I just had a pretty incredible long weekend. So great that it's been really tough for me to get my head back in the work game this week - but isn't that what long weekends should be all about anyway?
About a year ago I visited Starved Rock, IL with The Scientist for the first time. I fell in love with the beauty of the park and the hiking trails, the river and the potential person I was about to become over the course of the year. You see, I was a newly minted Sparker at that point in time and my visit to the state park inspired my blog 'Sparkies, Sparkies Everywhere' which earned me my first Popular Blog Post a mere two months into my journey here.
So needless to say, when my new beau suggested a long weekend at The Rock for our first mini-getaway together, I was pumped. We started planning immediately (the initial idea was to go camping, but early forecasts of severe thunderstorms scared us away from that prospect). I was so impressed by his desire to plan the trip. Normally, I am the planner and the doer in the relationship and I end up doing most of the work up front when it comes to vacation time, not to mention the majority of the heavy lifting while ON the actual vacation. But this time I just stepped back and let him daydream about all the stuff he wanted to do while I took on the task of meal planning and prep for the weekend. He covered the hotel booking, travel itinerary and hiking trails, while I covered the grocery buying, beer stocking and cooking of all the meals while away from home. Sounded fine and dandy to me since it meant I got control over the menu for the weekend and I could be as "stealth healthy" as I wanted!
The one exception to my food plan was on Friday night. He really wanted to cook me his homemade biriyani - a recipe that his mom taught him in India. How could I say no? He picked me up from work on Friday night with ingredients in tow and set to work quickly in my kitchen making the most delicious smelling dish ever. While it cooked and simmered, we changed into our running gear and headed out into the humid night for our first ever tandem run. I have been nervous about running with anyone since I started running last year. I have always been a solo runner and have even refused to run with my Spark buddies when we meet up at organized races. So I have to admit that I was nervous about the whole prospect of running with him, especially since I like him so darn much. This was going to be a key moment for us when I finally let my guard down - taking off the make-up and the pretty date outfits, and really, seriously SWEATING with the guy. Not to mention the whole thing about controlling my breath and my pace and being worried about copping out earlier than I want to because I'm trying to show off or keep up pace for another person. But I pushed my worries aside and we took off into the night, a nice, brisk warm-up walk followed by my usual pace on my usual route. He kept pace with me, staying just a couple of steps behind for most of the run to make me feel like I wasn't slowing him down at all. We didn't say but two words to each other the whole time. Just running, and breathing, and being with each other for 3.5 miles. At the very last 0.1 of a mile, I looked at him, smirked and said "sprint to the end!" then took off. It was a photo finish - and I won't admit to him beating me even if he did :)
Once home and showered we dove head first into that delicious biriyani. Oh lord, it is SO good. He's teaching me how to eat properly with my hands. Kind of an hilarious feat since apparently shoveling food into my mouth is not something I do gracefully! HA! I would never have thought that there is an actual technique and style to getting the food from your plate into your face - but there you have it. And the good news is that I have improved - haha!
Into bed early since Saturday was an early start. The alarm went off at 6:15am and we were out the door by 8am, coolers, backpacks, bathing suits and hiking boots in tow, for our super-fun road trip. The drive down was thankfully uneventful, traffic moved nicely and we had some really great conversation in the car. I even read him a couple of my blogs since he's now taken quite an interest in my Spark life.
After getting only SLIGHTLY lost for 15 minutes, we arrived at our destination of the Vermillion River Rafting docks right on time. The plan (made by him) was a 4 hour rafting session down the river with some light rapids. He got us our very own raft which we packed with some snacks and beer (shhh, don't tell the owners since it's not allowed!), were fitted up for life jackets (something I would have dreaded before believing that they wouldn't have one that fit me), and were loaded onto a big yellow school bus to be taken 10 miles up river to the set-off point.
How cute are we?
Quite honestly, I didn't know what to expect. Their rules are to wear your life jacket at all times, so I was assuming that the "rapids" would be more than they were. We were given directions by a stern but friendly man in between puffs of his cigarette, handed paddles, and then we were off!
About a half mile down stream we shed the life jackets. The river was calm and beautiful and the tiny rapids we had crossed thus far barely bounced the boat at all. This was going to be a beautiful day! We cracked open our beers to celebrate and feasted on some fresh cherries and almonds and walnuts. Life was grand!
But then it got hot. Like really hot. I had applied sunscreen before the trip, but had run out, so left the bottle in the car. We were about 2 hours in at this point and realizing that we weren't even really half way yet. We found that the river was shallow so we could jump in and out of the boat to swim and cool off as the river current floated us along, but eventually the time came when we needed to start paddling. And paddling. And paddling. The instruction from the guy was "you start at the first bridge, then a short ways down, you'll go under the second bridge. The third bridge is where you're going to exit the river, but that's a LONG way down." Yeah - long way. At this point we were only just past the second bridge and I was noticing that my legs were starting to get very burned. We were also getting pretty hungry having only had snacks, beer and one coconut water to share between the two of us. Lunch was in the car, and we had to get to the bridge to get to the car. So we just kept paddling. And talking. And swimming. And paddling. I swear we paddled for another 2 hours straight before we came across "the rapids." Nikhil had read that the rapids were within 3 miles of the end of the trip. So we had to have been 7 miles in already. I groaned at the thought of another 3, but we kept going until we heard the joyous hooting and hollering from the boat in front of us. Could that mean that they found the bridge??? Sure enough, just around the bend - the third bridge and the welcome arms of the guy with the cigarette to pull us in to shore. Burned to a crisp at this point, I practically ran to the car to get lunch started. It was 5pm - we had left at 11am. Eek!
