How to Avoid Falling Into the What If’s of Travel

There are so many things that can go wrong when I travel I’m sure if I stopped to think about them all, I’d never travel. My flight could get cancelled, my flight could get delayed and I’d miss a connecting flight, my airplane could crash, I could get mugged in the city where I’m traveling to, I could get sick or injured while on vacation, I could lose my passport/drivers license/money, a natural disaster like a hurricane/earthquake/tsunami could happen while I’m on vacation, and on and on. These are all non-COVID-related things, too. COVID-related things that could happen add another layer of complexity.

Some of the things I mentioned above have happened to me while on vacation or even before I went on vacation. Flights have been cancelled and delayed but I dealt with that and was still able to travel. I’ve gotten sick and others with me have gotten sick, although fortunately nothing too bad that some drugstore medicine and rest in the hotel room wouldn’t take care of. Major events have never happened to me while on vacation, however.

I think most of us fall into two types of people when it comes to travel: those that are willing to take the leap of faith that even when things go wrong on vacation, everything will work out in the end and those that are too afraid and unwilling to travel because of the unknowns and things that can go wrong. For this post I’m not talking about travel during the pandemic, because that changes things too much beyond the ordinary. I’m referring to non-pandemic-related travel.

I went to some remote parts of Chile and am so glad I did!

One of the best things you can do to put your mind at ease before you travel is do some research. As the Scout motto by Robert Baden-Powell states, “Be prepared,” you should be ready to act on any emergency so that you are never taken by surprise. This means not traveling to the Caribbean during peak hurricane season or if you do so, be willing to endure the consequences should a hurricane strike while you’re there. It could also mean not venturing to an area of a city known to be unsafe while you’re traveling or studying up on local customs for an area you’re traveling to, especially for international travel. You can also bring some supplies with you like anti-diarrheal pills, Bandaids, antibiotic cream, and others so you don’t have to make a drugstore run when you really don’t feel like it. Do your research to see if you need specific immunizations for the place where you’re traveling.

Another thing you can do to protect yourself is to buy travel insurance. There are many types ranging from insurance that covers major catastrophic events (like hurricanes) to ones that just provide basic health insurance to ones that cover your luggage should it get lost by the airline to complete total insurance that covers everything from cancelled airfare, hotel, rental car, and any other travel-related expenses. As you can imagine, the more that’s covered by the plan, the more money it will cost. You have to weigh the pros and cons of each plan and decide which one is a better fit for you. Some “high risk” activities are also not covered under some travel insurance plans, so if you plan on going skydiving for example, know that anything that should happen as a result likely won’t be covered under most plans unless you buy insurance specifically for that.

Hiking in this remote section of Austria was incredible!

Being prepared is only the first step, however. You can be the most prepared person ever but if you never decide to take the plunge and actually travel, what good is it? You have to make plans to travel and follow through.

If you’re the type of person that’s naturally cautious or hasn’t traveled that much, start out small and build your way up. To put it in runner’s terms, you wouldn’t go from running a couple of miles a couple of days a week to running a marathon; nor should you go from barely traveling to traveling to a remote place in another country.

I’ve traveled to many off-the-beaten-path places but I built up my comfort level over time. I didn’t go to Europe until I was 32 years old and even then it was to the popular cities of Venice, Florence, and Rome in Italy. Even though I absolutely loved Malta when I went there a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been ready to go to the remote sections there in my 30’s. I did a typical progression for my international vacations of going to places like Italy, the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico and progressing to Germany, Austria, Greece, New Zealand (a long flight but easy transition for Americans), and finally visiting countries that are “harder” for Americans like Chile, Malta, the Canary Islands, and Peru.

Hiking in the Canary Islands was otherworldly.

Just like most things in life, if you throw too much at yourself (or life throws it at you unexpectedly) at once, you become overwhelmed, either physically or mentally depending on what it is. But if you gradually see that you can in fact handle difficult things in life, you get better at adapting when difficult things are thrown your way. For example, I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to communicate efficiently to the Spanish-only-speaking people in Chile, especially in the remote sections I was going to, but when I got there and saw time after time that I could communicate well enough to the people and understand well enough what they were saying to me, I felt more and more comfortable. Not that it was easy and not to imply I’m a very good Spanish speaker, because my Spanish is really not that great, but the point is it was good enough and that’s all that mattered.

