Category Archives: Local (DC-MD-VA Area)

Getting your bearings at Big Meadows 

Black bear sightings in Shenandoah National Park are definitely increasing lately! (More on this in a later post) If you do spot a bear, there are at least two places nearby where you can officially record your sightings. A binder log for visitors to log their encounters can be found in the Big Meadows Lodge lobby, usually on the table by the standing bear mannequin. (Sometimes the binder gets moved to the great room just beyond the lobby.) I was thrilled to finally have the chance to record my first bear sighting a couple of years ago. I’ve seen several bears since that ursine greeter surprised us by the side of Skyline Drive, so using the “bear book” is becoming something of a tradition. Another fun tradition is getting my husband to take photos with the aforementioned bear mannequin at the lodge! He doesn’t need much prompting to do something silly, believe me.

A second place to record bear sightings is the wildlife plant and animal log at the Byrd Visitor Center (by the Big Meadows Wayside). Eric and I once realized we had met a rare Shenandoah salamander on the Appalachian Trail and we may have recorded our discovery in this very book.

I’m sure there are other places to note your sightings in the park – bear or otherwise! If you know of such a place, please leave a note in the comments!

Eric and friend:


My Trips: 2014 and Beyond

Wow! The last time I wrote in this blog was in late 2014. I’m looking to get this thing fired up again, so here is a brief update.

2014:
I last posted in fall 2014 after having done quite a bit of business travel that year, including multiple trips to Austin and a lengthy stay in Albuquerque, among other places. I finally got to “visit” Detroit, albeit just through the airport! I will get to you someday soon, Motor City. In August 2014 I traveled to Edina, Minnesota, also for work. In June, I spent a long weekend with my husband Eric in Rehoboth Beach (Delaware) for leisure purposes. I’d been there a few times before and he agreed with me that the popular little beach town (and its surrounding environs) are well worth the visit. Also in June, we camped in Big Meadows (Shenandoah) with my family. September was our annual family beach trip to Murrells Inlet / Garden City, South Carolina.  In October I took a long weekend in a cabin at Shenandoah National Park with Eric at Big Meadows. And of course, that December we traveled home to spend Christmas with family.

2015:
I took one more business trip to Oakland, California (although I had to stay in Richmond/Berkeley … what a drive) and a great night visit to San Francisco, including the Chinatown area. I’d like to see more of that city.

Leisure-wise, in March we took a 10-day Eastern Caribbean cruise that left out of Miami – in the nick of time to avoid a snowstorm – and stopped at St. Kitts & Nevis, Martinique, Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), Antigua, and St. Thomas. We also fit in a visit to gorgeous St. John’s as well while we were on St. Thomas, and we did an excursion to the Everglades once in CONUS again.

It was one of the most incredible vacations I’ve ever had. It was hard to imagine how anything could top that near-perfect cruise, but our visit to the island of Isla Mujeres, Mexico in August definitely also had us feeling heavenly. The little island charmed us from the start, and I don’t think we ate a bad or bland meal the entire time we were there. The highlight of the trip (and the whole reason I planned it) was swimming with a pod of whale sharks in the middle of the open sea. What an adventure! It more than made up for some mishaps we ran into just trying to get there from DC!

For family trips, we had a trip to Skyline (Shenandoah) for my dad’s 74th birthday in April, and Eric and I camped with Cat and Rob at Point Lookout State Park in Scotland, Maryland in June. My parents met us up there for the day and we thought it was funny that we were in Scotland, Maryland while our aunt was in Scotland, UK! 🙂 In September we made our annual pilgrimage to the beach house on the “Hammock Coast” of South Carolina where some of us got to meet our sweet baby cousin, Allie, for the first time! Christmas in 2015 was spent with Eric’s family in Corpus Christi and that was a great trip. We also stayed a night in Richmond (VA) in July following a friend’s housewarming party. The drive back wasn’t THAT long, but we were tired and frankly, it was really just an excuse to relax in a hotel and order room service! 🙂

2016: 

This has been a busy year so far and somehow the months have flown by. Day trips have been the name of the game for the most part. I’m really hoping to go camping a time or two this summer, if not several. In July, we have a road trip planned that will last 11 days and show me 5 new states (6 if you count Illinois … I’ve been through both Chicago airports so many jillions of times that I feel strange saying I’ve never been to Illinois at this point! So I usually say I have been there but give a disclaimer). We’re going to start by driving to Chicago, spending a weekend there, then take off on Historic Route 66 (Mother Road dream trip!) and follow that as far as Oklahoma City, then drive to Dallas specifically to stay the night at the Joule hotel and swim in their crazy cantilevered pool. I’m sure we will enjoy lots of other things about Dallas besides that, but ever since I saw that pool I knew I would make a special visit there one day, and here I am. (Never been to Dallas except through the airport several times.) From there we will make our way home with stops in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Bristol (on the VA side). I have carefully planned everything and picked out certain sites, and at this point, I’m pretty smug about my ability to plan the perfect trip (at least for Eric and I). A road trip of this length and variation is a new one for my planning skills, though, so this is going to be a test to see how I did. I have picked out the sites we both will want to see and planned driving and rest times carefully so I think I am doing good. And, at least I’ve gotten all the hotel booking out of the way! Although this is largely “my” trip, Eric is definitely excited (especially when I told him about some of the very Eric-y things he can expect to visit along the way). At some time in the future, we’ll come back out and drive the rest of Route 66, at least from OKC to LA.

