Monday, June 15, 2015

part one. the bachelorette.

The things that led up to where I am today.

Part 1.

One night before I left for New England for the summer, I woke up with something sitting on my chest. In the last filmy remnants of the dream, there had been something living, exotic even- some type of small zoo animal. I'd been enjoying playing with the creature until it crawled up onto my lap and rammed its head between my breastbone, bearing down into my chest until I had to fight against its weight in order to draw a breath. That's how I woke up, gasping and gripping the comforter, and when I did, the thing was gone but the pressure remained, invisible and searing.

The next few moments felt cliched, as if I were a character in a movie who suddenly grows purple and keels over while mowing the lawn: I gripped my chest with both hands, eyes wide, quick forced breaths and completely helpless, wondering how long to wait until I did something- but what? Call 911? Get to the car? Get in a bath? (My answer to everything.) David was in Costa Rica and I was alone in the house.

I was sure I wasn't having a heart attack; even with my anxiety and hypochondria that spikes like a fever any time anything interesting happens in my life, I knew the odds of that were pretty slim. Was I fighting for breath or had I just worked myself up to the point (in my sleep, somehow) where I felt as if I were fighting for breath? I kneaded my fingers up and down my sternum, feeling the xylophone bump of each rib, and found myself beginning to calm down. But the pain, the feeling that something was crushing my chest into my lungs, did not alleviate. What the hell is that? I wondered. And then I had the same thought that comes with every new symptom my body invents: how long will this one last?
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My friends threw me a bachelorette party before I left, a proper one a veil and flowers, always someone warmly holding my hand as they led me through the streets of downtown Asheville, Pauline loudly leading the way, declaring at every intersection and to every passing stranger that THIS GIRL WAS GETTING MARRIED!!!

 To their credit, every person we passed was more than agreeable, giving me a pat on the head or a companionable slap on the back or letting out a supportive cheer, but what made me the most happy was how Pauline danced around me in the street, making such a fuss, making me feel so special. "I forgot!" I exclaimed to Kelli, who had linked her arm in mine. "I forgot how fun it is to go out! I never go out! We should do this all the time!" Kelli tucked a piece of my hair behind my ear and said, "Absolutely. All the time."

Bands of bridal parties roamed the town that Friday evening, always in the same formation: a gaggle of women in florid dresses loosely surrounding the one in the middle, who had a cheap veil like medical gauze drawn over her face and was usually a bit stumbley, hoisted up from the shoulder by one of the sturdier ladies in the pack. When we passed another tribe we'd cry out, pump our fists in the air- isn't this grand!! or, later in the night, exchanging embraces that were quick but warm, always with the element of cheerful confusion that accompanies the latter hours of these types of events.

My friends, a handful of girls and Yonton, kept the tempo speedy, which I liked. One place, one drink, one song, and onto the next. Let's keep it moving, people. Someone bought apple-pie shots at The Southern and we danced alone on a dusty stage. Then we were in a basement with some type of artificial fog piped into the air, a laser show of bouncy neon squiggles landing on our faces and stereos blasting excruciating electronic music, and much later I found myself posing for a portrait on a very elaborate victorian theater set, in a bar I'd never heard of before even though I'd walked passed it at least forty times.

It was a steam-punk speakeasy, I think, although don't ask me to explain to you exactly what that means. Everyone had feathers on their hats, creamy gloves and sharp suspenders, plum colored gowns and eye glasses two inches thick, and certainly belonged to some thing, or some order or some understanding, that me and the hearty remnants of my party (some had already dropped out, gotten lost, or slipped away between bars) did not belong to. This did not bother us in the slightest. I sat straight backed in my crushed velvet chair, sipped a ginger whiskey drink through a tiny star, and gazed solemnly into the old fashioned black box camera with a look of great dignity. Someone behind the half curtain surrounding the camera looked confused, or maybe it was annoyed, but she gamely took the photo anyway, or at least pretended to.

That's the last thing I remember.

David said when I came home that night (Kelli treated me to an Uber) I announced my arrival by stepping squarely on the dog, who let out an almighty squawk, and then I plunged face first on the bed and remained motionless.

I believe that the term "living hell" was coined to describe my condition the following morning. "Leave," I said to David, desperate, limbing my way across the hall to the bathtub, aware that the most unpleasant of fireworks was about to begin and that he had not signed up for this parade. "Leave- run- don't come back- don't come back until nighttime!!" It took very little convincing. He grabbed his kayaking things and sprinted out the door, and not one second too soon.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hi. Help. Thanks.

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I have been writing the wilder coast for nearly seven years. Now that school is out forever, I can finally turn my focus back towards this space. That means not only writing, but actually going out, taking pictures, and doing things that are worth writing about.

I've been thinking a lot about what to do on this blog. I think about it nearly all the time, to be honest. When I'm in the shower, when I'm standing in the grocery line, when I'm biking. Most of all, when I'm trying to fall asleep. 

