Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Infamous Part 3 (aka: SALEM QUALITY INN)

Part 3

Since our hike at McAfee Knob, I’ve been asked repeatedly:  Where’s Part 3? 
Even Mama Jo (my mother-in-law) asked Di what’s taking so long.  What’s taking so long? Really? You had to ask?

Well, there’s this little thing called the XTREME HIKE.  I guess I’ve been a little busy conditioning my body for 31 miles of hiking, and I haven’t quite mastered the art of typing and curling 100lb. dumbbells at the same time.  I guess I’ve been spending too much time raising money for cystic fibrosis research—and BEATING OUR $5,000 GOAL.  So yeah, I’ve been a little busy.

Workout Inspiration
But I have fans to satisfy—two to be exact -- Mama Jo and Laura.  So here’s Part 3.

First of all, Kim and LaDonna at CFF are the hardest-working women in the nonprofit world.  They have done an amazing job leading an inaugural 31-mile charity hike—there’s a lot of crap that could’ve gone wrong, and it hasn’t because of them.  So I know they had noble intentions when they negotiated the group rate at the Salem, VA Quality Inn.  With that said…people could've DIED from that decision.

A few nights before the hike, I got a text from Di:

Di: Which Quality Inn are we staying at?
Me: The one in Salem?
D: There’s two Quality Inns… one got a good review…one has a review that says Run Away. Fast.
M: I’m sure we’re at that the good one.
D: Do you know the address?

(Found confirmation… plugged address into…Mother #&@*$&!!!)

M: Find another hotel. Now.
D: You didn’t read the reviews first, did you?
M: Just find it. We can’t stay there.
D: I love you.

The reviews were scarier than anything Stephen King could’ve conjured up:

Quality Inn lobby??

I was speechless when I walked into my room and discovered that there wasn't a faceplate over the electric outlet that the hair drier plugged into. This isn't simply "not up to code" (ANYWHERE). Next to a bathroom in a room with kids who can stick their wet fingers anywhere, without even a ground fault interrupt -- this could be life threatening….

Life threatening? Such an overreaction…

Upon entering the room you could smell a scent of moldiness. I looked over at the beds and there were three white tiny pillows on the bed and one had a fly on it. I big's a fly. That's when my nephew made his way over to the sliding glass doors and there were literally like 100 black beetles and bugs all over INSIDE the room near the glass. I then looked at the mattresses (I do this at all hotels I stay at to rule out any type of bed bugs) and noticed that the mattresses were old and gross and had black parts that could be bed bug infestations.

So it has bugs….big deal, right? 99% of Virginia Beach hotels have bug infestations…

First, there was a pill on the bathroom floor. The corners of the bathroom were full of dirt, the bathtub had large amounts of mildew in the corners, and the drain was very slow and left you standing in a puddle of water. The frames around both the internal door and the sliding door were loose, and appeared as if they had been kicked in and tacked back on. The air conditioner filters were completely occluded. The wallpaper, as well as plates for switches had very evident dirt.

Pills on the floor? What’s the problem?  Sounds like college or a Saturday night without kids.  And who uses 'occluded' in a review? Nerds.

From spiders to their eggs, to dirty tub and toilet, doors on the ground floor with faulty locks, sheets with cigarette ashes, this inn is quality not.

We found a dirt towel in the bathroom which looked like it had bodily fluids on it. We were completely grossed out. The bed and comforter were also disgusting. The carpeting looked 100 years old.
Zero water pressure in the bathroom sink and the bathtub was completely clogged.

This place was filthy and run down.  I wouldn't even take a shower, the tub was so dirty and disgusting with prior guest's pubic hair.  

It just astounds me that someone would actually take a piece of clearly moldy bread and cook it as french toast. I don't think it's possible to cook french toast without looking at it, unless there's an automatic french toast maker I'm unaware of. Otherwise, someone soaked a piece of VERY MOLDY BREAD in an egg mixture, and then fried it. You could still see the mold after it was cooked. And they still left this crap out for people to eat.

I figured the free hot breakfast would be a positive. NOT ! There was no waffle batter, there were no biscuits for the gravy and there was no coffee in the pots. I took 2 small pastries, 2 yogurts and 2 hard boiled eggs for myself and my husband. Got back to the room with it and took a bite from the egg, IT WAS AWFUL !

No coffee at the cont. breakfast

Ok… the food is bad…but there was NO COFFEE??? WTF?!?!?  Now THAT’S UNACCEPTABLE.  There was no way I was staying at a place without coffee. 

