Saying Goodbye to the Magical Forest

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Every summer when I was a child my family would drive from our home in Philadelphia to my Great-grandparents’ house outside Boston. We’d spend a week there, visiting historic sites, going for long drives through the country and walking along the beaches. My sister and I slept on the enclosed porch each night, listening to the sounds of the surrounding woods. The house sat on nearly three acres of land with big tall trees and thick underbrush, and when my Great-grandparents were a little younger there were veggie gardens and lots of big blueberry bushes for picking. Victoria and I loved to explore the property for hours, walking back through the woods as far as we could go, sometimes all the way to the abandoned railroad tracks that provided the back boundary. From up on the tracks you could see the water of the Back River, with its Weymouth Landing boatyard full of fishing boats ready to head out to sea.

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Eventually my great-grandparents both passed away but my grandparents kept the house, and after retirement they would spend their entire summers there, escaping the Houston heat. The gardens and berry bushes were abandoned and the train tracks were brought back to life with a regular commuter rail. College and married life kept us away most of the time.

For the past several years I have been taking care of maintaining the empty house from here in Texas. When my grandmother passed away in March, it became part of her estate and my job as executor to manage. We knew it was just impractical for us to keep the much beloved house and land, since no one in our family lives anywhere near it. My sister and I paid one last visit to the house this past May and started the process of clearing it out and selling it. It’s a beautiful house, on beautiful land. Farren-8

Our real estate broker helped us put the house up for sale in September and we immediately had multiple buyers. As of now we are under contract and working towards closing with some little complications that should be worked out soon.

Today we finally agreed on a price for the magical woods, which will undoubtedly have a couple of lovely new homes built on them. The land is the last major piece of my grandparents’ estate to say goodbye to.

Yesterday would have been my Grandmother’s 96th birthday. She is missed.

 

Ragnar Trail Relay Hill Country, TX Recap

First of all, let’s just pretend that it hasn’t been a year since I blogged. Good, now that’s out of the way.

In the past year I have had all kind of new and wonderful adventures and athletic endeavors. It’s very hard to believe sometimes that I only started running about five years ago. It’s true though, my journey from slug to avid runner is all documented right here on this blog!

This has been a year of trying even more new things, including a full marathon, triathlons and last week I did my first trail race…an overnight relay no less! The proposal to join my running friends from church on a 120 mile all day and all night relay race came many months ago. I first heard about it from my friend Becky and thought it sounded crazy. Running alone, in the woods, at night? With only a headlamp to guide your way? Plus camping…something I have not done since I was a kid and even then it was only a couple times.
Ragnar Hill CountryBut the crazy, adventurous nature of it sounded fun. Doing it as a team with my friends sounded like a great time. When I heard my friend Carla had committed, that sealed the deal for me. I lined up my parents to fly in to watch the kids and sent in my money. I knew this was just the challenge I needed to keep me training hard over the summer too.

Our team, Ragnar Schmagnar, had a few drop outs so I was able to recruit my Katy Fit friend, Walter, and my neighbor, Carrie, to join us. That only added to the fun. Carrie contributed a bunch of camping gear and tents which we sent ahead on Thursday with my friend Glenn, who helped set some of it up with the help of Walter and Josh. Glenn and Josh were part of a second team of Fellowshippers and friends, Running on Empty. Team Ragnar Schmagnar

Carrie and I rode out to Flat Rock Ranch in Comfort, TX with Ashley, Carol and David. We left Katy at 5am and rolled into the Ranch somewhere around 8:30 in the morning, grateful that the predicted deluge of rain was holding off. In fact, Friday turned out to be a beautiful day! We hauled all our stuff down and up the hill to our campsite that Josh had chosen on the highest ground, to avoid the potential flooding we knew was coming. I helped Carrie set up our little two man tent…a first for me and not hard at all. We greeted all our teammates as they arrived and wandered around the Ragnar Village…an area of large tents with various food and merchandise as well as the race starting line and transition area.

Ragnar Hill Country Campsite

We watched the required safety video and I bought a yummy chicken wrap for lunch, knowing I would need fuel for my first leg, the Red (hardest) loop…7.6 miles of climbing and rocky terrain. We took team photos and then our first runners started at noon with their Green loops. Josh started for our team and Glenn started for his team. They were both done their three miles pretty quickly but both remarked at how hard it was to run on the rocky trails. According to the course maps the Yellow loop was shorter but much steeper climbing than the long Red loop, but I would soon find out how wrong that was.

