navigating the normal

All Go West

To Colorado, Apparently
If anyone has lived in Asheville long enough, two things happen: you either know someone who foregoes the small, liberal, outdoor-and-beer-centered town to move to a larger, liberal, outdoor-and-substance-centered town in Colorado. Or you, yourself, have thoughts about moving to Colorado. And why wouldn’t you? Denver is like Asheville. It’s got a National Park on its outskirts. It’s got rivers. It’s got beer. It’s got good food. But it’s like Asheville on steroids. It’s got many hundreds of thousands of more people. It’s got more jobs. It’s got more extreme outdoor activites. It’s got more young people. It’s got legal pot. To move forward from Asheville to Colorado is a natural progression and an understandable inclination.

Five years ago, Jess and I came west. The first step in the Asheville-to-Denver paradigm. Jess had been living in Wilmington for eight years. I had moved back for the year while looking for a job, still unemployed from having graduated during the recession. After a year of toiling away by the beach, I finally found gainful employment, perhaps even the first step in a career ladder. To Asheville I was headed. And Jess along for the ride. It was time for her to move on from Wilmington. She was tired of the scene, the people, the jobs. All of her friends had left. And true to form, I was leaving too. It would be the perfect situation. She had a reason to leave the place she had called home since the day she left our mother’s house. She had a place to land. She had direction. I had a built in friend, companion, and roommate to share the bills and the burdens of moving to a (relatively) new city.

We both had our responbilities for making Asheville home. She diligently scoured the internet to find us a place to live. I dutifully met with the landlords and scoped out the houses. Our first big (enough to be memorable) fight in Asheville was that I had signed a lease for a house without a dishwasher. This she new better than me–never live somewhere without a dishwasher. In addition to being dishwasherless that first house was dark, dank, and wood-paneled from the ceiling down the walls and covering the floors. It was in that first house that we became acquainted with our first neighbor-dog; we came to appreciate the sounds and earthquake-like shaking from passing trains;  I got a different job; we hosted friends and family from across the state on the weekends; we walked through the woods to drink uncountable Highland beers; I realized it is hard to maintain a yard; Moog entered our collective consciousness; we found the best wings and sandwiches in town; she found Crossfit; we manuevered our dating lives around each other; a boy moved in and a boy moved out; she dragged me along to house parties; we shared a bathroom; I tested out playing rugby; we made a little place for ourselves here.

Because we have spent our time in Asheville together, every friend I have in this town (save one), I have because of her. My love and appreciation for electronic music was born because of her. I know where the best burger (and second best burger) in town is. She was with me as I crossed the finish line for my first (and only) half marathon. My love for yoga is intense because she asked if I wanted to go one Friday at noon. I call High Five my favorite coffee shop because she deemed it so. My workout is intense and supportive because she urged me (for years) to go Crossfit Pisgah. She turned me onto the hemp granola parfait from Green Life. She knows where to get the best candy in town. I’ve sat for countles hours at the bars of Carmel’s, Tressa’s, Zambra, and King James with her behind the bar or sitting beside me. I would joke that we were each other’s significant other (she hated it). Friends are constantly reminding me of how much the two of us were together when they met us.

Reflecting on our time together in the past six years, I realize that while our physical separation is impending, our emotional separation has been a low, constant hum in the background of ours lives for a year and a half. She got a boyfriend. He moved in. Physically. Emotionally. Our paths began to diverge. Her nights off work were no longer spent on the couch, in a restaurant, or at a show with me. There are fewer pictures together. As many trips weren’t taken. Her time away from work was spent with him. My time away from work was spent by myself. We spent much of last year on an emotional rollercoaster with each other because we weren’t quite sure how to recognize, express, and navigate the natural changes and shifts we were feeling in our relationship.

