A peek at Pittsburgh

A work conference took me to Pittsburgh for the first time last week. I made the most of the free time I had to explore the city and the highlights ended up focusing on food and art (shocking!).

The food

  • Altius – walked across the bridge and took the Duquesne Incline up for an awesome view of the city paired with a delicious meal
  • Meat & Potatoes – one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had with short rib, pork shoulder, and pancetta. It was moan-out-loud-with-every-bite good!
  • Bar Marco – they have arancini on the menu. Do I need to say more??
  • The Foundry Table & Tap – long tap list and pierogies
  • Southern Tier Brewing – the beer I had was okay but I didn’t realize until after I paid my tab that they are also a distillery. Would have liked to try their bourbon/whiskey.

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The art

  • Warhol Museum – appreciated the chance to see more of his work beyond the pop art, so much so that I bought two prints!
  • Randyland – one of the most unique places I’ve ever been, an artist’s junkyard of sorts that cannot be missed if you’re in town
  • Mattress Factory – contemporary museum with three buildings worth of interesting exhibits

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I also ran along the Three Rivers Trail to make Pennsylvania the 21st state I’ve ran in.

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Return to being monumental

The Monumental is my favorite race for a few reasons. In 2012, it was the first half I ever did. In 2015, it was my first (only?) full. And I know the course intimately since it loops through downtown Indy, including Mass Ave. I had to miss it last year due to travel so I was really excited to return this year. I also had a super shitty spring race after battling bronchitis for over six weeks leading up to the Derby half. Redemption was on my mind!

Going into this race, I felt much healthier and more prepared. As early as October, I started thinking I might even be able to PR. My last long-ish run solidified my confidence to push the pace. I knew I would have to go out strong and hold on for dear life but I was ready for it.

I tend to go through the same mental cycle in the days before the race: I get super hyped and then doubt everything, only to wake up dancing and smiling on race day. The forecast was a little toasty for me but it promised to be a great morning.

My first mile felt fast but ended up being a 10:30 pace. I panicked a little but reminded myself to chill out since there was a lot of race left. During miles 2 and 3, I got my pace down but my left step was feeling off and I had some serious doubts that I would be able to hit my goal.

A funny thing happens the longer you run though. Your body calms down and you settle in to a groove. With each mile, I got faster and was feeling really good. It’s always a gamble to know how early to really starting pushing so I tried to stay somewhat conservative until the infamous Meridian stretch, which is where the race truly begins for me.

Once I turned at the Children’s Museum and stared down those final miles, I knew I had it. In mile 11, I saw two of my friends and shouted at them with a big grin that I thought I was going to PR.

And I just barely did with a 2:09:07 finish (9:52 average pace), 8 seconds faster than my previous PR!

In my post-race Instagram, I wrote about embracing the badassness of what I had just done, which sounds simple but is tough for me. This is the heaviest I’ve been in a long time and the shadow of fat!Melanie haunts me every time I look in the mirror. But my “heavy” body carried me through 13.1 miles faster than it ever has before. And just a month before that, I hit one rep max PRs on back squat at 200#, front squat at 175# and deadlift at 285#. So today, I’m choosing to love me and be proud of this body.

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Central Coast Cali

When I heard about the Sonoma County fires, my first thought was hoping everyone was okay, especially since I have coworkers who live in the area. My second thought was wondering what it meant for the trip I was planning with three friends 10 days later to Sonoma and Napa. We debated still going, but our VRBO understandably cancelled; their house was spared but it sounded like Glen Ellen had a lot of damage.

We tossed around the idea of going to Willamette County in Oregon. Changing our flights would have been pretty expensive though so we regrouped and looked at where we could go if we still flew into SFO. My main hope was that we could have a similar trip to what we planned: Wine, hiking, more wine. What we ended up with was that and more.

