my adventures in north carolina

pick a link from the list below to read the story - i hope you enjoy!
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How long does it take to get from Pinckney, MI, to Durham, NC?

Beats the heck out of me. I took a little road trip on the way, so it took me four days and about 21 hours driving. :) Thursday night was a flurry of last minute packing and late night car-loading. It was the opening night for Episode II, and I somehow thought that I had time to go to the movie, go to the store, pack, and load my car all in one night. Hmm... I left bright and early Friday morning and spent the day driving out to New Hope, PA. I have an aunt who lives out there. The toll roads through Ohio and Pennsylvania are horrible with construction, and it cost me $14 just to drive across Pennsylvania. Saturday I left late morning and made the quick drive to Princeton, NJ, to visit some friends who go to school there. Spent Saturday evening with them and discovered that I am officially the world's worst bowler (I think my first game was a 24). Sunday morning, I joined my friends for mass, and left early afternoon for the three hour trek to Baltimore, MD. Visited another friend there, watched Shrek, and discovered in most places in America, they sell alcohol on Sunday. (They don't in Holland, MI). I got up way too early Monday morning in an effort to beat the traffic around Washington D.C. and ended up in Durham, NC around lunch time. I never got lost until I started looking for the housing office!

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Moving in to Duke University

Finally, I had made it to Duke safe and sound. I drove around the same block about three times looking for the housing office. Finally, I just parked my car and walked - eventually finding the carefully concealed building at least a hundred yards back from the road behind a clump of trees. I was off to a great start! After signing my housing contract (which they fortunately had), it was off to another office to get my keys. I was informed there that they couldn't give me my mailbox key yet because they had to get duplicates made. I was then informed of about 15,000 things I needed to do, and told about the bus system, which went in one ear and out the other. I finally made it to my apartment, unloaded all my stuff, and discovered to my chagrin that toilet paper wasn't provided. I would have to trek to the grocery store soon, I could see that. Oh, and I didn't have a phone, or phone service yet, as well as no phone book and a non-functional ethernet cord. I was feeling very connected. :) When I set off to find the student union, the lady at the DukeCard office laughed in my face when I asked about getting a DukeCard. Was I a student? Well, no, not really. Well, they couldn't give cards out to just anybody, you know! The matter wouldn't get straightened out for several visits, letters, and special emails later. After trekking to the grocery store, which took quite awhile because I couldn't seem to find anything. Finally, I collapsed on my new, incredibly hard sofa. Oh yeah, I didn't have a TV yet, either. I think I cried. First days are always hard.

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My first weekend here in Durham...

Everyone tells me that there's nothing to do in Durham. I proved them right this weekend. My roommate moved in Friday, and we spent Friday night finding shopping stores. The highlight of my weekend was my Saturday night trip to Blockbuster, where I proceeded to sign up for a card, rent three movies (there was a great deal!) and buy Josie and the Pussycats (which is the best movie ever, in case you didn't know).

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My trip to the UNC @ Chapel Hill Botanical Gardens

Being my adventuresome self, I decided that I had to get out of the apartment and DO something this weekend. So Saturday morning, I got up early and trekked to Chapel Hill (about half an hour) for a tour of the botanical gardens there. We got the super duper extendo-tour (thanks to the little old lady who asks a million questions). The gardens were neat because they are maintained practically wild, with different sections representing the different ecosystems found in North favorite part was the whole section devoted to carnivorous plants. freak me out! Too bad I forgot my camera. Hm...that seems to happen to me a lot. :) I keep having this feeling that if I don't watch it, they're going to eat me. Never mind that Venus fly traps are only about an inch wide.

My tour guide was an amazing guy who had been around the block in NC, and loved to be outside. By the end of our tour, he had produced a NC map for me and proceeded to highlight the wonderful places that I should visit, from the coast to the western mountains. So I am now gung ho to get out and see this state. Now just to find a travelling companion...

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Trip to the beach

June 8, 2002

Let me tell you a story. It is a happy/sad story. It is the story of a plastic ball, named Ball, and what became of him. But I should start at the beginning. Last weekend, my three friends (Bryan, Julie, and Jen) from Hope jumped in the car and drove the 12 hours from Michigan to visit me. Super happy occurrence, for sure. We decide to drive to the beach on Saturday. In preparation for Operation Big Beach Trip, we stop by Wal-Mart on Friday night. It is in the center aisle there that we first meet Ball. We think, what fun, a big, purple, plastic ball! So we adopt ball. He even provides us with hours of entertainment Friday night for only about $2.50.

