Our First Visitor

Once again, I am on the balcony when I receive a call from my sister-in-law, Megan. She is somewhere nearby but trying to follow my directions instead of her GPS got her slightly lost. She tells me the street names of the intersection she’s at and I don’t recognize them. I am startled by the realization that I have never driven in Chattanooga and, therefore, I haven’t learned the names of more than 3 streets. She and both start googling, trying to figure out where she is relative to where she wants to be. fortunately, she figures it out–she is only a block or two away. I walk down to the street corner and flag her down as she approaches our building, catching her just before she makes a wrong turn and directing her to our parking lot. Note to self: drive the next time we go somewhere so I can at least tell people how to get to my own home!

The next morning, we run through the list of place we’ve been for breakfast and the list of places we haven’t tried yet. Megan chooses the creperie near Coolidge park. The three of us walk the long way, down along the riverfront. We point out the wetland, the civil war remnants, the aquarium across the river, the pedestrian bridge, all the sights that have become so familiar to us shared with our first visitor. Now we feel like we really live here.

We reach the creperie and it is open (the last time we tried to eat there, the neon “open” sign glowed brightly, but a bolted door sent us elsewhere). The guy working there sits at one of the booths, moves slowly to get up as we enter. We take the booth he was sitting in. He slowly moves to get us menus, then goes behind the counter and starts doing something, still slowly. He seems to have forgotten that we’re there, even though it is a tiny space and we are in his immediate view. We decide what we want to eat and what questions we have and make all of the gestures indicating we need him, but he doesn’t see us. Eventually, we think maybe we’re supposed to walk up to the counter to order; we catch his attention and ask. He looks slightly startled to have his attention drawn from his slow task and comes back around to our table. We ask our questions. I am especially curious about the specials on the chalk board with names like “Diesel.” He describes half of the specials when a family arrives. He says, “We’ll talk about the rest later” and moves away to give them menus. He turns as if to return to the counter and is startled once more when we stop him and remind him he was in the middle of describing the specials. Once we get through the ordering process, which includes coffees, he goes off and starts making coffee. I wonder what he was doing sitting at a booth when we arrived with no coffee made–we are the first customers of the day.

He brings our coffee eventually and we sit and talk, making it through an entire cup with no sign of food. Our waiter/chef seems to get distracted each time someone new arrives and it’s become obvious that he had done no prep for the Saturday morning crowd before we got there. He notices that we are out of coffee and asks if we want more on one of his passes. I hand him my cup and he turns, sets it on the counter, and then goes back to cooking. Another waiter arrives then. He checks on us and we point out the empty cup still sitting, forgotten on the counter. He brings me coffee and our food arrives about 10 minutes later. Now that there are 2, things seem to move along a little faster, but we cannot help but wonder if the first guy is high.

The food is hot and good, although Pat says his mushroom crepe is greasy. Megan and I are both pleased with our crepes that wrap around combinations of eggs, meat, and cheese. We finish up and head out, walking down to the park and continuing our tour of the North Shore waterfront, ending up on the Walnut St bridge and walking over to the South side. We pause often along the way, enjoying the view, the breeze, and the mass of people out on a beautiful Saturday morning. On the other side, we debate where to go–the Hunter Museum or the aquarium. Megan opts for the aquarium and we head downhill.

The Tennessee aquarium rivals the biggest aquariums in the US with a building for ocean exhibits and another for rivers, plus a butterfly exhibit and a huge atrium with otters playing in a simulated river below and many native birds flying freely overhead (although there is so much space, you need binoculars and patience to see them). I love aquariums. Today, I have the new experience of hand-feeding a shrimp to a sting-ray. It’s fascinating to watch the rays in a shallow pool where you can pet them, but feeding one causes it to come up out of the water to position its mouth high enough to grasp the shrimp. It’s my turn to be startled when I feel its teeth graze the backs of my fingers. I wonder how life would be different if our mouths were positioned where our belly buttons are.

We move through the exhibits slowly, not remembering many of them from our last visit, we are fascinated by the diversity of life captured behind glass. The penguins put on a good show for us. Watching them shoot out of the water, popping up several feet in the air to land on the rock ledge above the water with impossible grace, makes me marvel at the specialities represented by other species. Their feet are what really catch my attention, though. Thick and strong when they’re on the rock, but flipped back like tiny paddles when in the water, I cannot comprehend how feet can transform so dramatically in an instant.

We enter the butterfly exhibit and hunt for the species of butterflies fluttering around us. A woman with a toddler on a leash walks around us. As she tries to point out butterflies to her young son, he spots a “caution, wet floor” sign painted with butterflies, smiles and giggles and runs up to it, fascinated by the pictures at eye level. The woman jerks slightly on the leash and says, “No” firmly as he grabs the sign with both hands. She looks disgruntled and maybe embarrassed as she sees me smiling at him and says, “Of all the things for you to look at!” I am slightly disturbed when I witness parents who lack the insight to recognize that the world looks different to a child. I would have liked to have seen her get excited that he recognized the butterflies, even though they were drawings, and used that excitement to draw him into to recognizing the real thing if an opportunity arose, but not all parents are teachers. I turn away wondering if I could have or should have helped with that situation, but involving oneself with strangers’ children is always tricky.

We enjoy the rest of the aquarium, wrapping up our visit mesmerized by the jelly fish displays. Why is it that jellies floating calmly through gentle currents are so hypnotic? Returning to the bright sunlight outdoors, we decide to take Megan to our favorite Mexican place, Taco Mamacitos, for lunch. The waiter gives Megan the full introduction to the menu and sells us both on trying their most popular taco, which I’ve not had before. It is a hard shell wrapped in a soft taco filled with goodness. It’s the first time I’ve ever eaten a hard shell taco without half of the shell crumbling all over my plate. Finishing up our margaritas, we decide a nap is in order. We return to home base for an afternoon siesta and I think, “What a perfect Saturday.”

Being Home

After returning from Columbus and our own bed, I sleep soundly, but still awaken at 4AM. It seems to be the magic time for me these days. Perhaps I really do need to re-prioritize with yoga going to the top of the list? But here I am, at 4AM, wide awake. I take my laptop out on the balcony and sit down to blog. This is my favorite place in the morning. The city traffic trickles by instead of roaring and the cool morning wind makes me feel like someday, it really will be less than 95 degrees. I pause and look out over the city lights–many of which are solar powered. The lights make Chattanooga seem like a bigger city than it is, glowing with the insistence that it matters. I think about my sister-in-law and my nephew. They are in New Orleans,when sister-in-law returning my nephew to college after summer break. She will drive to Chattanooga today, staying with us for two nights as our first visitor. I think about how the city looked to me the first time I saw it and wonder if it will charm her in the same way.

