Giant Mountain

After more visits with my parents and friends, we are ready for another High Peak. The weather is in the 50s, warming up to the 60s, with sunshine. Perfect for a good hike.

At 6 miles (via the shortest route), Giant is one of the shorter High Peak hikes but that also makes it one of the steepest. We’re going up 3,000 feet in 3 miles. Three Adirondack miles, which means it’s not an easy path, it’s a bunch of boulders and tree roots with the occasional mud patch, just to keep it interesting. It also has fabulous views of most of the High Peaks to its south, which is one reason I’ve chosen this particular hike.

Just after we sign in at the trail register, the hike immediately starts its ascent up the rocks and roots, twisting and turning. It’s about a half a mile or so to a pretty lookout over Chapel Pond below us and the nearest mountains to the south. As we rise, we will see more and more mountains.

We continue and cross the end of what’s known as the “Giant’s Washbowl” (a small pond) on a footbridge. Walt remarks that the washbowl must fill up quite a bit in the spring because the bridge we’re on is nowhere near the water.

We, somehow, miss the very well-marked junction to the summit at 1 mile. I look up and realize we are on a yellow-blazed trail and I know the book said we’d be on a blue-blazed trail the whole way. We continue a little bit further, seeing a side trail to a lookout. I pull out the map and guidebook, realizing we are standing on a side trail at the “Giant’s Nubble.” We enjoy the view over the washbowl before turning back. We’ve added about half a mile to our day. At the junction, we’re both shocked that we missed it: there are three different wooden signs pointing to the summit, the parking lot and the nubble. What can I say? I was in the lead and it was my fault that we missed the turnoff to the summit. It happens. I think I managed to miss it because I was remembering my first trip up Giant, nearly 15 years ago, when I had my first hiking meltdown – because we’d missed a turnoff coming down the mountain and had to backtrack uphill.

Anyway, no meltdowns today.

We continue on and the trail is now steeper, rockier and harder than it was at the start. There are some switchbacks, which is not very Adirondack-like but they are soon countered by the huge rock wall that we arrive at. There are helpful yellow blazes painted on the rocks, showing the easiest way up the face. I confess that even after all my hikes in the Adirondacks (I’ve hiked all 46 High Peaks), I still wonder sometimes how I’m going to get down some of these rock faces on the return to the car. I always do but it still gives me pause.

Up we go, out of the densest of trees. There was a fire here about 100 years ago and the really tall trees stop at a point where the fire stopped. After a century, there is no sign of a fire and there are now a lot of trees, they’re just not as dense and tall as the ones below.

We keep going in and out of the forest and then over huge open rocks. I like the big rocks because we have to think less about where to place our feet; we can just walk. Although it’s hard walking because there’s a lot of elevation gain. We stop for small breaks for water and panting and longer breaks to admire the views that just keep getting better the higher we go.

At one point, Walt points to a summit above us, saying “that must be it.” I remind him that the guidebook says there are numerous false summits. He nods.

A few minutes later, we’re at another junction – we don’t miss this one – and I tell him that we are about a mile and quarter from the top. He responds that he “didn’t need to know that.” We haven’t even achieved 2/3 of our 3-mile hike yet. The summit is a long ways off.

We’re back in the woods now, the open rock faces behind us. There are huge boulders still, but more along the lines of 12 feet of figuring out how to navigate. I’m trying very hard not to think about the descent.

After more than two hours since our start, we hit another junction that says we are 0.7 mile from the summit. And it’s all just hard up, except for the short, flatter areas that are remarkably muddy. I’ve never figured out how Adirondack mountains are able to keep so much mud so far up the mountain, but they are very often very muddy at the bottom and top, even if the rest of the trail is relatively dry – and it very often isn’t.

It’s just slow going. We get passed by a few groups. I’m feeling smug because they’re all much younger than us until a guy about my age just passes us like we were standing still. Oh well.