Naturally, things are very different than they were when I was 23 years old. Some readers have moved on. Their interest has wained now that I'm no longer single, recording my treacherous dates and going on different climbing adventures every weekend. Some have stopped reading because I moved away from Washington State. I don't blame them- there are moments throughout each day when I miss that girl, too, and everything she had to say. 

On the other hand I've gained a new audience, one that is interested in matters that are more close to home. I have heard from many people who appreciate reading about the honest struggles that come with transitioning to a slightly more domestic lifestyle, and also with finances, job searching, and all the expectations and frustrations that come along with that. Some have reached out and asked for tips on photography, adventures, and even frugality. Upon hearing this, my sister laughed and laughed. (Anna- I've improved in that area. You won't believe me but I have.)

I've also received letters from people thanking me for writing a blog that does not include recipes and tips and such, because there is plenty of that out there. (By people who actually know what they're talking about.) 

All of this was swirling around in my brain until the answer hit me one morning. Such a simple and obvious answer: why don't I just ask you? What sort of content would you be the most excited to read? Do you have any ideas for me? What are your favorite things to read about or see on this site? I've gotten to know quite a few of you, and I'd love to hear your input. I should mention that we are also in the process of redesigning the whole layout of this blog. 

I am happy to carefully read all of your thoughts. And because we love to Make More Mail, a random comment will be chosen for a limited-edition-not-monday Mystery Prize and a handwritten photo card. 

Thank you so much for reading. I like you guys a whole lot.  

-Melina

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

all of us, exploring

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This summer we are exploring Apalachicola and St. Augustine, Idaho's mountains on a shoestring, the French Alps, New Caledonia, Kure Beach, Kauai, and crossing the Yukon into Alaska. It will be our last summer before children, and our first summer traveling with a newborn. Our family is a glutton for the epic roadtrip, so picture us with our three daughters rolling through British Columbia in our rickety minivan, and wish us well.

 It's also worth mentioning that we are wrapping up our PhDs, and touring Harvard, starting our Med/Surg clinical rotations and finally, after all this time, selling the business. We are also searching for a new job, if you hear of anything.

This summer we are diving into the Enchantments with our tiny children and organizing the Hootenany for the hotel's centennial summer, and yesterday we graduated with our masters, holy hallelujia! and the freedom we felt the next morning when we woke up - without an alarm, late morning sunlight streaming in - was astonishing. In the early evening, when the mean eye of the summer sun has dropped, we're planting a garden (our first!) and at night we're reading the books we've been meaning to read our entire lives. (How did you put it? New worlds in new pages. I like that.)
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Many of us are going to Ireland, so let's plan on meeting up? Somewhere by the water.

In a small number of weeks we will be boarding an inflatable raft and plummeting down the rapids of the Colorado River, one mile deep in the earth. Away from all contact with the world (that sat phone is just a prop- we tried to use it once.) Wave hello to Elve's Chasm, the blue falls of Havasu, Red Wall, Lava, Crystal, Soap Creek and all the gems and all the rest of the big miracles down there. Remember, if you fall in love on that trip, it might fall apart once you reach dry land, but it will work out in the long run, very different and even better.
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We will also begin Ethics and Accounting this summer. And Practical Reasoning, Biological Anthropology, GI Science. We will be in the classroom a fair amount, but there's something sweet about summer school, the wide open campus, the sweating glass of iced coffee and liquid ink fountain pens. We are celebrating our first homeschool graduate, and we're moving! How exciting! We're moving to New Mexico, Maryland, Maine, Vancouver and Vail. And Boston (go directly to Mike's pastries, buy a pound of Italian cookies and eat them at Waterfront Park.) We're so proud to be taking this leap. Moving means a blank canvas and there's nothing quite so tempting as a blank canvas.

We're finally pregnant, it took a great deal of effort and it's paid off at last, so we're exploring slowing down this summer. We're exploring joyful nausea. And we're lightening up- a surprisingly grand adventure- eating only the things we're supposed to eat, whittling down and recognizing ourselves in the mirror after a long time away. And we're going to Mt. Rushmore on one day and Acadia on the next. We'll be doing a lot of driving.
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And that's to say nothing of all the state parks, the local swimming holes, restoring the boat, the lakes of North Georgia and the shores of Northern Minnesota, marshmallows, star gazing, Mississippi day trips, Mt. Rainier and upstate New York on the same trip. We'll be doing a lot of flying.

This summer we will be wandering the PCT alone with our daughter. If that isn't a beautiful sentence I don't know what is.
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Some of us, on the other side of the world, will be taking our four year old skiing for the first time. Some of us on this side will be choosing snow, as well. For those amongst us who will be guiding in the alpine this summer: have a safe season, polish off a few jars of Nutella for the rest of us because mountaineers can eat whatever they like, good luck, and send us a post card.

Finally, the other day we went hiking with our son, and we found a glass bottle that had been cracked and half and looked exactly like a peace sign. We think this bodes well.

Much love and happy adventures,

From all of us.
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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 thewildercoast@gmail.com 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.