Today was an outstanding fall day - sunny, crisp, the trees full of colors.
I led a Carolina Mountain Club hike to Ramsey Cascades. Seven of us started on Ramsey Cascades Trail in the Greenbrier section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One fellow had driven from Atlanta to do this hike.
Holly Demouth, Director of Friends of the Smokies on the North Carolina side, came as a CMC guest. Friends of the Smokies is a fund raising organization that supports the Park. At one break, she talked a little about the work that the Friends did, especially the Trails Forever program. She is so enthusiastic.
Trails Forever was the main fundraising initiative connected to Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s 75th anniversary celebration. The Trails Forever endowment will fund an additional permanent trail maintenance work crew to support trail improvement projects along the 800+ miles of hiking trails inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was particularly apt that we hiked Ramsey Cascade Trail since it had been rehabilitated recently using Trails Forever funds.
The volunteer crew had put in rock steps and built a large bridge.
Of course, all these improvements have attracted many more visitors on this trail. But that's OK. It's there for everyone to enjoy.
The cascades flowed copiously. We reached the top at about one o'clock and had half a lunch there since bees were circling our food. We enjoyed the trip down while meeting many hikers going up in the afternoon.
After I left the group, I drove through the park in a beautiful sea of color. See the photo above.
John Muir wasn't really a tramp and Teddy Roosevelt became President after he charged up San Juan Hill. But in 1903, they went on a four-day camping trip together in Yosemite National Park. Well, it wasn't a national park then and that was the problem.
The two-person play, shown at the Asheville Community Theater last Thursday, was a retelling of that camping trip. No press (for a while), no Secret Service, no hangers-on, they just camped and talked.
Muir tried to impress Roosevelt with the conservation issues of the day while Roosevelt wanted to impress Muir with his scars, broken bones (19 of them in his lifetime) and his physical exploits.
Lee Stetson (John Muir) and Joe Weigand (Pres. Teddy Roosevelt) travel the country doing this play together and also separate monologues. If they come to your neighborhood, don't miss them.
If you've been following my adventures at Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you may remember that two weeks ago, I met Gee Phillips, a volunteer who works at the Mountain Farm Museum in the fall.
I talked to Gee again this Monday as she quilted and told me about making cornbread. But something was bothering me. There's a lot of heavy lifting on a farm, even in the kitchen. How did it get done?
A bucket of water with a ladle laid on a side table. But how did it get there?
She wasn't going to bring it in from the Oconaluftee River close by, the way it was done at the beginning of the 20th century. A barrel hides a pump situated on a sand pipe, a tubular cavity several feet deep filled with gravel and sand. This system prevents the water pipe from freezing in winter. The pipe is hooked up to the water supply at Oconaluftee Visitor Center nearby.
But how did it get there? I certainly would not volunteer to carry such a heavy load. And then I met Sam Reed.
Sam, a local volunteer and retired construction worker, helps Gee.
He now sports a long beard and wears blue overalls and looks the part of a farmer. He's on the farm the same days as Gee and does whatever needs doing. He also is around so she's not by herself on the farm.
Sam brings water to the kitchen and builds a fire. Even in the old days, great-grandmothers, like Gee, depended on others to deal with the heavy lifting. When he's not helping Gee, Sam works on farm chores. Above, he's with Dan, helping to cut the sorghum heads.
Working at Oconaluftee Visitor Center one day a week is like unraveling a large ball of thread or putting together a large, complicated puzzle. I learn something and then have some questions which sometimes get answered the next week.
It doesn’t seem very much when you’re trying to walk about 1,000 miles through North Carolina from Clingmans Dome to the Atlantic Ocean on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. But when the 25 miles happen to be in Watauga County and South Ashe County and that’s the section you’re hiking next, it’s huge. The section goes from Bamboo Gap to NC 16, generally north of Blowing Rock and south of Doughton Park.
On Saturday (October 2), over 150 people gathered in E.B. Jeffress Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway to dedicate these new miles and walk on them officially for the first time. Jeffress Park at milepost 272 is a long way from Asheville but I was one of those folks who participated.
Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST, explained the importance of this dedication.
“Not only is it a beautiful section of trail but it means that the MST is almost done in the mountains.”
The MC of the program was Liz King, Board Secretary of the Friends of the MST.
Monika Mayr, Deputy Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway spoke about the expanding recreational opportunities on the Parkway. It’s fitting that this was done during the 75th anniversary celebrations of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Jim Hallsey and John Lanman, Volunteer Task Force Leader for South Ashe and Watauga respectively, were the stars of the show. They were the guys who led troops of volunteers to dig, saw, and prepare the trail for hikers.
Jim gave us some “fun facts” that were quite serious.
These 25 miles involved 150 volunteers who worked 6,700 hours in 730 work days. This comes out to a value of $75,000.