Day one: Cruising down the coast
Coming from landlocked Indianapolis, driving down Highway 1 was pretty spectacular. We headed to Santa Cruz to visit Bonny Doon’s tasting room, with a pit stop in town to stroll the boardwalk and kill some time. This quirky vineyard was a great way to start the trip. My favorite wine was a Cabernet Franc that was not only delicious but had a really cool label designed by artist David Choe.

We then ventured down to Monterrey where we had some of the best truffle fries ever in the cutest beer garden at Alvarado Street Brewery. Next up was a private one-hour sail in the bay, which was absolutely gorgeous. I could have sat on that sailboat all day but we had to move on to Carmel and check in to the Pine Inn.

Our original plan was to stay in a three-bedroom house with a pool and hot tub. I was a little apprehensive about four ladies piled into one room, but we lucked out with a super spacious suite that had a king bed and couch in the bedroom and a queen pullout sofa in a solarium-type room. There was even a third room with a dining table.

 

Day two: Santa Lucia Highlands
I kicked off the day with a 10-mile run along Carmel’s Scenic Road and up part of Highway 1. It was surreal watching the sun rise over the mountains and cast colors onto the water. It was also hilly as fuck but I’ll keep those miles close to my heart for awhile.

When we had to re-route, I was concerned about missing out on the Sonoma County wineries. I wasn’t sure what this new area would offer but it delivered and then some. We drove about an hour out and worked our way back toward Carmel with stops at four wineries:

  • Smith Family Wines: Started on a high note with an incredible view, the most adorable patio, and super friendly/knowledgeable staff. My favorite was a white blend from their Paraiso label.
  • Hahn Wines: We wanted to take in more of the scenery this time so instead of doing a tasting inside, we bought a bottle of the Rose to enjoy on the terrace. They have a cat on staff who was hanging out there so I was basically in love with this place.
  • Wrath Wines: This vineyard came recommended by a few friends but we weren’t super impressed. Part of that may be that we were getting hungry and they ran out of cheese plates… No favorites to note here, but we did manage to find a McDonalds on the way to the last winery. Pro tip: Bring food with you!
  • Odonata Wines: The one good thing that came from our stop at Wrath was the recommendation to visit Odonata. It was a smaller production with just three dudes on staff who all looked like they should own a brewery. They were friendly, passionate, and just the right amount of sassy for our group. I ended up shipping three bottles of the Cabernet Sauvignon home. Pro tip: Indiana laws are effed up so not everyone can ship to us. I should have checked a bag so I could bring back more.

Back in Carmel, we cracked open a bottle of the white blend from Paraiso then hit the town. The highlights: A ridiculous meal at Basil, rooftop drinks at Vesuvio, shooting the shit with Parker at Sade’s, and having a bunch of rich guys who were more than happy to flaunt their millions pay for our drinks at Barmel.

 

Day three: Hiking and more wine (because duh)
After a light breakfast at Belle, we drove down Highway 1, across the infamous bridge, and into Big Sur. Unfortunately a lot of the trails were closed but the park ranger guided us to Buzzards Roost which promised panoramic views for the low, low price of a steep (to us) climb. It was worth it though and we managed to beat the rush.

Since it had been a few hours without wine, we naturally spent the rest of the day hopping around tasting rooms in Carmel. There are probably at least 20 in town, which is both convenient and dangerous.

  • Scratch: These Cali wineries know the way to my heart: Wine + art. The tasting room doubles a gallery so you can sip your flight while strolling around.
  • Trio Carmel: We had a great time here with a server who was willing to go off the tasting menu and give us some fun pours, including a cider he designed the label for. My favorite though was an Albarino by La Marea, a style I had never had, and a unique red blend by Le P’tit Paysan.
  • Caraccioli Cellars: We had our first and only charcuterie plate here, which paired perfectly with a flight that focused on bubbly. I loved the Brut Cuvee and Brut Rose and was super bummed to find out they don’t ship to Indiana. Though that means they do distribute and I can keep an eye out for their label.
  • A.W. Shucks: Not a tasting room, but a dinner spot. I’m not a big fan of seafood but I did enjoy the crab cake and my trip-mates devoured the oysters (gag).

