Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Adventure is a moment

I’m a thrill seeker, and sometimes I fear I’ve already set my thrill meter so high, that like an overused drug, the danger and excitement will only provide diminishing returns.
But life in Ohio has taught me there are many ways to catch a thrill, and it doesn’t always involve clinging to a rock face with your bare bleeding hands, although sometimes it does.
I live for all these moments. Sometimes I get so caught up in them and the thirst for a new one that I wear out all my friends, so I have to step back and appreciate the moments that have passed when I’m alone. So that’s what this blog is for – an attempt to capture some fleeting moments from the last month or so.


I love Ultimate, even though I’m fairly terrible at it. My signature throw is a dump pass to the other team, and if anyone cared to notice I travel on almost every throw. My perfectionist nature writhes in agony every game. But every once in a while, I get a moment’s reward. Maybe it comes when the wind redirects an expertly thrown disc at the last second, and the two or three taller, stronger, faster men who lept into the air for a showdown of wingspans to duke it out for the catch come down empty handed as the disc floats past on a breeze of second chances for those who are always a step behind. And right then that’s me, pounding the turf in the wake of the boys on the off chance the wind will bring me a present. And as the disc glides past, just a hair past fifteen outstretched fingertips, my muscles surge with the renewed energy of opportunity. I abandon fear and dive forward, body-slamming the disc to the ground. I triumphantly raise the disc in one hand, and bounce off the hard earth like it was the ball pit I took it for, knowing I’ll wake up feeling like I got hit by a train tomorrow, but sucking in the sweetness of that moment for as long as possible.

I’m usually squeamish about diving for the disc, knowing my graceless form will probably result in an injury upon impact, but sometimes the desire for the disc wins out, and I find myself vaulting into the air, arms reaching, mind bent on one purpose. Whether I catch the disc, or make the block, or not, the ground still comes up and punches me in the gut. I slide, roll or tumble until the momentum is spent, and then spring up, because I love it. I savor the impression the earth made on my muscles, then I file it away in the mental drawer for fearless moments.  

The Narrows

Sunday gave me another moment. Always a planner, I googled local rope swings, hoping to scope out some swimming holes for this summer. After some variations on the search terms, I found a kayaking trip log mentioning several rope swings along a particular stretch of a local river. Another query revealed that section of the river has well maintained trails affording gorgeous views of the river and woods in all seasons. With a crystal clear sky and the sun set to 55 Ohio Spring degrees, I set out with my roommate to explore.

We walked a well-worn, narrow dirt path on the edge of the riverbank for a quarter mile, and I scoured the bank for potential swing-hanging trees, all the while soaking in the river smell. In southern Ohio spring has finally ripped free from winter’s chains and yellow is the color of the new republic. Bright buttercups pepper the greenery on all sides of the path, and dandelions fight for their share of the dirt with the meadow grass. A million pollen cones wait in the trees to drop like rain releasing their yellow film and yellow light streams through trees still getting used to their new leaves.

I spot a barrel-chested tree leaning out over the river, teasing it with its precarious angle, yet unshakable strength. It would make a perfect tree to hang a swing on, and just as I make that connection, I spot the twisted cord hanging down, tickling the smooth river’s surface.

“Bingo!” I whoop, knowing I have just discovered a local gem. We take note of its location relative to the parking lot, its position across the river, the height of the bank on the other side, and the apparent depth of the river. It passes muster, and we move on.

Our path takes us to a tributary creek where the idea of a bridge seems to have been casually discarded in favor of several fallen tree trunks. We clamber over them, curious if the trail truly continues, looking for an elusive meadow advertised on trail signs. 

And then in a matter of steps we’re standing in it -- an oasis of soft green grass rimmed by tall hardwoods, with wild grasses drawing in the passerby with a Siren’s allure.

