Being Moderate

At the New Life Hiking Spa, everyone gathers outside the front door and the staff announces the hikes each morning.  They’re categorized into “Nature Walk,” “intermediate,” and “Advanced.”  The Nature Walk being mostly flat, a non-challenging surface to walk on (like a gravel road), and only about 4 miles or so in distance.  The Intermediate walks have more ups and downs, and may require a little scrambling over rocks.  The Advanced hikes are more vertical and are on “unimproved” trails.

While I might have opted for the Advanced or Intermediate hikes, I was there more for the company of my friend and less for the physical challenge, so I was more than happy to do the nature walk.  Plus, I wanted to shoot and I figured I’d have more opportunities on the nature walk than on an advanced hike.

This happened to be the day for the most difficult Nature Walk of the week.  It had a long, slow climb in the middle of it.  This worked to my advantage.  I got to take my time shooting because the group wasn’t moving as fast as they would have been on a flat trail.  I had time to shoot and then run to catch up to my friend.

This was even more perfect than I realized at first.  I got a great workout by running hard to catch up (when I say running hard, I mean any attempt to run on my part is hard–I don’t run fast or far or at all if I can help it).  We would walk along together chatting until the next photogenic subject appeared.

I would have hated being on an advanced hike and feeling like I was holding other people up every time I stopped for a shot.

Plus, the road we walked was lovely.  We were afforded many views of the mountains and lots of pretty open fields full of wildflowers.  The only slightly traumatic part was the graveyard near the beginning of the walk.  We had to wonder what kind of message they were sending us by not only walking us past the graveyard on the way out, but stopping there for our snack break on the way back.  I loved it for the photographic opportunities it provided, but it’s a little odd to snack amongst the dead.

We extended the hike by going past the trailhead to another trail that led up a hill to a lovely view of the valley below and mountains in the distance.  One of our fellow hikers was starting to worry us with his heavy breathing, profuse sweating, and red face.  It was hard to believe the hike was that much of a workout for anyone, but it was a pretty good uphill, I guess.  We were concerned he had heat stroke.  In the end, he, along with the rest of us, did survive and we left no one in the graveyard.

Muddy Paws

Bogart, one of our English Mastiff Canine Kids in 2008

I have the great pleasure of walking dogs today.  Taking a walk with a person versus taking a walk with two dogs are two different experiences.  Walking with a person means compromising on pace and distance based on someone else’s mood.  Walking with dogs means I get to set the pace and distance, but only if I’m willing to enforce a no-pulling rule.  Although I accommodate sudden stops of the dogs’ choosing whether for potty breaks or sniffing.  Since I don’t want the dogs to pull me, I figure I shouldn’t pull them.

Fortunately, these dogs are trained to walk with a gentle leader.  This makes things considerably easier.  If they start to pull, I stop until the leash goes slack.  That’s my goal–to get them to walk so the leash has a little slack.  After a few times, they seem to understand and we walk at the pace I choose.  At least until they stop.

One dog seems to like to sniff a lot.  I eventually realize that she is actually trying to rub off her gentle leader.  I decide to distract her by going for a short, slow jog.  This works well until the other dog suddenly needs to poop.

Apparently there is some kind of trigger that once one dog poops, the other dog will have to poop exactly 10 steps after I have tied a knot in the poop bag, forcing me to use a second bag.  That is another difference between walking with humans and dogs–on a good day, the former doesn’t require picking up poop in a plastic baggie.

We wind our way around a paved trail that goes through the woods.  They try to walk on fallen leaves or grass whenever possible.  Interestingly, neither dog wants to walk in mud or puddles.  They go around puddles without any encouragement from me.

I smile at this.  We used to have two English Mastiffs who never really noticed what they were walking through.  They would leave giant paw prints that would have strangers stopping and wondering if a bear or lion was loose in the neighborhood if they had never seen our dogs (and sometimes when they were looking at our dogs).

Then, when we got home, we would have a pile of “dog towels” by the door that we would use to wipe the mud off of their feet.  They were pretty good about standing and letting us wipe their paws, but it was hard to keep the one who went second from walking all over the place with their big muddy paws while they waited. There are a lot of days when I miss having to wipe muddy paws.