On we go. In some spots, I just throw up a knee, not even attempting to be graceful. Most of the rocks are damp, in some cases with trickles of water flowing, but they are craggy enough that they are not slippery, which is helpful. I step up one big rock, fail to get enough weight on my front foot, fall on my right flank and slide about 4 feet. Walt’s standing behind me and successfully breaks my slide, which upsets me, because if I’d had more momentum, I might have knocked him over backward. I would just assume he get out of my way. As I point out to him: “You should know by now that I don’t give a damn about me falling (I’ve done it a lot and never suffer serious injury) but I freak out when you fall.”

Anyway, neither of us was damaged in this fall, so we continue.

After what feels like a very long time, we hit our last junction, which tells us we are 0.2 miles from the summit. My book says this is a fairly easy and, for once, it got the difficulty level correct. Very quickly we are popping out on the rocky summit with our views, which are rapidly being obscured by clouds but are still very pretty.

We enjoy our usual PB&J, chips and Gatorade lunch and a nice rest. Take a bunch of pictures and head back down after half an hour. It took us exactly 3 hours to get to the top, including our ½ mile detour to the nubble, and it will take us 2 hours and 40 minutes to get back to the car.

We make it down pretty well, although slowly and carefully, through all the steep upper sections; pick up speed on the open rock faces and then slow a bit as we descend back into the rocky woods. Once we get to the last mile, Walt keeps asking if we really did all of this coming up. This hike is just one long uphill followed by a long downhill.

Back at the car, we are excited because there’s a soft-ice cream stand near our rented apartment that should be open. Twist cones all around!

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Adirondack Balloon Festival

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After two windy, rainy days, we’ve gotten up before the sun (rare for us), bundled up and driven north to Queensbury for the annual Adirondack Balloon Festival, billed as one of the largest in the country.

As we drink coffee in our down jackets, we wait for the sun to rise and the balloons to fill. We’re standing on the field where they will all launch and at 6:40 a.m., we can only see maybe a dozen even startingto be filled.

We watch the first couple launch off to the southeast and then realize there are now several dozen balloons being filled. I’m taken with the ones that have a lot of black to offset the bright colors but there’s also a hot-pink-and-lime-green stunner and a gold one that catches my eye, as well as one that has bunting hanging off, reminding me of the photos I’ve seen of the Montgolfier brothers’ (the original French balloonists) hot-air balloons.

Both Walt and I have been aloft in a hot-air balloon, although not together. What I remember most of my trip when I was about 16 years old, was the quietness up in the air. You could hear people talking on the ground and in other balloons but other than that it was very quiet up in the air.

After awhile, there are dozens of beautiful balloons flying in the early-morning air and more getting filled for flight. We are captivated by the colors and some of the unusual shapes: two penguins, Tom and Jerry, a saxophone. Everyone claps when a big blue dog-shaped balloon finally takes off.

Soon after that we call it a morning, heading off to breakfast and a brief nap before heading out again to spend some time with friends.

Adirondack High Peaks: Phelps

Some 15 years ago, I started hiking in the Adirondacks with my friends Wally and Nicole. The first High Peak hike they took me on was Phelps Mountain. I remember it as being hard with beautiful views that got me hooked on hiking so I have been longing to re-do it, with Walt this time.

We’ve been in Saratoga a couple of days. We’ve visited my parents once and seen some friends for dinner. Today we’ve gotten up early to drive the 2 hours to the Adirondacks on another beautiful, cool fall day. Perfect for hiking.

Unlike on the weekends and summer when the parking lots fill early, we have no problem finding space to park on a September Tuesday. The trail to Phelps is also one of the main trails used to access Mount Marcy, the highest mountain in New York State, so it’s very well maintained. There are lots of plank bridges crossing the many streams and low, marshy spots.

