Friday, June 27, 2008

Touring Dixie

Monday, June 16

One last workout with Coach Kile and the Smoky Mountain Aquatic Club. Home and a quick breakfast, then pile 8 large tubs into the truck and all our art into the cab. Bike on top and skis in the rack. There is still room in the truck, so I begin to stuff it with everything I can, from clothes hangars to a half-eaten loaf of bread to a rake, which fit in the rack next to the skis. Leave at 12:30 and while heading down the street see Max, Michelle and Gerald, and then at the light see Jeff and Jonathan, my former bosses.

Hit I-40 west. Breeze through Knoxville. Nice scenery across the Cumberland Plateau. Drive into downtown Nashville and park. Walk downtown for a while


then drive out to Vanderbilt. Walk there, where it is very pretty. Back on I-40 and exit at Montgomery Bell State Park. Camping is just $11 and it's nice and quiet but hot and buggy as hell.

Tuesday, June 17

Cold front came through overnight and it's very pleasant. Take a 2-mile hike to a backwoods home and old homestead

Montgomery Bell, Tenn.

and Presbyterian church.

Montgomery Bell, Tenn.

Hit I-40 and stop in Jackson, Tenn., supposedly the home of rockabilly. Walk downtown and then cruise into Memphis at 2. Laura's cousin Kelly and her husband Eric live here. Go to their house in a cool neighborhood uptown but they're not home, so walk the neighborhood for a while, sweating heavily, then get a pita at Casa Blanca, a Med restaurant around the corner from their house.

Kelly is home when I walk back and we catch up on Laura's sprawling family. Eric comes in and after a spell we walk around the corner to a very hip restaurant that doubles as a bar and was named as having one of the best french fries in America. After we head out in the minivan downtown and park along the Mississippi.

Mississippi River from Memphis

The sun is just setting and the lights on the I-40 bridge have turned on. We watch smoke billow from somewhere in Arkansas. We then head to the Peabody, a swanky old-style hotel downtown and ride up to the 14th floor, where there is a rooftop patio overlooking downtown.

Memphis from the Peabody

Home and, exhausted, fall asleep in minutes.

Wednesday, June 18

Up early and have breakfast with the family.

The Angels

They leave vacation Bible school and work and I head back downtown to the National Civil Rights Museum, which is in the old Lorraine Motel. Taking a photo outside and someone comes up to me -- it's a tour guide with an extra ticket. I head into the museum for about an hour. It's mostly not interesting except for the restoration of rooms 306 and 307 to the moment MLK was shot.

Room 306

Head out and to Bluff City Java for a coffee.

Cafe life, Memphis

On the road through bleak south Memphis, past Graceland and into Mississippi. Car stutters a bit but cruise into Tupelo.


Walk pretty downtown


and then get gas and get on the Natchez Trace. The Natchez Trace is sort of like a Deep South version of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I set cruise at 45 and really relax, but stop every once in a while to do little hikes.

Natchez Trace swamp

Came to think that tales of Mississippi's poverty were exaggerated, then I exited to see a historic town and was greeted by junked cars and abandoned single wides and went, Oh, so that's what they mean. Exit at Jackson and head downtown. See the capital but nothing else really to look out. Set out to find a historic neighborhood or something but the town just seemed to end.

Jackson, Miss.

Weird. Get on I-20 then back on the Trace on the other side of town and continue south. It gets dark and the road is lined with deer. Pull off into a free campground at Rocky Springs. It's nice but it's muggy, hot and I can hardly hear myself think for all the bugs.

Thursday June 19

It's a nice morning and I bike 20 miles back north on the parkway so see what I missed in the dark. Continue south and stop in Port Gibson.

SPort Gibson, Miss.

Port Gibson, Miss.

Soon the parkway ends in Natchez. Natchez is hot but full of wonderfully restored homes.


Walk the streets for a while



then cross the Mississippi again and enter Louisiana. Take back roads and levies south; cross a river on a ferry

ferry near St. Elizabeth, La.

and drive through a string of very pretty towns. Hit Baton Rouge and get lost for a while. Walk downtown for a bit

old capitol, Baton Rouge

which is very nice, though it's really super steamy and hot. Look around LSU but find it to be uninteresting. Hit I-10 and crawl for a final time over the Mississippi, then hit the Atchafalaya Swamp. Exit on an island in the middle of the swamp and there is a Good Sam campground. Expensive to camp and lots of snakes but bathrooms are air conditioned!