The two task force leaders presented the trail to people for generations to come.
The South Ashe section was declared finished. The Watauga section still has three miles to go which will replace seven miles of road walk on the Parkway.
Carol Tingley, Deputy Director of NC Division of Parks and Recreation, reminded the audience that the MST is a linear state park. “And we’re more than half-way there.”
Then the actual ribbon cutting. They had fashioned a ribbon held by groups of trail tools. Representatives of both task forces, including John and Jim’s grandchildren, did the actual cutting.
We sat down at picnic tables and enjoyed a wonderful buffet of covered dishes brought by the participants. I brought a colorful cole slaw of cabbage, carrots and apples with craisins and sliced almonds.
At 1 P.M., we broke up for hikes. I chose to go with Allen De Hart because his hike started from Jeffress Park and didn’t require a shuttle. We went west on the MST and passed a cabin and church and then climbed a hill.
Diana Dagenhart, a member of the Watauga County task force said “I love hiking. I hiked the MST in the Outer Banks. I participated in the trail building because I wanted to be part of something wonderful.”
The job's not done until the paperwork is finished.
Well, the 25 miles are not quite finished.
There was no official documentation of these new 25 miles.
How is a hiker supposed to walk them and know where to spot cars? How about intermediate mileage and where does it come back to the Parkway?
John gave me his rough notes which I greatly appreciated while Jim drew a sketch on a white board for the hikes to follow. I photographed this and will use it for planning. Arthur Kelley has posted maps of the MST.
When I hike this section later this fall, I’ll GPS it and post it on my website.
Starting with 410.3 miles, 67,050 ft. ascent
to Moses H. Cone Memorial Park
13.8 miles 1,500 ft. ascent
We have a couple of miles on the Tanawha Trail which flows right into Boone Fork Trail. We walk through pastures and see several workmen digging ditches to place drainage pipes - it doesn't go with the farm scene. Of course, this is a pastoral scene on the Parkway.
Once on Boone Fork Trail, the trail goes back into the woods and crosses the same stream several times on pre-fabricated bridges. We're skirting huge boulders and go up and down stone steps.
Then we cross Boone Fork itself. Sharon had brought her water shoes which she didn't need while I skipped the water shoes that I knew I wouldn't use. I plunge straight into the water.
The trail climbs as we enter Moses H. Cone Memorial Park in a section of the park not known by most visitors. People gravitate to the manor house which is also a craft center and maybe go down to Bass Lake.
I love Cone Park.
Maybe it's the story behind the self-made man of an Jewish-German immigrant family that only the 19th Century could produce. Maybe it's the house which has been compared to a very modest Biltmore Estate. Or maybe its because the 25 miles of carriage roads are so easy.
We reach Rich Mountain Trail about half-way up to Rich Mountain and go up and down a stile. See the picture above. Then the MST goes down, skirts the manor house and follows Watkin Rd., a trail which takes us out of Cone Park.
The blazes are few in this section and we depend on Scot Ward's book. I later learned that the Parkway is responsible for blazing this section of the MST, not a group of volunteers. We finish on Old Catawba Rd. and have to cross US321/221, a very busy road.
We passed a set of Terabithia - little things, cairns that seem like fairies have placed them. Sharon describes a Girl Scout camp ritual where older girls create a town of little things with rocks, twigs, and twine - chairs, houses, swings with the twine. Then they invite younger girls, first and second graders, to see this. They tell them that the fairies have come here and this is where they lived.
The younger girls are not supposed to talk in case they scare the fairies away. They just point in amazement.
Cumulative after Day 36, 424.1miles, 68,650 ft. ascent
Starting with 398.8 miles, 65,050 ft. ascent
Beacon Heights to Holloway Mt. Road. on the Blue Ridge Parkway
11.5 miles, 2,000 ft. ascent
At the start of Day 3 on this Mountains-to-Sea Trail trip, I wonder. Should we continue up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Rough Ridge or should we skip ahead up to Moses Cone Park? Sharon has missed so many views that I almost feel guilty, as if I’m responsible for the weather.
A cold front has come through and it’s now windy, colder, but not wet. We decide to go for the Rough Ridge section. When we get on the Parkway, it starts to drizzle but by now we’re committed. Early morning views off the Parkway are cloudy but worth a snap.
We find Holloway Mountain Rd. off US 221, the end of our trail for today.
Then back to Beacon Heights and up to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which here is also the Tanawha trail with the characteristic feather - Tanawha means hawk or eagle. The Tanawha Trail is 13.5 miles and ends at Price Park but it’s hard to tell where in Price Park. Scot’s notes are not useful on that so we place a car at Holloway Mt. Rd.
