Monday, March 01, 2010 Road Junkies 0 Comments

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 almost two weeks for a visit.  We wanted to experience the area in winter to determine whether we'd be put off by the relatively colder climate.
Getting a taste of Asheville's snowy trails
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 when things will be more visible.
Yes, those Neo overshoes will keep your feet dry in the creek.
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!
Ice sculptures along the trail, courtesy of Mother Nature
Another day in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest we were hiking on a muddy, muddy mountain bike trail that occasionally crossed a forest service road.  We had found the letterbox we had been seeking 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 trail signage was sorely 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 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 plane around the U.S. on a tour trying to sell war bonds.
Buncombe County Courthouse & Asheville City Hall, site of an airplane stunt
According to local legend, when the tour stopped in Asheville, Morgan flew the plane through the narrow space between the Buncombe County Courthouse and Asheville City Hall. 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 at an angle between the buildings, 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.  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 Asheville locations, and the peerless Flat Rock Grille, which served up some very fine meals.
Ken and Marion letterboxing
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 sister 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.
Trees banded against insect invasion
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.
Though our time spent in Asheville did not tempt us to move there permanently, it remains a favorite place to visit.
 FEBRUARY 19-MARCH 1, 2010