Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

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A much anticipated vacation for years for us was to visit some stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. After gathering a group of friends to experience this with us, we booked our hotels, tour guide, decided which distilleries to visit and then anxiously awaited January 31, 2018 to depart.

With three couples and all their stuff for a four day trip, we piled into our Toyota 4Runner, thankful for the third row seating. Louisville was only about a 4 hour drive from our home outside of Columbus, and we were all sorts of excited. Most of us in the car liked bourbon, would drink bourbon, but really didn’t understand anything else about it. I was looking forward to learning the history of these distilleries and gaining a better understanding of what sets bourbon apart from whiskey (because we all know I love whiskey).

After a (mostly) uneventful drive down, we arrived in Louisville. Since we had arrived early enough and Bulleit was just outside of downtown, we drove there to try to catch their 3 pm tour. It was a gorgeous day – we really couldn’t have hoped for better weather in January. We were greeted at the entrance by an enthusiastic and welcoming older gentleman who assured us we were going to have a great time. With that kind of southern hospitality, how could we disagree?

The tour consisted of the six of us, a dad and daughter combo and one other individual. Our tour guide (I don’t have his name and honestly don’t think he ever told us) had a background in the bourbon industry as he had previously been a cooper (builder of the barrels.) It turns out that Bulleit isn’t actively producing their bourbon at this location (in the process of moving everything over). They do have an innovation lab where they’re testing and experimenting, but that’s only producing 1 barrel a week. It was previously the Stitzel-Weller distillery and they decided to keep the name on part of the entrance to honor it’s unique history. The moment we stepped into the rick house and the smell enveloped us…well,  it was like stepping into a piece of heaven. We got to step inside and see the cooperage as well, before our final stop, Tom Bulleit’s office. Which was the office of Pappy Van Winkle for over 20 years. That was really, really cool. Though this tour was a more comprehensive overview of bourbon and the industry, I think it was a really good place for us to start! The tour finished with a tasting in the their tasting room – we sampled four different bourbons. We learned the different ways to experience the bourbon before tasting (breathing through our nose, breathing through our mouth, swirling it around in our mouth, etc) and I learned that I really enjoyed rye whiskey. As Rye is typically associated with spice, I tend to stray away from that but in a whiskey, it’s really damn good. Their gift shop has a lot to offer with the different bourbons, trinkets, apparel and more. They had these cute little bourbon tasting journals which I wish I had purchased so I could better remember all the details but, hindsight’s 20/20 (that won’t be the last time you hear me say that, either). They were also featuring a 4 bourbon set that consisted of some of the bourbon they found in barrels left over from previous owners. It was incredibly rare, $2,000, and as a group we heavily eyed it up and considered it. Thank goodness we didn’t (like I said, hindsight’s 20/20…remember that later on). Here’s my yelp review of Bulleit. 

 

After we finished up there and made our purchases, we piled back into the 4Runner and went to our hotel. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Louisville. Our group consisted of two individuals who travel heavily for a living, so they have experienced almost everything that you can when staying in hotels at this point. The customer service we received from the minute we stepped foot on their property was exceptional. The front desk associates were so kind, informative and appreciative of us choosing them to stay during our visit. I can’t say enough good things about our stay with the Louisville HGI. Our room was pretty standard but it had all the amenities we needed. They also had added security in the elevators – one had to scan their room key card before being allowed to access guest floors. In addition, they had a bar/restaurant on the top floor and the service and food was super great. Yelp review of the Louisville HGI. 

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That night, we had dinner at Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen, which we thought was so-so. The service wasn’t great and the food was just okay. They did have good margarita’s, though. Yelp review here. 

When we were finished there, we walked over to Down One Bourbon Bar which was really neat inside. We ran into the dad-daughter combo who were on our Bulleit tour, so, small world! Everyone ordered a mix of drinks and everything was super, super good. The interior was really nice, too, and they were pretty busy for a Wednesday evening.

Day 2 

Thursday, February 1, 2018 was bourbon trail day! We booked The Kentucky Bourbon Boys for the day – for $160/person, KBB would pick us up from our hotel, drive us to the distilleries we picked, they had pre-set up our tours and established an agenda (which they followed through to the T) and provided a lot of history to our group. For more about the great experience we had with KBB, you can read my yelp review here. In short, I highly recommend them and we know we’ll book with them again when we decide to go back down for round 2!

We chose to do tours/tastings at Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace, and opted for just a tasting at Four Roses. We also had lunch at Wallace Station. Since I’ve already written my yelp reviews for each of these, I’ll do a brief overview here and then link you their page on yelp if you want to read more.

1) Woodford Reserve – Five stars. Gorgeous drive to get there (despite it being cloudy and 40*), stunning property and views. Their visitor’s center/gift shop feature exposed wood and stone and a fireplace. They have tons of areas to sit and everyone we encountered was very professional and knowledgable. Since it was the first tour of the day, we had our tour guide, Roy, all to ourselves. We really enjoyed our time with him.  The tasting consisted of two bourbons and a bourbon ball, which helped us understand the flavors of the bourbon a little more in depth. We would absolutely visit again. Yelp review here. 