The trail here is rocky, steep with amazing rock formations. From Beacon Heights, we pass Linville Visitor Center where I inadvertently sell a book. After 1.5 miles, we walk in the Visitor Center and I spot my book Hiking North Carolina Blue Ridge Heritage. I introduce myself and offer to sign the three copies they have. They don't have “Autographed by Author” sticker and no, I don’t carry them in my pack. I eat a banana and go to the restroom. While I’m gone, a couple comes in looking for a hiking book and information. The clerk points to my book and says that the author is here. I come back and sign their copy.
The trail goes under the Linville Viaduct and up above the Parkway. The path gets rockier and rougher – That’s why this section is called Rough Ridge. The boardwalk is elaborate – the state spent $750,000 on this trail.
We meet tourists who have just come for the boardwalk section. The sky is blue with just enough clouds to make a good photo. The views are excellent and we made a good decision to walk this section today. Grandfather Mountain is ahead of us but we're so close that here it doesn't look like a face lying down, just a rocky mountain. At the top of the boardwalk on the highest point of the Tanawha Trail (about 4,600 ft.), we realize that we'll never be as high again on the MST. It won't be a downward slide to the ocean, but we're starting our descent into the Piedmont.
Once we pass Rough Ridge Overlook, the trail almost immediately moderates. It’s a woods trail with galax and autumn flowers. We pass two trailheads into Grandfather Mountain State Park. Now that Grandfather Mountain is a state park, they no longer charge to get on the trails from outside the main entrance but you still have to register. They do however charge to enter from US 221, the front entrance with the Mile-High Bridge and other tourist attractions.
The last two to three miles of the MST are very pastoral, down to cows in the fields. What a difference from a few hours ago?
We get back to Holloway Mountain Road and start to take off our boots. A couple come roaring by and the woman screams "You're the one who wrote the book."
They park right in back of us and pull out my book which I sign. Then they want to know all about hiking poles and Sharon educates them on the importance of two poles and how to walk with them.
"Don't try to match your pole movement with your stride. Instead think of a spider and use them comfortably." Until a few months ago, I only used one pole and found that I pounded too hard and ended up with wrist pain after a hike. She got me started on two poles and now I love them.
Cumulative after Day 35, 410.3 miles, 67,050 ft. ascent
Starting with 389.8 miles, 61,950 ft. ascent
Wolff Pit Rd. up Shortoff Mt. to Table Rock
9.0 miles 3,100 ft. ascent
It rained all night. I heard water pattering on the roof of the cabin in Ginger Cake Acres but Sharon, Kate and I are persevering. The weather is awful - no other word to use but we're here so we're hiking.
The next Mountains-to-Sea Trail section in question is from NC 126 on an access trail up to Table Rock in Linville Gorge. I suggest that we go down and back up to Table Rock, saving a lot of driving. But it would be 15 miles of walking and a long uphill at the end of the day. The other alternative is to drive down to NC 126 near Lake James State Park to Wolff Pit Rd. After I say "15 miles", there's no question - we're driving more and hiking less.
We drive down to NC 126 to start the trail up to Table Rock. From NC 181 South, we take Rose Creek Rd. a gravel road, then Fish Hatchery Rd. to NC 126. Wolff Pit Rd. is not obvious because the sign is turned around but we finally find it and go to the end of the road. We've entered Linville Gorge Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest.
We climb up a blue blazed trail for 1.1 miles to the MST. It's raining but it’s warm so I leave my rain pants off.
This area was burned in summer 2007 and flowers are reclaiming the area. White snakeroot, milkweed, goldenrod (above) and yellow asters - Sharon takes pictures of them all while my camera stays protected in my pack for half the hike.
We know it’s going to be a lot of climbing.
Shortoff Mt., with its wonderful views of Lake James, Linville Gorge and even the Blacks, is just fog.
To my surprise, after Shortoff Mt., the trail is flat and even goes down a bit. We’re skirting the wilderness but there are blazes here and there.
At one point, Sharon in the lead is unsure of the trail. Kate finds a trail on the left and we take it happily for a while. But the trail keeps going down sharply and becomes more and more obstructed. Blue ribbons mark the trail haphazardly. As we keep going down more steeply, I wonder aloud if we’re not heading into Linville Gorge itself. I really do want to correct a possible mistake before we see the Linville River.
My compass says we’re going west when we should be going north but Chimney Gap is at 2,500 feet and we're not that low yet. We decide that if we go down lower than 2,500 feet, we need to turn around.
A few minutes later, we're on our way back up. As we climb, I hope that we actually have made a mistake because if we didn’t, then what do we do? We will have blown the day and not learned anything. It's early in the day so we're not concerned about our safety, just those miles.
