of Twin Tower
Actual ladder truck 3 inside the 911 Museum
911 Memorial Fountains
911 Memorial Fountains
Yes that man is posing with the Bull’s male parts.

After a quick stop at Charging Bull near Battery Park, we grabbed some lunch and relaxed in Battery Park and waited for our boat to Liberty Island.

Sometimes you just have to take a nap in a park. She knows the feeling well.
View of the NYC skyline from our boat on the way to Liberty Island
Statue of Liberty with the Freedom Tower peeking out from behind
Great view from our boat

The tour of Liberty and Ellis Island was nice, but is was super busy and very crowded. I wish we had planned a little bit better and found a day that wasn’t so crowded, but then again we were on a very tight schedule. The views of lower Manhattan were worth the congestion.

Lady Liberty
Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration
Anselm Kiefer’s “Uraeus” at Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center fountain

We wanted to explore the area around Rockefeller Center and see some of the main attractions in this area. St. Patrick’s Cathedral was the highlight for me.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Radio City Music Hall
View during one of our morning jogs through Central Park
General William Tecumseh Sherman Monument in Central Park
Looking for Jimmy Fallon

World Triathlon Championships Lausanne, Switzerland

I qualified for the World Triathlon Championships in Lausanne Switzerland help on August 31st, 2019 by placing in the top 20 of my age group at Nationals in Cleveland the previous summer. This earned me a spot on Team USA. I have known several local Team USA members who had competed for Team USA in previous World Championships in England, Australia and other exotic locations. My wife and I had always wanted to visit Switzerland, so I set a goal of qualifying for Nationals & Worlds with the hope of traveling to Europe the following summer. Once my spot on Team USA was secured, my wife and I decided we wanted to spend the following week after the race traveling through Italy before flying home.

Day 1: August 29: We landed in Geneva after an overnight flight from Detroit. There was a train station in the basement of the airport that took you to Lausanne. From the Lausanne train station we used an Uber to take us to our hotel. We stayed at Hotel Discovery, a short distance from the downtown area. The hotel took some getting used to in their relationship to the environment. European countries are much more eco friendly than any place in America. There are recycling containers for different plastics and refuse every time you turn around. The room lights turn off all the time unexpectedly and there was no AC. When asked, the front office said they just use refreshed air, since it is better for the environment. With all that said, it was still a nice hotel, but most importantly for me, it was the staging area for the main rental company I would be renting my bike from for the race. I lucked out with the bike, it happened to be one of the owner’s own personal bikes and was a very nice ride, while the disc brakes proved invaluable on the descents on race day.

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Finish line pose on our first day in Switzerland

Once we were settled into our hotel, we headed downtown near the event and explored the downtown Lausanne area. We went to the triathlon expo and got some authentic food then participated in the Team USA photo shoot before walking in the Parade of Nations. The Parade of Nations was such a cool event, similar to the Olympics where the teams from each county parade in front of a grandstand at the finish line. This was a great opportunity to meet other Team USA members as well as hang out with the ones you already knew.

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Parade of Nations – Team USA was the largest.
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Lausanne, Switzerland Harbor with Château d’Ouchy in background
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Checking out the beautiful parks in downtown Lausanne, Switzerland

Day 2: August 30: The race organizers opened up the swim course for athletes to practice in Lake Geneva. The shallow area was littered with large rocks, but once in waist deep water, you began to realize just how far you could see down into the water. At the deepest point of the swim course, you could still see the bottom of the lake through the chilly water. This was totally a new experience for me and probably most of the other triathletes completing. Usually in open water swims you cannot see much more then a few feet down, but not 20-30 feet of clear water to the bottom. After a trial run on the swim course and a quick walk through a small part of the run course, we took a boat cruise down the north shore of Lake Geneva.

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Chilly practice swim in Lake Geneva the day before the race
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Lake Geneva & Alps in background
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Lake Geneva with the Alps in the background

The cruise stopped every few miles to either let passengers off or on at various docks in each little town. These stops were in perfect synchronicity as you would expect from anything associated with Switzerland.

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Lake Geneva boat cruise

The views of the wineries and mountains were breathtaking from the vantage point of the boat cruising along the north shore of Lake Geneva.

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Vineyards on the north shore of Lake Geneva
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Chateau Chillon
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Chateau Chillon

Once we disembarked from the boat, we headed to Chateau Chillon for a tour of the medieval castle. It was everything you envision in every storybook ever read. It had everything and it wasn’t just some Disney castle, this thing was hundreds of years old and was still a living and breathing castle. As you can see, I really enjoyed our time going through the castle and being taken back in time to medieval days of yore.

