Friday, August 1, 2008

Linville Gorge Adventures, Part I

Part of my decision to move to “the south” was to take full advantage of the beautiful weather and scenery by incorporating more outdoor activities in my life. These activities were rather prohibited while I lived in OH due to weather, work and personal issues. One of the things I used to enjoy the most was hiking. Hiking in my definition was driving to a state park (usually in OH, PA, or MI), hiking a multitude of fairly moderate trails, and then returning home exhausted at the end of the day. Since hiking is bountiful here, I have taken up this hobby again, and also in part to having friends who enjoy the same past time. To add to my hiking adventures I have incorporated camping to the mix. I have never camped outside before, but again having friends and the boyfriend who are pros at it, makes it much easier to partake (b/c they have all the gear and know what to take, what to do, etc).

This past weekend I went on my second “car camping” trip. Myself, the boyfriend (S), the labmate (E), and another friend (J) all drove up to Linville Gorge near Ashville for a weekend of hiking, beer drinking, and being one with nature. We left work a little early on Friday afternoon so we could arrive there in time to find a decent camp site, and set up the tents before it got dark. The first night we were there we were visited by the Parks only two Park Rangers. They just wanted to check up on us and then reprimanded for not having a camp fire (it was too late and we were feasting on fried chicken by the latern- we were saving the fire for later).

We were up with the sunrise on Saturday morn to be greeted by rain, despite the fact the weather report predicted only a 20% chance of precipitation. We set up the tarps and hung out until the rain dissipated and the sun returned (the great part of NC, it rains briefly, stops, and the sun comes out).

We headed out to our first trail, Pine Gap, one of the “easiest” trails. It was beautifully lush, with many tiny frogs, butterflies and all kinds of plants. However, it was rocky, slippery and very single-track. On our way down we came upon another hiker, Peter. He had taken a stumble attempting to get back onto the trail after getting lost. He was lumbering, by himself, with a pack equipped for a three nights stay down by the river. We talked to him with a bit, making sure he was alright. He claimed he was OK going back to his car. We felt a little uneasy leaving him there but he assured us he was fine. E loaned him her trekking poles to help him along the way, and we continued on the trail telling Peter that we would be back this way in case he did indeed need some assistance.

We made our way to the river, trekked around, and enjoyed the time down there. Finally we decided to head back to grab another trail that had a junction with Pine Gap and continue that way. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the maps aren’t the greatest and the trails aren’t clear paths, so we were confused. It was decided to play it say and just head back to the car, find the beginning of the trail head we wanted rather than getting lost in the thick of the “jungle.” On our way back we ran into Peter again (this was almost 2 h after we first ran into him and he hadn’t made much progress). It was clear from this second meeting that he was not OK. We decided a head of time E and J would trek back to the car, go to the info center and call for help. S and I would stay behind, I would carry his gear and S would help him walk along the trail. As we were with him, he retold us how he lost the trail, found it again, but decided to take a short cut to get back on track. Well, the short cut wasn’t the safest of routes especially b/c of the recent rain and he slipped, falling down the face of the mountain, until he was stopped by a large fallen tree, right on his hip, a branch narrowly missing his face. He struggled back somehow, where we ran into him. He looked in visible pain, but refused to sit and wait for help so we continued to walk with him. The trail was difficult his left leg was injured or something and having to lift it even slightly was excruciating for him. We figured if he had broken something there would be no way he could walk, so perhaps it was something minor-we hoped. We had small talk along the way until J came back maybe 30-45 min later letting us know help was on its way. EMS was finishing helping another hiker with a dislocated shoulder and should be here soon. Only then would Peter finally stop and wait.

To be continued...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Meet Cliff

My poor suffering blog. I haven’t posted to you, my valiant and gentle readers in quite some time now. I apologize. Not for lack of quality material, I kid you not, but more for lack of motivation (please ref to previous postings). Agh, the mysterious, elusive motivation. Alas! Sweet one, when did you leave my life? Are you ever to return? Dr. Who is not the same without you as part of life.

Enough lamenting, on to bigger and better things: bugs. We are in the middle of the hot bed of summer here in the Carolinas, and with the over-the-top temperatures comes with it the over-the-top insects. Have you heard the expression, “they grow them big down in the south?” That phrase is based in truth. I cannot even describe the types of creatures I have encountered here. It was like the earth’s core opened up and the beasts that feed off the hot magma, demanding reprieve and variety, crawled out to the surface us measly humans inhabit and decided to take up base. These insects magically traverse wood, concrete, and stone to enter homes and thrive in their cool interior. No form of poison is equipped to combat their amour-like exoskeletons.

