Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Less Road, More Mountain

Don't forget to look at the sidebars!  On the left, you can see a map of my location for the last 7 days, my latest videos, and photos from the whole trip.  On the right, you can see statistics about the trip.


Valentines Day. How interesting it is in different places at different times. Those who I would most like to ask to “be my valentine” are all far away. Instead of going on a date, I enjoyed a board game with my several of my new co-workers, who are becoming fast friends. I laughed harder than I have in a long time, and I feel great.

One week ago, I arrived at Mountain Trail Outdoor School outside of Hendersonville, NC. This outdoor school is a very integrated and praised portion of Kanuga Conferences, a large conference center and camp which operates at differing capacities year-round. I am learning a new ecosystem, a new high-ropes course, new culture and a somewhat new lifestyle. I have a room of my own, and will be in one place for over 3 months. This will be the first time I've been in one place for that long since June of 2008. I have purchased a used mountain bike to enjoy the thrills of biking through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.

My last week on the bike was a good one. I spent 2 nights in Savannah, GA, where I was hosted by couchsurfer James Holmes. James is one of the warmest, most friendly and easy-going people I have ever met, and we got along wonderfully. He has lived in Savannah for many years, and knows the ins and outs of the city very well. The first activity we did together was to play a life-size version of the game “Banana Grams” in a city park. He and some friends put the game together themselves, and they invite the public to play at least once a week. The local security loves the game and the attention it brings to the square where they play, so it will probably continue for some time.

James took me on a walking tour of some of his favorite hang-out spots downtown, along the Savannah River. We met up with some other friends of his, played some billiards, listened to some live music, and told jokes. The next night, James took me to a restaurant which has a free Oyster shucking every Thursday (as long as you buy some food/drink). We arrived just in time, and I was given a quick lesson on how to pop open the freshly steamed oysters using a towel and a special knife. Large piles of oysters were dumped into the middle of a plywood table surrounded by eager oyster eaters, and we all grabbed handfuls to shuck, dip in cocktail sauce, spritz with lemon, and slide down our throats still hot. They were delicious, and I think I ate at least 10.

Later that evening Kristen, a friend of James', took me to watch some of her friends playing 'gypsy jazz' at a restaurant downtown. They were a great group of high-spirited, talented and down-to-earth musicians, and I enjoyed their show very much. Kristen is a harpist, and we spoke about music, relationships, cycling and the rest of life. The next morning, she joined me for the ride out of town, and rode with me for about 10 miles until I was out of city limits.

I spent 2 nights alone in the woods between Savannah and Greenville, SC. I crossed the border into South Carolina shortly after leaving Savannah, and began to encounter hills. It was an interesting adjustment to ride in hills again after nearly 2 months below 400 feet in in elevation. Wide, empty tracts of land and large pine plantations made up much of the scenery. I rode bridges over some beautiful reservoirs, ended up on some soft dirt roads, and got chased by more dogs than anywhere I've been. One dog started chasing me on a steep downhill, so I just pedaled and sped up, thinking I would lose the dog quickly, but it kept up with me as I pedaled faster and faster down the hill, picking up more speed than I had in weeks. It was the longest hill I had gone down since leaving Missouri, and yet, I just barely lost the dog before the bottom of it. I imagine that I was going somewhere near 30 mph, but the batteries on my speedometer had died, and I had failed to charge replacements. I hate to think what might have happened had the dog caught up!

I passed lots of houses and trailers with questionable foundations, and even one which a tree had completely smashed, though no one had done anything about it. I passed lots of churches and church-goers on a Sunday morning, and arrived in Greenville, SC at the home of couchsurfer Jessica Wilson on Sunday night.

Jessica is a yoga teacher and jewelery maker who spent 4 years traveling around South America. A big part of that trip was on a bicycle, so we had lots of stories to share, and could easily relate to each others' experiences. Jessica took me to the end of a super-bowl party after a delicious, healthy dinner of quinoa and veggies. We hung out with her friends, a couple from Germany and Switzerland, and shared stories of traveling and pursuing dreams. The next morning, Jessica took me to a couple of her favorite places in the city, and I departed at noon. I hope to make it back down to Greenville to visit, as I am now living only 40 miles away.

The ride into Hendersonville started with a new, well-paved bike path, and then a massive climb up some fairly steep mountains through beautiful forest. It was a cold day, and I had trouble keeping the right layers on as I heated up climbing the steep hills, and then cooled down SO fast going downhill. My ride into Greenville had been over 70 degrees, and my ride into Hendersonville hovered around 40. It seemed that as soon as I made it to the top of the mountain, winter suddenly set in. Waterfalls danced through the rhododendron leaves as I made my way through thick forested highways with rocky cliffs covered in ferns and moss. I was so happy that this was going to be my home for the next 4 months! I pedaled onto the Kanuga grounds just before 5 pm, and rode straight into a gathering of my new co-workers, who were all getting prepared to carpool to dinner. After some short greetings, I moved into my new room, and went to dinner with the crew. Now, I have had dinner with the same folks every night since, and I am enjoying this group immensely.

Taking a break from long-distance biking is taking some adjusting. I've been off of the bike for a week now, and I feel like I'm already losing some strength and endurance. My appetite is calming down, now that I'm being fed 3 buffet meals a day. I'm glad to have the mountain bike now, as there are trails on the property here, as well as in the Dupont National Forest less than 10 miles down the road. I also plan to ride into town on a fairly regular basis when the weather warms up a bit. For the end of training this week, all of the staff (16 of us in total, including instructors and admin) will be heading to Charlotte, South Carolina for some biking and sea kayaking on the beach. I am looking forward to seeing a new place that I have heard a lot about.

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