As I remembered, the first half of the hike is pretty easy. We have two miles of gentle rolling path, fairly mud- and rock-free. Once we pass the remnants of Marcy Dam – washed away by Hurricane Irene in 2011 and replaced with a footbridge a little further downstream – the trail turns harder. It is both steeper and rockier. It takes an hour to hike the first 2.1 miles to the dam and 40 minutes to hike the next 1.3 miles to the turnoff to Phelps.

Most of my first Phelps hike is a blur but I distinctly remember screaming “that’s not a trail” when we came to the Phelps turnoff all those years ago. It was just up among big boulders and roots. It looks like you’re hiking up a dry stream bed. Luckily for us it was dry because the mud would have killed me, I think.

The sign says it’s only 1 mile from the junction to the summit of Phelps but it feels so much longer. I can’t describe how much more difficult hiking in the Northeast is compared to any other place I’ve hiked (three continents, more than half of this country’s states and somewhere around 2,500 miles and counting). Pictures don’t do it justice. You can’t hike straight up the middle of the path because there is no path. There are just rocks and roots and more rocks so you’re always stepping sideways to find a foothold to go up a big boulder or going off to one side or the other to find a series of easier footsteps before zigzagging back to the other side because it looks easier to go up the next pitch on that side. For every “step” up that’s the height of a typical stair (8-10 inches), there’s a step that’s double or triple that.

After about 40 minutes of this, I realize the trees have gotten shorter and I see a lot of daylight above us. That has to mean we’re close to the top.

Of course, there’s a huge chunk of rock right in front of us, 15 feet of scrambling and figuring before we’re panting at the top, only to see more rocks and another big chunk of rock ahead.

At several points, the rock turns smooth and easily walkable, obviously we are on an enormous boulder that has turned into a convenient path. But it doesn’t last. As we continue upward, slowly, there are now rocks that come up to my hip every so often, meaning every ounce of energy we save on the smooth rocks gets spent ascending the boulders.

We run into a guy coming down. He says “hello” but doesn’t say anything about us being close to the summit. That’s a bad sign. Usually, I’ve found, fellow hikers on the downhill side will offer words of encouragement, especially when you’re close to the top.

We keep going. I have started swearing on a loop in my head, just repeating a five-word phrase that would greatly upset my mother.

We run into two more guys coming down. Again, just a hello and no words of encouragement.

Can it really be this far? Did I really do this as my first High Peak hike (only the second hike of my life)? More curiously, what possessed me to ever hike again? I know I was 15 years younger but if it’s this hard for me now with all the hiking I’ve done, it had to have been hard for me then.

Finally, long after we should have hit the summit, we come across a young couple descending who stop to let us pass. “So close,” the woman says to me. I nod, thinking “can’t be close enough.”

When we eventually arrive at the rocky outcropping with gorgeous views of Mts. Marcy, Colden (which Walt has hiked with me) and Algonquin (my personal favorite), I am just tired.

We spend half an hour sitting, eating our lunch and enjoying the scenery. There is some color to the trees although they are nowhere near peak fall foliage. When Walt says we have to return, I don’t want to. I don’t feel nearly as recovered as I should after so long a rest. We leave anyway.

The slog back down to the junction takes almost as long as it did to come up it, which seems impossible until you realize it’s just as hard to pick your way back down among the rocks as it was to ascend.

When we finally hit the junction, I stop to have an energy gel. My legs are wobbly and we still have more than 3 miles to go. I keep telling myself that the trail only gets easier the farther we go, which is true but it still feels like a long ways.

When we hit the dam, I know the trail is going to get markedly easier and I start picking up the pace (although not nearly fast enough for the group of college students who breeze by us). Finally we make it to the car. It has taken us 5 ½ hours to hike (with a half hour break) what the book says is 8.4 miles and 1,982 feet of elevation. Our phones say it was closer to 10 miles.

It’s a long drive back to our rental place, where we shower, change and head out for burgers and beer.

