Happy. Healthy. Heathen.

Traveling, training, thinking, talking, typing


September 2012

Moonlight Ride around Cade’s Cove

And following on the heels of the Warrior Dash…crazy, moonlight bicycle ride in Smoky Mountain National Park.

When Sam began college at UT in the fall of 2006, he began work at the UT Outdoor Program (UTOP).  I believe that it was through this group that I first heard about this ride.

Cade’s Cove is a beautiful plateau in the Smoky Mountains, protected on all sides by mountains, and according to the site, is one of the most visited place in the National Park.  On a pretty fall weekend, the loop is almost entirely filled with cars, creeping along looking at the flora and fauna.   Like most state parks, the road closes at dusk, and that’s when it gets interesting.  On a full moon, if you’re on a bicycle, you can see well enough to navigate, even without blinkies, on the 11-mile loop.  What.  A.  Rush.

Saturday night’s full moon was occasionally partially occluded by clouds, and sometimes diffused by a heavy fog that gave everything a kind of scary, surreal feeling.  There are old buildings along the road, and we stopped to see one of the old churches. It was here that we discovered Eliott’s flat tire.  While Amy and I were working to patch it, Eliott scared the poop out of Casey by tossing stones into the woods while Casey tried to figure out what it was.  We also got several packs of coyotes to answer back to our howls – pretty scary in the dark and moonlight.

The black bear sighting was the highlight.  We try not to use headlamps or white blinkies because you can see more if you let your eyes adjust and dilate to the moonlight, but after watching the large dark figure walk toward us across a field, we finally shown a light, and there he was.  We left in haste, with Casey beside me saying he didn’t have to outrun the bear, but just be able to outrun me.

We stopped at the working mill, and the other pioneer structure, seeing bats, and deer, hearing the coyotes, and straining for every bit of road definition out of the shadows of the moon.  We stopped at the part of the valley where you can hear an echo bounce back and forth across the ridge, and clapped and whistled and hooted until we needed to get back on the bikes and finish the loop.  We didn’t start riding until midnight, and between the flat tire and sightseeing, it was 3am when we got back.

I love this ride.  Going without a night’s sleep is a small price to pay for the memory of the experience.  It’s become one of my mental happy places to wander to when I need a refuge from stress and life drama.  The whisper of my tires on the road, the cool air on my face, the muted outlines of the fields and mountains, all come together to create a unique, unforgettable carpe nocturne event.  If you see me post that I’m making the trip again, ask to come along.

Oh, and my daughters and I are apparently 9 years old.

Everybody smile!
Stop clowning around, this one’s for real!
Seriously, y’all, I want a good picture of us!
…..and Eliott photobombs the last try…

Thanks for reading!


Warrior Dash 2012

Because it’s fun, that’s why.

Start here.

The pictures at this site are so much better than any I took, and there’s video too, so take a glance at that to get an idea of what this race is like.  TL; DR:  5k with obstacles.

I did this race last year for the first time, and just loved it.  It’s right up my alley – all fun and mud and games and mud and beer and mud.  Costumes are a big part of it too, so this year we spent all of 9 minutes pulling ours together.

Hat tip to Sam Jordan for Eliott’s:

Senior Chippendale
Yep, it’s an LBD.

I wish I’d taken a better picture of the fishnet stockings with the running shoes.  And ours weren’t even the best costumes there.  I didn’t take my phone onto the grounds because that’s the Mud Zone.  The site has some good shots; the best we saw were a Pebbles and BamBam couple, complete with clubs and hairbones.  We saw a team of Oompa-loompas, lots of tutus and vikings, and tutus on vikings.

The race started with a series of hills/ditches with mud that were easy, but the mucky mud at the bottom was a real shoe-eater.  Next came a commando crawl under barbed wire, but it was hands-and-knees height, so that just created muddy hands and knees.  Next, we had an over-under obstacle which wasn’t too bad – the “over” was a wall about 4 feet high, the under was barbed wire around 2 feet high.  I got a dress strap caught on one, but Eliott untangled me and off we went.  Then there was a series of webbing, kind of like boxing ring ropes (that’s a guess – I don’t believe I’ve even felt the strappy things around a boxing ring).

I’m sure these are out of sequence now, but somewhere along the way there was a field of tires, and junker cars laid end to end so it was hood/roof/trunk/hood/roof/trunk.  The trickiest one for me this year was the rope climb – kind of an A-shape that rose about 25 feet in the air.  One side was a ladder-type slant that you climbed down; the upside was a sandpaper-covered slope that you climbed by holding on to a rope.  The trick was not the climb up, nor the climb down, but the transition over the top.  I flattened out too soon, with my center of gravity on the rope side, and with no leverage for my legs, I was left with just powering over with upper body, like when you push up on the side of the pool to get out.

