Days 114-121 – Asheville Week 2

To say we have a rhythm or a schedule would be an exaggeration but we are settling into being settled.

We try to keep track of the weather so that we’re planning hikes for nice days. So far there have been more nice days than we have wanted to hike, which is a good thing. We pick out a nice 7.1-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail to Max Patch. The Hiking Upward website says Max Patch is bald mountain with 360-degree views but it’s not a rocky bald. Rather it’s a grassy bald maintained by controlled burns and mowing, something we’ve never experienced. Usually mountains are either bald or not because nature deemed it, not man.

It’s still a beautiful day and a gorgeous hike with some 2,000 feet of elevation gain. We’re surprised that on a mid-October weekday there are more than a couple of dozen people and several dogs at the top. And the people are not all retirement age. (Not sure about the dogs.) I like that there are lots of active, outdoorsy people in the Asheville area. On our way back – there’s a much shorter hike to the top, so we have the AT pretty much to ourselves – we run into two couples who tell us they are section hiking the AT by doing two weeks every year. At the rate Walt and I hike, we figure it would take us about 15 years to complete the whole AT if we were to hike it only two weeks a year. It’s a moot point, though, since we have no interest in hiking the whole 2,100 miles.

On our non-hiking days we try to go to the gym and explore Asheville. One day we spend an entire afternoon wandering through a row of antiques shops located in a huge converted warehouse. There is one store that specializes in salvage – iron fences, stained glass windows, church pews, etc – and another that has lots of jewelry and porcelain. We don’t buy anything but we enjoy looking. Asheville has many more antiques stores for us to explore.

Looking at upcoming events in Asheville, I find a bonsai show this weekend at the North Carolina Arboretum, which is very close. I’m a little hesitant to mention it to Walt. I don’t actually want to own or cultivate any bonsai, I’ve just found it interesting ever since a friend took me to the exhibit at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., a few years ago. Some of the trees there are hundreds of years old and only 3 feet tall.

I’m surprised when Walt also finds the bonsai show online and says he would like to attend. So off, we go. There are vendors selling bonsai and all sorts of tools, pots and cultivating materials. There’s a show with entries from regional bonsai clubs and a class on creating a bonsai, followed by an auction and raffle. We stay through the auction, marveling at the heated bidding and the prices. The first dozen or so items mostly sell for less than $200 each but then there are older trees and groupings that are selling for $500-$900 with a final grouping garnering more than $1,000. I am fascinated to learn that many of the items being sold have been donated by aging bonsai enthusiasts who are “getting out of bonsai” as the auctioneer puts it and don’t have anyone in their family interested in their collection. I never thought of it but donating your collection to a specialized group like this – the auction benefits – is a good way to start weeding out possessions.

We don’t bid on anything (although Walt is tempted, being way more interested in bonsai than I ever knew) but Walt has also bought a raffle ticket, just to support the arboretum and we stick around for it. Of course, the first number they pull is his. Walt has his choice of a 4-foot-tall maple tree (that could be planted indoors or outdoors) or a large ceramic bonsai planter. We have neither room nor need for either object. He chooses the planter. I suggest to Walt that he sell it cheaply to one of the other attendees before we leave. He declines. It now sits on our rented kitchen counter and I have zero idea what we will do with it.

The weather stays nice – cool nights, sunny and 70+-degree days – so we find another hike: Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. When we were in New Hampshire in July, I didn’t want to leave without hiking to the top of Mt. Washington, the second-highest peak east of the Mississippi. Mt. Washington, via the Ammonoosuc Ravine was a much harder hike than Mt. Mitchell where we started at the park ranger station, leaving only about 1,100 feet of elevation. We ascended nearly 4,000 feet in 4.5 miles to reach the top of Mt. Washington. Plus, let’s face it, hiking in New Hampshire is harder – rockier, rootier, wetter – than hiking in North Carolina. If you don’t believe me, ask pretty much any AT thru-hiker, who will tell you the high peaks of North Carolina are harder than anything on the trail, until they hit New Hampshire.

Anyway, we have a gorgeous, 60-degree, blue-sky day to hike a 6-mile loop to the top of Mt. Mitchell and back. There’s a good number of people of all ages on top of Mt. Mitchell, just like there was on top of Max Patch. We knock another item off our list – highest peak east of the Mississippi – and head for home.

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