We’ll of course also have family trips this year to the beach, likely to Corpus Christi, and possibly Puerto Rico. And maybe we’ll have a good weekend jaunt or two. I really want to tick off the rest of my unseen states, so cruises to Alaska and Hawaii and random trips in 2017-18 are very strong possibilities! Our next big international trip is supposed to be Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile via Santiago. That one will be another dream come true.

Where you have been lately? Where would you like to go?

Scenes from the Sky

We frequent flyers (or flyers, period) who are window-seat lovers can all agree: There’s nothing like the view of the world from up high. How lucky we are to live in an age when a plane ticket is all that separates us from a bird’s eye view.

Some of my very favorite things seen from 30,000 feet have included the following:

-The Grand Canyon
-The green, green grass of Ireland
-Seeing the shadow of the plane on the cloud carpet below (accompanied by a mini circle of rainbow)
-Seeing other planes whizzing by in the distance (or below you)
-The sun setting on one side of the sky, while the other side is already dark and studded with stars. How beautiful to see the night rushing in.
-Fall leaves changing at their peak – creating a fiery blaze of glorious bright color pops
-Snow covered mountains
-The endless lakes of Minnesota, studding the landscape as far as the eye can see
-Las Vegas rising up out of the desert
-Hoover Dam
-New York City – especially the Statue of Liberty!
-My own apartment building. I fly past it routinely!
-Looking down and seeing nothing but ocean below! (also one of my favorite things about looking out from the top deck of a ship!)
-The landing gear coming down from under the wing as we approach our destination. I have been fortunate enough to sit right behind this area on past flights and for me, it’s quite an interesting thing to watch.
-Looking for the bright blue specks (swimming pools) in people’s backyards (my favorite as a very young child)
-I’m sure there are plenty more I could mention, but my personal favorite … one of which I’ll never tire … is the gorgeous sight of the monuments of the metro DC area. Whether lit up at night or gleaming in full sunlight, seeing that beautiful white marble welcoming me home never, ever gets old. At times I feel like we are so close that I could reach out from my window and touch the Washington Monument, the Capitol, the top of the Pentagon. The gasps of pleasure and delight from first-time visitors to our area as they spy these sights are lots of fun too. City life can contribute to grumpy attitudes for many of us, so it’s refreshing to hear someone greeting DC with anticipation! And the icing on the cake, for me, on a return flight into my home airport is seeing the water of the Potomac so close underneath us that it’s almost a little bit frightening!

How about you?

Autumn Leaves

The beautiful sight of Washington as I fly back home never gets old. Monuments, the Pentagon, and the Potomac all look just inches away as we touch down at DCA (Reagan National). Sometimes it looks like the plane might land right in the water. The delighted gasps of first time visitors as they see the Washington Monument and the Capitol staring back at them through their window is nearly as wonderful as seeing it myself. Flying home from CAE (the grand little Columbia, South Carolina airport) last week gave me an additional special treat of seeing our gorgeous Virginia fall colors from the air. It looked like someone had dropped paint balls all over the trees. Some foliage was so incredibly bright that I genuinely mistook one solitary tree for an orange tarp in someone’s back yard!

Driving to Morgantown, West Virginia for business this week gave me a view of our state’s (and our neighboring state’s) seasonal splendor from the road as well. Capturing this glory from my iPhone’s camera seems next to impossible – I can never do it justice with this type of camera. The colors come out dark rather than gleaming. But I’ll post a few pics anyway … 🙂

En route to WV

En route to WV

Old Glory

Old Glory

A view from the mountains at a Virginia welcome center

A view from the mountains at a Virginia welcome center

Up in the Air: My Second Tandem Jump

I have been feeling very restless this weekend! I figured out it’s because my feet are on the ground! I feel like I should be headed back over to a drop zone for another skydive! That is no exaggeration; that’s honestly how I feel.

So yes, I finally got another tandem jump in. I hear a lot of people who have never tried skydiving describe it with words like “insane”, “daredevil”, and “crazy”. And while I understand why they say such things, the only word I can use to describe it is “joyous.”

