Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I didn't inhale....

About 23 years ago, when I was in 2nd grade, I had to stay in the hospital for nearly a week after developing a severe case of pneumonia. What I didn't know at the time was that I was much sicker than I thought and quite possibly could have died. My potassium levels nearly bottomed out and I was stuck with an IV and went through nightmarish breathing treatments where I had to inhale some horrible smoky-tasting treatment followed by a nurse practically beating the shit out of my tiny 7-year old back in order to loosen up the phlegm in my lungs. My mom stayed with me the entire time and I shared a room with some older lady behind a curtain. I have no idea why she was actually there, but as I child I convinced myself that she was in the hospital for eating cigarettes.

I share this because I had to visit the Walgreen's clinic today and was diagnosed with sports-related asthma. I'm pretty sure my bout of childhood pneumonia left me with a somewhat reduced lung capacity. I knew something was wrong when I started riding my bike and running outside earlier this year. At the end (and sometimes during) my exercise, I started coughing and wheezing. I felt like I had the weight of a post-Jenny Craig Kirstie Alley sitting on my chest. So the Walgreen's doc prescribed an albuterol inhaler and I was on my way home to deal with the fact that I will now have to carry an inhaler with me when I run.

In reality its not that much of a setback. Initially I was a little concerned since not one hour earlier, I had signed up for the Resolution Run 5k with expected high temps in the low 30s (cold air aggravates asthma). Could I really do this knowing I would have to rely on an inhaler in order to do something as critical as breathing? As always, I turned to the internet for expert advice. A google search for sports-related asthma revealed that I share this diagnosis with Jackie Kersee Joiner. She was a pretty good runner I guess...... In other words, I think I'll live.

Friday, December 25, 2009

New Year, New Direction

In case you haven't noticed- I haven't posted in a looooong time. As much as I enjoy writing about my travels, I think I would utilize this blog more often if I strayed from my travel theme and just started writing about everyday life, memories, travel, etc. My resolution for 2010 is to write more often so I can look back at the end of the year and see how life has unfolded.

For years I kept a personal journal to sort through the severe anxiety and depression I battled as a teen and early adult. Every once in a while I'll flip to a random entry just to see where I was at that point and how far I've come since those dark days. Sometimes its very difficult to revisit my past like that, but as I age, I've come to realize that I'm the only person who can help myself. As a result, I've really put myself in situations I would normally avoid in order to grow. I hope this year will find me reaching out more to others, adhering to goals rather than dropping them out of fear of failure, and conquering my desire to please everyone (which we all know is impossible), and instead doing what I think is best for me.

Just a few weeks ago I decided to train with a group for the half-marathon in April. I expect to not only push myself physically, but emotionally as well. The hardest part for me was showing up at that first group run. Most people don't know it, but interacting socially with people I don't know can be crippling for me. I ended up forcing myself to join the group on its first run even though I felt my chest tighten and breathing shallow at the thought of meeting new people. My fears were realized: Noone talked to me during that first outing, and I couldn't even keep up with the runners. I felt like such a loser, but rather than walk away feeling hopeless, I returned for a second time. I can't give up this time- I've done that way too many times in the past. I have to see this through.

Stay tuned....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Land Between the Lakes

A few weeks ago, my mom and I got cabin fever and decided do some off-road bike riding. With the sun partially out, we choked down some Egg McMuffins and headed north to Kentucky and entered Land Between the Lakes. Here, there is a 11 mile mountain bike trail called the Canal Loop trail that appropriately borders the canal between Lake Barkley (Cumberland River) and Lake Kentucky (Tennessee River).

Mom had never mountain-biked before and quickly learned that it primarily consists of riding over roots and rocks, thus leading to inevitable scratches and bruises. However, I give the ole' gal props for mountain biking at nearly 60! Neither one of us ever fell, and enjoyed the adventure of riding in a new place. I can't say that I was enamored with the beauty of Land Between the Lakes- maybe it was having an off day, but it did have some good roads for bicycle riding, and was surprisingly hilly.

When we got done, we loaded our muddy bikes into the back of the truck and headed back towards TN. For some reason I got a jones for Arby's curly fries and we refused to stop until we found one- which was an hour later in Clarksville, TN (we were so happy we cheered). It just goes to show you that life's simple pleasures can be found working up a sweat followed by eating greasy curly fries.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjos

Brian and I decided to finally brave the rapids of the Hiwassee River over the July 4th weekend. We left at the crack of dawn on Friday and drove all the way to the old town of Reliance, TN in the Cherokee National Forest. As we drove into town, we followed an old rickety farm truck full of people getting ready to run the rapids, and I so hoped we would be riding in a similar vehicle, but our outfitter drove us along a scarily narrow road to the put-in spot in an old short bus instead.

