Thursday, September 29, 2011

What? Legs are made for walking?

The porch where I wrote this post

After spending most of the summer with my legs straddling a bike, I find it a novelty to stash the lycra and instead don a pair of hiking shoes.  Wow...was that just the gasp heard round the world?  Yes, it's true, I actually enjoy hiking.

Believe it or not, I did learn how to walk before I learned how to ride a bike.  And once in awhile, particularly in autumn, I even prefer walking over biking.  This year's hiking has been dedicated to exploring the Smokies in Tennessee and North Carolina.  For all of you cyclists, the Smokies is the National Park next to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  But I digress.  Ah yes, the Smokies, the most visited national park in the nation and yet only a fraction of it's visitors actually get out of their cars.  What a shame too since the trails are quite magnificent and most of the folks driving just spent the day going from the Waffle House to the Cracker Barrel to Chick-Fil-A (with maybe a little shopping in Gattlinburg thrown in).

The trails I've gotten to explore so far range from woodland paths following up creeks under a canopy of rhododendrons, old growth poplars and hemlocks to those up on balds (mountain tops covered in grass).  I've discovered that almost every trail is rooty and rocky which my cycling ankles aren't quite used to.  In fact, while I can often times zone out on a well known bike route, I have to be much more present on these hikes so as not to trip.  There are advantages of spending hours looking down.  I've gotten to see beautiful snails, skinks/salamanders, toads, snakes and some crazy looking fungus.
One of the resident skinks

Along with being my first trip to the Smokies, it's also one of the rare trips I make down South.  My husband was born and raised down here and we still visit his family from time to time but I can't say that it's ever become old hat to me.  I feel like my trips South of Indiana are somewhat like an anthropological study...almost as if I'm in a foreign land.  The language is different, the food (although still fried) is different and the way people treat each other is different.  None of this Midwest "chilliness" down here.  People make small talk. In fact passing folks on the trail can take quite a bit of time.  Niceties must be exchanged and can often go like this:  "Hey there, how ya'll doing today?" - "Beautiful weather isn't it?" - "You must be young with all that energy...whatcha all doing, running up the trail?" - "Well, I remember 20 or 30 years ago when I had that kinda energy, make sure you never let yourself get outta shape." - "Hey now, have a good day ya hear."  All of this should be spoken in a slow drawl so it takes about five minutes.  This is all fine and dandy until you end up passing 30 people and by god if I wasn't actually happy to pass two German hikers that wouldn't even say "hello" (Germans are known to be rude hikers).  At the end of one of the trails we got caught up listening to a 20 minute monologue with an older gentleman that chose to tell us about his entire family lineage...I think we'd still be there if we didn't just break away.

On top of Gregory bald looking into Cades Cove

One of the old buildings in Cades Cove

Looking into North Carolina from one of the huts on the Appalachian Trail

A bit of old pastureland in Cades Cove

Travelling over these pristine roads that have never known a pothole makes my legs ache to bike down here.  I can imagine myself in a tuck position bombing down the mountains on banked curves.  Then, I wake up from my dream and realize there's bumper to bumper traffic and every car is going under 10mph. in hopes of spotting wildlife...from the car.  We were stopped behind two cars the other day where several passengers inside were holding out cameras and camcorders taking pictures of turkey for over five minutes.  Once they got going again (and I stopped swearing) they proceeded to stop and take pictures of a squirrel (laugh away but I'm not joking).  So until I can purchase vaporizing laser beams, I won't be biking these roads.

This adventure by foot will end tomorrow with a glorious 13 mile hike up to another bald over 6,200 feet in elevation on the Appalachian trail.  Although I can't wait to tie up my laces, a bit of me also can't wait to get back on the bike in a few days.  I guess it's true...absence does make the heart grow fonder!

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