Ausflug 27

Bumbling along the Blue Ridge
The Long, Slow Way to Alabama!

June 29th to July 13th , 2002

Sunday June 30, 2002: 37 degrees 13.975 minutes North, 79 degrees, 57.101 minutes West, 1361’MSL

Here I sit in the middle of our campsite. Nature is all around me, smoke is rising from the fire, birds are calling in the trees, and I’m typing on a laptop. Our tent is nestled among the leaves on the ground and the sunlight filters through the trees, but I’m downloading pictures from the digital camera and checking our position on my portable GPS. It’s an odd contrast of primitive with high-tech, but it works for me as long as long as the batteries hold out!

Our first stop after we got onto the Blue Ridge Parkway near Charlottesville was the Humpback Rocks Visitor’s center. I was still getting over the job when we hit the recreated highland farm there, and talking to the old man and the women about the farming life was a good antidote to the stresses I had brought along. The old man explained about the cabin and its furnishings—he lived at the bottom of the mountain and volunteered on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays to explain it all to the tourists. He made a particularly good point about the German immigrants coming to this country because they could become landowners here but never back in Europe.

One woman was fooling around with the woodpile so I asked what she was up to, and she told me a chicken was roosting between stacks of wood. Sure enough, when I looked in I saw this big hen in a space no bigger than herself—I couldn’t imagine how she got in or how she would get out, but they said it had happened before and the chicken had even laid an egg there! The older woman was learning to play a mountain or lap dulcimer on the porch of the cabin when we returned from examining all the outbuildings on display there. I was watching her pick out the tune from a book and it looked fairly simple as she explained it to me. So we had a nice dulcimer concert on the front porch while a young woman was peeling apples for apple pie. She explained how she was going to use the Dutch oven to cook it over the fire embers and how exactly you could change the temperature by using different areas of the hearth, which the cooks of that time surely learned from experience.

After a couple of hours of slow, relaxed driving later, we arrived at the James River area which had a Visitor’s Center and extensive exhibits. To get the old canal lock exhibit, we walked across the river on a nice suspension bridge slung underneath the roadway—nice views upstream and downstream so I took lots of pictures. Diagrams explained the operation of the lock and the type of traffic on it up and down the James. We finished our visit with a short loop nature trail back on the Visitor Center side of the river, and I took some nice pictures and read all the plaques about the different types of trees and bushes. Just getting out of the car and getting some exercise was a relief, and I definitely wanted this to be a walking trip rather than a driving trip. We also were stopping at all of the roadside exhibits on our way south on the parkway and reading the plaques. The only problem was that the “exhibit” signs were a pretty inaccurate indication of whether or not there really was an exhibit at the next turnoff. About half the time when he had the “exhibit” sign, we couldn’t find hide nor hair of any plaque or exhibit in the next turnoff. Even more frustrating was that every once in a while I would spot an special plaque at an overlook where we hadn’t seen any “exhibit” sign. So I learned to gaze intently into each overlook as we slowly went by the entrance, and if I saw any sign of an exhibit I would suddenly hit the brakes and veer across the road into the entrance to get to it. I could get away with this because I held the speed down at a steady 38 mph using the cruise control (couldn’t get it to reliably set any slower than that), AND fortunately the traffic was so sparse that there was almost never anyone behind me.

The entire experience of driving the Blue Ridge Parkway at 38 mph was like taking a slow river rafting excursion down a green canyon. We just ambled along with tall trees on our left and right, following the curves and dips of the road just like following the bends in a river. The car even felt somewhat like a raft at those slow speeds—the road surface was generally as smooth as glass so we just glided along. Every so often we would come to a cultivated part with fields on each side of the road, but for the most part it was a canyon of trees. Occasionally the trees were large enough to close branches overhead to make a green arch or tunnel, which was just gorgeous.

I could easily see why this road was a favorite of motorcyclists. Each day we drove on the parkway, we passed about 20-30% motorcycles, usually big touring bikes, which is far higher percentage than I’ve seen anyplace else, even California. They seemed to be camping, for the most part, and we even saw one private campground dedicated entirely to motorcycles. Having the 360-degree view from a motorcycle would be a spectacular way to see this lovely green canyon, and we might do that in the future.

We next stopped for a walk at a trailhead to the Fallingwater Cascades. Since it was the third walk of the day and the trail was all downhill for about ½ a mile (which means all uphill on the way back!), we weren’t quite sure it would be worth it but we decided to take the chance. The drought had decreased the water flow so much that the cascades were almost dry, and I had a hard time finding a good camera angle for a picture. But we found a pool of water at the top of the cascade that made for a nice picture with Muschi on the bridge, so the walk was worth it.

That evening we arrived at the ridge above Roanoke where we found an open site at the Roanoke Mountain campground and put up camp. We were both a little rusty at putting up the tent—hadn’t been camping in almost 2 years—but after a couple of false starts we got it up all right. I tried out a new method of lashing together the sleeping cots with bungee cords and putting a queen-sized air mattress with fitted sheet on top of it. Somewhat to my surprise, this ensemble worked really well. The 4” thick air mattress is really cushy, and having a queen-sized mattress and sheet gives me more of the feeling of sleeping in a “real bed” where I can stretch and toss and turn. I’m still using the sleeping bag as a cover, but that is still very different than being wrapped up in it like a mummy and struggling to turn over each time. Without the thick mattress, my knees would typically hit the edge of the cot frame every time I turned over and wake me up—often had bruises in the morning, also. So all in all this new arrangement was a great improvement.

After setting up the campsite, we did a little exploring by driving back up the parkway to the Roanoke River Gorge. What with the previous walks and all, we were really pretty tired at the end of the day but thought that the view of the gorge might be worth the fairly short walk down the hill. We were disappointed to find that the overlooks were so overgrown that you really couldn’t see a thing either upstream or downstream—the only thing you get a good view of is the bridge across the gorge! So we found that taking this trail is not really worth the effort or in short, you can “fuggedaboutit”. But back in camp we had a simple dinner and turned in early—around 7 p.m.—which was a general pattern for the camping part of the trip. I wasn’t surprised by this, because in the past we have typically shifted while camping to going to bed before sundown and rising shortly after sunrise. We just naturally seem to fall into this pattern and it results in getting a really good night’s sleep on most nights, which is a big plus.

Sunday morning we planned to do the Roanoke city Volksmarch. The Roanoke Volksmarch starts at the Visitor’s Center in the historic market district right in the middle of downtown. The first thing we saw was a pickup truck filled with folks flying the Brazilian flag and shouting and honking their horn—a rather unique sight. I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but I inferred that Brazil had just won the World Cup in soccer and their fans were celebrating. The route first made a little dipsy-doodle to cross the railroad tracks and give us a view of the old, very elegant railroad hotel—nice that the hotel is preserved and still in use. The route continued through the downtown and crossed a bridge over railroad tracks filled with coal-carrying hopper cars before passing a stadium and crossing a small pedestrian bridge across the Roanoke River. We then made a big loop past some athletic fields through an upscale section of town with nicely designed, older houses. Along the way, Monika picked up an unattached tennis ball that was lying in the gutter and we played catch with that while we walked.

We also stopped to take pictures of a really big tree in the middle of the road, which is one of the landmarks for this walk. I mean this tree is smack dab in the middle of a small street, and it’s a really big, tough old oak. So if anyone doesn’t dodge at the right time on that street, they will be very, very sorry. It made for an interesting picture, though. The return to downtown was at first back over the bridge across the railroad tracks, but then the route changed to go through a different city park. That was pretty and we saw folks out enjoying the warm Sunday weather. We had intended to eat lunch at a food court in the main market building across from the start/finish point, but this turned out to be closed on Sunday so we ate at Salvatori’s restaurant across the street, which was nice and cool after a long hot walk.

After lunch we returned to the parkway to see the Virginia’s Explore Park, which is joint effort of Virginia and the US Park Service. Basically this park is an open-air museum with re-enactors representing the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries of settlement in southwest Virginia, each area separated by a short walk in the forest. The 17th century area featured the different style of Native-American dwellings—some were completely furnished and equipped while others were frameworks showing the construction technique, so I had a lot of scope for interesting pictures. At a fire in the center of the area, a young man explained about the Indian way of life. As we followed the path onward we passed by a deer-skinner’s camp, but it was closed on the day we visited so we just took some pictures and ambled on.

At the 18th century area a woman represented the early homesteaders who built their log cabins from trees felled on their land. She was full of information about the period, including the fact that an acre was originally defined as the amount of land a man and horse could plow in one day. She had a fire going on the hearth—she was cooking some beans in a pot--and some animal skins had been cured and hung up to dry just outside the door. She discussed life in that time and cited the fact that once a male was past childhood he had a decent chance of living into his 50s or 60s, which didn’t seem that bad. But for women, of course, things were worse. They had to also survive their childbearing years before having a chance at that life span—mortality in childbirth was shockingly high, a fact that surprised some of the young girls listening, I think.