Today, I will have no muddy paws to wipe–these dogs are more dainty than I am when it comes to staying out of the mud.  But as we jog along briefly, the accompanying jingle of dog tags makes me feel like it’s going to be a good day.

Waking Up

I get up at 5AM so I can be at the gym by 6AM and be awake. I only need 15 minutes to get ready, but I need an hour to be functional. It’s early for a workout. I get to the gym and realize I didn’t turn my phone on before I left–I wouldn’t have received any cancellation texts.  It gets to be a few minutes after 6 and I see no evidence that anyone else is here for the class I’m attending, including the trainer.

This is an anxiety producing situation for me. I don’t know why. Even if no one shows up, I’m at the gym and can get a workout in on my own. However, I get stressed when I’m supposed to be meeting people and we don’t hook up. I worry that I’m in the wrong place and we missed each other. Because, after all, if my trainer came in and didn’t see me, I just know he would assume I didn’t show and go on without me. And, even though the front door is only 20 feet from the treadmill I’m on, it’s entirely possible that the 200+ pound trainer could sneak by unnoticed and that he would never think of turning his head.  It’s ridiculous, but I do this to myself every time I meet someone until the situation becomes familiar.

The trainer arrives about 2 minutes after 6AM (depending on which clock you’re looking at). I am now stretching in the hallway outside the training room door. While I prefer to stretch in the women’s locker room, it’s too anxiety producing to be out of sight. Now that I know the trainer will arrive a couple minutes late, I will factor this into the next class and not be so anxious.

As it is, I follow him into the room and stand there feeling awkward while he tries to get his stuff situated to begin the class. My presence and readiness to start rushes him and he forgets to turn on his music, set up some equipment, put away his hat. Next time, I will wait outside until he tells me he’s ready.

As it turns out, I am the only participant today. Apparently everyone else thought 6AM was too early. I am at about 60% of full capacity with my cold. I am still tired and I’ve been laying around too much. I go a little easy today, but my shoulders and chest are still exhausted by the workout.  By the time we are done, I’m debating whether I want to walk before work or wait until after.  But realistically, if we don’t walk now, we won’t walk later.

When I get home, I write. By the time I get Pat out of bed and get myself ready, there is little time for a walk. We’ve also realized we have nothing to eat. So, we do go for a walk, but it’s just to the store and back. We pick up some cereal and milk so we can eat breakfast.

Even keeping it quick, I am racing back to get to my first call of the day by the time we’re done. I don’t know where the morning goes sometimes. I get up hours before work to have time to take care of the things I want to do. I like getting those things in at the beginning of the day. Somehow, making time for me first thing in the morning sends a message to my brain that I am a top priority–I will not sacrifice my health, my needs, myself for the sake of my job.

I have a fantasy work morning that goes like this: I sit on the balcony sipping coffee, watching the sunrise, maybe shooting a little. I finish my coffee and do yoga for a while, ending with some meditation. After feeling completely and totally relaxed, I write for an hour. Then, I go for a walk with Pat along the riverfront before starting work.

Theoretically, since I get up at least 3 hours before my work day starts, I should be able to make this fantasy reality–well, other than the sunrise during coffee. I don’t really know what happens, but my real morning often goes more like this: stumble out of bed, get the coffee going through bleary, half-shut eyes. Check email for emergencies. Answer a few mails. Check calendar for first meeting. Pour coffee. Write blog. Start researching some trivial point that has little to do with my post. Finish post, realize it’s getting late. Wake up Pat. Jump in shower, get cleaned up and ready to go. Decide to log on while waiting for Pat to get ready. Try to answer a couple of emails and then realize I’m out of time and we can’t go for a walk now.

Ah, I see what happens–I start working first. Funny thing how priorities work. How many times have I said, “I want to . . . But I just don’t have time”? Yet, I manage to make time for so many other things–like obsessive email checking. I tell myself “What if someone needs me?” In reality, what I think drives me is the fear that maybe no one does. Otherwise, wouldn’t it be easy to let them wait until office hours?