Even through our struggle, she has been the voice of reason in the hardest things I’ve had to work through in the past year. Last summer was consummed with an estrangement from my best friend. Jess was the one who could make me understand what was really happening. She was able to break it down from all perspectives and bring me clarity through the haze of my emotion. In February, I was asked to give the eulogy at our uncle’s funeral. I confided to her in the car ride home that I didn’t understand why I was asked to do it. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know how to do it. Jess answered all the those questions for me. She explained to me everyone else saw that I was capable of that I couldn’t. And she had as much pride as our mother and father when I accomplished the task at hand.

I told a friend last week, “Everything will be different. From now on. All of it will be different.” His response, “things don’t stay the same forever.” He thought I meant here, in Asheville and in our house. And that’s true. When I have a partner at the gym, it will no longer read Rileyon the white board.  There will be no more three, six, and twelve hour drives across the state. There will be no quibbling about who’s ornaments get used for the tree this year. The concert schedule shared between our calendars is rendered useless. Random snacks won’t be sitting in the pantry for me to steal. Fragrant hand soaps will no longer magically appear by the sinks. The trash and recycling won’t be taken out. The mail won’t be taken from the box–and left in her car for me never to receive. Makeup won’t be sitting in the living room, eternally. The  one-eyed current neighbor-dog won’t have a jar filled with Milk Bones. There will be no reason to leave a light on at night.

But what he didn’t understand was that I also meant everywhere. To get clarity and rationality from whatever turmoil I’m in with friends or boys will now require a phone call or a text instead of during a quick rundown of happenings at the gym or in the living room or out for food. Every holiday won’t be spent together. Our frames of reference when talking with one another will now need to be explained. We won’t know the new people in the other’s life. The person I know to be my cheerleader and my support is going to live 1,449 miles away. The person who I answer to in my head when making all big decisions is leaving.

This isn’t the way it’s always happened. I am the one that always leaves. I left her with our parents’ crumbling marriage to attend college. I left her alone in Wilmington to return home to find a job. I bounced back every few years for the summer, between jobs, and bookending my graduate program. I always left. I was supposed to be the one leaving this time, too. I had grand plans last year to move to California. But the roles reversed.This time, I’m the one staying.

And now she goes west. To Colorado. Without me. With her new companion. She is scared. She shouldn’t be. In her new city, she will live her happiness and let it bloom without having to worry how it affects me. She will find more of herself free of the shadow I cast. She will get to explore what she really wants to do and how she really wants to be and who who she really wants to love without my interrupting it. In her new city, she will determine the best coffee shops and cinnamon buns; hike at higher altitudes; check out the newest fitness routine advertising with a Groupon; shop the cutest boutiques; house all the family and friends who will flock to see her and tour; perhaps find a favorite dispensary. In her new city, she will easily find a job, easily make new friends, easily slip into the comfort of being at home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Tangerine Soul Style

Green Flash’s Summer IPA
I adore San Diego, and I dig their beers. Beers from San Diego seem to be less sweet and so much stronger. I really like Green Flash. I’ve been lucky enough to go to the brewery which is simply a warehouse in an industrial park in the suburbs with patch of green space adjacent to the parking lot and many, many beers on tap.

The only mistake I made in picking out this brew was buying only one instead of the whole six pack. This beer is right down my alley. It’s a bit of fruity flavor that is fresh and not overpowering. It’s also no cloyingly sweet. It’s barely sweet at all, thanks to all the hops from the IPA part of it.

I was seriously sad when I finished this “zesty and bright” beer with no more to drink.


Fuck You.
I don’t need to provide endless links to Jezebel, Ms Magazine, Feministing, Slate, Salon, and HuffPo on why one shouldn’t tell a woman to smile. That can easily be googled. What I do need to do is give some insight of my own, a little anecdotal evidence, that helps illustrate exactly why one does not command another one to smile.


Step into the scene with me…
I was running on three hours of sleep and a hangover that might have taken down a twenty-five year old. The night before had been spent celebrating a friend’s birthday. My favorite people were there and people I hadn’t seen in a year were there. My parents were even there at one point. Locations changed. Cornhole played. Beers imbibed for hours. A dance party in the kitchen had been had. Sleep, on the other hand, had not. The little that I did get was restless and fitful from the alcohol coursing through my bloodstream.

