Even though the athletic apparel company INKnBURN has been around for about 11 years, I only recently discovered them. I kept seeing this runner I follow on Instagram wearing these fun and unique-looking shirts and finally I realized they’re from INKnBURN. According to their website, “Our mission is to put art on quality athletic apparel” and I feel like they accomplish that mission well. All of the apparel is hand-crafted in small, limited-edition runs in their Southern California warehouse.
INKnBURN uses Dry I.C.E. Fabric for all of their clothing to wick away moisture and help you stay cool. The material has a silky, light feel and doesn’t rub or chafe whether you’re running, biking, hiking, or participating in any other activity. In fact, they’re tough enough to stand up to ultra distances. Sandy Vi set the new Women’s World Record for the fastest crossing of the US on foot wearing INKnBURN (She ran 3,127 miles averaging 57 miles a day for 54 days straight).
Currently, INKnBURN makes short-sleeve and long-sleeve tops, mens golf shirts, tanks, singlets, breeze tops, shorts, skirts, skorts, capris, tights, jackets, vests, sports bras, masks, sleeves, hats, and headbands. Oh, and they also make custom shirts where you upload a photo and they make a shirt featuring your photo. Cool, huh?
What I love most about INKnBURN is their art work. These products truly are works of art and they have something for everyone. Like Japanese-inspired art? They have released products with names like Origami, Kaze (with pink cherry blossoms drifting across an asymmetrical composition of classic Japanese textiles), Kaiyo, Shibori Star, just to name a few. Prefer nature-inspired art? How about Water Lotus, Moonlit Crane, or New Leaf? Like funky designs? Check out Boho, Radiant Paisley, or Rhythm and Hues. They really have designs for just about anyone, which is awesome since art is so subjective.
If the prices seem a bit steep, they usually have at least a few different items on sale, especially shirts and sometimes pants. One drawback is items tend to sell out quickly, since they’re made in small batches, so you will see many items out of stock on their website. I suggest subscribing to their newsletter if you’re really interested in their products so you get first-dibs when they release a new style.
When I was trying to figure out where to go for my daughter’s spring break in 2021, I considered Portland, Oregon and the coast of Oregon, different islands in the Caribbean, Savannah, Georgia, and some other places but ultimately I knew Florida was the best choice given the circumstances. I knew I could get a cheap, direct flight to Tampa, Florida with Delta, who I also knew was still blocking off middle seats. Finally, as I mentioned earlier, I also knew I wanted to go back to see some of the cities just north of St. Petersburg, including Clearwater and Tampa. For reference, here is a map of that part of Florida:
See where all of the blue marks are? Those are all places I labeled in my Google map that I used last year and this year. The big cluster includes Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Bradenton. Just north of the cluster is Crystal River.
So the plan for this year was to start off in the Clearwater area including Safety Harbor and stay a few nights, drive almost 2 hours north to Crystal River and spend one night and much of the next day, then drive south to Tampa and stay a few nights. Last year I had wanted to go to Clearwater and go to the beach there as well but there just wasn’t enough time. This year, I made it a priority and was glad I did.
I’ll start with Clearwater here. First I should note that there’s Clearwater the city and Clearwater Beach. Clearwater Beach is on a barrier island with soft, white powdery sand and packed with restaurants, hotels, and shops. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where they rehabilitate injured dolphins and sea turtles is on the barrier island as well. Clearwater the city spans the entire east-to-west portion of this part of Florida, so there is the intercoastal waterway that eventually becomes the Gulf of Mexico on the west side and Old Tampa Bay on the east side. In other words, you’re never far from water views in Clearwater.
Restaurants in Clearwater
One restaurant we loved in Clearwater is Shnookums BBQ, just on the edge of Clearwater bordering Belleair. Belleair is full of mansions overlooking the water and has a tiny unmarked park called Hallett Park. I got our BBQ to go and drove the short distance to Hallett Park, where we ate dinner overlooking the water and cityscape. It was an absolutely perfect evening. If you enjoy Vietnamese food, Pho Bowl Clearwater (in an unassuming strip mall) is some of the best Vietnamese I’ve ever had.
