Thursday, May 21, 2015

The DuPont Triple Threat

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This past week, I created and then won the DuPont Triple Threat challenge. 

The Triple Threat is something that my friend Megan and I dreamt up one afternoon while we were mountain biking through Bent Creek. We ride there a few days a week, usually in the evenings after work. We're very happy in Bent Creek, but we were hoping to get a little further out of town and spend the entire day outside. After months of classrooms and textbooks, ten hour shifts three hour labs, that sounded like true luxury. 
My favorite place to ride in the Southeast is the Ridgeline trail in DuPont National Forest. It's a long but pretty mellow climb that zig-zags through the woods, cuts across fields and up an old gravel logging road, followed by the sweetest soaring single-track downhill through a cool pine forest.

Megan and I were talking about going out to ride Ridgeline and then stopping at Dolly's, an ice cream place at the edge of the Pisgah National Forest. Dave took me there last spring after my first hike through Pisgah, and there hasn't been a day since that I haven't thought about it. There are over one hundred flavors of ice cream. For the unfortunate souls such as myself who are cursed with sugar cravings and get a little bit weird around cake (distracted, unable to focus until its been sliced and handed out, the issue of seconds, thirds) it's the mother ship.   
I'd recently written about a place called Hooker Falls for an article on Asheville Swimming Holes, but had yet to visit in person. We got the idea to stitch together Ridgeline, Hooker Falls and Dolly's together into one perfect day and call it The DuPont Triple Threat. I like pairing together and labeling my adventures. It makes me feel satisfied at the end of the day, as if I'd completed a triathlon. 

Our friend Lee just returned from a winter in New Zealand and we invited her along. She's one of those girls who runs insane shit in a kayak, but this was her first time on a mountain bike.
Hooker Falls is a cold, clear, wide open pool deep enough for diving and rope swinging. The best moment of the day was picking our way over the slippery, dark rocks and up behind the waterfall. The pounding, roaring, veil of water sounds exactly like those moments when you're underwater in your kayak, getting hammered in a hole and clawing to get back to sunlight and air. My heart started beating faster and my breath shortened just thinking about it. I never exactly made my peace with that sport.  
I was the only one to finish the challenge, because I was the only one who wanted ice cream, which I guess puts me in first place. I won! 

This was a good idea. A good day. If we're lucky, it will be the first of many triple threats this summer all throughout the east coast. Things go well together in 3's. 
And now, the winner of the summer's first Mystery Prize Monday. Thank you everyone for leaving your comments! Reading about what and where you're exploring this summer was like reading a personalized guide book of the country. So many places to hike and eat and swim. As always, y'all got me fired up! 

Blogger Jaime said...
My dad just restored an old boat. So, we'll be exploring the lakes of North Georgia this summer!

I also plan on trying to find a new job, which will certainly take me out of my comfort zone. Who knows maybe we'll move to a new city. I'm ready for a change.

Congratulations Jamie! I hope you enjoy a languid few weeks floating on the North Georgia lakes before your new job and your new city. Send me an email at and we'll get you all sorted.

Happy SUMMER everybody!! 
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Monday, May 18, 2015

mystery prize monday : exploring

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What a treat it is to be out of school. Forever. 

In the past week I've made it my mission to win back the good favor of my dog, who suffered under the brutal dictatorship of Organic Chemistry and Microbiology. I did the best I could during the past year and half, but my dog is not pleased nor satisfied with shuffling around the block or tracing the same figure 8 through the park each afternoon. She needs a more adventurous lifestyle and so do I.
The morose professor awarded me with a 105 in his class, which felt lucky, if a bit arbitrary. He never even collected our lab manuals, meaning I could have slept in every Friday instead of enduring his meltdowns and his admonishments, but so it goes. I don't know where that grade came from and I won't be asking any time soon. The 95 I made in O Chem was fair and hard earned; may I never live to have to repeat that class. 

Ever since then I've been free. Free to work, take greater care with my weekly articles, search (sometimes with a great deal of optimism, sometimes with a spinning sense of dread when I consider the looming financial difficulties) for more writing, free to pull open the windows and clean the house while the radio plays in the background (although I haven't gotten around to that yet), or explore the mountains for whole days at time without having to come home. Which is what I've mostly been up to. 

Here's a photo book of our first summer explorations. (And here is a tutorial I wrote about taking photos in Western Carolina, including some of my favorite photogenic destinations & filters.) 

