09 January, 2012

Florida Connection - Finis


(Note: Long ago I found a way to change the date on my posts - so instead of being dated when I publish them, I can have them chronologically dated for when the events happened.  While keeping things in order, this means that not every entry was posted in a timely fashion.  Take this one, for example.  In real-time, it's June.  I only mention this because I know I haven't been updating regularly - it's been, say... five months or so?? - and I have more entries in queue.  Bear with me while I get back to this whole blogging thing, will you?  I mean, if the twelve or thirteen of you haven't gone off and abandoned me already since I've neglected your trust in me to provide... something... more frequently than TWICE A YEAR...  Ahem.)
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We spent our last evening having dinner with family friends I haven't seen for more than 20 years.  (It doesn't seem right that I'm old enough to have known someone that long ago.)  In a complete coincidence (and thanks to Facebook), we found that Sam and Pam were in Florida for vacation at the same time we were there for Greg's running mania.  I'm absolutely amazed, and a bit shocked, that we could be so far from home and hook up with friends from Idaho (of all places), just because a picture from Olive Garden was posted on Facebook.  How cool is that?!? 

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous - I mean, what am I going to say to these folks after so much time?  And what do I call them?  I mean, I'm an adult now, but they were adults when I was a child so is using first names acceptable?  But Mr. and Mrs. just sounds way too formal...  And I also admit to being a little concerned that they wouldn't approve of me in some way.  (I choose to think that was a throwback to my childhood days and remembered authority figures, rather than an indication of deep-seated self-doubt.)  It didn't help my nerves that we were running behind, went to the wrong pickup spot, then had to backtrack to finally get connected.

As soon as we were together, it was easy as pie.  We spent the few hours we had catching up on family goings-on and glossing over the intervening years of separation.  Almost like going back in time, only better because now I can more fully enjoy the interaction.  They're almost unchanged from what I remember - or else my new memories are superimposed over my old ones - a little grayer around the temples, perhaps, but still the same. Amazing to think of how time has passed, and so totally wonderful that we could get together - I was sad when our time together ended, but glad of the new memories we have.  God bless and keep you, Sam and Pam.
It's been an amazing trip.  Between the sightseeing, getting acquainted with friends, Greg's running accomplishments, and the wonderful surprise of connecting with old friends, it's almost hard to leave.  And yet... home beckons.  Not the cold (it's been below zero for almost the whole time we've been gone), but the friends and family who are waiting for us.  And, I suppose, the knowledge that I have not yet found the job that will pay me to not work.

And so we're down to the final adventure: the trip home, where I almost lost my wallet, Greg shoplifted from the Disney store, we barely made one of the connecting flights, and I saw another new vending machine (with makeup, a mini boom box, sunglasses, and eye covers for sale).
After we checked our bags and were heading for security, we decided to use the restrooms.  From there, we stopped at the Disney store to browse for souveniers.  I found some chocolate covered pretzels but when I was heading up to the counter, discovered my wallet was missing.  I handed everything to Greg - rather abruptly, I might add - and raced back to the restroom, praying all the way that someone had turned it in, and where is the lost and found anyway? I don't care if they take the money, just please, please leave the ID so I can get home...  Miracle of miracles (thank you, Lord), my wallet was on the floor just outside the stall I'd used, where it must have fallen out of my pocket.  I gathered the recalcitrant item (and my racing heart, and my dropped stomach) and headed back to find Greg, only to discover that he had followed me out of the store and half way down the long hallway.  I marched him back into the Disney store so we could pay for the pilfered items, and then we were on our way home.  (To be fair, I guess the pretzels got wrapped up in my coat, so Greg didn't even realize I'd handed him an item from the store.  But it's much more fun to say that he shoplifted...)  Only one delay, one mad-dash race to the gate for the connecting flight, and now we're home, dreaming of sunny, warm Florida while attempting to avoid frostbite from the frigid weather.

08 January, 2012

Florida Connection - Let the Running Commence

And the insanity begins.  Greg ran three races in three days.  And I had to get up and moving before the butt-crack of dawn for those three days - a minor miracle, in and of itself.  He started with a 5k - the Family Fun Run - on Friday morning.  It was a good test, since we knew we'd have to leave even earlier and deal with more traffic for the other races.  (As it is, I almost took an off-ramp that I shouldn't have - thanks  and *waves* to the folks creeping along behind that let me back in the lane.  In my defense, it was labelled "runner drop off" and it sure as HELL isn't me running these races.  And it was early.  And I hadn't had much caffeine.  I don't do well in these kinds of situations.)  Ahem.
Friday afternoon, we hooked up with Mike and Marci (they came up to Orlando from Naples to spend the weekend with us and cheer for Greg), and Dayna (aka Lethal Lavender, one of my all-time favorite roller derby girls - yay!!).  Dayna is the one that planted the seed in Greg's demented brain for running all these races.  It's super-cool to meet her in person, since I've admired her from afar for quite some time (I may have just a bit of star-worship going on here, but it's not stalker-ish...  I promise...).  We've been "Facebook friends" for a while, but never actually interacted in person until now.  She's down-to-earth and friendly.  She's funny, and totally human.  (I suppose that's true of other celebrities too, but this is my first brush with such a luminary.)

