Pinspire Me Friday – Vol. 31

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I don’t know about you, but I’m really proud to call myself a runner. I may not be fast, but I run and that’s what matters. When I saw this, I started thinking about why I run. There are so many reasons it’s hard to narrow it down. Here are a couple that are especially important to me.

  • I run for my health. It’s part of a balanced workout routine that also includes strength training, circuit training and spinning. Along with a health diet, I’m hoping to prevent some of the health problems that are found in my family history.
  • I run because it’s me-time. I do run with friends quite a bit because it does make it more fun and can pass the time and distance a bit faster. When I am alone, I’m not really clearing my head. I’m not someone who can run when they’re extremely stressed. In fact, I’ve tried to remember what I think about when I’m running and I couldn’t tell you. I think I must just be enjoying the scenery and the challenge!
  • I run because I like seeing what I can push myself to do. It’s so awesome to tackle a new distance or set a new PR.
  • I run because I can. I’m a member of a group called I Run for Michael. Runners are assigned a buddy who, for some reason or another (sometimes medical), can’t run. My buddy is a beautiful little girl named Lorinda. I dedicate all my runs and workouts to her and we keep in touch through her mom on social media. It’s been pretty special.

Why do you run?

Costa Rica #Recap – Part 3

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I’m back with the final installment of my trip to Costa Rica. It’s been really fun remembering it all. I know I’ve probably left some things out, but it’s been great keeping the memories so fresh in my mind.

So we left off with our journey from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio. It was a long one, but eventually we got off the bumpy mountain roads and were on paved roads for much of the latter part of the trip. We stopped at a big rest stop where we got some fresh fruit smoothies and wandered around the gift shop until it was time to continue.

Gabe and I were the last hotel stop so we got to see where the other couple people in our transfer were staying. Almost all of them were in hotels high up from the beach and not really within walking distance to anything except other hotels. I was curious to see where we’d end up.

We stayed in the Jungle Beach Hotel, which was across the street from the ocean. It was tucked in the trees so you really got the feeling of being in the jungle. Within minutes of being at the hotel, I had already found a huge lizard. At night we’d hear howler monkeys calling and a variety of other critters.

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We had just a short 2-3 minute walk to the public beach entrance where we encountered a second lizard even bigger than the one hanging out at our hotel.

Loved the dark sand and beautiful views.

Loved the dark sand and beautiful views.

We had the rest of the first day to ourselves so we spent it on the beach. It was very hot, in the 90s. Even the locals were commenting on how hot it was. We hung out in the shade of the trees for a bit rather than rent an umbrella. While Gabe grabbed a nap, I enjoyed just being on the beach.

Trees make pretty good umbrellas.

Trees make pretty good umbrellas.

Later we walked down the beach toward the downtown area. We stopped a  guy pushing a cart with a giant block of ice for slushies. He hand shaved the ice and had about 10 flavors to choose from. You could also get condensed milk on it.

We ended up eating at a local restaurant, saw some monkeys attempting to terrorize patrons at another restaurant and caught a beautiful sunset. We then headed back to our hotel via the road, which was maybe a 10 minute walk.

Some of the monkeys in downtown Manuel Antonio.

Some of the monkeys in downtown Manuel Antonio.

The beautiful sunset our first night in Manuel Antonio. This doesn't even begin to do it justice.

The beautiful sunset our first night in Manuel Antonio. This doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

The next day we had an early pickup for our hike through Manuel Antonio National Park.

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We had a great guide who was very knowledgable. He carried a scope that helped us see some of the animals in the jungle that would’ve been impossible to find otherwise. It was great going in the morning because it wasn’t as hot and it was also a good time to see a lot of animals. A tour later in the day might not have been as successful.

This is a nocturnal hawk. When you looked with the naked eye, it simply looked like a bump on the tree branch.

This is a nocturnal hawk. When you looked with the naked eye, it simply looked like a bump on the tree branch.

A sloth mama and her baby (on the right).

A sloth mama and her baby (on the right).

A sleeping sloth.

A sleeping sloth.

