Monday, January 16, 2012

Walker Sisters'Sister's Homeplace to Laurel Falls

Walker Sister's Cabin
The Bucket Brigade strikes again! It was an awesome January day for a hike on this MLK holiday, and I can't think of a better way to spend it than hiking in the mountains. The hike today began at the Metcalf Bottoms parking area and went past the Greenbrier Schoolhouse to the Walker Sisters' Homeplace. These five spinsters lived their entire lives on this land until the last sister passed away in 1964. It is a beautiful setting, but it must have been a hard life! Today we used their front porch as a resting stop before we began climbing Chinquapin Ridge via Little Greenbrier Trail. It was 3.5 miles steady climb to the junction with the Laurel Falls Trail.
The Watsons

Chinquapin Ridge
By the time we reached this junction we were pretty tired and glad to see the trail head down the other side of Chinquapin Ridge! The weather on this side of the ridge was dramatically different from the trip up the ridge. The wind was blowing hard and the trail was all but covered with snow. We ran into two scientists who were mapping the location of the remaining hemlock trees and comparing their map to the aerial mapping that had been done previously. these hemlocks are fighting a losing battle with the wooly adelgid who is literally sucking the life out of some of the park's oldest residents. It's a shame to see their skeletons rising up where once beautiful trees had stood. I guess it's just proof that time changes everything.
Laurel Falls

 After hiking another 1.8 miles, this time downhill, we reached the most visited falls in the park: Laurel Fallls. This falls plummets spectacularly 75 feet from the top, past the viewing crossing and down to the stream that carries the water down to Little River. We stopped here to eat the lunches we had packed, but it began to get pretty cold when we weren't walking. From there it was only another 1.4 miles to the parking area where we had left a car to shuttle us back to Metcalf Bottoms. On the way down though, we did witness the fall of a tree in the woods, and it made me think of the shirt I bought Bunk once, well actually twice, that said: if a man speaks in the forest and there is no woman around to hear, is he still wrong. I couldn't help but chuckle as that went through my head.

One reason I picked this hike at this time of year was to avoid the crowds that usually throng this falls since the path from Little River Road to the falls is paved and can accommodate young children and strollers. On this hike we had not seen anyone except the two scientific researchers until we got to the falls. From there down we saw quite a few. But the crowd on this day was light enough not to interfere with the experience, and I'm really glad I got to see it again. It is a magnificent falls, to say the least.

Altogether, today's hike was right at 8 miles. I had inadvertently left my knee brace at home and didn't discover it missing until we were ready to begin. I was worried, and mentally I began figuring out how I could use the duck tape I keep wrapped around my hiking pole to tape my knee when it began to hurt. I am so very pleased to report that it never did bother me! On the way down, I was careful to place as much impact as possible on the two hiking poles I was using, but the knee held up remarkably well. I feel really good about how strong it is getting!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Little River Trail with the Bucket Brigade 1.4.12

Little River Trail on a cold January afternoon
Yesterday, with temps in the mid forties, six ladies hiked up Little River Trail which leaves out from Elkmont Campground.  It was an absolutely beautiful, although nippy, afternoon, and we planned the hike for the very warmest part of the day.  We left my house about 1:00, picked up a friend who lives in Maryville along the way, and made our way to the trail head.  We were hiking by 2:30.  We bundled up well--lots of layers and precautions taken in case we were caught out in an emergency and trapped to spend the night in very cold temps.  Between us we had extra jackets, matches with which we could have started a fire, two of those shiny emergency blankets, extra sweaters and extra socks.  Thankfully we needed none of that, but it was a concern of mine since we began the hike so late in the day.

The trail was flat and really was an old road bed, but it was 2.4 miles from the trailhead to the intersection of Cucumber Gap Trail and then 2.4 miles back out, so it was a nice distance.  We picked a flat hike because one of the Bucket Brigade members was nursing an injured calf, and we were afraid a major elevation change would be too tough for her on this day.  The scenery was quite beautiful.  There was just enough snow and ice on and along the trail to keep things pretty and occasionally, treacherous.  In fact, on the way back out, one of our hiking group took a pretty bad spill, going face first into a patch of ice.  Thankfully, she was not hurt and we did not need all of those emergency supplies we had brought, but it sure could have been different.

The entire hike only took us 2.5 hours, but it was a wonderful way to spend one of our last days before we all go back to work.  Our break is over, but this day was a nice way to bring it to a close.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New challenges and new pursuits.

As I sit here at my computer after a long walk on the Turkey Creek Greenway, I look forward into the coming year with excitement and trepidation.  Over the holidays I have crossed over the AT at least four times and each time it has called my name.  During my last trip to Mom and Dad's I couldn't help but stop at the place where it crosses I-40 and get out to take a couple pictures for inspiration.  Think I'll make one of them my background for encouragement during what may become a very difficult year.
Steps to the Appalachian Trail at I-40 in Tennessee

Appalachian Trail sign
I would very much like to do the section of the AT this year that runs from Hot Springs to I-40 and goes by Max Patch.  I've heard so many cool stories about the beauty of Max Patch.  I also found out last week that my dad and his dad used to pick huckleberries up on Max Patch, so that makes it even more special.  That's my goal for this spring as I begin to think about things I want to do in the coming year.

I have a couple of concerns that are simply age and conditioning based.  I have picked up some of the weight I lost and so am feeling more sluggish than I did this time last year. I am now working to take it off again, but it's still a bit discouraging to think I allowed myself to do that again.  Along with the increased weight I have begun to feel reacquainted with some old enemies...not the least of which is pain in my hips--particularly my left one.  This pain is different than it was in the past and it has me a bit worried.  It hurts to go on long walks and even short hikes now and that cannot be a good thing.  However, I'm hoping that as I lose the extra pounds, that the pain in my hips will subside.  It did in the past.  So I'm working to that end.  At least that may provide me with some motivation for sticking to my diet and exercise plans.  I don't think I'd get very far on the AT with this hip feeling like it is right now.

I am however, excited about a whole new schedule at work this semester.  I will be teaching a 7 a.m. class and first block and therefore, will be done in the classroom by 10:00.  That doesn't mean I am free to leave at that time, but that may mean I am free to work out more in the weight room at school or on pretty days, go out for a walk or bike ride that I wouldn't have been able to do before.  I will still have lead teacher responsibilities including lots of observations, but I am still hopeful that I will be able to get outside when the weather breaks in the winter or on a regular basis in the spring.  I will also have plan with my dearest friend, Sharon, too, so I'm looking forward to that as well.

Another big milestone will happen for me this year.  This year marks mine and my husband's 25th wedding anniversary year, if we can hold it together that long.  It's a really hard time in our marriage right now, and I sincerely hope it doesn't come crashing down around us this year.  I know we both still love each other, but I am simply not sure I can continue to live with the drinking problem that is destroying the beautiful thing we have had in years past.  I guess I'm harder to live with now too as my body goes through some major hormonal changes--at least that's what he tells me fairly frequently.  I seem to live in a house with two men that don't like me very much, much of the time.  So, I'm not sure what the future holds in that regard for this year.  Time will tell, I guess.  Hence the trepidation.

So, 2012, here's to you!  I will stand firm on the grace of Jesus to carry me through whatever you have in store for me this year.  Let's do this thing!