Monday, June 30, 2014

Blue Ridge Mountains, Baby!

Blissed out atop Bluff Mountain
As you can see from the photo above, these mountains are called the Blue Ridge for good most any light taking on a hue of blue as they roll out layer upon layer into the distance. This past week has been absolutely stunning...I mean...stop dead in your tracks and just take it all in kind-of- stunning. I mean, at nearly every turn, wonder at just how beautiful something as seemingly modest as rocks and roots and moss and trees can be kind-of-stunning.

It has also been challenging. Let me tell ya, hiking from the east with its flat lands and many conveniences along the trail can lull you into a false sense of security, but this hiker is getting whipped into shape with a quickness! Besides the suddenly steep climbs hidden within most every mile, it has rained off and on every day and I do believe every night since I left Elkin. The feet have been wet for days, so has the tent, and the backpack. Just call me Soggy. Also, the gear seems to think it is the end of the trip already! The tent zippers have busted, the camera's on the fritz (after getting caught in a torrential downpour), and the socks have huge holes in the heels. But alas, all of this is repairable and is already on the mend here in Boone. Those are my three things - all of which happened on the same day, mind you - so as long as my body doesn't get any such notions, I'm happy!

So much has happened since I left Elkin, I have already decided there will be two posts to cover this section: one on the terrain and the people, and the second on the plants. There's just too much to include!

Stone Mountain in Stone Mountain State Park - you probably can't see him, but there was a climber slowly making his way up the smooth stone face, made my knees weak just watching him!
Leaving Elkin, I made my way towards Stone Mountain. Stone Mountain has always looked to me like a boulder a giant simply set down on this relatively flat terrain. It's surface is smooth as can be and it is bordered by wooded trails filled with streams, blooming rhododendrons, and waterfalls such as the one you see below.

The view from atop Stone Mountain Falls
However, Stone Mountain signified the last of the easy terrain. From here I climbed up, up, straight up, for 5 miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I easily climbed 1500 ft. I remembered how I did this daily on the AT, hell, multiple times a day on the AT, and that helped to toughen me up. Once at the top, I had more reminders of the AT from an overlook along the parkway...and from my campsite that night...

In the far off distance, one can see Mt. Rogers and Grayson Highlands which is an incredible portion of the Appalachian Trail - this was the view from my campsite at sunset.

This night I bedded down in an absolutely still and silent pine woods...all I heard the entire night was the eventual pitter patter of light rain and in the morning the abrupt awakening of a woodpecker knock-knocking on the tree beside me getting his breakfast. When I rolled over groggily he quickly flew away squawking feverishly...I guess I had been so equally still in those quiet woods he hadn't noticed I was there.

As I hike I am wooed by the blooming Rhododendron and the musty scent of flowering Galax, which is oddly both nauseating and pleasant at the same time, and reminiscent of so many hikes in these mountains. Not to mention the Lobelia, Violet leaves of every shape and size, St. John's Wort, fresh Hemlock sprigs, and strange Orchids. In the pastures left to go wild,  I pass Spiderwort, Butterfly Bush, Self Heal, and Mint. I know, the plants were going to be for another blog...but to paint you a complete picture of the hiking I simply must.

Above you can see the orange dirt I referred to in a previous blog. As far as I understand, this is due to the iron oxide in the soil. However not only is the soil deep orange but it sparkles due to the mica contained therein. Hey, Pixie, I think I found more magick down here!

Sometimes you stumble into large mica deposits. This is a piece I picked out of such a pile just off trail. It is light as feather and flakes apart in layers easily.
Yesterday in particular was incredibly foggy, especially at the lower elevations. As I'd climb I'd slowly rise out of the clouds. However, with all that mist hanging like a shroud in the forest, the trail was so dark it was at times hard to see where I was going. Then once on the road the visibility was even worse...headlights would emerge from the wall of white like two tiny holes punched through a sheet of paper. It made me feel like I was hiking in a dream.

The MST in draped in fog

This was photo was taken on a less foggy day. I tried desperately to capture the thick fog but my camera didn't know what to make of it
And out here in this misty mountains, I also had the pleasure of meeting some awesome people...

Brad Oakley, Mike, and Chandler outside Freebourne's Eatery and Lodge in Laurel Springs, NC
I had remembered this lil' biker bar and hotel three years ago when I first came through and how terribly I had wanted to stay a while longer and have a few cold beers with the fellow patrons. Although I couldn't for whatever silly reason then, I made a point to this time. The owner of Freebourne's was even so kind as to grant me a place on the lawn to pitch my tent free of charge. I rolled in about 4:30 after a hard day that included taking the wrong trail for 2 miles down the side of a mountain and having to retrace my steps, oh, and a thunderstorm. A cold beer and veggie quesadilla never sounded so good. I walked into Tom Petty on the jukebox and a some bandana clad bikers milling around. Perfect. That quesadilla, I swear was probably the very best I ever had...and that's not just a starved hiker talking.