Case in point: Cliff. Cliff entered my life a couple of weeks ago. I noticed him immediately as he took up residence outside (thank the Lord OUTSIDE!) my window next to my door. I have always wanted a dog for companionship, and for protection. I recently learned that I don’t need a dog for these things, I need a giant insect. I was completely frightened of Cliff at first. Under these circumstances my first call of action would be to Raid him, however, due to his size as well as his appearance, he was hugely intimidating. If I did something to upset Cliff, he would beat the crap out of me, I was sure. I decided to therefore leave him alone, with the mentality that if I don’t bother him, he will not bother me. So whenever I left or entered my home I would be greeted by Cliff. I would stop near him (what I considered a safe distance away) and say hello, and he would chomp his antlers at me (what I interpreted as “sh*t lady let a man sun himself in peace!”). We were all cool. The boyfriend soon met Cliff and after some research on his part discovered that Cliff was a male stag beetle (which is good b/c I gave him a boys name). I subsequently learned that Cliff could fly and was relatively harmless, the latter, I still don’t believe.

Say hello to my little friend, Cliff.

This is his better side.

I thought Cliff and I would have a short relationship. I was wrong. He stood guard over my apartment day and night for almost a month. He hardly moved except for waving his “antlers” at me when I said “hi” or “bye”. I felt protected, and secure in the knowledge that Cliff was just outside my door. Then one day, as mysteriously as he appeared, he disappeared. I haven’t seen him since. I have learned from this experience that man and insect *can* co-exist. Well, at least until one party over-steps their bounds and then then someone gets Raided or hit with a giant shoe.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dumb and Dumber

I made mention earlier (via personal communications) about our center’s secretary. For those I haven’t complained to about this person, simply put she is not the sharpest tool in the shed, not the most motivated, and overall incompetent. I am supportive of anyone who will at least “try” to do their job. However, when there are deadlines to be had, and they are feeding you lines such as, “I’m working 24/7 on this and you WILL hear from me today!” Today comes and goes, and when you check back they are surfing Facebook and your materials remain unprocessed on the due date. Not happy, not at all. Suppressing desires to yell, scream, and break things…

Recently, however, she brought my esteem for her to a new level. Before I begin my story a little background is in order. I interviewed for my current job during the summer, and during the time I accepted the position and began my current position I had my name changed. Now this secretary is new, and didn’t commence her appointment until well after I had already entered the “system” (e.g. payroll, the center, etc . etc) with my wonderful and exciting new name. She knows me as no one else. So why would there ever be any confusion, right? Wrong.

An issue arose during the process of renewing an important funding source. She needed vital information from each of us trainees to bolster this document and needed it ASAP. Since she took her time processing my important documents, I of course, being the good Christian that I am, reciprocated, “do unto others as you would like them to do unto you” being the quote in my head. I send my details back as requested on the deadline day in the late afternoon. Didn’t hear anything back about the information or the funding source, so I assumed my part was done in all this fan fare and I could continue with the everyday.

Now every once and again, I will check my graduate school email account to make sure no one is still emailing me there. It is soon to expire, so I wanted to retrieve some emails before it closed. This email address is under my former name and has my old university’s name after the @ symbol so when you email someone, they know exactly who it is from and where. To my surprise (chagrin) I see a series of emails from this secretary stamped “important, urgent, we need you to respond now!” etc and cc’d my advisor to boot. Irritated, I open one of the emails and see that she is writing me under my old name requesting the same information that she requested of me earlier. It is apparent she does not realize that I am one in the same person. Why my old name randomly popped up in her contact list for the funding source was a bit confusing to me considering I was completely processed under my new name, therefore making the old name a non-issue. Also, if I was indeed currently employed by The University why would I need to be contacted at another institution?? Perplexing.

To remedy the issue I sent the following email from my grad school email (names changed of course for privacy reasons):

Dear Secretary-

As you might not be aware, Jane Blotto and Jane Supersignal is the
same person (i.e. me) I changed my name upon my appointment at The University, therefore I have already sent you as well as this other person you told me to send the email to the requested information on April 17th from my "Jane Supersignal" account from my University work account.

Please do not use this account for me in the future, it is my graduate
school email account that I thought had already expired.

If there is any additional confusion, please do not hesitate to contact
me at:

Jane Supersignal

This should have solved the problem.

