Last Friday, Crow and I hosted a beer tasting party at my house. Many of our friends had expressed a desire to try beer outside of their usual comfort zone, so we decided to indulge their curiosity by picking up numerous beers–some of which we had never even tried–and having a tasting. In true Crow fashion, the party went well beyond the parameters of a casual gathering of friends as he created a truly beautiful setup with areas of my living room and dining room designated for each type (ie, porter, stout, pilsner, etc) of beer. He bought silver buckets that we filled with ice and placed the beer into and–to my surprise–he decorated the space between the buckets with beautiful globe lights. Yes, a simple party is not a simple party when Crow has his hand in decorating it.

One of the many beer stations at our beer tasting party. I made the little signs describing each beer.

It looked really awesome. We had little 4 oz drinking glasses (which can be used again in future tastings) for everyone to use so that they could sample each beer without too much of a commitment. We didn’t get as many guests as we would have liked (we invited over 40 people, but only about 15 were able to show). However, it was one of the best nights of my life because, unbeknownst to me, Crow had an additional little surprise event for the night.

I was standing by one of the tables, pouring a sample of beer into my glass, when our friend Kevin asked Crow if he’d ever attended some event that I assumed had to do with mountain biking. Crow replied with a quick, terse, “No” and walked by distractedly. I thought how odd that behavior was–Crow was usually very outgoing and friendly–and I wondered what was wrong.

Then, Crow called for everyone’s attention.

“I want to talk about these beers over here,” he said, standing in front of one of our stations. And then he looked over at me with a mysterious smile. “Actually,” he continued, “I want to ask Heidi a question.”

And before I even had time to think about what he could possibly be asking me, he dropped to one knee while simultaneously removing a white box from his pocket. My heart thudded loudly in my ears. Oh, no, you didn’t, I thought, excitedly and nervously. In front of everyone!

“Will you marry me?” he asked looking up at me with the happiest smile on his face.

Crow proposes to Mars Girl. Dr. McCoy presides over the proceedings.

I kept covering my mouth to hide my overwhelmed expression. I think I’m a little embarrassed by my reactions to emotional things like this in public–I’m always afraid that my reaction won’t look genuine enough so I cover it up behind my hands. I think I giggled a little like a girl. A few “oh my Gods” might have come out.

Mars Girl folds in disbelief and shock. But happy disbelief and shock.

And then I answered, forgetting all the eyes on me, “Yes!!!”

I took the ring in the box Crow proffered me. It was exquisitely beautiful and Crow picked it himself–a marquis cut diamond surrounded on each side by a deep purple amethyst stone of similar shape, pretty little diamonds in the band on each side. It sparked in the light. I slid it on my left ring finger as he stood up. I hugged him, my hands shaking and my heart fluttering. I couldn’t believe what had just happened, even though we’d discussed marriage already over the last couple of months. I had told him that I didn’t want to know when he planned to propose to me or even that he’d bought a ring. So I really was surprised. It was perfect.

Mars Girl hugs her fiance.

Thanks to Susan Spinelli, a friend from our bike club, for capturing the moment for us so that we could have it forever.

Mars Girl, still too shocked to do anything but hold onto Crow.

Mars Girl admires the beautiful ring.

More hugs!

So happy they don't know what to do with themselves.

The happy couple, now fiance and fiancee!

And… the moment you’ve been waiting for…. the beautiful ring…

A unique ring for a girl who loves purple.

The proposal was one day after my 37th birthday. I can’t think of a better way to start the next year of my life. We’re thinking of a July 2013 wedding date… Suddenly, the future is looking very busy… But very, very exciting!


I rag on Ohio. A lot. I’m always frustrated by the weather, the lack of mountains, the less than healthy attitude towards food and exercise. I miss the rugged mindset of Colorado–the “can do attitude” where my bicycle commute to work of 20 miles was seen as a normal thing, not an anomaly as my 15 mile commute is seen here in Ohio. I miss businesses with showers, allowing people to commute to work by walking or bicycling or to exercise at lunch. I miss the endless sunshine. I miss drivers who expect to see cyclists on the road instead of ones who shout at you to get on the sidewalk.

I miss all of this.

And. Yet. I don’t know. I think I’ve found a warm spot amidst all my disappointments with Ohio, this state in which I was raised: the Cuyahoga Valley and Akron.