And the night ahead of me would bring no relief. My parents were in town specifically for the Alabama Shakes show, and make it to the show we would. Before the concert we would have a nice dinner out and more drinking. The concert would begin later than my normal bedtime, so it would certainly end well-past the time I would normally need to be in bed, let alone an altered bedtime based on a miniscule amount of sleep from the previous evening.


To lessen the pain and curb the symptoms of the worst-hangover-of-the-month, I tried a triple latte. It didn’t work. I tried a greasy sausage biscuit and orange juice. It didn’t work. I tried chocolate chip cookies. It didn’t work. I tried a nap. Nothing worked. Of course, I knew the only thing that would work. The only thing with enough sweetness to bring my blood sugar up to pre-booze blowout levels, sweet tea. A big ole 32 ounce sweet tea. From the McDonald’s less than a mile from my house.

On top of the physical depletion I was feeling all day, things had happened the day before and at the party that left me raw and vulnerable. I had been processing information in between naps and rehashing conversations while lazing in a chair on the porch. I was restless with the possibilities and repurcussions from the previous day’s events.

In my haze of sleep deprivation and my exhaustion of riding an emotional rollercoaster, I didn’t leave the house in search of that tea until well into the afternoon. I hoisted my lethargic body into my car. The only reward of it was knowing that I would soon have that liquid gold in that massive environmentally-horrible styrofoam cup.

The day was gorgeous. Perfectly sunny. Perfectly warm. Perfectly breezy. I rolled down every window in the car and pumped up the volume, as I am want to do any time I’m driving and it’s not raining. One arm crooked out the window. The other straight as an arrow guiding the steering wheel. To the closest fast food joint I headed. Feeling like shit, I was about to get my hands on the elixir of life.

As I sat in front of the red light at the bottom of my street, steeped in physical and emotional discomfort, my face just being on my head, resting in the position that it tends to rest,  I heard someone shouting beside me. I looked over. An old, dirty, pot-bellied man was standing in front of the tire shop with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He shouted it again, “SMILE!”

In a gesture I never raise, I threw up my hand with only my middle finger protruding and said, “fuck you, dude.” The light turned green, and I turned left into the crowded Village.

I was sitting in my car. Alone. In private. And this man expected me to be on for him. He looked into my car,  didn’t like what he saw, inserted himself into my life, and he commanded me to perform for him. He had no regard for who I was or what state I was in. He expected to give me an order to which I should follow suit.

Here’s another way to look at it. Had I been a man, he would not have dared to tell me to smile, for many reasons. However, the most offensive reason he would never give such a directive to man is because he would not receive the same pleasure from a smiling man that he would from a smiling woman.

This is not meant to be a lesson in microagressions against women. It’s meant to be some insight into why seemingly innocuous comments can create such powerful storms of frustration and resentment. We are all living our lives in struggle, in turmoil, in our own heads. But some of us are forced to snap out of it because strangers expect us to submit to their notions of what shape they want our faces to make.


Walker Creek Trail

The Water Is The Payoff
The drive through Barnardsville from Asheville to get to Walker Creek Trail is windy and grogeous. The road sits at the bottom of the mountains, and the landscape is dotted with old houses, barns, and wide fields. All of my pictures were taken along the creek, with moss-covered boulders and rushing water. The sound of the water could almost be deafening among the silence of the forest. There are no sweeping views at the top. I went before the leaves made their debut this spring, and I could see the outline of the mountain ridge. This hike is about enjoying that soothing creek as it follows you half way up the mountain.


I found this trail via the All Trails app. The path I took based on information I got off the app made the trail into a loop that became longer than the actual trail’s 1.8 miles. You begin the trail before you see the trailhead marker. Instead of following the path to the left (toward the trailhead sign), I followed the creek up. The creek veers off, but you keep climbing to the top of the ridge. It’s a pretty vertical and quick ascension. The trail is large and taken care of. There was hay put down all along the trail when I went out. When you get to the service road, you take a left onto it. It looks as if you cross the road and keep following the trail, but to loop back to your car, follow the road. After following the road for a bit, you will come back to the trail that looks as if it crosses the road. Take the path on the left.