The 19th century area had a house and combination barn-chicken coop. A woman was in period costume on the porch sewing on a quilt. The quilt was in a frame that she explained could be suspended from the ceiling when not in use. The interior of the house was completely furnished with period artifacts. In particular, we saw a nice modern reproduction of a mountain dulcimer hanging from the wall. That made me aware of the fact that someone, somewhere, was still making these instruments. It was really beautiful and that gave me the idea of buying one if we could find one, which we later did.

On a field adjacent to the farmhouse, was a 1-room schoolhouse with a schoolmaster in it given lessons! He had the girls separated on one side and boys on the other, and was explaining about schooling in the mid-1800s. He had a real sense of humor, and emphasized the rough and ready catch-as-catch-can nature of rural education during that period—rural education was limited to reading, writing, and arithmetic as those were the only skills necessary for farming. Pay was often in barter and there were no schools of education in Virginia at that time, so any teaching certificate or credentials would have to be from an out-of-state school. One point he repeatedly made to the discomfiture of the young girls was the absolute inequality of males and females at this time—anything beyond the basic minimal education was for males only. Of course, given the mortality of females in childbirth and patrilineal inheritance in general, that really makes some kind of sense.

The path from the 19th century area led down to the river where a James River Bateaux was tied up to the dock. The re-enactor demonstrated the use of block and tackle to increase leverage by having a little girl raise a large 75-pound barrel using the tackle. He casually mentioned he had served time on a square-rigged ship, but I forgot to ask him later which one he served on. He also explained about the construction of the boat, which was simple, sturdy and highly standardized and the use of the boat for commerce on the Virginia rivers in the 19th century. After exploring the boat at the dock, we walked past a period gristmill that was still under construction and returned to the pick-up area where a shuttle returned us to the parking lot. We were pretty tired by this time after 5 hours of walking and appreciated not having to do yet another uphill trek in the heat.

We weren’t done yet, however. From the parking lot we crossed over to the National Park Visitor’s Center that had a great exhibition on the history of the banjo from its African origins to current use as a folk and bluegrass instrument. It looked like a temporary exhibit but it was really very thorough and informative so I do hope it will be preserved somewhere after they renovate the center. At the desk we met Patty Mead, the vice-president of the Virginia Volksmarch Association, who recognized us from VVA meetings—small world! We had a great chat about the walks available along the Blue Ridge and she recommended several of the walks in North Carolina we later took. All together, we spent 3 hours at the Virginia Explore Park and had a wonderful time.

Before going back to camp, we took the loop road up and down Roanoke Mountain, parking near the top to take a small loop trail to the top. After dinner back at camp, we drove up to Roanoke Star on Mill Mountain. It was very large (10,000 pounds plus a 60,000 pound support structure) and garish (can be lit with different neon colors). But it was situated in a nice park with a zoo across the way, so that would make it a good stop for kids. We had been walking most of the day so we skipped the zoo for the time being and went back to camp for an evening concert of old-time country music. This was a live performance from 7-8 p.m. put on by a 5-person group right in the campground. The group consisted of one fiddle, a banjo, two guitars, and a bass guitar, each played by a white-haired geezer. Their playing was great, but only the fiddler could project his voice at all, the other four mostly mumbled. Monika had problems hearing the words, and I had trouble making out the words due to the mountain accent, but the playing was simply beautiful so that was enough.

Monday, July 1, 2002

We packed up and managed to stuff everything into the car—we were used to camping with an SUV and there isn’t a lot of room to spare in our Spirit. Our first stop was to hiked the loop trail at the “Smart View” cabin and roadside area. On the way we saw some dumb deer in the middle of the road—I had to brake hard to avoid hitting them. They just stopped in the middle and stared at us in a true “deer in the headlights” manner. It was as if they were thinking, “Gee, there’s a big thing with two lights and four wheels, could that be a car? Well, maybe it’s Charley the black bear on his skateboard holding two flashlights. No, that really looks like a car. Well, maybe we’d better cross the street before it eats us. Do cars eat deer? Well, OK, let’s mosey across the road.” Even squirrels seem to get out of the way faster than those deer! I was just glad I didn’t hit them—I did that once and it caused considerable damage to the front of my Toyota. That time I jumped out of the car and went to the deer, which was lying there with its legs twitching, but I didn’t know how to say, “Sorry I hit you. What can I do to help?” in deer-speak, so I just stood there mutely until it jumped up and ran away! I surely didn’t want to repeat that experience, so I was quite happy when the deer finally crossed over and we could drive on.

We also saw a family of wild turkey cross the road in front of us. In contrast to the deer, these turkey were smart. One parent was at the front, three smaller ones were in between, and the other parent brought up the rear. They were somewhat scrawny-looking and mottled brown and black rather than the white of the domestic turkey, but they had the funny-shaped heads and wattle thing that marked them as turkeys. Unlike the deer, they seemed quite aware of us and the parents hurried the youngsters across the road to get out of our way. Domestic turkeys are known to be dumb but clearly these wild turkey had the idea that cars were dangerous and they should get out of the way quickly. Small wonder that Ben Franklin wanted them to be our national bird rather than the eagle.

We stopped at Mabry Mill shortly after 11 for lunch, where we also wanted to revisit the reconstructed grist mill from the late 1800s we last saw about 14 years ago. For lunch I had the Mabry Mill Special which was a huge serving of pork barbecue between two large pancakes made from cornmeal. It was exceptionally filling, which was great because I was exceptionally hungry.

After lunch we toured the Mabry Mill set of exhibits, which was much more extensive than we remembered. The huge overshot water wheel was still there and was, of course, impressive, but the most amazing thing about this mill was that Mabry had also engineered a sawmill and a woodworking shop as attachments on either side of the mill. He had ingeniously rigged the water drive to also power the blade and truck of the sawmill and the implements in the woodworking shop like a jigsaw. All this was done by a complex system of huge belts about 6 inches wide and an eighth of an inch thick. The belts we saw were canvass layered ones, but I expect that the original belts were of leather like I saw in Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum once.

An old gent saw me taking pictures of the different types of horse-drawn plows and accosted me with, “You know what makes these two plows different?” Without waiting for me to respond he continued, “That one back yonder has a fixed plow board that you can’t shift, so you could only plow one way. This one you can shift the plow board from side to side, so you can plow a field back and forth after turning it around. I plowed with one when I was young and you had to kind of lift it up at the end of a furrow and kick down on this shaft to flip it over. Now the ones we used had a spring on it that would keep it in position but this one doesn’t have one.” He seemed to want to talk some more but his wife had continued on and he explained, “My wife had a stroke last year and she gets tired real easy—can’t do as much as she used to.” I expressed my sympathy and we thanked him as he hurried off to find his wife.

Most of the other exhibits were fairly mundane examples of farm-related things, but the one I got a hoot out of was the reconstructed bootlegger’s still. Situated by a small stream, it appeared to be a working example and of course the park service had a plaque up that very carefully, tongue in cheek, explained all facets of the distillation process. I was surprised to see the estimate that a small still like the one exhibited could make over 20 gallons of distilled liquor in a single night! The older man beside us, who spoke with a local accent, opined that the dad-burn revenuers had busted up most of the stills in this area, but there might just be a few still working out yonder somewhere. Chuckling over that remark, we returned to the car to continue our drive south.

When we stopped for snacks, the lady at the convenience store responded to my joke about being married a long time by telling me all about her disastrous misfortunes in marriage. It seems she lost her first husband after 10 years to a heart attack, and then lost her second husband earlier this year after only 8 months of marriage to an accident. Goodness gracious. She ended this tale of woe by saying, “You never really do get over it, do you?”, and I was nonplused but had to agree. What do you say when someone confides in you like that? I awkwardly offered condolences on her losses as best I could and we motored on, veering off the parkway to Boone, North Carolina, where we planned to take our next Volksmarch.

We arrived in Boone shortly after 4 p.m. and found that the town fancied itself a ski resort of all things, which was quite unexpected for the middle of North Carolina. Buildings with faux Swiss Chalet styling competed with the usual American Strip style of Burger Kings, etc., offering an occasional jarring contrast. Even though July would clearly be considered the off-season for skiing, the hotels continued to assume the “resort” scale of prices, so we took a Hampton Inn room for $105. We later found coupon books for North Carolina motels that listed that selfsame Hampton Inn on Mondays for $55, so we basically flushed $50 down the old rat hole by not getting the book and selecting our motel from there. It’s an expensive way to learn a lesson. For all the rest of the nights we stayed in motels, though, we did use the coupon books and had nice rooms with continental breakfasts for an average of $50 per night. We like having a breakfast bar to help get us on our way early, so that’s one factor in selecting a motel for the night.

The really appalling thing that evening wasn’t really the prices, but how exhausted we were after getting the Volksmarch information at the Visitor’s Center and having a quick bite to eat. We both just collapsed. I just couldn’t stay awake and went to bed at 6:30 p.m. Possibly I was catching up on a sleep deficit, I just don’t know. I remember apologizing to Monika that I was collapsing so early, but she had also turned in right beside me and the last thing I remember her saying was, “Don’t worry about it; after all, I’m horizontal too!” The net result was that we both had a really long, good night’s sleep.