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of those places not a lot of people really know about to appreciate. It’s pretty small by national park standards. I don’t know that many people go out of their way to visit. But Northeast Ohio locals appreciate it, coming to hike along its many trails, bike along the scenic towpath, catch glimpses of bald eagles and Great Blue Heron nesting. Road cyclists enjoy the two roads that loop the valley as well as the multiple choices of challenging climbs. I’ve always said that if you can do multiple climbs up some of those hills, you’re more than ready to ride out west where the slope of the road tends to be longer but more gradual.

Riding yesterday through the valley, I started to think about how much I appreciate this park and its surrounding areas. I love feeling as though I’m on vacation even though I’ve never left home. On a sunny day, the valley is full of light and pretty. The Cuyahoga River winds beside the roads, sunlight sparkling on its water, and though cities surround all sides of the valley, for awhile, you slip into another place.

Akron, to the south, is a really cool town I’ve come to appreciate. It offers a lot of the same things as Cleveland–restaurants, culture, theatre, local events, summer concerts, baseball in the form of the Akron Aeros–but everything is at a much smaller scale. Which general translates to cheaper, if you’re talking about events, at least. Unlike Cleveland, it seems to be less of a sprawling metropolis, and there are places downtown where people actually live.

I like that you can take the towpath into downtown (and, in fact, you can go further south than Akron). I’ve done this before to catch an Aeros game; Crow has gone to a beer fest by bike. I am imaging a few bike escapes to my favorite restaurant this summer–The Lockview–and perhaps some other cultural events. Though the motorists are not too happy about it, you can easily commute Akron by bike. And, for some reason, Akron is less intimidating to me than Cleveland.

There are at least three health food stores in the area that I can think of. The neighboring Fairlawn has every store you can think of (except Kohl’s!!! *shake fist!!*) plus a movie theatre and restaurants. And yoga studios, which I’d like to check out.

Akron also has a great metropark system. A lot of the parks straddle the Cuyahoga Valley, making the valley seem even bigger, but some of the other parks are located right in the middle of busy suburbs. Regardless of where the park is located, you are seemingly transported into the middle of the natural world. I gladly pay my property taxes knowing a portion of it goes to these parks. If I could, I’d allocate all my tax money there. (Okay, yeah, I know… the schools… I get it.)

As I think about all these things, I realize I really like where I live. I know why I came right back to this area–despite the bittersweet melancholy of  memories with my husband–after I moved back from Colorado. This is home. This has always been, to me, home since I started dating my husband. Home is the one thing Colorado never became for me, despite my extreme desire to make it so. I guess home is not necessarily the place where you choose to lay your hat; home is the place in which your heart decides you belong.

I can’t stop thinking of the lyrics to the Depeche Mode song called “Home” and how they relate to my own experience:

I thank you, for bringing me here
For showing me home
For singing these tears
Finally I’ve found that I belong here...

It’s been a long journey finding this place… But I think–at least for now–I’ve arrived.

Continuing Adventures in a Snowless Winter

The girl running the front desk at the hotel the next morning after Groundhog Day pointed us to Cook Forest State Park. She said there was some great hiking there and specifically pointed us to a *fire tower* from which we could get an excellent view of the surrounding area. She also suggested Bilger’s Rocks, to the south of us, as another really cool place to visit. We decided to go to Cook Forest, and then maybe hit Bilger’s Rocks on our way out of town the next day.

Upon arriving at the park, we checked in at the park office to get suggestions about where to go into the park and, specifically, how to get to the said *fire tower*. Personally, I’d never have even thought to stop at the park office to get information. Don’t ask me why. It probably has something to do with my often general shyness with strangers. And probably somewhat more to do with my rather masculine aversion to asking for directions. Thankfully, Crow doesn’t have such inhibitions. The ranger working the desk was really nice and she showed us lots of neat places to go, suggesting also we check out the Beartown Rocks at Clear Creek State Forest as well. She also explained that Cook Forest contained many old growth trees and pointed us to the Longfellow trail that would take us into the heart of the ancient forest.

Old growth in Cook Forest from the ground up to the sky.

I was a little sad to learn that there were some good cross-country skiing trails and even an ice skating rink at the park when weather permitted. Weather wasn’t permitting at the moment. It was a sunny day, maybe 40 degrees or so. A great day for a hike, though.

Mars Girl & Crow start out on the Longfellow Trail.

Crow peeks around an old growth tree.

