Nine years ago I ran my first marathon. Not only did I discover that I love going the distance running but I also love going the distance to get to the race. When my number of completed marathons reached somewhere in the upper 20's, and my number of states where I had run those marathons reached the upper teens, I admitted that I would very much like to run a full marathon in every single state of our United States of America. I've completed all my local, close states and now I'm going for those that will take more effort on my part.
Along with my own obsession with running marathons is a country-wide growth of obsessed runners and the corresponding number of marathons. I decided that I'd like to combine my joys and travel to areas for marathons that also have something else that interests me. Thus, the Vermont City Marathon and the Vermont Teddy Bear Company. Hey, it's not that strange for me considering I ran a couple of half marathons in Chicago only because I wanted to be there the same weekend as the Stitches yarn market (and I've also visited yarn shops in every marathon city I've been to since I started knitting).
A common misconception among people who know me is that I collect teddy bears. Nope, I don't. I've just happened to accumulate a whole crapload of them! I got my first bear when I was in high school and somehow, many years later, I have a house full of bears. Big bears, little bears, tiny bears, black/brown/tan/purple/white/red/pink/gray/younameit colored bears. Hard bears, stiff bears, funny bears, sad bears, floppy bears, ornamental bears, fuzzy bears, naked bears and dressed bears.
I received my very first Vermont Teddy Bear in October, 2002. My sis sent me a bear to wish me good luck when I ran the Silicon Valley Marathon. On the back of this Superstar Bear's shirt is embroidered "Go Amy," which I did in the race by knocking 12 minutes of my previous fastest race time. That was the start of my sis and me sending each other Vermont Teddy Bears.
For birthdays, for achievements, for illness or injury or just because, one of us would go online and send the other a bear, usually as a surprise. Along with this, I started getting bears from the Vermont Teddy Bear Company for myself. First it was for special occasions, then for commemoration, then for "just because I like her!" or for no reason at all. All of a sudden, I realized that when I put together all my Vermont Teddy Bears, it looked like this:
Slightly disturbing for a grown woman, hmm (especially when you can see the other bears in the background)? But that didn't stop me, because a couple of years earlier I had discovered a full marathon in Vermont only minutes away from the Vermont Teddy Bear factory. Too many bears or not, I was going to see the mothership, I would get to tour the home of them all. I would just have to put on my big girl panties and not buy out the entire place.
You might remember that a couple of years ago I was contacted by a representative of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company and offered a free bear (an offer which I happily accepted). He's the little guy in the tux in the upper left hand corner of the picture. To satisfy the latest full disclosure laws regarding product reviews (which I guess this really is, in the long run), yes, I got a freebie. But that was after I already had bought oodles of Vermont Teddy Bears for myself, my sis and my friends and in no way changed my admiration for this "product."
Anyhoo, when I realized I would be in Burlington, VT in just a week I sent an email to VTB (sorry, tired of typing the entire thing out) and asked if he'd be available to meet me when I showed up. To my delight, he indeed would be there and would be able to come out to say hello.
Sandy and I arrived at the VTB factory early Friday afternoon. I seriously felt like a little kid going to Disneyland or having her first Christmas morning (full disclosure: I never went to Disneyland as a kid and I'm Jewish so I never celebrated Christmas. But I felt like I would imagine a kid would feel at those times). I was actually giddy. Sandy was amused.
We paged Nate and he came down to the shop to say hello. More than say hello. We got the grand tour, the behind the curtain view of Emerald City. We were introduced around ("this is the crazy lady who has as many bears as the factory and who runs marathons"), shown things that most visitors never get a chance to see, and made to feel right at home. Ok, maybe not right at home, I think Nate sensed that I could easily move right on in if given half a chance. Hell, I think he was a bit taken aback to see the tattoo on my leg (it's their logo bear. But only because it's the best line drawing of a teddy bear that I could find. I'm not their "biggest fan" and I'm not going to lock the employees in some room and break their legs until they design my perfect bear. I promise.).
Nate spent quite a bit of time with us, answered all our questions, gave us a good idea of the workings of the company and the sister companies (go to their websites and check them out yourself. I'm busy writing here). Since he then had to go perform his actual job, he left us in the capable hands of the general tour guide, where a tour was just starting. Thank you Nate, for a memorable time!
We joined the tour in progress and followed along with the (about) dozen parents and children. We seemed to be the only adults without little ones, which was a little surprising to me. But the kids on the tour added to my own wonder and joy at the whole experience. I took lots of pictures which I won't be posting here, mostly because of blogger's annoyingly inept picture interface.
It was fascinating to learn about construction of a VTB. Since obviously mine all arrive in one piece, I had no idea how many little bits it takes to make a bear. There were actual employees assembling little teddies while we watched (and kudos to them for not pacing nervously back and forth the way a caged bear in a zoo does). We were shown the bear hospital where injured teddies are repaired (yes, fully guaranteed, even if they're chewed on by the dog or spit out by a lawn mower). This tour was short, probably because a little kid doesn't have the greatest attention span, but quite complete.
Y'all know that I can be quite the grump when it comes to screeching kids. We didn't hear any of that during the entire tour (or indeed, the whole time we were there). Yes, there were a gazillion kids, both little and big. Yes, they were noisy. But they were happy laughing giggling noisy, not cranky greedy noisy. They were running and playing and not one screech came out. A small miracle in itself.
Along the tour route I found my newest friend, but they wouldn't let me take him home:
Then came the tough part: the shopping. There's a room with almost every single bear that they make. Shelves and tables and displays of bears. I walked around and pointed out that "I have that one" "and that one" "and that one" "and that one" and on and on. But there were even more that I didn't have. Many more. And I had told myself I could have 1.
Hahahahah! Yeah, we all know how well that would work. The one bear I had permissioned myself to buy was a dark brown colored version of this sweet girl:
For some reason this lovely, soft, floppy, squishy, huggable bear had disappeared from the website and catalog and I hoped that I could find another one. I knew they originally came in this golden color, the dark brown, pink and pale blue (and maybe yellow, or maybe I'm just imagining that). Luckily I saw an entire display shelf filled with these bears. Unluckily I then had to instruct myself that I only needed to get the dark brown, and not the pink and blue.
But I didn't stop there. There was a bear that I had never seen, that belonged in my house. Most of you who have seen my knitting and my yarn know that my colors are black, red and gray (or white). The previously unseen bear was black fur tipped with white. Wait, maybe it was the other way around, white tipped with black. Anyway, he was a beautiful bear and matched my furnishings so he had to be mine also. Oh hey, I just found him on their website. Mine doesn't have the tie, he's nekkid and don't need no steenkin clothing.
But wait, there's more! I've wanted one of their little bears, but they're normally only sold with the mama or grandmama bears as a set. I just wanted a lil 'un for me. Ok, and one for my sis too.
No, I wasn't done yet. I've never been to the stuff-it-yourself bear emporium and VTB has their own select line of stuffers. Including a fluffy bright red teddy bear. I got the thrill of being there for the stuffing of my very own Friend for Life (Conceived by Vermont Teddy Bear, Born Abroad, Stuffed in Vermont) red bear.
At that point my arms ran out of room, my wallet ran out of money, and the day ran out of time. Sandy walked out of the VTB showroom with 3 bears, I walked out with only the one brown bear. One day this week, hopefully soon, the others will arrive in their cozy box.
I had the BEST TIME EVAH! Honestly, the people couldn't have been nicer, the merchandise was irresistible, my dreams were fulfilled and exceeded. If you're ever in that part of the country, even a couple of hundred miles away, you have to go visit.
Tell 'em Runner Girl Knits and her large family of bears sent ya!