I relax for a moment, realizing that today will be a relaxed day compared to the previous days in Columbus. With no one to see and no need to commute to work, I will wake Pat up in a couple of hours and we will take our morning walk by the river. I check my work email and take care of a few quick items, making sure There are no emergencies that require changing the pace of my morning. As the first rays of sunlight start to hit the bridges below, I pause again to appreciate the changing scene. A bat flies by, probably to retire for the day, and I wonder how many Mosquitos it ate last night.

I go in and open the refrigerator. It’s completely empty except for a water-filter pitcher. We have been buying groceries European style–buying only what we need for a day at time. In some ways it seems a waste of an American refrigerator, but the walk to the grocery is short and carrying groceries home limits how much we can buy at one time. I smile as I think of how many small things have changed in our life by moving to a new community. We could have walked to the grocery store in Columbus every day, but it didn’t occur to us. Changing places makes us think more about changing habits.

I putter around for a bit in the kitchen and then return to the balcony, still thinking of my nephew going back to school. I remember going back to college myself. It was not such a dramatic change for me. For one, I didn’t leave my home town. In fact, I didn’t leave home until my senior year (although I still paid rent). For another, I took classes every summer, so my break was limited to 3 weeks between summer and fall quarters. I also worked, so the continuity of my job(s) kept that break from feeling much like a break. Even so, the feeling of going back to school always delineated the summer from the fall even when the weather belied the shifting seasons. It was always a time of reflection with a sense of starting fresh. I wonder where that feeling went after so many years of work with no seasonal changes. I now look forward to fall for the shift in weather. The cold nights and sunny days feel like a burden lifting, but gone is the excitement of starting over as the seasons change. I wonder if, in this new place, that excitement will be reborn.

It’s almost time to wake up Pat. When I return inside, he is already up. I check my email again just in case something is going on in another part of the world where the offices are shutting down for the day. I wonder if my colleagues on the other side of the globe are watching the sunset as I watch the sunrise–each of us witnessing the same event from opposite directions.

Defining Home

I’ve made up my mind–home really is the place where you have your own bed.  Set aside the view from our apartment, the endless things to do, the relaxing walks by the river–those are all things we would enjoy on vacation.  It’s our bed that I look forward to returning to.  I find it odd that after 40+ years of living in Columbus, moving my bed makes me feel like I’ve moved my home.  Leaving behind good friends and the opportunity to see those friends makes me sad, but in a world where I can text, Facetime, Skype, Facebook, email, and call from various devices and at no extra charge, it’s hard to feel like I’m really leaving anyone behind.  It’s the bed that calls me home.

Once on the road and thinking about sleeping in my own bed, I find myself anxious to get there.  Unfortunately, the road isn’t so cooperative.  North of Cincinatti, we are snarled in a traffic jam that brings us to a dead stop.  I make good use of the time (since Pat is driving) and pull out my new Verizon MiFi.  I manage to get online and get a bunch of work done as efficiently as if I’m in the office.  Even Sametime (Lotus instant messaging) works flawlessly.  Pat decided to get off the highway and we drive through small towns trying to find a way around the traffic jam.  My wireless broadband hotspot keeps me connected through the whole thing.  After spending about and hour and half in the traffic and another half an hour half lost and working our way back to the freeway, we once again cruise along at highway speeds.  I continue working for a couple more hours with childlike amazement that I can instant message and email and surf uninterrupted as we speed along the highway.  Having worked in telecom for many years prior to my current job, I know too much about what can go wrong to not be impressed by the technological advancements that allow for this moment in time when virtual presence can be maintained from virtually anywhere.

Pat gets tired of driving and we change seats once we make it into Kentucky.  It’s the first time I’ve gotten behind the wheel in nearly 3 weeks.  I set the cruise control and enjoy the feeling of driving for several hours.   I am surprised that it feels no different.  I don’t know why this surprises me–I have gone for weeks without driving many times in my life.  Years ago, when I used to have a job that involved traveling internationally for weeks at a time, I would go without driving for as long as 6 weeks.  I am reminded of a trip to Italy when, after having been there for 3 weeks, I rented a car since it was over Easter and the colleague who normally drove me was on holiday for a week.  Driving in Italy definitely felt strange.  The last day my colleague was still with me, we decided I should drive to the office so I would learn the route (since I never seem to pay enough attention as the passenger).  When I went to enter the freeway for the first time, I started accelerating on the entrance ramp, preparing to merge.  My colleague started screaming, “No, Dianne!  No!  Stop!” as I looked over my left shoulder for a gap in traffic (which I couldn’t find).  When I turned to see why he was screaming, there was a concrete wall dead ahead of me.  I screeched to a halt just in time to avoid slamming us into unforgiving concrete.  My colleague was sweating.  This was my second trip to Rome and even after having ridden with him daily for a combined 6 weeks, I had failed to realize that Italian entrance ramps aren’t designed for merging.  I’d always wondered why he stopped before trying to jump into traffic moving at a high rate of speed!  I quickly learn how to go from a standstill to moving into traffic going 80 KPH in an under-powered sub-compact Italians call a “medium” sized car.

But this is not like driving for the first time in a foreign country.  In fact, even the things that annoy me remain the same.  I am particularly annoyed by people who change speeds dramatically.  This phenomena is heightened by the fact that I am on cruise control in a vehicle with a powerful enough engine to make it up the hills going through the Kentucky mountains without much change in speed.  Others seem to slow down 10 MPH or more going up the steeper hills and speed back up coming down.  I understand when trucks carrying heavy loads crawl slowly up hills, but when a car whose average speed is only slightly slower than mine keeps passing me on the downhill only for me to have to pass them again on the uphill, I get annoyed.  Perhaps this annoys me because I want to feel like I’m making rapid progress towards home and the repeated passing of the same vehicle gives me the sensation of going backwards.  I do not do backwards well.  Ask Pat.  He frequently teases me about my unwillingness to take a route that includes backtracking, to go back for something I’ve left behind, or to change my mind once having set a plan into motion.  It’s one of life’s lessons I retake on a daily basis, yet I seem to always end up in the remedial class.

We make it to Knoxville before I find myself growing too sleepy to drive safely.  After a pit stop at Burger King (see previous post), Pat takes the wheel for the final stretch home.  I try talking to him to keep him awake, but quickly find myself slumping over, my head drooping towards the window.  Each time I reawaken, I imagine what my slack face must look like to drivers that we pass–head bobbing, loose jaw, closed eyes.  I wonder if I look like I’m dead.  I try my best to stay awake, knowing that Pat is fighting sleep too, but I suspect my parents used to take me for car rides on nights I couldn’t sleep and the feel of being on the road well past my bedtime still hypnotizes me.  I tell Pat to stop and sleep for a bit if he can’t stay awake.  He says we’re almost home; it would be weird to stop now.  I say, “better weird than dead.”  He laughs, which energizes him for a few minutes at least.

