Newly Minted One

On a spring Saturday, with hints of a very warm summer to come, twenty or so friends and family gathered to celebrate a newly minted one year old.

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20 Hours in Big South Fork

The damp camping gear has been hung to dry, unconsumed food put away and my duffle is mostly unpacked. All this plus a campsite teardown, a coffee stop and an almost 2.0 hour drive home… before 11:00 am. We are, at least I am, home for a few weeks after a very wet night in the Big South Fork.

The trip materialized about a month ago when friends Bob and BJ extended an offer to our Tuesday hiking group to join them for some days of camping in the Big South. We would be a group of eight, three couples in campers, and John and me in our large, roomy car camp tent. Three couples (including John and me) were on the Florida trip. The fourth couple, “The Canadians”, were friends of Steve and Karen who had met them on a recent vanning adventure to Baja, Mexico. Good group, fun adventures ahead!

The three camper couples arrived on Sunday and enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day, John and I arrived on Monday under mostly cloudy skies. Rain was eminent, light in the late afternoon and heavier overnight. This was a shift from an earlier version of the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday forecast when the heavier rain was predicted for Tuesday night. Nevertheless, we were trusting of our equipment and naively thought that an overnight rain would be restful. As seasoned backpackers, we should have known better than to rely on equipment that had not been rain tested.

Lunch was Subway at the picnic table before our ride. It is not a very homey site or at least we made no effort to make it so. Our plan was to hang out with the camper couples.

We hurried through camp setup and lunch to get in a bike ride before the afternoon rain. Our campsite, A36, was the starting point for the ride, a route that took us through the campground, onto Duncan Hollow Rd, to the end of the road where we circled back. We also looped through camp areas B, C and D looking for our friends.

Duncan Hollow Rd is a mixed surface of hard packed dirt, small gravel, larger, loose gravel, potholes and even a couple of small sand pits. The road is somewhat downhill on the way out, therefore slightly uphill on the ride back. This was my first cycle on gravel since my front tire got into a patch of loose rock on Bald River Falls Rd. In that situation, I fell and my head bounced on the pavement. Hurray for helmets. Unlike that ride, I am now sporting a gravel bike but my anxiety for this ride was still a rollercoaster.

John riding out on Duncan Hollow. We met these two ladies coming back.
There he goes! Not so bad for a riding surface.
And here I come!
Yee haw! Not sure what is going on with the bandana in my pocket. I do know I dropped it soon after and John had to go back and retrieve it.
Ok, this was fun. Where is our next gravel(ish) adventure?
Our bicycle route. Note the steepest sections were at the start of the road and in our campsite.

We felt sprinkles of rain off and on during the ride but not too serious. Just minutes after we arrived back in camp, the first wave of rain arrived. Like the rest of our group, we decided to take some downtime, change clothes, read a bit and maybe take a short nap.

We have a rug that covers most of the tent floor. The orange and shades of gray rug is warm. bright and cheery, even on rainy sort of day. I am reading “Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell.

Shortly before the dinner hour, we received a text to join the camper couples at Bob and BJ’s campsite where appetizers were being served. We met the Canadian campers and learned that they are spending two years in their RV, crisscrossing the US and Canada. Lots of conversation ensued, much centered around campers and travel.

The rain held off (temporarily) as Bob cooked black bean and beef burgers on the grill. This was our second burger feast prepared by the Perlacks and honestly, I was impressed, I thought the first feast could not be topped. They prepared not only burgers and fixins’ but pasta salad, corn on the cob and brownies. The Canadians (Sue and Henry) contributed coleslaw. The rest of us did appetizers. A good meal and very enjoyable evening.

From left: Sue. BJ, Steve Henry and Karen. Somehow John and Bob are not in the photo. Me, I am taking the photo.

Somewhere during the evening, rain arrived. We squeezed under the Perlacks camper awning and around a picnic table. Karen brought out a deck of Exploding Cats cards and explained the game. She and Steve felt this game would be easy enough for those of us who are not regular card players. She was right, I even won a hand. I don’t brag about this lightly; I never win at cards.

With a pause in the rain, the evening broke up around 8:30 pm. We drove back to the tent and omg! Water was dripping from the ceiling onto John’s therm-a-rest, lots of drips!! His therm-a-rest was wet. Mine was still dry and I suggested we move things around a bit to get out of the obvious problem areas. “It will be ok.” But it wouldn’t. We looked between the fly and tent, found massive drippage and realized that it was never going to be ok in this tent during a rainstorm. The heavy rain was yet to come, so we started moving our belongings to the car.

As we picked up our things, we discovered that other items were wet too including the rug, some stuff sacks and such. With the exception of a few odds and ends, we cleared out the tent. More importantly we flattened the back seats and stretched out our therm-a-rests and sleeping bags to make a bed for the night. I thought John would be too tall for the back of the Subaru but he fit, just barely.

