I happened to look at my last blog post yesterday and noticed October 25 was my last post. For the GRIT community, there is much I want to share with you, mostly photos that tell a wedding story that I'll fondly recall for the rest of my life.
Between the bachelor’s party, taking over a week off to get married, and then returning in the thick of the deadline for GRIT’s 2011 Guide to Backyard Chickens and our March/April issue (one of my favorites, ever), I have much to catch the GRIT community up on. And I have video of the whitetail doe that I shot back in November, which I’ll get on the GRIT site in the coming days. But first I have to tell you about events surrounding Gwen and my wedding.
First, there's the bachelor's party. A group of my best friends and I went pheasant hunting near Pratt, Kansas. We bagged around two dozen birds for the trip, but it was just as much about enjoying each other's company as it was about the hunting, although pheasant hunting and bird hunting in general are loves of mine that hearken me back to my childhood days, following my Uncle Fred and brother Josh with a BB-gun, until I was old enough to read, take the Hunter's Safety course, and carry a gun of my own – a rite of passage, if you will.
Some guys might opt for the casinos, clubs, or whatever else you can imagine on their last trip as a single man, but I'll take great friends and chasing wildlife – in this case ring-neck pheasant roosters – any day of the week.
Then, on December 18, I married the love of my life, and we took off for our honeymoon in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area the following day. The rehearsal dinner hog was succulent, the wedding was smooth, and the celebration was as fun and special as anything I've ever been a part of. As I type this I'm really trying to single out a better day out of all those in my life. The birth of my niece/goddaughter comes close, there's been a couple good hunts or fishing trips that rank up there, my Jayhawks winning the 2008 national basketball championship was awesome, riding a wave for the first time was worth every thrashing I took, and there's nothing I like better than Sunday drives through the countryside with Gwen. But nothing comes close to that day up to this point. Beginning to end, it was the best day of my life, hands down.
As soon as I can, I'll share some professional photographs, I hope. Until then this is as good as I can do.
She was beautiful.
But enough of the romantic. We headed off on our honeymoon the following day, to warm weather and a carefree existence.
Thanks to Gwen's relatives, we stayed at the hotel you see behind us, right by The Pier in St. Pete. We're standing on top of The Pier in this photograph.
Here's a look at the road to The Pier, so you can get a feeling for the distance off the mainland. It provided a cool expanse of calm sea viewable from atop The Pier.
Then we were provided, again because of the generosity of Gwen's family, front-row seats to the Tampa Bay Lightning game, of the NHL. We were center ice, front row, got served free prime rib (or about anything else you wanted, but I was all over the prime rib) and free drinks.
The guys behind us quickly knew we weren't regulars in these seats, and generously informed us we shouldn't put our drinks on the boards by the glass or we'd end up with a wet lap.
I don't know a lot about hockey – like most unknowledgeable fans, I get up mostly for the fighting and the hits – but watching these guys skate was something else. They go at it as hard as possible, then come to the bench pouring sweat, blood, or maybe a little of both. What incredible athletes, and what a spectacle to see it at the epicenter.
The next day, I got to go golfing. In late December. I played with a guy from Annapolis, Maryland, and we had a good time. He smoked me – I'm not good – but it was a beautiful course, we enjoyed the sunshine, and Gwen had a great time driving the cart and being my swing coach. Unfortunately, she can't swing a club because of a back injury suffered in a car accident, but between a couple of Coronas and watching me come out of my shoes trying to hit the ball a country mile, I think we both enjoyed the day. One thing is for sure, I'd had enough of the sand and water, and we hadn't even been to the beach yet.
That night, I had fondu for the first time at The Melting Pot. It was a long way from a Kansas beef ribeye or whitetail backstrap, but it was good. I love this picture:
After that, we went back to the hotel stuffed, and that night I booked a couple of seats for us on a deep-sea fishing excursion, a half-day trip 12 miles out off the coast. It was one of the things we were looking forward to most on the trip, we both love the outdoors and fishing is a common love we share. We got there the next morning, split a sea-sickness pill, and got extremely excited as we noticed our boat was packed with people because the previous day this boat unloaded passengers carrying stringer-fulls of fish. By the time we started heading out to sea, I think we both had high hopes.
I was mentally preparing myself to fight a marlin and have a battle reminiscent of one of my favorite books, The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. I might hook anything out here.
We both got so sea sick. Phew. I managed to stick it out and fish, mostly because of the determination to get my money's worth, but it was rough. Before we even got to the first spot, it was significantly colder than on the coast (as you would expect), and the sea was so choppy passengers had to go in the cabin for the ride out, or get splashed and drenched, and become freezing cold. Once I got up to make my way outside to where our poles where, kids were hanging over trash cans, Gwen was just trying to stare at points on the horizon, and I was feeling queasy.
I managed to catch two fish that day, a Porgy and a Grey Snapper, both keepers that I declined to keep after that was all either one of us caught. My new bride, bless her heart, sat in the cabin most of the time, watching me and staring at that horizon. The fish weren't biting (the most anyone caught was 3, to my knowledge), it was cold and wet, with a rough sea and contant spray from the ocean; it just wasn't our day. I've sat in trees with snow not able to feel fingers and toes, but sea-sickness compounds everything else and is just miserable.
Still, I'd do it again. When I fish farm ponds and rivers, for the most part, I know what's on the line after a second or two, and that's a great feeling. Not having any idea of what might be on the end of your line, that was something different altogether, a new type of anticipation and excitement. We were fishing with chunks of squid that day.
Some quality food and fellowship on Christmas Eve with family, Gwen's Aunt, Uncle and cousins who live in St. Petersburg, and we recuperated all right. Hanging with family really made it feel a whole lot more like Christmas.
Other things we did included going to the Salvador Dali museum (it was awesome, even to a more literary-inclined guy), visiting Clearwater Beach on two occasions (one of them on Christmas day) and enjoying the upper-60s weather we were lucky to encounter.
And eating some delicious fresh seafood. Here Gwen went for the King Crab, it was awesome, and I opted for the house special of an oyster pasta with a marsala sauce, if I recall correctly. We also went for a delicious serving of fresh calamari.
And here are a few images of our Christmas day:
I don't think anyone out there enjoyed the day or each other more than we did. It was a little cold though. The sun revealed itself for short intervals, but clouds covered for most of the day. Just as the sun was going down, we got a light sprinkle, and it was cool. I didn't throw myself into the ocean on Christmas day, but I did a couple of days earlier. It was freezing, and I came back out on a dead run watching Gwen laugh almost uncontrollably, but sometimes you just have to throw yourself into the ocean.
The day we were leaving St. Pete, a cold snap hit. We'd hit it just right. I'm the luckiest guy in the world.