Monday, October 4, 2010

OOPS! I MISCALCULATED…

The Navigator and I are back from our weekend in the woods hiding from the electronic world. I must say that it was very refreshing not to have a cell phone ringing constantly and interrupting conversation. Our time in the woods at our favorite camp site was well spent and enjoyable as we pursued those activities that we’ve missed throughout this summer.

But, boy, did I miscalculate the temperatures! My expectations of getting some miles in on the Blue Ridge Parkway got sidetracked by my poor planning for what turned out to be cool to almost cold fall temperatures at the mile high plus elevation of our location.

While making our way to camp, we were surprised at the relative lack of fall foliage color as we climbed in elevation. We were one week earlier this year than last when we made this same trip. Last year we were feted with brilliant yellows and bright reds as the trees were putting on their annual show.

Fall Colors along the Blue Ridge Parkway 2009(Fall colors along the Blue Ridge Parkway 2009) 

This year, it was still overwhelmingly green with just hints of yellow beginning to appear. We saw only 1 tree in the surrounding area that had some pretty red color to it.

Friday was spent setting up camp and getting ready to rest. Unlike friends Kent “Mountain Turtle” Peterson and Jack at The VeloHobo, we don’t travel ultralight. In fact, sometimes, I think we’re carrying the neighbor’s “kitchen sink” as well as our own!” Fortunately, when we do get setup, we have lots of the accouterments we need for some fine cooking and relaxing.

The Navigator and Zeke rest...(l-r: Zeke the dawg, the Navigator, and Fiona – the Navigator’s bike) 

As you can see both Zeke and the Navigator have “assumed THE position” for a weekend of R&R. This worked pretty well until the sun went down, the wind kicked up, and the temperatures headed south. Following a light, first night camp meal and PEANUT BUTTER PIE with coffee chasers, we attempted to sit by a pretty good fire but the wind was blowing so hard, it seemed to push the heat of the fire completely away from us.

Keystone Hobbi at the ready!(Travelling Ultralight? I don’t think so…) 

By 9:00 p.m., the winds had increased in velocity to the point where I became concerned about sparks jumping out of the fire pit so we spread the coals and headed inside. We took the added precaution of raising the awning on our Hobbi lest the wind take it to the other side of the camper during the night. It didn’t take us long to climb into our bed under heavy covers and do some reading by the light of our headlamps until the day’s activities finally helped to close our eyes.

Saturday morning arrived quickly enough with beautiful clear skies and 39 degrees of temperature. The morning walk with Zeke and Orla certainly got the blood to moving as the dogs greeted another day and new scents to be smelled at every step of the way. The morning coffee tasted mighty fine as we got as close to the rejuvenated fire as possible. Camp Host Tony Sells and NPS Ranger Jack Campbell stopped by on their morning rounds as they checked to see who had stayed and who had left during the night.

Around 2:00 p.m., I thought the temperatures had rebounded sufficiently for me to get in some mileage on the Fuji CCR3. I shed my warm and much loved Under Armour and replaced it with my summer weight riding bibbs and jersey. I did have the forethought to bring a windbreaker. A short run up the BRB instructed me very quickly that open finger gloves were NOT the way to go on this ride. I looped back to the campsite and swapped the OFG’s for my wood chopping, wood splitting, wood burning full finger over the wrist gloves and headed out again hoping that keeping my hands warm would somehow fool the rest of my body into being warm. It didn’t…

I mostly coasted down the mountain for 3.5 miles turning the pedals more in an effort to stay warm than to gain speed. The light windbreaker did nothing to stop the cold from penetrating my chest. I decided at the 3.5 mile mark that warmth was the better part of valor on this day. I turned around and started the climb back up the mountain. Going slower and working harder did get a light sweat worked up but my desire to ride had apparently gone ahead of me and was back in bed awaiting my return to the campsite.

Upon returning to camp, I discovered that Orla, our yellow Lab, was taking steps to keep her ears warm…

Orla warms the ears...

The Navigator was still practicing her skills at relaxing…

The Navigator ponders the Universe... (My lovely “best half” in repose…)

The winds of Friday and Friday night were no where to be found on Saturday and the clear skies gave way to a beautiful sunset before the stars came out on a moonless night. Tradition, at this particular campground, is to make your way to a specific overlook to enjoy the setting sun as it drops below the horizon of Clingman’s Dome, Newfound Gap, Mt.Collins and Mt. LeConte. We were treated to another gorgeous sunset. Just as the sun dipped below the mountain, it appeared that the tree line on the far mountains had caught fire as the setting sun turned the trees into an incredible bright red color all along the horizon.

Susnet in the Smokies(A setting sun highlights appreciative campers!) 

The Navigator and I returned to camp and began the preparation of the evening meal of stir fried chicken and fresh vegetables along with black beans and rice. After enjoying the meal and camp fire with our friend Tony, we made our way to Ranger Jack’s abode for a some dessert, the spinning of a few yarns, and – most importantly – the enjoyment of good friends around a warm hearth!

We returned to our campsite flush with good feelings and happiness from having spent such an enjoyable evening. The night’s last walk of Zeke and Orla provided a final opportunity to marvel at the majesty of the light show above us. With virtually no “light pollution”, we almost felt like we could reach up and touch the Milky Way. Jupiter was still amazingly bright in the southern sky. We didn’t see any shooting stars but did take note of how many planes fly the friendly skies all hours of the day and night.

Sometime before sunrise on Sunday, the clouds settled onto the mountain and soaked anything and everything left outside during the night. What appeared to be fat rain drops but was really the moisture of the clouds coalescing on the pine needles provided a spot of beauty in an otherwise cool grey morning. Our temperature was 37 degrees on this morning as we began the process of packing up and leaving for another year. The final weekend of camping at our favorite site is next weekend but scheduling conflicts will prevent us from attending as has become our tradition over the past few years. This weekend was our “goodbye” for the year to this lovely piece of paradise on Earth.

Until later,

- Zeke

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