I hold my phone at a different angle, cutting out my face. Tess smiles and Matt glances over.
“Let’s do another one,” I say.
We try again. Matt’s face is even more awkward.
“Matt doesn’t need to be in the picture,” Tess decides.
We’re positioning the camera when the river gets a little bumpier.
“Better hold on to your phone, Meliss.” Matt playfully taunts, as we approach a little waterfall.
Tess and I finally take the picture, and almost at the same time, we all hear the same popping sound. Not too long after, Tess is dragging the deflated raft to shore. Matt is attempting to put his sandals back on. I’m clinging to our hard, aluminium canister full of margarita to my chest, as my the straps of Corona monokini awkwardly slide down.
It’s my first official day in Asheville.
When I quit the agency, I told Annabel that I had to get out of town.
“Like, immediately after my last day,” I told her.
I couldn’t explain why. I just had a picture in my head of Morrie and I hitting the road, Escape packed up with pillows and blankets, for parts unknown.
My first choice in location was Taiwan, which for obvious geographical reasons, was out. My next choice; Asheville.
When I first got the pull to go to Asheville, I wondered if I should move there. Nope, scratch that – I actually said that I was moving here.
On the phone with Tess, in the back of Alivia’s on a quick break, I told her that I had to get out of Durham. I told her it was for my own survival.
“I feel like my soul is being smothered,” I explained. “I have to get out of here. I have to move.”
Hence what was at first, a chance for me to look at jobs in Asheville. Instead, over the next few weeks, I realized that I actually didn’t want to relocate immediately as much as I wanted to travel immediately.
So here I was, drifting along in the French Broad River. The rubbery soles of my sneaker slipped on a rock, and the margarita was as good as gone. That’s probably right when I realized how this travel writing thing was going to go.
In my Anthropologie inspired dreams, this blog would be about Morrie and I cruising down some redwood lined highway in a renovated Shasta trailer or converted Jeep. I’d have avocado toast for breakfast every morning overlooking some foggy vista, while some perfectly coiffed lumberjack type makes me piping hot coffee over a fire that, you guessed it, he built himself.
But that’s not exactly what I’m working with. I drive a dented Ford Escape. Halfway here, I realized I forgot Morrie’s food bowls at home. I wrote, and re-wrote this post like five times. I’m currently drinking a class of $4 Trader Joe’s wine. I desperately need a haircut and in addition to leaving Morrie’s bowls at home, I also forgot his brush.
My life is basically cobbled together with scotch tape at this point.
Fast forward to this morning, when I’m huffing and puffing up a hill with Matt. He looks behind him to make sure I’m keeping up, and I shout something encouraging at him. He says something like, “switch hoopy what and adjust the thingy.”
He cycles back.
“Is the thingy ga-hoopled?”
I give him a blank look.
“I have no idea what you just said,” I confess.
I’ve never been super enamored with cycling, in fact, I’ve actively detested the idea of it. I hate driving in downtown Durham and having to make space for the cyclists. Half of them don’t follow the rules at all, wanting to be treated like a pedestrian when it’s convenient, and on the flip side, wanting to be treated like a car when it serves them as well.
The ones that I’ve met, while nice, are incessant about it being the only way to get around.
“Don’t you know you could be saving the environment?!” They’d drool; their wire-rimmed glasses crookedly resting on their nose, their perfectly manicured mustache suddenly awry because of their deep, guttural need to express how much they love cycling.
When I didn’t know how I could be saving the environment, as I ignorantly drive a SUV, they would remind me of how much money I’d save, or how I’d be empowering Durham to be more bike-friendly.
“Plus, it’s a GREAT way to stay in shape,” whatever toned and tanned girl was there would say, tightening the part-bun, part-bird’s nest taking residence right atop her head.
Sure it is.
I also used to have a bike, a teal cruiser I had named Jake, after Adventure Time. A few weeks after I got Jake, I crashed him into a prickly bush on South Glenwood in Raleigh. A local douche watched from across the street, and red-faced, I shouted at him not to worry, that I was fine.
Needless to say I’ve been pretty salty about the activity since.
There are secret lessons here from my favorite authors. The first, you usually don’t get things right the first time (Gilbert), and sometimes you hate things because you secretly love them (Havrilesky).
So in my pursuit to be all in tune with my inner self (or whatever) a day or so before I left, I was compelled to browse the Raleigh/Durham Craigslist. I happened upon a silver and teal mountain bike.
You should get it, something whispered. The idea was laughable, but very persistent, so after a few hours of not being able to shake the blasted thing, I texted the person and asked if it was still available.
That was that.
The bugger made another attempt last night. Tess had to work the next day, but Matt was planning on riding his bike into town to run some errands. He invited me to come with, and remembering that little pull towards the Raleigh bike, I hesitantly said yes.
Matt’s been riding for awhile, and was already familiar with the lay of the downtown. His bike is actually just looks like one of his appendages, since it suits him so well, and he’s so quick on it. He zips through alley ways and parking lots, I follow, with him politely making suggestions and informing me of the bike laws over his shoulder.
On Tess’s borrowed silver and teal mountain bike, I miraculously kept up. I tried to be aware of the traffic, and immediately felt a pang of guilt when I realized 1) how difficult it was to ride with traffic and 2) how dangerous it can be.
After stopping at the bank and riding around Main Street a bit, we stopped at City Bakery for cold drinks – unsweetened iced tea for me, iced lavender coffee for Matt. I was a bit windswept, my hair everywhere, but ecstatic.
“This was fucking awesome,” said a pre-pubescent, crazy haired Aaron Carter. “I really want a bike now.”
He promised to bring Tess and I to the Recyclery tomorrow, where he purchased his bike.
“You could definitely fit a bike in the back of that car,” he says, and I feel something inside me click.
I am so still extraordinarily far from the travel writers that know exactly what they like, what they want, and that are using some kind of voodoo magic to take perfectly lit Instagram pictures. But what I lack in certainty or polish, I feel I make up for in optimism.
Buy a mountain bike to strap on the back of my SUV? Just because it feels like the right thing to do? Even though I haven’t historically been great or enthused about it?
Sometimes momentum and raw nerve is all we have. The huff and puff up the incline, pushing while simultaneously doubting. Then, the sweet and somewhat scary yet exhilarating feeling of soaring downhill.
Plus, I hear it’s a really good way to stay in shape.