Tuesday, July 2, 2002

The first order of business was that breakfast bar, but then we lit out to do the Volksmarch in Boone which featured the campus of Appalachian State University. We started at a parking lot in main street Boone, which is a small commercial strip near the campus. We walked over to the campus and then wound around it with a series of loops. That could have boring, but the campus was very pretty and the walk took full advantage of that. We did several loops around a beautifully landscaped stream in the middle of the campus with beds of flowers, little waterfalls, and still pools. There was also a lot of sculpture and statues scattered about the campus. We particularly enjoyed a large, light-spirited one of Yosef the mountain main, who seemed to be caught in middle of a dance step during a country hoe down. Nearby was a more sober, simple statue of Daniel Boone with his dogs, whom I’ve always admired (Boone, not the dogs). I wondered if the statue was modeled from any likeness of him or just cut from whole cloth. All in all, we enjoyed this walk a lot and would recommend it as long as you can find a cheap place to sleep!

Returning to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we turned right and stopped at the Moses H. Cone Parkway Craft Center. They have really nice exhibits in a huge, historic old mansion right on the top of the ridge. Many of the crafts there are just plain gorgeous including melted glass pitchers and glasses. The oddest craft was western style hats carved out of solid wood. That sounds bulky, but the hats were carved to be quite thin and amazingly light. However they did not have dulcimers, so I asked and they told me about a dulcimer shop in Blowing Rock, not more than 2 miles away. We drove over and found a shop with a wall of beautiful dulcimers. I bought the one that sounded the best to our ears for Monika and bought a dulcimer kit for myself—just something to keep me busy after retirement. After a false start back along the parkway we returned to retrieve my credit card and had lunch at Blowing Rock before continuing south.

That afternoon we stopped at Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center and walked a bit on the trails to stretch our legs and also get a better view of this road, which is pretty impressive. The basic road was constructed on piers to minimize ecological disturbance and consists of pre-cast concrete sections. The last time we drove the parkway this viaduct was still under construction, so it was nice to see it completed.

Our main hike of the afternoon was to see Linnville Falls, which is a major falls not far off the parkway. We hiked the yellow and red trails at Linnville Falls—both had nice views! We first hiked the yellow trail to the bottom of the falls, which was the toughest because of all the down and up we had to do. But you could get fairly close to the bottom of the falls and get some great pictures. On the way back we saw the plunge basin for another great view. The red trail was shorter, easier, and used by the vast majority of the visitors so it was broad and well-traveled. This trail first passed the upper falls and then curled around for different views of the lower falls. Each overlook really offered spectacular views of these very scenic falls, and the falls were particularly impressive given the overall drought for the area which must have reduced the water flow a bit.

The thunderstorms held off while we were on the trails, thank goodness, but they really hit with a vengeance later that afternoon—huge downpours, sheets of lightning, and hail drumming on the car. It didn’t get above pea sized, so I think the car’s finish wasn’t chipped. It got so bad at one point that we considered stopping in a tunnel we were driving through just to wait it out, but finally we just got too impatient and pushed on. Things didn’t get any better after the next half hour of driving ten miles an hour with the wipers on full blast, so we stopped at a café for dinner and to wait the storm out. That gave us a nice barbecue sandwich for dinner plus conversation with another couple who seemed interested in Volksmarching. We finally got to Pisgah campground later that night and fortunately they still had a few campsites open—I think the rain might have discouraged some campers. The thunderstorms were just about over by then—we just got rained on by drips from the trees while setting up the tent.

Wednesday, July 03, 2002, 35 degrees, 24.384’ North, 082 degrees 45.360’ West, 4913 feet MSL

Our first goal for today was the Asheville Volksmarch. The Volksmarch in Asheville starts with a zig-zag through the small downtown area and then crosses under an interstate to a nice residential area. We were taken aback by a knot of Christians yelling at a women’s center with bullhorns, apparently trying to intimidate pregnant women. The picture is more complex than it seems, however, because while we were passing one of the local folks was also yelling at them to mind their own business (a sentiment we fully agreed with). After that, the route along Irwing Street was a steady uphill with a golf course on our right and some very nice big houses on the left. It was hot and we were surprisingly tired by this uphill slog and had to stop for water breaks along the way. The return to the downtown area was by way of botanical gardens on the grounds of the University of North Carolina at Asheville (a rather small branch with 3,000 students). The gardens featured a historical log cabin and a nicely landscaped stream with graceful wooden bridges. After getting turned around in the hospital grounds on Zallicosa Street, we found our way back to the main street and followed it back downtown. By this time we were really dragging and just put one foot in front of the other to get across the bridge and back to our car at the Visitor’s Center. Starting up the car I felt both exhausted and starving, and we stopped at the first Arby’s we could find to grab some lunch—we both just wolfed the food down. Then we shopped at an “Ingles” store for some groceries (and cooled off in the air conditioning) before driving back to the parkway.

When we intersected the parkway, we turned north to tour the Folk Art Center. This center has a very extensive and nice collection of local crafts including baskets, brooms, stained glass, hammer dulcimers (but not the lap type of dulcimer we had bought), and so forth. On the second floor they had a great exhibit on Scottish crafts from shipbuilding to weaving, so we spent a little over an hour reading it all and watching a short video on the history of the center. On the way back to camp we stopped at the North Carolina Arboretum to look at the route for a Volksmarch there. It looked interesting, but we were too tired to even think about walking it that afternoon. The best we could manage was to drag ourselves back to the car and return to camp to eat Bing cherries and relax for the rest of the evening, but that turned out to have charms all its own.

As I write this I’m listening to Monika play the mountain dulcimer, and it has a very soothing sound even in the hands of a beginner (which is something you can’t say for a violin or a slide trombone!). She approached it by very carefully checked the tuning and playing each note on the music just as it was written. The tunes were old favorites and after she finished each one I was challenged to “name that tune”. If I named it correctly, she considered her playing a success. Thank goodness I recognized almost all of them.

Next it was my turn at the dulcimer, and I managed to pluck out some melodies that were faintly recognizable while singing under my breath, which was my plan for using it in the future. But I approached it quite differently because I lack musical knowledge, which turned out to be an advantage. Now Monika, you see, plays violin and had a music minor in college, so she had to integrate the dulcimer with all her previous music knowledge, like what key was it in and which fret stood for which note. I, on the other hand, just had to learn the number for each fret and match it to the number on the sheet of music. Then I simply pressed the Popsicle stick beside that fret with my left hand and strummed the strings with my right hand, and hey presto, music!! No problem with excess musical knowledge getting in my way! So I strummed and hummed away in ignorant bliss, just watching the numbers and trying to make it sound about right. Singing along helped—it was crystal clear when the dulcimer and I were singing different notes—the dissonance sounded dreadful. But when we were together it sounded rather nice, so I was encouraged to keep on trying—maybe something to fill my idle time in retirement.

During the night we had a real gully-washer of a downpour, but the tent didn’t leak so I turned over to get back to sleep. The basic essentials of camping in the rain are first that the tent stays up, and second that the tent doesn’t leak—all else is unnecessary frill. Later that night the rain was blowing off the trees with each gust of wind, and the unpredictability of that intermittent roar kept me awake a bit. I thought about the only disadvantage to this campsite, which was the lack of a shower, and suddenly remembered the “sponge baths” I took when I was 9 or 10 and we lived on 7645 South Chicago Avenue. The apartment building had shared bathrooms for the 4 three-room apartments on each floor, and the one time I took a bath there was no hot water and I almost turned blue. My mom tried these sponge baths where I stood in a pan of warm water in the kitchen and used a sponge to soap down and rinse off. I expect she had done this style of bathing when growing up on a rural farm in Michigan before WWI. In any case, it was a lot warmer than a cold water bath, so I started in to thinking about whether we could do that while camping. All I can remember is that the pan was about 2 feet wide, galvanized pan with maybe a 6-inch lip on it. But I was young and I might be remembering it as larger than it was.

Thursday, July 04, 2002

We felt much refreshed in the morning and decided to do the Arboretum Volksmarch before driving to Waynesville. Along the way, Monika counted 10 tunnels between the Pisgah campground and the turnoff for the Arboretum. The trail first wound around the extensive formal gardens and beds of flowers next to the Visitor’s Center. This part had so many interesting features—small waterfalls, beds of flowers in the pattern of a really huge quilt, gates of sculptured bronze, and bird feeders filled with golden finches—that taking pictures of it all slowed us up quite a bit. The second section was a really long nature trail through the woods with a plaque about every 50 yards describing a tree or bush. Reading those also slowed us up a bit, but it was nice to be able to name some parts of the “Green Canyon” that we had driven through for the last several days. The third section of the trail followed a stream for a bit and then did a very long, steady uphill climb for about a kilometer, which gave us aerobic workout. We were both relieved when it leveled off to follow a ridge top trail for a while before descending back down to a stream. At the bridge over the stream we saw a couple feeding a school of about 15 trout some bread crumbs. I latter learned that no fishing was allowed in the arboretum, so the trout had quite obviously lost their fear of man—they were so far from it that they were enthusiastically waiting for their handouts. They were amazingly quick to attack and gobble the bread crumbs up as soon as they hit the water, so watching them was quite a pleasure.

