Tag Archives: roadtrip

Birthday Roadtrip: Passing Time in Asheville

11 Nov

Pisgah Forest - Near Asheville

Alan’s company requires that he submit his vacation dates for the upcoming year each January. In fact, there’s even a two hour conference call that everyone on his team attends to “battle out” any dates they’re all interested in before submitting requests to their manager.

As a result, any spontaneity to seize a TravelZoo deal is effectively squashed – and yet you better not book your vacation until you know your dates are approved or you might have to eat those airline tickets. While his firm is otherwise generous and generally a good employer, I find this approach to vacation vexing.

All of this is backstory to explain why we took a random vacation the last week of October. When Alan had submitted his dates last January, he thought it would be fun to take a trip for my birthday. (Very sweet of him.) As the date grew closer, we realized we needed to figure out what to do with the time.

I would’ve loved to go to Greece or somewhere in South America, but we went to Hawaii earlier this year so we couldn’t justify an additional long-haul flight. (Ah the joy of environmental guilt!) Instead, I suggested that we do a roadtrip and find something within an eight hour drive of DC to explore. After lots of Googling and rejected ideas, we landed on Asheville, North Carolina, as our destination.

Asheville is one of those towns that seems to show up on all the top city lists – Best Places to Retire, Healthiest Cities, Best Places to Raise a Family, etc. Granted, I’m not interested in retiring or raising children, but when a town you’ve never heard of takes the prize in a bunch of different categories, it’s time to investigate.

We planned to leave on Sunday and take our sweet time heading down the Blue Ridge, breaking the drive into two days and poking into wineries or whatever other off-road curiosities grabbed our attention. But we were both doggedly sick the week before, so we pushed our departure back a day and just made a beeline for Asheville.

(Note to self: the next time we drive down, we need to make time to detour to see the Natural Bridge, the oddly placed D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA, the stuffed skin of “Sorrel” the horse at VMI, and State Street in Bristol – where we can stand with one foot in Virginia and one in Tennessee.)

As it was, we arrived Asheville late Monday afternoon, following a truly gorgeous seven hour drive. I think Alan got sick of me pointing out every brilliant red maple along the way, which is fair since we were surrounded by rolling hills (or mountains) covered with impressive color the whole way down.

During the drive, I noticed MANY fields sporting three large crosses. On the way home, I was sufficiently curious about them to google for more information. Here’s what I learned from this website:

Those sets of crosses were all put up by the same man, Bernard Coffindaffer, a once-wealthy West Virginia businessman. He spent more than $2.5 million putting them up after a vision following open heart surgery told him to start building “crosses of mercy.” The first trio was built north of Charleston, WV, and eventually some 1,800 were planted across 29 states. Coffindaffer’s crosses are two pale blue ones and a yellow one, painted these colors to represent the colors of the sky and the light of the sun over Jerusalem. The crosses are treated with a saline solution and built to last 35 years. Coffindaffer eventually went broke, and died in October, 1993, after more than ten years of building. 

Fascinating, right? In the pre-google days, I would’ve seen them, said, “Why are there three crosses?” And Alan would’ve said, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit?” And I would’ve said, “There would only be two crosses then because ghosts don’t need crosses. Duh.” And Alan would’ve gotten annoyed with me. And we never would’ve known about Bernard Coffindaffer, who should be famous on the basis of his last name alone.

Anyway, I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow of what we did and just share a couple of the highlights:

  • Sierra Nevada Brewery – tours book up two months in advance, but it’s still a great place to chill by a fire pit or play cornhole with a brew in hand if the weather is nice
  • Waterfalls – lots of great hiking, pretty views and waterfalls 20 minutes south of the city; we followed signs to Looking Glass Falls and ended up driving the Blue Ridge Parkway after
  • The Biltmore – yeah, it’s touristy (hell, it’s the reason Asheville is even on the map) and it’s pricey, but it’s definitely worth it; where else will you see a 250+ room home AND get a wine tasting that samples 20 different pours?

We returned to DC on Friday. Having been surrounded by beautiful color for the entire week, we were somewhat numb to it as we drove north. Without the constant narration of the foliage to distract us, the drive passed more slowly. To liven it up, I turned to Alan and asked, “Who was your favorite elementary school teacher and why?”

Without moving his eyes off the road or considering the question, he said, “I’m not really interested in answering that right now.”

I’m not used to people opting out of my activities, so I was momentarily stunned. “What the hell kind of response is that?” I asked. “You’re ‘not interested in answering?'”

