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Philly vacation and roadtrip - October 2011

A long overdue and much needed trip to Philly and surrounding areas instead of just our typical weekend appearance for a wedding. Its been well over a year since Miles saw his Uncle Matt so we would spend most of our visit at his house with a road trip in the middle to Penn State, Shenandoah National Park, Richmond, and then back to Philly.

10/12/11, Wednesday: We flew from Colo Spgs to Denver to Philly. Miles is a great traveler and loves being on an airplane. When we landed Miles leaned over the seat and said to a couple of kids behind us, "Hi! I'm Miles and these are my friends, Mom and Dad." Of course it was overcast and drizzly weather in Philly when we landed at 4pm, but the temperature was nice and there was no overbearing humidity. We picked up our Ford Focus and it almost brought a tear to my eye seeing TastyKakes in a vending machine. Since Miles didn't nap on the plane, he fell asleep on the drive to Matt's house. He was lights-out-meatball and we just put him in bed. Our first stop was for some long-awaited cheese steaks and pizza. One of the things I miss most from Philly.

10/13/11, Thursday: Miles was up nice and early and he quickly took interest in Kermit the Parakeet and the model cars that Matt has on his windowsill. He "vroomed" them around for hours. We went to Matt's favorite breakfast place then headed to downtown Philly for some touristy stuff. It was fun driving the old roads and seeing my former stomping ground. First stop was the Art Museum. We would've liked to go in, but had a busy day ahead of us. Instead we walked around the building and did the traditional running up the steps like in Rocky. Matt and I ran up while holding Miles hands and lifting him over most of the steps while he pretended to run. The Rocky statue is now at the bottom after being moved several times. Since we parked on the side of the museum, we checked out the Fairmount Water Works overview on the way back. Interesting history about the first water plant in the city. Our next stop was the Independence National Historic District after navigating the traffic and street closures downtown, fun stuff! Here we checked out the Liberty Bell, George Washington's house, the visitor center, and then got tickets for a tour of Independence Hall. This was really cool. The very informative guide took us through Independence Hall (formally the Pennsylvania State House) describing the history of the area, buildings, and the importance of this area to what our nation is today. The Declaration of Independence and Constitution were both created here! After the tour we were chock-full of history and headed home via I95 and Woodhaven Rd so we could drive through Hatboro.... and stop for soft pretzels. On the drive home, our strange son was licking Matt's arm most of the way. What a weirdo! Back at Matt's he let Miles pretend to drive his Mustang. They checked out the engine and got in/out over and over. Its not a quiet vehicle, so starting it up just about made Miles jump out of his pants. A relaxing evening at home eating chili, catching up, and laughing.

10/14/11, Friday: Let the road trip begin! We picked Hendler up at the 30th St train station then hopped on the turnpike towards Penn State. It was nice to see the trees starting to change colors and drop their leaves all along the highways. We got to Hershey Park's Chocolate World after lunch and took the free-tour to see how billions of candy bars are made. Not as fun as Willy Wonka, but impressive none the less. That drops you into their enormous gift shop where there's ton of surprisingly very overpriced candy and clothing. You would think that chocolate would be cheaper right at the source, but that wasn't the case. Jean and Miles made their own candy bars while Hendler bought a ton of dark chocolate. We putzed around till Chef Miles was done making his candy bar then got on 322 and a traffic jam. Miles and Jean snoozed in the back while Hendler and I caught up on each others lives and kid-stories. A major accident brought traffic to a stop for atleast an hour. We arrived in State College just as it was dusk and it was so awesome to be back in the area and feel the PSU vibe again. The house we rented was just a couple blocks from campus and we quickly dumped our stuff there then headed out for groceries, pizza, and a keg while Jean and Miles got settled. Within one minute of arriving, Hendler knocked a heavy bag off of its hook with a single punch. The house was huge and had some strange things in it including wooden pants, chinese stars, and a picture of the owner teaching bass to Mary (the mother of Jesus).... yet no sharp knives or a microwave. Soon after Rufus/Allyson arrived (hadn't seen them since Hendler's wedding), Space/Heather arrived (hadn't seen them since their wedding in 2004), and Justin/Franny arrived (hadn't seen them since their wedding in 2000). Things picked up exactly where they left off years ago and we immediately were laughing about old stories and started some drinking games. Keg stands soon followed (way out of practice) and games of Asshole and Beirut. Tons of fun times, way too many laughs, and staying up way too late. Man it was great to see these guys!

