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The last week in December my friend Russell and I went on a backpacking trip in the Smokies through four-foot drifts of snow (three rolls of slide film from that trip are awaiting developing). After we got out of the woods, we met up with our our other college buddy, Meredith, for our annual New Year’s reunion. Meredith’s husband Jeremy joined us as well as our friend Ruth from Asheville. We drove and hiked through beautiful country, we rode an ATV up and down the long drive to our cabin, we ate big meals, and at the end of the day we felt our age and took naps, barely waking up to watch the New Year come to pass. keep reading
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I had an exceptional birthday this year. First of all, the date was easy to remember (1-11-11). Second, we got a heavy snowstorm in Asheville two days before the big day; so there was lots of fun white stuff to play in. And third, many good things happened that I didn’t plan on, the best being a pair of house-visits in the morning from friends baring presents.

Here is a brief photo essay to remember the day and to thank my friends who made it such a fine and memorable time:

During the morning I piddled at work and cooked tortilla soup. Shortly after lunch Ruth, Chad and Sunshine arrived. We headed out to go sledding, and Ruth thought it would be a good idea to bring a kayak paddle.
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Racing is not my strong suit. I’ll say that right out of the gate. When I’ve participated in whitewater races in the past, I have historically lost focus, messed up logistics, or otherwise sabotaged my chances of performing well. I almost always leave a race thinking of one or two (or more) points in the race where a different decision or mindset could have made a huge difference. I like to think that I have not yet reached my potential in racing, that my best races are still within me, but at some point you have to trust the evidence–maybe I’m not a naturally good racer. But I’m drawn to compete again and again, and I think it’s largely because of the challenge involved. I like how competition demands focus. It places you, mind and body, in situations that require all you’ve got to give. I came into the fall season this year looking forward to the race circuit that I usually participate in (Russell Fork Baddlun, Lord of the Fork, and Green Race). As usual, I did not put as much time into training as I’d planned, but I did manage to fit in more preparation than in previous years–more road biking, long boating, stress-management, etc. Also, I’d worked it out to borrow a Stinger from Liquid Logic specifically for the Baddlun Race. I thought I had a pretty good change of placing top three in that event this year if I had my best race (if, if, if). Joey Jarrell and I went up to the Russell Fork the weekend before the race, and from the first moment I took a forward stroke in that boat I was in love. I have not paddled Liquid Logic boats and am not sponsored by them; so you can take my opinion for what it is: truly unbiased. This is an awesome boat! Pulling forward strokes, I felt the boat come right up to speed and track smoothly through the eddy. It felt like I was effortlessly cleaving the water with my bow (no resistance), and the boat tracked smoothly forward without veering. On our three runs through the Gorge that first weekend I found the Stinger to be easy to maneuver and a delight to paddle. I remember an irresistible grin spreading across my face as I tracked smoothly into Tower and spanned that long boat off the boof. Later, running the right side of El Horrendo, I melted the ledge and took all twelve feet of Stinger for a mystery move. The only complaint I could find all weekend was that you could sometimes feel the extra length in back banging around behind you on dry ledges, but it was a small issue given the fun (and speed!) provided. Joey and I practiced the bike and paddle legs of the Baddlun coarse that weekend and endlessly talked over our strategy for the upcoming race. A week later we found ourselves back at the Ratliff Hole parking lot lining up shoulder-to-shoulder with twenty other bikers for the start of the race. I’d been hydrating all morning, had carbed up and lubed my road bike, and I felt ready to go. We were cramped there at the starting line, hardly room to breath as we all clipped in and quieted our minds. I absolutely love starting off in these grass-roots style events: It all comes down to a bunch of friends standing side by side, waiting. One guy with a stop watch gives the thirty second warning, the ten second, and then we’re counting down to zero. Go! I stood up on the bike and cranked up near the front of the pack. I had three or four bikes ahead of me as we came into the bottle-neck exit from the parking lot and turned up the brutal hill leaving Ratliff Hole. Our tight cluster of bikes moved like a school of fish, conforming as a single unit as we entered the tight right-hand turn. Then, before I could fully grasp what was happening, Delaney Albright swept out to the left in front of me, leaving the formation. I would later learn that Gareth had thrown his chain ahead of us and Delaney was swerving to miss him, but at the moment all I knew was that my front tire was about four inches off of Delaney’s back tire, and I could not adjust quickly enough. Delaney’s rear while swept my front wheel off the pavement, and I was down on the ground with sixteen other racers trying to get around me. I jumped up and got out of the way, thankfully avoiding causing any other wrecks. Joey had to un-clip to avoid hitting me, but he was soon back in the saddle and climbing the hill. I waited for everyone to get past and then climbed back on and prepared to climb. My chain was off. I dismounted and re-set the chain, and then I had to walk back to flatter ground where I could get on the bike again. By the time I started the climb the pack was out of sight. When I was panting half-way up the hill, I could see the main body of riders making the turn onto the level gorge road. The leaders were long gone, but Joey called down encouragement, “C’mon, Chris. Catch us!” I was off the bike for maybe forty-five seconds to a minute, but in bike races such a delay gets compounded by other factors. You’re suddenly riding alone, unable to cooperate and gain efficiency with other riders. The good news was, my fall off the bike had given me a surge of adrenaline that propelled me forward. Once I topped out the hill and re-gained my breath, I was riding a wave of anger up the gorge road. I caught the main body of riders in the first descent, and I made it up even with Joey at the bottom of the first hill. After that the spacing between racers became much broader, and I started focusing on catching one rider at a time. I caught up with Taylor on the long hill–he was toughly grunting