I’ve been to a forest of sequoia trees in California (Calaveras Big Trees State where my cousin Angy was married) so I’ve seen big, old trees before. These trees–hemlock, white pine, various types of maple, oak, beech–were not quite as grand as a sequoia obviously. But yet, they were impressive in their girth and still a wonder. Every time I look at old growth trees, I like to imagine what they could tell us about our world if they could talk. All the history they’ve lived through. What would they say about the Native Americans that surely walked through in the trees’ younger years? Could they comment on the explorers that followed? Climate change? Pollution? An organism of the earth, like me, with a story to tell. Amazing. Even more amazing that they managed to escape being cut down by humans looking for lumber. Thankfully, the old growth of the forest is protected land.

Yes, it's true. I'm a tree hugger! One should always respect their elders.

Not so old growth in Cook Forest.

The lower part of the trail took us a long a creek. We stopped to eat a power bar and enjoy the surroundings. It was just one of those days where it felt so good to be breathing the crisp, fresh air and stretching your legs amongst the soothing presence of nature. The slight chill in the air made each breath in cleansing.

Where we took our snack along the creek.

After the hike through the old growth, we got back in the car and drove up to the entrance of a dirt park road that is closed in the winter to vehicles, normally used for cross-country skiing. Crow was afraid it would be a boring walk since it was technically a park road in the summer, but the ranger had assured us that it was scenic and nice. This was the way to the *fire tower* as well as a scenic overlook–Seneca Point–indicated on the map by camera.

The road was rather rugged (something my new Subaru would eat up!). We started in a zone of mostly coniferous trees and ended up in a zone of deciduous trees. The abrupt change was especially noticeable because the lack of leaves on the deciduous trees made everything suddenly a lot brighter and warmer. I always find it remarkable that you can cross a line in a forest and suddenly be in a completely different world.

At a parking lot at the end of the road, a sign pointed to a small path that led to the *fire tower*. I really wanted to be brave on this one. So I started climbing up without thinking too much about it. I mean, it’s not closed off to the public, so it’s perfectly safe, right?

Harmless little fire tower.

It's just a harmless little fire tower... It's not that high... *gulp*

I don’t know if it’s just the way these towers are constructed with their metal stairs and skinny little fence railings. You could see through the step rails below your feet. And, of course, they shake so much as you climb; they sway in the slightest of wind. They just give the impression of complete instability. The little enclosure at the very top is not open to the public, but you could ascend all the way to the level immediately below it. Which Crow did. I felt so much vertigo from the climb and the swaying that once I got to the level below the last, I already started climbing back down. I could not even dart my eyes outward to enjoy the view. What a wimp.

Mars Girl holding on for dear life... and shortly about to turn around.

Crow stayed above me for a little bit, taking pictures, but he also admitted to feeling a bit uncomfortable up there. This certainly was nothing like the tower at Myakka, but completely like the one I remembered climbing at Mt. Davis (PA’s highpoint) so long ago. Oh well. The view was nice from the ground too.

Scenic view (that I missed) from *fire tower*.

Another view from the *fire tower*. (I don't see any fires.)

I was a bit disappointed in my cowardly behavior. But, oh well. I suppose you can’t be a daredevil about everything. I know that I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane in my younger years, but I was also, um, younger. And I had a parachute. I guess I prefer my feet firmly planted on the ground. I also don’t like rock climbing and have no desire to do so. Ever. A girl knows her limits.

The view from Seneca Point.

So we walked over to Seneca Point which offered a view without all the fear. It was a little disappointing that they chose to put a fence around the edges, though–that kind of takes away from the natural feeling of the environment. I’m smart enough to stay away from the edge of a big drop. It’s too bad many people aren’t. Still, at least I could appreciate this view.

It was late afternoon when we finally made it over the Beartown Rocks. But position of the sun illuminated the rocks in such a way as to highlight their beauty. It was perfect for taking photographs.

I started experimenting more with panoramic mode...

In terms of historical experience, rocks have “seen” the history of the world thousands of times over. They out-date human history and, if alive and sentient, could speak volumes about the ever-changing Earth. I guess if you’re a geologist, they do, in a way, speak to you if you know how to read the patterns left behind on their surfaces, know their composition. I am just as enchanted by the age of these ancient rocks as I am the oldest of trees. It was fun to walk among them and I would have loved to have known more about their history.

Almost as if moved into that position by giants, a little alcove at Beartown Rocks.

Cool picture of the moon captured by Crow at Beartown Rocks.

After a full day of laid back exploration, we returned again to our hotel at DuBois for one more night. When we had planned this trip, I booked a night’s stay in Ligonier, PA, near the Seven Springs and Hidden Valley ski resorts so that we could spend a day downhill skiing. We planned to do this Sunday and since we had all day to check in at the hotel in Ligonier, we decided to go to Bilger’s Rocks, and then Penn’s Cave.