I think if you’re traveling to another country you should have a certain level of street smarts in order to stay safe. Unless you grow up in an inner city, most people don’t learn street smarts until they’re adults. For me, I began to become street smart in college. I was told where the “bad” neighborhoods of my college town were and not to go there alone at night. I learned to look over my shoulder when I was walking by myself and pay attention to my surroundings even during the day. I took self-defense classes and was taught self-defense moves by a military guy I was dating. When I visited Washington, D.C., I learned more of what not to do and as I traveled more and more, I picked up more street smarts. It’s a difficult thing to teach someone, however, and it’s really more of a skill set you just acquire over time, except for defense moves, which I recommend everyone learn.

In the end, all of what I’m saying is this: do your research to be as prepared as you possibly can be and gradually build up your confidence level by increasing your discomfort level little by little. If you do both of these things, you should find yourself more comfortable going to places that were previously too scary to you. Because really isn’t that the bottom line for questioning everything travel-related, the unknowns scare you? While there will always be unknowns before every vacation, if you can reassure yourself that things will usually work out in the end, that should put your mind at ease and allow you to experience the vacation of a lifetime.

Have you traveled to a place that you were initially nervous about going to? Do you like to travel to off-the-beaten-path places or to places where you feel comfortable?

Happy travels!

Donna

Going From Zero to Four

In 2020, I had three half marathons scheduled. Those races were supposed to be my final three states left of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Every last one of them was cancelled so I didn’t run a single race last year. Well, I ran a virtual 5k but I’m not counting that, even though it was my fastest 5k ever (I Ran My Fastest 5k, but Does It Even Count?).

However, in 2021, I actually have not three but four in-person races scheduled. I’m running my final three states, Minnesota, Iowa, and New Mexico, in that order. The only race that is the original one I signed up for is the one in New Mexico, although it will be in November instead of April when it normally takes place (pre-COVID).

I had a hard time finding a half marathon in Minnesota in June or July that wasn’t already full to capacity (the races are smaller this year, due to COVID limitations). When I was looking for a half marathon in Minnesota, I would get excited when I would find an in-person one, only to quickly discover it was already full. Someone told me I could purchase a race number from an injured runner signed up for the half marathon part of Grandma’s Marathon, which I didn’t even know was a thing. After seeing the exorbitant fees being charged, I said no thank you and kept looking for another race.

Things are looking up for 2021 races!

There’s even a Facebook group set up entirely for the purpose of finding a race in 2021 that isn’t cancelled (of course there is, Facebook!). Some people from that group recommended some races to me, all of which I had already checked out and knew they were full. That’s how I found out about the ability to purchase someone else’s race number, what’s the word- legally? That’s not right, but hopefully you know what I mean. Usually you aren’t supposed to use someone else’s race number in a race, but apparently if you go through the approved channels, it’s OK to do so.

After checking every single search engine I’ve ever used in the past to find a half marathon in Minnesota in June or July, I found not one but two actual in-person races that weren’t full! I emailed the race director listed on the website for one race because it wasn’t entirely clear to me the race would happen as scheduled for 2021 (the website still had some dates from 2020 and other outdated information, along with a 2021 race date). When he didn’t get back to me, I held my breath, crossed both fingers, and registered for the other race. I later got confirmation that I’m indeed registered.

You may be wondering about the half marathon in Iowa. That one was easy. I found a race scheduled for October that stated on their website the race would take place in-person, basically come hell or high water, because they were going to do absolutely everything possible to make it happen. The race director has been sending out weekly updates, which I appreciate, and everything does seem to be going smoothly, or as smoothly as possible during a pandemic.

So where does the fourth race come in? On a whim, and as part of my resolution for 2021 to be more spontaneous with races this year, I entered the lottery for the Peachtree Road Race. This is normally the largest 10k in the world and is held every July 4th in Atlanta. The first time it was cancelled since it began in the late 1970’s was 2020.

