Dan and Hannah Witness the Wedding of Our Year in Asheville, North Carolina

If you had 15 minutes, could you come up with ten of the 100 most memorable days of your life?  Your wedding day, your kids’ and grandchildren’s births, if any of those categories even apply, are in a whole separate category of awesomeness.

As someone with over 26,000 days (yes, that’s 72 x 365 and change) on this good green earth, I have seven that come immediately to mind (in chronological order).

One, my first date at 19 with Hannah Kraai at a fall dance at Severance Gym at the College of Wooster; it seemed like no one else was in that crowded gym that night,

Two, floating down the Salt River on tubes on a September Saturday with my Arizona State guys in the dorm, Rich, Steve, Art, and Nobes, loudly singing the Marseillaise (French national anthem),

Wedding Molly and Tip

Molly and Tip

Three, learning Robyn had a 90% chance of recovery after her leukemia diagnosis at the age of four (she’s now 38!),

Four, Molly and Tip’s wedding,

Wedding will and laurel

Will and Laurel

Five, Donna Ellis introducing us to the spiritual community Unity,

Six, climbing to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park with Hannah, and

Seven, Will and Laurel’s wedding.

We love our weddings.  And today we have another one!  Our family friend of 31 years, Brandon Kyker is marrying Ashley on the grounds at the Biltmore Estate.  Their wedding will be outdoors followed by a casual reception at the Salvage Station, a onetime salvage yard for old cars, odd trucks, and metal of all sizes.  How cool is that!  The answer: Very cool!

Wedding Sal 1 sign

Wedding Sal 1A h by car

Wedding Sal 1B

PBR outdoor bar and the reception tent in the background

There were many building blocks to our friendship with Brandon.  I met his dad, Big Steve, when we were undergrads at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Wedding steve and amelia

Amelia and Big Steve (notice his shirt)

He from Virginia and I from Jersey were a part of a group of five who were on our own each weekend when the other guys in the dorm, who lived locally in Arizona, left for home.  We had a lot of time on our hands on weekends (see #2 above).

Wedding tempe to vienna

Moving back to Virginia, Big Steve made sure his family came to Maine every summer.  Hauling a 24’ trailer with their GMC Yukon, Steve and Amelia with Brandon and his kid brother Justin fit right in on Chases Pond Road, playing cards and doing some heavy lifting (for example stacking wood with us).  Then, the Kykers always went on to camp at Acadia National Park.  Relentless in their commitment to our friendship, they usually brought friends of their boys along for these ten day road trips.

Wedding B and A at the Nubble

Ashley and Brandon at the Nubble Lighthouse in York before they headed to Acadia

We met Ashley when she came come with Brandon and his friend Vbo to Maine in late December.  Staying with us for the overnight in York on December 30, they were on a mission to wake up very early January first in Bar Harbor to be the first ones to greet the New Year sunrise on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park; which legend has it is the first place the sun hits American soil each morning.

Wedding at Acadia

Morning has broken on New Year’s Day

Wedding Ashely at Acadia

Back to the wedding at hand.  Since showers are in the forecast today, a white wedding tent is set up on the front lawn of the Inn at the Biltmore.  Though overcast, the rain holds off and 25 minutes later Brandon and Ashley are husband and wife.

Wedding 1A tent too

Note Dan in a tie!


Wedding 3 ashley and pop

Ashley with her dad


Wedding 4 H and Amelia

Hannah with Amelia, mother of the groom


Wedding 5 J A B A

Brandon’s brother Justin, Ashley, Brandon, and Amelia


Wedding 5A

Ashley with the wedding photographers, Mary and my college roommate Rich


Wedding 6 sunglasses

Cooler than cool!


Wedding Brandon and Ashley

Dan and Hannah Discover the Trails of Richmond Hill Park in Asheville, North Carolina

Richmond asheville map

With our Wedding of the Year (Brandon and Ashley at the Biltmore) at 2P this afternoon, you would expect nothing less than Hannah and me finding some morning hiking.

With afternoon rain in the forecast, I google “parks in Asheville.”  And, voila!  Within the city limits, we have more than four miles of trails at Richmond Hill along the French Broad River.   Though last night’s rain has moistened the trails, there are few puddles so we won’t be hiking with Sloppy or Muddy (two dwarfs you may not have hear of).