The jungle in the national park is known as a secondary forrest because it’s regrowth that’s only about 40 years old. The jungle was originally torn down by the Chiquita Banana company. When the company moved to another part of Costa Rica, the forest came back and so did the wildlife. You honestly wouldn’t have known that it was all regrowth. It was very dense.

While at the park, we got to see two of the three beaches in the park. The first is sheltered so the water is very calm. The other, just across a narrow isthmus, was where you could see the public beach we had been on the day before. It wasn’t as sheltered so the waves were pretty big. Apparently they also get crocodiles there occasionally. While we didn’t see any crocodiles, we definitely saw plenty of whiteface monkeys.

The alpha male of the troupe.

The alpha male of the troupe.

Our guide told us before we even started the tour that we would not be bringing food into the park with us because of the monkeys. However, general visitors to the park do bring food with them. We ended up getting to see the monkeys and their thievery in action.

This fella was one of the successful thieves. He ran right up to someone's bowl of fruit, grabbed watermelon and took off before the person could even react.

This fella was one of the successful thieves. He ran right up to someone’s bowl of fruit, grabbed watermelon and took off before the person could even react.

There were about 6-7 monkeys in the troupe, including a mom and her baby who was doing a good job of learning the tricks of the trade!

We had a bit of extra time to wander around the beach areas before continuing the tour so I headed over to a rocky area and found a bunch of lizards sunning themselves.

This guy was regrowing his tail.

This guy was regrowing his tail.

After our tour, we walked to the public beach where we had a great snack of fresh watermelon and pineapple, as well as water and iced tea. We then hopped on the bus back to our hotel where we changed and headed to the beach.

After walking the other direction of the beach, we went and had lunch. It wasn’t as hot as the day before, but it’s amazing how quickly you can get dehydrated. Lunch was delicious and so was my daiquiri! We checked out a bunch of the souvenir shops, but ended up not buying anything. The prices were a bit high compared to other areas we’d been so I decided to wait and hope for some stores in San Jose.

We headed back to the beach and ended up hunting for seashells. It was amazing the types you could find. So very different from the beaches along the Atlantic coast in the U.S.

I found some of the most amazing seashells among these piles of rocks. There were also tons a itty bitty hermit crabs.

I found some of the most amazing seashells among these piles of rocks. There were also tons a itty bitty hermit crabs.

To close out our visit to Manuel Antonio, we decided to wait for the sunset. We plopped down under some trees and watched it slowly make its way down toward the horizon. At this point I couldn’t believe we only had one more day in Costa Rica.

Our last sunset in Manuel Antonio.

Our last sunset in Manuel Antonio.

The next day we got picked up to head to San Jose. The trip, despite being entirely on paved roads, was not much fun. I ended up getting nauseous from the driving. However, once we got to San Jose I felt much better.

We stayed at the historic Don Carlos Hotel. It had lots of charm! It was also only a short walk to the market area, which is set up as a pedestrian mall. We walked up and down it, had some food at a Colombian restaurant and found some souvenir shops. The prices were much cheaper than I’d seen elsewhere so I picked up some small things for my family.

Later we redeemed our coupon for a free drink in the hotel restaurant and had some nachos before heading to bed. We had an early flight out the next morning.

Traveling back to the U.S. was about as challenging as it was getting to Costa Rica, mainly due to weather in the states. First, due to the high winds in San Jose, we had to sit on the runway to burn some fuel because we were too heavy to take off. After a thankfully uneventful flight to Atlanta, we thought we had missed our connection due to the delay. We got through customs, hopped on the train to the right terminal and found our plane was still there and on a rolling delay due to a snowstorm in Maryland.

We hung out on the plane for about 90 minutes. The pilot was very nice and kept us all informed. Eventually conditions improved in Maryland and we took off for the short flight up north. Upon arrival, we found that our bag wasn’t on the plane. Because so many flights had been canceled prior to ours and many of the people on the canceled flights ended up on our plane, our bag got bumped to the next Atlanta/Baltimore flight. It arrived about 30 minutes later and finally we could go home.

I honestly don’t think I did this trip justice. It was such an amazing time. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I still go through my pictures periodically and different memories come to mind. If you ever get the chance to go, I’d highly recommend it. Using a travel company is also very helpful and we noticed was very common among visitors.