10/15/11, Saturday: In the morning Hendler made us all breakfast burritos and Miles played outside on the cool swing-set/fort. Soon it was time to head up to the PSU/Purdue football game. Along the way we drove past our old house that was knocked down (rightfully so) and there is now an apartment bldg in its place. Great to see the old stores and apartments where I spent a few of the greatest years of my life. Its amazing how organized the parking is for a stadium that holds 106K people. There was a chilly breeze to the air and we hung out in front unsuccessfully trying to get rid of an extra ticket, then we headed to our seats in the NEU section way up near the top. Its such an amazing vibe being in a stadium that holds 106K crazy fans! The game was tons of fun and Miles cheers with his PSU pom-poms for everything. Jean and Miles left at halftime and the rest of us moved over to a windy open section near the highest corner. It was a great game that we ended up winning 23-18. We walked back through campus reliving stories and it seemed like yesterday, not 14yrs ago, that we were students here. Cutting through the library and Old Main back to College Ave where some went to get grub and some stocked up on cheap PSU gear. We relaxed back at the house for a while then hatched a plan for the evening. Since we couldn't return the keg on a Sunday we emptied the last little bit into a stew pot and made a run for cases of beer while Jean made a huge batch of spaghetti and meat sauce. Allyson also made some amazing chocolate brownies that had chocolate bars in the middle of them! More of the same nonsense from the night before continued including theories about Space's arm-hair and trying to straighten it out with Franny's hair-straightener. At one point Hendler ordered a pizza and we ate it so fast that we were calling back for three more even before the delivery guy got down the street. We were all in bed around midnight since we all had long drives the following day.

10/16/11, Sunday: Allyson cooked up a breakfast feast fit for a king for everyone, then we all slowly packed and cleaned up while BS'ing and avoiding the inevitable end to our awesome w/end. Jean, Miles, and I left the house around 10am and parked off of Beaver Ave to get some more PSU gear and walk through campus. Miles loved the giant lawns and the colorful trees were great to see. We made our way up to the Nittany Lion status to find that the PSU gymnastics team were getting there X-mas photos. Great timing! We waited in line to get our picture taken, then hit the road. We drove SW along 220 and 76 towards Meyersdale so we could visit the state highpoint of PA, Mount Davis. It was a nice drive through the ups and downs of the old Appalachian Mtns. It was a nice break once there to hike the "strenuous" 100yds to the pile of rocks and fire tower. We played around for awhile then hit the road again. I was hoping that we could visit the highpoints of MD and WV too, but we were running out of daylight and wanted to get Miles settled for the night. So we found a hotel in Cumberland MD, ordered some bbq, and Miles practiced jumping all over me and rough-housing. We all went to sleep early.

10/17/11, Monday: The hotel had a great breakfast then we piled in the car around 9am heading east on 76 towards Shenandoah National Park. Our timing was perfect for the changing trees and it was such a nice change instead of just the green, yellow, and brown colors in Colorado. It was a warm and beautiful Fall day and we went through the north entrance at Front Royal and along Skyline Drive, the main road through the entire length of the park. We stopped at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center for some info and pulled over at a few of the overlooks. You can tell its an east coast National Park because there wasn't a ton of hiking, but mostly overlooks to stop the car, get out to take a picture, then get right back into the car. We got out at Hogback Overlook and did another "strenuous" hike to the summit of Hogback Mtn, 3474ft. It was along the Appalachian Trail and we talked about how cool it would be to backpack the 100+ miles of the AT through Shenandoah. Back in the car then down to Elkwallow for some lunch in the grass while getting eaten alive by bugs. I very hesitantly purchased a $10 bottle of bug spray. A couple more overlooks then we arrived at Skyland Resort, where we had a reservation. The rooms were really cool and broken up into ~4 per cabin, all with great views to the west down the forested ridges. While Jean and Miles took a nap I jogged to Millers Head Overlook, up Stony Man (4011ft), over to Little Stony Man, and back to the room. It was a nice hour long jog along the AT to cool little rocky summits. With all the colors it looked like a rainbow puked on the trees! With the crunchy leaves on the ground, even a squirrel sounded like an enormous bear. We had dinner at the pub then relaxed in the room while Miles played with his new wooden snake that took a liking to raisins... just like him.