 

I will definitely get to Sonoma/Napa eventually but this trip worked out so well and we discovered a region I never knew had such great wineries. I would highly recommend this area for your next getaway!

On being alone

EXT. VALTER’S OSTERIA. EVENING.

A WOMAN in her early 30s sits alone at a table on the patio. She’s waiting for her bill and slipping into the early stages of a carb coma, having just enjoyed a delicious meal at one of the top rated restaurants in Salt Lake City. A group of men walk by, led by UNNAMED ASSHOLE.

UNNAMED ASSHOLE
“Why are you alone?”

The woman looks over, confused.

WOMAN
“What? What’s wrong with being alone?”

Unnamed Asshole looks at his friends, laughs, and shakes his head in disbelief.

UNNAMED ASSHOLE
“Are you serious?”

His friends join in the laughter and keep walking. The woman sits in silence, her rage boiling below the surface. The waiter places her bill on the table.

THE END.

 

On my recent trip to Salt Lake City, I arrived a couple days before my friends who I was meeting in town. I’m a big advocate for solo vacations and even wrote about tips for traveling alone after my first time doing it. (Note to self: Write a part two. That trip was 6 years ago and I’ve come a long way since then… literally!) So, it wasn’t unusual for me to explore a destination on my own.

When the scene above played out on my first night in SLC, I was so pissed off at Unnamed Asshole, and then later pissed off at myself for giving him any reaction at all.

I’ve reached a point where I’m pretty comfortable doing anything alone: Eating at a restaurant, going to a movie, hiking, etc. If I waited around for someone to do all those things with me, I might never leave my apartment. That’s not to say I don’t have any friends. Just that people aren’t always available, or they don’t want to do the same thing as me, or sometimes I just want a break from people. Basically, I never let being alone hold me back from experiencing life.

When people tell me they could never imagine doing these things alone, I often wonder if it’s because they’re uncomfortable being alone with themselves. I don’t want to put myself in the position of judging them the way they judge me, but it reeks of insecurity. I imagine they’re worried about people thinking they’re a loser, worried about being bored, worried about being alone with their thoughts (oh wait, that last one applies to me, too). I picture them face down in their cell phone safety net should they ever end up in public alone.

But a funny thing happens when you decide to embrace doing things on your own: You can have a ton of fun! It’s freeing to be able to do whatever you want with no one to answer to. You pick the restaurant. You pick the movie. You pick the travel destination. Doesn’t that sound great? Doing whatever you want?

And sometimes, because you’re forced to pay attention to your surroundings more, rather than stay in the comforting bubble of your friend group, you can have some really unique experiences. I’ll never forget one night in South Haven when I ended up bar hopping with two travelers I met while eating dinner. At every stop, we picked up more people and ended the night dancing on a boat. Sure, that could have happened with a group of friends or a boyfriend (assuming they have the same mindset), but I was more open to that experience because I was alone.

I’ve had some super fun trips with friends (no boyfriends, yet), including the rest of my time in Salt Lake City. I don’t want to take away from those experiences by any means, but I really cherish the trips I’ve taken alone. And I’m already thinking about where I’ll go next. I’m getting the international itch again so it might be time for my first solo experience overseas.

As I replay my conversation with Unnamed Asshole, I wonder about his motivation for saying anything at all to a total stranger. I can guarantee this scenario would not have happened if I were male. And sure, maybe he thought I was too attractive to be eating alone (for the record, I don’t think that). But that implies I can’t exist without someone else. And clearly he wasn’t considering the many factors that may have led to me sitting there alone. But none of those would have mattered either. He doesn’t deserve an explanation. It doesn’t fucking matter why I’m alone.

