Even with our legs feeling the lingering effects of yesterday's step-aerobic...group hiking workout...the Male Posse and I geared ourselves up for one more jaunt in Western North Carolina. You see, we've set a family goal: to walk a part of the Appalachian Trail in each state it touches. So far I personally have covered Massachusetts and West Virginia (with everyone), Pennsylvania (with Husband) and Maryland (with the kids). To check off the next goal, we needed to drive extremely west--almost to the border of Tennessee, in fact.
Let me tell you, if we thought Asheville was hilly, nestled as it is in the mountains....it was nothing compared to where we were headed. Up and down gigantic slopes, sliding around curves that felt like a roller coaster ride, we gazed up in wonder at spectacular, pine covered peaks in every direction. The trailhead itself required some tricky navigation to find, tucked as it was off a nondescript dirt and gravel track, behind some trailer homes notable only for the vividly-feathered roosters roaming the yards. "Jeez," we marveled, "This must be a well-kept secret--I'll bet no one ever comes here!" (However, this notion was pretty much immediately dispelled...by the other 2 cars that pulled in right behind us. So we didn't have the place all to ourselves--but it was kind of festive to be greeted repeatedly by smiles and cheerful calls of "Happy New Year" each time we passed someone on the journey!)
Anyway, we prepared ourselves for the chilly weather with the essential items (you know: coats, gloves....mental toughness) and trudged out onto the Pump Gap Trail. The nature book Husband had purchased as a Christmas gift rated this little excursion "moderate"...but the sign at the beginning of the path disagreed, calling it "most difficult". I have to admit, that caused me a bit of trepidation, especially when the very first thing we had to do was cross a stream...just to get ONTO the marked walkway. This involved carefully choosing our footing and picking our way from one rock to the next, while trying to avoid splashing into the frigid water and starting the 4-mile hike with soaking wet feet. Fortunately, although it turned out that we had to repeat this process at least 6 more times over the course of our day, the initial fording was actually the most treacherous.
After that, we had several hours of strolling through what can only be described as "the forest primeval"--an atmosphere of utter stillness, with enormous trees towering over us. We followed a narrow, twisting ridge that usually had a steep cliff to one side and a sheer dropoff to the other. At times the rhododendron that apparently grows wild and rampant in the woods of North Carolina met over our heads to form a leafy green tunnel. In other spots there were so many boulders scattered over the trail that we had to scramble over them in order to continue forward. Oh, and did I forget to mention that much of the first half of our adventure involved a steady UPHILL trajectory? But it was all worth it when we arrived at the junction that pointed us onto the AT.
And as a bonus, occasionally we were rewarded for our efforts with a rocky outcropping where we could rest while taking in sweeping vistas of the mountains, or the town of Hot Springs and the French Broad River, far below us. Overall, it was one of the more impressive hikes we've done (and with our history, this is saying something); as a matter of fact, the boys deemed it "Top 5" on their all-time (so far) list. I mean, this shouldn't be surprising--as far as they're concerned, you're wasting their time if it's not A) sufficiently strenuous and B) offering adequate amounts of danger, such as the possibility of plunging off a precipice to your potential death. (How I gave birth to a couple of Adrenaline Junkies, I will never understand...I just cover my eyes as they nimbly scurry out to the edge...and hold my breath until they come back safely...sigh...)
When we'd finished up and returned to our car to finally SIT, the next order of business became (as usual) finding some sustenance. (Hey, we totally earned it...) What happened next was one of those happy accidents--I missed the turn for rejoining the highway, but we saw something resembling civilization (in the form of strip malls...but whatever) so we continued onward to investigate the available food options. While nothing instantly struck us, we saw a sign for a place called the Well Bred Bakery and Cafe. We decided to forgive the questionable pun (because we were that ravenous) and check it out. One more turn took us into the adorable wee town of Weaverville, where we located the aforementioned establishment...and its mouthwatering display case full of goodies. Seriously--kale salad and penne with arugula pesto? Yes, please! (Yeah, yeah...the carnivores had turkey paninis and were quite content as well...)
By the time we made it back to the hotel it was too late to do any of the other touristy things on my suggested Asheville agenda. So we lounged for a couple of hours before storming the city one last time. Once we parked and hit the pavement on foot, it proved a bit of a complicated task to locate a restaurant that was open on New Year's Day, didn't have a waiting list, and offered selections that would please all of us. Several fruitless laps around the town led us back to Scully's Bar and Grille...about a half-block from our garage. With TVs tuned to the Rose Bowl and an inventive menu, it met all of our needs...and the boys are delighted to proudly say that they had not one, but TWO pub meals during their vacation. (Bad parenting? Eh, at least we fed them...and only the adults got to partake of the beer course, so I'd say it's all good...)
And with that, we've probably done just about as much frolicking as we possibly can fit into this first foray into Asheville. It's a very lucky thing--or, you know, "excellent planning"--that we have 2 full days at home to rest and recover before getting back into the daily grind. Quite a satisfying start to the new year...Welcome, 2015!