Sunday, April 17, 2016

Mountain Time: Spring Road Trip Part II

Okay... back to our spring road trip. Hubby and I enjoyed South Carolina. Charleston was lovely: beautiful historic homes, great beaches, fabulous restaurants. But along with the warm sunshine, there were lots of people, and traffic. After four days we were ready for something less busy, and more empty. And rugged. With more open space and many fewer people. So we headed for the hills, so to speak. 

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
Headed for the mountains
As I mentioned in my last post, we had booked a cabin in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina for a few nights. And we were looking forward to cooking for ourselves, and doing some hiking in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. And hopefully getting a look at the Appalachian Trail of which we'd read so much.

cabin in North Carolina

We love staying in cabins and cottages. And happy to have finally arrived and loving the rustic grounds of this place, we unloaded the car, and piled our bags and cooler onto the porch. A bit precipitously as it happened. We couldn't get into our cabin. Despite following the e-mailed instructions we'd received from the owner, the "lock box" wouldn't work, and since there was no one on site, and my cell phone had no signal (only Verizon customers get coverage apparently), we had to pack everything back into the car and drive to a small store nearby to beg the use of a phone. Apparently the owner of the cabins lives somewhere "far away," according to the store owner. Even the local "staff member" whom we contacted lives twenty minutes away; but he explained over the phone the "trick" to opening the lock box was "to press on the grey part while trying to flick the switch." Happily that worked. We were in and we unloaded the car for the second time that day. 

But the cabin was freezing. The wall thermostat did not appear to do anything. The gas fireplace looked dodgy, and with complicated instructions and no way of knowing if the gas was even turned on, no cell phone coverage in case of emergency, we steered well clear of that potential disaster. We managed to get heat by turning on the old baseboard heaters in each room. We pulled on our ski underwear that we'd packed for hiking, and laughed, "At least we aren't in a tent, eh?" And later we were happy we'd brought the electric heating pad for my back, since the single quilt on the bed just didn't cut it for warmth. Really? A cabin in the mountains in April... you'd think they'd have a duvet or at least an extra blanket. 

Anyhoo, the next morning when all the electrical outlets in the kitchen failed, and we had to move the coffee maker and the toaster to the bedroom, and the microwave to an outlet by the back door, I finally e-mailed the owner for assistance. Thank goodness for WiFi. A return message later that day said the the "trick" for resetting the kitchen outlets was "to press a reset button on the shaving outlet in the bathroom." Of course. Now why didn't we think of that? You see, folks, the "trick" to enjoying travel is to be flexible and to have a good sense of humour. And to look at all glitches as fodder for blog post stories. 

road up Clingman's Dome
Road up Clingman's Dome
No more glitches that day, though. We drove into Great Smoky National Park to visit Clingman's Dome, at 6643 ft, the highest point in the park. The sign at the park entrance said the Clingman's Dome road was closed, probably due to the dump of snow they'd had overnight. But we took a chance and carried on. And by the time we turned off the main road and began the ascent, it was open. 

route up Clingman's Dome
Walking up to Clingman's Dome
The temperature (and the wind) was brisk when we arrived at the parking lot to start the short, but steep, walk up to the viewing tower.  Lucky for us we had packed our toques and gloves, and were wearing our ski underwear. Some people were not so fortunate, and one lady was attempting the walk swathed in what appeared to be a heavy blanket. That must have been awkward. We saw hikers heading down this section of the Appalachian Trail, but we didn't join them. 

Part of the Appalachian Trail at Clingman's Dome

We carried on up to the viewing tower on Clingman's Dome. Stunning view isn't it? Row upon row of exquisitely smoky mountains. And thus the glitches came to an end, and we began three days of sunshine, bluer than blue skies, and gorgeous scenery. 

View from the top of Clingman's Dome
View from the tower on Clingman's Dome
The snow made it all the more lovely. I felt like bursting into song or quoting a Robert Frost poem, but I restrained myself. I'd been warned after an embarrassing Macbeth quoting incident at Dunnottar Castle in Scotland. Poor Hubby, the perils of travelling with an English teacher.

view from the top of Clingman's Dome

On day two we stopped at the tourist office in the lovely little town of Bryson City. This graceful old building is the Swain County Museum and tourist information centre. The helpful lady at the desk gave us trail maps and pointed us in the right direction for our hike to Indian Creek Falls that day.

