Go Ape in Northern Virginia

Go Ape in Northern Virginia

Go Ape in Northern Virginia

For years we’ve been looking for a place to go ape in Northern Virginia – a place to climb trees, inch across hanging bridges, and swing from the branches. You know, just like the apes do.

Finally, Go Ape has opened at the South Run Park in Springfield, Virginia. I recently took my daughter and her friend to try it out. Do I even need to say that we had a blast? We had a blast. ​

When you arrive and check in (15 minutes early, please!) you’ll be fitted with a safety harness that you’ll wear through the entire course. After an introduction and a safety presentation, you’ll try out a couple of stations that are close to the ground under supervision of the staff, to make sure you understand the basics.

Once you’re done with that, you’re on your own to try any of the series of platforms and bridges and ziplines. Of course, there are staffers all around to help if you get stuck, which is more of a psychological issue than a physical one. The park is designed around safety, and it’s virtually impossible to get physically stuck, but if you’re afraid of heights or if you have a panic attack in the middle of a bridge, staff members are on hand to talk you through it, and if need be, they will come and help you down. But tha happen because you will love it and it feels very very safe.

Allow 2-3 hours to complete all the activities.

Requirements for Go Ape

For the Junior Course, which has 20 obstacles and 2 ziplines, with a maximum platform height of 27 feet, there’s no age limit, but you must be 3’3″ to participate.

For the Adult Course, you must be 10 years old AND 4’7″.

What to Wear

Wear closed toe shoes that are flat, and flat-bottomed. Grippy hiking shoes with a chunky tread are not the best option, because you won’t be able to feel your way along the rope bridges and obstacles as well.

Wear slim-fitting shorts or pants, or leggings. Looser clothing can get caught as you go through.


Have a harness or zippered pocket for your phone or camera, or just leave it on the ground while you’re in the trees. If you bring a GoPro, use the chest harness, as some of the other placements might interfere with the safety lines.

Our Experience at Go Ape

As captured in our Instagram Story:

Our Recommendations

We recommend wearing some kind of gloves, especially for the ziplines. Despite our best efforts – and we were really, really talented with the zip lines, believe me – two of the three of us ended up with nasty blisters.

Dudes – be careful on the Tarzan swing. I’m not sure exactly how you should prepare for it, but every male I saw on this one experienced a very uncomfortable crotch squeeze that kind of rained on the adrenaline rush of the swing itself.

We were guests of Go Ape in August 2017.

 

Visit a Tall Ship in Alexandria Next Week

Visit a Tall Ship in Alexandria Next Week

From time to time, we get special visitors in my home town. Next week, we’ll have a visit from a tall ship in Alexandria, and this time we can go aboard for free!

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle will visit Alexandria September 4-8, as part of a tour of the East Coast. The ship will pass through the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on Monday, September 4, at around 8:30 a.m., and will dock at Robinson Landing (1 Duke St.) at approximately 9:30 a.m.

New Location

If you have seen the tall ships in Alexandria before, you probably saw them docked at Old Town Alexandria Harbor at the base of Cameron Street. This one, co-hosted by the City of Alexandria and EYA, will dock at a pier owned by EYA, whose Robinson Landing riverfront development will offer new residences, restaurants, retail, and a public waterfront promenade.

If you want to watch the arrival of the ship, Jones Point Park, Fords Landing City Park and Point Lumley Park in historic Old Town will offer clear views of the river.

The Coast Guard tall ship Eagle

The Coast Guard tall ship Eagle (Photo Credit: Visit Alexandria)

The Eagle is the largest tall ship flying the U.S. flag. It is the only active commissioned sailing vessel in American military service. The ship was built in Hamburg, Germany, in 1936. The U.S took the Eagle as a war reparation and re-commissioned it for the U.S. Coast Guard.  The ship then sailed to New London, Conn., its permanent home port ever since. Now the Eagle serves as a training vessel and goodwill ambassador.

Free Tours

The Eagle will host free tours on Monday, September 4, from 1 to 8 p.m., and Wednesday, September 6, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are not required. The ship is scheduled to depart Alexandria on Friday, September 8, at 4:15 a.m., passing through the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on the way to Baltimore.

Don’t miss this chance to see a tall ship in Alexandria!

For up-to-date information about Eagle’s visit, go to VisitAlexandriaVA.com/tall-ship-eagle.

