Would you be tempted to enter a race that covers 100 miles, has no set trail, and only nine people have completed? How about if you add a cumulative elevation of over 59,000 feet – that’s twice that of Mount Everest, natural obstacles of all varieties including thorns and rats, and no aid or resting stations along the way? Hundreds have entered and attempted the Barkley Marathons in Tennessee each spring, known as one of the world’s most challenging races. Even if you “only” complete the 60-mile “fun run,” chances are you’ll come out bleeding, sleep-deprived, and a little insane (though perhaps no more so that when you agreed to enter this run) and if you give up, you still have a few hours’ walk back to camp.
This month, Believer Magazine has a fascinating account of the people behind this insane race and the culture that has developed along with it. Gary Cantrell – known as Lazarus Lake or just Laz – started the race 25 years ago, inspired by the prison escape attempt of James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King Junior’s assassin. Ray ran around the same woods for 55 hours during his attempt and made it only 8 miles, prompting Cantrell to imagine he could do at least 100 miles in that time. Now, Cantrell begins the race each year not with a starter pistol or bullhorn, but a lighter and a cigarette. Runners depart from Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee, about 50 miles from Knoxville. There’s no set start time (runners camp out the night before and await the warning via conch shell from Cantrell) and runners have to chart their own course from a map made available the day before the race. Participants have 12 hours to complete each of 5 loops, and have to tear out a page matching their race number of a book on each loop to prove they made it.
You can read another account of the race on Runner’s World, and the author’s post-script is another amazing story: after attempting the Barkley and making a documentary about running across the Sahara Desert, he’s now serving prison time for mortgage fraud.
Still want to enter? Hope you have good Googling and writing skills – there’s no official website or entrance instructions and only 35 will be allowed in each year, after completing an essay called “Why I should be allowed to run Barkleys Marathons.” The race is held in late March or early April each year, giving would-be runners a head start on figuring out how to enter.
The reptile house closed immediately after her escape, and zookeepers are saying she could take weeks to come out of hiding. While we can’t vouch for the authenticity of the snake taking Manhattan, you can follow her adventures on Twitter, where @bronxzooscobra has been chronicling the travels of the errant snake with over 25,000 followers and counting. So where does a young snakess on the town go?
She first mused over a Broadway show, then taunted followers with her location in front of “the original” Ray’s Pizza (good luck checking all 46 locations claiming to be the first). After taking in the other wildlife at American Museum of Natural His(s)tory, she went downtown for a workout at Equinox Gym and a slither atop the High Line park. The Bronx Zoo cobra then tweeted about getting tickets for Jimmy Fallon before spotting Tina Fey at Rockefeller Center and heading back downtown to Wall Street. Despite asking for a vegan restaurant near Union Square, she ended up way uptown at Tom’s Restaurant from Seinfeld, where she may have found a hiding spot for the night in an unsuspecting apartment. Where will she go today?
Any New York travel tips for the cobress? Have you spotted any snakes, tweeting or just taking in the sights? While she is just 20 inches long, she is venomous, so watch your ankles!
Myself, like many Americans, fantasize about visiting Ireland. We’ve all seen the calendars scattered throughout malls and bookstores — cover to cover spreads of lush, green flora, craggy hills and the occasional Leprechaun. We all think we know what Irish music is thanks to the soundtrack of Boondock Saints. And the seasoned travelers in attendance know that DUB is one of the, if not the, cheapest airport in Europe for Americans to fly into. It’s not like you needed any convincing to head to The Emerald Isle, but if you’re looking for a little direction on where to go once you soar through customs, here’s a word you should absolutely consider: Powerscourt.
The Powerscourt Estate lies but 45 minutes south of Dublin’s Airport — barely further than the east side of downtown when considering traffic. But it’s akin to another world entirely in terms of attitude, altitude and sheer beauty. It’s rare that a fantasized-over location actually lives up to the hype that surrounds it, but believe me when I say that Powerscourt is straight off of a postcard, from the gardens to the River Walk to the monolithic Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt hotel that’s nestled in so succinctly. Read on to hear more about my visit to the south of Dublin, particularly if you’re interested in making your own Irish calendar for 2012.
%Gallery-117264%The Estate is located near the cozy town of Enniskerry, in County Wicklow. It doesn’t take long to feel as if you’ve escaped the hustle of Dublin and moved on to greener pastures — both figuratively and literally. The long, windy drive up to the Estate is soothing in its own right, and moments before reaching the famed House, you’ll spot something equally massive on the left. It’s The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt, a 200 room giant of a hotel that’s situated between Sugar Loaf mountain and miles upon miles of pristine countryside. This palace first opened its doors to guests in the fall of 2007, and it has been fitting in ever since. What struck me was just how well integrated the property is — it may be huge, but it’s the polar opposite of an eyesore. In fact, it’d be hard to imagine the Powerscourt Estatewithout a hotel like this. After visiting, I could see why people would want to settle down right in the valley to enjoy a few days here, and it’d be a shame to have to scuttle back and forth to Dublin when all you were really after was a getaway.
