Indulgence

On our last full day in Vermont, after lunch, we decided to take a field trip.  We went to the famous gift shop of a hotel a few miles down the road.  This required making some arrangements.

For starters, we didn’t have a car.  We also didn’t want to walk, having already hiked that morning.  Fortunately for us, the owner was willing to come pick us up and drive us to her shop.

I am not a big fan of shopping.  But, I really wasn’t feeling up to trying Zoomba for the second time (definitely not an exercise for me) and we could get back in plenty of time for yoga class.  Plus, I thought I might find a gift for Tisen.

I was right.  I found an adorable moose to add to Tisen’s collection of “babies.”  I also found a book of guitars for Pat.  And a book of top 10 lists of places to go for Pat and I to share and fantasize about.

And then, I found the most dangerous thing of all.  It was a bag of maple syrup jelly beans.  This was not a wise purchase given that I was at a weight-loss spa, getting tons of exercise, and eating extremely healthy foods.  There is nothing that triggers a binge for me more than pure sugar in convenient handfuls.

When I got done paying for my items, I opened the bag of jelly beans and poured the first handful before I even put my wallet away.  By the time my friend got up to the counter to pay for her stuff (it was at least 10 minutes later, I swear), nearly a quarter of the bag had mysteriously disappeared.

As it turned out, it was the last bag of jelly beans and my friend had wanted to buy them as a gift for her son.  Had I not torn into them already, I would have given them to her.  As it was, she couldn’t really take him a half eaten bag of jelly beans.

Back at the “spa,” I opted to take a nap before yoga versus going to the strength class.  Funny how a person can eat jelly beans while taking a nap.  The darn things just disappeared and I was left in a sugar coma, having polished off 8 oz of maple syrup jelly beans in about 2 hours.

I do not do well feeling like I’m being deprived of anything.  When I get in a situation where I feel like I’m not “allowed” to have something, I start craving it.  When I get any kind of candy, I eat it until it’s gone like I’m afraid someone will steal it from me.  It’s not good.  I’ve been combating this problem by having a few small pieces of dark chocolate everyday.  It’s good for me and it’s so strong, I can’t eat a lot of it.  I guess I should have brought some along with me to the spa.

Advertisements

The Necessaries

Our second hike in Vermont was on a gravel road that ran next to a stream.  The stream spoke the usual stream language, babbling to us as we walked.  Something we don’t always think about when we imagine the sound of a happily babbling stream is the way it seems to connect directly with our bladders.  Or, at least, mine.

I love the sound of running water diving and dipping and dropping over stones in a shallow bed as it makes its way downhill.  I love it less when I really need to use the non-existent facilities.  This is a case where perhaps the advanced hike might have been more accommodating–finding a private place at least 50 yards from water to go off and take care of one’s needs when walking along a relatively popular dirt road with a group of 15-20 people is not such a simple undertaking.  I endeavored to prove I still have good bladder control.  I made it to the turn around point, through the snack break, and about halfway back, but then we arrived at the juncture between the road and the stream.  The very thought of water rushing beneath my feet as it crossed under the road was more than I could bear.

I made a break for the woods and climbed up an overgrown hillside, bushwhacking my way to a private spot, trying to do as little damage to the hillside in the process as possible.  Fortunately for me, my selected site was in fact private and no one caught me in the somewhat awkward act of re-positioning clothing after the fact.

This, did however, evoke a memory from a long ago jeep trek up a mountain jeep trail near Ouray, Colorado in Yankee Boy Basin.  It was a trip I took with my father, brother, and elderly aunt to deliver my mother’s ashes to her favorite location in the world.  About half way up the jeep trail, my elderly aunt needed to use the facilities.  When I explained to her that there weren’t any facilities, she exclaimed, “What??!!!  They should have a bathroom if they’re going to let people come up here!!!”  The concept of wilderness was a bit lost on her.

I took her to find a spot in the woods.  I don’t think she’d ever walked through the woods except on a fairly flat and easy to follow trail before, let alone found a hidden spot to squat.  I found a secluded spot for her and walked around to another secluded spot for myself not far away.  About the time I was getting re-situated, I heard squealing.  I ran over to where I’d left my aunt and was greeted by two feet, pants circling the ankles above them, kicking in the air amongst the underbrush.  My aunt had fallen over backwards.  Now that is a sight I wish I could forget!

Thankfully, I managed to enjoy the hike in Vermont and leave un-traumatized.

