31 December 2011

Just a Bit of Reflection

In the final gloaming of what felt like a breathlessly quick year, I'm browsing the internet, killing time before I don my party frock and go out dancing to celebrate the next calendar page. Fingers crossed the new year will be even better than the old.

2011 wasn't much of a growth year for me. Until I make some kind of substantial change in my life I'll be coasting on this flat, beautiful stretch of road, doing an effortless 28 mph with a tailwind. It's both comforting and suffocating, to know that I have to do so little to achieve happiness, but to know that I could do so much more. I discovered on Google Maps that Trader Joe's is an easy five mile commute from my aunt and uncle's house in Orinda, and aren't we all impressed with the heights of my ambition? I can shake up my peaceful little existence by moving somewhere and settling into another food retail job.

But then, some stuff happened this year. I visited some cool places, I experienced some minor successes on two wheels. My dear Subaru turned ten and hit 100,000 miles, my sister turned into a cool real person. Many dinners were cooked and enjoyed with friends, many customers were pleased with their BMB and B&B. I bought my first stupidly fancy bike, I embarked on my first "grown-up" trip to Europe. Not much to write home about, but I keep taking little steps forward. (Maybe. Or maybe I'm shimmying from side to side, or just hopping in place. Regardless, it's motion.)

Ignore the musings. Whether or not I do something drastic in the coming year, whether or not I race bikes or change jobs or meet life-altering people or move somewhere or buy a house or just cheerfully maintain status quo, I do sincerely hope it is a happy 2012 for us all.

14 December 2011

Disturbingly Accurate

thank you aaron for this gem:

you know, in case you needed a visual of sarah's and my ride the other day...

13 December 2011

Lisa and Savannah

Way back in the spring, the Specialized 2012 catalog was released and upon perusal I was appalled to see that the baby dinosaur had gone extinct...Specialized had replaced their XC full-suspension chick bike with some dumb hardtail 29er. Not cool, y'all. This meant that at some point in the future I would be forced to get a bike that wasn't an Era, and I wasn't happy about it. (First-world problems, amirite?) 

Skip ahead a couple months, and I had accidentally found the perfect buyer for the baby dino. And then, lo and behold, a 2010 Sworks Era popped up in the dusty clearance bin of the internet. Same year, same look, lots more plastic. I hemmed and hawed and accrued funds for a month before finally biting the bullet, and the Councilman was kind enough to let me take her out for the first time on Friday. 

After my amazing experience with the Yeti, I was a bit tentative about this purchase, my head full of preconceived notions about carbon bikes. They're more fragile, right? And they require a stern demeanor, and spandex, and they're probably a lot more businesslike. No more joyful gallivanting downhill and certainly no more slow easy climbs, right? This was a heavy mantle I was adopting.

Before she had even left the shop she'd been dubbed Lisa, which was definitely not my first choice, seeing as how it's also the name of my heavyset mustachioed lesbian neighbor who loves midnight furniture-moving sessions and audiobooks turned up to 11. But the appellation stuck, and I like to think of my Lisa as the antithesis of her Prius-driving namesake: spry, light, effervescent.
Anyway. She weighed in at 22.8 pounds, first of all. That's just stupid. We rode up Twin Falls and down Avery and I am surprised and pleased to say, the difference was huge. On technical climbs it felt like there was a direct circuit from my brain to the bike, and Lisa navigated each section with playful ease. Then we went downhill, and that was the real revelation; the fancy suspension performed flawlessly, the bike imperiously demanded bigger hits and faster cornering, and once again each move was intuitive. Who knew descending on an absurdly expensive XC rig could be so darn fun? Lisa had incinerated my expectations. 

The maiden voyage
Oh, but it gets better. Riding a fancy new bike was only half the fun. The baby dinosaur found herself in new hands, and is now operating under the name Savannah. My dear friend Sarah has been dragging the tired carcass of an ancient hardtail all over Pisgah for years, and I can think of no one more deserving or appreciative of a blinged-out Era than her. We got in a quick inaugural ride yesterday and Sarah was so, so, so, so, so stoked. ("It's so quiet!" "It's so fast!" "The brakes actually work!") Watch out WNC: that bike is a freaking game-changer and I'm afraid that pretty soon we're all going to have trouble keeping up with Gascan.

It's like Christmas, but better

05 December 2011

A Tale of Three Bikes

Tristan on his charger
Purely by chance I had the opportunity to ride three different bikes in quick succession this week. The baby dinosaur is at the doctor's getting its appendix removed so I've been forced to get creative when the mountain biking mood strikes. First T Cowie was kind enough to lend me his Stumpy. It was way fun to ride but I've never felt up to the task when I ride Stumpies...I do those burly big-travel bikes a disservice with my timidity and lack of skillz. Plus it was so clearly Tristan's bike: a bit too big, rock-hard suspension, brutal gearing, ass-hatchet saddle, super wide bars. Tough to control, like riding a big stallion when I'm used to my little filly.

Another day Morgan let me use her after-dinner mint, the By:Stickel. My first excursion on a 29er! Climbing Sycamore, all those magazine phrases popped unbidden into my head: "stable through corners", "riding inside the bike", "clambering over obstacles like a rock crawler". But also: "ouch". I don't love hardtails, nope. Simple as that. 
The after-dinner mint in its natural habitat 

Yesterday several of us hit up the quintessential Pisgah singletrack, a short out-and-back on Squirrel. My steed du jour was a Yeti 575 and thanks to Dan it was already set up just right when I hopped on it. And from then on the day only got better.

