Monday, July 16, 2012

Stout Boots Needed

April 2012

With UNC being as generous as usual in their allowance of days off for Easter (that’s one day off for the Easter weekend compared to the four weeks at home…) I was desperate to get out of Chapel Hill and spend three days somewhere. The initial plan was to go to either Asheville or the beach with Lexi and Emma, but unfortunately that fell through, and as such a last minute off from Jessie to stay at hers led me to pile into the back of Mary-Ellis’ car for a three and a bit hour journey to Boone.

We left late in the evening, as Mary-Ellis and Jessie wanted to see a ballet show on campus earlier in the evening (which was described erotic and scary. For snow white…), and the adrenaline levels were kept moderate to high by Mary-Ellis’ driving skills (meaning they were perfect Mary-Ellis of course!). Stopping off at Steak and Shake for food (well, just a shake for me as I ate earlier) lead us to run into an interesting character manning the till. After me having to repeat my order 15 times to the amusement of the till staff (damn rednecks) and getting ripped for being a Tar Heel (by a Dookie working in steak and shake. In Greensboro. I mean come on!), we continued on the road, with me having some old man wise words for the other two “That is why you need a degree people. So you don’t end up working at 11pm on Thursday night in Steak and Shake at the age of 30, supporting a college team you have no hope in hell of attending.” Harsh I know but incredibly true if you ask me (obviously being a Tar Heel and all now…).  We also witnessed the act of pure stupidity and recklessness, with a lady pulling up to a gas station and casually lighting a cigar whilst filling her car. And we were in on the station forecourt at the time. To say my heart was in my mouth thinking I was gonna be blown up in a shit-town in the middle of nowhere is a bit of an understatement. I was astounded at the pure disregard for safety! The rest of the journey passed without issue, with all three of us blasting out sing-along tunes in competition to see who broke the windows with their voice first. Pretty sure Jessie came close...

The next morning Jessie and I spent a lazy morning bumming round her house watching TV and in the afternoon we headed into downtown Boone. Not seeing Boone in the dark on the way in the previous night made me appreciate the beauty of the place. Set right up in the mountains of NC the place had the feel of a French or Swiss ski resort in the summer, with many wooden buildings designed similar to the chalets and places seen in ski resorts in Europe, along with the mountains dominating the skyline. The town itself is named after Daniel Boone, who wandered the mountains way back when and "Kilt a Bar" in 1803 (He actually killed a bear, but I'm guessing his spelling wasn't all that good...) We had a good wander around, seeing Appalachian (pronounced Appa-latch-ian) State University, the main downtown strip with its huge sweet shop (yes, the 4 year old in me came back out!) and on a whim I dragged Jessie into a proper redneck type place which offered enactments from the Civil War and trying on props some Southern film (I can’t remember what one). The place was interesting to say the least, with tonnes of southern stuff such as costumes, maps, weapons, and a proper southern boy who was incredibly keen to explain the history of Boone, the building, the weapons. Pretty much anything you laid eyes on her was there telling some story about it! I have to admit it was incredibly interesting to go in and listen to him talk away, although it did make one wonder about the authenticity of the place when you saw the Star Trek models and various other items of ‘interest’ not directly related to the South at all!

Daniel Boone himself. He killed a bear you know...

Some graffiti tunnel
Feeling a bit rocky...

Wandering around Downtown

The evening was spent in a bar called ‘The Town Tavern’ which was quite a cool place, and a Jessie’s parents local place. The whole of Jessie’s family were there, as well as some family friends and a really good time was had, with many a laughs been had, with the bar man joking around with me being British, and getting me to wind up his mate by quoting the “Charlie bit my finger” YouTube video down the phone to him to raucous laughter. Although there were times I had no idea what was going on, with language barriers and loud music being playing. Typical me… Also, the food was really nice, and I would say cheapish, but I have no idea as Jessie’s parents paid for everything despite my protests (very grateful to them indeed). Definitely a place to head to if you ever end up in Boone!

Ain't that the truth!

The next day was hiking day. Well, hiking afternoon by the time we got up and out! Grandfather Mountain is a state part (with a mountain in it. Obviously…) just outside of Boone, which used to be privately owned (imagine casually having a full blown mountain in your back garden?!) until sold to be state managed. Having to live the American lifestyle (of course) we went for breakfast in an incredibly shiny diner; stereotypical like in the movies. Which was pretty awesome, and having an rather filling omelet meant I was well and truly ready to climb some rugged mountains!

Breakfast. Diner style!

