Experience the Great Outdoors (sans bears) with REI!

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Yo, did you notice the leaves are changing color and the Chi temp is dropping?  Yup, Fall is falling on us.  Relaaaaaax….you don’t have to hibernate just yet.  Fall is an awesome time to get in touch with your naturalist side (and not your running naked down the street naturalistic side, mmk).  It’s not sweatingly hot and Mr. Misquito is making his retreat which makes this season a lot more pleasant for outdoor adventures.

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Two weeks ago, we got the opportunity to take a lil’ hiking roadtrip, aptly titled Hikes and Hops, to Matthieson State Park and Starved Rock Lodge with the Chicago REI Outdoor School.  For those of you who don’t catch fish with your bare hands, REI is a leading seller of outdoor goods but also does outreach to help us city dwellers up our survival skills.

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First, all class members got treated to the eye opening induction of Starbucks coffee and snacks as we got organized outside the Lincoln Park REI store.  The class maxed out at 10 people which was an intimate way to get to know other group members.  Our REI guides, Marisa and Chuck, were friendly fitness enthusiasts.  Both teach stand up paddleboarding in the summer and Marisa also leads SUP yoga.  As we took the relaxing 1.5 hour ride in a comfy blue 12 passenger van towards Ottawa, IL, Chuck and Marisa told us fun facts about the area and shared wildlife books to prepare us for the resident park creatures.  Luckily gators aren’t native Central Illinois-ans.

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Once we got to Mathissen State Park, we made formal intros and did a circle share of what we wanted from the day.  Most group members echoed wishes for beautiful weather and animal sightings.  We were treated to both!  During our 70 degree day, we meandered past waterfalls and sandstone cliffs.  We saw frogs and toads (Marisa’s toad sighting wish was granted) while in the company of a diverse bunch of travellers, including a college professor/amateur astronomer, book reviewer/yoga teacher and systems manager/geologist.  Needless to say, we had really stimulating conversation, some which centered around how to manage a zombie apocolypse as we trekked through the quiet woods.

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Mid day we ended up at the bottom of the lower vale and explored some hidden cove type areas.  Our guides then busted out a machete (or maybe it was just a kitchen knife) and skillfully ninja-ed up a watermelon and fancy cheddar cheese for us to munch on.

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On the last leg of the day, the scenary changed and we entered a lulling prairie with yellow butterflies and waving native grasses.  We embraced the quiet moments of the trip as well as our surroundings lended themselves to reflection and private thoughts.

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At the end of our hike, we were treated to entrees and drinks at the Starved Rock Lodge, hence the Hops came into play.  We split a tasty helping of  panko breaded avocado fries with a spicy red chimi sauce before our main meal.  Monica picked a light and fluffy mushroom polenta while Kate ate a BBQ pulled pork with crispy waffle cut sweet potato fries.  Even with all that hiking, we were so full we had to skip out on the homemade ice cream and possibility of flourless chocolate cake.

So we can tell you are feeling slightly jealous of our beautiful day.  Why not have your own?  REI school has upcoming Hike and Hop classes as well as Urban Kayaking.  If you are new to nature, you can do basic bike riding classes, survival skills (for those “walker” attacks!) or even map reading.  We are especially partial to the Bike and Beans class.  Get caffienated while toodling on a bike at various Chicago micro-roasters?  Yes sir!  Sign up for an REI class ASAP! Your life may depend on it ;).

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Thrift Tip: Air B and B

While Mon was holding down the Chi, my sister and I decided to take a side trip to Minneapolis on our return from Canada. This is where the addiction kicks in.

Hello My name is Kate. (Say “Hi Kate” everyone). It’s been 10 minutes since I last checked Air and Air B.

My sister introduced me to this website/app where you can find private rooms, whole levels of houses or full apartments to rent from private owners.

At first.. I was hesitant to try but now I’m all Dr. Seuss like “oooooh the places you’ll go”.

We stayed at a beautiful 1800s styled mansion in St. Paul with an unbeatable view of the city. The owner, Scott, was hospitable and unobtrusive. He set out breakfast for us each morning: blueberries, craft jams, whole grain English muffins and cereals and fancy coffee.

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Air B and B mansion living room

The one thing we couldn’t get over was the bed. Ahhh I dream of the sheets. It’s a wonder what quality soft sheets can do. We stayed in bed until 11 am the first morning reveling in the sleek feel.

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Hey you saucy thang. Come lay down here

Although I can’t guarantee every Air B and B has this sort of luxury, if you stay in St. Paul, you will feel like a Downton Abbey uppercruster.

Check out Air B and B here. Since Mon missed out, I’ve begun to draw her into my web of travel. Lofts in Paris, tree houses in Hotlanta, swank pads in LA, here we come!

Fit Trip: Regina, SK

We know you’re looking at the title and thinking one of three things.

1) Where the bleep is Regina, SK?

2) What would anyone be doing in Regina, SK?

3) I’m from Regina, SK and I love it! Keep our location a secret please.

Or maybe some of you had to keep reading the word Regina to make sure this post was child friendly…

Regina, SK is a city in our lovely neighbor to the north (eh), Canada!  The capital city of Saskatchewan sits above North Dakota in between Manitoba and Alberta.  It has a small town feel yet still a plethora of fitness (there’s even a Lulu Lemon) and healthy food options, making it a fit trip destination.

Victoria Square is one major area of activity. Every Wednesday and Saturday, local vendors come out to the weekly farmers’ markets in the square.  Fresh saskatoons (little dark berries akin to blueberries) and alpaca yarn gloves abound as well as food trucks with up north delicacies like bison poutine (definitely not healthy, but worth a try!) and stands with green tea mint ice cream sandwiches.

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Zero calorie poutine…fruitless wishes

Victoria Square also hosts free yoga classes on their meticulously lady scaped lawn.  As I snooped around the market, I noticed that there was Bollywood Yoga the next day.  The experience pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Sponsored by Bodhi Tree Yoga, Bollywood Yoga Groove was led by teacher, Colin Hall with beats provided by DJ Dev.  The best and worst part was the mix of yoga and bollywood dancing. In between poses, the class would bust out some dance moves and my sometimes shy self was made to prance around the park with fellow yogis in a free style dance session (shudder!).  When you do let yourself go, it can be quite freeing or…it can be like the painful look I saw in a pale Canadian man wearing a flannel.

To this I say: “Yoga isn’t meant for the weak, flannel man.  Buck up and prance like everyone else.”

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Oh yoga bottoms…not even aware of what will come next.

For you non-prancers, Regina also hosts a series of pathways at Wascana Lake.  Visitors can kayak, canoe, run, walk or skip if they so choose throughout the 9.3 square kilometer park (darn metric system).  There is also an island that can be rented for private partying, P. Diddy style.

For more information on the wonders of Regina, check out http://www.sasktourism.com/places-to-go/regions/regina.