Parks in Clearwater
Now to the part about peacocks. One afternoon, we were walking around Kapok Park and decided to walk over to Moccasin Lake Nature Park, only to find out the nature park was closed on Mondays. However, in the neighborhood beside the nature park, I spotted several peacocks in front of someone’s house. The male was in full display mode showing his feathers off and slowly walking around while several females just lounged in the front yard. I had seen peacocks before but always in parks in Hawaii and never just in front of some random person’s house.
We later went back to Moccasin Lake Nature Park on a day they were open and saw the peacocks inside the park. One peacock was sitting on top of a fence, which is when I learned they must hop the fence to go back and forth between the park and neighborhood. There were many trails with beautiful big trees and lots of shade. We walked to a pond and saw several turtles in the water. There is also an indoor area where you can touch or hold the animals they have chosen specifically for this. On the day we were there, they had two different snakes and a snapping turtle. My daughter held both of the snakes and we both got a science lesson from the very chatty and friendly worker there.
The population of Clearwater is around 115,000, which isn’t a huge city by any means but by comparison, Safety Harbor with around 17,000 people is a much smaller, quieter town. We stayed in a hotel in Safety Harbor and it was great but if you want close and easy access to a beach, I recommend staying in Clearwater instead. What you do get in Safety Harbor is a cute little downtown area with some amazing restaurants and a few waterside parks.
Restaurants in Safety Harbor
If you’re a big coffee fan like my daughter is, you’ll love Cafe Vino Tinto, a coffee shop that serves breakfast and lunch. There is a small outdoor seating area and everything we had from breakfast burritos and biscuits to Thin Mint Lattes, Chai Tea Lattes, S’mores Lattes, and London Fogs were all delicious. The Sandwich on Main has amazing sandwiches, some made with homemade Portuguese bread. As a huge fan of real Hawaiian shave ice, imagine my excitement to discover a place that comes pretty close to what you usually can only find in Hawaii, Sno Beach. I had dragonfruit mojito and my daughter had rose shave ice, both with sweet cream over. Another restaurant that was excellent is Water Oak Grill, a seafood restaurant where my daughter had soft shell crab for the first time and loved it. My shrimp and grits were every bit as good as I’ve had in Charleston, SC, which is saying a lot because they set the bar there.
Parks in Safety Harbor
Safety Harbor may be a small town but it has several great parks, like Safety Harbor Waterfront Park, Philippe Park, Mullet Creek Park, and also not really a park but Safety Harbor Pier. Now for the part about dolphins. In the nearby town of Oldsmar is Mobbly Bayou Beach Park. We went here one morning after it had rained the night before, thinking we could possibly spend some time at the beach.
When we saw how tiny and soaked the sandy beach at Mobbly Bayou Beach Park was, we decided to just walk around. I heard a strange noise coming from the water so we went to get a closer look, just in time to see a dolphin jump out of the water. Then I saw more dolphins, all playing in the water, spinning and flipping around. In all, I counted four dolphins, which we watched with delight for several minutes before they retreated further away from us. There is a trail system at the park, so we walked around on the trails for about an hour before we headed back.
Day Trip to Tarpon Springs
Just a short 30 minute drive from Clearwater lies Tarpon Springs with its downtown listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tarpon Springs is probably best known for its historic sponge docks and Greek influence. The city was first settled by Greek sponge divers in the early 1900’s.
My first impression was that the area was much bigger than I expected and immensely more touristy than I thought it would be. We went into Tarpon Springs Sea Sponge Factory and discovered all of the different sizes and shapes of sponges as well as soaps and other skin products. There were dozens of other shops selling sponges and soaps in addition to the usual kitschy touristy items. After a while they all seemed to blur together.
There is no shortage of Greek and Mediterranean restaurants but I knew I wanted to stop at Hella’s since it’s known to be one of the best in Tarpon Springs. It was super busy and like a mad house but I guess there’s a method to their madness because the pastries we got were crazy good. After sitting to enjoy our afternoon desserts, we decided we had had enough of Tarpon Springs and drove back to Clearwater.