Shadows of pillows and sleeping bags in the back of the Subaru.
Gear was stuffed in every nook and cranny of the car, some wet, some not.
Our now empty tent illuminated.

Not long after we folded ourselves into the back of the car, rain moved in for the night. The intensity varied but the rain did not let up. At times lightening flashed in the windows. When we slept, we slept really well, but we were awake, a lot. As John said, if we were 18, this would be romantic, but at 68, we were tired and wished for sleep. We were one of only two tents in the 49-site A-loop. It felt a littled deserted and creepy.

Finally, first light arrived and the rain had temporarily subsided. We wiggled out of our sleeping bags and crawled out the back-side doors. John immediately headed to the tent and discovered it had seriously flooded. Clearly not moving to the car when we did would have resulted in a cold, wet night.

The morning after mop-up.

We didn’t consider staying a second night, we pack up and left. The weather forecast predicted afternoon clearing, but our tent would not likely dry enough to sleep in. Neither of us were in for another night sleeping in the Subaru.

We half carried, half pulled the tent to the asphalt in front of our campsite in hopes of draining the remaining water. The plan sort of worked.

We packed in record time, forgoing coffee and breakfast till we arrived in Oneida. John strapped the wet, sandy bundle of fabric, also known as our tent, to the car roof. All of our belongs felt damp.

Yep, the rain returned on our way out. We understand from the camper couples that the forecasters got it wrong, the rain stuck around most of the day.
Drying rack, aka, the driveway. The air feels humid but at least the sun is out, for a while.

So that wraps up our 20 hours in Big South Fork. All in all, we had a good time, bicycling and spending time with people we enjoy. Maybe, if we camp again in the rain, we will have a camper too.

Posted in Bicycling, Big South Fork, Friends, Outside, RVing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Five things…

Below is a handful of things that happened this week.

1. A Favorite, Sunset Season, is Coming to an End

As trees’ leaf out, a process that is happening rather quickly right now, our views from the hill will become hidden and these beautiful sunsets will no longer be visible. Living on the highest hill in the neighborhood has some great benefits, this view of downtown Knoxville is one of the best.

2. Walking for our Lunch

We walk, a lot. Our mileage can total 25 and as much as 35 miles a week utilizing neighborhood roads, Ijams Nature Center and roads/trails around Knoxville. We often repeat the same routes over and over because, well, there are only so many routes and we are looking more for the exercise than the scenery.

This week we decided to return to one of our favorite walks, a walk that began in the “training days” of the Cleveland Trail in 2018 and ended the minute we finished that 109-mile walk. The favorite walk…for lunch of course! “Back in the day”, a lunch destination by foot served as motivation on days we struggled to get out the door. Indeed, it worked well for us on Monday when we headed downtown, then home for a total of 6 miles.

Kopita in downtown Knoxville on a midday Monday.

Our destination restaurant was fai thai kitchen; we had heard good things. Just one problem, fai thai is closed on Monday so we ended up at Kopita next door, also new to us. The food was good though we look forward to another destination walk soon, on a Tuesday or Wednesday, so we can give fai thai kitchen a try.

Front door at Kopita
Imperial Alley (behind John) will be additional outdoor seating for Kopita. When complete, the area will have a large mural depicting the 1920’s hotel that once occupied the space and will showcase a large, outdoor crystal chandelier.
Behind us, Starbucks, located in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel.
I had the hummus plate and vegetables.
John had the falafel plate, and yes that is sauerkraut and pickles.

3. Crazy Weather Happened

Around Tuesday of this week, the temperature reached 80° F. Tonight it will drop to 32° F. We have had warm sunshine, heavy rain, hail, brisk, chilly wind and periods of snow. This weekend’s cold weather has officially been dubbed Dogwood Winter.

When I was younger and this crazy weather pattern struck, I would express my worry about the fate of the beautiful blooms and emerging leaves of spring. My mother would always reassure me that erratic spring weather has been around forever, nature knew what to do. She was right, of course.

4. Bicycling and Blooms

Springtime in Knoxville is a particularly beautiful time of year. For 55 years or so, Knoxville has hosted a Dogwood Arts Festival during the month of April. The festival celebrates all things dogwood, flowers and the arts. Our little city looks forward to this celebration; everything is cleaned up and spit polished in anticipation.

Through the years, the number of roads that make up the dogwood trail network has continued to grow. Currently 13 Knoxville neighborhoods (including ours) are marked with pink paint in March and designated as official trails. This year trail mileage has reached 85.

One of the older and longer Dogwood trails meanders through the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood in mid-town. Sequoyah Hills is a historic and beautiful neighborhood with large homes, big lawns and expansive gardens. The neighborhood is also walker, runner and bicycle friendly. We decided to explore the trail by bicycle.