We do make it home safely.  Tired and groggy, we pull our bags out of the car and make our way into the lobby of our building.  I enter the access code four times before it works, giving me a moment of panic that we’ve forgotten the code and we’ll be stuck outside sleeping in our van after all.  We make it to the apartment, drop our things, brush our teeth and fall into bed otherwise un-groomed.  Ahh!  The bed!  It is good to be home.

On Visiting

After arriving in Columbus, I quickly realize several things about coming for a visit:

  1. Friends are more important than errands–scheduling tasks from getting my iPad fixed to getting my hair done leaves little time to see friends in the few waking hours left after work.
  2. Co-workers are more important than errands–missing happy hour with colleagues in favor of appointments wastes a rare opportunity to socialize with people I enjoy.
  3. Making a list of everyone I want to see and scheduling time with them before I leave and before I schedule any kind of mundane task should help make time to see everyone next trip.
  4. Spending time with people I care about is important because I don’t know how long it will be before I get to see them again, even if I just saw them 2 weeks ago.
  5. Having a mobile broadband connection that works makes like easier.
  6. When I pack, I need to count carefully and not get distracted in the middle of packing.

These lessons were, of course, learned the hard way.  Thinking I could take care of tasks in Columbus more easily than in Chattanooga because I knew where to go caused me to pack my schedule with stuff I really would have preferred not to do.  I missed out on the opportunity to spend time with people.  We ended up with only 3 evenings that we could schedule anything and one of them was shared with a 2-hour hair appointment, making for a late evening on a work night.  I mentally go through a list of the people we didn’t get to see and groan inwardly.

On the plus side, staying with friends worked out well–at least for us.  Sharing a cup of coffee in the wee hours of the morning with my fellow insomniac made a great way to start the day (although I suppose we both would have liked an extra hour or two of sleep).  And our schedules were offset just enough that we got to spend some quality time together without getting in each other’s way (I hope).

Driving was interesting.  I didn’t think about having only one car to share with Pat while in Columbus.  As it turned out, he did all the driving until we were on our way home again, so I went almost 3 weeks before I got behind the wheel again.  Not having a car also made it difficult to arrange time with friends at lunch.  I managed to have lunch with work friends, but missed the chance to get together with a friend who I could have seen if I’d had a car to meet her for lunch.

We left for Columbus on a Sunday with Pat doing the driving so I could get caught up on some work.  Unfortunately, my work laptop refused to play nicely with our USB broadband device and we found ourselves wardriving for a WiFi network so I could get a document emailed that needed to be in Hong Kong in time for the start of their Monday morning.  Worried that I would forget to send it when we got to Columbus, I wanted to make sure it went out while I was thinking about it.  Fortunately, McDonald’s now offers free WiFi, accessible from their parking lot.  But driving around looking for internet access does not make for an efficient car trip.

As for getting distracted while packing, once we are in Columbus, I discovered why my suitcase looked so empty.  I’d stopped packing before I’d finished gathering together everything I needed for working out (especially my workout bag) and I’d mis-counted the number of days I needed work clothes.  With no workout bag, I ended up packing my change of work clothes for after my workout into my laptop bag, which caused me to forget my lovely heels.  I ended up having to wear my fivefingers shoes all day the first day I went to the gym.  If you’ve never seen fivefingers shoes, check them out.  While they are the best shoes I’ve ever worked out in, they aren’t exactly complementary to work attire.  I comforted myself that not that many people would see me in my silly shoes, but, of course, we have a firedrill at the office that day and I ended up in the parking lot along with the entire population of our building.  As I walk across the parking lot, I count the number of times I hear, “Nice shoes!”  Oh well.

Road Swill

Back in Columbus as visitors, we find ourselves eating out every meal.  As much as I love to sit and relax while someone else brings me delicious things to eat, I don’t love what it does to my waistline.  Finding myself back in Columbus with little time or opportunity for exercise or healthy eating, I lament not planning better when it comes to food.

First, there is the road trip cuisine.  I suppose we could plan our road trip differently.  We could, for example, take time to stop in towns along the way and sample decent restaurants instead of focusing on getting to Columbus as quickly as possible and hitting only fast food stops.  But I have an appointment in Columbus at the Apple store.  My dear, sweet iPad suffered a cracked screen when it fell out of my lap and landed on its corner on our concrete balcony.  I feel like a negligent parent that I have so abused what has become such a big part of my life.  “Well, you had your good times,” the Apple store service guy tells me as he takes my battered iPad away and brings me a new one.

But is getting my iPad replaced worth the hit to my health to eat at Wendy’s and Subway for a day?  Maybe for a day.  Unfortunately, my diet doesn’t recover after arriving in Columbus, either.  We start by taking our hosts to La Casita for dinner Sunday night–an old tradition of ours that includes shrimp chimichangas for me.  Not exactly the healthiest choice on the menu.  Then, the next day, I manage a reasonable breakfast at the office cafeteria of cottage cheese and fresh fruit.  I even do OK going out to lunch with a blackened salmon salad, but I’m pretty sure there are at least 1000 hidden calories in the dressing.  But I skipped yoga class in order to spend time with a friend, which means none of those calories have anywhere to go but my waist.  I can’t say I regret that decision.  As much as I love yoga class, I’ve figured out that time with friends has to be my first priority for free time when in Columbus.

After a long day working and taking care of appointments, quick and easy pizza seems like the right choice for dinner.  I manage to contain myself to only 1/4 of a pepperoni pizza.  That’s only 800 calories, right?  About half a day’s worth of calories with plenty of saturated fat, white flour, and not a single vegetable.  What more could I ask for?

On our 2nd full day, I do get a workout in that morning, including a 2-mile walk through a park near the office gym and a 30 minute workout with my training buddies and the gym trainer.  The park surprises me with a new sweep of blooms across the section that is restored prairie–the late summer flowers have blossomed since I last walked here.  Unfortunately, enjoying the flowers doesn’t increase the caloric burn.  And I don’t have time to grab a healthy breakfast because I spend too much time swapping stories at the gym and end up in a rush to get to my first meeting.  I eat chocolate-covered peanut butter cookie things out of the vending machine instead.  Peanut butter is good for you, right?

This rapid, downward spiral from eating a reasonably healthy diet to eating crap out of a vending machine happens to me whenever I travel.  Now that I have hit rock bottom from a nutritional perspective, I take the attitude that I might as well live it up and enjoy whatever sounds good and is convenient.