We struggle to go up through blowdowns and rocky stretches. When we get back up to our known MST spot, sure enough, we see a trail going right which we should have taken. But the mileage in Scot's book for the Chimbric Ridge Trail, the blue cross trail, was wrong; we should not have been this close to the blue trail. Once we go down the correct MST trail, there are white circles a plenty. Sharon keeps yelling out “a blaze” for each one. “She’s not blaze about the blazes.”
We’re all tired and wet. We reach Chimney Gap, a wide flat area where the wind whistles through. It’s now 2 P.M. and we haven’t stopped for lunch. I have a packet of tuna, mayonnaise and crackers – not a quick trail lunch; it’s a poor choice on a wet day. We continue climbing into the woods and eat standing up on the trail.
The trail is now really steep. We struggle up but I don’t care – we’re on the trail.
No views, though. I feel sorry for Kate and Sharon. I’ve seen the wonderful views when I hiked here for my book and also with Carolina Mountain Club but they're seeing a lot of fog.
The Chimneys Rock formations are outstanding even in the fog. We're back at 3:50 P.M. and now have to drive back down in the fog to NC 126 to pick up my car. We've hiked for 6:45 hrs. which included getting lost and drove for three hours.
How much do you need to know?
How much do you want to know about your trail?
We have now left the Linville Gorge Mount Mitchell National Geographic map. Once back at the cabin, Sharon and I spread out a map of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Scot's book and the North Carolina road map. In desperation, we check Alan De Hart's book, Hiking North Carolina's Mountains-to-Sea Trail as a last resort - it's dated but we want to see if anything jives for the next two days.
If you need to know every challenge, every ascent, stream ford, and blowdown, the MST is not for you. You know to go with the flow, sometimes literally.
Cumulative after Day 34, 398.8 miles, 65,050 ft. ascent
Starting with 379.9 miles, 59,950 ft. ascent
Table Rock Picnic Area to NC 181
9.9 miles, 2,000 ft. ascent
It was a mishmash of a day from the beginning on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Two Carolina Mountain Club hike leaders Jim and Jacob, had planned this Linville hike for months. Sharon and I wanted to cross the Linville River with a group and this was our chance. Since the hike was going to be in Linville Gorge, a wilderness area, the groups were limited to 10 hikers going both ways. Sharon and I signed up in May. Then Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, decided to join us. And Janet who hikes with CMC thought it would be fun to join “the girls”.
Sharon and Kate stayed over at my house in Asheville. The next morning, Sunday, we woke up to rain – hard rain. But the leaders had said they were going rain or shine. At 7 A.M., Jim called from Marion. It was thundering in Marion and the Linville river was going to be flooded. He canceled the hike.
Janet backed out of our cabin hiking trip. We decided to brave it. We had the people, the days, even a cabin in Linville Gorge. Sharon is well-connected and has friends with cabins in the right places.
The drive to Table Rock was very wet and windy. It was not a good beginning and we had a late start. We didn't get on the trail until 11 A.M. But when we started out hiking from Table Rock, it was only drizzling.
The MST leaves Table Rock Trail very quickly and starts down on a rocky trail. It's slow going only for a short while. Much of the trail is a railroad grade – wide and soft underfoot.
We cross Steels Creek several times. It's challenging but I do it without getting my boots wet on the inside.
We pass an outstanding waterfall down below.
The last crossing is a tough one with a useless rope. See Kate below crossing.
At least the rope tells you it's going to be a dangerous crossing. One slip and you're out of the world. But the three of us made it.
We get to our car at 5 P.M. but then have to go to Table Rock to pick up Sharon’s car.
Cumulative after Day 33, 389.8 miles, 61,950 ft. ascent
Many people say that Fall is their favorite time of year for hiking. Temperatures are cooler (but not this year). Views are clearer than in the summer and there's more chance to see animals as they prepare for winter.
One of these creatures is yellow jackets. Unlike the bumble bee of spring that flits from flower to flower and avoids people, yellow jackets in fall seem to look for people to sting. They nest in the ground or under rocks and just wait for me to pass them on the trail.
Yesterday I got stung several times on both legs and now my right leg looks like it belongs on a small elephant. I am pulling all the stops - taking benedryl, icing and elevating my foot, and trying to stay off my feet. The area itches badly and I keep lathering myself with Hydrocortosone cream. I really need to get the swelling down as I have several days of hard MST hiking coming up.
But every incident, no matter how unpleasant, reveals some truth. I am miserable, itchy and swollen but I can't wait to get back on the trail. I'm not thinking that I should stay out of the woods in autumn.
If I had a similar incident biking, I might decide that biking was unsafe and just pack it in. Obviously, I've had years and years of hiking pleasure and just started biking again and right now it's not a pleasure.
But, hey, look on the bright side, I'm unlikely to get stung by yellow jackets biking the road.
