Category Archives: Adventure

Life on El Galeon: An Almost Spanish Sailor’s Log

On May 10, 2016, El Galeon Andalucia maneuvered her majestic mast beneath the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and returned to Port City Marina, what last summer’s crew called the tall ship’s “most successful port visit.”

Indeed, record numbers of wannabe pirates, history buffs, and tall ship enthusiasts  flocked to Pier 33 to tour the 170-foot replica of the 16th century Spanish galleon.

“We had more than 2000 visitors each of the 10 days we were there,” shared Chef David Garcia Gallardo, one of the Spanish crew. “And Port City Marina was very comfortable, with nice bathrooms!” he said, with a laugh. “This is important to sailors arriving in port!” Continue reading Life on El Galeon: An Almost Spanish Sailor’s Log

From Diligence to Dock: Boot Camp by the River

“Looking for a new exercise opportunity?” read Marybeth’s message.  I sipped my morning coffee and scrolled through the link she’d posted on my facbook wall.

Squat Photo Opp
Squat Photo Opp

DILIFit,” said the link, a free community exercise program with the crew of the USCG Diligence. “Work out with the Coast Guard!” read the very catchy headline.

Marybeth is my former boss, and she knows I like to exercise. Mondays around the office, she always asked about my weekend adventures: boxing classes; sunrise surf sessions, powered by two separate wake-up alarms; a rock climbing trip to West Virginia with an old friend from Colorado.  Of course she knew DILIFit would interest me.

“Tuesdays at noon, bring a water bottle and a positive attitude. Meet at the grassy area beside the ship.”

I glanced at the clock. Blame it on Daylight Savings, but morning coffee had spilled over to quarter of noon. I threw on my running shoes, grabbed my water bottle, and biked the few blocks to the Cape Fear River.

“If you don’t snapchat it, did you really exercise?” queried one of the Coast Guard officers, with a smile. Following a hearty hello from our cast of Coasties–energetic, and happy to see us—the captain of the ship gave us the low-down: mile and a half run to Port City Marina and back, with fitness stations along the way, including pushups, jump squats, bear crawls, lunges, plank, more pushups…and my least favorite exercise in the world.

* * *

The last time I did a pull-up was in 2002, and the ESPN Winter X-Games were in my then-hometown of Aspen, Colorado. The Navy Seals had an info booth adjacent to the Snowboard Superpipe and about ever 5 minutes, a deep male voice  bellowed from the tent: “Navy Seals Pull-up Challenge! Ladies and gentlemen, test your fitness with the Navy Seals Pull-up Chal-lenggge…”

The announcer droned on and on, the word ‘Chal-lengge’ infiltrating the atmosphere like the latest pop song. Finally, I buckled—or rather, I unbuckled my ski boots, pulled up my ski socks, and hoisted myself into the air.

I only did eight pull-ups, with the announcer aiding and abetting my wiggly ascents, but the bruiser gal who’d done a whopping 13 had left the Games early. By default, I was declared ‘Winner, Female Civilian’ category, and they handed me brand new Burton snowboard.

Unfortunately, I was a skier, not a snowboarder. I considered mounting the trophy on the wall, like a prize Marlin caught, but never eaten, a constant reminder of the time I somehow rigged the Navy Seals Pull-up Chal-lengge.

* * *

And now, 15 years later, my second-ever military fitness challenge, the nice Coast Guard Captain was telling us that Station 8 was the pull-up station.

Ugh. Don’t worry, I self-soothed. Maybe you’ll pass out before then!

Feeling Patriotic

Satisfied the handful of participants felt comfortable, safe, and ready to challenge ourselves at beginner, intermediate, or advanced levels, Captain Carter asked if there were any questions.

“You’ll have a rescue squad, correct?” asked one participant, kind of sort of joking.

Everyone laughed; and then, following a toot toot from the ship’s horn, we started on our self-paced jog toward Port City Marina.

It was an unseasonably warm March day, and Riverwalk was a busy place. I nodded to couples on benches, families meandering along wooden walkway, dogs and owners chasing each other around. A woman glanced up from her book, our collective draft ruffling her pages.