And I will never get an explanation as to why he’s an asshole, though I have a few guesses. In the meantime, cheers to you, Unnamed Asshole. May you feel better about yourself having confronted the woman sitting alone.

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Salt Lake City

When my friends Brooke and Ryan mentioned they were road tripping from Portland to Colorado, staying at national parks and forests along the way, I jumped at the chance to meet them in Salt Lake City and see Utah for the first time.

After the obligatory listen to Sal Tlay Ka Siti, I dove into researching SLC. This trip had a lot of moving parts, so I ended up creating more of a structured itinerary than I typically do. It worked out great though and I got to experience the best of SLC proper and the beautiful surrounding area.

Day 1: Olympic Park and Park City
I’ll admit to not watching much of the Winter Olympics outside of ice skating, but it was cool to visit Olympic Park. There’s a lot to do in the summer if you want to pay for it. I went the free route and hiked up the Iron Bill trail, around the Legacy Ridge/Loop trails, then back down via the extreme tubing trail.

Next, I headed over to Park City and refueled at Wasatch Brewery before taking the town lift up the mountain. It was my first time on a true ski lift and I have to admit I was more nervous than I thought I would be. The views were absolutely beautiful though so I tried to relax and take it all in.

On my hike back down, I intended to follow Jenni’s Trail. The trail markings were a little confusing though, so I’m not quite sure what route I actually took. I came out near the Legacy Lodge and had a short walk back to the main street area where I posted up at High West Distillery for a flight. Because of Utah laws, they can’t actually pour you the whole flight at once. I enjoyed mine two-by-two and bought a bottle of Campfire before heading back to SLC where I enjoyed a delicious meal with phenomenal service at Valter’s Osteria.

Day 2: SLC
I started my day with a three-mile run, making Utah the 20th state I’ve ran in. Staying in sweat mode, I drove over to the Greater Avenues area to access the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. If I thought the trail markers were confusing in Park City, they were nonexistent here. Luckily I had done some research and knew general landmarks to look for in order to climb toward a truly spectacular view of Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Mountains. I also hiked part of the trail near the Natural History Museum, though I turned around before ever finding the Living Room.

After another full day in the sun, I was ready for Red Rock Brewing and BTG Wine Bar. The Golden Halo at Red Rock was one of my favorite beers of the trip.

Day 3: Wasatch National Forest
Brooke, Ryan and their dog Charlie arrived in town and we headed out to Wasatch National Forest. We drove around checking out different sites and overlooks before settling in at Duchense Tunnel campground. The forest was full of stunning views, including the creek that our campsite backed up to.

Day 4: SLC
I would have loved to camp another night but everyone on my flight home was probably grateful my last night was spent in a hotel with a shower. We hopped around to The Green Pig (loved the rooftop), Twist (good cocktails and fun staff), and Squatter’s (more of that Utah 3.2% beer).

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As much as I loved the beautiful views, I didn’t care for the vibe of Salt Lake City itself. I would recommend that as your point to fly in/out of, but suggest spending most of your time in Park City and surrounding areas.

 

First time cruiser

Last week I went on my first cruise. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I ended up having a ton of fun! Three friends and I sailed with Royal Caribbean from Tampa to Key West and Cozumel. It happened to be Spring Break and we quickly showed the 21-year-olds that life doesn’t end in your 30s.

   

 

 

 

 

Brilliance of the Seas
Some notes about the ship:

  • It was definitely big but it’s amazing how quickly it became small. There are only so many places to go, of course. We made a routine of bar hopping but ended in the dance club most nights, where we made fast friends with the bartenders.
  • I never knew what time it was. That was partly because of our pitch black interior rooms. But also because we had to deal with the Daylight Savings Time switch and a time zone difference in Cozumel.
  • I can see how easy it would be to overeat. Most days we ate a slighter bigger breakfast, skipped lunch, then enjoyed dinner in the main dining hall. The food was on par with what I expected given how much food they are churning out around the clock.
  • Our dinner table was a little awkward the first night but we got over that. Our two servers were outstanding and we genuinely looked forward to seeing them each night. By the end of the week, we were giving them big hugs and didn’t want to say goodbye.
  • I ran three miles the second morning to add Gulf of Mexico to the list of places I’ve ran. The rest of my calories were burned on the dance floor.