Unbeknownst to the rest of the group, we switched our hotel reservation to LaQuinta.  I guess I feel a little guilty for not sending a mass email to let everyone know about the lack of coffee, but they’re all literate adults (I think)… they could’ve read the reviews for themselves.

On the way to the trailhead the next morning, Di and I asked a few hikers how the room was. Dead silence.  Finally, Bob spoke up—“If my wife had been here, there’s no way we could’ve stayed there.”  We heard stories of patio doors that couldn’t be closed, mold everywhere (beds, sinks, mattresses), and air conditioners lying in disrepair on the floor. Elizabeth told us that when she checked in, the front desk gave her Gavin an Samantha’s room—when she explained that she wasn’t Gavin and Samantha, the employee told her “whatever”—which made things interesting for Gavin and Samantha during check-in.

After the hike, Di and I went back to the cozy room Corey, Eric, and Todd were sharing—and saw the hotel for ourselves.  It was all true. All of it.  This place is nightmare fuel.  All it needed was a dude stalking the halls in a hockey mask—and I bet we would’ve seen him had we stayed longer. 

My biggest regret in life: Not taking more pictures of the Quality Inn. 
Photos of Quality Inn, Salem
Razor blade in the toilet?? AWESOME.
This photo of Quality Inn is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I could spend the rest of my evening describing the hotel’s condition, but I think the TripAdvisor reviews give you the general idea.  I did see two messages worth noting:

note from housekeeping

This was the note left on Todd’s unmade bed.  Apparently, the 1-pound portable camping stool  left at the foot of his bed was way too heavy to be moved… or, the housekeeper didn’t have arms (I was thinking she wrote the note with her teeth—but she probably doesn’t have those either—so I have no idea how she wrote it). 

I saw another note as we were running out of the building.  It apologized for the temporary lack of COLD water in parts of the building (dated August 5).  The absence of cold water was confirmed by the hikers who took flesh-melting showers the night before.  Who runs out of cold water??  

Eric swears there was a freezer out back with a “Dead Hooker Storage” sign—but I find that hard to believe.  This doesn’t seem like a hotel that would be inclined to HIDE hookers or dead people.  

This concludes Part 3…and there is no Part 4, because I gotta go raise some more money and get a few more workouts in before Saturday’s BIG FREAKIN’ XTREME HIKE.

My next beach workout

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Final Practice Hike: Tinker Cliffs (Part 2)

Part 2

Sorry for the delay (Laura)... 

When we last left our fearless hikers, they were atop of McAfee Knob, enjoying the spectacular sunrise…and preparing for another 16 miles of hiking.

After the knob, the next leg of our journey would take us to Tinker Cliffs.  But first, we’d have to climb Tinker Mountain—because our hikes wouldn’t really be a hike without a giant freaking mountain to climb, right?!

At first, the climb didn’t seem so bad.  Sure, the grade was ridiculous, but you could see the top of the summit and knew the pain would be short-lived.  And then you’d see a new summit…and another…and another.  That’s when I learned what a “false summit” was.  According to Wikipedia: A false summit is a peak that appears to be the pinnacle of the mountain but upon reaching it turns out the summit is higher.  False peaks can have significant effects on the climbers’ psychological state by inducing feelings of dashed hopes or even failure.  Wikipedia proves again—it’s the source of all things true. 

Somewhere on the incline to the third (or so) false summit, Di called up to Genevieve, “Are we almost there?”  And Genevieve naively replied, “Yeah, we’re at the top.”  About four false summits later, Genevieve was correct.

Tinker Cliffs weren’t as awe-inspiring as McAfee Knob at sunset, but the views are ridiculously amazing.  Like McAfee Knob, the cliffs seemed like a perfect place to fall to your death--making it the perfect place to stop for lunch.  Also, the cliffs are a great spot to spend your honeymoon.

McAfee Knob in the distance (aka: where we started)

Dogs don't fear heights?

At lunch, the hikers did a quick intro that included why they were hiking and their favorite trail snack.  It was truly incredibly inspirational to hear the stories of how each hiker is connected to CF.  Also, it was incredibly satisfying to hear that other’s think Clif Bars are a marketing gimmick.  We’re all dummies for eating that awful garbage.