Tomorrow, maybe I will try leaving my phone in airplane mode until after I’ve finished that walk with Pat.

Fall Fantasies

It’s Monday morning.  Thursday is Thanksgiving.  Many of my colleagues are taking the entire week off.  I’m saving what’s left of my vacation for the end of the year.  I expect to be able to get caught up at work before the holiday with so many people gone.

The morning starts rather abruptly with a 6:30AM call with a colleague in Great Britain.  It’s the only time one of our volunteer testers for a project I’m involved with is available to talk through what we need him to do.  It’s now 7:30AM and I’m already overwhelmed with how much I need to get done before Thursday.

Not only do we have this testing going on, but four of the other projects I’ve been working on are coming to a head and I’d like to get them all to the next major milestone before taking off for the long weekend.  What I really need is a walk, but it’s not happening today.  Having gotten started working, I’m on a roll and I’m not stopping now.

Now it’s Tuesday morning.  I’m up long before dawn now, the dawn coming so much later these days.  I am working out this morning.  It’s my last training session with Kory and then my package is done.  He’s offering a boot camp class in the mornings starting next week, so I’ll be doing that.  But, this morning, I have my final one-on-one workout.

Once I get out of the gym, I decide I need the walk I skipped yesterday even more today.  Pat is out of bed when I get home, so we get ready to go.  It’s been a week since we last walked by the riverfront.  The trees have dropped many more leaves; the crews are still out there blowing the leaves and hauling them to the compost piles.  It seems endless.  From the look of things, there will still be leaves to remove after Thanksgiving.  There are far more leaves still on the trees than there were in Columbus, but I don’t think fall is much more than a week behind.  I wonder if there will still be any leaves on the trees in the mountains this weekend.

I realize that I am wearing a T-shirt and a light sweater as we walk around the park.  Pat is wearing only a T-shirt.  It seems like a repeat of before we went up to Columbus–it’s in the 60’s and the sun is barely up.  I like this warm weather stuff, I have to admit.  I like changing seasons and cooler weather, too.  But there is a lot to be said for not being cold.

The river looks the same.  The sky is overcast, so there aren’t interesting reflections on the water this morning, but the blue heron like it just the same.  A pair of them flies over the water, rounding a corner and landing too close to the shore for us to see from where we stand.  We walk to an overlook and lean out over the rail, trying to spot them.  But, they have either flown on or parked somewhere hidden behind they honeysuckle taking over the space between the path and the shoreline.

As we look for the heron, a large shadow passes over our heads, catching our attention.  This often happens when a large bird flies between us and the sun when we’re out for walks.  Today, it turns out the sun has briefly appeared from behind a cloud long enough to cast a shadow from a car crossing over the bridge.  This phenomena shocks us every time.  The bridge is far enough away that it seems impossible that a car could cast a shadow over our heads, yet it happens on a regular basis.  There is something wrong about cars casting shadows that can be mistaken for airplanes.

We get to the far end of our walking route and head back towards home.  The leaves are piled in lines down the center of the sidewalks.  The crew is taking a break under the bridge.  We step carefully, trying not to displace any of the leaves waiting to be swept up and hauled away.  I think back to the falls of my childhood.  I have a generalized memory of my whole family being out in the front yard creating massive piles of leaves and taking turns running and jumping in them.  In my mind, that was what every fall was like.  Yet, when I actually remember specific times, I remember thinking piling up the leaves and jumping in them should be a lot of fun, but actually doing it turned out not to be all that exciting.

More clearly, and therefore, probably more recently, I remember raking and raking and being amazed by the amount of raking required to clear the yard of leaves.  I also remember enjoying mowing the last few times in the fall–I felt like I was vacuuming whoever’s lawn I was mowing, sucking up all the leaves and debris into the mower bag and leaving a trim, bright green stripe of lawn in my wake.  The difference between where I had yet to mow and where I had already mowed (mown?) was so striking.  I loved the unambiguousness of my accomplishment.  There are a lot of days I wish I’d stayed in the lawn mowing business.

