West Virginia

I had no idea that West Virginia was a separate state. I was absolutely convinced that we were going to the ‘western’ part of Virginia, which tells you a lot about my knowledge of US geography. Never again will I mock and scorn the poor Americans who can’t separate Slovenia from Slovakia as they backpack across Europe. I will however draw the line at the Norway/ Sweden confusion. Such mix-ups are unacceptable.

After having been laughed at by my travel companions (real Americans who know real American geography) I can now share with you that West Virginia is indeed a separate state and has been so for a proud 150 years. West Virginia- Wild and Wonderful, as their tourism board says. The term ‘red neck’ sprung to mind after having driven in the state for a while, also the words ‘lush and green’.

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We were off to meet up with Erin’s friends from Peace Corps (they were in Zambia back in 2011) who are currently hiking the Appalachian trail as part of their degree. The original plan was to go up on Saturday, camp out with them and then join them for a part of the trail,  but the weather gods were not on our side and they got delayed for a day so we could only join them for some camping site fun. The Appalachian trail, also called the A.T, is a marked hiking trail stretching from Springer Mountain down in Georgia all the way up to Mount Katahdin in Maine. The daring hikers has six months to complete the trail by foot or canoe.

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The happy campers.

In all fairness, they are truly remarkable for doing this. They started off in January and has since waded through blistering cold, snow storms, pouring rain, scorching heat and sun. As part of the A.T hiking culture, every hiker needs to have a trail name. Starting from the left is: Weasel, Zambian Squirrel and Skunk Foot. The first time I saw Skunk Foot he was sitting down on the ground, topless, and fiddling around with some bones and a skull from some animal, wearing a feather in his hair. The words ‘bird flu’ sprung to mind and I quickly and manically sanitised my hands.  Note that he is wearing a skunk’s foot as a necklace. Somewhere out there is a poor amputee skunk wondering what that hell happened after that last drink.

As we drove to meet up with the hikers we texted and asked if they wanted us to get anything for them. One word came back: Fries. Such a high demanding bunch!

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The hikers had some amazing stories and had learned some very hard lessons during their trek: Animals love tooth paste, Canoes break, and cats are vicious, thieving things. They woke up one morning to find that there were wholes in the tooth paste tube and some weird creature of the night had sucked the thing dry of its content. They rescued some baby geese that had been abandoned and had them as guests in their canoe. Unfortunately the canoe didn’t survive some of the rougher parts of the river and the whole thing capsized.  In an effort to save themselves, their stuff and their geese babies, Skunk Foot ushered the little ones to swim towards shore. The baby geese however had become so attached to Skunk Foot that they refused to leave his side causing much distress to the crew as they were trying to save themselves and their stuff without knocking out the little ones. The situation became unsustainable and they decided, once reaching shore, that they had to give up the mama-role and leave the babies at an animal shelter. Skunk Foot cried.

One night, in the hope to escape the rain, the trio slept under a bridge. Just before Zambian Squirrel was about to close his eyes he saw something move around above them. Eyes gleaming in the night. Ah! A cat. Nothing to worry about. Well this was a cat on a mission. They woke up the following morning and found that the darn cat had eaten their blueberry muffins.  It was Weasel’s birthday muffins! It’s a tough life out on the trail.

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The Zambian Peace Corps Crew Reunion. Dan is rocking a bandana for the occasion.

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This was one of their trail friends. I don’t remember his name so let’s call him Grizzly Beard from now on. Grizzly Beard had one of those life stories that you sometimes encounter and always admire. He was sick of his life as a mechanic and packed up his stuff, sold the house and the car and has been living on the trail since, happy for being part of nature and meeting some great people. Isn’t that one of the Great American Narratives? To leave everything behind and explore the wild? Well, they still do it.

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They love their private property in West Virginia. One sign even said “Violators will be shot and survivors will be shot again”. Hospitality at its finest!

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I have developed a love of porches since living in America, so I wouldn’t mind fixing up an ol’ place like this and settle down.

After bidding farewell and good luck to the Appalachian Three, we ventured back to DC. We stopped in a small.. I could call it town but it was really just a whole in the ground with a shop, a bar and a bike shed, to get some snacks before hitting the road. I enter the shop and they have three things on sale: Guns, Bongs, and Cock Rings. ‘Chocolate?’ I ask tentatively. ‘In the back’ the lady at the counter says distractingly.

