I know that many Duke students are feeling bored, homebound and isolated with virtual classes just like me. It’s only been five weeks since I was living with my parents in New Jersey, and already I feel bored of my monotonous environment in Durham. Looking for some adventure, my two roommates and I (and seven of our other friends in our “quarantine pod”) set out for a weekend trip to Asheville, NC. We were all struck by the great spots to eat, the gorgeous hiking trails and by how easy it was to ignore public health guidelines from the state of North Carolina and Duke alike.
Did you know that Asheville is home to some world class restaurants? It was chilly when we arrived Friday night, so our group sat inside a small but authentic Mexican restaurant and ordered drinks all around. It felt great to be served by working class people again—I haven’t relied on their labor in weeks, other than Amazon delivery people, grocery store workers and the valet trash pickup at our luxury apartment complex, of course. Seeing the lifelessness in their despondent eyes as they filled our orders really revived my spirit to get through another week of grueling online learning. Though the experience was a lot of fun, the food was pretty bland; most of us couldn’t taste anything despite it looking well-seasoned and spicy. I’d recommend finding another place to eat than the Chipotle on Patton Ave.
Asheville is surrounded by some beautiful, natural hiking trails. We headed out from our hotel on Saturday morning to Mount Mitchell, the highest summit east of the Mississippi, for a four-mile hike. Though half of our group started facing some mild lung pain early on, we soldiered onward to see the beautiful views of western North Carolina. We passed a lot of locals getting their daily exercise in, and had to stop and ask them for directions pretty often. At the top of the mountain, we all took off our masks and handed our phones to some strangers for pictures. They came out great, except for the ones where we were all coughing uncontrollably. That’s what we get for hiking during pollen season!
When we got back to our hotel everyone had to rest for a while, as our muscles were pretty sore from all the walking. I popped a Vyvanse to push past the fatigue, and headed out for a midday bar-hopping Tinder date. I think it’s always nice to meet locals while traveling, and this was a great way to connect with someone from Asheville. My date, Mark, and I laughed our way through a couple of beers at some of his favorite spots, and then he took me back to his apartment. He said he was concerned about how my lips kept turning bluer every few minutes as if oxygen wasn’t circulating properly through my blood, and I was pretty hurt by that, but we continued to have unprotected sex anyways.
Despite that weird encounter, our trip was a great opportunity to bond with nine of my closest friends and also everyone at the UNC Asheville college party we spontaneously joined. I haven’t been around that many humans since the night before we left for Asheville, at a party with 30 or so of my closest friends from Greek Life in West Village. When we weren’t making out with strangers, sharing drinks or generally just breathing on one another, we were able to really connect in a way that’s been so hard with the social distancing guidelines—we’ll all never forget how funny it was when my roommate’s girlfriend drunkenly vomited up on a couple walking around the city despite barely having anything to drink, or how my other friend Jason ended up needing to be connected to a ventilator at Mission Hospital after complaining about his terrible headache. He’s still there, and we had to leave without him.
One of the craziest parts of our experience actually happened after we came back to Durham. We were all called by “contact tracers,” which basically meant that everyone we had met at that college party wanted to stay friends with us. I told the “tracers” that they’re all welcome to come hang out in Durham with us if they’re ever in the area. Afterwards, a local newspaper wrote an article about how we became “superspreaders” in their city. It’s pretty cool to be recognized for our trip, and really, it was all our pleasure. I think that says a lot about how the memories you make while traveling really stay with you even after you leave—and how the places you travel to are just as impacted by you as you are by them.
If you’re looking to break the Duke Compact, I highly recommend heading to Asheville for a quick getaway. We loved getting out of Durham so much that we’re all headed to Myrtle Beach next weekend. I’ll be sure to bring back more updates, and whatever infectious diseases I can contract.
Jordan Diamond is a Trinity senior. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays.