Hiking, Biking, Life Recently

I consider July to be the mid-point of summer and 4th of July the 2nd in a trifecta a summer holidays (Memorial, 4th and Labor). Back in the days when life centered around work, I looked forward to these 3-day weekends, determined to make every minute count. Numerous backpacks, city visits and family time was carefully planned and executed. Over the years, I squeezed out every last drop of summer holidays.

This morning I lounged in bed with Katie, drinking coffee and catching up with online postings. After 4.5 years of retirement, I am still grateful for the unhurried mornings that look like this, and I am still in awe that I get to choose how to spend my time…every single day.

Mornings with Katie

Life has changed in other ways too. Now on weekly rotation, this little 14-month-old is lighting up our Tuesday evenings. Recently steady on her feet, she is full of babbles, giggles, dancing and has cute little hugs to share. She is beginning to take a shine to her “Grandpa” and follows him around the house. She also likes to jump up and down on the bed and fall into the pillows, a practice that keeps John and me on our feet to keep her off the floor. Que peals of little girl laughter!

Can 15-months possibly be cuter than 14-months?!
Every week something new catches her attention.

And the weekday hiking continues. Last Tuesday our group decided to hike one of the least-used trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Roundtop Trail. The trail begins in the Metcalf Bottoms area of the park near the GSMNP northern boundary. It climbs 1000′ in the first 2.5-miles, then mostly drops for the next 5.0-miles.

Tuesday was cooler than recent days, but still quite warm. The trail is mostly shady, which protected us from intense sun, but the lush vegetation held in a fair amount of humidity. This was a tradeoff that we agreed was worthwhile. Now if we could have chased away the annoying gnats that kept buzzing our eyes and ears!

Roundtop trail was not particularly well maintained. Several downed trees along with overgrown vegetation provided interesting challenges, not the least of which, for me, was the possibility ticks finding their way to my legs. Ticks are my least favorite inhabitant of the Smokies, and I am not very charitable when I find one.

The trail is considered “solitary” hiking which means there isn’t much in the way of vistas. This is as good as it got.
Ground vegetation encroached on the trail. Good place for lurking ticks to sit in wait for me, an unsuspecting, well suspecting, warm blooding animal.
Rhododendron lined the trail early on. The flowers were beginning to fade but still beautiful. At some point Rhododendron was replaced by Mountain Laurel (above).
John (foreground), Tom and Steve changing from hiking boots to water shoes to make the river crossing.
Roundtop Trail ends on the bank of the Little River at the Wye, a river that requires crossing to return to one’s car.

The next day, we kept the Smokies in rotation, deciding to bicycle Cades Cove Loop Road. While Roundtop Trail is the least-used trail in the Smokies, Cades Cove has the highest concentration of visitors in the park, 2.1 million people annually. For this reason, the traffic jams and the people, we infrequently visit the Cove. Thing is, when we do, it always takes my breath away. (Note: the GSMNP receives over 14.1 million visitors annually throughout its 522,427 acres).

Tucked in amongst with the majestic beauty of the Cove, the history of the area settlers has been carefully preserved. The history provides visitors with a glimpse into the settlers lives, their hardships and deaths (often far too early). The cabins, churches and cemeteries are worth exploration, but on this visit, we weren’t there for the history. We have long since explored each log cabin, cantilevered barn, rustic church and walked through most of the surrounding graveyards. We were there to bicycle, to climb and descend some challenging hills and to be inspired by the mountains and valley before us.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Cades Cove Loop Road is closed to motorized vehicles on Wednesday. This provides the Park Service a way to safely accommodate bicycles, walkers and runners. Unfortunately, the number of Wednesday participants is high and while a team of volunteers on e-bikes patrol the 11-mile loop, it is hard to keep it accident free. With varying levels of skill and lack of focus on other participants, accidents happen, every Wednesday. We witnessed one that required an ambulance and it had occurred before 10:00 am. I expect others, of various intensities happened during the balance of the day.

We did finish our ride, accident free. The backside hills were more challenging than I remembered but provide a motivation for another ride before Wednesdays are returned to motorized vehicles in the fall. We finished the ride with a small picnic in the Cades Cove picnic area.

Morning in the Cove when shadows stretch across the fields and colors are softened by humidity-golds, reds, greens and hazy blues. The Smokies are known for that hazy humidity, sometimes hanging thick over the mountains like clouds.
“For purple mountains majesties, above the fruited plains. “
On the “backside” of the Loop Road. The backside is the hardest to bicycle, lots of hills and many unskilled bicyclists dismounting unexpectedly mid-hill to walk. The final couple of hills were a bit of a struggle for me but I got it done! We noticed a number of e-bikes on the road, which of course, solves the hill issue for many.
This beautiful girl briefly looked up at me as I pedaled by then put her nose back to the ground. We also saw a black bear bounding through a field and a couple of male turkeys fanning their feathers.

Finally, training has begun in earnest for a late summer backpack. As in previous years, we started step climbing. We utilize the series of steps that encircle “The Hill” at the University of Tennessee. One can climb as many steps as desired by circling the hill over and over. We started with a modest 503 steps. The thing about step climbing is you also have to go down. I don’t count the down.

About 40 steps in this series. Ugh, I am hot and grumpy…
This secret garden can only be found by climbing or descending steps. The garden sits in between Dabney-Buehler Hall (Chemistry) and the SERF (Science and Engineering Research Facility) where John worked for years. This set of steps is one staircase over from the above steps.
The original gymnasium for the University of TN where Pat Summitt started her coaching career. The building is now the Alumni Memorial Building. A lot of steps can be found on the far end of the building.
A close up of the lights on Alumni Memorial. Aren’t they magnificent!

So that is life around here recently. Now back to getting ready for that backpack….

This entry was posted in Bicycling, Endurance, Friends, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Knoxville, Outside, Retirement, Thoughts, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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