Sunday, November 16, 2014

All-American Soap Box Derby

Photos by OHventures

789 Derby Downs Dr.
Akron, OH 44306
(330) 733-8723

The All-American Soap Box Derby is truly an all-American pastime. Every July since 1934 (except for the years of World War II), hundreds of youth have flocked to the Derby Downs racetrack in Akron (except for the first year in which is was located in Dayton) to compete in the iconic race. 

To take part in the competition, youngsters aged 7-18 (separated in heats by age and experience) throughout United States and the world are required to construct their own race car to bring with them on the big day. Originally, this meant they were tasked with designing the cart and acquiring the materials themselves. Currently, however, those participating are shipped the materials and blueprints so that all cars are on an even playing field. 

The cars (either stock, super-stock, or master, according to the division one has entered) are made out of wood (originally wood from soap crates, hence the name) and standardized wheels with precision  ball bearings (all produced at a warehouse on site in Akron). The cars do not have a motor and rely 100% on gravity to zoom down the track. Thankfully, Akron is extremely hilly, which is how the location of the track was determined.

Derby Downs is comprised of a giant hill with a 989-foot paved track and multiple lanes, with metal bleachers on each side. At the height of its popularity (in the 1950s and 1960s), upwards of 60,000 spectators (including many famous actors and celebrities) would come to marvel at the event. While it is still popular today, the crowds are not nearly to the same magnitude as they once were.

Because of this, the All-American Soap Box Derby has in recent years added many other events and programs that allow for other folks to experience the splendor and excitement of Derby Downs.

Some of the events and programs include: 
  • Senior Day: Seniors enjoy lunch, health information booths, health screenings and a trip down Derby Downs in an adult Soap Box Derby car.
  • Autism Day: A special day to raise awareness, support and hope for Autism and give an opportunity to folks who would not normally have the chance to experience the thrill of the hill.
  • Corporate/Private Events: A company or individual can rent the track for a day for a corporate or private event!
  • STEM Summer Camp: High schoolers in STEM schools have the chance to design, construct, race, and showcase their own creations!
  • Gravity Racing Challenge (GRC): Designed to provide K-12 educators and students with meaningful, project- and standards-based, intercurricular learning opportunities in classroom setting.
Keep an eye out for these events and more ways you might be able to experience Derby Downs. If you are unable to ride, spectators are always welcome!

I had the once-in-a-lifetime rare opportunity to hop in an adult-sized soap box derby car and ride the track all by myself this fall! I was so grateful to have the chance to be on this sacred track, and it didn't hurt that they put me in a Swenson's cart! I am unsure of my exact time or speed, but I was told that the cars reach speeds of about 35 miles per hour. Although I was a bit nervous I wouldn't be that great at steering the race car or braking in time, my ride was smooth and successful!

In addition to the track and production building on site, there is also a museum and hall of fame, which showcases the evolution of the soap box cars, famous items from over the years, photos of every winner in soap box derby history, and more historic artifacts & memorabilia.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Columbus & Cincinnati Pedal Wagon

Photos by OHventures


That's the slogan me and my rowdy crew of Ohio State Buckeyes fans lived by while riding in the Columbus Pedal Wagon one brisk morning before the football game!

The Columbus Pedal Wagon (and similarly, the Cincinnati Pedal Wagon), is a contraption that requires you and a group of able-bodied buddies to hop on board and use your man-power to wheel the wagon from bar to bar to bar! 

It's essentially a bar on wheels - except state laws don't allow you to drink while ON the pedal wagon - YET. So, that means, for now, the cupholders are merely spots to put your phones while you ride!

The Columbus Pedal Wagon offers various routes which you can sign up for that will allow you to navigate the vehicle to various drinking establishments within different neighborhoods. The tours last approximately 2 hours, and you usually get to visit about 3-4 different bars in that timeframe, depending on how long you stay at each one, and how far apart they are.

Themes are prescheduled to correspond with particular launch times, but if you love a route and not its scheduled time, the Columbus Pedal Wagon will make it work for you. Just be sure to give them an advanced notice so they can plan around the changes. What's cool is that they are also always open to new themes and routes, and will work with you to choose which bars you go to along the route that you have chosen.

