The Ups and Downs of the She Power Half

When Cori asked me to sign up for the She Power Half Marathon back in March, I was in a bit of a running funk. I was worried that since I had not really been training, that a half marathon would be too much for me at this time. So when she pointed out that there was a quarter marathon option, I was easily persuaded to tag this race onto my extended summer trip home.

The packet pick up for this race was at one of the branches of the Indiana University Hospital. Pick up was a breeze and there was that extra touch of having each shirt, bib, and various swag in cute little boxes. I felt like I was getting a gift, but then remembered that I actually paid a race fee for this “gift.”

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We decided to scope out the race venue before heading back to our hotel for the evening. The race was being held at Eagle Creek Park just north of Indianapolis. We found the entrance and noticed that it was one car entry. Since we knew we had to pay five dollars for parking in the morning, we just knew that getting into the park before the race was going to be a nightmare if we waited too long to arrive. We decided right then and there that we were going to try to make it to the park by 7 which we did with no problem.

It was a good thing that we decided to arrive when we did. There did end up being a traffic jam at the entrance causing the race to be delayed 10 minutes. It was already a humid day, so I was ready to get started before the sun became too much.

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One of the cool things about this race is that the medal doubles as a photo frame. With all the downtime, we decided to get our pictures printed before the race. That too turned out to be a great idea because our wait was nominal, but after the race it would have been crazy long.

Finally it was time to begin the race. When I registered, I had the option of running a road race or a trail race. I opted for the road since that was what I was used to. If you were running the half marathon, you needed to complete two loops, and you could choose how you wanted to complete them, both road, both trail, or one of each. When I saw some of the ladies’ shoes at the finish, I was grateful to have kept to the road course. Apparently there was a small lake on the trail that was unavoidable due to recent rains.

The trail was mostly flat, but the race starts us a hill which zapped my energy pretty fast on the extremely humid morning. I pushed through and was happy with the course for the most part. It was hilly at times, but one hill was in my favor, and I picked up a lot of ground running down it.

As I rounded the turn to head back to the finish line, I was so glad that I had picked the quarter marathon instead of the half for this race. I just did not have it in me to complete another five miles. The near seven I had already completed was just enough for this morning.

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As I came across the finish line, the race director called out my name, which was a nice touch. Then my medal was placed around my neck. Immediately after I was handed a rose, which was something that I had never been given at a race before, another nice touch. Finally it there was a nice drawstring bag with all the promotional swag. It was so nice to have something to stash all my stuff in and have my hands free for water and post race food.

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I loved that they had a snow cone station at the end. It was the perfect way to cool down and wait for Cori to finish her half. For the first time ever, I was finished before her, and I was able to snag some pictures of her crossing the finish line.

Overall, I was pretty happy with the organization of this race seeing how it was an inaugural race. My only complaints were the lack of restrooms and the spacing of the water stations. The race directors were relying on the four bathrooms already in the park along with four port-o-potties to support all the women in this race. We hit the line around 7:15 and people were already having to beg for toilet paper from the stall next door. The water stations were spaced out strangely. I went about a mile and half between most which is normal, but then there would be two within a quarter mile of each other. With the high humidity that day having a few more stations would have been so appreciated. My only other complaint was having to pay to park on race morning. That is something that could have been added to our race fee so that we didn’t have to wait at a gate and cause the traffic to bottle neck. The support of the runners, medal, food, and free photo downloads were excellent and helped offset some of the negatives of this race. As I just visited their website recently, I’ve noticed that they are changing the venue for next year, so hopefully they will have worked out some of the kinks based on this inaugural run. If I was going to run in Indianapolis again, I would probably do this race one more time. Even though I did not complete the half course, I was inspired to get back into the habit of training, and am working towards a half in November. So thanks She Power Half for that bit of a push I needed.

 

 

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One Day in Downtown Indy

Our run-cation weekend in Indianapolis was only going to give us a mere 60 hours, so like any good adventurer, we were going to make the most of it.   The two hour flight from Orlando had us landing and in a rental car by 10.  Our first stop was the Indianapolis Zoo.  

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I had visited this zoo several times over the course of my life.  I remember as a child going one summer with my brother and cousins and being able to ride on both a camel and and an elephant’s back.  All four of us in a saddle type contraption riding around on an elephant is an experience I will always remember.  As the oldest, I was seated in the back of our pack, and I remember that elephant swatting me with its tail as we rode around.  Of course in today’s world there are no more elephant rides. That was just the first of the changes I would find at the Indianapolis Zoo.

