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.

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