Hometeam and I kicked things off by climbing the Art Loeb Spur trail to Black Balsam Knob. A wicked afternoon thunder storm rolled in as soon as we reached the summit. 
On Saturday, David and I went up to swim at Skinny Dip Falls. If you want to visit Asheville this summer, here's my recent article about Five Top Swimming Holes in the area. It will tell you how to get there and everything you need to know. 
When my friends and I ride at Bent Creek, we have time now to try the mysterious connector trails and stay late into the evening. In town, all these new places have surfaced while we weren't looking. 

I have two more weeks in the Blue Ridge. Dave is going to Costa Rica with his school and the minute he gets back, we are packing up the bikes and the boats (and the dog) and heading to New England for the rest of the summer. There, between the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the shivering Atlantic up in Acadia, Maine, and all the secret swimming holes I grew up with-  and somewhere in there getting a husband out of the deal- the adventures are going to go off. 

(And all with close to no money. We may be getting very creative with the camp stove.)

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For Mystery Prize Monday, leave a comment telling us what or where you're exploring this summer. Exploring can really mean anything- any realm, any place, any thing, inside or outside. As always, I'll choose randomly from the comments and someone will have a surprise in their mailbox within the week. I chose this prize a few weeks back at a local craft fair; it's delicate and there's a bird involved. I almost kept it for myself, except for that I destroy delicate things and you deserve it more.

I've missed you all the in the past few months. I'm excited to see what you've been getting into. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Party Line

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School let out last week. Since I will not be going back, I took an armful of my papers and used notebooks and dumped them into the recycle bin outside my house. "Looks like someone is all finished with exams," my neighbor called out warmly. She was standing in her yard with a trowel in her hand. "Now you can focus on wedding planning!"

I responded with something airy and positive, then I ducked back into my house.  The truth is that I'd rather be locked in a classroom with the morose professor berating us about our "remarkable, unprecedented incompetence" (his words) than thinking about a big party that I decided to throw in a remote corner of the country, two years after I moved away from Seattle and lost contact with nearly everyone I knew there. 
My friends like to remind me that regardless of what happens on the day itself, I'm still going to end up married to David. (David, who received their enthusiastic stamp of approval within five minutes of meeting, even from Colleen, who takes a perverse pleasure in disliking everyone; David, the most candid and kind and generally likable person I've ever met.)  

That's the party line. I've said it myself over the years, to half a dozen harried girlfriends grappling with guest lists, to my best friend Lisa as she cried for hours in my shitty apartment in Ballard for reasons that I simply couldn't fathom at the time. I was single, loaded with friends, acutely aware that none of my attempts at dating were panning out, completely jealous that she was so far ahead of me in this one aspect of life. "But you're going to be married to Colt, Lisa!" I said, dabbing at her eyes with a paper towel. "MARRIED! That's what it's all about!" 

And it's true. It's mostly true. But as it turns out, the wedding is also about publicly exposing, for the first time (I like to think) my most tender and top-secret insecurities, the ones that I've kept fastidiously tucked away since I was twelve. Those demons surface every year in March when I'm planning my birthday party (WHAT IF NOBODY COMES? THEN WHAT? YOU WILL BE SO SAD) but only within my own head. It's an imitate battle that nobody has to know about. Other then that, they remain very much in check. Of course, one reason for that is that I never plan anything, no type of social gathering, not even a casual backyard BBQ. (WHAT IF NOBODY COMES? THEN WHAT? YOU WIL BE SO SAD.)
And then comes the Wedding Season, and if I'm to believe the magazines, the blogs, the stories, the ubiquitous emails (how are these companies getting my address? Where did I go wrong?) tradition dictates that we are to have an engagement party, a wedding shower and the bachelor parties in addition to the actual thing. It's like asking people to show up to three birthday parties in the weeks before your big super-duper blow-out birthday party. That's four years worth of social anxiety rolled into one season. 

We're not doing any of that. Thank goodness. 

We are having a lovely wedding in Vermont. It's going to be beautiful. But at this moment, this temporary and evanescent moment, it does not feel lovely. It feels like a sweaty balancing act between my worst social fears and the overblown cultural expectations of this whole thing. ("Oh for crying out loud!" said Colleen, whose advice often makes you feel worse before you feel better, but to her credit it does eventually get you there. "You're having a wedding in Vermont and the tickets are expensive, don't take it so damn personally!") 

I know, I know. And if you had no idea that I was this insecure, well, it came as a surprise to me too, buddy. 

