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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


The boots of James


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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.

Dan and Hannah Hike to a Trio of Waterfalls in DuPont State Forest, North Carolina

We have come to the South and discovered outdoor adventures that we never knew existed in our 67 years on the road.  The 729’ Amicalola Falls in Georgia.  Waterfall hikes in the Great Smokies of North Carolina.  And today a trifecta of waterfalls saved by a magnificent woman near the Georgia border in North Carolina .

Trip Brevard map 2

The town of Brevard bills itself as the gateway to waterfalls in North Carolina.   With classic southern hospitality, Camy at the Brevard Visitor Center cues us into the many area choices of waterfalls we have.  Selecting the ones of DuPont State Recreational Forest southeast of town, we use the map she gives us and take Route 276 nearly ten miles to Cascade Lake Road.  From there it’s two miles to the trailhead parking.

Aleen Steinberg Visitor Center

Aleen Steinberg Visitor Center

Once inside the visitor center at DuPont State Recreational Forest, we learn the story of one determined and still vibrant woman, Aleen Steinberg.  When a developer wanted to build million dollar homes near the waterfalls, Aleen fought tooth and nail to get the legislature to block that desecration.  In her honor, the one-time development office was renamed the Aleen Steinberg Center.

Trip 2007WaterfallMap

Our hike took us to Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls

At Aleen’s center, Volunteer Ruth Daniel tells us that among the 82 miles of hiking, biking, and horse riding trails and roads in the park, there are six waterfalls to choose from.  With a fantastic map that she gives us, we settle on a roughly four mile loop to three of them.

Off awaterfalling

Off awaterfalling

As we head out in this second week of October, we immediately meet up with 15 seniors, one of six hiking groups from nearby Furman College’s OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).  As one-time OLLI members ourselves at the University of Southern Maine, Hannah and I had access to classes, outings, and events for over-50 dudes and dudettes.

The trail to the falls begins

The trail to the falls begins

On this Friday of Columbus Day Weekend, the parking lot is filling up; by the time we are finished hiking today there will be no spaces left and cars will be lined up and down the nearby road.

Triple Falls

Triple Falls

The imported white stone trail leads us into the forest on a gently graded 12 foot wide path.  Setting off for the Triple Falls less than a mile away, we hike on a tree-canopied trail.  Descending to the base of Triple Falls on a series of wooden steps, we see couples, seniors, and families where the water has pooled.  Viewing two of the three cascades of the 120’ Triple Falls, we learn that this was the setting for the Hunger Games (2012) and the Last of the Mohicans (1992).   The 18 second video takes you there.

In the dark at Triple Falls

In the dark at Triple Falls

Reclimbing the wooden stairway, we have one final view of all three cascades of the Triple Falls before descending steeply on a still wide and accessible trail to Hooker Falls.

River above Hooker Falls

River above Hooker Falls

As we walk parallel to the river bottom, there is a second parking lot where we see the Baptist Church ladies disembark for a morning of heavenly waterfalling.  It’s just 0.3 mile to the modest 12 foot Hooker Falls, our second of three waterfalls.  Once the home to a grist mill (a mill for grinding grain) for the locals, these smaller falls and fewer people bring a sense of peace to our Friday morning.

Hooker Falls

Hooker Falls

Beneath the falls, there is a popular swimming hole that today welcomes a young family playing by the riverside as well providing a lunch time setting for two women deep in conversation.  We do not disturb them, but I do shoot this brief second video.

What's a hike without a waterfall selfie (High Falls)

What’s a hike without a waterfall selfie (High Falls)

From there we climb the wide rocky trail back past the Triple Falls onto the High Falls, our third waterfall of the morning, through a forest that is a week or two from peak foliage.  A half mile side trail takes us to the base of the 120’ High Falls; a little easy rock scrambling gets us a better vantage point for some iPhone videotaping.  This third video rocks these falls.


The wedding proposal Covered Bridge

The wedding proposal Covered Bridge above High Falls

With our four miles of hiking over two hours nearly done, we take a side trail to a covered bridge.  It seems to be the meeting place for mountain bikers heading off into the, well, mountains.

As we return we see a young man in his mid-twenties drop to one knee and propose to his gasping girlfriend, who immediately covers her cheeks with both hands.  The mountain bikers join us in clapping and cheering for the couple who are lost in the moment.

In my 67 years I’ve never witnessed a proposal, of course other than my own to Hannah nearly 44 years ago in Tempe, Arizona.  Young love!  Senior love!  Love is the answer.

Later, lunching across from three families with eleven kids and enjoying their good energy, we know how lucky we are to have had six hikes over the past week in the Appalachian Mountains of Georgia and North Carolina.  With four hours of driving on to Atlanta, where we will fly home to Maine tomorrow, we know these Yankees will be back.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Hot Springs, North Carolina

HS Map of North CarolinaToday is like a big par five.  We have one long drive from Richmond (RVA) before we hike.  Given that Virginia and North Carolina abut and given that RVA is in the center of Virginia, we still have more than 400 miles of driving to Asheville in far western North Carolina. Knowing what lies ahead, I sleep restlessly and wake Hannah early this mid-October Monday; soon we are on the road heading west on I-64 to I-81 south.