A panoramic view at the top of Bilger's Rocks.

Bilger’s Rocks was a challenge to find, located on a discrete little country road off US-219 north of Grampian. The first time we tried to locate it, using the map, we missed the entrance to the country road. Though harder to find, these ledges exceeded our expectations; they completely blew away everything we’d seen at Beartown Rocks. There were so many crevices and caves, nooks and crannies–literally a playground for two curious adults. Though icy in spots (due to it being winter), we really enjoyed threading our way through the rocks.

A rocky passage along Bilger's Rocks. I love how the tree roots thread across the rocks.

Below are some of the best shots (most of which were taken by Crow on his fancy camera) of Bilger’s Rocks to give you an idea of the place. It was really immense and wonderful. Definitely going out of your way to visit.

Crow down below at Bilger's Rocks.

Mars Girl feels small amidst the ages-old rocks.

Where rocks divide...

Mars Girl poses with the Mighty Rocks.

Rocks, rocks, everywhere, rocks!

This “room” was boxed in with an entry on the one side. I saw it both from above and below:

A little room among the ledges from above.

The room from below.

Mars Girl on the other side of a skinny passage.

Rock on rock--as if some giant was using the rocks like we do Legos.

No, I'm not attempting to push the rock. This was actually a tight squeeze that I wormed myself through.

A little "ice fall" on the rocks.

While observing some patches of ice laying across the rocks, such as the one shown above, I noticed droplets of water moving beneath the surface of the ice. They looked like little space bugs scuttling beneath the surface, making me think of something from a science-fiction movie. I captured this on video because it was just so cool.

It took us awhile to feel compelled to leave Bilger’s Rocks. But we reluctantly left knowing that we wanted to get to Penn’s Cave before it closed at 5pm. So off we went. We arrived there about two hours later, around 3:00pm–just in time for the next tour! Being winter hours (Penn’s Cave is only open on the weekends during the winter), it was really quiet in the shop. When we got down to the cave for the tour, there was just one other couple waiting for the boat.

Yes, I said “boat.” Penn’s Cave is accessible only by water. It’s the coolest cavern I’ve ever been to (and Crow admitted I might be disappointed the next time I go to another cavern). The tour is via a motor boat. The water comes from a ground spring and appeared neon blue in color.

Entrance to Penn's Cave.

It was a completely different world within the cave. I admit that we didn’t get too many good pictures–the lighting conditions inside the cave were not conducive. It’s one of those experiences where you just have your memory to look back to, which in some ways is almost better.

The narrow passage to the first room in the cavern.

I was immediately floored when our boat moved into the first “room” inside the cavern. It was like a natural cathedral with its high ceilings and ancient stalactites and stalagmites reaching for each other like statutes sculpted by the hands of Mother Nature. Someone had set up lights strategically, which the tour guide turned on with a switch, so that you could admire fully the formations. It was breath-taking. I had several moments of marveling at the wonder that is our world.

Some structures inside Penn's Cave.

However, I have to wonder how much damage the lights are doing to this natural wonder–it doesn’t take much to disrupt the growth of the stalagmites and stalactites, and the rest of the geological formations within the cavern. So, part of me had trouble really reconciling my need to explore with the harm it was doing to the environment. Though, the tour guide explained, at one point in the cavern’s history, they used to let tourists take pieces of the cavern home with them. At least they aren’t doing that any more. We were also warned at the beginning of the tour not to touch anything because the salt from our skin could ruin the formations.

Stalagmites and stalactites in Penn's Cave made more dramatic by lights.

We were followed from room to room by a little screech-owl who fed on the bats that inhabited the cave. He watched us from a high perch in one of the last rooms. That was pretty sweet. I’m glad the natural wild life was not disturbed by our presence at all.

Our little owl friend.

The opposite end of the cave from which we came in was blown out purposely with dynamite at one point so we ended up in a man-made lake. We took a spin around it once and to get a look at the wildlife park that also shares the space at Penn’s Cave for tourists to explore in the summer. That seemed a little out-of-place to me, but, okay. It is the middle of Pennsylvania. You have to draw people there somehow. As if this beautiful cavern wasn’t enough!

Mars Girl as we headed into the lake at the other side of the cavern.

