April 10, 2015

My favorite things: The Nuu-Muu dress

I've been trying to figure out exactly what I want to wear while running for 7-8 hours over the Great Wall of China.  Here's what I need (or what I would really, really like):

  1. For purely practical purposes, I need something that won't chafe or otherwise annoy the crap out of me and is made of wicking/quick-dry fabric.  
  2. I want to feel like I look good in whatever it is that I wear. Because I'm a chick that cares more about these things than I wish I did.
  3. I'm going to have to fit everything I need for this race and 2.5 weeks of general traveling in a small backpack.  So being able to wear my race outfit outside of the race itself would be pretty sweet.
Well, thanks to the inordinate amount of time I spend window-shopping on the internet, I found the perfect thing.  It's not just the perfect thing to race in - it's my new favorite piece of clothing ever.

Ladies, it's time to get yourself acquainted with the unfortunately-named Nuu-Muu dress.  Aside from the name making me thing of cows and fugly Hawaiian dresses, it's amazing.  It's incredibly comfortable to run in (I wear shorts with it), it looks great, it dries in no time, and there's not a single thing on it that rubs or sits funny or otherwise provokes my ire.

And it really does work for everything.  I've worn it running.  Out dancing. To the grocery store.  On a plane. Over shorts.  Over jeans.  They say you can swim in it, but I haven't done that yet. Perhaps I should test it in the shower like I did with this jacket

I absolutely love this thing.  I want to hug it and squeeze it and call it George. 

I ordered mine online, but there are stores throughout the country that sell them, as well.  Nuu-Muu makes a regular dress for $75, and they make ones with a pocket in the back for $85.  I was pretty hesitant to spend that much money on such a seemingly simple garment, but it was completely worth it. The website offers tons of colors and patterns, but of course, I was super boring and got the plain black one.  They currently only offer the dress in small, medium, and large, but I read somewhere that they have plans to expand their sizing.

With this and my favorite pair of plain black running shorts, I feel set for China.  Well, for the clothing part, at least.  I still have a lot of running to do in the next month.  And if you spot me out running, I'll probably be wearing my Nuu-Muu dress.

April 4, 2015

My favorite things: the Hoboroll

You know how carefully you organize everything in your backpack before you embark on a trip?  Your shoes (stuffed with socks and undies to save space, duh) are all together in the bottom.  Your clothes are carefully rolled up.  Your soap is totally separate from your AA batteries.

And then by Day 2 of your trip, it's all gone to hell and it's a mess in there.  You're scraping soap off of battery terminals, wondering how on earth your batteries even got in your toiletry bag, and you can't find a single pair of socks to save your life.

Enter the Hoboroll.  This thing is so deceptively brilliant in design that I resisted buying it for a while.  But now that I've given in, it's become one of my favorite pieces of travel gear.

The Hoboroll looks like a giant Trivial Pursuit playing piece.  It's a simple cylindrical piece of fabric with 5 pie piece-shaped compartments that travel its entire length.  It has a drawstring closure and compression straps along the outside that also function as a handle.  That's is.  

Trivial Pursuit playing piece.  Imagine this longer and in fabric form. 

Stuff your clothes and crap into each compartment, pull the drawstrings, and tighten the straps.  Your junk isn't going anywhere, and you'll know exactly where to find it.  

I wasn't sure the extra bulk of the Hoboroll was going to be worth the organization, but I was totally wrong about that.  The fabric is very thin, so it really doesn't add any extra bulk.  And knowing where to find my underwear without fishing through the entirety of my backpack is absolutely worth it.  I've taken this thing camping.  I took it to Croatia.  I'm sold.

Now, I've noticed that the Hoboroll has undergone a redesign since I purchased mine.  The new one looks even better, and I can't lie and say I don't want the latest version (my birthday is in August in case anyone was wondering...). The latest version has made some appealing improvements:  they've added a draft collar, the compression straps appear to be more user-friendly, it now comes with a storage bag, and they now offer an optional cushioned shoulder strap.  It also appears to be made out of even lighter, thinner material.  

Dammit, I really want a new one. 

I'm going to resist buying the latest version.  But you better believe I'm using this thing when I go to China next month (ohmygod that's next month).  And if you want one for yourself, get it here

*Note:  I was not paid to write this review, and I did not receive a free Hoboroll in exchange for a review.  I bought it on my own because I thought it was cool, and I have written this review because I thought you might like it as much as I do. So yeah, this is an honest opinion.

