Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Amusement Park

When I was a teenager, I would say, "It's never a real summer until I've been on a roller coaster." Over the last half-decade or so, I've let that idea go. Life and "adulthood" took over, and roller coasters became somehow harder to get to. This year, I finally made it happen; and a bunch of my friends came along for the ride.

Our first ride of the day: Not actually a roller coaster...

The local park is called Kennywood. It's just a short drive from where I live, which is super convenient! While checking out the website for their spring hours, I noticed a by-one-get-one-free coupon for May. Jackpot! On a Sunday late in the month, I rounded up the house, our friend Fish (yes, that's a nickname), and all of the sunscreen.

I was so excited! Kira and I skipped through the park entrance. SKIPPED! Like little girls in frilly pink tutus would. Sadly, it didn't take long for my enthusiasm to be squashed by a crazy allergic reaction. I am allergic to most things found in, well, air. And the park was full of beautiful flowers. Beautiful, evil, flowers. I was already on Clariton, but apparently it did nothing. Luckily, Shane thought to pack Benedryl. That fixed my nose, but created a short queasy spell. This was quickly solved by french fries covered in nacho cheese and bacon. I took a break on Shane's shoulder while everyone else enjoyed the merry-go-round, and we were back in business!

Shane dutifully supporting my giant grandma sunglasses + drug-induced stupor

By the way. The merry-go-round at Kennywood is very nice. It's even under an extra roof which extends out to a seating area perfect for tired parents and queasy allergy sufferers. But the clown face repeated on the outside? Creepy. No two ways about it. See:

Like if Liberace and Carrot Top had a kid...

I think we ended up covering the whole park a few times over. And I got my roller coasters!

The lines weren't too bad on most of the rides. Shane took this amazing photo of me while bored waiting for the Racer.

Amazing, because it's very hard to catch my real smile.

There were lots of midway games, and some small, pretty seating areas. But we mostly stuck to the rides. Shane took this picture of the George Washington statue. George came through the site of the park while fighting the French in the Seven Years War. (He lost, BTW.) Shane had to take a picture, because he's a guy who knows a thing or two about swords. That is not an English sabre. It looks more like a straightened Japanese katana.

Looks more like a BBQ sword to me.

Silly swords aside, I do have one earnest complaint; a word of warning, really. Do NOT try to go on the Exterminator! I say "try" because after nearly an hour of waiting in line, we quit. We were told someone had been sick on the ride, and it would take another half-hour to clean up. The line area is a small, cinder-block building. It is fully enclosed with poor ventilation and no sound-proofing. Here is a picture of our misery:

Fish, probably thinking: "I am going to murder that squealing teenager."

It really put a big black spot on our day. I seem to recall from a visit years ago that it's a pretty good ride. But no ride is worth that torture. I think they should have paid me $20 just for standing in line there.

We escaped though. Over-all we had a great time. See?

My final verdict is mixed. I certainly went with great people! And I sure had fun. But it didn't feel like the capstone of my summer. I guess I just don't need roller coasters as much as I used to.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Our Pioneer Camping Trip

Well, now. Since my friend (and soon-to-be neighbor) amberZon mentioned me on her blog yesterday, I suppose it's about time I start catching you guys up with some new material! (Welcome, Zonbie fans!!)

Last fall, Shane and I went camping for the first time. As a kid, Shane would go out roughing it with his friends pretty often, but I had never really been camping myself. Some of our friends invited us to join them for an overnight, so we bought a tent and dug out our sleeping bags. It turns out you need to have a bit more equipment than that for a truly successful camping trip! But our friends had lots of those other things, so we still had a blast.

Our piggy-backed camping trip last fall
Thanks, Wells and Dutras for showing us the ropes!

This spring I got it into my head to flesh out our camping supplies. It started with just an air mattress. Then a travel French press. Before I knew it, I'd amassed quite a kit! I found a giant Rubbermaid container lying around the house and it became home to our camping supplies.

Our set-up, complete with giant Rubbermaid.

Once I had all of the equipment, I couldn't wait to use it! Shane had a birthday coming up. So I took the Friday of his birthday weekend off, and we made a mini-vacation! Friday morning, I picked up the rental car and took it to buy groceries. Then I went home, filled the cooler, and loaded the car. After a short break to catch my breath, I drove out to Carnegie, PA to pick Shane up from work. Now that I drive very rarely (because we don't own a car), I find driving stressful. So, I felt really proud of myself for trucking all over kingdom-come. Shane drove for the rest of the trip. Bless him.

We stopped off at Lowe's for fire wood (which they had trouble finding for us...), and were on our way. I had reserved a plot online at Raccoon Creek State Park. It's just an hour out of town, and I read somewhere that it was a good place for novice campers. It turned out to be a nice enough place, but I don't think we'll go back because it was close to an airport. The low-flying planes interrupted the peaceful feeling of remoteness we otherwise enjoyed.

Our plot: Before & After

It was a lovely little spot; very large, and far removed from the other campers. We set up shop, made dinner,   and sat quietly by the fire until we were tired. I started the fire too! I don't believe I've ever started a fire all on my own before. I was super ambitious with my choice for dinner: steak and potatoes. The potatoes (and green peppers an onions) turned out great! But while Shane was able to save it, I will not be trying to cook raw steak over a fire ever again. (Maybe if I cooked it at home a bit first...)

The next morning, we woke earlier than I expected to. It was the beginning of May, so the morning was very cold. I was glad to have thought to bring our winter coats along! Shane made eggs and coffee for breakfast, and we took our time.

We put together deli sandwiches for lunch, and decided to bike to the wildflower reserve at the other end of the park. We thought the map said it was 2.5 miles away. The map lied. It turns out, it was more like 5 very hilly miles away. When we stopped under a bridge near the reserve and ate our sandwiches, I proclaimed that I could bike no further. Shane, being a saint and in better shape than I, happily rode all the way back to camp and came back for me with the car. He even had the energy to walk around the wildflower reserve with me! He took lots of pretty pictures. Here are a few:

After our flower-gazing, we hopped in the car. On the way to meet me, Shane had run into a ranger who told him about a store nearby selling ice cream. We decided a pit stop was definitely in order! It was hilariously back-woodsy (intentionally, I think). The ice cream was great, and they had cheap wood for sale, which was good because we underestimated how much to pick up at Lowe's.

We went back to camp, and cooked up the fried rice I'd packed for dinner. I pulled out my little blue ukulele, and we sang together by the fire. Then, we made s'mores with roasted bananas! It's my new favorite thing. It's super messy, but delicious! We read books by flashlight until the fire was low (and I was "attacked" by spiders one too many times). Some noisy neighbors had moved in that afternoon, and they woke me up once. But otherwise our cheap air mattress gave us another good night's rest.

Banana S'mores!!!

The next day, we were beat. There were more eggs for breakfast, and more deli sandwiches for lunch. I gloated a bit in my head while watching everyone else pack up early, knowing we had the whole day to get ourselves together. When cleaning up, we discovered that our tent had been pitched near an anthill! But we never had any trouble with them in the tent. Yay tent! (And yay for the tarp I bought to put under it!) Around noon, we loaded the car and headed home. We were happy and relaxed from our weekend in a way I've never experienced with a "vacation" before. But we were also happy to go back to our bed and shower!