The tour was really cool–definitely breath-taking. I kept asking myself, “Why don’t I ever stumble upon a natural cavern on my own property?” As so many caverns just seem to be randomly discovered by accident by people going about their own business. I would love to have my own cavern. And not share it with anyone but my friends. And maybe a few geologists.

Crow and Mars Girl at the end of the path leading to Penn's Cave.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. I liked being there with everything so low-key and quiet. It definitely inspired me to check out some of the caverns local to me in Ohio that I’ve not had the chance to see. Hmmm… do I smell a summer weekend ROAD TRIP!?

And the best ending to this story is that when we headed out of town, we found a really nice restaurant at the top of a hill called The Mount Nittany Inn. They had good beer on draft!! And a beautiful view of the surrounding area.

So all is not completely lost in Pennsylvania. In fact, later that evening in Ligonier–of all places–we discovered The Wicked Googly (thanks to the direction of some locals) which was in walking distance from our hotel. Unexpectedly, it was located in a bowling alley (most often known for its wide selection of yellow beer). Not only was there live music, but an above par selection of draft beer which included–among many other choices–our favorite, the beloved Southern Tier Choklat Stout. Oh my goodness! What a reward after days of disappointing beer encounters. So, ultimately, it was good we did all that walking and exploring.

We did manage to get to Hidden Valley to ski on our last day of vacation. I’d never been there before, always choosing the much more famous Seven Springs. I was actually taken aback because I figured Hidden Valley to be a let down after Seven Springs’ challenging hills. No, Hidden Valley holds its own, being only slightly less challenging, and is apparently a lot less busy than Seven Springs. It certainly seemed to have a lot of slopes. I will definitely have to purposely visit there again when we actually have a winter.

Conditions were typical of this less-than-pleasurable winter: good to start, but icy as the day wore on. Due to my lack of days on the slopes this year, I was a little timid so I didn’t really enjoy myself as much as I would have in a better season. But it is what it is.

Despite the disappointing winter, though, we still managed to make the most of our time together, exploring those little places so close to home that we often overlook in sight of the bigger places to which we want to travel.

But I’d still like to finally try cross-country skiing. Maybe next year…?

Groundhog Day 2012

When Crow first mentioned the idea of attending the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, PA, I immediately answered that I was on board. It was one of those things I’d never really put any thought into attending, but, once mentioned, seemed like an exciting adventure. Falling on a Thursday this year, I requested Wednesday through Friday off from work to make for a nice long weekend. We figured that since it would still be winter (ha) we might also have the opportunity to do some cross-country skiing in the area. (Of course, this was our idea back in October when we also thought we were actually going to have snow for New Year’s.)

So we arrived in Punxsutawney in the afternoon on Wednesday to check out the scene. The town was pretty quiet. There were some tents set up in the town circle where vendors were selling food and crafts–a woodworker carved animals from logs and stumps. By the library (where we later learned Punxsutawney Phil lives throughout the year in a windowed cage), a group of people were gathered roasting marshmallows for s’mores over a little fire in a metal drum. It seemed rather relaxed.

According to the program of events (which had actually started on Saturday), there was a hayride tour of the town departing from the house that served as a historical museum. I love hayrides, so we decided to do that first after a quick lunch at a local cafe/coffee shop. It was orated by a local historian who was also a high school art teacher in Punxsutawney (or “Punxsy” as the locals call it). He was bursting with more information than frankly the hayride had time for, so it was really educational because you got the sense that he wanted to tell you everything. We learned that Punxsutawney means “town of the flies” (or something similar to this) in the tongue of the Native Americans who used to inhabit the area. Apparently the river flowing beside the town was a wet home for mosquitoes.

Punxsutawny attributes its name to the Native Americans.

The guide explained that the Groundhog Days festivities are rooted in the tradition of many of the town’s German settlers. In Germany, the legend took the form of some other hibernating creature, but because groundhogs were so plentiful in the area–and even hunted for sport and food–it became the groundhog for the town. Lots of other towns celebrated this tradition, but it was the founders of Punxsy who came up with a marketing plan that made the celebration in their town one of the biggest in the US. With the celebration, of course, comes tourism. And as we toured the town, seeing the various groundhog statues and paintings, it was very clear that Punxsutawny comes alive for one week out of every year for one purpose.

Crow on the Punsxy hay ride.