Unloading in one of the public parking areas. The air felt colder than I initially thought when leaving the house and I was glad I had not left my arm warmers at home.
We had just climbed some steep hills before this photo. John was happy, me, not so much!!
Azaleas and Lenten Roses. The gardens in this neighborhood are beautiful and most are professionally maintained.
Talahi Park is one of the first parks in Sequoyah Hills. The park was named after the original name of this neighborhood. I find the dogwood blooms, white concrete fountain and green grass against the blue sky to be quite striking.
What a vibrant planting!
John waiting on me on yet another hill (pink trail marking on the road).
Beautiful sky, beautiful neighborhood
This is the route we took. The ride included several miles of “not official” Dogwood Trail for a bicycle total of 10-miles (we had walked 5-miles earlier). Pretty clear from the map where the hills are 🤣.

We had a lot of fun bicycling this Dogwood Trail and hope to cycle one more before the festival ends.

5. Dinner with this Little Bunny

Finally, last night we had dinner with this little bundle of cuteness and her parents. ‘Nuff said.

Ears go on (note the tulip bud in her little fingers, it did not survive the evening).
Oh no, not the ears!
Ears come off!

So that concludes our favorite events of this week. Now I am off to watch it snow and check the weather for the anticipated mid-afternoon sun. Afterall, we have some miles to get in!

Posted in Bicycling, Family, Five Things, Flowers, Knoxville, Life, Outside, Uncategorized, Walking | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Unmapped Sugarlands-GSMNP

On February 8th, we joined several of our friends to hike to the “unmapped” stone cabin in the Sugarlands area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The roots of the two-room stone cabin are a bit of a mystery, but the most reliable story is that it was built in 1927 as a hunting and fishing lodge. The owner was given a lifetime lease in the early 1930’s when the park was established. According to park details, the owner abandoned the property in 1937 and the structure was left to decline.

The hike begins on the Old Sugarlands Trail (across the street from the Sugarlands Visitors Center) then drifts to the right, following the river. The trail to the stone cabin is unmarked and not on the Park Service map.

It was a bluebird day, cold, sunny with few clouds. We were bundled up in various stages of cold, colder and coldest.
A piece of the trail follows along an old, highway, TN 71. Before it became a dirt path, the road was paved, before that it was a wagon path.

History is visible everywhere in the area including stone foundations, walls and the telltale signs of daffodils from an old community and of course the remnants of a CCC camp.

This is the old CCC Clock Tower.
Remnants from the historic community can still be found on both sides of the trail.

Due to heavy vegetation, the old stone cabin is not visible most of the year. It’s really not very visible in winter unless you are looking for it. On our first hike here some 15 years ago, John and I were wandering around and stumbled on it. What a surprise, we had only heard rumors of such cabin.

To get to the cabin, a creek must be crossed, and a steep bank covered with rhododendron must be scaled. The creek crossing is not as easy as it looks. On this day the creek was high due to recent rain.

Bob and I were the only two who crossed the creek, a real feat for me. The rest of the group sat on the bank and watched us cross and climb. I am sure John was wondering if he would have to fish me out of the water.

While I noticed some structural deterioration since my last visit, the cabin is weathering the years remarkably well. The roof and floor are missing but those beautiful river stone walls are strong.

The left room of the cabin had a fireplace and served as the sleeping, living quarters. Rusted mattress frames still lean against the wall.
The right section of the cabin was a small kitchen. A stove, coffee pot, frying pan, large kettle and kerosene can are still in place. One gets the feeling the owner planned to come back “the next weekend” and just didn’t.
This is a closer view of the fireplace and stone structure. You can see windows on each side of the fireplace.

After exploring the cabin, Bob and I recrossed the creek and joined the others for lunch. As we sat and gazed at our surroundings, we noticed that the Great Smoky Mountains Fire of 2016 had raced through this area. Many tree trunks were blackened, soot littered the forest floor. The damage was very distinct and limited to a relatively narrow path. The fact that the fire path was so narrow in this area occupied a good portion of our lunch conversation.

Several blackened trunks are visible in the above photo.

Our final stop was the Sugarlands cemetery. Considered on of the largest cemeteries in the park, the graves date back to the mid 1800’s. So many young children that never reached their 1st birthday…

I don’t know what facinates us about the graves of those departed but something. Maybe it is the thoughts of a life lived and gone, maybe it’s thoughts of our own mortality. In the photo BJ, John and Tom
John and Tom (in the background)

This was a great hike with good friends and lots to explore. So glad we got a chance to see the stone cabin again and as always with this group, we look forward to the next adventure.

Posted in Friends, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Outside, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Apex, NC, in search of a RV…

I briefly mentioned in my last post that we are thinking about truck campers and camper vans. Actually, John has been thinking about campers for a long time, I am fairly new to the game. I have been waiting for him to sort through you tubes, reading blogs and researching articles, which he is still into…deep. But this process was excelarated in the last few weeks when he found a truck and camper for sale, online. Good opportunity; decisions have to be made, quickly. But the only truck campers I have ever stepped in were ones I would not want to own.

