Saturday, September 04, 2010

A long time ago Paul Newman played the lead in a soapy Hollywood film called the Long Hot Summer, and this year everyone in Asheville has lived it.

When I was doing my research about moving here, the statistics on summer weather were that it was cooler and drier than most of the surrounding South. July high temps were supposed to average 82 degrees and Asheville averaged 5 days per year above 90 degrees. When I moved here there were, to me, a surprising number of houses without air conditioning. People depended on ceiling fans and cool night air.

If Al Gore wants some confirmation of his contentions about the warming trend in the weather, all he needs to do is spend a summer here. I have now spent 6 of them and all have been hotter than the statistics would tell you and this one has been the hottest. Since summer isn’t over, there are no final numbers but most people who watch these things are saying that this will break the record for the hottest average temperatures for any summer since records have been kept. I have no idea how many days we had over 90 but I am fairly certain that we had more than 5 before summer even officially started.

July was hellish. I know, I know, it was worse elsewhere, but that doesn’t make me feel better. It has been so hot here that Abner and I have had to really modify our hiking habits. To begin with, when I walk out at 7:00 in the morning to get my paper and it is in the low to mid 70s and feels like a moderately heated sauna, I know the window of opportunity for walking with a long coated dog is closing fast. That was most mornings this summer. Consequently, we have spent a lot of time driving up to Craggy Gardens or Graveyard Fields, both of which are at elevations over 5,000 feet and have markedly lower temperatures than we have in town. I also bought Abner something called a Kool Collar. This is a great little device that is made of some kind of polyester fabric on the outside and a mesh on the inside. You fill it with ice cubes, put it around the dog’s neck like any other collar and the ice slowly melts and wicks cold water down to his skin to work as a slow evaporative cooler. I think it really helps. We have found that the ice usually lasts between two and two-and-a-half hours before it is gone so we can still get in some decent moderate length hikes without it running dry. Of course at Biltmore we can also refill it an any number of places since they sell food and beverages in many locations on the estate.

You can also use a freezer gel pack that comes with the collar if you don’t want dripping to happen, like if you are going somewhere in the car and don’t expect to have your dog outside all that much but still want some cooling. It doesn’t last as long and obviously the dog doesn’t get wet but it still helps keep him a little cooler. If you are interested, their website is

Still, we have had a fairly nice summer. After the large number of visitors I had during the spring, summer was pretty quiet. Lexi Boeger, who is something of an international rock star in the world of fiber spinning came to Asheville to teach a two-day seminar at the Folk Art Center and did Abner and me the honor of staying with us while she was here. We had limited time but packed it with gorging on food, a Segway tour at Biltmore, a fairly lengthy visit to Blue Spiral One, which is one of the best art galleries I have ever visited anywhere, and some general touring so she could have an idea of what Asheville is about. Clearly another visit without the responsibilities of conducting a seminar will be required but we had a great time. Like her cousin Heather who came here in late March, Lexi is one of those people who knows how to have fun and consequently everything you do with here ends up as a party.

I had planned to take Abner to Nova Scotia for a couple weeks this summer but for financial and other reasons decided that perhaps it wasn’t wise. Like most people who are in a house for a year or less, there is still a laundry list of things I want to do with this place and I find that no matter how much I promise myself each time I make an improvement, that I won’t do anything else for awhile, something always comes up. At this point, plumbing the house for natural gas, which was just installed in the neighborhood, is a high priority but is costly. I also still haven’t bought a grill to cook outdoors although if the gas company is coming to hook me up, I really need to get on that so they can do the conversion when they are here.

I also have a bunch of trips lined up in the coming 5 months so I figured that I could stay at home through the summer both for my sanity and Abner’s. Nova Scotia will still be there next year, and things may have changed by then.

What I think is going to change is my method of travel. For the last two years I have slowly been researching buying a travel trailer. I love being able to go see family and friends. It is, after all, one of the benefits of no longer being in the workforce. One can, if in the mood, just pick up and go see someone. Having a big dog, however, makes spontaneity difficult. Either you have to plan every stop in advance or risk not having a place to stay. On the trip Abner and I took in the summer of 2008 I learned some of the pitfalls of depending upon “dog friendly” establishments. Some were fantastic. The Westin in Las Vegas comes to mind. It was a large, beautiful hotel that had no restrictions on the dogs other than not taking them into restaurants and making sure they were well-behaved and that the owners clean up after them. I thought all this was reasonable.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was the St Francis in Santa Fe NM. I had booked through one of the pet travel websites and when I got there and tried to check into my prepaid room I was informed that dogs were not now nor ever were allowed at this hotel. After considerable argument with rude and thoughtless personnel I ended up in a very expensive remodeled 1950s motel that was a dump but allowed dogs.

A couple years ago, Design Within Reach introduced a special edition Airstream trailer that piqued my interest and began an on again off again search for the perfect trailer for Abner and me to travel without worrying about where we can stay. A couple weeks ago, after my second visit to the Airstream dealer in Colfax, NC I had pretty much determined that I needed to buy either a 25 or 27 foot Airstream International with a queen bed in the front. I had even gotten to the point where the dealer had made me a written offer on one that they had on their lot. I have also been researching vehicles that can pull a trailer of this size and was surprised to learn that aside from huge General Motors SUVs or any number of large trucks that would certainly not work for me, the only reasonable choice was a Volkswagen Touareg TDI. And so, about two weeks ago I thought I knew what I needed to buy and how much I needed to budget for this new combo that would, hopefully alter my traveling life for some time to come.

And then, I got my daily email from Ebay regarding Airstreams for sale on their website. I have been receiving these for more than a year and have learned a lot about how much you have to pay for a relatively recent tricked out Airstream and had pretty much concluded that I might as well pop for a new one. But one night I looked at the listings and there was one that came up with the title “move over Airstream”. This was an auction for an Earthbound Golden Ridge trailer. I had never heard of this brand nor seen it at any of the dealers or websites I had visited during my search but it looked interesting so I immediately started looking into it.

Without belaboring this story, suffice it to say, I am leaning toward getting an Earthbound. There are still things I like better about the Airstreams but there are big compensating factors with Earthbound, not the least of which is more space at 1,100 pounds less weight than the Airstream I was considering. This represents a big difference in fuel economy and handling, particularly when driving in mountainous terrain.

So last week I bought a 2010 Touareg TDI and I am hoping that before the weather starts warming up next spring I will own a trailer and next year Abner and I can hit the road if Asheville gets too hot for us, or more to the point, just because I want to.

Doing the research for this purchase has taken a surprising amount of my time this summer and when combined with keeping Abner stimulated and exercised, the summer has flown by. We are now approaching Labor Day. Daily high temperatures are still about 10 degrees above normal and we have had one of the hottest summers on record, but it is supposed to cool off on Saturday. I am hoping that by the time I get back from my annual visit to see old friends in Northern California and attend Winesong, the summer will have broken and it will start to feel like fall. My dogwoods are already starting to turn, which as I recall from last year was the first sign of the coming of fall. That and Abner’s blowing his summer coat two months earlier than normal (which has happened again this year). Last year we had, as his coat predicted, an early and cold winter. I suspect we are in for more of the same this year.

As of a week or so ago, Abner and I have been in the house for a year and I have to say that I am more convinced than ever that this is a good spot for us. I will probably start looking into selling the land I had originally planned to build on because I think I can be happy here.

No time to post the pictures I had intended to add with this text but I hope to get to it when I get home.

So that’s about it for now. I have 4 trips lined up in the next 5 months so no doubt those will tend to fill a lot of my future postings. Until then. . .