A couple of things we did not do but I heard are worth checking out are: Tarpon Springs Aquarium and Animal Sanctuary, taking a cruise around the area, Safford House Museum (a restored Victorian mansion with tours), and St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church with stained glass and a Grecian marble altar.
The main reason to drive 2 hours to Crystal River was to swim with manatees but the area has some other fun activities that I’ll also go over later. Although Crystal River isn’t the only place in Florida to see manatees, it was the closest for us coming from Clearwater. Manatees are migratory animals and spend their winters from November through March in the warmer waters of Florida.
Our time in Florida was during the last week of March and first few days of April so I knew we would be at the tail-end of the migration, meaning we might not see a single manatee. I booked our snorkeling trip to swim with manatees through Bird’s Underwater (technically Famous Bird’s Underwater Manatee Dive Center) for the first trip of the day at 6:30 am, knowing we would be more likely to see manatees during the early morning hours rather than later in the day on either their 11 am or 2 pm tours. We had driven to Crystal River the day before and spent the night there so we would only be a 5 minute drive from the dive center.
We left with two groups of other people so there were 6 people on the pontoon boat plus our guide and captain besides us, but there was plenty of room for everyone to stay relatively distanced from one another. The boat ride was relatively short, which is a good thing because my daughter tends to get motion sickness, but she was fine the entire time.
We were warned by our guide on the boat ride out that visibility had been extremely poor the past four days and in reality we might not be able to see any manatees or if so the water might be cloudy and murky. Great. However, when we got to a spot where a manatee had been seen by another tour group, we all zipped up our wet suits (that we had put on prior to boarding the boat), pulled down our snorkel masks (my daughter and I had brought our own, which given COVID seemed like an even better purchase than I realized when I bought them before the pandemic), and gently eased into the water.
The water was crystal clear! We could all easily see the gentle giant as it glided along the bottom of the Three Sisters Springs, munching on sea grass and reinforcing its nickname “sea cow.” Honestly, I could have stayed in the water watching this manatee all day. It was extremely calming and relaxing. I was glad to have the wet suit because even though the water is a constant 72 degrees and may seem warm, I was chilly at times because I was gently gliding in the water, not swimming. We all watched a video on proper and improper treatment of manatees before boarding the boat and one of the things they covered was not to swim near a manatee because you could accidentally kick it. Instead of having snorkeling fins, we all crossed our feet at our ankles, bent our knees, and using a pool noodle, used our arms and hands to gently move around.
We also saw some fish but other than manatees there wasn’t much in this part of the water, which was fine with me. We ended up spending a total of three hours with Bird’s Underwater, including getting wet suits, watching the video, snorkeling, and going to and from the springs in the boat. I was more tired than I realized when I got back into the boat and was told we had to head back to the dive shop.
Parks in and around Crystal River
After we had gone back to the hotel, showered, gotten dressed and checked out, we went to Crystal River Archaeological State Park. At the park we saw remnants of a prehistoric ceremonial center, burial mounds, and remains from the area’s earliest settlement. Admission was just a few dollars (I think $3) that I left in an envelope at a stand in the parking lot. Crystal River Preserve State Park is right beside the archaeological park, but we didn’t go there.
Just about 20 minutes south of Crystal River in Homosassa is Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. We picked up sandwiches from a grocery store and ate lunch in the park overlooking the crystal clear water, but there is a cafe onsite where you can buy sandwiches and other snacks and drinks. This park has several rescued animals such as flamingos, bald eagles, a 61-year-old hippo that we saw pooping in the water (much to the delight of the young boys near us), a black bear, foxes, alligators, and manatees.
The manatees at this park have free-range to swim in the spring or make their way to a river that feeds into Homosassa Bay and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. There is also a rehabilitation center just for manatees if they are sick or injured. I’ve been to many different zoos, aquariums, and other places where they have rescued animals but this was one of the coolest.
After we left Homosassa Springs, I drove back down to Tampa which took about an hour and a half. I think I’ll end here and pick up on another post solely on Tampa, since it deserves a post of its’ own.
Have you been to Clearwater or this part of Florida? Have you swam with manatees? Ever wanted to? Please share!