The peak of my indulgence comes when we go to Z Cucina in Grandview on our last evening in Columbus.  I must have their home made mozzarella appetizer, right?  And Bell’s Oberon beer is on tap, which I can’t find in Chattanooga.  And the red snapper special with the risotto and goat cheese cake cannot be missed.  And Rick, the owner, brings us a piece of lavender-infused blueberry pie with Jenni’s ice cream to top it all off.  I can’t say that I regret that meal–it was too good to have missed–but as I carry my bulging stomach out of the restaurant, I wish it would have been my only indulgence this trip.

Things don’t improve the next day.  I run out of time to eat lunch and end up having a bag of peanuts from my friend, the vending machine.  It’s the healthiest thing in the machine, but the nuts are roasted in oil and salted.  Plus, let’s face it, there’s nothing really satisfying about eating a bag of peanuts for lunch.

The finale to our road trip binge comes at Burger King.  Our last stop on our way home, it’s getting late, we’re hungry and tired.  We pull off at a truck-stop type exit and find the Burger King attached to a gas station.  We are just outside of Knoxville, still an hour and a half from home.  The man behind the counter is older, probably in his early sixties.  When Pat orders a Jr. Whopper with cheese, the many says, “You know it’s not a dollar, right?”  Pat looks at the menu and says, “It’s $1.49, right?”  The man says in a slow drawl, “Well, it’ll be $1.69 with the cheese.”  Pat smiles and says, “OK.”  The man hesitates, as if he’s unsure that Pat really wants to spend that much on his burger.  He explains that they get a lot of visitors from up North and that apparently Jr. Whoppers are only $1 in the North, so people get upset.  Pat reassures him that it’s OK and he rings up the sandwich.  Our mid-western accents have given us away.  While we wait for our food, the man starts telling us about their milkshakes.  He tells us they are made by hand with real ice cream.  He tells us they are really good and we should try them sometime, but they’re a lot of work to make.  He tells us this 3 more times before the burgers come out.  We are unsure as to whether he is trying to sell us a handmade milkshake or trying to prevent us from ordering one because of the effort involved in making them.  We take our sandwiches (with no milkshake) to go.  We are too tired to make small talk about making milkshakes.

Pat and I have frequently talked about how to improve our eating habits during road trips.  We talk about planning our meals and going to the grocery store before we leave so we can have healthy choices readily available and still make good time.  We have often discussed the best type of cooler to get to serve this purpose.  However, we still haven’t bought a cooler and we’ve never made it to the grocery store in advance of a trip.  It seems like such a good idea.  Maybe after I get on the scale I’ll be motivated to try it next time?

Make up, Shoes, and Going Home

After a ride along the river, I come home smelling like somebody else. And not a somebody else I want to be in close proximity to. A shower is in order. In the bathroom, I look in the mirror at my sweat-streaked face and realize I haven’t put on make-up since we moved. I recognize that vacation feeling that makes me feel like I don’t need to worry about what anyone else thinks. I guess living somewhere temporarily is freeing in that sense. I don’t have a sense of “I’m going to see these people over and over again.” Plus, working from home means there are no co-workers to see how bad I look without mascara. What is it about feeling away from ‘home’ that changes my attitude? I like it. It makes me want to gobble up every experience there is to have because I feel like I have so little time to enjoy this place I’m in. But, I also know I have enough time to see a lot as long as I don’t procrastinate. And, of course, we can always stay longer.

Now it’s time to pack. After only two weeks we’re returning to Columbus for a few days so I can make sure everyone at the office knows I am still around. 🙂 I realize I don’t know where my travel supplies are–the small bottles of the products I think I need when I’m going to the office, including the small make-up kit that fits nicely into a suitcase and helps me cover the blemishes of age and acne–the former I can’t outrun and the latter I can’t outgrow, but both I can conceal. Then it dawns on me–I haven’t driven a car for 2 weeks. I wonder if I should take my bike?

I look forward to seeing my friends again. I feel like it’s been ages even though we normally don’t see most of our friends for far longer than 2 weeks at a time anyway. I guess because we see different friends every week vs no friends at all for 2 weeks, it feels longer. My husband said he felt like a visitor when he returned last week. I wonder if I’ll feel the same?

For the first time since we left, I have to think about what to wear. It will be nice to get some more use out of my work wardrobe, I suppose. The dust hasn’t accumulated too much on my skirts and jackets yet. They hang slightly rumpled in my closet from being packed into boxes; into a suitcase they go, rumpling all over again. My shoes are neatly stacked, still in their original boxes. Over the years of trying many organization techniques for shoes, I’ve found keeping the boxes to be the best. Boxes stack neatly on the shelf and prevents crushing and stains unlike any rack in the bottom of the closet that I can never seem to use with consistency. Plus, I feel like I just got a new pair of shoes every time I open up a box and remove the paper stuffing. Although I have tried to learn not to buy four-inch heels, I can’t help but enjoy being 6′ 2″ in them, even when my feet are aching.

It’s the one stereotype about women that I embrace–I do love my shoes. Yet, for two weeks, I’ve worn only my Chacos hiking sandals, my biking shoes, and my Vibram Fivefinger trekking shoes. I wonder if my feet will still fit into my narrow heels after so much freedom? I imagine them curling back and refusing to go into my heels out of protest like alien creatures with a mind of their own.  I select a pair of heels that are high enough to keep my hems from dragging but comfortable enough to wear every day.  Since I am taking a small suitcase, I decide one pair of heels will have to do and I select office clothes that will go with the pair I’ve picked.

I place everything into my suitcase, thinking how long it’s been since I packed to visit Columbus–the last time was back in the 90’s when I was doing a 6-month assignment in Dallas.  I remember where my travel toiletries are–they are still at the fitness center at the office in Columbus.  My suitcase looks surprisingly empty for a 5-day trip.  I throw in a jacket, remembering that my friends said that it’s cooled down in Columbus and thinking of how cold I get sitting in my office.  My bag looks fuller, but I wonder briefly if I should take another pair of shoes.  Deciding to keep it simple and forego the extra shoes, I zip up the bag with finality.

As we load into the van and prepare to leave, I look back at our building and wonder if I’ll miss it.  Which place feels more like “home” now?  Columbus, where I spent the vast majority of my life, or Chattanooga, which I’ve enjoyed for 2 weeks?  Often, I think “home” comes down to where your bed is.  There is something about sleeping in your own bed that makes any place feel like it’s your own.  We’ll see.

Turtles, Herons, and Toxic Waste

Finally, Pat and I ride the entire Riverwalk.  I’d only made it halfway on previous rides and Pat had never made it past looking for the Riverwalk before.  Now, we take it all the way to the Chickamauga dam.