John found a company in NC that had both the truck camper and van that we are interested in on their lot. Perfect, we could compare them side by side. While the RV lot was located in Apex, NC, a 5+ hour drive, it was much closer for a quick look than going to New Hamphire where the “for sale” truck/camper are located. That’s the backstory, now here comes the trip.

Friday morning we packed the car, loaded the bikes (cause the VA Creeper and American Tobacco Rails to Trails were in our plan), dropped the dog at the sitter and headed out on our grand adventure. Fun times ahead!

Morning light on the Tennessee River as we head out of town.

We were maybe 30-40 minutes into the trip when the “check oil light” came on. Grrrrr! Stop #1-a gas station somewhere on I-40 for a quart of oil. Stop #2-10 minutes later because the hood latch popped, stop # 3- the hood latch popped again, stop # 4… you know where this is going. After the 4th stop, John believed he had fixed the latch, I was pretty adamant we go home and change cars. We turned around. A bit of driving indicated that the latch was not going to pop again so we turned back around. We had lost nearly an hour.

My favorite view on I-40 headed toward NC. The Great Smoky Mountains are center right.

The drive to Apex was incredibly long and stressful. The issue was not just the car but more importantly the decision looming in front of us, the big $$ purchase, a truck and camper or Class B camper van. These types of campers are very different with one’s pros being the other’s cons. We can make a good case for either and did for many miles. Finally our destination, D & H RV and Marine was on our radar. We had been on the road over 6 hours.

Our search started on the Class B side. The camper vans are so shiny, sleek and trendy. The front seats are comfy, the height is reasonable, and John can even stand up in the shower. Lots of windows result in a bright, breezy interior. They are easier to drive than a truck, require low pre-trip prep (like loading the camper on the truck), but have lower ground clearance and storage is almost non-existent.

Promaster Class B camper vans

The truck camper… The unit on our radar is built in Canada and is a 4-season camper. It will require more pre-trip prep but oh, the storage space, both inside the camper and the truck (a 4-door model). This camper has a better kitchen, a dedicated bed, higher ground clearance but it is oh so very tall and intimidating. And I wonder, will our neighbors think Jed Clampett has moved into the neighborhood??!

Truck campers, in particular the Northern Lite we are considering.

We spent a couple of hours on the RV lot, back and forth between truck campers and vans. We were tired, confused and no closer to making a decision. Finally we decided to shut down the search for the day, find our hotel and a good restaurant for dinner. Unfortunately, the American Tobacco Bike Trail would have to wait.

Our hotel, the Comfort Inns and Suites in Apex rates a 2* by my standards. The hotel was certainly clean enough, the price very reasonable and they had no problem with our bikes in the room. But lots of street noise into the night and around 12:00 am, someone mistook our room for theirs and tried to get in. Then there was the mattress, OMG! Thin and very hard, every time one of us moved, the other woke up. Poor night’s sleep!!

The food and arts scene in historic, downtown Apex was wonderful and worth the visit. Apex appears to be a bedroom community of Raleigh-Durham, NC. From what we saw, the town has expensive houses, new and historic, well-manicured parks and green areas, good building codes, ethnically diverse and a busy downtown. Lots of choices of places to eat but John had previously selected Scratch Kitchen and Taproom so that is where we went.

An entrance to the restaurant through a long, wooden hallway from the main street. Scratch is a no reservations restaurant; we had an hour wait on this busy Friday night.
The back of Scratch Kitchen and Taproom. We ate outside under a heater; it was quite comfortable.
Menu, lots of good choices
This was our first course, smoked pimento cheese wontons
My meal (I almost forgot to take a picture) was Low Country Pad Thai. Delicious!! John’s meal, behind mine was Blues Mac and Cheese. So good but way too rich for us.
Historic downtown Apex was quite active on this Friday night.
Shops and restaurants line the main street
Art gallery with Apex artwork in the front window
Another downtown gallery
Fresh Ice Cream shop. This photo was taken after 9:00 pm. Families and friends were lined out the door to get a scoop or two of delicious local flavors. We got in line too!

Saturday arrived, it was cold and windy outside. Instead of bundling up and getting on our bikes, we decided our time would be best spent on the RV lot looking for answers to a few questions we had discussed over dinner. After all, we had driven six hours to do this. Another hour plus spent with the vehicles and talking to the D&H owner, and we were ready to move on to our next location, Abingdon, VA. Maybe we could bicycle there.

Our route took us through Mt. Airy (Mayberry), NC significant only because I once commuted from Knoxville to Mt. Airy for work. Though John and I were dating during this time, he had never visited the town, so we stopped. Felt too much like a Saturday in Gatlinburg, in this case, a Saturday morning with tourists looking for everything Andy of Mayberry. We grabbed a rather forgettable to-go-lunch and ate in the car. Sadly, much of that overpriced lunch was tossed

The “sheriff’s car” is used for sightseeing tours.
Main Street, Mt. Airy, NC

The last stop on this trip was Abingdon, VA. Again, we had hoped to get in a few hours bike ride but it was still cold, windy and we were pretty exhausted. Seems our bikes were there just for show! We had an early dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, 128 Pecan, and went back to the hotel. We shamelessly watched TV, looked at our phones (RV videos and websites, of course) and went to sleep early.