The 2021 Peachtree Road Race will not only have runners on July 4 but also July 3, to control crowds. I thought I might have a better chance of getting in since it will be split into two days and it turns out I was right, or maybe I just got lucky. Not only did I get in, my teenage daughter also got in, and not only that, but we both got in on the same day. I knew I was taking a huge chance with that one, but I thought worst case scenario, neither of us gets in, best case scenario, we both get in. Yes, it will be steaming hot, but I’m used to hot and humid and will be well-acclimated to the heat by then.

I’m very excited for all four of my races this year! How does your race schedule look for this year? Do you have a race or races you’re excited about?

Happy running!

Donna

Travel News- Stay Free in Malta and Bring Your Full-Size Bottle of Sunscreen In Your Carry-On (Oops, Maybe Not)!

Looking for somewhere to travel to this summer that’s warm and sunny, has amazing beaches and food, and cool architecture and history as well? This may be an enticement for you. Malta is offering foreign visitors up to 200 euros ($238.10) each if you stay at least three days on their little Mediterranean island and make your reservations directly through their hotels. https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-04-09/covid-battered-malta-to-pay-tourists-who-visit-this-summer

There is a tier system to their scheme. If you stay at a five-star hotel you will get 100 euros from Malta’s Tourism Authority and 200 euros from the hotel where you’re staying. For people staying in a four-star hotel, you will get a total of 150 euros, and if you stay at a three-star hotel you will receive 100 euros total. If you stay on the smaller island of Gozo, you will receive 10% more (so 220, 165, and 110 euros, respectively).

The salt pans in Gozo. One of my favorite places I’ve ever been.

If you need even more incentive, most COVID restrictions are expected to be lifted by June 1, and Malta has the highest vaccination rate in the European Union, with 42% of adults having had at least one dose. Finally, Malta’s positive test results is down to 1% after a sharp drop in new cases.

I’ve been to both Malta’s main island and the smaller island of Gozo and absolutely fell in love with both places. You can read all about my experience there in my posts here: Where in the World is Malta?, I Almost Missed a Bucket List Item in Malta- Gozo Salt Pans, Rabat/Mdina/Mġarr Area of Malta- Touring a Roman House, Temples, and Catacombs, Valletta Area of Malta- the Capital City, Harbour Area of Malta- A Palace, a Fort, and Temples, The Blue Grotto, Dingli Cliffs, and My Favorite Temples in Malta, Beaches of Malta- We Saved the Best for Last (Maybe). Now do you believe me that I love Malta? I could go on and on about Malta for days.

Valletta area of Malta

When you go to Malta, you can also bring a full-size bottle of sunscreen with you. As of April 7, 2021, travelers are no longer limited by how much sunscreen you can bring in your carry-on bag. Sunscreen has been added to the list of medically-approved liquids, gels, and aerosols that can be brought through TSA checkpoints. You are supposed to declare that you have a full-size bottle of sunscreen to the TSA agent before your bags are scanned. For people like me who only travel with carry-on bags and never check bags when I travel, this is great news. I no longer have to find a drugstore upon arrival to buy sunscreen and then toss whatever I don’t use by the end of the vacation. I can now just bring my own sunscreen from home, regardless of size. https://onemileatatime.com/tsa-sunscreen/

While I was still working on this post, TSA updated their policy on sunscreen once again, saying you couldn’t bring full-size bottles onboard after all. https://www.afar.com/magazine/tsa-says-full-size-sunscreen-bottles-not-allowed-in-carry-ons?utm_medium=email&utm_source=sshare On Monday, April 12, TSA said they made a mistake on their website and all sunscreen bottles larger than 3.4 ounces would have to be checked. I thought about just deleting that portion of this post, but then I decided to keep it and go off on a little rant.

When we flew to Tampa, Florida recently, we didn’t have to take our shoes off, pull our bag of liquids out of our carry-on bags, or go through the body scanner on the way to Tampa, but on the way back we did have to remove our shoes, we did not pull out liquids, but we did have to go through a body scanner. Also, my daughter’s small bag of bath salts got pulled out of her bag as suspicious on the way to Tampa but not on the way back to North Carolina. I once even had a race medal pulled out of my carry-on bag at the Boston airport for being a suspicious item. Boston of all places, where they hold the massive Boston Marathon every year with 30,000 runners, all receiving a medal after the race, and a huge chunk of them going through the airport with their medals.

