BRP Trip – 5/22/09 - Day Eight
A postscript from Day Seven that we both forgot to disclose: The camera industry will always be alive and well with the McCarthys to support it. Late in the evening, as we were making notes and preparing for the next day, Jim connected his (new) camera into his computer to look at his photos of the day. Then he carefully deleted them from the camera – without saving them to the laptop. There commenced an agony of moaning that rivaled me during childbirth. But take heart – there are programs on the internet for retrieving deleted pictures! But until Jim could run the program at the end of Day Eight, he needed a camera…so I hiked cameraless today. After all, it’s all about Jim...
Today three of Jim’s cycling buddies from Charlotte were scheduled to meet him at the Folk Art Center to join him for the last two days of his big adventure. Beth, Don, Tom and Tom’s wife Ellen (who would be a support vehicle for them) arrived right on time and there was much air-pumping and bike-checking and Spandex-donning before they started off. Jim was grinning from ear to ear. He and I are cut from the same cloth – biking or hiking alone is okay once in a while, but it’s way more fun to be able to turn to someone else and say, “Wow, would you look at THAT?!?!” Our single regret for this whole trip was sharing only the stories of the day, not the actual experiences.
Today’s miles took us past Asheville and into the more exotic wilds of the Parkway. There are fewer roads intersecting and those roads twist and wind down into the valleys in search of civilization. You won’t find a convenient convenience store past Asheville all the way to the terminus at Mile 469. What you will find is those awesome mountains I have come to love. In his book, “Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway,” author Randy Johnson says, “This is where the Blue Ridge meets the jumble of mountain ranges that make up the vast heart of the Southern Appalachians. On your way to Cherokee, NC, and a memorable meeting with the massive wall of the Great Smokies, the mountaintop route surveys a mountain empire unmatched in eastern America.” Got chills?
Once again presented with many hiking options, I applied my yardstick of short hikes with big payoffs. Since I was now in familiar territory, I had done some of these, such as Mount Pisgah, Graveyard Fields, and Devil’s Courthouse. (I had also gotten lost once in the Shining Rock Wilderness, but we’ll save that story for another day.) In looking through Danny Bernstein’s book, “Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Heritage,” I decided to go off-road again and check out the Pink Beds. Passing the Pisgah Inn, I turned left onto Highway 276 and roller-coasted down to the picnic area. I’ve heard of the Pink Beds Loop many times and was hoping for lots of blooms – too bad, I was a week or two early for the mountain laurel, which was budding every which way but loose.
This 5.4-mile loop was a relaxing stroll with an elevation gain of maybe 20 feet. The trail alternates from a wide road bed to a narrow track, passing through small open meadows and closed-in forest occasionally crossing creeks on footbridges. Most notable are beaver dams and a right-angle bridge with one side of the L-shape extending from a fallen tree trunk – what a great use of resources! At first I thought I would be bored on this non-strenuous hike, but I mentally slowed down and enjoyed the walk. No solitude here, as Pink Beds is a popular place for daily walkers and their dogs. Remember, we’re not in a national park! I had a moment of adrenaline when two large animals were crashing around in the brush (off-leash) and their owner appeared and said, “Don’t worry, they belong to me, they have often been mistaken for bears.” Then two of the biggest dogs in all of creation came loping up, grinning with tongues dangling. Once they passed I was able to put my heart back in my chest and make it back to my car.
So the curiosity about Pink Beds had been satisfied and I drove back up the roller-coaster to the Parkway to check out the Pisgah Inn restaurant and see if Jim’s traveling band had arrived for lunch. No bicycles outside, and after a quick glance in the dining room, I picked up the Buck Springs Trail for my second hike of the day. This trail leaves from the Pisgah Inn parking lot and travels gently eastward (northward paralleling the Parkway). My destination was one mile ahead at the site of George Vanderbilt’s hunting lodge. Click here for a great history of the Pisgah Inn area and Buck Springs Lodge.
This walk turned out to be a wildflower test. I didn’t have a camera to take photos and ID flowers later so my powers of memory were strained. I recognized violets, lousewort, bluets, Canada mayflower, and there were other yellows and pinks. (BTW, lousewort, also known as wood-betony, is a very cool flower. I can’t find a good photo on the internet, so look for it in a flower book the next time you’re at a bookstore.) The view from the site of the hunting lodge is astounding – imagine being in a hunting party with the Vanderbilts at the turn of the century, traveling by horse to “rough” accommodations. I wouldn’t hunt for anything except a rocking chair on the front porch so I could look down into the valley.
Back at the Pisgah Inn restaurant, the road warriors were enjoying lunch and comparing notes. Biking on the Parkway was a first for Beth and Tom and Don – in fact, it was Tom’s first day on the Parkway in his life. What a way to begin! The weather was glorious and they all were captivated.
No more hikes for me today, just a couple of hours to drive to our prearranged meeting place at Courthouse Valley Overlook near the intersection with Highway 215. Tom’s wife, Beth, who had been connecting on and off with the cyclists all day, arrived at the Overlook when I did, and we chatted and waited. Beth and Tom had brought along their new dog, Ginger, who kept Beth busy walking and exploring and greeting everyone who stopped at the overlook. We noticed that the crew was overdue and I backtracked to check up on them. They were just a few miles away but in the middle of a long slow climb, and when I offered a ride, Beth took me up on it – a wise woman. She wanted to conserve her energy for the big finish the next day and fortunately did not have testosterone levels to drive her past the point of pain.
