Every Saturday my husband and I strap our bikes to the back of our car and drive away from our beloved Weaverville towards Asheville. We head to a popular destination called Carrier Park along with a few thousand other local residents. We arrive to the mecca center for fit, good-looking people with attractive children and too many dogs.
We are the Carrier Park Imposters driving in from a little village outside of Asheville bringing neither children, dogs, nor sadly, good looks. If our deficiencies aren’t magnified enough through comparison, we also wear old ratty clothes in an arena that is meant to showcase athletic name brands and super sexy spandex creations.
While my husband dismounts our bikes from our non-hybrid car (another demerit), I watch skinny moms wrestle baby strollers from hatchbacks that untangle themselves into ginormous beasts with wheels placing Rhett or Daisy, who slowly nibble on an organic apple, gently within its armored safety. There appears to be an unwritten code for dog owners. This park is for serious dog owners only. I’ve seen as many as six dogs attached by a tangled spider web of leashes to one human arm. It’s not unusual for the dog people to own three or four versions of the same dog. They promenade around the park with their dogs spread before them like the pleats in a Southern belle’s dress.
And never mind that the paved path that can transport you across all 31 acres nestled right next to the French Broad River is only 2 feet wide and meant to be used for two-way foot or bike traffic. These are Dog People, and Dog People hold themselves to the noble Conduct of the Kennel Order, which is fancy way of saying “It’s a dog-eat-dog world.”
My husband and park at the end of the trail next to the French Broad Put In. That’s what the locals call the spot where the kayakers and canoers and raft people can put their water toys into the river. It’s odd that with thousands of water players, the parking lot accommodates only six cars plus a handicap spot. People attempt to remedy this oversight by parking on the grass that lines the tiny lot. It may seem odd to non-park goers that people should drive to a green space to enjoy nature and in the process trample and kill the grass and vegetation to park more conveniently to the path’s entrance.
My husband and I are almost never lucky enough to grab a legitimate spot, and so we frequently find ourselves in the grass. When others pull up on the grass to unload their dogs, strollers, bikes or medieval weapons (more on this later) we all avoid eye contact by showing intense interest in our tasks. We say things like, “My goodness but this bike strap seems especially cranky today. I can’t seem to unhook it,” even though it unhooked easily and I’m just pretending it is stuck to avoid communication with the others unloading their toy of choice in a silent comradery of the Guilty of Assaulting a Green Space club. Once we get to the path, the Green Guilt easily dissipates because the path is gorgeous and breezy and, because it runs beside the river, cleansing.
The park is an interesting study in diversity. Like a high school cafeteria, there are loosely formed social clubs that cluster together in various parts of the park. The park lends itself to groupings as the path, which forms a loose figure eight serves as bandstand seating to a parade of non sequiturs. At any given point on the route, I can expect to see anything from a gaggle of inline skaters to group of medieval aficionados costumed and carrying all manner of crude weaponry. We always stop our bike ride when we get this part of the show and sit in the grass to watch the action. There all sorts of complicated rules of conduct like when you are struck on your shoulder you can no longer use that arm in that, had this happened outside of a fantasy situation, it would have been severed and kicked aside to continue the battle.
We see teams of lawn bowlers and thin women bunched together (for warmth) running the long path with happy chatter and impossible speed. The park’s original purpose was to act as a motor speedway, but in 1999 local nonprofit RiverLink gave the land to the city of Asheville, on condition that city officials develop a green space. The race-car people were miffed by the deal, but the local residents were thrilled to have their own giant playground in what would now be a very quiet space. Rumors suggest that the actual playground section of the park, which is nestled into the velodrome area near the middle of the figure eight, was built in nine days, but you know how local people embellish. My husband and I fit right in the rag-tag procession of dissimilar people who are held together by a thinly paved path that weaves us in and out of each other’s thoughts as it connects us both together and to itself.