Misery Loves Company

I signed up for the Misery Challenge at the end of March, around the time I was starting long for summer. I’ve always loved the ocean, but have only discovered open water swimming the in the past few years. The Misery Challenge seemed, appropriately, challenging but manageable. Plus, I’ll do just about anything for a fun t-shirt (I’m aware this isn’t something to brag about, but…) and with the promise of one proclaiming Misery, I was sold.

The night before the swim I woke up at 2am and frantically started Googling shark sightings in MA, so I was in a really good headspace… Still, the morning of the race I arrived early and checked in (“You’re number 63! Same as the water temperature!”), giving myself enough time to collect my family/bf (misery loves company, after all), wander around the staging area, and get my bearings. The pre-race instructions listed all the turns and buoys, but because we would start and finish in the harbor, there were a lot of turns and gates to keep us out of the boat channel. In theory that is great – more information is better than less, and I really didn’t want to end up in the path of a boat! – but in practice that meant that I found myself one of many people in the gazebo at the end of the pier looking for the various buoys while reciting turns to myself (“Right, gate, left, gate, right, right…was there a yellow one?”). I stopped short of writing them out on my hand, although I saw a few people who did that. Finally, I gave up and decided to do my best…and hope that the person in front of me was on track.

The cool thing about the Misery Challenge is that it is actually four races. There is the three-mile swim out to Misery Island and back and there is also a four mile course, which goes out to and around the island before turning back, for paddleboards, kayaks, and skulls (is…that what they’re called? I only lasted two weeks in crew before I remembered I’m short). I wriggled into my wetsuit as I watched the paddleboarders and kayakers set off, and then I wandered down to the beach for the pre-swim meeting.

20170715_081108Five minutes later, and we were off! It was a time trial start, so we lined up in pairs and went through the starting gate after our numbers had been taken down. The tide was low which made for a bit of a rocky start, but the race team did a great job of clearing the biggest rocks and sharpest shells from the path and laying down mats to walk on into the water. Still much more civilized than the mass starts I’ve done in the past! There’s something refreshing about starting a race without getting any elbows to the face.20170715_082505

As I started swimming, I was grateful for the wetsuit. I got a touch of brain freeze as I first dove under, but it went away quickly. And all those confusing turns? MUCH easier to figure out in the water! I was only a little confused when it turned out that Misery Island was a different Island than I initially thought, but once I figured that out I was good to go. I settled into a good pace and got a good song going in my head (“Rest of my life” by Town Meeting. Something about the line “cold water on my head and my face” seemed especially relevant…).

Because of the way we started, I was never in a pack of swimmers although I was never completely alone either. The water was calm throughout the race, with some subtle large, lazy, rolling waves during the longest stretch of straight swimming. I didn’t notice the waves lifting me up but as I came down the other side, it was be this weirdly unique feeling of swimming while being sort of sideways. I actually liked having those to think about since it broke up the stretch and kept me actively focused on the next buoy.

After the turnaround point (helpfully marked by a triangular buoy as opposed to the other round ones), it felt fairly quick getting back to the harbor. This was the only point at which the course got a little confusing since I was also seeing the buoys from the way out. I knew I needed to keep them mostly to my right, but it is a little weird to see buoys and not head towards them. Fortunately, there were a good number of support boats there to keep us all on track. They pointed out the correct direction and blocked off incorrect turns. At one point I heard a lot of whistle blowing, and while I immediately thought “Sharks! Eels! Lightening!” it was in fact none of the above – just a swimmer being directed back on track. But good to know the hierarchy of my swimming fears, I guess.

The swim ended on the beach closer to the mouth of the harbor than we had started and there was a short run to the finish. Again, the area was well marked and cleared of the biggest obstacles and while I was a little concerned about how my legs would do after three miles in the cold water, I managed to stand up and move without totally eating it. Which is sometimes all you can really ask for.20170715_093502

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At the finish, I found my people and peeled myself out of the wetsuit. I managed to change into real clothes without hitting my chafe marks too badly and wandered over to the finish festival for a bit before heading back home. Success! And not even a little bit Miserable!20170715_094859

Three miles is the longest I’ve ever swam continuously. I swim up to 2.5 in practice (inside) and while I probably came close to that distance on SwimTrek, we had water (and snack!) breaks and sometimes did the full distance over the course of the day, not in a single morning. So, you can imagine I was pretty happy to have finished this! I completed it in 1:23.21 which is a pace of about 1:34/100 yrds. One of the things I’m finding I really enjoy about open water swimming is how much the course and conditions impact the end result. I know that’s probably common sense, but I think it’s a nice change from pool swimming where I know my base pace and it remains fairly consistent. Much more of a challenge this way! And even better, it means I’m able to stay focused on the swimming and less on the numbers, which I enjoy more.