Oh. My. God. I can't even express the joy of riding that bike. It was a big bike that felt little, it was nimble and squishy and raucous and confidence-inspiring and more than happy to bang its intrepid way over babyheads and root baskets up and down. Oh. My. God. I was beaming at every intersection and plowing effortlessly through tech stuff that usually gives me a pause. Within thirty minutes I was plotting ways to purchase the beauty, and trying somehow to justify such a frivolous move. If I'm not careful it still might happen. I get so damn acquisitive when I hang out at the shop too much. I've constructed my armor of "why nots" to protect myself from the Yeti: I don't believe in having a stable full of mountain bikes because, you know, run what ya brung. I really don't like climbing slowly. I don't like bikes that cater to my weaknesses; I want to improve my descending the honest way, instead of just getting a bike that encourages sloppy (albeit wickedly fun) ripping. 
I love you. 

Oh yeah, also, I can't permit myself to lust after a new steed right now because, well, there's a box en route to Brevard even as I type...

Uh oh

07 November 2011

I'm Going to Keep Talking About It

oh yeah, a couple more fun facts about the swank: there were twenty-five women (nicely done ladies).
and twenty-four out of 192 participants hailed from this county. go locals!
and the only racer who was younger than me? tristan.

Say My Name

The weather was perfect, the temperature rose, the trails were in great condition. As usual with Todd's events, the course was well-marked, the cheerful volunteers were out en masse, and there was free coffee, beer, and burgers for all. It's safe to say that at least twenty of my friends and teammates raced, and those who didn't cluttered the course, heckling, pushing, and offering all manner of aid.

So this is why people pay to do this.

Stuck on intentional repeat in my brain was the new Florence + the Machine song "Spectrum", in which Florence emphatically commands, "Say my name." That's how good I was feeling. Say my name, gravel road climb, root basket on Butter, old dudes on singlespeeds. I don't think I've ever approached a race with such confidence, excitement, joy. That effervescent spirit buoyed me through almost the whole forty miles, deserting me only during the interminable hike-a-bike on Farlow and on the shockingly painful final climb to Cove Creek.

The chips fell pretty early in the women's field--Karen Masson, local ass-kicking older lady, passed me on Daniel as I struggled with chainsuck and I never saw her again. Every spectator taunted me with her phantasmic existence: "She's only fifty seconds up, go get her!" I mistook "Karen" for the name of another super-strong endurance racer, who has given me hours of amusement with her melodramatic encounters with celiac. She uses gluten as a verb, as in, "I went to P.F. Chang's and I got glutened (ominous music)..." so I gave chase and decided that my battle cry was, "The power of wheat compels you!" This is what hours of climbing does to me. I didn't realize my mistake until the end, and was happy to see the victor eating a healthy helping of gluten-contaminated food.

I finished second, fifteen whole minutes behind Karen, but still feeling like a rock star. Everyone from the PAC had stellar races--Kym was hot on my heels and Jenna, Katie, Jordan, Jess, and Erica all had strong finishes. Most of my favorite people packed the top fifteen; props especially to T Cowie, you sneaky bastard, who would've probably won if he hadn't been so damn covert.

It was bike racing at its best, that's for sure.

04 November 2011

Crazy Running

i found myself doing a bit of crazy running today. not running something crazy, which i tend to enjoy, but crazy running, which i tend to not enjoy. you know, when you're running along on autopilot and you've worn your old shoes which you forgot get terrible traction in thick leaf cover (reason #17 why the shut-in was so damn hard) and you find that your heart is really pounding without your permission and the light is tricky on sycamore cove (the light is always tricky on sycamore cove this time of year) and you're literally (and probably figuratively too) kicking yourself because your form is so sloppy and your foot placement sucks and some weird song refrain is playing in your head and suddenly you're seeing all snakes instead of roots and the only way to end the crazy is to stop. breathe. tell your body to calm down and behave itself. walk a little. and then you proceed onward and you shake it off and after a bit you remember the mechanics of this silly sport again.

good luck to all ye denizens of the trail, for tomorrow is the shut-in. you're made of stronger stuff than i.

03 November 2011

High Country Cross

This weekend I attended the Boone CX race, which has become through the years the only one I'm willing to travel for, because it always guarantees costumes, tandemonium, free-flowing beer, unusually interesting courses, and a decent party or two the night before. This year was no exception. After dancing for hours with my dear friend Rosie the Riveter, I rolled up to the fairgrounds cranky and dehydrated with thirty minutes to spare. Pinning on two numbers, (why, NCCX? Why??) I griped and bellyached as usual, and on the start line, in some weird fit of self-flagellation, situated myself behind all twenty-three of the other chicks. Then proceeded to have a damn good time. After working my way through the field I caught up to a pretty dynamic chase group and legitimately raced the entire forty-five minutes. Every time a wave of fatigue and out-of-shapeness washed over me, it just as quickly subsided. The Deutschbike again proved itself a rad racing machine and I didn't forget to enjoy the little techy sections, although my barrier attempts are as schizoid as ever. After fighting tooth and nail to the finish, I landed in the money (barely).

And as usual, the what-ifs began: what if I took this more seriously? What if I laid off the pre-race stupidity, the swaggering bravado, the bad attitude, the refusal to rest, warm up, drink, or fuel properly? It's never been my style but racing smart could have all sorts of pay-offs. What if I'm full of unrealized potential? But the what-if train always grinds to a halt pretty quickly. My work schedule permits very little weekend racing, my priorities lie elsewhere*, I'll probably never stop having a bad attitude, and I really like to just have fun.

Picture obviously stolen from The Gruppetto Project

But just once I'd like to show up in a t-shirt and really wow 'em.

*Swank this week!!

26 October 2011

My Cup Runneth Over

a couple of glorious fall rides later, on a finely tuned steed built of quicksilver and dreams, i'm feeling like a slayer. every gravel road climb begs a sprint and every rooty berm cries out for shreddage. everything in my life makes me smile and sometimes the days are too full to even pause and appreciate it. we all make our own happiness and by god, if that were my job i'd deserve a promotion.

Hard to be down when you look up
Wonderful rides with wonderful people

Miss you already
Merrymakers on a wild night

18 October 2011

In Which I Run Looking Glass...

And eat my words. Yesterday, the most beautiful day of the year? Piffle. Balderdash.

