Wednesday, December 22, 2010


***I'm back :)

I never stopped but I could not update my blog because I was on vacation.  I did not forewarn my followers that I would be away because I went to Cleveland to surprise my mom for her 40th wedding anniversary.  My dad was in on it; thanks dad :)

4.5 Miles  +250 Feet
On Tuesday 12/14/2010 at 2:15 am, the alarm went off.  At 6:45am, our flight left from LAX to Dulles International in Washington DC.  After a combined 1/2 mile of pulling luggage through both airports, we made our way to the Washington Flyer Bus.  Kids 7 and under are free, so Alyssa was 7 for this trip.  $20.00 and thirty minutes later, we were dropped off at West Falls Church.  From there we pulled our cases through our first encounter with the bitter cold down to the Metro Rail.  The cold brisk air was quite a shock to the wife and kids.  Meanwhile, I was smiling :).  I grew up in Cleveland so, 25 degrees and wind, no big deal.  Ok, so I had an extra layer on, covered my face and ears and wore gloves.  I felt toasty warm...

We took the metro to Foggy Bottom.  My kids loved the ride but the dreaded .56 mile hike was now in front of us.  Through the streets of DC, we pulled our suit cases down New Hampshire towards Dupont Circle.  A cab along the way asked to give us a lift; the kids were eager to jump in, but I said no, I got it covered.  I haven't been to DC since high school and honestly did not remember a thing regarding directions, etc.  No problem though, I studied the maps and navigated the family to the Madera Inn.

At 5:00, the sun had set and I was on the push to explore.  Our hotel offered free hors d'oeuvres, wine and spiked cider between 5-6, so before wandering out, I warmed myself up.  The kids and wife drank the virgin cider.  Then, we attacked the streets.  After a quarter mile stroll toward Dupont Circle, we headed down Massachusetts to view Embassy Row.  This walk could have taken us for miles but after a few embassies, the kids got board and the wife was antsy.  We shook hands with a statue of Gandhi and then began to make our way over to U Street.  This walking route is not your typical tourist attraction, but it worked out well. 

After passing some apartments, we found a pizza joint called Jumbo Slice.  For $3.25, one slice gives you the equivalent of half a pizza.  I'm not sure if the food was good or if we just needed some warmth and nourishment, but it did hit the spot!  We continued another mile or so down U Street and found Ben's Chile Bowl.  The design and atmosphere of this place is a must visit but be forewarned, they do not accept credit card.  We didn't bring any cash with us on this walk so this was a disappointment, until we walked across the street and found an ATM.  I can't say that their food was all that good, but once again it warmed us up and hit the spot.  Obama has eaten here before so it couldn't have been all that bad.  I would say, unique and worth the visit.

At this point, it was about 10 pm and the metro rail station was right across the street.  We jumped on and after switching to the red line at China Station, we railed our way back to the hotel just in time for milk and cookies.  The Madera Inn was a good pick for us.  The hotel is situated nicely by the rail and not far from any of the action.  For the kids, looking forward to the Milk and Cookies at 10:30 pm was a big hit.  Finally, after nearly 5 miles of trekking around in the cold, we all called it a night.

DAY 31:  DC's National Mall
8.5 Miles  +750 Feet

Wednesday the 15th was one long day.  After taking the Metro Rail, we began our walking adventure by Fords Theater, where Abraham Lincoln was shot.  From there, we walked past the FBI & IRS building and entered the Smithsonian area aka The National Mall.  All these museums were free so we started with The Natural History and then went to the American History.  After a few hours of museums, we skedaddled up toward the White House.  For some reason, Pennsylvania Ave. was blocked off so we had to walk all the way up and then all the way down the other side.  After a brief pause at Mac Donalds, we made our way to the pond across from the Washington Monument.  It was mostly frozen over except for the part where the ducks were chilling out.  The kids wanted to walk on the ice, but not a good idea.  From there, we saw the Lincoln Memorial and then began walking at dusk toward the Korean War Memorial.  Continuing back, we walked along the reflection pool and then finally physically touched the Washington Monument.  It was now dark so we hiked back toward the White House and viewed the National Christmas Tree.  The kids had seen better so, no big deal.  The walkways near the White House were now open so we circled that and took our pictures.  We passed a homeless man and Alyssa gave him a candy bar and a bag of chips.  It was now 9pm, so we walked all the way back to the hotel.  Why take the metro?  We walked this far...