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Picturesque view of the courtyard from an upper floor of Chateau Chillon
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Medieval armor in a real-life storybook castle
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A view of Lake Geneva from a window in Chateau Chillon
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Walking path along the north shore of Lake Geneva

Someone had told us to take the walking path from Chateau Chillon back towards Montreux and catch the boat back to Lausanne from there. We were glad we decided to walk this way back and enjoyed the beautiful views of Lake Geneva, but also the many flowers and vineyards along the way. This was a highlight of our time in Switzerland.

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Lots of grapes growing along the lakeshore path
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Downtown Montreux, Switzerland
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Freddie Mercery statue in Montreux, Switzerland

Freddie Mercery was born in Montreax and this statue of him is right on the shores of Lake Geneva. There are many people who leave flowers, notes and cards for him and it seemed this was very soon after the movie Bohemian Rhapsody was released.

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Lakeside dinner in Montreux, Switzerland

After a nice long relaxing dinner, we met our boat at the Montreax dock for a beautiful sunset cruise back to Lausanne for the evening. Dinner in Europe is an experience, not to be rushed. Usually the waiter will leave for long stretches of time and not wanting to bother the guests. It is definitely a change of mindset for Americans where everything is rush in and out and be done eating in 30 minutes. We ended up walking over 10 miles that day. Not exactly what I had in mind the day before by biggest race ever, but you only get to go to Switzerland once in a lifetime. It wasn’t like I was going to win the thing or finish last, so I was Ok with walking that much. It really was a beautiful walk with the scenic overlooks.

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Sunset cruise from Montreax back to Lausanne

Day 2: August 30: Race Day. Another morning of getting up from a not so restful night of sleep without AC. Yes much of the EU doesn’t believe in AC, so our normal room temp in the summer back home is set to 68 degrees at night, the room temp in Switzerland was like 75 degrees and not exactly good sleeping temps in my eyes. Not even a fan to blow the hot air around.

Nonetheless, my wave start time was first at 7:15 a.m. As you can see from the bike coral, the sun was just starting to come up prior to the start of the first wave. I had to use a headlamp to set my transition area in the dark.

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The calm before the storm

Prior to this race, I tried to prepare for the hills of Switzerland, but there is absolutely nothing in this part of Northwest Ohio that would even give me a hint of the climbs I would face on this bike course. The main hill hits a gradient of about 20 percent going up, but the hill in the picture below is one where the bike course comes down. It is probably only a 15 percent gradient but during a race the athletes are hitting some pretty high speeds coming down that hill before trying to slow and avoid the barricades at the bottom that they had padded up once the race started.

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Steep descent on bike course
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Post race and happy to have survived the bike course

All smiles after surviving the bike course without crashing. The cycling course was a draft-legal event, which is fairly new to me, so that took some getting used to especially with the tight quarters of all of these athletes so evenly matched. I would classify the bike portion of the race as white knuckle the whole time. I found that the run course was much more difficult than I had anticipated. At one point on the run course near the Olympic Museum, the running path turned into running steps due to the steepness of the climbs. I was frustrated with my overall run time, but in comparison with my peers, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was most definitely the toughest 5K race I have ever run in my life, let alone after a swim and bike against some of the best triathletes in the World. The overall triathlon course was insanely difficult, from the craziness of the swim in Lake Geneva, to the white knuckle draft-legal racing up and down steep hills, to the hilly and difficult run course. This course kicked my butt! I did happen to place 45th in the World in my age group though. I even got this little medal to prove it.

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Ready to get some beer, food and relax a bit.

I posed with my finisher medal and slapped a huge Henry County Cycling sticker on the front of my uniform just to be funny and show some love for my guys back home.Upgrade your plan to use this premium blockUpgradeWorld Triathlon Championships’s #1 Fan from Mexico

During all of the various waves of athletes there are many people you meet along the way. This gentleman was from Mexico and he would cheer for everyone and even ask other people were they were from and then start cheering for their friends/family members. We met so many genuinely nice people from around the World during our time in Switzerland.

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After a good meal and a few drinks, we just sat and watched the later waves of triathletes try their luck climbing up the steep hill on the bike course. Some of the older female athletes had to push their bikes up the hill due to it being so steep. We visited a couple of the local shops and purchased some Swiss chocolates and souvenirs, while meeting many people from around the globe. Now that the race was over and I wasn’t maimed or injured on the bike course, we both began to enjoy ourselves in Switzerland and began looking forward to what Italy would bring the following day.