When my neck aches, my head aches, and I can’t point to a single thing I’ve actually gotten done after a long day sitting at my computer, I start to long for a job that involves physical labor.  Recognizing that this probably sounds better than it would actually feel by the end of a long day of challenging physical work, I sometimes fantasize about being a park ranger.  I realize I don’t actually know what a park ranger does all day, but just the idea of hanging out in a park for a living seems very promising.

When the park ranger fantasy surfaces, this is usually when I decide I should clean off my desk.  That’s about as close to physical labor as my job gets these days.  Is it any wonder that I have to go to the gym when the best I can do for exercise on the job is throwing away scraps of paper and putting my pens back in the pen holder?

Returning from our walk in the park and settling myself at my desk, I realize that even the pens and papers are disappearing from my work life.  Soon, I will have to pop my laptop in and out of its docking station for physical activity on the job.  I promise myself I will stand up and pace while on calls today.  This, of course, doesn’t happen because while I am on calls, I am also doing at least 6 other things that all require sitting at my computer.  I am reminded of an idea I had many years ago for a line of office furniture that requires you to move while you work.  I find myself thinking maybe I should build some prototypes for myself.  If only I knew how to weld.

Oktoberfest all over again

It’s Saturday once more.  This weekend’s agenda is to experience Oktoberfest Chattanooga style.  The last time I went to an Oktoberfest in the states, it was the Oktoberfest in Columbus about 15 years ago and it was pretty lame compared to Oktobefest in Munich (as one would expect).  Given that Columbus is about 3X the size of Chattanooga, we don’t expect much.  However, Chattanooga has the interesting twist of combining Oktoberfest with their weekend farmer’s/artist’s market.

The market sets up Saturday and Sunday in the Tennessee Pavilion downtown for Oktoberfest–the market is normally only on Sunday’s.  They set up a tent and have bands playing outside the market area.  And, of course, they have plenty of beer trucks, too.  We decide that since we will want to have beer and don’t know how long we will want to stay, we will walk there.

Most places we go are so close that walking there takes less time that getting into the car, driving, and finding a parking place.  However, the Tennessee Pavilion happens to be at the opposite end of downtown and is a good 2 miles away.  While a 4 mile walk is not bad, I have a slight limp due to my sprained foot and Pat is still limping from his hamstring pull.  But, it’s an incredibly beautiful day, so we decide a walk is in order.

Walking through downtown Chattanooga is a different experience than riding through it on a bike.  Slowing down allows us to notice details that I missed when I rode through the previous weekend.  We also point out things to each other that I noticed from my bike and Pat noticed from a drive through the area during the week.  As we get further from the riverfront, the area becomes more deserted.  There are few people out and about on a Saturday morning with the exception of the area near the Chattanooga Choo Choo.  We are a block over, but as we pass a large hotel, suddenly groups of people appear in front of the hotel.  Yet, as soon as we pass the main entrance, the sidewalk is once again deserted even though we are passing a large convention center.

We start to worry that we’re lost just because the streets seem so deserted and we think we ought to be getting close.  But in another block, the road shifts and we can see large groups of people up ahead.  We make it to the festival and discover that, like Munich, there is no entrance fee.  However, instead of beer wagons pulled by draft horses, in Chattanooga, they have lined up a collection of VWs at the entrance for people to look at.  We are intrigued by the VW pop-up camper.  It even has a tiny kitchen with a camp stove in it.

I get out my new iPhone 4S and decide this is an excellent time to test out the new and improved camera, having decided not to carry my DSLR today.  I’m not sure the shooting conditions really make it a good test–lots of bright sunshine in mid-day–but at least I got pictures.  Unfortunately, it’s so bright out that I have trouble telling what I’m pointing at with only an LCD screen to go by.

We find food first, ordering brats that are typical American, course brats.  I like these a lot.  Pat prefers fine brats, but I can’t recall ever having them here.  We take our food over to some tables where we can sit to eat.  Eating takes about 10 seconds (walking makes us hungry!) and then we head straight for the beer trucks.