Trailhead: Walker Creek Trail
Length: 4.1 miles
Type: Loop
Where: Pisgah National Forest from Barnardsville
Description: There are a few other trails that shoot off from this one. It’s not clearly marked which way you should be going. Following my pin on the All Trails app is what reassured me that I was going in the right direction. It’s a relatively easy trail. Although, I did pause a few time on the incline.
Directions & Parking: The National Park Service has perfect directions to reach the trailhead. There is little parking along the road, but it is doable. There appears to be private property at the entrance of the trailhead. There is a sign that warns you not to drive over the bridge. But it’s very tempting because there are charming, little lodges on the other side of it. NPS urges you not to drive beyond the the pull-off.


Rent: The Oral History
By Rebecca Milzoff

Twenty years after Jonathan Larson’s posthumous triumph arrived on Broadway, the cast and creative team relive the rise of a musical that changed theater.

Madaila’s The Dance

Black Hole

Urban Orchard’s Seasonal Blackberry Cider
The cider at Urban Orchard isn’t always my top pick, but the blackberry cider they currently have on tap is tart, refreshing, and drinkable. Out with a friend last week, he wanted a cider and we both wanted to head to Bold Rock’s new tasting room to check it out. Unfortunately, we had taken the embarrassing detour of trying out the trampoline park in Arden. While we quickly realized our mistake, we did not realize it quickly enough to make it to Mills River before Bold Rock closed for the evening. So forward we marched to the only other readily available cider in town.

Because I’m not crazy about Urban Orchard’s ciders, I had already made up my mind to be the weirdo getting a beer at the cidery. Then I saw they had a blackberry infused cider on tap. I’m always up for a fruit-infused cider or beer. They just scream summer! and refreshing! to me. I’m glad I did. Apparently, I enjoyed it so much that I made a stop on my back into town after a hike on the parkway two days later. Enjoying my book in one of Urban Orchard’s eno hammocks with a Black Hole going too-easily down before the rains came was the perfect way to end an active and unexpectedly pretty Saturday.

Being Better

This Is Not A Transformation Story
It’s common knowledge that if you surround yourself with better, you become better. Rarely does anyone speak about how unworthy one feels when you’re constantly surrounding yourself with better. Perhaps because if one keeps showing up long enough, listening attentitively, taking direction, watching others, and pushing just a little harder that feeling of unworthiness turns into determination and that determination prodcues improvement and that improvement breeds commitment. And once committed, there’s no turning back.

I’ve been surrounding myself with better since high school. All of my friends were in the top ten or in our class. I was in the sixties. The were more technicially proficient artists. They were more popular. In college, I was active in student government and held a few leadership roles. I was always overshadowed by my more charismatic, likeable (and electable) friend. My grad school cohorts worked harder than me; wrote better than me; got better jobs than me. My closest coworker is better at her job than I am at mine. My friends are funnier than me; make more money than me; are kinder, more generous, more forgiving than me. My sister is more stylish; a faster, more controlled and confident skiier; a better present giver. I attend yoga classes with women (and men) who can hold the poses longer and more proficiently with their rippled with muscles. I am the slowest “athlete” and the last person finished in every Crossfit class I attend–everyday.

I’ve been working out in some form since high school—weight training electives; treadmills, elipticals, and rowers at YMCAs across the state; student rec centers at UNCW and ASU; walking the Loop at Wrightsville Beach; walking the greenways in Boone; circuit training; cheap-ass purple gyms; contractual gold gyms; weekly personal training sessions as a women’s group; spin classes; half-marathon training; Thanksgiving day turkey trots; Bikram; warm vinyasa yoga; hot vinyasa yoga.For years, I worked out on my own in a gym. Physically being taken nowhere on machines; physiologically bouncing around the scales. Always pining for a personal trainer who could set me up on a program and push me through it. My evolution from an aloof gym-goer to Crossfit was slow. Seven, perhaps even seventeen, years in the making. Unlike many, it was more a slow progression due to an escalation of committment than a head-first jump into the deep end of the pool.