“That’s right,” he responded, not bothering to elaborate, though I could see the corners of his mouth twitching as if he were proud of himself.

“It’s not like you have anything better to do,” I pushed him. “I’m just trying to find ways to pass the time.”

He considered that for a long minute, then said, “Well, the time is passing whether or not we discuss our favorite teachers. It’s what time does.”

For some reason, I couldn’t stop laughing. And he was right – the time managed to pass just fine on its own. Just like the previous year had. And the year before that.

A good reminder on my birthday.

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There was no Kool Aid to drink.

18 Mar

I’ve been doing a lot of yoga lately. It’s one of my new year’s resolutions. Last year, in my quest to swim 50 miles, I got a bit lazy about yoga since I didn’t have a regular studio. And while people claim that swimming is a great whole body exercise, I found that I lost strength and muscle tone that I’d built in yoga. So this year, when it came time to choose between a gym membership (for pool access) or a yoga studio (for, well, yoga), I decided to spend the money on yoga.

I know, some of you are scratching your heads asking why the two are mutually exclusive. Two reasons: time and money. Satisfied?

To help kick off my recommitment to yoga, my friend Betsy and I went on a yoga retreat at Yogaville in February. Yogaville is an ashram on 800 acres of wooded land outside Charlottesville, Virginia. If you google it, you might become a bit worried that it’s possibly a cult. I’ll admit – that was one of my concerns as we headed into a weekend.

It didn’t help that when we arrived, the people greeting us were all wearing white flowy clothes and had names like Chandrani and Vishnu, despite the fact that they looked like they were probably originally baptized as Mary and John. While we had an option to sleep in the “dorm,” we opted for a private room and private bath. The only wall decorations in our room were a photo of the late Swami G, founder of both the ashram and the integral yoga movement in the United States, and the ashram’s symbol, which looked like this:

Yogaville Symbol

Yogaville Symbol

At first, these decorations did little to convince me we weren’t about to become indoctrinated into a cult. But as the weekend went on, I began to realize that if Swami G had been a politician, his platform would have focused on creating peace among all world religions.

Cult concerns aside, the weekend-long immersion was a great way to kick-off my yoga commitment. We rose at 5:30 for a 45 minute meditation led by a monk, then attended a 90 minute Hatha yoga practice followed by breakfast in the communal dining room. A hike to the LOTUS shrine, then lunch. Then a yoga nidra practice before dinner, followed by satsang, which is their Saturday night celebration.

A word about satsang:

Imagine a small auditorium with three musicians on stage, all in flowy white robes. For the next 45 minutes, they will play variations on the same song while singing chants in a call-and-response format. The chants are based on the Hare Krishna mantra, so you revisit your cult fears and wonder if you are surrounded by Hare Krishnas.

Then you wonder what that means and realize your knowledge on this entire subject is a bit vague. Are Hare Krishnas are the bald people who hand out poppies at airports and drive little cars? Or are those Shriners? Are Shriners associated with a circus, or have you made that up? Have you made up the bit about little cars? Are the poppies handed out by people honoring dead soldiers?

As your head begins to explode from all you do not know, you realize that behind you, some of the younger members of the audience (guys in their 20s) who presumably live at Yogaville year-round, have become so moved by the chanting and music that they can’t contain themselves. They are dancing, running and kicking up their heels in a way that seems a bit over the top. You want to be happy for their joy, but instead you think, “These guys just need a beer.”

To help pass the time, you sing along, realizing that you can subtly change the words for your own amusement, which will explain your Sunday night tweet: “Spent the weekend at an ashram. My main take-away is that when chanting Hari Om you can say, ‘Hidey Hole’ instead without people noticing.”

A word about meals:

The cafeteria featured only vegetarian and vegan meals. The volunteers in the kitchen did a good job pulling together meals that provided a good variety – as an example: borscht, sautéed kale, lentils, vegetable curry, fresh fruit and a salad bar. However, we quickly learned that if you don’t arrive right at the start of the meal, odds were good that the best items would be heavily picked over.

When I say “best items” I’m actually talking about potatoes. Rosemary potatoes for breakfast and cinnamon sweet potatoes for lunch? All cleaned out by the time we arrived. And that’s when I knew beyond a doubt that I couldn’t live communally. I’m fine honoring the quiet hours from 10pm to 8am. I’ll even chant with you on Saturday nights. And I won’t whine about giving up meat or wine. But taunt me with something I’m actually excited to eat – and demolish it before I get a portion? We are done.

funny Hare Krishna

Sunday we wrapped up with another Hatha practice before hitting the road and returning to DC. It was a nice escape from the city, but I won’t be packing my bags and changing my name to Ganesh any time soon. 