Tourist Information Centre in Bryson City, North Carolina
Swain County Museum and Tourist Info Centre in Bryson City

We had the trail to ourselves for a long while on this sunny Sunday morning. Well, except for a smiling priest, whom we met early on, striding down the path, cassock billowing around his legs, clutching his rosary. 

Beginning of trail in Smoky Mountain National Park
Lone walker at the beginning of the trail.
That was surreal. Perhaps he'd come to this quiet bench for a bit of Sunday morning meditation.

Smoky Mountain National Park trail

We pressed on enjoying the exercise, and the views. 

Indian Creek Falls hike

Indian Creek Falls hike

When we crossed the wooden bridge over this fast flowing creek, we couldn't resist tossing sticks into the current, then running to the downstream side to see whose "boat" was winning. I don't like to brag... but, well... you can guess where this is going. Spring makes you feel like a kid again, doesn't it? 


Indian Creek Falls hike

Back at our cabin after our walk, the hot tub (which by the way worked perfectly) felt verrry good... but did nothing for my serious case of post-hike hat head. 

Hot tub in the Smoky Mountains

On our last day in North Carolina we drove part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We'd thought about doing this on our "get-away day," as Hubby calls it, but an ominous weather forecast helped us to change our minds. We've driven some beautiful, twisting, mountain roads in our travels over the years, and this one did not disappoint. 

Blue Ridge Parkway


views along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway views
Thank you Mr. Weatherman. If we hadn't paid attention to the forecast, the view below is all we'd have seen. Actually it's all we did see, for a while anyway, on our "get-away day" as we headed north. Rain. And low clouds. 

North Carolina
Rainy get-away day

And mountains hidden by more clouds. Kind of magnificent in its own way, though, isn't it? 

enroute between North Carolina and Virginia
Somewhere between North Carolina and Virginia
We had one more stop before we headed home. We planned to find a hotel near Roanoke, Virginia and hike in to McAfee's Knob, one of the most famous overlooks on the Appalachian Trail. After reading Bill Bryson's book on the trail, and then watching the Robert Redford film based on Bryson's book... we couldn't get the idea of McAfee's Knob out of our heads. And Hubby had done some research, and read that it was a thirty-five minute hike one way. Ha. A veritable doddle. Cue the ominous music here.

We checked into a hotel in Salem, near the head of the trail to McAfee's Knob, and as it was only three-thirty in the afternoon, and the weather had turned out to be beautiful, we decided to do the walk right then instead of the next morning. The sign board in the parking lot said the hike was 3.9 miles. One way. So definitely not thirty-five minutes. 

hiking McAfee's Knob
Hiking up McAfee's Knob
Ah well. We needed some exercise. We'd been in the car for the best part of two days. Nothing ventured and all that. We set off. And walked. And walked. And walked. Up hill mostly. Almost entirely, in fact. After an hour or so, we spied what turned out to be an old fire road that ran alongside the trail, and we slithered down a side-hill to walk it. Easier on the feet than the rocky trail. At one point, we met an elderly man who was sitting on the bank beside the old road, digging wild garlic. Sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale, doesn't it? But we weren't two children lost in the woods and he wasn't a troll or a leprechaun. Hubby had a conversation with him about the merits of wild garlic soup, he explained how much farther to the top, and we went on our way. 

At one point, we turned off the fire road and back onto the trail. Soon, we clambered up steps as the trail headed directly for a cliff edge. "That must be it up ahead, " Hubby exclaimed. This was the selfie I took when we discovered that the trail turned and ran along the spine of the ridge we were on. And carried on upward. Okay, I wasn't really that upset. Just making a dramatic face for the camera. But where the heck was the damn knob? 

hiking McAfee's Knob
What-da-ya mean we're not at the top?
Ah yes. Another mile or so later. There it was. Definitely worth the exertion. And the sweat. And the swearing. 1,100 ft of ascent over the almost four mile climb. And the views were impressive. 


McAfee's Knob Virginia
The view from McAfee's Knob
And we were all smiles again. 

