North Carolina

Bull City Pride: 2014 NC Pride parade and festival

Named America's Most Tolerant City by The Daily Beast in 2012, Durham, North Carolina, has a strong sense of Pride. The city hosted the state's first Pride parade back in 1981. Since then, the event has become the largest LGBT event in North Carolina and the five surrounding states. The 2014 parade took place this past Saturday.

Revelers in feathers boas and rainbow tutus and sparkles and wigs, on floats and on foot, filled the streets around Duke's East Campus and Ninth Street. Bands played, music blasted and spectators and participants whooped and danced.


I attended the parade as part of a street photography course with New York City documentary street photographer Harvey Stein, offered through the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (loved it, would highly recommend!).


Backpacking Mount Mitchell: when you start at the top, there's nowhere to go but down (and up, and down)


My sister Laura and I hoisted on our backpacks atop 6,684-foot Mt. Mitchell — the highest point east of the Mississippi River — and lumbered 4.5 miles north along a ridge to a camping spot at Deep Gap. While the hike along the Black Mountain Crest (aka Deep Gap) trail was not horizontally challenging, we did find ourselves navigating a lot of steep vertical change.

Though we were away from "civilization" for only 24 hours, we managed to see a lot:


The hike took us up and over Mount Craig (at 6,647 feet, the SECOND highest peak east of the Mississippi), Big Tom, Cattail Peak and a place called Potato Hill. 


One of the highest and most bio-diverse landscapes in North Carolina, Mount Mitchell State Park contains more than 65 rare plant species.


A couple especially steep spots required the assistance of rope.


Just past prime, but still pretty.


Wood like bone.


Butterfly closed... NBD.


Butterfly open... WHAT?!?! 


Translation: sweat the small stuff, not the bears.


On top of Big Tom, named for Thomas "Big Tom" Wilson, a famous guide and bear hunter who found the body of Dr. Elisha Mitchell in 1857. That's all the plaque said, so that's all I know.


We managed to not dress in identical outfits on this trip. It's the small victories we celebrate.


How do you make sure no one sets up a tent right beside yours? Act weird and take up space!




Losing at gin (While optimistic, aiming for a seven-card run is not a winning strategy.)


The solitaire that followed the gin.


When epicureans go camping... (Also: Heat-and-serve Tasty Bites are perfect for when your campsite is miles away from a water source.)


Laura thoroughly enjoyed her insulated mug of jaipur vegetables and jasmine rice. She also thoroughly enjoys this vest.


The winds blew strong all night, and clouds swirled around the summits we passed over on the hike out in the morning. 


Lichen on a tree trunk.


Mirlo Beach: Dare to Dream the Impossible Dream

Wave Breaker
Wave Breaker

Two decades ago, Mirlo Beach was a thriving oceanfront community on North Carolina's Outer Banks, located along NC-12 between Nags Head and Cape Hatteras just north of Rodanthe (the village featured in the 2008 film Nights in Rodanthe). The sand along this stretch of shore has been eroding at a rate of 14 feet per year, however, putting the place in jeopardy.

When the house pictured above — appropriately named Wave Breaker — was built, it was three streets back from oceanfront. No longer. (Note: Wave Breaker has since been moved.)

Needless to say, Mirlo Beach is NOT the first place you'd choose these days for a nice, relaxing vacay.

Mirlo Beach street
Mirlo Beach street

People who own houses in Mirlo Beach — mostly out-of-towners— are currently begging the NC legislature for a beach nourishment program to replace the eroding sand.


Bulldozers are tasked with maintaining the dune separating NC-12 through Mirlo Beach from the ocean. The day we drove it (during a Nor'easter, it so happened), the bulldozers — Sisyphus-like — scooped sand off of the road at the same rate it blew back on.

Mirlo Beach
Mirlo Beach

Note: I visited Mirlo Beach as a fellow with the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources based out of Montana.

Wood, in its various forms

On a recent drive from Asheville, North Carolina, up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, I encountered a wall of kiln-dried and neatly stacked firewood three times my height and, on Ox Creek Road a few miles later, a stable so dilapidated the weather was the same inside as out. Then, along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that parallels the Parkway in that area, I walked upon the remains of Rattlesnake Lodge, the summer home of Dr. Chase P. Ambler and his family. The two-story structure, originally surrounded by a terraced garden, tennis court and swimming pool (!), burned in 1926, a mere 13 years after it was built. Crumbling stone walls are all that remain amidst the hardwood trees.

Year in Pictures 2008

In the tradition of my friend at The Daily Bacon, I'm posting a year in photos to remember and celebrate 2008. For me, the year started in Chile's Torres del Paine National Park, where I lived for six months starting in Oct. 2007. It took me through Argentina, Boliva, Peru and Ecuador with my sister and then back to my hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina in time for fall. The year ended in kittens and a Christmas tree (and, incidentally, kittens IN a Christmas tree). JANUARY


Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

I went outside early one morning and caught the sky on fire.



Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Swarms of mosquitoes drove us into pants and raincoats as soon as my two friends and I descended to the campsite by Lake Dickson on the second night of an eight-day trek. The bloodthirsty bastards swarmed our faces and bit us through our clothing, though we wore our hoods and zipped our jackets to our chins. Then they held us hostage in our tents, buzzing incessantly at the door waiting, just waiting, for a crack in the zipper.

