Dan and Crawdads

Got any time to read a really great novel?  Didn’t think so.

Crawdads 3

Yes, I borrowed it from the local library.

But when you do, I have a story that you will find every spare minute to read.  It’s Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

Rightfully, you could say, Dan where you been?  This is 2018 novel that topped The New York Times charts in 2019 for 27 weeks

Without giving too much away, I want you to know it’s a murder mystery that takes place in the marsh of the North Carolina coastline.  Following two timelines that slowly intertwine, Crawdads has compelling characters as well as an engaging narrative that wraps up with one of my favorite endings of all time.  Delia Owens weaves in the science of the marsh in an understandable way for the non-science folk among us (by that I mean me), similar to Barbara Kingsolver.

That’s my tease.  Without equivocation, Where The Crawdads Sing is my favorite book of 2020.

PS  Thanks, Karen!

Dan Hikes the Trails of Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina

Chimney map of ashe to cr

North Carolina

While Hannah hangs out with her older sister Bettsy (who happens to live in Asheville), our sister-in-law Becky and I have Chimney Rock Mountain in our sights.  Driving through the hollows of western North Carolina where moonshiners plied their trade back in the day, we arrive in the touristy burg of Chimney Rock on a glorious late October Sunday afternoon.

Chimney 1 CR in the distanc3

The one and only Chimney Rock from the upper parking lot

With summers that put the H in Hot and Humid, North Carolina in fall is the season of choice for hiking.  Paying the discounted price of $15 each as seniors, we are directed to the upper parking lot of Chimney Rock State Park where we can access all the signature trails of this parque populaire.

Chimney 1A Becky on HN trail

Sis-in-law Becky heading to Hickory Nut Falls

The premiere trail takes us to the Hickory Nut Falls, 400’ of tumbling watery delight.  At 2400’ of elevation, the 1.4 mile round trip trail is happy with people and level enough for any sort of hiker.  Enjoy the images of the falls and the faux Spielberg-quality video.

Chimney 1B HN falls

Hickory Nut Falls

 

Then, we take to the many stairs to Chimney Rock itself.  Boldly displaying a massive American flag, Chimney Rock takes some serious commitment, as we climb all 499 steps to the outlook over Lake Lure.  With Becky in the lead, this is my view much of the way up.

Chimney - 2 walking behind becky

Chimney 2AA more stairs

And later down

Fun fact.  There are no natural lakes in North Carolina; the big ones in the area, including Lake Lure, are all man-made!

Chimney - 2B D and B atop CR

Chimney 2C CR from a distance

Chimney Rock with Lake Lure in the distance

From there, we take the Skyline Trail up the mountain and far from the masses of tourists.  Hiking to Devil’s Head, we then turn inland through the Carolina forests for the head of the aforementioned Hickory Nut Falls.  This two mile trail past Vista Point takes us to the mildly disappointing head of the falls (which is the point the falls tumble over the mountainside), which we can barely see.  In a Zen-like moment with a non-attachment to results, I focus on Becky and this trail of sylvan wonder.

Chimney 4A trail with B

Chimney 4 head of falls

The modest prelude to the head of the falls, which we couldn’t see.

Chimney Love What Is

For 45 minutes on this trail, Becky and I have our own two-person book club on my favorite book of the fall, Loving What Is: Four Questions that Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie, an author we’ve learned about through Unity.  Her description of what she describes as The Work can give you tools as you respond to four questions when dealing with problems that stress, frustrate, irritate, and/or depress you.  The questions when assessing such a situation are: (1) Is it true? (2) Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (3) How do you react when you think that thought? (4) Who would you be without that thought?  Intrigued?  Borrow it from your local library system.  We can have our own two-person book club when we next get together.

 

Dan and Hannah Witness the Wedding of Our Year in Asheville, North Carolina

If you had 15 minutes, could you come up with ten of the 100 most memorable days of your life?  Your wedding day, your kids’ and grandchildren’s births, if any of those categories even apply, are in a whole separate category of awesomeness.

As someone with over 26,000 days (yes, that’s 72 x 365 and change) on this good green earth, I have seven that come immediately to mind (in chronological order).

