Meet: Asheville, NC

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If I had to pick a city to spend a weekend in after a few days of living in the wilderness with nothing but a lighter and some stream water to sustain life, Asheville NC would most definitely be in my top 5 choices.

When you talk about this place at least one person in the room mentions how they plan to move there someday. It is a place that actually lives up to the cool vibes it portrays. You drive into the downtown area where to your right is the herbal acupuncture shop and to your left is the cold pressed juice bar-hippies, townies & wannabes are clearly welcome here.

We definitely fell into the wannabes category, walking stiff and wobbly from the beating our bodies took on the Appalachian trail a few days before; the definition of an Asheville tourist.

What do all great tourists do to make a good impression? Find the nearest bar that’s what! Only in Asheville you have to find all 6 of them.

A walking brewery tour seemed like the best answer to celebrate the weekend and avoid the legs morphing into cement mode from the days of hiking. Your choices as far as walking paths are endless, and conveniently enough all of the destinations are located within 2 miles of each other.

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The 6 must sees:

  • Asheville Brewery co.- Please try the Fire Escape-think spicy jalapeno beer party in your mouth
  • Burial Brewing-(Pictured at the top) every man’s fantasy of owning a garage-esque brew palace humming with indie moody music
  • French Broad Chocolate Factory-literally choke on the taste of the chocolate in the air
  • Greenman Brewing (pictured above)-where non-beer drinking girls start to love drinking beer aka the Triton
  • Hi Wire Brewing-laid back circus style vibe (in the less nightmare-ish way)
  • Twin Leaf Brewery-they provide the community with beer yoga…what more could you want?

After a little less than two days here it was apparent that another trip was necessary. I mean clearly there’s more to see the only pictures I have are of…um…beverages. There is so much to do in every single season from hiking to herbal acupuncture, making it a perfect road trip weekend destination for a couple of stir crazy Ohioans.

Perhaps one of the most therapeutic effects of experiencing a hippie town brewery tour is that talking yourself into more semi insane section hikes becomes 10x easier when everyone you are surrounded by lives and breathes outdoor adventures.

-RV

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Meet: The Appalachian Trail

This post is coming at ya with a little Appalachian Trail action. To clarify, these 600 words only cover about 40 miles of the 2,168.1 total.

If only this post was happening because work magically said it was okay to take 6 months off and go do some thru hike soul-searching. After doing the math I would have to work at my job for about 60 years before coming anywhere close to that kind of PTO.

While what we saw doesn’t come close to the amazing adventure of the entire length, the small section between Erwin TN, and Asheville NC is nothing short of the true wilderness experience that you imagine out on the AT.

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The plan was to hike out and back from the Erwin TN on point. I had high hopes for my “last meal” aka the last consumed substances that weren’t prepackaged and heated in freezing temperatures. My dreams of egg whites and spinach frittatas were quickly crushed when we realized the only gourmet breakfast options in Erwin consisted of a McGriddle and dollar coffee; at least there was a bathroom! I felt like we were putting a little too much trust in good old McDs’ to power through two full days of covering ground, but it would have to do. If I am being honest my exercise addicted self was definitely most excited to spend my 9 to 5 trekking up and down the winding mountain hills.

AT Sign EditedThis arctic looking scene was an on and off occurrence as the sun was constantly hidden and exposed by the thick impenetrable clouds. For a stretch the trail would be a crunchy icicle and then a spring time scene with soggy leaves all padding the ground.

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Trail editedThere were a lot of things that made me nervous about this little adventure. Factors such as the fact that it was the dead of winter, sleeping exposed on a wood platform in the middle of no where, water and lack thereof, back woods bathroom situations, etc. While we were busy worrying about those things, we also were busy under estimating the physical challenge of hiking these altitudes.

After looking back at the trail guide we found out one of the peaks mid-way out on our route was only the second tallest on the entire trail. It was one of those hills you knew had to be winning that contest. The kind that makes a relatively in shape person  question any physical fitness they thought they had going into it.

