Sunday, April 11, 2010

Living the Dream

Entering the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I was back in my element. The mountains were beautiful, the forest floor was carpeted in blooming trillium, with streams and waterfalls abound, blue sky's and hot weather. I felt strong riding and did a few hikes as well on which my body felt amazing. It was great to do something active off the bike (it's been a long time), especially to get up some peaks and ridges for the fabulous views.

One of my favorite flowers!

Having been awhile since I'd been in a national park, not to mention the most visited national park, I'd forgotten how bad the traffic could be. Being spring break time also didn't help. Most vehicles were very patient, only got screamed at/cussed out by one. All of the side roads in the park are closed for repaving, so everyone was confined to the main road going up and over the mountains, though there are a number of pull outs, there is no shoulder and it's a steady climb with a narrow, winding road.

Waterfall along the side of the road.

On my first little hike in the park I made the mistake of doing a 1.3 mile paved trail to a waterfall. I felt like I was waiting in line as I walked up the path, then waited to see the fall, waited to splash water on my face, then quickly retreated. Although it's nice to see so many folks out enjoying the day and getting a walk in, I can't really enjoy nature when I feel claustrophobic.

Part of the crowd at Laurel Falls

The road up.

Late in the afternoon I made it to my next trail head, for Chimney Top. This time my timing was right; most folks had already left, of those still around all were hiking down, and the temps had cooled down. This was also a much more difficult trail, through only 4miles to the peak. Having changed into my trail shoes I felt so good and sped up the trail. I then had the summit to myself the watch the sun start to go down then ran back down the trail. I hadn't felt this good in months! Although it's difficult for most people to understand, I haven't felt in shape for the last few months. Now that I've been climbing again and working my body harder then I have for a long time, I've been whipped back into shape. I still climb slowly, but feel better, especially off the bike.

The summit of Chimney Top

Oh how I love self portraits, but I was VERY happy!

Instead of feeling like I was on a bike tour, these two days in the park felt like I was hiking and just riding from trail head to trail head, a nice change. The next morning I got an early start up another nice trail along many streams and up to some nice bluffs, running back down the hoards had begin up, I was glad to have missed most of them.

Water is everywhere!

Climbing up to the top at Newfound Gap.

Newfound Gap

Of course, up at the top of the road, the parking lot was full and people were everywhere. I'd planned on another hike a ways on the Appalachian Trail, but was immediately distracted. I first ran into Cheryl, who was out on a week long hike to celebrate her 60th birthday and a pleasure to talk with.


Then the AT thru-hikers started coming. Gumbo was way ahead of the group he'd been hiking with (thru-hikers all have trail names) so got to chat with him awhile. It's always great to find kindred spirits on adventures, especially doing something I'd always dreamed of (though I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail). Soon more and more hikers showed up, taking a break at the Gap, most planning to hitch a ride into a nearby town. Then the "trail angels" arrived to do some "trail magic" (yes, these are the terms used on the AT). Two guys who'd hiked the trail last year, along with another friend came up for the day to do a bbq for thru-hikers. They let me join in and I loved sitting around talking with all the hikers abut their experiences thus far (all about just two weeks into their trips) and eating awesome baked good, cold drinks and boca burgers. I wish bikers had road angels! I think they had ~25 hikers come by that day.

trail magic

Trail Angels: Jukebox Hero, Double Vision, and Hannah

I took a little break from the party to run a few miles up along the ridge to one of the shelters. Parts of the trail were still pretty snowy or muddy, but was good trail running. I had into a group with a women who'd broken her ankle, one of the few back country injuries I've come across, but they didn't need my help. I'm forgetting all my WFR training and want to practice! Oh well, I passed the ranger hiking up on my way down, hopefully they got her out before dark.

Icewater Shelter, this is such a different world of hiking then I grew up in, strange stuff.


Late in the afternoon I finally rode downhill to start on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 20 mile downhills are pretty great. At the bottom they had a bunch of cultural exhibits, giving a feel for life in Appalachia.

Grist Mill

Homestead, had lots of farm buildings/barn as well.

