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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Biggest Regret in College

No, this blog post has nothing to do with the Bike America trip we are currently on. I actually don't know why I started even thinking of this. Maybe it was because today I interviewed Kiersten, and she said some of the most inspiring things about standing up for what you believe in and making things happen no matter what the cost. And that got me thinking of my one big college regret. Yup, I only really have one. I don't regret any of my decisions for those 4 years, I don't regret guys I dated, tests I may have forgotten to study for, I don't even regret the mistakes I made - because they either turned out to be something pretty cool or I learned from them and became the person I am today. I absolutely loved my college experience at the University of Tennessee.

But the one thing I do regret, which is something I apparently was so passionate about if it still haunts me more than 2 years after I have graduated - is not doing more to unify the campus. It's no huge secret that there's a bit of an issue on campus with unifying students of different races. It's apparent to anyone who takes the time to really notice. Even walking into our cafeteria and trying to count the number of times you see students of different ethnic backgrounds and races sitting together at one table, you will find yourself searching for a good while. It just doesn't happen very often.

And no - (except for very extreme cases) I truly deep down do not believe that this happens out of racism or hatred... but just simply out of the lack of opportunity to do activities to get to know and make friends with someone of another race. And this is where my regret comes in - for not taking the organization I was deeply involved with, the organization I loved and have the best memories from, not trying with everything I have to unify the Greek Community.

There are the two organizations called IFC and Panhellenic (all sororities and fraternities on campus) and then there is NPHC (historically African American, hispanic, diverse fraternities and sororities). They are both wonderful, successful organizations on our campus that create friendships and leadership skills. However, they are completely separate entities. There were separate recruitment processes, separate events throughout the year, and even two separate homecomings - which baffled me because isn't the whole idea of homecoming to bring the entire campus together?

Now I understand how this might have come to happen - Greek chapters are very proud of their own traditions and events and of course NPHC, IFC, nor Panhellenic should have to stop doing their own traditions and events that makes them the chapter they are. But why not create a few new traditions that unify and include everyone? I'm not just talking about a once a year Greek Week cook-out. How can you possibly form meaningful friendships by plopping everyone together one day a year. Of course friends are going to sit with friends - and no diversifying will come from it. Why not sit down and think of an event or competition that will pair IFC and Pan with NPHC so we can all have the opportunity to get to know one another. Because that's all it takes to bring us all together - to just simply form friendships. I know this works, because that is exactly what happened in my own chapter.

When my chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha and the NPHC Fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha decided to pair up together for a competition called Carnicus, it became one of the greatest memories of my entire 4 years of college. It was the very first time a sorority and a historically African American fraternity had paired together for this competition. The VERY first time. And we had a blast. I cannot tell you the number of times I was laughing out loud at practices, the moments we all shared rehearsing night after night, and the friendships we formed through this one little competition. No we didn't win, but in the bigger picture - we won something no one else had ever sought after before - we won unity. My chapter and Alpha Phi Alpha stepped outside of the norms and did something different. And I have never been more proud to be a part of my chapter than in that moment.

From then on, we would meet up with those guys and all sit down to have lunch together in the cafeteria. We would go to support them at their step show competitions. They would support us at our philanthropy events. I will never forget hearing one transfer student comment on our friendships with the A Phi A guys and say, "Wow, this kind of thing doesn't happen on other southern campuses." It was a wonderful thing and we had so much hope this would create a spark and a realization that this kind of thing needed to happen within the entire community! The entire campus!! And heck who knew from there?! The entire region!

But it fizzled out. For one reason or another - the bumps and difficulties along the way became too much to continue to fight for what was right and important. At one point talk of a new yearly dance competition was in the works pairing teams of IFC/Panhellenic with NPHC. But because of traditionalist alumni (on both sides) this never became an actuality.