Once the bus let us off, we took our inflatable kayaks and foul-smelling life jackets and hopped in the cold mountain waters and prepared for paddling two hours of Class 1,2, and 3 rapids. I’d like to think of myself as a good paddler, but I was not prepared for some of the sheer drops we had to make, and by some stroke of luck I managed to keep from falling in the river. Brian never fell either, but he did get stuck on a couple of rocks jutting out just below the river’s surface, and I got to laugh as he attempted rather violent body movements to wrench himself free from the rocks.

The last rapid we reached, Devil’s Shoals, was by far the most fun rapid I’ve ever run. Waves of water spilled into my boat as the water bucked me up into the air. Those few seconds of terror were absolutely exhilarating! Oddly enough, you can also go down the Hiwassee in an inflatable tube that offers no protection. I was surprised to not see a mass of floating bodies and abandoned inner tubes as we reached the take-out point.

Kayaking the Hiwassee was so much fun that we were depressed to have to exit the river in order to get a ride back to our car. We were the first ones from our group to finish and waited for our short bus as a nearby group of deaf kids excitedly signed over their river adventure. After we dried off and got back to our car, we snapped a few pics of cool, old buildings in Reliance (such as this old school/church below) and made our way home.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Frozen Head and Brushy Mountain Prison

After departing from Oak Ridge, Brian and I decided to take Highway 62 from Oliver Springs to Clarkrange, where we then opted to drive south towards Crossville and join back up with I-40 so we could grab a bite to eat and get home quickly. However, we made several side trips on the way home in order to see Brushy Mountain prison, Frozen Head State Natural Area, the Obed National Scenic River, and Bee Rock.

Ever since I was a kid, I've had a strange fascination with places associated with deviant behaviors: prisons, abandoned mental hospitals, battlefields, crime scenes, etc. I suppose I feel that these places hold a special energy that always makes me feel uneasy and a bit agitated at the same time. In simpler terms, these places put me on edge and make me really feel alive. That's why I felt so compelled to see Brushy Mountain state Prison located in a remote valley of Morgan County.

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary first opened in 1896 to house prisoners previously used as convict laborers in the nearby coal mines. It held some of the state's most dangerous prisoners, including James Earl Ray who assasinated Martin Luther King, Jr. He and six other prisoners escaped for four days in 1977, but were eventually found and hauled back. Considering that Brushy Mountain sits in a cove directly surrounded by mountains, its a wonder anyone escaped at all. Just this year, Brushy Mountain closed its doors to prisoners after operating for 113 years.

After Brushy Mountain, we drove on to Frozen Head State Natural Area where we hiked a short stretch of Panther Trail branch to see a waterfall. According to their visitor's brochure, Frozen Head was originally acquired as part of Brushy Mountain State Prison so that convicts could deep mine coal and harvest trees to supply timbers for the mine. The land was then transferred to the State Parks system in 1970 and features several hiking trails.

Next, we drove through historic Wartburg and on to the wild and scenic Obed River where pioneers used to fish and trap game. The Obed is overseen by the National Park Service and features difficult Class II to Class IV rapids. My goal is to kayak the Obed one day, but my ability probably stops around Class II.

Leaving the Obed, we drove through continuous pastures dotted with oil rigs on the Cumberland Plateau. Here we exited Highway 62 and rejoined I-40 where we took one last detour to Bee Rock in Monterey, TN. I went to college near Monterey, and Bee Rock was a favorite spot of local adventurers who repelled off the cliffs overlooking the unspoiled valley carved by the Calfkiller River.

After our day of roadtripping across Eastern and Middle TN, we made one last pit stop to join my parents at a local Mexican restaurant where we consumed massive amounts of chips and salsa and diet coke. Carbs and caffeine, mmmm.........

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Secret City

The past couple of months have rained like there's no tomorrow. I guess its really a blessing since Tennessee went through a terrible drought just a couple of summers ago, but it really has put a damper on my spring traveling plans. I've managed to escape the rain with a trip to Charleston, SC (actually it rained while we were there) and Las Vegas, but I'll post on those trips another day. I feel like I need to get back to my roots and write about my travels in TN.

About two weeks ago, Brian and I headed to Oak Ridge so he could compete in a bike race. While he was riding around on the hot blacktop, I set off to explore the Secret City (a.k.a. Oak Ridge.) Oak Ridge was established in 1942 by the U.S. Department of Energy as a laboratory for the Manhattan Project. It got its nickname of "Secret City" because the government kept its existence a secret, providing guard stations and fences to keep folks out. In addition, Oak Ridge didn't even appear on maps until 1949.

