Days 122-127 – Asheville, Week 3

We start Week 3 with our biggest NC hike yet: 10.5 miles with 2,970 feet of elevation gain. It’s a gorgeous day. There’s not a cloud to be found. The temperatures are in the high 50s, going up to the 70s. We’re headed to Lane Pinnacle, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I had planned another hike but at the last minute, we switched to this one because the trailhead is very close to the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, where we’ve found some property we’re interested in checking out. (No matter what I do, that sentence just wants to end in a preposition!)

The trail is an out-and-back, which means we will be hiking 5 ¼ miles to Lane Pinnacle and then coming back on the same trail to our car. Walt very much prefers loop hikes because he likes to see different scenery. Me, I don’t care. I usually am working so hard to get to the top – and not noticing the details of rocks and trees and views – that it seems like a totally new hike on the way back down.

We get about a mile or so in, when I stop short.

“What?” Walt asks from behind. (For a variety of reasons, I usually lead when we’re on the trail.)

“A snake,” I reply, pointing to a 6-foot-ish black snake draped across the trail.

I’ve run into snakes on the trail before, of course. Often they hear me before I hear them rustling through the underbrush, usually just catching a brief glimpse of a tail. Which, by the way, is just the way I like it.

I’ve run into numerous bears on the trail (although none on any of our hikes this summer) and of the two, I’m more scared of the snakes. I was once hiking alone in Shenandoah National Park and came across a bear on the trail less than ½ a mile in. I shouted and clapped. The bear took off into the woods. I continued up Robertson Mountain, only to see another (or the same?) bear running up the trail ahead of me. He must have heard the bear bell I had put into my chest pocket after the last encounter. Bears have really good hearing and will generally run from voices or a metallic sound like a bell. On I continued and was just about ¼ of a mile from the top of the mountain when I encountered a snake lying stretched across the trail. I shouted and jumped (from a safe distance). He didn’t budge. I turned around. Yes, I could have easily gone around him but then I figured I would just have snake heebie-jeebies for the rest of the hike.

I was alone in Shenandoah. This time, I was with Walt. So he did the manly thing, stepping in front of me and poking his hiking stick at the snake, which took notice and turned toward him. We didn’t hear any rattles, but it was sticking its tongue out and clearly was annoyed. I threw a small piece of log near the snake and he eventually took the hint and started off the trail, down the hill. We scampered by behind it.

I made Walt go first for the whole rest of the hike although, of course, we didn’t see any more snakes.

The hike to Lane Pinnacle was very hard with nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain. It was a pretty steady but manageable up for the first 3.5 miles, after which it got pretty steep then we rollercoastered over several knobs (Appalachian speak for “small mountain”) until we hit another steep up and found ourselves on a rock outcropping overlooking a gorgeous view.

Like I said, it was a beautiful day, so we took off our packs, had a snack and enjoyed the warmth of the sun before we headed back.

Since we can’t and don’t want to hike every day, we’ve shipped our golf clubs to Asheville. Neither one of us is a very good player. I took lessons 15 years ago but have golfed maybe half a dozen times in the last 10 years. Walt used to play as many Saturdays as he could but hasn’t played more than a few times in the past two years. So last week we visited the closest municipal golf course and talked to the pro about taking lessons. Now we’re signed up for 5 lessons, just the two of us with the pro. We start with putting, knowing that if we can learn to putt well, it will shave many strokes off our scores. The pro is very patient and gives us simple advice that helps us both. We are well pleased and promise to practice before our next lesson.

But for the rest of this, another beautiful day, we head to Biltmore Village for breakfast (pancakes with blueberry compote, yum ) before driving 100 miles to Statesville for the annual Carolina Balloonfest. The balloons are scheduled to go up sometime between 3:30 and 5:30 and we think we’ve arrived very early at 2:30 but there’s already a line of about 50 people ahead of us. We grab a blanket and jackets out of the car, pay our $5 admission fee and follow the crowd to mark our spot for the launch.

We learn that the balloons probably aren’t going up until toward the end of the 5:30 window, so we wander around the vendors. There’s wine and beer, carnival-type food, various crafts. Walt opts for a beer while I head for the fudge shop and the Black Dynamite Coffee Roasters, getting both a cup for now and a bag of beans to go. I’m not normally into vendor freebies – I don’t need highlighters or pens or pads of papers but I see two different tents where’s they’re handing out reusable grocery bags. Ah, something we could use! I snag one from each, feeling like they’ve just handed me gold. Then we head to the bandstand and listen to some bluegrass until we see the balloons start to inflate in the field behind us.

It’s a perfect blue-sky evening to watch them all ascend. Walt favors the crab-shaped balloon. I like some of the different colored ones.

We head home, still spotting a few balloons in the air.

The next day is rainy. One thing I’ve noticed about Asheville is that the storms come and go very quickly. In DC, it seemed like we’d get a couple of days of clouds, then a day or two of rain, then some more days of clouds before it cleared up. Here the storms seem to develop one night, give us one lousy day of rain, then blow out the following night and we’re back to blue skies, which is very much OK with us.

So the rain leaves and we give it an extra day to dry out because it was a lot of rain before we head out on our next hike. It’s called High Windy but it’s only a 6-mile loop with about 1,500 feet of elevation gain. It’s another lovely day, although High Windy does live up to its name. We did this hike because it was close and short and it didn’t list any stream crossings, which seems like a good idea. Not much for views, but a very nice day.

Between putting practice (we warm up at separate holes then hit half a dozen balls each from the same spot to see who “wins” the hole), hiking, and driving around looking at land for sale, our third week flies by very quickly.

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