My point is every single time I fly, I never know what to expect from TSA. The rules are so fluid and vary depending on the airport and the agents working. Maybe that’s part of their plan, to have everyone off-kilter, never knowing what to expect, nothing ever the same. I doubt it, however.

Anyway, start making plans to go to Malta this summer and have at least a portion of your hotel room paid for! Just make sure your sunscreen is less than 3.4 ounces or put it in your checked luggage.

Have you recently heard some travel news you found exciting and would like to share?

Happy travels!

Donna

Book Review- Exercised. Why Something We Never Evolved To Do Is Healthy and Rewarding by Daniel Lieberman

I haven’t posted a book review here in what feels like years even though I’ve been reading more than ever since the pandemic started. I just really hadn’t been reading any running-related books, until I heard about this one, Exercised. Why Something We Never Evolved To Do Is Healthy and Rewarding by Daniel Lieberman. Dr. Lieberman is Edwin M. Lerner Professor of Biological Sciences and professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University.

Drawing on Dr. Lieberman’s field experience studying hunter-gatherer tribes plus many other studies and scientific articles, this book has more scientific paper references than most running books. In fact, the “Notes” section is a whopping 74 pages! If you’re the type of person who likes something to back up a claim, this is the book for you.

The book is divided into four parts- 1) In Activity, 2) Speed, Strength, and Power, 3) Endurance, and 4) Exercise in the Modern World. The premise of this book is that evolutionary and anthropological perspectives can help us better understand the paradox of exercise and why and how something we never evolved to do is healthy, as the title states. Dr. Lieberman also uses a play on words in the title by referring to exercists as, “People who like to brag about exercise and who repeatedly remind us that exercise is medicine, a magic pill that slows aging and delays death.”

Many myths are discussed such as “Sitting. Is it the new smoking?” He puts forth such questions as how sitting is quantified and how it’s not always black and white. For example, what if you’re sitting but doing something active like playing a musical instrument or making an arrow? The myth that we all need 8 hours of sleep each night is also discussed in detail, with studies to back up his claims and five questions to ask yourself if you’re concerned about your sleep.

Walking is also discussed in length, both in the context of people in non-industrialized countries who walk out of necessity, in comparison to people in industrialized countries who walk for exercise. The effect of walking on weight loss is also discussed. Dr. Lieberman states that even if you walk an additional 10,000 steps a day, or about 5 miles extra, that will only burn an extra 250 calories a day. His point is that walking by itself won’t promote massive weight loss, and further, to burn significant calories, one would have to walk for hours every day, something most people either wouldn’t be willing to do or wouldn’t have the time to do.

Endurance and aging is also discussed and the science behind the headlines. Dr. Lieberman shows using graphs and figures how that exercise not only extends one’s life span but perhaps more importantly expands one’s health span, which relates to quality of life. He also discusses ways to coerce others to exercise and gives an example of a CEO of a company in Sweden that requires his employees to exercise together weekly.

Concrete examples are given how to make exercise more fun like exercising with friends or groups, listen to podcasts, music, books, or watch something if you’re on a treadmill, get outside, dance or play sports and games, mix things up, choose realistic goals for yourself, and reward yourself for exercising (although not with vast amounts of food so that it negates the effects). He also has tips on how to make exercise a habit.

Dr. Lieberman gives exact numbers of how much we should exercise. According to a 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for “substantial health benefits,” adults should do a minimum of 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or a combination of the two. Children need an hour of exercise every day. Finally, weight training twice a week was recommended. Why the vast difference in numbers between adults and children is not discussed, but I found it striking.

Final words of wisdom in the book are to “make exercise necessary and fun, do mostly cardio but also weights, some is better than none, keep it up as you age.” Those are pretty solid words of advice, in my opinion. Although the book mostly isn’t filled with anything I hadn’t heard before, I found it interesting, especially reading about the hunter-gatherer tribes and the comparisons to the average American or European. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it, especially if you like reading about different societies or the evolutionary and historical background behind exercise.

Have you read this book? Any interest in reading it?

Happy running!