Richmond map of park

Richmond map 2

At the trailhead, we have five well-marked colored coded trails.  Hiking tip – snap a picture of the trail map on your smart phone to navigate this and any hiking trail.

Richmond trail

Can you believe it, we are within the city limits of Asheville!


Richmond 1B French Broad River

The French Broad River from Richmond Hill Park

With little elevation gain or fall, the trails allows us to talk easily side by side and catch a steady hiking rhythm.  Forty minutes into our hike, we have a decision to make at a sizable creek.  Do we risk crossing on stones half-submerged in the rushing water or take the longer alternative trail skirting the river?  Rather than chance a watery fall which means hiking in soaked shoes, and basically being soft, we choose Option B.

Richmond stream

What I think of as a sizable creek!

Thoroughly satisfied with our hour and a half deep in the urban forest, we know just where we will hike tomorrow morning after the wedding with the Mother of the Groom, our Amelia.  Here at Richmond Hill!

Fact is, Brandon’s younger brother joins us three Sunday morning to hike these very trails as we catch up on his life as a Hollywood screenwriter and her upcoming hiking adventure on the Camino del Norte in northern Spain.

Richmond J A H

Justin (younger brother of the groom), Amelia (mother of the groom), and Hannah, mother to us all.  Please note Amelia’s World Baseball Champion 2019 Nationals hat

Richmond A H and J


Richmond how do chickens dance

A little roadside humor, Southern-style.

Dan and Hannah Explore the Carolina Foothills, The Biltmore, and UNC-Asheville

Wedding steve and amelia

Amelia and Steve

Hannah and I have come to the American South for the wedding of the son of my Arizona State University roommate, Big Steve, and his wife Amelia.  We see this trip as a golden opportunity to hike and pickle away down south in the land of cotton (and by that I mean Dixie).




UNCA map from tryon to biltmore

From Tryon to Asheville in a littel

Before we head north to Asheville for the wedding weekend, Becky takes us to the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center in her new hometown of Tryon.  Not fifteen minutes from their small village downtown, we have trails that are over the river and through the woods; I believe I did see grandmother’s house.

Fence 1A start of trail B H Da

Becky, Hannah, and Dan

Fence 1B D H pond

Leaving our Tar Heel family, we drive an hour north to Asheville to meet up another Sun Devil roommate of mine, Rich and his wife Mary.  Given access to the grounds at the Biltmore Estate as wedding photographers, they drive us around the fields and venues on the palatial estate.

Biltmore 1 D and H in front of

Dan and Hannah in front of their dream VRBO.  You’re invited!

With the wedding party and family rehearsing the evening before, Hannah and I explore the campus of the University of North Carolina – Asheville.  On a showery Friday afternoon in late October, the campus is quiet except for engineering students in a 5P class!  What grad teaching assistant drew that short straw?!

Fence UNCA map

UNCA 1 D at clock


UNCA 1A H with umbella

Walking on campus, I am taken back to my first three years as an undergrad at the College of Wooster (1966-1969).  I just couldn’t make all their rules and my self-imposed pressure work for me.  Daring more than I ever had in my first twenty-one years of life, I escaped (i.e. transferred) to the Wild, Wild West and the freedom of Arizona State University.  Though I am forever grateful for meeting Hannah Kraai at Wooster, enrolling at ASU for my senior year set in motion the belief that my life could be the adventure I saw others having.

UNCA map from woo to asu

Without family or friends in Arizona, I took my first baby steps into the unknown and its possibilities.  Then it was teaching Latino, Afro-American, and Anglo fifth and sixth graders in Anaheim, California; living in to Arizona, far from family, with Hannah for the first ten years of our marriage; then moving to New England with no job and two daughters under the age of three; later quitting a public school teaching career after twenty plus years to go to the University of New Hampshire to seek my dream job (i.e. teaching at the college level), I became a more courageous soul than I ever imagined I would be.

I now appreciate Wooster for the dissonance that propelled me to find my dharma (i.e. my journey and my path).

Dan and Hannah are Stunned re: Shingles!

Shingles is such a benign name for this nasty, painful skin disease.  If you have a strong stomach, Google “shingles” to see images of the unpleasant rashes that occur most anywhere on one’s body.  In her position as activities director at a local nursing home, Hannah cringed at the debilitating pain and suffering from shingles in her elderly population.

