Monday, December 19, 2016

Coffee Shop Conversations

After having my hair cut last week, I went next door for a sandwich at Canoe Creek Coffee. It's a small, family-run place and something Ashville has needed for a while. Judging by the number of cars parked there most of the time, I’d say business is good.

I intended to work on some blogs while there. I’m planning one about another road trip by Lucy and Ethel, one about the perfectionism of my handyman, and a third about some people whose Christian mission work is helping local folks with chores and trips to the doctor. Those will have to wait, though, while I extol the virtues of our new coffee shop.

The owners, Mike and Alison Bailey, wanted a place where friends could meet in a casual atmosphere for coffee and a chat. They have achieved that and more. I ran into three different people I know in the first half hour of munching on my turkey-and- cheddar panini. One man I had written a Discover magazine article about brought his three little girls in for hot chocolate. 

A woman with whom I had been on a mission trip was having coffee and a Danish with her daughter. A friend of hers came in, and it turns out she’s the wife of another guy I’ve written an article on. Meanwhile, a woman who goes to my church came in for eggnog and a box of assorted sweets for a party, took one look at the new lunch menu and decided to have a sandwich. 

Canoe Creek’s paninis are to die for, especially those spread with apple butter. They also serve frappes, smoothies and hot tea. Their pastry menu varies from day to day. Alison might make Cheddar Bacon Scones one day, chocolate muffins the next and cookies the next. On this day, they had put out samples of her Luscious Layer Bars. I know they were trying to sell them, but a couple of the bite-size samples seemed plenty for me. Then I felt guilty about having only samples for dessert, so I just had to get a cup of coffee to assuage my guilt. Okay, I admit it, I also bought a layer bar to go with it.

Listening to the women at the next table, I couldn't help but joining into the conversation. That’s what you do in a small town. I learned about one woman's problems finding a doctor in her insurance provider network, about another who wants to go back to work too soon after surgery, and the travails of a teenager who needs a higher grade on her SAT test to get a college scholarship. Fortunately, none of the conversations were what you'd call, "intimate."

I like doing business with local merchants, and I'd really like to see this place succeed. I’m doing my part, at least.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Wind Creek Weekend

Best view of fall foliage is between ears of a horse.
Normally, I keep my grands over the Thanksgiving holidays. But I wanted to go on a weekend trail ride with Outback Saddle Club at Wind Creek State Park. So I kept my grands the weekend before, packed some Thanksgiving leftovers and my riding gear, loaded Mallory and headed for Alexander City Friday morning.

I had called 10 days before to make reservations, but was told Wind Creek doesn't accept reservations. I'm not sure whether that's true throughout the camp or just the horse area, but it only has 16 spots. "They're nearly empty every weekend," the clerk assured me. "And we have an overflow area, too."

My experience with that "overflow" area hadn't been good. There is no "legal" trail between it and the horse camp, so when I was there in February 2015, someone had to trailer my horses to meet our group at the trail head.

I had a bad feeling about the trip while packing. An email to the club newsletter editor about who was going to be there brought up one couple. Perhaps I would be the only one there. I don't know the trails well enough to ride alone, and besides, it's dangerous to ride without a buddy. But I had put so much effort into getting ready, and I was so psyched up to ride, that I ignored my gut and went anyway.

The two-hour drive was uneventful, but when I went to the Wind Creek Welcome Center to register, I almost came unglued. The equine camp was full! "You can camp in the overflow area," the clerk informed me. "There are two horse people there now." I was furious, argued about why they don't take reservations ("That wouldn't be fair," a ranger said. Huh??), stomped and fumed about getting from one camp to the other via horseback, and started to turn around and go home. The clerk told me to drive through the equine camp and see whether I knew someone I could buddy up with. 

The camp was packed, but the trailer doors were open and empty. Almost everyone was out riding. I found one woman named Lauren Ruark from Georgia who listened to me rant and rave while encouraging me not to leave. Then I found someone who was breaking camp, and claimed her site. Whew!

I’m so grateful to Lauren for talking me out of leaving. It turned into a lovely weekend. I saw only two other campers from Outback, and I didn't really know them. I prevailed upon one guy to "help" put up my picket line, which means he did it for me. Lauren waited until I had set up camp and saddled my horse, then we started a two-hour ride. Half an hour into the ride, we ran across some folks she knew, and joined up. However, the few she knew turned into a group of about 45, which is way too many for my tastes. Saturday, I linked up with a horsewoman I knew and three of her friends, and rode four hours. Sunday, I got in another hour. I was a happy camper.

The weather was perfect, the leaves were gorgeous, and we saw several deer, including a buck with at least six points. The drought had dropped the water line so low on Lake Martin that we were able to ride the "beach" for a while, although I'm not sure whether the park officials would have approved. I snapped a photo of a picnic table that used to be high up the bank. It appeared as if the gnarly roots of an old pine tree were the only thing keeping it from sliding down the bank.

What could have been a misadventure turned out great, thanks to some horsey friends old and new.