The first thoughts I can remember having when Crossfit first entered my conscious (and the zeitgeist) were, “I want to do that, but it seems expensive. I don’t want to throw up.” 

When I first moved to Asheville, I was at the downtown YMCA at 6am every morning. Not only to get my work out in, but to take a shower and get ready because the bathtub in the one-room efficiency I lived in was disgusting. I didn’t use it once in the three months I lived there. At the downtown Asheville YMCA, I found spin classes and personal training. The spin instructors played good music, urged me to buy a heart rate monitor to increase my output, and gave me the only good reason to wake up at 5:30am. For the first time in my life, I was able to afford a personal trainer–for one session a week, with five other women who were old enough to be my mother and quicker than me at all the movements. The six of us got ready for work together every morning; we had tea at the Biltmore; we biked along the Virginia Creeper Trail one gorgeous fall Friday.

Although I had a fairly regimented schedule (and an obviously excellent support group) at the YMCA, a friend talked me into buying a Groupon for a local bootcamp-like, high intensity interval training gym in December 2012. The difference in this Groupon than all the other exercise-affiliated deals was this: in order to get the discount, you had to show up five days a week for five weeks. If you missed one time, you had to pay the full price. Money as motivation. After some hemming and hawing with my friend, I bought the Groupon and grudingly showed up. For five weeks, I drove ten miles out of my way; went to every class; learned the lingo (burpees, cleans, snatches). I worked harder than I ever had at the gym. I didn’t lose any weight during my time at Hard Exercise Works (hey! it was Thanksgiving and Christmas), but I lost inches.

I wanted to keep the momentum going so my sister and I bought the Groupon for Crossfit Pisgah. But I was playing rugby, had started a new job, and didn’t want to give up my spin classes or the Wednesday morning personal training session with my ladies. I didn’t get around to signing up for the On-Ramp classes. Six months later I had given up rugby, was tired of the same workout everyday at the YMCA, and wanted something cheaper. I also wanted something less intense than what I saw my sister putting herself through everyday. She had used her coupon back in the winter. And with that she had found a schedule, made friends, was working her ass off at Pisgah.

I was finally ready to move to a Crossfit gym, and it was my sister who suggested that I join Summit Crossfit as it had just opened. It was conveniently located. The owner was the charismatic and knowledgeable trainer that I had liked the best while at Hard Exercise Works. I didn’t want to intrude on the workout life Jess had set up for herself. In August 2013, I finally joined a Crossfit box. I did, in fact, feel the need to throw up that first workout. For two years, I came to the 6pm class. I parroted the movements like it was my first time seeing them. I groaned when there were pullups and running WODs. I lamented the coaching changes. But I showed up-grudgingly.

During my time at Summit, I trained for and finished last in a half marathon–with the wonderful help and support of Summit’s owner, Aaron. I met wonderful women with whom I’ve eaten, drank, partied, and commiserated. I was taken out on some of the most grogeous double-digit hikes. I performed 100 burpees in one workout. During my time at Summit, I watched my sister’s time at Pisgah make her stronger, smaller, injured. I saw her compete. I saw her change. I saw other athletes, too, at Beer City Beatdown and River Ruckus. Two excellent events with an excitment and charge in the air that motivate even the most sedentary observers to lift heavy bars over their heads.

After two years at Summit, I was bored. Scheduling was weird. Programming wasn’t making me happy. I knew it was time for a change. I spent the summer of 2015 trying to figure out if Crossfit was something I wanted to continue pursuing or if I should do something completely different. After years of Jess trying to pursuade me to go to a class with her, I finally trudged along to check out the beloved Noonies. The box was small, open, and full of light. The coach was attentive and supportive. I had been going to Crossfit for two years, but it felt as if this were my very first class. How do I clean? What is a snatch? I’ve deadlifted before? It scared the hell out of me. I knew this was the transition I needed to make.