On schedule, milk and cookies for the wife and kids, ok me too.  We missed the wine ceremony but after an all day walking marathon, lights out, good night...

DAY 32:  Mt. Vernon
4.0 Miles  +400 Feet

Thursday the 16th, I was first as usual to awake.  I walked about a half mile to Enterprise Rental Car, and rented a car.  My plan was to drive out to Mt. Vernon and give the family a break from nonstop motion.  I planned this entire trip with my 1000 hikes in mind.  It was really important to me that I continued my adventure without anything stopping me.

It began to snow :)  This was an unexpected DC phenomenon.  The streets were coated with the white stuff and there were no salt trucks in sight.  The drivers were extra cautious, but I had no problem.  I grew up in Cleveland so this was fun for me.  By the time we got to MT. Vernon, the entire ground was covered with 2-4 inches.  George Washington's house and property looked magnificent with the white blanket.  It was postcard material!

The kids bonded with a very friendly camel.  Meanwhile, I went inside a tent and learned how Washington traded for coco.  Back then, hot coco had a stronger acquired taste for adults and the kids were put to sleep with a watered down version of beer.  Because of the snow, we were not allowed to walk down by the slave quarters but we did get to visit the third floor of Washington's house.  I guess the third floor is only open a few weeks out of the year when it's slow, and today was the day.

Since we had the car, I wanted to see as much as possible.  I google mapped instructions on how to visit a few places but when driving it in real time, the task was not that simple.  Nevertheless, we drove around the Pentigon, Arlington National Cemetery and then it was time for dinner.  The wife wanted a breakfast dinner and we remembered seeing the Lincoln Waffle House across from the Fords Theater.  We made our way back there and ate, but yuck!  This place was dirty and nasty.  We were the only ones eating.  This was more of a convenient store with the average customer coming in to play their lottery picks.

5:00, so back to the hotel for wine and stuffed mushrooms.  I missed many of the memorials that I had intended to hit so on a relentless pursuit, we saw the Thomas Jefferson and FDR Memorial.  My wife stayed in the car for each as we parked illegally.  I took the kids thru each and these places were definitely worth visiting.  I had one more place that I wanted to visit, but it was nearly impossible to get there!  Theodore Roosevelt Island!  The only way to get here is to start in DC and take the 66/50 freeway across the bridge into Virginia and then immediately exit to the right.  The exit comes up so fast so the first time I tried it, I missed it.  I viewed the map and tried alternate ways to get to it, but impossible.  We stopped at Starbucks, then crossed another bridge into DC and eventually crossed the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge again.  This time, I drove slow and stayed in the right lane.  I turned off down the snowy divided highway and nearly missed the parking lot for the Island.  The exit was completely snow covered and the signage was horrible.

Finally, made it!  We parked the car and walked across the footbridge.  An island full of trails and a memorial of Theo Roosevelt.  If I lived in DC, this is where I would  go to satisfy my trail running.  Being that it was pitch black, we only made our way to the memorial and back, but it was well worth the visit.

Hungry again, we drove back to Jumbo Slice and relished on two more pieces of pizza.  I dropped off the wife and kids, then the car and walked back to the hotel for some milk and cookies.

3.0 Miles  +300 Feet

Just one metro stop up from Dupont you can visit the national zoo for free.  It's a healthy 3/8's of a mile up from the metro stop, but once inside; nothing.  It's winter and most of the animals are have flown south for the winter.  However, we did get to see the elephants eating outside and the Pandas.  We went there especially for the Pandas and we were not disappointed.

A swift trek back to Mac Donalds, which seems to be the only fast food joint in town on every other corner.  Checked out of the Madera and then on to Union Station.  We checked in our luggage and had 3 hours to spare, so we walked around outside the capital building and then finally made it to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  This was the one museum that I wanted to see and the kids loved it as well.

Back to Union Station, "All aboard!"  At 4:30, our Amtrak Train left for Cleveland...