From the bridge the trail went through a thicket of rhododendron along the stream side that was thick enough to be one of the “green hells” described as being impossible to penetrate by the original settlers. But here a Cadillac trail with a nice soft wood chip surface had been carved through the bushes, so the walking was just a cool, shaded stroll. Our next stop was the arboretum greenhouse which was quite large but unfortunately closed for the holiday—I’d surely like to have seen the plants raised inside. From there we followed another soft wood chip trail winding through the woods back the Visitor’s Center, but along the way we had the thrill of seeing a Pileated Woodpecker foraging for food in the tree canopy above us. I was just a little frustrated that I couldn’t ever get a clear shot at him for the scrapbook. When we signed in and stamped our books, we were quite taken by the very pretty patch offered for this walk, so we paid for the award as well and took two with us. All in all, this Volksmarch offers beautiful flowerbeds, formal gardens, artwork on display at the Visitor Center, and miles of first-class walking in the forest on groomed trails or fire roads. The trails are about 3000 feet up and the air is cool and clean even when the valley is hot and muggy. If you like woods walks rather than city walks, don’t miss this one especially if you are driving the Blue Ridge Parkway because it’s less than a half mile off the parkway.

We drove down the mountain to the outskirts of Asheville for lunch and continued west to Waynesville. It was still early in the afternoon and we both decided we had the energy for a second walk. The start/finish for the Waynesville Volksmarch is the Mast General Store on Main Street, which is worth the price of admission itself. The store has 3 levels and is filled with a real miscellany of articles from clothes to camping gear to kitchen utensils. With all the July 4th shopping crowd, the store was a zoo and we had to ask to find the box downstairs on top of a counter with maps for sale. The directions were quite clear, there was a map on the back, and to top it off the club had attached aluminum AVA signs with a hiker to signposts at each turn of the hike—that made it almost impossible to get lost even for folks like us! The directions also had capsule histories of the historic buildings you were passing on the walk, which gave the walk even more interest. The trail itself was a large elliptical loop first to the east along main street, then back south along a parallel street to the west side of town, and finally a loop back to the north and east to return to Main street and the start finish.

What is hard to describe is how different an impression we got of Waynesville on different parts of the walk—it really seemed like very different towns. The walk along Main Street was a crowded street filled with high-class tourist shops—lots of art galleries and boutiques, and then some oddities like the Mast general store and an open-air market (but no T-shirts or wax museums!). On the parallel side street only two blocks south, the sidewalks were completely deserted and we got a more industrial, working part of the town impression with businesses like auto parts rather than tourist boutiques. When we looped back up north, we had a golf course on one side and the larger homes of the well-to-do folks on the other. Curiously, this is where we both thought the walk route was rather dangerous—there were no sidewalks on that section and no shoulders, so we had the choice of walking either with or against traffic. The directions recommended the direction with traffic, and that might have been marginally safer, but having the cars scream up behind my back was a hair-raising experience. I got in the habit of looking backward over my shoulder while walking forward on the very edge of the pavement, which was a little bit like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time—kind of awkward. I was truly glad when we turned off onto a side street to work our way back to the center of town, and I really very seldom feel that way on a Volksmarch. But on the way back we found a Baskin-Robbins, and we both went in to cool off. Monika had a mocha blast and I rewarded myself with a banana split with all the trimmings before we strolled back through the crowds on Main Street to the finish point. Waynesville is a quaint, attractive little town and the walk is superlatively laid out, but I would recommend being extremely careful on the parts without sidewalks and never attempting this one in bad weather or at night—the danger from cars on that one section is just too high.

What is really curious is why we had so little energy yesterday that one routine walk completely exhausted us and today we had energy for two walks and some to spare. Monika opines that yesterday we suffered from the dreaded “Second Day Syndrome” where we were feeling the after effects of the walks from the previous day. I’m more of the opinion that we had a very light breakfast and were just running out of fuel on the walk. It was hot yesterday, of course, and that may have played a role but it was rather hot today also and we did not suffer the enervation of yesterday. Thinking about this a little more, we also considered that we may have had a touch of altitude sickness, since we are camped at about 4,500 ft., a lot higher than what our body is used to.

Friday, July 05, 2002

We decided to stay another day at the Mount Pisgah campground as it was so nice and cool, so we drove down US 276 to get to US 19 and Maggie Valley. Maggie Valley was shown on the map as smaller than Waynesville, so I kind of expected a bucolic walk through a small mountain village. The reality we experienced, however, was quite different. Maggie Valley is basically two miles of strip development, mainly motels, cafes, and some miscellaneous tourist shops. We walked up and down a main drag of a busy 4-lane US highway that had almost no trees or shade on either side, and it was hot. We were constantly breathing the car exhaust fumes and being assaulted by the traffic noise—the sidewalk is right beside the road. Respite was offered by a couple of turnoffs that led off the main drag onto some side streets, but these were brief. One of the detours led past a large, permanent flea market which had quite a variety of stalls, and that was fun. Monika bought some yarn to start crocheting and I bought a children’s book entitled, “Mr. Bear In The Air” about a bear who builds and flies an airplane. On the whole, though, we found the walk to be hot and boring. Unless you like walking up and back past motels, cafes, and tourist shops on a major thoroughfare with nary a tree in sight (except up on the mountains), skip this one.

We had lunch just down the street from the start/finish point at Bob’s Ham House, a converted Stuckeys that only served breakfast and lunch. That gave us enough energy to drive over to Cherokee and come back to our campground from the other end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Conceptually this was a good idea, but we sadly underestimated the traffic congestion in Cherokee—it took us over half an hour of steady stop-and-go traffic to get through the town to the parkway entrance. Along the way we saw that Cherokee was trying to emulate the uncontrolled tacky growth of Gatlinburg across the mountains with one addition: a 10-story Harrah’s Hotel and Casino. For us, this did not add to the town’s cachet. Despite good memories of a previous visit to the Cherokee Indian museum in town, we decided not to stop and we were happy to put the town behind us.

The drive back on the Blue Ridge Parkway was, thank goodness, quite restful. The usual sparse traffic and slow speeds combined with the magnificent scenery to relax my nerves. We stopped once at Waterrock Knob Visitor’s Center, where I almost bought a book on mountain humor. We spotted a half-mile trail to the mountain’s crest, and I asked the ranger what was the elevation gain. Without a blink or a pause, he replied “472 feet”—I guess other folks had asked the same question! We felt like some more exercise, so we (slowly) hiked the trail that was pretty much straight up the mountainside. But there were a couple of families with 8-10 year old children that went up the trail with us, and we were entertained by the children running on ahead and then waiting for the “old folks” to catch up. The trail was really rocky, and I was impressed that one young girl was doing the hike barefoot. We paused on top to take pictures of Maggie Valley on one side and other mountain ridges on the other side before carefully descending to our car.

That evening I cooked the fake eggs and ham that we had purchased in the IGA in Cherokee, added mushrooms and put it on toast. It was very tasty, and it was a darned good thing it was because since it wouldn’t keep that well, we had exactly the same thing the next morning for breakfast! Ah yes, the exigencies of camping like lack of good refrigeration—you wonder how we all got along without it, and the answer is NOT VERY WELL! I still remember when I was young, trying to get Jello to set by putting it outdoors because we didn’t have a refrigerator—I can tell you it doesn’t work except to attract ants!

Saturday, July 6, 2002

After our reprise breakfast, we broke camp, said good-bye to Mt. Pisgah, and drove to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for a Volksmarch. I wondered how it had changed since I last visited about 20 years ago and found wall-to-wall tourist traps like wax museums, T-shirt shops, and the like. It’s hard to imagine, but the town has actually become worse. The tourist attractions have now become multi-story in Gatlinburg and spread back up the main street many miles. This strip now extends beyond the next town of Pigeon Forge, which features Dollywood water park as the crown jewel in its attractions. After driving through mile after mile of this, Monika remarked that you could spend an entire week here visiting all the non-natural attractions and never get into the nartional park at all, and I’m reasonably sure some families do this. The main difference between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge is that Gatlinburg has two-lane thoroughfares and horrendous traffic congestion while Pigeon Forge has a 6-lane main drag and the traffic can at least move between stoplights. The usual concomitant of congestion, parking lots charging fees, was the rule in Gatlinburg, and when we found a legal space I could stuff the Dodge into, I ducked right in although we weren’t sure how far it was to the start/finish point—it turned out to be about ½ a mile.

