“It’s a Wonderful Run” 5K

For the second year, my mom and I participated in the festive “It’s a Wonderful Run” 5k. This USATF Certified 5k race is a part of the “It’s a Wonderful Life” Festival in Seneca Falls, NY – believed to be the inspiration behind the movie’s fictional town of Bedford Falls.

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Poster art from the film. Copyright belongs to the distributor, RKO Pictures, the publisher or graphic artist.

While the connection between Seneca Falls and Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” has never been officially confirmed, the town has dubbed itself “The Real Bedford Falls” due to the undeniable similarities. For one weekend every December, the town transforms into the 1940s-era fictional town to celebrate the holidays and the movie’s themes of small-town life, success and failure, and most importantly, friends and family.

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The Gould Hotel turns into Martini’s bar in reference to the film.

The race begins at 4:40 pm, right around sunset, and takes runners through the historic town illuminated by Christmas lights and holiday displays. The starting line is on the famous Bridge Street Bridge, which takes the name “George Bailey Bridge” for the event as a nod to the film. The atmosphere is festive and Christmassy, and despite drawing over 4,000 registered runners this year, one can’t help but feel like they are a part of a small-town family community.

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Approaching the “George Bailey Bridge” at the start of the 5k.

Along the 3.1 mile course, historic homes are decorated for the season and front lawns are filled with spectators having bonfires and cheering on the runners and walkers – everyone wishing “Merry Christmas” as you pass by. One home even offered participants shots of beer and Baileys Irish Cream – an appropriate choice given the event’s theme!

Since my mom and I are both big fans of the movie, we decided to make the event a new mother-daughter holiday tradition. Last year was my mom’s first time running a 5k and I set a new personal best for the distance. This has been an off year for my running, so rather than trying for a new PR, I decided to use the race time to spend with my mom. I’m glad I did, as I had great time encouraging her to push herself while taking in the joyous event. I can run a 5k any time I want, but time spent with family is precious and priceless. After all, that was Frank Capra’s message in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and a valuable lesson during the holidays and all year long.

Dear George:-
Remember no man is a failure who has friends.
Thanks for the wings!
Love,
Clarence

Do you have any special holiday traditions? Share them in the comments below! If you enjoy reading, please subscribe via email to keep up-to-date with my adventures and happenings!

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Reflections From My First Snowboarding Season

Here in Western New York the winters tend to be long and snowy. For those who don’t enjoy winter sports it can be quite dreadful. Before last winter, I was one of those people. I didn’t grow up skiing like many people in Upstate New York, so I really missed out on some of the best winter recreation available. After having ACL reconstruction surgery following injuries in both of my knees, skiing made me very nervous.

Snowboarding

For some reason, though, snowboarding always piqued my interest and seemed better-suited for my skills (and clumsiness). The first winter dating my partner, a lifelong skier and ski racer, also happened to be his first winter snowboarding. He was a natural and eventually snowboarding completely replaced skiing as his go-to winter activity. Fast-forward to the 2014-2015 winter ski/snowboard season and he was ready to get me out on the mountain with him.

Sunset Lift At Night
Riding the Sunset Chairlift at night is beautiful and serene.

We purchased a ski club package, offered through Rochester Young Professionals, that provided 12 weeks of Tuesday night twilight lift tickets at nearby Bristol Mountain. Since my partner gets a season pass at Bristol Mountain every year, we agreed to go each Tuesday after work from mid-December to early March.

First Snowboarding Lesson
All smiles after my first snowboarding lesson!

One of the biggest selling points of this package was that it included a group lesson each night, if desired. I took advantage of this option a couple times and, because I was the only snowboarder interested in a lesson on those nights, the group lessons actually turned into one-on-one lessons with a snowboard instructor. This was incredibly valuable, especially when I was first getting started. My partner was also able to provide helpful tips and instruction, though his patience turned out to be equally as beneficial as his knowledge.

Ski Pole Selfie with GoPro
Snowboarding with this guy makes winter a lot more fun!

Challenges of my first snowboarding season:

  • A collision with a skier who slammed into me from behind, causing severe lower back pain and bruising that lasted for weeks.
  • Getting the right equipment and gear – I had never even skied before!
  • Trying to master the toe side turn without catching an edge – I fell a lot.
  • Getting over my own fear of falling and crashing.
  • Getting easily frustrated with myself, and taking it out on my very patient, very loving partner!