On the steepest climbs towards the end of the days we started doing that dazed and confused thing, where you straighten up limp armed and wonder if this is the end. Okay, maybe not the end but you definitely consider if getting air lifted home is an option.

It really explained the ability of true hikers and the level of endurance it takes to manage that degree of activity on a scale 100 times larger than our dinky day hikes.

AT Bald Head EditedAbove is the Bald Head summit at about 5,600 ft. elevation, our second tallest climb of the trip. At this point you would be feeling pretty cold, like hands turning purple cold, but you would also start considering how amazingly gorgeous this world is. It was hard to believe that we were “only in Tennessee” seeing the kind of mountains you see in Outside Magazine.

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Despite the fact that our legs were a special kind of sore, this taste of the trail was enough to catch the itch to do more. We survived the elements, filtered the water, and scared away night-time scavengers. Something about following that narrow path, where every section is something being seen for the first time, makes you want to do it everywhere you go. You feel like you are seeing sites worth seeing. There isn’t a price of admission, lines, parking meters, or herds of people. It was the perfect chance to get out there and do something new, as well as insanely challenging. While I never would have pictured myself atop a mountain ringing in the new year in the pitch black of the wilderness zipped up mummy style nose frozen in a sleeping bag, it was one of the absolute most romantic best ways to celebrate the beginning of 2015.

…And next time an Asheville debrief…

-RV

Meet: Kitty Hawk OBX

The theory on spontaneous traveling is alive and well! As far as I remember this is the first time ever we have just picked a place without any rhyme or reason, or reservation for that matter. While it was testing the limits of my anxiety a thrill to have the entire trip be one huge possibility, it also required excessive use of phone data and an extra hour or two of car time. The original destination was Wilmington NC and the TONS of gorgeous beaches along the coast in the area. I think I compensated the lack of planning with excessive packing. Like 40 extra t-shirts would make the unknown less unknown.

Hours into the trip it occurred that no one had bothered to check the weather…we were clearly very committed to flying blind on this one. Sure enough it was about to be the rainiest week of the summer for the exact 5 days of our projected stay. Somehow the non-existent plan had found a way to fall apart and we were dead center of nowhere Virgina, and like the 21st century electronic lovers we are, the iPhone became our life line.

The next few minutes were spent analyzing weather patters in random cities up the coast until rain chances got below 50%. I would make 5 reservations only to cancel 5 minutes later due to the weather crisis and patchy load times for the weather app. Finally rain clouds turned to suns over Kitty Hawk NC. Wohoo…OBX it is! No plan plan back in action. If only the name Kitty Hawk had the origin you picture (flying kittens dive bombing beach goers with their cuteness). No one actually knows where the name came from, they think “possibly the Native Americans.” So there’s that, the comprehensive history of KH OBX.

And this is where we stayed….

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Just kidding we actually stayed at this palace.

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My criteria for staying @ hotels/motels=no bed bugs. The Buccaneer Motel=(surprisingly enough) no bed bugs. It had the potential to be amazing or utterly traumatic with no wiggle room. The verdict….amazing for the most part. I mean the character of the place just makes my heart melt! To sum up our stay in two words…affordably cozy. And I am not one to argue with private beach access, even if it means a vintage pirate themed motel and toothless neighbors.
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This sums up what the days consisted of…being horizontal, baking in the sun, beer, our high maintenance cooler baby. You “have to handle it with kid gloves” said the overly serious beer vendor at the Brew Thru and “it’ll be a real nice cooler for y’all.” Which means we guarded it with our lives.

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 My hand is on the camera… and I’m 90% sure his is on the cooler.

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One morning we caught a little rain shower which was okay because we both had scalding sun burns on our river valley skin and neither would admit we needed a break from the sun. With the understanding that you don’t stay at the Buccaneer Motel longer than necessary during daylight hours, the decision came down to go try these raved about donuts or workout. We picked Duck Donuts.  Apparently in OBX when the sun disappears everyone else goes to Duck Donuts too, and orders 72 donuts for them and their family to consume. Why any family or group of 20 people needs that many donuts is beyond me, but I can’t be a snob because we definitely waiting half hour for these beauties who were made right before our eyes.