2) Buffalo Trace – Five stars. Tim was awesome and set us up with a little more in-depth tour that BT offers – the E.H. Taylor Tour, Bourbon Pompeii. We had another couple join us, as well as Tim and his friend, Dave, who had ridden along with us for the day. Our tour guide was Fred, who as we came to understand from the other distilleries, was a third generation Buffalo Trace guy and could tell us everything we wanted to know about the place. Their property here was also gorgeous and I wished I’d brought my DSLR along for the trip, despite the dropping temperatures, cloudy skies and drizzling rain. The tour we took was a bit more in-depth about the history of the place and all the master distillers who had called it home. They also had Blanton’s when we visited, so we all grabbed a bottle (didn’t get to keep mine – keep reading…) because it was only 1 purchase per person. They had four types to choose from – you could pick two to try. One was a vodka. I don’t remember which two I had but I enjoyed them both. At the end, everyone also was able to sample their “Buffalo Cream” which is like Bailey’s, but better. We got to put a splash of root beer in it and it tasted like a heavenly adult float! Yelp review here.

3) Four Roses –  Two stars. As the distillery is under construction at the moment, we opted to just do the tasting. I wasn’t overly impressed with any of it, but especially not our tasting guide. The history of Four Roses was pretty neat to learn about, but our group, with two others, were shoved into this tiny tasting room space and the guide made estimates whenever he poured the bourbon into the tasting glasses, so some people got more than others. I didn’t really notice any difference between the three we tasted, and quite honestly, they just tasted like the cheap stuff you buy when you’re in college. Which is unfortunate because I’ve heard people say great things about Four Roses bourbon before. Would not return. Yelp review here.

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At the end of our day, Tim navigated us back to downtown Louisville safely while the skies opened and let big ole snow flurries fall over Kentucky. I usually have a hard time driving with other people in bad weather because the only person I really trust is myself (and Rick), but Tim did a great job. He also had bottled water and snacks on the van for us 🙂

That night, we got a little dressed up and ventured to Vincenzo’s in downtown Louisville. We had made reservations and were anxious to check this place out. I don’t understand how this place doesn’t have five stars on Yelp. All of the staff we encountered were amazing and the food was to die for delicious. Some of the highlights were: we ordered the Caesar salad to share and they hand-made the dressing next to the table, we were told the menu was just an offering of what they had and they could make basically anything we wanted, we couldn’t decide on which dessert(s) to get so they split them for us (seriously – where else will they give you that option to have half of one and half of another?!) In addition, the pricing was so reasonable for everything that we all said if this place was local to us, we’d eat there several times a week. I might have to make a special trip back to Louisville just to eat here again, just sayin’. Yelp review here.

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Table side Caesar salad dressing making!

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Scallops – perfectly cooked!

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A little of this, a little of that dessert

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Day 3 

Friday, February 2nd, 2018 was a rollercoaster of a day that started at the climb of the hill and rolled right into a very disappointing morning on Saturday. Let’s start with the good. Since we had the extra days, and were already in Kentucky, and most of us always loved visiting Lexington, we decided to make the drive over for the remainder of our trip.
Wild Turkey Distillery was slightly on our way to Lexington, so we decided to veer off and visit them. Their property spanned across two sides of the road and we followed a winding road back to their gorgeous visitor’s center. We were welcomed by friendly faces and when we inquired about doing just a tasting and not a tour, instead of an immediate “no” (because it’s not something they typically offer), we were told “Let me ask my manager.” How about that for customer service? Can you tell yet that customer service is a really big deal to me? I’ve worked in a combination of hospitality and retail industries for most of my life, so I’ve got high expectations and I’m happy to report that MOST of this trip blew me away with people who seem to have the same. The manager agreed to allow us to do just a tasting. I opted out since we were headed a winery next and I knew I’d want to drink there. But I really wish I hadn’t!

WT’s tasting room is two stories, but they let us up to the 2nd floor to take in the view. Glass windows lined the entire space, allowing us to peer out over into the valley, river and bridges beyond the building. Coming up through the floor is a still – which one of the bourbons the group tasted had come from. That’s pretty neat. They had four types set out  and everyone in the group seemed to enjoy each one. My husband let me take a sip of his rye (it was super good – I can’t wait to have some of that again) and the American Honey (also delicious). Then, as an extra treat, they allowed us to sample a fifth and everyone got to choose from a small assortment on which one they wanted to try. It was really a great experience. We already decided we’d like to do their tour whenever we visit again. Yelp review here. 

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Next, we made a stop at Talon Winery. We followed a winding road that took us past a barn and to an older, historical looking house. Inside the house was their tasting room and gift shop. We browsed the retail section for a bit, and then decided to do a tasting. Each taste was $1 which I felt was really reasonable. We sampled a variety of their wines, ranging from sweet, fruity and dry and I found something in each category that I enjoyed. We also got to try a red and a white that had been aged in bourbon barrels. The young man who waited on us was friendly and provided good conversation as we sampled our wines (girls only – the boys waited it out in the front room). I really liked the Equestrian Series VII, made from Merlot and featured flavors of chocolate and cherry fudge. Seriously. I bought that bottle and a bottle of the Forbidden (spiced apple) and couldn’t wait to enjoy them on a cold winter’s night, but now some low-life will get to instead (boo.) I drink a lot of wine and typically don’t spend $20 per bottle on it, but did this time, so that’s saying something. Yelp review here.

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When we arrived in Lexington, we decided to make one more stop before our hotel. After months and months of drooling over their images on Instagram, I was finally able to visit Crank & Boom. They have speciality ice creams that make for delicious looking sundae’s and more. I chose to get the S’mores Sundae but swapped out the vanilla ice cream for their Honey & Bourbon. You should, too. You won’t regret it. Yelp review here.

