Hiking and Boxing Haven

Tuesday, March 02, 2010 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Asheville, NC
February 19-March 1, 2010

Most people who hike or letterbox in North Carolina eventually make their way to the hip Asheville area.   It is said that more visitors enter and exit the Blue Ridge Parkway at Asheville than any other location.  With hundreds of miles of hiking trails and dozens of letterboxes waiting to be found, Asheville is one of our favorite places to visit.  Since we have often considered Asheville a possible place for our residence, we finally carved out an almost two-week period for a visit.  We wanted to experience the area in winter to determine whether we'd be put off by the colder climate.
After finding a few boxes in the city, we headed out to the trails of the Bent Creek Experimental Forest and North Carolina Arboretum area near the city.  Searching for a letterbox, we made our way to a trail called Hard Times Road.  As the trail climbed, the snow cover deepened.  After a couple of miles, we realized we were no longer able to locate the landmarks cited in the clue-- a clearing filled with brambles, an old mossy stump...Nor were we sure where we were on the trail, so we turned back, planning to track this one down in warmer weather.
Our treks in the snowy and icy forests of the arboretum did give us a great opportunity to put our Neo overshoes to a good test.  They worked perfectly, and our feet came out of the ice and snow perfectly dry.  What a great purchase!
In addition to the beautiful snowy trails, Mother Nature served up an array of beautiful icicles and other ice sculptures to enchant us along the way.

Another day in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest we were hiking on a muddy, muddy mountain bike trail that occasionally crossed this forest service road.  We had found the box and were on the way back to the car.  It was late afternoon and with dusk looming, we became convinced that we might have missed a turn.
The map we had of the forest was rudimentary at best and signage was lacking.  Reaching a fork that did not look familiar, even though we thought we were retracing our course back to the parking area, we studied the map and made a decision.  With no confidence in our choice and the sun falling fast, we trudged along hoping we'd get very lucky.  After hiking a mile or so in that direction, we saw a couple of mountain bikers coming toward us.  "Are we on the right trail to get to parking area B?" we asked them.  When they answered in the affirmative, we heaved a big sigh of relief.  But it was still the best view of the day when the parking lot and our car came into sight.

Some of the best letterboxes we found were three in a series called Belle's Departure.  The clue told the story of Memphis Belle, a fighter plane in World War II that was piloted by Asheville native Robert Morgan.  After his discharge from the service, Morgan and a crew flew the plan around the U.S. on a tour trying to sell war bonds.
According to local legend, when the tour stopped in Asheville, Morgan flew the plane between the Buncombe County Courthouse and the City Hall of Asheville (pictured above). The story states that Morgan and his crew were leaving the Asheville Regional Airport and decided that, being a town hero, he should give the people of Asheville something to remember and have a little fun in the process. Morgan piloted the plane low over the east side of Beaucatcher Mountain, nearly cutting grass as he cleared the mountain top, he then flew the plane down the backside of the mountain toward Downtown Asheville and doing a partial roll, flew the plane between the courthouse and city hall, which are only about fifty feet apart.  Morgan was admonished by his superiors but the act was so impressive that no charges were ever filled.
A longer stay gave us more time to explore the beautiful sights in and around Asheville-- and time to find more letterboxes, of course.  We accomplished both at this old grist mill near Lake Louise in Weaverville.

Sometimes we found our way in spite of the local signage rather than because of it... like this intersection in Laurel Springs.
The extra long visit also ensured plenty of time to visit and re-visit some of our favorite Asheville restaurants, like the inimitable Tupelo Honey Cafe, now with two Ashveille locations.
And the peerless Flat Rock Grille, which serves up some very fine meals.
Near the end of our visit, Ken's sister Marion came up and spent a couple of days with us. Of course, we had to take her to the letterbox we planted locally in 2008 in honor of Jeanne's sixtieth birthday.
We enjoyed a few days of boxing and sightseeing with Marion, and we all attended "Short Order Durang," a collection of short plays and one-acts by Christopher Durang, produced by the Asheville Community Theatre.

On the way back to Georgia, we stopped for a quick lunch with Ken's mother in Charlotte. As happens very often when we go to Charlotte, we noticed many of the trees were banded again.
Cankerworms became a growing concern in Charlotte more than 20 years ago. The city started a tree banding program in 1990, encouraging businesses and homeowners to apply glue barriers to tree trunks to stop wingless moths on their journey upward to branches where they would lay eggs.

The city has sprayed several times for these pests including 1992 and 1998 with each treatment reducing the population. Another spraying in 2008 killed more cankerworms over a wider area, but these uninvited guests, which are native to the area, are expected to eventually return.