Bicycling Recently…

Summer is steaming up here as July closes in, mosquitos rule the days and fireflies light up the nights. We have been busy working through some summer goals, goals such wills and POA’s, grandchild sitting, doing “legwork” for a late summer backpack and spending more time on bicycles. John’s retirement has supplied the opportunity to get out during the week but some days it is a real challenge to overcome the heat. I struggle with heat and humidity; I get that from my mother, I guess. She suffered through summer’s relentless temperatures for most of her life until one summer she realized she was cold. She stayed that way through her last years, “broken thermostat” she called it. But I am off topic.

This week I jumped at the opportunity to bicycle with a friend, a mother of two pre-teens daughters who found a hole in her schedule or at least made one to go bicycling with me. Jenny is a lovely, talented woman who co-chaired a committee with me six or more years ago. She stays incredibly busy homeschooling her daughters and spends summers running them from camp to swimming to friends’ houses to family. Jenny also loves to bicycle. While I can’t (won’t due to lack of skill and balance) indulge in her newish love of mountain biking, she is willing to indulge me by riding the local greenways. Jenny and I don’t get together nearly often enough but when we do, we immediately fall back into comfortable conversation.

Jenny and me on the bridge over US 129. The bridge is part of the Alcoa-Maryville greenway system. We have started calling this our annual bicycle ride because the last one we did was exactly one year ago to the day (not planned that way). I think I need to buy a new jersey; I have been wearing this one for years, including every picture I am in below.

John and I are also out on the local greenways, at least once a week. He has a route he likes to ride which includes a couple of pretty steep hills. While he is a climber, I am not. I tend to fall back and mutter under my breath. Luckily the gearing on my sassy Liv bike allows me to climb without walking but it is not without a lot of effort. I am counting on that getting easier as the summer goes on. Several of our friends’ ride e-bikes now but we (I-John is having no problem) want to hold on to the workout and calorie burn that riding a regular bike provides for as long as possible.

“Under the Sea” mural on one of our greenway rides.

A week or so ago, on a Tuesday, our regular hiking day, we went bicycling. Only one person in our hiking group was available and he is a bigger bicyclist than John so switching activities was great with him. His wife, who does not hike with us but is an e-bike rider, jumped at the chance to go. Neither Steve or Karen had bicycled our destination route, River Road just outside Tellico Plains, TN and the road was one they wanted to bike.

Tellico Plains is a small country town, (population 860) that sits near the boundry of the southern section of the Cherokee National Forest. The town is notable for its proximity to four things:

-Trout fishing, Wildlife Fisheries stocked once a week

-Cherohala Skyway, a scenic 43-mile national byway, popular with cars, motorcycles and bicycles,

-Hiking in the Cherokee National Forest

-Bald River Falls, an amazing roadside waterfall, located about 10 miles out of town.

Bald River Falls is located on our ride route, a two-lane paved road that splits off the Cherohala Skyway, about 5 miles out of Tellico Plains. While weekend traffic can be heavy (fishermen, hikers and campers with campers), weekday traffic is light, and the road is a favorite of regional bicyclists. River Road is particularly nice because you do the work up front, climb 1100′ over the first 13 miles and coast, with pedaling, on the way back. John and I bike this road several times a year.

Karen, Steve and John looking at the falls. This is the big attraction and as far as most cars travel on River Road.
Bald River Falls. Not many waterfalls that one can drive to. A number of cascades are located above the falls and are visible from a trail that runs on the left side of this photo.
Here we go, another 7 miles uphill before we reach our turnaround point at Green Cove community, a mountain fishing village of cabins and trailers. River Road continues on beyond Green Cove another 5 or so miles to the TN-NC state line.

I should add here that I bicycled the first 6 miles with Karen. She is a steady pedaller, never out of breath. At first, I did well, fresh legs and excited about the adventure but just before the falls, I started gasping for air as my heart rate climbed to uncomfortable levels. Yeah, I forgot she was on an electric bike. E-bikers don’t get out of breath, and I was bicycling at a pace that was beyond my capability. I dropped back, way back. I made it to Green Cove though and had a blast coasting-pedaling back to the car. Next time I will remember my limits :-).

After the ride, we met at Tellico Plains Bakery for wood-fired pizza and sandwiches. This local bakery is regionally known for breads and sweet treats and is a lunch-stop for many who pass through.

The inside of Tellico Plains Bakery. What you don’t see is that all of the tables in the room we are sitting are full and there is an order line along the window behind the woman with white hair (who is looking at the sweets behind the glass counter).

A couple of days after we rode Tellico Plains River Road, we loaded our bicycles, took Katie to daycare and drove to Abingdon to bicycle on the VA Creeper Trail. This is another ride we do every year or so and I have included a link to a post from May 2021 with some Abingdon details. We chose not to stay overnight this trip.

