Delaware Town Gives Beach Vacations To Wounded Vets

Bethany Beach week for military families
Flickr, Patrick Nouhailler

If you want to see the transformative power of travel, read this Washington Post story about the military families who’ve enjoyed this Labor Day week on the beach. The town of Bethany Beach, Delaware, not far from Washington D.C., coordinated with local homeowners to open their beach houses and small businesses to donate goods and services for 25 wounded military families. Each “VIF” (Very Important Family) has been treated to free meals and groceries, golf games, spa treatments and even family portraits.

For soldiers suffering from war injuries both visible and unseen like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, a stress- and cost-free vacation can provide a great deal of comfort. This is the first year of Operation Seas the Day, and 70 families applied for the program, with more than 50 homeowners offering their homes to the veterans, but the town agreed to keep it small for the inaugural year of the program.

The military families will head home on Sunday, so if you are in the area this weekend, be sure to offer your thanks for their service. If you’d like to donate or volunteer for next year, sign up for news at OperationSeasTheDay.org

5 U.S. Beaches You Can Get to Without a Car

Beaches with a car - Chicago's Oak Street Beach
Flickr, Tom Gill

Summer may be winding down, but there are still a few weekends left to spend at the beach. Rather than sit in traffic or rent an expensive car, you can ride public transportation to many beaches in the U.S. Seasonal routes are especially likely to be popular, so go early and pack light.

Boston – CapeFLYER train to Cape Cod
Reintroduced this summer, the CapeFLYER train goes every weekend from Boston out to Hyannis, connecting to ferries for Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and buses up and down Cape Cod. Fares are from $18 from South Station, with a few bucks’ savings if you buy round trip. You can bring a bike, get concessions onboard and get free Wi-Fi. The train will run through Columbus Day, October 14.

Chicago – El train to Oak Street Beach
Not everyone thinks of this city smack in the midwest as a beach town, but thanks to Lake Michigan, there are more beaches around Chicago than Bermuda. There are many to choose from, but Oak Street Beach is the most central with the most spectacular skyline view. It’s a few blocks from the El train at Clark and Division, though a bus up Lake Shore Drive will get you there closer. Beaches are free and open until Labor Day, but you can enjoy the water views year round. CTA fares are $2.25, with deductions for transit cards.Los Angeles – Big Blue Bus to Santa Monica
While it’s a major car city, there are ways to get to Santa Monica and Venice Beach from downtown Los Angeles without wheels. The Big Blue Bus serves all of Santa Monica and connects to Venice Beach as well. Fares are just $1, with day passes available. LA Metro has rapid buses to Venice Beach, with fares from $1.50. A new light rail line will connect Santa Monica to downtown LA, getting you on the beach even faster.

New York – A train to Far Rockaway
New Yorkers are lucky to have lots of options for sand and swimming, from Brooklyn‘s Brighton Beach to Long Island‘s Jones Beach, and Rockaway Beach in Queens has long been an urban favorite. While it suffered a lot from last year’s superstorm Sandy, it’s back in a big way, with many boardwalk concessions reopened and a new boutique hotel. A $2.50 subway fare gets you there on the A train, and there’s also a weekend-only ferry from downtown Manhattan if you’d like a more scenic (and spendy, at $20 one way) ride.

Washington, D.C. – DC2NY bus to Delaware beaches
While a bit much for a day trip, budget bus company DC2NY offers seasonal shuttles to Delaware‘s Rehoboth (one of Dr. Beach‘s favorites in the country) and Dewey beaches from Washington, as well as Wilmington and New York. The trip takes about 2½ hours, leaving Friday night and weekend mornings through Labor Day. Fares are $39 each way, but you do get Wi-Fi, a power outlet and a bottle of water.

What are your favorite beaches to visit without a car?

Gawker’s Worst 50 States

I’ve been following Gawker’s newest series, The Worst 50 States. I’ve been enjoying following this series. In an effort to pin down not only the best states in the US of A, but, more importantly, the worst states, Gawker compiled a Gawker-invented rating system in order to rank our fair fifty. Granted, this rating system consists solely of the viewpoints of those on staff for Gawker, so the viewpoints are just about as biased as you would deem Gawker (Which might be not at all according to you!), but there’s some interesting stuff in there. Yes, they’re focusing on the bad more than the good, those damn pessimists, but all in all, fact or fiction, the commentary on the 50 states is makes me laugh. And, I’ll just throw this in there, I’ve been to 48 of the 50 states and much of every summary they make rings true to me. They’re not done wrapping up the states yet, but check out their analysis of most of the states here.