So yes, I do regret not focusing all my time and energy on this in college. I do regret not giving everything I had to help pave the way to something absolutely wonderful. Because the Greek Community on our campus were and are leaders, and if we can all show we are united - the trickle down of that message would be immense. It pains me that my time has long passed, and I don't know what I can possibly do now to help this happen. But all I can hope is that the ones in college right now, the ones who have the opportunity to bring unity to the campus - really go after it. Really make a difference.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bike America - Utah

As we crossed the border over into Utah, leaving Nevada .... I started seeing little glimpses of life. Little chipmunks began to daringly dart in front of our camper, praire dogs would poke their heads in and out of holes like a whack-a-mole game, and every now and then an antelope would pop up out of nowhere. At one point we spotted a lonely antelope off in the distance, so we pulled over to get a closer look. I grabbed my camera and started walking slowly towards it, expecting it to dart away at any second. But this antelope must have been just as curious about me as I was it, because it ended up letting me get only 20 feet from it, and even posed on a dirt mound for a picture! After that, it became my favorite animal ever! I like to think we bonded over the fact of being on a new adventure all alone in the middle of nowhere, our family miles and miles away, ready to see this new land. Yup we definitely bonded ... except for when I ate it.

Well - to be fair, I didn't eat this particular antelope. Instead I ate the jerky meat of one that was more than likely processed a good while ago. How this happened was while driving alongside a small highway in Utah, we saw a sign that read:


So obviously, we pulled off. Gotta have protein on a trip like this! Kiersten opted for the Buffalo jerky, while I picked the 2 animals we had seen thus far on this trip ... Antelope and Rattlesnake. We went back to the campsite and spread out all our new found meats to experiment. The buffalo jerky was delicious. It was sweat and chewy and flavorful, we were big fans of it! The antelope meat on the other hand, was very dry and kind of spicy. It was hard to chew and made my mouth feel so dry. I think that was my pay back for eating the kin to my antelope friend. But then came the rattlesnake. UUHHHHHH hold on I have to let this chill go through my body before I can drag this up from my memory again....

The rattlesnake was in a can. I could hardly wait to open it so I could feel like a wilderness woman chomping down a dangerous desert creature! But when the can cracked open, an aroma of a mix of tuna fish and formaldehyde filled our nose. We looked down at the can and just saw brown liquid. Ok maybe it wasn't going to be so bad. So Kiersten took a fork and fished out our first bite. She felt a piece of meat and lifted it up, but as the meat broke past the brown water .... it kept going, and going, and going. She pulled out what looked like half the rattlesnake and let it flop on the paper plate. We looked closely at it, and could see remnants of the scales. Am I grossing you out yet? Don't worry we felt the same queasiness.  But we had to try it! We had to! .... so we grabbed a squirmy little piece of meat, tilted our heads back, and swallowed it down.

My face grimaced at the thought of what had just happened, but then surprisingly the grimace turned into a shocked expression. I suddenly felt like Simba in the Lion King as the first thought in my head was, "slimy, yet satisfying." It tasted like a piece of tuna fish, it wasn't terrible at all! That being said, once we started having to pick the spine bones of the meat (which were perfectly in tact) we had to stop eating and wash it down with ice cream instead.

After our stomaches settled from that experience, we decided to do a little canyon exploring. First up was a place called Bryce Canyon. I cannot tell you how excited I was to see the red rocks, it was to a point I looked down and my hands were physically shaking from excitement. I felt like I was 8 years old again and going up to get an autograph from the first REAL LIFE movie stars I had ever seen ... Chip and Dale at Disney World. It was so exciting to me, because I had only seen red rock formations in movies and postcards. It was like a fantasy land to me, mars in America.  And Utah did not disappoint.

Fast forward a few hours to accidentally losing Kiersten and her mom, and finding myself wandering on a path alone through towering red rock formations. That was the moment I found myself on the most incredible hike I think I will ever go on. The path started out heading down a cliff and taking a  sharp turn only to be faced with a steep incline. The only way down was a back and forth descending path down into a red rock cavern.

Once you scaled down the path, you found yourself in what looked like a little cave that tinted every one that walked through red. And when you made it through the red cave, you found yourself starring up at a giant tree, growing right in between the rocks!

Then walking on - there were many rocks shaped like towers, alien heads, holes in the wall - you name it, I found it! It was so entertaining! But the most breathtaking part was looking straight up to the sky, and seeing such a stark difference between the deep blue color of the sky and the bright orange rocks.

The other beautiful site we saw at Bryce Canyon was the very first look out point we went to. It was called "Inspiration Point". The feeling I felt as I began walking closer and closer to the edge of the canyon, looking out at this huge canyon dyed red and vast as I could see .... the only one word I could describe this feeling ... would be BUTTERFLIES.