March 14, 2015

The post-race China plan

Well, besides the obvious part of the Great Wall, that is.  I think I've made it clear that I'll be all over that bitch.

But if you know me at all, surely you've guessed by now that Amy and I aren't going to fly over to China, run all over the Wall, and come straight back.  Sure, we're going to torture ourselves with this race, but we're going to make up for it by seeing a few things while we're in the neighborhood.

But China is a pretty big neighborhood, and we only have a couple of weeks to explore.  So Amy and I took on the daunting task of figuring out exactly where we wanted to go after surviving the Wall.  GAH.  As I started thumbing through the China travel guides that our wonderful friend Bo had given us both for Christmas, I got frustrated.  I want to go to all the places and see all the things.  Ah, traveler problems.

After a lot of back-and-forth with each other and with a few travel agencies, we got it together.  While I freak-stressed over the fact that there was no way to see everything I wanted (I know it's ridiculous, but I still want to see all the things), Amy remained completely laid back and open to my travel whims.  We both agreed that Shanghai was not a must-see for either of us.  While I wouldn't pass up a good offer to check it out, it strikes me as an Asian New York-Las Vegas hybrid with nothing but fancy shopping on offer.  I'm sure it's a lovely place, but we're going to be in plenty of other big cities, and if I ever want to shop at a fancy-pants designer store, I can do that here in the US.  But I've never wanted to do that here at home, so why would I want to do it in China?

So here's how the itinerary finally worked out with Amy doing almost all of the leg work with Marathon Tours (thank you, Amy):
  • Fly to Hong Kong a week before the race, flit around and deal with jet lag for a couple of days
  • Fly to Beijing, spend 5 days checking out Tienanmen Square and other touristy stuff, run the race, and recover
  • Fly to Xi'an for some sweet Terra Cotta Warrior action
  • Go to Chengdu and play with pandas.  Freakin' panda bears!
  • Check out Mount Emei, because I'm a hippy that can't get enough of the mountains
  • Go to Guilin and explore karsts and caves
  • End up back in Hong Kong to chill out and fly back to the US.
This whole shebang will take us about 2.5 weeks.  I figure it will be just enough to make me want to go back and see all the things I missed. Maybe I'll even want to go back to see Shanghai.

March 13, 2015

Crap: China is officially happening

My friend Amy and I have been talking about doing this Great Wall of China Marathon for about a year now.  What started off as a conversation that went about like this...

"That looks pretty cool.  I'll do it if you do it..."

"Well, I'll do it if you do it."

"Ok, let's do it?"

...has become reality.  Amy and I have officially signed up.  Tours have been booked.  Flights have been purchased.  Visas are, well, in progress.

That just leaves one thing:  ALL THE RUNNING.

I've been training for almost 2 months now, and I'm still scared sh*tless of this race.  I'm running long distances.  Hills.  Sprints.  Hill sprints.  I run until I feel like puking.  And I'm still terrified of not being able to even finish this race.  It's one of the most difficult marathons in the world - mountainous, hot and humid, and uneven terrain.  And let's be honest, with it being China and all, there will probably be a decent amount of air pollution, too.

So I'm spending a lot of money and time to torture myself.

I'm also having to prepare for this trip very differently than any other trip I've taken.  The usual preparations still apply, but there are a lot of new things to consider.  I need to carefully plan what I'll want to wear on race day.  I don't know what the race support will be like, so I need to pack my own supplies like nutrition and first aid.  And I'm going to have to fit all of this in a carry-on, because I refuse to check bags.

Then there are the potential communication issues to prepare for.  China blocks a lot of internet traffic, including many sites run by Google, because Google and China don't get along.  I'm a bit of a Google whore, so I want to ensure that I have some way of communicating with friends and family back home.  That'll take some research and advance planning.

I have my work cut out for me.  Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go work on my visa application.  Or run.  Ok, both.

February 24, 2015

Top 10 funny/embarrassing stories from Croatia

I like to think I'm a pretty seasoned traveler.  And then I end up in some new country in a ridiculous situation I never could have imagined, or I just make an ass of myself.  Croatia was no exception to this.  Here are the top 10 funny, embarrassing, or just plain weird happenings from my trip there back in September:

1.  I played on a playground in Sibenik like a boss.

2. Our guide took us through a pitch black and flooded WWI bunker on the side of a mountain at night.  My inner claustrophobe freaked out for 2 minutes, then I managed to calm the hell down.  I didn't even mind that much when we had to crawl through a hole in a wall to continue through to the other side.