In the ten months I’ve been at Crossfit Pisgah, my time in that gym has metamorphised from meerly a one-hour workout to a committment to the cause. I now go to see if I can pop those hips harder. To see if I can add more weight to that bar. To chat it up with my fellow weightlifters. To see if the coach will get my tears (he won’t). To see if today is the day I won’t be last.

Two weeks ago, I hurt myself. I pushed so hard to acquire a new movement, that I burnt my legs, bruised my thighs, and ripped two inches of skin off my finger. The injuries were a physical manifestation of what I could now clearly see was an internal shift. This realization rocked my fucking world.

This upheaval, this shift, it’s due to so much more than the internal motivation I usually draw upon for accomplishment. It’s having a partner to go with everyday. It’s having that partner be faster and stronger. It’s having to work harder to be worthy. It’s having a coach who comes up to you in the middle of the workout to tell you that he thinks you can go faster in your last round than you did your first round. It’s the comaraderie and feeling of team when you walk in at the same time everyday. It’s support that gives you the nonjudgemental modification for using the bike instead of running because you have the arthritic knees of a 50 year old. It’s making an all female power hour playlist for you or allowing you to commandeer the music and force something other than Rage Against the Machine. This upheaval, this shift it’s due to the environment and atmosphere that I force myself into everyday at noon.

When did I stop being the girl who simply shows up to class to get a workout in? When did I become to the girl who injures herself from pushing through her comfort zone? When did I start remembering what the actual movements are and the weights I should be attaching to each end? When did I start upping those weights? When did I start looking forward to being in that box every single day, changing into my uniform of Gap Capri leggings and ripped tshirts, chatting up the coach, and writing my results on the board? When did I begin staying after a WOD to practice my olympic weightlifting? When did I start caring? When did I actually get better?

In a business where anyone can stand in a warehouse with a certificate and dictate movements to those who are willing to listen and follow, to have a real coach who understands the art of motivation, expectation, connection to get you to out-perform what you think you’re capable of, it’s rare and it’s special and it works. And it’s the answer to some of my questions on how I got to where I am today.

I had the opportunity to start Crossfit Pisgah with my sister two years before I did. I’m trying not to dwell on this fact. For reasons unknown, my journey had to take a more circuitous path to get where I am today. But I’m telling myself that I’m here now, and I choose to be here for a while longer. To continue surrounding myself with people who are faster, stronger, more dedicated, and who push me to excel.

Because I’ve been surrounding myself with better, I can physically see the effects, up and down my body. My is name written on the white leaderboards in the gym. I don’t hate inchworms anymore; I’m good at them now. I lifted a new personal record for deadlifts last month–235 pounds. I no longer have to use my knees as I transition from a plank into cobra. I can hold a crow pose. I have control as I lift my legs into the air for a partial shoulder stand and release them back to earth. I can hoist my body up a rope. I can pick myself up after falling on the ski slope. My legs now plane into my hips. My knees don’t ache like they once did because I’ve built up my quadriceps, as both my family physician and orthopaedist prescribed for me. I have a tiny dip in my arm between my shoulder and my elbow. My sister told me that she thinks Crossfit has finally given me a butt. These are the little things that added up because I showed up everyday, saw how good everyone was, and accepted their strength and support.

On its face, this may seem like a transformation story. It’s not. It’s a story about finding motivation. Connecting. Having patience. Progressing. Flipping the switch.

Pisgah Pale: My Favorite North Carolina Beer
What’s my biggest fear about moving away from Asheville? That Pisgah Pale isn’t readily available on tap anywhere but here. It’s refreshing and super drinkable. Pisgah Pale is probably the reason that I’m not more into IPAs and pales than wheats and belgians that I used to be. When I can get a Pisgah Pale on draft, I know I’m home.

Blog at

Up ↑