So far, I’ve run 49 half marathons in 47 states, one full marathon, and a few other random races including 5k’s, 10k’s, and a 10-miler. Since most of these races were half marathons in different states, I have a wide range of races to choose from when deciding which ones I liked best and least. It’s funny because when I hear other people asked, “What was your favorite race?” they usually stammer around and say things like they could never choose just one.
For me, the choice is clear, however, especially for my favorite race. Sure, that’s not to say I didn’t highly enjoy some other races or truly dislike other races, but there are two obvious choices for me. I’ll start with my favorite race ever: the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon in South Dakota.
Never would I have imagined that a half marathon in a tiny town in South Dakota would end up being my favorite half marathon at this point in my life, but there was just so much to love about this race.
I’ll start with the beginning as all things should, which in this case is packet pickup. I consider myself a pretty efficient person and I can appreciate when other people are also efficient, as was the race director with packet pickup for this race. I simply drove up to the designated site, told the one person sitting out front my name, and was handed a race shirt and bib. Simple and efficient.
The race started promptly at 7 am at the top of the beautiful Spearfish Canyon in Savoy in the northernmost section of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest and finished at the bottom in Spearfish City Park. The course is net downhill with the start at around 5,000 feet above sea level and the finish around 1,300 feet. This didn’t feel so steep to me that my quads were aching but it did allow me to finish in my fastest time for a half marathon up to that point in my life.
Because the race is on quiet roads through the canyon, there were very few spectators and aid stations were on the light side, but still sufficient. For some people that thrive on crowds during a race they may find this a negative but for me I found the peace and quiet a definite positive for the race. As I was running I kept saying to myself how lucky I was to be able to run down the canyon and what a gift it was to do that. I can’t say I’ve thought that during many other races.
Now for my least favorite race. This wasn’t quite as easy to choose as my favorite but ultimately I have to choose the race that I described in my race report as a “death march through the desert,” the Laughlin Half Marathon in Nevada. I really hated just about everything about this race and only sheer will-power kept me going to the finish line.
The year that I ran the Laughlin Half Marathon, the race started at 8 am, which was entirely too late in the day considering it’s in the desert and quickly gets blazing hot (it’s since then been pushed to 7 am). It was already hot and steamy at the beginning of the race and being in the desert, there were no trees for shade, and not a cloud in the sky. The entire course was on packed dirt with loose gravel, making it difficult for me to get my footing. The course was out-and-back along a part of the Colorado River but pretty much all I could focus on was the stifling heat and loose gravel so I didn’t find it very scenic.
Even the post-race parts of this half marathon were disappointing. There were only bananas, oranges, and bagels in addition to water. The medals were just average at best and the shirts were white cotton t-shirts with the race logo. Based on the current website, changes have been made since I ran the race, but even so this is not a race I would ever recommend to anyone.
According to the website, https://runlaughlin.com/# the race director is attempting to hold a race December 4, 2021 but this is dependent on COVID numbers and state regulations. If you’re a true masochist, check it out! Honestly, the December date might help with the heat (I ran it in March). You can read my full race report here: Laughlin Half Marathon, Nevada-11th state.
What about you- what are your least favorite and favorite races so far? Have you run either of these races?
To put things into perspective, normally I fly four or five times in any given year. In 2019, I flew to Hawaii, Peru, Wyoming, and Nebraska. That was a light year because I was able to drive to my half marathon in Delaware, otherwise that would have been another flight. In 2020, I flew just once, to St. Petersburg, Florida in February before the pandemic truly hit and state shutdowns began. Little did I know then that would be the last time I would board an airplane for another 15 months.
I had plans to fly to southern Spain and Portugal in June 2020 that I pushed back to August, only to cancel for good. I also had plans to fly to Yosemite National Park in California in August and that was also cancelled. Oh, and flights to New Mexico, Iowa, and Minnesota were also cancelled during the pandemic. Luckily, the airlines were all generous in their cancellation policies because that was five flights that were all cancelled and otherwise I would have been out of a lot of money.