17 October 2011

Happiest Days

after work i went on the hunt for my favorite miracle drug. i've developed a worrisome dependency on it, but who wouldn't? it's over-the-counter, obscenely cheap, and causes weight loss, lowered blood pressure and cholesterol, improved sleep, increased lifespan, and shiny hair. it's packed with vitamin d, it's anti-anxiety, anti-depression, anti-cancer, and the side effects aren't even serious: bulky thighs, questionable tan lines, obsessive behavior, and the tendency to gravitate towards weird friends.

Oh, flowers for the baby dino!
oddly enough the pharmacy doesn't stock it so i had to get my fix in the woods. today, which was obviously the most beautiful day of the year, i harnessed my doubts about the swank and used them as fuel for quite the ride. from home, climbed clawhammer, up black, down buckwheat, down 477, over to 475b, down cove creek, davidson river, back in on 276 and tacked on north slope just so i could cram the whole seasonal triumvirate into opening weekend. 4+ hours and it felt great. i had no music (never do) so spent the whole time humming a mantra of "pretty pretty pretty! pedal pedal pedal," and making happy (and occasionally frightened) little animal noises. ate chomps. picked flowers. climbed quickly, descended slowly. took pictures. loved my bicycle. i feel a lot better knowing that while i almost never do longer rides, that doesn't mean i can't.
Black Mountain

FS 477
FS 475B

Hello beautiful

The light fading on North Slope

13 October 2011

Third Post in Thirty Minutes

Please note: the last seven posts I wrote are each filed under the label "awesome". Totally unintentional and probably way too much excitement for one blog, but I like it.

Could This Month Handle Any More Awesome?

Forgive the silence. There's been so much awesomely awesome stuff going on that it's a real tragedy I haven't kept up with it.
Downhill nationals at Beech? Crazy good time. East coast racers done us proud.
Lydia's 10k+50k? Great success. She is a fantastic race promoter AND athlete.
Pisgah MTB Stage Race? Absolutely amazing. This place we live earned some HUGE props from everyone involved.
Zombie Squirrel Alley Cat? Total unmitigated shenanigans. This much fun should be illegal.
Bike Mag coming to town? Really killer. I'm pretty sure they get it.
Cyclocross at the Pisgah Brewery? Super fab. Never mind the lame course; there was music, beer, friends, and an unbelievably big turnout.
I would post links and photos but you've probably already seen them all. Just believe it: this area is blowing up.

Where I Find My Heaven

if i were a genius i would somehow bottle the sensation of running pilot mountain on a clear fall day and give it to friends for christmas. the sweat, the burn, the hubbub of late cicadas, the beech trees trying to outshine the sun, the musk of wet leaf carpet (which is the most evocative seasonal smell i can think of, besides, well, ferns, smoke, frost, mown grass, bradford pear trees...). the trail climbs up endless switchbacks, so high that all the leaves have been stripped away by wind and weather, leaving only dog hobble and mountain laurel. the summit is so beautiful it hurts. mountain ranges stretch unobstructed in all directions and the leaves have turned only in the higher elevations, like a dusting of cayenne on each peak. i'd run many times farther just to earn that view. and afterwards comes the the sense of gratification, the well-deserved brownie. i'd bottle all of that.

because i am the opposite of a genius i failed to bring a camera and so could not even ineffectually capture one-tenth of what i was experiencing.

come with me next time.

16 September 2011

Some B-Day Gloating

I woke up this morning feeling like I'd been crashed into by a double-decker bus.

Yesterday was my birthday, and while it seems a bit fatuous to go into breathless details about that sort of thing, this is in the end my public internet diary and I will on occasion get silly like that.

Because, really? It was effing amazing.

9/15 came bright and early with a (non-obligatory) 7am ab workout with the BC kids, who shouted a chorus of "Happy birthday!" to me as I entered. Joh greeted me with a mason jar of flowers and a home-baked tray of brownies...yeah, she's over-the-top wonderful like that. After crunching my core for a while I went to (obligatory) work, where my lovely bosses gave me some vino rosso. My roomie convinced me to join her for a quick birthday fat tire ride, which is never a bad idea.

During a drive through town I was tickled to see Miz Dickson, huge grin spreading over her face, mouth "HBD" to me through car windows while turning left, talking on the phone. Multi-tasker. Although the current state of affairs makes one question the quality of human nature, every time a birthday rolls around I am astounded by the pure unselfish joy people express to each other for such a mundane occurrence. And this is self-aggrandizement at its finest, but if so many people are so incredibly nice on this arbitrary day of me-celebration, surely I must be doing something right (right?).

The awesome train kept rolling. After my ride I headed to A-ville for the first game of the season. Soccer was my first love and it's nice to know that a: I haven't forgotten everything, and b: that shit is glorious. I've fallen off the wagon; intense, jubilant addiction. My teammates, none of whom I knew, surprised me by singing to me after the game. And then we went to the bar. A good crew. I had to duck out early to attend an 80s dance party, where I joined up with some finely bedecked friends, forgot about my innumerable bruises and sweaty grossness, and danced my ass off until two.

Hence my extreme soreness and malaise today. Yesterday I worked easy and played hard, all day, and have the scrapes and aches to show for it. And there is no better way to celebrate a birthday.

13 September 2011

Mole Hill...to Mountain...to Mole Hill

Yesterday sort of out of the blue Wes offered me a shot at the Pisgah Stage Race, the insanity of which I had scoffed at for years.

Appalled, frightened, titillated, I retreated to the internet, studying maps, elevation profiles, and race reports. I realized what all stage racers surely know: life would take a backseat. I'd have to play soccer with kid gloves, ease up on the beer consumption, carefully tend to my bike, lose days of work.

In the end my decision was clinched by my job--the boss-lady will be out of town that week, leaving me "in charge", and that, combined with my utter lack of prep and questionable mental fortitude, makes it one helluva long shot.