Early to bed, early to rise...  Both are rather difficult for me.  To accommodate, I had to shower the night before, so I could get out of bed, get dressed, and get going. (We also made sure to stock the fridge with Rockstars.  I think I barely remembered to brush my teeth.)  Still, try as I might, I didn't get to bed until almost midnight, which made the 3:30am wakeup rather painful.  Ah, well.  It's for a good cause.  (That's what I kept telling myself, as I was dragging around, working extra hard not to be too grouchy.  Mornings in general are not my thing.  Mornings that start at 3am are especially torturous.)
Once we were moving, everything seemed to go relatively well.  Disney is incredibly organized.  They'd have to be, to host an event of this scale.  Apparently more than 26,000 runners registered for the half-marathon, almost 17,000 for the marathon, and there were about 6,498 people just as bat-shit crazy as Greg and Dayna to run the Goofy.  Who knew there were that many deranged runners in this world?  Anyhow.  To support such a gathering, there were more than 6,000 volunteers, in addition to the Disney staff.  And it seemed to run smooth-as-pie good.  Which is to say: phenomenal.
From the spectator side, everything was done well.  (For a bit of the runner's perspective, Dayna has a blog and posted here, here, here, and here.)  We had free transportation from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom (and back), and routes were well marked.  Aside from the staff and volunteers every few feet, I could just follow the hordes of people - we were all heading the same way.  (Yes.  I was a sheeple. But it worked.  I didn't get lost and was at the finish for both races.)  For the half, I went directly from dropping Greg off to the railway to get to Magic Kingdom.  Unfortunately, they didn't open the park for spectators until 5:30am.  So I rode it back and forth for a bit, until I could get in.  I walked up to the castle, which was beautiful in its pre-dawn splendor, to wait.  Then I started to get nervous about fighting the  hordes of people to get back to Epcot to watch the finish, so I turned around and went back.  Turns out, I probably would have been just fine, but I didn't know it at the time and opted to watch the finish over a mid-way point.  I only had one chance to get a picture, because action shots on my camera require me to push the shutter half way down and wait for my subject(s) to enter the frame.  So when Greg and Dayna kicked it to the finish, I just missed the shot where they were side-by-side (literally by a second).  Instead you get the shot above, where I had to circle Dayna's head so you'd see she was actually there.

