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!

Road Trip VII, Days 22-28, Shaftsbury, VT to Fort Collins, CO: The Ultimate Adventure-Buddy Challenge

You’d think, after a month on the road, that we’d be heading straight home now–next stop, our dear evergreen Washington State.

Instead, we’ve diverged to Colorado. We have an adventure-buddy date.

Seven years ago, when our retirement from our primary careers turned us into annual road-trippers, we found kindred spirits in a pair of friends from North Carolina. On every trip since 2012, we have met our Adventure Buddies somewhere along the way. We rent a house for three days, take turns cooking, and go for lots of hikes.

2012, Moab, Utah:

Arches National Park (duh)

2013, Sedona, Utah:

A little late snow that year!


2014, Yosemite:

Who took this pic? Our Adventure Buddies, of course!

2015, Yucca Valley, CA (near Joshua Tree):

…and great Mexican food nearby too!

2016, Anza-Borrego State Park, CA:

Thanks, Adventure Buddies!

At the end of each day, we watch college basketball together, men’s and women’s. See, our buddies are Tarheel fans like us. North Carolina, remember? If we meet during the eastern portion of our trip, there are regular season games to watch. And if, as now, we meet in late March, there’s the NCAA championship. In the rare years that Carolina’s not in the Sweet 16–yes, we Tarheel fans are that spoiled–we can always root against Duke together.

This year we’re meeting in Estes Park, Colorado, right next to Rocky Mountain National Park.

This place.

So, this should be a perfect weekend, right? #1 seed Carolina’s in, playing this Friday. And Duke? They’ve already choked lost to a lowly 15-seed.

Except.

Something I forgot to mention: these NC friends of ours moved to LA. As in UCLA. Whose team is also in the Sweet 16. Playing Friday.

Luckily for our mutual friendship, UNC and UCLA aren’t playing each other Friday. So we’re free to cheer for both.

Except.

If both couples’ sports-gods prayers are answered, both our teams will win. Then they have to face each other.

How ’bout that for a test of friendship?

I’d like to think that, on Friday, I’ll be wholeheartedly cheering for the UCLA Bruins to beat Kentucky. And I will be. Mostly.

But I gotta admit, more than a teensy part of me will be secretly hoping they lose. Just so we can all cheer on the Tarheels, together, on Sunday. If Carolina loses and UCLA wins, I’ll be a huge Bruins fan.

And if it comes to UNC-UCLA? I’ll be cheering first and foremost for our friendship. Of COURSE.  What kind of person do you think I am?    🙂

 

 

Road Trip VII, Days 17-21, Durham, NC to Shaftsbury, VT: Marching Madly Back Into Winter

What kind of idiots drive north into a named winter storm…when they don’t have to?

Allow us to introduce ourselves: Wing & Mate.

We did make a few prudent choices. We delayed leaving NC for a day to let the worst of Stella pass. And we stayed as far east as possible, away from the storm’s edge, even though that meant sticking with ugly ol’ I-95 instead of taking the prettier inland route. We may be idiots, but we’re not STUPID.

We also opted to take it slow, leaving late in the morning and spending the night halfway to Vermont, in a motel in Wilmington…where we got a good lesson in reality.

Reality can thin out a bit on road trips. In our little car-bubble, whatever we’re used to becomes whatever IS. So I got heartily sticker-shocked at that motel. But since it was the last room available I swallowed hard and paid–I’m embarrassed to say how much–to avoid the losing proposition of racing around the internet just before rush hour trying to find a better deal.

The motel was full of families. In summertime or over Christmas this is expected, but we could tell these weren’t folks on Spring Break. Sure enough, we learned that a major power outage had forced them from their homes. And here we are, on a purely discretionary trip! Talk about perspective. I chatted with a couple of ladies over breakfast, and when they wished me “safe travels,” I wished there were a way to say, “safe stay-at-home!”

The New Jersey Turnpike took all my attention as navigator, as other freeways snaked in and out, trying to lure us into NYC. Nothing looked attractive, even under snow, which tells you something. (Sorry, NJ…maybe someday I’ll discover the “Garden” part of your statehood.) But once safely in the Hudson Valley, headed for Albany, we both relaxed, enjoying real mountains for the first time since Asheville. 

Snowy mountains. You gotta love any scenery that calls to mind words like “serene” or “majestic.” 

Majestic, shmajestic–I wanna make footprints!

“Whose woods these are I think I know…” (snowshoeing along a section of the Appalachian Trail)

Snow angel! (We coastal Northwesterners can’t get enough of this.)

OK, snow is cool. But the REAL draw of this adventure? Cute little cousins.

…and cheese-eating dinosaurs

And their adorable sheep-herding donkey Ben:

March is a terrible time for lambing in VT. Cousin Jesse had to bring the flock into the barn.

Ben being modest. He has work to do.

So: March Madness in basketball, yes. And in the lives of good ol’ Wilmingtonites just trying to make it through winter. But the northeastern roadways? Piece o’ cake. Shame on us for doubting the Yankee ability to deal with snow.

