Ohio: The Heart of the Heart of It All

Team Wiley originated in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s my hometown, and was Will’s home for a few years, though he’s from the Athens area, where Ohio University is located. Over the holidays, we bounce back and forth around Ohio, fondly known as “the heart of it all” due to its endearing shape. We’re fiercely proud Ohioans and have made a habit of playing tourist when we come home, hitting all our favorite spots and finding new things that have changed or sprung up, but also making three hour treks from one place to another too.

CINCINNATI

One mandatory stop every time we’re home is Jungle Jim’s, the international grocery store around the corner from my parents. It started as a small fruit stand, but it’s since expanded into a foodie haven, complete with it’s own cheese and olive bars, expansive coffee and beer selections, and an array of animatronic figures that sing and dance, because why not? We made two beer runs while we were home, and we left both times with too much cheese (just kidding, there’s no such thing), some local deli meats and sweet treats, and international goodies. We even saw Jim himself! He was dressed as Willy Wonka on this particular pre-Christmas occasion, though our cashier informed us that he has a wide variety of costume options!

For the second year in a row, we also hit up Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens for the Festival of Lights. You know that adorable hippo, Fiona? That little international sensation? This is her home! Unfortunately, Fiona was asleep already, so we missed out on the Fiona viewing. This was extra disappointing since everyone else in the world is all about her, and I personally feel like I had more of a claim on her, being from Cincinnati and all. But that’s just my take on things.

Every year, they do an impressive, award-winning display, so the family went back again this year to visit the reptile and bird houses, since most of the outdoor animals weren’t out and about. But, ethics and zoo protests aside, the lights were beautiful, the hot chocolate was hot and served with “cheer” (aka Schnapps), and the family time was even cozier and much more needed.

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Catching up with my parents, and Will’s brother and sister-in-law at the front gates of the zoo.

 

And all hometown reunions aren’t complete without a good outing with friends. Colorado is known for its beer culture, but Cincinnati is right up there too. This time around, we went to Taft’s Ale House, which I found from Googling “Cincinnati brewery” and finding out that one of my friends lived right near it. I was originally attracted by the logo — a silhouette of President Taft in his infamous bathtub, which he did not get stuck in seeing as it was made precisely to avoid this debacle. One of our more portly leaders, the White House had to order a specially made tub to accommodate Ohio’s finest, and it was this logo that brought some of my closest high school friends back together for a night of catching up, plotting hopeful future reunions and adventures in the months to come. The beer was especially tasty, and my only regret is that we didn’t dig in to the food, which I’ve heard is also superb.

ATHENS and SOUTHEASTERN OHIO

We’ve spent a good amount of time with Will’s family in southeastern Ohio, a little ways outside outside of Athens. We spent our first stint with Will’s parents before Christmas, making our rounds to some of my favorite shops on Court Street, the main thoroughfare near OU’s campus, to finish our Christmas shopping. We paid visits to our favorite coffee shop, Donkey Coffee, and picked up Will’s weekly comic releases from the Wizard’s Guild. (Does a better comic shop name exist??) We made a quick pitstop for a photo op at the College Gate. This gate borders the original OU campus where each graduating class poses in graduation gowns with friends. The trees and green space behind it, Campus Green, is great for lounging though we didn’t stop here considering the below-freezing temperatures we’re experiencing at the moment. Maybe when we get back and the weather in warmer.

One of my favorite places in Athens, however, is The Ridges. Will’s family has a history with the once-upon-a-time asylum, with his grandma having been a nurse from the late 1960s through the 1990s, his mom working in administration before he and his brother were born, and his dad doing maintenance and tending to the current buildings for so many years. The institution was established near the turn of the century, in 1874 as one of the major state institutions and remains perched on top of the hill overlooking campus. Though most of it is no longer used due to need for remodeling — too much asbestos, lead paint, and such, as old buildings go —  parts are a museum and there’s a new observatory too. In its heyday, patients lounged around the nearby lake, mingling with townsfolk along the banks, for those who had the privilege of roaming the grounds and coming back. Will’s showed me these photos, depicting a time when women could be committed with nothing more than their husband’s (or father’s, brother’s, insert-male-relationship-here, etc.) word. So, many of the women were in fact perfectly sane. Still, patients with significant difficulties were committed too, including many patients that Will’s grandma fought. She told us with pride about the ones she broke up and was actively in. Don’t worry — she won most of them, she said!