Highlights of my first snowboarding season:

  • Finally getting my heel side and toe side turns!
  • Improving my technique and increasing my confidence.
  • Acquiring a few favorite trails. By the end of the season I was most comfortable on blue square trails.
  • Getting to experience all types of snow conditions for the first time: fresh powder, packed snow, slush, etc.
  • The Morning Star Cafe aka The Waffle Hut. I’m not ashamed of how much I enjoyed this yummy mid-mountain treat!
  • Spring snowboarding in 60-degree weather in April!
  • Bonding with my partner in a new way that brought us closer than ever.

Check out this highlight reel of my partner’s snowboarding videos from last season:

Overall it was an amazing winter and I learned that my love of the mountains definitely extends to snowboarding as well. I’m already eagerly anticipating the start of the 2015-2016 season – come on, snow!

What’s your favorite winter activity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Buttermilk Falls & Taughannock Falls State Parks

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Taughannock Falls State Park (top) and Buttermilk Falls State Park (bottom)

This past weekend we decided to plan a spontaneous trip to Ithaca, NY to see one of my favorite bands play at the State Theatre (woo, Guster!). Since my partner didn’t want to drive two hours home late at night, he proposed we stay the night in Ithaca after the concert – and I agreed on the condition that we check out at least one of the amazing nearby state parks. Luckily I don’t ever have to twist his arm to get him to join me on an adventure, and he was as excited as I was to see a fun show and check out some new parks.


This was my second time seeing Guster at the State Theatre, and it is one of my favorite venues. I always have a blast and enjoy the historic building‘s unique architecture. Ithaca, NY is in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, located at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake. The Finger Lakes are a popular visitor destination for the many wineries and breweries, outdoor recreation, historic sites and beautiful parks.

Buttermilk Falls State Park

After grabbing breakfast at a quaint local eatery, The State Diner, we decided to check out Buttermilk Falls State Park first since it is located right in Ithaca. According to the NY State Parks website, “Buttermilk Falls State Park takes its name from the foaming cascade formed by Buttermilk Creek as it flows down the steep valley side toward Cayuga Lake.”


My dad and stepmom joined us in our spontaneous adventure and led us to the park after breakfast. They weren’t interested hiking the trails with us, but we stopped to check out the falls near the Lower Park Entrance and take some pictures.

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After saying goodbye to my dad and stepmom, we set out for a hike up the Gorge Trail to the Upper Park Entrance, coming back down via the Rim Trail.


The Gorge Trail is a really nice easy-to-moderate hike and offers great views of cascading falls along Buttermilk Creek. A little more than half way up the Gorge Trail is a lean-to rest area, which makes for a nice spot to stop and take a break if needed. Unfortunately, as is too often the case with well-traveled and easily accessible trails, there was a bunch of litter and debris around the area of the lean-to. Nothing ruins a gorgeous day in nature’s playground quite like someone else’s trash.

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We made our way up to the Upper Park Entrance at a casual pace, stopping often to photograph the beautiful waterfalls. When we got up to the Upper Park Entrance, we looked around a bit where the Bear Trail continues up to Lake Treman, but we decided to just head back down to the Lower Park Entrance so we would have time to check out another park on the way home.

The Rim Trail follows Buttermilk Creek opposite the Gorge Trail, and is set back a bit farther away from the gorge with a wooded dirt trail. We made it back to the parking lot less than an hour after we started. We were only expecting to hike about 1.5 miles in total, according to the trail map, but MapMyRun showed a total distance of 2.8 miles. We did go a bit off trail to check out the Upper Park area, but I’m not sure how else to account for the extra 1+ mile.

Next on our spontaneous adventure to-do list was Taughannock Falls State Park in Trumansburg, NY. Since we drove past the park on our way to Ithaca the day before, we knew this was a stop we could easily make on the way home. The park’s namesake waterfall is the highest vertical-drop waterfall in the northeastern United States, plunging 215 feet.

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We drove up to the Falls Overlook to get a first glimpse at the spectacular falls before hiking the Gorge Trail for a better view. Side note – we have hiked a “Gorge Trail” at each of the last three state parks we’ve visited, must be a popular trail name!


The Gorge Trail is .95 miles long and offers a self-guided audio tour at several points along the trail. Full disclosure: the company I work for provides the cell phone tour and web app service for the Finger Lakes Region of New York State Parks, so I was very excited to finally see the park and check out the audio tour as well!

It was quick, very easy out-and-back hike along the Gorge Trail. The view of Taughannock Falls from below is even more incredible than the view from the overlook above.


On the way back, we hiked through the creek most of the way since the water level was low enough.


Both parks offer great scenic hikes that are short enough to be done in an hour or less. Of course there are more trails to explore if time permits, and we hope to visit both parks again in the future to check out what the other trails have to offer.

Have you visited any Finger Lakes State Parks? Share your favorites in the comments below!