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At approximately 1:30 in the afternoon, David came in from his Yellow loop and handed the bib off to me to start my first leg. Silly me almost ran straight down the wrong trail but Walter was there to see me off and yelled at me to go right down the well marked Red path, which crossed a small stream, then the main road, and then proceeded up, up, up an extremely rocky path. I was thrilled that it wasn’t raining and pumped up on adrenaline so I started my run bounding and bouncing along, enjoying the natural beauty of the landscape.

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It was curvy. It was up and up, maybe down a little and then up and up some more. I was huffing and puffing in no time. I know I was smiling just from being out in nature, alone, and taking on obstacle after obstacle, but at some point the sun came out and I started to get tired and I looked down at my watch…not even two miles. Dang. That’s a bad sign when you know you have six miles to go and you’re still climbing. I kept an eye out for cows or goats but saw none. At some point I reached what felt like a peak and I decided to stop and soak it in a minute…I even took this photo. Ragnar Red Loop

Even when I seemed to be going back downhill, there were always little inclines ahead. I kept drinking from my water bottles, knowing there was a water station somewhere on the trail. I had to walk some sections that were super narrow and rocky but I would run every chance I got, slow and steady…ignoring the interval settings on my watch. This definitely felt much harder than the practice trail run we had done in Bastrop two weeks earlier. 12049520_757759867683745_8600784481785521593_n

The only wildlife I would see on that run was a small green snake I encountered on the trail, head raised up in full alert mode. I happily jumped right over it, never missing a beat and congratulating myself on my bravery. Finally just after the four mile mark I saw the water station, and a heavy set girl who was actually just walking the trail stopped for a drink. The water was ice cold and perfect and it was nice to finally see and talk to another person. She said “it’s hot out here but we should be getting pretty close to done, huh?” I didn’t have the heart to tell her we still had 3.5 miles to go. That’s nowhere near done in my book. I took off running past her and marked my first Roadkill.

The last two miles I probably walked more than I ran. My legs just gave up. Not even my Gu was helping. I was so disappointed in what would surely be a pitiful time. As I came up out of a big dry creek bed my Red trail combined with the Green trail and I saw a photographer waiting ahead so I mustered up my energy, stood tall, ran and smiled at him. I hustled down the last stretch into the tent and handed off my bib to Carrie, and was greeted by lots of team members wanting to know how the Red loop was. “Awful” I think I said. “Crazy hard. Maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” I didn’t want to scare everybody but I was whooped. I sat down while Walter got me water. Funny thing though, I swear less than an hour later I was smiling again, thrilled that I had tackled that trail and beat it. Glad to be done my longest leg of the race.

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The evening was fun, hanging out back at the campsite and in the Ragnar Village. I bought two awesome shirts and ate the pasta dinner they provided. I got to know the new folks a little bit. They had yoga and an air guitar contest but I mostly just relaxed. Walter took off on his Red loop and then finished right around sunset as they were lighting the bonfire. Here’s a cool photo someone captured with Walter sitting down, completely wasted after his first leg. Ragnar TX sunset

My second leg started somewhere around 10:30 at night and it was considerably cooler by then. I was worried about what appeared to be a very steep climb, so I was totally surprised to find the initial path pretty flat, open, hard packed dirt and much more runnable than my previous loop. I ran quickly and comfortably, having fun dodging giant cow paddies along the way. My headlamp was plenty bright enough to light my way and the trail was marked with tiny LEDs that made it easy to see where I was headed. Even as the trail curved narrowly around along a rock ledge with a steep drop off I was still able to run and I was enjoying every minute. My Runkeeper had refused to turn on when I started so I had no music, only silence and my footsteps. The path sloped gradually upward but I still had no issue running it in the cool of the night. A couple people passed me but eventually I came upon a girl walking and as I passed her she fell in line running directly behind me.

Knowing that almost everyone out there is faster than I, I asked her “Do you want to pass me? I don’t mind.” And she replied “Oh no, you’re fine, this is a nice pace. I’m tired and I think I’ll just follow you awhile.”  It turned out she was on an ultra team, a team of four that runs twice the distance. Another guy ran up behind us but instead of passing, he fell in line behind us too. He was also on an ultra team and liked me slow and steady pace. So the two of them mostly chatted back and forth for awhile while I listened and led the way, happy for the company. After a couple miles I slowed down to walk some particularly rocky parts and they finally opted to run past me and take off. So the last couple of miles I ran in quiet, rapidly downhill with drizzling rain cooling my face. It was honestly bliss. I heard a cow “moo” off to the right of me at one point, but I could not see him in the dark. I actually ran past a couple of women in the last mile, and finished with a big smile to hand off to Carrie again.