It's crazy how even the suggestion of such great heights has galvanized me. All right, I won't do it this year, but instead of surviving the Swank I want to race it and own it, I want to kick ass at every cyclocross race I enter, and I want to entertain the notion of the stage race, not in the distant imaginary future, but in the next couple of years.

Now that (finally, wonderfully) Asheville has its own cx series, I can enjoy that stupid, awesome discipline without the usual caveats--no long drives, no missed work shifts, no uninspiring grass courses in the Piedmont. Along with an unusually large Brevard contingent I attended an evening practice race and the Bent Creek throwdown last Saturday and surprised myself with a: a threshold intensity I could've sworn had evaporated, and b: an uncharacteristic bloodthirstiness. My favorite part was clawing my way through the ranks of women in front of me, piloting the deutschbike around their sketchy singletrack maneuverings and "sprinting" away in slow motion.

Da posse

It's not just cx that's got me wickedly stoked on riding right now. Joh and I rode Farlow on Sunday and while I embarrassed myself with my timidity, it was still a grand time. Best of all, four of us ladies partook of a Dupont night ride, which was beyond fun. Clattering down Rocky Ridge at dusk, skirting huge toads and piles of manure, listening to the coyotes, we could not stop exclaiming, "This...is...awesome!"

Da gurls

30 August 2011

Give Me Variety or Give Me Death

multiple choice question:

having thrown myself back into exercise with the hyperactive vigor known only to newly divorced yuppies and jack russell terriers, this week i:
a. did several runs that were painfully long, painfully fast, or both, and agreed to another attempt on the art loeb
b. slapped some road tires on the deutschbike and rode worlds
c. joined the meatnecks for a little bit of crossfit
d. swallowed my fear/pride/avarice and registered for the swank
e. found a soccer team to play for (be still my heart)
f. all of the above

it's going to be an interesting autumn.

17 August 2011

Your Opinion Wanted

I spent the entire flight from ATL to AVL with my nose pressed against the window, marveling at the green, sun-kissed splendor of MY mountains. Then I had a bite to eat at the Root with some of my favorite fellas, and this morning I luxuriated in the old routine of real toast, American-style coffee, and a good book, followed by a quick, cool (!) North Slope loop. Damn, I love it here.

Without even realizing it, I scheduled my trip to save me from the last hurrahs of summer. It's sort of sad because I do love the busy season, but the BMC is closed, camps are over, school is back, and the crushing heat is behind us--traffic, work, and the forest will all be a lot more chill from now until leaf season. Basically there's no downside to being back, except that my beloved CK has packed up and moved back to her lame state.

Cheesy admission: the song that most frequently gets stuck on repeat in my head when running? Coldplay's "Don't Panic".
We live in a beautiful world
Yeah we do, yeah we do
We live in a beautiful world
Oh, all that I know
There's nothing here to run from
And there, everybody here's got somebody to lean on.
No clue what the song is actually about but isn't that so Brevard? There's a reason why we're all so happily mired here.

So here's my question: is the purpose of travel purely to serve as a pleasant reminder of how wonderful the place you live is? Or am I missing the point entirely? Please discuss.

15 August 2011

Last Post Over the Puddle

After the Bosco kerfluffle we were very relieved to be mobile and independent again. We hopped a ferry to Sicily, a mode of transport I highly recommend if you find yourself in southern Italy and want to watch the sun set over Mount Vesuvius and the Mediterranean.

Palermo struck us immediately as dirty yet beautiful, sunny but mild, poor but over-the-top friendly. Shopkeepers were always giving us samples and freebies, passersby offered us advice when we looked lost, waiters practiced their scant English on us, an elderly couple shared their thermos of coffee with me on the train. Everything is cheaper in Sicily and we felt like we'd stumbled on some kind of excellent secret--we saw not a single native English speaker the entire time, just a lot of Italians enjoying their vacation.

We did the obligatory historical things, visiting a beautiful Byzantine cathedral and catacombs cluttered with centuries-old corpses. We went to the smooth white beach by the crystalline blue sea, along with half the city residents, all of whom were doing their darnedest to turn their skin the color of dried tobacco. Only a few blocks from the apartment Jamie discovered King Ferdinand's old hunting grounds, converted into a lovely park with lots of trails where we could run and observe the prostitutes that hang out there.

And of course we ate, and ate, and ate. Crudo and pistacchio paste and magnificent cherry tomatoes and canollis and marscapone pizza, and huge plates of whole bass and swordfish steaks and octopus and prawns all grilled up right next to the table by a fat dude smoking a cigarette.

So there you have it. Three weeks in Italy, many a cornetti and cappuccino, lots of train rides, some historically relevant sites, some sub-par beer and excellent wine, lots of yardwork and aimless walking, and a lot of great hang out time with a couple of my favorite family members.

The Events Surrounding Our Departure

The strange little tale of Bosco Merrone ended on a vaguely sordid note. We finally worked up the courage to tell Salvatore that we were peacing out early, and he seemed unruffled. We enlisted his lecherous friend Frederico to drive us to the train station and when he wasn't making overtures to Chrissy, he was grilling Jamie on why we were leaving. She gave him most of the truth--we wanted flexibility to explore and didn't have it at Bosco. He insisted that something negative must've happened with Kumar, an accusation that was both appalling and hypocritical. The Israeli girls said they'd received some forewarning, which as you might expect made them uncomfortable when faced with the not-as-advertised situation. We hastened to tell them that Kumar had been the perfect host and had never done anything inappropriate. The whole affair smacked of classism or racism and left us with a bad taste in our mouths.

Imagine our shocked bemusement when WWOOF Italia sent out an email the very next week. "Attn: Bosco Merrone has requested its removal from the list of farms and therefore is no longer taking WWOOFers."

We were dying to know the full story but resigned ourselves to only ever knowing one side of the weird pas de deux. What happens in the middle of nowhere stays in the middle of nowhere.