Key West
As many times as I’ve been to Florida, this was my first trip to Key West. We only had about five hours but we made the most of it. We beelined it to the buoy to get the obligatory Southernmost Point photo but there was a long line. So instead, we got some quick #sidebuoy action, walked past the Hemingway House, and bar crawled our way back to port.

We stopped at Green Parrot, Sloppy Joe’s (my favorite beer of the day – Sloppy Joe’s Island Ale by Funky Buddha Brewery), Hog’s Breath, Garden of Eden (nude rooftop bar!) and Two Friends.

Cozumel
We didn’t actually spend any time in Cozumel since our excursion took us immediately on the ferry to the mainland. There were several Mayan ruin excursions but we chose one that included climbing 126 feet up a very steep/slick Mayan pyramid in Coba then climbing down 80 feet underground to swim in a cenote. It was such a cool experience and after hearing how the other ruins excursion was from our tablemates, I was so happy with our choice.

So, would I cruise again?
Yes, but here are some thoughts if I do:

  • I think it’s great for a group trip. I’ve been on some trips where groups try to do everything together but that’s not super realistic and usually means someone isn’t doing what they want to do. On the boat, everyone can easily do their own thing but still come together for the main dinners, excursions, etc.
  • Five nights was a good length. I don’t think I could have done another night unless I made a point to sleep more.
  • We had two days at sea where we were on the boat the whole time. I don’t think I would want to do a trip that had more than that based on my preferred vacation style. I can only lay out by the pool so much.
  • The all inclusive booze package was 100% worth it but there were some limitations. It only included drinks that were $12 or less, which unfortunately didn’t include prosecco. We powered through, but the last night I splurged for two bottles for our dinner table because it’s not a real vacation without bubbly.
  • I should have boarded the ship wearing my swim suit and cover up. I knew they would take my suitcase so I packed a tote bag and changed when we got on board. But I could have started enjoying the sun and pool deck that much quicker.
  • I would stick with the cruise line for booking excursions. We debated this a lot for Cozumel but once we got off the boat I was so glad we went through Royal Caribbean. They took care of the ferry ride and getting us everywhere on time.
  • I would pack more layers. Our last day at sea was relatively cold, almost too cold to lay out. I wasn’t really prepared for that.
  • I never ended up taking Dramamine but I was glad I had it just in case.
  • I would bring more cash. We had a base level of gratuity included in our package but there was a chance at the end of the week to tip individual staff members who went above and beyond. I had to get some more cash out on the boat to properly thank our two dinner servers and our favorite bartenders.

Have you been on a cruise? What do you love about it? Share in the comments below!

 

What I read in 2016

This is my third year aiming to read 26 books. Happy to report I hit my goal again this year, with three weeks to spare! There’s still time for me to slip in another book or two, but here’s the list as it stands today.

  1. We Were Liars
  2. The Girl With No Past
  3. What Alice Forgot
  4. Big Little Lies
  5. A Reunion of Ghosts
  6. My name is Lucy Barton
  7. How to be Single
  8. Euphoria
  9. The Widow
  10. The Nest
  11. One Plus One
  12. Black Eyed Susans
  13. All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation
  14. The Girls
  15. Reconstructing Amelia
  16. Find Her
  17. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  18. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
  19. The Hopefuls
  20. Good as Gone
  21. With Malice
  22. The Wonder
  23. Everything We Keep
  24. Wintergirls
  25. Bad Feminist
  26. The Royal We

Check out my lists from 2014 and 2015 and let me know in the comments what I should line up for 2017!