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Cuckoo clocks in Switzerland shop
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The steep climb on the bike course right next to the cafe we ate lunch and drank a few Swiss beers.

After 3 very eventful days in Switzerland for the World Championships, we were ready to pack our bags and head out for Venice in the morning.

Florence, Italy The birthplace of the Renaissance

Day 6: Florence was our favorite stop on the whole trip through Switzerland & Italy. It was a much more laid back atmosphere without the hustle and bustle of Rome, but not the touristic qualities of Venice.

Our view from the patio of our Air BnB

After a short walk from the train station, we checked into our Air BnB. Actually the hostess met us and walked us through everything in the apartment and gave us many great tips on what to see and where to eat. This was quite a bit different than our last experience with our Air BnB in Venice, where we had a broken air conditioner that was never fixed during our stay there.

Lunch near the Duomo

We grabbed lunch at a small deli near the Duomo. What was so cool about this particular deli was the fact that the worker gave us samples and a brief history of each meat and cheese prior to him building our individualized sandwich. Nearly all of the products are locally made in the surrounding areas near Florence. Once the sampling was done, we had to make our choice of which type of fresh bread to use to complete the masterpiece. I wish there was something similar in America, but something tells me it would never work, since everything is based on speed and this process was by no means a speedy one. Europe operates at a much slower speed than in the states. This gentleman was truly a sandwich artist.

Bell Tower

They do offer a Bell Tower climb, but we opted for the Duomo climb since that is the focal point of the architecture of the city of Florence.

We did take the short tour of the museum in the basement of the Duomo, but for us the main attraction was the Duomo climb. We booked a 6:00 pm climb, so we had to wait in line for awhile, before we would be led into the building. This is when we were able to enjoy the rest of our delicious and skillfully crafted sandwiches, while watching people interact on the square.

The front of the church where you enter these huge wooden doors

The Duomo climb is 463 steps with some very tight quarters along the way. This is not something someone who doesn’t like heights or tight spaces willingly signs up for, but my wife was a trooper and did it knowing it would be an amazing view once we got to the top.

The view of the inside of the dome

About halfway up the climb there is a very small catwalk just below the inner dome. This catwalk is not more than 2-3 feet wide and doesn’t feel the sturdiest. I can honestly say that this is the most nerve-racking part of the whole climb.

Ascending the stairs over the inner dome

Once you get to the dome portion of the the climb, the ceiling drops significantly and you have to climb the stairs bent over. The quarters are so tight, you actually have to wait for other groups coming down, because there isn’t room for two people to pass each other.

The last stairs to pop out on top of the Duomo

Above is the view of the last set of stairs that pops you out on the top of the Duomo and a breathtaking view of Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside.

Breathtaking views from the top of the Duomo
The view from the top

Now she is happy she made it to the top of the climb, but she isn’t getting too close to the edge of the railing either.

She did it!

The climb down was pretty quick since we didn’t have many people to pass trying to climb to the top. The close quarters of the Duomo and very little air moving inside the stairways made it pretty sticky and I can see why some older climbers faint on their way to the top.

Fruit stands are a healthy mid-day snack

After a short walk from the Duomo, we arrived at the Gallery of Academia. This museum is fairly small, but there are plenty of famous and noteworthy pieces of art housed there. It’s wasn’t overwhelming like some museums, but it had a nice collection of artwork. Michelangelo’s statue of David was obviously the featured piece.

The crowd to see David, wasn’t too bad later in the evening
Michelangelo’s David

After a lot of walking and climbing stairs we were ready for some good food and a nice gelato and call it a day. As you can see from the picture above, we were getting a little goofy from being on our feet all day.

Late night gelato snack

Day 7: Prior to our trip, I honestly can say I was looking forward to our Tuscany Vespa Tour the most. I had done some research and from everything I had read it was usually everyone’s most memorable experience in Florence and oftentimes of their entire time in Italy. So needless to say, we were very excited for our day out in the fresh country air of Tuscany while riding a motorized scooter.

Locked and loaded
Captain America had his hands full on a couple of the larger hills

After some quick practice on the Vespa, our guide led us through the countryside, while stopping at several vineyards and olive groves along the way. Our day would also take up to an castle which now produces wine and olive oil.

Vineyard stop
Our guide giving us the lowdown on the wine and olive oil production

As you can see our guide was very energetic, but also a great wealth of information about Tuscany and the process of making wine.

The views from the top of the castle were absolutely stunning.

View of the surrounding Tuscan countryside

Tuscan wine, with an amazing view. Does it get any better than this?

Grapes growing next to the castle wall.