 

The Clark Institute

Post retirement dinner, we’re driving from Quincy to Saratoga Springs for two weeks of visits with family and friends, a little sightseeing and a little hiking. Since we will be driving the length of Massachusetts, I thought we would make a stop in the Berkshires in the western part of the state. The Berkshires are a haven of historic houses – Edith Wharton, among others, lived here – pretty towns (Stockbridge, for instance) and museums.

We don’t usually hit museums two days in a row but…

The Clark Institute in Williamstown has only two days left of its iron exhibit, which sounds very much like something we would enjoy. It’s only 36 pieces but all of the works are on loan from a much larger collection in Rouen, France. A 19thcentury photographer went around and started collecting iron signs, grillwork, lecterns and much more. His son continued the collection and a museum was born.

We are immediately captivated by a 3-foot-tall iron “key” – a sign for a locksmith – that is elegant and airy even while being composed entirely of ironwork. There’s a strongbox with 18 different bolts that have to slide before the lid opens. There’s a safe that has a pistol mounted on the inside; anyone trying to tamper with the lock would have been startled, although probably not injured, by the little pistol going off inside the door. The ingenuity and craftsmanship of the pieces are stunning.

As usual, when I look in the gift shop at the postcards of the exhibit, none of my favorites – the key and another sign with iron flowers – have been highlighted.

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Afterward, we continue on to the permanent collection, with its rooms of Renoirs, Homers, Monets and so much more. The museum is so much more extensive than I remember; not having visited in some 20 years. It’s overwhelming and I find myself skimming through many of the rooms because my brain is just art-saturated.

It’s a beautiful day and we wander the grounds a little bit, enjoying the huge, pebble-bottomed pond and all the sunshine before continuing our journey. I am very glad we were able to see the iron exhibit. I have made a note to visit the museum but who knows when (if) we’ll be in Rouen, France.

Boston, Briefly

So Walt has plans to attend a retirement dinner for a fellow Iron Worker and I’m coming along for the ride, of course.

We’ve packed our carefully curated collection of clothing and gear and headed north. We were supposed to stop in Durham to see Lauren and Bobby but Hurricane Florence put the kibosh on that segment of the trip.

Walt tells me to choose how to spend our “found” day so I decide on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It’s an eclectic, very personal collection of all types of art – from Roman gravestones to Rembrandt paintings with everything from Chinese bowls to Belgian lace to a miniature mandolin and two poison-tipped pygmy arrows in between.

I’m more interested in what’s missing: the 13 items stolen in a daring, still-unsolved theft on March 18, 1990. While the thieves – reportedly two men dressed as police officers – took an assortment of artwork, including a bronze eagle finial and five drawings by Degas, it’s two specific works that make this the “biggest unsolved art theft in world history.”  The thieves stole Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (his only known seascape) and Vermeer’s The Concert, the Gardner estimates the pair are worth more than $500 million.

Unlike most museums, which would remove the empty frame and re-hang the remaining art so that visitors wouldn’t be aware of the loss, the ISG left the empty frames. Part of the rationale is that the museum was also Mrs. Gardner’s home and everything was placed by her in specific rooms, next to specific works. She opened the museum to the public while she was alive. It’s meant to be a glimpse inside one woman’s relationship with art. The museum website says the empty frames are a symbol of hope that the works will one day return.

I minored in art history in college and have always loved art and museums and became fascinated by the newspaper and magazine accounts of the theft nearly three decades ago.

So here we are, a little overwhelmed by the jam-packed museum. There is so much to see. One of my favorite parts is Isabella’s enclosed garden. The building rises four stories above it, making it a little oasis you can look into from many of the exhibition rooms.

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We wandered the entire three floors of the museum. There are no descriptive plaques on the walls but there are little laminated sheets in each room describing the works. It’s kind of fun for me to try to guess if I’m looking at a Manet or a Renoir and then check it against the sheet.