Approximately 5 min after the email was sent, I receive a phone call at my current lab from our secretary.

Secretary: Hi Jane, so do you know this Jane Blotto and how I can get in contact with her? Internal dialogue: Huh? Is this a joke? I did just send that email. Am I in the twilight zone, or getting Punk’d? Back to reality: no joke, she was serious.
Me: Um, yes I know her quite well actually. (stifling laughter).
Secretary: Well, how may I get in touch with her?
Me: We are the same person. At which time, I re-hash the whole name change and question why that name is still in their record books.
Secretary: This is a huge problem. Payroll needs to be informed b/c we have you down twice as on the funding source taking two slots. Back to internal dialogue: Really, I could have worked the system to get paid twice! Back to reality.
Me: No, secretary, I registered everything as Jane Supersignal the only confusion is created by you. (in as nice a voice as possible that could hide my pure annoyance that she is taking up my precious time considering what hell she put me through before when I had my own deadlines to meet.)
Secretary: OK, don’t worry. I can fix this, doesn’t look good but I’ll see what I can do. Internal dialogue: Since when did this become *my* problem. Do your job and leave me alone!!!

I hang up the phone with reserved irritation.

I never cease to be amazed.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reflections on March Madness, After the Madness

There is much to comment about, living in the south, especially down “tobacco road.” In particular, this phenomenon called March Madness. Many of you loyal college basketball enthusiasts would have heard of it before. It is a period of 2-3 months where people and places are infected with a fever; a basketball fever. If you recall, I live and work in a place called Chapel Hill, home of the famous UNC Tarheels, ranked #1 in the nation for the 2008 season. Welcome to Blue Heaven, this is where our story begins.

Everyone, down in the south, and I mean *everyone* are loyal, to the death, basketball followers. It’s not just UNC (although for obvious reasons, I am partial) it’s for Wake Forest, Duke, NC State or Davidson. If you are from the area, or transplants (both foreign and native) you quickly become engrossed in the excitement and before you know it, you life revolves around basketball. The next few months during the season are futile for work productivity, as much time is spent trying to finagle your way into home games (as tickets are next to impossible to secure if you are not a student) strategizing b-ball, and basically living for the next game. Also which bar to go to for which game also becomes important decision, as you cannot just walk into an establishment at tip off. That is, unless you don’t mind watching the game through the reflection in the window. On Franklin Street, (the main drag in Chapel Hill) you must secure your place hours in advance of the game’s start and this fight is not just with the collegiate, but alumni, locals, and your fellow co-workers.

It is hard to describe the passion these people exude for their respective teams. Shops, restaurants, homes, cars etc are decorated in team colors and words of encouragement pour out of those passing by. People with nothing in common bond over their love of the game and their teams. Watch out if rival schools play (e.g. UNC vs Duke). Fires, riots, and nasty words spew even out of the most innocent mouths. Once the regular ACC season is over, March madness commences with a fury. Schools pause during classes and TVs are rolled into gymnasiums so students and faculty may follow the games that appear while school is in session. Even those working in, dare I say, “real” jobs also benefit from this phenomena. Case in point, an email I received from the Associated Director of Basic Research at the Cancer Center which read, “The UNC-FSU men's basketball game can be seen in the Pagano Conference Room starting at noon. Bring your lunch and watch the game.” For those conducting research at any other institution, if you were like me, you would have read this email 5x’s, then saved it, then read it again. We all know that doing anything other than bench work would be blasphemy. Here, it is standard to see the big screens magically appear in the atrium, blasting UNC and non-games to those passing through to catch an update of the score. Pools for brackets overflow from every work environment and big money and big reputations are at stake. Even the boss is in it for blood.

Unfortunately for us UNC fans, our beloved Heels lost in the final four. They put forth an exceptional season and we are all proud of them.

If I haven’t said this before, I’ll say it here, and you can quote me: I love this place. Welcome to basketball heaven. I hope all y’all will join me for next year.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Of Science and Skiing

I most recently returned from a scientific conference in Taos, NM. It is of the Keystone series of symposia. If you haven’t heard of it already, you should really check it out. They have conferences on all kinds of science, from migration in invasion and inflammation to the future of biofuels or the genetics of sleep. This is the second keystone conference I have attended in my stint as a scholar of science. The greatest thing about these conferences is that they are deliberately held at ski resorts. The intention being, you listen to the science in the morning, hit the slopes during the 6 h afternoon break, and then return for another evening of more science. The day is ended with an open bar and a full buffet-style dinner. Who could ask for anything more? Exceptional science, coupled with exceptional skiing.