13 August 2011

Because My Mother Won't Stop Harrassing Me

Sicily: words later, pictures now.

Sunset over Naples as we embark on the ferry ride to Palermo

Awesome beautiful beach at Mondello

Dramatic Norman/Byzantine cathedral in Monreale
View from our apartment. It's not conveniently located but is super luxurious compared to previous accommodations.

08 August 2011

And I Said to Bouffy..."WTF"

Suddenly it's our last night and we are filled with melancholy at the thought of leaving. Kumar has inexplicably dubbed me Butterfly and shouts it whenever he needs my help in the kitchen. It may be my favorite nickname ever.
We have been joined by two Israeli WWOOFers and we delighted in giving them the Bosco 101. They seem like really cool girls and talking to them made me realize how starved of English I've been. We've met so many people and I'm always the sullen silent friend...I'm not the most outgoing person but I do like talking to new people. Well, off to Sicily, another place where no one speaks English. God, I'm so American.

07 August 2011

Our Friend Dark Horse

we were killing some down time on the veranda with our various instruments of internet retrieval when big dirty antonio set goblets of gelato in front of us. we cheered in surprise and delight, and chrissy and i mouthed "dark horse" at each other. after we'd finished he returned with a bottle of something cloudy and cold. he refilled our goblets and grinned when we oohed and aahed over the milky homemade limoncello. full of surprises, that antonio. the next day he taught chrissy how to ride the 4-wheeler and chuckled at her timid seven-point turn. he always shouts at us to stop harvesting bamboo and come drink coffee instead. after work one day he gave us a chilly bottle of "belgian" beer. made in italy, he explained condescendingly, pointing at the label. he drinks only real german beer. we split it in the sunshine.cooking with dark horse

Party on the "Farm"

This is a long one. Apologies.

Weekdays at Bosco Merrone are quiet, hot, vaguely disappointing. It's only the five of us, using up the supplies brought in from far-off stores, J and C and I washing dishes, reading, browsing the Internet, fighting the temptation to scratch mosquito bites. Work for the week consists of harvesting as many bamboo stalks as possible, pulling them free of blackberry thickets, stripping them of leaves and shoots with sickles, and dragging armfuls up over-grown horse paths back to the house, where presumably they will one day grace the roofs over the pool and patio. Every day, harvest bamboo and wash the dishes from every meal. It's thankless and there are few distractions. We consider our options and plan a premature departure for Sicily.Then suddenly Friday comes, and with it people. Mario and Gino and Nadia and Rosa are back, and Salvatore and his wife, and other friends besides. They all smoke and laugh and try to force Chrissy and me to form sentences, and bring in huge bags of exciting groceries, and cook. Meals always start after nine and the three of us finish toweling off the last wine glass at eleven thirty. On Saturday the gang (who of course stayed the night--where better to have a weekend-long party than a B&B?) dress their wrinkled bronze bodies with tiny swim cover-ups and then lounge and smoke and opine. Directed by Salvatore, we engage the disheveled yard in an epic battle: weeding, sweeping, washing, hauling, raking, killing spiders. It is hot and exhausting and satisfying, much better than endless bamboo, and we are rewarded with an excellent lunch of fried anchovies and eggplant pasta on the terrace, with eight of our closest Italian friends. And Kumar, of course. Dark Horse is gone for the weekend, so the guests can laugh about his watermelon addiction without him hearing.

We once again wash dishes and finish the day's work and "clean" ourselves in the pool because the water isn't working in our cabin. Then we read and nap and put on dresses, then are drawn back to the house like moths by the sound of karaoke blasted over the hills.

Yes, Italian karaoke. Soulful, boisterous, sincere. Suddenly, Bosco Merrone has a fully fledged festa on its hands. The gang has multiplied to maybe twenty, but because everyone is a noisy Italian, it feels like forty. We (even me) are persuaded to sing a round of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and then, after a gut-busting and wonderful dinner of Neapolitan pizza, fried risotto balls, ricotta calzonitas, and assorted cakes, the DJ throws out some Italian pop songs and it's Club Bosco. We dance our asses off, then are promenaded around by old men to samba, salsa, what have you. Except Jamie (beloved by all for her red hair and excellent Italian), who is monopolized by Marc Antonio, a nineteen-year-old whose mama wants him matched up with my cousin.

Cooking goes on until midnight and cleaning until two, and we fall into bed pumped to have been included.
Sunday brings another solid morning of yard work, and then suddenly it's all hands on deck for Sunday dinner, where huge families of paying customers materialize, demanding ice and spoons and bread in their incomprehensible language. Waitressing nightmare. Course after delicious course pass through our hands and I long for a taste. We are pinned for three hours straight, and then we are ordered to sit down and eat, and we gratefully comply. Lasagna, flank steak with delicious peppers, mussels, fried dough balls of anchovies and zucchini flowers, huge bowls of grapes and plums and the ubiquitous watermelon. Wine and anise spirits and espresso and more dishes to be washed and then we collapse with fatigue, at seven at night.

Jamie and I rally briefly to run hill repeats on the wicked kilometer-long driveway, where we can see the sun set over the mountain range. On Tuesday we're taking a night train (and ferry) to Sicily and I don't regret leaving early, but my biggest issue with WWOOFing here--the utter lack of real Italian experiences--was totally obliterated by this weekend. Forty-eight unalloyed hours of working, eating, laughing, singing, in some obscure hilltop lodge two hours from anywhere--what more could I ask?

04 August 2011

Life on the "Farm"

With absolutely no idea of what to expect, we boarded the train to Naples. There we found that no trains went to our intended destination on Sunday, so we arranged for a ride with our proprietor Salvatore and took a train to a dusty little village about 20k away. Weighed down by a truly appalling amount of luggage, we watched with dismay as an average-sized Euro car pulled up with two jovial old men in it.