 

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After gorging ourselves on the deliciousness that C&B offered, we drove to our hotel. We’d chosen to stay at The Campbell House – Curio Collection by Hilton after a recommendation of a friend who stays frequently when in town for work, and because it was still a Hilton with the boutique hotel “charm”. Or so we thought. As we drove closer to the hotel, the group of us chatted about how this seemed like a weird area. While The Campbell House is technically in downtown Lexington, it’s on the outskirts. We pulled into their front lot, and parked in the second row from the entrance, on an end, under a light post. We didn’t think we had to be worried about safety of our vehicle, but these details come into play later on. The lot was hardly full. We stuffed our bottles of bourbon under the seats in the second row and other bottles were in the trunk space of our SUV.

We walked inside, and the lobby smelled of leather. There were two front desk associates working for check-in and this experience was much, much different than the one we had when checking in at the HGI in Louisville. They did the minimum and weren’t overly friendly or welcoming. Usually Hilton’s will offer a free room upgrade when Rick checks in because they see he’s a Diamond member with a lot of loyalty and room stays with their brand. Well, this time we had to ask for it and that kind of made me feel like they didn’t care about their people that choose to stay with them. The rooms are all really dark, even with all the lights on. The hallways are poorly lit as well. The thermostat was very inconsistent. The bathroom was really tiny and there was a lot of wasted space in the room that they could’ve converted to expand the bathroom. The walls are thin enough that the screaming baby from two doors down sounded like it was in the room with us. They have a lounge and a restaurant – both were very unimpressive. I’m starting to think the employees really hate working here. I could go on about how awful this place is forever, so if you want to read more, here’s my yelp review.


For dinner, we chose to dine at Carson’s in downtown Lexington. Which turned out was another area that didn’t look so good to us, either. There were at least 4 police cars which went screaming by while we were eating dinner. I really didn’t think Lexington was that bad of a city until we stayed there. However, the food was really, really good and the service was also excellent. The interior really boosted the “old Kentucky home” feel. Almost everyone ordered the steak and it was cooked perfectly. I had the Filet Medallions and every. bite. was mouth watering. Yelp review here. 

Day 4 

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018. I rustled awake after a miserable night of being unable to get a good night of sleep due to the changing temperatures in our room. Freezing cold to unbearably hot made for a restless night. Rick had just left to go meet our friends for breakfast but not even a couple minutes later, stormed back in the room yelling to get dressed, something had happened to the car over night. The shuttle driver from the night before had found Rick on his way to breakfast to let him know that our car was broken into. Lovely. I ran out with the keys and we found our beloved 4Runner with a back window smashed, glass everywhere, and all of the contents that were stuffed under the seats gone. Someone had purposefully been looking into our car because the windows were a super dark black tint. There is no way anyone would’ve guessed what was inside by just walking by (unless they worked for the hotel and knew we were from Ohio and had heard us talking about the bourbon trail….trust me, it’s in the back of my mind). As far as we know, only our car was targeted that night. The lazy person who decided to do this also scratched up the entire door while climbing inside, and then grabbing multiple bottles of bourbon and wine (about $300 value). We filed a police report and the police officer was, uh, kind enough to let us know that this has been happening a lot in this area/at this hotel and the shuttle driver agreed. This was the same shuttle driver as last night so I really wish that he would’ve told us this when we told him we had done the bourbon trail. I know – take your valuables with you, but the ones that were stolen were hidden in the car. The ones that weren’t stolen were in the plain view in the back. We also had cash in the front of the car and that was left untouched, as well as the various shoes on the backseat floor where the bourbon had also been.

Since we had a four hour drive back, the boys had to patch up the window with some cardboard and tape. Upon checking out, the front desk staff got defensive as soon as we asked to speak to a manager. They never apologized, just admitted that it’s been happening and they’re “in the process” of getting security cameras. From my understanding in life, it shouldn’t take that long to secure and install security cameras for the safety of your guests and their valuables. It was like pulling teeth to get the staff to give us their names and contact information for the managers. When we told them that we’d be filing a complaint with the Hilton Diamond Desk, they brushed it off. Everyone acted like it wasn’t a big deal (probably because it didn’t happen to them). We had lost all of our keepsakes from our vacation, as well as now having a vandalized vehicle that would need repaired ($500+). All because they couldn’t do us the due diligence of informing us when we checked in that this was a potential issue.

To say I’m disgusted is an understatement, especially after dealing with all the aftermath and the complete lack of support from both The Campbell House and Hilton. They state that they did what they thought was right…which was refunding us the points from our stay. Gee, thanks, refunding us something we already get for free. When we finally did get a call from the manager, Melanie Allen, she acted sorry and that she would replace our bourbon for us. She even had us email her a list of what was taken, which we did, only to finally hear back from her four days later saying they would not be doing any of that.

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Also, fun fact: After doing some browsing online, I stumbled across a Trip Advisor review of this place from JULY 2017 saying that their car had also been parked in the front lot and broken into. Weird that here we are, in February 2018, and they still don’t have security cameras.

I’m thankful that we didn’t end up all going in on the $2,000 rare bourbon from Bulleit and that I didn’t bring my DSLR, because I’m not sure I would’ve carried it into the hotel for the night. I’m also thankful for social media, review websites like Yelp and Trip Advisor, blogging and SEO and every other avenue that I will spend the time to find to let everyone know how AWFUL The Campbell House is and how little they and guest services at Hilton are. They clearly don’t care about their people or following through on their values/mission.

Okay, rant over. With the exception of our last day, this was an AMAZING vacation and one that I look forward to (mostly) repeat again. The KY bourbon trail is something that anyone who enjoys bourbon should do. This was a great event to do with friends and we will certainly be back.