One, my first date at 19 with Hannah Kraai at a fall dance at Severance Gym at the College of Wooster; it seemed like no one else was in that crowded gym that night,

Two, floating down the Salt River on tubes on a September Saturday with my Arizona State guys in the dorm, Rich, Steve, Art, and Nobes, loudly singing the Marseillaise (French national anthem),

Wedding Molly and Tip

Molly and Tip

Three, learning Robyn had a 90% chance of recovery after her leukemia diagnosis at the age of four (she’s now 38!),

Four, Molly and Tip’s wedding,

Wedding will and laurel

Will and Laurel

Five, Donna Ellis introducing us to the spiritual community Unity,

Six, climbing to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park with Hannah, and

Seven, Will and Laurel’s wedding.

We love our weddings.  And today we have another one!  Our family friend of 31 years, Brandon Kyker is marrying Ashley on the grounds at the Biltmore Estate.  Their wedding will be outdoors followed by a casual reception at the Salvage Station, a onetime salvage yard for old cars, odd trucks, and metal of all sizes.  How cool is that!  The answer: Very cool!

Wedding Sal 1 sign

Wedding Sal 1A h by car

Wedding Sal 1B

PBR outdoor bar and the reception tent in the background

There were many building blocks to our friendship with Brandon.  I met his dad, Big Steve, when we were undergrads at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Wedding steve and amelia

Amelia and Big Steve (notice his shirt)

He from Virginia and I from Jersey were a part of a group of five who were on our own each weekend when the other guys in the dorm, who lived locally in Arizona, left for home.  We had a lot of time on our hands on weekends (see #2 above).

Wedding tempe to vienna

Moving back to Virginia, Big Steve made sure his family came to Maine every summer.  Hauling a 24’ trailer with their GMC Yukon, Steve and Amelia with Brandon and his kid brother Justin fit right in on Chases Pond Road, playing cards and doing some heavy lifting (for example stacking wood with us).  Then, the Kykers always went on to camp at Acadia National Park.  Relentless in their commitment to our friendship, they usually brought friends of their boys along for these ten day road trips.

Wedding B and A at the Nubble

Ashley and Brandon at the Nubble Lighthouse in York before they headed to Acadia

We met Ashley when she came come with Brandon and his friend Vbo to Maine in late December.  Staying with us for the overnight in York on December 30, they were on a mission to wake up very early January first in Bar Harbor to be the first ones to greet the New Year sunrise on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park; which legend has it is the first place the sun hits American soil each morning.

Wedding at Acadia

Morning has broken on New Year’s Day

Wedding Ashely at Acadia

Back to the wedding at hand.  Since showers are in the forecast today, a white wedding tent is set up on the front lawn of the Inn at the Biltmore.  Though overcast, the rain holds off and 25 minutes later Brandon and Ashley are husband and wife.

Wedding 1A tent too

Note Dan in a tie!

 

Wedding 3 ashley and pop

Ashley with her dad

 

Wedding 4 H and Amelia

Hannah with Amelia, mother of the groom

 

Wedding 5 J A B A

Brandon’s brother Justin, Ashley, Brandon, and Amelia

 

Wedding 5A

Ashley with the wedding photographers, Mary and my college roommate Rich

 

Wedding 6 sunglasses

Cooler than cool!

 

Wedding Brandon and Ashley

Dan and Hannah Discover the Trails of Richmond Hill Park in Asheville, North Carolina

Richmond asheville map

With our Wedding of the Year (Brandon and Ashley at the Biltmore) at 2P this afternoon, you would expect nothing less than Hannah and me finding some morning hiking.

With afternoon rain in the forecast, I google “parks in Asheville.”  And, voila!  Within the city limits, we have more than four miles of trails at Richmond Hill along the French Broad River.   Though last night’s rain has moistened the trails, there are few puddles so we won’t be hiking with Sloppy or Muddy (two dwarfs you may not have hear of).