Being Moderate

At the New Life Hiking Spa, everyone gathers outside the front door and the staff announces the hikes each morning.  They’re categorized into “Nature Walk,” “intermediate,” and “Advanced.”  The Nature Walk being mostly flat, a non-challenging surface to walk on (like a gravel road), and only about 4 miles or so in distance.  The Intermediate walks have more ups and downs, and may require a little scrambling over rocks.  The Advanced hikes are more vertical and are on “unimproved” trails.

While I might have opted for the Advanced or Intermediate hikes, I was there more for the company of my friend and less for the physical challenge, so I was more than happy to do the nature walk.  Plus, I wanted to shoot and I figured I’d have more opportunities on the nature walk than on an advanced hike.

This happened to be the day for the most difficult Nature Walk of the week.  It had a long, slow climb in the middle of it.  This worked to my advantage.  I got to take my time shooting because the group wasn’t moving as fast as they would have been on a flat trail.  I had time to shoot and then run to catch up to my friend.

This was even more perfect than I realized at first.  I got a great workout by running hard to catch up (when I say running hard, I mean any attempt to run on my part is hard–I don’t run fast or far or at all if I can help it).  We would walk along together chatting until the next photogenic subject appeared.

I would have hated being on an advanced hike and feeling like I was holding other people up every time I stopped for a shot.

Plus, the road we walked was lovely.  We were afforded many views of the mountains and lots of pretty open fields full of wildflowers.  The only slightly traumatic part was the graveyard near the beginning of the walk.  We had to wonder what kind of message they were sending us by not only walking us past the graveyard on the way out, but stopping there for our snack break on the way back.  I loved it for the photographic opportunities it provided, but it’s a little odd to snack amongst the dead.

We extended the hike by going past the trailhead to another trail that led up a hill to a lovely view of the valley below and mountains in the distance.  One of our fellow hikers was starting to worry us with his heavy breathing, profuse sweating, and red face.  It was hard to believe the hike was that much of a workout for anyone, but it was a pretty good uphill, I guess.  We were concerned he had heat stroke.  In the end, he, along with the rest of us, did survive and we left no one in the graveyard.

Bright Spot

After getting settled in and oriented on my recent adventure at a “hiking spa” in Vermont, my friend and I got ourselves together in time for the evening yoga class.  The yoga instructor was well-trained and seemed to know what she was doing.  She reminded me of my first yoga instructor in Columbus with a voice that combined happy with soothing.

Things were looking up.

We made it to dinner and things looked up indeed.  The dinner was really delicious.  There were two choices and I got the combo because I couldn’t pick between the two.  The portions were not as generous as I might have liked, but I consoled myself with the thought that it really wouldn’t be bad if I dropped a couple of pounds.

What was really exciting was the number of repeat customers.  All participants in the hiking spa sat at 4 large tables, so we got to talk to others who’d been there before and/or had been there for several days.  We got the low-down on the place and what to expect.

If the spa director is smart, he will start offering these repeat customers some sort of discount–they are his best advertisers.  One woman at our table was on her 10th visit to the hiking spa.  She is the one who told us it was more shabby than chic.  Her honesty made her more credible and her enthusiasm for the program made us more excited to be there.  She knew everything from the menu for each day to the hikes that would be scheduled.  I really think they should have hired her to do the orientations for new arrivals–we would have felt much more welcome and better informed.

In general, the people we spoke with at our table made us feel like we were joining a fun club with lots of cool people.  They were from all over the place–some from as far as London.  There was a doctor, a spa owner, a retail business owner, and a chemist who held several patents among the many different career choices represented.

The next morning, we got up early to attend the 7AM stretching class before breakfast.  When we walked out to the semi-permanent outdoor tent setup exclusively for the hiking spa fitness classes, the sun was barely visible through dense fog.  It was hard to tell it was nearly 7AM through the gloom of the fog.  The glow of the sun peeping through the thick fog made me happy I’d decided to bring my camera with me.

I would have preferred a short yoga class instead of  a boot-camp style stretching class first thing in the morning, but it was still nice to get unkinked before breakfast.  I just prefer to have calming music and be in a meditative state of mind over having a big, hairy guy leading us through marching in place and elementary-school-style stretches.  But, it definitely got us ready for breakfast.

 

More Shabby than Chic

The word “spa” is an evocative word that conjures images of crystalline pools with gurgling waterfalls and people passing by serenely in bath robes, faces covered in green mud, on their way to their next massage.