After the tour, we continued to investigate the town, taking a look at the house converted to a historical museum and, across the street in another house-turned-museum, we enjoyed some hot chocolate and cookies while checking out an art show that was currently taking place as part of the festivities. We stopped in at the Chamber of Commerce to look at the bountiful groundhog souvenirs. I ended up selecting one of the tacky–yet adorable, in my humble opinion–headbands with groundhog ears and a top hat (seen below). Crow elected to avoid indulgence for the time being; however, at a really cool craft fair we discovered at the Pantall Hotel, he found himself clad in an equally adorable groundhog hat (also seen below). I ended up buying groundhog earrings at said craft fair. Hey, next year I’ll be the most festive person at work on Groundhog Day.

Mars Girl and Crow dressed in our geeky groundhog glory posing before the wizard groundhog found in front of the Weather Discovery Center.

Another event we decided to check out was a chili and wings cook-off taking place at one of the buildings of the Indiana University Culinary Art School. This was a lot of fun. We shared a tray of all twelve samples (although two were already out by the time we got there so we never got to try it) and got to take part in the People’s Choice portion of the competition by voting for our favorites. They also had a jalapeno-eating competition in which one of the girls at our table decided to take part. She actually made it to the final round, but was beaten by another male competitor. She ate those jalapenos like a trooper, though, winning my admiration. I love jalapenos; however, I don’t think I could just eat them plain, one after the other, especially after having sampled ten different chilis.

Hmmm... Chili! We liked 2, 7, and 8 best.

A group of people from Oregon sitting near us happened to win tickets to a comedy show later in the evening, to which they already had tickets, so they asked us if we wanted the tickets they’d won. Despite realizing that we were going to need to hit the sack early to be at Gobbler’s Knob at 5am the next morning, we decided to take the tickets. We went for a couple drinks at the pub attached to the Pantall Hotel.

I must stop here to gripe about the abysmal beer selection at any given bar in Pennsylvania. I think the “case law”–which dictates that people cannot buy beer in quantities less than a case and only at state run liquor stores–severely thwarts the maturity of would-be beer enthusiasts in the state. As a result, every single bar you go to has only dull American lagers (read: Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Lite, and–god forbid–Yuengling). This bar was no exception. The best choice was Blue Moon. I have to admit since I’ve become a bona fide beer snob, I’ve left Blue Moon (a previous favorite) far, far behind. So this was the first time in literally months that I’d had a Blue Moon. Sad to say, it’s not quite as good as I remember it. But still better than yellow beer.

They did have a special beer for the occasion–Groundhog Brew by a Pennsylvania brewery called Straub. Representatives from Straub were at the bar, in fact, and handing out all sorts of chotskys–lip balm (smelling and tasting like a cheap beer), beer cozies, polo shirts, bottle openers–all of which ended up in our hands in duplicate. Sadly, Straub is not going to become a favorite brewery of mine (not even close). We did each drink at least one of the Groundhog Brews just for the spirit of the occasion. Crow kept one of the bottles as a souvenir.

The comedy show was fun and campy with a really small audience. However our Oregon friends got offended and left towards of the headliner’s act. I guess they couldn’t take the heckling since the comedian chose them to pick on at one point. We ran into them the next day and they went on about how offensive they found the comedian’s jokes and some of his heckling of them early on. I guess I could see that but when one listens to shock jocks like Howard Stern (which I do), it was pretty tame in my books. I guess I’ve become desensitized. We got back to the hotel at midnight. Ack. Not a good start to an early morning wake-up call!

The gates to Gobbler’s Knob opened at 3am. We decided we didn’t need to be there that early so we woke up at 3am. As we were staying in a hotel in DuBois (pronounced, not surprisingly, “Do-boyz”), it was about a twenty minute drive to Punxsy. We parked in town and took one of the shuttle buses to the Knob (it’s closed to cars on Groundhog Day).

Gobbler’s Knob is a few miles out of town on the top of a hill in what looks like a little park. I was actually surprised by its remoteness from town. I guess my expectations were shaped by the movie Groundhog Day in which Gobbler’s Knob appeared to be located right in town. We probably arrived on the hill around 5-530am. The crowd was already pretty heavy and there was an air of excitement about (whether alcohol-induced, tired slap-happiness, I cannot say). Still, we seemed to get a good spot and we could see the stage pretty well. Music was blaring loudly from the loudspeakers at the stage and a team of young girls dressed in like–but different colored–shirts danced to the music. An MC occasionally incite the crowd to cheer and brought people on stage to play some games.

Dancing girls and MC at Gobbler's Knob.