Mid-Atlantic Cities with the Best Outdoor Adventure

Mid-Atlantic Cities with the Best Outdoor Adventure

Sometimes you just need an outdoor adventure. Climb some rocks. Swing from the treetops. Bike down a mountain. Kayak class 3 and 4 rapids, either natural or manmade. You might think of the American West for these things but rest assured, these outdoor adventure cities on the East Coast have you covered, too.

 

Richmond

Richmond’s James River has been treasured for its beauty for centuries, but the current century has seen a rise in interest of a different kind.

It’s rare to find a city with class three and four rapids where you can kayak so close to the city center. In fact, you can pull your kayak out of the water and walk straight to a brewery or one of Richmond’s great restaurants in just minutes.

Richmond is Outside magazine's Best Town Ever

Named Best Town Ever by Outside magazine, Richmond’s outdoor adventures are no longer a secret.

In the middle of the river, Belle Isle offers rock climbing on its natural walls and boulders, with the city skyline in the background. The yearly Dominion Riverrock festival draws expert climbers from around the country to nearby Brown’s Island.

The James River Park system offers trails for hiking, running, and mountain biking on both sides of the river in the center of the city.

Virginia Capital Trail

Road bikers will love the Virginia Capital Trail, which connects Virginia’s past and present capitals of Jamestown and Richmond along a scenic 52 mile paved route. Experience 400 years of history along one of the first inland routes in North America without having to dodge motor traffic.

Richmond hotels range from the basic to the luxurious. Try the Quirk Hotel for a modern boutique feel, and the greatest gift shop ever.

 

Charlottesville

The mountain roads around Charlottesville are challenging, but the views of the mountains, valley, and countryside make the effort worth it. The city was designated a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, and the Rivanna Trail is a 20-mile ubran wilderness trail that circles the city.

Nearby Massanutten Resort offers skiing in winter, but summer may be even more exciting on its slopes.

Mountain biking at Massanutten Bike Park

Photo credit: Massanutten Resort

 

Opened in 2016, Massanutten Bike Park carries riders up the mountain on chairlifts fitted with easy-loading bike carriers. Beginners start on the gentle lower grades (after a safety conscious lesson), while advanced riders start at the top with steeper grades, banked turns, and jumps. Cross country bikers can explore the Western Slope of the park, offering 30 miles of trails through 3000 undeveloped acres of woodland.

 

Charlotte

Charlotte, North Carolina has a reputation as a pretty sterile city. But just 25 minutes from downtown, the U.S. National Whitewater Center hosts a variety of land and water activities for professional athletes and amateurs alike. Dedicated to promoting healthy and active lifestyles and developing environmental stewardship, the USNWC is home to the world’s largest man-made whitewater river.

rock climbing wall over deep water pool

The U.S. National Whitewater Center’s Deep Water Solo Climbing Complex

But don’t let the name fool you. The Center offers more than just whitewater activities. Rockclimbing walls, zipline canopy tours, controlled jumps, ropes courses, and 30+ miles of mountain biking trails cover the Center’s 1300 acres. And there are flat water activities, too. Those looking for less of an adrenaline rush can cruise the flat water by kayaking or stand up paddleboarding.

You can pay for a single activity, or buy a day pass to try them all. The Center is dedicated to outdoor education, so they offer classes and training in a variety of areas. Check their website for a current calendar.

Looking for places to stay in Charlotte? I am fond of the Aloft Hotel Ballantyne, but it’s on the far side of the city. There’s also an Aloft in the Charlotte city center. The closest hotel to the Whitewater Center is the Holiday Inn Express and Suites.

 

Asheville

The mountain town of Asheville attracts outdoor lovers for its woods and rivers and trails, and everyone else for its artisan charm and the palatial Biltmore Estate nearby.

The great outdoors looms large, and adventure travelers can find many outlets for their adrenaline fix. From the peak to peak zipline at Navitat Canopy Adventures’ Blue Ridge Experience, where a nearly-mile-long course features tandem “racing-style” ziplines, to the whitewater paddleboarding at Wai Mauna, everything is just a little bit more intense in this ladi-back city.

Mountain bikers will want to check out Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventures, which offers private guided rides of all levels of difficulty.

You can also try “bellyaking,” a sport invented in Asheville that uses belly-down, face-first kayaks in the whitewater.

Bellyaking on the French Broad River

Photo courtesy ExploreAsheville.com

If all that doesn’t satisfy, maybe you’d like to hop on the Mountains to Sea Trail, a 1,000 mile trail from the Smokey Mountains to the North Carolina Coast. Or maybe you’d rather take a different kind of trail, hitting the many craft breweries and restaurants in the area.