Our guide had us grab some of the grapes growing near the castle wall and try them. They had small seeds in them, but the taste was so sweet and delicious.

One of the many vineyard stops along our Vespa Tour

After our Vespa tour, we wanted to explore a little more of Florence, so we took the advice of our Air BnB hostess and walked to the park on the far side of the Arno River and climbed the long walkway and many more steps to the top where the park was located.

Steps – stairs I am not sure what they are after all the climbing this week.
View from Calcio della Rose

The views from the park were worth the effort. The Duomo is easily seen from just about anywhere in Florence. The Rose garden was so beautiful and unexpected.

View overlooking Duomo and Florence
Beautiful views of the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio spanning the Arno River
Calcio della Rose
Piazzale Michelangelo bronze cast of David
Lime trees were in the park as well. Some trees were picked clean, but this one still had some fruit on it.
View of Ponte Vecchio

As we descended the hillside from the park, we walked along the Arno River and took a moment to check out the Ponte Vecchio and the many shops located on the bridge.

View of Ponte Santa Trinita from Ponte Vecchio

After a long walk back to our apartment to freshen up, we headed back to the area near the Duomo where there is a wonderful area nearby that had many outdoor restaurants and live musicians. It was a very romantic atmosphere and one where you would want to return to in the near future.

Duomo in the background
When in Florence…try the Florentine Steak

So Florence is know for it’s Florentine Steak, which has a special history of beef being raised locally in the Chianina area and is customarily served rare. As you can see, mine is as rare of a steak as I have ever eaten. That is saying something from a son of a meat cutter who was raised on red meat.

The Florintine streak was more meat than I could have eaten in one sitting.
Yes, these are meats just hanging in shop windows

As we headed back for the night, I did have to snap this picture of the meats just hanging in the store window. Apparently, the owner is quite proud of these cuts of meat.

USA Age Group National Championships

USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships happened to be in Cleveland, OH in August of 2018. Cleveland is about a 3 hour drive from our home in Northwest Ohio. My goal of qualifying for Team USA and representing the United States for the World Championships in Switzerland in the fall of 2019 was my ultimate goal, but I had to qualify from my performance at Nationals. So, this is how we ended up on the northern banks of Lake Erie in mid august. My race would be on Sunday morning, so I had a practice swim in a very rough Lake Erie on Saturday afternoon. Upon speaking with the local lifeguards, they informed me that a competitor had passed away earlier in the day during his race from the very rough rip currents on the northeastern corner of the swim course. Well, needless to say I was a little nervous about getting into the water for my practice swim. I had my wetsuit on, so I felt pretty confident, but the lifeguard informed me so did the guy that just drowned. Nonetheless, I waded in the water for a good warm up swim. The water wasn’t bad until I got to the aforementioned corner of the swim course and the current began pulling my legs sideways for quite awhile. You could really feel the power of the current. It was a pretty unnerving experience to say the least, especially since I have never experienced that feeling due to all of my open water swims are in ponds or small lakes. Some competitors swim quite frequently in large lakes and oceans with currents. Once onshore, I began sharing my experience with the other swimmers who had just completed the same swim course. They were also remarking on the weird rip current affecting them as well. After a quick trip through the vender area, we headed back to the hotel for a good pre-race meal and a good night’s sleep. It would be a very short night, since my wave was one of the first ones and I would have to set up my transition area in complete darkness.

Edgewater Beach is a beautiful area
Northeastern corner of swim course
Rescue boats trying to get close to shore

Complete darkness greeted us at the transition area, but we could hear the huge waves crashing onto the shore a short distance away. After everything was set-up for the race, the race officials decided to scrap the swim due to the dangers of the rip currents and make the race a duathlon (run, bike, run). Once the announcement was made over the main speaker system, there was a collective sigh of relief from many of the competitors. Some were upset, since they didn’t feel the danger was high enough to completely change the format of such an important race. To be quite honest, I felt a bit of relief after knowing what happened to the other competitor the day before.

Headlamp was the way to go this morning in transition
Sun starting to come up and show finish line
Trying to get out of as much traffic as possible
Coming into transition after the initial run
Head up the ramp and out of the transition area
Hammer time.
It always amazing me the amount of money spent on bikes at these races
Coming in hot to transition after the bike segment
Hamming it up for the team photographer
Heading into transition
Finishing part of the run course
Enjoying our time in the “Land”
Pretty happy with my 11th place finish. My goal was top 10.

Well in finish out this little adventure, 11th place was good enough to earn a spot onto Team USA and we ended up traveling to Switzerland in the fall of 2019.

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