Abingdon mural

Monday morning has arrived and we are at home. Sadly we haven’t made a decision between the two campers but the hold time on the truck and camper is ticking down so a decision will be made soon!

Posted in Abingdon, Food, Life, Regional Travel, RVing, Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Five things….

“Five things”, is that even still a thing? Is blogging still a thing?! Certainly, it hasn’t been with me. So many things to do and so little time spent recording them, hikes hiked, trips taken, little successes, little moments, all so easy to forget. There is still time to salvage this year’s memories and keep alive my resolution to do so, but well, life goes on and the doing takes precedent over the recording.

So, here’s a bit of an update on this windy, Wednesday in late March, a quick recap of “five things” that we have been doing:

  1. JOHN FINALLY RETIRED

John has fully retired. He has been on “vacation” since the first of the year but as of the 31st, we have exhausted his vacation and have been cut free by the university. We are fully on our own which is both a bit scary and also quite exciting! Many conversations have been had about plans for the future. We are looking forward to implementing some of them.

2. SPRING IN EAST TENNESSEE HAS ARRIVED!

Sure, we are going through our usual round of spotty cold weather often named for whatever is blooming at the moment, redbud winter, dogwood winter and so forth but the late winter crocus and daffodils blooms have faded, the redbud blossoms are opening, the dogwoods are almost fully in bloom and tulips are showing their colorful heads. We are walking (and running) almost every day and recent walks have taken us though Ijams Nature Center where we have enjoyed the glory known as an East Tennessee spring. The photos below were taken just this week.

Woodland phlox
Dogwood blooms
Trout Lily
Trillium

3. WE TOOK A QUICK TRIP TO HUNTSVILLE

Last weekend we took a quick trip to Huntsville, AL. The cover was to spend time with John’s mother, but the reality was to look at truck campers and Class B camper vans. These items are hard to come by in the days of Covid and one of the RV centers had a few we wanted to inspect. Sadly, none met our expectations, and we were not surprised by this. But we still have some possibilities in North Carolina and one “pending” our commitment in Vermont. This story line will continue! Meanwhile, I only took one picture while in Alabama and it involves Miss Katie unhappily sitting on the porch staring in the window while we ate breakfast.

4. GLORY BE THE BOY GRADUATED!

Say hello to the latest Dr. Dunlap, Lee Dunlap PhD. After 6 years of working his heart out at the University of California-Davis, Lee was awarded his doctorate in Chemistry on March 18. He graduates with numerous publications and several drug patents under his belt, both granted and pending. Sadly, for us he will remain in Davis as a post-doc in the same lab working with the same professor but employed by a drug development company out of Boston. We are so very proud!!!

5. WE TOOK A VACATION

With a little luck and time, I will write a post on our vacation to Florida in early March. We met up with four other couples in St. Mark’s for a few days of bicycling, kayaking and eating (although good food would elude us until the last day of the trip). We stayed in a fish camp that had not had much update since the 60’s but we did not spend much time in the room…except when it rained, hard!

Bicycling in St. Marks Wildlife Refuge
Dinner with Will and Amy at Angelo’s in Panacea, FL

With that, there is a little puppy girl in the other room trying to break into her new bag of food. Until next time…

Posted in Bicycling, Family, Five Things, Florida, Flowers, Friends, Kayaking, Life, Outside, Retirement, Travel, Uncategorized, Walking | Leave a comment

Lily Bluff, Beauty in the Obed

We have tried for several weeks to kickstart 2022 hiking, but things kept getting in the way, mostly the bitter cold. On Tuesday, January 18th, we finally convinced ourselves that the cold would be tolerable and the terrain, not too icy. Only three in our hiking group were available so three it was.

Tom drove us from the Obed Visitors Center in Wartburg to the trailhead. Over and over, he noted that the downhill approach to the trail start could be icy and dangerous, and a backup plan may need to be activated. This trip was our first into the Obed and we did not have a backup plan, we were counting on NOT skidding off the road! Luckily Morgan County road crews had been hard at work and even the back, back road to the Lily Bluff area was drivable.

Lily Bluff parking area had been scraped; only small traces of snow remained. The bridge itself was a bit dicey but not dangerous. Clear Creek (below the bridge) was running strong from recent rain and snow. We saw a van (parked on the far side of the bridge) with a Colorado license plate and side stenciling that promoted a standup paddleboard company. We know the Obed is internationally known but hopefully no paddleboarding on this day!!!

The snow was oh so beautiful and we were so pleased at how much had fallen compared to the small accumulation we received at home. The trailhead, located across from the parking area, started immediately uphill with about 50 plus steps. I was huffing and puffing. I could tell I had not hiked for a few weeks.