The first fitness stop sat adjacent to Cape Fear Community College’s boat-making workshop. Several students set aside their wood, paint, sanding and sawing, to watch us do jump-squats.

I’d opted for the advanced level of each exercise, aside from the accursed pull-ups, but my legs started to burn after about seven squats—only 22 more to go. I got through it, but   the leg burn remained. Recommencing my jog took a hot minute or two.

Next station: 90 seconds of forearm plank. Plank was an old friend of mine, and today, I relished the opportunity to rest my legs. Feeling slightly refreshed after a couple minutes of no movement whatsoever, I cringed at the next command.

It involved the straightaway near the Wilmington Convention Center, what makes for a beautiful stroll past boats, slips, and the outskirts of Port City Marina, if you’re not told to “sprint this stretch!”

“River,” by the Cape Fear River

I’m a lot of things, but a fast runner, I’m not: think snapping turtle, not Easter Bunny.

I took off as fast as those turtle feet would go, and then, my face on fire, I slowed to a near halt near Port City Marina’s scenic stretch of riverfront.

A beautiful metal statue of a sea bird sat hovered on its fixed axis, bearing silent witness to my waning energy. I jogged in place for a moment, then resumed a comfortable, forward-moving pace.

I plodded past True North, my nautical crush, a sweet little pink and green sailboat that lives in one of the marina slips. I waved at the empty craft, then pulled my trucker hat a little lower, hoping my face might morph from purple to a more comely, energized pink.

Crew members ran ahead, behind, keeping stride with everyone’s steps. These heroes in dark blue waved and encouraged we troops, high fiving the air whenever we passed

My feet hit the bright new asphalt of Pier 33, Port City Marina’s floating concert venue, where a visiting yacht was extending her stay. Her friendly crew wandered onto the deck, watching today’s steady stream of fitness seekers stop and drop beneath the open-aired band shell.

Staggered push-ups, said this station’s leader. I gave him a small nod, nothing too enthusiastic (best to conserve my energy, I decided), and placed my left hand slightly ahead of my right. It was cooler beneath the band shell, its big iron limbs casting lengthy, artistic shadows, and as I executed my first staggered pushup, my nose dipped into a long slice of shade.

Kind of awesome, I realized.

Push-ups on Pier 33


I smiled up at my Coast Guard guru, sparing no enthusiasm this time. “Beautiful place to do staggered push-ups,” I huffed, gazing at the USS North Carolina, our resident battleship, floating in the distance.

“Maybe I’ll do just a couple more.”


Postscript: I survived the unsightly Bear Crawl and managed 5 fully-assisted pull-ups. Will I ever do one legitimate pull-up, without more than a little help from my friends? Probably not. But it’s always fun to try.


The Pull-up I Still Can't Do
The Pull-up I Still Can’t Do

Opus One: my first day in Wrightsville Beach

I just heard the most beautiful story.

I moved to Wilmington about a week ago from Aspen, Colo., to head to grad school, start work and soak up the rest of a summer at the beach. Monday afternoon, after 32 hours on the road, I pointed my convertible toward Wrightsville Avenue and rolled the top down.

My first discovery was Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill. Two striking young women were hard at work behind the bar. One had tattoos, one had long, dark braids, both were efficient, yet enigmatic, adding a touch of mystique to the authentic Mexican fare. I counted 63 hot sauces on my side of the counter, but forgot to try any of them; I was too engrossed in my Traditional Salad Bowl with Grilled Mahi.

I set out for a stroll on the beach strand between the piers. I passed five young men out of “The Endless Summer” poster. They sat on a wooden porch, in old rocking chairs, and gazed out at the sidewalk with mild disdain. One of them shot me a bored, over-tanned look as I walked by.

Two boys synchronized break-dance moves, with matching handstands in the sand; a family spread out with lawn chairs and whiffle ball in expert tailgate fashion; surfers gauged wave conditions, while sculpted men with tattoos gathered together to discuss who knows what and looking good in so doing. An elderly pair of swimmers squealed with delight when they discovered just how warm the water was. I, too, applauded the balmy Atlantic, much warmer than my Southern California’s mighty Pacific.

I walked to the second pier, made of weathered pick-up sticks, and marveled at the kite surfers. The kites soared through the sky, colorful half-moons dancing across the horizon.