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The front gates of The Ridges, now leading to the museum and some of the remaining active sites.

Among these real-life horror stories are the many ghost stories that have been circulating for centuries. When you Google “The Ridges,” one of the suggested searches provides “stain” as the next word. Allow me to explain.

Margaret was a patient from long ago who wandered into the attic and was accidentally locked in. With a window overlooking the courtyard, it’s not quite known how she didn’t signal for help. She passed away in that tower, but wasn’t found until much later, with her clothes folded neatly by the window leaving her naked. Since she’d been left so long on her own, her body began to decompose, leaving a relatively well-defined body stain on the floor where she passed, hence the suggestion. Gruesome, sad stuff.

Will regaled me with more tales as we drove, pointing out the different wings and identifying the old TB ward. We walked through the grounds, and Will told me about the many unmarked graves. Most in the yard we walked had only a number, identifying the patient, but with no real identification system aside from the asylum’s records. More recently, the community — or more specifically, Friends of Athens Asylum Cemeteries — has banded together to track down relatives of the unmarked graves to replace the numbered stones with proper headstones, bringing peace and closure to a still-standing monument to some dark bits of our collective past.

COLUMBUS

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This is HALF of the travel section, you guys. Just HALF!

While neither of us are from the state capital, we’ve both managed to spend a good amount of time in Columbus between friends, family, and our sporting events over the years. These days, a few cousins and my sister call the place home so we made a quick pit stop on the way to Cincinnati from Will’s family.

A trip to Ohio isn’t complete without a visit to The Book Loft. This bookstore is THIRTY-TWO rooms! A converted old house, every wall is lined with shelves, and there are more tables and shelves in the center. More impressively, books are affordable, they have Out of Print clothes and book-related gifts, and and and…it’s basically nerd nirvana. Nerd-vana, if you will. Located in German Village, close to downtown, you could spend hours in this glorious maze and spend your life savings, and it would be perfectly justified. But that could be because, aside from travel, this is a brief picture of our spending habits:

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Comic credited to Sarah Anderson for perfectly summarizing my life.

With that, folks, I’ll spare you the rest of the details about primping and priming for our trip — at least until the next post. We leave in a mere four days (*gasp*), and there’s lots to do, including the drive back to Cincinnati, exchanging currency and packing for real, my BFF/cousin’s wedding on Saturday, New Year’s Eve which is also Mom’s birthday on Sunday, and departing on Monday. So you see, we’ve got a few things on the to-do list.

Wish us luck, friends, and have a Happy New Year!!

Cheers,

K

CO –> OH: 18 Hours Down, Over, and Out

Road trips are one of my favorite forms of travel. Driving, however, is not one of my favorite forms of transport. This may seem contradictory, so I’ll try to explain.

Road trips are freedom, open-ended stops, and wonder. With rough destinations in mind, you can take your time coming and going, adding to the agenda at will and ending up wherever you meant, whenever you get there. You make specific playlists for a road trip and get pumped for the days/weeks leading up. It’s wonderful.

Driving is stress, discomfort, and white-knuckling. It’s a means of getting from one place to another, goal-oriented without a lot of room for error. From the time you get in the car, you immediately start the clock and wonder if you can beat it, kind of like the cut-screen shots in 24, except without the cool music. It is (often) awful.

To get from our home in Colorado to our home-home (or parents) in Ohio, with a dog and months worth of things — clothes, my 15 pairs of shoes, Christmas presents, and a specially packed doggie bag of food and toys and Christmas sweaters — going by car just makes the most sense. I try to get into road trip mentality for this, but it inevitably ends up just being the longest drive ever.