In some rooms, I just let my eye wander until I’m captivated by one work, then go to the sheets to read the description. An 18thcentury viola captures my eye, it’s just a lovely piece of art, as does a grouping of Belgian lace in another room. A terracotta piece captures my attention in another room; the colors are just so vivid, it’s hard to believe this work is hundreds of years old. Some things are difficult to enjoy, being hung high up or in a room that is dimly lit (for the preservation of the works). I overhear a museum employee telling a couple that the biggest complaint they get is that the rooms are too dimly lit.

The Dutch Room, from which the Rembrandt and Vermeer were stolen, is the last stop. It’s also the room with John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner, presiding from a prominent corner. Sad to think of her spirit hanging out here, missing two of her prizes every day.

There’s lots of theories about the theft, of course. Some argue that the thieves were amateurs who didn’t realize the value of what they took until the theft hit the news. Then they couldn’t find buyers for the best-known of their heist. Others argue the “Dr. No” theory: that some wealthy collector commissioned the theft of the Vermeer and the Rembrandt and the reason they’ve never been found is that they are in someone’s very private collection.

Regardless, I’m glad we saw the museum, including the empty frames.

 

Hiking in DuPont State Park

The weather is still hot so we decide a nice waterfall hike is just the ticket. We find DuPont State Park just south of Hendersonville where a nice ranger maps us out an easy 3-mile (ish) loop that will take us to Triple Falls, Hooker Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.

There’s no relief from the heat at Triple Falls, where there are ropes to keep people out of the water or at the smaller Hooker Falls, although there’s a nice swimming spot that we make note of for future visits.

We go back up the trail past Triple Falls again and continue on our way to Bridal Veil Falls, which is very large, very pretty and we can stand on the rocks and enjoy the spray. It just feels lovely.

After a bit, we leave the falls, head up another hill and come to a covered bridge. The shade is nice. I spend some time watching the fish feeding in the shade of the bridge.

It’s just a short walk back to the car. Then we drive to another trailhead to hike the 2 miles up to Cedar Rock, where we’re promised 360-degree views. Our hiking trail is also a bike trail so we have to be on the lookout for fast-moving bikes, something we haven’t had to contend with since Sedona last winter.

We come to a junction called Big Rock and continue on down the trail. It’s called “Big Rock” because that’s what it is, just a huge rock. Sure there’s trees and shrubs but mostly what we’re walking on is solid rock. It would be nice except that the rock is very hot.

By the time we come to the overhead power lines, I am ready for lunch. Cedar Rock, according to Mr. Ranger, is supposed to be just a short curve of the trail away. Except that as we’re walking, we run into a couple of bicyclists who ask us about directions. They’re looking for Cedar Rock, too, but since they came the way we were headed, we all stop. If they didn’t pass an outcrop with 360-degree views, and we didn’t, then we don’t know where we’re supposed to go.

There’s what looks like a trail on another side but there’s a big “no trespassing” sign, so that’s not the right way to go.

We decide to go back the way we came. At least we know when we get back to Big Rock, we’ll have views. In the meantime, I’m starving, having expected to eat lunch at Cedar Rock. So we stop at a random spot for lunch.

The bicycling couple come by, telling us that the Big Rock junction we passed is the view point, according to another bicyclist they talked to.

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We’re a little disappointed in the ranger, since we’ve hiked an extra couple of miles that we didn’t have to. But since we’re only at about 7 miles total for the day, it’s not like we did anything wildly strenuous.

And the waterfalls were gorgeous, definitely a spot we’ll come back to again.

 

Wildcat Rock & Little Bearwallow Mountain

So we’re moved into a new place closer to the town of Hendersonville but still close enough to Asheville that we can go to our usual gym. It’s a cute little place in what’s known as “apple valley.” There are apple orchards all around us. There’s also a winery about 100 yards down the street with a lovely patio, music on the weekends and a tasting of six wines for $7. There’s also a par 3 golf course about 2 miles away.