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High Tor Wildlife Management Area & Conklin Gully

A section of trail overlooking Conklin Gully.
A section of trail overlooking Conklin Gully.

I’ve been interested in checking out the trails in the High Tor Wildlife Management Area for quite some time. So when I got a text message from a friend Friday afternoon asking if I was interested in joining a last-minute hiking trip to the area I just couldn’t say no. The High Tor Wildlife Management area is located just east of Naples, NY, about an hour away from Rochester. Tor refers to a hill or rocky peak, which accurately describes the terrain of this area. Hikers are treated to steep wooded hills, eroded cliffs, gullies and waterfalls.

The Hi Tor Blue Trail entrance at the parking area off Parish Hill Rd.
The Hi Tor Blue Trail entrance at the parking area off Parish Hill Rd.

We drove to the parking area off of Parish Hill Road to find a trailhead for the Hi Tor Blue Trail. We set out to hike up to an overlook with a view of Canandaigua Lake, checking out a bit of Conklin Gully along the way. We didn’t bring a trail map since we thought the trails looked pretty straight-forward from our internet research (ha!). Unfortunately it didn’t take very long for us to realize we were no longer following a marked trail and needed to regroup. Around this time we started to hear gunfire in the area, reminding us that we were hiking in a popular hunting area during hunting season. As we discussed how near or far the gunfire might be, we noticed a few shotgun shells on the trail near our feet – ugh! I have no problem sharing outdoor spaces with all types of recreationalists, but I have zero tolerance for those who litter. Leave no trace means exactly that, and leaving shotgun shells on the trail is no different than leaving a granola bar wrapper – just don’t do it, okay?

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We were a little nervous about hiking with two dogs in this area during hunting season, but we decided that it was getting late enough in the day to not pose much of a threat. We backtracked to where we saw the Blue Trail markings turn toward the gully and proceeded along the trail, hoping to make our way up to the Canandaigua Lake overlook. Before long, we crossed a shallow, rocky part of the gully and followed the trail up to a steep ledge along 100 ft. sheer walls. This portion of the trail offered amazing views of the gully’s rocky walls and waterfalls below.

Steep part of the Hi Tor Blue Trail leading up to a camping area and scenic overlook.
Steep part of the Hi Tor Blue Trail leading up to a camping area and scenic overlook.

After stopping to take in the scenery and snap some photos, we pressed on and reached a point where the trail widens to a space large enough to fit an ATV. At this point the trail becomes pretty steep, and goes straight up until a large clearing with a lean-to, outhouse, food locker and fire pits. This is a beautiful camping spot at the Canandaigua Lake overlook, but unfortunately camping is seasonal and restricted to organized groups by permit only.

A well-maintained lean-to on the Hi Tor Blue Trail.
A well-maintained lean-to on the Hi Tor Blue Trail.

We stopped for a while again to enjoy the spectacular view of the lake and conveniently use the outhouse near the camping area. A few hikers came from the other end of the trail and stopped briefly to chat. They had driven from Buffalo to spend the day in the area. We decided to follow the Blue Trail a bit longer, until it intersected a section of the Finger Lakes Trail that connected back to the steep, wide section of the Blue Trail again.

A gorgeous fall view of Canandaigua Lake.
A gorgeous fall view of Canandaigua Lake.

On the way down we wandered off trail a bit to explore a tributary which ran into the gully, creating a small waterfall. We climbed down to the top of the waterfall and looked over the steep ledge down to Conklin Gully before making our way back to the trailhead via the Blue Trail.

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Standing on the “edge of the world!”

As we passed by the Conklin Gully overlook section of trail again, we noticed two men hiking through the gully below us. A popular way to hike this area, particularly in warmer weather, is to hike straight through the gully. Some sections of the gully have steep waterfalls, and sometimes there are ropes to help hikers traverse these sections. The waterfall directly below where we were was one such section, and we watched the men use the rope to climb up alongside the waterfall with ease.

Two men hiking through the gully below, approaching a steep waterfall.
Two men hiking through the gully below, approaching a steep waterfall.

It was a short hike back to the trailhead, which made us realize exactly how far out of the way we had initially gone when starting out. Overall it was a very enjoyable hike, with some challenging uphill sections, gorgeous views and exciting terrain. I’m already looking forward to coming back to the area in warmer weather to hopefully hike all the way through the gully. We’re also hoping to plan a section hike of the Finger Lakes Trail, which passes through the High Tor Wildlife Management Area and connects to the Hi Tor Blue Trail. So much to explore!

We're coming for you, Finger Lakes Trail!
We’re coming for you, Finger Lakes Trail!

What’s your favorite hiking spot in the Finger Lakes? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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