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Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Blue Ridge Mountains, NC – To Hike or Not to Hike

Zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

I was really looking forward to hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains – and also whitewater rafting, zip lining (a first) and a bit of rapelling. I arrived in Asheville the evening before joining the group, got a good night’s sleep at the hotel, and met Deb, one of my hiking friends, the next day for lunch. Then we were on our merry way to the William Black Lodge at Montreat, North Carolina.

Immediately on arrival, we booted up and made our way up the Lookout Trail and Mountain, which was a lot more challenging than originally thought…As the rest of the group galloped ahead, I made it slowly to the top without any seeming problem.

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It was on the way down that I really got into trouble. My new boots, despite the use of well padded hiking socks and liners, suddenly became way too big as with every step down, my feet began slipping, banging against the toe of the boots.  By the time I was halfway down the mountain, I could barely walk…the pain was intense. I managed to make it to the van, and have never been so glad to get hiking boots – normally the most comfortable of shoes – off my feet!! Tender is not the word…I spent the rest of the evening barefoot, hoping this was simply a bruise that would wear off.

The next day I spent at the lodge, resting up – while my hiking sisters took the next great hike.

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Then it was time for the big adventure. The following morning, I was able to put on my tennies, and hobble to the van, where we drove to our meeting point for whitewater rafting. What a joy! Having done this once before, I was looking forward to the challenge. We read all the documents on the pros and cons of the rafting; elected to sign off despite the dangers of death or worse; and then clustered around the rafts as our guides told us what to expect.

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The day was absolutely beautiful – as was the weather on the entire trip, despite the onslaught of Hurricane Matthew along the coast. We separated into two rafts, and our guide explained that because the water was low, we’d probably be bouncing off more boulders than usual, as well as negotiating pathways through them. All of which was true.The river was placid when we embarked, and our guides shouted orders as we moved out into midstream. What a rush when we encountered our first whitewater, zipping easily around boulders embedded in the sandy floor.

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At one point, where the river was a little rougher than usual, we bounced off a boulder – and Deb bounced right out of the raft! Having been indoctrinated as to what to expect should that happen, after the first shock, she floated easily on her back until Ruthven grabbed her by both straps and hauled her back into the boat. Scary – but definitely something to write home about!

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Halfway through our little odyssey, we pulled our rafts onto the riverbank and stopped for lunch – which consisted of some of the best burgers known to man…yum-o! Then it was back into the rafts, and another hour of pure bliss down the stream….about a couple of hours all told. Such a rush!!

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Our next foray (the same day) was zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We were vanned to our starting point, went through the usual machinations of the danger, the signing and so forth. Then we wriggled into our safety harnesses, helmets and gloves, as well as donning the leather glove used to slow the flight down should our stop arrive too quickly….

Zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

And there we were, high on a three-sided platform above the forest, the fourth side open for the zip line. One by one, we were hooked to the cable, sat back and swung out onto the line – the highest rate of speed between platforms was about 30mph. The leather glove worked beautifully, slowing us as we reached the next stop. Half the time we didn’t quite make it to the platform. I usually ended up with a foot or two between me and the platform; at which point, you swivel around on the line and basically crawl backwards, hand over hand, to the waiting guide who pulls you to safety.7

We ran ten of these zip lines.  We traversed a very wobbly suspension bridge to one of our platforms…that was more nerve-wracking than the zip lining!

At two stops, after first being hooked to the cable…we planted our feet on either side of the platform, and swung into the void, then rapelled our way down ropes hand over fist,…another first, another rush! Loved every minute!!

Both the whitewater rafting and the zip lining were courtesy of the French Broad Rafting & Zip Lining company – http://www.frenchbroadrafting.com/ – absolutely terrific in every way.

Then it was off to dinner, and a celebratory drink to finish off the day’s adventure.

Our next foray, the following day, was a visit to the Biltmore Estate, 8,000 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds and over 178,000 square feet of floor space in the mansion. Amazing!

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We took a guided tour of the house, had a picnic in the picnic area, and then stopped inside the wine room for a pleasant hour of wine tasting.

The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate

Then Karen (one of the trip participants and a lovely person) and I wandered the grounds, where the flowers, shrubs, trees and pathways were a delight.

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Unfortunately by this time, my toes were beginning to make themselves known, as the drubbing they’d received on the first day’s hike had not gone quietly away and I could see I was going to have a problem.