At present, Oak Ridge is no longer a secret, but it still has that eerie feeling of secrecy thanks to the numerous Dept. of Energy signs posted along abandoned roadways advising you to keep out. As I was exploring one of the many greenways within the city, I came upon the historic community of Wheat, TN.

Wheat, TN was an old 1800s farming community that was displaced in 1942 when the Department of Energy bought up the land as part of the Manhattan Project. The only building still remaining is the 1901 George Jones church and the Wheat Community cemetery. I walked around the grounds of the cemetery and took special note of a gravestone carved to look like logs. On closer inspection, the grave marker indicated that the deceased was a member of the woodworker's industrial union.

Who knows what other "secret" places exist in Oak Ridge. There were so many abandoned roads that were off limits to the public, and although they beckoned to my desire to explore, the thought of being jailed for trespassing on federal lands associated with nuclear weaponry stopped me dead in my tracks. Maybe next time....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cultural Confusion

Snapped this picture on top of Signal Mountain. Looks like a place that would serve a dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans rather than wonton soup and Peking duck.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bok Tower and Spook Hill

It seems odd to be writing about my Florida Christmas vacation when its March 1st, but my last Florida post didn't include my day trip to the lush Bok Tower Gardens and Spook Hill.

Bok Tower was built in 1927 after Pulitzer Prize winning author Edward Bok commissioned the gardens and tower on top of "Iron Mountain", the highest point in Florida at only 298 feet above sea level (my grandfather jokes that he'll run to Bok Tower in case the sea levels begin to quickly rise). The Tower contains a carillion that is still played today during daily performances.

As a kid, my parents and grandparents would take my brother and I to Bok Tower to walk around the gardens and feed the dozens of domicile squirrels that scampered along the grounds. I remember my parents buying a bag of peanuts and using them to trick squirrels into climbing up my legs. I was a kid so I didn't think twice about their potential to bite me despite the warnings from elderly onlookers. (I never did get bit, by the way)

Now, as a newly married adult, I decided to return to Bok Tower with my husband, mom, cousins, and Grandfather one balmy December day. I watched as my mom attempted to feed the swans and they bit at her feet in return. I basked in the warmth of the sun and the cool breeze. I watched my husband take photos of the lush, scenic landscape. I truly felt at peace.

On the way back from Bok Tower, we decided to stop at an odd roadside attraction known as Spook Hill. Supposedly you can put your car in neutral at the base of a hill, and it feels like you're moving upwards rather than backwards. It worked as a kid, but as an adult I didn't buy it. A group of motorcyclists stopped to experience Spook Hill, but the looks on their faces told me they didn't buy it either. Needless to say, I did not get my thrill on Spook Hill.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Excuses, excuses....

Well, I've been on several adventures lately- including a mother/daughter trip to Chattanooga and a vacation to Charleston, South Carolina. I promise to write again soon, but I just happen to be taking a graduate class at night that requires me to write weekly papers concerning classical organization theory, organization structure, qualities of a leader, blah blah blah...... I'd honestly rather pluck each of my eyelashes out one by one.

Needless to say, writing has become a chore as of late, but I intend to post something new next week when I go on Spring Break (which means I'll work 7.5 hours a day, then come home and possibly go to the gym or watch some mindless TV show on VH1 that i recorded on the DVR rather than get drunk on the beaches of Florida and come home with some terrible air brushed tee)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Islands of Adventure

Brian and I decided to spend Christmas in Florida with my maternal grandparents and cousin who live in Winter Haven. Winter Haven is just south of Orlando so we decided to spend the Saturday after Christmas at Islands of Adventure, which happens to be part of the Universal Studios complex.

We knew what we were getting into. According to information we found on the internet (which is always correct....) the Saturday after Christmas is THE busiest day of the year for theme parks in Orlando. On our drive down, this information was further enforced after being stuck in horrendous traffic just trying to make it to the IKEA right off Interstate 4. (Side note: Our visit to IKEA consisted of a hurried walk-through of the store while dodging disoriented adults and screaming children). Since neither of us can handle crowds of little more than 5 or 6 people, we decided to spend the night before our theme park adventure strategizing on how we would conquer the rides before the swarms of people descended upon the park.

First, we get detailed instructions on which rides to go to first from Brian's brother, who happens to be a huge theme park enthusiast. Next, we wake up while its still dark outside and get to the park by 7:45 (15 minutes before the opening). From there, we basically run from ride to ride with little to no wait and have basically experienced every ride by 11:00. (i should also mention that by this point I look like a sewer rat between the wet rides and Florida humidity) Right before we leave the park, we notice a bridge where you can insert 25 cents into a machine which then lets you aim and fire a water cannon at unsuspecting riders on the raft ride. This was probably the best part of the day- myself, Brian, and a nearby teenage girl even coordinated to fire all the water cannons at once on a group of people. I know- we're horrible people and deserve retribution, but we ultimately get it at the end of the day.