The start/finish point for the Gatlinburg Volksmarch is the “Happy Hiker”, a backpacking/hiking store at the edge of Gatlinburg near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My nerves were a-jangle from threading my way through the stop-and-go traffic for miles to reach the town, so I was extremely glad to find that the walk began by turning onto a forest path almost from the front door of the Happy Hiker—from what I saw driving through it, I would not have wanted to walk in the town itself. The trail follows the Little Pigeon River upstream from Gatlinburg into the park, and it is very pretty and refreshing to have the water burbling along beside you, especially on a hot summer day. The day we walked was in the 90s, but almost the entire walk is under a thick canopy of trees which kept the effective temperature 10-15 degrees cooler. The only fly in the ointment is that for the first part of the walk you can distinctly here the traffic entering the park on the main road nearby—the motorcycles in particular are obnoxiously loud (I’ve driven motorcycles for almost 40 years, so I don’t think I’m simply anti-motorcycle). Here and there along the river we saw families paddling about in the shallows, the kids splashing and yelling and having a great time. The best “swimmin’ hole” I saw had a nice sandy bottom and was about 50 yards upstream from where a side trail to the park entrance marker joined the riverside trail. But even that one was only deep enough to be about waist high on the kids--just deep enough to duck under all the way but not really dangerous. We also saw a couple fishing, and they told us they had caught some rainbow trout early that morning, but had no luck for the last few hours and were going to try again later that evening.

So with one thing and another, the 2 miles out to the Sugarland Visitor’s Center went quite quickly. The visitor’s center itself was thronged with people. We took a quick tour inside and found some very nice wildlife exhibits, pictures of the National Parks, and a theater presentation, but it was just too crowded to stop and enjoy it, so we used the bathroom facilities and carried on. The next section of the trail was Sugarland Nature Trail which has a very nice brochure for the numbered exhibits—I strongly recommend anyone doing the trail to buy one and read it as you mosey along. One thing I learned was how careful the early settlers were to use all available cropland—they kept the road right next to the stream to avoid encroaching on the fields and would cultivate slopes of up to 45 degrees for row crops. As the brochure said, even if the settlers could have afforded wagons, they wouldn’t have been any use on land that steep.

The high point of the nature trail was a settler’s log cabin which is still in pretty good repair. The fireplace looks quaint and cozy to us, but it would have been bitter cold in a cabin like that in the winter in the old days—I’ve heard folks who actually did homesteading testify to that and I can surely believe it. The rest of the nature trail explained about forest succession and how the land was slowly returning to a climax forest of hardwoods adapted to the cove environment. It’s a slow process, however, and won’t be completed in my lifetime but it’s nice to think my grandchildren will be able to come and see it. On our way back we spotted a young male deer (3-point buck, I think) grazing just off the trail. So Monika snapped a couple of pictures—our rule is that whoever has the camera when we run across something like this has first dibs on taking the pictures and she had the camera at the moment. That rule serves one very useful purpose: it encourages us to take turns carrying the camera! At the end of the nature trail loop, we returned back on the trail beside the Little Pigeon River and headed back to Gatlinburg. Although this part is an in-and-out, the views are beautiful in both directions and we didn’t mind a bit going back that way. We looked around the Happy Hiker just out of curiosity, and found Polaroids of all the Appalachian Trail through-hikers for this season tacked to the walls. I also bought a lightweight belt that I had needed for some time, and we set off to find the car.

That turned out to be more difficult than we thought. I don’t know why, but this car blends into the scenery like a stealth airplane. We both just walked right by it and finally had to turn around and retrace our steps to locate it. It would have been funny but we were hot, tired, and thirsty and walking through Gatlinburg at that point, so it wasn’t very pleasant. We sagged into the car, turned on the air conditioning, and crept out of town in the stop-and-go traffic, heading for Nashville just as fast as we could.

The drive to Nashville was scenic, but lasted 3 ½ hours, so we were glad to get to our motel. We stayed at a Shoney’s Inn that is the start/finish point for the Nashville Volksmarch, which was doggone convenient and allowed us to get an early start the next morning.

Sunday, July 07, 2002

We stopped in to the front desk before starting our walk and found bagels, fat-free cream cheese, muffins, coffee, and juice, so we had a quick mini-breakfast before hitting the trail. The Volksmarch route crossed the interstate on one bridge and then jogged left at a “naked-women-men’s-club” before crossing a set of railroad tracks on a second bridge. At the end of this bridge was a huge, elegant old railroad station that had been turned into a hotel, but otherwise preserved—very impressive. The trail then led us down to the Cumberland River along a main street with mainly 1800s-style buildings, most converted to boutiques or shops of various kinds. We also had very nice views of the modern city skyline which includes several very pretty skyscrapers. At the river we turned left and walked along a park to a reconstructed log palisade fort from the colonial era. The exhibit contained four buildings, each with what appeared to be authentic furnishings, and we took pictures of one interior with an old weaving loom and a spinning wheel.

For much of the rest of our walk, the trail followed a city walk demarcated by a green line painted on the sidewalk, which helped us avoid false turns. We zig-zagged our way through the old, historic areas of Nashville including the riverside district and Printer’s Alley, an area devoted to publishing books, newspapers, and carousing. The zig-zag stopped at the state capitol on top of the highest hill in the city. The capitol itself was quite pretty, with a crenellated tower in the center rather than the ubiquitous golden dome, and all in all it looked much like an old castle. Looks in this case were not entirely deceiving, because during the Civil War the capitol had been in fact converted to a fort to defend the city from Union forces (it failed--the Union took Tennessee and Nashville anyway). Out front were statues of Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson, both Tennesseeans who had become President. I also ran across a full-sized replica of the Liberty Bell, and found that it had a clapper and a rope tied to the clapper. I couldn’t resist pulling the rope to see if it would really ring, and boy did it ever! It gave out this huge, deep, booming BOOOONG which kind of shook my body and made my ears ring (but it was worth it!). I was surprised and put my hands on it to dampen the sound, and that may work with little bells, but it surely didn’t have any effect at all on that big momma! All that happened was my arms started vibrating and transmitting sound up through my bones directly to my ears. It turns out you get really good bass notes that way—didn’t even need a sub-woofer! So if you ever take this walk and if they have that rope on the clapper, give it a yank and get the thrill of what it was really like to ring the Liberty Bell. However, you might also consider taking along good earplugs and using them for that event, especially if you have sensitive ears. Also bring your swimsuit as I’ll explain shortly.

So I staggered off somewhat unsteadily down the hill and we curved to the left to an overview of the Tennessee Bicentennial Park. From that vantage point, the park didn’t look particularly impressive, but I became very impressed by the park after looking at it close-up. We first passed a large state map put in the ground kind of like a mosaic, with lights for each major city and lines representing the major highways—it was a really impressive piece of work. From there we walked down the left side of the park past a series of at least 20 monoliths somewhat resembling the ones from “2001, A Space Odyssey”. Each one was engraved with a date and had a set of corresponding events in Tennessee’s history carved in a black granite wall on the other side of the sidewalk. It started with “One Billion Years Ago” and continued on to “1996”—things were slow for the first billion years, however, and the pace of the dates on the monoliths picked up after 1796 so that they were every ten years. What an intriguing way to represent a state’s history! There were occasional memorials that were each tastefully done: a cheerful one to the statehood of Tennessee and a more somber WWII memorial. After about two blocks of these monoliths and memorials, we reached the head of the park which was marked by a 95-bell carillon. The bells were set in 48 towers, half of which were in graceful arcs on each side of the park center. I was just thinking I would love to have hear this carillon play when it burst into song. It played the first few bars of the “Tennessee Waltz”—not the whole song, of course, it just tantalized me by playing the first few bars for some reason. I didn’t know the carillon’s schedule and we couldn’t wait to see if it would do more, so we walked back down the right side of the park. Just before we got back to the big state map, we passed a set of about 31 fountains in front of a black granite wall—might have represented Tennessee lakes or rivers, I didn’t notice because I was entranced by watching the fountains and the kids playing in them. The fountains were carefully timed to have a whimsical sequence of squirtings and silences, much like the fountain movements I first saw set to music in a Wasser-Orgel at “Planten and Blomen” in Hamburg, Germany, in the 1970s. These weren’t set to music, but that didn’t bother the kids a bit—they had on their swimsuits and were running through the fountains, trying to guess when each fountain was going to erupt. So if you take this walk in the summer, wear your swimsuit underneath and take some time off for running through the water fountains. It surely will help you stay cool for the rest of the walk!

We left the park to climb back up the hill to the state capitol, huffing and puffing our way up the stairs, and then circled it to return to the historic district. This time, however, we just jogged straight through the district and head for the Magnificent Elderly Opera House, or the “Grand Old Opry” as it is known locally. It turned out to be a very pretty building that has been beautifully restored and still is, I think, used for some performances. The trail then made one final loop past the Hall of Fame and Museum of Country Music before heading straight back across the railroad tracks and the interstate to the start/finish point. Except for that last stretch, this walk was chock full of interesting things to see and take pictures of—we spent an extra half-hour at least taking well over 70 pictures. So bring your earplugs, swimsuit, and camera and walk the Nashville Volksmarch! Just remember to keep the camera out of the fountains.

For the rest of the day, we drove straight south through Tennessee to Alabama. We had overly-ambitious thoughts of maybe doing the Birmingham Volksmarch in the afternoon, so we actually branched off the interstate and drove to the start point downtown. But when we got out of the car – it must have been in the 90’s and humid like a steam bath– we thought better of this idea. So we just looked at the directions, thanked the lady at the front desk of the hotel and then drove on to Montgomery.