For the most part, prices were comparable to the U.S., but rarely more expensive. You can definitely do a trip on a budget and not be staying in hostels. Do your research, work with a company, and get ready for an incredible adventure! Let me know if you have any questions about planning your own trip to Costa Rica :)

 

 

#RaceRecap: Rodney Myers Memorial Egg Hill 10-Miler

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We placed in our respective age groups!

We placed in our respective age groups!

I completed my second race of 2015 yesterday with the Rodney Myers Memorial Egg Hill 10-Miler. It benefits a local high school track & field team. I think it was the 12th annual running, but it was my first time.

It was about 15-20 minutes outside of State College, starting and ending at an old elementary school turned community center. They had both a solo run and a relay option.

They started off the race with a canon shot. Even though I was expecting it, it still made me jump. Not sure how anyone tolerated those things during the Civil War…it felt like an earthquake and it was only one.

I knew going in that the course had a challenging hill to start. It was between miles 2 and 3 leading into the first transition zone. Apparently it was the most difficult of the course, but I’m going to have to disagree. The next two miles were mostly rolling hills with pretty views. After a pretty long descent, we turned onto a well maintained gravel road that had a nice steep ascent. Apparently that first hill is only .3 miles, but it definitely felt a lot longer. It’s followed by a few more moderate ascents before it levels out.

The final transition zone was at mile 8 and the course remains flat to the finish. I missed the 9-mile marker and after a certain point I started thinking that if I saw the 9-mile marker I was not going to be a happy camper. Thankfully, the next thing I saw was the finish line.

Here's a look at the elevation for the Egg Hill 10-miler.

Here’s a look at the elevation for the Egg Hill 10-miler.

After the race they raffled off a bike from a local bike shop and several gift cards before handing out awards. I ended up second in my age group with a 1:24:36. My friend Ivy took third in her age group with a 1:26. I wasn’t really sure what time I would have so I’m satisfied with how I did although I think I could’ve done better. I had some issues early on in the race because my laces were too tight so I had to stop and redo them twice.

It was nice to have the bag engraved.

It was nice to have the back engraved.

Despite the challenge, I think I’d definitely do the race again. It was a good training run for me and I think I’ll be throwing a few more hills into my final training runs during the next five weeks in preparation for Gettysburg.

My next race is March 28 with the Mile Run Trail Challenge. I actually need to do 19 miles that day, so I might be doing a 10k after I get home to get the mileage in. We’ll see!

Did anyone run this weekend, either for fun or in a race (or both)?

Pinspire Me Friday – Vol. 30

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5 Postrun Habits You Need to Stop Now (Source: PopSugar.com)

5 Postrun Habits You Need to Stop Now (Source: PopSugar.com)

I came across an article from PopSugar Fitness via Women’s Running magazine’s Facebook page. With a headline like “5 Postrun Habits You Need to Stop Now” I couldn’t pass up clicking on it. I had a feeling I knew what some of them were before I even started reading. Here’s a quick summary and a few thoughts from me.

1. You don’t stretch – The article suggests taking 10 minutes post run to stretch. I do a few stretches, but I don’t think I’ve ever taken 10 minutes unless I’ve been caught up in a conversation. I do try to use a foam roller when I get home or before or after a workout at the gym. What about you? Do you make it a point to stretch after a run or use a foam roller?

2. You don’t refuel – Or in some cases, you refuel a bit too well ;) It’s important to refuel, especially if you’ve been on a long run or it’s hot and humid. I usually don’t have an issue grabbing something to eat after a run, although I’ve recently been putting more effort into ensuring that it’s a snack or meal that’s healthy as opposed to a stack of pancakes or a candy bar. One area I need to work on is my water intake. I’ve come to realize that I basically operate in a dehydrated state most of the time, which explains why me and the heat and humidity of summer are not friends. I’ve definitely been trying to make hydrating a routine part of my day. It has a lot of benefits.