As for the race itself, I was really impressed with how well everything was run. I fully expected to get a paddle to the head with all the boats out in the water at the same time as me, but in reality, I never saw the kayakers or rowers in the water and I only saw a few paddleboarders silhouetted in the distance against the sky as I turned to breathe. It can’t be easy to coordinate that many vessels in order to prevent them from colliding, and yet the organizers of the Misery Challenge did.

I heard some complaints about the low tide and “long” run to the finish, and while I agree that higher tide would have been preferable, I also know that we took over an entire harbor, and so probably our timing was partially determined by safety from larger boats. If I had to choose between high tide and a boat-free course, I’ll take the boat-free course any day. And the run was actually kind of fun – it’s not every day I get to run around barefoot in the mud.

The only suggestion I might make for next year would be brighter swim caps. The women had silver caps, and while that fit with the overall grey Misery theme, I didn’t feel as visible as I might have liked. The men were slightly more visible in gold caps and I noticed a few people who switched to their own brighter caps. As I said, I never encountered any boats on the water and with all the course support I felt very safe throughout, so this was ultimately fine, but just as a thought on the small things I might change.

That aside, I was really happy with how this went. Manchester-By-The-Sea is beautiful and the race gave me a cool way of seeing it. I love the in-water perspective of new places! From talking to people before and after the swim, there are so many races I’d love to try next summer, but if the timing works out, I’d absolutely do Misery again.

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72 Hours in Scotland: The Reality

Alternate title: The Self Indulgent Nostalgia Post

I’ve talked about why I decided to do a long weekend in Scotland and my experience with WOW airline, but what does 72 hours in Scotland actually look like? Well…

Friday

10:20am: Flight lands at Edinburgh Airport; disembark.

10:30am: Stand in customs line for the first time in actual years. Remember I meant to sign up for Global Entry. About that…?

10:45am: In line for Citilink bus to city center. Line is expedited when I am launched towards the window by a quick turning tourist with a large backpack.

10:46am: Note, mid-air, that I consider myself very much not a tourist. OK with this.

11:10am: Get off the bus at Princes Street stop. Walk slowly looking around, very much like a tourist might. Regardless, I am HOME.

11:30am: Meander along Princes Street. Consider how difficult it would be to get a fascinator home if I were to buy one for the wedding. Options identified, further consideration required.

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I probably have more pictures of the Scott Monument than of anything else in Edinburgh. I am ok with that.

 

12:00pm: Stop in the Royal Mile Market in the old Tron church. I discovered this place, best described as a Victorian/vintage craft market with undertones of Steampunk, a few years ago. At that time, I tried a sample of seaweed shortbread (…would recommend for the experience, would not recommend for an actual dessert) and achieved peak nerd happiness when I bought an Outlander style wool shawl from a man dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow (but with skinny jeans) who told me that my hairstyle made my look like I belonged on Game of Thrones. I am pretty sure that will always be the highlight of my life.

12:30pm: MOSQUE KITCHEN. Let’s pause here for a second. When I was in Edinburgh for school I lived at the center of a triangle filled with delicious curry options: 10 to 10 in Delhi was my go-to for palak paneer, Red Fort had the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet with the BEST chicken korma (of which I consumed my weight after my first ever half marathon), and the Mosque Kitchen, which was perfect for hearty, generous portions at student prices. I won’t say that there aren’t good curry options around me now (recommendations in the Boston area? Please?), but I will say I don’t have quite the same selection within walking distance anymore. So when I got off that plane, I craved, I needed, I could not go on without a good curry lunch. I made my way to the Mosque kitchen and almost cried from happiness when I found out I could get TWO veggie options with rice for £5. I went for the saag aloo and aubergine, found a seat by the window, pulled out my book (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell), and settled into a curry filled state of happiness.

1:00pm: Dragged myself out of my seat lest I fall asleep. Meandered up and down the Royal Mile and Cockburn Street. Cursed my impressively small personal item luggage for not allowing for shopping. Grabbed a bench in the Princes Street Gardens and pulled my book back out. Safer for my wallet that way.

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The biggest challenge to my shopping self control (shirt by Swish).

 

2:45pm: Train to Perth. I purchased my ticket far enough in advance that I was able to get a £5, nonstop ticket. My strategy was to choose a time that would most likely work, with the understanding that I could eat the cost of the ticket if my plans changed later. Fortunately, they did not and so off I went to Perth!

3:00pm: Arthur’s seat is stunning from across the firth.IMG_6404

3:20pm: The scenery probably continued to be stunning, but I would not know as I was solidly passed out.