Not too far from the wetland beside the trail, a giant snapping turtle crosses the path.  We stop to take pictures, although I only have my iPhone with me for a camera.  Having heard many stories of snapping turtles removing fingers, we keep a safe distance.  The turtle tucks back into its shell when we get close.  We assume it’s female, heading for a secluded spot to lay eggs.  It’s tail is so long, it doesn’t even begin to go into the shell when the turtle tucks its head.

We find ourselves slightly confused by some of the signs–as stretch of the Riverwalk is gated with signs saying that it closes at dusk.  We make a mental note to make sure we return well before sunset so we don’t get blocked off the trail.

When we arrive at the dam, we stop for a while.  Huge signs warn of the dangerous waters around the dam that swirl threateningly–the signs imperatively state that life jackets are required near the dam.  Several small fishing boats are tucked around the corner from the most treacherous part, men standing defiantly with no life jackets, fishing for whatever is jumping there.  They compete with the largest grouping of Great Blue Herons I’ve ever seen–we count 17 standing just on the rocks below us, watching the water intensely and periodically snapping into action, snagging a fish.  Then, Pat spots a small sign on the shore with a warning about not consuming more than 1 catfish a month from the river due to the high content of cancer-causing pollutants in the fish.  I feel bad for the herons.  I am reminded that Chattanooga started cleaning up their waterfront 20 years ago, but undoing decades of industrial dumping doesn’t happen overnight.  I laugh to myself because I originally thought the name of the dam was “Chick-a-muck”–maybe that is a more appropriate name after all?

A man sits in a gazebo on the shore reading a book, but most of the people who have driven to this spot sit in their cars with the motors running, the windows up, and the AC on.  Interesting way to experience the outdoors, but with the temperature close to 100, I’m sure they are far more comfortable than we are, standing in the heat, sweating from our exertion.  We don’t stand there long–being in motion gives us more breeze and makes us feel cooler.

We head back down the Riverwalk towards home.  Approaching a curve behind a shrub, a woman comes walking towards us with her husband.  She talks to him intensely, not seeing us until she finds herself standing in our path, startled by our sudden appearance,  her mouth opens in a big round “O” and her entire body registers surprise.  I laugh out loud at the expression on her face.  She,laughs too and quickly moves out of our way.  We have found one pedestrian who thinks it’s better to stay right!

Passing a restaurant along the river futher down,  large groups of people walk out to the Riverwalk to watch the sunset from the vantage point of a pedestrian overlook across from the restaurant.  A family with 3 children stands on the path, watching cautiously for bikes.  When the youngest child sees us (she is about 9), she screams “BIKES!” spreading her arms wide in a protective gesture, and the family moves quickly to the side so we can pass.  While I am startled by the sudden scream and wonder at it given that we’re barely pedaling and even the snapping turtle would have ample time to get out of our way, I appreciate that there are people who are willing to share the walkway.

When we return to the start of the Walnut St bridge, we spot a street cart with shaved ice.  Sweating and stinky, it seems the perfect day to try it for the first time.  We each get a heap of shaved ice in a cup, covered with sticky sweet lemon syrup.  The ice refreshes us, melting quickly in our mouths, chilling me in the heat.  We sit on the bridge and enjoy our ice before heading home.  Pat makes a joke and I laugh, which makes Pat laugh harder, saying, “Wow, even your gums are yellow!”  So much for my whitening toothpaste!  I close my bright yellow mouth and we finish our ride, coasting slowly down the bridge, dodging groups of tourists and hoping my lemon-colored teeth don’t catch their attention.

Filling Up

One of the reasons I have learned to accept that I will never again look like I did at 25 is that I like to eat.  I like to eat well and I like to eat a lot.  Many years ago on a business trip to Italy, a group of Italian colleagues took me to a seafood restaurant on the coast outside Rome.  We had a 6 course meal and I relished every course, enjoying an assortment of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten in my life.  What I didn’t know was that in Italy, women apparently need to be urged to eat seconds of anything and usually refuse 2x before accepting on the 3rd offer.  After accepting 2nds during 3 courses without uttering a single “no thank you,” my colleague, Gianprimo, turned to me and said (say this to yourself in a strong Italian accent):  “Dianne!  You are a good eater!”  I laughed, but in my head I was reminded of my farmer relatives talking about their prize winning pigs as “good feeders.”

Ironically, my mother was a horrible cook.  No disrespect intended–she was a wonderful woman–but all her frustrations with life, her disappointments, even her anger seemed to go into her cooking.  The fact that my childhood was full of love and laughter was completely unrelated to the food I grew up on.  As a result, I entered adulthood as a gastronomic blank slate, willing to try anything and finding that most food tasted better than my mother’s cooking.

In Chattanooga, we stumbled upon Taco Mamacita on a visit last January.  Located around the corner from the apartment we now live in, it’s quickly become our go-to place when we don’t feel like thinking about where to eat.  They offer an assortment of tacos to choose from that are as unmexican as General Homeboy (panko-breaded shrimp fried and served with a distinctly Asian inspired sauce, mexified with heaps of fresh cilantro).  This is my personal favorite–I can never get enough cilantro.  They also serve up margaritas with freshly squeezed juice over shaved ice.  As much as I enjoy trying different tacos from their menu, I also enjoy the assortment of people that congregate there.  One evening, there was a sweet-sixteen birthday party with a dozen or so girls all dressed in their finest.  Balloons and a big sign announced the event as girls giggled and drank large cokes through straws.  On the other side of the restaurant, a family with two small children tried to eat while their toddling daughter tried to run away with her high chair. laughing hysterically at her new game.  Across from them, an older couple sat silently, the man sitting with his legs spread wide to accommodate his belly, tucking his napkin under his crotch so that it didn’t fall onto the floor.  A younger couple occupied a booth behind them, sitting side-by-side sharing their food and looking into each other’s eyes with every bite.  With every stage of life represented in about 500 square feet of space, it’s hard not to be entertained.

We also tried the North Shore Grille, although I was a little confused that they call themselves a crab shack but only offer 2 items on the menu containing crab. I ordered pulled pork.  The waitress seemed slightly crazy, complaining about a loud table of women on a ladies night out and laughing so hard when one of them slips on the stairs that she has to walk away.  Dimly lit with hard wood floors, large spaces, and a big bar right on the main street with open windows, the restaurant definitely feels more like a pub than a crab shack.  The other patrons seem like regulars–often greeting new arrivals by name–adding to the pub feel.  Perhaps if we’d opted to sit on the patio, which faces Coolidge Park, we’d have gotten more of a crab shack vibe, but it’s too hot to enjoy outdoor dining that evening.  When dinner came, the portions were so large that we ended up taking home enough food for both lunch and dinner the next day.  I’m not quite fond enough of pulled pork to want to eat it three meals in a row, but I guess if I valued volume over quality, I would be delighted.