3. Speaking of hydrating…you don’t drink enough water – As I mentioned, this is a huge problem area for me. For some reason I am pretty good about hydrating leading up to a race and during a race, but other than that I’m pretty terrible at it. It’s not like I’m subbing in other drinks for water (i.e. soda, Gatorade, juice, etc.). I’m just not drinking at all. So…HYDRATE!

4. You don’t change out of your workout clothes - The article gives a myriad of reasons to get out of your sweaty clothes pronto. I’m usually pretty good about this myself, but sometimes you get home and you get preoccupied and before you know it it’s been a few hours.

5. You don’t schedule your next run - Regardless of whether you had a good run or a tough one, it’s important to look forward to your next one. I try to map out my week early on so I know when I’m going to do my runs and workouts. Sometimes things come up so I move things around, but the commitment is already there so it’s a lot harder to blow it off.

Don’t forget to check out the complete article with all the tips and tricks! Hopefully you’ll learn something new and be inspired to address a bad habit.

Question: Do you have any postrun/workout habits that need to change, or do you have any tips for the rest of us?

Costa Rica #Recap – Part 2

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I’m back with part 2 of my recap of our trip to Costa Rica!

So after leaving our hotel in La Fortuna/Arenal, we got in our transfer bus for a short ride to a water taxi. I didn’t really look too closely at the itinerary previously, so this was a bit of surprise. I’m not a huge fan of water taxis. This stems from when I was a kid and an enclosed one flipped due to bad weather in the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and people died. It’s amazing how a sad news story like that will stick with you. Thankfully, these water taxis were all open air and the weather wasn’t bad at all :)

While waiting for the water taxi to fill up, a member of the egret bird family stopped by. I don’t have a photo of it (they’re on Gabe’s camera), but it was a beautiful white bird who planted himself on the boat next to us. He seemed to enjoy being the subject of a bunch of photos.

Once we departed we had a nice journey across Lake Arenal. It’s a huge manmade lake created by the electric company to support a hydroelectric dam. The dam provides 30% of Costa Rica’s energy. Another interesting thing we learned was that much of the land around the lake is owned by the electric company and protected as a preserve. Fascinating, right? I think it’s safe to say our electric companies (and our country in general) could learn a lot about natural resource preservation from Costa Rica.

Enjoying our water taxi ride across Lake Arenal.

Enjoying our water taxi ride across Lake Arenal.

A little island in the lake. We were riding out of those rain clouds and arrived at our next stop with sunshine.

A little island in the lake. We were riding out of those rain clouds and arrived at our next stop with sunshine.

After reaching our next stop, we once again boarded transfer vans to continue our trek to Monteverde. It was, at times, a pretty harrowing ride. The roads were rutted, rocky, steep and curvy. It was also very bumpy. The AC didn’t work in the van, but thankfully we were in the mountains and the air was cool with a nice breeze.

I tried several times to take photos of the roads we were on, but you just couldn’t effectively capture it in a way that truly portrayed the steepness and rockiness. As I think I mentioned in my previous post, I was once again impressed by the skill of our drivers, especially since they were driving manual transmissions.

We stopped at a rest stop in a small mountain town. We grabbed some snacks and enjoyed the sunshine before reboarding the van to continue the rest of the four hour ride. It was a pretty clear day coming into Monteverde and one of the first things we saw were some of the lines for the Selvature Canopy Tour, the zipline adventure Gabe and I would do the next day. It looked absolutely insane so we got a little nervous but excited at the same time.

We got a nice tour of town while dropping off guests of other hotels before we made it to Cala Lodge. It was about a 15-20 minute walk from downtown. It had amazing views of the mountains, a lot of wildlife and an incredible breeze making AC unnecessary.

After checking out the hotel’s property, we made the short walk to town…down a bunch of steep hills. Unlike in the U.S. where we just blow up or bulldoze land to make roads and bridges, in Costa Rica it’s like they embrace the challenges the land presents. The steepness of some of the hills we descended on foot and in vehicles we incredible, and as I said before, the skill the of the drivers was always impressive. I’d probably be off a cliff somewhere!

Our first stop was a smoothie shop. It was truly delicious. I can almost still taste how fresh it was! We also checked out some souvenir shops before going to a taco place for something to eat. They were honestly some of the best, if not the best, tacos I’d ever had. Gabe even ventured trying their hot sauce and thoroughly enjoyed it. We stopped by a coffee shop before heading back and booked a tour at the Don Juan Coffee Plantation for the next afternoon.