Hiking along the edge... good thing I'm not around

After lunch, we came down off the mountain and hiked along a ridge for the next ten miles.  Thankfully, the trail was relatively flat until the end—but I felt like the trail was still a huge challenge.  The physical act of hiking wasn’t terribly difficult—it was my mind  that was the issue.
On top of the ridge

Somewhere on mile 16 (a total guess since I have no idea where I am while hiking), I wanted to get off the trail.  Maybe it was the boredom of looking down at dirt for nine or ten hours straight?  Or maybe it was the fear of the misery I’d discover after taking off my socks? Or maybe it was the sheer exhaustion from hiking this long without sleep?  Regardless, I wanted off—but there wasn't an exit or short-cut.  Hiking long-distances is definitely a mental game, and something I need to be prepared for on September 28.
Thinking of building a hang glider
At some point towards what I was hoping would be the end, we ran into Eric, a friend Corey had brought on the trail to help us out.  His mission was to hang out with the stragglers in the back (aka: me), to make sure everyone made it off the trail alive, and to tell us that we were real close to the end. 

Me: Are we there yet?
Eric: We’ll pass under the buzzing power lines, and then it’s an easy downhill mile…and you’re there.  Power lines are probably a mile away.
(one mile later)
 Me: Are we there yet? I see power lines.
 Eric: Are they buzzing?
Me: No.
Eric: Keep hiking. We're almost there.

View from the non-buzing power lines
 (one mile later)
Me: Are we there yet?
Eric: We’ll pass under the buzzing power lines, and then it’s an easy downhill mile that’s not too rocky…and you’re there.  Power lines are probably a mile away.
Me: We’re not close are we?
Eric: Maybe. Would it really make a difference if I tell you how far it is?
Me: … yes… ??
Eric: Then you have 30 miles left.
Me: ...


Eric’s an amazing dude, but I doubted he wanted to hear me complain how tired I was of being on the trail—especially considering he’d been blown up in Iraq and put back together like the Bionic Man.   Thankfully, his stories of hunting moose with sniper rifles and the recital of the entire Geico commercial libary (Humpday!!) kept me entertained enough to forget how badly my feet hurt. 
Hiking entertainment

I could write several more paragraphs about the trees and dirt I saw on the final ten miles… but I’ll save that blog post for another day.  There was a huge rock formation called Hay Rock.  Local teens have been known to hike to Hay Rock, get drunk, and spray paint graffiti… woo hoo! Roanoke kids sure do know how to party.  Let’s HIKE four miles so that we can PAINT A ROCK!! 

Hanging out under Hay Rock

After nearly twelve hours of hiking… we finally made it back to the Ho Jo’s parking lot, jumped in our cars (I had just enough time to take off my shoes), and made a bee-line for the Homeplace.  There’s no word to describe all-you-can eat fried chicken after hiking 20 miles  (I’ll leave that job up to a wise person from South Carolina)...
Ho Jo's!!! 

Thank you for fixing my feet, Dr. Dana Marie!

 And guess what? Part 3 (The Quality Inn) is coming....

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Final Practice Hike: McAfee Knob (Part 1)

Our last training hike was so big and so awesome that I’m going to break my post into a few parts…

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The 20-mile hike between McAfee Knob and Hay Rock is one of  the most photographed sections of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. I’d been looking forward to these views since the practice hike schedule was released in May—and after the fog of Three Ridges and the mostly-obscured views from Dobie Mountain and Torry Ridge, I was ready for some amazing views.   So did this hike live up to the hype? YES.

Freakin' amazing view

 My day started at 5:50AM… Friday morning.   After putting MA on the bus for kindergarten…

I wish my backpack looked that stylish

I went to work…
Another productive day
Got home from work, packed the car, and headed towards Salem, VA…with a pit-stop at Blue Mountain Brewery for some pre-hike prep with Di (note: we never did get the cases of beer they promised…whatever). 

The secret of my success
After some much-needed pre-hike hydration, we checked into our hotel in Salem—but it wasn’t the hotel that most of the team stayed at.  I feel a little guilty, but we're all responsible adults who could've read the Trip Advisor reviews before making the reservation, right?  (“Yuck! Run AWAY fast,” turned out to be an accurate review, but I’ll save that for another post).  Of course, I’m not even sure why we spent money on a hotel in the first place since I slept a total of ZERO minutes in that room.  Between the jet engine air conditioner cutting on every 3 minutes and the dudes playing basketball in the room above us until 1am—sleep was impossible.  

At 3am, we checked out and ensured that we'd avoid an early morning fight by being the FIRST hikers to arrive at the Ho Jo’s parking lot.

It was nice to start the hike with the team this time—but there wasn’t time to introduce ourselves to the new hikers. Corey rushed us into vehicles so we could make the trailhead by 4am because the sooner we finished, the sooner we could feast at the Homeplace. The man has priorities I can respect.

For those of you who don’t know what 4am looks like-- it's dark-- real dark.  Hitting the trail this early gave us an opportunity to practice using our headlamps before the big hike.   