If you’re inflamed, saddened, or curling over with laughter after reading what’s so bad about your home state, come back here and tell us in the comments how Gawker made you feel.

Study Ranks States By Individual Freedom

The 5 ugliest states in the country

ugliest statesThey say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. San Francisco Examiner writer and occasional Gadling contributor Bob Ecker doesn’t behold much, at least for a few unlucky states. Ecker previously named the prettiest US states including coastal California, exotic Hawaii, diverse New York, historic Virginia, and verdant Washington. He’s now determined the unfortunate ugliest states, measured by landscape, not people:

  • Connecticut: the Constitution State is called a “suburban hell”
  • Delaware: small and boring
  • Kansas: land-locked and a “throwback,” in a bad way
  • Nevada: outside of Las Vegas, it’s a “desolate and forbidding wasteland” (what about Lake Tahoe, Bob?)
  • Oklahoma: another flat, hot, and boring state (don’t tell Lonely Planet’s Robert Reid, an OK native)

Obviously the article is tongue in cheek — there are beautiful corners in every great state in this country — but Ecker’s skewering provides a good starting point for thinking about vacation destinations. Do these places deserve to be called ugly? What do you think the ugliest states are?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Gage Skidmore

25th Anniversary World Punkin Chunkin Championships take place in Delaware

What happens when you combine leftover Halloween pumpkins and big ol’ farm boys with too much time on their hands and extra equipment? A Punkin’ Chunkin’ contest, of course. Held this past weekend in Delaware, the 25th Anniversary of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association brought teams from up and down the East Cost to see how far their punkins could fly.

“We had a great, great turnout,” said Frank Shade, the event’s media director. “We’ve had a real strong headwind, so I doubt any records were broken, but we had a lot of good thows.”

Full numbers of attendance were not yet available, but DelawareOnline.com reported that total attendance was predicted to surpass last year’s record of 80,000. Shade commented that the field’s Verizon tower, which normally reports about 750 “hits” per day, was receiving about 7,500 hits, causing some cellular communication issues.

Scheduled for broadcast on the Discovery and Science channels on Thanksgiving, the Chunkin’ contest featured three days (distilled into three hours for TV) of high-flying excitement hosted by “Mythbusters” stars Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. Science will air a “Road to Punkin Chunkin” special November 24 at 10 PM.

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“It’s the highest-rated event on the channel,” said the Science Channel’s general manager of programming and executive vice president Debbie Myers. “It’s pure Americana and ingenuity. The teams take it seriously, and the characters are over the top.”

The main competition centers on 110 teams that use creatively-engineered “chunkers” to launch their pumpkins into space – or at least far, far away. The goal? To get the gourd to fly at least a mile away – a feat that hasn’t yet been accomplished … or at least captured on record. The current record is 4,483.51 feet by team Young Glory III in 2008. The 2009 “Air” winners, “Big Ten Incher” came close last year with a distance of 4,116 feet.

The three-day event includes a “Miss Punkin Chunkin” contest, a chili cookoff, and separate competitions for men, women, youth, and children under ten. Separate categories include human powered, trebuchet, catapult, centrifugal force and air machines.

Lest you think it’s just a bunch of hillbillies running around with their punkins, think again – media director Frank Shade ran for Delaware’s 37th Congressional District in the State House of Representatives this past year.

Want to catch the action? You’ll have to tune in on November 24th and 25th. In the meantime, enjoy the photo gallery (courtesy of DelawareOnline.com).

Or you can practice your singing of the official Punkin Chunkin song (yes, there’s a song, we’re not making this up), written 1989 by William and Dawn Thompson, has become a traditional part of the event’s daily opening ceremonies. It’s pasted below for your viewing pleasure:

It was the end of October, the beginning of November.
The air was cold and clear and I said, Boys listen here,
I think I can make a punkin fly.
John said, Cannot. I said, Can too.
So we put that punkin in a bucket, swung around, away it flew.
John said, No fair. We said, Hell, it’s in the air.
So the challenge was made and the gauntlet was laid
To build a machine to power a punkin through the air.
John said, Springs are the way to go. Bill said, I don’t believe so.
It’s Punkin Chunkin time again.
Come on, all you neighbors and friends.
I’ll show you how to make a punkin fly … rain, snow or blow.
Them punkins are gonna go!