The next day we woke up to what you could call a rainstorm, except it was really just a cloud sitting on top of Monteverde. The wind would blow and you’d get wet, but it wasn’t really raining consistently. We had a delicious breakfast at our hotel. They cooked everything to order. I indulged my sweet tooth, of course, with some pancakes, while Gabe enjoyed eggs with veggies and meat. We also had fresh fruit and freshly baked bread.

Soon after we were picked up for our zipline adventure at Selvatura. We were excited, but as mentioned earlier, a bit nervous. After checking in at the park, we got fitted in our gear and headed off for some instruction before hitting the lines. We had a pretty mixed group with a set of great grandparents, a few young couples like Gabe and I, and a family with a little boy. The tour was constantly moving so you didn’t have too much time to dwell on being nervous. I don’t have any pictures from the adventure as my camera was sealed in my pocket by my gear. Gabe snapped a bunch though so hopefully I can share those at a later time. In between some of the lines, we actually had to hike which was really neat. It was muddy, but it was so cool to be walking around a rainforest in weather that’s very typical of a rainforest. We even saw some monkeys!

The weather made things interesting. At times the zip lines would literally disappear into fog. Sometimes the wind gusted as you were going across. But ultimately that just added more to the experience. I never felt unsafe and I thought our guides were all very nice.

After the adventure, we hopped a bus back but decided to get off downtown to grab some food. I have to say I definitely enjoyed the food. We didn’t have a bad meal anywhere regardless of the price. It was as we were beginning our walk back to the hotel that I realized my camera was missing. After having survived an entire zipline tour zipped in my pocket, it was now gone. I ran back to the restaurant with no luck and then just started thinking about when I last had it. It was on the bus back from the zipline. I had taken it out, but distinctly recalled putting it back but didn’t remember zipping my pocket back up.

Part of me was resigned to the fact that I had lost it, but then I remembered the tour office for the park was just up the street. The young man working called the bus driver and he said he’d check and call back. With amazing luck, he found my camera and would be by in about 30 minutes. I guess when I didn’t zip my pocket back up, the bumpy roads bounced it out and I never noticed. I was so very thankful!

On our walk back we stopped at this cute cafe and grabbed some dessert. I so felt like I needed a treat after the camera fiasco! I had some sort of chocolate cheesecake, while Gabe got a pastry. They were both quite yummy. After relaxing for a bit, our bus to the Don Juan Coffee Plantation came to pick us up.

Despite how chilly it was, I opted for shorts and a long sleeve shirt. Even with the tour being almost entirely outside in the wind,  I was never really cold. Take that, old couple who was talking about my choice in clothing behind my back!

We learned a lot on the tour, and not only about coffee, but also chocolate and sugar cane.

Our guide who was very knowledgeable and entertaining.

Our guide, who was very knowledgeable and entertaining.

A roaster...did you know the light roast is the most complex in flavor and the least bitter?

A roaster…did you know the light roast is the most complex in flavor and the least bitter?

Gabe got to help with the sugarcane press...we got to taste it with a bit of lemon juice after and it was quite yummy and oh so fresh!

Gabe got to help with the sugarcane press…we got to taste it with a bit of lemon juice after and it was quite yummy and oh so fresh!

Gabe ended up buying some coffee to bring home, while I picked up some chocolate covered almonds and cocoa butter.

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel while waiting for our transfer bus to Manuel Antonio. While at breakfast, we were visited by a few animals, including a beautiful bird and a coati.

His colors were so vibrant!

His colors were so vibrant!

And then this fella came and ate all the fruit.

And then this fella came and ate all the fruit.

At some point during breakfast, the grandfather of a little girl came running in to the recepcion (hotel lobby) to ask the attendant to call the hospital. Meanwhile outside her dad was carrying her while she was screaming her head off. They ended up getting in the car to head to a medical clinic. There was one right up the road thankfully. When her mom, grandmother and little brother came in, Gabe asked if everything was ok. We had been on a tour with them back in Arenal and they also did the zipline adventure, so we had seen quite a bit of them. Turns out they had left their shoes outside overnight because of the mud and despite shaking them out this morning, a scorpion had managed to stay in the little girl’s shoe. She was walking and suddenly started screaming after getting stung.