After a picnic lunch in the shade, we were both feeling much better, but decided to cancel the planned afternoon hike at Mattheissen Park and just head back to the hotel to check in and have a shower. Good plan, since my burn was worsening and I was getting pretty exhausted from the heat exposure. We checked in to the hotel, happy to find that it was right across the street from a Walmart, showered and dressed and headed over in search of after-sun lotion and more sunscreen. Mission accomplished, we returned "home" to grill out some ginger orange chicken breasts, corn on the cob and spiced potatoes, with Banana Dream Boats for dessert. Yum, yum, yum!
I think after dinner we both passed out from the combination of heat exhaustion and food coma and then slept in a little later than expected Sunday morning. No worries though - we were on holiday! We ended up missing the planned hotel breakfast by an hour, but I was able to pull out the leftover spiced potatoes, yogurt and peaches for breakfast in our room. We dressed and packed (and slathered on after-sun gel and a 45 sunscreen to my poor red legs and back) for our day of hiking and drove back to the park to get started on what he had planned as a 10 mile hike. TEN MILES??? HAHAHAHA! Yeah right. But I played a good sport and agreed to the plan.
We decided to carry our lunch out to the half-way point, have a picnic at the turnaround and then head back. I threw our lunch of Greek pasta salad, mixed melon salad, Popchips and more coconut water into a small cooler bag and off we went.
The canyon is as beautiful as I remember it being. But the hike was much different. Although we took it slow on the way out (we were carrying extra weight in our packs with all of our lunch and water bottles), we were still clipping along at a good pace. Something I was unable to do last year. Mile after mile passed and we got beyond the area I covered last year fairly quickly. I was excited to see new territory and just kept on going, joyous at my new found abilities.
Who rocks a dew rag? This girl does! Haha.
By the time our hunger told us it was time to eat, we were only 30 minutes from the turnaround, having covered a full 5 miles already. Wow. We were unfortunately, unimpressed by the spot that we had picked to picnic (it wasn't as amazing as the pictures made it seem), so we opted to trek back a bit to some shade and a nice patch of grass for our lunch.
Relaxing at our picnic!
By 4pm we knew we had to pack it up if we were going to make it back in time. We agreed to do a quick pace and really push it on the way back, now fed and significantly lighter in the packs. We detoured to see one last canyon before heading back, and I'm so glad we did since it was the best one of the hike:
A little blurry, but still cute.
And with that we pushed through another 5 miles back to the car (in only 2.5 hours!) and our awaiting cold water! I love that we managed to keep the same pace for the whole day. This is a man who is seriously fit. He admits that he has things he wants to work on again because his focus hasn't been fitness for the past couple of years, but he can still lap me on a run if he wants to and he's put far more time and energy into training himself than I have in just one year on Spark. But for this weekend, I matched his pace - pushed myself and finished that TEN MILE hike without a complaint from my knees or my back or my legs. Wow. How far I have come.
And to prove how far I've come, we made the ascent to one of the popular look-out points to end our hike - a place I stood myself not that long ago. I had Nikhil take my picture in the same pose that I was in only a year ago.
And here are the series of shots that followed:
Clearly - I'm a happy girl.
Headed back to the hotel again for another cookout - this time of grilled portabellas, turkey dogs and s'mores. I was upset to find that I had left the originally planned dinner of Chef Meg's Greek Turkey Burgers at home in the fridge, but in a moment of "always be prepared" I had grabbed the turkey dogs and thrown them in the cooler just in case. Good thing, since we were hungry and they ended up making a good, and good-for-you meal. We took the food back to our room and popped a bottle of champagne - a celebration of our first long weekend together (and here's hoping to many more!) Exhaustion set in again and we were out like lights...except that we didn't even stay awake long enough to turn them out since I woke up at about 4:30am with everything still on - haha!
An 8am alarm the next morning ensured that we were up in time for the hotel breakfast. We padded down in our pajamas and horded away some eggs, bagels, cream cheese, juice and an apple danish to split, taking everything back to the room to enjoy. Check out was at 11am, so we took our time showering and packing up the room. Back on the road to Chicago, we made great time and headed back to my house to lay low for the rest of the day, enjoy a much needed and deserved nap, and watch the crazies and their fireworks show right outside my windows. We warmed up some leftover biriyani, poured a couple more beer shandies, and cuddled and kissed on the balcony as we watched the neighbours blow things up in the parking lot beside my house and the bigger, more beautiful shows in the neighbouring parks. What a terrific weekend. Neither one of us wanted it to end.
But unfortunately, reality comes down pretty hard, and Tuesday morning on the scale was neither kind nor in my favour. A "fake-weight" gain of almost 10 pounds over 3 days? Insanity - but indisputable since those were the numbers staring me in the face. 2 days back and I'm down 6 of those pounds, but unfortunately, it's going to take me the rest of this week and likely all of next to undo the damage that I did. I didn't go hog wild this weekend. I cooked every meal we ate except for the one hotel breakfast. However, I DID drink a lot of alcohol and not enough water and we ate desserts all weekend which is not usually part of my daily diet.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. I enjoyed every second of my time with my new man. We worked out, we had fun, and we celebrated life and each other. And now both of us are determined to get back to our daily lives and make ourselves even better. He wants to focus on getting back to his body-building form, I just want to "not weigh as much as I do now next week," as JENNSWIMS kindly reminded me today.
But the biggest thing that I am coming away with from this weekend is a sense of amazement and accomplishment. I did it. I really ran and hiked and rafted all weekend long. And my muscles aren't even complaining! I have reached a point of physical fitness that I didn't know existed for myself and I couldn't be more proud. Sure, I still have a long way to go, but damn Body - you're kind of amazing. Thanks for carrying me through The Rock a second time. Lighter, happier and a hell of a lot faster than before.
When can we go again!?