These days we rarely ride the entire Creeper Trail. The section from Whitetop to Damascus is incredibly busy, especially during the summer months. Shuttle services transport riders and bikes to the top of Whitetop Mountain and bicyclists ride the 17 miles back to Damascus. The ride is great fun! Mostly downhill, the ride requires little effort by the bicyclist. The problem is that many of the riders are not regular bicyclists, and their bike handling skills can lead to some interesting and sometimes dangerous situations for themselves and others. Locals call it “a suicide ride.” On this trip we decided to ride from Damascus to Abingdon and back which allowed us to do the work first (600′ elevation climb over 16 miles) and a semi-coast/pedal ride back.

Damascus Town Park was our starting point, great parking, picnic tables and steps (or a couple of pedal pumps) to the Creeper Trail and/or to the Appalachian Trail which passes through downtown Damascus on its way North from GA (or South if you started hiking in Maine). Local traffic is very courteous to riders and hikers.

Unloading in Damascus Town Park

We immediately noticed an unusual number of sticks and green leaves on the Creeper Trail. As we dodged small limbs, John kept mumbling about a storm. A mile or so in we came across this downed tree, further evidence that a storm had indeed recently passed through.

Glad we were paying attention. The log blended into the trail from a distance.
A ride on the Abingdon/Damascus section of the trail usually requires a number of stops to open and close gates on working farms. We were surprised to discover that all gates with the exception of the one above and two small gates near a barn had been removed.
This is the beginning of my favorite bridge (trestle bridge #13)
Must have been pretty spectacular to ride across this river by train. That red dot is John.
This is the farm where the final two, small gates are located.
We stopped at a city park just before reaching Abingdon to have a snack and drink. Then it was time to head back to the car.

We had packed a picnic of sorts to eat before heading back to Knoxville. Of all the painted tables John could have picked in the park, this one made me the grumpiest last week. A new picnic tablecloth is in the works!

We need a new picnic table cover!

That’s our bicycling recently. We have a few more interesting places to bike on the calendar and several summer hikes!

Posted in Abingdon, Bicycling, Cherokee National Forest, Friends, Outside, Summer, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Walk in the Woods

Last Thursday (9 June 2022) our hiking group took a walk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along the Little River and beyond. The temperature was late July hot and the humidity, elevated by an overnight rain, was visible.

Little River, which is actually pretty big river

For the first few miles, we hiked on the Little River Trail. Once a logging road for the Little River Lumber Company, the gravel trail is now a popular hiking destination for young and old. The trail is a gradual uphill with several options to turn onto connecting trails and explore other sections of the park.

The trail was wide and hiking easy, so we walked side by side, chatting about our summer plans. Our conversation was frequently muffled by the sound of river water as it rushed off the mountain, twisting and turning through a pre-determined course of river rocks.

Little River Trail
This side creek is usually much smaller but water coming off the mountains from the previous night’s rain produced a beautiful waterfall.
Pretty snail crawling along a downed log.

We turned off at the Cucumber Gap Trail junction and headed roughly back to the car. The terrain changed significantly at this point, a narrow path with exposed roots.

Cucumber Gap Trail junction.
Trail map, our hike marked in orange. We started in Elkmont at the Little River Road trailhead and returned via Cucumber Gap and Jakes Creek Trails to a different section of the Elkmont community (short walk to the cars).

The GSMNP is considered one of the most diverse temperate rainforests in the world. I am always awed by the lush summer vegetation. We were early for summer wildflowers but did find one Mountain Laurel still in bloom.

Cucumber Gap Trail surrounded by lush foliage
Cucumber Gap Trail

The last half of the hike went quickly. The temperature was uncomfortable, and we were getting hungry. The hike totaled just over 5.5-miles in just under 2.5-hours. We concluded with a picnic lunch by the river.

Lunch on the patio behind a cabin that was originally a summer home for a wealthy Knoxville family.
This one-time summer home has been rehabbed by the Park Service and is now rented out for events. The cabin is located in a section of Elkmont called Millionaire’s Row.
Our view from lunch.
Posted in Friends, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Outside, Summer, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Late May, Early June…

Where is the year going, almost halfway done now? Days have been filled with walking, running, bicycling and day to day tasks. These days, the last before slipping into summer, are my favorite.

The end of May brought “Birthday Season” to our little family and a 24-hour trip to Asheville. On the day of departure, we woke to torrential rain. I know John would have preferred to put the trip off to a drier day but the room was booked so we went on. The interstate drive to Asheville, mostly curvy and mountainous, was white knuckled.