HS 1 Chick sign

Shortly after 9A, three hundred miles into the drive, we stop in the little border town of Abingdon, VA looking for a breakfast diner.  Though Denny’s or Cracker Barrel might provide a fine breakfast, we want an experience that we can’t find just anywhere and at a good price.  As we fill up for $2.92 per gallon (it’s $2.63 now), a delightful country woman explains in sweet detail how to get to Chick-N-Little at the other end of town.

Quite a breakfast for a VCU woman

Quite the breakfast for a VCU woman

Picture this: a diner with pictures from the 1960s (e.g., Dean Martin) on the wall with frames that you get at the Dollar Store.   Just men, maybe fifteen of them, are at tables and the counter in work jeans and old man khakis.  For $5.99 Hannah gets a veggie omelet, home fries, and biscuits and gravy!  Clearly the sky is not falling at Chick-N-Little.

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

As we drive on to Asheville, I think I am just so clever killing two hiking birds with one trail stone. Let me explain. For a good 150 miles, the Appalachian Trail (AT) straddles the North Carolina/ Tennessee border. Ergo, we have an opportunity to hike a trail that borders both states so we can bag states #12 (NC) and #13 (TN) in our quest to day-hike all 14 AT states.  Clearly, I am overly impressed with my delusional brilliance.

HS 5 HS town signFalling immediately in love with small town Hot Springs, NC, we learn that it’s named for a natural spring with 100+ degree mineral waters. The town itself is becoming a popular tourist destination for rafting and kayaking on the French Broad River as well as hiking, mountain biking, and backpacking.

HS 4 AT diamondThe AT itself goes right through the center of town on Bridge Street marked with AT diamonds in the sidewalk. To find a twofer trail (NC/TN), we enter the small library where Winnie tells us of a trailhead just north of town. But she says, The Welcome Center knows more about hiking in both states.  Babs at the Welcome Center lets us know that she doesn’t think the NC/TN border is close, but the folks down the street at the Bluff Mountain Outfitters will know more.  Whipping out a map, they tell us we are ten miles from the nearest NC/TN border.

French Broad River

French Broad River

Not having done the necessary research of the AT in NC and TN, I nod and smile and think, que sera sera.  It is what it is.  Tennessee is still in our sights and we will somehow hang that pelt on our wall in the coming days.

Hannah on the AT in North Carolina on a sun-dappled day

Hannah on the AT in North Carolina on a sun-dappled day

Now close to 130P, we choose to hike north crossing the French Broad River out of town. Our trail begins as a dirt road along the river by cabins for thru-hikers.  The weather is amazing, sunny near 70F degrees. (Two weeks later heavy snow falls.)

High above Hot Springs, NC on the French Broad River

High above Hot Springs, NC on the French Broad River

Once in the mountains of North Carolina, we are using the switchbacks to climb above the French Broad River.  With our sweatshirts tied around our waists, we are down to our tee shirts and shorts; we talk very little in such steep assents.

Hiking among the thick North Carolina rhododendrons, we are in leafy heaven.

A double white blaze means a turn in the trail.  One of the last we see.

A double white blaze means a turn in the trail. One of the last white blazes we see.

With Hannah in the lead, the trail seems obvious and well-traveled; though we no longer notice white blazes to guide us.  Just days ago on the AT in Pennsylvania, we had white blazes every 100 to 200 yards for guidance and reassurance.  But here after 15 minutes, Hannah turns to me with a “this is odd” expression and says, I haven’t seen a white blaze in quite a while.

Hannah on the trail of rhododendrons

Hannah on the trail of rhododendrons

Backtracking to the last white blaze we saw, we see no evidence that we have missed the correct trail, and now we are just pissed.  Really? You can’t mark the trail this close to town?  Bummed, our annoyance rising, we think, If you can’t mark the trail well enough, we are just not going to hike you anymoreSo there.  We know this is childish and petulant; so be it.  We are what we are.

Determined to carry a grudge and show the trail how really p.o.-ed we are, we turn to town and disparage the trail so it can hear us; we just don’t look at it as we harrumph our way out of the woods. We want no part of its empty apologies.

At the base of the 51 steps to south on the AT

At the base of the 51 steps to south on the AT in Hot Springs

Through town and to the south, the AT climbs 51 stone steps into the forest. As with the north side of town trail, this is a relentless climb on this warm day.  It is Carolina at its finest.  Down to our tee shirts, which are soon soaked with sweat, we are getting the work out we wanted when we awoke twelve hours ago in Richmond.

Fall coming to the mountains of North Carolina

Fall coming to the mountains of North Carolina

The trail is rocky as we have come to expect from the AT. Though the forecast has gone back and forth between rain and no rain, today is picture perfect.  We do see more white blazes, and are coming down off our high horses.

Back through town before 5P so Hannah can buy post cards at the Bluff Mountain Outfitters, we have notched AT State #12 in North Carolina.

Now Tennessee!  Nearly 1000 miles from our home in Maine, we are not going to miss this opportunity to hike in the Volunteer State when we are this close!  Come hell or high water or the rain that is predicted we will hike in Tennessee.

HS 9P AT trail sign