On October 18, me and selected family (my mom, dad, and aunt) and friends (Alex, James, Alyce, and Steve) boarded the Columbus Pedal Wagon for the High Street Shuffle theme route. This route cruises through the Short North neighborhood of Columbus, stopping at 4 eclectic bars. Each spot had drink specials specifically for us pedalers. We wore a special wristband to designate to our bartenders that we were with the Pedal Wagon to get our discounts on drinks!

We were told by our driver, Paul, to meet at BBR (a bar located on Vine Street near the North Market) at 12:00 for our 12:30-2:30 PM scheduled ride. Being the rowdy group that we are, we decided to meet up at 11:00 AM so we could take advantage of the $3 draughts that we received on special for being a part of the Pedal Wagon. We also decided as a group that we needed some shots of FIREBALL whiskey to warm us up. Even though we would be bundled up, wearing a liquor coat never hurts!

When Paul arrived, he and I discussed our route. As mentioned, the tour guides work with you to determine what bars you would like to go to. I wanted to have a mix of modern bars and dive bars, so we decided on the following stops:

  • BBR (106 Vine Street, Columbus, OH 43215) - Our meeting place, this is a sports  bar that is typically loud with a young crowd and a rock & roll theme).

At the Short North Pint House
  • Pint House (780 N. High Street, Columbus, OH 43201) - My favorite bar in the Short North. It is modern with eclectic decor, a beer garden pation, a HUGE bar, loads of beers on tap, a photo booth, a mixed crowd, an open ceiling, and an overall slick feel. There is even a part of the bar that is made of ice so you can keep you drink cool.
Drinks at Bodega
  • Bodega (1044 N. High Street, Columbus, OH 43201) - A "hipster" hangout, Bodega has been recently renovated and is known for its endless array of draught beers, to-die-for grilled cheese, and a charming crowd of cool kids.
  • Mike's Grill (724 N. High Street, Columbus, OH 43215) - The definition of a dive bar: smelly, dirty, sticky, and cheap! But that's all part of the experience. I love bringing people here just because it's such a hole in the wall. We came for $1 Jell-O shots and cans of PBR!
Hanging out at our last stop, Novak's!
  • Novak's Tavern (475 N. High Street, Columbus, OH 43214) - Our final destination. Novak's has also been recently renovated and has pool tables, an awesome rooftop with a view of the Columbus skyline, and great specials on mixed drinks.
We were told to assign someone on board to be the "DJ" for the day. We picked Alyce (an easy choice because of her high energy personality). As DJ, she was able to plug her iPhone into the AV jack located on the wagon, and create our playlist for the entire ride! She was blaring party jams up and down High Street. It was really cool how they let us set the tone with the music, which really did make it even more fun!

A view of Short North on board the Pedal Wagon.

Over all, pedaling the wagon was not too difficult. Because we had so many people, it did not require us to exert too much energy (some of us had some sore legs the next day, though!). However, it did require that we work together and get in sync to get us to where we wanted to go in a quick fashion! All of the steering was done by our tour guide (Paul), who also advised us as to when to stop and start pedaling when we got to red lights, turns, etc. We didn't have to do any of the thinking - just the drinking!

Me & Steve on our new favorite ride!

There were many onlookers in cars and on foot who were amused at the sight of us pedaling by. It was certainly a unique and one-of-a-kind way to enjoy some drinks (and not to mention a TON of laughs) with friends & family on game day, or ANY day in Columbus or Cincinnati. We felt good that not only were we not drinking and driving, we were also getting a bit of exercise in between drinks!

And just because we are getting into the winter months does not mean that the pedal wagon goes into hibernation. You can book a ride on the Polar Bear Express NOW throughout winter!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Spartan Race Ohio Recap

Photos by OHventures and Spartan Race

I must preface this post by saying: I am NOT a wimp!

I swear I am not! I have kicked butt in countless obstacle races, half marathons, stair climbs, and the list goes on.

But now, instead of kicking butt, my butt has been kicked. I’ve finally met my match: The Spartan Race.

Ah, yes, the Spartan Race. This nightmare of an experience took place on the dreadfully cold morning of October 4, 2014 in Cumberland (Zanesville) in Guernsey County.

The Spartan Race is a well-established obstacle race series designed to push your limits, test your strength, and challenge your endurance. There are dedicated followers both nationally and internationally who travel to compete in these epic events year-round.