My trip did not fail to disappoint. Luckily, I was accompanied by some great people who are a blast to hang out with and like to do “stuff”. Admittedly, we skipped out on the keynote address the first night to try watching the Carolina game at a local bar, Shadows. You would think with a name like that and a neon sign blinking beer that it would be a dodgy place. Actually, it was quite the contrary. There was live music and there were many families with children amongst the rest of us heathens. The manager Pedro was even so kind as to change the T.V. station, to allow us to watch our beloved Tar Heels.

We were able to spend two days on the slopes. I have to tell you Taos, NM when they have snow, especially fresh powder, is *the* place to ski. Long runs, friendly staff, and no people! It was relatively inexpensive as well (granted us Keystoners got a discount). Drive in, ski the better of the day, and drive out; it was as simple as that. Coming from the Midwest, this was a new experience for me. Usually, what we consider “ski resorts” (i.e. converted trash heaps, no joke) are constantly packed with people. The hills are always icy and short (we don’t have real mountains or powder for that matter), and you spend most of your time dodging the ski school if you were ever able to find a parking spot to even enter the place. Perhaps I am becoming somewhat of a ski-snob, but I don’t care. Especially as a beginner skier, a situation like that is counterproductive.

The rest of the conference was spent admiring the local color of the town, and experiencing the enchantment that is NM. It lived up to all my stereotypes, complete with red muddy earth, miles of nothing, and true cowboys that looked weathered by the earth and too much alcohol.

We also hit the local spa one day for a nice long massage after our first day of skiing (which was sorely needed, no pun intended). If you have the opportunity, try the RIVER STONES massage. OMG, heaven on earth. Then sit in the outside hot tub. Conference? I felt like I was on vacation. In the spirit of my first Keystone with Lil Kate, I just had to go snowshoeing again. My experience in NM was a little different then the Utah adventure. In Utah, we had a cute scruffy guide who carried our supplies and led us up to some beautiful panoramic mountain views. In contrast, the NM outing was more like being dropped off in the middle of nowhere and told that you have 2 h to be back at the spot you started or you would be left behind. Regardless of the odd circumstances we had a blast.

The remainder of trip, when not attending poster sessions and talks, was spent sitting around the fire, drinking beer, and partaking in witty banter. I think I could do this as a full time job. Although, by the time the symposium was completed, I was completely exhausted. I took a full day to recover (mainly sleep).

All in all, good fun. I highly recommend it!

Oh, and I'll try and upload some photos later (I'm sure you will all writhe with anticipation!!)

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Every time I see him, I smile. (:

Friday, February 1, 2008

Back in the Day (which was a Wednesday if you didn’t know)

(Reminiscing) I remember when I could drink and drink and drink and reach that perfect point of pure euphoria-with no repercussions.

Well, times, they-are-a-changing.

I went to a hockey game this week, which involved your typical pre-game tail gate. The food was sizzling and the beer was flowing. Life was good. I had consumed 2 beers prior to entry into the rink, where I went on to purchase another cold one. I was feeling great, screaming my heart out (which I don’t get to do as much as I would like), chatting, laughing, blah, blah blah. At this point, my beer count was only 3, and since I wasn’t the DD, and the game was going into over-time, like most, I got up and purchased another beer. Now I am not a *small* person. Three beers shouldn’t put someone like me “over the edge.” I had trained myself in the UK to be able to drink at least 4-5 of the Queen’s pints, which for me, was completely respectable. However, once I took a sip of #4, my body went into a slight convulsion. I quickly pawned the beer off to some other, much willing recipient and left it at that. My team won the game (whoo hoo!), and after some more congregating we were on our way home. That turned out to be the longest car ride of my life as my body slowly started to destroy itself from the inside out (well, that is what it felt like at any rate). I did manage to make it home, but quickly set up camp in the bathroom were I sweated out my convulsions and the emptying out of my stomach.

More than anything, I am upset that my body can no longer tolerate what I once so enjoyed. I did have an incident back in college, where I can honestly say I drank way too much, as I was left incapacitated (and by incapacitated, I mean unconcious) for over 48 h after. I have never been the same since, but I am sorry body, that was years ago. Get over it.

The sad part is as well, that I FEEL hung over. I shouldn’t have the pain without the glory of the drunkenness that precedes it. Stupid body.