As we came off the mountain, about 30 minutes outside of Asheville, traffic stopped. A call to 511 informed us that an accident had shut down the road…for hours. We were near an exit and took the opportunity to slip off the highway. The next hour was spent on 2-lane scenic roads, traveling through the charming, small North Carolina towns of Clyde, Canton and Chandler. What a lovely, unplanned adventure.

Asheville has changed a lot since our last visit, yet it is also very much the same. We stayed in the modern Cambria Hotel (new since last visit) located near the Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville and will stay there again on our next Asheville overnight.

Our room had a walkout balcony (right side, behind the railing). We did not get to enjoy the balcony much due to the rain, but when we did, the view was spectacular!

The day involved mostly food, walking and dodging raindrops. Lunch at our favorite vegetarian restaurant, Laughing Seed, didn’t disappoint. Dinner at Mayfel’s, a New Orleans influenced comfort food restaurant was not as good as it’s hype, at least the dishes we ordered were only ok.

Overcast day in Asheville, often rainy.
Asheville is all about art, on the streets, in the windows and in her many galleries. The street scene is sometimes quirky and always interesting.
Birthday photo taken at the Cambria.
Asheville at night from our hotel balcony.

Day 2 was beautiful! We had breakfast at Hemmingway’s Cuba in our hotel then spent the morning in the Asheville Art Museum. We were there to see a special exhibition titled “The Wyeths: Three Generations” and the paintings were as expected, interesting. Surprising the number of people who were viewing the exhibit on a Friday morning. Another reminder of how great this “alternate” or “retirement” lifestyle is. I love it.

While the Wyeth exhibit drew us to the museum, the exhibit that grabbed my attention was titled “Southern Rites”, the work of American filmmaker and photographer, Gillian Laub. The photo exhibition examines the realities of youth and racism in a small southern town in Georgia over a decade or more, raising painful and essential questions. I thought the exhibit was quite powerful!

The balance of our Asheville trip was spent wandering up and down several streets reading menus and looking for something for lunch that appealed. We selected The Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar for a patio lunch. What a lucky choice! We agreed that we would drive several hours just to lunch here again (and the book selection is pretty interesting too).

Lunch on the patio.
Shared lunch. This amazing charcuterie board had spicy pimento cheese (made in-house of course), prosciutto, gouda, locally made raspberry jam, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, spicy almonds and pecans, spicy mustard and a sliced baguette (or two).

Birthday season continued into June; it always does. Since my younger sister and I were born 4 years and 5 days apart, we celebrate as long as we can. The celebrations included lunches and a gift or two.

Birthday flowers from my sweet sister (and fellow Gemini), in the evening light

Also, in May we started taking care of this little nugget of cuteness, one day a week for 3 or so hours. At least that was the agreed on plan, funny how plans have a way of changing- John was sick one week, baby was sick several times and so forth. The grandparenting plan, hatched 6 weeks ago, has only materialized a couple of times but what sweet days they have been.

Granddad and baby girl, full of giggles and toothy (4) grins.
Me, dog and crying baby.

Early in June, which was only last week, we returned to hiking after a 3-month hiatus. Our hiking destination was the Obed Wild and Scenic River Area, the Point Trail. This is the same trail I posted about on January 24 only we were hiking in snow and cold then and now the heat and vegetation.

Popular climbing rocks in the Obed
Tom at our lunch spot. The pictures are deceiving, there were actually 5 hikers.
Reflections in a pond

Lastly, at least for this post, we went to the season finale for the Marble City Opera. Marble City Opera’s mission is to provide innovative Chamber Opera in non-traditional venues. We have been to 10 or so different performances and the Marble City Opera Company has nailed every one. This show, a stage presentation of The Copper Queen, was no exception.

The storyline for this opera, performed in a small theater venue, is as follows: “Still healing from her grandmother’s death, Addison Moore finds herself checking into The Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee, Arizona. Aware of the ghost stories and hauntings, Addison fearlessly elects to stay in Room 315, the location of the heartbroken Julia Lowell’s death a century ago. But what draws Addison to Room 315? And why does she want to face Julia’s ghost?”

The one act opera took place on one set, in one room (Room 315) in The Copper Queen Hotel, frequently switching between inter-related stores separated by 100 years. Intense and often extremely emotional, the story took surprise twist toward the end. Needless to say we look forward to the 2022-23 season!

Kathryn Frady, founder and Artistic Director of the Marble City Opera. She also sang the lead role of Julia Lowell. Fantastic!
Opera companions, dinner, social and bookclub friends, Nancy and Bill.
The entire play took place in this room, Rm 315 at the Copper Queen Hotel.

That’s it for now. Time to get back to walking and bicycling!

Posted in Asheville, Birthdays, Friends, Hiking, Obed, Opera, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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:


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.


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


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.


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!!!


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