January: I love that Western North Carolina has four seasons. I'm also very thankful that the seasons aren't as extreme as they are in Chicago -- our winter days are routinely in the upper 30s and low 40s, and the real cold hits at night. That, and winter is a good 6 or 8 weeks shorter. That said, I can't imagine raising Kate somewhere there was no snow!
February: Travel to and from Asheville is a breeze. Showing up at AVL 45 minutes before your flight means you'll wait at the gate for 35 minutes. We're not quite near anything, but we're not super-far either -- we can drive to the coast in 4 hours, Atlanta in 3 or so, Washington in 8, Chicago in 12. And with more and more flights in and out of AVL every month -- direct connections -- this heavy time of year for travel is as low stress as it gets.
March: As much as I might like the idea of winter, and want to make sure Kate knows how to sled and ski, March in the mountains means summer is just around the corner. Trees are blooming, the trails are loamy, and we just might sneak in a 70-degree day here or there. Yeah, it's nice to be in the South.
April: Now, there are times when Southern influence is maddening, and others when it absolutely rocks. April is one such time, as businesses still take Good Friday and Easter Monday off, creating a four-day weekend just as spring hits full stride and the trails are buzzing.
May: For anyone who survived Sheridan Road between 1997 and 2009, I invite you to Asheville. I think I can count the number of potholes on my way to work on one hand.
June: This one's obvious, but the quality, quantity and diversity of riding options here are unbelievable. To start, you have "stacked" mountains -- meaning you get lung-busting climbs, often with 20% grades, with descents that are over too soon, so you're on the gas all the time. You have incredible road rides, you can race track and UCI-level cyclocross ... and then there's the mountain biking. There's a reason Asheville native Willow Koerber is one of the best technical riders in the world ... but you also have miles-long pump tracks in DuPont. June is probably the second-best time to ride (after autumn), when the heat is just starting to hit and the post-ride soak in the river is still numbingly cold ...
July: One of the disadvantages of Chicago is that it's an enormous geography. Many of my good friends and riding partners lived just 10 or 15 miles away, but except for Sunday mornings, that equated to nearly an hour of driving to see them, or even longer on the train. Here, Asheville is 20 miles from Hendersonville and 30 miles from Brevard, with few traffic signals to slow you down. That helps to build our community, which is tight-knit to begin with -- Kim and Kate and I have had more social dates here than we ever had in Evanston, and they're easier to get to. It's a rare day on the trails when I don't run into someone I know. And they're good people -- we're very thankful to have such wonderful friends to spend time with, this far from our families.
August: I was born to eat Southern food. Allergies notwithstanding, I was making my own biscuits and gravy at age 10, the only vegetable I willingly eat is collard greens, I fully embrace the Waffle House experience (it's about more than just the pecan double waffle and hash browns smothered, covered and chunked), and the vinegar-mustard barbecue sauce native to South Carolina is mother's milk. That said, the diversity of food options in the Asheville area is astounding, from the most-excellent Papas & Beer "California" Mexican, through the Southern-with-a-twist Tupelo Honey Cafe, to the "diner" experience of Blue Sky Cafe and others, to the very well-done Thai, Indian and other more exotic experiences. They're not always close-by, but they're not hard to get to either. Multinational chain restaurant? What's that?
September: September is when we found both our homes -- in fact, our offer in Evanston was 9 years to the day before our closing in Hendersonville. To own a home halfway up a mountain with a full-on forest in the backyard has always been my dream -- sometimes you just get lucky! All this, and one-third the taxes of Crook County.
October: I can embrace my inner redneck. The Asheville-Greenville-Spartanburg DMA is the third-largest NASCAR television market in the country, despite only being the 36th largest overall. We have five tracks within 3-1/2 hours of here. We have no fewer than five rock/classic rock radio stations, and not one alternative that I've found (other than college stations). I get to say "y'all" and "dang!" and "good Lord" and "might could" without anyone batting an eye. And if I need my dose of Evanston-style liberal do-gooder, I've got that too -- Asheville is, after all, "the hole in the Bible belt."
November: It's cliche, but I really do love autumn in the mountains. The colors in October and even into November are unreal, and once the leaves fall the trails take on a new dimension of challenge and the land reveals secrets hidden by the lush forest for so much of the year. The quality of light in the area is incredible. I drove east on Saturday into an unbelievable sunrise, and home into an even more spectacular sunset. The shades of blue that envelope the mountains here is something to behold. Even then, there's enough green to remind you that spring will come again, and the smells in the crisp air catch you off-guard and sometimes surprise you.
December: It's kind of an odd thing to celebrate in December, but I love the diversity of outdoor activities we have available to us. For now, the spring and summer are taken up by riding and racing, but mixed in there -- and concentrated in the "off" season -- are opportunities for incredible hikes, zip-lining, paddling, rock climbing, skiing, swimming, boating ... the list goes on and on and on. And even better, it's all accessible: Whereas the closest camping to Evanston was 90 minutes away, here it's 20 minutes to the National Forest. It's going to take us the rest of our lives to run out of options, but I look forward to trying!
Our exploration of our wonderful new home has only just begun; check back with me in a year to see what else I've discovered!