Thursday, April 20, 2017

Knoxville, TN to Boone, NC

April 11
Sunny! The air was warm enough I even enjoyed a little yoga pre-breakfast. Just a little listening to birds and watching fish swim around in the lake (bass, I think), and Rudy finding and husking a deserted coconut (didn't open it up yet), before departing Lake Santeetlah for Knoxville. We drove Highway 129, which is excessively winding. Lots of motorcycles and photographers on scenic turns - like in running races!


Destination was Ijams Urban Wilderness, Mead Quarry trailhead. A good variety of trails, though a little confusing to navigate at times with many intersections - I particularly enjoyed how spring like the area looked!

Mead Lake
So green!
An old cemetery along Tharp Trace
Pretty Plants

A run/hike for me - tired legs to start and end, but had a few miles in the middle that felt nice. Rudy said he felt similar for his longer ride. Dinner was just snacking in the park, letting the air cool off before showering (got into the 80s). Rudy didn't find any good camping options close to town and we resorted to the second night of our trip at a Walmart parking lot. Played only one game of Hand and Foot - Leslie win!

April 12
Some rain overnight, didn't seem too wet though. We went to Baker Creek Preserve, still part of Ijams, with less facilities and people than the Quarry. The trails here are more flowy and downhill, a little tacky and certainly not too much rain last nigh! A shorter run and ride for me was fun and felt good. Rudy biked a few hours and claimed to still felt like a turd. Amazing weather again though, so hard to really complain. After cleaning up we headed east a couple hours to camp in Nantahala National Forest, between Asheville, NC and Greeneville, TN, in a bit of a valley, so no service - hooray! Closed out the evening with bean burritos and Hand and Foot - two Rudy dominations.

April 13
Cool and clear, and late with the sun getting in, but so nice when it showed up! We had a little fun watching a snail before we hiked up the Fork Ridge trail.

Snail fun
A very steep, 1,700' climb in two miles, brought us to the Appalachian Trail. We jogged/hiked 'north' (actually going east) a couple miles along the North Carolina/Tennessee border, looped around 'Big Rock' then headed back.

An easier portion of the AT
View from the top of Big Rock
AT around Big Rock

When we hit Fork Ridge, Rudy made his descent while I went on for a couple more miles 'south' on the AT to get a little more running. Challenging, but fun.

Our pretty little camp creek
Another nearby creek - manmade fishing or swimming hole?

We played around in the nearby creek a bit and had lots of hanging out 'recovering', including a pre-dinner game of Rummy 5000 - Rudy win. Made pasta, then played Hand and Foot - thought I had a chance, but Rudy crushed me, then 3-13 - Leslie dominated!

April 14
Another nice, relaxed morning. We continued east, stopping by the Beech Mountain Ski area for the Emerald Outback trails. This was a bit technical for me - very rooty and short but steep climbs, but good to get some movement, legs were sore from the steep Fork Ridge Trail.

Elk River Valley Overlook

Just a couple hours of bike fun, then we headed to Boone to visit a college friend of mine, Travis, and his wife Lauren. We hung out in the lovely afternoon sun, chatting a few hours, then took a nice (though hilly) stroll through the Appalachian State University campus, downtown and to Vidalia to eat 'upscale Southern'. We sampled pimento cheese with sorghum hoe cakes and bready onion rings, and had entrees of chicken and waffles and catfish - all delicious, but I definitely overate! Everyone was full, and happy to have a little walk back to the house after, which included a stop at a cookie shop where Travis did get a couple cookies and Rudy had some ice cream. Just a chill evening after that.

April 15
A nice, relaxed Saturday morning before the four of us drove about an hour south to the Wilson Creek area, popular for fishing and mountain biking. I opted to do some running while the rest of the group mixed up gravel roads and steeper downhill trails for a few hours of biking. I ended up mostly running gravel too, I checked out some of the relatively new Mountains to Sea Trail and some other hiking trails, but it was more technical than I was up for that day, having my heart set on more running than hiking.

Pretty rock and waterfall
Mountain to Sea Trail

Despite the easier pace, it was not an awesome run for me (I blame all the fried food), a few afternoon sprinkles actually woke me up and felt good. The bikers had a good time though, and definitely a pretty area, so all good. Travis had started a pork shoulder (aka Boston Butt) in the smoker early in the morning, so we got to enjoy that al fresco once we returned to Boone, along with homemade barbecue sauce, cornbread, and salads - once again, we had some fantastic hosts! Rudy made a cheesecake too! But couldn't enjoy that until the next day, so Travis picked up some cookies from another cookie shop in town - I guess college towns need lots of options for sweets.