As I finished I headed straight to the s’mores tent to get my much desired snack, roasting a marshmallow over a mini fire pit with Ashley as the rain started to fall harder. I walked back up to the campsite and shared my joy with Walter and whoever else was there. Who would have ever imagined that I would love running trails in the dark so much?

Poor Carrie was off on the Red loop when the rain really started coming down hard. I felt bad for her but I know how tough she is. Eventually I climbed into my tent to try to sleep, but too many nearby voices and the rain kept me awake. When Carrie finally joined me in the tent she handed me a set of earplugs and that’s when I really knocked out for a couple of hours. Until around 5:30am when I massive gust of wind nearly blew our tent over with us in it and woke me right up. It was so loud and windy and raining so hard at that point I did get a touch nervous. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep any more so I got in my running clothes for my next run, trying to avoid the leak in the tent roof the whole time.

So glad I brought my wellies, I walked out to sit under the canopy and snack on the cinnamon rolls I found. I grabbed a golf umbrella and hiked down to the port-o-potties and back…the road was rapidly turning into a river. After awhile the team captains, Glenn and Becky, decided to call the race for our teams. The conditions were becoming dangerous. We sat around till daybreak and then hurriedly packed up camp, hauling our gear and taking down tents in the pouring down deluge. We got our medals so I had mixed feelings about not finishing but overall I was glad to be getting done and out early. Many many cars and trucks got stuck in the mud and we waited and waited in the pouring rain for everyone to get out. Finally we left in Ashley’s truck and headed to the first Whataburger for dry clothes and breakfast. 1653570_10208217348730934_6378532866588612476_n

Ragnar Trail was an experience I will not soon forget. Despite the cold, rainy end to the weekend, I had an amazingly awesome time. I learned a lot about myself that I didn’t know or had not realized before…namely that I love love love being out in nature. I even love camping! In a tent! Who knew? I love running up mountains and over rocks and roots! I love running in the dark and the quiet! I already knew I loved spending time with awesome people, but a shared experience like Ragnar Relay can not be beat.

I will do it again next year. 

Sarah Hubbell Ragnar

 

 

 

 

Family Fun at Sea World AdventureCon 2014

For the third year in a row, my family enjoyed an awesome weekend at the Sea World AdventureCon blogger’s conference. I always enjoy getting together with other professional bloggers to learn from experts on improving my craft. AdventureCon is unique in that it includes cool activities for families at Sea World and Aquatica in San Antonio.

Third annual photo with Shamu.

This theme of this year’s conference sessions was “Amplifying Your Digital Voice” which meant speakers and panels on working with the media, storytelling, Pinterest and Google+. It was great hearing from my good friends from Houston, Sara Patterson of KPRC, and John and Carrie Pacini of Mom 2.0 and Dad 2.0 Summits.

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Kami moderates a panel with Sara Patterson, John Pacini and Carrie Pacini.

Shoutout to Stacey Teet, queen of Pinterest.

The best part of blog conferences is always the other bloggers. We share ideas, laugh and learn from each other. The size of this conference is small enough that it gives an intimate vibe and the Sea World Wildside Ambassadors (which I am one) come to many events over the years so we really get to know one another well.

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Tori and Jennifer sharing blog advice.

One of the highlights of this year’s AdventureCon was a tour of the newest attraction, Roa’s Aviary in Aquatica. This bird paradise is built over top of Loggerhead Lane with waterfalls to keep the birds inside, and even the little ones can feed all the beautiful species of birds.

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We also got an exclusive behind the scenes tour with some Sea World Animal Ambassadors, such as this awesome Kookaburra bird and a cool king snake.

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So glad April and her daughter joined us!

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Another highlight was meeting Star, a young American bald eagle rescued when her nest was destroyed in a storm in Florida. She doesn’t look quite like a bald eagle yet, but she will in a couple years when her new white feathers grow in.