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Pelotonia 2017 Ride Recap

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Before you ask, no, it did not take me this long to recover from the ride. I’ve just been stewing on the best way to write out what I took away from the Pelotonia experience.

A month later, I still don’t believe that I have the right words. That I can fully explain how I felt that during all of this, but especially on ride day. I’m going to try to do it justice, but I just don’t think it’s possible.

Let me start by telling you about the opening ceremony. After a little frustration with getting around downtown, with all the hustle and bustle in a city that Rick and I are not familiar with, we finally begged a lot attendant to let us in because we were hopeless. Thank you, lot attendant, for your assistance in keeping us sane. Anyone who knows me well knows that I get a little bit anxious in situations that I’m unfamiliar with. I’m not typically a person that can go do something without some planning. I’m incredibly thankful that my husband was home to go down with me (and drive) because there’s a high likelihood I would’ve turned around and gone home after getting shunned away the first couple times. Anyway, not off to a good start.

But the second that we walked into the opening ceremony grounds, all that anxiety and stress melted away. It was the energy, you guys. You could see, feel and breathe it. It was amazing. I didn’t see a single person that I knew but instantly felt like I belonged. What a beautiful sense of community. First step was completing rider check-in, getting my bag and photo taken with the “first time rider” frame. Next, food. It was amazing. And after that we ran into my wonderful friend Stephanie and spent the rest of the time socializing with her and checking out the tents. Knowing I had to get up super early, we peaced out at a reasonable hour to head back home.

 

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After getting a few hours of sleep, my alarm went off and it was time to get ready to ride! Since it was a bit chilly that morning, I layered up with a long sleeve shirt, my ride jersey and a jacket. Again, incredibly thankful that my husband could go downtown with me, we loaded into the car and headed back to Columbus. Parking was much easier this time, and we were walking towards the breakfast tent with my bike in tow. Among a sea of people, most of which appeared to be serious bike riders, my mountain bike and I trudged on.

I should tell you at this point that my ride was a Mongoose – a red, barely used but yet totally worn out, mountain bike. I’d ridden it twice leading up to this and not for more than a mile. We found Stephanie and started walking with the flow of people to the start line. Again, it was the energy. Everyone was there for the same reason and that was just totally cool. I loved seeing all the jerseys and where everyone was from…all the corporations that were involved with this. Before we knew it, we were boarding our bikes and the ride had started.

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[Steph and I were off. Check out that pretty red ‘goose of mine!]

The first part of our 25-mile ride was through the city, and there were so many people already there to cheer us on. Some with signs, some with music, others with water and some just with their own voices – thanking US for riding, for raising money, for being passionate towards the cause. There were police officers keeping us safe by blocking off streets or directing traffic, something that this first time rider was INCREDIBLY grateful for because quite honestly I hadn’t yet figured out the whole braking thing.

The ride transitioned into less of downtown yet still inside the city, and then into more of a country setting. Steph and I settled into a consistent pace, which required less of me fumbling with my gears. Neither of us said anything until later, but we were both secretly worried that by the sound of it, my chain was going to rattle itself off at some point. My neck and shoulders started hurting pretty early on so when I would try to stretch them, I would also lose control and almost wreck into my riding partner. Thankfully we’ve known each other since college so I can only hope she wouldn’t have been as mad at me as a stranger would’ve 😉

It didn’t feel like we’d been riding that long before we noticed traffic ahead slowing, and then stopping, and then people getting off their bikes. We did the same, and I took the chance to grab a drink from my water bottle. Since I hadn’t figured out the whole how-to-ride-without-hands-and-not-fall-over thing yet, I had been waiting for this moment. While we were standing there, I was curious how far we were so I took a peak at my phone and we were already about 10 miles in! I couldn’t believe it. After crossing the bridge (it was under construction, so I guess that’s why everyone got off and walked across), we were back at a steady pace and it didn’t feel like long after that we were approaching the half way point/rest stop. It looked busy. Steph said “I don’t need to stop but we can absolutely if you need or want to!”  I did a self-check: I just drank water, my legs felt pretty damn good, and I wasn’t hungry.

“Nah, let’s keep going!”

So…off we went! I honestly felt good – I wasn’t out of breath, I felt like I was running ahead of schedule (I’d found out that a normal, fit person would typically do it in about 2 hours so I told myself 4), and having a riding partner was so helpful. We had a good pace but still chatted the entire time, which made everything go quicker. It was a pretty uneventful ride. As we approached downtown Pickerington, there were a lot of people on the sidelines, some with signs like “thank you for saving my wife”, and that was the moment when I started to feel the feels. Yep. This normally unemotional, doesn’t even cry at movies girl was starting to feel a little something in my eyes. As we rode through downtown, we rode by a bar of a bunch of bikers outside revving their engines and cheering us on and I thought to myself “this is really cool.”

And then I got choked up.

Which quickly changed as we left downtown and had to climb a HUGE hill and I thought “oh my gosh I’m not going to make it. I’m going to fall over.” which is basically what almost happened, but I was able to hop off my bike and walk up it just in time. I couldn’t get my gears to work the way I needed them to, and the pavement was a little cracked and there were little rocks and I just envisioned myself getting really hurt over nothing. My angel of a friend waited for me to catch up, even though we only had ~5-ish miles to go and she could’ve easily finished in good time. That was the point where I was like “oh my gosh, my legs! They are so jello-like and tiiiirrreeedd” and having her there to motivate and push me was exactly what I needed. “It’s our last hill! You’ve got this!”

And then as we rode into the entrance of the high school “You did it! We’re done!”
Two hours, ten mins. I was seriously super proud of myself.