To satisfy my curiosity, Gabe googled information about scorpions in Costa Rica. Apparently their venom isn’t very strong and usually just causes swelling and numbness for a few hours. Hopefully the little girl was on the mend soon after.

Around 8 a.m. we were picked up to begin our 4.5-5 hour journey to Monteverde. The first part of the journey was slow and very bumpy. The roads were rough, narrow and often steep and curvy. At some point we crossed into a more arid climate in the mountains. Things became very dry and the vegetation changed pretty dramatically. It also provided for some amazing views of where we had just spent the last couple days.

The cloud forest where Monteverde is.

The cloud forest where Monteverde is. I took this from the moving van.

As you can see, in the foreground the land is very dry, but where the cloud is sitting on the mountains it’s very lush and green. It was an incredible view and this photo doesn’t do it justice at all.

Well that’s all for our visit to Monteverde. I’ll be back next week with the third and final recap of our trip to Costa Rica, which will cover Manuel Antonio and San Jose.

Costa Rica #Recap – Part 1

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Costa Rica

Costa Rica

I’ve been a bit MIA the past two weeks, but that was because I was out of the country on a vacation to Costa Rica. I didn’t think ahead enough to plan any guest posts, but I figured recapping our adventures might make up for my absence. These posts might be long, but I’m hoping to share lots of photos to

We headed to Costa Rica on Feb. 25. Our itinerary was all mapped out already through a company called Anywhere Costa Rica, minus the airline stuff. I’ll be recapping the trip in three separate posts, rather than one long one.

The first leg of our flight to Costa Rica was a short trip to Atlanta where we’d catch our connection to San Jose after a two-hour layover. Due to a rain/sleet storm in Atlanta with their unseasonably cold temperatures, we got delayed several hours. After boarding the plane, the pilot announced we’d all have to deboard so they could run a pressurization test. Thirty minutes later the plane had failed the test and the airline was off trying to find us another plane.

An available plane was located two gates down so we all headed there, rechecked in while our luggage was transferred and boarded the plane around 10:30. At this point, I had reached out to Anywhere Costa Rica so they could alert our hotel that we’d be late. Despite the weather, the flight started out pretty well but for some reason we ended up taking a path right into a pretty intense section of bad weather. Drink service was discontinued with haste by the crew, the pilot said it would be about 10 minutes, and I proceeded to brace myself against with the window and squeezed Gabe’s hand. I was terrified and the movie, Big Hero 6, was not at all a distraction. Let’s just say a few tears were shed and leave it at that.

Eventually the weather calmed down and we touched down in San Jose shortly after 1 a.m. After a bit of confusion at the pick-up zone, we grabbed a taxi to our first hotel, The Adventure Inn. Thankfully they were waiting for us and took us right to our room where we settled in for a few hours of sleep.

Breakfast was included. I opted for just some fresh fruit, while Gabe enjoyed what looked to be quite a delicious meal. We headed back to the room to pack up and meet our transfer bus to Arenal.

After a beautiful trip to Arenal, we arrived in La Fortuna and our hotel, La Pradera. It had beautiful views of the volcano and was only a 20 minute walk down to town. We stayed in a private bungalow, which was really cool. We saw lizards, a gecko and plenty of birds.

View of Arenal Volcano from our  bungalow.

View of Arenal Volcano from our bungalow.

Gabe outside our bungalow.

Gabe outside our bungalow.

We arrived around noon and had the rest of the day free. We killed about two hours hanging out by the pool, where I had the most delicious pina colada ever. The bartender cut up a fresh pineapple for it. Doesn’t get any better than that!

Our first afternoon we hung out by the pool for a bit and were joined briefly by this pretty moth.

Our first afternoon we hung out by the pool for a bit and were joined briefly by this pretty moth.