Aside from the insidious insects, however, the campsite was beautiful. It was located on a peninsula between Lake Dickson and the beginning of the Paine River:




Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Chapa, who works in the park as a hiking and kayaking guide, often played soulful folkloric music for us that he composed himself. He played for the horses sometimes too.



Buenos Aires, Argentina

I am capable of fitting inside a large duffel bag.



Copacabana, Bolivia

I row, row, rowed a boat on Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake, on the border of Bolivia and Peru. It took a while to master the shortest distance between two points.



Machu Picchu, Peru

The llama figurines my sister Laura and I bought at the Witch Market in La Paz met their real-life counterparts at Machu Picchu. The real-life counterparts were unimpressed.




Strolling the sidewalk in Ecuador during a bus trip layover, Laura and I glanced skyward and saw this dog staring down at us with crazy eyes. We were sure he was going to jump off the roof and onto our jugulars. Lucky for us, he stayed where he was.




Sylva, North Carolina

The Spring Street Cafe serves up the best plate of shrimp and grits you'll ever have (they're topped with sun dried tomatoes, asparagus, goat cheese, thyme and cayenne). As usual, we stopped in after a long day of paddling the nearby Nantahala and Tuckaseegee rivers.



Charlotte, North Carolina

The swimming leg of the SheRox Triathlon held on an old plantation near Charlotte felt great. The biking leg was invigorating as well. During the run, however, I wanted to die.



Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee

As the sun dropped through the sky and behind the Smoky Mountains, casting brilliant yellows, reds and oranges over everything, we watched from a lookout rock on top of Mount LeConte.



Denver, Colorado

I ascended St. Mary's ice field about 45 minutes from Denver with my friend Andrew and his dog during a trip to Colorado.



Greensboro, North Carolina

We got kitties for Christmas. The kitties got boxes.

Ocracoke Island, 300 years later


Lighted coals smoking in his beard, the pirate Blackbeard terrorized the Atlantic seaboard for years, stealing merchant ship cargo and murdering all who challenged him. The savage pirate met his demise near Ocracoke Island, the southernmost of North Carolina’s Outer Banks in November 1718 at the hands of British Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard. According to legend, when Maynard beheaded the pirate and threw his body in the water, the body swam seven laps around the ship before sinking to the bottom of Pamlico Sound.

My family and I spent a peaceful Thanksgiving holiday in Blackbeard's former stomping grounds. We stayed in a three-bedroom house on Fig Tree Lane, ate seafood for dinner and walked everywhere we went.

img_1244 Boat docks in Silver Lake, on the western side of the island

Ocracoke Island sits 23 miles off the North Carolina coast and a quarter mile south of Hatteras Island. It usually measures 17 miles long and a mile wide. The deserted, windblown beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore make up the northern 90 percent of the island, and a small village of hotels, restaurants, shops, homes and the smallest K-12 school in the state, makes up the southern 10 percent.


With no bridges connecting it to the mainland, Ocracoke is accessible only by the Cedar Island, Swan Quarter and Hatteras ferries that arrive and depart several times each day. We waited in the rocking chairs at the ferry terminal for the mustached men to give us permission to board and, once cruising across the sound at a steady 12 mph, could see dolphins leaping in front of the ferry and pelicans and seagulls hovering behind.


In case of emergencies

Ocracoke's whitewashed lighthouse, built in 1823, is the second oldest of those still in use in the United States. It's light reaches out 14 miles over the sea.


A couple buildings in Ocracoke Village stand more than three stories tall and a few shops sell kitsch like keychains and coozies, but many parts look as if they haven’t been touched for a hundred years. Gnarled oaks, red cedars and wax myrtles are rooted in the island’s sandy soil; crushed oyster shells litter the unpaved roads (making bare feet a bad idea); and every now and then, you come across a fenced rectangle containing the mossy headstones of a family graveyard.


My family strolling beneath the oak trees shell-covered Howard Street


Pelicans perched over Silver Lake


Mallards resting in the rain

Island natives — whose surnames are often Howard, Styron or Garrish — still speak with a brogue inherited from the Scotch-Irish who settled the island during the 18th century. On their tongues, "there" becomes "thar," "fire" becomes "far" and “high tide” becomes “hoi toide.”

Music is central to island life. Every Wednesday night from June to September, local musicians perform for a crowd of locals and visitors at the Deepwater Theater, a screen-enclosed deck tucked among a grove of low, crooked trees. Under the tin roof and the rafters strung with lights, performers sing lively and sorrowful stories to a crowd sitting captivated in green lawn chairs.

In addition to eating a feast of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce during the holiday weekend, we walked on the beach, explored the shops and art galleries about to close for the winter and listened to a post-Thanksgiving Ocrafolk music concert in the community center. It was there I purchased a piece of homemade gingerbread cake and dropped it on the floor before paying.


My uncle Jim tossing a disc for his dog Sammy along the national seashore

We also walked around Springer's Point, the highest spot on the island and home to a grove of especially impressive trees, like this one:



The headstone of Ikey D., the favorite horse of Sam Jones, former owner of Springer’s Point