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A Wet and Wild White Water Weekend

We woke up last weekend in need of a distraction from the stress of the workweek (yes, this has been a theme lately). With a few quick phone calls we had reservations for a white water rafting tour in nearby Ohiopyle, PA. We had just enough time to throw on some river-worthy clothes and shoes and hop in the car for a 90-minute trip.

Well. It should have taken about 90 minutes. We’d been warned that map apps had trouble finding the gathering place, but we were also given a few landmarks to guide us the last couple of miles. We knew we were on the right road, but somehow 188 sat several miles away from 113 — and with a lot of other numbers in between.

We were able to check in with our raft trip company, White Water Adventures, in the nick of time. We were fitted with our life jackets, issued paddles and loaded up onto a bus for a short trip to the put-in. The group was large, at least 15 boats, and only a handful of guides. We were informed that our guides would be in kayaks and each boat choses a captain. I was quickly chosen as captain because of my experience (I spent about six years as a guide on the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers) and we settled in for the trip talk. I guess it doesn’t matter where you raft or where you guide, the trip talk is always the same. You talk about safety, how to grab a throw rope, and even tell the same jokes like the explanation of “Summer Teeth.”  I don’t doubt that somewhere in south America right now there’s a guide explaining that if you’re carless with your paddle you’ll give someone Summer Teeth. That’s a cosmetic condition when you hit someone in the face with a paddle and some of their teeth end up in the water and some in the boat.

We carried the boat with our crew mates, another couple named Alison and Ken, down to the water and began our journey.  The lower Youghiogheny River trip takes about four hours and is composed of class three and four rapids. The classification of rapids is on a 1- 6 scale, one is basically flat water and six is extremely dangerous — even pros should think at least twice (if not three or four times) before attempting a six.

If you want a fun first trip and are in shape with no medical problems, classes three and four are okay. The rapids have names like Dimple Rock, River’s End and Cucumber, and come at a pretty quick pace. You don’t have to worry about a lot of flat water leaving you bored. The river is recommend for ages 12 and up with little or no experience in white water. The company provides a light snack about halfway through as well. I’d suggest that you bring some water in a container that can be fastened to a raft’s D-ring as well as put on plenty of sunblock BEFORE you depart for the boats.

A light lunch of wraps provided at the half way point

A light lunch of wraps provided at the halfway point

I was amazed at how easily things came back to me. I was able to read the water, steer, and shout commands loud and clear.  We didn’t lose a person out of our boat once, even on the class fours that the guides explained multiple times how to enter and navigate. The guides at a couple points would go on ahead and stand on nearby rocks and give us hand singles on how to paddle.  I’m not really a fan of that system, but it worked.

Amanda had never been rafting before, but took to it quickly. It was a good distraction from work; you can’t be stressing out about your day job when you’re busy trying to stay firmly planted in a raft. I did have to encourage her to *stop* paddling a few times; she turned the raft in a complete circle on her own at least once.

White Water Adventure

White Water Adventure

The trip was fun and we had the chance to unwind and be distracted from the other stresses in life during our adventure.  I could barely move the next day, and my voice sounded like I was gargling with gravel from all the shouting, but I did it. In the moment I guided a trip an didn’t lose anyone out of the boat. I think that is something to be proud of.  I’m happy we went. I wouldn’t mind going again and Amanda did so well we could go on the Upper Youghiogheny, which is full of class four and five rapids. I loved the few ours of reliving my youth, and the pain the following day was well worth knowing I’ve still got it. The price is $70 per person April through October.

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When Words Fail

Give For France

Give For France

I have tried to start this post several times, attempting to find an elegant way to talk about such an inelegant thing as the attack in Nice this past Thursday. I thought I’d just be analytical and explain how tourism in Europe, especially France, has fallen 13% as people have stayed away. I thought I’d talk about how terror won’t dictate our travel to foreign lands. I thought I’d compare the odds of being killed in a terror attack (1 in 20 million) with the odds of being killed by a gun in the U.S. (3.4 per 100,000).

I thought of putting the attacks in a historical perspective, reminding us that France has been there before and carried on like after the 1961 bombing of the Vitry-Le-Francois train bombing carried out by the OAS. The attack killed 28 and wounding more than 100.

I thought I could tell you how you could help the victims by texting “Nice” to 20222,  that’ll send $10 to Give For France, or donating to the French Red Cross, or how you can look into helping the UN’s mission to help victims of terrorism through their information and donation portal. I thought of speaking mournfully in solidarity with the people of Nice, and France as a whole, offering our condolences and heartfelt wishes for peace. Yes, that’s what’ll do. We’ll pray for those touched by the attack, offer our support, and hope for peace.