Friday June 20

Hot. Bike down the island. It's a string of fish camps, hunt camps and basic weekend homes with river and swamp on all sides. People are very unfriendly. Back on I-10 and exit at Layfayette. Kind of not really a great town but downtown is cool and walk around for an hour or so, then have a killer breakfast in a diner; normal fare but done Cajun style. Head south to Abbeville

Abbeville, La.

then hit the Louisiana coast. Remote. Thunderstorms all over. To Intracoastal City, which is a dead end launching point for off shore workers. More unfriendliness. Back along the edge of solid ground til I begin to run out of gas. To Lake Charles; get an oil change and see a bit of the town. I-10 again and soon it's Welcome to Texas! Welcome to Ugliness is more like it. Yikes! Crawl through Beaumont in traffic, take 610 to 59 and arrive home at 7 p.m. Trip over.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

One last day in the Smokies

Had a final few days in Waynesville last week. Played Guitar Hero with Blair and Lauren, had an amazing dinner with Chris and Michelle and Chris' Bordeaux, and had a few heavy workouts with Coach Kile. Laura went back to Atlanta on Sunday and I was up early for one last day of hiking in the Smokies.

Out of the house by 7:30, picked a hitchhiker and his son up in Cherokee at 8, took the turnoff to Clingmans Dome and got to the end of the road by 8:30.

Descent into Forney Creek

Cool and slightly cloudy, started out donwhill on Forney Creek. I've done the lower portion of Forney Creek but the trail in total runs some 14 miles. From the trailhead at about 6200 feet the trail drops along Forney's headwall before switchbacking into the canyon proper. Canadian-like forests give over to northern hardwood and becomes more dense as you lose altitude.


Passed Forney Creek Cascades and gradually entered a world of cathedral forests and rushing water. Flame azalea in bloom.

flame azalea

The lower you go the more spectacular the forest is.

Middle Forney Creek

Also the lower you go the more and more difficult stream crossings you encouter. Few bridges down here.

Middle Forney Creek

At the 8-mile mark left Forney -- at this point I was down to about 2500 feet -- and began a steep climb on Jonas Ridge.


That gave way to Welch Ridge and Hazel Creek.


Toward the end of Hazel Creek was back into the high forests ... though the climbing was not over. Met the Appalachian Trail at Silers Bald and over the next 4.5 miles climbed another 1000 feet. Suddenly heard voices along the trail and emerged from the forest on to the Clingmans Dome Summit Trail. After seeing only a handful of hikers all day was surprised at the sight of dozens and dozens of people of all abilities walking (or waddling) the paved trail to the summit.

Highest point in Tennessee

Clingmans Dome itself is at almost 6600 feet; the well-known circular walk to the lookout adds to the drama of the peak. Cool here once again and pick out for one last time the high points of the Smokies. Silers, Andrews, LeConte, is that Waterrock in the distance, and Cold Mountain beyond that?


Hobble back to the truck after a great 18-mile hike.

Monday, June 23, 2008

23 days and counting

Plenty to do to get ready for the trip, including pills of this little wonder:


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Bumming in Banner Elk

Left last Monday on the much anticipated bike trip. Over time though the anticipation remained high the trip shrank in scope from a Pacific coast tour to a Maine to Waynesville ride to Waynesville to the Outer Banks and finally to this ... 11 days from Waynesville to no place in particular!

Things kept on slicing the trip length down -- like getting shots for our RTW trip -- and I found it increasingly hard to get psyched up for something which had a definite goal. So I pushed off on June 2 and with no goal in mind found myself pedalling up NC 209 to Fines Creek. I spent the first night in Hot Springs (nice)

Tent life, Hot Springs NC

and from there went to Burnsville (nice)

Celo Knob from Micaville

Linville Falls (an enormous disappointment, as waterfalls go),

Linville Falls

Boone (cool little city), and West Jefferson (great ride to get there though not my favorite town). I spent much of the time on the Blue Ridge Parkway which was wonderful

Linville Viaduct, Grandfather Mountain

and have tried to stick to the back roads of North Carolina, which are generally quite scenic and full of drivers nice to bikers. Actually, everywhere I biked with the exception of the very busy U.S. highways I found that drivers were really super friendly to bikers ... to the point of idling along behind me at 8 mph while waiting for an opportunity to pass.

One thing I was not expecting was how difficult it would be. I'm not sure I've had more than a few miles of straight, flat road since leaving. The result is I'm pretty tired by the end of the day and can't make much headway -- 40 miles is a good day.

I turned south in search of flatter ground and ran into great roads and hot weather and one magnificent storm which forced me to seek shelter in a bathroom.

After the storm, north of Morgtanton