As you near the finish line, there were two jumps through fire (not kidding), then the final mud pit.  Mark Twain described the Mississippi River as:  “Too thick to drink, too thin to plow”.  Capt Clark (of Lewis and Clark) said:  The water we Drink, of the Common water of the missourie at this time, contains half a Comn Wine Glass of ooze or mud to every pint.  Yeah, that’s about what it was like.  Even a visit to the fireman’s hose after the race was over only took off the thick top layer.  It took 2 showers after that for the water to run clear.

The race organizers have cleverly designed the timing-chip-for-a-beer trade, and of course turkey legs and pork sandwiches were aplenty.  This race is pricey, plus a hefty $20 parking fee, but if you know that ahead of time, you can limit that by carpooling, and registering on time saves a bit too.  Wave starts are every 30 minutes all day long.

Nice and clean pre-race

I will go back and edit if our official race photos turn out – for now, this is the best I can do:

smelled as good as they look

See you at Dash 2013!

Thanks for reading!

What’s in a sunset?

I can’t start this post without beginning with a giant THANK YOU to my big brother for having given the last week to me.  I’m at his condo in Panama City Beach, 19th floor of the most beautiful resort setting EVER.  The only thing that is between me and the Gulf is the beautiful pool and patio.

I’ve gotten some fabulous studying done, eaten great food, played with the dogs on the beach, and seen some breathtaking sunsets.

Here’s one.
Here’s another.
Here’s the same one 15 minutes later.

x seven nights.

We’ve all seen them.  We’ve all stood there, in awe, trying to memorize the sight, the smell, the feel, the sounds, having a moment in the middle of a day where you want to not just stop time, but put 4 walls, a ceiling, and a floor around to sneak away to when you’re, well, not in that delicious bubble.

This experience I’m trying to relate has happened over and over and over in the past 5 years, and while I hope it doesn’t pass, I want to get it down in words in case it does.  It doesn’t show any signs of fading, and conversely seems to occur more and more often, with more and more vigor.

So many of these posts I write start with: “When I was a believer…”, and this one will too.  It’s one of the most crucial turning point of my life, one of those milestones that divides your life into Before and After.

Before discarding Christianity as my worldview,  I would see something as magnificent as a sunset, or a newborn, or a majestic mountain, and I would stop for a moment in gratitude and humility that God would have made that sunset/baby/mountain just exactly that way.  How wonderful that God would have put that sunset/baby/mountain together, in that fashion, in that place, to serve that purpose, and that I could see it and enjoy it and have my moment.  I remember it being emotional and moving and profound.  This was based on both my gratitude for getting to see this thing, but mostly it was the awe that God could have so easily have created it – in the blink of an eye, the sweep of his hand, a nod of his head.

Let me express what those moments are like as a non-theist.

I’ve been watching the sunset against the crashing of the waves of the Gulf on the white sands of the panhandle of Florida.  A storm system came through just as I arrived here, so there have been clouds across the sky at sunset.  As I watch the colors build, and the sun sink lower, and the blues of the ocean turn gray, and swimsuited children become dark silhouettes of joy and laughter, I am astonished into speechless and motionless wonder.

The probability of my tiny self of carbon in this place and time to be able to see what I’m seeing and hear what I’m hearing is beyond any mathematical comprehension.  To have had the life I’ve had to bring me to this place to see this sunset at this time stretches even the most vivid imagination.  My gratitude and humility to be here in the face of those odds are indescribable.

Dreamboat Neil deGrasse Tyson said this in his book Death by Black Hole

“While the Copernican principle comes with no guarantees that it will forever guide us to cosmic truths, it’s worked quite well so far: not only is Earth not in the center of the solar system, but the solar system is not in the center of the Milky Way galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy is not in the center of the universe, and it may come to pass that our universe is just one of many that comprise a multiverse. And in case you’re one of those people who thinks that the edge may be a special place, we are not at the edge of anything either.”

This universe was not designed with me in mind.  It wasn’t designed at all.  There is more beauty and magnificence in that truth than in any intent of any design.  That mountain is just that majestic, that infant is truly that perfect, and the sunset is simply that stunning (and if my geeky science friends bring to my attention that the pollutants in our atmosphere make for more beautiful sunsets,  I’m gonna end you).

So when you join me at my Tennessee cottage for sunset and cocktails, and I stop in the middle of my sentence because of the glory of the vision of the setting sun, you will know why.

Thanks for reading!


Blog at

Up ↑