Richmond map of park

Richmond map 2

At the trailhead, we have five well-marked colored coded trails.  Hiking tip – snap a picture of the trail map on your smart phone to navigate this and any hiking trail.

Richmond trail

Can you believe it, we are within the city limits of Asheville!

 

Richmond 1B French Broad River

The French Broad River from Richmond Hill Park

With little elevation gain or fall, the trails allows us to talk easily side by side and catch a steady hiking rhythm.  Forty minutes into our hike, we have a decision to make at a sizable creek.  Do we risk crossing on stones half-submerged in the rushing water or take the longer alternative trail skirting the river?  Rather than chance a watery fall which means hiking in soaked shoes, and basically being soft, we choose Option B.

Richmond stream

What I think of as a sizable creek!

Thoroughly satisfied with our hour and a half deep in the urban forest, we know just where we will hike tomorrow morning after the wedding with the Mother of the Groom, our Amelia.  Here at Richmond Hill!

Fact is, Brandon’s younger brother joins us three Sunday morning to hike these very trails as we catch up on his life as a Hollywood screenwriter and her upcoming hiking adventure on the Camino del Norte in northern Spain.

Richmond J A H

Justin (younger brother of the groom), Amelia (mother of the groom), and Hannah, mother to us all.  Please note Amelia’s World Baseball Champion 2019 Nationals hat

Richmond A H and J

 

Richmond how do chickens dance

A little roadside humor, Southern-style.

Dan and Hannah Explore the Carolina Foothills, The Biltmore, and UNC-Asheville

Wedding steve and amelia

Amelia and Steve

Hannah and I have come to the American South for the wedding of the son of my Arizona State University roommate, Big Steve, and his wife Amelia.  We see this trip as a golden opportunity to hike and pickle away down south in the land of cotton (and by that I mean Dixie).

 

 

 

UNCA map from tryon to biltmore

From Tryon to Asheville in a littel

Before we head north to Asheville for the wedding weekend, Becky takes us to the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center in her new hometown of Tryon.  Not fifteen minutes from their small village downtown, we have trails that are over the river and through the woods; I believe I did see grandmother’s house.

Fence 1A start of trail B H Da

Becky, Hannah, and Dan

Fence 1B D H pond

Leaving our Tar Heel family, we drive an hour north to Asheville to meet up another Sun Devil roommate of mine, Rich and his wife Mary.  Given access to the grounds at the Biltmore Estate as wedding photographers, they drive us around the fields and venues on the palatial estate.

Biltmore 1 D and H in front of

Dan and Hannah in front of their dream VRBO.  You’re invited!

With the wedding party and family rehearsing the evening before, Hannah and I explore the campus of the University of North Carolina – Asheville.  On a showery Friday afternoon in late October, the campus is quiet except for engineering students in a 5P class!  What grad teaching assistant drew that short straw?!

Fence UNCA map

UNCA 1 D at clock

 

UNCA 1A H with umbella

Walking on campus, I am taken back to my first three years as an undergrad at the College of Wooster (1966-1969).  I just couldn’t make all their rules and my self-imposed pressure work for me.  Daring more than I ever had in my first twenty-one years of life, I escaped (i.e. transferred) to the Wild, Wild West and the freedom of Arizona State University.  Though I am forever grateful for meeting Hannah Kraai at Wooster, enrolling at ASU for my senior year set in motion the belief that my life could be the adventure I saw others having.

UNCA map from woo to asu

Without family or friends in Arizona, I took my first baby steps into the unknown and its possibilities.  Then it was teaching Latino, Afro-American, and Anglo fifth and sixth graders in Anaheim, California; living in to Arizona, far from family, with Hannah for the first ten years of our marriage; then moving to New England with no job and two daughters under the age of three; later quitting a public school teaching career after twenty plus years to go to the University of New Hampshire to seek my dream job (i.e. teaching at the college level), I became a more courageous soul than I ever imagined I would be.

I now appreciate Wooster for the dissonance that propelled me to find my dharma (i.e. my journey and my path).