3.  While kayaking around Murter, we stopped at a secluded beach where a man by himself was pushing off.  He had left his hat on shore, and one of our group waded out to give it back to him.  A few days later on a super secluded beach in Kornati (remember, this is not an easily accessible park), we ran into the dude's wife.  She recognized our group from his description, and she nearly flipped her sh*t thinking we had kayaked all the way there from Murter (3 hours away by boat). Then, we couldn't get rid of her.  She came back to us again and again exclaiming over the coincidence. Very loudly.

4. The boat that we took out to Kornati and back had the tiniest bathroom I've ever been in.  I also couldn't figure out how to flush the toilet.

5.  On the 3-hour boat ride back from Kornati, Alabama, my home state, somehow came up in conversation.  Our guide, Pero, started singing "Sweet Home Lalalama", who legitimately thought that was the proper name.

6.  We almost biked through a funeral in Murter trying to get to some Roman ruins.  Upon discovering what we were leisurely pedaling through, we promptly turned around and slunk away as quickly as possible. It would not have been the first time I'd crashed a funeral abroad.

7.  Pero got our park entrance tickets for us at the Krka waterfalls.  We started down the trail toward the falls, and the man that Pero had picked up the from appeared and held his hand out to me.  Naturally, I shook it.  He started laughing, and so did Pero.  He was there to rip the stub from our tickets, despite the fact that he had just sold them to our group about 60 seconds earlier.  I just thought he was really friendly.

8. On our last night, a few of us went out for drinks on the beach, including Pero, who was wearing sandals with Hello Kitty socks.

9.  I am utterly awful at mountain biking.  I skidded and slid all over the rocky, sandy trails around Murter, and I was Captain Chicken going downhill.  I was usually the very last person in the group, and they were nice enough to wait up for me every few minutes.

10. At the entrance to Manita Pec cave in Paklenica National Park was a tiny, ramshackle shed.  As we were waiting to go into the cave, Pero went into the shed, pulled out a large bottle of water, and handed it to us. I took a swig.  It was grain alcohol.  My eyes bulged out as I swallowed it, and I grinned at Pero.  Another woman took a sip, shrieked, and nearly spit it out.  You have to love a guy that takes you halfway up a mountain and serves you grain alcohol from a shack.

No trip is complete without a few nutty or embarrassing events, whether you're going to Croatia or Lalalama.  They make some of the best memories.

February 13, 2015

What did I do in Croatia?

Hopefully I got you somewhat curious about Croatia with my last post that practically described it as the best thing since sliced bread.  I ended up gushing about the country in general and Jamming Adventures a lot, so I figured I would save the beautiful details for this post instead of turning the last one into a War and Peace-sized production.

I'll start with one of my favorite things:  food and drink.  They make great coffee (this is very important to me), brew very nice basic beers (this is also very important to me), and boast some absolutely fantastic wines that just don't get exported (this is very perturbing to me).  Influence from Italy and northern countries like Slovenia, Austria, and Hungary mean that Croatia knows its way around pizza, sausage, steak, and seafood.  I had the best calamari of my life at a restaurant in a campground that we kayaked to. Sheep cheese from the region of Pag gave me a foodgasm.  My stomach loved Croatia.

And now, the stuff I got to do:  Torrential rains threw a bit of a wrench into our plans for the first couple of days, but thankfully it didn't stop us from doing anything at all.  We spent an afternoon running around the nearby town of Sibenik, where we explored an abandoned fort that just happened to be one of the locations where a little HBO series called Game of Thrones is filmed.  There was no one there except for us and a crew setting up equipment for shooting the next day.  After the rains cleared up on a couple of other days, we kayaked and biked our way around the island of Murter.  We kayaked to beaches not accessible by motor vehicle and snorkeled around a small shipwreck, and we biked through sandy trails and nearby towns throughout the island, where I found out that I SUCK at mountain biking.  The beautiful afternoon and picture-perfect views made up for my wimpy biking.

Walkway to the fort just outside Sibenik
Kayaking around Murter
Sailboats near Murter
Biking break
Man, I thought Murter was gorgeous.  Then Jamming started taking us to national parks for more kayaking, biking, and hiking, and it got even better.