Pick up a copy of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, which is based in Asheville, try not to be distracted by their acronym when you check out the BRO Events Calendar for outdoors and cultural events.

 

Washington, DC

For all its automobile traffic, Washington DC is a surprisingly wonderful place for cyclists. The city encourages bike commuters to help alleviate the far too frequent gridlock. There are dedicated bike lanes throughout the city, and a vibrant bike share program. The major tourist destinations are in the flattest part of the city, and there are trails all around the National Mall that welcome cyclists.

The bike trails in and around DC have been legendary for years. Rock Creek Park is a green slash through Northwest Washington with several miles closed to auto traffic on Sundays. The George Washington Memorial trail goes all the way from Roosevelt Island in DC to Mount Vernon, the home of the first president of the United States. Going the opposite direction, the C&O Canal trail runs 185 miles north past Harper’s Ferry to Cumberland, Maryland. From there you can join the Great Allegheny Passage Trail and ride all the way to Pittsburgh!

This post is part of Trip.com’s Underdog City campaign.


Spring Break Deals to Williamsburg and Busch Gardens

Spring Break Deals to Williamsburg and Busch Gardens

This Spring, get a great spring break deal for travel to Williamsburg and Busch Gardens for the family. Travel through time to the 18th-century city of Colonial Williamsburg, then “bounce” into modern thrills at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Spring Break Deals in Williamsburg

Offering savings of up to 10%, the Spring Break Getaway package includes three nights’ accommodations, daily breakfast and four Spring Bounce Tickets (two adult and two for children ages 6-12), which allows guests to “bounce” from century to century with unlimited admission to both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens Williamsburg (located within 5 miles of Colonial Williamsburg), plus parking for seven consecutive days between March 25 through May 14.

Spring Break deals WilliamsburgThe Spring Getaway package is good for stays at a Colonial Williamsburg hotel, including Colonial Houses, the Williamsburg Lodge, the Griffin Hotel, and the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel and Suites. The package also includes free breakfast daily with rates starting at $159/night. The Bounce Ticket is also available online for $99, $79 for youths ages 6-12.

New sites in the old town

This year Colonial Williamsburg unveils new programming at sites including the Geddy, Wythe and Randolph houses and Anderson’s Blacksmith Shop and Public Armoury. Along with other shops and sites like the historic Raleigh Tavern, guests of all ages can meet the nation’s founders, enjoy period stories, music or military drill, and even try their hands at historic trades and games, with a focus on fun for young revolutionaries.

“Colonial Williamsburg offers a setting like no other for families to immerse themselves in our shared history,” said Colonial Williamsburg Actor-interpreter Michelle Smith. “We admire, and even envy, the ease with which kids transport themselves into this 18th-century world we craft. To watch them play along as they learn never ceases to be rewarding, and we hope new and returning guests will join us this spring for new, fun experiences in the Revolutionary City.”

Busch Gardens Williamsburg opens March 25 and 26, March 31-April 23, then Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through May 21 before opening seven days a week May 26 through Labor Day. Colonial Williamsburg is open seven days a week.

Tickets, reservations and additional information are available at Colonial Williamsburg ticketing locations, and online at colonialwilliamsburg.com/spring-break.

This post includes affiliate links, which means if you book through those links, I will receive a small commission. So, if you book through these links, thank you!

This is the End – Or is it Just the Beginning?

This is the End – Or is it Just the Beginning?

This is the end.

In the words of the somewhat famous and totally unpredictable Jim Morrison of The Doors, this is the end, my only friend, the end.

My family and I just completed a year-long overland adventure through Mexico and Central America. We left Virginia on August 1, 2015 and drove our 1985 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van – which we named Wesley – through Mexico and Central America. We’ve now landed softly at the family lake house in New York’s Catskill Mountains where we will take contemplative walks in the woods and frolic in the clear lake water before launching back at the end of the month into the hard work of being middle class Americans.

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Relaxing on the dock at the lake has proved to be a soft landing before re-entering the rat race of middle class America.

I want to thank Paige Conner Totaro, the founder of www.alloverthemap.net for hosting my blog this year and for providing R and me with lots of other advice and inspiration. If reading about our adventures has infected you with the travel flu, as we hope it has, you should continue to visit Paige’s site for great tips and ideas for individual and family travel. For example, Paige’s latest post describes an amazing Yucatan vacation rental for families, to host a family reunion, or for a girlfriend getaway. It may be too fancy a place to host a drunk frat brother weekend.