Road Trip VII, Days 10-16: Tobacco Road (a.k.a.Durham and Chapel Hill, NC) During March Madness

Spending a week in the house you grew up in will, when you’re my age, make you think. A LOT. First of all, I’m one of the VERY few people I know in their mid-50s whose parents both still live in the house they raised me in. Which means I can, in fact, go home again–with apologies to fellow Tarheel Thomas Wolfe.

That’s a pretty rarified privilege right there.

So I’ve been spending the week thinking about privilege. Not just white privilege, which has been much on people’s minds since, say, Trayvon Martin, with the 2016 election as a nice little underline that this shit is real. No, I’m talking about about a more generalized idea of privilege. The kind you breathe growing up, to the point where you’re not aware of it. Like air, it’s just THERE.

That’s how it feels to be a Duke or a Carolina basketball fan.

Yes, the two programs, at either end of Tobacco Road, are  bitter rivals. One’s private, one’s public. But like their colors, both share only slightly different shades of the same blue-bloodedness. While some universities would give their eyeteeth to be able to join the NCAA Big Dance even as a lowly 16-seed, Duke and Carolina people are shaken to the core at the mere possibility of coming in anywhere lower than a 6. (Yes, it has happened, and no, I don’t wanna talk about it.)

Full disclosure: I’m a Carolina fan who was practically raised on the Duke campus. So I know what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about walls–visible and invisible. I’m talking about that sense of safety and well-being that comes with belonging to an exclusive club. I’m talking about walking onto a park-like campus of huge trees and gracious architecture thinking nothing more than, “Hmm, a chicken biscuit sounds good right now” or “That’s a cool shirt, maybe I’ll get one of those.”

Order yours today.

[Note: a major component of club-belonging is in-jokes. Case in point: the above T-shirt, which would take so long for me to explain to you that I’ll just mention the hashtag and move on: #theceilingistheroof ]

The other day I took a break between watching ACC basketball games with my fellow Carolina Tarheel fanatics*** and went for a run along Bolin Creek in Chapel Hill. There I saw a young woman lying in a hammock strung between two trees, on a tiny island in the middle of the creek. She was working on her laptop, in the hammock. (I don’t generally carry a camera when I run, so you’ll just have to imagine it.)

[***since, for those of you new to Wing’s World, watching ACC games with our Tarheel Tribe, from our former NC lives, is the reason the Mate and I started road tripping to begin with]

That girl was, I decided, the perfect symbol for this feeling I was trying to capture: confident in her ability to creek-hammock without asking anyone’s permission, in her safety to do so without getting bothered, in her artless joy in the beauty of her surroundings. Laptop in hammock in creek? Can’t get more privileged than that.

The wall surrounding Duke’s East Campus doesn’t keep anyone out. It just sends a message.

That was my whole childhood: supported, surrounded, embraced. I had Duke Forest practically in my backyard to run and ramble in, the Duke track to train on, Duke coaches to consult with (during my high school years) and hone my athletic talent and (I suspect) help me get into the college of my choice.

One of the Duke Forest entrances. Anyone can enter…but does everyone feel, as I did, that it was really mine?

Of course I’m not saying that everyone who walks onto the Duke or Carolina campuses comes from circumstances as lucky as mine. I know most of them must face, or have faced, adversity of some kind–financial, emotional, physical, all three. But once members of those Duke or Carolina tribes, we are somehow blessed for life, whether we choose to think about it or not. We belong. We expect our team to win.

So what?

I’m still thinking about the “so what” part. I suspect it has to do with empathy. What, I wonder, do you think?

PS: Go Heels!

The Final Four and the Sickness That “Heels”: Carolina Fever

Here’s why I know I’m not a COMPLETELY un-redeemable Carolina men’s basketball fan:

  1. I have a sense of humor about how much it means to me (sort of)
  2. I refuse to defend Tarheel Coach Roy Williams from charges that he knew about the fake classes his players were given credit for “attending” these past few years. He probably did, or if he didn’t, he should have.

But here’s why I know I’m pretty far gone: this year, right now, I DON’T CARE. The Heels are in the Final Four for the first time in seven years. Back in 2009, they won it all, under the leadership one of my all-time favorite players, Tyler Hansbrough, who stayed all four years to get the job done. This year, that favorite player is Marcus Paige, another senior (and Academic All-American). The Heels are one game from the finals, two from the championship. And I don’t just want that championship for me, I want it for Marcus.

This guy.

This guy.

But I want it even more for someone else. A whole family, actually. Last month, back in my home state of North Carolina to watch the ACC tournament with our Tarheel Tribe, The Mate and I learned some terrible news. The day before the tournament began, the 48 year-old son of some of our Tribe members was diagnosed with leukemia. His parents and his brother were in shock. And they all spent the next three days in someone’s living room cheering for the Tarheels.

The Tribe (partial), doing what we do.