Yes butterflies because I was in awe by the beauty, but also butterflies because you cannot help but image how long it would take you to hit the bottom if you slipped on a lose rock and cascaded down. Not to mention we were venturing to the places were there were no guard rails and nothing stoping you from the unfortunate fate below. That being said - YES it was definitely my choice to go up as close to the edge of the canyon as I could get. I've learned to love the feeling of butterflies, because even though they come from nerves, or fears, or excitement ... they almost always end in a spectacular experience. I got butterflies before making the big move to New York, I got butterflies before jumping out of a plane to free fall back to Tampa, and I got butterflies looking out to Bryce Canyon... ALL of which I am so happy I did anyway. And that beautiful image of Bryce Canyon is now forever etched in my memory :) so embrace the butterflies I say!

The next town we made a pit stop at, was a place called Moab, Utah. As we drove through the town and saw all these little shops with signs that read "Whitewater Rafting Here", "Rock Climb Moab", "ATV Adventures", all backdropped by a breathtaking red mountain wall - we knew this was going to be a fun few days.

The next day we took off to Arches National Park, and Kiersten rode her bike around some of the most incredible rock formations I had ever seen. We walked up to some of the arches, which I am STILL baffled as to how they are made! But they were incredible and made me want to climb up them and slide down the other side!!!! .... which is sort of what happend the next day when we went rock climbing...

No, neither one of us had gone rock climbing on ACTUAL rocks before. Yes, the closest thing to this we had done was climbing on little indoor rock walls. But there was no color coordinated hand and foot holes for these red monsters. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but once again the whole message of this trip is "do the impossible" and trying new things to enjoy the beauty of our country! Plus we would get to say we learned how to rock climb on the red rocks of Utah! So we headed out with our little rock climbing group complete with a guide who taught us all we needed to know. He explained the rock rating to us, anything using a rope is called a "5" and the difficulty level ranges from "5-0" to "5-16"

He started us all off on a 5-6 ... not very steep, easy to get up as long as you look for the right footholds. When we all got to the top of that we felt very confident! Up next was a little bit harder of a challenge, something called a "Chimney Climb". This basically meant that we had to "shimmy" up a crevasse in between two rocks, using our back and our feet pressed against either side of the rock walls. This was way tougher than it looked, but once you got a groove going it was fairly easy to get to the top. I now feel confident to volunteer if Santa ever needs a back up replacement.

But alas, we got to a big one - a 5-9 climb. Looking at this climb, it looked fairly vertical to me with smooth, shiny rocks.  How the heck were we going to climb up this? I need my color coordinated foot holes!!!!!

I started the climb up and already was having problems even getting both feet of the ground. Everything was just too slick! And the only place to put your feet were tiny bumps in the rock or 1/2 inch pieces of rock sticking out. I kept slipping and slipping and slipping until FINALLY I got a good foot hold and climbed up a few feet. But then, I hit the dreaded area where NONE of us could make it past. There was just no where to put your feet, and as you stood there contemplating the next move, your fingers began to shake from gripping the rock above with all your might, and you could feel the sand on the bottom of your shoe start to slowly make you lose grip. After countless attempts, my legs gave out and I was lowered to the bottom.

UGH I felt so defeated!!! I HAD to do this climb! I had to make it to the top!!!! So after a little break I tried it again, this time after watching our guide climb the same area - and do a sideways walk move at the area we kept slipping. When I got back up to try the climb again, I copied what the guide had done, found myself talking to myself "Come on, Annie... COME ON!" and low and behold... MADE IT TO THE TOP!!!!! Ah I had never felt more accomplished as I was rewarded with a very cool view of the Colorado River. I felt such an adrenaline rush, I tried the final climb - a 5-10. At one point, you had to reach your leg so far out to the right, that you had to let go of all your gripping on the left and have faith you get a good hold. I actually jumped at this point and thankfully made it to the next ledge. Right after this I heard the guy next to us scream bloody murder as he tried something similar and fell 7 feet down. His belayer caught him just in time, but left enough free fall to give him a heart attack. Eek I'm glad my people were on top of their game!

At the end of the day we were tired, and a bit banged up, but so happy. We could not have picked a cooler place to learn how to rock climb. Not even 30 feet down, petroglyphs lined the same rock wall we were climbing. It was like we were climbing up a timeline of history.

As we left our Utah adventure, the Super-moon popped it's head out behind the mountains.  A great way to end a fantastic, unplanned "pit stop".