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The Salola trail March 3, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Southern Appalachians.
Tags: , ,

Someone realized this was an elephant and gave it buttons for eyes so that we could see it too

I’m going to do it again—I’m going to talk about a place that is not accessible to the general public (like I did with the waterfalls on Toxaway Creek).  I promise this will not be an ongoing trend.  But now that I am on the brink of moving from Brevard to Asheville, I want to say goodbye to a place I have become very fond of.

The Salola trail starts a few blocks away from the house I’ve been renting in Connestee Falls, which is a gated community.  Connestee has several networks of trails, and the Salola trail is the newest and probably the least used of any of them.  I have been there dozens of times and only seen other people three times.  And since December 18, when we got the first batch of a whole string of snowstorms, I have seen practically no other footsteps in the snow besides the ones I recognize as my own.  I think even the people who live in Connestee don’t know about the Salola trail and its connectors.

I found out about the trail in November, and before all the snow started, I did a sort of half jog/half fast walk routine in running shoes on the nice soft treadway, doing about 3.5 miles, 950 vertical feet (I checked with my altimeter) in about 50 minutes.  A lot of steep little ups and downs, a lot of narrow sidehilling with switchbacks and log steps, so it was sort of an exercise in coordination.  After the cycle of snowfalls started, I took my snowshoes on it a few times, but mainly used my microspikes because it kept getting icy.

I used the microspikes just last week on this icy sidehill section

The terrific ice storm we had in early February did not block the trails as much as one might have expected.  The damage actually looks worse around my house, which is on an exposed hillside at 3000 feet (higher, by the way, than any elevation point on the Salola trail, which is a down-and-then-up hike from my house).

Morning of February 5. The trees will look mutilated a long time, I think.

But the storm did create some big blowdowns, and I was amazed by the force with which this branch buried its tip five or six inches into the ground.  I pulled the end of it out of the hole—had to give it a good tug—and put the branch next to the hole so that you can see how hard it hit the ground.

The branch created this perfectly round hole when it speared the ground

Walking on the Salola trail does not offer anything terribly dramatic, just pretty little stream valleys inhabited by deer, forests of laurel, rhododendron, and oak.  I passed this giant, old black birch many times before I noticed it.  The lower bark has become completely scaly.

Base of black birch, maybe 3' in diameter

You have to look up to see where the smoother bark emerges in the higher branches.

Different textures of bark

As you continue, you come to a cleared viewpoint toward the southwest where someone with woodcutting skills has made a beautiful sign to aid in identifying peaks.

You can see Toxaway Mountain, Panther, Shortoff, and others in the Nantahalas

The visibility was poor that day, so I am going to leave you with the sign itself rather than the overcast, washed-out looking picture I took over the top of it!

But the main story of the Salola trail, the theme that it offers, is one of broadleaf evergreens—with pines and oaks rising in columns among them.

I believe this is a Virginia pine in with the laurel---or maybe a shortleaf pine?

And I always stop at this pretty little stream on the way out.

One of countless little rivulets that run through these valleys

I’ve been in Brevard four months altogether—it was always intended as a stopping-off point while I figured out my long-term destination—and I would say that this trail, and the many hours I have spent wandering along it, might well amount to the best experiences I have had here.  I would have to say that it has been a lonely time for me.  It’s been hard to get around this winter, between the snowy roads and various road closures, especially the rock slide that closed off I-40 just a week after I arrived—and it still hasn’t been cleared!  And the steep, twisting roads in Connestee become a driver’s nightmare with any snow on them, and I ended up getting marooned in my house for days at a time.  I had pictured myself joining up with friends in the Smokies for frequent outings, but circumstances have conspired against that so far, apart from my wonderful adventure on Woolly Tops.

There have been some other highlights—the Pisgah Hikers are an outstanding bunch of fearless types who will even climb up a rope sometimes, and I will also think fondly of my friends at the Great Books Discussion Group at the Transylvania County Public Library, with whom I debated about the thorny arguments of Hume, Shelley, and Tolstoy.

So now I’m on my way to the “big city” of Asheville, which is a trendy, cool kind of place where undoubtedly I’ll find myself doing all kinds of trendy, cool things of some sort or other.  And the highway access will be a bit easier.  Goodbye then to the Salola trail, which I will probably never set foot on again.