Dan and Hannah Hike to Melrose Falls in North Carolina

When Hannah and I travel, we look to hit the trifecta – sunshine hiking, competitive pickleball with folks who don’t take themselves too seriously, and evening wine with good company.  Today in Tryon, NC on the South Carolina border, we have ourselves a Meatloaf Day (and by that, I mean, two out of three ain’t bad).

Melrose yonah mt to tryon

Having played pickleball the three previous days this late October with our sisters and brothers of Yonah Mountain, Georgia, today we check the boxes of good company (our sister-in-law Becky and her guy Derek) as well as hiking with them into the Carolina mountains in search of Melrose Falls.

Chauffeuring us through their hometown of Tryon, NC and out route 176 on the way to Saluda, Becky and Derek take us to the trailhead in a mere fifteen minutes.  Though there’s parking for only two vehicles there, we safely park on the far side of route 176.

Melrose start of trail D, B, H

Becky, Hannah Banana, and Derek as the trail begins

Passing by the trailhead boulders and around the metal gate, we ascend quickly into the mountains.  Hiking on conservation land administered by Conserving Carolina, we pass the turn to the trail to the falls for a looksee assent to the abandoned Southern Pacific railroad tracks above the falls.  Stepping carefully on the railroad ties, we soon find our path engulfed by kudzu – the dreaded Asian vine that is overwhelming the American South.  Watch our path on the tracks disappear over the next four photos.

Melrose 1A tracks

Melrose 1B H on tracks

Melrose 1C kudzu tracks

Kudzu is winning.

Melrose 1D more kudzu on tracks

Kudzu wins!

Kudzu is a plague on the hillsides and lives of Southerners.  Nasty for the ecosystems it invades, it smothers other plants and trees under a blanket of leaves, dominating all the sunlight and keeping other species in its shade.  Introduced from Japan into the United States, kudzu was initially planted to stop soil erosion.  Since kudzu can grow up to 60 feet per season, or about one foot per day, the best way to fight it seems to be with Billy and Betty – goats that is.  Currently there aren’t enough goats on God’s green earth to handle the tsunami of kudzu.

Melrose kudzu image

Kudzu and more kudzu

Melrose kudzu map

Smothered by kudzu, the railroad ties beneath our feet are camouflaged and footing is uncertain; we U-turn back to the initial trail to the falls.

The ¾ of a mile rocky trail goes up and down the mountainside to the falls.  For the final 300’, the path drops steeply toward Melrose Falls which has us been descending on all fours.  Never perilous, though slow-going, we arrive at the boulders above the falls.  We are serenaded by nature’s watery chorus.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Palmetto Trail (South Carolina)

September and October are golden months in Maine – daytime highs in the 70s in September, 50s/60s in October with the dark and cold of winter seeming like Stephen King fiction.  (Sounds like somebody is ready for some Vitamin C [that is Vitamin California!])

But this year in late October we are traveling; we have our Wedding of the Year in Asheville, North Carolina.  You see, my college roommate Big Steve and his wife Amelia’s older son, the stunningly handsome Brandon is marrying the breathtaking Ashley.

Ah, the American South in October.  With many opportunities to hike and play pickleball, the fall has none of the heat and humidity of its summer.   Here come the Mainers.

Landing at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, Hannah and I drive northeast for three days of pickling and card playing with our Yonah Mountain brethren and sistren (sistren is an actual word).  After Laurie, Linda, Pat, and Clarissa once again take us in as pickleball family, we motor two hours north to the North Carolina/South Carolina border to hang out with our sister-in-law Becky and her guy Derek.

Palmetto Illusions

Becky married Hannah’s brother Doug in 1982; he farmed buffalo, make that bison, and she taught piano in central New York.  Unbelievably seventeen years ago, Doug, as fit as anyone we knew, died in a matter of weeks of glioblastoma (brain cancer).

At his memorial service, among many others, I eulogized him with this quote from Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach – Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished; If you’re alive, it isn’t.  Doug profoundly touched many people and his work was done at 56.

Moving to Portland, Maine from New York, Becky lived 45 minutes north of us in York, which allowed us to have monthly sleepovers, either at her place or ours.