Unlike the Munich tradition of only allowing regional breweries in Oktoberfest, Chattanooga has vendors selling all kinds of beers from lots of different places.  This certainly opens up more choices, although there are at least 3 breweries in Chattanooga.  I believe that’s 1 brewery for every 100,000 residents.  I try the Oktoberfest brew from the Chattanooga Brewing Company.  Pat picks a Pilsner.  The beers are served in 8 oz plastic cups and are only 3/4 full.  This is probably a good thing–we really don’t need the 1 liter mugs used in Munich.

Next, we walk around the market.  There are only a handful of produce vendors and one honey vendor.  We end up talking to the couple selling their honey for quite a while.  We learn about their bees and sourwood honey and end up talking about other things.  Pat learns that Eddie, the bee keeper, used to know about Gruhn Guitars in Nashville.  This starts of a conversation of seeing if they know any of the same people.  Soon, they’re talking about Eddie’s old trumpet and swapping information.  Eventually, we tell Eddie and Lou (Eddies’ wife and the Candlemaker) that we will come back tomorrow to buy when we can ride our bikes down.  Lou points us in the direction of some interesting artists tents and we leave them to go take a tour of the craft vendors.

While I’m not interested in buying non-consumables that don’t go on my camera, I am a bit amused by some of the offerings.  There is an entire tent dedicated to aprons.  In case you, like me, have forgotten what an “apron” is, it’s an article of clothing you put on over your real clothes so you can cook without getting food on your outfit.  Except here, they are called “hostess wear.”  And they are supposed to be couture.  I cannot imagine the kind of woman who buys a fancy apron to cook in, but I’m pretty sure the last one died a few decades ago.  Wouldn’t most women rather hire a caterer than spend a bunch of money on “couture hostess wear”?

A couple booths over there is a display of fancy barrettes and other accessories for little girls.  Tons of tutus line the racks in the tent.  I wish I would have written down the vendor’s name because it was really funny, but it turns out this vendor dedicates her talents to creating pageant wear for little girls.  For any one who believes that the way to make a little girl feel good about herself is to dress her up in frilly attire and judge her based on her appearance as compared to other little girls, this is the place for you.  We, however, move on quickly.

More interesting to me are the photographers’ booths.  I love to look at professional photographers’ work, although it often depresses me just because my own photos pale in comparison.  But, it gives me ideas and when the photographers are there to give pointers, it’s a real bonus.  However, the first booth I pause at features the work of someone who seems to enjoy Photoshop a lot.  They have a cityscape of Chattanooga with WWII planes flying over it.  I don’t quite get it.

The second photographer is more interesting to me.  His photos are more purist in nature.  Plus, he has a shot of Neuschwanstein displayed for Oktoberfest that surprises me–it’s shot from the bridge above the castle, which, between rain and snow, is a view we skipped both times we went.  He also has a really nice shot of the penguins in the aquarium.  I talked to him for a while about how he got it, having had such poor results myself.  He told me what time they clean the glass and how he managed to get a clear shot.  I thank him and look forward to my photography workshop there next weekend.

Moving along, we decide it’s time for another beer.  We return to the beer truck and I decide to stick with what I had the first time.  We walk around slowly while we drink our (very small) beers and I spot a stand that sells cake by the slice.  They seem to be attracting a big crowd and I suddenly find my sweet tooth suggesting perhaps I should go stand in the line.  I pick a chocolate cake with buttercream frosting.  Then, we wander off to find a place to sit–which has gotten more challenging as the day has gone on.  I try the cake and when I get a big bite of frosting, I nearly choke.  The baker seems to have employed some special sort of magic to infuse at least a pound of sugar into less than a quarter cup of icing–I bet she was wearing couture hostess wear when she did it.  The cake is moist, though.  I try adjusting the cake/frosting ratio on my fork and take another bite.  About then, a man with a little girl approaches and asks if we’re using the extra chairs at our table.  We invite him to use the table as well and he and his daughter (not wearing a tutu) join us.