Trailhead to “The Bridge” trail which was a section Tom decided to add on to the hike to extend its relatively short distance.

Aside from kayaking, the Obed is well known for climbing. After the 50+ steps (noted above), we arrived at one of many park rock formations where anchors had been set for climbing. This park, as well as several others on the Cumberland Plateau has the most incredible rock walls.

While we did run into a couple of climbers headed to “The Point”, we did not see anyone else attempting to climb in the cold, ice and icicles.

Tom has treated us to at least one waterfall on every hike he has led on the Cumberland Plateau. This hike was no exception with Melton Mill Branch cascade visible not too far from the trail. Unlike other waterfalls we have visited recently, getting close to these falls was not possible. Tom pointed out several rocky overlooks, but I chose not to walk out on the ice. I am a chicken that way.

Melton Mill Branch Cascade. View from the trail through the rhododendron was pretty good. Not sure if summer foliage would block the visibility.

The Bridge, about .5 miles from the trailhead, is an elaborate section of raised, wooden walkways ending at several spectacular overlooks.

John and Tom headed to the overlook. While covered in snow, The Bridge was not particularly icy.
Vegetation “tundra” around the bridge.

We stopped at one of two overlooks connected by The Bridge trail. I asked a couple at the overlook if they wanted their picture taken with such a magnificent background, they reciprocated with a photo of us.

Me and hats…. normally I just don’t but after a few dumps of snow from overhanging branches and several near misses with falling icicles, I put one on. I always carry a hat “just in case.”
Clear Creek at the bottom of this beautiful canyon. To the left is the road to the trailhead.

From the Bridge Trail to the Point trail, we had another bridge and creek to cross. Again, not too icy and a good place to pause and enjoy the surroundings.

John crossing the bridge
The view from the above bridge

As the temperature warmed, snow and icicles fell from overhead branches. The snow was wet and heavy, weighing down weaker trees. Tom spent most of the hike out front and was the “tree shaker” or “snow plow” if you will.

Tom shaking branches hanging over the trail. You can see from the snow on his shoulders and hat that he couldn’t clear the higher branches.

We stopped for lunch shortly before arriving at The Point. The lunch spot was chosen based on protection from falling snow and the incredible view. John and I crawled under this rock shelf while Tom selected an outcropping of rocks so he could meditate and enjoy the view.

View from my protected lunch spot
Under the rock, that was my lunch spot.
Canyon view from our stop.

The Point was really grassless dead-end that climbers use to stage their belay and climbs. If we hadn’t enjoyed the hike so much, the trail end would have been a little anti-climatic but it was just our turnaround point to trace our steps back to the car and see a few things we missed on the way out.

Nice arch along the trail as we near the The Point
Posted in Hiking, Obed, Outside, Retirement, Winter | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Christmases Past and Present…

Several nights ago I spent a few hours lost in a blog I kept between 2004-2013. My goal was to find a poem I jotted down during the hustle-bustle of a Christmas season in a year whose date I could not remember. But it was the Christmas stories of years gone by that stole my attention and distracted me.

I scrolled through posts from the days leading up to Leslie’s wedding, to Christmases celebrated at my childhood home to Christmases with my mother in assisted living through Christmases at the nursing home, and finally Christmases without my mother. So much emotion. I realized how special the recording of pictures and words are to me.

Me, unwrapping a gift. I was 52… (2005)
My father and mother opening presents. My younger sister Leslie sits on the couch. This is the home where I grew up. (2005)

A year later (after the above pictures) my sweet mother had moved into assisted living and my father into a retirement complex. The move signaled the beginning of some very beautiful and very difficult years. Photos help me remember and smile. My parents have both passed away now, Mother in 2011 and Daddy in 2016. But for the memories…

December 25, 2006. From this Christmas and for the next 10, we cooked and transported Christmas dinner from our homes to theirs.

Which brings me to Christmas 2021, a Christmas which has come and gone too quickly. Many things were left undone, but it seems not to matter, so many memories were made. I took few people pictures this year and my family did not complain. I will miss the visual reminders in future years as the visuality transports me to the recesses of my memory. Instead of family pictures, I have recorded a few other thoughts and memories from Christmas 2021 to jog my mind in 2031.

Around Thanksgiving I purchased a small container of sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour. While I have never had much luck with starter, I had ambitious dreams of sourdough bread and other Christmas goodies dancing through my head. As it turns out the starter is a prolific producer. Unfortunately, I am more fascinated with the process of feed and discard and less interested in the act of baking. So, I continue to feed and discard and maybe 2022 will inspire baking.

Sourdough starter is ever demanding of one’s time. I finally put it to sleep in the refrigerator before Christmas, now feeding the starter only once every week or so. Baking is one of those tasks left undone.