After indulging in those pleasures the first couple of days, I find us a nearby hike to the top of Little Bearwallow Mountain. Bearwallow Mountain (the big one) is the hike closest to our future home so I’m eager to see what its little brother has to offer.

The group Conserving Carolina just finished the Little Bearwallow trail and hopes to connect it to Bearwallow in coming years.

We park at Hickory Nut Gorge, head across the road and downhill. I joke to Walt that we will be doing his favorite (not) thing on this hike: finishing on an uphill.

We quickly reach the low point of our hike, crossing a stream and then immediately start uphill. It’s a mile of switchbacks until we reach what’s supposed to be a 100-foot waterfall. We do reach some tall rocks but there’s only a trickle of water sliding over the rocks on this hot, humid summer day. We break before continuing.

Now the trail is getting steep, with lots of stone steps carved out for the trail. It’s very well done but it’s very hard, especially since we can’t find a hint of a breeze. We make our way, with lots of breaks, up the next mile to the side trail for Wildcat Rock. It’s a short, steep pitch to the top but totally worth it for the views over the valley we’ve just climbed from.

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The view from Wildcat Rock

After a nice break and a snack, we leave the rock, starting up the last mile of the trail, which turns out to be much gentler than the previous steep mile. Soon we’re out in the pasture, dodging the cow pies (some are very fresh). We don’t see any cows and aren’t sure how they get here. We can see Bearwallow – it’s very distinctive with antennae and towers on top – but not much else so we don’t linger.

It’s an out-and-back hike, so it doesn’t take us long to hike back down to the stream, then up to our car. It’s nice to know that such a nice little strenuous hike (1,800 feet of elevation gain in 3 miles) so close to our future home.

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Little Bearwallow looking north toward Bearwallow Mountain.

Prepping for the Road (Again)

We’ve been in Asheville for four months, the longest we’ve stayed anywhere since we sold our house 14 months ago but now we’re headed on the road again.

Walt has work-related dinners and events in Boston in mid-September, and in San Diego and Florida in mid-October so we’ve decided to make a trek of it all. We will take a couple of days to drive to his Boston event, then head over to upstate New York to see my family and friends before heading back south to see Walt’s daughter, sister and brother-in-law and then to his other work events before slowly making our way back to Asheville by early November. We’re hoping by that time we will have a builder in place to start our house – but that’s another story.

For now, I’m busy worrying about cramming into our car everything we need for 6 weeks on the road. I know we did this last summer, of course, but it’s still work. We need to carefully curate our clothing, which won’t be an easy task since Walt needs a tux, a suit and a sport coat and slacks, in addition to dress shoes, golf clothes and hiking clothes and pack. I will need dress shoes, a cocktail dress, some other nice clothes and shoes, as well as golf and hiking clothes and my pack.

I think the leg of the trip that most worries me are the two weeks we will spend in upstate New York. I love the Northeast in the early fall, when the nights are crisp and the days are pretty and cool enough that you want to be outside. But I also know that means I will need jeans and pants and a couple of jackets and sweaters; none of which I will need for the remaining 4 weeks on the road.

We are also taking our golf clubs. Thankfully we bought tiny little golf bags while we were living in Sedona. But even then, we shipped them back East instead of trying to get them in the car with all of our clothes.

Walt has made a list of what he needs to bring and we’ve gone to our storage unit so he could fish out his tux and try it on while we’re still here, in case it needs cleaning and/or alterations.

I take an afternoon to lay out all of the clothes I have in our rental unit, paring down. We will be moving from our current rental to another one for the last 10 days of our Asheville time, so this will give me a clue as to how everything fits in the car.

And the answer is: not well. Last summer Walt and I each had a small duffel bag and then we shared a flat, under-the-bed storage bag for the rest of our clothes. He has a garment bag full of suits/tux/shirts/sportcoat in storage for the trip and he filled his duffel and needs more space to pack. I have filled my duffel and the larger black duffel that we thought we’d share and I have a plastic bag full of toiletries.