Somewhere inside the beige, stucco walls of the shitty apartment on 65th street, the Melina from two years ago is having a marvelous laugh.  
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Thursday, April 30, 2015


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They say that sitting is the new smoking but sometimes you just have to sit. (Some may argue that sometimes you just have to smoke, I suppose.) You have to sit because you have no choice, you've played this school game out to the bitter end and now here you are, bitter indeed, ten pounds heavier than before the semester, (I call it my 'straight A body') swimming in lose papers, no longer your dog's best friend, drinking an outrageously expensive bottle of turmeric juice ("for your health") feeling both overworked and lazy, coaxing your brain into just a few more days of memorizing molecular structures and then you'll be free, free to start thinking about your wedding in 7 weeks, free to start worrying about the white satin dress hanging in your closet that you can barely squeeze into.   

It's the last two weeks of school here at AB Tech, "The Harvard on the Hill" as we like to call it, and I've fallen into a fog. A rut. But don't worry, I started putting butter in my coffee so I'll be out of it soon enough. The paleo fanatics on the internet assure me that in a week or so I'll wake up feeling "bulletproof" and it will last for the rest of my life. When that happens the world better watch out, that's for sure. 

Now, where did we leave off? 

David and I had just floated off to Orcas island. 

We stayed in a tiny little cabin at Doe Bay. I had to write in the mornings, not in a 'my soul felt free on the ocean and I had to give it wings' kind of way, but in a 'I'll be fired if I don't submit this by Thursday' kind of way. Actually, I've never experienced the first kind of writing, the flying soul. And I don't trust people who say they have.
David and I went kayaking across a quiet bay and out to Jones Island, a little teardrop of a state park that is only accessible by paddle boat. We were all alone. 

We live on a crowded planet. There is only so much time in your life that you will spend alone on your own island. The afternoon we spent lying on the moss on our little float of land almost made up for all the yarking I did during my welcome home dinner.

I said almost
The Northwest is wildly, absurdly photogenic and it's not fair for the rest of us. I was born and raised on the east coast, and the east coast is where I live today. It's an exceptionally beautiful place to call home but big fat Washington state with its jagged mountains and moody puget sound, it's Pacific ocean and rain forests, wheat fields and desserts and glacial lakes, it's just easier to photograph.  I've always thought so and we're all just going to have to live with that. 
We climbed to the top of Mount Constitution on a trail of pine needles that bounced under our feet. Along the way we met a very perplexing gentleman. "Is she allowed to do that? Is she trustworthy?" this stranger asked Dave as I walked to the edge of a cliff to pose for a picture. There was a long silence and then Dave responded, "....she can...well, she can do whatever she wants."

"Women," said the man, shaking his head as if the two of them were in on a big joke that had gone a little too far. "That's how they are these days, isn't it. HEY!" He cupped his hands and shouted to me. "IF YOU WERE MY DAUGHTER, I'D SHOOT YOU! JUST TO GET IT OVER WITH!" Then he chuckled, winked at Dave and headed back towards the trail. 

On the way back down, Dave and I were jogging on the road, hoping to get back to the car before dark. It was suddenly very cold and a few raindrops were hurtling down from the clouds. A few miles later, an SUV pulled up with the same man and his wife, who had obviously driven to the top to meet him. "You crazy kids need a ride?" he asked, leaning out of the passenger window. 

He was a creep, but if we had kept running we would have missed pizza night at Doe Bay. And if you've ever visited Orcas island in the off season, then you know that there is almost nowhere to eat. We couldn't risk missing pizza night. We took the ride. The pizzas were very small. I had to eat three.
That was about it. David sang take your mamma out all night, yeah, show her what it's all about on the piano at the open mic night, and none of the Pacific North Westerners knew how to deal with his southern charm, his friendliness, his ability to make small talk and eye contact and smile. It was lots of fun to observe.

Doe Bay is a beautiful place. We could have spent a lot more time there, soaking in the hot pools that look out over the resplendent bay, filling up on very small pizzas, drinking thick diner cups of coffee each morning, talking to nobody. My kind of place. It's too bad we only had one week. But that's how it goes. And we're all just going to have to live with that. 
Here are my two favorite articles from the last month:

The Movie Buff's Guide to Asheville's Outdoors  (How to explore the natural places where The Hunger Games, Dirty Dancing, Cold Mountain and The Last of the Mohicans were filmed. I had titled this "The cinephile's guide" but they changed it, claiming that nobody knew what a cinephile 

Five Ways to Welcome Spring in Western North Carolina. Pretty straightforward. Written at Doe Bay. 

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