The Tribe (partial), doing what we do.

Wait, you say–what? What is wrong with these people? Their son is going through chemo in the hospital and they’re watching basketball? Where’s their sense of perspective?

My answer: these folks were doing exactly what they needed to be doing. They were seeking solace with their Tribe. And of course their son–who’s SUCH a fanatic he doesn’t even join the annual group because he gets too nervous–was watching all the games at the same time, from his hospital bed. It was a beautiful kind of group witness…crazy, yes, but loving.

Son Two joined the Tarheel Tribe at an arly age.

Son Two joined the Tarheel Tribe at an arly age.

Didn’t hurt that the Heels won the tournament.

And now? Our friend’s son is almost done with his first round of chemo. Being the fan that he is, he’s already joking that he’s going to have to go back into the hospital NEXT year in order for the Heels to win again.

And that tells me something. College sports may be corrupt in all sorts of ways…but it’s also pure in one special way. It brings the Tribe together. And maybe, just maybe, the Heels, through their athletic efforts, will have the power to heal.

Go Tarheels.

Butter my Busted Brackets for Breakfast—They’re Toast: Watching the NCAAs and Fearing For My Soul

This year billionaire Warren Buffet famously offered a billion-dollar purse to any individual picking a perfect set of wins in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It’s no news by now that Mr. BigBucks learned he wouldn’t have to pay out…after the first full day of games, back two weeks ago. That’s how unpredictable this stuff is. But my own picks were so bad, I think I actually OWE Warren that billion.

Wonder if he’ll take a check.

It’s not that I didn’t see upsets coming, ok? I DID. I just chose the WRONG ONES. Case in point: Twelfth seeds are always matched up against Fives in the first round. I picked NC State, a 12, to beat St. Louis, a 5, based on my SUPERIOR KNOWLEDGE as a NC native who had just watched State beat the juggernaut of Syracuse in the ACC tourney.

In the first two days, three of the four 12-seeds beat the 5s. Guess which one DIDN’T?

Still pretty grumpy about that.

It went on from there. Every upset I called didn’t happen; every dominant team I “bet” on found a way to lose. I’m pretty sure they did it on purpose.

But I should back up here, pleading hyperbole (a common ailment among writers in general and bloggers in particular). First of all, not ALL my teams lost. Second of all, I didn’t bet.

See, when my own team goes out–as Carolina did in the second round, in a game too well-played for us to feel too sad about–and my brackets no longer hold any joyous anticipation for me, that’s when the wet blanket good angel of conscience joins the party.

What are you doing? These are kids playing with a ball! And they’re supposed to be students, not over-hyped vessels of steroids and future marketing! Or, worse, gateways to gambling addiction!

(Courtesy Chad Cooper, Flikr Creative Commons)

(Courtesy Chad Cooper, Flikr Creative Commons)

Last week’s editorial in the Christian Science Monitor (I’m not a Christian Scientist, but their magazine ROCKS) discussed exactly that: the rise in gambling among people who would never otherwise place a bet, caused by the huge mainstreaming of March Madness. So much for my giddiness over the Final Four. Luckily I had none left anyway.

Of course, the only reason I’m having these spasms of conscience now is because my own Madness has turned to Sadness.If my team were still in the Dance, don’t even think of lecturing me! Or at least wait till mid-April. Yes, I’m a total hypocrite–but at least I’m an honest one.

I am comforting myself with some gems from the past couple of weeks. I couldn’t find YouTubes for any of them, unfortunately, so you’ll just have to imagine…

North Carolina’s Xylina McDaniels making a shot from a sitting position beneath the basket after getting knocked off her feet

Louisville’s senior star Shoni Schimmel beating her male counterpart in the three-point shooting contest (part of the “hoop”la leading up to both the men’s and women’s Final Four)

And my favorite, which wasn’t even a sports moment: this ad. It’s from some network provider, I think–and I guess it must have failed in its purpose ’cause I can’t remember the name. But it features a couple of nerdy-looking guys installing some connections in the ceiling of a nondescript office.

(Non-classically-beautiful but adorably clean-cut) Woman, startled by nerdy technician in ceiling: Oh! What are you doing?

(Potentially-handsome-despite-large-glasses-and-lack-of-social-confidence) Man, hanging down from ceiling: **explains his job** then…

Man (in shy monotone): Did it hurt? When you fell from heaven?

Woman (blushing delightedly, looking down): …A little…

Man (yanked back up into ceiling by annoyed co-worker): Sorry!

But we all know they meet for sodas later, right?

OK, this has NOTHING to do with basketball, or gambling, or the sad state of my conscience. But it does have to do with March Madness. Because among all the gazillions of ads, both TV and radio, that I have muted over the past month, this is the only one where I turn UP the volume. Hey, I’m not contributing to American commercialism–I’m enjoying a love story! My conscience feels better already.

Got a March Madness story? Best game, best moment, best ad? General rage or simply bafflement? Let us hear.