Palmetto portland to tryon

After Maine, Becky moved to the little liberal burg of Tryon, NC with her guy Derek to make a life together.  So when Brandon and Ashley scheduled their wedding an hour north of Tryon in Asheville, we had one more reason to renew our kinship with Becky – and more sleepovers.

Palmetto B and H at love your neighbor sign

Hannah and Becky in front of the Tryon Congregational Church.  Do I hear an Amen?

On our first morning together, Becky takes us to the Palmetto Trail, ten minutes from their home, a trail that crosses South Carolina from northwest to southeast ending on the coast near Charleston.

Palmetto trail map

Driving around Lake Lanier, we park at a trailhead on a Thursday morning in late October for a walk in the woods, past a waterfall, and into the mountains.  Let these pictures and iPhone video illuminate this magnificent trail with our magnificent Becky.

Palmetto 2A trail sign in woods

Palmetto 2B more trail

 

Palmetto 2D colorful foliage

 

 

By the way, a palmetto is just what you think it would be – a smaller version of a palm tree.

Palmetto tree itself

Dan Hikes the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

Doug and Becky Corrie's wedding

Doug and Becky circa 1998

As young adults, Hannah and I knew no better athlete than her brother Doug, a marathon runner, collegiate rower, fitness fanatic.  Then within six weeks of diagnosis at a youthful 56, he died of brain cancer (glioblastoma).  56!

Carl 2C D and B at bridge

Dan with sister-in-law Becky at Carl Sandburg Home Historical Site

His wife Becky has remained a good and constant friend for the 17 years since Doug’s death.  Moving South to Tryon, NC on the North Carolina/South Carolina with her guy Derek, Becky is loving life living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains after years as a true blue, snow-bound Yankee.

Carl map bold print

It turns out her Tryon of 2000 residents is an upscale pocket of blue in a blanket of red smothering the American South.  Retirees like Becky and Derek have found reasonably priced housing, low taxes, hiking trails, groups for their guitar and banjo playing, book clubs as well as a quieter pace in a climate where it rarely snows!  And when it does, it melts in a day or two anyway.

Carl 2B Becky on the trail

Becky on the trail to Big Glassy Mountain

On this Sunday morning, while Hannah drives an hour north to Asheville, NC to spend the day with her sister Bettsy, Becky and I hit the trails at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historical Site thirty miles away in Flat Rock, NC.  Carl is widely known for writing six volumes on the life of Abraham Lincoln, of which I have read zero.

With the heat and humidity of the South gone this mid-October, Becky and I have gently sloping, tree covered, foot-pleasing dirt trails wide enough for side-by-side conversation.  We’ll ascend to the stone bald of Big Glassy Mountain that looks out on the next blue ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Carl 2D trail itself

Mid-October in the Carolinas

The trail is happy with people and it seems to confirm what Big Steve, my Arizona State classmate and born and raised Virginian, believed that People in the South are just friendlier.  As in the town of Tryon last night, hikers look us in the eye, smile, and greet us with a genuine friendly hello.

As with most of our hikes, almost everyone is white.  Do we Americans self-segregate by our activity more than we realize?  Or is it again a money thing since whites as a group have more disposable income for recreation?

Carl 2E D and B at top

Atop Big Glassy Mountain

It’s a simple 45 minutes of steady climbing to the summit (3.5 miles roundtrip), where a fellow hiker takes our picture with a Blue Ridge backdrop.  Down the mountain in even less time, we are ready for the dessert to our Carl Sandburg entrée.

Carl 1C closer of Melrose Falls

Melrose Falls

Driving back down the winding country roads to Tryon, Becky turns into an unmarked trailhead with room enough for two cars near Twin Bridges.  The trail is much more rutted and rock strewn than the hike to Big Glassy, but the payoff is greater.  Three hundred yards in, Becky leads me left towards the falls, still not apparent to my naked ear.

Carl 1B D at Melrose

An Ithaca Bomber mellows out at Melrose Falls near Saluda, NC

A rapid descent down a barely visible trail to the Melrose Falls has us enjoying the watery accompaniment to nature’s forestral orchestra.  Enjoy the video below.