After a few minutes, the man’s wife joins our table as well, carrying a pretzel that resembles a pretzel only in that it’s shaped like one.  The brown crust looks bumpy and, well, wrong.  It’s shining with what I can only imagine is oil.  When the woman sets it on the table, we all laugh out loud.  I take a picture just for fun.  We learn that she is also from Germany.  In fact, she grew up about an hour from where Pat spent his early years.  I ask Pat later what the odds are of being at a festival in Chattanooga and meeting a woman from Atlanta who grew up an hour from his home in Germany.  He says, “Well, we were at Oktoberfest.”  I roll my eyes at him–like all Germans come to Oktoberfest in Chattanooga!

On the way home, we decide to stop at the Pickle Barrel pub for another beer.  We don’t really need another beer, but the building is so interesting that we want to go inside.  It’s one of those wedge-shaped buildings that practically comes to a point where two street intersect at a very shallow angle.  We each order a beer and then take the narrow, metal spiral stairs up to the deck area.  Small trees surround the building so that their foliage is the perfect height to provide shade on the deck.  It’s a beautiful day to sit outside, although it’s cool enough that I pick a spot in the sun.

As we sit, we see a free shuttle drive by.  I google and find that there is a shuttle that goes between the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the Aquarium.  We contemplate walking back to the Chattanooga Choo Choo to catch the shuttle instead of walking the rest of the way.  However, a little more googling tells us that we’re a 1/2 mile from the shuttle and 1 mile from the aquarium, so we might as well walk the extra 1/2 mile given that we can’t find any schedule information for the shuttle–it would suck if the shuttle has stopped for the day.

We stop in the restroom before we leave.  The restrooms are like caves, dark and small with rock walls and wooden doors that swing shut and latch with large wooden sliding bars that seem like something out of the middle ages.  I decide to test the flash function in the iPhone to see if I can capture the ambience of the ladies room, covered in graffiti.  I’m impressed that I’m able to get a shot at all considering how dark it is.

We make our way slowly back up Market St.  When we get to the bridge, we pause and notice a cabin cruiser docked below with a For Sale sign on it.  There is part of me that thinks I would like to live on a boat, but we decide to forego walking down to look at it.  We drag our gimpy, tired selves home, plop on the couch, and prop up our feet.  My sprained foot, which has felt fine all day, decides to tell me now that I walked too far today.  I give it some ice to quiet it and all three of us settle down for the evening.

The Climb to Schlossberg Tower

In contrast to yesterday morning, I wake up feeling like whatever bug Pat was fighting has been evicted only to find it’s way over to me. I get up groggily at 6AM, but end up returning to bed until 9AM. When at last I wake up, Pat is already out of bed. We get ourselves ready and head to breakfast, debating what today’s agenda should be. Pat suggests we go hiking again. I suggest we hike up the mountain this time and take the cable car down, as my knees will not take another day of downhill. Pat does not want to work that hard, so I suggest we walk over to Shlossberg and walk up to the tower, which is supposed to be a fantastic view of Freiburg. I’m not sure why I wasn’t tipped off to the fact that if we walk up to a scenic overlook, we will also have to walk down, but I cheerfully propose this alternative, thinking it will give our knees a day to recover.

After breakfast, we wind our way through Freiburg to the restaurant the marks the start of the ascent to the tower. The sign says 1.2 KM to the tower and I smile encouragingly at Pat that it’s such a short walk. As we start up the path, we quickly learn how cramped our poor calves are from walking downhill all day yesterday–each step feels like a massive stretch. But, it feels good and we take it slow. A little too slow, perhaps–a group of octogenarian Germans passes us like we’re standing still. We pick up the pace a bit. After winding our way through several steep switchbacks, we reach a restaurant and realize it’s the same restaurant that we thought we were at below. I am a little perplexed that it seems like we’ve gone at least 500 meters, yet we have only made it from the entry point to the restaurant.