Every time I drive out to Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I think I'm going to do the same thing - and I'm surprised every week.
Yesterday, I left before 8 A.M. so I could check out Mac's Teepees Cabins in Cherokee. Last week, a visitor called in to find out if the cabins were still in business. The teepee-like cabins were the site of an obscure movie Digging to China. I told her I had no idea but I was going to find out.
The business is closed. The cabins on the left of the abandoned house have been covered with kudzu. There are a fresh set of similar cabins that look as empty.
The Visitor Center was hopping. Though it was only the first day of fall, maybe they wanted to get a jump on fall colors. I understand the colors are going to be spectacular. International visitors from Switzerland, Germany and even a French speaker from Quebec stood out.
After my four hour stint, I roved the Farm Museum. Dan was cutting sorghum preparing for the sorghum crushing in a couple of weeks.
I met Gee Phillips. See her picture above.
Gee lives in Dayton, OH but has been volunteering in the Smokies for several weeks since 1992. She dresses as if she lives in the beginning of the 20th Century, sits on the porch of the Davis house and talks to visitors.
Gee grew up on a farm in east Tennessee so she feels this is like coming home. She'll cook on the open fire, make soap and do other crafts appropriate to the time period.
While she's here, she works a full 32-hour week. She lives in a staff apartment with a seasonal ranger. What a great lady and an inspiration to us all.
I'd like to end on a positive note but after I left Gee, I noticed that three elk had moved into the field just past the entrance of the park. Visitors had also noticed and parked themselves right in front of the elk. This was not good.
I rushed over across the field, south of the construction entrance. By then two elk had fled but not the people. I put on my Elk Bugle Corps attitude from last year and got the people and the traffic moving. The third elk bounded across the field and into the woods.
On a beautiful Sunday, when I should have been hiking my feet off, I went to a bicycle course. This Traffic Safety Course was designed by the League of American Bicyclists and given by Claudia Nix of Liberty Bicycles (on the left) and Gwen Wisler (on the right).
The course was about three hours of classroom work and three hours of biking skills on the ground. The main message was that "bicyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles." That means riding with confidence and competence. Yes, I know - that's what I'm still working on.
The other students in the class - and there were only five of us - were way ahead of me. I took this class because it was offered now.
The course started from basics on how to check your bike before a ride to proper posture to where a bike belongs in traffic. Gwen talked about the death grip which will give you pain in your wrists and hands. That describes exactly the way I'm holding the bike right now - and after a ride, it's my hands that hurt the most.
Then we went outside to learn how to fix a flat tire. Claudia took off her back wheel - quite a complicated procedure since the chain and your derailleurs are there. She proceeded to take out her inner tube, flatten it, replace it and pump it up again.
I had to leave after that but the rest of the class learned several emergency maneuvers. I could say that I was sorry to leave but frankly I was not ready to practice evasive actions if a driver cuts you off when I'm still not comfortable on my bike.
The most surprising thing was that they didn't have 50 people on this course. I hope they offer it again next spring before I'm ready to ride on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Let's not forget why I'm doing all this.
Starting with 369.9 miles, 56,950 ft. ascent
FR 464 to Beacon Heights Blue Ridge Parkway MP 305.2
10 miles, 3,000 ft. ascent
The second day of hiking on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in Wilson Creek was varied. Waterfalls, road walk and a long pull on a forest trail. The trail on both days was well-maintained and well-blazed. Maintenance is important but even more important is good blazing, so hikers can follow the white circles with confidence.
The trail, from FR-464 climbs down to Hunt-Fish Falls. The MST sign says that it's maintained by Tim Johnson. I wonder if it's the same Tim Johnson who works for the North Carolina State Park System and is responsible for the MST.
One picture can't do justice to the various pools, cascades and waterfalls of this section. In the summer, Hunt-Fish Falls attracts people who go no further on the trail - they swim, wade and hang out.
After the falls and our first water crossing, my shoes are already wet and it's not even 9 A.M. Cardinal flowers (see the red flower below), turtle heads, and white wood asters grow around the creek. Again, no hemlock for a while. Maybe the land here was too rocky and steep.
The second and third fall and swimming hole are magical. We spend some quiet time watching the water fall.
After 3.8 miles, we reach a parking area in Roseborough and the end of the section of hike I had designed as Lost Cove Loop in my second hiking guide.
We turn right on a car bridge and onto FR 192. This forest road has seen much better days. It's wide and clear of vegetation but is so rocky and rough I couldn't see driving it. Maybe it's used by mountain bikers and ATV.
Everywhere acorns drop on our heads, like rain - it's fall after all. The road offers three miles of uphill walking but I enjoy it. We start at 2,000 feet and know we have a long climb up to Beacon Heights on the Parkway, which is at 4,200 feet.
