LG Small Town Favorites: Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

Adventure Travel, Dispatches from the Road, Fitness & Workouts, Food & Wine, Hotels & Resorts, In-Room Reviews, Shopping & Style, United States — By on June 18, 2009 at 11:54 pm

HomespunI love running, but it can be hard on your knees. I’ve always wanted to do a triathlon, and figured it’d be a good way to switch up my workouts. Still, swimming in a lake with hundreds of people-not to mention sorting through all the gear you’ll need-can be overwhelming. So I joined a local pool and practiced by swimming one mile twice a week. I scoured dozens of triathlon magazines. I spent hours trying on tri suits at Jack Rabbit in New York (is a unitard ever flattering?!). I went to seminars about sports nutrition.

After procrastinating for way, way too long, I realized all the preparation in the world wouldn’t get me over the finish line if I didn’t take the plunge (sorry, I had to). So I signed up for the Black Bear Triathlon last month. The race was in Pennsylvania’s Beltzville Park at the foot of the Pocono Mountains. It’s only about an hour and a half drive from New York City.

My mother and I turned the race weekend into a mini-vacation after hearing the nearby town of Jim Thorpe has been called “the Switzerland of America” and Budget Travel named it as one of America’s coolest small towns.

As soon as we got there, I could see what all the hype was about. Jim Thorpe is quaint. It’s like a country town married to a mountain village. It’s filled with shops selling homemade jellies, cozy bed and breakfasts, and adventure outfitters that’ll take you white water rafting or mountain biking. The town is also home to historic buildings, an old railroad station, and a renovated opera house.

Homespun cozy innMy mother and I checked into the Homespun Cozy Inn and that’s exactly what it was. Located on historic stone row across from St. Mark’s Church, the inn also houses a shop that sells delicious-smelling soy candles and homemade soaps. My mom bought a hand-painted sign with the words “Enjoy the Journey.” This is the owner, Deb, who is full of suggestions on what to do in and around town.

Right next-door is Moya‘s, an eclectic restaurant run by a husband and wife team that’s named after chef/owner Heriberto Yunda’s hometown in Ecuador. The menu features dishes made with fresh food from surrounding farms, such as roasted quail and apple salad. And the atmosphere is both sophisticated and cozy, with walls painted in shades of sienna and abstract paintings hanging as if part of a gallery. I’d recommend making reservations in advance because this place was packed the night we went.

homespun cozy innYou can walk off your dinner by browsing in the mom and pop shops that line the narrow streets. I took home some strawberry jam and fresh jalapeno salsa from The Country Cottage (37 Race Street). My favorite store was Flights of Fancy (39 Broadway; flights@ptd.net), also run by a husband and wife team who stocks the place with exotic jewelry hand-picked by them during their travels to Thailand, India, Mexico, and more. You’ll find hundreds of pieces lining the shelves, but if you’re looking for something specific you don’t see, just ask the owner (pictured). When I mentioned I wanted garnet studs (my birthstone), he spent half an hour sifting through a collection behind the counter until he found me the perfect pair.

Satisfied with our dinner and our purchases, my mother and I went to bed as the sun set, knowing we’d have to get up before it rose again to beat the race traffic on the way into the park (about 1,200 people competed).

triathlonMy stomach was in knots during the drive, and my mind flooded with questions: How will I find my bike after the swim? Will I be able to peel off my wet suit fast enough so as not be the last woman left standing? Will I get lost on the course (my sense of direction is terrible-I tend to get lost even in my hometown)? Rather than investing in expensive gear, I wore shorts from Target, rented a wet suit online, and borrowed my friend’s road bike. At least I wouldn’t have wasted much money if I decided triathlons weren’t my thing.

Once I arrived, my nerves melted away. The announcer pumped out cheers over loudspeakers, I made friends with the two women stationed next to me in the transition area (it was their first time too), and 500 volunteers were more than ready to show us where to go.

The first part of the race was a half-mile swim. Jumping into the cold mountain lake was disorienting: The water was black and the bottom hidden, the wet suit was tight enough to make it hard to breathe, and hundreds of swimmers diving in all together meant getting kicked and slapped in the face. Before I completely panicked, I simply told myself I didn’t have to be fast, I just had to finish-and enjoy the journey. So I did the breaststroke rather than the crawl to keep my head above the black water. I watched the people cheering from the shore. And suddenly, the swim felt exhilarating rather than scary.

The next leg of the race was an 18-mile bike ride through the mountains. I ripped off my wet suit, hopped on my borrowed bike, and spent a few minutes trying to slide the special cycling shoes into the clipless pedals. This part was a total high: The sun on my face reflecting off the lake, the wind through my hair as I sailed down hills, the sound of other bikers calling out as they passed, the smell of wild flowers mixed with pine trees.

triathlon finishAn hour and fifteen minutes after hopping on the bike, I was back in the transition area and changing into my sneakers for the 3.1 mile run. My legs felt like jell-O, but I forgot all about the pain as I jogged past the mountain lake, over a covered bridge, through a forest, and across the finish line.

As soon as I crossed the line, a huge smile spread across my face: I finished my first triathlon! Okay, now I’m hooked. Does anybody have a used road bike they could sell me?!

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