It took them a little over 3 hours to finish the race.  They weren't super-fast, but in no danger of the sweepers either, and they finished.  (Disney has a time limit, and if you're not going fast enough the sweepers will pick you off from the back of the pack, so you won't get to finish.  Rather like nefarious vampires (aren't all vampires nefarious?), only everyone lives and there's no blood - unless it's a popped blister or some other race-related injury.)  It brings to mind a t-shirt we saw at the runner's Expo: The slowest runner is faster than the guy sitting on the couch.  Ain't that the truth!  Way to go, Greg and Dayna!!
I didn't get after-the-half pictures because Dayna had to take off (for some reason she thought it'd be a good idea to schedule a massage after the race...).  So Mike, Marci, Greg and I headed into Epcot to spend the afternoon wandering the park.  We started in the countries, and determined we were going to eat and drink our way around the world.  It was a heroic endeavor, and I'm proud to say we completed the task (although it was just prior to closing and the fireworks, but we did it).  We took a break half-way 'round so we could go to the other side for some rides and entertainment.  We didn't get to do Soarin' because the wait-time was too long, but we caught Captain Eo (the old, OLD 3D skit with Michael Jackson).  I also had to take a picture of Greg at the Norwegian troll.  Brought back memories of the last time we were here, years ago.  (There's a similar picture in this post.)
Sunday was exactly the same... only different.  This time, I napped in the car for almost two hours before I headed to the Magic Kingdom.  (As I was heading to the railway, I could hear the announcers heralding the first finishers crossing the line.  Damn!  Those dudes are fast!!)  I have to say, the text updates were super-helpful.  I had some idea of where they were at, so wasn't panicking that I'd missed them as I was standing at the castle, watching the runners go by.  On the way back to Epcot, there was some kind of issue with the railway, so we had to take a ferry across the lake (I'd hooked up with Mike and Marci by that time), then wait in an enormously long line at the central station to get back to Epcot.  I must say, Disney is the King of Queues.  We were almost constantly moving.  Down the lane, 180 degree turn and walk back the way we came (only a foot or two closer), wind down a ways, then back and forth again.  Just when I thought we were on the homestretch, I'd see that there was another labyrinthine twist to the line.  But because we were moving constantly, it felt like we were making progress so no one got overly grouchy or upset because of the glitch.  Almost like magic.
video
It was fun to stand in the crowd, watching the runners.  Constant amazement that these people have just run 26.2 miles and are still upright.  And the other crowd members were incredibly supportive.  A few were even runners that had already finished and were hanging out for a while to cheer on and support everyone else.  I got smart this time, and instead of trying to get a single picture, I set my camera to video.  This is only the second video ever that I've posted - might even be the second video ever that I've taken.  (The first is here, and it still makes me laugh every time I watch it.  Thanks, Greg, for being such a good sport!)
The rest of the day was spent in recuperation-mode, and saying goodbye.  Sunday was one of the only times I can remember where I could walk faster than Greg.  I felt bad for the obvious discomfort they both were feeling, but it made me giggle to be able to "run get the car" while he hobbled out of the restaurant.  Is that bad?  I think it probably is, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  Besides, by Monday he was hearty and hale again (and I was trailing behind in our dashes from various planes to new ones as we headed home).  I'm so proud of Greg for doing this (but not surprised).  Once he determined this was what he wanted to do, he made it happen.  He's just like that.
Way to go, Dayna and Greg!!

04 January, 2012

Florida Connection - The Keys

Today we headed south to the Florida Keys.  Randomly throughout the trip, my mind would break into the song by the Beach Boys: Key Largo, Montego, baby why don't we go down to Cocomo / we'll get there fast and then we'll take it slow / that's where I want to go, way down to Cocomo...  (I know you're singing it now, just like I am.)  How can you not think of that song when you're surrounded by sun and sand?
We stopped whenever we felt the need: food and shopping being the primary motivators for detours along the way.  We tested the Key Lime Pie at every location where it was available.  My absolute favorite (aside from ALL Key Lime Pie in Florida - which truly is the best, and beats anything at home by miles and miles) was from a cafe (read: trendy resort restaurant) in Islamorada.  Creamy, decadent, a little tart, and just fabulous!  I also tried Conch fritters.  Add that to the list of things I never have to try again.  Greg likes them, but they're too rubbery and chewy for me - the flavor is fine, but this texture gal didn't enjoy them.  At least now I know.
(We stopped to get gas and some momma chickens with babies in tow - followed  by the manly roosters - wandered into the parking lot.    It was charming to watch the little family pecking about freely.)  We made it to Key West just after sunset.  We were trying to be there beforehand, so Greg could get pictures and because they apparently have a sundown party every night.  We caught a couple of the last performers, then headed out to walk the streets.  O.M.G.  There were SO MANY PEOPLE! Vacationers everywhere (of course), people calling window shoppers (like us) into the stores, people passing out invitations to shows (we could've seen a couple different drag shows, if we'd had the time)... I almost felt claustrophobic just walking around.
Greg and I both agree that we'd like to come back to Key West - but when we have more time.  Time to rent mopeds or ride bikes around the streets; time to sit on the beach; time to enjoy the scenery and bask in the sun; time to explore the historical sites; time when we can do more than just browse the tourist-y shops.  It's so nice to be enjoying weather as nice as some of our best summer days in the middle of winter.  I love sitting on the deck, looking out at the ocean, eating lunch or dinner.  I can tell that adjusting to the cold and snow when we get back home is going to be tough for me.  (We've been watching the weather - not only is it cold, it's been below zero almost the whole time we've been gone.  Ugh!  Glad I'm missing that, but going back it going to hurt!)

On the trip out, I counted the bridges - we crossed 47 bridges from Key West to the mainland, including the 7-mile bridge.  Greg wanted to run part of that, but it was closed, so he took some pictures instead.  We're spending the night in Naples with Marci and Mike, then heading back to Orlando for the Big Race Weekend.  I wore shorts today without the compression socks, and I can tell my ankles are swelling - the skin is tight and pink (but no sausage toes!).  Hopefully having them up at night will help, and then I'll wear my Special Socks for the drive up to Orlando (not much beach walking then).