The rest of the afternoon we spent walking down to La Fortuna where we browsed some shops and checked out the town square. We decided to eat at a restaurant we passed on our walk down. I remembered I’d seen its 5-star Tripadvisor rating and thought that was a good sign. We weren’t disappointed.

We shared this plate for dinner. It was delicious!

We shared this plate for dinner. It was delicious!

We had a busy day the following day with three activities. First up was the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Tour. Our guide was very knowledgable and explained why certain plants grow the way they do, how animals and plants interact and even how different plants interact with one another and the environment. The bridges offered incredible views and you were often incredibly high up in the canopy. There was also a nice amount of hiking.

From the base area of our natural history hanging bridges tour.

From the base area of our natural history hanging bridges tour.

The bridges were quite large, but offered amazing views of the rainforest and the volcano.

The bridges were quite large, but offered amazing views of the rainforest and the volcano.

This waterfall went most of the way up the mountainside, but this was the only section you could clearly see.

This waterfall went most of the way up the mountainside, but this was the only section you could clearly see.

After returning to the hotel, we had lunch in the hotel restaurant and then waited to get picked up for our volcano hike and visit to the Baldi Hot Springs.

We had a small group for our hike, just the guide and another couple from the Chicago area. It was a short trek over to the national park, but we got our first taste of the bumpy roads we would encounter during the rest of our visit to Costa Rica.

Upon entering the park, the ranger told our guide about the snake you can see below. We all hopped out of the van to check it out. It was an eyelash pit viper, known for their scales above their eyes that make them look like they have eyelashes. It was a beautiful color. They’re apparently nocturnal, so my guess is he wasn’t too worried about us. They also only tend to bite humans if threatened or if they’ll get trampled on.

We saw an eyelash pit viper at the start our of volcano hike. It's one of the smallest poisonous snakes in Central America.

We saw an eyelash pit viper at the start our of volcano hike. It’s one of the smallest poisonous snakes in Central America.

During our hike we saw a variety of wild birds, a troupe of coatis, and some agoutis. We hiked through an area that was mostly regrowth from the last eruption. The top soil was only about two feet deep so we saw a number of felled trees due to their shallow root systems.

I got three good shots of this fella. He seemed keen on getting his photo taken.

I got three good shots of this fella. He seemed keen on getting his photo taken.

Our entire hike was about a 6k. We got to head out on old lava rock, which offered stunning views of Lake Arenal and the volcano. Some interesting facts about the volcano include that it’s actually rather young, only about 7,000 years old. It’s also active and it’s last major eruption was in the late 1960s, but it’s had smaller eruptions since then. That eruption killed about 67 people, but people have died in recent years illegally hiking the volcano due to rock slides and other such dangers.

Arenal Volcano is tucked up inside that storm cloud. It never ended up raining on us, but it made for some neat photos.

Arenal Volcano is tucked up inside that storm cloud. It never ended up raining on us, but it made for some neat photos.

The hot springs were really fun. There were numerous pools of all different temperatures. A lot of them had bars. My personal favorite had these great lounges in the water so you could just relax. Afterward we had dinner before catching our shuttle the short drive back to our hotel. It rained almost all night and it sounded incredible on the roof of our bungalow.

I feel like that was a really short summary of our first taste of Costa Rica. It was just the beginning, but it was a great first few days. There were plenty of more memories to make and I’ll share those with you next week in part 2!

#RaganDisney #Recap

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Wow, what an amazing time I had in Florida! Beautiful, sunny weather and a fantastic conference all within the confines of Disney World.

If I’m being honest, I wasn’t all that excited to be going. I was going on my own and the prospect of being at Disney World and at a conference by myself wasn’t all that thrilling. However, the magic of Disney changed my mind from the moment I stepped off the shuttle at the hotel.

Since the conference was being held at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts and Conference Center, I was able to book a free ride on Disney’s Magical Express (DME). I was warned prior to arrival that the DME was neither magical nor express. Ok so maybe it wasn’t express in the literal definition, but it didn’t take long to leave the airport for the 30 minute ride to Disney World. Plus, it was “free.” I put quotation marks because nothing is ever truly free…I’m sure it’s worked into the operating costs of Disney World somewhere :)

I was the first stop for the shuttle and the only person to get off. As soon as I stepped off the bus, the “magic” began. I was greeted by name by a member of staff who escorted me to the front desk to check in. After receiving all my paperwork and magic band, which serves as a room key, park entry, etc, I was informed I had a lagoon-view room. Lagoon-view? Do I get to see alligators and swamp? Instead I was greeted by this view upon arriving in my room and honestly couldn’t have been happier.