3.5 Miles  +200 Feet

The train arrived in Cleveland around 3:00am.  Wally picked us up and we slept what was left of the night away.  He went to work early that morning and then my Dad picked us up at his house once my mom was safely at work and had no clue that we were in town.  After unloading the luggage and kids at my parents house, the return to my stomping ground began.

Back in the day, my friends and I would play capture the flag in the Shaker median between Sulgrave and Green.  The median stretches about an eight of a mile and the section we played in was about a quarter of a mile wide.  However playing in the dark, in the woods, in the cold and thru the snow, this area felt much larger.  I remember assembling teams, hiding the flag, creating plans consisting of flanking two warriors up the side, running one decoy in the middle and hiding several back to defend the flag.  I remember playing defense and patiently burying myself in the snow for sometimes up to an hour with no movement in anticipation to capture the opposition.  Usually I would be the striker in search for the flag.   Although action packed, if you were caught, it was common to sit in jail for an hour while the rest of the game continued on without you.

Today, Saturday the 18th, I revisited the region for the first time in 18 years.  I was told that on the Beachwood side, a park was created.  I drove up across from the Beachwood Library and parked my car.  Indeed, a trail.  It was below 20 degrees today and there was much more snow than what we saw in DC the day before.  Nevertheless, I began running the trial.  Once hitting Sulgrave, the trail crossed the marsh in the median and then headed back on the other side toward Richmond.  But not for me, I continued through the middle trouncing thru snow drifts that were waste high.  Crunching down buried cattails and cracking the ice beneath my boots, I forced my way thru to the end.  The median meets up with the end of the Cleveland Rapid Transit.  Many years ago they were talking about extending the tracks; good thing they didn't because I would not have been able to do this!

On the way back, I found another new trail and followed that all the way back.  Before reaching the end, I saw some kids sledding down a steep icy hill.  There was a torn up blue circular sled that some child must have abandoned; I couldn't resist.  I went down the hill three times and video taped the slide.  

I was nearly back to the car so I raced back, drove to my parents and urged my kids to try it.  My mom's surprise dinner was only 2 hours away but I promised to be back in time.  My sister and her family had just arrived and I was able to convince my nephew Nathan to join us.  Good Times...

DAY 35:  Damon's Woods
3.0 Miles  +100 Feet

The surprise dinner for my parents 40th was great.  My mom was in tears when she saw my family.  She knew my sister Hilary and her family were going to be in town.  She sees them every couple months because they just live down in Columbus.  I see my parents usually no more than once a year and my sister Julie who lives in Long Beach was also at the reception.  All my aunts and uncles were there as well and at the end of the dinner, my parents renewed their vows.

Well, it's Sunday the 19th.  What to do?  The first time that I every really went camping was with my buddy Damon in his backyard, which was a forest.  At the edge of his woods was a field and then beyond that, another larger forest.  Growing up, we always heard that a private company was going to destroy this land and develop it.  18 years later, I was aware that the old abandoned hospital that we used to explore had been torn down.  Office building have been built to replace our historical upbringing.  The hospital was huge, five+ building that all connected thru the basements.  Although we explored most of the hospital, there were some doors that were locked and did not want opening.  There were some stories circulating that old warheads and bombs were stored down there. hence the reason for the police station on the edge of the property.  We never discovered anything like that, but there was old hospital equipment left behind, a file room full of old patients records in tact, until the Mayfield kids burnt it down.  There were 100's of florescent light bulbs in boxes that we threw and exploded on the third floor.  They sounded like a bomb going off in an echo chamber.  The autopsy room with a dead manikin was always a fun place to visit.  There was a church in tact and a chalkboard in the basement that we signed and dated.  So many memories, all vanished with the wrecking crane.  

The hospital was closed down in the 70's.  It should have been torn down decades earlier but it was filled with asbestos and could not be safely torn down at a cheap price.  We probably shouldn't have gone in there so many times, but none of us got sick so, the experience was well worth it.