Honestly, I’d rather do ALL the hikes in the pitch black.   Nothing is worse than being on top of a ridge or crossing a meadow with the sun frying your skin.  The sun is my enemy. 

I feel your pain, bro.

After a mile of hiking the access road, we followed Corey onto the Bizarro-AT.  Unlike the AT marked with giant, white blazes, the Bizzaro-AT is a totally unmarked 'trail' that takes hikers up a steep overgrown hillside, through a briar patch, and into a forest without a footpath.  We saw a few deer at the edge of the forest who looked at our group and thought, “WTF?!  How did you get lost on the most well-marked trail in the world?”--and then they retreated into the darkness in laughter.

Our nature hike on the Bizarro-AT

At first, I thought Corey may have been testing our survival skills, but later there was a confession that he was trying to make me look better by showing everyone how easy it is to get lost. Bravo, sir.  We all appreciated the extra mile of hiking in the pre-dawn darkness.

After acknowledging the absence of anything resembling a trail, we re-traced our steps back to the access road—this is where I met Dr. Dana Marie, Medicine Woman.  This was Dana Marie’s first hike with us, and she turned out to be my trail angel.  As a veteran climber of some of the world’s most treacherous mountains (Everest, Kilamanajro, the Priest), she knows a few things about blisters. After feeling a hot-spot after only a mile of hiking, I knew I'd be in for a helluva day—but Dr. Dana Marie voluntarily wrapped my feet and did an amazing job (Spoiler alert: no major blisters after 20 miles). 

After our maintenance stop, we continued our march up the road until we came to a sign marking the start of the real AT.

Corey, this is what the trailhead looks like
Remember those stupid white blazes from 3 Ridges?

The climb to McAfee Knob was easier than I expected because of the anticipation of finding an amazing view at the top.  Also, I was so determined to make it to the overlook before sunrise, so I really didn't pay attention to the difficulty of the trail.  

As a kid, I spent my summers at Camp Greenville in South Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. On Sunday, we'd attend service at the camp's chapel which was built on an awe-inspiring overlook- the view itself was a religious experience.  The place was so pretty that some of the region's wisest people named it 'Pretty Place.' (note: the name was chosen before thesauri were introduced to South Carolinians in 1982).  I have vivid memories of kids sitting along the wall of the chapel-- dangling their feet over the edge-- one small slip/push away from becoming a big splatter mark on the rocks below-- and to this day, I can't stand near an edge without thinking of the bloody mess I'd make if I tripped.  Di and I joke that the one thing keeping us from competing on the Amazing Race is our fear of heights.

Pretty Place

When we arrived at the top of McAfee Knob, I felt that familiar dread in my stomach.  Despite my fear, I wasn't going to miss this opportunity for a badass photo op.  Even though we didn't stand right at the edge, we were pretty damn close.  Di has come a long way since the time we drove to the top of the nation's highest road (elev. 12,183 ft) at Rocky Mountain National Park, and she begged me to turn the car around while balled up in the fetal position and crying in the passenger seat.   I couldn't believe it when she asked:   "Wanna stand closer to the edge for the picture?" Answer: hell no. I'm still taking baby steps.

Look at how close we are to the ledge!

Too dark for good pictures...but trust me, amazing views

Looking back at these pictures gives me a huge sense of accomplishment—later that day, we hiked to the top of Tinker Mountain (pictured below) and that was only the half-way point of our hike.  We hiked another 10 miles along a ridge behind Tinker Mountain too.  My brain still can't quite grasp how far we traveled in a day-- and how far we will travel on September 28.
Tinker Ridge in the distance (aka: The Halfway Point)
Hikers with a deathwish.

 After spending a few moments to appreciate the scenery and to catch the sun coming up over the mountains, Corey rushed us back onto the trail and we started on our journey towards Tinker Cliffs.  

Leaving the Knob

Starting our descent...and on to Tinker Cliffs

 4.4 miles (plus Corey's 1-mile detour) done… 16 miles left to go...our destiny awaited at the Homeplace  (to be continued….)


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Practice Hike #4: Torry Ridge Rocks!

I’ve been a little behind on my blogging… we went on vacation the morning after our last practice hike, and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to forget 15 miles of Torry Ridge.  

Ever had a bad dream that you're driving in the mountains with someone you love—and you’re trying to get somewhere by a certain time--  but every turn you take is the wrong turn—and your cell phone and GPS don’t receive a signal—and the person you love is yelling at you because you didn’t print off directions before heading to a place without cell service—and you grip the steering wheel tightly, bang your head into it repeatedly, and start to cry—just before you find the place you were looking for-- and you're an hour too late?