Saturday, we leave far too early in the morning and head out for Hammocks Beach State Park on Bear Island. It takes us about three hours to get there. It is a cool place, but since the sun has decided to hide on our beach day, we think, "let's go canoeing!" Sadly, canoe rentals turn out to be too financially burdensome ($40/canoe!) Instead, we take the $2 ferry (think glorified pontoon boat, all you michiganders) out to the island. We still have Ball, so we are happy. Despite the lack of sun, the island is gorgeous in a sort of desolated wasteland meets tropical paradise kind of way. It is rather windy, and Ball is so excited about getting to the beach that he races on ahead of us down the path.

Upon arrival at the beach (think no houses or developments, just wind, waves, some lifeguards, and not many tourists), we head for the water. We are having a great time in the waves, when I make the unhappy choice to throw Ball at my roommate. Needless to say, she does not catch him. And the rest, as they say, is history. We valiantly try to save Ball from the waves, but we are unable to catch him (and we finally gave up because we were so far out and we didn't want the lifeguards to have to come save us just because we were chasing a stupid plastic ball). We are saddened by this loss, but encourage ourselves with the knowledge that Ball is finally free, just as he wanted to be.

Needless to say, we felt pretty stupid. But it was a beautiful beach to visit. We stayed for almost six hours. It was great to be somplace without hordes of people and boats. And the sun did eventually come out - enough that we all got sunburnt pretty badly. I recommend the trip, and it's really not that far of a drive.

Ah...the infamous Ball.

Shoreline at Hammocks Beach State Park.

The very flat and marshy coast.

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Roan Mountain

Saturday, June 15

Last weekend I went to the beach, so this weekend I decided to head for the mountains, by myself. What could be more fun than traversing the entire width of North Carolina in two consecutive Saturdays? I learned many things on this trip to the mountains:
1. My car does not like mountains
2. Scenic byway is another way to say super steep, narrow road with millions of hairpin turns and no shoulder that climbs up and down mountains.
3. Sometimes downshifting is the only way to get to the top.
4. The Blue Ridge Parkway is not the quickest way to get anywhere, but it is pretty.
5. It's really hard to read a map and drive a stick shift through traffic at the same time.

I left bright and early Saturday morning (7:15 AM, ugh) for the 4.5 hour drive out to Roan Mountain, which is in the Pisgah National Forest, right on the North Carolina/Tennessee border. It actually took me a little longer than that because I had a few navigation problems (the detours for the endless construction got me a bit confused...) Anyway, I finally drove up the mountain and parked at Carver's Gap just after lunchtime. It was a long drive, but as soon as I strapped on my hiking boots and began to climb up the grassy bald right above Carver's Gap, I knew that it was worth every minute. I LOVE the mountains! It's so neat and invigorating to feel like you're standing on top of the world with no other sound but the wind whipping in your ears. It was absolutely gorgeous, and the wild rhododendron were blooming on the slopes.

I hiked a couple of hours on the Appalachian Trail, which heads right through Carver's Gap. Someday, I want to hike the whole trail, Georgia to Maine. It only takes like 6 months. :) I hiked up to an empty shelter on Roan High Knob, but didn't stay long. It was empty and the forest was dark and all of a sudden it got kind of spooky up there all by myself. I also visited the Rhododendron Gardens on Roan Mountain. They have this awesome lookout over Roan High Bluff. The mountain is super steep there, and when you stand on the edge of the lookout platform, the wind is so strong it literally takes your breath away. It was fantastic. And it was a beautiful escape from the sticky heat of Durham.

I left around 5PM, and it only took me two hours to find a subway on the way home. That's a whole hour faster than last weekend! Back to that driving through backwoods North Carolina, I guess. Once again, I would highly recommend visiting. It's super cheap and a gorgeous view.

The glorious view from Carver's Gap.

The waving grasses define these "grassy balds."

Fallen rhododendron petals carpet the Appalachian Trail in pink.

The wild pink rhododendron.

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A Weekend At Home

Saturday, June 29 - Sunday, June 30

Now, just in case anybody thought that I never spent a weekend at home in Durham, I will set the record straight about that right now. Even in Durham, one can find some mildly adventurous things to do. Or I suppose that one can try, anyway. So what did I find to do in Durham?

