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For the Love of Lemurs

Cycling for Sifakas

What the heck’s a lemur and, more importantly, what the hell is on that guy’s head?

We’re glad you asked. In fact, it’s the entire point.

Environmental scientist Ivan Steward hopes his unique cycling outfit (which actually isn’t much more outrageous than the neon-Lycra ones we typically see cyclists wearing) will inspire those questions, and some donations too.

Earlier this year Steward quit his day job to bike 1,500 miles around New Zealand’s south island—in lemur costume. The Auckland resident, who has been on the road for more than a month, dresses in an outfit resembling the white lemur he’s aiding with his journey, which is intended to raise awareness about the critically endangered silky sifaka whose population is estimated at only 250 members. Proceeds raised from Steward’s trip are being donated to Simpona, a nonprofit organization devoted to researching and protecting silky sifakas and their habitat.

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Beer City USA

It goes without saying that while visiting a town voted “Beer City, USA” by the Association of Home Brewers we’d enjoy our fair share of flights, pints, growlers, and – in our younger days – funnels. In Asheville, NC, we found no shortage of options to slake our thirst.

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OK, I’m Impressed

After visiting dozens of mansions, chateaus, and castles over the years rich-people’s palaces begin to look a little alike. They’re all different, of course, but large and extravagant homes don’t impress quite as much after you’ve seen so many of them. As a result, we’ve cut back on the number of houses we visit on our travels.

It’s been a long while since I’ve seen a house as impressive as the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The largest private residence in the United States, it is as striking as any of the European castles or chateaus we’ve visited. A seven story banquet hall dominates the first floor. Its cavernous interior reminded me of the vaulted chambers more typical of a massive cathedral. Perhaps the similarity was intentional. After all, what better place to gather and worship at the alter of conspicuous consumption than in the largest dining hall in the largest home in the States?

Moving to the upper floors of the home, it becomes clear that the ground floor, where guests were entertained, was definitely given priority. The entire upstairs seems to be built to accommodate the massive rooms below. In contrast to the main floor, where large open spaces dominate, rooms on the upper floors are often connected via long winding hall ways.

The basement, meanwhile, is a huge subterranean city where the help labored in multiple kitchens and washrooms to manage the affairs above. An indoor pool, bowling alley, and an entire room dedicated to the motor needed to power the 700 pipe organ are also found in the basement labyrinth.

Every day should be like this

Even when every day is a ‘vacation’ some days are still better than others; and few days are better than the one we spent hiking through Chimney Rock State Park. Located 25 miles southeast of Asheville, North Carolina, the park is named for the 315 foot monolith that soars above Lake Lure. We tackled the nearly 400 step ascent to the top of the chimney, stopping occasionally to take in the glorious views along the way.

If that were all the park had to offer, we’d have considered the day a success. But a lower trail leads to Hickory Nut Falls, North Carolina’s second largest waterfall at 404 feet. By the time we reached the impressive falls, we were tired and hungry. Ordinarily we bring lunch and have a small picnic at the foot of whatever natural wonder we labored to see. But on that day we had other ideas.

In our previous life we’d take a six-pack to our favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant, Charito’s, at least once every other week. Since we left on our trip, however, we hadn’t had Mexican a single time. We heard great things about Papa’s and Beer, in Hendersonville; which just happens to be located about half way between Chimney Rock and where we were staying in Asheville. So I controlled my hunger shakes long enough to steer the car to the restaurant and prayed for a short line and Mexican food worthy of the reputation.

We weren’t disappointed. Lunch started on the right track with the standard tortilla chips accompanied by a terrific and unique bean salsa. We tried five other varieties from the salsa bar, but the bean dip was off the charts. We both ordered burritos for our main meal; Shannon’s stuffed with spinach and mine with spiced pork. Both were large, both were delicious, and both capped beautifully a near perfect morning.

Don’t Judge a Pizzeria by its Drug Culture Cred

We were snookered in Asheville, North Carolina.

After several months of driving through the Deep South, we’d grown accustomed to some of the in-your-face conservatism and religiosity of the region. Obviously, no area is monolithic, but I’d never met so many complete strangers who’d start a conversation by assuming I agreed with their politics than I have in Southern states. And the abundance of scripture verse lawn signs and billboards advertising such pleasantries as “The Devil is Gonna Get You” were certainly things I haven’t seen elsewhere. So when we arrived in Asheville, via Alabama, we found the cultural differences a bit startling. Read More…

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