I also want to thank everyone who we met on our journey who helped us, hosted us, or just said “Hi.” I don’t want to start naming names for fear of leaving somebody out, but the amazing and adventurous people that we met are the main reason why this year will be unforgettable for us. Thank you.

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We only had these folks in the van for a few minutes, but I remember the conversation and we all had a few moments of fun with strangers, which seems easier to do when we are all foreigners to the place where we meet.

Finally, thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read my blog. I know that sometimes I can go on and on with no apparent point, but I hope it was as much fun for you to read my blather as it was for me to think it up and write it.

At the outset of our trip, I attempted to interest you in what we were doing by posing three questions. Now, finally, as my last blog post of this trip, I will attempt to answer them.

Q1. Is Mexico as lawless as the media portrays?

A1. I don’t think so. We survived without anyone shooting at us, robbing us, or even frowning at us. On the contrary, Mexico was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the trip and we spent five months in various places there. It is one of the most beautiful countries – stunningly tall mountains, endless and mostly deserted beaches, outrageously delicious and affordable food – and has the most friendly people. I kid you not, even the machine gun patrols that drive around looking for trouble-makers waved at us. Don’t let the media fool you.

Q2. Does the Bright-rumped Attila still ply the skies above Central America?

A2. We didn’t see the bird in our travels through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, but we did see a mass nesting of sea turtles, hundreds of monkeys, stingrays and reef sharks, scorpions, tarantulas, dolphins, sloths, jaguars (at a zoo), and toucans.

R clowning around with a big monkey at the mall in Panama City.

R clowning around with a big monkey at the mall in Panama City.

Also, to soften the blow of missing out on the Bright-rumped Attila, we did spot its cousin the Bright-rumped Tanager one fine day while hanging out on the back porch of our workaway in Costa Rica.

Q3. Can a 1985 Volkswagen camper van handle the ups and downs of the Andes Mountains?

A3. Unfortunately, for reasons too depressing to get into again, we didn’t make it to South America so I am not able to answer this question based on an actual experience of driving through the Andes. However, based on our van Wesley’s performance through the numerous Sierra Madre ranges in Mexico, I have no doubt it could have conquered the Andes Mountains as well.

When we reached the top of one of the mountains we'd climbed, we just had to stop and pee

When we reached the top of one of the mountains we’d climbed, we just had to stop and pee

Okay – now that there are answers, I will pose a final question. This one was originally asked by the even more famous and less unpredictable Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin in the popular but not very rock and roll song “All of My Love.”

Q4. Is this the end or is it just the beginning?

A4. It’s the beginning. Even though the blog of our real-time overland adventure is at a convenient stopping point, the Vanamos family will not go away. We will be launching our own website – www.vanamos.net – very shortly.

On the website you will find updated articles about our experience posted weekly, the latest about our vantastic Volkswagen Westfalia – Wesley, information about preparations and budgeting for our year long adventure that you can use to plan your own trip, maps, what we know about border crossings, family travel guides for each country we visited so you know where to go and what to do, photos of me in a bathing suit to print and hang around your house for daily inspiration, and much, much more.

So stay tuned and let our end (of sorts) be your beginning. If I’ve delivered any message at all this year, let it be that there is a lot more to life than living 9 to 5.

Family Road Trip Through the USA

Family Road Trip Through the USA

After driving nearly 14,000 miles in eleven months to Panama and back, Wesley had delivered us to Laredo, Texas, with 12 days to go 2,000 miles to NJ for my niece’s baptism. With our spectacular border crossing in the rear view mirror, we found a Worldschoolers family north of Houston who is in the midst of selling their house and belongings in preparation for their own around- the-world-adventure. Israel, Michelle, and their three boys Joaquin, Jovani, and Judah, were gracious hosts who allowed us to use their beds, eat their food, swim in their pool, and stick around their house for two days while the epoxy we used to seal Wesleys’ leaky engine coolant recovery tank cured. This tank was the part that burst its seams while crossing into the U.S. and Israel talked me into taking the extra day to remove the part from the engine compartment and seal it rather than invest many dollars in extra coolant to keep the tank topped off during our drive home. It was a good call and has spared R and me a lot of anxiety during the long days of driving.

Houston family

The Vanamos team (sans Coconut) poses with our host family in Spring, TX – Israel, Michelle, Judah, and Jovani. Also missing from the picture is their 13-year old – Joaquin.