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Another special event just for us was an exclusive Q&A with one of the orca trainers to answer any questions we might have about the care and nurture of killer whales at Sea World. We had the freedom to ask absolutely anything we wanted about how they treat the orcas and the trainer was absolutely candid with us about everything. I was at Sea World in December the day after a new baby orca was born so I already saw firsthand and knew a lot of the truth about the orca program, but it was great to hear the questions of even the skeptics who had seen the Blackfish film get their questions answered. I’ve seen the film as well and I know the truth and still support Sea World completely.

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My boys and Mike had a wonderful time riding the water slides and roller coasters while I got schooled in blogging and then we came back together for the orca trainer talk and VIP splash zone seating at the One Ocean show. Yes, we got completely soaked. Those orcas move a lot of water with their tails.

Nate and I waiting for One Ocean to start.

We also really enjoyed staying at the Courtyard Marriott Westover Hills, just five minutes from Sea World. It’s a great hotel with a sweet pool and a DJ dance party every Friday and Saturday night. The bartender makes a mean margarita too. I highly recommend it.

As a reminder, I am a Sea World Wildsider so I do get certain benefits such as season passes to the park, but Sea World is one of my favorite places to visit and I would still pay to come often. 

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Another Sea World Adventure! {AdventureCon13 Recap}

The enthusiasm my kids show for going to Sea World and Aquatica in San Antonio never gets old to me. They talk about it frequently as one of their favorite places in the world and they have a tendency to brag to their friends about their adventures. Last month we went again for what was their fourth time. It was for AdventureCon, the annual weekend blogging conference that Sea World hosts, which was so much fun last year that I decided to go again this year.

Beluga whale Sea World Azul

The best part of AdventureCon for me is just seeing and meeting other blogger friends. My kids have made a few friends among the group which makes things even better. My patient husband supervised the kids while I learned more about storytelling and thinking like an editor. I also spoke at the conference about photography and led a photo walk, which was fun.

Photowalk Sea World AdventureCon

A highlight of the trip was the fabulous new show, Pets Ahoy. This show incorporates all kinds of animals from dogs and cats to pigs and ducks, all rescued and trained to be in the show. We were highly skeptical about how you could train a pig or a skunk, but it works and it’s super cute and funny! The show had us laughing non-stop.

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Pets Ahoy Ducks

Pets Ahoy cat

Pets Ahoy dog

Pets Ahoy dogs

Another highlight for my kids was just riding the Journey to Atlantis ride…over and over and over again. I still have no interest in riding anything with huge drops like that, but my kids absolutely loved it. Check out this series of photos I took…Alex’s facial expressions are priceless!

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I just get such at kick out of these photos. There are many more in my Flickr set.

We also spent an entire day at Aquatica, which they kids enjoyed even more than Sea World. They are little fish and could swim and ride water slides all day long.

Sea World and Aquatica are totally worth the drive from Houston for me, and we get to go frequently because as a Sea World Wildside Blog Ambassador, I am provided with complimentary season passes. I sure do appreciate those, and the opportunity to catch up with all the other wonderful Wildsiders and the fantastic Sea World staff.

Have you visited Sea World San Antonio and the new Aquatica water park? What is your favorite show or attraction?

About That Time I Swam With a Whale…

So if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Flickr, you know last weekend I had one of the most incredible days of my life.

(Yes, I’m talking about Sea World again.)

Besides just being able to enjoy Sea World in all its holiday finery, I also got the special opportunity to experience the Grand Adventure tour and campout overnight in the park. What is the Grand Adventure tour? Well I’d call it the mac-daddy of all close-up, behind the scenes animal interactions and tours combined into one day!

When I arrived at the park Saturday morning the first thing I did was meet up with the awesome Sea World PR team and my Wildside blogger buddies in the overnight camp dorms to drop my sleeping bag and stuff. It was super fun and cozy. Then we met Cheyenne, our Grand Adventure tour guide for the day. She works in Sea World’s education department and she is amazing! Her enthusiasm and depth of knowledge knows no bounds.

First Cheyenne took us to meet Kyle and Kelsey, the dolphin trainers. We spent a long time learning about and interacting with two bottle-nose dolphins, Gilly and Brady. I could write a whole post just on what I learned about these dolphins and the great conservation work Sea World does. But pictures tell the story better!

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We each got some time to pet a dolphin, feel it’s fin and tail, interact with it, and feed it some yummy fish. Here’s a video of me asking Gilly to do his hula dance.