It looks like there will be more “curating” to be done before we hit the road once more.

Playing Tourist in Asheville

biltmoregroupSo Walt’s sister, Lisa, and brother-in-law, Dave, have come for a weekend visit to Asheville. We’re very excited to see them, to show off the site of our future home, and play in Asheville. There’s way more stuff to do and see than we can cram into a weekend, but we’re going to pack in as much as we can.

The first item on the agenda is to meet them in Hendersonville and show off our property, our future community and the lovely little 1-mile hike up Bearwallow Mountain. Walt and I did this hike a few months ago. It’s all shaded on the way to the top, so it’s not too hot. At the top, there are grazing cows plus views in every direction. If the cows were wearing bells, we would think we were on a mountain in Europe (where the cows really do wear bells, as do the goats).

After a lovely dinner at Mo’s barbeque, Lisa and Dave head to their hotel.

The next day is our all-Biltmore Estate day. We start off with a walk from Antler Hill Village up to the house. It’s about 2 miles each way, past the blooming field of sunflowers, the various patches of cosmos, along the French Broad River, past the lagoon and finally up the hill to the house. We don’t have tickets for a house tour but we take a brief tour of the gift shop, stop for a soda at the stable courtyard and wander the gardens to take in the Chihuly exhibit before heading back to the village for ice cream. Then we all head back home to rest and refresh before coming back for dinner at the Village Social followed by the nighttime viewing of the Chihuly exhibit.

chihulyday1.jpgWalt and I have seen the wonderful glass pieces in the daytime before today but we’ve been saving the nighttime tour for Dave & Lisa’s visit. As wonderful as all of Chihuly’s pieces are (the “float boat” is my favorite) in the daytime, we can tell that some of them are going to be even more spectacular lit up at night. We were so right!

chihulynight4.jpgThe conservatory’s three chandeliers, which just looked very pale and uninteresting (by Chihuly standards) in the daytime, are full of colors and shading when they are juxtaposed against the dark sky above the glass. The two red-and-yellow pieces in the walled garden, surrounded in daytime by flowers in the same color scheme, come alive as flame at night.

chihulynight6.jpgAs an added bonus, tickets for the nighttime tour include admission to the first floor of the house. Not only have we not seen the Chihuly piece that sits in the Winter Garden just inside the front door, but it’s always lovely to stand on the Biltmore’s porch overlooking the grounds and enjoy the evening sky. All in all, a magical evening.

For our last day of Lisa and Dave’s visit, we head to the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is one of those places that Walt and I have passed many times but have never stopped in to see. I have found a nice little hike that starts at the center and heads a couple of miles up the Mountains to Sea Trail to a lookout before we reverse our steps, ending at shopping (almost as good as ice cream).

Afterward, we buy some cookies at the Well Bred Bakery (my favorite are the chocolate orange but they’re all good), have a drink at the Cantina before heading our separate ways to rest and refresh before a lovely dinner at Bouchon (all-you-can-eat mussels) in downtown Asheville.

Dave and Lisa, who were staying at a hotel in Asheville, also took time to explore, finding their way to the Chocolate Fetish, one of Asheville’s several gourmet chocolate shops, none of which I have yet explored. Clearly I need to play tourist more.

You Call this a Trail?

We’ve done so well on our short hikes that I decide to take it up a notch, finding a 13-mile loop hike with 3,600 feet of elevation gain. We start from Hot Springs, a very popular area, going up Rich Mountain before descending the Appalachian Trail and winding up on the Lovers Leap Trail, which is what most people who aren’t hiking the Appalachian Trail hike from Hot Springs.

We start up the road, which turns into a gravel road, which then turns into the Roundtop Ridge Trail, the former route of the Appalachian Trail, which climbs nearly 1,700 feet over 3.3 miles to connect with the rerouted Appalachian Trail below Rich Mountain.