While driving to the east side of Montgomery to look for a hotel, we stopped at the start point for the Montgomery Volksmarch to get the directions and a feel for the land. Everything seemed pretty straightforward and the desk clerk at the Embassy Suites Hotel actually assured us that it would be OK to park in their hotel parking lot the next day, so we drove on to find a hotel at the next exit and put up for the night.

Monday, July 8, 2002

As it was already getting hot at 7 am, we decided to do the Montgomery walk and then come back, take another shower, and check out. The start/finish for the Montgomery Volksmarch is right in the middle of the old city near the riverfront. We started out looking at the very large but picturesque old train station across the street from the hotel and then worked our way up the hill to a park offering good views of the river, the train tracks right next to the river, and the older section of town. The park also had plaques explaining the early history of Montgomery which were fun to read. From the park we turned inward to climb a hill and see a couple of nice Victorian-era houses before going back to the main part of the downtown. We criss-crossed the downtown area and saw many historic buildings including the church where Martin Luther King was active during the Civil Rights Movement and the state capitol where the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march ended.

From the downtown, we took a highway a half mile or so out to the cemetery where Hank Williams was buried. One section of the cemetery was dedicated to English and French soldiers who died during training here in WWII—very touching. I was taken completely aback, however, by the sight of several men working in the cemetery wearing black-and-white stripped pajamas. I saw that type of prison uniform in a movies about a 1920s prisoner called “The Old Man”, but I had no idea that they still used that type of clothing. Jim later told me that for state prisoners they still use the leg shackles for chain gangs, but the cemetery workers must have been city or county prisoners because they were unrestrained. Still, passing by these guys gave me pause to think about the really cruel way we run prisons in this country. We wrapped up the walk by returning to the downtown section. One unexpected section of town we ran across was “Old Alabama” section. It was closed when we walked past, but appeared to be an open-air type of museum where representative buildings and trade shops from Montgomery’s past were on display. The only thing I don’t know is if they have docents or re-enactors when this attraction is open. But I’m pretty sure you have to buy tickets for it, which might be a fun idea if you are doing this walk. All in all, the Montgomery walk is a nice, interesting state capital walk, but if you do it in the summer we would strongly recommend that you do it as early in the morning as possible and take plenty of water.

Feeling somewhat wilted by the heat, we finished the walk, called Helga and Jim to give them our ETA, and drove back to our hotel to take another shower before driving on to Auburn and our family. Helga made a nice soup for lunch and then we played with Tori and Nicki (Pam’s children) in the pool to keep cool and have some fun in the afternoon. Tori is 6 and was just learning to swim, so we made that into a game, and Nikki had a lot of fun diving off the low board at the deep end of the pool. Pam and Kim came back in time for a big dinner with everyone present, which was a lot of fun. Later that evening, Pam, Helga, the kids and we went to see Natalie at Smoothie King and had a nice visit with her plus great smoothies! (If you have to ask what that is, you just aren’t with it: it’s like a milkshake only more fruit and stuff and less ice cream and blended more to obtain to a more creamy consistency.)

Tuesday: Helga’s 70th Birthday!!!

Nikki roused us at 6:15 a.m. (he’s an early riser!), but Pam and Kim had already been up and picked flowers to decorate Helga’s place at the breakfast table since she was the birthday girl. Desperately trying to wake up, I made a quick dash with Pam to Kroger to get breakfast stuff and flowers and a balloon for Helga. We came back just in time to get the flowers in a vase on the table and attach the balloon to her chair before she got up for the morning. When she came down for breakfast, we all gave her a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday. I cooked a breakfast of French toast using the fake eggs and vanilla—a powerful combination! After breakfast, in the usual German fashion we had the presents for Helga. She got a nice painting from Kimi and a Powerpoint presentation of her life history that Monika and I had put together with a lot of old pictures we had scanned in.

Pam, Kim, Monika and I went shopping for decorations for Helga’s birthday dinner and found some nice things, and then we hurried home to join the group. Nicki had the idea of a picnic lunch with Grossmama and Pam had a nice seedless watermelon in a cooler in her car, so we slapped together some sandwiches, piled into Pam’s van, and drove over to the Hickory, Dickory Park in Auburn. The park is a community-funded and community-constructed park with a wonderfully complex, multi-level set of walkways, bridges, and monkey bars for the kids. Fortunately, they also had built a shaded alcove for the parents to wait in because it was hot and sunny. The kids ran around like crazy with all the other kids in the park, but we just sat there and tried not to move too quickly. The kids played and Helga took pictures for an hour or so, and after the kids had wound down a little we moved over to a shaded picnic table for lunch.

We distributed the sandwiches and snacks but when we brought out the watermelon we found we didn’t have any knife to cut it with! Then I remembered I had my small Swiss Army knife on my key chain, but when I unfolded the inch and a half long blade and looked at the huge watermelon well over a foot in diameter, I had my doubts about the entire enterprise. But I attacked the watermelon with my Lilliputian knife and found that the knife would penetrate just far enough to cut through the rind. So I cut a complete circle around the rind of the watermelon and then just pulled the two halves apart with sheer brute strength. To be fair, it doesn’t take much brute strength to pull apart a ripe watermelon, but I had at least that much. Then I cut the rind and pulled one half apart into smaller pieces that folks could manage to eat. Thus ended the epic struggle between Man the Hunter with his Knife and Watermelon the Fruit with its Massiveness. Anyway, we all had a really nice lunch and I had fun with a sharp implement, which is a guy thing I guess.

For the rest of the afternoon, Jim worked, I took a nap, and the rest of the folks were in or around the pool. Pam, Kim, Monika, the kids and I went over around 5 to decorate the room for Helga’s banquet, which was a lot of fun, and the other guests started arriving around 5:30. I get off my diet for special occasions, so I had the filet mignon option while other folks had the chicken. It was a great meal and afterwards Helga opened her presents, gave a short speech, and then showed folks at each table the PowerPoint presentation we had brought with. Everyone seemed to like it, which made us happy. Then we all just sat around and talked until it was time to reluctantly take down the decorations and go home for the night.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

I needed to get some official copies of my Army discharge papers, so Helga graciously offered to drive us over to Opelika. Somewhat to my relief, they still had and could quickly locate my DD214, and making the copies took only a few minutes. We all walked around Opelika afterwards, which is nice example of a rural county seat type of town. The main street is not as busy as Auburn, which has the big university, but more low-keyed and laid back. Helga drove us back the scenic route from Opelika to Auburn, so we got to see some of the countryside while we chatted with her.

Later that morning, three brothers and a girl named Courtney came over to play in the pool with Tori and Nicki, so we had a rousing pool party with all the kids. I had fun trying to take action shots like the kids just as they were entering the water from the diving board or the slide. That turned out to be remarkably difficult because of the split-second timing required but I got a couple of acceptable shots and still managed to keep the camera dry!

Then I took yet another nap while Monika, Pam, Kim, Helga and Tori took Courtney home and dutifully admired the Doerstling’s home. They visited the Auburn bookstore on their way back, where the owner gave Tori a big Auburn T-shirt to use as a nightgown! They bought me a small play football with Auburn University colors, so I didn’t completely lose out on the fun.

That evening we took everyone out to the Brick Oven pizza place, and boy did they have good pizzas! Obviously I was once again off my diet and had a whale of a time eating different types of pizza. Natalie and Matt were over on my side of the table, so we talked a lot about old films and Natalie’s plans for the future including graduate school. Matt wanted to be a film director, so they both wanted to relocate in California. Again we talked for a while after dinner, but the kids were just too tired to stay too long so we all went home and turned in early.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

We had breakfast with all the folks and sadly departed from Auburn to begin our drive home. We had decided to take the drive back quite gradually and do as many walks as we could along the way. Our first pick was a walk at Stone Mountain, Georgia, just west of Atlanta, where we had stopped once in 1996 and climbed the mountain. This time, however, we wanted to try the Volksmarch which started in the nearby village and see what that was like.

The Volksmarch box for the Stone Mountain, Georgia, walk is located in a police station that is on one end of a picturesque old train station. The morning we signed in, the Visitor Center at the other end of the building was apparently being used as a makeshift courtroom—we didn’t want to intrude on a court session and couldn’t find any other entrance for the bathrooms, so we had to wait a bit. We signed in under the watchful eye of the officer on duty that morning and took a map for the walk. The route for this walk was charmingly simple—we were supposed to walk through the town’s main street and then take a short link over to a 5-mile ring road around Stone Mountain, then return by a slightly different route to the town center.

The town center had a small collection of boutique-type stores oriented to the tourist traffic for this area. Some were interesting but none enticing enough (or open) to delay us on our way out because we had not walked for a couple of days and really wanted to get back into it. While we walked over to the mountain, the sun stayed behind the clouds and we had a little breeze so the walk was cool and pleasant. I remember thinking, “Boy, if it stays this way we’ve got this one licked!”