Postscript from Jenny, March 4:  I want to add that during my hibernation of recent months, one bright spot has been the steady growth in visitors to this blog.  I’m especially pleased that a lot are overseas.  I get Russians looking at my posts on Somerset Maugham (for some reason my writings have gotten onto some sort of Russian search engine), Czechs looking at my Ruritania posts, South  Africans looking at my Boer War posts, Brits looking at stuff I’ve written about the Lake District and the Pencil Museum in Keswick.  But don’t worry, my good old Smokies fans, there will be a lot more about the Smokies very soon!


Waterfalls and white squirrels October 21, 2009

Posted by Jenny in memoir, travel.
Tags: , ,
White squirrel

Photo source: White Squirrel Festival (see text)

After driving 1000 miles in a Toyota Echo with my unhappy companion, Lucy Meowington, I have arrived at my new home in Brevard, North Carolina.  I like the vitality of downtown Brevard (pop. 6,600).  Main Street bustles with activity (I won’t quite say “pulsates”) even though the outskirts have the same old strip malls and big box stores that you expect to find girdling all American towns.  Most importantly, downtown Brevard is where you find the famous white squirrels that are celebrated in an annual festival. And I have already spotted one, as it crossed (against the traffic light) on Probart Street.  It had a very faint gray patch on its back in the pattern of a saddle shoe.

As I explained last month, Brevard will not necessarily be my permanent home in western NC, but I do like it anyway.  I am living in a furnished rental house outside town in a place called Connestee Falls.  Probably what I like the best is that, within a five-minute drive of my place, someone has created a network of hiking trails around the actual falls, putting quite a bit of effort into trail construction: log bridges, stairsteps, switchbacks.  I took my altimeter and did a rough calculation that you can get in about 1000 vertical feet by looping around all the trails as they follow the valleys of Batson Creek and Amatola Creek.  Connestee Falls is quite beautiful, cascading down in several stages.

Connestee Falls

Connestee Falls

The drive down from Gloucester was pretty grueling.  Lucy went into a state of suspended animation, not eating or drinking, which made me worry about her and drive as fast as I could without stopping very much.  We encountered some snow flurries in the Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre area and a horrific construction project that narrowed three lanes of I-81 to one lane for a stretch of a couple of miles.  It took us 45 minutes to go those few miles.  We had a hard time finding our “pet-friendly” Motel 6 in Harrisburg in driving rain after dark, and then the guy at the desk said he didn’t remember my mentioning I had a cat with me, but he relented when I found out he was a Phillies fan and I badmouthed Manny Ramirez of the Dodgers—yeah, I know that guy from when he pretended to be one of the Red Sox.

I will miss Boston sports.  I’m glad the Patriots beat the Titans last weekend, though I am a bit sad for the Titans out of past fondness, since I was a big fan of the late Steve McNair.

The one really beautiful part of the drive down was on I-26 connecting Johnson City, TN with Asheville, getting views of Roan Mountain and admiring the hoar frost as I went over Sams Gap at 3400 feet.  Actually, the house I am renting is nearly that high, at 3000 feet.

I am happy to be in the mountains.  Funny thing—the owner of this house is apparently an “ocean person” rather than a “mountain person,” and the walls are covered with large pictures of sailing vessels, as one might expect to find in Gloucester, where I moved from.

I am moving to western North Carolina! September 29, 2009

Posted by Jenny in Uncategorized.

It was a decision in the making since this spring—I am going back to the Smokies.  It started with a major personal upheaval in late March, when my 14-year relationship with Bob abruptly ended.  This was truly a horrible event— I would describe it as potentially life-withering, definitely life-staggering— but after I cleared away some of the rubble, I began to see opportunities.  Take advantage of being self-employed—sell the house—move somewhere that has mountains.  At first I thought it would be northern New England, but then I started thinking Smokies.  And once I started thinking Smokies, I …well, kept on thinking Smokies.

For certain logistical reasons it’ll be western NC instead of east Tennessee, where I lived in the 80s.  I stumbled upon a nice-sounding short-term rental in Brevard, where I’ll stay for a few months while I get a feel for the surrounding counties.  Harvey, the guy who rented me the place, told me that Brevard is famous for its white squirrels and that Transylvania County has “more than two hundred and fifty named waterfalls.”  I was impressed.

I’ll be in Brevard in less than three weeks.  While doing some packing in the attic, I came across an old diary that I kept when I did a three-month hitchhiking trip across Europe at the age of 18.  I am going to break from my usual format and post a series of pieces about this trip.  I am happy about my decision to move but feeling a bit unsettled these days, and the idea of writing a continuous series appeals to me right now.  I have learned to trust these impulses.