If this is what a lagoon is, I'll take a lagoon view any day!

If this is what a lagoon is, I’ll take a lagoon view any day!

I immediately made myself at home on my balcony for a bit. It was only about 53 degrees, but the sun made it feel plenty warm. Besides, it was below zero at home. Anything feels warm when you’re used to that.

By the way, how cute are the beds?!?

By the way, how cute are the beds?!?

I went over to the conference center to check in as I was registered for a pre-conference workshop on crisis communications. I managed to snag one of the provided lunches before settling in for the 2-hour session. Sanda Fathi of Affect did an outstanding job and made the workshop interactive for all attendees. It turned out I was going to dinner with her later that night.

Afterwards, I decided to skip the free closing workshop for a run around the lake. When I got back to my room to change, my bag had “magically” arrived from the airport. Ok, so maybe the DME really is magical. Anyway, they had a .8 mile running path that had you running past the Swan and Dolphin Resort, The Boardwalk, Epcot, and of course the Yacht and Beach Club. I missed a turn early on and ended up at Hollywood Studios briefly.

Did a 3-mile run, which included two loops and a missed turn that landed my at Hollywood Studios.

Did a 3-mile run, which included two loops and a missed turn that landed me at Hollywood Studios.

Tower of Terror!

Tower of Terror!

Heading back to find the running path.

Heading back to find the running path.

After my run, I headed back to my room to relax and get ready for dinner at Todd English’s Bluezoo at the Dolphin Hotel. It was a bit pricey, but worth every penny. I had swordfish with shrimp and clams on a bed of risotto, a Sprecher beer, and seasonal sorbet for dessert.

The conference started bright and early on Thursday morning. The opening keynote was by Thomas Smith of Disney Parks. It’s amazing what all Disney can do via social media. They have so many stories to tell, images to share, videos to make, and on and on. For the rest of the day I settled into the track focusing on internal communications and social media. I sat through sessions by people including Ashley Pettit of Southwest Airlines, Kirsten Hamstra of SAS and Gina Czark and Jessica Fillinger of New York Presbyterian Hospital. The other two keynote speakers were Scott Warfield of Nascar and Mike Forman, a NASA astronaut. I ended up getting to meet him and get a signed photo.

Ragan hosted an awesome cocktail party Thursday night. I ended up connecting with another Penn State alum and we had a blast before heading to Downtown Disney for some shopping.

I also got to meet Mickey and Minnie!

I also got to meet Mickey and Minnie!

...and Donald and Goofy!

…and Donald and Goofy!

On Friday, I went to the first of two final sessions before heading back to my room to get ready to head out. I really enjoyed the session by Lisa Arney who does internal communications for SAS. I have to do a lot of internal communications at my position, and I took away some great ideas. I then just took some time to walk around the resort and enjoy the sunshine before the DME picked me up.

Here are a few extra photos from the resort.

Waterfront side of the Yacht Club.

Waterfront side of the Yacht Club.

Our very own beach! It might have been manmade, but I didn't care :)

Our very own beach! It might have been manmade, but I didn’t care :)

Loved, loved, loved the views.

Loved, loved, loved the views.

Dawn on Friday...so pretty. Love the lights on the gazebo too!

Dawn on Friday…so pretty. Love the lights on the gazebo too!

Another nice perk was that I woke up to find Disney had checked me into my airline. I just had to drop my bag at the resort airline check-in desk at the hotel later that morning and it would be taken to the airport on its own. Once I took the DME to the airport, all I had to do was go through security and I’d be on my way home.

All-in-all, it was an outstanding trip. I learned a lot and met so many great people I feel I can reach out to in the future. And, while I didn’t make it to the parks, Disney proved magical nonetheless. I can’t wait to go back!