Once on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469 mile road from the Great Smoky Mountains NP in North Carolina up to Shenandoah NP in Virginia run by the Parks Service, it was back to steady climbing. The weather had been so warm and clear the last number of days that I hadn't checked the weather and was surprised by a huge thunder storm that came through. My rain jacket was buried in my panniers and I'd hoped the storm would be quick, so once it started pouring and the wind picked up I managed to dash under some rhodies for a little protection. However, being soaked through, the cold soon hit me and I dug out my rain jacket.

The rain died down a little so I started back up the climb, happy to warm up a little. Unfortunately this was not just a few hour storm, i made it up to a closed visitor center and ducked into a restroom entry for cover. With some chocolate and a dry shirt, I decided staying on the parkway above 5000' wasn't an option. Visibility was terrible and the wind and rain wasn't letting up.

Hiding in the bathroom at Waterrock Knob.

The lower I got the better the visibility was but the harder the rain. Stopping in at a visitor center which had a few trees blow over that morning, I was told told that it was supposed to rain "hard and harder" into the night. I made my way to the Waynesville library for refuge. After seeing no sign of change I decided it was time to give in, there was no way I was going to set up a tent in that kind of rain. Maybe I've gone soft. I got advice of a responsible motel right across the street and dashed over. The room was more expensive then i wished, but I'd picked the wrong town for a cheap place. I got the room. during this trip I'd been dreaming of getting a pizza and just laying around watching TV all day-so after a long hot shower I made that dream come true. Although I did feel a bit guilty, it was great. Sometimes you've just got to spoil yourself a little.

Living the dream

The next morning was cool and windy with a short ride into Asheville. This is a place I've known I'd like from the way people described it and was very excited to explore. I took a little walking tour around downtown when I arrived, then met up with Don, my warmshowers host, who rode me to his house. Don, Joanie, Gunnar, and McKenzie have been outstanding hosts making my feel very comfortable and treating me so well. Don is a chiropractor and offered to give me an adjustment, my first ever. It was really interesting to find out what was out of alignment in my body and hear the philosophy behind the technique. Joanie does beautiful bead work and home schools her kids. They're a huge biking family, just having got two new tandems for their trip in Holland next week.

The next day in Asheville Don rode me to the other side of town, showing me an old nascar race track now turned into a course for track racing (bikes), then to a friends bike shop. After 8700 miles on my bike it was time to finally get some work done. I had my rear cassette, chain, and brake pads replaced. Then I explored the River Arts District and downtown, art galleries/studios are everywhere, along with street musicians making for a very beautiful and lively town. I immediately felt comfortable here and this is the one place in the south east that I could definitely see myself living.

Sights around town

The bike shop owner gave my number to her friend, Mike, who'd done a bunch of touring and leads the bike advocacy effort in town. Mike invited me to a friends barbecue that evening. It was a lot of fun to met so many new people, all extremely friendly and welcoming. This town just gets better and better!

The gang at the BBQ

Yesterday I rod e out to check out a year round farmers market, then to an outdoor shop to get some seam sealer and a new dry bag. I'm hoping that now I shouldn't have to replace much else the rest of my trip. Now it's back to the Parkway, hoping that I can get through the many miles of closures and that the roads aren't too bad.


  1. Hi Robin!
    I Just wanted to say "hi" and to let you know that I am enjoying following your journal.Five years ago we took a road trip to North Carolina, then went up to Maryland before heading to Ohio,then home.It was beautiful and the camping was great! You are really going to enjoy It. Keep up the good work!!

    Tail Winds,
    Dawn Z.("Big Bird's" stoker:)

  2. Hi Robbin,
    Looks like you had a great time in the Smokies even with all the spring breakers. Sorry I left so suddenly, I certainly would have enjoyed spending more time with you at Newfound Gap. But it was easy hitching that ride so I took it. Next time I think I will hang out in that parking lot longer and meet more thru-hikers and trail angels! I did have some great hikes in the park too after I saw you. Thursday was so rainy but made for more interesting atmosphere in the woods. Friday and Saturday clear days with awesome views, with some ice and snow up top on Mt LeConte.
    Be sure to contact me if you come through Ohio or Michigan....I'll take care of you!
    Cheryl McCormick