Shingles image

Let me back up.  Our primary care physician at Kittery Family Practice (Maine) suggested we get the new, improved two-shot series of shingles vaccinations.  Six years ago we got the original shingles shot, which turned out to be only 50% effective.  The new series ramps up the success rate to 90%.  If two out of three ain’t bad (Meatloaf standard), I’m all in on nine out of ten!

Shingles syringe

So, in early October 2019 Hannah and I received the first round of our shingle shots administered by the pharmacist at the local Hannaford Supermarket and were surprised it cost $172 each.  Okay, it’s an important vaccination so we pony up, thinking surely that covers both the first and second shot, which we must get in two to six months.

Nooooo.  Today I have the second shot for another $124.  As a couple nearly 72, we wondered if our Medicare covered shingles shots.  That’s a big N-O.  See Appendix A below for why not.

To updated you on shingles, here’s a brief description from the Mayo Clinic website.  Click here for the full story.

Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash…shingles can occur anywhere on your body.  It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.  After you’ve had chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain.  Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles.  If one is 60 or older, there is a significant increase in the risk of complications.

Shingles syringe 2

$296 each seems like a small price to pay to prevent such misery.  And it is…

…for the upper middle class.  Hannah and I can each pay for these injections without missing a beat, but…

…but what about those in the middle class, working class, let alone in the poorer half of Americans?   The cost means many will just go without this preventive measure.  I can only imagine that the cost of treating the disease in clinics and hospitals will be far more than $300 for shingles shots.  Let alone the pain!

There’s got to be a better way to insure the health of the American public!

Shingles United

Appendix A for those on Medicare – The AARP United Health Care site states that unlike some common vaccines, like those for the flu, hepatitis B and pneumonia, shingles shots are not covered under Medicare Part B, the component of original Medicare that includes doctor visits and outpatient services. Part A, which deals with hospital costs, doesn’t cover shingles shots either.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Melrose Falls in North Carolina

When Hannah and I travel, we look to hit the trifecta – sunshine hiking, competitive pickleball with folks who don’t take themselves too seriously, and evening wine with good company.  Today in Tryon, NC on the South Carolina border, we have ourselves a Meatloaf Day (and by that, I mean, two out of three ain’t bad).

Melrose yonah mt to tryon

Having played pickleball the three previous days this late October with our sisters and brothers of Yonah Mountain, Georgia, today we check the boxes of good company (our sister-in-law Becky and her guy Derek) as well as hiking with them into the Carolina mountains in search of Melrose Falls.

Chauffeuring us through their hometown of Tryon, NC and out route 176 on the way to Saluda, Becky and Derek take us to the trailhead in a mere fifteen minutes.  Though there’s parking for only two vehicles there, we safely park on the far side of route 176.

Melrose start of trail D, B, H

Becky, Hannah Banana, and Derek as the trail begins

Passing by the trailhead boulders and around the metal gate, we ascend quickly into the mountains.  Hiking on conservation land administered by Conserving Carolina, we pass the turn to the trail to the falls for a looksee assent to the abandoned Southern Pacific railroad tracks above the falls.  Stepping carefully on the railroad ties, we soon find our path engulfed by kudzu – the dreaded Asian vine that is overwhelming the American South.  Watch our path on the tracks disappear over the next four photos.

Melrose 1A tracks

Melrose 1B H on tracks

Melrose 1C kudzu tracks

Kudzu is winning.

Melrose 1D more kudzu on tracks

Kudzu wins!

Kudzu is a plague on the hillsides and lives of Southerners.  Nasty for the ecosystems it invades, it smothers other plants and trees under a blanket of leaves, dominating all the sunlight and keeping other species in its shade.  Introduced from Japan into the United States, kudzu was initially planted to stop soil erosion.  Since kudzu can grow up to 60 feet per season, or about one foot per day, the best way to fight it seems to be with Billy and Betty – goats that is.  Currently there aren’t enough goats on God’s green earth to handle the tsunami of kudzu.

Melrose kudzu image

Kudzu and more kudzu

Melrose kudzu map

Smothered by kudzu, the railroad ties beneath our feet are camouflaged and footing is uncertain; we U-turn back to the initial trail to the falls.

The ¾ of a mile rocky trail goes up and down the mountainside to the falls.  For the final 300’, the path drops steeply toward Melrose Falls which has us been descending on all fours.  Never perilous, though slow-going, we arrive at the boulders above the falls.  We are serenaded by nature’s watery chorus.