Upon entrance, I was already getting the vibe that this place had changed since my last visit.  The entrance seemed shabby, the restrooms were in disarray, and the animal enclosures felt like enclosure in some places.   The windows to see the tigers were distorted with foggy fingerprints and scratches.  While I might have been able to overlook all this, it was the “new” orangutan enclosure that had my heart breaking.   For the most part, they seemed to have a lot of room, but on orangutan was in a room by itself right near the window.  His soulful eyes seemed so sad and depressed.  I could only bare to look at him for a few moments.  

In all I think we spent about two hours at the zoo, and I don’t think I will be going back anytime soon.

From there it was on to our first food stop of the day, Long’s Donuts.  Situated in a house turned bakery, again, I was left unimpressed with my sprinkle cake donut.  Maybe if we had arrived first thing in the morning, I would have been more impressed.  Then again, I’m spoiled by a local establishment called Bakery Plus that makes the most amazing doughnuts right in Orlando–my mouth is watering just thinking about them right now.

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Long’s was relatively close to the Indianapolis Speedway, where we had to take an obligatory picture.  No speed racing for us today, the track was being used for a Corvette show.

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The original Love statue created by Robert Indiana was our next pit stop.  Located in the sculpture park on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art it is not the typical red color of those found in Philadelphia or New York.

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Then it was into downtown.  There we walked around the city and ended up on the canal.  The canal is a unique feature.  There are surrey rentals and families were riding up and down both sides of the canal.  What intrigued me most were the paddle boats and kayaks floating up and down.  As we continued exploring the canal area, we stumbled upon a gondola ride.  We opted for the public tour, which ended up being a private tour since no one else joined us.  Our guide even sang opera songs in Italian to make it seem more authentic.

We ended our day with a visit to Bru Burger, full of local beers, and The Flying Cupcake.  Always the English teacher, I fount Kurt Vonnegut, of Slaughterhouse Five fame, overlooking the intersection where both of these places are located.  A beer, charcuterie plate, and couple of cupcakes were delicious after a day of walking around, and I was inspired to reread some of Vonnegut’s work.

Overall, we had a great time exploring downtown Indy.  We each were able to see everything on our list of Indy must dos. The great thing about Indianapolis is that it is a very walk able downtown.   Parking was easy to find everywhere we went, and if it wasn’t free, it was no more than $10.  Next time I’m in Indy, I am making it a priority to jump in one of those kayaks on the canal and hit up some more of the micro brews the city is becoming known for.

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Chasing Garfield Around Northeastern Indiana

I grew up in Northwest Indiana on a 33 acre corn or soybean field depending on the year.  I loved growing up where I did–a little town where you run into people you know at the grocery store every time you go.  It was this version of Indiana that I wanted Cori to see on our weekend to Indianapolis.  

The day before our race, we did not want to do a lot of walking.  We had already walked about 10 miles around Downtown Indy the day before.  In my pre-trip research, I had found something called the Garfield Trail.  I knew that Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield was from Marion, Indiana, but I had no idea that there was something called the Garfield Trail.  After our search to find all the Wizard of Oz statues last summer in Chicago’s Oz Park, I had a feeling that Cori would be on board for a Garfield scavenger hunt plus it would give me a chance to show her the Indiana where I grew up.    

 

We spent the morning sleeping in and getting breakfast at our Hampton Inn before jumping in the car.  We had downloaded the map earlier so we had an idea that we were not going to go in order of the numbers listed, but rather make a big circle through northeastern Indiana.  

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In addition to the trail map, you can listen to information on your cell about each location, but after listening to the recorded voice on one stop, we couldn’t take the sound of the recording and opted to just read the informational plaques when they were provided.

Our scavenger hunt took us through little farm towns, two lane roads, and rows upon rows of corn.  We even had a hard time finding a place to eat.  We eventually settled on hot dogs and milkshakes at a cute little inexpensive Drive In.  

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One of our stops coincided with my Diet Coke addition.  Swayzee, Indiana.

It was quite the Indiana experience.  We talked and laughed, mostly at our rental car that sounded like it was farting as we went over bumps, through the three hours it took us to drive around and find all the Garfields.  I’m sure we looked like crazy tourists as we jumped out of the car and snapped selfies in front of each tribute to Jim Davis.  Along the way, we only ran into one other couple that was doing the same thing we were, so if you are looking for something free and low key to do around Marion, Indiana, this is it.  


