If I could only use one word to describe the city of Philadelphia. I know exactly what I’d choose:
Really, almost everything I’d heard about Philly — aside from endless word about the deliciousness of its cheese steaks — alluded to its roughness.
Its subtly induced reputation for hard knocks and downed luck and overbearing, relentless strife.
From the obvious overtones of Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” to Will Smith’s epic fight on the basketball court during the opening credits of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the city was advertised as lonely and dangerous. With its gritty undertones of dreary streets and gray skies serving as cinematic backdrops for the trials of Sylvester Stallone and Tom Hanks in Rocky and Philadelphia, the city was portrayed bleak and hopeless.
Because of these things, Philadelphia just sat, dusty and neglected in the back of my mind, as this place I’d probably never care to see.
But then I saw it.
I really saw it.
I saw its richness in history, art, museums, green space, food, and culture.
And suddenly, I felt very, very misinformed.
I only had one day to explore, but now I know this: Philadelphia, I will be back.
No, not a psychedelic shroomie trip I maybe once had back in college.
I’m talking about this trip:
The one I’ll be taking in approximately one month.
The one where I’m driving, because I like to drive, and Justin will be flying to the endpoint, Philadelphia, because he’s a cheater and doesn’t understand the beauty of the road. And also because he can’t take that much leave from work.
I’m incredibly excited about this trip for 2 reasons:
One, I will be going somewhere. That’s right — it doesn’t take much to make me happy in this world, and ‘going somewhere’ usually does the trick.
Two, I will be visiting some of my favorite people on this planet.
Angie, the saucy Aussie, lives in Williamsburg, VA. We studied rocks and maps together in college, and apparently Geology and GIS have tighter bonding power than whatever JLo used to stick her dress to her boobies at the Oscars last weekend, because even though sometimes whole oceans have separated us (her husband is in the military, too), we still always find a way to come back to our friendship.
Me ‘n Angie. She’s trying not to look at my peeking areola.
Now. If you’ve been reading this blog since my quarter-life-crisis days (which, let’s face it, will probably linger on into my midlife), you already know Erin. If not, she’s the one who quit her job with me so we could move to Costa Rica for 2 months. All it took was one trip to visit her in Frederic, MD and several cocktails, but eventually she caved. And although she won’t admit it, I’m pretty sure she knows it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her. You know, aside from meeting her husband and moving to Annapolis and buying her awesome fixer-upper and going back to school to follow her life dreams. But whatever.
And finally, there’s Anna and her family, who live in Philadelphia, PA. What can I say about Anna? Well. The first year I visited Justin’s family for Christmas was a little… overwhelming. My family is very small, not to mention divorced, and with just a handful of cousins, our holidays were pretty low-key even back in the days when we all got together. So, imagine how I felt when I entered his grandparents’ enormous house filled to the brim with family. Aunts, uncles, and 23 (or so?) cousins. And that’s just his dad’s side.
When I met Anna, she took me under her wing. One of Justin’s aunts through marriage, she knew what it was like to come from outside. What’s more, we’re very similar in beliefs and personalities. And while I love visiting that huge family whenever we can, I’ll admit it’s nice to know there’s someone there who understands a little about from where I come — and why, sometimes, I just need more wine.
The thing about large family holidays is that, while you can spend all of this quality time with people, you still might not really know who they are. Think about it. If you’ve never seen the place someone calls “home,” do you really know that person? I loved visiting some of Justin’s other aunts in Colorado one year because we finally were able to see what home was like for them — and they weren’t these bustling, crazy houses full of people, but normal family homes. Just them surrounded by the things they love.
This is why I’m looking forward to seeing Anna and her family in their own element — just them, their city, and maybe a couple of Philly Cheesesteaks.
And maybe… maybe…
A DAY TRIP TO NYC!!!!
Kids, I have never been to NYC.
It’s shameful, I know.
I kept waiting for that publisher or agent to call me out of the blue and invite me up for cocktails and a book deal, but it never happened.
So here I’ve been sitting, less than 12 hours away from this country’s most defining city, just waiting for an invitation.
And guess what?
It just arrived.
So those are the major planned stops so far, but I’m open to visiting some other sights along the way.
Anyone know of something along this route that’s worth the stop? An amazing restaurant? The perfect thrift store? The world’s largest ball of twine? Do you have or know of a wonderfully designed home that I should photograph for Apartment Therapy?
Hey. I’ll admit. While I love a good road trip as much as the next girl, I’m not going to turn down the opportunity to make a little money.
So I know the Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run is so last week’s news and right now you guys are probably rolling your eyes, wondering how much longer I plan to trot out that little anecdote every chance I get.
Well, I’m here to tell you: Not only am I trotting it out one more time, but I’m saddling it up and riding it off into the sunset, pardner.
Wait, there are more photos! And despite the fact that they capture my stomach in all its pale translucent, deep-sea jellyfish-like glory, I must say I’m damn proud to show ’em off…
Seriously. Wasn’t kidding about the mud in the mouth-hole.