Afterwards I sat outside and enjoyed the free wifi, however as more and more bikers pulled in, I got more questions like, "Girl, what are you workin' so hard on?" and comments like, "Looks like you're doin' something real important." Apparently Freebournes was not the place you came to catch up on email...and before I knew it I was a part of the party.

Turns out, I happened to stroll in on a night when about 25 close friends ride their bikes to this mountain bar to catch up and celebrate livin'. I met Brad Oakley, Mike, Chandler, Theresa and Brad, Cecil and Maryanne, Amanda and her man, a lovely woman whose name escapes me that hiked a good portion of the AT back in the 70's and now rides her horse on the Sauratown Trail, and a slew of other fun people in which names weren't really important at the time. I met Harvey, not a part of a party, but just as friendly, that had rode his bike that last 13 days all the way from Idaho. He simply had some time to spare before his next business assignment and felt like traveling. A live band played at 8:00 that had the whole bar dancing (these folks would have fit in well at the wedding) and singing along. Teresa and Brad ended up letting me bunk in with them in their deluxe-sized room above the bar and I even got a shower for the first time since Elkin. Thank you Theresa and Brad! The night ended with some sips from a mason jar of real true strawberry moonshine, the fresh strawberries still infusing. So much fun to have met y'all. One helluva nite.

Workers from the Student Conservation Association doing trail maintenance on the MST
I also had the pleasure of meeting some of the fine folks that maintain this woodsy thoroughfare. Above are four of the large handful that I came upon working not far from the Basin Cove Overlook on the MST. They had their hands in the dirt and wielded large heavy picking and digging tools - hardcore. Thank you for the beautiful trail!!

Mike and Laura Norris
I met MST section hikers Mike and Laura Norris along the Blue Ridge Church Rd that runs alongside the parkway. Although this is the merely the trail to us, this road will soon also lead to their new home they will be building in the nearby woods just beyond the meadow. These folks found this piece of heaven while out walking the trail, saw the LAND FOR SALE sign and said, "Hey, why not?" I see future trail angels! They already are, in fact, as they passed along two ice cold bottles of water. Thank you Mike and Laura!

Today while hitching into Boone I also had some incredible trail magic. Many a car whizzed by before Margaret Laske pulled over. Well, let me tell you this woman didn't just give me a ride into town. She drove me all over in order to help me find a cheap motel, offered a stay in her own home (which was unfortunately a ways out of town), took me to the outfitter to pick up my much needed gear drop, then took me out to lunch at FARM, a wonderful vegetarian restaurant that serves folks food regardless of whether or not they have money. She also offered me a ride back to the trail tomorrow. Margaret, you made my day, er wait, two days!

Thank you to Footsloggers, Boone's full service outfitter for allowing me to ship them some emergency packages that I needed to pick up and for your excellent service!

And lastly, I cannot forget these friends I made on the trail...

One of the many herds of cows found literally along the trail
You see, throughout this section there are many cow pastures in which the trail passes through. I climb a stile, walk on through, dodging cow patties and saying hello to the ladies (usually), and then climb another stile and I'm on my way. As you can see some of these "pastures" are actually just woods that the cows are permitted to roam, which I think is pretty awesome. It's always a surprise to find a cow poking his head out from behind a tree at you. 

The most shocking however, was the group of cows that I managed to herd. I stopped, took some pics, made some small talk, and went I stepped off, they all decided to follow. As I moved down hill they picked up the pace. A car drove by watching as this lone hiker walked and at least 10 cows followed behind her closely. I stopped to check my directions, the cows stopped, all gathered around, awaiting my next move. I would have found this all more unnerving had I not remembered moving the herd of 100 + at Warren Wilson College where I went to school. Periodically, when they got too close, I simply turned around periodically and yelled, "Ho!" at which they'd stop or slow. I was able to do this enough to keep some distance and make my climb over the other stile.

First sign for Asheville along the Blue Ridge Parkway
And this is where I'm headed! That is after 6 days in the wilds of the mountains. I mean it this convenience stores, no soda machines, and definitely no Freebourne's along the way. I think I pass a couple of restrooms with running water. I'll be ascending to Beacon Heights, descending into the Linville Gorge, and fording the Catawba River.

I will do a thorough post on events in Asheville before I get there, a week and a half from now, but for sure to make your calendars:

Book Talk and Signing at Filo Pastries
July 12 at 1 pm

No comments:

Post a Comment