We rode under the finish archway, spotted Rick, found a spot for our bikes and yes, we were officially done. There was just something really amazing about all the people telling ME thank you – I wanted to thank all of them for being there, for supporting us, for the yelling and clapping. They dedicated their day to giving us that push.

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[All smiles at the end!]

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[One Goal!]

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[I rode for my father-in-law, Mr. Rick and a family friend, Mr. Black, both of which were diagnosed with extremely rare cancers that had no reference points on how or why or what to do for them. Mr. Rick unfortunately passed away in 2013 but Mr, Black was able to beat his disease and now is in the clear! I believe research for even these rare diseases is extremely important and hope that some of the money from Pelotonia goes to finding ways to treat cancers like theirs. I also rode for my paternal grandfather who had colon cancer, my uncle Billy who had lung cancer, and my mom’s best friend, Aunt Dina, who beat her battle with breast cancer.]

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[As close as I could get to a map of the ride.]
Bob Evans catered the meal at the end of the 25-mile ride and it was amazing. I could’ve easily had three servings. I had ice cream from a fantastic ice cream truck. But since my body was serious about the shakes, we packed up and headed home not too long after. I immediately took a wonderful bath and then napped for two hours.

Thankfully, and by some serious miracle, other than my shoulders, I was not sore. At all. My legs acted and felt like they could’ve kept going. Apparently I’m in a little bit better shape than I thought I was. When I went into work on Monday, it was awesome to hear everyone else’s stories from their ride weekend. Many people I work directly with did 100+ miles. Everyone seemed to share the same energy and fond remembrance of memories.

And, thanks to the people who believed in me and/or believed that finding a cure for cancer, I was able to make my fundraising commitment as of that weekend, so yay! After I complete this blog post I need to start writing my thank-you’s ❤ Overall, even though I’m not a biker and I don’t ever think I’d be someone who would ride a bike as a hobby, it was an incredible experience to be a part of and something I won’t ever forget!

Expect the Unexpected: It’s Pelotonia Week!

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Here we are, the week of Pelotonia.

Guess who JUST got her bike this past weekend?
This girl.
I finally rode my bike yesterday. For about less than a mile. This tired face was the outcome:
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I think it’s time to openly admit that this ride will be super tough on me, but very entertaining for anyone watching.

In an effort to help boost my fundraising efforts, I created a package to offer photo sessions in exchange for donations to my account. Those who booked with me had the option of a 30 or 60-min session to take photos and then will receive an online gallery to view and download their images. I am overwhelmed, in the best possible way, by the response I received from those I told. This allowed me to combine my passion for photography with my desire to make a difference in finding a cure to cancer.

I always have fun shooting and working with people to capture their special moments, but there was something different in the air. My first session was on a gorgeous summer evening, with two individuals who were very clearly in love. Having been engaged for over half a year now, and less than a year til they say “I do”, I enjoyed every moment I was with them. Their laughter, kindness and friendship humbled me and was contagious.

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The next morning, I worked with a two-and-a-half-year old named Avery. She was giggly and excited when she arrived, but the second she saw the camera, she had a melt down. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I’m not a natural when it comes to interacting with children, and I’ll fully take ownership of that. Compliments didn’t work, begging didn’t work…but asking her to pick some flowers for her aunt Meme did the trick! She even picked some for me! It was those light-hearted, candid moments that I captured that made me realize that sometimes you just need to roll with the punches and grasp onto the unexpected.

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That afternoon, I pulled on my cowboy boots (oh, how I love to wear those while shooting!) and trekked some back country roads to a horse barn that was nestled into the woods. Something about that drive over relaxed me, and when I arrived and was immediately greeted by three tail-wagging pups, I was in my happy place. I was working with two young ladies and their gorgeous horses and the friendship between them was so easy-going and fun. The sun was beating down on us as we went for an adventure walk into the trails. It was a bonus that I got to lead Badger, an older bay gentleman who accepted my kisses and neck scratches as we walked. The girls lead us to a very scenic bridge in the middle of the trails and it was something about the combination of horses and nature that just soothed my soul. Later, I was able to take photos of them as they jumped some fences in the arena and we all celebrated together as “the Whale” cleared a high oxer!

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My last session of the weekend was with a new couple who wanted to document their journey of waiting (as patiently) as possible to be able to announce they have a little one on the way. My heart warmed as I watched the husband interact so tenderly with his wife, who orchestrated the entire thing. As many would guess, most sessions that involve a couple usually indicates that it was one person’s idea and the other is just going along with it because they were told to. But he was there, 100%, in body, mind and spirit to support his wife and that tenderness touched me so much. In an effort to not expose too much of their story, I just wanted to share this one photo and express how touched I was after being in their presence.

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These sessions allowed me to feel raw, beautiful emotions and that in itself is a gift I will gladly accept. And from these moments with these individuals, I received a solid reminder to expect the unexpected. I expect that around this time on Saturday, Aug 5, 2017, I will be sore, exhausted, sweaty and probably a little irritated at myself for not training harder. But I hope that I will also experience joy, for being involved in a cause that is super important to me. I hope I will be overwhelmed with the sense of team, community and togetherness. This has been an incredible journey so far, both for me as a person and as someone who is riding in Pelotonia. I look forward to sharing my story with you next week. 

Pelotonia 2017 – Why I’m Riding

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Pelotonia_17_Magnet_1024x1024It used to be that everyone believed that cancer could happen to anyone else, but never them. We all just went on living our lives under the impression that we were invincible. That’s when we were younger.

