The Best Worst Year in the Blue Ridge

I’m the kind of guy who compares anything to everything: my favorite TV show (Survivor) to my least favorite (The Bachelor), the best month (April) to the worst month (November), the greatest year of my life (2012) to the very worst (2006).

I can’t help it. I compare. It’s what I do. It’s why I love rankings and ratings and top-10 lists, the best and the worst. I can’t get enough of the comparison game.

I especially enjoy comparing all the chapters of my life: my Eden’s upbringing in Pennsylvania, the harsh move to Georgia, my fresh start in California, those pivotal summer camps, the big road trip. I spent a year in Charlotte after my road trip concluded — a really tough year, though not quite 2006 levels of tough — and just this week, I celebrated a year spent in Asheville.

And so, I cannot help comparing the Queen City with the Jewel of the Blue Ridge. I think of all the ways Asheville has far surpassed Charlotte, and I also consider how Asheville falls short.

Work in Asheville

For the first time in my life, I hold a full-time job that feels well-suited to my strengths and desires for personal connection and deeper purpose while still challenging me day-in, day-out — with a solid team around me, no less. I work alongside some incredible individuals with a passion for kids, adventure, and learning, and I certainly glean much of my spirit from them a year later.

I still can’t believe I’m working with kids for a living.

Moving to California 7 years ago, I had no idea how I’d survive and what work I’d find. When my roommate recruited me to come tutor at a middle school with him, I stepped out on a ledge. I had no idea what I was getting into.

Seven years later, I still don’t — only that something about working with youth feels redemptive, feels important, feels like I’ll look back on these years at learning centers and camps and this therapeutic boarding school in the Blue Ridge with nothing but pride. I joined the flagship crew of this non-profit when we opened a year ago, and to be there a year later when others have come and gone indeed makes me proud.

I also take comfort in knowing I wouldn’t have reached this position in Asheville without all my wilderness therapy work experiences and living in Charlotte.

Other Work in Asheville

This last year in the Blue Ridge showed me — for the very first time — that I do, indeed, work two legitimate jobs: a “real job” as a tutor and youth mentor and a no less “real job” as a writer, blogger, podcaster, and content-creator. My first year in Asheville saw Your Other Brothers breaking ground in bold new ways, adding a regular podcast to our blog and a Patreon community to help fund our continuing storytelling endeavors.

I’m proud of the work we’ve done in the last year with YOB, navigating all these hard roads of homosexuality and masculinity and faith. We’ve built something here — a community, a brotherhood, a collage of separate yet similar stories. We’ve raised a humbling $1000/month on Patreon, and we’ve upped the ante on producing one podcast per month to two.

And we’re not finished yet. Video content is our next big dream — testimonies and spoken word and short films — and I’m confident we’ll get there. Sooner than we probably expect, if history is any indicator.

It’s actually fun looking back on my year in Charlotte when YOB was still just a big messy dream; now it’s a big messy reality.

Community in Asheville

It doesn’t exist — or, at least, I’ve yet to find community in the Blue Ridge on a consistent basis.

It’s official: I still struggle with the concept and practice of community. In my book, I wrote about all the gains I made in California, but then my community fell apart, and then I hit the road, and I’ve never quite been the same since.

Community feels like a gear that no longer turns the right way. Or at all.

Charlotte had potential, and the church I found there was my very favorite from all my travels coast to coast. But my road trip totally rewired the way I view community.

Temporary. Fleeting. Hopping here, hopping there, always changing the people around you lest the people around you change on you.

Now a year into this Blue Ridge experiment, complete with dozens of church visits and support groups, I’ve made practically zero progress in the community realm. The gear just won’t turn.

While my online community skyrockets with YOB, my offline one remains a fantasy.

Adventure in Asheville

While I never tired of admiring Charlotte’s sparkly skyline, I often struggled to plug into the adventure my soul feasted on for 9 months on the road.

Alas, I’ve had no such trouble in Asheville. I live minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I frequent that all-American road as often as I can. I’ve had countless people come visit me, Couchsurfers included, climbing mountains and exploring eclectic city streets.

When I’m not diving into adventure locally, I’m trekking to friends and family in surrounding cities, and this Jewel of the Blue Ridge feels perfectly placed — just for me.

Beauty in my backyard; connection just a tantalizing drive away.

I still yearn to find connection in my backyard, too. I’m grateful for what I have experienced here in the last year. I’m committing to at least one more.

But gosh I want so much more.

The Best Worst Year in the Blue Ridge