03 January, 2012

Florida Connection - Coral Castle

It's unassuming and unsightly from the outside.  In fact, I was prepared to be inundated with the cheese-factor and disappointed altogether (rather like when we visited the alien museum in Roswell, NM years ago).  Instead, the Coral Castle (which is really a rock garden) is utterly amazing.
Apparently, the gentleman responsible for the display (Edward Leedskalnin) did the work entirely alone.  No one is exactly sure how he moved the huge slabs of coral into position.  Additionally, he constructed the original garden in Florida City, then moved it 10 miles to Homestead and continued to add pieces.  (Did he move it because Florida City was becoming too populated?  Or was is because the current location in Homestead is a convergence of electrical currents - and maybe the original location was a mathematical miscalculation?)
Some of the slabs of rock weigh several tons.  Edward cut and moved the coral rock from local beds to create his garden.  He was just over 5 feet tall and weighed around 100 pounds - and did all the work alone, primarily at night.  Speculation is rampant as to how he accomplished such an impressive feat.  He came from a family of stonemasons in Latvia, so understood the properties of stone.  Some surmise that he belonged to the Free Masons, and may have had help from the brotherhood.  There is also a theory that he may have used acoustic levitation (sound waves) - or magnetism - to maneuver the stone.  (We watched a video on the guide's iPad showing a hunk of metal being lifted and twisted by sound waves - but I didn't write down the site and can't find it on my own.  The heaviest thing lifted by sound in the videos I can find it water droplets.)
Aside from the fascinating aspects of construction, the rock garden is full of wonder and mystery.  There is a sun dial that depicts not only the time, but also the date - and it's still highly accurate.  There are planetary and mythological symbols throughout the area - including the Maiden (new moon), Mother (full moon) and Crone (waning moon).  He built a well, a forge, a stone bathtub (the guide pointed out the slight grade so it always drains), living quarters in a two-story tower, and a Polaris telescope (a 25' tall, 20 ton solid piece of coral aligned to track the North Star).  In addition to many chairs, benches, tables, and fixtures.  He even built a 9-ton stone gate that rotated on a metal pole and ball bearings and could be moved with just a gentle push.  After 40-some years, the ball bearings gave out.  When a team of several engineers from the University of Florida tried to fix it, they couldn't get it balanced correctly and had to shave off some of the stone, which unbalanced the whole slab.  It only took 10 years for it to break again.  Impressive!
Setting aside the wonder and mystique (and the supposition by some that Edward was assisted by aliens), the garden as a whole is serene and peaceful.  The stone seats are actually comfortable,and the heart table is supposedly the largest valentine ever made (for the object of Ed's broken heart, who jilted him the day before they were supposed to get married).  All in all, this is definitely a stop that I enjoyed.  It's fun to discuss the many different theories for how a single (relatively small) person could build something like this.
Today was "cold" by Florida standards - in the mid-60s with a chilly wind.  Which made it comfortable for me to wear long pants to cover the knee-high compression socks.  My feet and ankles tend to swell when we travel.  I'm guessing it's a combination of the long flights and change of atmosphere, coupled with the hours and hours we spend riding around in a car.  So in order to prevent sausage toes and elephant ankles, I brought compression socks on this trip.  So far, so good.  We'll see how the rest of the trip progresses.  From here, we're heading down the Keys to tour and spend the night in Key West.