But of course it didn’t stay that way. We circled the mountain to the left (counter-clockwise) rather than to the right in order to get to some bathrooms more quickly, and the sun came out as we passed the stone carving of three Confederate generals and their horses on the face of the mountain. Then the breeze died and the rest of the 5-mile loop became rather hot and humid, but water fountains were located about once every mile along the ring. We were surprised by the number of other attractions that had been added around the outside of the ring road, including a plantation house, a quarry exhibit, a covered bridge, a riverboat, and a nature garden. One way of doing this walk would be to buy the entrance ticket and do each of these attractions as you walk the ring road. If you do it that way, you probably should plan on a whole day to do the walk rather than the 2 hours it took us but it might be a lot of fun, especially with kids.

On the way around the ring we saw a lot of birds including cardinals, blue jays, and a family of hawks having a meal. I found it surprising that they weren’t disturbed at all by the cars passing by but flew up in a tree across the road as we approached—they stayed there for several minutes and gave me enough time to try to get some pictures. We were also puzzled by voices coming from a loudspeaker on the inside of the ring at one point that sounded like a “Wild West Show” or something similar was in progress. But we couldn’t see any sign for that type of thing, nor any road leading in to that area besides one gravel exit road, so what was going on is anybody’s guess.

The nature garden section was quite nice and really deserves a stop for a look, but we were getting a little tired and hot by this point and pushed on to the 5 mile point where we turned to exit back to the town. The route jogged left to enter the town by a different path and pass by the Stone Mountain Information Center, which is a converted old train caboose!

After checking back in, the final part of this walk really was having lunch at the German Restaurant/Bakery/Basket Shop we had passed earlier on our way out of town. They had one chef from northern Germany and one from southern Germany, so you could get specialties from both regions. Monika assures me that the cooking was authentic and it certainly did taste great. Monika had bratwurst and I had a combination plate with a knackwurst and a frikadellen. The sauerkraut was noticeably different from the usual factory canned stuff—different sized chunks of cabbage and a milder flavor. We also had cups with real German mustard for dipping the hot dogs. To try to give you an idea of the taste, German mustard is less vinegary than French’s mustard and more mustard content than Gulden’s mustard. It ranges in strength, however, from the mild sort we had (suitable for dipping hot dogs) to sinus-clearing, eye-watering stuff that you could only use in small dabs (kind of like the Japanese masabi?). Our sort was mild but flavorful enough that Monika even dipped her potatoes in it. Best of all, after we were done eating I found a whole loaf of fat free apple bread at the bakery to take along for desert! Actually it was 1/3 for desert, 1/3 for dinner that evening, and 1/3 for snacks the next day, but it was really tasty with layers of apples, sugar, and cinnamon on all four sides of the loaf.

We stopped at the South Carolina visitor’s center to get a motel room close enough to the walk we had picked out for tomorrow morning, which was near the border between South and North Carolina. But after our experience in Boon, we made sure to stop and get those coupon books whenever we entered a state. Besides, the bathrooms are always nice at a Visitor’s Center!

Friday, July 12, 2002

Try as we might, we just couldn’t get going very early, so we didn’t get to the Visitor Center at King’s Mountain National Military Park until after 9, and didn’t get on the trail until about 9:35. The Volksmarch route started with a 5-mile in-and-out section to Brown’s Hill on trails inside the park. It was cool and cloudy, so the walk was really refreshing and we felt invigorated rather than sapped by the heat. The path through the woods was a very nice, broad natural trail, but was rocky and uneven in places. I was wearing tennis shoes and turned my ankle twice, so people doing this walk might want to consider boots or ankle-supporting shoes. The woods were quiet—we spooked a deer—but otherwise we met no one. I kept running into spider webs and stopping to pull all the webbing off my face and shirt, so it appears folks hadn’t walked that way for while. We had some nice views of mountain ridges in the distance through the trees on top of Brown’s Hill, but getting a picture proved difficult.

The way back to the Visitor’s Center was quicker—it always seems quicker going back but this time I think it was real because it was mostly downhill. We checked in around 11 to see if the movie about the battle was being shown yet and found it was just starting, so we watched it before taking the final loop walk around the summit of the mountain. That turned out to be a good idea because the film was a vivid recreation of events prior to and during the battle. Having just seen that, we could place those scenes in their real context during the walk around the mountain’s summit. Thinking about that short, desperate battle that was a real turning point in the Patriot’s fortunes while walking over the battlefield was an eerie experience and really the high point of the walk. The summit loop had plaques that clearly marked each section and explained the action that occurred there. Monuments also marked the most important sites; some were simple and some more ornate. One they had listed the Patriot casualties of the battle, and there was one “unknown” listed under the killed. That made me think of some young man, fighting for the birth of our nation, who simply came, fought, and died here. I wonder if his family and friends ever knew of his fate or just that he never came back.

The most moving monument for me was the grave marker for Colonel Ferguson, the brave British commander, because right behind the marker was the Colonel’s grave itself, a simple rock cairn in the Scottish fashion. It was strange to think that the man who died at the end of the battle here over 200 years ago was still lying near where he was shot and dragged by his horse. The bones had long since turned to dust, I suppose, but it was still unsettling to be next to his mortal remains. It was of course a sad end for him, but I was deeply grateful for the Patriot victory that started the chain of events leading to Washington’s victory over Cornwallis and American independence. All in all, this was a walk with a very low-key walk-in-the-woods section followed by the very short but moving circuit of the mountaintop battlefield. It is rated a 3 but the grades are gentle and Monika and I thought it was more like a 2+. It was all shaded, so this would be a cooler walk if you are taking it in the summer, and I expect it would look spectacular in the fall color season. The one thing I would highly recommend is seeing the movie in the Visitor’s Center before the walk around the battlefield.

In the Volksmarch box, we found a 3-event patch that included King’s Mountain and Morganton and Elkin, North Carolina, which were both points for the over-the-mountain men to march down to King’s Mountain and take a crucial part in the battle. The other two events sounded neat, so we decided on the spur of the moment to complete the other two events on our way home. With that goal we charted a new course and went north on 321 to take I-40 west to Morganton, stopping off for lunch at Wendy’s along the way.

The Volksmarch in Morganton starts at the Judge’s Restaurant, which looked so nice we would have had lunch if we hadn’t already eaten. The first mile of the route is along the greenway beside the Catawba River, which was cool and shaded by the trees on both sides of the trail—very pleasant. The trail ended at a boardwalk in back of a strip mall where we turned uphill along a busy street to the main part of town. We were walking during “rush hour” with lots of traffic, and I just didn’t enjoy breathing the exhaust fumes during this part of the walk, which fortunately didn’t last long. The town was interesting with historic houses explained on the walk brochure, so Monika read that while I took pictures. Most of the historic houses were, of course, very nicely kept, but a couple were really decrepit and in need of major restoration and renovation—I took a picture of one to use as a “haunted house” picture next Halloween. The old courthouse, in contrast, looked beautiful and I took pictures of both the front and the back. The nearby downtown area was vibrant—only a couple of empty storefronts—and had one solid block of what looked to be to be late 1800s storefronts that were all nicely kept. After completing a zigzag course during the main part of town, we had to endure the short leg along the busy street to return to the greenway, which we entered with a strong sense of relief. We liked most of the parts of this Volksmarch and would recommend it for a nice city-park type of walk.

Saturday, July 13, 2002

We both felt pretty good for having walked over four hours the day before—only minor stiffness—so we made tentative plans to do two walks today. First, of course, we definitely had to do the Elkin walk to finish the 3 walks for the “Over the Mountain Trail” patch. But afterwards, depending on how we felt at the time, we thought we would do the walk at the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. Although we knew nothing about it really, we hoped would be like the walk in King’s Mountain Military Park. So we drove over to Elkin and parked in a parking lot across from the City Hall.

The Elkin Volksmarch starts from the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center and jogs downhill one block through the Main Street business area before crossing railroad tracks and the Yadkin river to Jonesville on the other side. We didn’t see much of Jonesville, however, as the trail looped back to the next bridge across the river to return to the Elkins side. A couple of billboards in Jonesville had me puzzled for a while. They showed a lit burner on a kitchen stove and had the legend: “A stove should only be a place to cook dinner”. At first I couldn’t figure out what they were getting at. Was it illegal to cook breakfast and lunch? That didn’t seem likely. What else would people be using their stoves for? Very awkward boat anchors? Really big paperweights? So I walked close enough to read the sponsor,, and the horrible truth finally dawned on me that these billboards were telling parents not to torture their children by burning them on the stove!!! What kind of monsters do that? It made me feel nauseous just to think about it. Good heavens, I wondered, do they really have that kind of problem around here? In retrospect, events that occurred later in this walk might have given a partial answer to that question.

Crossing the Yadkin back into Elkin, we saw some locomotives and cars on the Elkin side of the river. I spotted 10-20 swallow-like birds fluttering around the ivy on the side of a large, concrete block building in the railroad yard and we stopped to watch. The birds were chirping and energetically hopping around in the ivy, but I was totally surprised to see some of them perch by clinging to a bare, vertical wall of concrete block. The only way I can figure they could do this is that their feet must have little hooks that can dig into the pores on the concrete. It was quite a circus while it lasted, but something finally spooked them as I was trying to take a picture and they were all away in a flash.