Most recently, we discovered the Italian bistro at the East end of the main drag.  They must be new because I can’t even find them with Google.  They offer a mix and match menu where you pick your pasta, your sauce, and add whatever toppings you like.  I had the 3-cheese ravioli with vodka sauce and lobster meat.  The raviolis were house-made, fresh, large and delicious.  The sauce was equally fabulous.  The lobster meat, however, was overwhelmed by the sauce and the texture detracted from the beautiful raviolis, so I found myself wishing I’d left it off.  Definitely a place we’ll go again.  On that night, a weekday evening, we ate late, not arriving until 9PM.  Fortunately, they serve until 10PM, although only a couple of tables are occupied.  We opt to eat in the bar, where most people are sitting.  The waitress smiles with genuine enthusiasm.  She makes us feel like she’s so happy we’ve come that it isn’t the last hour their open and she’s not at all tired of serving people.  We think it must be her first day.  🙂  When I fail to finish my rich pasta, she brings the leftovers back to me in a tidy aluminum dish with a paper cover that she has carefully labeled with the contents and the date.  When I open the container the next day to serve up lunch, I can’t help but smile at the care she’s taken.

On another day when Pat is out of town, I am left to fend for myself at lunch.  I have 30 minutes between conference calls, so I walk down the street to see what I can find.  I see a sign for the River Street Deli and decide a sandwich will be quick and easy.  When I pull open the door, I am confronted by a wall with a sign for a store on the left, another store on the right, and a sign for the deli that points in both directions.  Since the store on the right is closed, I go left.  I enter a store full of crafty trinkets and wonder if I’ve chosen wrong.  A woman asks if she can help me and I hesitantly say, “Is there a deli in here?”  She instructs me to go out the back door and down the stairs.  The River Street Deli is in a walk-out basement facing the opposite direction as the store above with Coolidge Park as its view.  I enter and find that it deserted (it’s early for lunch, but I have calls through the more traditional lunch hour).  A man offers me a taste of their Stromboli.  It’s rich and salty, gooey with cheese.  I decide it’s the perfect lunch.  Walking out the door a few minutes later with hot Stromboli in a greasy paper bag, I see that park and decide I have enough time to sit and eat.  I walk towards the fountains where children squeal as they run through the water.  I find a table set apart from the fountains by a row of hedges and sit myself down to enjoy my sandwich.  The Stromboli tastes great, but by the time I finish my sandwich, I wish I’d eaten only half of it.

As I sit there munching away, a small tow-head escapes from her mother and comes wandering to my side of the hedge.  I watch her cautiously, thinking how freaked out her mother will be when she discovers her tiny urchin out of sight and within grabbing distance of a strange woman eating lunch alone in a park by a children’s playground.  I think back to my own childhood that pre-dates fears of child snatching and molestation and how times have changed that I now worry about an unattended child getting too close to me like their proximity endangers me.  Equally, I am concerned for the child’s safety, so I watch for anyone coming who might be an real threat rather than an imagined one.  Fortunately, the child’s mother comes around the hedge non-plussed.  Clearly she has known where her daughter went all along.  Her daughter wants to play hide-and-seek, but her mother is not in the mood.  She tells her daughter she’s not playing a game and if she doesn’t return to the fountain with her, they’re going home.  I smile at the mother with a smile that I hope is reassuring and not creepy.

One morning last week, Pat and I decided to get breakfast out during our morning walk.  We checked out Julie Darling Donuts.  With recipes rivaling Voodoo donuts in Portland, I had to try their “Pancakes and Bacon” donut.  It was good, but for some reason, I couldn’t taste the bacon even though it was real bacon fried up in a pan, crumbled and generously applied to the top of the donut.  The donut itself was amazingly moist, rich, and extremely dense.  I had to stop after half the donut–after that, the rich sweetness overwhelmed my taste buds.  Unfortunately, donuts don’t keep well and taking a bite later in the day meant experiencing the disappointment of a no-longer-fresh donut.  I’m glad that I couldn’t eat the whole donut–I really don’t need a new habit that adds hundreds (if not thousands) of empty calories to my already full plate.

While there are more restaurants yet to try on the same block as our apartment, I find I enjoy eating on the other side of the river more.  Not necessarily because the food is better (it’s hit or miss), but because I like the longer walk back after eating.  Of the few places we’ve tried on the South side of the river, 212 Market St appeals to my inner activist.  They pride themselves on green practices and feature sustainably grown foods, including grass-fed meat.  I find I can enjoy the food unencumbered by guilt over what I’m eating.  Plus, our friendly server, excited to learn that we’re new to the area, offers advice on what to see and do in Chattanooga.

Walking, eating, and walking again combine several of my favorite past times.  Walking relaxes me and affords many opportunities to people watch in the busy district.  Eating satisfies my taste buds.  Walking again helps reduce an overly full stomach to something comfortable again while giving me a second view of the scene of people that has shifted and changed since the walk out to dinner.  With tourists rambling over the bridge in the requisite uniform (shorts, polo shirts and white running shoes, often with black socks for men; cropped summer pants and printed T-shirts with sneakers and no socks for women) bumping up against locals on dates in summer dresses and sandals or more alternative locals in all black, chains, and boots, the word “eclectic” comes to mind. Returning over the bridge late on a Friday night in the summer means not only that the crowd is more colorful and lively, but it’s accompanied by the sounds of the summer outdoor music program playing in front of the aquarium.  I find myself walking to the beat of the music.  With the wind kicking up after sunset, the walk is doubly refreshing after a long, hot day of sitting in front of a computer.

The Reflection Riding

 

Today, we want to go hiking, but we need to drop off our recycling and we get a late start, so we want a destination that is less than a 20-minute drive.  After a quick Google, the Reflection Riding jumps out as a place to explore.  I’m not sure how it got it’s name–I don’t know what a riding is exactly, but I imagine it has to do with horses.  Both a Nature Center and an Arboretum have found their homes there.  The Nature Center participates in the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan and breeds them in captivity.  Unfortunately, we arrived at noon and the Red Wolves were secluded in a shaded den where we didn’t get to see them.  We talk to the wildlife curator when we arrive and she recommends an easy hike for a hot day.

We start out on the gravel road that can also be driven.  We are not more than 5 minutes into our hike when a wild turkey appears in the woods.  I drop everything to pull out my big lens and set up for a shot.  Unfortunately, by the time I get my lens out, the turkey has disappeared into the brush.  We walk a ways looking for it, but no luck.  I give up before I get my gear set up completely and we keep walking.  Of course, we spot 2 does and a fawn minutes later, but by the time I get my monopod attached to the lens, they too have gone the way of the turkey.  I curse myself for missing a shot 2X in less than 5 minutes due to lack of preparedness–why would I take 20 pounds of gear on a hike and not be ready for wildlife to appear at any moment?

