Friday, August 31, 2012

Destination Races - a Trip to the Northeast

This all started back in January when I realized just how cool it would be to try for a half-marathon in all 50 states.  As already written in an earlier blog entry, I had a pretty good head-start what with having Hawaii, California, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas.  So some internet research uncovered a couple of websites that list races all over the country and I was soon scouring those sites and marking my Google calendar with "possibles" that looked promising.

My last "destination race" was to Milwaukee in June to run the Rock 'n Sole Half Marathon.  Now I'm packed and hitting the road, heading for the Northeast.  There's a little half marathon in Wilkes-Barre PA - Wendy's Kids Half - and then, the following weekend, another half-marathon in Manchester Center VT...the Maple Leaf Half.

I was on the road by 6:00 AM on Tuesday morning, with a revised route to avoid Hurricane Isaac's path.  Originally I was going to drive east on I-10 to I-59 north out of Slidell.  But this route might be clogged with evacuees leaving the NOLA and Slidell region ahead of the storm.  So instead, I headed northeast on US 59 to I-20 across to Birmingham and north to Gadsden where I planned to stop for the first night.  It was a very long day, well over 750 miles...the longest of the trip.  Travel was smooth once onto I-20.  I'm always amazed at how little traffic there is on this route, far less than on I-10 to the south or I-30 to the north.  It was all uneventful and my stay the first night at a Fairfield Inn using Marriott points was nice and restful. 

I woke up early the next morning and was back on the road earlier than I had originally planned.  This was a good thing, as significant construction on I-59 to Chattanooga really made for slow-going.  I watched as the time of arrival on my GPS kept marching later and later.  Even though this day was shorter by over 100 miles, it looked like it would be as long, time-wise as the first day. 

Then, once into Virginia, traffic was moving smoothly until just south of Roanoke.  Significantly decreased posted speed limits seemed to create a huge bottleneck.  I just can't understand how these lower speed 'safety zones' can actually be safe.  Traffic really bunches up in these zones, and cars and 18-wheelers pack in tightly and jockey for position, changing lanes frequently as the drivers look for an opening. 

Add to this the more aggressive driving style typical of the Northeast.  I was amazed at the serious tailgating!  Several times I had cars and trucks within inches of my rear bumper, as if pushing me closely from behind could make a difference in the string of cars in front of me.  I was very happy when I got to Stephens City, where I was stopping for the night at a Holiday Inn Express.  This room was also free, using some of my rewards points.  As Holiday Inn Expresses go, it was much less luxurious than many of them, but it was clean.  My only regret was not walking back out to my car that night to retrieve my own pillow.  The hotel's pillows were awful!

I didn't sleep as well the second night, and was awake way too early!  I forced myself to linger, take my time getting started, actually having a sit-down breakfast at the hotel.   I only had 225 miles to go to Wilkes-Barre and didn't want to get there too early to check in to my hotel. 

The last bit of I-81 up through the mountains of Pennsylvania is always a great and entertaining road, even when in a car and not on a motorcycle.  And then my GPS was telling me to exit the interstate and descend into the city of Wilkes-Barre and to the hotel, the Best Western Genetti Hotel.  It's a fabulous hotel!  I originally had booked myself into the Ramada hotel downtown, but was troubled by the bad reviews it has consistently gotten on TripAdvisor and Google.  Then, about three weeks ago, I got back onto Google maps and searched my other options.  I'd noticed the Best Western when originally searching for a hotel, but had discounted it, given my experience with other Best Westerns.  But the reviews were all so positive, with everyone giving it high scores for location, cleanliness, comfort and amenities.  So I cancelled my Ramada reservation and booked myself into this Best Western.

I am so glad I did!  It is gorgeous!  Beautiful property, beautiful and large rooms with all new and plush furnishings, a restaurant on the property, and the rate includes a full hot breakfast in that restaurant.  It's as nice as any Marriott or Hilton I've stayed at.  There's a lovely outdoor private pool in the back surrounded by landscaping and trees with a nice covered patio to sit and catch a breeze.   By contrast, the Ramada is a multistory brick facade looking stark and old and dingy as it sits hard by the noisy town square.

Once checked into my room, I looked out my window and could see down the street to the town square, where there looked to be a festival or market going on.  I quickly dropped my things off and headed back down to the street and up to the square to check it out. 

A farmer's market!!  I dove right in, cruising the stalls, people-watching.  The fruits and vegetables were glorious!  The riot of colors grabbed my attention and dragged me from stall to stall, each one looking more luscious than the last.  Jars of homemade jams and preserves, bottles of local honey, fresh-baked all looked so good!  I was sucked into buying a basketful of fresh plums.  I wanted to buy so much more, but knew how impractical that would be! 

As I stepped out into an open area, I spotted a good-looking, well-dressed man sitting on a bench eating what most definitely looked like a homemade whoopie pie.  "That looks so good," I said to him.  "Where did you buy it?" 

Tempting colors!
He looked up at me and grinned, wiping the chocolate crumbs from his lips. 

"It's very good!  I bought it from that stand over there.  See the one with the checkboard canopy?"  I did see it and thanked him, saying that I was craving something sweet and was heading right over there.  And sure enough.  It was an Amish family, selling produce, honey, and some homebaked treats, includiing these Whoopie Pies.  Oh, my!  They were $1 each or 6 for $5.  What a bargain!  How could I resist?!  

So now I was carrying a bag full of plums in one hand and a bag full of Whoopie Pies in the other.  A stop at my room was in order, to drop these off, after which I walked down to the park along the river to see the views.

Northampton Street bridge over Susquehanna River
It is clear from the architecture that there was serious money in Wilkes-Barre at one time.  The downtown area is looking a little seedy, but it's evident that the city is struggling to bring it back to life.  The land along the canal has been reclaimed with nice parks and paved paths, there are young trees planted along the sidewalks in downtown.  Benches line the sidewalks along the central square area, and these seem to always be filled with people enjoying an iced cappucino or visiting with friends.
Wilkes-Barre City Hall

When I returned to the hotel, I sat on a lovely bench under some shade trees and it was then that I noticed the gorgeous old building across the street.  It's the old City Hall.  I love this architecture.  It's typical in the old industrial towns in the Northeast, and is often the archtecture used for old armories or civic buildings.  Sort of an American Gothic style.

Tomorrow I can get out and explore a bit after breakfast, find someplace to have lunch, then chill out in front of a movie on the TV, eating Whoopie Pies!


  1. I am always amazed when people tailgate, but especially so in heavy traffic. Exactly where do they elect you to go.

    I am signed up for my first 5k run next Saturday with SpartanBabe but due to some unexpected in-law issues it looks like I won't be able to do it. Doh! Always a next time.

    It is cool that you found the farmers market. The weather looks awesome too. Good luck on the runs.