Now, this week was an example of a man getting just exactly what he was asking for. I said I was going to the forest, the home of the playful fates that rule the natural world: and sure enough, I found them at home.
Clouds Gather in Carolina
I had checked the weather on three separate weather services up until Sunday morning, just before we left. All of them agreed that -- while there was a mild chance of rain the first day, in places -- the week was going to be warm, dry, and sunny. No part of that proved to be true. The merry fates were having a good laugh.
The Pisgah National Forest
The rain started as a couple of little drops in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- just a few clouds building up on the far side of the mountains, nothing to worry about. We ran hard to Curtis Creek to get ahead of it, but no joy. Just as I began to set up the tent, there was a crack of thunder followed by one of the most intense little storms I've ever seen. It picked the tent up off the ground and flew it like a kite while I was trying to set it up, shattered one of the fiberglass poles, and left about a half an inch of water in the bottom of it in the two minutes it took to get the tent up and the rain flap attached.
Fire and Water
I still managed to get a fire started. Many years ago now a Boy Scout leader took us out in a downpour and taught us how. We stripped the bark off dead wood that was hanging off the ground in trees, and built up a hot little fire out of the smallest twigs so gathered, which could then begin to dry the larger pieces. The largest pieces, once stripped of bark, we chopped into the thicker pieces to fuzz out the drier wood inside, and put on the fire to dry and burn.
None of us but him could do it at the time, and we boys called him "Liquid Sunshine" behind his back. Nevertheless, with practice, I found that I could do it. It's been a skill I've been very glad to have over the years, and this week as much as ever. So thanks, Liquid Sunshine, wherever you are.
Rocks in Curtis Creek
With the heavy weather, it took all day to get there, but sure enough just before we crossed the Virginia line we found blue skies and perfect weather.
Blue Skies in Virginia
What we didn't find was a campsite. I had checked to be sure the campsites would be open... that is, I checked to be sure the Forest Service campsites would be open. It never occurred to me that rest of the Federal government's campsites would open on different days. Turns out that even the Forest Service's campsites don't all open on the same days -- and the Parkway's campsites won't be open until May.
Which is no big deal, if you're in the national forest, because you can camp in a "dispersed" fashion without problems. There is no dispersed camping on the Parkway.
Oh, and my plans to camp in Shenandoah National Park? Apparently those campgrounds had a later opening date as well.
Virginia in the Morning
So we said goodbye to Virginia earlier than I had intended, and fell back to the rain-soaked Pisgah forest. That is the most beautiful country in the world, and never more than when thunderheads are gathered on the peaks.
Two Feet off a Forest Service Road, Looking Down
We also found another campsite that was shut down, the Mortimer site near Grandfather Mountain. I had checked that one specifically, and was assured it was open; but apparently an inspector showed up and closed it after I checked, due to damage from all the recent rains.
Naturally, the Forest Service didn't put up a sign to this effect at the start of the road, but only at the gates of the campground, thirty miles back. Since we could only go about 10 miles per hour back in that country (my motorcycle is not a dirt bike, in spite of the fact that I periodically insist on using it as such), we spent hours in a thunderstorm getting in, and then had to work our way out to find another place to rest.
It was a grand adventure, in other words. Exactly what I wanted. I was sorry to see it end, as all good things must do. The last day of the ride was misty and cold in the morning, warm and sunny in the afternoon. We cut down through South Carolina, taking the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Parkway.
The Tugaloo River Crossing, from the Georgia Side
I hope you've had a great week in my absence. It looks as if there's been lots to talk about, but for now, let me just wish you a Happy Easter.