Donna

Travel to Tampa, Florida- Great Food, Water Views, Museums, and Culture

As I’ve mentioned before, the one and only time I flew out of my home state of North Carolina in 2020 was to go to the St. Petersburg, Florida area. I tried to cram in as much as possible but wasn’t able to go just north of St. Pete to Clearwater or Tampa. This year for my daughter’s spring break, I planned a vacation back to that area because I loved St. Petersburg so much, but this time I wanted to spend more time in the Clearwater and Tampa areas. You can read about my time in Clearwater here: Peacocks, Dolphins, Manatees, and So Much More In and Around Clearwater, Florida.

Tampa is a city on Tampa Bay, along Florida’s Gulf Coast. For reference, Clearwater is due west of Tampa and St. Petersburg is south of Clearwater, with both cities on the Pinellas peninsula between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and connected to mainland Florida to the north. Tampa is more than just a vacation destination; it’s also a major business center, has a thriving international airport, world-famous Busch Gardens amusement park, plus it’s known for its museums and other cultural offerings.

Restaurants in Tampa

You just need to see a list of restaurants in Tampa to understand what a diverse ethnic population lives here. Not only can you find everything from Korean to Cuban to Italian to Jamaican just for starters, the food here is exceptionally good. Of course we were only there a short period, but I’ll list some of our favorites that are also consistently ranked high by others.

Armature Works Heights Public Market https://www.armatureworks.com/heights-market/ is a food hall with a wide range of restaurants with an open floor plan, making it easy to browse around each place. This would be especially great if you’re with a group or have picky eaters in your family or group. You can choose from pizza, sushi, burgers, empanadas, tacos, fine dining, plus there are places for coffee, sweet treats, cocktails/beer/wine. Once you pick up your food, you can take it outside where there are picnic tables as well as chairs to eat and/or drink on the lawn that overlooks the water. There’s also a cute general store, A.W. Mercantile to do a little shopping. After we ate our white pizza from Ava, we sipped on beer for me/soda for my daughter and dog-watched from the lawn overlooking the Hillsborough River.

For authentic Cuban food, we went to La Teresita one evening and got massive amounts of food here especially for the price. The pork I had was so tender and full of flavor, it was still good when I had it as leftovers for lunch the next day. We also went to La Segunda, a cuban bakery and got the guava pastry, which was excellent. They had some good-looking Cuban sandwiches but we had already had lunch that day. I later heard La Segunda has great breakfasts as well.

I wanted a local breakfast place that wasn’t a chain and found Brunchery Restaurant. My daughter got to try Cuban coffee for the first time here and really loved it. Most of the food here is fairly standard but good and the service is good; also, the prices aren’t inflated like at some of the chain sit-down restaurants.

Speaking of chain restaurants, you will find some of those at Hyde Park Village, but it’s still worth going to in my opinion even if you’re a chain snob. Hyde Park Village is a wonderful place to stroll around and you can check out stores like Paper Source, Francesca’s, Lululemon, and Sunni Spencer. You can pick up a coffee from Buddy Brew, a smoothie from Clean Juice, a cupcake from Sprinkles, or have dinner at the Wine Exchange or Timpanos. This isn’t where you want to go if you’re on a strict budget, unless you just window-shop, however. https://hydeparkvillage.com/

Finally, a hidden gem that I was lucky enough to discover is the Korean restaurant Sa Ri One. I had a soup with ramen noodles, kimchi, an egg, and vegetables and my daughter had pork bulgogi and we both inhaled our dishes. We also got a plethora of side dishes that came with our meals, like kimchi and other fermented vegetables, which were amazing. Both dishes were enough for about three adults each and we were sad we couldn’t take our leftovers with us, but since we were flying home the next morning, there would be no time for that.

Museums in Tampa

Tampa has at least 10 museums, which is probably more than you would want to see in a few days or even a week, if you’re like most people, so I suggest choosing what would personally interest you. I’ll group the museums together here, for easier reference. I should note we did not go to all of the museums, but I’ll still mention them all.

Tampa Museum of Art, https://tampamuseum.org/ has contemporary and modern art with some ancient art and artifacts, mostly European and other paintings. There are permanent and traveling exhibitions, like at most art museums around the world. When we were there, we saw a temporary exhibit of high school art that I found extremely creative and even thought-provoking.