There was nothing to do but laugh uproariously, and so we all did. Gino and Mario, our friendly chaperones, packed us in like sardines with two monstrous suitcases and assorted duffels and purses on our laps. The whole way to Bosco Merrone, Gino taught Jamie to say Neapolitan phrases with gusto and cheered every time she said "Atza!"--wow!

Atza indeed. We climbed out of the nondescript valley into hills surrounded by bigger hills. The road was shaded by hazelnut and olives trees and only the occasional villa dotted the green landscape. Once at Bosco Merrone, a sprawling ranch house cluttered with shady patios and sweet neighborhood dogs, we joined Gino and Mario and their wives for some caffe and they coached us on pronouncing aglio and oglio. They were cheerful and noisy and profane but they suddenly departed, with kisses and promises of dinner at their house.

Turns out the owner of Bosco Merrone lives in Naples and our welcomers were only friends. We sat down with some trepidation for dinner with our only companions, the two men we'd be working with for the next two weeks.

Kumar is a diminutive Punjabi Indian who has worked in Italy for five years and is applying to move to Sacramento. His English is not bad but spoken in an accented rush that requires several repetitions. He cooks, cleans, and fixes whatever may need fixing in the ramshackle villa. Antonio is a hulking chain-smoker in stained clothes who only speaks brusque, monosyllabic Italian through his mustache and missing teeth. He scared us at first, but showed a bit of a smile when we played Scopa, an Italian card game, with him after dinner. We have named him Dark Horse.

The first full day, we arose at our leisure and made ourselves toast in the big house, and ate leftover carrot cake that was wonderfully light and fluffy. Then the five of us set to work scouring and rearranging the industrial kitchen. It was deeply satisfying work, with a great view of the mountains and an audience of feral cats. Refreshed by a cool breeze as I scrubbed and organized, I almost lost a sense of time and place, until Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night" music video came on the TV.

Then a heaping lunch of spaghetti and Antonio, with no warning and a secret smile in his eyes, started showing us magic tricks with his cards. Chrissy and I have agreed that this stereotypical stoic will by crying and friending us on Facebook by the time we leave.

I promise there are lots of pictures but this stupid website is not cooperating right now.

Gorging Ourselves in Rome

One of Jamie's coworkers from her internship in Florence took us out to dinner with one of his friends, a fastidious Roman with all the arrogance one would expect. Ricardo drove us to a town south of Rome, and I relished the liberated Italian driving style that up to then I'd only witnessed as a pedestrian.

Dinner was a casual affair of plastic plates and paper tablecloth, but the food! Antipasti was a platter heaped with salami, prosciutto, magnificent mozzarella balls, lima beans, cold cuts, and crusty bread. Groaning, we somehow forced down a series of delicious homemade pasta entrees with mushrooms, tomatoes, and boar sausage. For dessert Ricardo showed us a tiny bar known locally for its warm sugary cakes and the dirty name given said cakes.

The next dinner was an about-face from the previous night's rustic fare. My cousins' parents were treating Chrissy to dinner, so we chose a little seafood place nearby because it received fresh, pungent deliveries every day.

It was a meal of decadence--we told the flirtatious waiter to take good care of us, and he complied. Plate after plate of antipasti arrived, amazing tartare and carpaccio, grilled octopus, slivers of squid with fennel, and a frightening platter of massive raw shrimp crayfish, and shellfish. We did the best we could and were rewarded with a plate of lightly fried fish, then little scoops of creamy risotto with calamari and shrimp. Somehow several bottles of crisp white wine disappeared...then Prosecco...and dessert came. Towers of fresh fruit surrounded cunningly-made sorbet bowls--walnut gelati was frozen in walnut shells, chestnut in chestnut shells, bitter orange sorbet in orange rind, and passionfruit in passionfruit shells. Of course Chrissy received a slab of tiramisu with a birthday candle in it, and we finished off with champagne and bittersweet chocolate. Reeling from drink and food, we made it home and counted it an excellent last night in Roma.And now we've done a complete 360 and are sunning on the porch of our tiny cabin in the hills, watching "Dark Horse" Antonio rumble by on his 4-wheeler. When he turns off the engine, the countryside is silent but for the wind.

01 August 2011

Life at Bosco Merrone

Drinking homemade limoncello on a veranda in the absolute middle of nowhere, Italy. That may sound idyllic and romantic but this is the absolute first instance of us doing what we expected to do on 'the farm'. Suffice to say the owners may have slightly misrepresented their establishment on the WOOF website. However, there is Internet, cute dogs, and the villa is surrounded by stunning green mountains. Gotta have my scenery fix.

29 July 2011

Not Bad, Not Bad

I'll admit it: the thought of spending time in Rome made me nervous. My experience with big cities is limited, and Rome is, you know, huge. Guide books call it intense, gritty, a sensory overload, chaotic, risky, crowded, potentially overwhelming. But, really? I like it a lot. The mild sunshine and late nights of bonhomie don't hurt, but I think this city is more pleasant, more welcoming, cleaner, and less crowded than some I've been to in the states. The catcalling I heard so much about has been kept to a bare minimum, and jogging along the Tiber felt neither foreign nor sketchy. The apartment is located on a narrow cobblestoned street in a locals-only piazza only minutes from the crowds of the Pantheon, the Vatican, and Trastevere. I feel like a rube in totally uncool clothes, sheepishly blurting out "grazie" to shopkeepers who have waited on me in flawless English, but at least I'm not wearing a backpack or socks with sandals. The view from one of the seven hills, I guess

We did an actual paid-for tour of the Vatican today and it was quite something. In a place with such a glut of decadent beauty and art, it's nice having a friendly Dutch girl tell you where to look and what charming anecdotes to consider. Of course, after browsing the masterpieces of history for four hours straight, we needed gelato therapy, followed soon thereafter with risotto pastry therapy...and topped off with sandal shopping therapy.
Wonderful. I haven't done a great job documenting this trip so far (surprise!), so here's a lame shot of the back of St Peter's Basilica...