3:55pm: Arrive in Perth! Meander (aka get slightly misplaced, but not horrifically so) on the way to the Salutation Inn. Check in, sit on bed. Continue to look longingly at bed as I drag myself back onto my feet. With only 72 hours total, I’ll sleep later. For now, I’m out to explore.

5:40pm: Make my way to the Black Watch Museum and Castle. It’s too late to go inside, but my real purpose for going is to see the Kelpies. The full-sized kelpies, designed by Andy Scott, are on my must-see dream list, but he also has smaller versions, the kelpie maquettes. I will probably just start sobbing when I finally see the full sized ones because the maquettes were breathtaking. I may or may not have taken a million pictures from every angle.IMG_6454

6:30pm: Did you know that everything in Perth closes at 6pm? I did not know that.

7:00pm: Tesco does not close at 6pm. I stocked up on snacks and went back to the hotel. I may have only had 72 hours, but I also had a wedding the next day where I’d be reunited with many of my favorite people and I wanted to be at my best. Pitch Perfect was on, and I was dead asleep by the time they sang Titanium.

Saturday

7:00am: Up at 7am, breakfast of Shreddies, sneakers on, out for a run. I wanted to see if I could find Scone Palace which was supposedly around 2 miles away from where I was staying. I did in fact make it to the gate, but it was locked and the palace itself was set back far enough that I couldn’t see it. Which I guess was the point of the gates. This peasant was successfully kept on the road and off the grounds.

9:00am: Back to the hotel, wedding prep commence!

12:00pm: Shuttle to the wedding. Best friends, warm sunshine, amazing food, all the champagne, ceilidh, ceilidh, ceilidh. Stomach full, heart happy.

11:45pm: “Nicely done with the second verse of All Star!” I’ve been working towards this moment since 1996 and boy was it worth it.

12:00am: Shuttle sing a long on the way home. BED.

Sunday

9:30am: Breakfast with friends at the hotel buffet. Contemplate the wisdom of eating haggis first thing after a night of drinking. Contemplate all the things that could go wrong. Contemplate the origins of haggis and how someone could possible come up with something that sounds so disgusting… Contemplate getting more because haggis is freaking delicious.

10:00am: Free morning! Head to Kinnoull hill. Higher elevation is my favorite.

10:30am: Realize I am alone, did not tell anyone where I was going, have a phone that only works with wifi, and am relying on screenshots of maps I pulled from the internet. Consider how many episodes of SVU involve a body in the woods. Pick up the pace.

11:10am: At the summit! Alive! Everything is beautiful.IMG_6529

11:20am: Continue on to Kinnoull Tower. Everything continues to be beautiful.IMG_6539

11:25am: OBSESS over hawk sculpture in the woods.IMG_6561

12:15pm: Annnd back in Perth. While (or maybe because) I am possibly the poster girl for bad decisions and what not to do in terms of hiking, I cannot speak highly enough of the route description from Walk Highlands. As mentioned I had no service and no GPS but every turn, every incline, and every fork were accounted for in the description. I am great at second guessing that I am in the correct place (usually because I am not) but the description noted enough easy to spot landmarks, that every time I started to wonder if I had gotten off track, I was reassured that I was still exactly where I needed to be.

1:00pm: Post wedding drinks with my people. Crowd is understandably, and somewhat thankfully, subdued.

3:00pm: Wander the city, read by the river, meander towards the train.

5:22pm: On the train, asleep almost immediately.

6:45pm: Back in Edinburgh!

6:50pm: Find the correct door in the correct alley that supposedly leads to my hostel. Once again question my decision-making capabilities and sense of self preservation.

6:55pm: Realize that the building actually contains three hostels, on three separate floors. Realize this when I arrive at the top floor hostel and am told that my hostel is actually on the second floor. Oh. Back down I go.

6:57pm: I am in the Baxter Hostel, which I believe is fairly new and is may be the most hipster hostel I’ve ever seen. The logo is the silhouette of a campfire, but all I see is an upside-down beard. Bunks are custom made with wrought iron frames. Am shown to my room, a nine-person, all women dorm.

7:05pm: “Here’s your key. Well, your room doesn’t actually have a lock right now, but since you need a key to enter the building, you’ll be safe.” Oh. Decide not to think too extensively on that.

7:10pm: Sunset isn’t until 10 and I sure as hell am not spending more time than necessary in the hostel so byeeeeeeee. Because clearly Kinnoull Hill wasn’t enough walking for one day (approximately four miles round trip) I decided to continue seeking out higher elevation by hiking Arthur’s Seat. In my flip flops. Have we discussed my decision making skills yet?IMG_6614

As always, Arthur’s Seat was a delight. Because of where the sun was at, the peak was flooded with light. It was warm, hazy, borderline mystical. As usual the peak was crowded but everyone was a little bit lost in the light giving everyone a bubble of gauzy tranquility amidst the madness.IMG_6601

8:30pm: Back beneath the clouds and HUNGRY. Book it to my favorite noodle place, Red Box. It is nothing special, but has been my go to for quick, filling student food since 2010 and it did not disappoint.