After having read about the Duke Forest online, I decided that Saturday morning was the perfect time to visit. The Duke Forest is this big ol' tract of wooded land owned by Duke University, obviously. It is managed as a research and teaching laboratory by the Nicholas School of the Environment here at Duke. It has all sorts of trails/roads running through it, so it seemed like a good place to do a little "mountain" biking. Carla was good enough to lend me her son's old mountain bike, so I thought it might be fun to take it for a spin. It was only a 10-15 minute ride from my apartment to enter the Duke Forest. The trails are probably not rugged enough for a hard-core mountain biker, but the hills were enough to get me puffing. I met lots of other people out walking and jogging. It's been awhile since I went biking, so I was glad to make it home after an hour and a half or so. No spectacular scenery in the Duke Forest, but lots of trees, which are a great way to escape from the burning hot sun.

Feeling that I had gotten enough activity for the day, I spent the rest of the afternoon catching some sun in the Duke Gardens and swimming in the pool across the street from my apartment building. I guess that's pretty luxurious.

Sunday afternoon, I was determined to climb Occoneechee Mountain, apparently the highest point in Orange County (northwest of Durham County). When I arrived at this little State Natural Area, it was obvious that it was a pretty quiet place. There was one whole other car in the parking lot. :) The trails were admittedly nice, wandering through the woods, in the quiet way of a trail not overly used. If you're looking for peace and quiet, try this place. However, "mountain" is perhaps an optimistic term for the summit's 860 foot elevation. I found that the overlook was closed due to crumbling rock along the edges, and so didn't get the chance for any "spectacular" views. I also met a snake and a creepy guy while wandering, so it was an interesting experience. I would suggest bringing a friend if you decide to visit, unless you're really into the whole solitude thing.

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The Fourth of July - Durham Style

Thursday, July 4 - Saturday, July 6

I had the pleasure of another friend, Josiah, coming to visit me over the fourth of July weekend. It was a good thing, too, I think, because otherwise I would've been pretty lonely. I am used to having all the family together to watch fireworks on the fourth. My roommate, Diana, went to a wedding in Mississippi with her boyfriend, so we had the apartment to ourselves for the weekend. Josiah got here at lunchtime on Thursday. It was ridiculously hot both Thursday and Friday, so we tried to come up with activities that didn't involve spending lots of time outside in the sun. :) Of course, we had to take a walking tour of West Campus and the LSRC where I work. We conveniently dodged into all available air-conditioned buildings. Then we went to see Men In Black II at the Southpoint Mall. It was pretty funny, but I don't know if it was as good as the original. Then we had dinner at Chile's and watched the fireworks at the stadium. We got trapped in the parking lot after the fireworks, of course, so we just lay on the hood of my car and watched the stars for awhile. Then I had to satisfy my chocolate craving, so we went to Ben & Jerry's. I think I ordered Chocolate Fudge Brownie, or something ridiculous like that...the one that sounded like it had the most chocolate possible in it. Yum.

Josiah is used to getting up super early, so we got up at like 8AM on Friday. He calls that sleeping in. I don't exactly agree with that description, but... Friday we made pancakes, toured East Campus, tried to visit the Art Museum (which is both impossible to find and closed on July 5), ate lunch at a nice little Chinese place, and visited Border's. Then Josiah was kind enough to help me fix my poor, sick, little computer. It has been having virus problems (um, like practically everything was corrupted) for awhile now. That's probably my fault since it appears that I didn't actually have any sort of virus protection on it for the past two years. Woops! Anyway...Josiah gave me a copy of Norton, and we ended up trashing a bunch of my applications, but it looks like my computer will survive. :) Now that I am wiser in the ways of these things, I have Norton set to scan for and destroy viruses every night while I sleep. Friday night we walked around 9th Street, but discovered that we had both left our ID's at home. Since neither one of us looks exactly old enough to be legal, we rented a movie instead and Josiah introduced me to Smirnoff Ice - pretty good stuff.

Saturday I convinced Josiah that 9AM wasn't too late to sleep. :) Then we made it back to the art museum, which is not exactly superb, I'll admit. Why do all art museums have such huge collections of pre-Columbian art? Then we took books out into a shady corner of the Duke Gardens and read and napped. It was fun to watch other people dragging their poor kids through the gardens while I was enjoying the cool shade. All in all, it was a very nice weekend...even if I didn't get to make homemade ice cream. :)

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Grandfather Mountain

In order to quench my "need to go adventuring" that had been growing the past several weeks, I headed out on the open road again last weekend. In the end, the mountains won out over the beach. This time, though, I was determined that I was going to do it right --I was going to camp, too. I wanted the chance to "experience" some of the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as hike Grandfather Mountain. So, here are the tidbits of knowledge that I added to my store on this trip:
1. Flashlights and trashbags are important pieces of camping equipment.
2. In North Carolina, south/north really means east/west.
3. Sometimes the Blue Ridge Parkway is actually the fastest way to get someplace.
4. Wal-Mart does not sell firewood.
5. Leave the map at home -- none of the intersections you actually need are ever shown on the it.