Below…6 donuts that cost close to a month’s worth of groceries.

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When I initially talked to the Buccaneer Motel about our impromptu stay the woman at the desk made sure to tell me “if you’re looking for a sunset Kitty Hawk is the worst.” Besides the fact that the motel owner just hated on her own beach, the sunset (top) and sunrise (bottom) were both so cool to see in the ways that sunrises and sunsets normally are. She failed to mention that if you absolutely need to see the sun set over water on your beach vacations you merely need to drive 5 minutes across the strip of land to the sound side to view that coveted sight. It was a nice change to watch it set over the beach front houses, making the weathered hurricane proof looking homes solid against the sky, not to mention that photogenic speck of a seagull. It was definitely the best worst sunset I’ve ever seen.
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-RV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet: Traverse City MI

Summer in Northern MI is was one of those places where you easily convince yourself the brutal winters and endless snow would be a small sacrifice for springs and summers like this.

It is a place where grand ideas of yoga studios located in the hearts of vineyards aren’t so impossible,  because buzzed yoga would be the ultimate outer body experience. It is where cherry flavored anything is better, especially with a body of water framing the sun’s good morning and good night. Basically Tim Allen nails it every time, Traverse City MI really is a little slice of northern heaven.

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This little light house where who knows how many weddings are held each year (because look at that it!!) is extra special because it is on the 45th parallel. What’s so cool about the 45th parallel?  Just when you feel like you are as far North as you can get (aka ice water for miles) in the “True North” state, plot twist,  you are only half way to the north pole from the equator. I’ll stay here on this steamy 70 degree day thx.

 

dune hill

While this giant mound of sand picture has the photographic sophistication of a pre-schooler (No Nikon 3500 sharp shooter for this girl), it is actually really magical because that couple in view had just asked us to take their picture. It is one of my favorite tourist moments, taking pictures for other tourists. The mixed emotions towards this picture continue because it does not explain how steep this bad boy was.

 

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The dunes wound through brush and beach grass filled with hilarious people on the verge of heart attacks, cursing the distance of the path to the lake. By this point my gym shoes were filled with about 2 pounds of scalding sand, the lengths necessary to avoid a blister. I know it really doesn’t get more extreme than sand filled sneakers.

 

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After a 2.5 hour hike through sand mountains we thought it was a great plan to bike 5 miles to the top of a damn, where we waited Huckelberry Fin style in the forest for someone, who we would “know when we saw”, to drop of kayaks so we could journey back by water into Traverse Bay.

This marathon kayak adventure took us from the top of the dam through 8 miles of two rivers and one hot dog shaped lake. I managed to get excessive amounts of water shots from this leg of the journey during excessive breaks due to my toothpick arms threatening to fall off while conquering the hot dog.

These swans (they mate for life you know!) were so exciting to see at eye level after the couple at the dunes , love is all over Michigan, except for that poor guy bringing up the rear.

 

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lake kayak city

 

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The vineyards, wineries, and cellars were sprawling and everywhere had the “best blend around!”

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From the trails to the coastal bay views it was the closest to a perfect day that I could possibly imagine. The temperature forced us to stay in the sun drawing everyone into the light, what a true north summer is all about.

Meet: Augusta KY

solid barnThe weekend was spent strolling through this quaint little Kentucky riverside town. What is strolling? I can’t even remember the last time I strolled. With about two blocks of solid city there was a lot of time to walk…the long way…around the block. If there is one thing that is known about Augusta KY it is that the Clooneys rule this town, which means the city is frequented with George (who Cincinnati tries to claim as their own) homecoming events every few years.  I realized they were like any small town family as Nina Clooney came over while we shopped in her antique store and complimented my (resale) dress, and I pretend to not be dying of excitement. It was a weekend of full fat eating and absolute simplicity.

better benchIt’s the type of town you picture to have patios like this. Vintage furniture and perfectly accented brick weathered by river air.