Being the Easter weekend and a glorious day, it seemed that half the state and their dogs were heading up to the mountain, causing massive queues to get into the park. Patience won out here though and eventually we got in, with me pretending to be a Boone resident to get the discounted rate – with an impeccable accent if I may say so myself! Out first stop up the mountain was the Hanging Bridge which, if you hadn’t guessed, was hanging between two high points on the mountain side. The bridge was cool, and wobbled in the wind (much to Jessie’s non-amusement!), but the sheer number of people there took away from the serenity I like to find on a mountain top (or side in this case) unfortunately. But then I'm a bit of a hiking snob like that. And I guess seeing two fat Americans waddle their way across the bridge huffing and puffing really doesn’t help that snobbery… The next leg involved hiking to the top of the mountain, which included scaling a fair few ladders (at some dodgy angles in some cases!) and clinging onto cables. Me being me loved this, and had a great time sweating like a pig clambering up the sides. I think Jessie and Brad did too, although at times Jessie was swearing her head off like a sailor! The view at the top was pretty darn incredible, being able to see into neighbouring states Kentucky and Tennessee (not that you would know unless it was pointed out to you!), and rather breezy too. Was pretty cool being on top of the world too (well, I liked to think so at least!).  After we had got back down to the (relative) bottom, it was time for an ice cream (yummy!) and had a good look at the bear kept in the zoo down there. Which was pretty cool. But I’m glad that I didn’t come across one for real! That evening was spent chilling out at Jessie’s house, painting eggs (an American Easter tradition) and watching TV which was nice after the days walking!

Obligatory explorer pose


More climbing

Oh yeah, we saw a bear...

Sunday was a lazy morning, hanging out doing the Nash family Easter tradition of watching 'Jesus Christ Superstar' (Jessie’s dad, Brad, joking about it being his fill of religion for the year) and having an incredibly nice breakfast and lunch (although shamefully I cant remember what it was). Jessie’s mum also put what seemed like the worlds supply of chocolate eggs out for both Jessie and I, as well as Jessie’s brother and his girlfriend. To say that the chocolate kept me going for a while is an understatement-I still had stuff left over at the end of the semester! That afternoon we were going over to Mary-Ellis’ farm on the other side of Boone to undertake an activity I had been wanting to do for a while in the States – Horse riding. American style.
Mary-Ellis’ farm was pretty sweet – set into the hilly rural part away from Boone, and literally in the middle of bloody nowhere. With horses, a donkey, pigs and chickens and dogs running around I fell in love with the place immediately. Mary-Ellis step-dad was a horse guru and so was taking both me and Jessie out on two of the horses for both of our’s first time ever riding. Now I had seen horses, stroked horses etc etc but never actually gotten on a horse. And was pretty nervous about it – they do look fairly big animals when you're faced with getting on one! Not wanting to be shown up by Jessie however I stuck my foot in the stirrup and went for it. To my surprise first time I managed to plant myself fairly securely onto the horse and attempt a look at knowing what I was doing. That image disappeared pretty quickly… 

Now apparently British and Americans ride horses differently (no idea having never ridden at home!) with the Yanks riding with the reins in one hand, pulling your hand to the left and right to move the horse that way (if that makes sense). Anyways, this seemed all well and good and pretty simple, moving the horse around the paddock. Except the horse had other ideas. Typical… so what was a supposed to be a little easy beginners riding lesson turned into a battle of the man and beast to move round the paddock in a bloody circle (think it would be easy right?!) whilst trying to avoid Jessie on the other horse and the chickens that had seemed to come over to laugh at my uselessness. Needless to say though I thoroughly enjoyed my first taste of horse riding and being a step nearer to becoming a cowboy (just need a horse of my own, a ranch, some cattle, boots, hat…), and I'm incredibly grateful to Mary-Ellis and Walter for letting me come and make a fool of myself on their horses.

Just getting warmed up...

Ready for the Rodeo

The two of them. With the horse.

From there it was a few hours journey back to Chapel Hill for the end of the weekend and back to classes on Monday. Ugh. Having said that I really enjoyed my time in Boone and loved being there – very different place to Chapel Hill or anywhere I had been to in North Carolina previously. I am incredibly grateful to Jessie and her family for taking me in (at short notice at that!) and being great hosts to me, and to Mary-Ellis and Walter for showing me how hard it is to become a cowboy! Despite the outrageously short length of holiday Easter was, it was a great weekend. Just getting back to class sucked massively after…

The literal middle of no-where!

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