The road climbs gently for 1,000 feet. We can walk two abreast and talk. Purple asters grow in clumps at the higher elevation and we even see a small twin waterfall that we name SharonDanny falls - see the picture at the beginning of this entry. Why not? I bet it doesn't have a name.
At Old House Gap, the MST gets off the road and back into the woods. Then the climb gets serious - over 1,200 feet in three miles. Each time the trail goes down, we know we'll have to climb back up some more to compensate. Some of the trail feels new, other sections old and maybe affected by a hurricane.
Rhododendrons are bent over all in one direction like they've been flattened by high winds. About a half-mile from the end, a fantastic view unfolds. We can see the characteristic layers upon layers of mountains and Grandmother Mountain to our right - let's hear it for grandmothers.
As we come down, we pass the side trail to Beacon Heights. Though it's less than a mile round-trip, we give it a miss. We've both been there and we're ready to see the car.
We also see where our next section east is - the Tanawha Trail. But if you've been following us, you know that we haven't done Linville Gorge - that's our next goal.
Cumulative after Day 32, 379.9 miles, 59,950 ft. ascent
Starting with 355.6 miles, 54,950 ft. ascent
NC 181 to Fr-464
14.3 miles, 2,000 ft. ascent
It feels so good to hike a defined section in one shot. Sharon and I just finished the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on Wilson Creek - about 24 miles in two days. To be most efficient, we probably should have backpacked it but this project is not just about efficiency. After all, if we wanted to get to the North Carolina coast efficiently and quickly, we could just fly. It's about seeing back roads, small stores and meeting North Carolinians and we sure did this.
My destination on Tuesday is Mortimer Campground in Wilson Creek off NC 90. To do that, I drive to Morganton and then north on Brown Mountain Beach Road. I understand the Brown Mountain part - people have seen mysterious, magical lights off Brown Mountain for decades. But what's with the beach? We're hours away from a beach.
I stop at Wilson Creek Outfitters on Brown Mountain Beach Road because they're advertising ice cream. Though I haven't done much exercise today, I'm thinking ahead. Joe, the owner, explains that there's a natural beach on Wilson Creek in back of his property. The area was a swimming hole, picnic area and general family fun place until the past owner sold the land to developers. Now they're going to build environmentally friendly cabins to summer people. Joe buys two copies of Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage and gives me a free ice cream bar. It was a good stop.
The road turns to gravel right after the store. The Creek, on the left, has many pull-outs and steps down to the water. Wilson Creek has been protected as a Wild and Scenic River since Aug. 18, 2000. The river flows from Grandfather Mountain for 23.3 miles to Johns River. The area is not a wilderness but seems more remote and isolated than Linville Gorge.
By the time I drive past Wilson Creek Visitor Center, the building is closed. But a sign puzzles me. No NADAR - on a sign at Wilson Creek Visitor Center. Any idea what that is?
Just before I get to the campground, I pass a large ruin of a boiler house. It's the remains of the logging industry in this area. Mortimer was a logging camp, then a CCC camp. The white building outside the campground dates back from the CCC days.
The trail from NC 181 to FR 464 (Hunt Fish Falls) is a combination of trails and old roads. Scot's MST book warned us of many creek crossings and we count 21 - any crossing where water is flowing was counted as a crossing. But ten of them are serious water fords - even Sharon gets her feet wet today. One is a crotch crossing for me - see the picture above. The trail crisscrosses Harper Creek and climbs on rocks. Harper Creek Falls is the highlight.
The area is lush with pines, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and sourwoods that have already turned red.
What is also interesting is what we don't see - no hemlocks, one small patch of poison ivy and galax only at the end of our 14 miles. Summer flowers hang on - cardinal flowers, jewelweed, cone flowers - and autumn asters line the trail.
We meet only one person, Bob from Fort Bragg who's camping and taking day trips from his base camp. If you want solitude, Wilson Creek is it.
Cumulative after day 31, 369.9 miles, 56,950 ft. ascent
Yesterday, the phone rang at Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I picked it up and a woman from Alabama was on the line.
"You're having the Mountain Life Festival on Saturday?"
I confirmed that it was still happening even though the new construction will be cutting down on the parking.
"Have you ever heard of a movie, Digging to China?"
Mam, I felt like telling her, you're lucky you got me on the phone. "Yes, I've seen it."
"Well, I stayed in the motel and the room where it was filmed in Cherokee. Do you know if the motel is still around? It had tepees in front."
"I'm sorry, I have no idea." Though I'm in Cherokee every week, I stick to the main roads and I've never seen it - I would have recognize it.
At about one o'clock, Libby Kephart Hargrove walked in the visitor center. She's the woman I interviewed on Saturday at the Great Smoky Mountains Association meeting. She and her husband were still in Bryson City. He wasn't feeling well so she was exploring the park.