There are several ways in which one can experience the Spartan Race. Three main events at most all Spartan Race functions are the Sprint, the Super, and the Beast.
  • The Spartan Sprint is comprised of 15+ obstacles over 3+ miles and is a great way to get off the couch and onto the course! 
  • The Spartan Super will test your physical strength and mental resolve. Tackle 20+ obstacles over 8+ miles, and show that you're Spartan tough! 
  • The Spartan Beast is a true test of will. Tackle 25+ obstacles over 12+ miles, and prove you're the ultimate Spartan! 

Given the opportunity to participate in the Spartan Race when it came to Ohio this month, I jumped on the offer. My brother - who is just the most badass warrior I know (I may be a bit biased) - was up for the task as well. Together, we decided to go "middle of the road" and sign up for the Spartan Super. We had done so many Warrior Dash races in the past, so we thought this would be the perfect match to challenge us.

And challenge us, it did.

Making our way to Southeast Ohio, we knew we were in for it based solely on the frigid weather that was in the forecast that morning. Our run was to begin at 10:30 AM, and it was in the mid-40s at that time! 

When we arrived, the "parking lot" was MAYHEM! It was sloppy, unorganized, and and very frustrating. We were led by the volunteers through a muddy field and we had to literally park on the course itself!! The back-end of our car was sticking out onto the trail as dozens of runners sprinted by. 

So, we had to start a bit late bcause of the parking debacle. I was stressed out and failed to eat my protein bar or energy shots. But we eventually made it to the start line and without much preparation, we were off and running! 

One aspect of the Spartan Race that differs from most other obstacle races is that they did not provide a course map online ahead of time. So, essentially you had no idea what you were getting into. I couldn't decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing. They claim that the "surprise" aspect of the race is part of the whole "Spartan experience" but I personally feel that it's just something they say so that they don't have to take the time to make an official map and put it on the site. Either way, that's what we had to work with.

Here is where the main problem came. We signed up for the "Super" Race thinking it was going to be 8+ miles as advertised, but there was no way of knowing how long it really was going to be. In our heads, we thought perhaps it would be about 9 miles, maximum. But we were pretty far off.

Me taking on the "Bucket Brigade"!

The Super course ended up being close to 12 miles of HELL!

I love a good challenge, so in retrospect, this "hell" I refer to was something I am proud to have accomplished. But, at the time, I was struggling! Let's give a quick recap of some of the main aspects of the race (not all inclusive, and not necessarily in the proper order).
  • Wall Traverse & Under/Overs: A series of walls you must jump/climb over.
  • Muddy Water Pit: I don't know what it's really called, but it was just a pit of muddy water.
  • Bucket Brigade: Fill a bucket with gravel and carry it through a winding, hilly trail.
  • Tire Flip: Pick a monster truck-sized tire and flip it multiple times.
  • Army Crawl: The classic crawl in mud under barbed wire - for a LONG time!
  • Sand Bag Carry: Carry sand bags through a trail. Much like the gravel buckets before.
  • Log Carry: Another carrying obstacle?! I was getting a bit bored with these - and drained of strength!
  • Atlas Ball: A 100-pound perfectly spherical rock you had to carry about 30 feet.*
  • Log Balance: Large logs you walked on over water (I scooted instead of walked).
  • Stumps: Tiny stumps sticking out of the ground - you had to walk from stump to stump without touching the ground. We made out-of-state friends who helped us at this stop!
  • Cargo Climb: A climb up a large cargo net - emphasis on LARGE!
  • Rope Climb: Just like gym class, climbing a rope and ringing a bell (I failed at this).
  • Spear Throw: A pretty unique aspect of the Spartan Race - throwing a javelin into a haystack!
  • Herculean Hoist: Pulling a sandbag via a pulley system to the top, and slowly bringing it back down. Super HEAVY!
  • 1nverse Wall: A wall traverse with a wall slanted at 45 degrees.
  • Double Dirty: Jumping onto three long-felled ascending logs about 5-6 feet apart. This was one of the most difficult and most painful, because you had stand up, balance yourself, then jump from one log to the next (jumping both across and up). You'd basically have your stomach slam into the next log and bear hug it, then pull yourself up.
  • Fire Jump: Like other mud races, a leap over burning logs.

Again, this was just a sample of what we experienced. The main challenge was the muddy, hilly, treacherous trails we ran on in between the obstacles. There was unfortunately a great deal of walking that took place as a result of how difficult the terrain was. 

My brother looking quite miserable.