Ha-HA! I said. That race was laughably easy for my superior skills!
My sneaky husband is being extremely coy about how he procured these shots but, judging by their low resolution, I’m going to go ahead and assume it was by nefarious, illegitimate means. He does that sometimes, the lil’ scamp.
Nevertheless, I am finally able to prove to you all (and myself) that I ran it!
My conscience is clear.
My sins have been absolved.
I have attained sweet, sweet redemption.
And now that I have closure, I am ready to move on with my life and find other interesting topics to post about.
So I mentioned yesterday that I ran my first 10K race in Philadelphia’s first annual Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run this past weekend.
However, in all the post-race chaos, I failed to snap a photo of Chuckles and me in all our dirty glory. I wish I had the excuse of being on hardcore hallucinogenics at the time, but I don’t. I just totally didn’t even think about it.
I am, in the words of Napoleon Dynamite, a frickin’ idiot.
Anyway, despite being a total flake, I still pulled it together enough to take some candid photos of my fellow runners braving the mud pit.
And, man, do I love these people.
Everyone seemed to have a different strategy when it came to the mud pit.
Some tackled the challenge head-on.
Some tried a more delicate approach.
And some came prepared for whatever happened.
Then there were those who got by with a little help from their friends.
While some required other forms of, uh, gentle encouragement?
“You’re a very nice person!” this drill instructor was yelling. “You’re also a snazzy dresser and I admire your haircut!”
Basically, the moral of the story was this: You either embraced gettin’ down & dirty.
Or you didn’t.
But, it didn’t really matter. Because, either way, you got down & dirty.
After all, this wasn’t the “Merrell Clean & Sanitary Mud Run”.
This man had no sympathy for anyone, by the way.
And we all made it to the Finish line with smiles on our faces and mud in our teeth.
And the crowd goes WILD!
And, in the end, it was well worth the dirty running shoes.
So let’s ignore for a moment the fact I promised you guys a somewhat useful (and some might even say compelling and delightful?) series of posts reviewing the various infomercial products I have tried–
Seriously, why do you guys always feel the need to bring up old stuff?
–but I did something reallydirty with my husband this weekend and just had to share.
I have to say, I was a little nervous at first since I’d never done anything like it before but was surprised by how quickly I got into it.
And it was inpublic.
It even involved other people.
Lots of dirty, sweaty, half-naked people.
And some children, too.
Wait, this post is taking a really weird turn so I should probably just tell you now we did the Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run before the authorities show up to confiscate my computer as evidence.
To those unfamiliar with the Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run, it’s a national series of 5K and 10K races sponsored by Merrell Footwear & Apparel featuring off-road courses with military-style obstacles and LOTS of opportunities to get mud in your mouth.
You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Which, it just so happens, Chuckles and I are.
The Mud Run is held each year in New York, NY; Sacramento, CA; Los Angeles, CA; and, for the first time ever, Philadelphia, PA. The goal is raise money to support our troops through Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit that sends morale-boosting care packages to front-line American service members deployed overseas.
Since they began in 2004, Operation Gratitude has shipped nearly 560,000 care packages. As a former deployed service member and the spouse of one, Chuckles and I couldn’t think of a better reason to get ‘down n’ dirty’.
So, early Saturday afternoon, we loaded up the truck and drove the three hours up to Philly to prepare ourselves to join 1,510 other 10K racers (a whopping 4,500 runners in total) participating in the sold-out event early the next morning.
After a relatively uneventful drive…
Welcome to Delaware. Period. It’s almost like even the sign understands the irony.
…we arrived just in time to pick up our race packets before registration closed and get settled in at the Philadelphia Hilton.
Now, normally we are not ‘Hilton folk’, but they had a special group rate deal and the hotel is less than a mile away from Fairmount Park, where the race was taking place.
Still, waiting for the elevator in the lobby with the fancy chandelier and baby grand piano while holding plastic grocery bags that served as our luggage, I felt like I’d be a little more at home sleeping in the shrubs outside the Hilton than in one of the actual rooms. And the fact that there were all sorts of classy people in fancy evening attire milling around waiting for a wedding to start in the Hilton’s reception hall didn’t help me feel any less like a hillbilly.
We retreated to our room where I immediately tore into my registration goody bag like a wild, angry raccoon in a burlap sack. Cause I’m a sucker for free stuff.
Chuckles, however, went about it with a little more restraint.
All in all, we got some pretty decent loot…
…Paul Mitchell samples (no, those aren’t condoms), a few bottled drinks, an awesome moisture-wicking T-shirt, and a handkerchief-sock hybrid thingy I had a little trouble figuring out.
Fortunately, Chuckles was on hand to show me how the hankersock’s supposed to be worn.
Thank God, cause otherwise I might’ve gone out in public looking foolish or something.
Then, of course, I had to check out the other free loot we get…
Crabtree & Evelyn products at the Hilton? It’s like I’ve died and gone to a small, single-serving Heaven.
