It’s That Time Again: Wing’s World Hits The Road

If you’ve been following Wing’s World for at least a year, you know by now that Wing & Mate take to the road in February with the regularity of migrating swans–minus, of course, the awesome grace.* Also we’re heading east, not north, and also, swans have that life-or-death impulse behind their travels, while ours is more…let’s say … discretionary.

(*please, no Wingspan jokes)

OK, bad metaphor. But anyway, for you newbies, fair warning: Wing’s World is about to morph into a travel blog for the next several weeks.

The original draw for this trip is described in this earlier post; click here to read.

For now, I’m going to enjoy throwing out a few teasers from past trips, answering the question, “Why take seven weeks to drive across the country in the off-season?”

  1. Beautiful places at their least crowded. Like…

    Like Guess Where National Park

2. Beautiful places we’d never even heard of

The Source of the Missouri River, in Montana.

3. Faraway friends with ridiculously cute kids who are growing up way too fast.

NC Wildflower Walk!

4. Hidden cool spots of cities we didn’t even think we liked.

Watching an ambitious grafitti artist at work in Dallas

5. Ridiculously cute animals on the farms of family members.

Ben the Sheepherding Donkey in Vermont 

6. Deserts!

Arches National Park (duh)

7. Mountains!

Long’s Peak in Colorado

8. Desert mountains!

Anza-Borrego SP in California

9. Bike paths! (We are FOOLS for bike paths.)

…like this rails-to-trails path along the Illinois River Canal

10. and…let’s not forget FOOD.

It’s all about the BBQ. With hush puppies, slaw, and fried okra. Not pictured: sweet tea.

‘Scuse me, I just got very hungry for some reason. But I’ll see you from the road!

The Road is Calling: Off We Go on Road Trip VI

It’s that time of year. Days are lengthening, bulbs are pushing their tender way through softened ground, and Wing & Mate are heading out in “Red Rover” on their annual Road Trip–#6.

For background on said Road Trip, and why it’s timed to get us to North Carolina in time for the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament, click here.

For the next five weeks, then, Wing’s World morphs into a travel blog. Scenery, food, weird road signs–the works. Whee!

Red Rover says, "C'mon, people!"

Red Rover says, “C’mon, people!”

See you on the road.

Road-Tripping: Tough Job, But Somebody’s Gotta…Nah, I Just Love Road-Tripping.

Serial blizzards in New England. Roller coaster temperatures across the South. And here in the Pacific Northwest, week after week of mid-50s days that are so nice most of us are getting nervous. Someone has to get to the bottom of this continental climate weirdness.

I volunteer. Starting February 21, I vow to drive (with The Mate) across this great country of ours until we a) solve the climate mystery, or b) watch a series of Tarheel basketball games while stuffing our faces with BBQ…whichever comes first.

Kidding. Of course. It’s time for ROAD TRIP V, that’s all! Who needs an excuse?

An explanation, however, might be useful for those of you new to Wing’s World. Here’s what I wrote a year ago about the roots of our annual pilgrimage:

I’ll start with my husband. Former professor at the University of North Carolina, therefore HUGE Tarheel basketball fan. When we moved to the Pacific Northwest 23 years ago, he continued to fly back every March to watch the ACC tournament with his fellow crazed fans friends.

During our sabbatical in New Zealand…yup. You got it. He still flew back. And when the underdog Tarheels WON that year, my husband became a legend among fans.

But he always hated the hassle of flying. So when he retired in 2010, he declared, “That’s it. From now on, I’m driving to Chapel Hill.” Then he uttered the fateful words: “You’ll come too, won’t you?”

And thus was born the Great Annual Cross-Country Road Trip. We are now about to begin our fourth. Along the way to NC and back, we’ll catch up with family members and long-lost friends, visit some national parks, and discover byways we never knew existed in places like, I don’t know, Oklahoma.

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What awaits the Wings this year? All I can tell you is this: I’m an inveterate planner who feels happiest knowing exactly where I’ll be and when I’ll be there, months in advance. The Mate is enjoying, in retirement, a period of spontaneous freedom so unfettered I hate to even ask him his plans for the day not. If there’s one thing these Road Trips have taught us, it’s how to find a balance between our styles.