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Guns.

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Shop rules for gun-buying.

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Bongs.

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And Cock-Rings. Welcome to West Virginia. Enjoy your stay!

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We drove home in the pouring rain and stopped at a Taco Bell for some dinner. It is tough supporting those out in the wild after all.

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Therapy

Mental state since leaving DC:

llama sobbing

And when asked how I’m feeling:

Oh I'm fine

The transition from US to Sweden has been much harder than first anticipated. So, in an effort to deal with this country-breakup I have decided to keep this blog alive for a bit longer and share some of the stories I was too lazy to write as they happened. Consider it being a form of therapy where I will be relaxing in a leathered chair and share my stories and you can bring out the note pad and judge me for my indiscretions and general stupidity all you want. For those of you who feel that ‘enough is enough, pull yourself together woman!’, I thank you for taking the time reading. For the rest of you: come along for the ride and enjoy it! I most certainly will.

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Looking at my bank statement after six months of unpaid internship:

nothing to see here

I shall declare personal bankruptcy and then spend the rest of my days dancing for pennies and telling stories of America in street corners.. Come and see me and I’ll make your hearts tingle.

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The Luther

One of the many lies I told myself prior to moving to DC (learning the exact location of all 50 states, being able to name the last 20 Presidents, and understand the fundamentals of US domestic policies etc.) was to get in shape and take care of myself. Eat right, exercise, meditate etc etc. That was doomed to fail the moment I touched down at Dulles International as the United States of America has an almost religious relationship with the deep-fryer. I am not one to object to this cardiac arrest-inducing machine, as all the stuff that comes out of it is devilishly delicious: fried pickles, tater tots, sweet potato fries, fried chicken. The list goes on.

However, occasionally one does questions what comes out of the fryer. I reached that point when I heard about ‘The Luther’ at GBD (Golden Brown Delicious) Fried Chicken and Fresh Doughnuts. The Luther is, in short, a sweet and salt concoction containing the following elements: fried brioche doughnut glazed in maple chicken juice, with candied pecans, slab bacon with a fried boneless chicken. All together with a side of fries.

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I scream,  you scream, we all scream as all notions of food-decency is quietly being stripped away from our common consciousness.

It was absolutely delicious. Ex-fellow intern Amy and I hit new gastronomic heights as we experienced the fullness of the sweet doughnut, majestically complemented with the salty chicken, and crispy bacon. Needless to say, we shared one and that was quite enough.

Another food-absurdity (bravery?) is the ‘Chicken in a Waffle’. It’s a thick Belgian waffle and a fried chicken with maple syrup drizzled all over it. Take your time and take it in. It makes me wonder if these food combinations were at all drug induced or if they spurred from genuine experimentation. It’s almost greedy, as if the chef barked out at the pan and said: “How can I have it all? Salt and sweet?! Meat and cake!!”

Alas, we shall never now the exact motives behind these wonderful, albeit confusing, results. All we can do is enjoy them and quietly pray to the cholesterol god to show mercy.

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Tequila

My exact reaction when I’ve had Tequila:

Golden Girls- power of satan

I am no stranger to the occasional shot. In fact they can be a fabulous boost to an evening. However, there is one beverage I have a most complex relationship with: Tequila, we simply do not mix that well. Yet, here in America (and I assume that this is due to the proximity to the Mexican border) this is the shot of choice for most people, and as an ambitious Try-American, I naturally adjust to my new habitat’s choice of mind-wreckage. So many bad decisions in so little time.. I shiver with equal amounts of fear and excitement whenever anyone shouts: “Let’s do Tequila shots!”. It is a devious, devious drink with the extraordinary tendency of turning the most serene individual into a madwoman; shouting abuse at a traffic cone simply because it’s too orange, or dancing on the table or starting a fight with someone twice her size. The worst thing is that you don’t even know when it’s hit you. You feel fine, queen of the world, dancing, singing and talking obscenities to absolute strangers when suddenly, you turn into a raging bull that has just been flagged a red drape.

It’s bad. Real bad. Yet, whenever I hear that clear voice suggesting ‘Tequila’ I always smile and roar: “Hell yeah!”. Because I am an adult and I make the right decisions in my life.

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