We weren’t there long when a helicopter passed slowly overhead, its search light breaking through the darkness. It landed somewhere on the field behind us, causing a kid next to us to excitedly vacate his spot to go check it out. Turns out, it was the governor of Pennsylvania making a historic appearance at Gobbler’s Knob, which apparently had not been done but one other time by a sitting governor of Pennsylvania. He was introduced on stage with his wife and he said a few words. Even though I’m not a resident of Pennsylvania (and have no idea of his political affiliation), I thought that was pretty cool.

Governor of Pennsylvania and his wife at Gobbler's Knob.

At about 6:30am, there was a fireworks display. It was still completely dark out. I forget how long it stays dark winter, even this late in the winter, and the darkness, mixed with the little sleep I got the night before, left me in kind of a haze that made the whole scene feel kind of surrealistic. It mine as well have been midnight. I was cold, but thankful our mild winter made standing at the Knob for two hours bearable (I hear that 2011 was bitterly cold).

Mars Girl at Gobbler's Knob. 5am. Newly acquired Groundhog Day t-shirt across her shoulder.

The fireworks were pretty nice and made up for the fact that I actually missed Fourth of July fireworks last year because I was busy trying to find U2 in Chicago. However, during the display, a group of drunken young people (early 20s?) threaded their way into our area and proceeded to make sarcastic comments throughout the rest of the show. They must have been townies, for most of the remarks consisted of the comment, “Just like every year!” So I have to wonder. Why bother showing up to an event you find so dull and ordinary? Oh, yeah, you like to get drunk. And smoke cigarettes in large crowds. Right.

Crow at Gobbler's Knob. 5am.

So the fireworks ended about 6:45am. The wait was nearing its end. The sun was starting to come up, indicated only by the lightening of the clouds, the appearance of light, for it was a typical cloudy northeast day. I was sure that Phil would not see his shadow.

Our perspective of events (without zoom lens view).

Amidst MC-led cheers of “We love Phil!,” the Inner Circle–men in top hats, suits, and black trench coats–appeared on stage, all smiles. We’d seen a few of the guys around town the day before, but hadn’t realized their celebrity status. It’s a little strange, really. But I think the Inner Circle are to Phil as the elves are to Santa Claus. That is, in the grand scheme of this imaginary play that Phil is indeed the ultimate weatherman, as his acclaim around town suggests. While watching the ceremony, part of me was engaged in the illusion, while the other part of me chuckled inwardly at how silly the whole thing was. A third part of me was wishing the drunken idiots would shut up and let the other two parts of me enjoy the festivities.

A guy had this sign... I think this is a good initiative. I'm sure Phil could beat Santorum, Romney, or Newt no matter what his platform!

One of the guys started the ceremony by introducing each member of the Inner Circle. Like fraternity boys, they had funny nicknames for each other of which only they knew the source. Dawn was fully upon us but it was still not very bright, the only significant light coming from the flood light pointed at the stage. Then, somewhere around 7:20, the president of the Inner Circle rapped on the manufactured stump, summoning Punxsy Phil from his “slumber” (it’s doubtful he was really sleeping with all that racket going on for four hours). Phil was pulled from his little home and presented to his handlers. There was some conferring among the Inner Circle and Phil, and then the president proceeded to read the proclamation…

Punxsy Phil's Inner Circle.

…Phil saw his shadow (I beg to differ that it was caused by the artificial lights flooding the stage). Six more weeks of winter. What? We hadn’t had a winter yet as far as I am concerned. Oh well, I guess it would be six more weeks of what we were currently getting…?

Anyway, the show was over as quickly as it had begun. Most of the record 18,000 observers began to exit the hill. Crow and I decided to stick around to wait in line for a picture with Phil, which the master of ceremonies announced we could do. Punxsy Phil was put into a transparent plastic tube; Crow and I amused ourselves while waiting in line by watching Phil’s frantic scurrying to get out of said tube.

Punxsutawney Phil in his little plastic tube. He's so cute!

We didn’t have to wait too incredibly long… maybe 45 minutes or so. Fortunately, my summer going to U2 concerts and waiting in line fortified me with a steel-like patience. Unlike my U2 experience, I actually got my picture with the celebrity of the hour. And it didn’t even require a stay in an upscale hotel!

Mars Girl & Crow with Punxsy Phil.

With the festivities concluded, we boarded another shuttle back to Punxsutawney. But not before we got another obligatory picture at the entrance to the park.

Mars Girl & Crow at Gobbler's Knob.