Since we crossed the border from Mexico to the U.S. we’ve flown a butterfly path nearly 2,000 miles long towards the east coast along state highways, American scenic byways, and windy country roads. We have avoided interstates for a number of reasons. First, Wesley does not have air conditioning so we roll with the windows wide and the constant truck and SUV traffic on the interstate makes a lot of noise as it speeds past. Second, Wesley tops out at about 55 m.p.h. – I kid you not, we’ve been pulled over twice for driving too slow – and we can hit that just as well on even the curviest of backroads as we can on an interstate. Finally, the interstates are boring. There is more to see when riding the state roads, and the glimpse it provides into small town life makes us feel more connected to a place even though we are just passing through.

The hanging tree in Goliad, TX, where justice was delivered swiftly.interstate.

Justice was delivered swiftly at this spot in Texas.

J is amazed at the shelves full of fireworks at a store in Tennessee.

Fireworks store in TN. J imagines all the mischief he could cause if he only had the time.

Abandoned farmhouse in VA. Scenery along the country roads is more interesting.

Abandoned farmhouse in VA. Scenery along the country roads is more interesting.

We’ve hardly seen any people as we buzz by under the canopy of the country roads. They apparently only come out of their air-conditioned houses to mow their expansive lawns, put gas in their cars, and visit the ubiquitous Dollar General.  We can, however, smell the same roadkill as the locals, see the rusty cars and other stuff they have piled in their yards, and get a measure on what makes each town unique. We’ve driven through the Arkansas hometown of Miss Teen 2008 (Stevi Perry), saw the Mississippi swamp where Kermit the Frog was born, shared a cookie in Alabama with the uncle of former major league baseball player Josh Willingham, and been enticed from our lunchtime picnic table by a personal tour of the local history museum in Goliad, Texas, by staff member Marty.

This is the design on the town flag of Goliad, Texas. It dates from the Texas movement for independence from Mexico and represents determination. We will cut off our arm before we submit to your will.

This is the design on the town flag of Goliad, Texas. It dates from the Texas movement for independence from Mexico and represents determination, as in – we will cut off our arm before we submit to your tyranny.

 

We also made a few interesting stops. The Natchez Trace Parkway follows a 500 mile long trail formerly used by bison to go from watering holes in Natchez, Mississippi, to salt licks near Nashville, Tennessee. After pioneer hunters killed all the bison, it was used for commerce and ambushes by Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Natchez Indians, Ohio Valley tradesmen, and cutthroat bandits. We stopped at the Parkway visitor center for Pioneer Day where Coconut stitched a leather pouch, J wove a basket, and I read the informational displays which I’ve summarized in the previous sentences.

J will be prepared for Basket Weaving 101 when he gets to college.

J will be prepared for Basket Weaving 101 when he gets to college.

Pouch making

Coconut learns how to stitch a pouch out of deer skin to carry her musket balls and/or headphones.

We also stopped at the visitor center for the distillery of the internationally famous Jack Daniel’s Whiskey in tiny Lynchburg, Tennessee. We learned that Jasper “Jack” Daniel died from an infection in his toe after kicking his office safe in frustration, further supporting an article I recently read that alcohol makes people more violent.   

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I wax poetic about Jack Daniel’s charcoal mellowing process while Coconut thinks about Pinterest.

I was okay to drive after leaving the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, TN, because there were no free samples.

I was okay to drive after leaving the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, TN, because there were no free samples.

We spent our last day on the road at Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, VA. It’s a nice park with a great swimming lake but our stay was overshadowed by the fact that the next day would be the last of our year-long overland trip.

The Vanamos team poses with Wesley in Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, VA. Our final day on the road before returning to Alexandria.

The Vanamos team poses with Wesley in Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, VA. Our final day on the road before returning to Alexandria.

On Monday, we arrived in Alexandria. Coconut and J were excited to soak up a few days at home with their friends before we set off to New Jersey for the baptism and then to my father’s lake house in New York for the month of August, but R and I were not excited to arrive. As we drove through town it seemed that not a blade of grass had changed, despite the fact that we felt very different. The weight of reintegration had already settled over us, and we know it will be more difficult than reintegrating after a week-long vacation because we’ve experienced something bigger.

We’ll keep our heads up. As Michelle, our Houston host, said to us – even though we felt like we were imposing in a big way, having us there, talking about our experiences and all the things that they have been excited about, was like infusing new blood into them. It renewed their vigor amidst the stresses of going to work, trying to sell the house, and daily living in an American suburb. Somehow, we’ve got to channel all the excitement that we’ve felt for each day on the road into building a new plan for our future – even though starting in September, the immediate future will be spent in Alexandria.