Back downtown, I wandered into Lagerheads. A party of three walked in, looking for an extra seat; I offered to move over so they could sit together, but the older gentleman in the group interrupted: “Well, maybe I want to sit next to you!”

We started to chat. Tracy and Jason Bell are married with three kids, but they were out on a Monday night for a go at their favorite video game, Find the Differences. The older gentleman was Jason’s father, visiting from Scotland.

 Here is the story:

Yard Sale in Green Fringe

I start the day early because I didn’t put a time on the signs.  I figure the sale will start when I’m ready to drag all my shit out and lay it across the lawn.  But I’m wrong.  The rummagers come early and while I’m partially set up by 8:15, one seriously- seasoned expert in the yard sale field starts rifling through the side of a black hefty bag still tied up in a knot.  “Help yourself,” I say, nodding toward the heap of god-knows-what.  Go on, find the hot ticket while I add some more sugar to my first cup of coffee.

The lawn is a nice shade of green across the big patch of space by the dumpster (above which, conveniently, I reside.)  The green leather rug, what I consider my prized possession for today’s pickings, looks rather camoflaged against the blades of grass, but the fringe is shaggy and erratic and makes an noticeable impression, kind of like green grass gone wild.   Still, I need to look closely to see where the grass ends and the shag begins so we put out a red construction paper sign: “Leather Rug, $20”.

And we start laying out our shit on top of it.

The thing about yard sales is, you never think your shit is actually shit.  You’ve worn it, read it, drunk great wine out if it, put it up on your walls for years and listened to it over and over.   My rogue friend Jonathan told me I should sell all the CDS for $15.99.  Plus tax.

As it turns out, whatever you’ve loved and valued isn’t worth much more than $2 to the general public.  Around 11:30, we decide it’s time to ramp up the snacks and beer portion of the promotion and Autumn goes to fetch margarita fixin’s and hang a couple more signs, just in case – in their mad dash to catch of glimpse of “live girls in bikinis” – our target demo’s taken a left, when they should’ve taken a right.

While she’s gone, a rather weathered, worn-in looking man ambles across the lawn.  “Hi there,” I say, with a smile.  ‘How’s it going?”

“Oh, you know, just seeing if you got anything I really need.”

“Well, this is America. You don’t really need anything, but maybe you’ll find something to brighten the day, ” I say, amiably.

He walks toward the table and chairs – yes! – and points to my friend’s faux-flower vase on top. It’s the kind that would sit nicely on a bedside table or a windowsill and a few wannabe-wildflowers are sticking out the wannabe-soil.

“How much you askin’ for that?”

I laugh.  “I think she’d be good with $2”.

He stares at it for awhile, then walks around the other side of the table.  He cocks his head, then squints,  apparently trying to size up the flowers from a different angle. “Huh.  I live in a studio.  I don’t know if I have room.”

I’m not sure how to respond to this quandry so for once in my life, I say nothing.  In truth, I’m not sure if it’s worth another sales pitch.

“You got any furniture?” he asks.  I bite my lip.  There may be no room for fake flowers but dammit, he might be able to squeeze in a loveseat! We walk upstairs and I show him the nice heavy over-stuffed loveseat.  He spreads out his arms, stretching them to the estimated width of the sofa and then carefully holds the tension, from elbow  to elbow, as we walk back downstairs.  “I’m gonna go measure my apartment and then I’ll come back with some money.”

“Great, we’ll be here!” I say and then I wave, hoping I can get him to wave back and lose his measurements – just for fun – but he holds his forearms taut and teeters down the sidewalk, all concentration.

About 10 minutes later he comes back, shaking out his wrists, arms once again at ease.   “Don’t think it’ll fit.”

The vase, or the loveseat?

“I’ll take the flowers though.”  He peels two one-dollar bills from his pocket and pauses, eyeing the flowers one more time, checking his measurements.  “Yeah, these’ll work.”

It was a big decision so I’m glad he took his time; there’s nothing worse than the feeling of regret over $2 ill-spent at a rummage sale.