Since the spa in question was called a “hiking spa” and the hotel was described as a “country inn,” I figured I wasn’t going to get a scene out Sex and the City.  I was, however, somewhat startled by the condition of the hotel, which another guest later described aptly as “more shabby than chic.”  She also called the program a “hiking camp for adults.”

When we walked into the lobby, I was still smiling from having had such an enjoyable ride to the inn via Gramps shuttle service.  The dark and tired looking lobby was not enough to deter my enthusiasm.  What did give me pause was the guy at the front desk who wasn’t the most welcoming character.

Having read reviews on the website where people said the staff seemed like friends, I expected a more enthusiastic greeting.

Everything about the lobby was dingy.  Even the light bulbs seemed dingy, casting a sort of gloom over what should have been a very nice, lodge-like space.  It’s never good when the hotel lobby looks bad.  If the hotel isn’t investing in keeping the first impression good, it’s guaranteed they’re not investing in the rest of the property.

As we navigated the dim halls lined with stained carpet, a putrid colored light flashed around a corner.  When we turned a corner, we were thankful we didn’t have epilepsy because we both would have had seizures instantly.

It was just a fluorescent bulb gone bad in the little room with the ice machine, but it made me think of Joe vs the Volcano and the horrifying office he worked in.  It was the kind of thing you expect to see in a horror film right before an axe murderer jumps out from behind the innocent victim staring into the light.

All of this actually turned out to be a good thing.  I was mentally prepared for a room that made me wish I’d brought my own sheets.  By the time I opened the room door, my expectations were so lowered, I was pleasantly surprised by the homey looking quilt (although it did have a few tears) and the large space.

In spite of the poor lighting and my lack of a tripod, I had to take a few shots. ISO 1600 made that possible.  I’m astounded by the second and third photo.  02 is straight out of the camera while 03 is the same image post-processed using only basic adjustments in Aperture.  I’m impressed by the recovery of detail in the fan and window, which were over-exposed in the previous image.  It amazes me what my camera will record.  I’m also impressed by the lack of graininess in the photo.  With my old camera, I’d start to see grain at ISO 400.

Drive-by Shooting

Sometimes, I ignore what I’ve learned and regress to just snapping pictures.  They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results.  I’m not insane.  I just sometimes decide the awful results I know I’ll get are OK.

Sometimes, I just want to take snap shots.

That said, there is something fundamentally wrong about pulling out a Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-17mm f/2.8 lens on it and shooting from the passenger side of a shuttle van through the windows while moving at speeds up to 55 MPH.  I believe it violates the 11th commandment:  Thou Shalt Not Waste a Really Great Camera by Using it Poorly!

It’s times like these I wish I had one of those little compact point-and-shoots that you can pull out of your pocket and look like a typical tourist.

On the flip side, I hauled 17 pounds of photography equipment with me through 3 airports to get this far and I sure as heck was not going to fail to use my camera.  Unfortunately, when I look at these images, I can’t say I’m glad I did.

What does one do with crappy vacation photos that are too ugly to use for anything but too evocative of memories to get rid of?  If you’re like me, you probably have thousands of pictures that you can no longer identify what the subject of the photo was supposed to be or the subject is obvious but completely blurred or has a street sign coming out of its head or is underexposed, but it’s the only photo you got of that really great subject, so you hang onto it for dear life.

Sometimes, it’s better just to delete.

I’ve written before about the joy of an uncluttered life.  And how that includes an uncluttered hard drive.  So, this is my pledge:  I’m deleting all of these photos.  Well, I might keep the Psychic Gallery one.  And the one of the ski runs.  And maybe the church.  Why is it so hard just to hit the delete key?

But, I digress.

Continuing my travel story from two days ago, having safely arrived at the Rutland, Vermont airport, we were greeted by our driver, Terry, from Gramps Shuttle.    (I’m pretty sure there’s a joke in there somewhere.)  He knew our names, he greeted us like friends, we laughed all the way to the hotel.

Along the way, I shot anything and everything that was even semi-interesting.  The sign for a Psychic Gallery really threw me.  I pictured an art gallery that displayed psychic events instead of art.  Or perhaps performance art installations involving levitation or telekinesis.  Or maybe just a collection of fortunes from Chinese fortune cookies.  Terry enjoyed contemplating what it was, but he didn’t offer to stop to find out.

It was just as well–it would only have resulted in more bad pictures.