By this time, believe it or not, I was actually starving. I’d only eaten a granola bar and an apple at 3am because, well, nothing was really open that early, certainly not the continental breakfast offered by the hotel. So we scanned the street for one of the many pancake breakfasts and such going on and ultimately ended up going to the Pantell Hotel’s buffet instead. I thought it would be neat since the restaurant was at the top of the building, offering a nice view of the town below.

Eh. The food was totally mediocre and the buffet was constantly understocked (scrambled eggs disappeared as soon as they were dropped). I would have thought a food service would be better prepared for the masses that descend upon the town on Groundhog Day but apparently not. If I had to do it over again (or I go to Groundhog Day in the future), I would definitely invest more time in finding one of the breakfasts offered by the churches and organizations around town… I’ve found, at least as far as cycling events go, these are usually above par for meals.

I was starting to feel a little bit tired, but at the same time, I didn’t want to miss out on the excitement around town. It was definitely more busy than it had been the day before and there seemed to be a lot more going on, if you could find it. We decided to go visit the Weather Discovery Center, made especially attractive by the wizard groundhog statue that stood out front.

I wasn’t expecting much at all–probably something on the order of complete and utter cheesiness. I was surprised to learn that the museum was legitimately educational and fun. As you walked into the part, you end up going through a fake home in a tree that is meant, obviously, to be a “replica” of Phil’s imaginary burrow. It was cute and completely what I expected. However, as we walked beyond, the displays provided information about all sorts of weather predicting wives’ tales.  My favorite–the size of the stripes on the wooly bear caterpillar–turns out to be false (boo!). The one about tree leaves turning upward as a sign of a coming storm apparently has some scientific validity. There were a bunch of others I’d never even heard of (ie, something about leeches floating in water).

We got to play with a green screen that they had set up to be like a weather room on the news. You could then see yourself with a weather map in the background as if you were announcing the weather.

Mars Girl gives the weather prediction... and it's probably a thunderstorm given her expression!

We watched a little bit of a movie about weather. And there were various hands-on displays that explained all aspects of weather such as how lightning and thunder are related and how tornadoes are formed. I think we must have stayed there about an hour and it’s a pretty small museum. Fortunately, while we were there, a ceremony took place in the front room to crown the new Mr. and Mrs. Groundhog Day, or some such title as that, which was given to these two darling little kids. Punsxy Phil was brought in by his handlers to oversee the ceremony… and Crow managed to wheedle me in for a picture.

Mars Girl with Punxsy Phil and his handler. Phil is even cuter close up!

We went back to the town circle to see if anything was going on over there. We caught the end of a metal works competition that had been going on since the day before and saw some members of the Inner Circle–who all seemed at once omnipresent throughout the town–decide on the winner.

The winning metal sculpture.

I think they were both sculptures were pretty cool. I wish I’d seen them putting them together. We did get a glimpse of the team working on the runner-up one the night before. Both teams seemed to be young teenagers.

The runner-up sculpture in the metal arts competition.

Since it was colder than the day before (finally around 30 degrees whereas the day before was springlike), an ice carver was now set up. He was really animated and interesting, explaining that he’d coached and competed for the US Olympic ice sculpting team; I didn’t even know this was such an event! As he talked, he would make these candy canes and lollypops out of ice and pass them out the kids in the crowd. We also watched him make a mug….

A mug of ice--refreshing! And perfect for beer! I was foaming at the mouth watching.

…fill it with Gatorade…

Filling the ice mug with refreshment!

..and proceed to drink from it!

A refreshing drink from the ice mug!

He explained that he enjoyed making functional ice sculptures the most. Some of the pictures on his display showed interesting contraptions he was commissioned (I think) to make for some upscale events. For example, I saw a twisted carafe used for pouring wine. Other pictures showed some of his more extravagant ventures working with fire and ice. It was completely interesting. We stuck around to watch him begin creating a sculpture of a groundhog on skis. I kept dreaming of having a beer in one of his ice mugs.

Ultimately, though, the lack of sleep caught up with us. We decided to head back to our hotel to catch a nap. I think I slid back into bed around 3pm… and woke up around 6 feeling a bit like I’d been in a coma but rested. We chilled the rest of the day at the hotel and made plans for how we would spend the rest of our weekend considering the lack, once again, of hoped for snow for outdoor activities.

What did we do? Well, that’s for another entry, my friends. Mwuuhahahahaa!

Overall, the experience was really fun and I’m glad we did it. I’d definitely go again sometime; however, Crow and I both agree that a trip out to Punxsy will not be in our itinerary every year. (I personally would only like to pick only warm winters like this one since standing outside for three hours in the early morning in dead cold is never fun.)