The day was so relaxing and a nice way to just catch up.  I was so glad Cori got to see the Indiana I know and love. 

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What’s the strangest touristy thing you’ve ever done?

Turkey Run: Trails and Truths

A visit to my hometown last summer had me doing a lot of reflecting on my childhood.  Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again,” and nothing seemed more true than my most recent trip to Turkey Run State Park.  Now of course, Turkey Run isn’t my home, but it is one of those vivid and rosy memories I have from my childhood.

I distinctly remember one particular trip when I was in about third grade.  I can see my 9-year-old self in neon pink spandex shorts and a ti dye shirt with a duck on the front.  How did my mom let me leave the house like that?

On that trip everything had a newness about it.  The two hour drive seemed to take about twenty minutes.  The shops were full of trinkets I was dying to buy.  The steep trails were mountains to conquer.

Fast forward twenty five years.  That shining memory has lost a little of its gleam.

As I drove the two hours from Lowell to Turkey Run, my eye picked up on the subtle changes.  Barns that once stood out brilliant red against the corn rows were now peeling and sun bleached.  The waving rows of corn now have giant alien windmills dotted among them.  The canoe outfitters that once were the signal we had arrived now had crumbling signs and rusty gates with Keep Out slapped on the front.

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Maybe it’s just that I’m becoming more cynical, but the decaying barns, decrepit roads, and abandoned stores make me feel like something is broken.  The shininess of my childhood memories were being tarnished by the reality I saw before me.

The one constant in all of this though were the hiking trails.  It’s the one reason I still wish to return.

After paying my seven dollar entrance fee, I pointed the car towards the nature center without even thinking.  Parked,  I grabbed my small backpack filled with water,  a granola bar,  and a few extra band-aids and headed for the suspension bridge,  the apex of all the good trails.

I had decided I wanted to hit all the highlights which had me hiking a little more than five miles.  I started my hike on trail three, a moderate one.  I knew the trails that I wanted to hit would have me hiking through creeks, so I was prepared with my Teva sandals.  A short jaunt took me to Wedge Rock which, as children, my cousins and I called Wedgie Rock.  From there it was into the Punch Bowl. 

At the Punch Bowl I had the horror of seeing a painted turtle tumble over the waterfall and bounce off the ravine floor with a sickening thud.  Thankfully that shell did its job, and the stunned turtle quickly recovered. I watched for awhile making sure that he was okay before moving on with my hike.

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From the Punch Bowl it was up through the top half of Rocky Hollow before climbing down  the slippery ladders into the Ice Box  which, living up to its name,  was noticeably cooler than the air at the top of the ladders.

As I descended the ladders, I was reminded of hiking this trail with my family and remembered my mom obsessively worrying about each of our abilities to get down those ladders without mass casualties.  Hiking alone,  I remembered her cautionary tales and firmly planted each foot before moving on.

Next, I wound my way to Boulder Canyon where some rock scrambling was involved.  My approach had me coming down into the canyon. I picked my way over slick boulders with shaky legs.  Reaching the bottom,  I took a break and enjoyed the solitude I was finding on this hike.

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Five miles passed rather quickly, and before I knew it, I was back on the suspension bridge, eyes gazing down at Sugar Creek, as I crossed back to where I had started.

Hiking the trails brought back some of that childhood magic that I have always associated with Turkey Run.  Being among the oak trees and limestone cliffs helped shine up those memories that had tarnished as I drove to the park.  And while there is some truth that one can never go home again,  it’s nice to know that even though things change, nature has a way of remaining the way it was once remembered.

A Day on the Dairy Farm

I like milk.  I like butter.  I LOVE cheese.  So when my mom asked if I wanted to go to Fair Oaks Farm for dairy tour, I said, “Why not!”  We arrived around 8:30 and were first to line up outside the red barn doors for our tickets.  It was a good thing too because about ten minutes before opening, a bus load of, I kid you not, Amish families arrived.  I thought it strange that the Amish would visit a dairy farm.  Don’t they do this kind of work every day of their lives?  I guess the appeal is in the modernization.  We had limited time on this Saturday, so I was just glad that we wouldn’t have to be on the second or third tour of the morning due to the size of their large group.

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After purchasing tickets, we were ushered to the bus line to wait.  Inside the main building were some interactive displays and games like out-milk your opponent.   Since we would be on the first bus of the day, there was no time to really explore this area.  A few minutes later the Holstein-colored bus was arriving to take us to one of the eleven dairy farms in the cooperative.