That said, it was a wonderful weekend, and I was even a bit amazed at my resourcefulness. I left Saturday morning to drive out there. Having rained about twice in the past three months, the skies decided that they would catch up on Saturday. It rained the entire day. Then it rained the entire evening. And then it rained the entire night. I was actually surprised when the rain let up on Sunday morning and we were only left with dense fog. Saturday I set up camp around lunchtime in a state campground along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, NC. Observing that it looked set to rain for awhile, I had the foresight, luckily, to gather up lots of small sticks and place them in my trunk to dry as kindling for the campfire I was hoping to make that night. Having, of course, forgotten my flashlight, I spent the next hour and a half searching for flashlight and firewood on the basis of some very sketchy directions from the ranger. No surprise here--I couldn't find the road I was driving on the map (of course, I was trying to drive my stickshift at the same time) and I got lost for awhile. But, eventually I found both. In the afternoon, I drove down to Linville Falls, NC, to see the waterfall there. Still raining of course, but it was a great trail with a magnificent waterfall. I only had to scramble a bit over rocks past the end of the trail to be practically in the river right beneath it. Then I scrambled back up the trail (what I considered a laughable "strenuous") to the overlook and found a dry spot underneath a tree for a little quiet contemplation.

Saturday evening I faced the Great Campfire Challenge. Now, you have to understand that I have never been extremely proficient at lighting campfires. Occasionally, under good circumstances, I can get a little fire going long enough to roast some marshmallows, etc., but that is usually the extent of my skill. However, for some reason, I had decided that I would cook over the campfire on this little camping expedition. Thus the dilemma: no fire, no food. :) So I rigged up a little trashbag tent to keep the rain off of my wood, and got started. Much to the disbelief of my neighboring campers, an hour later, and about a quarter of a bottle of lighter fluid and two boxes of matches gone, I had a small fire going. Eventually, it even turned into a healthy little fire that I could leave alone. I was so proud of myself!

Sunday morning dawned very foggy and still dripping. There is nothing so delightful as packing up a wet and muddy tent, I assure you. I was awakened early by the neighboring family group. After observing them for only a short period of time, I was determined that I have no desire to go "family camping" any time soon. :) Upon arrival at Grandfather Mountain, I discovered it to be: 1. Still so foggy I could barely see and 2. Totally empty of people. Not exactly what I had expected. I suppose that I should back up a bit and give just a hint of background, though. Grandfather Mountain is a privately-owned enterprise, it has been declared a "Biosphere", although I cannot say that I am entirely sure what that means -- something special about the ecosystem there, I should suppose. Anyway, the gist of it being privately-owned is that you have to pay to get in, and the mountain cliffs don't come with yards of protective fencing and warning signs. Their most famous attraction is the "Mile-High Swinging Bridge." Which is only slightly deceiving. Although located at an elevation of 1 mile, the chasm it spans is not great, and although a suspension bridge, it does not do much in the way of swinging. It does, however, provide a great view to the many visitors with little inclination to scramble up and down boulders while hiking the trails that follow the mountains' crest. As a continual chooser of the "strenuous" option when hiking, I viewed the bridge only briefly and continued on my merry way toward the boulder scrambling and mountain climbing. It was an eerie morning of empty trails and dense fog with absolutely no view of the mountain slopes. There is something freaky about hanging off the edge of a mountain cliff when you can only see about 10 ft all around you. Anyway, I packed a lunch and spent all day hiking. At one point, to follow the trail up to McRae Peak, you have to climb a series of leaders and pull yourself up on cables. It was interesting. By afternoon, the fog was clearing, and other people were appearing on the trail, so I got the chance to enjoy some spectacular views. Especially the one of the particularly ugly Sugar Mountain condo. :) Looking back over the trail I had climbed, it was amazing to see where I had been. I love mountains! Recommendation: go with a sturdy friend. Hiking three hours through dark, dripping, foggy forests on a six-inch wide trail without seeing another human being is enough to make one a little jumpy. But I did discover that the top of Grandfather Mountain has full SprintPCS service, so take your cell phones! Better service than I get here in my apartment. :) Despite the rain and fog, it was a wonderful experience, as to be expected. I hate to leave behind the North Carolina mountains.

Pictures coming....

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