Monday, August 26, 2019

Asheville Camino del Norte

Asheville Camino del Norte – 11/11/18 - 12 Miles

And now for something completely different: an urban hike.

If you haven’t heard of the Camino de Santiago, Google it before you read further. 

Caught up? Bueno! In Asheville, NC there’s a very active group called the Western North Carolina Chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino that meets regularly to discuss/plan/dream about past, future and vicarious walks on the Way of St. James. There is quite a bit of crossover with members of the Carolina Mountain Club who have similar stories and aspirations.  CMC scheduled an urban hike around the city of Asheville to simulate a day on the Camino, combining the two groups and anyone else who was interested. There’s more than one Camino route in Asheville (these folks are serious) and the hike I participated in is called the Camino del Norte.(For more information about APOC and monthly walks on the Asheville Caminos, look here.)

My hiking buddy Danny Bernstein was the hike leader today. I arrived at Danny’s home in Asheville the night before for a catching-up visit and an early rising, breakfast in her kitchen like the good old days when we hiked in the Smokies and on sections of the MST.

We gathered in the lower parking lot of the Asheville Visitor Center on Montford Avenue, 20 hikers from nearby locales (I was the lone Charlottean.) The temperature was a brisk 29 degrees with a clear blue sky and no wind.  There’s always speculation about layers – will it get warmer? Will we be stopping a lot? I wore leggings under my hiking pants, a short-sleeved shirt and a Smartwool half-zip under my down jacket.  Hat and gloves and we’re off at 8:15 a.m. to explore North Asheville, including Montford, the Grove Park Inn, the campus of UNC-Asheville and the Asheville Botanical Gardens.

Danny’s blog about scouting the route is here.

I can’t cite the route in detail other than to say there were numerous turns, street crossings and lots of trail chatter:  When did you walk the Camino? When do you plan to do it? [I have no current plans to walk the Camino, but it feels inevitable after spending time with this level of enthusiasm.] I met many new people who, aside from Camino experiences, are incredibly well traveled. I felt very pedestrian – pun intended.

Some highlights:

Our first stop: the Basilica of St. Lawrence. Completed in 1909 in the Spanish Renaissance style, this building has a striking exterior, and the interior features the largest freestanding elliptical dome in the country.

Montford neighborhood, Asheville’s oldest, eclectic homes, yellow leaves scattered all around

At the Grove Park Inn we stopped for a comfort break and a hot beverage, similar to stopping in towns along the Camino. The Inn was a beehive of active patrons and I could not imagine myself as an overnight guest. I felt extravagant just walking through the lobby to the coffee shop. But I appreciate how many people are employed in this luxurious resort and its contribution to the local economy and vibe that is Asheville. They even have a cheery doorman greeting everyone at the enormous main doors.  

We descended from the mountaintop of the Grove Park Inn, crossed busy Merrimon Avenue and stopped at Earth Fare for some walkers to pick up lunch. Next, we paused to mark a unique moment in time: At 11:00 a.m., Danny noted the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I on November 11, 2018 – Armistice Day. One of the many things I value about my friend is her attention to history.

Walking around Beaver Lake

This great blue heron tolerated our presence for a minute or two before gracefully lifting off

Leaving the lake behind, we wound through neighborhoods to the “woods” of UNC-Asheville and walked across the main campus. Out of nowhere, a young woman ran up to say hi to me – a freshman student from my church family!  What a great feeling to see someone you know in an unexpected place.

After lunch on the library steps of UNCA, we continued on through Asheville Botanical Gardens, ten acres of beauty that is free for everyone to enjoy.

The last stretch of our Camino took us on Reed Creek Greenway toward the Visitor Center.  I was quite surprised to learn that Asheville doesn’t have many greenway miles. I can brag on Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s extensive greenways – currently 52 miles completed and hundreds more in planning stages.  Reed Creek Greenway was well done and I hope their system continues to grow.

We completed our walk on the Camino del Norte at 2:00 p.m., about 5 hours of walking for 12 miles, a great way to spend a brisk fall morning. When was the last time you walked 12 miles in your city or town? An outdoor experience doesn’t have to be in the deep woods. Many thanks to Danny as leader, Carolina Mountain Club and the Western North Carolina Chapter of the APOC!

"There's a whole world out there, right outside your window. You'd be a fool to miss it." ~Charlotte Eriksson