 

Pictures from our time in North Carolina

Carl 2 home from a distance

The Carl Sandburg Home as the trail to Big Glassy Mountain begins

Carl Tryon H at SC border

On a morning walk with Hannah from North to South Carolina

Carl Tryon D at burn sign

Ever know this meaning of burn?

Carl Tryon H at smoking patio sign

Really?  A smoking patio that’s inside!

Carl Tryon M and M machine

M and M’s cascade at the private Lanier Library in Tryon.  A community library with membership fees of $50 for individuals, $75 for households.

 

A few favorites of Doug and Becky from their daughter Corrie’s wedding to Karl in 1998

Doug and Becky singing at Corrie's wedding

Doug and Becky and the karaoke lady

Doug and Becky doug on air guitar

Hannah’s brother Doug circa 1998

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail at Fontana Dam, North Carolina

fd-map-of-fontana-dam

Having hiked to Charlie’s Bunion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park earlier in the day, we now sit high above the valley floor at our Quality Inn and Suites motel here in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  It doesn’t get much better than wine with Hannah at 100 feet.  Click here for the link to the Charlie’s Bunion blog.

fd-6c-shelter-log-4

Taking the bypass around the Gatlinburg craziness this first week of October, we avoid the traffic, the shopping frenzy, and the snarl.  Later in the day we find the trail log of a thru-hiker at an Appalachian Trail shelter who gives her two cents about Gatlinburg.  Do not go to Gatlinburg, TENN!!! Not a friendly town.  Too many tourists that do not like stinky “homeless looking” hikers.  We met some cool cats through the Smokies.

fd-1b-low-water-level-at-fd

Fontana Lake

Driving an hour through the Great Smokies to Cherokee, NC, we head west on backroads for the Appalachian Trail at Fontana Dam.  As we approach the reservoir at Fontana Dam, we are stunned to see how low the lake is.  Just two days ago, we hiked in eastern Tennessee to 80’ Laurel Falls, which didn’t have a trickle flowing from its head waters. Click here for the link to the Laurel Falls blog.

fd-1-vista-of-little-tennessee-river

Downstream on the Little Tennessee River

At the Fontana Dam Visitors Center, we learn that each fall the lake is drawn down (water is released into the Little Tennessee River) to prepare for winter snows and spring rains.  This is all done to avoid the flooding of cities and farmland downstream, specifically Chattanooga, TN.  During World War II, Fontana Dam was built in just 18 m0nths because of the war time need for electricity.

fd-2-d-at-trail-to-the-north-on-at

The white blaze of the Appalachian Trail as we head to the Shuckstack Tower

Walking the 2000 steps across this massive dam, we head north on the Appalachian Trail to Shuckstack Mountain, a killer assent of 2000’ elevation gain.   With no intention of making this brutal climb, we look to just explore the approach to the mountain.  Our plan is to hike ten minutes up the steep trail or until we cry “uncle;” in nine minutes we cry “uncle and aunt” and return down the mountain with our tails between our legs.

fd-7-h-in-shelter

Hannah on the lower bunk of the Fontana Hilton

With the mountain rightfully claiming victory, we return to the dam and head south on the Appalachian Trail.  Seeing southbound thru-hikers who are within 150 miles of finishing their 2180-mile hike through 14 states, we notice the Fontana Hilton, the sweetest shelter we have seen on the Appalachian Trail.  With a metal roof, the shelter has double wooden platforms on either side of the structure for mats and sleeping bags.

fd-7a-solar-cell-phone-charger

Cell phone charger at the Fontana Hilton

Outside there is a solar phone charger!  Nearby is a fire pit you might see in the finest of backyards in Ithaca, New York; no outhouse or composting toilet for these thru-hikers, there is a fine stone building with a flush toilet, sink, and shower.

fd-3-d-on-trail-to-the-south

Dan on the Appalachian Trail to the south of Fontana Dam

Heading south on the AT for the next mile and a half, we have an easy peezy walk in the park above the reservoir’s edge.   Arriving at the marina, we learn that though the lake has been drawn down, it is still 12-14’ below normal.  Being 24-square miles, Lake Fontana must have a gazillion less gallons of water for the parched populace.

fd-4a-bamahiker-narrative

Nearby, we see this small memorial to BamaHiker, the last place where James hiked on the AT.  His wife has printed the paragraph below of his dream of thru-hiking the AT that was cut short due to pancreatic cancer.