We spent a day hiking in Paklenica National Park, which boasts steep, jagged mountains that makes rock climbers drool.  A steep climb up a winding, gravelly trail that criss-crossed streams and waterfalls brought us to Manita pec cave, an 8-story gigantic cave with stalactites and stalagmites that are millions of years old.  It was pretty mind-boggling.  It was also freezing inside.  The views the entire way were incredible.  Even from the parking lot.  I'm going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

Another day was spent kayaking in Kornati National Park.  This was my absolute favorite day, and I considered throwing a fit when we were told we needed to head home.  To access the park, you need a permit - and a boat to get you there.  You also need someone that knows their way around, because the park is just a bunch of (mostly) uninhabited rocky islands sitting in crystal clear blue water.

Well, Jamming knows a guy who has a boat and knows his way around.  So we loaded a bunch of kayaks into his boat and spent 3 chilly hours speeding our way over.  It really is nothing but clear water, hilly/rocky islands, and a few grazing sheep roaming around.  It was glorious.  Our guide, Pero, led us to one of the only beaches in the entire park, which was simply stunning.  I would have been happy camping out and kayaking this park for days.

Our final day was spent biking around Krka National Park and visiting the enormous waterfalls that are the main draw of the park.  This was (mercifully) a road biking day.  I love me some road biking.

Biking around Krka
It started raining - yes, again - as we arrived at the entrance to the waterfalls.  Much of the entrance area was actually flooded.  It wasn't until this point that I realized just how much rain Croatia was getting.  The waterfalls were completely out of control.  Paul, one of the owners of Jamming that came out to meet us at the falls, reported that this was the largest the falls had been in at least 25 years.  These falls were indeed incredible.  But the sheer amount of water we saw being thrown around was flabbergasting.  Everything - everything -  turned out to be flooded.  Open walkways had water rushing underneath.  If this park had been in the US, it would have been closed to the public.  I'm glad it wasn't, though.  It was an amazing sight, and we got to see it in a way that very few people ever will.  The power of water was very humbling that day.

None of this water is supposed to be here
This is the quick and dirty version of the trip, but I can't finish off talking about this trip without telling you about the funny and embarrassing stuff that always happens when visiting a new country.  So I'll save that for the next post.

February 8, 2015

Oops, I fell off the wagon

Sorry about that - I disappeared for 6 months.  I honestly don't have a great excuse.  Life and laziness.  They happen.  I announced I was going to Croatia, and for all you knew, I went and never came back.

That was pretty tempting, actually.  Croatia is officially my new favorite country, and I could easily see moving or retiring there.  For starters, it's a jaw-dropping gorgeous country.  Granted, most of what I saw was coastal, but dadgum was it breathtaking.  People were helpful and friendly without being too helpful and friendly.  I was always treated like a person, not a tourist with "ATM" tattooed on my forehead.  And I found the most refreshing was the safety.  There's very little crime in Croatia.  Shoot, my first night in the country, a group of us took bicycles to the town center for dinner and left them propped up against a wall without locks.  There was no concern that they would be stolen.  No one locks their doors.  I even left my passport sitting out in the apartment I was staying in with the windows open and didn't worry in the least about someone taking it.  I've been so many places where I had to keep my valuables practically in my underwear, watch my own purse like a hawk, and do research on elaborate scams that I needed to be aware of and avoid.  Not having to worry about all that was glorious.

Then there was the tour that I booked.  I have a history of traveling on my own, but the whole reason for this trip was to go on an adventure tour that I found on The Clymb.  They offered a kayaking/biking/hiking trip through a local Croatian adventure tour company called Jamming Adventures.  If the outdoors is your thing and Croatia piques your interest, I cannot recommend this company highly enough.  They are super organized, very responsive, flexible, and have a fantastic lineup of activities ("so many activities!").  They also restrict their tours to a maximum of 8 people, so it doesn't even feel like an organized tour.

People look at me funny when they find out I went to Croatia but didn't go to Dubrovnik, Zagreb, or any other major city with tons of attractions.  Sure, I'd love to see those places someday, too, but I couldn't have been happier going to breathtaking national and local parks that many tourists probably never get to see or don't have to resources to get to (like the Kornati Islands, which I'll talk about in a future post - very difficult to get to on your own).  The tiny town of Murter where I stayed offered both a large grocery store and a dramatic hilltop view of the surrounding islands, each just a 5 minute walk from Jamming's accommodations.

I'd go back in a heartbeat.