1,000 Miles for a Used Raft: Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway

The French Broad River runs right through where we live in Asheville, North Carolina and everywhere you go there are kayaks perched on top of automobiles. With daughters the ages seven and ten, my wife Megan and I thought we’d enjoy either tandem kayaks or maybe a raft. The typical tandem kayak in town went for around $800 and rafts like what I thought we’d need ranged from $2,500 to over $5,000.  Not knowing if we’d actually enjoy our time on the river (would it be too slow? too much of a hassle to get the boat in and out of the water and cars arranged at the appropriate geographical points) I thought I’d see if I could find anything used. There was almost nothing for sale. I took this to be a good sign. People were buying kayaks and rafts and liking them enough that they weren’t for sale. Check Craigslist for exercise equipment and a different story is told.

“I like the idea of us being together,” my wife Megan had said. And so we decided on a raft for the whole family and the best deal on a used one I could find was in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. This is about 470 miles from where we live. I’d vaguely heard of the town as one where the Appalachian Trail passed through.

Would I really drive seven hours each way for a used raft?

Turns out, I was willing to drive even farther than that. First I thought if we added The Skyline Drive in Virginia and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina, we could make a family trip out of it. Megan said she and her parents used to go on such trips as vacation. Now we wouldn’t be so crazy, going so far for a used raft. We were going on vacation!

The plan evolved and we decided we would also buy a tent and do our first camping as a family. Why not take our dog Indy too?  The following pictures show a little of how our pilgrimage went:

 

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Torgerson, Asheville, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Harper's Ferry

loaded up and ready for take off

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Torgerson, Asheville, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Harper's Ferry, River Riders

destination #1: the nice folks at River Riders in Harper’s Ferry

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Torgerson, Asheville, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Harper's Ferry, River Riders

phase one of mission completed, raft purchased

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Torgerson, Asheville, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Harper's Ferry

ready for picnic dinner on the Skyline Drive

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Not long after dinner, we saw our first bear. Actually we saw three of them, a mother and two cubs who’d climbed up a tree. We saw this from The Skyline Drive. There were several cars pulled off to the side of the road, and probably ten or so people pointing up into the trees. At this point, my youngest started keeping track of the wildlife we spotted.

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Torgerson, Asheville, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Harper's Ferry, wildlife, snakes, bears, deer, turkeys

My Youngest Kept Track of Our Wildlife Sightings

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Not long after the first bear sighting, I hit one with our van. I was driving around a corner, my sight impaired from the sunset, when I could just make out a bear when it was only a few feet from our bumper. I hit the brakes and gently turned away from the bear as it rammed the front left of our car. With no shoulder to pull onto and because we were on a curve, we didn’t stop right away. The bear was not visible in the rearview mirror or the side mirrors. Looking back, it seemed to be gone, having run off into the woods. We stopped at the next pull off and inspected the car. There was a small scratch and the bumper was covered with bear slobber.

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Torgerson, Asheville, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Harper's Ferry

Our campsite at The Meadows on the Skyline Drive

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Torgerson, Asheville, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Harper's Ferry, Bears

the first bears we saw

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Torgerson, Asheville, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Harper's Ferry

deer near our campsite

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Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail, River Riders

Now which way are the falls?

 

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Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail, River Riders

We made it!

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Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail, River Riders, Peaks of Otter

another good dinner spot: at Peaks of Otter Lodge off the Blue Ridge Parkway

Coming Soon:

Reports from our raft on The French Broad River

What Casued You to Start Writing?

Around the year 2000, I felt like I had a crummy life.  I understand that this feeling of crumminess was very relative.  The world is full of people whose struggles were much deeper than mine.  I was divorced, an experience that caused for me to for a certain length of time to believe that God didn’t care much about what happened on the earth, or else He wasn’t about to do anything about what was right.  I didn’t believe other people’s promises and I didn’t believe my own word.  I went out to bars too much and woke up too many mornings exhausted.  I thought I was bummed out from getting divorced and because I was lonely, but upon reflection, I was too filled up with the depressant alcohol and suffering from not enough sleep.

I lived in an ugly cycle until I was sick enough of it to be moved to action.  I decided to run a marathon, move to someplace where I didn’t know anyone, and write a book.  Right, pretty random.  I thought myself a warrior of sorts.  I’d heard people talk in terms of running a marathon or writing a book as a kind of pinnacle of human achievement.  I read this book by Paulo Coelho called The Alchemist. It was a journey/adventure story and I thought I could go on one.  That was my move from Indiana to Charlotte, NC.  That I thought writing a book and running a marathon was such a unique achievement is kind of embarrassing now given the number of people I know who take on both experiences.  Go to any major city in the United States and you’ll see ten to forty thousand people run a marathon. I will say the marathon cleaned up my life.  I couldn’t keep being a person who ate bar food and drank beer 3-4 nights a week. If someone wants advice on how to deal with a divorce, I’d say to abstain from alcohol and exercise every day.

I can’t point to one event or idea that caused me to begin writing.  There were a couple impulses firing all at once.  I enrolled in the M.A. program at UNC Charlotte and got a degree in English Education.  I met a man named Dr. Sam Watson who loved to write.  I caught his fever.  He and Dr. Lil Brannon pushed me towards what is called the National Writing Project’s Summer Institute.  I didn’t want to give up two weeks of my summer, but in the end, the 6 credits persuaded me and the experience changed my life. I read Donald Murray’s Write to Learn and Stephen King’s On Writing. Both of those men made me feel as if writing a book was something I could to.  I didn’t think very hard about why I wanted to run or write.  I just thought both acts would be better than drinking and not sleeping.

During the summer institute, I found that I liked it when most of my days began with writing followed by reading with lots of conversation mixed in.  The world often annoys me with its fluffy conversations:  Nice weather we’re having? Did you see the Bears got Peppers?  I heard gas will go up to $3 this summer.  Of course I say many of those very things, but I like something more complex too.  The people at the summer institute—those I was reading and writing with—helped my mind to open up and relax.  That summer, I was slated to go back to Vance High School, where school started at 7:15 and I taught up to 180 students.  As much as I wanted to make good on my personal promise to start writing, I knew myself and knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep it if I kept my current job, and so I quit and got a job working where school started at 8:30 and where I would teach 100 students.

As fall came round, every morning I sat down and tried to write down everything I could remember about my divorce.  If I would have known more about what I was doing, I would have called my pages a memoir, but I didn’t have much understanding about that word.  That’s another embarrassing admission for an English teacher to make, but let’s be honest, I got into the profession to coach basketball.  I changed a few names and called what I wrote fiction.  I wrote a page or two a day, tried to stick somewhat to the subject of divorce, and in less than a year, I had about 300 pages.  Even I could see that what I had written was not a book.  It was mostly a long summary with very short or nonexistent scenes.  I knew I needed help, and I decided that I could get some in an MFA program for creative writing.

I want to leave you with the title of an essay I really enjoyed. I think if you have grieved deeply, or if you liked the first Rocky movie, or have run long distances, you ought to track down Jeremy Collins’s essay “Shadow Boxing.”  It originally appeared in the Georgia Review and I came across it in the 2009 Pushcart Prize Best of the Small Presses collection. Also, if you’d care to comment, I’d love you to tackle the title question of this entry:  Why do you write?  Or perhaps, why don’t you?