Bothersome was the fact that we literally would run well over a mile in between some obstacles. And I was frankly underwhelmed with some of the obstacles. I guess what I learned is that the Spartan Race has many tests of your STRENGTH above all else, which is why there were so many items we had to "carry" and whatnot. 

Also - if you did not successfully complete an obstacle, you had to do X-amount of BURPEES! That's right, burpees. The jump/squat/pushup  combo move that everyone loves to hate. 

To add to the already miserable conditions, it HAILED midway through our run. Yes, hail! Ohio is so weird sometimes.

*But not all was horrible. The Atlas Ball, for instance, was one of my proudest moments. It was so very difficult and I wanted to give up. I almost did, but my brother encourged me to keep trying. I kept at it, and I found a spark within me to accomplish the task at hand. I managed to lift the atlas ball and complete the obstacle! You have the strength to do more than you imagine. And this was proof.


Eventually, we finished in one piece. It took us 3.5 hours, but we did it!
Here's the thing. This was the very first time Spartan Race came to Ohio. Because of this, I feel like they had a LOT of things that need improved upon. The parking situation was the worst, and I can not believe I actually had to pay $10 to park where I did. Also, there need to be far more water stops and perhaps some other fueling stations (protein bars, bananas, etc. like they have at the Tough Mudder). Lastly, if they are going to advertise an 8 mile race, it should be somewhat close to 8 miles. That was tough for me because I had not properly fueled.

When all is said and done, I did truly enjoy the Spartan Race, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a REAL, advanced challenge (maybe I have been babied too much by the dinky Warrior Dash).

Call me a masochist, but after a lot of reflection, I was able to look back and appreciate the pain, suffering, and struggle I went through to tackle the Spartan Race. It made me feel like I really earned that medal at the end, and I am part of an elite group of individuals who call themselves Spartans! I almost feel bad to have complained on the course. I witnessed a lot of grit and determination, and even handicapped folks who overcame their adversities to take on this monster of a race.

One more in the bag, and it's one for the books. AROO!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Haunted Prison Experience

Photos by OHventures

There’s no setting more perfect for a haunted house than the famed Ohio State Reformatory located in Mansfield in the heart of Richland County. The decaying walls and rusted cells of this 19th century prison make for an authentically spooky backdrop for the countless shrieks and screams of those passing through.

Even without being filled with grisly monsters and decked out in ghastly decorations, this historic landmark provides an eerie and bone-chilling visit. Add the expertise of award-winning haunted house specialists from Toledo-based Haunted X Enterprises, and you’re in store for one unforgettable Halloween!

For the past 13 years, the Ohio State Reformatory has been offering the Haunted Prison Experience during the fall for anyone brave enough to enter the creepy castle-like structure. In recent years, there have been approximately 32,000-35,000 visitors during the six-week span that the haunted house attraction is open.

This year is no different! Haunted X Enterprises has teamed up once again with the Ohio State Reformatory to present the Haunted Prison Experience: Supernatural II on selected dates from September 26 through November 1. The hours of operation are Thursdays from 7-11 PM, Fridays & Saturdays from 7 PM – Midnight, and Sundays from 7-10 PM. The gates open at 6:00 and the box office opens at 6:30.

Because of the large amount of thrill seekers, it is advised to arrive early and prepare for potentially long lines (which are most definitely worth the wait). You can also consider purchasing tickets online ahead of time (including “speed passes” to help you avoid the wait)! It is important to note that you must be 13 years or older to enter, and that the prison is not handicapped accessible (due to the old age of the building).

Once you are led into the doors of the prison, brace yourself for everything creepy, freaky, and gory to get your heart rate pounding. The smell of fumes from buzzing chainsaws and the sounds of blood curdling screams can be made out through the sometimes pitch black interior of the prison! Stay close to your group, because you never know what will be lurking around the dark corners of this twisting maze. 

Actors, animatronics, and much more is waiting for you at this haunted attraction inside of a real prison (it has not been used as a real prison since it closed in 1990). Because some people believe that the prison is actually haunted by actual ghosts, you might even encounter some real paranormal activity (if you believe in that stuff).Hurry and check it out before it's gone for the year!

If you need your fix of fear during the off-season, you can also consider taking part in a ghost walk or ghost hunt! You can hear the stories  that cause many to believe the prison is haunted and even stay overnight to experience it for yourself. Most ghost hunt admissions are $70 per person, which includes access to the building and a late dinner of pizza and soda. Check out their website for more information on ghost hunts.