She asks hikers to take a stone that she has placed in a pair of James’s boots to celebrate the journey that he wasn’t able to complete.

Since she left her email address requesting a picture of our hike, later I email her with some of these blog pictures near the Fontana Dam.  The next day Brenda emails back.  With her permission, I share her response.

fd-4c-james-boots

The boots of James

fd-4-bamahiker-overview

Dear Dan, thank you so much for your email. Please know it so excites me to hear from hikers that stop, take the pebbles and carry them along the trail. I appreciate you and your wife, Hannah, for taking one of my husband’s pebbles. I look forward to reading your blog. I just went to the site and added my email so I can follow you and your adventures. I would count it as an honor if you would include my husband’s story in your blog. He was an awesome man, husband, father and Christian. He is sorely missed! I hope that his story inspires other hikers to press on and not give up. I pray that his spirit of determination helps them along the trail through those difficult days. 

 May God bless you and your wife, Brenda

What has been another good day on the Appalachian Trail has bumped up to a heart-tugging day of joy for us.

By the way, once home, Hannah emails too, and offers Brenda a homemade shawl from our friend Helen, who creates them in memory of her son.  Helen hopes the shawls provide comfort to others experiencing a difficult time in their lives.  Here’s Brenda’s response to Hannah’s outreach.

Dear Hannah.
I rec’d your precious package.  It  so touched my heart!! As I wrapped it around me, I could feel my sweet husband’s embrace. I  could also feel the  love of the precious lady that had spent much time making it and the love of the sweet lady that took time to send it to me. I could not help it, I had a good cry!! Words cannot express my appreciation for you and Ms. Helen. But I do so thank you! I will send a card to Ms. Helen to personally thank her. Would it okay to send a picture of my husband,  James?
You are so right about my James.  He was a wonderful loving husband and father .  He was devoted to his savior, Jesus and his Christian faith. He loved serving in our church as a leader for a  young boys’ ministry for almost  30 years. He had a love for the outdoors and nature which drew him to hiking .
Please know, if you guys are ever in North Alabama ,  please let me know. You have a place to call home here! God bless. Look forward to hearing from you and can’t wait to read the blog.
Love, Brenda  

Please contact Hannah at hannahrothermel@gmail.com if you know of someone who could use the loving warmth of a Maine shawl during a time of crises, acceptance, or reflection.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Charlie’s Bunion in the Great Smokies (Tennessee and North Carolina)

cb-gsmnp

My college roommate, Big Steve, who hailed from Virginia, always said people are friendlier (i.e., more welcoming) in the South.  I cannot disagree.  The you-alls, the yes sir’s, yes ma’am’s, and the look at you in the eyes smiles.   I love it.  Now more than ever we need that civility as a starting point for conversations rather than debates with others.  I once taught poetry to a class of sixth graders for a nun who was a student of mine at Eastern Connecticut State University.  When I came into the room, everyone stood up.  It was very cool.  As a prof of the Exploring Teaching class at the University of New England, I had my students stand when a guest speaker came into the room.  After this election season, we need to listen more and judge less.

cb-g

I do have a Big Beware for you!!  Think Jersey shore Sunday afternoon on the Garden State Parkway.   Think LA anytime.   Think the Washington Beltway whenever.  Coming from the west to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we leave I-40 for the 22-mile gauntlet drive to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  First on the drive in, there is Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, and then comes the shops of Gatlinburg.  Get this, on a non-holiday October Monday morning at 11A, the traffic is insane in G-Town.  There are more stores and shoppers per square inch than at the Mall of America in Minne-snow-ta.   I remind you it’s mid-morning Monday.  It takes three changes of the traffic light to get to the next traffic light!