She had her big 40% off on $150 coupon and she was going to spend it all. (If you're a member of the GSMA, you get a once-a-year coupon for 40% off on $150 of merchandise - It's a good way to get all your gifts.) Libby bought a print of the newly discovered Masa pictures.
Then I took her on my roving tour of Bradley Fork trail. See above. Fall is definitely here. A few jewelweeds, here and there, but mostly the only color were in the changing leaves.
The fall theme was even more pronounced when I drove back on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Autumn blooming clematis, ragweed and of course, the start of changing color.
It's going to be a spectacular fall.
I stopped at the Big Witch Overlook, just to look. See below.
Once I got home, I searched for the mysterious motel. Not so mysterious. It's opposite Food Lion.The motel is Mac's Indian Village
at 60 Teepee Drive.
Here are the directions: It's a mile or so south of town. There is a traffic light at the intersection of US-441 and Business 441 outside of downtown Cherokee, opposite Food Lion.
Some websites report it closed. I'll check it out next week.
This year, the Great Smoky Mountains Association had its members weekend in Bryson City. The classic place to stay in Bryson City in the Calhoun House, on Everett St. I have been there for events but have never stayed there.
So I searched for Calhoun House and made a reservations months ago. I thought I had the right place but got another Calhoun House a few streets away. It was a fine place to stay but not the right place.
Lenny met me in Bryson City after the GSMA board meeting and we went to a barbecue, the first event of the weekend. Above is a picture of the "high table", Starting the right are Suzanne Ditmanson and Superintendent Dale Ditmanson, Dan Pierce, history professor at UNCA and author of Real Nascar and Terry Maddox, Executive Director of GSMA. Continuing country-clockwise, I don't know who the boy is but then, we have Cin Slater and her husband, Deputy Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald. I don't know the next couple.
On Saturday, I led a hike from the Tunnel to Nowhere. Sixteen hardy and eager hikers came. It started raining as we drove out there. I got one photo in the one moment the rain stopped. Then the rain really bucketed as we went down to Fontana Lake and back up again.
As I looked up from my feet, in a really dark section of the trail, I saw a feral hog. I had never seen a hog in the Smokies before. Wow! It didn't stick around for long. I pointed to it to the couple just behind me but by then, it was gone. But I saw it!
In the afternoon, I went to the indoor programs. The highlight was one given by Libby Kephart Hargrove about her great-grandfather, Horace Kephart. She told the story of Horace Kephart's life, sang and played the piano.
I had the privilege of interviewing her, not about Horace Kephart but about her - her life and her passion to tell the story of her famous ancestor.
Good meeting. You should come next year.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park announces that Clingmans Dome Road will be closed for construction work from Monday, September 13 until Saturday morning, September 18. I hope no one is thinking of starting the MST or of hiking from the top of Clingmans Dome next week.
Since the Park has been blessed with stimulus money, they are building and repairing like mad. Other trails are affected as well. Check all the closings.
I seemed to have spent most of my week shopping for a bicycle. I felt like a "bike bum". At each bike store, I learned a few more things about biking. I saw more equipment and features that I wanted on my bike.
I had settled on a hybrid bike for our Mountains-to-Sea trek past the mountains. Let's not forget why I'm doing this.
Of course, it was not that simple. Within that category, there are fitness, comfort, commuter bikes and others, I'm sure. With each new bike I rode, I got more confused.
Then I went to Pro-Bikes in West Asheville. Marti, the owner, introduced me to disk brakes. Unlike rim brakes, disk brakes are a sealed unit and are not as affected by rain and dirt. They sounded much safer to me. This feature has moved down from mountain bikes and of course raises the price. Each time, I learn something new, the price goes up.
So armed with this new requirement - disc brakes - I continued my search. The next place I went to said "Disc brakes are good. There are two types of disc brakes. Do you want hydrolic brakes?" Up went the price again.
I called up Jim, my publisher at Milestone Press and the author of several bike books. Though he is a bike expert, he said that I didn't need hydrolic brakes. Good.
I went to a bookstore and browsed through several books on biking. All these experts tell you to buy what feels comfortable but you don't test ride all the bikes under the same condition. Some shops will let you go out in a parking lot, others on the streets. Some will rent bikes, others don't.
Today, I rented a bike from Pro-Bike and took it to Carrier Park. They outfitted my car with a bike rack and off I went.
The Park has to be the easiest, flattest place to ride but still I wasn't comfortable. I tried to avoid children and other riders. Of course, almost everyone had a dog, some on leashes, other off.
I bobbed and weaved for two hours on a Fuji Absolute, the closest bike to one I was considering. The brakes were too far for me but I didn't realize that until I really got exhausted. When I went to put the bike back on the rack, I just couldn't do it. I wasn't using the straps properly. So I put the seat down on my hatchback and put the bike in the car. Then I realized I didn't want a heavier bike. No way!