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As we rode through the corn and alfalfa fields, an informative recording explained what we were seeing and what we would be seeing.  First stop was the feed area and barns. Our driver pulled us into the barn far enough to see that the pregnant cows were free roaming.  It was a hot and humid day so the fans were blowing as the farmers tried to keep the cows cool.  Apparently cows can handle temperatures from  10 to 75 degrees.  Anything cooler or warmer slows milk production.  The cows we were seeing were in their dry period the couple of months before giving birth.

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From the maternity barn we ventured on to what reminded me of the calf playpens.  New calves were lined up on both sides of the bus.  Each calf had its own dog house looking shelter.  Each calf came to greet the bus as we slowly drove through.

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From there it was into the milking barn.  Here is where farming meets technology.  We disembarked the bus and made our way to a gallery looking over a cow carousel.  72 cows ride the carousel at a time and are milked every seven hours producing about 70 pounds of milk per cow per day.  Three men ensure that the milking process is sanitary.  The first one disinfects the utters, the second attaches the milking contraption, and the third applies some kind of iodine, if I remember correctly, to keep the udder healthy.  The cows are conditioned to this process and know when their ride is over.  They back out and return to the barn just like kids getting off the ride at a carnival.

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A short ride deposited us at the main complex where we were encouraged to visit the birthing barn and watch a cow give birth.  They claim that there are between 80 to 100 births each day on their 11 farms.  To help people come to the birthing barn at the opportune time, there is a stoplight outside the barn.  Red means nothing is going on, yellow means the hooves are showing, and green means the head is out.  The first time we entered the birthing gallery, the light was yellow.  The cow was on display behind a glass wall giving us a full show of her calf about to be born.  Unfortunately we were not able to wait for the entire birth to take place because we had to catch the pig bus for our “Pig Experience.”

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The pig farm is only a few years old.  Pigs are extremely susceptible to diseases, especially respiratory ones, so the farm has measures in place to make sure that none of the visitors’ germs come in contact with the pigs.  Even the farmers that work there each day are required to take a shower upon entering and then put on their uniform.

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Again, pressed for time, we just wandered around the building at our own pace.  This allowed us to see many sows with their new piglets.  In fact, as we walked in, one sow was in the process of giving birth.  The slippery little piglet shot out like a greased watermelon before an employee came over and wiped it down and moved it so mama pig wouldn’t crush it.

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We continued our self guided tour coming upon a window where one of the employees was holding one of the newest arrivals.  It was squealing something awful until she stuck her finger in its mouth.  Then through a two-way intercom, she answered any question posed about pigs.

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After a quick lunch at The Farmhouse Restaurant it was back to the birthing barn because who doesn’t want to watch a cow give birth after eating three beef sliders?  The light was green when we arrived, but we could only see the hooves.  Mom and I waited while Dad went to raid the cheese and pastry shop.  He returned and there was still no calf.  The poor cow looked like she was struggling and not much later she was removed from our view to the barn.  So my quest to see a live calf birth would not be fulfilled this day.  We ended our visit with a walk through the nursery.  Two calves had been born that morning while we were on our other tours.

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While the Fair Oaks Farm tours were interesting, my favorite part was the restaurants, especially the cheese served at said restaurants.  So the next time I drive up to my parents’ house I would probably stop, but just for the cheese. Oh, and I also hear the ice cream is to die for.

Sun, Sand, and Lake Michigan

When I was a little girl, my mom and aunt took me, my brother, and my cousins to the Dunes as an occasional summer treat.  I remember the long walk from the car which seemed to be parked miles away from the lake.  I remember juice boxes, cheese and crackers, and grapes filling the cooler.  I remember the sand burning my feet.  I remember the deep blue of the lake that was as vast as the ocean.

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25 years later I arrive at the Dunes this time sans cooler or crew.  It’s just me.  I stop at the visitor’s center for a map, and a sign proclaiming the Three Dune Challenge captures my eye.  Yes, that sounds like something I might like to do.

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I drive to the trail head, slap some sunscreen on my face, sling my backpack on, and take my first steps towards the mile and a half loop that boasts runners and hikers alike will take two steps forward and one step back through the sand.