After doing a full room sweep in search of any other fancy amenities the Hilton offers…
Hey Katie? You’ll never guess where I’m calling you from…
…we were ready to go out and experience all Philly has to offer! See the sights! Embrace the culture!
You’re not tired, are you?
I did manage to drag Chuckles out of bed long enough to make him drive me two miles into Manayunk for an early dinner.
Manayunk is a quaint strip of cute shops, good restaurants and laidback bars. It reminds me a lot of Frederick.
After carb-loading on tasty cuisine at Munk & Nunn, we headed back to the hotel and watched T.V. til we passed out at 9 p.m. ROCK STAR!
4:45 a.m. the next morning came way too early. So early that I didn’t even consider breaking out my camera. So, instead, I’ll paint you a picture with words.
So, the night before, we’d decided that our plan would be to wake up super early and drive over to the park so that we could find a good parking space and go back to sleep for another hour or two before the traffic started at 6:15 a.m. Smart, eh?
That is not, however, how ‘the plan’ ended up going down.
What did happen was we drove to the park only to find the entrance gates closed, where we then proceeded to bicker while driving around aimlessly for 20 minutes looking for an open entrance before finally pulling into a grassy field just as the crowd started arriving.
So we never did get to go back to sleep.
No matter, we pounded a few energy drinks and followed the equally bleary-eyed mob across the field to the Start line.
As everyone began gathering together in the pre-dawn light, the excitement started building and the adrenaline started pumping.
Despite the day’s rising temperatures and humidity, it was hard not to be happy in such a festive, upbeat atmosphere. Chuckles and I even made up.
And you know what? As we stretched and hydrated and pinned our numbers, I even started to feel like a real, honest to God runner.
It just so happens 482 is my lucky number. What a coincidence!
Now, here’s where this post gets a little light on photos. I had to check my bag (and camera) because I didn’t want to subject it to the heat and water and mud and all the other horrible, unspeakable things I’d be subjecting my body too.
Suffice it to say, we sat through a race pre-brief telling us to behave ourselves like good boys and girls, filed into roped-off sections for a staggered start, and then gradually shuffled toward the Start line until it was our turn for the cannon to go off.
And then we ran.
And it felt good.
The course took us up and down hills, along roads, through snaking woods trails, across a stream, down rocky embankments, and through a variety of obstacles, including a haybale scramble, cargo net climb, low-crawl under netting, rope scale, etc.
Chuckles and I got separated about halfway through the course but I encountered plenty of friendly fellow runners who were down with trading a quick joke or word of encouragement during our 30-second friendship.
To me, the end came all too soon, and before I knew it, I rounded the corner after finishing the last obstacle and came face-to-face with a roaring crowd.
Ah, the Finish line is in sight!
But wait, what’s that just before it?
Oh, it’s a HUGE mud pit.
That I have to crawl through.
On my stomach.
If I’d somehow managed to stay relatively clean for the majority of the race, this is where all of that ended.
After climbing under the camo netting, I gracefully hurtled face first into the mud pool.
Like this guy, except less graceful. And less bald.
From there, I awkwardly crab-crawled through approximately 15 more yards of muddy terrain before sliding down the last embankment on my stomach like a harpooned seal.
Then, with the sound of the crowd cheering in my ears, I stumbled across the Finish line, grinning stupidly and raising my arms in a V for victory.
And then I spit a gigantic wad of mud out of my mouth. The end.
Chuckles wasn’t far behind and I got to watch him slither across that mud pit with the agility and grace of a man who did this for a living for many years. I’d never been more proud of my boy.
Here’s where I have to admit I totally pulled a Katie. After the race, we were so high on adrenaline and so disgusted with ourselves (seriously, I had mud up my nose) that we ran off to the showers without even thinking about stopping by Bag Check to pick up my camera and get a picture of us in all our filthy glory.
Sorry, guys, but there’s no ‘money shot’. I know, we’re totally ashamed of ourselves, too.
But the good news is there were professional-looking photographers there at the Finish line taking pictures so hopefully some photo of us will surface on the Interwebs over the coming days. Unless those photographers were just taking pictures of strangers for their own private collection. Which is just kind of creepy.
Anyhoo, I’ll be sure to keep a lookout and post any ‘After’ pics I find.
In the meantime, I did muster enough common sense to grab my camera and start taking pictures of the other runners. And, man, were they a riot.
But I won’t post those pictures until later because:
1. I took, like, a thousand photos and need to wade through them all to find the top blog-worthy contenders.
2. This post is already ridiculously long. In fact, you guys have probably stopped reading by this point and now are just skimming for any key words that might grab your interest. In which case, BOOBS, PORN, HOT NASTY MONKEY SEX. (Paying attention again? Good.)
3. This morning I’ve been busted writing this post by almost every single one of my coworkers. How I suffer their steely-eyed judgment for you all.
So anyway, expect more pics up soon (but not like the infomercial series — I’ll actually follow through on this project.)
Oh, but before I go… the best part about this little story?