Fast forward to now, 2017, and many of us have now experienced either losing, or almost losing someone, to cancer. Some more than others. Some of us may have even been diagnosed. We find ourselves paying attention to things now – what we eat, what we inhale, what we do. How will it affect us? Can we get cancer or another disease from it? Even as I sit here now, typing this out, I can smell smoke coming from a nearby cigarette. I’m asking myself if sitting outside, in the sunlight, on my lunch break, is worth the potential harm that inhaling the smoke may cause me.

When I started at L Brands, the teams around me had already begun to rally behind Pelotonia 2017. Established in 2008, Pelotonia had one goal: end cancer. The model remains simple, 100% of every dollar raised by Pelotonia Riders, Virtual Riders and Volunteers goes directly to fund cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. This company’s leadership, the employees and the community around us all support this mission with their hearts and souls. I’ve only been here two months and that is already so evident to me.

Now, let me explain to you why this is so important to me.

My paternal grandfather lost his battle to colon cancer.

My mom’s best friend beat her battle with breast cancer.

My father-in-law, despite bouncing back from every adversity that challenged him, unfortunately lost his battle with the extremely rare disease of Amyloidsis.

I had or have relationships with all three of those individuals, but the person I was closest with was my father-in-law, Mr. Rick. He is who I think of every time someone mentions Pelotonia, or cancer, or rare diseases. I am drawn to Pelotonia because it helps to fund cancer research in general, not specific diseases and cancers. There are ones out there that there simply aren’t a lot of resources available or people that know what to do with it. That was the case of Amyloidsis. We as humans are discovering new ones more frequently than we would like to. There are even ones, like Mr. Rick’s,  that are so incredibly rare. Just because we don’t have a lot of knowledge on it yet doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter. That the person who has it doesn’t matter.

The symptoms ultimately began in Fall 2009, although Mr. Rick didn’t seek serious medical help until early summer of 2010. I had just graduated from college and moved home to Pittsburgh, while my now-husband, Rick, was finishing up over the summer semester. Between then and March 2013, when he passed, we watched as doctor’s confided in each other and consulted materials about a disease that they knew nothing about. At the time, we were told that only 1 in 100,000 people in the world would get this disease. The odds were against us. The disease began to attack his organs and he was in desperate need of a new heart.

Bring us to early 2011. The family had to write a letter to the insurance companies who were denying Mr. Rick from being  put on the heart transplant list. They had determined that he wouldn’t live long enough after the transplant to deserve the heart. We had to tell them, “Listen, this guy is a fighter. He’s going to surpass all odds, he always has. He’s a dad, a husband, a friend, a musician, someone who made an honest, positive impact to the world around him. Even though this disease made his treatments a huge trial and error guessing game, he still matters.” I speak for more than just myself when I say this: he was everything to a lot of people.

On March 17, 2011, Mr. Rick received his new heart.
By receiving that, he was then  able to continue with his experimental treatment and receive stem cell transplants in an attempt to rebuild his organs.
Then, on September 29, 2012, he was able to attend and partake in our wedding. We chose September 29th because it was my husband’s parents (Mr and Mrs Rick) anniversary.
Our first anniversary would have been their 40th.
But on March 7, 2013, we lost to the disease. I say we because we were all in this together. Mr. Rick, Mrs. Rick, their daughter Amanda, their son and my husband Rick, myself, and all our other family and friends who were in this battle with us.


I have decided to ride the 45 miles during the Pelotonia event the weekend of August 4-6, 2017. In addition to that, I’ve committed to raising $2,000 to support cancer research. Between the training to ride 45 miles and asking people for donations, this journey won’t be an easy one for me. But Mr. Rick’s journey and fight wasn’t easy, either. I do this in his memory, but ultimately I know he’s right here with me.


All I ask is that you consider making a donation to my campaign. Even $5 helps make a difference. You and I, we can make a difference together.
Let’s do this. For Mr. Rick. For everyone who has been affected by these awful diseases. I encourage sharing this story, or your own, with your friends and family. Together we can, and we will, make a difference.  


Link to my Pelotonia page for donations:  www.pelotonia.org/aeyles 

mr rick

 

 

My saving grace.

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After the craziness of our quicker-than-we-thought-it-would-happen move from Sandusky to Columbus, I settled into a routine that consisted of sleeping later than I should’ve, taking care of my dogs, looking/applying to jobs, looking at houses, get a little lonely from time to time….rinse and repeat.

So when I remembered that my friend, Stephanie, taught yoga, I knew that was something I should start. It so happened that her Monday classes were free, and it was then that a new hobby was formed.

Only it became so much more than that.
It became my escape (from the apartment), it gave me something to look forward to, it gave me a reason to look forward to Monday every week.

Did I feel awkward at first? Heck yes. I am one of the most un-flexible people I’ve ever met. I can’t even touch my toes! I felt out of place with all these well-practiced yogis. I felt like everyone might be judging me or laughing at me when I couldn’t hold my balance and fell over.

But as the weeks wore on, I stopped caring. I stopped looking around the room to compare myself to everyone else. I looked that brown-haired, sweat-rolling-down-her-face, wobbly girl in the mirror, straight on, like you should do, and said “You can do this. You WILL do this.”

And in the midst of feeling hopeless, getting sad about not having found the perfect job yet, wondering what the hell might be wrong with me, I realized some of the most important lessons that yoga will teach you.

Patience.
Humility.
Create Balance.
Love Yourself.

It was when I finally did that, when I finally just gave myself to the practice, that I felt the change. I carried myself differently. I am me, you are you. I thought about myself differently. I approached life just a little bit differently.