McAfee's Knob Virginia
All smiles at the top

Too bad that Hubby's camera was on the wrong setting when he took the shot below. The picture was terribly bleached out and I had to doctor it to be able to see anything. But as you can tell.... we made it! And the way back was all down hill. Well, mostly. Phew.

McAfee's Knob Virginia
Great glee on McAfee's Knob

It must have been after eight o'clock by the time we picked up take-out pizza and made it back to our hotel room. Where upon we had hot showers, turned on the "what is Trump up to today" show on CNN, and lolled on the beds, gulping down pizza, sipping wine, and feeling quite pleased with ourselves. I was fast asleep by nine-thirty. 

The next day we really did head for home. Our "mountain time" had been time well spent. And we were hoping that spring would be fully sprung by the time we reached Ottawa. 

So what have I learned on this trip? Well, you never know where you're going to meet a priest or a helpful old man. Always travel with gloves and ski underwear... actually I already knew that one. Always, always wear hiking boots when we walk, even if I'm told that it's only a short hike. Rocky trails are not kind to sneaker-ed feet. 

And I've decided that one should always calculate the length of a hike in miles before you start... pffft it's only 3.9 miles one way. And in kilometres when you're finished... wow, 12.6 kilometres in total, much of it climbing. I am impressive. See? Miles for motivation, kilometres for patting oneself on the back. Works for me.

Now I really must wrap up this marathon post. Hubby has just brought my bike back from its spring tune-up and we are off for the first ride of the year. Spring... so glad it's finally here.






Sorry for the patchy posting schedule, folks. Between walking and driving, and walking and driving... not to mention the mountain of laundry when we came home. I couldn't find time to write this post. What spring-y things have you been up to? 


Linking with Upsy Daisy Linkup, All About You at Mama and More, and Thursday Blog Hop at Katherine's Corner

24 comments:

  1. Wow! Thanks for the great travel-log. We've driven a small part of the Blue Ridge, in high summer, and it was breathtaking and gorgeous. I hear it's at its best in June when the azaleas and rhodies are out. You certainly do roll with the punches, as they say! We would have had a fit in that cabin: nice to see other people who can manage it all so well!

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    1. The Blue Ridge Parkway was pretty amazing.... I can imagine it's even more wonderful when the flowers are out.

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  2. Well that was worth waiting for , a great post & it looks a beautiful area . I felt I was there with you & it brought back lots of memories of self catering holidays in the past .That cabin - we've opened many a door to a damp room full of junk . We would shuffle furniture , bring in lamps from spare rooms & even bought an electric heater once . Not so many shocks these days , with pics on the net & good old trip advisor . A sense of humour is still useful though .
    I'm not great on steep hills either . It's flat as a pancake round York so I don't practice hills enough . I'm usually complaining all the way up then happy & relieved all the way down - you wouldn't want me with you on a hike !
    I do enjoy your travelogues & can't wait to hear where we are going next
    Wendy in York

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    1. Thanks, Wendy. Sometimes you never know what you're going to walk into even with all the pictures on Trip Advisor. I will say that we usually have no problems... or none that are insurmountable. I also have done lots of furniture rearranging in my time. People seem to furnish cottages and B&B rooms without calculating that guests will want room for their own stuff. Or will maybe need a mirror that is near an electrical socket for a blow dryer. I remember one place we stayed in Scotland that we really liked except that the only mirror was on one side of the large room and the electrical socket on the other. Eventually Stu stood and held the ginormous mirror so I could dry my hair. That was pretty funny... wish I had a picture of that.

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  3. Your Smoky Mountain leg was even more fabulous than I expected, Susan! You handled your cabin "glitches" marvelously. Most people would have lost their cool. It's easier to go with the flow when you can. Your photos of the mountains are beautiful. Oh my gosh...that hike to the knob! Whoa! I like your perspective because if someone had said 12.6 kilometers to me, it would have been a wrap. LOL! Thank you so much for sharing this with #UpsyDaisyLinkup!

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    1. Thanks, Regina. It was a pretty good hike... not too, too long except that the way in was all uphill...and we had not expected it. So we weren't really prepared. Ah well... makes a better story.

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  4. I have it on my list to visit North Carolina, drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains and perhaps walk the Appalachian Trail, so this confirms it for me. Maybe next summer.
    Glad you had a great vacation and adventure.
    We seemed to have skipped spring and have summer weather in Southern Ontario -I had on mitts and ski jacket to walk the dog last week and today capris and a tee!