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Pittsburgh 200: A Celebration of a Milestone

Fort Pitt, 1759

Fort Pitt, 1759

The land that would become the city of Pittsburgh was first occupied by European fur traders in 1717. The confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers became a vital trade and communications route between Quebec and French Louisiana. The Seven Years War (French and Indian War) lead to a succession of forts built by both French and British forces in order to command that communications and trade link. It was during the war that General John Forbes named the British fort Fort Pitt in honor of British statesman William Pitt. The town of Pittsburgh was incorporated in 1771, which might make you wonder how it’s just now celebrating its 200th birthday.

The answer is Pennsylvania is weird. Pittsburgh was founded in 1758, the township was created in 1771, and became a borough in 1794 with an act of law by the Pennsylvania. It wasn’t incorporated as an official city until 1816, making this its 200th year as a city.

Pittsburgh celebrated that 250th anniversary eight years ago. This year’s celebrations commemorate the 200th anniversary of Pittsburgh’s incorporation as a city.

If you want to dive further down this rabbit hole, we can bring Allegheny City into the mixture. The area of modern-day Pittsburgh now called the North Shore was once a separate city, founded in 1788, which lived side by side with Pittsburgh, much like Minneapolis-St. Paul in Minnesota, until 1907. That’s when, in my opinion, Pittsburgh forcibly took over the city by having state law tinkered with in order to annex its neighbor city. But that’s a history lesson for another time.

What this side story means is that Pittsburgh as we know it didn’t really exist until 1911 when the annexation became official; so you could say the city is 105 years old.

Monongahela River, 1857

Monongahela River, 1857

But I digress. The point of this post it to remind folks about the celebrations going on downtown to mark this milestone.

City Celebrations

A parade will be held Saturday morning in downtown, beginning at 11 a.m., starting at 11th Street and Liberty Avenue and continuing to Point State Park. Saturday evening, there will be a concert at Point State Park at 6 p.m., followed by fireworks (’cause they love their fireworks here in PGH) at about 9:30 p.m.

Schenley Plaza in Oakland is covered in tons of sand as sculptors compete to create Pittsburgh landmarks in honor of the bicentennial. The “Sand City Spectacular,” where massive, sand sculptures have been created in honor of the city’s history, will continue through Sunday.

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A Trip to See the Planets

I will admit for all my love of space and science, we’ve never been to a proper observatory before.  We’ve been to planetariums and looked through telescopes at the heavens, but had never been to an actual observatory.

It was a struggle for me not to rush out the door when we found out that the Allegheny Observatory was only four miles north of our apartment and offered tours. An observatory in a city that keeps its lights on all night and is known for its pollution? But, I guess when this perch to look at the heavens was founded in 1859 light pollution wasn’t really a problem. The observatory started when the Allegheny Telescope Association purchased a 13-inch refracting telescope in 1861. It was delivered to the observatory in November and became one of the most popular forms of entertainment for the observatory members. The observatory was donated to the University of Western Pennsylvania (which later became the University of Pittsburgh) in 1867,  and that is when its academic life began under the stewardship of Astrophysics Professor S.P. Langely. The later addition of a 30-inch telescope in 1912 that measured 47 feet long and was designed for photography gave scientists the chance to accurately record the planets and the night sky, giving us a far better understanding of the size and scale of the universe.


Knowing Amanda’s love for all things space-related, I decided to surprise her with a tour of the observatory on her birthday. The tour began in a cool, chair-filled lecture room with information about the observatory’s history and its telescopes. It continued down a corridor that runs perfectly east to west down the center of the building to a large case holding the first lens for the 30-inch telescope (pictured above). Our guide told us a French glass-making company actually went bankrupt attempting to sell the observatory a lens. A German company stepped in and delivered glass that met the observatory’s strict standards on its very first try.

After a quick walk through a hallway that serves as laboratory space, we got to see the 30-inch telescope pictured above. We got to see how it moves, how the dome slides open, and how the floor — suspended on an intricate pulley system — raises and lowers to allow astronomers to look across the entire night sky without being forced to climb ladders in the dark (which has led to deadly accidents in the past).

The last stop on our tour was the most spectacular. The room was like a scaled-down version of the one holding the 30-inch telescope (minus the fancy moving floor). The 13-inch refracting telescope pointed toward the southern sky, where we could see a bright white planet even with the naked eye. Looking through the telescope, we could see four of its moons, its bands and great red storm. We were looking at Jupiter. What an exciting prelude to NASA’s Juno mission, which arrives at Jupiter Monday!