An Alice in Wonderland-themed art submission at the Tampa Museum of Art

Florida Museum of Photographic Art, https://www.fmopa.org/?gclid=CjwKCAjwj6SEBhAOEiwAvFRuKPwF04iKAqZZ4NCPOMFnMiXIWce7znGkCbxtf7uKV3JP3ktmAtVaxBoCTHIQAvD_BwE is small but worth checking out if you enjoy photography. I found a Groupon online before we went and used that, but I’m not sure the full-price of $10 per person would be worth it to me to be honest.

USF Contemporary Art Museum is located next to the USF College of Arts. We did not go here because at the time it was only open to faculty, students, and staff, and I’m just not that big of a fan of contemporary art either. I read that you can find the 106 original Polaroid photographs and 50 gelatin silver prints by Andy Warhol here, if you’re interested in that. http://cam.usf.edu/CAM/cam_about.html

I say if you only choose one museum to go to and you enjoy history at all, go to the Tampa Bay History Center, https://www.tampabayhistorycenter.org/. This is one of my favorite history museums I’ve been to anywhere. Not surprisingly, the museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute (based in Washington, D.C., which I love going to). I loved seeing early maps on display and all of the errors and assumptions the mapmakers of the time made, like putting mountains on maps of Florida just because they assumed there must be mountains there. It was also interesting to see the displays on the native people of Florida and the timeline of Florida and how it has changed over the years.

Another museum on a university campus is the Henry B. Plant Museum, http://www.plantmuseum.com/ at the University of Tampa. This was a former hotel and is a national historic landmark. If you like World War II, Korean, or Vietnam War history or like exploring former war ships, you can check out the American Victory Ship and Museum, https://www.americanvictory.org/. For parents with children who love fire trucks or if you enjoy fire fighter history, you’d love the Tampa Firefighters Museum, https://www.tampafirefightersmuseum.org/.

There is one museum I didn’t visit that I wish I would have and that’s the Museum of Science and Industry, https://www.mosi.org/. The reason I didn’t go here is simply because of COVID. I’ve been to other museums of science and industry in other cities (even in other countries) and loved them, but to truly experience a place like this, you have to be willing to literally put your hands on the exhibits and participate. I had no interest in that during the pandemic, so this museum will have to wait until my next visit to Tampa. According to their website, “guests can lie on a bed of nails, build a robot, explore optical illusions, challenge themselves with hands-on brain puzzles, explore another world in our NASA-funded Mission: Moonbase lunar colony, touch the future in Connectus and learn about planets and our solar system in the Saunders Planetarium.” As a scientist, I love doing those kinds of activities, just not currently given the state of things.

Other Activities

When I was a kid, I went to Busch Gardens Amusement Park in Virginia and only when I was older did I realize there is also a Busch Gardens in Tampa. Although both are similar with thrill rides and they both have a water park (Adventure Island in Tampa) that you can buy a two park ticket for, it seems Busch Gardens Tampa wins out with their animal offerings. Not only is there a zoo, there are experiences like Serengeti Safari in an open-air touring vehicle. https://buschgardens.com/tampa/

ZooTampa at Lowry Park (not a typo, by the way) https://zootampa.org/. The zoo has endangered, threatened and vulnerable species from climates similar to that of the Tampa Bay region and emphasizes conservation and education. There are also some rides but only a handful and mostly geared toward small children. Seasonal activities are offered year-round in addition to events like Toddler Tuesdays once a month.

In a similar vein to the zoo, the Florida Aquarium, https://www.flaquarium.org/ places emphasis on conservation, education, and research. If you want to add on more experiences, you can take a Wild Dolphin Cruise or purchase a 20-minute VIP experience behind the scenes interaction with African penguins.

Beaches?

There aren’t really beaches in Tampa even though there is the small Ben T. Davis Beach with views of Tampa Bay, but the best beaches by far are in the Clearwater and St. Petersburg areas. Thanks to a system of highways that stretch across Old Tampa Bay, you can get from downtown Tampa to these beaches in about 40-45 minutes as long as there isn’t too much traffic.

Transportation

If you really want to explore not only Tampa but also Clearwater and St. Petersburg, I recommend renting a car. Parking especially in Tampa can be expensive and even more so if there’s a hockey, football, or baseball game going on but luckily there are plenty of garages and other parking options. Of course there’s always Uber and Lyft. Also, the TECO Line Streetcar System runs between downtown and channelside to the historic Ybor district.