April 16
Lauren had some office work to take care of and Travis a few errands to run (Rudy tagged along on that), so I tried another longish run to the nearby trails at Rocky Knob. This is a small (~7 miles of trail) but nice, and challenging system of newer mountain bike trails - friendly to those on foot too. Over half my run was getting to and from the trails, but I felt good and had fun, even with the town running. The guys also headed out for an afternoon bike ride. There was some showers later in the day, so we ate indoors, scrumptious smoked pork tacos! Then more visiting while dinner settled enough to finally dig into some cheesecake - turned out dense and creamy, one of Rudy's best efforts I'd say!

April 17
Back to regular life for Lauren and Travis. Rudy needed to do some van repairs and had ordered parts last week to arrive in the afternoon. Unfortunately, not all the parts made it, but an auto parts store was able to fill in the gaps the following day. I took an excessively easy day - just some nice yoga on the deck, reading, wasting time on Facebook, and making pizza dough. My pizzas turned out a little tougher than usual, almost cracker-like crust, but still tasted good - did a Greek veggie-style with olives, capers, garlic, and spinach, along with a smoked pork and sauerkraut. More chill visiting and cheesecake to close out our final evening in Boone.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

West North Carolina

April 4
I run a couple miles into North Carolina and the Jackrabbit Mountain trails in Nantahala National Forest. There are less technical trails, that seem to be purpose built for casual mountain biking, saw quite a few kids! and a few walkers out too. Rudy brought the van while I ran a few trail miles, followed by bike rides for us both. The system was lots of fun and well signed, and it was a gorgeous day.

View from the High Point Trail of Chatuge Lake
Nice and helpful signage

Later in the afternoon, we took a little nature hike on the same trails - awesome little informational signs.

Cool signs - though a lot of plants were still dormant

We ended up staying at the trailhead, had barley and red sauce for dinner and played cards. Hand and Foot - Rudy win, 3-13 - Leslie win.

April 5
Thunderstorms were the weather for the day. Started up a bit earlier than forecast, but I still managed to get out for an early run, getting some rain during hour two, but I escaped the heavier stuff. The rest of the day was lots of hanging out in the van - not really a better destination nearby. A good day to soak soup beans and play cards. Two Hand and Foot and one Gin Rummy - Rudy's winning streak continues!

April 6
Cool and drizzly, supposed to be another wet day. I got in a quick stroll, then we drove to Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Temperatures in the 30s! Wet snowflakes sighted! We spent a good amount on time in the visitor center, learning quite a few roads were closed within the park, and opted to check out the Deep Creek Trails - good for waterfalls.

Juney Whenk Falls
Bridge at Juney Whenk Falls
Cool Bridge
Cherokee Rose, I think

Tom Branch Falls
Indian Creek Falls

We did some hiking and were treated to a few glimpses of sun. Rudy even motivated to run! I was content with the slightly drier hiking miles and stretched, puzzled, and watched the rain from the comfort of the van. We eventually made our way to camp at a boat ramp and cleaned up leftovers for dinner. Hand and Foot - miraculous Leslie win !!! 3-13 - Rudy win.

April 7
Cold and breezy, and a little blocked from the sun, so a slow morning getting going. We finally got warmed up and headed to Tsali trails on Fontana Lake. Another decent system, with an apparently successful program of alternating horse and bike users on different days. I got greedy and ran three hours while Rudy biked half the trails open to bikers. Sadly, he needed to make a seatpost repair - at least he got the funner trails in.

Fontana Lake
From the Left Trail Overlook

We tried to camp in a pull out but North Carolina I think Fish and Wildlife? guys kicked us out, directing us to a nearby campground (not even the USFS one at the bike trails initially) and said there was no dispersed camping around. Rudy found us obvious and legitimate dispersed camping ~5 miles away (~1/4 mile down the road from the private campground we were told to go to!) Seems surprising they wouldn't know about that! We were right along picturesque Panther Creek.

Lovely Panther Creek

Ate shells and cheese and played Hand and Foot - two wins for Rudy.

April 8
Cold and cloudy. We went back to Tsali to get in the other trails. First a shorter run for me. Rudy doubled up on bike rides. The day warmed up quickly once the sun came out and I was interested in getting in a ride too. The mountain biking was good, quite a few downed trees, but nice tread, very few puddles despite the recent rain, and nifty views.

From the Mouse Branch Trail Overlook

We headed back to Panther Creek, ate bean burritos, and got in some Hand and Foot - one win each.

April 9
Cool and clear, so sunshine earlier and a little warmer for one more day at Tsali. Rudy got in the rest of the trails he missed while I got in a five hour run covering 24.5 miles, guessing 1 mile of walking in there - it was fantastic and such a gorgeous day. Sunday and busy, but not crowded.

