Monday, April 30, 2018

Pisgah 400: Coffee Pot Loop

Pisgah 400 – Coffee Pot Loop – 5/19/17 – 9 miles

Our tandem biking adventure ended on a sour note with a car crash and the total loss of my beloved Honda Pilot that I had been nursing towards 300,000 miles.  Grateful that there no injuries involved and that a rental car got us back to normal (?) as we mulled over options.  Haven’t had a car payment in 15 years…

A hike might make me feel better. I searched my maps and books for a remedy.  Pisgah National Forest was waiting on me to hike a loop around Coffee Pot Mountain from Danny Bernstein's hiking guide Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains.

This particular Friday morning had a rough start: the rental car needed an oil change, and its constant prompts obscured the odometer, making it hard to track distance on the forest roads in an area of Pisgah that was new to me.  Driving, holding the map, watching the road, I felt the light touch of something run down my leg.  I quickly pulled over as a cockroach the size of a rat (exaggeration? I think not) popped out of a crevice and scuttled across the dashboard.  Wrestling to get out of my seatbelt and reaching to grab something (anything) to smack the creature, it disappeared into another crevice between the dashboard and the windshield.   It was still in the car and so was I – and I was not yet at my destination.

I got back in the car, continued driving down the forest road…the cockroach popped back out and came barreling toward me. Like hitting a ping pong ball, I smacked it with the back of my hand, sending it smashing into the windshield.  Again it retreated into the crack between dashboard and windshield. 

Gee whiz, I am not feeling like hiking right now.  But this car is not big enough for me and this indestrucible cockroach.

Pisgah NF continues to confound me with its confusing intersections, parking areas, blazes and signage placement ( or lack thereof).  Maps and written instructions just don’t line up with conditions “on the ground.”  Even using Danny Bernstein’s hike description, I began by walking half a mile in the wrong direction. When I reached an intersection that was clearly misplaced, I figured out my mistake.

Here was a decision point: Do I keep going and hike different trails or return to the parking area and start again?  The correct option was to retrace and begin again because that was the hike plan that I left with Jim – so one mile “done” before I started.  Back at the parking area I discovered that Trace Ridge Trail goes THROUGH the parking lot rather than beginning there, with trailhead signs on both sides.

I blame all of this on the cockroach incident.

Wrong way

But I did enjoy the mountain laurel

And the view

So let’s start over…and I still had difficulty finding the correct Trace Ridge Trailhead (go past the gate, walk a few yards on the road, then the trail jumps into the woods on the right – gee whiz again.)

Thank goodness the mountain laurel was beautiful here too

In fact, Trace Ridge Trail was downright gorgeous, a verdant arbor of mountain laurel at peak bloom in lush bunches like a bride’s bouquet. (Yes, I’m waxing poetic but those flowers were that awesome!)  I noticed that the blooms were white, almost no pink as I’ve seen in other areas. 

The trail curved almost imperceptibly around Coffee Pot Mountain. As the mountain laurel thinned out, the trail widened.  It’s a hiker/horse/biking trail, trimmed up high.  Three mountain bikers passed me going downhill, waving hello.  I like sharing with them because (A) they can get help fast if a hiker needs it and (B) no horse poop. (Note: it’s important to keep a head’s-up because they can pop up quickly.)

Trace Ridge Trail trended gently upward, effortless, and passed the Spencer Branch Trail on the left and Spencer Gap Trail on the right. From there, its personality changes from Jekyll to Hyde, very steep and rocky on its way to intersect the Blue Ridge Parkway – and how far is that?  About half a mile, felt like two miles, difficult to gauge distance because I slowed down dramatically. Let’s say far enough for me to be annoyed.

The hard work made me appreciate all the more the view at the Parkway. From Danny’s narrative: “At Beaver Dam Overlook, Trace Ridge is the nearest hump.  Behind it, the next ridge is Laurel Mountain.”

I descended back down Trace Ridge Trail and turned onto Spencer Branch Trail (now on the right), clearly a mountain bike mecca with its banked curves.
My stomach began to rumble, and as I slowed down looking for a lunch sitting log, I spied a white quartz rock, about the size of a car battery, with the largest component of mica I will probably ever see.  [Mica is a flaky mineral.]  Shimmering mica chips were scattered about like silver coins.

Spencer Branch Trail crossed FS 5097, followed its namesake creek until it flowed into Fletcher Creek at a wide crossing, then took up crossing Fletcher several times. Along that section was a little bit of everything:  a tiny shell, a fern kingdom, a moonshine remnant, and two lovely pink lady slippers.

As a reminder that I was still in Pisgah National Forest, I reached an intersection that I couldn’t seem to sort out, even with a map and Danny’s narrative (remember, the hiker has to do some of the work herself). Fletcher Creek Trail crosses Spencer Branch Trail, with trail signs at three sides of the intersection but none for the fourth. I wasn’t sure if Spencer Branch Trail continues straight, but let’s see.  Although only 2:00 p.m., the sky was growing overcast, making the woods seem darker.  I was feeling a flutter of heebie-jeebies at not knowing exactly where I was.  The trail came to a wide, ankle-deep crossing with a convenient (although high) log across.