After that happened, everything else started to fall into place. I landed a job at my dream company. We bought the most beautiful house. I have been so happy.

I have one person to thank for inspiring the change in me. Stephanie, if you’re reading this, you  and your yoga class, saved me. It helped me in so many ways at a time in my life when I truly needed it. It changed me, for the better.

In our last class, on April 24, Stephanie told the class: “Patience. The hardest test of life is waiting for the right moment.”

If I learned anything so far this year, that was it. I kept wanting everything, all at once, right now. And when that (surprise, surprise) didn’t happen, I got angry and upset. All I needed to do was have patience, because once I started to, that’s when all the pieces started to complete the puzzle.

I started my last session frustrated with myself and tired.
I ended it by dancing along to the music and smiling.

And to bring it all back to the title of this blog, Hygge….definition #3: a feeling of belonging to the moment and to each other.

Maybe the runner’s life isn’t for me…?

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It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I just am unable to get myself to enjoy – and get motivated about – running. And boy have I tried!

It began when I was a little kid, first grade maybe? My parents enrolled me in my grade school’s cross country team and I truly don’t think they could’ve even anticipated the disappointment they would soon feel. At first, it was that I couldn’t grasp that STEADY was a key word in being able to do these races. We’d start and I’d BLAST ahead because hey, I have long legs and I wanted to use them. I’d be up front for about…a half mile, if I was lucky. By the end of the practice or race, I’d be in last place, doing everything I could to not just sit down. Actually, a few times, that’s exactly what I did.

My dad resorted to bribing me: “If you finish the race, we’ll get ice cream.” Notice I said “finish” – not “come in X place” or anything specific like that. Just…..finish. I remember one time there was a polly pocket on the line and it helped me push myself a little bit. I blasted to the front at the start of the race, lagged til I was one of the last ones during the middle, and at the very end, when I could see the finish line and my parents’ eyes just PLEADING to not embarrass them again, I took every last burst of speed I had to finish it ahead of a handful of people.

My cross country days in grade school weren’t long lived. I started horseback riding lessons, which is where we all knew my heart still is with to this day. I was built and born to be an equestrian.

In high school, since there was no equestrian team (there really should’ve been), I decided to try this whole running thing again. My mom was, and still is, a fitness instructor so she’s in incredible shape and she used to run lots of 5k’s and marathons locally. I knew it would make her proud so I joined the cross country team again, this time in my sophomore year.

The first day of practice was at a huge park (Wildwood in Toledo, for anyone who’s curious), I didn’t know ANYONE and my mom’s friend had to drop me off. As someone who is always cold, I wore pants.

Yes, you read that right. I. Wore. Pants. To. August. Cross Country. Practice.
Because I’m an idiot.

My mom’s friend, bless her heart, went over to Meijer’s and bought me a pair of Joe Boxers and brought them back for me to wear. I still have those bright yellow, smiley face shorts.

I made friends, which was a bonus, and I was admittedly in the best shape of my life. I was eating healthy, paid attention to my body and put effort into exercising outside of what I had to do. But I still wasn’t good at it. My mom started to be the only one who came routinely to my races, and just as it had been in my younger years, I was fighting to not come into last place. I didn’t do it again after that season.

Fast forward to now, some 11-ish years later….in an attempt to train for a 5k in April for the Erie County Humane Society, I was trying to utilize the treadmill in the apartment complex to get myself to run 3 consecutive miles. I started “training” in January and I still can’t run 1 mile without stopping. It’s not that I can’t breathe or that I feel my body collapsing, but it’s my darn knees. As soon as I hit the pavement/treadmill/whatever, my knees swell up and just feel so stuffy and awful the entire time. It hurts. I just don’t think I can do it.

And trust me, I hate realizing I can’t do something.

In order to keep myself active, I’ve created myself a new plan. On Monday, I go to CorePower Yoga and take a C1 class. It’s made Monday my favorite day of the week. On Wednesday, I do some cardio (walk/run 2 miles) followed by some leg work (this is a new addition and I don’t even have any exercises picked out yet so suggestions welcome!) On Friday, I do 1 mile cardio to get my heart rate up followed by some ab workouts. I’d really like to feel comfortable in a bikini again. All of that being said, I’d really like suggestions on workouts to do because I’m kind of making it up/bothering my mom about it/pinning a thousand things to my pinterest board.

Help!

Sarabelle’s Story.

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June 4, 2014.
That was the day that I met Sara.
I had just arrived at the dog shelter for my lunch time volunteering. The dog warden was located less than five minutes from my office, so I spent what time I could volunteering at the shelter in exchange for my hour long break to eat. I had been going there for awhile at this point and had my routine down pretty solidly. I would walk in, walking down the line of kennels to say hi to each face – new and old, figuring out who I was going to spend time with. I usually leaned towards the ones who had been there awhile or the ones who looked scared or old. I had learned that most people would automatically play with the puppies or younger dogs, the ones with more energy and more open personalities. It was the sad eyes, the old eyes that drew me in. I was unable to take them home with me, so I wanted to do what I could to help them while I was there, whether it was take them for a walk or just sit in their kennel, holding them.

As I approached the second to last kennel, I noticed the paperwork on the clipboard and thought “new dog”and automatically my “hi puppy” rolled off my tongue as I kept up my stride to the last dog. But before I made it, my eyes locked with the saddest, droopiest eyes I had seen in awhile. They grazed over the dog’s body, noting the color, the size and then up to the paper to see her age. “You look just like my Hoss…” I whispered, as I lowered to my knees, reaching my fingers through her kennel. She sniffed them, and then allowed me to pet her muzzle.