9:00pm: The sun is still up and I still refuse to go back to the hostel. Wander up to the castle, check out the beginnings of the construction for the Tattoo. Turn around and see the Royal Mile glowing in the sun and calmer than I’ve ever seen it before. I love this city. Continue meandering down the Mile, across Princes Street, along George Street, back over, around, up, down…all over, covering as much ground as possible.IMG_6628

11:00pm: Back to the Baxter, blistered, sun burnt, exhausted, completely content.

Monday

7:00am: I’ve been following the Bearded Baker on Instagram and could not leave the country without one of their donuts. So I got up early and wandered down to Rodney Street. The raspberry donut was everything I could have imagined and more.

8:20am: Pass Dublin Street. One time, my grandma read a regency romance novel that took place in Edinburgh and some of the most scandalous scenes took place on Dublin Street. She now asks me about it every time I’m there, so I make sure to walk by at least once each trip and check for gasping damsels or ripped bodices, or whatever, so I can report back.

8:30am: Back to the hostel to collect my things, just enough time get some more reading in the park time before getting back on the citilink bus. Snag one of the front top deck seats and try to soak in as much Edinburgh atmosphere as possible on my way back to the airport.

10:20am: Arrive back at the airport and manage to fit some last minute Cadbury’s in my tiny bag so my family will allow me to return home, closing out an almost exact 72 hour whirlwind of a trip.IMG_6619

72 Hours in Scotland: The How

Or should I say the WOW?

No, I know I shouldn’t say that. Please stay?

 

I talked before about how this trip to Scotland was a balancing act – an attempt to go back to a place I love, while not limiting my opportunities (aka time and funds) to go to new places on my must-see list. So I turned to WOW airlines.

I’ll admit, I was not super optimistic about WOW going in. I’ve flown Ryan Air and I’ve flown Spirit and I sort of imagined that WOW flights would be equivalent…and also longer. But WOW had the best prices, so, after poring over the restrictions, limitations, and fees, I decided to book, simultaneously deciding to get to Scotland and back on only the base fare, no extras.

I have an old laptop bag that I’ve always found a little unwieldy and far bulkier than I can imagine needing, but it turns out that it is the perfect size to count as a free personal item per WOW’s restrictions (WOW: 17x13x10in; My bag: 16x13x6in). I made it my mission – my Everest! – to fit everything I could possibly need for 72 hours (including the wedding) into the bag.

In the end, I did it. I had a wedding outfit, some running clothes, and a couple of other comfortable, casual outfits, along with general essentials, in my one bag. I won’t lie – I was pretty impressed with myself, at least until I showed up in Scotland and found myself in the middle of a heat wave. It turns out I was frequently a little overdressed with not many options. I also would have preferred to have something with two straps – the single strap wore on me a little bit over the course of the weekend. But, it was definitely doable and nice to have as a tried and true option.

As for the flight itself, I think the WOW stars must have aligned because I have no complaints. I was checked in quickly, none of my four flights over the course of the weekend were delayed, and despite having opted to not select my seats, I ended up with three window seats and an aisle. I…thought I was going to have a more interesting story about this part of the trip? In actuality, on my outbound flight I fell asleep before takeoff and woke up to most beautiful clouds I’ve ever seen. The return flight had fewer clouds, but I suppose that is still acceptable. So spoiled.

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So, would I fly WOW again? Yes, but with caveats. This trip worked because I didn’t need any of the extras. For a longer trip, or a trip that required more luggage, I probably would not. When I was comparing prices before booking, WOW had the cheapest fares, but luggage fees made the difference in price less significant.

Similarly, this flight worked because I was in the no frills, budget state of mind and I was fully prepared to muscle through on limited sleep/comfort. I was lucky in my seat selection, but if I wanted to pick my seat or if I wanted in-flight entertainment, I would look elsewhere. Can I get by without an in-flight movie? Sure, but they do make some of those longer flights go faster, and I put them soundly in the quality of flight/happiness on arrival category of extras.

That said, going in with no real expectations and the student-travel mentality, WOW was a delight. The planes seemed well maintained and the service was good. I did not experience delays, cancellations, or luggage issues. The food at KEF airport (because obviously I refused to purchase anything onboard) was good. Most importantly, I was able to get where I needed to be without losing time or wasting money and for this trip that was truly everything I needed.

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I did not take any pictures en route. No one needs to see me mid-flight…