it out on an old road bike frame that probably weighed double what the rest of us were riding. As I passed Taylor, I could see two more racers far ahead of me, and I slowly closed the gap on them for the remainder of the ride. I came even with the first rider at the top of the second long hill and discovered it was Delaney. I knew even then that it probably wasn’t his fault that I wrecked, but I couldn’t help feeling some vindictive pleasure as I made the pass and left him on the downhill. The last rider I could see ahead of me turned out to be Gareth. I caught him as we began the final down-hill towards the river, and we were able to work together on the descent into the gorge to increase our speed and efficiency. We caught Charles as we came even with the river, and the three of us peddled into the transition just as Brian Menzes was making the change ahead of us. It looked to me like I’d made it back up into third or fourth position, though I remember wondering where on earth Jay Ditty was. We all dumped our bikes and began scrambling into boats. I was feeling very winded; so I focused on making a deliberate transition and not wasting time with foibles. But as I put on the river, it was clear I’d lost a lot of time: the other three racers were already a hundred yards down river in a pretty tight group. Throughout the paddle leg I was able to catch occasional glimpses of the other three ahead of me, but it was quickly evident that I’d spent my wad on the bike. My arms felt limp from the outset, and I made up my mind to paddle smoothly rather than to sprint and risk a mistake. I was thankful to be in the Stinger, which was easy to paddle and did a lot of the work for me. Going slow and steady paid off, and I caught up with Brian Menzes at the end of the river leg. We started running up the steep, rough logging road with maybe forty yards between us. I had nothing left to give as I scrambled up the trail. Within the first quarter mile I let go of trying to hang with Brian and just walked, intermittently jogging for spurts. I hoped that I had enough of a gap on the racers behind me to hold them off, but about halfway into the run Delaney came cruising up beside me, looking very fresh. I made a half-hearted attempt to fend him off, but there was no way. He loped past me easily, and I struggled forward in his wake. On the downhills I had searing cramps in my sides; most of the time I felt like I couldn’t breathe if I was jogging. I was constantly looking back for the next racer behind me. I thought to myself: this is fun. I finally caught a second wind as I came back to the river gorge, and I was able to jog up to Ratliff Hole and back stroke across the river, limping into sixth position. The rest of the racers rolled in close on my heals, and we all spent the warm afternoon recovering on the beach, talking and drinking beers. Jay Ditty won the whole deal, and that only using one blade on the river and choosing to portage around Fist. Crazy! I could kick myself for the mistakes I made in that race, but at the end of the day it’s not all about what a bad-ass athlete you are. These events are fun for me because they’re a test. They expose my weaknesses, and they punish me into being a stronger human being. Most importantly, the races are an opportunity to enjoy great fellowship with a fantastic group of people. Three weeks after struggling through the Baddlun I would return to the Russell Fork to put up another disappointing performance in the Lord of the Fork Race. Who knows, maybe I’ll never get to enjoy the perfect race that I envision. If I don’t, at least I feel that I’m still getting better and getting stronger, bit by bit. I look ahead to this year’s Green Race with the usual mixture of fear and excitement, and I’m going to try like hell to have a clean race. If I don’t, I know that sixty or so good friends will have my back out there and will make the day a worthwhile experience. It always is. My prediction for this year’s Green Race: Team Liquid Logic will be a force to be reckoned with. I think that the Stinger presents less of an advantage over the Green Boat on the Narrows course than in a long format race, but that design is fast on any water, and Liquid Logic is bringing out the big guns this year. Mike Dawson ran away with the Lord of the Fork Race, and that after only one trip down the river. He’ll have had several weeks of paddling on the Green under his belt when it comes time to race next Saturday. Will the title of Green Race champion stay local, or is this the year we see the event taken by an international talent? It’ll be a fun day regardless. I’m looking forward to seeing you all out there and to getting good and scared on the river together. Here’s a quick video that I shot at this year’s Lord of the Fork Race to whet your appetite. Have good lines out there this year, Chris
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Heinz Kossler is a ceramic artist working in the River Arts District of Asheville, North Carolina. He builds original, craft fireplaces and tile installations for regional households and businesses by commission. He also produces personal artwork. One of the main themes to emerge in our time working together was the distinction that Heinz draws between his work as a craftsman and his personal expression as an artist. Please enjoy the video and share it with others. www.heinzkossler.com
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This past summer has been a very full and active season in my life. In May, I marked the beginning of the warm season with the planting of a garden at our new house. Jeb helped me move a truckload of well-composted horse manure into raised beds in the back yard of the West Asheville house we would be renting together (along with Jeb’s wife, Stevie). The day after we moved all of our possessions into the new house, we left boxes and furniture cluttering the living space and spent a day in the yard planting lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, squash, various herbs, and more. During the coming months, we watched the garden grow and spent a good amount of time (though not enough) tending it with weeding, watering, and the occasional war on invading pests. A few plants failed (the summer squash produced a bountiful harvest before succumbing to boring beatles and all the tomato plants slowly gave in to a soil-borne fungus), but in general I was amazed by how well everything flourished despite our inattentiveness. I spent some long, hot days out in the garden beds weeding, setting up support structures, and helping the plants as best I knew how (and I suffered two righteous sunburns for it), but overall, I felt I did very little to deserve the goodness that soon poured out of our garden and into the kitchen.
C.S. Lewis makes gardening a metaphor for tending our loves in his book The Four Loves, and he expresses the emotion I have felt wonderfully:

“[A garden’s glory] lies in the fact that it needs constant weeding and pruning . . . It teems with life. It glows with colour and smells like heaven and puts forward at every hour of a summer day beauties which man could never have created and could not even, on his own resources, have imagined. If you want to see the difference between its contribution and the gardener’s, put the commonest weed it grows side by side with his hoes, rakes, shears, and packet of weed killer; you have put beauty, energy, fecundity beside dead, sterile things . . . And when the garden is in its full glory the gardener’s contributions to that glory will still have been in a sense paltry compared with those of nature. Without life springing from the earth, without rain, light and heat descending from the sky, he could do nothing. When he has done all, he has merely encouraged here and discouraged there, powers and beauties that have a different source.”

Around mid-summer, My family came up from Birmingham for a week-long visit, and we took the opportunity to host a harvest party. Dad prepared his famous smoked ribs, Mom and I used garden produce to prepare squash casserole, pico de gallo salsa, cold tomato salad, regular salad, smashed potatoes, and a handful of good friends new and old joined us for a truly joyful evening of sharing food and fellowship. Jeb made his mother’s recipe for baked beans. Ruth came and entertained my parents with her stories and humor (had my Mom in stitches a few times). Chad and Sunshine were there and continued to build on the foundation of friendship that we’d begun laying together that summer–Chad provided the evening’s desserts (cookies and brownies) from the bakery he runs with his mother.