Luckily for The Mate, traveling in Feb-March means staying flexible. So…our route? I’ll keep you posted!

I wonder: who’s more like me, who’s more like my Mate? Are you a trip-planner, or do you prefer to trip fantastically lightly through your trips? 

 

OK, I’m Home–Now How Do I Hang Onto All Those Memories?

10,000 miles. 20 states (OK, 19 plus Puerto Rico). 60 close friends and family members. 23 local, state and national parks. 

We’re home. Time to caption & share the photos. That should do it for capturing memories, right?

For any normal person, maybe. But for capturing the full vibrancy of a past moment, I like to play “Best of.” It’s a game we started with our kids when they were small, and I think it rubbed off more on me than on them. Here’s how it works:

Best Hike of Trip: Nevada Falls in Yosemite (3/28). (I mean, really, how could anything in Yosemite NOT win Best Hike?) Eating an orange way too close to the edge with my son who’s about to disappear into Central America for 2 months…

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Runner-up: El Yunque Peak, Puerto Rico (3/7) Getting drenched with The Mate on the way down…after all, it IS a rain forest…

Honorable Mention: Nevada Falls again (3/27). Yup, I went up twice in a row. Didn’t have enough time the first day.

Best Bike Path: Turtle Bay, Redding, California (3/29). An old favorite, not a new discovery, but nothing beats this wonderfully curvy path with its little roller-coaster section, wild bunnies, blooming redbuds…

Runner-up: Provo River, Utah (3/23). Exercising nervous tension before Carolina’s final NCAA game…

Honorable Mention: Bettendorf, Iowa (3/20). Who knew the Quad Cities were so into fitness?

Best Dinner: That little hamlet near Ceiba, Puerto Rico that served fish with sauteed onions and lime (3/6). Giant as-yet-uncaught fish patrolled the waters beneath the restaurant deck, probably scarfing the entrails of our dinner.

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Runner-up: a tie between Mama Dip’s Fried Chicken in Chapel Hill (3/14) (Mama Dip catered our wedding back in 1986!) and our friend Ben’s braised lamb shanks in Asheville, NC (3/1). Ben OWNS lamb.

Honorable Mention: fried pork and plantains, El Yunque (3/3 and 3/4). Good thing we got out of there; that diet would have killed us. But we would’ve died happy…

Best Lunch: Allen & Son’s BBQ with fixins (3/13). OOOF. No possible runner-up.
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Best Breakfast: El Yunque Inn’s creamy oatmeal with fresh mango (3/4). Since all our other breakfasts were cereal, that one kinda stands out…

And, lest you think with me and The Mate it’s all about exercise and food…well, it is. On road trips, we are rarely in Museum Mode. But we do branch out occasionally.

Best Cultural Experience: Bluegrass & Beer at Asheville’s French Broad Brewery (3/1). It’s the name of the river, silly, not some Parisian chick…

Runner-up: My own (first!) author reading at The Regulator Bookshop in my hometown, Durham, NC (3/11). 🙂
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Best Unexpected Find: Great Basin National Park, Nevada (3/25-6). Aspens. Quiet. Wild turkeys.

Runner-up: Rock Canyon, Provo, Utah (3/22). Whoa, those rock climbers are all so happy!

Honorable Mention: Tie between the Ceiba Country Inn, Puerto Rico (3/5-6)--all those dogs!--and the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 100-acre sculpture woods (3/19). Is that a spaceship sinking in that lake?

Notice a pattern here? The bolded words are the real memories. The whole “contest” is just an excuse to push my brain to run through all those thousands of possibilities, reinforcing the synaptic connections of every single one of those 49 days. 

Oh, and the dates? That’s just my nerdiness. See, my grandma lived to be 103 and kept a razor-sharp memory till the end. Just in case I’ve inherited her longevity genes, I’m keeping my own brain in SHAPE.