We continue up the incline, much of it as steep as basement stairs. We pass enormous trees covered in graffiti as well as ancient ruins also covered in graffiti–we are surprised by the tagging every where in this relatively small town. At last, the climb gives way to a flat place where a playground with large wood structures provides a place for young children who aren’t exhausted to burn off energy while their parents catch their breath. I notice there aren’t any children here. I recline on a chain link hammock in the middle of the structure long enough for Pat to take a rare photo of me. When I view the photo on my camera, I remember why I prefer to stay on the other side of the lens.

We continue on to the next stretch of the path, winding our way up even steeper climbs. Finally, we come to the ruins of a tower with a serpentine path up to the top. We look over the view and I shoot, enjoying the breeze as much as the scenery. I turn around to shoot the other side and see another mountain behind us. I lean back to take a shot and, there in my lens at the very top of the next mountain is a structure silhouetted against the sky that looks remarkably like the symbol we have seen marking the path to the tower. Yes, I have just discovered that we are not at the tower at all, but only at a stopping place on the way.

I break the news to Pat. The tower looks far off in the distance, but we are determined to make it there. All wisdom about “enjoy the journey as much as the destination” abandons me as I focus on putting one foot in front of the other to finish this climb. I wonder how they measured the 1.2 KM–perhaps it was as the crow flies or, perhaps they meant it was 1.2KM straight up? Whatever the case, we redouble our efforts and leave the octogenarians in the dust (I am not proud to say that I was pleased that they turned around at the first tower because I would have been humiliated if the climb to the top was just an afternoon stroll for them). At last, we come upon the steps leading up to a grassy field where the viewing tower sits. It’s a crazy looking structure–giant logs support a spiral staircase up the middle with viewing platforms at multiple heights.

We enter the spiral stairs and I start counting each step. Then, I realize that perhaps in Germany this is not considered OCD as they have actually numbered the steps for me. 159 steps later, we arrive at the second to last viewing platform, but the steps narrow and continue, unnumbered. I climb up 16 more steps to the next platform and discover that the steps go up even further, past the viewing platform and shooting into the sky like an abandoned step ladder. I climb to the very top, but the stairs sway side to side. I take a step backwards and brace myself against the rail, every fear of heights I’ve ever had suddenly screaming in my ears, “Get down!” But I will not retreat until I have at least a couple of shots from this vantage point–it truly is an incredible view of Freiburg below and, for once, there is no fog. I manage to let go of my death grip on the rail long enough to snap a few careless photos and then I retreat to the platform where Pat waits. A man comes up the stairs below and the entire tower sways as his weight shifts with each step. Although the swaying is less amplified on the platform than it was on the stairs to no where, I am happy when Pat suggests we go down another level and sit on a built in bench for a while. When we sit, we notice a small lock snapped on the fence below the rail. It is engraved with two people’s names and a date. It seems like a nice way to tag something.

We cautiously make our way back down, but my left knee immediately starts with it’s shooting pains after only a few steps. I use the handrails to lift myself down, trying to save my knee for the descent down the hill. My knee really shouldn’t hurt this much–oddly, it’s my right knee that I previously injured, yet my left knee always starts with the pain first, my right knee catching up later. We limp our way down to the restaurant, feeling very old indeed. We decide it’s past time for lunch, so we might as well take a break and eat here. Unfortunately, the nice restaurant is no longer serving lunch, only coffee and dessert, and they send us up to the beer garden above. It’s only one flight of stairs up, so we settle at a table there and Pat goes up to the stand and orders food for us. He returns with what looks like a plate of worms. It turns out, it’s some meat like bologna that’s been sliced into thin strips and tossed with vinaigrette. Pat frowns at it–he says it’s not prepared properly and that it isn’t what he had in mind. We each try it. While it isn’t as bad as a plate of worms, it’s not significantly better. We manage to get down a couple bites each and then shift our focus to our beers. The beer is good. We sit in the sun filtered through heavy trees and drink our beer thinking life is pretty good in spite of the bologna salad. The view was worth the climb and the sore knees and, after all, we’re sitting in a lovely beer garden enjoying German pilsner with nothing else that has to be done today.