This time I chose Skydive OC in Berlin (Maryland – right next to Ocean City) and planned to jump on my 30th birthday. Was I disappointed when I came down with a nasty cold that same week and had to postpone it because of my congested sinuses! (It’s a terrible idea to jump with congestion, of course.) I rescheduled for two weeks later, and my wonderful sister and brother-in-law drove me out there from their home in Gaithersburg on Saturday. It was a LONNNNNNNG drive, bless their souls. Some clouds and approaching thunderstorms pushed back the time by a few hours. We went and had some lunch at the Greene Turtle sports bar up the road and then came back just in time for the jump. There was no long waiting around for endless hours on end with no updates as with the last site. I only wish the drive (to either site) wasn’t so long from Arlington. Although it is doable in one day, I would recommend making a weekend OC vacation out of it so that you don’t have to battle nasty Bay Bridge tourist traffic on the same day that you jump. I am very grateful to Cat and Rob for driving me; they are sweethearts.

The lesson for the tandem skydive was very quick – we watched a video and then practiced our stance a few times. The instructors were very professional, clear, and positive. But I was surprised to find I was a bit jittery depsite having done this before. Not that I expected to feel like a know-it-all, but I was kind of nervous even though I knew most of what would happen.

After we were strapped into everything, we went right out to the plane. I told my tandem instructor, Daniel, as we went up that I was feeling jitters and wasn’t sure why. He said that is normal and that his pre-jump jitters lasted until he had completed about 30 jumps. (He now has over 15,000 to his credit and has been jumping for 17 years.) When we left the plane I felt no real fear, just a sensation of “Okay, here we go …” When we fell out this time, we did a complete flip in the air! So fun!

There was no fear at all during this jump, only pure exhiliration. The view is unbelievable. We were straight over the ocean. I truly felt like I was flying. It sounds cheesy, but the sensation of jumping has only been matched in my dreams – when I was a girl, I dreamed about flying all the time.

My only complaint about skydiving is the brief amount of time that you are in the air! I felt like I could go again and again all day, and obviously people do, all the time. So would I if I had the money to spare. Can you imagine the feeling of being up in the air all alone, no tandem, no other jumpers, saying goodbye the pilot and then being more alone than you could ever be elsewhere … just you and the sky and the birds. I wish it wasn’t such an expensive sport. I adore it and would like to pursue my USPA “A” class license as soon as possible. There is a school in Orange County (VA) and I am looking into beginning courses next summer. Once you are licensed, you can jump by yourself at most sites and pay the pilot a small fee ($20 to $30 from what I read) to take you up!

Here are some pictures taken by Daniel. You can purchase a disc of photos, a jump video, and/or a landing photo at Skydive OC. There are other pics on this disc that are hilarious because you can see the skin on my face and arms rippling in the wind like I’m made of clay … HAHAHA. Well, I left those out. I strongly recommend Skydive OC as a jump site. No disrespect meant to the other DZ, but it blew them out of the water in nearly every way. I look forward to returning and learning more about the sport. I am up for a dive any time. Click on each picture to enlarge to the full size in a separate window.

A view of the Ocean City beach strip and surrounding areas, less than 2/3 of the way up!

Checking out the view on our ascent!

With my fellow jumper! He was a first-time jumper, but had a lot of neat stories about hang-gliding in Turkey! Behind us are the pilot and the other instructor.

Preparing to exit the plane!

Getting into the proper stance with my head back. Look at the instructor's right wrist - that's the altimeter that tells him how far above ground we are (at least 12,000 feet)!

Here we go into freefall with a backflip off of the plane!

This picture makes me laugh so hard! But you can't help but scream! A scream of pure exhilaration 🙂

Keeping my hands on my straps early in the fall - once the instructor taps you, you can put your arms out!

In free fall, plummeting about 120 miles per hour over the ocean!

Parachute deployment!

Coming in to the Drop Zone 🙂

Unbelievable fun!

Arlington Walkabout #2: Crystal City

Update, 5/27/2016: This Arlington Walkabout seems to have been updated since we last visited. Yay! Maybe now it will make more sense. We will plan to give it a try again this summer.

A Crystal City skywalk

Like many areas of Arlington, Crystal City is scheduled to undergo a comprehensive rehaul. This may be necessary as the urban neighborhood faces some serious challenges now that a large portion of its working population is being moved elsewhere, thanks to the latest BRAC (Base Re-alignment and Closure).  Continue reading

Arlington Walkabouts: Pike Hike

Did you know that Arlington County has a “Walkabouts” program? You can view a brochure right here on the Walk Arlington site that gives you directions for a self-guided tour of multiple Arlington communities. Each tour has various stops with random fun facts about the neighborhood.   Continue reading