Early December I stumbled across “Christmas Chronicles” by Nigel Slater. Nigel is a long time English food writer, journalist and broadcaster in the UK, someone with whom I was previously unfamiliar. It is not the recipes that caught my attention (I am not much of a cook) but the almost lyrical writing that takes readers through crisp winter days, brief histories of Christmas traditions and the smell and taste of hearty, winter fare bubbling on the stove. I completed the 450-page book before Christmas and purchased a copy to give Leslie for Christmas.

Magical! I will read passages from this book year after year.

In “Christmas Chronicles”, Nigel wrote about his love for panettone. I think I tried it years ago and was not a fan. But the description of a slice of toasted panettone slathered in butter and served with coffee had me scrambling to an area market in search of one.

At 1st bite, John and I became big fans! The bread is heady with the smell of vanilla and toasts quickly.

Christmas cards are a tradition I love and hate! The number of Christmas cards I receive each year has been steadily dwindling such that this year I seriously considered giving up the tradition. I love receiving cards, especially cards that are filled with thoughtful, personal messages. The surest way to receive no cards is to stop sending cards, so I sent cards. I was mostly rewarded for my effort.

I did not enclose my usual newsy letter and hope to get back to that favorite tradition next year. It’s a nice way to think back through the memorable moments of the year. Some folks dislike the ubiquitous Christmas letter but I am not among their ranks..

Christmas card 2021

I am happy to report that Christmas flowers bloomed on cue this year…

Amaryllis blooms brightened the Christmas laden dining room. There, in the left middle of the photo are candles hand made by my grandmother, probably dating back to the late 60’s, very early 70’s.
Paperwhite blooms to be anticipated in mid-winter.
A pink cactus that was a gift from my sister several years ago.
This red cactus, purchased from Kroger about 5 years ago, was just a little sprout. It is healthy and growing!
My oldest cactus was purchased in 2010 at a nursery near my mother’s nursing home. The plant sat in her room during that Christmas of 2010, her last. The cactus has had better years but is still blooming and bringing cheer.

One of the pleasures John and I experience each year when decorating the tree is unwrapping our ever expanding collection of Christmas decorations from travels near and far. We nostalgically talk about our favorite trips and possible trips to come.

Vernazza, Italy (Cinque Terre)
Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City
Fairbanks, Alaska
Yule Lads of Iceland, Reykjavik
Wengen, Switzerland
Salzburg, Austria from the shop “Christmas in Salzburg” or as we call it “the egg shop.”
Grand Tetons and the Snake River
Firenze, Italy (Florence)

Our Christmas tree came from a tree farm in Maggie Valley, NC. We usually drive “over the mountain” for tree hunting a day or so after Thanksgiving. The day is as much about the journey to Maggie Valley as selecting just the right tree for the corner of our living room. The years we travel in December, the tree is artificial.

Our tree at Mchaffey Tree Farm
Christmas tree 2021 with it’s delicious fragrance.

Oh and this little Christmas face, my only “people picture for 2021, our sweet granddaughter.

Laurel, 8 months old. And yes, she stuck the bow on her forehead.

I will close out Christmas 2021 with the Christmas poem I wrote and posted in an old blog on December 19, 2004, that which started my journey and this post about Christmases Past and Present:

‘Twas the week before Christmas…

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house,
Lots of dust balls were stirring cause I gave them a rouse.
The holiday goodies have been prepared with great care,
In anticipation of Christmas and fond memories to share.

And I and my father took Saturday to shop
Oh, the treasures we purchased; it was so hard to stop.
For Carol, for Leslie, I have found some good stuff,
But for Mother and Daddy, I don’t have enough.

Now the temperature on Sunday is icy and cold,
With snow flurries flying, the winds are quite bold.
But inside my home I am cozy and warm,
As I write my last card, I will ride out the storm.

So hurry up Santa, I can hardly wait,
The best Christmas of all, I am sure this will rate.
And I close with a wish to my family and friends,
To those near and those far, my best wishes I send.

This poem is over and soon out of sight,
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

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Tuesday Hiking-Middle Prong Trail

As I sit here typing, I am dragging through the third day of a virus, some type of stomach-intestinal thing causing very low energy. I have been mostly sleeping with a little reading but today I felt well enough to get up and move around a bit. I figure my illness is a result of something I touched versus something airborne but I will never know. I try to be conscious of my actions, taking precautions to keep my hands away from my face and hand sanitizing after public encounters. I have been vaxxed, boosted and wear a mask. Seems like John and I are some of a handful of people left in the city who still do such. This morning was my first real meal of mention, warm, comforting Cream of Wheat.

But this post is about a Tuesday hike, last Tuesday, December 14 when our little group got together for one last hike before we scattered to celebrate the holidays. This was Steve’s hike to choose, and he chose an old standby, Middle Prong Trail in the GSMNP. The trail is an old railbed, wide with a gradual climb, perfect for walking two or three abreast to share stories of Christmas coming and travels planned for the New Year. The trail follows the Middle Prong of the Little River Creek with an amazing number of cascades and small falls. If you know just the right turn off around mile 4, you can find Indian Flat Falls at the end of a short manway.

