Have you ever found yourself saying “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation?” That’s how I feel today. Last night Miss Chef and I got back from a logistically confusing tour of the eastern states. We left separately but came home together, so at least you know it ends well.
We each had a Part A and a Part B to our traveling. Miss Chef’s Part A was to fly to Michigan for a week with her dad and extended family (he lives in Alabama, but flew up separately). Before she flew back to Charlotte, I left on my own Part A, which was an 8+ hour drive to southwestern Ohio. It was finally time for my 20th college reunion.
Yes, we were finally those weird Alumni creatures who descend on campus and look old and get in the way and don’t understand how you’re supposed to order at Bagel & Deli. But, being old and confused, we didn’t care.
I graduated from Miami University of Ohio (“Miami was a university before Florida was a state.”) It might help your confusion a bit to know that the city in Florida was named after a different tribe than the Miami Indians who lived here—the southern tribe was the Maiyaimi Indians. Which just goes to prove the superiority of the education available in Ohio, at least in spelling.
But I digress. The drive, on my own, through three mountainous states and into a fourth, was not so bad. I do really love the beauty of the Appalachians, so the unfolding scenery kept me quite happy most of the way. (Except Kentucky. Kentucky takes too long, and people like to drive slowly in the left-hand lane there.)
And then there are the idiots in Tennessee trying to take landscape photos while driving…
Still, I was in a pretty good mood when I finally made my way to campus and found the registration area for Alumni Weekend at Goggin Ice Center. Thank goodness for my smartphone, because not only had they torn down and rebuilt the arena since my days, but they’d relocated it across campus! Maybe that’s a test to make sure the most out-of-touch and confused alumni don’t clog up the area too badly.
Fortunately, I’m still with it enough to find my way. The entrance is quite impressive—this is over the skate check-out area and gift shop that face you as you walk in the front doors.
You see, though having earned the nickname “Cradle of Coaches,” Miami’s football history has been very spotty at best. So the students get much more excited about the hockey games, and an intramural sport called Broomball. It has nothing to do with Harry Potter, and everything to do with amateur skaters falling down a lot.
Our check-in area was in the secondary rink area, which appeared to be for the synchronized skating team (which I didn’t even know we had, so I’ve already learned something about my alma mater). I was quite impressed, but certainly not surprised, by the organization of the entire endeavor.
My former roommates had already arrived and picked up my packet, so all I needed to do was buy a ticket for the next evening’s Taste of Miami event. Soon I had found my way to the (new) campus apartments we were staying in and the welcoming hugs of the women I hadn’t seen for years.
Here’s a photo taken much later that evening…in a bar…by a husband who got his finger in front of the flash.
I’m hoping to get a better copy from a different camera, but in the meantime, you can get an idea of the primary players. There was a sixth member of our little troupe, but between work schedules and child care, she couldn’t make it. Other than a few pounds on some of us (ahem), we haven’t changed all that much, I’m happy to say. I know we could never pass for 19-year old students, but I’m quite ok with that.
None of us were involved with organizations sponsoring big events that weekend, so much of our time was spent taking campus tours (several new academic buildings in place, many new dorms going up, and they’re finally retrofitting the old ones with air conditioning!), wandering the 5-block uptown area and just generally catching up.
A view from one end of High Street.
A future Miamian enjoying breakfast at Bagel & Deli.
Skyline chili, a Cincinnati tradition. If you haven’t had it, you’ll think it’s disgusting, but it’s a great combination of greasy flavors. Yes, even better than pizza after a late night uptown.
Speaking of which…
I really took this photo to send to my brother. He also graduated from Miami, and after my roomies and I found our other favorite haunts closed, crowded or creepy, we happened to end up at his favorite bar. Not that, erm, either one of us spent all that much time uptown, in these kinds of establishments. We were too busy studying.
By the way, Mom, you should be grateful that we got through there when we did. In-state tuition plus room and board (freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus now) is running at $23,000 a year. While that still qualifies as a great bargain these days, there’s no doubt we got our money’s worth 20 years ago.
Saturday night was the Taste of Miami, just an open-bar food-station dinner / party that unfortunately was rained out from its central-campus location. It was quickly relocated to the same ice rink where we’d checked in, so it was a bit crowded. Still, we had great performances from a university jazz combo and the men’s Glee Club, augmented by alumni.
For me it had been 19 years since I’d visited campus, and I am very happy I made the trek. Not only did I re-solidify my dear friendships, but I’ve gained new appreciation for the environment where I was able to finish (more or less) growing up in both safety and freedom. Although today’s students don’t have curfews in their dorms, which are now co-ed, so obviously we missed out on some of that freedom stuff.
After packing up and a last round of hugs goodbye, it was time for me to begin my Part B. Miss Chef had left Charlotte the previous day to drive down to her old hometown of Fort Payne, to spend a few days with family and take care of a couple of legal details related to her mother’s estate. I had decided that I might as well join her, but when I looked at the map, I noticed that it would be simpler to just drive straight there instead of of backtracking to Charlotte. So we both drove separately and met at her father’s house.
I didn’t take any new photos on this drive through the mountains. And I didn’t take many photos of my time in Fort Payne. There were three young nieces around most of the time, so my hands were literally full. It also explains why my cell phone now has pictures like this on it:
And masterpieces like this:
Yes, that’s Rosie sprawled out on the floor. Since our usual dogsitter was busy, and the nieces kept asking about our dog, Miss Chef decided to bring Rosie with her. She is an awesome road trip dog!
My birthday happened to fall on the last day of our stay, so
we Miss Chef organized a little birthday picnic / party at De Soto Falls, part of a state park 20 minutes from the house. Once again, I left my camera in my bag, but here is someone else’s photograph of the upper falls. Above the dam is a small lake perfect for a swim on a hot Alabama summer afternoon.
It was mid-week when we finally loaded up our cars and prepared to caravan our way back to Charlotte. It had been a fun and fascinating vacation, but after so much time away from home we were eager to get back. First, though, there was more of this.
Miss Chef isn’t fond of highways, or highway traffic, so she’s found a route that uses mostly state highways and takes us right alongside the Ocoee (“oh-KOH-wee”) and Nantahala (“nan-a-HAY-la”) rivers. Since we weren’t on a schedule and we both looooove the mountains, it was very tempting to stop at several of the scenic pull-off sites or recreation areas. But Miss Chef had a specific stop in mind, so it wasn’t until we were in western North Carolina that we finally pulled off at a roadside collection of pizza stand, BBQ restaurant and whitewater rafting outfitters for lunch.
We ordered a sausage pizza and watched the occasional rafters float by. You sure couldn’t beat the view.
A rain shower had passed through while we waited for our pizza, which left a heavy mist over the water. The heavy humidity and overwhelming greenness made the words “tropical forest” spring to mind. Then I remembered reading once that the southern Appalachians are actually a temperate rain forest. On this day, the designation couldn’t have been more fitting.
After lunch, Miss Chef asked if there was a place nearby we could go on a short hike. We’re not sure we followed the directions correctly, but we did find a nice access to the river at Patton’s Run, one of the rapids used by the many whitewater rafting organizations in the valley.
We made a second stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the largest rafting organization in the area. We poked around the shops and picked up a brochure or two, and Miss Chef began her campaign to come back for the rafting. The rapids are much, much easier than the artificial ones at the US National Whitewater Center…but I had already put my hand in the river, and that water is cold!!
So who knows, maybe someday I’ll be posting photos of us in one of those rafts. Maybe just of Miss Chef. For now, though, I am going to spend the last few days of my vacation at home, doing as much nothing as I can handle.