15 February 2010

What if?

Another weekend, another winter storm here in WNC, so rubber tires were traded for rubber soles again as my coworker Jim and I hit Shining Rock on Saturday and I headed up from Mills River on Sunday. Saturday was pretty nice, and we made it atop Old Butt Knob before encoutering more rhododendron than we knew what to do with, a group of Alabamians, and no trail. So we headed back down and I became a Person of Wal-Mart.

I didn't want to drive too far yesterday, so I started from the campground and hit one of the few hiking-only trails in Mills River. After meandering for a bit, it then headed straight up to the Parkway and Bent Creek Gap. I wandered around on Shut-In for a while, making it to the top of Ferrin Knob before I lost the trail completely, and then coming down an ice field back to the Parkway.

Side note: I want to give a big thanks to Mr. Don Biagoni. I'm sure as I sat in his 7th-grade science class, turning in assignments late and pretty much blowing off nearly everything he tried to teach us, he probably thought I wasn't learning. And sure, I promptly forgot how to tie a necktie. But Mr. B also taught us to read USGS Quads, and to understand elevation contour intervals. Several times since I moved down here, and especially yesterday as I was attempting to walk sideways trying to find what minimal trail bed I could, I whispered silent thanks to Mr. B for including that in his curriculum -- seriously, there were times yesterday when knowing how to read that map saved me a lot of physical pain and suffering, and potential injury. So kids, listen to your teachers, you never know when you'll need to know what they're telling you!

I checked out the Parkway before I realized that Mt. Pisgah was starting to get obscured by clouds ... and an impending storm. It was time to head back down, but I still was able to explore a bit, hitting the descent off of Spencer Branch and the lower part of Fletcher Creek to the H'ville Reservoir. It was neat to see where our drinking water comes from, all nestled up in the mountains, and more importantly I kept my feet mostly dry despite the route of the trails and the numerous creek crossings.

Along the way I did a lot of thinking, and I came to the conclusion that I'm not so sure about blogs -- and by extension, Facebook -- anymore. I really enjoy writing about my adventures, and I do it more for me than anyone else (Blogger is a convenient diary interface, don't you think?), but it's also a timesuck, and I have a lot of things on my plate right now. And, quite frankly, I'm not as interested in other people's training regimines as I used to be, and I don't understand all the reality TV references that seem to dominate everyone's status updates. So I wondered: What if I just stop updating?

I'm headed out of town for the next couple of weeks, more or less, and I'll likely not be updating from the road. We'll see how it goes -- it's been a good ride, and I may change my mind. In the meantime, have fun out there!

08 February 2010


Bittersweet, missing Kim lots today. Happy birthday honey, I love you!

Mountain air

Quick update until I can post photos from this weekend: Hit the Parkway on Saturday, which is plowed but closed to vehicles on the "Commuter Section" from the Arboretum/NC-191 to Town Mountain. Overkill with the ice tires on the hardtail, but resistance is training, right?

Quick stop at Liberty Bikes to air up the tires, and then climbed up from the Folk Art Center until I hit signs of the Snowpocolypse: ice on all the trees, trees down every 30 feet, carnage everywhere. But it was a beautiful, quiet type of carnage, absolutely incredible. Turned around and froze until I hit lower elevations, rolled through Biltmore Forest, and then decided to check out the Arb -- and, finally, dirt! And ice! A chance to use my tires! Up through the entrance to Bent Creek, through the campground, then along Bent Creek Road back to the Arb, a great day!

Plans for Sunday were on-again, off-again -- I cleaned up the garage before getting the call from my coworker, Jim: we're on. I picked him up in Aville, and we headed to Montreat to hit Lookout Mountain and Rainbow Road before heading back. Jim had done an epic on the eastern ridge above Montreat on Saturday, so Sunday was nice and easy ...

... only I didn't want to go home to do laundry, so after dropping Jim off, I stopped off at the Parkway and went south by foot. I stuck to the tarmack until I hit the Walnut Cove overlook, and then jumped onto the Shut-In Trail around Grassy Knob to Sleepy Gap, and the Sleepy Gap Overlook. It was tons of fun, but very slow going: I had hoped to make Bent Creek Gap, but was still 2 miles away after hiking for more than 2 hours. With dusk coming on, it was time to turn back, and I stayed on the road as I descended the 800 feet or so along miles of Parkway.

I will say this: there are few things I've experienced that are more surreal than walking alone into a wintery-wonderland tunnel on the closed Parkway at dusk, and not being able to see light on the other side. Hearing my footsteps echo on the stone sent chills down my spine ...

Like I said, photos as soon as I can!

04 February 2010

Big tracks

This morning I headed back up Yellow Gap Road (aka FS 1206), and kept going once I hit Allen Cove (aka FS 1206B). I wanted to get up to the next spur, Mince Cove (aka 1206C), and see if our friend from yesterday extends his/her range a little further up the mountain.

Sure enough, he/she does -- and man can that cat JUMP! In one spot, the tracks were a full 9 feet apart, very cool.

I was surfing the crust, able to walk a bit faster by not breaking through, and I came to one of the streams. I tested the bed with my hiking pole, making sure it wasn't ice and not too deep, and picked my way across. That's when I saw this:

According to one guide on the Smokies:

Surprisingly, many scientists say Smoky Mountain bears don’t hibernate at all. To them the park bears simply experience dormancy or deep sleep instead of true hibernation. Their conclusions are based on comparisons of bears, for this is true of all bears, with other hibernating mammals whose temperature and heart rates drop more dramatically than the Black bears. Southern bears, especially those in lowlands perhaps support their theory best, as they hibernate for such a short time in comparison to northern bears. Adding support to the theory of non-hibernation, Black bears can waken during the wintertime.