Unable to help myself, I slipped into her kennel to sit with her. Usually I would read the paperwork to make sure that was okay, but there was just something….different about this one. She needed me. I rubbed her belly and talked to her and just held her and before I knew it, my hour was up.It took everything I had to pull myself away from her, promising that I would be back soon.

I glanced over her paperwork — Sara, Beagle x Rottie, female, 10 years old, owner surrender.
Owner surrender?! On a 10 year old dog? What had she’d done?

Turns out she had done absolutely nothing, and they simply did not want her anymore. She didn’t “fit in” with their growing family. Had she bitten someone? No. Had she gotten aggressive towards anyone? No. They just didn’t want her. Actually, they had told the staff they wanted to put her down. When the staff told the owner no, she left her.

Enraged, I returned to work, my mind still on this sweet, old dog. I told my husband about her that night (to which he said something along the lines of “No more dogs, we’re getting ready to move into our brand new house”) and I visited her at lunch the next two days. How could someone be so heartless, not only to dump a dog, but an old dog who they had adopted from another shelter just five years prior? This poor dog had such an uncertain past and had just been tossed around time and again. To make it worse, we all formed suspicions that she had been abused, because she was timid around men and often quick movements scared her.

On Friday, I decided to take Hoss with me to work (benefits of your office being on a horse farm!) and during lunch, I convinced some co-workers to go with us to meet Sara. I was just curious. I just wanted to see if the two dogs would get along like I had pictured in my mind.

They did. Of course. Which just fueled my desire to bring her home with me even more. The shelter staff suggested that maybe I could foster her for the weekend, get her out of the kennel and into a warm, loving house. Just see how she does. I called my husband, proposing this idea. I was shot down. He was getting ready to leave on a trip for the night and despite the fact that he had already told me no earlier in the week, he did not want me bringing this strange dog home while he was out of town.

 

I was so upset. He just needed to see her to know she was perfect for us, and for Hoss. He ADORED her. What Sara sniffed, Hoss sniffed. If Sara tinkled, Hoss did, too. Dejected, I gave her back to the staff, and they said to just let them know if something were to change. I returned to work and sent the picture of them together to my husband and waited.

About an hour-ish later, he called. “They do look alike. Do they get along?”
“Oh yes! Hoss adored her! And she was so good with him.”
“Okay, Ashley, you can take her home. But you’re responsible for anything she does or destroys, you cannot get attached and she must go back on Monday.”
Tears of joy sprung in my eyes. “I promise.”

Immediately, I called the shelter. “Pack her bags, I’m on my way!” I promised Hoss I would be right back, jumped in my truck, and when I pulled in, she was waiting for me. My little Sara. I got her in the truck and took her to the farm, where her and Hoss snuggled for my remaining time at work. Eventually we left for home, the two of them in the back like that was the way it was always supposed to be.

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That night, Sara enjoyed an entire couch to herself for awhile, called dibs on Hoss’ bed (he was fine with it, what a gentleman) and was a precious angel the whole time. The next day, we went for a long adventure walk in the park, a car ride, a trip to Tractor Supply and then spent our afternoon on a picnic table at the local winery. She handled every moment in stride.

My husband came home that night, and that was the first time I saw first hand how skittish she was around men. She barked at him, which made him a little sad, telling me he was uncertain about this dog and that she did not like him. But when Sunday night came around and I was begrudgingly packing up her stuff, he told me that she could stay another night. And then another. And then one more.

By Wednesday night, I told him that we needed to take her back if we were not adopting her. He said, “No one will want an old dog,” to which I replied “Maybe, maybe not. But if that one person who does want an old dog comes in and she is not there, then that is not fair to her.” It was while we were talking in to Home Depot, to buy things for our new house, that we had this discussion. It was then we struck a deal.

I got to keep Sara, and he would be allowed to buy a boat. SOLD.

On June 11, 2014, it was official. Sara was ours.

Fast forward to current day, March 24, 2017. Sarabelle/Sarbear/Bear/Peanut, whichever name you want to call her, will be 13 this year. We have her birthday as the day we adopted her. She looks older now, grey around her muzzle and sprinkled throughout her coat. She has a few lumps and bumps, most of them do not bother her much. She puts Hoss in his place when she needs to, she plays with him outside (as much as she knows how – when we got her she did not know what toys were or how to truly play with other dogs) and sometimes she even runs. She loves car rides and it does not matter how cold it is out, she wants to have her head out the window. She enjoys laying outside in the summer time watching the world go by or allowing the wind to blow through her ears. She lets us know when she wants to be pet or cuddled or even put on the couch or bed.  She is so incredibly special.

When we adopted her, we both said we just wanted to give her a good life, for the remainder of her life. Regardless if it was a year, or five, or more, we would spoil her rotten and give her everything that she should have had all those other years. She has two beds (three, if you count Hoss’), gets basically all the treats that she wants and is never denied a belly rub.

Most days, she is doing pretty good. She gets around, she runs outside or barks to let nearby dogs know that she is the queen. But some days are harder than others, where she is just a little slower to get up, a little more out of tune with her surroundings or where it seems like her bumps do hurt her because she limps. Today is one of those days. She has been limping for most of the day, and she knows that she should not be walking around if not needed, so she has been laying down. Surprisingly, near me, which is also a new thing for her. Unlike Hoss, she very rarely seeks the company of humans. It breaks my heart.

At the end of the day though, come what may. She taught Hoss how to be more of a dog, and he taught her how to be more human, and she taught all of us so many things, but more than anything, that senior dogs deserve the world.