Have you ever been to Tampa? Didn’t really know much about it until now? Are you surprised by anything I mentioned?

Happy travels!

Donna

INKnBURN- My Latest Running Apparel Discovery

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.

Interested in buying but need a little more incentive? For 10% off your order, use my link: http://inknburn.refr.cc/donnastefanick. Just be sure you use it by June 12, 2021.

Are you already a fan of INKnBURN or never heard of the company? Do you like art work on your active wear or prefer more subtle clothes?

Happy running!

Donna

Peacocks, Dolphins, Manatees, and So Much More In and Around Clearwater, Florida

My one and only vacation out of my home state of North Carolina during 2020 was to the St. Petersburg area of Florida, which you can read about here: A Brief Overview of St. Petersburg, Florida- Where to Stay, What to Do, Where to Eat, and here More Things to Do in St. Petersburg, Florida. If you didn’t read the posts and don’t want to, St. Petersburg is on the western part of Florida where the Gulf of Mexico is, hence cities here are often referred to as “on the Gulf side.” Last year I primarily stayed in St. Petersburg but I knew I would be back to explore more of the area because I loved it so much here.

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.

Clearwater

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.

Safety Harbor

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.

Crystal River

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.

Sadly, I forgot to bring my waterproof case for my camera, so here are some of the manatees we saw later at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park (note, the manatees are not fenced-in even though you can see part of a fence)

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!

Happy travels,

Donna

My Favorite and Least Favorite Races

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 start of the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon

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.

As of this writing the 2021 Spearfish Canyon will take place in-person on July 10, with a virtual option as well. https://www.nhcasa.com/canyonrun/ You can also read my race report here: Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state.

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.

Crappy photo from a crappy race, the Laughlin Half Marathon

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?

Happy running!

Donna

My First Time Flying in 15 Months- Flying During COVID

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.

By the summer of 2020, I had begun to get a bit stir-crazy but flying didn’t seem like a great idea so I took some road trips, first to the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee (Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux) and later in the summer to the coast of North Carolina (Fun in the Sun in the Outer Banks, North Carolina). That August, my daughter started online school and all vacations were put on hold.

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?

Happy travels!

Donna

My Whitewater Rafting Story and Things to Consider Before You Go

Growing up in southern West Virginia, I had the opportunity to go whitewater rafting a handful of times when I was in high school. The first time I went, I was absolutely terrified but I was with a reputable tour company and everything went smoothly. By the end of the day, I was converted. I ended up loving it so much I went again the following summer and again after that a couple of times over the years.

In southern West Virginia, you have several options when it comes to whitewater rafting. You can either go rafting down the New River or the Gauley River. In general, the New River is a bit tamer while the Gauley is the most extreme and has the most technical rapids. To break it down even further, there’s the Upper New River, Lower New River, Upper Gauley River, and Lower Gauley River. The Upper New has class I-III rapids and you only have to be 5 years old to participate. The Lower New has class III-V rapids and you need to be 10 years old or at least 90 lbs. The Gauley River is dam-released and you can only go whitewater rafting here in the Fall. The Lower Gauley has class III-IV rapids and you have to be at least 12 years old. The Upper Gauley is the most extreme of all with class III-V rapids and you have to be at least 16 years old.

After I got my bachelor’s degree at West Virginia University, I moved to Tennessee to go to graduate school. One summer while I was there, my boyfriend and I decided to go whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. I had been down the New River in West Virginia several times by this point, with rapids up to class V. If you don’t know anything about the ratings for whitewater rapids, the scale goes from I to VI, with the latter being the most extreme in the world. As far as I’m aware, commercial rafting trips will only take customers up to class V rapids. However, the class rating is only part of the story. For example, there is a rapid called “Mickey’s” in the Ocoee River in in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee that’s class IV but has a part where your options are going down a 5-foot ledge drop into a deep hole or a rocky descent down a 4-foot ledge. Many people have died here, perhaps unsurprisingly.