As morning light creeped over the mountain, we watched water rush down a slide on the Middle Prong. I remember conversation about kayaking this area….no, not me but several of the guys in this group are hardcore!
Rhododendron leaves on the rock face to the right are curled tight but provide a promise of glorious June blooms.
The trail had several noticeable wet areas where we walked along the shoulder if possible, to avoid wet boots. Otherwise we mucked through the middle. Some rock hopping was possible but people like me with less balance wear waterproof boots and don’t worry about it.

We passed several people on the way in and out. Of importance to most was this old car frame, about two miles into the hike. The car is described in our well-known, well-used brown book “Hiking Trails of the Smokies” as follows: “It is rusty and missing just about everything, but it must have been an elegant one. According to someone who worked at the Middle Prong Civilian Conservation Corps camp, this is an old Cadillac that belong to the supervisor. One day it quit running, and camp members just pushed it off the road and left it.” Who at that time, could have imagined the car would be a destination for hikers near and far.

Cadillac ruins from the CCC days

I love the long shadows of winter when the trees are bare, and the sun sits just so in the sky. We were only 7 days from the winter solstice on this crisp, bright winter day. We hiked mostly in the shade and the air never lost its chill but that is part of the beauty of winter hiking.

Hard to discern these people in winter gear: in front is Steve Hancock, then John, behind him is Bob Perlack, then Tom Pritchard and Bob’s wife, BJ Perlack.

I have hiked this trail a number of times over the years, most recently (maybe 15 years ago) with John where combined with several other trails we pieced together a backpack. Less recently and very dear to my heart was an out and back hike or two with my dad. But I confess I did not know about Indian Flat Falls. What a treat to find something so lovely along the same old trails. Once home, I scoured the “brown book” and found no mention of the falls in the most likely passages.

Indian Flat Falls

As I sat on a rock observering the falls and eating my lunch, I looked toward the second tier of falls and noticed Steve and Tom deep in conversation. I took this picture, my favorite of the day. Steve (left) and Tom (right) have been friends many years. I thought of the song “Old Friends” by Simon & Garfunkel. These two clearly share a bond of time and memories.

Old friends

I also took a quick (zoomed) picture of the second set of falls. I imagine the view where Steve and Tom sat was spectacular, but I didn’t get too close. The rock behind Tom was covered in algae. Tom, who has more balance than any person I know, slipped and fell in the puddle. He fell on his pack so no damage done but I might not have been so lucky.

Tier 2, Indian Flat Falls (algae visible to the left)
About 1/10 of a mile on a manway back to the main trail. So simple if you know it is there.
A bluebird day for sure. Not a cloud in the sky!

We hiked out the same way we hiked in, still engaged in conversation, probably about our upcoming group trip to St. Marks, Florida or the never-ending, never boring topic of van life. We were a little warmer on the way out but not much. I am okay with that; the winter hiking season is too short for me.

Heading back to the trailhead in Treemont and our cars.
Sunshine and cascades

Tom, John and I may hike next week but others have family plans. I love this little Tuesday hiking group that has developed. We have hiked some new (to me) and interesting places this past fall. All of us have hiked together before-Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho and so forth but until this fall, we haven’t all been retired so weekday hiking was impossible. I look forward to a continuation of these Tuesday hikes in 2022.

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Two Weeks Before Christmas…

Early this morning we took coffee out to the veranda to watch a glorious sunrise. Seems like sunrises this time of year are especially spectacular with their delicious pallet of pinks, reds and yellows. Watching sunrises (and sunsets) over the years has been a mainstay in our relationship. Whether waking deep in a southern forest or halfway across the world drinking coffee on a piazza, we take time to delight in a colorful sky.

Morning sunrise from the veranda

The relaxing morning did not last too long. For days our weather forecasters have been predicting high wind and heavy rain for today and a check on the weather radar indicated that foul weather was indeed racing across the state. We hurried outside to take Miss Katie for her morning walk taking note of the gloomy, gray sky to the west.

Walking toward downtown-trees and clouds reflected in the mirrored glass.
Dark, ominous clouds the west.

A brisk 5.25 miles was squeezed in before heading home to take down bird feeders, a metal yard ornament, wind chimes and anything else that looked like it might serve as a missile in high wind. What we had not counted on was a branch that had been precariously hanging on the trunk of a tree decided, while we were gone, to break free. We count ourselves lucky that the branch broke before the high wind hit. Had the branch been pushed forward by a gust of wind, it would have pieced our dining room window.

We were inside no more than 5 minutes before the wind began to howl and rain started falling in sheets.

Sheets of rain.

Hours later the wind is calm and the rain, a steady drizzle. Unfortunately Kentucky and other surrounding states did not fare as well. John has settled down to a movie and a bowl of popcorn while I am staring down a stack of partially written Christmas cards. All is safe and quiet at our home as we await the final weeks till Christmas.

All is Merry and Bright
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