A look around (and inside) The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt
To paint the picture a bit better, the hotel is just a three minute walk from the Powerscourt House — a castle that was constructed in the 13th century, reshaped in the 1700s, torched, and revived in 1996. Today, it’s a beautiful work of art, and it’s home to an exhibit of its own as well as a few niche shops and eateries. For some, it’d be good enough to just spend a few hours unwinding within the house, but the real magic lies just outside of the backdoor. There, you’ll find the Gardens. One step outside and you’ll appreciate the handful of Euros it took to gain admittance — “manicured” doesn’t even begin to explain just how flawless the place is. I’ve been to to the gardens surrounding North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate, and while I adore my homeland, the gardens here in Ireland are simply a notch above.
Opposite the gardens is one of the more peaceful golf courses the island nation has to offer, and just a few more minutes walk lands you at The River Walk. Right about here is where you realize that leaving this slice of heaven would probably be to one’s detriment, and it provides a good opportunity to mention that a free pass down is just one of the complimentary extras that The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt provides. Guests at the hotel are treated more like guests of the estate; when you check in, you aren’t really checking into a hotel — you’re checking into a region. You’ll also have access to complimentary cycles, which I can confess are ideal for zipping around the gorgeous River Walk. Certain scenes of Braveheart were shot down by the streams, and it’s pretty exciting to bike around and try to spot certain shots from memories of the film.
A walk through Powerscourt Gardens in County Wicklow, Ireland
If you’re sold so far on the idea of shaping your vacation around doing nothing more than hitting the links, browsing beautiful gardens and cycling through forests that have been around for longer than you could even fathom, there’s hardly a reason to overlook another staple of the Estate: the hotel. It’s not everyday that you find a place that truly emphasizes the area like this; I’m a documented fan of choosing lodging options that integrate well with the purpose of the trip, and this particular Ritz-Carlton does this impeccably.
I’m not one to gloat about hotels unnecessarily. In the vast majority of cases, even the most esteemed 5-star property feels somewhat like a money grab to the average Joe, but this case is different. Rooms can be booked here for under 200 Euros if you play your cards right, and that includes a multitude of freebies not typically associated with high-end properties: complimentary bicycles, River Walk admission, parking and Wi-Fi. Yeah, Wi-Fi! It’s actually one of the only high-end hotels that I’ve stayed at with this luxury, and it’s greatly appreciated. Frankly, it’s beyond time that every hotel began offering gratis access to the internet. But that’s another story for another day.
You’ll notice that you’re treated like a king (or queen) at the Powerscourt House and Gardens, and that bleeds over at the hotel. Service and hospitality is clearly top priority here, second only beautifully appointed rooms and an impressive array of (delicious) food options. Although the hotel was completed in 2007, it feels as if it were originally constructed centuries ago — well, aside from the hotel-wide Wi-Fi and indoor plumbing. By and large, Ritz-Carlton properties are both a) located near city centers and b) viewed as out-of-reach for many from a financial perspective. To its credit, this one fits neither of those categories. It’s a luxurious escape to a luxurious place, and the two fit together like peas in a pod. It’s safe to say I’ve never had a hotel experience quite like the one offered at The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt, and a lot of that has to do with the warmth of the staff and the screensaver-worthy surroundings. I’ve always heard that it’s all about location when talking real estate, and now I get it.
Obviously, the nearby Gardens are most lively in the summer months, but there’s really no bad time to visit Ireland. Sure, it may rain a bit on you, but you’ll have even greener pastures to show for it. Better still, you can duck back into Dublin if the escapism just becomes too much for your pampered heart to bear, but I get the feeling that said scenario isn’t likely to play itself out.
Mothers of Japan, lock up your daughters, there’s a monkey on the loose and she has a record. A Japanese macaque named Lucky escaped from a government nature park in Mishima in central Japan while her cage was being cleaned this morning. City officials and residents are especially wary as Lucky escaped last year and went on a two-month “biting spree,” attacking 120 people before being caught in October.
Lucky got her name after her capture last fall, when she was put on display in the nature park along with “Lucky” souvenirs (temporary bite tattoos, perhaps?) until the stress of her new fame got to her. The macaque was spotted near JR Mishima Station today and officials are working to get her back to the nature park before she bites again.
UPDATE: Lucky’s latest reign of terror has ended after less than 24 hours on the loose with no injuries reported. Despite last fall’s two-month search, this capture was easy. “We called her name repeatedly, and she came to us,” city official Hidetsugu Uchida said. “She has been used to being called by her name.” Here’s hoping her next escape attempt is not so Lucky.