At the store, I told Marti about the brakes and she let me ride the 2.0 with a different brake combination. What a difference! I went around and around in the huge and empty parking lot a couple of blocks from the store.
My analysis paralysis lifted. I ordered a bike - finally. I still have a lot of equipment to get but I made the big decision. Now I have to practice. Sharon, I'm making progress.
Is the average person taking global warming seriously?
I parked, got out and walked into the fast food joint. You can see my car at the far end to the left.
I was served right away. In the meantime, the drive-thru line was getting longer and longer. Everyone had their engines on, waiting to give their breakfast order and then waiting to get their fast food.
Why didn't they park and get out? Is it all about the physical effort of getting out of their car and walking a few steps? People talk about organic cotton, recycling and growing their own food but they can't bother to turn off their engine and get out of their car.
Rough Creek Watershed is Canton's old watershed. Instead of selling the land to developers, they kept it and put in under conservation easement. The property has about 10 miles of biking and hiking trails.It is being protected by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.
A quiet day at the Visitor Center. But that means that we could spend more time with each visitor.
I always ask visitors if they want to hike. I don't make any assumption, based on age, weight or demeanor. When I ask Americans who don't want to hike, they always hem and haw, say "a little" and apologize.
"We don't have time".
"We have little kids," though the children seem more active than their parents.
"We have elderly parents in the car."
But when I ask international visitors, they're quick to say "No!" and I admire their candor. But lately I notice that they make a distinction between "walking" and "hiking".
"Walking" means dayhiking to Brits. And other English-speaking Europeans use the same expression. Yesterday one couple from Germany said that they didn't want to "hike". But I told them about the mile round-trip to Clingmans Dome and the walk to Laurel Falls (three miles round-trip). Both are paved trails so they're certainly not considered "hikes" by Europeans.
I'm going to try that strategy with Americans and ask "Would you like to walk?"
I walked up Bradley Creek and turned onto Chasteen Creek Trail. It was muddy, made more so by the horse traffic. Chasteen Creek Falls is a destination for people on horses.
I've been up and down Chasteen Creek Trail several times but have never taken the time to take the sidetrail to the falls. How could I suggest it to visitors, if I didn't have a clear idea myself? I'm sure that those who work the Visitor Center desk do that all the time, but I can't do it. Now I know where it is and that it's a destination worth recommending.
In other news, the new Visitor Center now has the start of a roof. They're making progress.
I don't know when the building will be finished but I'm looking forward to it.
If I was a better cyclist, I'd be on the road right now with the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club. Instead, yesterday, I was privileged to go on a training ride with Claudia Nix, co-owner of Liberty Bicycles in Asheville. Claudia and her husband Mike have been honored many times for the bicycle advocacy work they're doing in the community. Their bike shop has been voted best bicycle store for years.
So I knew that I was being coached by the very best. I told Claudia that I needed to get back on a bike because I was working on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and that 500 miles of it was on the road. Most people who have finished the MST (and there are only 18) walked the road part. But Sharon, my hiking partner, wants to try riding the Piedmont backroads part of the MST. She's a much better cyclist than I am and her husband is a very committed road cyclist. So I said I'd work on it - and I'm starting now.
Claudia picked out a Trek fitness bike - that's what the company calls the model. We started in the parking lot. Up and down, up and down. I needed to get comfortable with the brakes and the gears. We practiced left and right turns - I was OK on left turns but somehow lost my nerve on right turns.
Claudia had the patience of Job. She kept encouraging me and told me how well I was doing. I kept thinking of the New Zealand expression "Bloody Hopeless". But I persevered.
Then we went on the road through Biltmore Forest across Hendersonville Road from their store. Biltmore Forest is a small, independent town with large upscale houses. In the middle of the day, no one seemed to be in a hurry. I was fine uphill, pedaling and changing gears. Downhill was a challenge - I'm just plainly afraid of falling. We practiced shifting, turns and starting on a hill.
Claudia and I agreed that I was not ready for even the simplest group ride. "How fast and how far do I have to go to be able to go on a group ride?" I asked her. "I need numbers".
"At least eight miles an hour. You must pedal consistently for at least 20 minutes,"Claudia said. She thought that we were going about three miles an hour, now.
"Three miles? I can walk faster than that on the road," I told her. It was discouraging. My hand was cramping up.
By the evening, my back and neck were feeling all the jolts and bumps of the practice and ride. But I'm persevering. If doing the MST is all about new experiences, this serious biking is a new experience for me.
I'm going next week, by myself this time, to practice again in Biltmore Forest. If you see me weaving through Biltmore Forest at three miles an hour, wave!