What’s not to like about a road trip? Other than me.

6 Sep

It’s 10pm on Labor Day, and after 10.5 hours in the car (for what should’ve been an 8 hour trip), I’m simultaneously exhausted and and too charged up to turn my light off. So in an attempt to tire myself, I’ll subject you to random snippets and observations inspired by today’s roadtrip.

First, Ohio. Can anyone give me a reason to not despise northern Ohio other than Cedar Point? That stretch of the toll road from Youngstown to Toledo is about as flat and boring as the Olson twins’ chests. To add injury to insult, the police in Ohio set up speed traps the entire length of the toll road. I think they should COMMEND you for speeding, because it means you’re somehow managing to stay awake.

Second, damn you, restaurants that decided to close for Labor Day. It’s a holiday celebrating WORK, people. Keep those establishments open!

And as for those restaurants that were open (I’m talking to YOU, Arby’s in Somerset)… if your menu advertises loaded baked potatoes, I urge you to keep potatoes in stock. Or was there an unexpected holiday run on potatoes before we got there?

Actually, I’ll answer that question. I think the answer is NO. I think you don’t ever stock potatoes, or the teen cashier would’ve been able to answer my question (Do you use cheese SAUCE or shredded cheddar on your potatoes?) if he had ever seen one actually cross the counter.

Yes, it does matter if it’s sauce or shredded cheddar. I refused to eat cheese sauce. (Yes, that means I won’t eat movie theatre nachos either.) Or cheese whiz. Vomit. Moving on…

Hey Ohio! I’m not done picking on you yet. Is your unemployment rate miraculously low? I ask because I’m pretty sure I’ve seen DC homeless people with more hustle and mental acuity than the woman working the register at the service plaza just before the PA border.

Not only was she slow, but after waiting an eternity behind someone buying lotto tickets to get one soda rung up, just as we got to the register, she held up her finger and told us to “Hold, please.” She then proceeded to make a phone call. A long phone call.

Actually, for all I know, she’s still on that call. And our soda is still sitting on the counter, right where we left it when we walked away and completed the transaction at a vending machine, while watching her. And you wonder why you’re being replaced by machines?

Enough about her. Back to me. I am convinced that I have it in me to write an awesome musical. Not only can I create a song for any occasion (Greatest hits include, “There better be a bathroom in the next five miles!” and “I can’t see jack because of this rain.”), but I’m really skilled at rewriting pop songs with improved lyrics. Alan claims I just got lucky with some of my rhyme schemes, but I recognize jealousy when I see it. Sorry Alan, not everyone has The Gift.

Another gift I have? Word games. And I don’t even need a partner. I can play Solitaire with words, as Alan realized today when he refused to humor my version of a game I call, “Can You Smell What the Rock Is Cooking?” It starts when I’m looking for agreement on something, and this is a sample:

Me: How about we stop here? Can you smell what the Rock is cooking?
Alan: Nods.
Me: Huh? Are you buying what I’m selling?
Alan: Uh huh. 
Me: Are you composting what I’m discarding?
Alan starts to ignore me. 
Me: Are you fertilizing what I’m planting?
Me: Are you smelling what I’m wafting? 
Alan: That’s gross.
Me: Huh?
Alan: I don’t like it when you say wafting. 
Me: Fine. Are you snorting what I’m milking? 
Alan: OK! I will stop here. Will you please stop this game? 
Me: Only if you admit that you’re smelling what I’m wafting. 
Alan: No.
Me: OK. Then I hope that you’re at least shucking what I’m picking? 

Speaking of entertainment, I love NPR, but would like to know how they manage to coordinate it so that the only show airing at any given time is Fresh Air with Terry Gross. The first time we heard the interview with the retired Hollywood stunt man, it was amusing. The sixth time? Not so much.

And finally, after about eight hours in a car, I noticed that I smelled like peanuts. That was especially odd, because we didn’t have any nuts in the car. [Insert immature joke here. And cue up the song “Roxanne,” but substitute, “NOOOO Nuts! We don’t got no nuts in here…” for the lyrics.]

Are you shelling what I’m smelling?

And now we’ve got ourselves a roadtrip! 

Get it? This IS a rock cooking. And I bet you CAN smell it. I mean, it's fish.