The directions note that the area was seriously affected by forest fires in 2016 and not much work has been done to clear the trail. So we are warned of “deadfall and encroaching undergrowth.”

“Deadfall” means trees that have fallen across the trail. I call them “blowdowns.” In some cases we can just go over them. In other instances, we have to go up the hill to get around them, there’s just way too much tree in the trail. The dead trees are a bit of a hassle but nothing too crazy.

It’s the “encroaching undergrowth,” however that proves to be the hardest challenge of the day. Initially, it’s just small little shrubs that we step on or over. We make jokes about “lush foliage conditions,” which is the term the ranger on Isle Royale used last year to describe the grasses that had grown to 5 feet and were completely covering the trail. I pretty much just walked for several miles without being able to see where I was putting my feet.

This trail doesn’t seem that overgrown, at first.

As we continue, I notice that there are a lot of pricker bushes. Walt’s in pants and short sleeves. I’m in shorts and short sleeves because it’s hot and I hate to hike in pants when it’s hot.

We keep thinking that as we ascend, the low growth is going to die out or we’re going to go under un-burnt trees that have protected the forest floor from sunlight but it just doesn’t happen. It’s only 3 miles from the end of the gravel road to the AT but it seems to take forever. We normally average 2 mph while hiking and this doesn’t feel too steep, so we should be moving close to that speed.

But we’re not. It takes us 2 ½ hours to travel the 3 miles to the AT. I’ve been ready for a full hour to find the junction and get off this horrible “trail.”

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Walt among the foliage. This isn’t even the worst of it; I was too busy fending off pricker bushes at those points to take a pix.

At times, I’ve scraped my hands against stinging nettles, a pain I haven’t felt since we hiked Kilimanjaro half a dozen years ago. Occasionally I look down at my legs to see how bad the scrapes are getting. I know there’s a spot just above each ankle that’s getting the brunt of the scrapes but there’s nothing to be done. I don’t have tall socks, I don’t have spare socks, I don’t have the zip-on legs to my pants and I don’t have my rain pants. I feel very much like an amateur. We have gotten so lulled into the well-maintained trails of North Carolina that I have forgotten my Adirondack Mountain training. I never hike, even in the dead of summer, in the Adirondacks without my rain pants, the legs to my shorts and a pair of calf-high socks.

By the time we arrive at the AT, we are so beat up – and it’s cloudy – that we forgo the extra half a mile up to the lookout tower on Rich Mountain, instead just turning south on the AT. We’ve still got more than 7 miles, including some ups and down along Lovers Leap Ridge.

It’s an easy two miles down to a gap, at which point I ask Walt to pull out the PB&J sandwiches and chips he packed for lunch. There’s really nowhere to sit but I don’t care. I just want to re-fuel. We did each have a gel during a brief stop in the foliage but if we still have 5-plus miles to go, I want food.

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This is the AT, quite a bit different.

By the time we get to the views at Lovers Leap, I’m almost too tired to stop for the views over the French Broad River.

Normally by the end of a hike, my pace picks up, what I call my “back to the barn gait” but not this time. Walt’s ahead of me and I’m trudging the last mile, even though it’s downhill and then flat along the river.

On our drive back home, Walt stops at a gas station, asking me to run inside and get him a Coke. I come back out with his soda and an ice cream sandwich for me. It was so good!

At home, we can’t wait to shower. I know the water and soap are going to sting but the sooner I get the dirt cleaned out, the better I’ll feel. The damage is much worse than I realized. The tops of my arms from shoulder to fingertips are scratched, as are the undersides from my elbows to my fingers. My legs are scratched front and back from two inches above my knees to my ankles. The worst damage is, as I knew, my lower shins just above my ankles. After I shower, I take a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and pour it all over my wounds. It stings but I’ve learned after many such (although not as drastic) scrapings that peroxide will help me heal quicker.

I’m going to be wearing pants for awhile no matter how hot it gets.