On Friday, we loaded up and deemed our adventure home “started” around noon MST. I drove first, stopped at Cane’s for people-fuel for the journey, and tucked Obie into the 1.5 back seats that were available for his use.

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You end up with weird road snacks, like a carton of eggnog, when you clean out your fridge the day you leave home for long periods of time. It’s not that weird,  Will.

With next to zero visibility, thanks to the boatload o’crap in the back, the drive through Denver was hairy, both because of the traffic and because Obie sheds  like a madman and often tries to weasel into the front seats. (That’s his super plush dog bed you see behind my head. It may or may not have rained fur down on me each time I tapped the breaks.) We made good time and had our usual northern Colorado radio stations in range to jam to Christmas music. This was convenient, because that range almost exactly matched Will’s tolerance for the stuff, at which point we whipped out my handy dandy CD case from the mid-2000s. The music has not really been updated since then, so these hours of the drive were largely Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco dominated. This is the music of a long drive, and not one of a finely curated road trip. They’re gems for sure, and we jammed our pre-pubescent hearts out, and we did listen to at least some of every FOB album, but this barrage of angst is not consistently the first-choice stuff of road trips.

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Around this time, we said goodbye to the mountains, and I vowed to wash my side mirrors after getting a look at the photos. To this day, I’m pretty  sure my dad’s greatest shame in me is the upkeep of my car, so Dad, please don’t look right. Last year, as we drove through a literal blizzard, we were forced to clean the windshield every time we stopped, which was also more frequently due to said blizzard. Compared to that drive, the blue skies and dry roads made this first day a piece of cake.

Despite how dreadfully flat, uniformly colored, and sparse cities and even houses are through eastern Colorado and Kansas, there were a surprising amount of beautiful views as we carried on east. We watched the sunset behind us, which was all the more appreciated because we weren’t staring directly into the sun as we’ve become accustomed to on such drives. In the running tally of the “which state is the most painful to drive through?” battle, Kansas worked it’s way out of the top spot on this drive. From our experience, Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas are the top three contenders, from having done the CO-OH drive far too many times.

Once the sun went down though, damn. One may say “the night is dark and full of terrors” — there are not many street lamps, exits for gas, or other cars, so the thought of breaking down or having some psycho go all The Strangers on you becomes more and more real the longer you go. If your boyfriend is a budding conspiracy theorist, you pass time by contemplating if the flashing red lights ahead are really UFOs and, if so, what that interaction would be like. You then become disappointed, hours later, when you realize that this is just yet another field of windmills.

The sun was down and it was pitch black out by around 5:00 MST, not long after we got into Kansas. Missouri, our agreed upon goal for the night, felt a long way from there. Our friends at the Wandering Warriors were a few hours ahead of us, so we planned to catch them, giving us a rough goal to make it to 11:00pm, leaving plenty of time for a good night’s sleep. Joke was on us, unfortunately, since Google Maps doesn’t (obviously, at least) show you which time zone it’s talking about…

We carried on, chit-chatting and making plans for our break at home and for the impending Semester at Sea, listening our way through adolescence and after a good long stint, Will switched into the driver’s seat. For about 40 minutes. Will’s been under the weather lately, and his poor body doesn’t take too well to cold meds. These jitters and loopiness were the reason for my original long stint, but I needed to stretch my legs, and Will said he was good to go. Shortly after getting back on the highway, however, a conversation something like this ensued:

W: “Do those lights look funny to you?”

K: “…no? What do you mean ‘funny’?”

W: “Like, huge? Like they have halos?”

K: “I mean my night vision’s not great, but–”

W: “And like they’re moving or dancing and bouncing?”

K: “Okay, I think it’s my turn to drive again.”

No sooner did I take back over, we were on the highway and Will started reading the signs out loud, beginning with “Zoo and Rain Forecast.” I did a double-take at the sign, and kindly asked Will what that would mean. The weather report so you know what it’d be like at the zoo? Negative.

The sign actually said “Rain Forest.”