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Here’s trainer Kyle teaching us all about Brady’s teeth and tongue. Kyle and Kelsey were awesome teachers.

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After the dolphins showed off a bit for us, we moved on to the behind-the-scenes stingray tank. Cheyenne taught us all about the various types of stingrays, and then we each fed them some calimari. It was really cool and felt a little brave of me to feed these guys by holding the food below them and allowing them to swim over top and suck up the squid like a little vacuum cleaner.

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Speaking of brave, the next activity we did involved a bunch of sharks. First our fearless leader, Cheyenne, wrangled a small shark from the larger tank and put it in a shallow cage that we could reach. It took her a little while but she was awesome.

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Then we each took turns reaching into the cage and petting the little shark. Carefully. His skin was not soft and smooth like the dolphins, it was more scaley and rough like a snake or sandpaper. This is me petting the shark, being asked to smile for the camera, but not wanting to take my eyes off the shark while my hand was in the tank.

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Then we checked out a little labratory they have for growing and studying different types of coral. They don’t actually use the coral in the park, but they share their research findings for the benefit of coral restoration projects worldwide.

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Then we met some seals and sea lions who were presently not out for public viewing. We met a huge sea lion named Tacoma who was rescued after being relocated to prevent gorging on salmon near a damn in the Pacific northwest. We also met three baby sea lion pups he fathered this year! They are only half-siblings but they seem to get along very well. 
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After a yummy lunch we went to visit the seals and sea lions out in the park at Rocky Point Preserve. We each got to feed them some more of that delicious fish. 
Side note…by this time in the day my clothes were starting to smell fishy from all the times I would feed an animal and quickly wipe my hands on my pants before grabbing my camera. Totally worth it, though! 
Look at this sweet little harbor seal! 
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The best part of the day came when we headed over to behind Beluga Stadium for the Beluga Whale Interaction. Yes, that meant swimming with the whales! 
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First we headed to a classroom where trainer, Megan, taught us all kinds of amazing facts about the Beluga whales. They are gentle giants for sure, not at all aggressive like orcas or dolphins can be. They have no real way to protect themselves so their first instinct is to flee potential danger. Their big foreheads are actually filled with oil and they can change the shape of their oily melon however they want. It helps them use sonar detection to navigate through very dark deep oceans where they can’t see.

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Next we all hopped into the private trailer dressing rooms and donned our wetsuits. They were very hot in the sunny 85 degree weather but proved important for swimming in the 65 degree water.

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Here we are hanging out with Oliver the beluga. He was the sweetest thing EVAH! So soft and friendly. We loved on him, petting him pretty much everywhere. Did you know belugas are ticklish? Yep, I tickled his belly and he twitched like crazy.

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I totally forget what I asked him to do with my hand motions, but whatever it was he did it. We also spent some time with Luna, another beluga, who you see leaping into the air in the photo above. I was mesmerized and grinning ear to ear the whole time we were in the water. The beluga interaction is a little expensive, but I found it to be well worth it. There’s just no way to convey how cool this experience was.

The last up-close animal experience we had for the day was behind the scenes at the Penguin Encounter. Penguins are absolutely my favorite animal so you can imagine how this excited me. We learned a lot about what they eat, the various species they have there, how they mate and keep their eggs, and what the baby penguins look like. We got to sneak into the exhibit from the back side and as soon as we entered, several little guys came running up to us looking for food.

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Then in the back kitchen they brought Rosita, a rockhopper penguin, out to meet us.

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After all those animal experiences we headed back to camp to decompress at bit. So much information and excitement for one day! We also took in three shows, the sea lion show, the Shamu show, and Reflections, the end of the night Christmas program. Not to mention a delicious dinner at Shamu’s Smokehouse and tons of sweets provided back at camp for our late-night noshing. 
I do love this group of Wildside bloggers! Some of the photos here are from Colleen, Brenda, Julie, Stacy and Heidi. You can view a slideshow of the rest of mine here. Also pictured below are Debra, Kami and Courtney. We were provided this amazing experience as part of the Wildside blogger program
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The Grand Adventure tour is not *just* for VIP bloggers either, it can be experienced by anyone! Smaller pieces of the tour, including animal interactions such as swimming with the Beluga whales, are available for purchase as well.

So if you love animals like I do, I highly recommend you check out all the various exclusive park experiences at Sea World. I’m going back with my family in a few weeks and I can’t wait.