We walk on to a gazebo by a small pond and sit in the shade for a bit.  Pat spots a turtle poking its beak through the surface of the pond who immediately disappears when I set up my camera.  I spot a bird that I don’t recognize, excited that it might be a bird I’ve never seen before.  I dig the binoculars out of Pat’s day pack and wait for the bird to reappear.  When it finally does, it’s a Mourning Dove.  I am sorely disappointed.  I think I see another interesting bird by the far edge of the pond, but I can’t find it with the binoculars.  Several minutes later, it flies away and I realize it was a Green Heron–another shot missed.  At this point, I’m wishing I’d left all my camera gear at home!

We walk on, avoiding the poison ivy that grows abundantly by the side of the road, discovering a vegetable garden and grape arbor.  The tomatoes are small and green.  The grapes the same.  I am reminded of friends who have been complaining about a lack of tomatoes back in Columbus and wonder if the summer was just too hot for a productive garden?

Further down the road, we find a patch of bamboo.  I’m a bit shocked that an arboretum and nature center would have bamboo growing where it clearly doesn’t belong.  The bamboo surrounds one remaining native evergreen, crushing it with shade and crowding it for space; I feel like I’m witnessing a still-life of war.  We walk through the bamboo and experience the deep shade it provides.  I like bamboo, but having spent a lot of time removing invasive species in the Walhalla Ravine, I wonder if it’s a good idea to introduce plants that don’t belong here.

We wander on, back in the sun, with the heat growing more intense.  Small flying insects insist they must fly into my eyes.  I am reminded of horses at pasture wearing eye covers and wondering if they make such a thing for humans?  We reach the furthest point in the loop road and find a meadow with yellow wildflowers I don’t recognize.  The sky is intensely blue.  I switch lens and take a few shots even though the light is harsh, creating strong shadows and sharp contrasts.  We take a footpath back to another gazebo.  Pat finds shade on a rock wall while I climb some steps to sit in deeper shade and discover another wildflower I don’t recognize.  I switch lenses again and attempt to shoot the flower while it sways in the breeze, enjoying the cooler air, but wishing the flower would hold still.  I spot a Hairy Woodpecker (or maybe it’s a Downey–I can never tell how big a bird is unless I see it in comparison to another bird).  Secluded in the shadows, I am unable to get a shot.  Another bird sneaks behind a tree and I wonder what it could be.  I wait patiently for it to expose itself, but it’s well covered behind brush and shadows.  Eventually it perches in the open and I realize I’ve been tracking a robin.  The Carolina Chickadees and Wrens compete vocally for my attention.  They sing constantly, but I never seen a-one.

We walk on up the trail, climbing up the side of Lookout Mountain a bit.  The shade grows deeper–a welcome relief.  I make a mental note not to start a hike at noon in August in Chattanooga as we find some relief in the cooler shade only to be attacked by more eye-obsessed insects.  The forest floor is covered with myrtle or vinca (I never could tell them apart) in parts, but the poison ivy is so prevalent that I can’t imagine anyone wanting to undertake removing the invasive ground cover.  It’s beautiful none-the-less.  The advantage of being out on a hot afternoon is that no one else is there.  The birdsongs are disrupted only by the sounds of trains passing through the valley.  We hear rustling in the leaves and look around, me immediately getting my camera ready this time.  Eventually spotting the source of the noise, we are just in time to spot a gray squirrel jumping from the ground to the back of a tree, hidden from view.  I wonder again why I am carrying 20 pounds of equipment.  Then I remind myself that Pat is now carrying at least 10 of those pounds and probably wondering the same thing; I decide not to complain.

As we walk along, I suddenly experience a sharp, inexplicable pain in my big toe.  Having landed badly on my first hill flight at hang gliding school the week before, I’m worried that I’ve re-injured myself.  I stop, pull off my shoe, rub my toe trying to determine what’s wrong.  After a few minutes, I give up discovering the source of pain, put my shoe back on and we continue on our way, my toe feeling just fine.  I’m relieved but puzzled.  A short distance later, we approach a clearing that gives us a view of the foothills in the distance.  In the clearer part of the path, thick plants grow along the way.  When I shuffle my feet, one of the plants wedges its way between two of my toes (in my fivefingers shoes) and I experience the same pain I had in my big toe.  Mystery solved, I remove the debris, take a few shots of the scene, including a log cabin tucked between the trees below, and we move on.

We work our way further up the hill, the woods deepening and getting more quiet.  I wish that we would have chosen a higher route–the shade and solitude are more enjoyable than the hot hike along the road.  As we relax into the cooler, quieter setting, I experience a growing sense of peacefulness that reminds me why I hike and erases the irritations of heat and bugs.  However, it turns out that we are nearing the end of our hike.  The path turns downhill and we see the loop road ahead.  Just then, we spot three wild turkeys.  This time, I am ready.  I set up my camera and start shooting.  One of the turkeys seems curious about the sound of my camera.  It pauses behind thin cover and plays peek-a-boo as if it thinks it’s well hidden.  I congratulate myself for bringing my telephoto lens, thinking the weight was well worth it.

We return to our apartment hot and tired.  I ask Pat what stood out for him from our hike.  He says, “I don’t know . . . I just walked.  It was hot.  I walked and I sweated.”  But  I reflect upon the riding (yes, it’s a pun) and am glad that we went.  While our first experience may not have been under optimal conditions, I know we will return there.  But next time, we’ll pick a ridge trail.  There is something about the woods that draws me in.  Deep in the woods surrounded by the sounds of birdsongs and footsteps, the voice in my head goes silent.  The experience of inner silence brings me back to the woods time and time again–after all, not even I want to listen to me all the time.

A Yankee Clutz Bikes Southern Style

On my second ride of the Tennessee Riverwalk, I find myself narrating. Thinking of my blog and what I will say about this ride, I find myself writing along the way. I’m reminded of Stranger than Fiction, except that I am both the narrator and the narratee. Where does this voice in my head come from? And what is the line between normal voices in my head and insanity? I ride through a sprinkler that has turned completely backwards to water the sidewalk and I think in my head, “I ride through a sprinkler that has turned completely backwards to water the sidewalk . . .” Is that crazy? The sprinkler feels great in the summer heat, but the voice in my head provides a running commentary, distracting me from the relief of cool water against hot skin. I give my head a shake, trying to focus on my ride instead of my blog.