10/18/11, Tuesday: A delicious breakfast at the Skyland restaurant including real Virginia ham, then we continued south on Skyline Drive. We did the 2 mile hike up/down Hawksbill, the highest peak in the park at a whopping 4050ft. Miles had a great time collecting acorns then ran in circles on the summit screaming "I'm the king of the mountain!" Great views all around, once again. After a milk stop at Big Meadows we parked and did the 1 mile hike up/down Blackrock, 3140ft. A cool rocky summit that Miles insisted on hiking all by himself, big steps for a lil' guy. We stopped at a couple other overlooks, including Bacon Hallow just because of its name, then exited the park at the southern end, Rock Fish gap. I called my buddy Jim who lives in Charlottesville and it didn't sound like he could get out of work early, so we stopped by anyway to visit with his wife Kara, and their four boys. Soon after Jim called saying his meeting got cancelled and he was on his way home. Sweet! We sat outside catching up on each others lives and old stories since I've only seen him once since they moved from Colorado 10yrs ago. Miles loved playing with the four boys but luckily did not try to get on the pogo-stick! A couple hours breezed right by and we had to get on our way to Richmond. An hour later we were pulling into the Hendler's and lil' baby Molly was still awake to play with Miles. She has recently learned how to walk, and Miles was more the happy to play with her toys and drive around with her on her car. We had a great time hanging out and drinking some local brews after Greg showed us his mighty impressive refrigerator magnet collection.

10/19/11, Wednesday: Greg took the day off of work so we hung around the house while a steady rain fell. They've got an awesome house with lots of trees and brush around, and close to a lake. During a break in the rain we took Miles up to the lake and Sunday Park. We looked at boats the played on the pirate ship in the playground. Captain Miles was battenin' down the hatches and sailing to rescue Molly from the bad pirates. Back at the house we picked up Molly from her "Manny" and went to the Capital Ale House for lunch. They've got an amazing list of beers and great food. Back at the house we all took afternoon naps since the weather dictated a good napping day. Afterwards, Miles and Molly ran around the house with balloons clipped to their shirts and taking turns driving each other around on Molly's car. Miles even sang ABC's into a toy microphone 9000 times. The day was shadowed by hearing the terrible news that a friend and fantastic musician, John-Alex Mason, died after surgery at the way too early age of 35. He will be dearly missed. Greg made a big batch of chili for dinner and after the kiddo's went to bed we had some beers on the porch during our last night in town.

10/20/11, Thursday: We packed up and left Richmond after Greg and Megan headed off to work. We got Miles some more raisins to feed his recent addiction to Sunmaid raisins. We found I95 and headed north with a couple stops in mind. After a couple hours we tried to navigate the madness of Washington DC traffic/highways towards Rocky and Pops condo. Rocky could not make it home due to being short staffed, but we turned near the White House and found his condo, great location! It was awesome to spend some time with Pops after his recent hospital stay and he is looking and feeling good. Back into the mayhem of traffic, several wrong turns, lunch at an Italian restaurant, and heading north again. At a bathroom break at a rest-stop Miles saw a lady in a full burka and whispered to me, "Daddy, there's a ghost!". During this leg of the drive Miles also mastered throwing stuff from the back seat to the front....everything he could reach got tossed up front... his shoes, socks, stuffed animals, lunch box, etc. A quick detour off of the highway in Delaware to visit Ebright Azimuth, the state highpoint. How exciting! Onwards to Philly and back to Uncle Matt's. Miles was excited to see Uncle Matt and play with the cars once again, and of course we got more cheese steaks and pizza for dinner.