We continued up the riverside bluff into Elkin and then looped back to the Main Street. The walk directions are keyed to a “Historic Downtown Elkin Walking Tour” brochure which gives capsule histories of some of the remarkable buildings on Main Street (which was also in the start box). We had lots of fun strolling along Main Street and reading about each “Point Of Interest”. We were suitably impressed by the “pressed-metal second story façade exhibiting several classical motifs” on the John Furches Gallery and the “low-relief panel of a herd of elk” by sculptor Anita Weschler in the Elkin Post Office. The government paid her during the 1930s Depression to do the artwork for the post office, but being a New Yorker she got the mistaken impression that Elkin was named for a herd of elk. Can’t you just see her thinking about a frontiersman saying as he went game hunting, “Here little elkin, nice little elkin---Gee whilikers, that would be a great name for a town!” A natural mistake for a city girl, I suppose.

I was sad that the 1924 Soda Shop with the complete hospital on the second floor had closed, however, as a root beer float would have been a welcome pick-me-up. The arrangement of a hospital over a soda shop struck me as a bit odd. In one way, it would have been very convenient if you have appendicitis while eating, because you could just walk upstairs to have surgery. On the other hand, I’m sure you agree that it would have been very important to keep the supplies needed by each business quite separate. Confusing two pints of Breyer’s Grade A vanilla ice cream with two pints of O positive would probably lead to disaster in either enterprise. Since both the soda shop and hospital were long gone, we never had to face this problem and just continued down Main Street to Elkspur and made a short loop out to touch on Wilkes County and return. Along the way we saw a sign in a driveway reading “You taka my space, I breaka your face”, which was another clue to the mentality of some of the residents. Monika remarked on how that sign was the antithesis of the sign inviting us to “sit a spell” in the yard of the folks in Waynesville.

On the way back we were supposed to turn left on Masonic Drive and then turn right on James Street, but at the corner of Masonic and James we were set upon by a pack of four vicious dogs. At least two of these dogs were dead serious about getting us as they were crouched low to the ground with their tails down, snapping and snarling all the while. There was no warning, no barking, no “Are you friend or foe?”, just the sudden attack. I had always figured I could handle one or two dogs OK, but I had never been exposed to the pack hunting tactics that these four dogs were using on me. Two dogs were facing me while one of the ringleaders circled to my left while the other circled to my right and they all started to close in. I, of course, was armed with nothing more than a Swiss Army knife on my key ring (which was safely in my pocket), so our position was precarious. One of the owners of one of the dogs was watching from her yard and I yelled at her to call the dogs off, but she did nothing and was apparently unconcerned to see dogs attack strangers on a public street. Monika was in back of me and she suggested retreat, which, all things considered, I agreed with. She went back the way we came while I slowly and carefully backed up a step at a time while keeping an eye as best I could on all four of the dogs, waiting for one or the other to lunge. But they were satisfied to hold their ground and did not attack. From their point of view, I suppose, they had successfully defended their territory. But what kind of uncivilized yahoos train their dogs to attack strangers on the street and then let them roam loose in a residential neighborhood? Good lord what is it with these people? Is this the same set as the child-burning parents or are these separate flavors of this subculture? Sheesh.

In any case we returned to Elkspur to walk down to the High School and then walked across the parking lot, down some steps in back, and around the playing fields at the bottom to get to the footbridge across the creek mentioned in instruction 18. I would highly recommend that other walkers take this diversion around the pack of hounds, or alternatively carry some pepper spray and be prepared to use it because those dogs don’t give much of a warning. The small loop around Memorial Park was quite nice, and the people we met were very friendly, so I’m guessing that the other folks I’ve described are the minority here as elsewhere. The farmer’s market was just closing down when we got back to the parking lot across from the Visitor’s Center. We didn’t have much room in the car, but we bought some comb honey and a home-baked pound cake to take with on our journey back, and both turned out to be quite tasty.

We took back roads to drive from Elkin to Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, stopping only for a quick lunch at Arby’s where we both had the French Dip sandwich. I get this partly because I it’s fun dipping the roast beef sub into the au jus sauce, and partly because it has a lot more flavor and not a heart-stopping bunch of fat. We arrived at Tannenbaum Park shortly before 2 p.m., and at first I thought that would give us lots of time but in the event the time actually limited us quite a bit. Signs indicated that the gates to the parking lot would be locked at 5 p.m., so we had to be completely done and out of Dodge by then. We were pretty sure we could do the walk in 2 hours or a little more, but it didn’t really leave us much time for extras like viewing films, taking pictures, and the like.

The start box for the Volksmarch at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park is not located in the park but rather in nearby Tannenbaum Park, a state facility I think. Tannenbaum Park is located where some farmhouses were at the time of the Revolutionary War, and the first very short loop of our walk was over to the reconstructed farmhouse and barn buildings that are next to the Visitor’s Center. The exact location of the buildings was known by a British military engineer’s map of the battlefield site, but no detailed records remain as to their real nature. So the house and barn are “best guesses” about what the farmer would have had on his land and what they would have looked like. Nevertheless they were quite authentic. Inside the Visitor’s Center was a diorama coupled to an audio-and-light-show sequence that cleverly illuminated the different phases of the battle. We did this after our walk, but I would recommend that you see the diorama show first because it clarifies the first, second, and third Patriot lines of defense which will be the focal points of the walk.

After the first short loop, the trail led out of Tannenbaum Park and down a quiet side street to the edge of the National Military Park. There we joined a hiking trail but just kind of passed around the edge of the park before we left it again to get on a greenway. The section out on the greenway was at least a mile or two and was included, I’m sure, to make up the 10-kilometer distance, but it was a quite pleasant walk on a broad, paved path. All along the greenway, trees shaded us and screened us from the street over to our right and bushes screened us from a very long cemetery that was to our left, so it was relatively cool and quiet. At the end of the greenway the route jogged over to another local park and followed a hiking/biking lane alongside a ring road as it meandered around a lake and passed a veteran’s memorial, among other things. I had fun watching the paddle boats in the lake and kids playing in the playgrounds as we ambled by. This section of the route was also mostly shaded and only a couple of cars passed us during our road ramble, so I could walk in the center of the street most of the time, as I am wont to do. It was a relaxing section and the grades were very gentle.

We finally returned to the boundary of the Military Park where we rejoined the network of trails that traced the Patriot lines of defense. A water cooler at the bathrooms here let Monika refill her water bottle so we had nice, refreshing, cool water for the last part of our walk, which was a definite plus! We rejoined the park trails at the third line of defense, and that could be confusing if you didn’t have the overall picture of the battle in your mind because the third line of defense was at the very end of the battle. From there we wound around the battlefield in a spaghetti-like fashion that seemed to be designed to hit all the important monuments and markers, and there are a lot of them! I made the mistake at one point of branching off to take a picture of an interesting-looking old granite marker, and we of course ended up going there after another loop around the battlefield—in fact, it happened to be the checkpoint for the walk! We dutifully wrote down September 28, 1754, and continued on the next loop. We finally passed the really big statue of General Nathaniel Greene plus a pantheon of lesser memorials to get the Visitor Center for the Guilford Courthouse Military Park. This was actually the second checkpoint of the walk, and while Monika stamped our cards with the park stamp, I asked about any shows. I found out they had a ½ hour film, but the last showing was 4 p.m. and we were already too late for that. They also had a 10-minute slide show at 15 minutes and 45 minutes after the hour, and we could have waited until 4:15 and done that, but we were antsy about making sure we got back to Tannenbaum Park before the gates were closed. In the end, we regretfully decided to keep on trucking back to the start/finish and started off again.

I saw one T-shirt in the gift shop that commemorates the battle and I bought it. The reason is a little convoluted. This National Military Park actually celebrates one of the Patriot’s losses. That is, the British under Cornwallis triumphed in this battle--General Greene had to abandon his canon and withdraw from the field. However, he retreated in an orderly fashion and regrouped his men to fight another day. The British had actually lost 25% of their men and officers and an opposition Member of Parliament back in England said “More victories like this will loose us the war.” Which was the ultimate result, with the British losing most of the countryside in the Carolinas and Cornwallis bolting to the north, where he was defeated by Washington at Yorktown. I just liked the pithy quote from General Greene summarizing his campaign that showed the indomitable spirit of the Patriots: “Fight, Get Beat, Rise, Fight Again!” So we returned to Tanenbaum Park to check back in, make a bathroom stop, chuck everything back in the car, and start our roughly 5-hour drive home to Fairfax.

This really has been one of our best vacations and, I think, good practice for retirement. Monika calculated we spent $1,000 during the 15 days we were gone (not counting the dulcimer!). Of course, we sponged off our dear relatives in Alabama for 3 days, so that’s not an entirely accurate accounting. But all in all it was relatively inexpensive and something we can still afford to do when we join the Social Security Legion. The walks were, by and large, interesting and took us to some places we probably would not otherwise have visited.

Copyright 2002 by Robert W. Holt
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