Anyway, we decided to go whitewater rafting and by this point I felt fairly confident in my ability since I had been multiple times by now. The rafting company we made reservations with had several people that were going out rafting that day, and they divided us into three groups on three different rafts. We all had life jackets and helmets, watched the safety video, and got the run-down in person by one of the guides when we were getting ready to get into the rafts.

group of men paddling while inside inflatable boat
Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

The raft I was in happened to be the “lead” raft that day, with the other two rafts following behind us. It was a beautiful summer day, with the temperature warm but not excessively hot. The water felt nice when we hit our first rapid, a fairly easy one to get us warmed-up. The guide told us at the beginning that no matter what, we should always keep our paddle in the water and hold on tight to it, as it could be used as a flotation device if need be. There were some rapids that we went through where my paddle wasn’t even touching the water because the raft was so high into the air and above the water, at least the part where I was sitting.

Everything was going along swimmingly, that is until our raft got hung up on a rock in an area where there was a rapid. We couldn’t move forward and we couldn’t go backward, despite all of us in the raft trying to paddle furiously and our guide trying to move us along. Then, all of a sudden a gush of water swept into the raft and pulled me out of the raft into the river. Everyone else remained in the raft still stuck on that huge rock except me.

Because of the rapids, I was pushed further and further down the river. I would get sucked under the water, then thanks to my life jacket, I would pop back up so I could take a quick breath. It was like I was in a pinball machine, getting bounced along from one rock to another but somehow I kept holding on for dear life to my paddle. I was furiously looking for something, anything to grab but there was nothing. I tried to swim to get out of the rapid but the water was too powerful. It was as if I was a rag doll getting tossed around the river. After a while of this going on, I thought I was going to die right then and there on the river.

Then all of a sudden I saw a rock covered with moss sticking just a bit out of the water and I grabbed onto the moss and held on for dear life (literally). By some miracle, I was able to hold onto the moss while the river rushed over me, pushing and prodding my lower body. Someone in a kayak yelled out to me to hold on and said he was going to throw me a rope. I yelled out that my legs were giving out and at that very second, the water pushed me away, sending me even further down the river.

I was able to grab the rope, though, and the man in the kayak pulled me safely to shore. We waited for my raft to catch up to us and I was told to get back into the raft to finish out the trip. In hindsight, I should have insisted that someone from their company pick me up in a bus right there, but like a little lamb, I got back into the raft and finished out the trip down the river. It was like I was in shock for the rest of that time because I don’t remember any of it. They later told me I went down a quarter of a mile down the river by myself before the kayaker could catch up to me. I also later found out that the river was abnormally low that day we went rafting and that’s why our raft got stuck on the rock (and we kept getting stuck on other rocks that day). In fact, the water was so low that we shouldn’t have gone out that day, but the rafting company took us out anyway.

Bruised from my hips down to my toes but otherwise OK, I was shaken mentally more than physically. Honestly, I’m lucky I didn’t break something or drown. At the time I told everyone that I would definitely go whitewater rafting again; however, once my brain and my senses came back to me, I decided perhaps I really didn’t want to chance going through that again. I was pretty sure my whitewater rafting days were over. In more recent years I’ve thought about going whitewater rafting down the Snake River but when that opportunity came up in Wyoming, I chose to go down a calm portion of the Snake River and skip the part with the rapids.

My previous rafting trips in West Virginia show that things can go smoothly and not every experience is like mine was in Tennessee. A time or two when I was whitewater rafting in West Virginia, someone in my raft or another raft with our group got sucked out of the raft, but a guide was able to grab them right away and pull them back in or the person was able to pull themselves back into the raft quickly. They were fine and no one thought anything of it. Still, bad things can and do happen when people are whitewater rafting. People die going whitewater rafting all over the world all the time.

So what can you do to help ensure you’re not one of the those unlucky people? You can do your due diligence and check out the company you’re thinking of going rafting with in advance. You can also check the river where you’ll be rafting to see if there’s a history of people dying there when rafting. Your company should make sure everyone wears a life jacket and a helmet. If they don’t, find another company. Finally, you can check the river conditions that day and make sure the water isn’t abnormally low or high. If your gut instinct is screaming at you not to go, listen to it and don’t go.

Whitewater rafting can be an exhilarating experience or a terrifying one. If all goes as it should, you should be pumped up on adrenaline because you’re having so much fun. Most of all, you should feel like your guide and the company you’re trusting your life with will protect you and watch out for your best interests, not just trying to line their pockets.

Have you been whitewater rafting? Do you want to go? If so, where?

Happy travels!

Donna