I keep talking up the bookshelves, the table and chairs, the green leather rug but they were destined to become the main remains of the day.  For some reason, the bizarre random items – the pie plate, the fish coffee mug and the magic 8-ball (no surprise there, really) are quick sellers, along with a stack of salad plates that have become the apple of the neighborhood girls’ eye, which were snatched up like fresh-baked bread from an early morning, just-opened bakery.

I don’t want to drag everything upstairs at the end of the sale or, please no, haul it somewhere else to get rid of it, so it’s time to encourage any and all offers.  A little girl runs back and stares at the dishware, telling me she broke her plate.  Huh.  Well how bout you buy a headband and I’ll throw in another plate?

Autumn laughs but the little girl chews her lip, thinks, then nods in agreement.  I throw in another headband – Customer Appreciation Day on the lawn.

We both have tables, rugs, vases.  Hers go first, while mine watch with envy like red-headed stepfurniture as Cinderella tries on shoes.

Should we try again tomorrow?

A neighbor comes by to chat and asks about my 50+1 CD player and speakers, which have given me much pleasure and bass over the years.  He heads back to his place and then returns with a printer of his own.  He puts his box on the sidewalk not far from my own printer and catches a potential buyer’s eye.  The man walks away from my printer, moves towards his printer and hands the lawn-poacher a twenty.

Whoa!  Get your own yard sale, my friend.  No usurping my blades of grass, my hours of sign-hanging and strategically-worded facebook posts.

“You get half,” he tells me.

Good man.

We return to the topic of my stereo and he says he needs to make sure it works. “Oh, it works,”  I tell him.  I plug it into the outdoor outlet and wipe off the droplets of rain that have suddenly appeared. I grab Gladys Knight and the Pips and fast- forward to Track 5.  We waltz, dance, sway to Midnight Train to Georgia and I press the Groove On button.  The sidewalk shakes and Pips serenade the dumpster.

Sold, for $10.  Maybe my luck is changing.

Alas, the rain picks up and we ponder the potential damage to the cashmere sweater and the Miller Lite wife-beater (surprisingly still up for grabs) and the scantily-clad leather rug, now that the pie plate and the backpack and the stretchpants have been stripped from its surface.

A few minutes later, the sun comes back out and we sit down on the lawn to collect ourselves.   Suddenly, we’re exhausted.  Too much commotion, too much wheelin-and-dealin’ and really, too many margaritas too fast.  It’s been a long day of fending off street urchins trolling the salad plate section and honestly, we sort of don’t care anymore.  Or I should say, we care more about lying down in the sun.

I stretch out across the green leatherness while Autumn lies down on the hanging carry-on bag positioned between the Doc Martens and the martini shaker.  The sun sinks into our willing shoulders and at last, the bikini tops feel like a good idea.  We doze off and a perfect amount of peaceful time goes by.  I awake to the sound of birds and a cool breeze and an extremely sad sight: everything is still there.  Even the salad plates.

Autumn softly snores – it’s been that kind of day – and I look around, assessing the picked-over trappings of my life.  I consider making the street urchins a salad.

How the Bowl Gets Born – A Day in the Life of an Aspen Highlands Bootpacker

At 12,392, Aspen Highlands Bowl, aka the Bowl, may be the most fun you’ll ever have, in-bounds. Locals know it well, and hike and ski it often; regular visitors look forward to their annual hike up the Bowl and bring first-time visitors along, who feel like a zillion bucks upon their first summit. Hiking the Bowl makes any given day that much better; whatever’s ailing, nagging, weighing you down seems to evaporate as you crest Heart Attack Hill (that little steep section) and make your way under the prayer flags onto the lookout bench, to catch your breath and gaze out over the plethora of peaks at the top of the world as most of us know it.

I’m a Bowl junkie. Every time I hop onto the bench, I send a picture message to someone, somewhere (there’s good cell service in the mountains once you get on top of those pesky peaks) and I know it’s a parallel universe situation: I’m certain that the picture in their inbox makes them smile and I’m certain they’re doing something less exciting (oh, I’m certain) – or at least, at a lower elevation.

But as invigorated and capable as I feel at the top of Highlands Bowl, I know that the true hard-core insiders are those who did the legwork, literally, to get the Bowl and many of the more challenging parts of the mountain ready and safe and user-friendly for the rest of us.

