I had a fourteen miler on tap for yesterday morning, so for a change of pace I decided to link up with a friend and head out to our old Team in Training stomping grounds, Valley Forge National Park. There’s a hilly 5.5 mile loop in the park itself, and if you veer off the loop about half a mile before the visitor center, you find yourself on a 30+ mile asphalt tow path that runs all the way to Center City Philadelphia.
We set out on the loop and wound our way around buses of boy scouts converging on the park in honor of Washington’s birthday. After our first lap, we took a detour to the towpath for a quick couple mile out-and-back and then headed back for a second loop. The scouts had thinned out by that point and were replaced by flocks of deer commandeering the battlefields. We got to the last water stop at 1:42:40, and with two miles to go, decided it was time to pick up the pace.
As we cruised down the final descent and came into the parking lot, I stopped my watch and looked down: 1:58:17. A sub-8:30 pace for fourteen miles, with the final two miles below 8:00. And I still had a few miles – at least – left in the tank.
Lesson learned: running 14 miles with a friend, outside, at an 8:30 pace, on a hilly course, is way easier than running 12 on a treadmill, at a 9:00 pace, with only Elle Woods to keep you company.
I also managed to best my previous half marathon time by somewhere around 8 minutes!
I’m definitely letting my gym membership expire.
Today was also the Freakishly Flexible 5k Run, a virtual race to honor Nancy, an injured runner in the blogosphere.
I wasn’t able to measure that last 0.1 of the 5k, but the final three miles of my long run were 24:32, and adding :49 seconds (the average pace of those three miles for 0.1 miles), I’ll call my time 25:21.
Given that I’ve never run a 5k before, that’s another PR!
It was an exciting morning, for sure. But when I got home, the real fun began.
To celebrate Valentine’s Day (and more to the point, to take advantage of a plan-less weekend), Brent and I decided to take a mini-road trip out to Allentown, PA, to visit a couple vineyards that were hosting free wine and chocolate tastings. Neither of us are particularly big drinkers, but it sounded like a fun way to spend an afternoon. Something different, if nothing else.
We made it to the first vineyard around 3 PM and found ourselves in the midst of a veritable cattle chute. The room was packed to the gills and we were jostled in line for more than twenty minutes as we quietly offered each other commentary on the other people in the room and mused about how out of place we felt (to begin, we were 30 years younger than about 95% of the people there).
When we finally made our way to the makeshift counter in the front of the room, the barrista placed two plastic shot glasses in front of us and began pouring. First the cabernet savignon, paired with a chocolate covered raspberry (definitely not my cup of tea). As soon as we swallowed and put down our glasses, she filled them with the next wine, a ‘semi-sweet’ riesling with a chocolate covered apricot on the side. This one was the best, hands down. We thought that was the end of it, but as we stood up to leave, she began pouring a third wine, a dessert port (forgive me, I don’t know whether there are other varieties of ports) and a chocolate covered cherry. Yikes! This one tasted like liquor. Or cough syrup. Or maybe liquor with a cough syrup chaser. It was not for me.
Then she asked us if we’d like to try any of their other offerings. We settled on a peach wine (way too sweet) and a “very grapey” niagara, which smelled like Welch’s and tasted like Manichewitz.
To say that I have low tolerance is a bit of an understatement, and after the equivalent of 1/3 glass of wine, I was already feeling tipsy. The fourteen miles earlier in the day probably didn’t help matters.
As we stood in line to buy a bottle of the riesling, we asked the couple behind us for recommendations. We had time for one more vineyard and wanted to make the most of it. This first one was not quite what we were anticipating.
They suggested the Long Trout Winery, about 25 minutes north. The ‘hippy winery,’ they said. They were in their sixties and seemed to be a relatively refined pair, so we took this description with a grain of salt.
But lo and behold, when we walked inside, we were greeted by tye dye galore. This one was far less crowded than the first and we managed to grab a seat at the bar right away. We sat down and were handed a list of more than thirty wines, with names ranging from Forever Strawberry Fields to Flower Power, We All Live in a Yellow Nectarine to Berried Alive. And then there was Swollen Member.
Yes, you read that right.
Swollen Member was one of five chocolate wines that Long Trout offered. We sampled about 8 varieties in all, including three of the chocolate variety. I have no idea how they concocted these, but they really did taste like cocoa. My favorite was Oompa Loompa – ‘a light pear wine base which carries and presents the rich fullness of dark chocolate with exceptional ease.’
The Wizard of Oz themed bathroom was a nice touch, as was the description on each and every bottle:
“Peace signs, tie dyes and bell bottoms, flower rings of baby’s breath and daisies, headbands and halter tops, yellow subs and blue meanies, beads and weeds, 60’s music veiled in smoldering incense and clean, crisp homemade style wines like everyone’s Grandpa used to make…
These familiar images capture the essence of Long Trout Winery. An unequaled slice of time and tradition where being “different” is what it’s all about.
So don’t make a fuss, get on the hippie bus and experience a perfect blend of far out wines and furry friends at PA’s “UNIQUE BOHEMIAN WINE BOUTIQUE”.”
This made the whole afternoon worth it.
As we were driving up there, we passed by a Cabella Outfitters. I hadn’t heard of this store until a few months ago, when my dad mentioned that for his birthday, he and my mom were spending the day going to Hawk Mountain, out to lunch, and to the Cabella store for socks. Yes, my dad wanted socks for his birthday. I didn’t question it.
Unfortunately, my mom ended up getting sick that day, so they never made it out there and my dad never got his socks. We called my parents when we left the vineyard and asked my dad if he wanted us to stop in and pick up a few pairs for him. He happily accepted.
“I’ve heard this place is quite an experience,” Brent mentioned as we parked the car. “Kind of like the Yankee Candle Factory of outdoors stores.”
We’ve been to the Yankee Candle Factory a few times now; it’s half an hour from Brent’s parents house and makes for a pretty entertaining afternoon of people watching and photo ops. So I thought I had an idea of what to expect here, but when we walked in the front door, I didn’t know what hit me.
This place was a menagerie of taxedermy. In addition to all the hunting, fishing, and camping gear you could ask for, the two-story building housed hundreds and hundreds of once-breathing animals. There were deer and squirrels and beavers and bear. There were wolves and lions and big horned sheep. There were zebras and crocodiles and elephants. And all were positioned in their ‘natural habitats.’
Initially, Brent was reluctant to take pictures. But once we saw others brandishing their cameras, he got into the spirit of the evening.
A lot of people refer to the area of Pennsylvania between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as Pennsyltucky. I’ve never been totally comfortable with this designation; it always seems pretty judgmental. But I have to say, in that small town somewhere between Allentown and Reading, with the animals and the pop-shot play rifles and the second-floor bbq buffet, it was hard to come up with a better designation.
I almost made a new friend, too, when I told Brent that I understood why people hunted for sustenance but really didn’t like the idea of hunting for sport. A bearded man in the fishing section offered me a glare that could haunt small children.
We left about that time.
We capped off the day with a trip to Allentown’s Starlite Diner and Lounge. While we waited for our food, we listened on as the three-year-old at the next table told her entire extended family that the president of the United States was Iraq O-Ba-Ma (that may have made my night). Brent got the Valentine’s Day prime rib special and made me a miniature paper crane out of his paper napkin ring.
What a day.