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    1. Thanks, Yvonne. We both thought that North Carolina was lovely. Not doing capris yet in Ottawa. But we did barbeque last night and instead of dashing out to check the food, we actually sat outside with our wine. First time this year!

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  5. We spent a few days in Bryson City in the fall several years ago, and loved it. On one of our days we drove to Ashville to see the boarding house Thomas Wolfe grew up in and featured in Look Homeward Angel. That book has been a favorite of mine since high school, and I was absolutely beside myself with joy to see the actual house and walk to the square where his father had the stone carving shop. A reader's delight!

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    1. Oh, that sounds wonderful, Sherrie. I'm a big fan of the literary pilgrimage. I'm sure that my husband gets a bit tired of visiting Hemingway's apartment, or Katherine Mansfield's birthplace etc etc etc.

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  6. This wss a fun read, since we live in Fincastle, VA. It's just north of the Roanoke and Salem area. It's really a gorgeous area, mostly in the spring and fall. Sounds as though you had QUITE the hike!

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    1. It was a great hike, Pepper. I did whine a bit... but only because we weren't prepared for the length. It was well worth the effort, though.

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  7. Great post, takes me back to (very) many years ago when I hiked in those Smoky Mountains. Also, thanks for the great photos of the landscape and also the (better than great) superb, glorious, photos of you.

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    1. Did you? Smoky Mountains are so beautiful...we were not disappointed. Glad we were there in the spring, though. I hear they are very busy in the summer. Not sure the photos of us are "glorious" haha... funny, maybe:)

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  8. Splendid photos and some great anecdotes here as well! Funny how blogging lets us see mishaps as inspiration. . . ;-)

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    1. Thanks, Frances. I used to store them up to share in stories to my creative writing class... now I just blog them. Much more fun to write about than clear sailing.

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  9. Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing the glitches, the views and the unexpected surprises along the way. On all of our many hikes, we've yet to meet a priest dressed in his cassock on the trail!

    Elaine@Following Augustine

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    1. I know, eh... we never had before either.... that was amazing.

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  10. Excellent post Sue ... I've really enjoyed reading it, as I do all your travel posts! Sounds like quite an adventure. Always good to have a sense of humour and look on the bright side :) we've had a couple of mishaps with lock boxes ...such a good idea, unless you can't open them or someone's removed the key and forgotten to put it back!! Your pictures are beautiful and you both look happy and relaxed. Being in the mountains has that effect on me too, especially if there's snow. The proverbial "icing on the cake" in fact I've an almost identical picture of me with arms outstretched and a big grin on my face :)
    Have a good week ...
    Rosie

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    1. Thanks, Rosie. I had never encountered a lock-box before. Live and learn. We have a hot like that on every high place we've ever hiked into. It started as a joke a few years ago when a tourism site for Newfoundland featured a hiker at the top of Gros Morne doing just that. So when we hiked up to Gros Morne that summer (our first ever big hike at 7 hours) we both posed to imitate the famous shot. And we've never stopped doing it. Too bad you won't have time for a side trip to Newfoundland when you're in Canada this summer. It's wonderful...and unique in North America.

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  11. I've just looked at some pictures of Gros Morne National Park it looks stunning ...You did well completing that hike. This is our longest ever trip and it's still not long enough to visit everywhere we hoped ...guess we ll just have to make another trip!:)

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    1. Gros Morne is beautiful. But you'll just have to come back, Rosie, to squeeze everything in. We feel that about almost everywhere we've ever been. On the way home we always talk about what we'll do the next time we visit wherever it is we're flying home from:)

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  12. Loved reading about your trip and of course the glitches. Beautiful scenery. Glad you and hubby enjoyed and always a bonus to return to Nice weather. Iris

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  13. It sounds like you had quite the adventurous time in the Carolinas! I live in NC's mountains, about 5 minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway. I can't tell you how often I go for drives on pretty days out there just for the sake of it. It most certainly is a beautiful place to live! I'm glad you enjoyed your time in our neck of the woods:)!!
    Emily
    Darling, Dearest

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All comments, ideas, commiserations, questions, complaints... are most welcome.