These worker bees are called bootpackers.



The Real Secret of Aspen (What VH1 Didn’t Tell You)

“My game is tight. I slay the Coug.”

So reads the facebook status of Da Bizzler, letting us know his take on the world. Da Bizzler presents himself as a weight-lifting, motor-sports revving, cougar-lovin’ 20-something, who spends his time watching 300 and dreamin’ of Da Cougs. A friend posts a greeting from a Spanish-speaking country to which Biz responds, “Las Cougarachas!”

Some days Bizzler will get psyched about an indoor bouldering route he’s finally figured out and, like any normal friend, he’ll share the excitement in a status update: “I sent the yellow tape. Cougs, you have been warned. The guns are toned; the pythons have been let out of the cage.”

Bizzler’s latest link redirects us to, and a story on one family’s near-fatal run-in with a cougar. Family’s ‘Angel’ Dog Saves Boy from Cougar Attack, reads the headline. Apparently, the loyal family dog saved one lucky Canadian youth from a real-live cougar attack, getting to the cougar before it could get its claws on the boy.



Challenge Aspen hosts IPC Alpine World Cup – Next Stop, the Paralympic Games in Whistler

2010 IPC Alpine World Cup Buttermilk

This weekend, the flame was lit and the games began, again. March 12th rekindled Vancouver, as almost 300 torchbearers ushered in the glow of the 2010 Paralympics Games, March 13-21. And just over a week ago, Challenge Aspen hosted nearly 120 competitors from 20 countries on the slopes of Buttermilk, for the last stop on the IPC Alpine World Cup Circuit.

* * *

“How’s the course?” asks Mudflap, lift operator extraordinaire and congenial mountain host, cooking up brats and award-winning chili at the base of Tiehack during the week’s unseasonably warm race days.

“Are you kidding? Living the dream,” says Challenge Aspen Competition Team Coach John McBride. “It’s a little soft today for ski racing, but for watching a ski race in the blazing sun? Perfect!”




Champagne, Rockslides and Rock and Roll: A Fine Time to be Stuck in Aspen

Some spent the evening sequestered in the splendor of the Viceroy, swilling champagne, savoring the flavor of Eight K’s menu samplings and cheering Jeff Bridges at Aspen Film’s Oscar Party in Snowmass; some friends and I opted for a quiet, cozy night at Markham’s Bar at the Hotel Lenado, where we kept the bartender company and rearranged the potted plants for better viewing of the bed and breakfast’s TV screen. We made ourselves at home, reveling at Ben Stiller’s freakish antics, cringing through the dance number and wishing we three had a group Snuggie like Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Little did we know that the Oscars were to be the least of the evening’s excitement.




Confessions from the Bread Aisle: The Perils of Passover in Aspen

Passover and Easter welcome spring in Aspen, sure as sudden snowstorms followed by random bouts of 50 degree sunshine. “Happy Easter” texted my friend Dave, spreading pastels and good wishes to friends everywhere.

“You mean Happy Passover. Hope you’re eating lots of leavened bread in my honor,” I texted back, feeling weak from lack of leavening.

“Oh yeah, gluten-free crackers. Isn’t this the one where they put blood on the doorway to protect the first-born?” he replied.

Not bad, Dave, not bad.

“Yeah, tell Sheldon to watch out,” I responded, referring to his less-than-angelic first born, with whom the Pharaoh would have had a field day. Easter Sunday marked the home stretch of Passover but at that stage in the game, I would’ve traded my first-born for a slice of bread.




Medical Marijuana: It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

Josh Griggs, co-owner of Ute City Medicinals, Aspen’s third and latest medical marijuana dispensary, runs up the stairs and shakes my hand. “Sorry we’re a little late,” he says, with a chuckle: “It’s just the nature of our business!”

Griggs and his partner, Brett Nelson, are long-time locals who needed a change of work pace. They casually tossed around their business plan all summer, then decided to get serious about it this fall. Ute City Medicinals is on Main Street and confidential inquiries can be sent to: The two are enthusiastic about their budding new venture; the play on words is endless and so, too, is the potential for valley-wide business, seemingly enough for all three of Aspen’s new dispensaries to thrive.