Walking and Waking

Having survived my first day of class only to work late, I took some melatonin in the hope of getting more sleep. I succeed in sleeping until 5AM, but given that I was up until 11:30, it doesn’t feel like a break through. I get out of bed none-the-less and decide that a walk is the most important thing for me to do. I pull on walk-appropriate clothing and decide I will walk to the corporate headquarters that is supposedly right around the corner from the training center.

I start down the road in the gray light of pre-dawn and try to read the signs pointing me in the right direction. The training center is like a resort set in the woods, with a campus of buildings set so carefully among the trees that it doesn’t at all feel like a campus. I follow a sign that says “Pedestrians” headed in the same direction as the headquarters figuring it will be safer since there is little light and I am dressed in all black. The path is blocked by a large tree that must have fallen during Irene’s passage, but I move a small branch out of the way and am then able to climb between the larger branches to continue on my way. As I walk down steps, I look up and see tennis courts. Even better, I see two does and a fawn munching on dew-covered grass.

The fawn nervously raises his head and flicks his tail. I stop and stand still while his mom sniffs the air and flicks her tail once, then twice. They move a few steps further from me, but then resume eating. I take a few steps forward and they both raise their heads once more. I sit down on the steps and they start eating again. Eventually, the mother and fawn work their way into the woods and the lone doe looks up at me. She has moved closer to me, looking directly at me, raising her head and snorting like she can’t decide if she wants to come closer or not. But she does. She walks straight at me, growing more nervous with each step if her flicking tail is an accurate indicator. Suddenly, she jumps straight into the air and lunges sideways upon landing as if she’s just seen a pack of wolves. I turn to look at what could possibly have startled her since I hadn’t moved and see only the mother and fawn going up the hill in the background. I chuckle to myself that she is as easily startled by her friends as I often am.

With the deer off in the woods, I have no excuse to keep sitting there, so I continue my walk. The path around the tennis courts doesn’t take me to the headquarters building. I wind my way around back to the parking lot and out to the public road that brought me to the training center. It’s a narrow lane lined with trees. On both sides, there are nothing but woods. I cannot imagine the worldwide headquarters of a huge corporation hiding in these woods and find myself thinking I’ve misunderstood somehow. My attention is drawn back to the setting when I spot a group of 5 more deer foraging in the woods across the street. I realize I am back to the main entrance to the training center and decide to turn up the drive since I clearly am not going to find headquarters this way. Two more deer pop their heads up as I walk by.

The birds are starting to sing and the light is getting steadily brighter. I almost give up on my quest, but I decide to try following the signs once more–this time I decide to stay on the road instead of taking the pedestrian path. I pass another mother and fawn on a grassy hillside as I follow the road back into what seems like only more woods. But eventually, there is a shiny structure peeping from behind a clump of trees. It is far too small to be an office building, but as I make my way through tree-lined parking lots, I realize I am approaching the building from one end. It is so inconspicuously tucked into the trees that even when I see the building from the front, I cannot believe that it’s headquarters. The building is a modern work of steel and glass, gleaming against the dark evergreens. But instead of looking plopped down in the middle of no where like so many corporate monstrosities, this building looks like it grew there. I look around at the beautiful green space that seems to go on for miles surrounding this building and discover a sense of growing pride that I work for this company.

This is not the first time I felt this. Just a couple months ago, my company encouraged all of us to spend a paid work day doing community service in honor of the company’s birthday. As a result, we collectively contributed millions of work hours to communities worldwide in a single day. I’ve never heard of a company doing that before–at least not to that scale. It’s an amazing way to celebrate a birthday.  The commitment to comunity service doesn’t end with anniversaries, either.  My company has an ongoing program to track hours and provide grant money to the causes we participate in as well as providing payroll deduction services for contributions to small, local charities as well as big ones.  It means a lot to me that the company puts its money where its mouth is rather than just asking us to all contribute to the United Way every year.

But now, I am worried that I will be late to class. I tuck away my growing pride and head back to my room to get cleaned up. Along the way, I count the deer and keep smiling to myself that this property is preserved by my company.

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.”

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.

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?