Before we leave the park, we decide to do one last ride that will most definately get us wet. It's a log ride with a huge descent into waves of water. We figure, "what the hell" since we were leaving anyways. The only question was what we would do with our camera/phones. So I stick both phones in my bra (one in each cup) and we use an empty Doritos bag to secure the camera (resourceful, right?). We got absolutely DRENCHED!! As we left the park, we walked against the masses of people just arriving for the day and noticed everyone staring at us since we looked like total freaks with our dripping hair and wet, clingy clothes. Islands of Adventure pales in comparison to Opryland (R.I.P.), but definately had its moments. Overall, it was a good way to recapture our youth for a day.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mountain Biking at Lock 4

Back in December on a semi-warm day, Brian and I drove out to Lock 4 in Gallatin where we met our friend Brad for a day of mountain biking. For those of you unfamiliar with Lock 4, it is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced. This is why I am crazy- it was the first time I've mountain biked, ever. To be fair though, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just thought I'd be riding in the woods along some nice even trails. Maybe, just maybe, there'd be a challenging hill or a low branch to watch out for. Little did I know I would cheat death several times and nearly destroy my bike in the process.

First of all, they have these things called whoop-de-do's, which are basically these deep U-shaped dips that causes a bike to often go airborne. I didn't get enough speed going before I hit the whoop-de-do, so I ended up almost getting to the top before gravity dragged myself backwards and I ended up back at the beginning. It was like something you would see in a cartoon. I spent the rest of the time getting off my bike and walking through the muddy whoop-de-dos. Below is an example of a Whoop-de-do, but isn't an actual picture of me or Brian:

Also- did I mention that part of the bike trail runs along the edge of Old Hickory Lake? I almost learned this the hard way as I nearly lost control on a hill and tumbled into the icy-cold lake. Several times thoughout the ride, either Brian or me would let out a big "Ooph" as we fell (or ran into a tree) and hit the earth. Autumn leaves make for a nice padded fall.

When we finished up and got back to the car, it was such a sense of accomplishment despite all the challenges and bruises. My reward for all our physical activity was stopping at the gas station and buying Pringles, Laughy Taffy, and a diet Coke, thus throwing out any calorie deficit that I accumulated throughout the day. I'll leave you with a picture of my mud-covered leg.

Final days in Mexico

I'm finally getting around to posting about the tail end of our honeymoon in Mexico. In my last post, I ended before writing about Xel-Ha the Cultural Water Park, a.k.a. Tourist trap. Here- we planned on spending the afternoon snorkeling. That lasted about 5 minutes. Between the confusing life jackets, suffocating face mask, and snorkel that caused me to gag, we abandoned all hope of enjoying this activity and instead spent our time wandering aimlessly around the crowded park just praying for the time for our departure to draw nearer. We got stuck walking behind an annoying hippie who wouldn't shut up about the Grotto at the Playboy mansion. Who knows why....

Lastly, we attempted to relax on the isle of hammocks, but I quickly learned that I have the balance of a drunken fisherman as the hammock not-so-kindly spilled me out. When we finally got on the bus, we ended up in horrendous traffic due to construction. While Brian dozed off, I watched all the locals walk in the dark on the side of the highway and construction workers labor in the dark with nothing more than some cones lit up with tiny bulbs on the inside. This would definitely not occur in the U.S.- OSHA would throw a fit.

On Friday, our last full day, we spent the somewhat overcast day lounging around, but in the evening, a hotel shuttle took us into the fishing town of Puerto Morales where we ate dinner at a real Mexican restaurant and shopped for gifts. We ate at a place called Posada Amor and I had this yummy chicken enchilada thingy and Brian had chicken fajitas. When the waitress brought out our chips and salsa, we dug into the pico (Mexican salsa in this region is chunky and very unlike the saucy salsa that we get in Mexican restaurants here in the States). We wrongly assumed that the red chunks were tomatoes, when in fact they were extremely hot habanero peppers. Brian loved it and sweat with his meal.

Saturday morning we woke up and sadly began to pack. It was good to get home, but depressing to get on the plane and head to our layover in Chicago where the temperatures were in the 30s as opposed to the 80 degree weather we left hours earlier.

Over the next couple of weeks, we would ocassionaly catch a whiff of sunscreen from our laundered clothes and it was the most depressing feeling to know we were back in Tennessee, working the daily grind, and facing cold, wintery months ahead.