White Oak Conservation

First and foremost, I cannot do this facility justice in my review – it was ABSOLUTELY amazing and words cannot express how much I enjoyed this experience! A few months ago I read an article in the Jacksonville magazine about White Oak Conservation which is one of the top conservation facilities in the world.  They specialize in breeding, researching and training various species including rhinos, okapi, giraffes, cheetahs and plenty more that I’ve never heard of and certainly couldn’t spell! It is situated on 13,000 acres in Yulee, just south of the Georgia border and is home to more than 450 animals (including the largest population of cheetahs in the US)!

I asked my friend Kari if she’d be interested in going with me and without hesitation she agreed! We were waiting for the weather to cool down a bit before we set out on our adventure, and of course I used my birthday as an excuse to take the day off work and schedule a tour. Tours are only offered on Wednesdays and Fridays and last about 2-2.5 hours. (However, it is my understanding that they will schedule a tour on Saturday every now and then)

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After driving about 20 minutes on a dirt road and getting multiple “are you sure we’re going the right way” questions from Kari, we arrived at the dance studio. A dance studio in the midst of this huge animal conservation area?!?! YEP – that’s right. . .apparently (if my memory serves me correct) the previous owner was friends with Mikhail Baryshnikov (famous for ballet dancing or if you’re like me, famous for his role he played in Sex in the City” – this proves that I need to be more cultured!)  Baryshnikov hosted many performances at White Oak including, among others, the American Ballet Theatre.

It was an absolutely amazing day – there was not a cloud in the sky and the high was 80 degrees! It was PERFECT!!!! We set out for our “Safari” tour in an open trolley-type bus with our two guides who were extremely knowledgeable.  Brendan comes from South Africa where he studies rhinos and Stephanie has been working at the conservation for 20+ years, she told me the exact time frame, but apparently I should have taken better notes!

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Open trolley-type bus and our amazing and extremely knowledgeable tour guides

First stop was the rhinos and immediately I was beside myself, especially when we got to get out of the trolley and PET THEM! Never did I ever think I would be able to say I’ve pet a rhino AND take a picture with one! The best part was every now and then we’d be talking and Stephanie would be like “Careful, horn to your left and a rhino would be coming up behind us – just curious, not aggressive at all!!!”

 

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Just a momma and her 300 pound baby!!!

Then we stopped by to see the unlikely pairing of two best friends – a cat and a dog.  Coming from a cat/dog household, I know good and well this is not common – it is extremely rare for me to get my two in the same room without chasing after the other! BUT, these two have been best friends since the beginning because the cheetah lost its sibling right after birth and they brought in an Anatolian Shepherd to be its companion. (They are now 10 years old!)

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I pulled this picture from the White Oak Conservation Facebook page (I hope they won’t mind) but it shows the two of them together and when I was there, they were doing their own thing so I didn’t get a good picture!

(We also passed by a cheetah with its four cubs just lounging around!) 

Next up through Safari-land, we passed by some gazelle’s, horses, asses, zebras and plenty of other animals that I have never heard of – including this little guy that was only three weeks old and was hiding thinking we couldn’t see him!  So incredibly cute, it reminded me of the beginning of Bambi (even though I don’t think it was a deer) but with the wobbly little/scrawny legs! Wobly

THEN MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE – I was literally like a little kid and could not wipe the ear-to-ear smile off my face!  WE GOT TO FEED THE GIRAFFE!!! This was something I was hoping to do  – sure I’ve done it at the zoo, but this was different, I was on the ground, not on a platform at their level and Stephanie told us to hold on to it tight and let them tug it out of our hands –  they were basically pulling me up to get it – it was AMAZING! I could’ve done it all day! Is it weird that I got excited that one accidentally licked my hand while grabbing the twig?

 

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Last stop was the Okapi, again an animal I had never heard of until I started researching White Oak, but this endangered species is most closely related to the giraffe believe it or not, even though it has stripes and you’d assume it would be a zebra.

 

 

 

 

In case you couldn’t tell by my excitement – this tour was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING and I’d highly recommend it to anyone!  It cost $100/adult; $50/children 3-10 and worth every penny ! I’d be open to going again anytime with anyone!!! They even have a safari from the saddle tour which I’d love to do next!!!

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Kari on the bridge over the St. Mary’s River on our way out!

NASCAR Racing Experience

A couple weeks ago, I was on my way down to Daytona for a client event at the Daytona International Speedway to do the NASCAR Racing Experience.  We did the Kings Experience – which was (2) 8 minute sessions of driving a NASCAR race car by yourself! (Yes, by yourself, NO ONE in the car with you)

I wasn’t planning on driving (hence the flip-flops) until we were checking in and I asked if I needed to sign the paperwork since I wasn’t driving;  when all of a sudden, I hear “No Pippin, you’re driving!”

Ummmm….what?!?! I’m in FLIP-FLOPS!!!  I can’t drive, I haven’t mentally prepared myself, I haven’t even updated my living will!!!  Plus, I’m the only female – I can’t compete against 12 men!  But apparently there was no question – I WAS DRIVING!

So after watching a ten minute video (yep ten minutes was all it took to learn how to drive a race car and escape if needed), it was time to get suited up!

 

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I was relieved when I realized we went out in groups of 3-4 and not everyone was on the track at the same time.  However, I was not relieved when the first group came back and a girl (who was not in our group) was crying because she was so overwhelmed from the experience and I was wondering what I got myself into!

They found me shoes and someone’s dirty socks and I was in the first pairing to go out from our group. Once my helmet was on and I was walking to my car, they took me away saying they had to change the tires.  That didn’t leave me feeling very comfortable knowing that there were new tires on and I was praying they tightened the lug nuts properly (I googled that – I have no idea how to change a tire!)

Thankfully, I didn’t stall on my way out of pit road (as a side note, I always thought it was pit row) and I actually impressed myself and others at how well I did! First session of eight minutes, I felt oddly comfortable, I’m assuming it’s because I have a bit of a lead foot (which my dad often yells at me about) but it was an ABSOLUTE blast! I enjoyed the turns the most, they are extremely steep and four stories high – WHO KNEW?!?! And each turn I found myself being more and more adventurous.

The most intimidating fact is that your head cannot move one way or the other and you have to fully trust the person in your ear that is guiding you – hoping no car is coming up to your left as you fly out of pit road. Since I’m so short, I had to be pushed  up in my seat so much that I had to keep bending down to see my RPM’s and I may or may not have gotten in trouble by my guide as I was told to slow down a few times (but in my defense, I couldn’t see the gauge)!

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That’s me – with my thumb up!

After my first eight minute session, I was sitting in the car all harnessed in and had my cell phone in my pocket – I asked the guy in pit road if I could pull it out to take a quick selfie.  If you know me at all, I am NOT selfie taker, but this time I felt it was necessary!

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There was a guy in our group, that didn’t go on his second eight minute session saying he was terrified, glad he did it, but he will never do it again!

Unfortunately, we still have not gotten our results, which is highly frustrating and they keep claiming that they are having computer issues and working with IT to fix.  It has been 11 days and I fear we will not get them, but I know that I did more than 5,200 RPMs (whatever that means!)

Overall, it was a great experience and I’d highly recommend it to anyone! I think it is necessary to go at least twice, that way you can learn from your mistakes from the first time.  However, they have all sorts of packages and we actually watched someone go off with a professional which seemed like it would be a ton of fun as well!

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Obligatory photo with the Daytona sign behind – even with HELMET HAIR!