Now, I wear a size 12 shoe. Size 12. My feet are big ... for a human.

Front track:

Back track:

What a fun way to wake up this morning!

PS. Saving the best for last, BIG CONGRATS to Siren Mary and Brendan! Little Alexander was born yesterday afternoon, just in time to make it to Old Pueblo, right? :-)

03 February 2010


In case you hadn't heard, we got dumped on again -- folks getting evacuated from the Interstate, others trapped in their homes, schools pre-emptively closed or postponed ... you know, the apocolypse in the South!

What it's meant for me is a few more days of hiking -- early mornings spent up in Mills River before lunch rides enjoying the beautiful sunshine and relatively mild temps. This morning was pretty awesome -- if you look closely at the photo, you can see a 3/4 moon through the trees, and I had my moon shadow following me all morning ...

I was headed up toward Yellow Gap, but this time turned left, heading down FS 1206B toward Allen Cove. It's a fairly mild grade, and since I was already crust-breaking with every footfall, I opted to shy away from any major elevation gains. It was still a solid piece of work, as I loudly crunch-crunched my way through the pre-dawn darkness.

Before too long things began to get brighter as the sun thought about cresting the Blue Ridge. Pretty soon I could make out deer tracks, and then began to notice other tracks that were fairly deep. I'm no Daniel Boone, but thanks to living in Evanston and seeing car window stickers of the high school mascot, I knew these were cat tracks ... but, being deep, meant they were probably a couple of days old, from when the snow first came down.

Now, I know there are bobcat up in the hills, and I know they're probably going to be more scared of me than I am of them. But I gotta' say, when I turned a corner and saw yellow snow surrounded by a lighter set of the same prints, and then a few yards further saw some scat, and more yellow snow just a few yards more, and then the sun was high enough to make out some very very light prints that had to have been made in just the past couple of hours, I got pretty attentive. I knew I was making way too much noise as I crunched through the snow, but I also began to see that the deer prints I thought were alone were actually being followed by these fresh prints, and I knew Allen Cove was definitely the home range for one of these fine felines. I'm sorry to say we never came face-to-face, but it did make things more interesting for a bit!

Kind of a fun way to start the day, a bit more exciting than running into the random coyote out at Palos. Alas, the spell was broken as soon as I reached my desk: in my early-morning, pre-coffee fog, I had forgotten my work clothes at home, and briefly considered spending the rest of the day in my waterproof, lined wind pants ... thankfully home isn't that far away!

01 February 2010

The view from the top

What a fantastic weekend. I really thought we'd be shut in once the snow started falling on Friday -- at the start, it was coming down about 2 in. per hour. A couple of my coworkers got stuck at the office when wrecks started piling up on the off-camber road outside ...

I planned for a full-on housecleaning weekend, and had the supplies I needed to turn myself into a shut-in. But then the snow stopped, and the weather started warming, and don't I own studded tires? Aren't they still on my hardtail?

I shoveled the driveway Saturday morning, and by the time I was done, our street was plowed too. So I quickly grabbed some clothes, hopped on the bike, and went to explore H'ville ...

Downtown was better than last time, but still a bit of a mess. It was super-fun being out on the streets with no traffic. I headed over to Jackson Park, where the road was cleared on account of the snowplow that's stationed there, but the trails were under a foot of snow, so off-road was a no-go. Instead, I headed to the south side of town, and out via Kanuga Road.

You know when you take a road, and you know which way you need to turn, only none of the turns go where you want them to? This was kind of like that. Kanuga becomes Crab Creek, and somehow I ended up just a couple of miles from DuPont -- a lot further south and west than I had planned. A few degrees colder, and it would have been fun -- as it was, though, I was fighting a half-ice/half-slush mix and sliding on every little rut. Still, I was outside, I was riding, and when I could get traction, it really was fun. Eventually I turned around somewhere near Jeter Mountain Road, and made my way back home to a warm dinner of pancakes and grits.

(The best was when I stopped at the service station at Price Road. "Can I take Price over to 64?" I asked. "Well, you can, but it goes straight up the mountain, and they've likely not plowed at the top yet ..." So much for that shortcut!)

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful, and I grabbed the hardtail to explore Laurel Park. On the map, it's the next town west of H'ville, and has something called "Jump Off Rock" -- a dead-end on the map usually means a climb, right? Sure enough, that's what it is!

So check this out: never getting further than 3 miles from our house as the crow flies, and starting just a 15-minute ride from our front door, the climb to Jump Off Rock has at least four approaches, the shortest of which is 4-1/2 miles long. The longest of them is a signed bike route, and actually takes you over the shoulder of Davis Mountain first, before dumping you on the back side so you can climb up the southwest face. The ascents are mostly high-end residential, so traffic is fairly light, dogs are minimal and speed limits are low (and it's a dead end, after all), and the main "Highway" that is the most direct route was completely plowed by the time I got to it. I'm sure traffic will pick up in the summer, but yesterday it was smooth sailing as I flung myself up the mountain a couple of times and surfed the icepack on the way down ...

The views from the top were stunning (photos do NOT do justice), as the French Broad basin unfolds before you and Mount Pisgah towers in the distance. It's only 15 miles away, but from Jump Off Rock you can see the National Forest spread from horizon to horizon, with the ridge of the Blue Ridge Parkway clearly defined by the winter trees ...

After lunch I ran back up there in the car to take photos, and then dropped back down to Brevard Road and headed west. Then I headed over to the Pisgah Ranger Station, and got in a little hike before nightfall, heading up Avery Creek to the stables before it was time to turn around. All in all, a fantastic way to end the weekend, and needless to say I slept well last night!