10/21/11, Friday: Jean made some pancakes and pork roll for breakfast and then Uncle Matt took Miles out for a tractor ride around the backyard. Miles steered (not very well) and Matt controlled the pedals and helped to avoid hitting the house, trees, and picnic tables. He loved it! Though if they would've had the mower down, his yard would looks like Miles hair. Matt had a great idea to go into Doylestown to play at the 35' kids castle. It was amazingly huge and had all sorts of cool stuff..... a maze, fake stores, ladders, giant slides, swings, etc. Sure wish we had one of those in Colo Spgs! Next was a visit to our old neighbor Mrs. Smith, who is over 80 yrs old now and recently went sky-diving. We laughed about charging her $5 for everything and she was just smitten with our visit and Miles. Lunch with Fanelli and Vanessa at Tonelli's for another great cheese steak and more pizza. More catching up with each other's lives and swapping old stories. We relaxed for the afternoon at Matt's, then headed up to Cassel and Kim's, Patrick came over too. I came back to Matt's to drop off Miles then met up with them again. Our plans to go to the new Chickie and Pete's were foiled when Pete called to say the line was around the building. Instead we went to Mom's bar in Doylestown, fun times. When we got home around midnight, Miles was still awake and convinced Uncle Matt that he needed to stay up to watch TV with him to eat raisins and drink milk. Funny stuff!

10/22/11, Saturday: Since it was our last full day in town and we had a long day of traveling on Sunday, we wanted it to be an easy day for Miles. After french toast and more pork roll for breakfast we went to the Wings of Freedom museum right down the road at the Willow Grove Naval Air Base. They had a great display of planes, helicopters, information, and flight simulators. Cool stuff! At Sports Authority I got a new Flyers hat and Miles got a Flyers zamboni. Back to Matt's for Miles daily battle against taking a nap. In the evening, Matt and I left to pick up Cassel and headed downtown to the Flyers game. We went to Chickie and Pete's for dinner and beers, shortly after getting there Rocky, Joe, Susan, and her daughter arrived. It was awesome to see Rocky and swap more stories and laughs. We piled all seven of us in the rental car and headed to the game where we all had seats in the same section and row. It was so awesome to be seeing a game in Philly surrounded by Flyers fans! Despite the loss, it was great to be there and Cassel had passes for us all to the VIP Cadillac Grille. They have a much better selection of beers then the concourse (only Bud Light), a live band, bathrooms including a towel-boy, and are open 90 minutes after the game. We had a beer there after the game then headed home after another long day. Unfortunately we didn't get home until 12:30am and the alarm was set for 4:30am.

10/23/11, Sunday: Everything went way too smoothly this entire trip, so today was our clusterf#ck day. We got up at 4:30am, took showers, and packed up the car. Saying goodbyes and on the road by 5:30am with a stop at Wawa for breakfast sammy's and coffee. Unfortunately, not a single one of the 10 gas stations near the turnpike was open! Didn't they ever hear of 24hr pay at the pump?! Next, we couldn't find the rental car return since it was a shuttle from the airport. Next they wanted to charge me $75 extra since our bag weighed 55lbs. I was ready to kill someone! Finally in the airport and we sleepily got on the flight to Denver. It was an easy decision to pay the $6 for Miles to watch Disney and Nickelodeon. Once in Denver we ate lunch then saw that our flight was delayed... and delayed... and delayed... and delayed. There's only so many ways to entertain a toddler in the airport and only so many times to ride the escalator up and down! After no info and angry people, they finally told us that the part to fix the plane wasn't going to work and they were working on getting a new plane, crew, and gate. Almost 4hrs later, we were on our way. Miles had a long overdue melt-down, but fell fast asleep afterwards. Happy to be home yet thrilled at the memories of another great vacation with great folks.