Tours and Lectures

The tours of the observatory are free and are held Thursday nights between April and August and Friday nights between April and November 1st.  You need to be a bit of a night owl since the tours don’t start until 8 p.m., because you need the sun to be setting before you can see anything, and end around 10 p.m. You will get a chance to learn about the history of the institution and get a look at the 30-inch telescope and then get hands-on with the 13-inch refracting telescope to get a up-close look at whatever celestial objects are visible in the sky. The tours book up early so you need to call 412-321-2400 to reserve a spot.

If you want to get even more academic, every third Friday of the month (except December) you can attend a public lecture.  The lecture starts at 7 p.m. with refreshments then a lecture on the stars from 7:30 to 8:30. You get a tour of the observatory afterwards.  You’ll also need to book early for these events and if you’ve gone to one already you are put at the back of the line and wait listed.  If you want to see the stars and get a good look at our scientific and astronomical pasts the Allegheny Observatory is a perfect way to spend an evening.

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The Greeks

The Parthenon in Athens

We live to explore here at No Kids, Will Travel. Amanda and I always want to soak up some of the culture of a place we visit. We usually do that by visiting a museum or an archaeological park or taking a walking tour. We visit the past as often as we can because it’s one of the best ways to understand a people.  The sights we’ve seen on those travels through time have been some of the most amazing trips we’ve been on.

We’ve seen the massive structures of ancient peoples like the pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, the Colosseum in Rome, and the Parthenon atop the Acropolis in Athens. They give us a sense of awe and wonder and insight into a national identity.  We know that most cultures derive much of their identity from their past and, in my humble opinion, no culture draws as much of their identity from the works of their ancestors as the Greeks.

You can ask any Greek, no matter how many generations have passed since their family left Greece, what they think of classical western architecture, democracy, philosophy, and art and they will say “the Greeks invented that.” Here in the west and around the world we’ve felt the impact of that ancient culture and see it all around us every day.  But I digress; to study the west and its many cultures you need to look at one first, the one that gave birth to them all. You need to look at the Greeks.

We have been given an amazing opportunity in the last month to do that without the eight-hour plane ride to Athens, not that it isn’t tempting.  The National Geographic Society  is hosting an exhibit at their museum in Washington, DC called The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great.  The 5,000-year adventure takes a in-depth look at the kings, scholars, poets and philosophers  whose impact that is still felt today. The 5,000 precious treasures on loan from museums all over the world, many that hadn’t left Greece since their creation, fill the rooms of Explorers Hall. A team of expert scholars have constructed a narrative in the exhibit to directly tie the Greek creation of democracy, philosophy, theater and sports to our modern western society.

We are also lucky to have an even more convenient way to see the exhibit and learn the lessons in the National Geographic documentary series they are airing on PBS titled The Greeks. In many ways the documentary parallels the exhibit in Washington, taking a close look at the rise of the Greeks from scratching out an existence living in caves to a civilization that’s impact it is still felt today. The Greeks began airing June 21st (Check your local listings).

The exhibit runs from June 1st to October 10th and costs $15 per person. I promise when you step out of the museum, turn left and look down at the White House in the distance you won’t think of the architecture or democracy the same way again.

A Visit to The Parthenon in 2008.

A Visit to The Parthenon in 2008.


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Disconnecting to Reconnect

The last few weeks have been filled with work stress for one of us here at No Kids, Will Travel. We felt the need to do something different that would force two social media professionals to unplug for at least an hour or two. So, last Saturday after a night of tossing and turning because our brains wouldn’t shut down, a brilliant idea popped into my head: horseback riding.

It would involve all of our attention and get us out of the city for a little while. After a quick search of the web and a look at the reviews on Trip Advisor the spur of the moment decision was made, we would go riding that morning.  The Rolling Hills Ranch in Bridgeville, PA is only about a half hour outside of the city, but seems like a world away.

We gave them a call ahead of time thinking we’d need to make reservations, but were told we didn’t need any and to stop by anytime. The ranch sits on 70 rolling acres and has been offering trail rides and lessons for  50 years. We walked up to the counter, a window cut in the side of a barn, and announced that we were there for a trail ride. We were directed to fill out a liability form, which was simply listing our birth dates and signing our names to acknowledge we understood the risks of riding and riding without a helmet. We then payed our $25 fee and were directed to wait outside the barn as a young man led out two horses. Both were acquired at auction from the Bureau of Land Management, and both were beautiful. One had a blonde coat and mane and the other had two-tone coloring like a southwest mustang. The horses, named Petey and Pally, weren’t big and intimidating either — they were definitely used to riders who hadn’t been in the saddle in a long while.