We walk forward, entranced, then gingerly lay out our jackets as blankets, and sink onto the earth. It’s so quiet, and so loud. The highway, with its humming engines and squealing brakes and whooshing wind is just out of earshot, clearing room for the buzzing of bees swarming around a vaulted hive fifty yards distant, and the singing of birds, which for all we know could be a mother bird scolding her wayward offspring or a youngster squeaking through his adolescence to find his voice. I rub my hands lightly in the grass and dandelions, and then bury my nose in my palms. I often measure the success of a day by the lingering aroma it leaves on my hands, and as the sweet freshness overloads my senses I score this one a 10 across the board.

We make like reptiles and nap on the flat ground because it would be a shame to pass by this moment in the hustle to some unknown destination, because this moment is the destination. But my stomach, never much for existential experiences, soon reminds me that peanut butter crackers with chocolate chips do not a whole day’s nutrition make. When we finally find the strength to tear ourselves from nature’s seduction, we make silent promises to come back often.


For my birthday I rallied my friends together to make a trip out to a local park with some small rock climbing cliffs. With anchors at the top and easy paths to the bottom, the 30-foot cliffs make good beginner top-rope routes. We brought gourmet picnic foods – an amazing and huge cake my friend Courtney made for me, and crackers with Havarti cheese and tomatoes. And some of us brought wine, cleverly disguised in opaque water bottles, except Fudge, who brought water in a wine bottle, just to throw anyone off.

We built a kite just for the experience, and everyone we met was quick to tell us you can buy them at Walmart for $10, but we wanted to do something with our hands. And a lot of masking tape. I also cut my finger in this process.

We spent the rest of the afternoon attempting several of the climbing routes, with varying degrees of success. I was shocked to find out that some of the more improbable types of holds you find in a climbing gym are actually present in nature as well. Not owning a pair of climbing shoes, I had to make do with my thin running shoes, and relied heavily on my arms, which fatigued quickly. 

This is my concentration face.
This is the point in the story where I clung to the rock with bare bloody hands. And then I slipped, because my trembling forearms couldn’t hold me any longer, and I surrendered to the wall and rappelled down.   

We explored more of the park, and found some terrific boulders to scramble over. I felt six years old again with a strong urge to play cowboys and Indians again.

I also made my first visit to the infamous Urban Krag, an old church turned rock climbing gym in the Oregon District. They pulled out the main floor and installed climbing walls that ascend from the basement level to the rafters, with warm light streaming through the still-intact stained glass windows. I tried several beginner routes, and pushed it with a few borderline beginner or intermediate routes. 

Free Custard

I saw on Facebook that Ritters was giving out free scoops of custard on Monday, so I made a beeline for it straight after work. But when I got there, only two people stood at the counter, and one couple sat at the picnic tables. Free usually draws a crowd, I thought, so I double checked the date on Facebook. But it said April 22, so I walked up to the counter, and was promptly offered a free scoop. I took it to a table and pulled out my phone, trying to get a photo that included the cone and the building for an instagram post. But the sun’s angle was too strong and it was impossible to expose for both my ice cream in the shade and the shop in the bright sun. I tried 10 different angles before the couple at the table next to me interrupted.

“Are you trying to post your free cone?” the man asked, laughing.
“Well I thought since they gave me a free cone I’d at least try to give them some kudos and publicity!” I said. 
I settled on a photo of just the custard counter, but the couple wasn’t finished.
“You’re eating the same flavor I got,” said the woman. “And isn’t that bitter sweet chocolate amazing? Those aren’t chips, they’re hunks!” I agreed as I licked several hunks off my cone.
“We’d thought we came to the wrong place since there wasn’t any line,” the man said.
I said I thought the same thing.
“But no, it’s free scoops for Earth Day!” he said. “And now we’re trying to figure out how to get another.”
I laughed and suggested they go home, change clothes and get sunglasses. They laughed, then stood up, and left. I think if I’d stuck around thirty minutes longer I would’ve seen them come around again.