28 July 2011

Day Due

Time in Rome has thusfar included:
-an artichoke sandwich
-aperitivo at several bars surrounded by heart-breakingly cool young Romans that made me want to hide in the bathroom
-a torrential downpour--I can't escape the rainforest that easily
-a tiny but excellent apartment overlooking a bustling plaza
-the Pantheon, which (surprise surprise) is way cooler in person
-delicious anticipation of our upcoming weeks in the south

25 July 2011

Europe for Beginners

well, i'm flying to Italy tomorrow. rome for five days then frasso telesino for two weeks. don't really have anything more to say but: oh boy! and stay posted.

11 July 2011


Suffice to say this weekend did not turn out as expected. I was planning to suffer and plod through the run and then surge from behind to take the throne during the six-hour. I assumed I would be deathly sore and fatigued from the run but would somehow rise like a phoenix to conquer the course--after all, I am in no way a competitive-level runner, and am in some ways a competitive-level rider.
Well, I won the half marathon.
I do not win running races.
Uwharrie was way...way...way...way too many fireroads. Yet somehow this didn't daunt me. I went on my merry way, heart beating in time to the pitter patter of high cadence footsteps, drenched with sweat in the 93% humidity. Zoning out on the fresh logging roads and relishing the rare singletrack. Then St Marie, who was trawling the course on his Stumpy, gave me a news flash: Number one!
Say what?
When we crossed paths again and he confirmed it, I settled into grinning complacency--until I glimpsed the light-footed form of another female right behind me. Terrified, I pushed hard for the last four miles and finished, arms raised, only 45 seconds in front of her. Sub-two hours.

Me and my "arch nemesis"

On Sunday I forgot, in a combination of laziness and cockiness, that a six-hour is about riding as many laps as you can, not as many laps as you can get away with. Feeling way better than anticipated, I took a huge early lead, pinned it for a few laps, then started taking longer and longer breaks. I would eat, drink, and watch the course, trying to ascertain where the eff my competition was. Finally after five laps, my hands and ass whimpering for respite, I asked the well-meaning but somewhat inept race director what my gap was. He told me #2 (who was also second in the run) was two long laps down, with an hour and a half to go. After I had thrown in the towel, changed clothes, and put on my shades, he let me know that the timing was screwed up and she was actually only one lap down. No way was I kitting up again, and my faulty math led me to believe I still had the W.
Alas. My mistake was revealed at awards. So in a very strange turn of events, I won a half marathon and lost a six-hour that I had been totally crushing. I still netted the Queen of the Mountain, but it was a hollow victory because not only was the competition pretty sparse...I couldn't even beat the sparse competition!
Well, we still had fun...and I definitely won't do it again, thanks.

06 July 2011

And Then There Was This

thanks to ella for the fab photo

05 July 2011

Fast Times

You know how once in a while you'll have an experience that's such pure fun, so gut-bustingly funny, so grin-inducing, so achingly perfect that you want to preserve it in amber and take it out to warm you on some boring, depressing winter day?

This weekend contained a quick succession of just such experiences, the best of which was the first annual Fast Times at Brevard High Alley Cat. Dan somehow masterminded an amazing race that was both super casual and very involved--detailed course maps, intricate scoring calculated under the influence, and a couple of checkpoints that were sheer genius.
The biking community of Brevard and its suburbs answered the challenge, and how--the Arbogasts rolled up with decorated children in tow,
Cissy and Dave came all the way from Hendo to embarrass their competitors, the King of Pisgah wore a black sequined jumpsuit,
JT proved himself an adept freestyler when accompanied by some fresh Barbie beats,
and quite a few participants forsook the race for some cornhole and cream ale.

I spent most of the race with my lady friends at the costume checkpoint and couldn't count the number of times I keeled over laughing. The best part was reuniting with everyone at the Root and hearing the war stories--time-trialing on the bike path, creative interpretations of the local knowledge photo bonuses, old man dance parties, and pancake flipping under threat of a soaking. Dan Bennett, town shutterbug, took a gabillion pictures and I dare you to find a single shot in which everyone is not beaming ear to ear. To Dan, T Cowie, everyone who manned a checkpoint, and all sixty-something people who showed up to have some fun: well done! As if I needed another reminder that Brevard is absolutely awesome.

29 June 2011

Oh Hi

Forgive the extended hiatus. I have done literally nothing worth alerting the interwebs about. I had composed a little ode to summer in Brevard, but it rang hollow when I reread it a few weeks later--true to form, after a May of quasi-bacchanalia and carpe diem-ing, I have reverted back to my natural state of book- and blueberry-devouring lounge lizard, ready to call it bedtime at the drop of a hat.
Race weekends and epic runs have passed me by with little effect. Nothing looms on the horizon except a trip to Italy (the idea of which seems too unreal and ephemeral to talk about) and this weekend's alley cat (sure to be the social event of the century).
Nonplussed by all this inactivity, I decided (with the usual hemming, hawing, flip-flopping, and backpedaling) to sign up for the Uwharrie Rumble in two weeks: half marathon on Saturday, six hour mountain bike race on Sunday. Highest scoring woman wins the coveted Queen of the Mountain title.
A whole new flavor of stupid, ne c'est pas? (Oh crap, I can't even say that in Italian.) Prompted by my desire to check out Uwharrie, I've committed myself to an entirely new way to discover that I don't like racing. Yay! It also appeals to my secret love of omniums--I may be mediocre, but I'm consistent, gosh darnit. Fortunately I'll have the emotional/logistical support of the Saint...although it will assuredly be peppered with I toldja so's when I'm a whiny, cramping wreck mid-race Sunday...
Always good to have a positive outlook. Stay posted. I promise a scintillating synopsis of the alley cat as well.

