I’m feeling pretty good as I kick along, arm over-arm, successfully breathing side to side every two seconds. I’m feeling confident, relaxing a little bit and getting into it. As I blow air out my nose I make a humming noise in the back of my throat, reminding myself not to breath in. I am trying to focus on keeping my back straight and my legs from sinking when suddenly, I forget not to breath in and suck water straight up my nose. I pop up out of the water, choking and treading, snorting chlorine and snot down my chin and no doubt looking like a complete fool.
Kyle is staring at me from the other end of the pool. As I doggy paddle closer to him he gives me that look that says, “What the heck are you doing?” The truth is, I’m not a great swimmer. Now this doesn’t mean I can’t swim or that I’m scared of water. I have no problem jumping into a lake or the bay or a pool. I can doggy paddle like no ones business. But ask me to do a few laps in a pool… ha! So why am I swimming?
Not only have Kyle and I been swimming but we have been running and even attempted biking as well. I say “attempted” biking because I didn’t make it out of the driveway before the pedals had fallen of the twenty-year-old bike I was using. But we have been running almost every day. All of this activity is of course an effort to stay in shape after the trail. There is a wonderful trail in Roanoke Rapids that follows the old canal and the river. It’s beautiful and relatively flat. Kyle and I had been enjoying our morning runs, except when it was extremely humid out, and one day we decided to head down the trail in a new direction. Little did we know we were choosing a trail much less traveled and that this part of the trail was booby-trapped by Kyle’s archenemies: spiders.
There is no way to discover that spiders have built their webs across a trail except to run right through them. And these spiders are unlike any I have ever seen, even on the AT. They are massive and the silk that they spin is akin in thickness to that of fishing line. I’m surprised that the first time Kyle ran through one of these webs I didn’t look back to find him suspended off the ground, an Aragog size spider wrapping him in sticky slime. Instead he screamed like a girl and flailed his arms around while pulling his shirt off and flinging it into the woods. I knew we weren’t going any further unless we found a solution to the spider problem. That is how it came to be that we started running with sticks. Quite literally, we hold them out in front of us and waved them in slow circles, as if we were wizards. I can only thank god that no one saw us… it really would have been hard to explain that one.
Although I don’t know why I would be worried about appearances, I have clearly adapted too well to life in Roanoke Rapids. Today, when Kyle and I went to the grocery store, he stopped as he was getting out of the car and stared at me before saying, “What are you wearing?” This is not uncommon, because both of us have completely stopped caring what we look like when we leave the house. We had both sworn we would not wear our crocs after the trail, maybe occasionally for gardening (as if either of us gardens) or working in restaurants but never in public! Well guess what, we wear them every day. When we went to Washington DC we attempted to look nice and wore normal stylish shoes but quickly regretted it when we saw a baby happily skipping along in crocs. Most of the clothes I wear on the regs have the word sweat in their name. And paint on them. However, none of this is my fault. I have always tried to acclimate to my surroundings and my first day in Roanoke Rapids Kyle and I went to the grocery store to grab some food only to be greeted by a man swinging a leg over his riding lawn mower, which he had clearly driven to the store.
This wasn’t the only surprise we found at the grocery store. Much to my disappointment it quickly became apparent that the best place to buy fresh vegetables was at the “local” Wal-Mart. We learned this after visiting a number of grocery stores in search of green beans and finally ending up in front of a bin of green beans at none other than Wal-Mart. After discovering that Wal-Mart had the best produce we went there often, which always caused a rise in Kyle’s blood pressure. Apparently everyone in Roanoke Rapids goes there to relax. The locals love to slowly cruise in the parking lot, peruse the isle for something packaged, and sometimes, just stand aimlessly to breath in that good ol’ Wal-Mart air. Since Kyle and I don’t want to be at Wal-Mart in the first place this drives us crazy and after a trip to Wal-Mart we usually sit in the car and bang our heads against the steering wheel.
I have seen many surprising things in the south but I think I discovered the most mind-boggling cultural difference when Kyle and I planned and executed a garage sale for his parents. I was worried that no one would show up because in my opinion we put in minimal effort when advertising. I mean sure, we threw up a few signs and had an ad published in the local newspaper but come on. So you can imagine my surprise when a car slows down the night before the garage sale while we were setting up inside the garage. Soon there was a second car and a neighbor. The night before!
Now, of course, I realize that this was not just a coincidence, they weren’t just driving by and saw us setting up. These were professionals. They knew to come when we were at our most vulnerable, before we had a chance to put prices on anything or discuss what things should be worth. They knew that I was the weakest link and they took advantage of me. Pretty soon the first couple through had purchased almost all of our electronics, a bed spread and a lamp for a killer price. Needless to say we shut the garage after that so everyone else had to wait until the next day.
But all joking aside, as our time in Roanoke Rapids draws to a close, it has been a serious pleasure to spend time with Kyle’s parents and get to know them better. I always enjoy living in a new part of the country and experiencing a new pace of life.