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resale shopThe stores were filled to the brim with disturbingly adorable things. Displays that convey without a doubt of the necessity of Siamese cat creamers in your life.

cellarHome to the oldest winery in the USA, I wasn’t surprised to see that the view from the cellar into the winery is exactly what heaven looks like.

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…and what heavenly beverages looks like.

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Dina at the heaven winery lived up to expectations when she likened us to Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, a compliment I am sure to never receive again, but will be sure to repeat whenever possible. Being Marilyn for the day combined with Nina’s praise claims this my first ever A-lister weekend. The next day we saw this poster at the cafe which was all the affirmation we needed.

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Sunsets in Augusta are slower and warmer. The end of day warmth fills the town that has been shut down for hours. No one works past 5 and everyone knows how to take a step back and slow down.

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-RV

White Girl Can’t Run

I had never felt more one with the elements than during the time spent in Dominical Costa Rica. Like I was 24 hours away from abandoning bras and shoes forever and spend my days taming wild iguanas as a career path. No hair brushing at all which meant that for the first time ever dreadlocks weren’t out of the question either. The other most awesome part of Costa Rica was the running.

Prior to the trip, I had been running like a mad woman. Partly due to a slight exercise addiction and the other part due to the half marathon I was supposed to run later that month. Only this running was better than anywhere else. Miles of rich brown sand beaches darker than those cheesy Florida sparking ocean fronts and mangroves dipping from the shore line splattered with rickety fishing boats. It was the first time that the possibility of getting attacked by a gorilla sized vulture was a possibility and the chances of a wild dog tagging along for a mile or so was definitely going to happen.

So after feeling like Mowgli for an hour every morning Costa Rican running was obviously the new favorite pastime. This led to registering for the first ever Dominical 12k to” support the possibility of getting a lifeguard and for the wild dogs” so said La Casa del Sol who was putting on the race.

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Volunteers were gathered through a real life game of telephone where you just ask around and hope people will show up. I showed up race day ready for a our very own Central American Flying Pig turn out and a killer beach run…not quite.

The group totaled to a little less than 80 people with about 40 bystanders all of whom were definitely the person who was forced to drive the runner to the starting line at the crack of dawn. The starting line was drawn in the sand with a piece of drift wood and the signage was held between two trees which were held between two shirtless locals who they called Tito and wait for it… Jake. None of that start time nonsense a little whistle was all we needed and we were off.

After a long stretch on the flat beach where I had already considered where my international 12k running career would take me next, did I see a volunteer point up the mountain in the distance as the direction we were supposed to follow. Forget the fact that someone standing in the middle of nowhere was the only source of direction…I’m sorry up a mountain?

Not just up a mountain but up a vertical spiral of loose rocks and dirt. The brisk pace that was going on was abruptly ended as the natives skipped by oblivious to the fact that we were about the scale the equivalent of 5 miles up the Top Thrill Dragster in 200% humidity. My career as an international 12k beach runner was quickly fading in the distance as the only other white person I had seen for miles and I found wound up off course and in a stream with a drifting abandoned shoe.

One of the pointing volunteers appeared out of nowhere and just froze doing his best mile marker arrow stance. Another mile up and I was walking faster backwards than I could have run. A group of barefoot 20 somethings blew by and I hear…

“Muchacha blanca no se puede ejecutar”

My one year of college Spanish told me that this meant “the white girl can’t be executed.” Whoa, I’m just doing this friendly 12k for the lifeguards and wild dogs. I used the next half mile trying to understand if this mountain would be where I was going to spend my final moments due to sheer exhaustion or a good old-fashioned Costa Rican mountain execution.

I asked the next person who trotted by if I was going to be executed and she was bilingual enough to tell me that the phrase meant,

“White girl can’t run”

Thanks for everything Spanish 103, for all of that time pronouncing to run as correr all these years. I hadn’t thought I couldn’t do something until someone told me so as I drug my sorry ass up the side of a mountain.