Trail Riding at Rolling Hills

Trail Riding at Rolling Hills Ranch

The horses were also obviously familiar with the trail and terrain. We set out across an open field, sticking to well-worn paths. Getting up into the saddle lifted our spirits almost immediately. Looking across the field to the hillside where dozens of other horses grazed on the near-cloudless day it was impossible to stay tied to the stress of the work-week.

After a quick pit stop for water (drunk from a metal trough that was home to a couple of large goldfish), our horses and guide led us into the forest. We followed paths up and down hills — Pittsburgh isn’t exactly known for its flat, open spaces — coaxing our sometimes reluctant horses to keep up the pace. At the top of the highest hill we found another field and rested in the shade for a while. On cooler days you can practice cantering or galloping, but with temperatures in the 90s it was kinder (for the horses and riders) to take it easy.

Zeke atop his horse, Petey.

Zeke atop his horse, Petey.

We returned to the barn about the same way we came out. Our guide gave us directions (“keep turning right until you hit the big muddy area — then turn left”) and we were back under the shade of tall trees, following the trails home. With the exception of one moment when Pally decided he didn’t want to lead the way any more, the horses were eager to deliver us to the barn. Pally broke into a trot as we entered the field where our journey began.

The trail riding is offered with or without guides. The ranch considers the trail riding to be “semi-guided” allowing riders, depending on ability, enjoy as much of the 70 acres as possible. Rolling Hills Ranch also offers group rides (12 or more persons) but you need to call in advance and make a reservation for such a large party.

One of the most special things Rolling Hill Ranch offers is moonlight rides. You saddle up and go for a trail ride under the stars for an hour and a half before returning back to the ranch for a catered dinner to enjoy fire side. The moonlight rides start at 9 p.m. on select dates in the summer and must be booked in advance. The cost for the nocturnal adventure is $60.

The ranch’s general hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.  We had a lot of fun on our adventure into the hills on horseback and would recommend the ranch for its convenience to Pittsburgh, the friendly service, and its calming effect. It helped at least one stressed out would-be jet-setter disconnect and forget about the hectic world — for at least an hour or two.

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Pride, In the Name of Love

Back in 1969 as Neil Armstrong was taking a first step for man and a giant leap for mankind, Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargant , Ellen Birody, and Linda Rhodes took their own first step, and made a giant leap for LGBT communities everywhere. The group at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations meeting in Philadelphia had an idea …

“We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street and this demonstration be called CHRISTOPHER STREET LIBERATION DAY.”

The demonstration they were referring to was better known as the Stonewall Riots, a large and sometimes violent demonstration in Greenwich Village, New York. It erupted after a police raid to enforce anti-homosexuality laws at the Stonewall Inn, a popular spot for members of the LGBT community.

Brenda Howard, who some call the “Mother of Pride,” was given the task of coordinating the march. She also proposed a week-long series of events leading up to the parade. The parade was scheduled on Sunday, June 28, 1970, because it not only commemorated the start of the Stonewall Riots but they also figured more people would turn out because most people would be off work.

The organization of the festivals and marches wasn’t easy. Organizers of a parallel march in California faced multiple legal obstacles to obtaining permits to march through Hollywood, although most of them were cleared by the courts.

The marches in support of LGBT rights began to spread with names like Gay Freedom Marches and Gay Liberation Day — fitting names for a movement that began in the turbulent era of the late 60s and early 70s. The marches were not only rallies for civil rights but served to bring the LGBT community into the public space. In the 1980s the event names including words like “liberation” and “freedom,” which some could have seen as confrontational, were gradually replaced with the word that represents the movement today: Pride.

We are now 47 years removed from the Stonewall Riots, and parades and festivals are embraced by many communities from New York, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Washington DC to Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona and London.

Many of us in the United States see the festivals not only as an LGBT celebration, but also as a festival of love, understanding and acceptance. We don’t just tolerate each other, we accept each other.

The early morning hours at the Supreme Court of the United States on the day the Court ruled in favor of LGBT Marriage.

The early morning hours at the Supreme Court of the United States on the day the Court ruled in favor of LGBT Marriage.

I was there that day in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the human rights and dignity of my LGBT friends by saying they enjoy all the rights I do. That was the day my country stood up and said we ALL are EQUAL. That was my day of PRIDE!


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