Middle Fork Trail intersected in an open area that again had more trails than appeared on my trail map – I followed the faint yellow blaze with fingers crossed.  Then I uncrossed them long enough to greet this fellow traveler, a black snake that seemed confident of where it was going

Beaver dam

Now below and on my left, Fletcher Creek flowed wider and faster with numerous miniature cascades.  Which trail was I on now?  Did it matter?  That darned map showed several trails running parallel and eventually intersecting.  So just go with the flow…

I reoriented when I reached the spillway for the old Hendersonville Reservoir

Even a man-made waterfall is appealing

Sweet shrub has intricate flowers that look a little spidery to me
At the spillway, a left turn put me on FS 142, closed to traffic (supposedly) and I enjoyed the mile walk back to the parking area, looking down on campsites along the winding Mill River, fishermen quietly casting and contemplating.  Along the way I encountered two men standing next to a pickup truck, fishing rods in hand, and I blurted out, “Oh, I thought this road was closed or I would have put my car up here, too.” They looked at each other and one shrugged, “Well, we know a little way around that.”  I said, “Have a nice day,” and kept on going. 

Well, my car was still there but I didn’t know if the cockroach was (I had left the windows cracked).  Thunder was beginning to rumble so no time for debate.  I took off my hiking boots, tucked my pants legs into my socks, put on my sandals for the drive home.  My passenger had either exited or died; no further critter encounters.  But it did rain cats and dogs.

SCUTTLE, scuttle, little roach—
How you run when I approach.”

~from Nursery Rhymes For the Tender-Hearted by Christopher Morley

Monday, April 23, 2018

Virginia Capital Trail: Day Two

Virginia Capital Trail – 21.7 Miles – 5/7/17

Coffee was brewing early in Ridgely’s kitchen and Jim was the first one up to see the sunrise, followed soon by the rest of us. Ridgely worked steadily at breakfast preparations while maintaining constant conversation, occasionally asking for a reminder to check something in the oven.  An elegant breakfast was served in North Bend’s formal dining room.  (Our host joined us, which she doesn’t always do.)

China cabinets in the dining room were filled with patterns handed down through the family, and I asked Ridgely about the history of the china we were eating from.  She laughed with delight and said, “Oh, honey, I got that from a local thrift store.  You don’t think I’d use the family china, now, do you?”

We walked around the grounds of North Bend, which the public is also welcome to do self-guided tours.  There are a couple of information signs posted.  The property extends to the James River, of course, but with no public access because the land is a working farm. (Ridgely will give a tour of the house with prior arrangement.)

Double porches on the back of the house (originally the front, not enclosed)

Ice house, brick construction below ground; ice was harvested in the winter and stored here

Yes, there is a pool!

Time to get back in the saddle   

On the Virginia Capital Trail again, another stellar blue sky day spread out before us.  The trail continued alternating within sight of Highway 5 and diverting from it, following extensive boardwalk and passing massive meadows.  We encountered more cyclists today, including another tandem couple.

We saw a lone deer leaping through a field; when he stood still to look around, only his head appeared above the wheat.

The trail passed over a bog.  The tiny islands of bright green grass and the reflection of sky and clouds in the water called us to stop.  Movement in the water and on the tiny islands caught the eye, and we realized there were turtles – hundreds of them – in this little paradise. 

About 7 miles from the terminus, we crossed over the Chickahominy River on the Judith Stewart Dresser Bridge.  The 10-foot-wide trail is still separated from traffic by a divider, so it’s possible for bike traffic to safely pass in both directions.  Better yet, after the effort of this brief climb, it’s safe to stop at the summit to look out at the view.

What do I spy down on the concrete wall?

At the end of the bridge we took a break at Chickahominy Riverfront Park, a 140-acre park with something for everyone, including boat launches, canoe/kayak rentals, camping, walking trails, picnic areas, and an open-24-hours lighted fishing pier.  There was a vulture convention on the playground today.  [No joke!  A group of vultures is called a committee. In flight, a flock of vultures is a kettle. When feeding together at a carcass, the group is called a wake.]

Cheri had been carrying emergency provisions for us through the entire trip and we determined that now was the time for our final energy burst.  One two three - Goo!

Our party of five pedaled back into civilization and our parked cars.  After about 21 miles, I wasn’t hurting like I was the previous afternoon.  Could I get used to this?  Maybe, if Jim is willing to go tandem again…but I think he missed the autonomy of his own bike. We loaded up the bikes and had a bite to eat before going separate ways.  Jim and I had a long, long drive back to Charlotte.

Which went pretty well until we got off at an exit for a gas/soda/bathroom break and an inattentive driver ran his red light and broadsided my dear old Honda Pilot.  No physical injuries, but there we were at a gas station, our total loss car towed away, 100 miles from home on a Sunday night, no rental cars available, and a borrowed tandem bike.  A story for another day.

"Get a bicycle. You will certainly not regret it, if you live." ~Mark Twain