But…later we learn there is a bypass around Gatlinburg to the Great Smokies.  Take it!  Save yourself.

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At the parking lot of Newfound Gap

While Hannah trolls for a parking spot at the west side Visitor Center, I seek out a ranger  to learn more about the Ramsey Cascades waterfall hike that we are counting on.  After our experience yesterday with a waterless waterfall in nearby Dayton, TN, I ask if there will be any water coming over the falls.  The good news is that there is water at the falls. The bad news is that the trail is closed due  a bridge out thanks to a fallen tree.

Hearing we’d like to hike for three to four hours, she suggests the Charlie’s Bunion hike beginning at Newfound Gap in the center of the park on the Tennessee/North Carolina line.

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The trail immediately grabs our attention with its steady climb, with logs placed conveniently across the trail to make the stepping up easier as well as a measure to limit the erosion.  With Hannah motoring in the lead, we are rocking westward along the Appalachian Trail on this sunny 72F afternoon.  We pass southbound thru-hikers (those hiking the entire 2180 miles of the AT from Maine to Georgia), who are now within 200 miles of their holy grail of finishing at Springer Mountain in Georgia.

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The promised rocks and roots of the trail

The first 2.7 miles of the trail to Charlie’s Bunion is almost entirely uphill.  Sweating and panting to keep up with Hannah’s pace, I am loving the physical challenge of such trails.  Though the trail is rated “moderate” by the park service, it’s a serious, no let-up eight-mile round-trip workout.

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In contrast, when I am at the gym, if I am tired, I chill and just pedal lightly on the recumbent bicycle.  In pickleball, I stop early if I get weary.  But today on a gut busting 90 minutes of steady uphill climbing, I have no choice but to put one foot ahead of the other and rock on.  That said, I know that we are living the dream – hiking in the Great Smokies.

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White blaze of the Appalachian Trail

In addition, I love the “day hiking-ness” of our hikes.  While AT thru-hikers are heading to the Ice House Shelter near Charlie’s Bunion to “sleep” with others in a three-sided shelter where mice scurry over sleeping bags and fellow hikers snore like the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Hannah and I have a humane alternative this evening.  At our motel, we will shower, have a glass of wine, and later sleep in a comfortable bed.  Ah, the good life of the day hiker.

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Sort of looks like a bunion, yes?

The final third of the trail is basically downhill.  Rocky and root-filled, the trail keeps our attention as our stride length increases and we continue to have a heckuva workout.  On this mountain ridge line, often with steep drop offs to either side, we never feel in peril as we hike through thick brush and tall trees.

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Charlie with his friends Dan and Hannah

As the AT heads to the right, we take the 100 yard spur trail to 5565’ Charlie’s Bunion.   The area beneath the Bunion allows us to rest, then climb the rock outcropping that, yes, does look like a bunion.  Later I snap the arty picture below of Hannah removing her socks and boots, which impresses the hell out of me.  Perhaps, you too from such a modest photographer?

In 1929, when two hikers, Charlie Conner and Horace Kephart, paused for a rest at this spot, Connor took off his boots and socks and exposed a bunion that reassembled the surrounding rocks.  Kephart said, Charlie I’m going to get this place put on a government map for you.  Hence the name.

With four rocky miles back over up and down terrain, we spend less than 15 minutes at Charlie’s vista with Gatlinburg to the west and the North Carolina mountains to the east.  Check out the video below as we head back to the trailhead.

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The hike to the trailhead continues to be quite the physical challenge, but with no choice but to move forward, we rock on.

As we pass a twenty-something couple, I think what a worthwhile test of a relationship it would be for those considering marriage to hike together to learn how each other deals with stress and the challenges of such a tough climb.  Marriage is so much more of a challenge than this trail!  Do I hear an Amen!

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Anyone married, even a few years, let alone the 44 that Hannah and I have been, knows that life is challenges, compromises and negotiations.  You don’t have to live too long to know that much of life is not about succeeding at Plan A, but learning to deal with Plan B on a regular basis.  I am most fortunate to share the joys and challenges of the trail and life than with Hannah Banana.