I went to the opening weekend for spring races at Keeneland, a thoroughbread racing track in Lexington, Ky., with my friend Lauren early in April. We met up with a lot of other visitors from Dayton, and tailgated the races before going in to try our hand at betting. 
Tailgating in style.
But it being my first horse race, I didn’t understand the betting options, and neither did Lauren or her friend who met us at the races. So we thought we would just forego betting and save money in the long run. But with the crush of the crowd by the track and in the balcony, we ended up retreating to a food court of sorts with HD TVs showing the races. All the tables were taken, so we sat up against the windows near a table with six older folks, three men and three women, discussing their picks for each race. The women, who were possibly all above 70, wore the most fabulous hats. 
Lauren, who is naturally more expressive than your average Jane, got extremely excited about one race that ended with a dramatic come-from-behind winner. As she squealed at the TV, our neighbors assumed she had won big. “We’ve got a winner over here! How much did you win? Who did you bet on?” That’s when she looked up and said, “Oh I didn’t bet on anything.” And they all turned away disappointed.
But moments later, the women stood up to go and the men invited us to sit at the table, as they were all moving on. We accepted immediately, and plopped our butts down before the seats had a chance to get cold. But Lauren had struck up a conversation with one of the older men, so he lingered for a moment. The women came back to collect their partners, and accosted the men.
“We’re gone less than five minutes and you’ve replaced us with younger ones!” they said, referring to us.
They all moved on, except a quiet gentleman who stayed at the head of the table. We intended to mind our own business and leave him alone, but he had a welcoming face with an even expression.
“Have you won any races today?” he asked us, in a slow voice with a twang I couldn’t place.
We told him we didn’t know how to bet so we were just watching.
“But it’s not fun if you don’t have a horse to root for,” he told us.
Lauren asked him if he was in the red or the black for the day.
“I’m up $1,100 so far,” he said matter-of-factly.
Our jaws dropped.
“How much did you bet to win that?”
We flipped out, and decided if anyone was going to teach us how to gamble on horses, it would be this fellow. I picked up the program and tried to make sense of the columns of numbers and dashes and names.
“You’re getting interested now, aren’t you?” the man said, with a wry smile.
I told him I was looking for any horses that were raised on the horse farm we had toured the evening before. I was excited when I found one that would be running in the next race. I asked a few casual questions about some of the types of bets I had heard our group talking about.
He calmly explained, then he asked each of us to pick a horse in the next race.
Not knowing what he was up to, we each picked our lucky numbers. I picked the horse from the farm we’d visited.
He nodded, then walked away. Five minutes later he handed each of us a betting slip.
“Here, I placed a bet for each of you in the next race,” he said.
We looked up, surprised, and excited. We immediately became engaged in the pre-race analysis on the TV, and then sat on the edge of our seats for the race. My horse darted out in front from the beginning and held that position until the last five seconds, when it fell to fourth, knocking me out of any winnings. Lauren and her friend had no better luck, but we all agreed it made the race that much more exciting.
We chatted a little more and found out our friend was from New Orleans and was in town for a few weeks to see the horses he owned race. I tried to imagine his life, but found I had no coat hangers to even put him on.


And as always, I thrive on the surprise moments. Like when Lauren invited me to a free wine and dine networking event for event planners, caterers, and alcoholic beverage producers and distributors, complete with photo booth and party bus (to shuttle attendees to and from the satellite parking lot). 

Or when you can't remember which photo booth company took that photo, so you look up every photo booth company in town on Facebook and run across this image being used to promote the top search result...

The viking hat really brings out my eyes, don't you think?

Or when you decide to finally cross "Go country line dancing at The Yellow Rose" off your bucket list and experience a true local gem. I danced the soles right off of my boots, watching the other dancers intently to pick up the steps. There's a line dance to every song ever written, it turns out, and to really keep up you'd need years of practice. 

Looking country cool at the Yellow Rose.

 And those are my top moments from the past month. Hope you enjoyed.