Once everyone arrived and congratulated each other and set a start time for the next morning, Jim and I went into Waynesville to Prospect Hill Inn, our B&B for the next two nights. We chatted with our hosts, Dennis and Judith, and then unpacked, got cleaned up and went in search of large amounts of pizza. We found it at Angelo’s where they cut their round pizza into squares. Afterwards we stopped in at Blue Ridge Books for a latte (too late, they were closing down) and then crashed in our old-fashioned room up on the hill.
Tomorrow is the grand finale! So soon?...
Jim’s Day Eight
I was particularly looking forward to D8. Three of my cycling friends were going to join me for today and tomorrow. I enjoy riding solo but riding with other folks is even better. Riding is just as much social as it is physical. Plus with multiple riders you can draft and spread the work around. Today was going to be a lot of climbing, though, so there would not be much drafting. Actually, there would be no drafting. From here on out the BRP is either up or down. Flat or even close to flat runs are minimal.
Joining me were Don, Beth and Tom. I had worked with them during my time with Duke Energy. Beth, Tom and I had ridden together in the past including a few MS150 rides. Tom’s spouse Ellen and their new dog Ginger would be our sag today. SS and I met them at the Folk Art Center at 8:30 sharp and we were quickly on our way.
We were down in the valley so the temperature starting out was cool but not cold. We warmed up pretty quick. The ride around Asheville was busier than the ride around Roanoke. It was a Friday morning rather than a rainy Sunday. The traffic was heavy enough for the first 10 miles or so that I am sure Beth, Don and Tom were wondering if this was really a great idea or not. Once we went over the I-26 overpass the traffic thinned and the climbing started.
I had done the ride from the Folk Art Center to the Mt Pisgah Inn and back as a shakedown ride in early April. It includes a 15-mile, 2900-ft climb. For the shakedown ride I added some miles past the Folk Art Center on the way down to make it an even 60 miles. Then the next day I rode in the Tour de Lure, an organized charity ride starting and ending in Marion NC. It was about 70 miles and 6000 ft of climbing. It is a very scenic ride that includes riding around Lake Lure. Riding around a lake in the mountains is about as picturesque as it gets. Those two back-to-back days in the mountains were my reality check for the BRP ride. Back to today’s ride...
Before we started the ride Beth, Don and Tom had mentioned that it was early in the season and they had not been riding much, but everybody did fine on the climb up to Mt Pisgah except for this possum. He just was not fast enough. (or is he just playing...never mind.)
There was a little more haze than the past few days but the views were still good. I was glad that my friends had joined me, not just for the company, but this was the first time they had ridden on the BRP so it was fun to share that experience with them. Tunnels become more numerous on this part of the BRP and that was also a first for Beth, Don and Tom.
We did have a reward waiting for us at the top of Mt Pisgah…..lunch at the Mt Pisgah Inn. The restaurant is perched on the edge of the mountain. It has large windows that provide an expansive view of the mountains. The food is good and it is a popular stop. I learned from my shakedown ride not to linger too long for lunch, though. You cool down, your muscles get stiff and it is hard to get moving again.
After eating we snapped a few pictures and were on our way. The Inn was at the top of the climb so we were now riding the ridge line. Shortly after leaving the Inn there is a neat stretch of road that hugs the mountain with a wide open view to the left. When we came to this section we all let out an exclamation at about the same time. It is another section on the BRP where you feel like you are flying rather than riding.
Our destination for the day was Beech Gap. From Pisgah it was a short 15-mile ride with one climb of about 1200 ft or so. This is another remote part of the BRP. For much of the ride you can see Looking Glass Rock in the distance. This is a large rock formation that would appear like a magnifying glass if you looked down on it from above.
Along this section of the ride we came across an overlook describing the Cradle of Forestry. When George Vanderbilt bought his huge tract of land in the Pisgah Forest he hired foresters to maintain and study it. These folks developed modern conservation techniques. It is now a historic site known as the Cradle of Forestry. Beth’s grandfather was instrumental in its formation, thus we thought it appropriate to take her picture here.
One of the things that fascinates me about the mountains is the various names of the mountains, gaps, coves, ridges, tunnels, etc. This section of the BRP includes some of the most colorful including Devil’s Courthouse, Graveyard Fields, Cold Mountain and Frying Pan Tunnel. Devils Courthouse is a sinister-looking rock formation. Within the mountain is a cave where, legend claims, the devil holds court.
SS, Ellen and Ginger were all waiting for us at the Courthouse Valley Overlook. All in all a very successful day. SS and I were headed to a B&B in Waynesville while the rest of the group was headed to Canton. SS and I took route 215 to Waynesville. Wow, what a road!! It is a narrow twisty two lanes that curves in and out of coves and is fairly steep. It is downhill all the way to Waynesville (about 15 miles). It goes through dense forest and around a lake. Next time I am riding it on my bike. I actually started to head down the mountain from the Courthouse Valley Overlook without a road when my brakes failed. SS got this shot. (Very funny, Jim...)
Our B&B was right on the main street in Waynesville. I know I sound like a broken record….Waynesville is a neat little town, lots of stores, restaurants, pubs, etc. and plenty of local color. SS and I both had a craving for pizza and found a local pizza place that was just what we had in mind. We followed our mantra for the whole trip….eat local, eat cheap, tip big. After dinner we hit the local bookstore for a while and then headed to the B&B. The ride would be over tomorrow. There was no sense of relief - just the opposite. I was fully enjoying it and did not want to end it yet.
Stats for the day:
Mile marker start: 382.0
Mile marker finish: 423.3
Total day miles: 43.6
Day climbing: Still need to get this
Avg speed: 10.2 mph (spent a lot of time talking!!)
Max speed: 32.2 mph
It never gets easier, you just go faster. ~Greg Lemond