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The trail starts off even and shaded, but quickly turns to the first incline.  From this point on, the trail is covered in soft, loose sand.  I head up the first dune to it’s peak, and I’m rewarded with my first view of Lake Michigan from the top of Mt. Jackson’s 176 foot elevation.  It’s a blue sapphire glittering in the morning sun.  The smokestacks of the steel mills are hidden by the trees.  A breeze ruffles the hair on my neck that has pulled loose from my pony tail.  It is so quiet, and peaceful so I sit for a moment on a fallen branch and enjoy the all encompassing silence.

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Then I point my shoes towards dune number two.   The trail quickly descends reminding me of hiking down Mt. Rainier’s snow covered mountain last summer.   My sandals sliding down the soft sand the same way my boots slid through the crunchy snow.  Before long the trail evened out again before quickly angling back up.  This dune is steeper, the sand slips under my sandals as I try to find purchase in the footsteps of those who have traveled before me.  I feel every heartbeat as I ascend.  And then I’m there at the top of Mt. Holden, now 184 above Lake Michigan.

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Once more I continue on the trail knowing that Mt. Tom is the highest dune in this area.  I anticipate more sandy inclines, but this time I am greeted with 105 stairs that will help me to the top of Mt. Tom.  Reaching the top, I am now 192 feet above Lake Michigan, and I can see much more of the Indiana shoreline including the smokestacks disturbing the otherwise pristine view.

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Then it’s down another 105 stairs before being deposited onto the path that dumps me in the campground.  After Sunday’s half marathon this “challenge” didn’t seems so daunting, and the walk back to the car was much shorter than the one’s I remember during my youth.

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Leaving the park I return to the visitor’s center to claim my sticker proving I completed the Three Dune Challenge, and file away new memories next to the ones of my childhood.

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A Slippery Pit Stop

I lived 20 years of my life in Indiana, and many winter afternoons were spent ice skating, sledding, building snow forts and snowmen, or just having a good ole snowball fights. Even though I am no stranger to the snow, I have never gone skiing or snow tubing. On a trip home this past December, I was determined to get my fill of all things winter. So after spending a lovely Christmas with my family in Northwest Indiana, my husband and I began the drive back down to sunny Florida, but not without a stop at Paoli Peaks in Paoil, Indiana.

Here we spent an unusually warm (45 degree) afternoon racing tubes down man-made snow slopes. Geoff and I opted for a three-hour pass, since we were planning to drive to Gaitlinburg, Tennessee that evening. Geoff donned snow pants, while I stuck with my jeans, and we picked up our tubes. From there we slipped and slided to the the first empty lane we saw–lane four. It seemed to be the bunny hill of the lanes and was empty–a nice way to break in our afternoon of snow tubing.

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Even though we could have slid down the lane in a chain, we opted to go individually for the first round. So I flopped on top of my tube, held on, and was flung down the hill. The wind whipped my face and blew my hat right off my head. As I neared the end of the run, there were rubber mats placed to slow down the tube. I bumped over four of them before coming to a stop with a huge smile on my face. I jumped up and waited for an employee to run and grab my hat from the lane before I dragged my tube to the conveyor that lifted me back to the top of the hill. Geoff was close behind me with the same silly grin on his face.

On our next run we decided to link tubes and go down lane three which was a step up from the “bunny slope” we had just gone down. So just like before, we flopped on the tubes holding on to each other’s handles and sped down the hill. This time we traveled considerably farther than alone. Instead of four rubber mats, we went past seven. Again we popped up, jumped on the conveyor and were dumped at the top of the hill.

This time we were opting for the long line. It was clearly the steepest slope and the fastest lane. I had gathered my confidence in those first two runs, and I was going to go down on my stomach this time. So with a flick of the employee’s foot, I was again racing down the slope, but this time I was also spinning. It was awesome!

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One of my many belly runs

We spent the next three hours hurtling ourselves down hills in different configurations–linked, unlinked, front, back, spinning. As the sun set and the temperatures dropped, the slushy snow became slick ice sending us and our tubes barreling toward the snow fence which we never thought we would reach when the sun was out. In fact, the snow was now so fast we even witnessed one person go right through the snow fence onto the skiing slope.

All too quickly our three hours were up. With pink cheeks we returned our gear, and we warmed up with some hot chocolate inside the warm shelter. After the feeling came back in our feet, we headed to the car for our drive to Gaitlinburg.

Paoli Peaks was not something we planned on doing this trip, but a well-placed billboard sparked my interest. Thanks to Google, we were able to divert our plans, and make our slippery pit stop. I am so glad we did. It was so much fun to play in the snow and feel like a ten-year-old again.

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A fun-filled day of snow tubing in Southern Indiana