I was told this is not a poisonous snake, I won't be getting too close
Old Chimney on the Left Trail

Each of us managed to get in some chatting with regional locals. Only sad part of the day was the camp chair we used to claim our camp site was stolen, but at least the site was still unoccupied! It was the older, more decrepit of the two chairs we brought along, but it was also the one with the cup holder. Pasta for dinner, then Hand and Foot - one win each.

April 10
An even nicer morning. A lovely little stroll for me before we headed toward Fontana Dam. We stopped at a relatively fancy shelter along the Appalachian Trail - running water! Then continued to bike on trails near Fontana Village. These were more hikey in my opinion, with a few sharp climbs, and some technical stuff. Only about ten miles of trail (some of it old road), not really a 'destination' but cool to check out.

Another view of Fontana Lake
Four miles of pedaling uphill for a not-terrible view of Fontana Dam

We found camping at Lake Santeetlah - pretty, and a few people there, glad we got in on Monday!

Full moon rising
Looks refreshing

Ate lentils and rice, and played Hand and Foot - two Rudy wins.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

more North Georgia

March 29
Cool but sunny. We headed back south to Georgia and near another section of the Pinhoti Trail, at the Bear Creek Loop trail head. A run on the loop for me, and a bike ride for Rudy - he got onto some of the adjoining trails too - neither of us saw bears. Actually a few people around for a Wednesday, at least later in the afternoon. I took a nice little stroll to check out some of the fun spring plants - a lot from Calloway Gardens that I now get to see in the 'wild', don't know most of the names though.

Rhododendron buds
So many cute flowers with cool leaves
Trout lily and periwinkle?
Trillium Decepiens?

All around, a pleasant day. Rudy, with his random loops of biking, found us another decent camp spot on a ridge and along Pinhoti again. Ate simple, but still delicious pasta and played Hand and Foot - Leslie win, and 3-13 Rudy win.

March 30
I managed to get up and out for a relatively early hike/run on Pinhoti - lots of turkey sightings! After that, a bit of town time in Elijay, then on to the Jake/Bull Mountain Trails in the Chattahoochee National Forest for some biking. We were both a little tired, but enjoyed ourselves - slowly increasing challenge level of trails! Rudy found us good dispersed camping sites near a nice little creek. Dinner was bean burritos, gaming was Hand and Foot - 2 wins for Rudy.

March 31
Storminess overnight, but a pretty morning, the sun took a while to get down to us though! A good run for me, which included some of the Georgia Death Race course - I even ran across the race director doing some flagging.

Jones Creek Dam Trail
Jones Creek Dam

The singletrack was pretty solid, despite rain, some of the double track more soggy, but still not terrible. Rudy spent most of the day chatting with a local who was extremely knowledgeable about the area history and ecology - he also gave us some firewood, may be desirable for a day at an aid station. We eventually headed up Winding Stair Gap road to the aid station we would be volunteering at the next day. Just a few HAM radio guys there already, otherwise we had the place to ourselves. Ate some shells and cheese and got in one exciting game of Hand and Foot - Leslie win.

April 1
Georgia Death Race! We helped out all day at 'Winding Stair Gap' aid station 47 miles in, 25 miles to go. Our aid station seemed well-manned with no one getting too bored or too overwhelmed, mostly other runners to share stories with! Cool in the morning and evening, but otherwise a gorgeous day (well, maybe a little warm for the runners.)

Calm before the storm
Everything an ultrarunner should need

GDR has a fairly grueling course, but most of the participants seemed to be in good spirits (as they should be, certainly advertised as a tough one!) After the last runners through, and everything was cleaned up and the rest of the aid station departed, a few volunteers from the prior aid station stopped by to see what was happening - we got some more good recommendations for North Carolina, had just a little fire, and didn't go too late into the evening. We were the only ones camping out again, nice to not have the rush of packing up and having to drive somewhere!

April 2
Nice clear morning! Rudy and I hiked up to Springer Mountain and the Southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail - unplanned bucket list type thing!

Older plaque
Newer plaque
Scenic overlook
Top of Springer Mountain

Rudy headed back to camp to get in a bike ride, and I continued running on the AT - lots of people, but it was a beautiful Sunday! 22+ miles and five hours on the feet for me! Not much else in the afternoon - garbage pick up, a little yoga, dwindling traffic. Rudy was able to cover most of the good trails in the area. We cooked some split peas and sweet potatoes (my favorite gruel) and played Hand and Foot - 1 win each.

April 3
Very stormy, so pretty much a travel day. We headed a little ways north, got in some town stuff, and ended up camping on Chatuge Lake on the border of Georgia and North Carolina. The rain was done and we got in a little stroll to an 'island' that could currently be walked to.

Ate rice and lentils, and played Hand and Foot - 2 Rudy dominations!