The entire experience made me think about the discussions I have had lately with fitness instructors from all different backgrounds on motivation and how to do what you set your mind to. How you literally are the only person who can make yourself do it no matter what it is, for example running up a 90 degree angle in a sauna. That there is a huge difference between can’t do it and won’t do it. We all can’t have the geographical inclination to scale mountains like a stroll around the block, but you can still try and see what happens. Those who won’t will simply never know.

-RV

Why You should Travel without a Destination

I have always had a very serious interest in and love of travel. I sit and read WanderingEarl like it’s my job, but I guess I have never been one of those people who is brave enough to drop everything and just go. I’m way too much of a planner for that nonsense. While this has absolutely limited me from seeing the parts of the world that I plan to conquer eventually, I was ecstatic when I was able to squeeze in a last minute trip to northern Michigan.

Yes calling those days off work and not packing the computer gave me a minor hot flash, but I knew this trip was worth it. Between 3 jobs and being a student you take what you can get. It was no excursion to the summit of Machu Picchu, but it sure as hell beat the dog poop covered sidewalks and garbage day air/metro bus exhaust air of the urban city where I live.

We were going to Traverse city Michigan and by we I mean one of the two dudes (read more here) and myself.  What gives this family friendly destination vacation a little edge is the fact that we had absolutely no plans but the general expectation to go exploring to the best of our time there.  My expectation was to at least replicate one of the thousands of advertisements to Traverse City that depicted happy kayakers in crystal clear lake water. Again…no zip lining through the amazon, but still some serious out doors-ness that I was looking for.

We managed to have the best time by taking the plan as you go approach. Hiking dunes, trying amazing food, and some serious kayak time left me feeling like I had packed a week of activities into a 3 day time span.  Every travel adventure I have taken has been moderately planned or is that one trip you take and never change anything about i.e. traditional family beach volleyball tournament…”same teams as last year!!”

So here is why you should try traveling without a destination

No shame One of the most challenging parts of doing a trip with anyone especially groups is constantly living up to the feeling of “must follow the jam packed agenda” or else someone will be unhappy or feel that they were jipped out of the experience they signed up for. While exploring without an agenda I had no shame of suggesting an ice cream stop due to the fact that there were no plans to throw off with this (extremely edgy I know) spur of the moment decision.

Decide on the fly How many days of your life have you spent planning out your time down to the hour? My planner says….yep…pretty much every single day.  I can’t even deny that I have been guilty of planning out when I have time to wash my dishes. This lack of plannerized time was an amazing opportunity to embrace whatever came next. Shockingly enough the world didn’t self implode when I chose to leave my planner at home.

No big deal So you show up and the place is closed. Or that day long hike you had planned turned out to be a three mile trail around a pond. Or you got stranded in a sinking canoe and were forced to swim the rest of your trip (that really happened once). When there is no agenda things not working out really becomes an experience rather than a disappointment. There is something exciting about the possibility that anything could come next.

Do what you want for the first time ever on any trip I have been on, I felt no guilt about giving into my extremely guilty pleasure of mulling around whichever bookstore I can find in the nearest vicinity. Oh you think bookstores are lame huh? Please feel free to come up with another suggestion that provides you with any type of entertainment you could ever hope for in the palm of your hand.  You have total freedom to decide how you want the day to go. I had no idea how scheduled out my days have been by events that are out of my control. It almost felt wrong to have the power to decide the next move to make.

No yearly ‘stand by the same tree to show off how you’ve grown’ picture self explanatory. Destination-less trips are all about the candids and overlook pull offs. The pictures are as unique as how you will be spending your time. Spare me the annual ‘pinch your sibling with a crab leg’ picture the first time that happened was more than enough for everyone’s eyes.

No expectations=no complaining I was a little nervous that the lack of planning would leave me stressed out about well…the lack of planning. Going into the situation with no expectations made everything that happened a pleasant surprise and an experience that was uniquely new.  It is never a bad idea to try and surprise yourself from time to time. No one wants things to get too predictable right?

-R