I ride the same route as the last time I rode, but with more time before I have to return, I have my camera and I stop frequently to shoot scenes from the riverwalk (I confess–I posted those pics with my Riding the Riverpark post). There are many pedestrians on the walkway. Unlike the Olentangy Trail back in Columbus, the signs don’t say “keep right” or “watch for bikes,” they say “Slow. Pedestrians have the right of way.” Some pedestrians seem to think this means they have the right to take up the entire width of the trail and stroll at a pace akin to a tortoise. I brake hard as I approach such a group, calling out in what I hope is a polite voice, “I’m on your left.”

Perhaps I am too worried about being polite because they don’t seem to hear me. I am almost at a stop, balancing precariously with my snap-in pedals, hoping they move over before I fall over (a frequent enough occurrence that I’ve gotten pretty good at it by now). The woman on the far left turns to look at something and suddenly sees me in her peripheral vision. She jumps and cries out like I’ve sneaked up on her and shouted “Boo!” “You scared me!” She says in an unamused tone. She hesitates, not knowing which way to go, and then she and her friends split down the middle, meaning I am angled wrong, having expected to go left. I muscle my bike back to the right, no small feat from a standstill for someone with little coordination; I’m determined not to fall in front of these women who clearly don’t know enough about biking to understand. I manage to reposition myself and my bike and ride through the middle of the group, apologizing for scaring them as I go. With a clear path ahead, I push hard to build back some momentum as I approach a climb.

I understand that the riverwalk was constructed primarily for walking. After all, they don’t call it a Riverbike. But it puzzles me that while biking etiquette signs appear every quarter mile or so, there are no signs about pedestrian etiquette. It seems safer to me for pedestrians to be aware that there are bikes on the walkway and keeping left will help avoid collisions. Instead, the Riverwalk seems to have the attitude that while bikes are allowed there, they are not welcome. There are stretches with posted speed limits of 3-5 MPH. I typically walk at a 4 MPH pace. I’m confident it’s impossible to ride a bike at 5 MPH, let alone 3–I would need a tricycle. I sigh and remind myself that it’s a different culture. I look over the river, enjoy the view, and decide it’s worth it.

I briefly contemplate changing my pedals from Candies to the kind I grew up with–plain old flat pedals. I switched to clipless bindings about 10 years ago when I decided to start doing triathlons (before my epiphany that over-doing doesn’t lead to life-long fitness). Attaching your feet to your pedals does wonders for both speed and endurance. Because it allows you to pull as well as push, you go faster and use different muscle groups throughout your pedal stroke, offering more power without over-working the muscles used to push. Switching pedals made more difference in my riding times than buying a new bike did. Now, I can’t imagine riding without them. At the same time, as a world-class clutz, they have led to more than one embarrassing moment–I have to remind myself to unsnap every time I approach a stop. Once, I was riding the Olentangy trail in Columbus, day dreaming about something or other. When I got to the section in Clintonville that goes on the road, familiarity with the route prevented me from coming out of my daydream and I pedaled my way through on autopilot. As I approached the one stoplight on the trail, I was still far away in my head. As I rolled to a stop, it suddenly dawned on me that I was still snapped into my pedals. I often imagine this scene from the perspective of the driver stopped on the opposite side of the intersection: a cyclist comes rolling up the hill across the street, approaches the stop light, comes neatly to a stop, and promptly falls over sideways. Even now, I laugh out loud imagining how stupid I looked!

On another ride, I was coming home from work, taking a safe route through a parking lot near the office. This route requires riding up a grassy embankment at the end of the lot to get to a bike path. I like going that way because it keeps me out of traffic. However, on that day, it had rained earlier and the path worn through the grass was slightly muddy. My tires are meant for the road and not for gripping slipping mud. As I cranked hard up the hill, my tires started spinning and I found myself riding in place. In this instance, I knew I needed to unsnap, but I couldn’t both unsnap and crank hard enough to keep myself upright at the same time. Eventually I fell over, landing on the edge of my seat and earning a world-record bruise in the shape of a giant paisley. Cycling was a bit uncomfortable for the next week or two, but it still makes me laugh.

Back to today, I decide that I probably fall less often with my snap-in pedals than I would without them–being able to pull helps me balance at slow speeds and if I can’t remember to unsnap, what makes me think I’d remember to put my feet down anyway? I push and pull my way up the rest of the hill unencumbered by pedestrian traffic. Entering the Bluffview Art District, I unsnap one foot and let it dangle as I approach a tight switchback–just in case. I look across the sculpture garden to the river below once I am through the switchback. I smile once more at the view, which I hope will never get old, and then turn my attention to climbing up the steep hill through the district. I don’t think I would make up that hill without my Candy pedals.

I reach the glass bridge back to Walnut St bridge, gracefully unsnap my feet with a quick twist, and step off my bike to walk it over the bridge. I can now walk across the glass bridge while looking down–a sign that Chattanooga is starting to feel like home? The bridge spans a busy road at least 20 feet below (although it seems like a hundred). Crossing over it the first time back in January was so unnerving to me that I walked the metal strip down the middle instead of on the glass and kept my eyes forward. Now, I can walk on the glass and even look through it to watch cars pass below. It’s one of those engineering feats that I don’t like to think about too much–sometimes the more I understand something, the less faith I have that it will work, and there’s not a good alternative route to and from the Riverwalk.

A crowd gathers on the other side of the glass bridge. A group of mothers and daughters, it seems. I wonder what occasion brought them all out together this night and where they came from. For the past two weeks, softball teams have been roaming the streets on the weekends, mostly girls. But these women don’t look like they’re here for softball. They talk and laugh loudly–it’s possible that even their laughter has a Southern drawl. I turn onto the bridge and see a couple coming towards me. They look like they arrived from NYC or maybe LA with their tats and piercings and vaguely threatening hair. I smile and give the fellow-cyclist chin-lift, they chin-lift back. Cruising down the bridge at a snail’s pace (maybe I can ride 3-5 MPH?), I see an Asian man with his two children. He walks with his hands clasped behind his back, making hacking noises deep in his throat–I make sure to call out “on your left” loudly as I pass him, worrying that he is preparing to spit. A tiny, unsteady child bolts across the bridge in front of me, parents jumping to catch her before I run her down even though I am barely moving. I smile at her and chuckle as I ride on by. A group of teenagers gathers at one of the benches, playfully shouting at each other like they are hoping to convince anyone watching that they’re having the time of their lives. A young musician sits on the side of the bridge playing and singing with his guitar case open for tips. His face turned away from the crowd, he appears lost in his music and oblivious to whether anyone else listens. Tourists with strollers weave their way from one side of the bridge to the other as if we’re playing a game of tag except that they seem to be chasing me by predicting which way I will go and getting in my way. It’s a funny sort of dance to avoid all of these people congregated on the Walnut St Bridge. But it makes for an entertaining cool down at the end of a ride. I wonder whom (or should I say “who all”) I will see next time?