01 June 2011

Burn 24

This weekend the PAC sent quite a posse to the Burn 24 Hour race at Dark Mountain. After much jostling and last minute changes we presented ourselves to the (rather annoyed) registration people as a three-pronged juggernaut of co-ed fury. We were all smirking and nudging each other, fully expecting a podium sweep by the pasty mountain folk.
Twenty-four hours later, the pieces hadn't exactly fallen as we'd expected. Granted, the KOP (who is allergic to failure) and his loyal cadre had scored the win, but trailing them by only a few minutes were some (wicked fast) randos from Charlotte or something. Third by less than ten minutes was T Cowie's team, and then in fourth was my team--we had judiciously chosen to skip the last lap because our shot at the podium had grown slim at that point.

Look at all those scofflaws who think they don't have to wear kits on the podium!

That said, the competition was intense the entire time. Every lap out was a battle of titans--the margins were tiny, the stakes were high, and everyone had a goal, whether it was fastest lap time, catching the old man in front of them, or just staying upright on the slick off-camber roots. It was not a mellow twenty-four hours, in any case.
The course was fabulous. None of the climbs were too hard so you could concentrate on pinning it and ripping the ridiculously fun descents. But by night the pace had taken its toll. I felt like we were all floating in a bowl of tepid soup and all my clothes were either sweaty or dewy. Oatmeal cream pies had lost their appeal and fatigue had set in. Laps in the witching hour weren't my favorite--stumbling out of my tent in clammy chamois to wait once again in the transition area for the ghostly emergence of a teammate from the fog begged that tough question: why the eff are we doing this???
But sometime around 6:45am I went out for another and discovered why people race these silly things: the first lap of dawn is a glorious thing. Caution and timidity flee and you're overwhelmed with irrational euphoria--I can see everything! The sun is a beautiful thing.
Afterwards, placated by free BBQ and many hours of sleep, I realized that it was a durn good time and the PAC represented like champs. I got fastest women's day AND night laps, which was pretty exciting, and had lots of fun with everyone.


22 May 2011

The Tyranny of Toenails

The other day I ran for the first time since the Art Loeb. Not by choice, mind you. I was buzzing from that experience and itching to go days later. Unfortunately because I spent ten hours slamming my feet into the front of my shoes, I had contracted the apparently common malady of black toenails, with blood blisters on both feet. Painful, unsightly, ominously portending the loss of my precious nails--I was alarmed and queased out, and so have avoided running until now.

I don't often go so long without running, and lordie how I have missed it! I didn't realize how deeply, happily addicted to it I've become. It wasn't the usual twitchy irritable need for exercise--I've been feeding the rat a steady diet of mtb rides--but more of a wistful longing. When I run it's so quiet and simple. My brain shuts off except for the slow trickle of filigreed phrases I store up to write down later. Running has none of the folderol and riskiness of riding; lace up, head out, alone, undaunted.

Since my nails hadn't fallen off yet, I anticipated that first run like a birthday. Back on the trails! Please! After a slow start up the so-familiar rises of Sycamore, I took off. And felt like I was flying.

09 May 2011

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

2,200 to over 6,000 feet...31 miles...

Go look up Bridges Camp Gap on the Pisgah Ranger District map. Go ahead. I'll wait.
...See where it intersects with the Parkway? That's where I finished my day yesterday. Now see if you can find the Art Loeb--it's very brightly marked (on the map. Not in real life.) The two trails are pretty durn far apart, wouldn't you say?
But more on that later.

I leapt out of bed with the first chiming of my alarm clock. Had breakfast, drank some coffee, listened to some tunes, was out the door. I felt like a rock star.
A big crowd turned out at 7am at Davidson River Campground: Jackie, Sara, Cason+Kira, Sadie, Lydia, Leah, Gordon+Gary, and me. Only the last four of us had any intentions of doing the big mama--everyone else was peacing out at Gloucester, about 12.5 miles in.
It was a wonderful run. I felt like a little filly prancing uphill and everyone was in high spirits, chatting and smiling, with nary a whiff of competition or jostling for position. The forest was bathed in apple green with heady bursts of color from the flame azaleas peeking around every corner. Grasshoppers fled before us, ricocheting off leaves like leggy ball bearings.

I think my smile was this big most of the time. (The good pics are courtesy of Gordon Murray)

Then at Gloucester the bailers fed us and watered us and we said our fond farewells. Up the stairway to hell, up Pilot Mountain we clambered for what felt like hours, only to descend (oh Art Loeb, you brutal mistress, always stealing the elevation gains back from us) to Farlow Gap, where Todd Branham and some SORBA friends were doing trail work. It was nice to see familiar faces.
A beautiful day on top of Pilot Mountain. Obviously my camera phone doesn't do it justice.

The vistas were choice, the weather was amazing, and I felt spry all the way to Black Balsam, although I was out of water and a bit daunted by the remaining mileage. However, I was still within my limits mentally and physically, refueling like a champ, and feeling gregarious and talkative.
Between the Parkway and Black Balsam

I'll just say it: everything we did past Black Balsam kind of sucked. The trail is a warped cavity eroded into the hillside and the signage is inadequate to say the least. Fortunately the 360 degree views almost make up for it. And I am biased against the final leg now because of what happened. I blindly trusted the experience and map skills of my companions but after a couple of missed intersections we went way...way...way off course. We plunged down miles of steep, debris-cluttered trail into a deep valley, which was nice and all until we came upon a camper who told us just how far off track we were (possibly on the unpleasantly named Greasy Cove, although it could've been any unmarked trail). Fortunately we were only a couple miles from the Parkway, and what could have been a very serious issue was only a minor inconvenience. We sustained no injuries, suffered only a little bonkage, and emerged from the woods with our sanities and friendship intact, albeit feeling a little sheepish and disheartened. And still did almost the same mileage, even if we didn't accomplish our goal.

The final word? Aside from serious navigational issues and not enough water, it was awesome, especially the first two-thirds. It did not destroy me in body or soul and unlike the Shut-In, which I may not do again, I would run the Art Loeb again in two weeks. Really. It was an experience worth having.