Anyhow, to my surprise, the woods were mostly still standing.  The field has been taken over and Caterpillars and other heavy equipment suggest that the property line will keep expanding into the woods.  But for now, the old camp site is still standing.  I went the long about way in effort to find it.  It wasn't easy!  A rusty old wagon from when this area was a farm in the 1800's marked the location.  Surrounded by vines in an open part of the woods, I barely saw the wagon.  The tree over hanging the wagon once had wooden planks to climb.  A half mile across the woods was another such tree house and at night, we would shine our lanterns across.  It was pretty cool.  There was a lot of neat stuff out there; a bath tub, old foundations to what may have been a house and don't forget the quick mud that if you stepped in, you would be up to your neck in mud.

I was satisfied with my findings today, plus I had to get back to watch the Browns game.  What I did not find was the old shed that Damon and his friends built before I moved to Beachwood and the lean-to that marked the middle of the original Capture the Flag Grounds.  I did see about 10 deer and ribbon on trees suggesting that more of their woods will be overtaken some day.  If I ever make a lot of money and if it's not to late, I will buy this land and create a park with hiking trails.  Preservation of the wilderness should be a top priority!  There is so much city space that has just gone to junk that what cities must insist is that those districts need to be renovated before touching the sacred land that we have spared.  I goes it's cheaper to bulldoze a tree versus fixing up the ghetto, but it's atrocious that modern man can allow for this!  The Conejo Valley is a great example of how space ought to be utilized, hence my fond admiration for where I live today; not to mention the weather :)

DAY 36:  North Chagrin Reservation
2.5 Miles  +150 Feet

Browns lost yesterday, now that I got that off my chest, on to day 35; Monday the 20th.  Of course along my vacation, we have done more than just hike!  There was seeing my buddies Brant, Wally and Dima.  My family, drinking, etc...  After shopping at Beachwood Place in the morning, I rounded up the troops to hike the Cleveland Metroparks.  Cleveland does have a very nice park system and the North Chagrin Reservation may be the top choice of them all.  There were so many trails to chose from but because I took the family up to Squires Castle a year prior, this year we were in search for 300+ year old trees.  I guess those trees were part of the pine forest near Strawberry Lane.  Instead, we hiked from the Forest Trail Head and followed the Mapple Leaf trail.  We encountered two samoyeds along the way.  Their white fluffy coat blended in perfectly with the white fluffy snow that was falling.  When I was just a little tike growing up, my parents had a samoyed named Subocaj (Jacobus backwards).  When I first learned to speak, my first words were Bobo and later we all called him Subo.

After looping the Maple trail, we followed the oak trail to the end.  There was another family standing on an open covered structure overlooking the valley.  We tiptoed in and noticed dozens of small Tit Birds flying in.  The family had bird seed and Alyssa filled up her hand with some to allow the birds to land on her and eat.  It was quite cool and another random reason why I live getting outdoors to encounter the unknown.  Every day is a new adventure.  Sometimes I get lost and sometimes I find a sled.  The key is, I bring my camera and slow down to really look around.  I'm going to keep hiking, no matter what...

1.0 Miles  +25 Feet

It's Tuesday the 21st.  We fly back to LAX today.  Last night was horrible!  When my sister came up from Columbus, her whole family was sick.  Guess what, the bug finally got to me.  I felt it late during the Monday Night Football Game.  Big Game, I beat Carlos by less than 2 points in Fantasy Football.  Next week I face Sara in the Fanatasy Football Super Bowl.  Wish me luck...

Shortly after the game was over, I laid down in the bed on the third floor, my old bedroom.  Rather than go in detail about it, just know that I found myself in the bathroom before the kids fell asleep.  My dad got sick at the same time and then Ayden puked just once, lucky him.  I had the cold chills, etc...  As I type now, I am still recovering from it, hence the reason I am not at work today.

Despite being sick, with my son, I was dropped off at my old house in University Heights and walked with him to my old elementary school a half mile a way.  Cutting thru the school, we continued to the middle school, where I also walked to.  A mile long walk, every day through the rain, snow, wind, cold and humid heat in the summer.  Forget about it California child, your drizzle winter storm and school bus is no comparison to what I had to endure.  Life is easy for you son, enjoy it...

37 DAY SUMMARY: 134.75 Miles  +21,050 Feet

I will link pictures to Facebook and eventually make another video...



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