So that’s how I remember good times. Do you have other tricks? Memorabilia? Rock collections? Or are you so glad to be home you just let it all go and move on to doing laundry?

 

How ‘Bout Them Heels? Oh, How Can I Possibly Explain?

 Road Trip IV, Days 32-34: Chapel Hill, NC

Let the ceremony games begin. The object of our pilgrimage trip. The ACC Tournament, ok?

For those of you not from North Carolina and/or not tainted familiar with the mores of college sports, a quick primer. Teams are organized into leagues, or conferences. Throughout the regular season, each college plays games against other member of its conference. For the University of North Carolina (aka The Tarheels, or Heels–please don’t ask me to explain that), that means Dook Duke, NC State, Virginia, and eleven others. At the end of the regular season, these 15 teams play each other in a loser-out tournament which begins on Wednesday and culminates in the championship on Sunday.

Other conferences around the country–the PAC 12, the Big 10– are doing the same thing, of course. On Sunday, the winners of all these tournaments are selected, along with the best teams around the country that did not win their tournaments, and put into the 68 brackets that you have probably heard about, the famous Big Dance of March Madness, the NCAA Tournament.

Got that? Good. It has almost nothing to do with what I’m writing about today. I am writing about religion.

That’s the only way I can explain what happens here in Chapel Hill at our friends Rich and Becky’s house, from Wednesday to Sunday. It starts small, maybe five or six of us watching the games no one really cares about. But by Friday, when Carolina plays, the living room will scarcely hold us. And all these highly educated people–law professors, a former college president, a dean, a member of Obama’s HHS staff, a state legislator–will be screaming at refs, raising our arms during free throws, and doing push-ups during time-outs when the game gets close.

(That last innovation was started by The Mate. He swears it works. All I know is, it’s a great tension reliever.)

One year one of the group, who was representing a guy on Death Row, actually stepped into the next room to negotiate a pardon with NC’s governor while the rest of the gang kept cheering. Then he re-joined the faithful. No one thought this was weird.

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There is no explaining faith. There is no explaining how all these thoughtful, rational, sensitive people can truly believe that Dook Duke’s Coach K is the Devil. (I mean the real Satan, not just a Blue Devil.) Or that God hates us if our free throws don’t go in. Or that a pimply-faced 19 year-old with a ball holds the keys to our present and future happiness.

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I should know. I grew up here, and at school I used to scoff at my fellow students who would stay home during Tournament Friday, or use “How ’bout them Heels?” as a greeting. Then I went off to college, and came home for spring break.

It was the end of March, 1982. Carolina, under Coach Dean Smith, had made it to the Final Four in New Orleans. My then-boyfriend (now my Mate) was beside himself. (The previous month he’d sent me a Carolina Blue valentine: “I love you almost as much as the Tarheels.” So I knew what I was getting into.)

The Heels won their Saturday game. Now they were in the Finals, facing Georgetown. Michael Jordan was a freshman. The Hoyas had their own super-frosh, man-child Patrick Ewing. The battle was joined. It was epic. The game came down to the final seconds.

You know what? I can’t possibly do the story justice. Too much has been written about The Shot Michael took to put Carolina up with 12 seconds on the clock; about Freddy Brown’s fateful pass to a member of the opposite team, giving the ball back to Carolina. About James Worthy’s anticlimactic missed free throws at the very end, when Carolina’s victory was sealed, and we were all rolling around on the carpet and screaming.

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It was a conversion of the deepest order. At the end of my break, I traveled back to college a confirmed, lifelong Tarheel Fan.

I’m not quite as bad as The Mate, OK? He’s traveled back from Washington State to Chapel Hill every March since 1990. When we took a sabbatical in New Zealand, he traveled back from there. He sincerely wishes bad things to happen to Coach K, or at least to his car.

Me, I just cheer.  And eat a ton of BBQ. And fried chicken. But that’s a whole other story.

Sports fans or baffled onlookers, let me hear from you. What’s your sports story? Are you the reason “fan” really means “fanatic”? Or do you think we’re all completely bonkers?