Shortly after, we came upon “Conversation Areas” which I got Will to repeat, more than once, which he thought was nice for lonely travelers. Except the sign really said “Conservation Areas.”

I then regretted letting Will drive any of the first 11-12 hours that day. But all’s well that ends well.

Several uneventful hours later, we finally rocked up to Columbia, Missouri at 1:00am CST, knowing we’d be up and back at it early the next morning. We crashed pretty immediately.

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We lacked a little of that Day 1 pep by this time.

Luckily, our friends got a hotel with breakfast and after a quick bite, we loaded back up for the last, much shorter stretch home through the tail end of Missouri, all of Illinois, and all of Indiana. It’s not that there are exciting things throughout these states, that keep them off our list of painful drives, but there are a lot more towns and cities, plus several quaint and kitschy “World’s Largest…” type of attractions. We were a little worse for the wear on Day 2, but happy enough to be closer to home, even knowing there were no fun pit stops this time around.

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Window-licking and backseat slobbers, brought to you by yours truly. 

 

Some day, when we make a real road trip of this drive, rather than racing home as fast as possible, we’ll stop and marvel at these obscurities. Maybe we’ll AirBnB it and not Google the closest hotels ahead a few minutes in advance of the exit. We’ll make fun plans, highlighting the atlas as we go. We’ll pull over on the side of the road when the sunset is just the right blend of pink and purple and orange and take proper photos, ones without the dirty mirror and hood of the car.

Until then, we’ll content ourselves with watching Obie sleep through everything in the back — he really does travel like a champ.

For now, we’re happy to be home-home, surrounded by our parents and siblings. We have our favorite local craft beers, friends to visit, home-cooking to enjoy, and so much more that only home can offer.

Here’s to NOT driving hours and hours for a long time, and to making it safely home! See you soon, Ohioan friends!

Love,

K

Introducing Raphael and Batman: Our Complementary Dynamic Duo

Flipping through photos of people cheesing for the camera is fun. Thumbing through scenery pics is cool. Some of those artsy shots looking into the distance are too cliché not to do. But there are days we don’t feel like being in front of the camera, and we need a different kind of pizazz.

Enter: Raphael Poulain (Raph, for short) and Batman (or Bats, for us who know him personally)

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Raph has been with me since 2012. When I took off for study abroad in college, leaving senior year of undergrad, my then-roomie and present-day bestie sent me a care package in France that included the little token you see who is not Batman. He was already named after our collective favorite movie Amélie. In one of the subplots (spoiler?), Amélie’s dad, Raphael, becomes reclusive and only really leaves the house to tend his garden — so she arranges extravagant travels and photo sessions for his garden gnome, fixing it so that photos of these illustrious adventures get mailed back to Raphael to coax him out of his slump. Since Amélie is an adorably conniving mastermind, it works, and Raphael takes off at the end of the movie.

So far, Raph has been to Croatia, Stonehenge, Guinness, and more. The poor old chap has seen some scrapes and bruises in his day, but after a few years on the shelf next to our other trinkets, he’s ready and raring to go!

That leaves Bats. Bats is new to the travel game, not having had a whole lot of free time to leave Gotham. Bats is excited to stand-in for Will, especially considering his smash hit debut at Snowbank Brewing this past weekend.

You may notice that Bats sports the Adam West leotard proudly. (Or, if you haven’t grown up on Batman, know every movie by heart, and/or own and regularly binge the animated series, this detail may also have escaped you, as it did me.) This was a conscious choice, given that there were several other versions available, but Will is a nostalgic one, so classic outfit it was.

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Thanks, Gilded Goat, for a couple cold ones!

To help lessen the inundation of our spry, eager faces, you’ll also be getting a load of these guys, and sometimes our faces will still be with them. They’ll be highly featured on our Instagram too — @teamwileywanders — where we’ll be posting frequently and sharing the links to get you here. The photo to the left may look familiar for this very reason, and you’ll see our Instagram roll from our blog homepage too.

So, here’s to Raph and Bats! May their travels be splendid, may their caretakers be careful, and may they see many a wonder abroad!