One of the funniest moments of the evening came when everyone was already deeply absorbed in various conversations. I had a music mix playing in the background, and as luck would have it, Miley Cirus’s “Party in the U.S.A.” came on (I don’t know how that got on there). Leave it to my younger brother Zach, who is acutely attuned to all things musical, to notice this fact and loudly point it out to the room. I was caught, and I sheepishly apologized for my trespass, walked over to the iPod, promising to change the track, and then jacked up the volume and started “movin’ my hips like Yeah'”. Zach was mortified–that was a good time.

Various other highlights of my family’s visit include: traveling the Parkway in search of mountain mist shrouding the blue ridge, a scene my father became enamored with on his last visit and wanted to paint. Taking a waterfall day with James Michael and Jeb along for the ride–showing off on the 40-foot jump at Courthouse Falls and then watching everyone get wet on the rope-swing at the teacups swimming hole (including Abbie, our dear pup). Riding Kitsuma Ridge on mountain bikes with Zach, getting mad at him and acting like a jerk when he got tired on the up-hill trek, and immediately receiving his forgiveness afterward (that’s a long story in itself). Anyway, here is a short photo essay showing some of the things we did together:

Another important event of the summer was the wedding of my friend Meredith. Meredith, Russell, and I have been partners in crime since our college days at FSU, meeting up every New Year since graduation to celebrate together and laugh at each other. Weddings being what they are, we three didn’t have much time to re-connect in a deep way while we were in Raleigh (we were mostly running around trying to accomplish last minute preparations), but it was still a very joyful experience watching Mer take this next step in her life and also getting to reconnect with some old college friends who’d come from far and wide to be there. Here are some pics from the weekend:
Me and Rusty.
Me and Rusty.
Mer and Jeremy showing off.
Mer and Jeremy showing off.
three amigos
three amigos
And lastly, this summer I’ve had a few opportunities to get work placed in regional publications. In large part, I owe these opportunities to my good friend Spencer Cooke who helped me establish connections through his own work. The first piece is an article I wrote for Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine about the Jerry’s Baddle kayak and bike race, and the second is an article on the Linville Gorge from High Country magazine for which a few of my photos were selected. You can click on either image to see it in greater detail.
So, the summer has ended (first official day of Fall passed just a few days back). Lately my work has been focused on completing the Camp Greystone promotional video, and with that project nearly in the bag, I’m looking ahead to what comes next. Hopefully in the next few weeks I will be sharing some new work on here. For now, Jeb, Stevie and I are continuing to dig Pontiac Red Potatoes out of the garden like hidden treasure. The peppers plants have entered their second late and prolific harvest, and the fall garden of mixed greens and carrots is just beginning to push up through the soil. I’ll leave you with a picture of promise from early in the summer.

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Last spring and summer I was working with Katie Spotz towards making a documentary about her plan to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In May we filmed a series of interviews at and around her home in Mentor, Ohio, and we continued to seek financing for the project throughout the summer and into the fall. As her December departure drew near, we both realized that we lacked the resources (both time and money) to complete the project at a high level of quality; so we amicably parted ways. Katie is currently several hundred miles off the coast of South America in her rowboat Liv, and it will only be a few weeks before she lands at her destination in Cayenne, French Guiana. She’s had a hugely successful journey so far, and it looks like she will finish her trip well ahead of schedule. You can follow her adventure here. In anticipation of Katie’s arrival, I went back and dusted off some of the old footage we worked on together. I’d hate to see this content go to waste, and I’m also hopeful that I’ll be able to license some of this content to news outlets that want to tell Katie’s story. This short video reveals a bit about Katie’s anticipation of her journey as well as some of the tensions that emerged amongst her family as she pursued her unconventional dreams: Katie Spotz – Row for Water Interview from Horizonline Pictures on Vimeo. Just before my visit with Katie I spent two weeks touring the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, kayaking a handful of world-class whitewater runs. Part of my trip took me north into Canada where I got to boat three beautiful, wilderness rivers with John Alt, Pete Gehrels, and a few other good friends. John contacted me the other week asking to see some footage of a beating he took on the Cypress River on our first day out in Canada. Rather than just post the video to facebook, I thought I’d work it into more of a finished piece–a small preview of the extensive content from the North Shore that I will be producing with Rapid Transit in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for more! The Cypress 30′: a North Shore Preview from Horizonline Pictures on Vimeo. Thanks for checking in. Let me know your thoughts on the videos and on shorts. -Chris keep reading
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