02 January, 2012

Florida Connection - Davie

Before Crazy-Man Greg does his supreme feats of running, we'll be puttering around the state.  Heading south from Orlando, the first destination is the Davie/Fort Lauderdale area.  The last time I was here, we were visiting Chad and Angie.  The trip was loads of fun and over much too quickly.  They've moved to Texas, so I won't get to see them this time, but everything we're doing brings back fond memories of the last trip.  (In fact, at Disney, I kept telling Greg that we'd be on this ride or another one with them.  It seems that many of the rides are similar to ones at Universal - hence my confusion, since Greg assures me that we've never been to Disney Hollywood before this trip.)
Instead of doing Billie's Airboat tour of the Everglades, this time we went on a Lion Safari.  I know!  I couldn't believe we were going on safari in the middle of Florida either!  It was pretty tame (sitting inside the car, driving through an animal park - and all the dangerous ones (the lions) had extra fences between us and them), but we got to see lots of animals and Greg took bucket-loads of pictures.  Before we even started the tour, we got to watch a mama turtle laying eggs and burying them.  Greg notified someone at the park, since the new nest is beneath a picnic table.
I love road-trips in the Lower 48.  Lots more than two directions to go, and six general destinations.  When we were talking about where to go, Greg mentioned one area and said it might be too far away.  But on examination, the distance there is less than what we drive to get to Squirrel Creek (we go there camping almost every year) or Fairbanks (some 350+ miles north).  So it'll take a couple hours - that's nothing  more (and certainly less, sometimes) than what we've done back home.  We also don't have rest stops.  I mean, there are gas stations where you can get out, stretch, use the restroom, and get snacks, but nothing as elaborate as the rest stations here in Florida. (Our other rest stops are just paved parking lots with outhouses at one end - at least I don't have to pee on the side of the road, I suppose.)  There are all kinds of amenities, including a windshield washer - which is really just a spray of water so you can use your wipers to clean off extra bugs.  (I guess so you don't have to use windshield wiper fluid?)  I think it's pretty spiffy - if only other drivers would be a little more courteous, so when someone is trying to leave they'd let us out of our parking spot.  Oh well.  What's an extra 15 minutes when you're on vacation anyway, right?
I'm really enjoying the weather right now.  The last two days have been in the 70s, and weather back home has slipped to the zero (and below) region.  I'm hoping it warms up before we get home again, otherwise I'm going to be miserable.  But that's a worry for later.  I've got days and days until I'll let myself worry about that...  I love that there are still blooming flowers and green vegetation here.  I won't see that back home until May or June.
 
Last stop before dinner was to Wolf Lake in Davie.  Greg wanted to get in a run, and that was a gorgeous place to get it done.  Tomorrow we're off to see they Coral Castle and the Keys.  Another long day in the car, but lots of fun things to see.

01 January, 2012

Florida Connection - the New Year

We're traveling to Florida because Greg is off his rocker.  I mean nutso.  I guess I really mean totally crazy.  What else would you call it when someone signs up to run a 1/2 marathon, followed by a marathon the very next day?  And later decides that's not quite enough so he'll start the racing one day earlier with a 5K.  Three races, three days, four medals.  He gets an extra one because that's supposed to make up for the fact that he belongs in the loony bin - it's the Goofy medal, given to any locos out there that think running a 1/2 and full marathon back-to-back sounds like it could be fun, so gee let's sign up...  I really wish I'd upped the life insurance before we got here.
Since the races are held at Disney in Florida, we decided to take a couple extra days and see some of the sights.  I mean, if you're going to be traveling for almost 20 hours, crammed like sardines in the tiny seats on the airplanes, racing from one gate to the next, for three different flights... we may as well spend a couple more days to make the pain worth it.  (At this point, I can only imagine how Greg is going to feel after 3 days of races, followed immediately by 20 more hours of cramped travel.  I should make sure we have plenty of drugs.  Not sure if it'd be better to have them for me or for him, but I'll get that worked out over the next couple days.)
It's absolutely amazing to go from single digit temperatures to 70 degrees.  It's so nice to spend the day wandering around in shorts, t-shirt, and sandals.  And when evening hits... well, the temperature hasn't dropped that much, so a light vest or jacket works great to beat the chill.  If we'd been home, I'm not sure we'd've gone anywhere, because I just don't want to deal with the below zero temps after dark.  No way could I stand to be outside watching fireworks at midnight - hoping the neighbors ignore the 200' rule and light some off so I could see them through the window would've had to be good enough for me.  But instead we're in sunny Florida, and spending time in the car arguing about how high we should go with the air conditioner.  (I'm still a wuss, so if it's up too high I'll be cold.  Greg could live in a igloo and when there's sun, he'd want cold air blowing on him.)
We arrived in Orlando for New Year's Eve, and decided that spending the evening at Disney Hollywood sounded like our best option.  Apparently lots of other people thought the same thing.  We wandered around checking out displays and rides, trying to avoid overly large crowds and bumping into people.  The fireworks were lovely - it's been a long time since I've watched fireworks outside without some part of my body freezing.  The only drawback was leaving the Disney property.  For all the work and effort they put into managing crowds in the park, they're sadly lacking when hordes of people are leaving.  Everyone is released to the parking lot, and that's it.  Disney could take some notes for how to handle that kind of thing from the folks that run the Alaska State Fair.  Now, that's one super-organized party.  It's never taken anyone two hours to leave the property for the fair, like it did for us to leave Disney.  That was just asinine.  But it was the only blemish on a fun, if tiring, day.  We'll continue our tourist-ing throughout the week, and return to Orlando the following Thursday for all the racing.
Happy New Year!  Hope your celebrations were filled with family, friends, and loads of good cheer!!!