With spring break of 2021 approaching and the state of the pandemic starting to improve as more and more people were getting vaccinated, I began searching for safe places to travel to. I had also gotten vaccinated myself, which helped ease my mind. When I would see an article online about state requirements for travel (basically stating if you were required to quarantine upon arrival or not), I would scour the list.
Florida kept looking better and better. They were ahead of the curve when it came to vaccinating their people, had no mandates regarding travel or quarantine upon arrival and I knew I could get a short direct flight there. Finally, flights were dirt cheap. I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers, bought my airline tickets with Delta, and hoped for the best, knowing I could easily cancel and get my money back or at least a voucher for a future flight if I had to. Also, I only made reservations at hotels with generous cancellation policies, allowing me to cancel the day before if necessary.
The final couple of weeks before my vacation, I was overly cautious about who I was around. Even though I was vaccinated and my chances of getting COVID was minimal I knew there was still a slight chance and it would have been devastating if that were to happen. Also, my daughter, who isn’t yet 16, isn’t eligible yet to get the vaccine, so she could have gotten sick. She also limited her exposure to other people in the time before our vacation.
Finally the day of our flight to Tampa arrived. My daughter and I were both healthy and excited for some time in sunny Florida. We were also excited to learn we had been bumped-up to comfort+ seats, which are just a step below first class. Bonus!
So what exactly was my flight experience like? I’ll break it down completely here to those that are curious or nervous about flying during the pandemic. First off, the airport was moderately busy, I’d say. Not empty but nowhere near busy either. Since this was during spring break, in a normal year, the airport would have been packed. Everyone at the airport was wearing a mask or face covering of some sort. We only had a short line to go through security, which was no doubt faster because we didn’t have to take off our shoes or take liquids out of our carry-on bags.
Delta was one of the few airlines still blocking off the middle seats on the airplanes at the time of our flight, so the plane still had plenty of empty seats because of that. At no point did anyone take our temperature, either at the airport or any time before boarding the plane, but I did have to answer the usual series of questions about COVID and our general state of health when I checked in for the flight.
The airplane was boarded from back to front to limit exposure and everyone was handed an individually-wrapped wet wipe upon boarding. We were all told we had to keep our masks on unless we were actively eating or drinking. Once we reached altitude, the flight attendants handed out a small plastic bag with a small water bottle, a wet wipe, a bag of Goldfish crackers, a Clif mini-bar, and a napkin. We were supposed to put all of our trash back into that bag and hand it to the flight attendants when they picked up the trash.
Never once did I feel unsafe either at the airport or on the airplane. I felt like everyone was adhering to all of the guidelines, wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet from people not in their household or group, and washing hands or using hand sanitizer/hand wipes. I also know (well, I have read and I guess I assume it’s true) that Delta’s airplanes are being deep-cleaned regularly. The airplane seemed cleaner than ever to me, compared to previous flights, where I would often find trash left behind in the seat from the previous flier.
The return flight from Tampa back home to North Carolina was similar with one tiny exception. The TSA agent in the Tampa airport told us we had to remove our shoes but could leave liquids in our bags. Still, the line for security went quickly and smoothly. Also, a nice bonus was we were upgraded to first class on the flight back home. This was a first for me and I enjoyed the cushy seats and tons of leg room. I’m 5’8″ so I’m always a big squished in economy seats.
As before, everyone in the airport wore a mask, some seats in the airport were blocked off to help with distancing everyone, and hand sanitizer was plentiful and more importantly being used. The middle seats were also blocked off on the airplane, as before. To deal with this in first class, which only had rows of two seats, versus three seats in a row for comfort+ and economy, only people from the same household could sit together in first class.
I realize everyone’s comfort level is different now during the pandemic and some people either are high-risk or have high-risk family members. Some people are also not able to get the vaccine for various reasons and may not want to fly for that reason. By no means am I saying everyone should go on a flight now. As I said in the beginning, I just want to let others who haven’t flown in a long time and are curious know what my personal experience was like. Other people’s experience may of course vary depending on which airports they go to and which airline they fly with.
Have you flown during the pandemic? If so, what was your experience like?