Safe travels, buddies,

K

Sneak preview: We start our drive from Colorado to Ohio around noon today. That’s 18-hours of fully packed car travel, including the pup (more on Obie soon, too). To help pass the time, we’ll be logging photos (like Obie’s dopey faces and window-licking because there’s frost, maybe?) as well as events and sights for your (and our) entertainment.

“Adventure is out there!”

So, with about one month to go to the big adventure, we have some exciting news to make public. Will and I are venturing out, starting January 1, with Semester at Sea! (Sidenote — our views are our own and don’t reflect the company.) We’re pretty pumped for the upcoming semester-long endeavor and the 10+ new countries we’ll get to visit. I’ve been brimming to share the news, so without further ado, allow me clear my throat, ahem a little and boldly, with zeal, decree “Adventure is out there!”

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Photo Credit: Up balloons and CaseSwaggerUSA Etsy shop (I almost bought this phone case, but it seemed too cliche.)

We embark for Semester at Sea (SAS) in San Diego, where faculty and staff board the ship to orient and prep before taking on about 600 students. Over the course  of the semester, we’ll make port every 3-10 days-ish around the world, ending in Hamburg, Germany in April. Our route is mapped out below, but roughly goes: Honolulu, HI; Kobe, Japan; Shanghai, China; Hong Kong; Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam; Yangon, Myanmar; Cochin, India; Port Louis, Mauritius; Cape Town, South Africa; Tema then Takoradi, Ghana; Casablanca, Morocco; and Hamburg, Germany. Whew!

We’ve been prepping for almost a year now, since we were both hired last fall. Over the last year, we’ve met some of the other faculty and staff, gotten new jumbo-sized passports, procured three visas — one for China, India, and Ghana (we’ll get Vietnam and Myanmar when we dock) — and begun to pack up our apartment here in Colorado. Our plane tickets are booked, so we’ll depart Cincinnati on New Year’s Day, then fly back from Prague at the end of April. We have a rough plan to do a Germany-Poland-Czech Republic tour as we finish out our stay, but those plans are on the back burner. Instead, we’re focusing on the bigger and more pressing fish to fry, like driving cross-country to in less than two weeks. Documentation to come!

It seems like things are coming so fast, but there’s still so much more to do before we make that trip home! We need to find a sublet for the apartment, pack up said apartment, pack for SAS, and of course actually finish out our current fall semester of teaching/librarian-ing, plus at least make dents in our Christmas shopping. Not to mention the basic travel logistics of arranging cell phone service and shut down, ordering currency (did you know the US commonly doesn’t carry Indian rupees? or Moroccan dirhams? or Ghanaian cedis? did you know those were the words for those currencies?? do you know how to pronounce the word for a person from Ghana?! I’m learning so much already, but I digress), as well as notifying our banks and credit card companies of our travels. My poor finger tips are slipping off the keys because my palms are sweating profusely from just typing about all this. Still, there’s a therapeutic, cathartic effect of writing it all out, which is a bonus of getting to share this crazy good news with you.

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Actual footage of me writing this post. Breathe, Kiley, breathe. (gif credit: VizualBusiness)

The good news is that my bullet journal is on point, complete with each port laid out with handy to-know quick tips for each port — emergency phone numbers for local authorities, how to interact with those authorities, how to say hello and help in each language, time zones, weather forecasts, and more.

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More to come from Raphael (the gnome) and Batman later…

One of the things Will and I have in common is the sense of calm we derive from a good bit of research. We’ve done our fair share of Googling, TripAdvisor stalking, and more, so it’s comforting to have more information — but would you expect anything less from a teacher and a librarian? So, we continue to work diligently through our to-do list, and sometimes it grows but sometimes it gets shorter. We chip away at more research, we peck at our travel guides and tips, peruse our orientation packets and slideshows.

It may go without saying, but we’re getting noticeably more and more excited, and just a little more nervous. We hope you’ll tag along throughout or for part of the adventure, and we’re glad you stopped by to share in this exciting news!

Soon to be adventuring,

K