That nightmare (minus the crying, of course) was my reality the morning of our fourth practice hike at Torry Ridge.  

For the record: I wouldn’t need to print off directions if Apple could design an app that could take the GPS coordinates of a parking lot on the Blue Ridge Parkway and map a route to that parking lot instead of mapping it to the center of the Blue Ridge Parkway twenty miles from said parking lot. 

Actual location of trailhead
Thanks for routing me to the
middle of the Blue Ridge Pkwy.

Eventually we found the trail head, and instead of giving up and going back home to spend time with our children, we hit the trail thinking we could catch up with the rest of our team.  We were determined—plus, I couldn’t deal with being trapped in my car with an angry wife any longer.  And no, my wife isn’t an angry person… I just make her that way sometimes.

Beautiful view  I enjoyed in silence

Needless to say, Di and I hiked the first three miles in almost total silence.   The silence was broken to share some choice words with me about the piles of bear dung littering the trail.  After the third or fourth pile and no signs of the team, Di made an executive decision to cut our losses and return to the car.  I agreed because I had no freakin' clue where the trail was going. Our trail just seemed to wander off the map along a dotted yellow line...

The yellow dotted trail to nowhere...

I thought we were hiking 'Torry Ridge Trail,' and actually had a map for only 9 miles of our supposed 15-mile hike... I didn't realize we were supposed to be hiking the 'Mills Creek Trail,' that includes a hike along Torry Ridge.  Confused? Yeah, I was too-- so the car sounded like a fantastic option.

Luckily (for someone), we received a text message from Meg... giving us hope we would meet up at some point.

Who wouldn't want to hike with this duo?!

Yo! Come hike with us!

We were only 45 minutes behind everyone else, so we turned around and plotted a course towards our rendezvous point at Mount Torry Furnace. 

Finally, we caught up with Corey who had waited for us at the furnace—and Di started talking again (to Corey, not me).  Some may not know this, but when Corey’s not coaching hikers on the trail, he’s coaching couples through hardships in their marriage.  Without Corey’s wisdom, I’d be looking for a ‘bachelor condo’ big enough to accommodate the kids on the weekend.  

Looking back at my day, I should have followed my good sense (aka: Di) and turned around while we had a chance.  The trail wasn’t as sadistic as Three Ridges, but it was damn near close.

Torry Ridge saves the best for last.  The first twelve miles were a somewhat flat stroll atop Torry Ridge and alongside Mills Creek.  At first the rocky terrain wasn’t a big deal, but a person’s feet can only absorb a limited amount of pounding against rugged granite before there’s consequences… bad bad consequences.

With a few miles separating us from the parking lot, we came to the base of Mount Doom—a one-mile climb with 1,100 feet of elevation gain.  

Climbing Mount Doom
See that tiny spec of color at the top?
That's Di leaving me in her dust

At each of the eight switchbacks, I took a short rest and thought of what I’d rather be doing at that moment (answer: anything else).  After reaching the top, we caught up with the entire group of hikers who had started a full hour before us.  We introduced ourselves to a few new hikers (and an awesome dog), and I took my punishment for being late - a swig of Jack with Corey.    Unlike my hike at Three Ridges,  I took the shot after climbing the big hill, and it felt much better this time.

Some new and familiar faces greeted us at the top

From the top of Mount Doom, we found a few beautiful rocks to traverse.  My shoes didn’t touch dirt for at least a mile.  Whoever thought up this trail had a fantastic sense of humor and hated people.

This is a trail (?)
I hate big rocks
Awesome fun with more big rocks

So what happens when you finish a day of hiking sixteen miles on giant rocks?  You take off your shoes and find lots of quarter-size blisters.  Eight blisters between Di and I.  My foot wasn’t big enough to hold all of my blisters.  Our feet were destroyed.  Apparently, the best way to avoid blisters is to avoid hiking—but since that’s not an option at this late stage, I spent a lot of time researching blisters while on vacation.  To prepare for the next hike, I took Corey’s advice and bought new insoles and wore sock liners (spoiler alert: that didn’t help at all).  I’m a little worried about how my feet will feel after our 20-mile team hike this weekend…

Despite the way my morning started, I'm fortunate to be hiking with Di.  She may be less than enthusiastic about leaving the kids every weekend so we can go get lost in the woods-- BUT once she's on the trail, she's an amazingly supportive teammate who prevents me from drowning in self doubt when the hills get obnoxiously steep.  She won't let me give up-- even when my feet hurt like hell.  She's my rock (a good rock, not a bad rock like the ones pictured above).  Hopefully I just scored some awesome husband points...that I can trade in after our next trail fight.

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