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By the time we made it back to the lodge, it was obvious I could not continue to hike, so I cut my visit short, left for Asheville early the following morning, and so made it back home before my feet fell off. Just kidding!! But it certainly makes me realize the importance of ensuring a well-fitting hiking boot before embarking on challenging trails.

That being said – I wouldn’t have missed the whitewater rafting, rapelling and zip lining for anything. I thought I’d be extremely afraid, looking down down down and knowing I’d be out there, swinging my way across and through the trees like Tarzan. I thought I’d be frozen with fear…but I never felt fear for one moment. That was the greatest thing this trip gave me…who knew!

 

Hiking the Spectacular Spokane Countryside

Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls

 

June afforded a nice break in the year for a short visit to a long-time good friend, Lee. Our plan was to hike as much as possible in the beautiful country surrounding Spokane, and it was a joy from beginning to end.

Dishman Hills

Dishman Hills

As usual, the weather was perfect: lows in the 50s at night, and the high 70s during the day. Upon arriving, and after we had a quick nosh at the house, Lee and I took off for a short hour’s walk in the Dishman Hills, a green and scented trail that cleared the mind and really got us prepped for some a little more challenging as the week progressed. Between the fresh air and good conversation, it was a nice way to begin our journeyings.

Bead Lake - so beautiful

Bead Lake – so beautiful

Wednesday morning, up with the larks (are there larks in Washington?) we had a quick breakfast, checked what was happening with the Brexit vote, then got in the car headed to Bead Lake, about a 60-minute drive all told. The weather was perfect. Once we arrived, we ran into a slight problem: We couldn’t find the trail marker to start our hike. Our map stated “Forest Road” but we drove and drove, and no Forest Road appeared anywhere.

Lee on the trail

Lee on the trail

We decided to drive up an unmarked trail uphill which, as it went on and on, became narrower and narrower and higher and higher, with a particularly steep drop on the passenger side of the car – my side! And still we couldn’t find a trail marker, and had to turn around – no easy feat, considering the width of the trail by that time was about an inch (just kidding, but it was narrow.)

Bead Lake

Bead Lake

So our next stop was at the boat launch…where we met a delightful 77-year old man (he gave us his age) and his dog, Gordo. Don’t ask me why I didn’t ask his name…but anyway, he and his dog lived in a caravan at the lake’s edge, and apparently he walked three different trails every day. Was he ever in good shape – as was Gordo!

Boat launch - Bead lake

Boat launch – Bead Lake

So we finally found the beginning of the lake trail, and had a great hike for approximately three hours. It couldn’t have been more picturesque…the trees, flowers and the brilliant green-blue of the glacier-like water…it was like a painting, and the air was so crystal clear, inhaling was just a pleasure. We could not have had a better time…

Glacier-blue-green waters

Glacier-blue-green waters

After this, we came home hungry, and drove downtown to a terrific African-themed restaurant, the Safari Room in the Davenport Tower. The grilled salmon was delish, and the Ginger Dragon – a potent drink composed of vodka, ginger liqueur and some other liquids – was fabulous. And so to bed!

Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls

Thursday was a completely different experience – Palouse Falls, a throwback to the Ice Age, whose spectacular terrain had been repeatedly scored and eroded by floods thousands of years ago. The crevices, canyons, waterfalls and rocky outcrops and trails were a fascinating sight…standing atop the cliffs, you could see for miles around you.

Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls

 

This was our most challenging hike, for more reasons than terrain.

Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls

An hour into the hike, I heard a “flap, flap” as I walked and thinking it was something stuck to the sole of my boot, paid no attention at first.

My hiking boots halfway through Palouse Falls' hike

My hiking boots halfway through Palouse Falls’ hike

As it turned out, something was stuck to the sole – a fragment of the boot! And a little later, there went the other sole – so I sat down a la Cheryl Strayed, and peeled off both soles. Luckily, there was still a liner in each boot, so I was able to continue to hike with no real problem.

The trail down to the bottom of the cliffs

Rocky roads: the trail down to the bottom of the cliffs

Halfway around the trail, after this little contretemps, we came upon a rattlesnake…rattling away, enjoying a little sun in the middle of the road. Coming to a screeching halt, we waited extremely quietly; eventually the rattler slithered off into a crack in the rocks.

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Our next challenge was getting down from the cliffs to the ground below…the trail was covered in scree and rocks – one slip and you could easily turn an ankle. Thank god Lee provided me with two hiking poles, which were an immense help in navigating some of the more difficult areas. We got to a flat boulder bed by the river, and sat for lunch.

Lunch time

Lunch time

It was at this point I discovered that my cell phone – thoughtfully stowed in the pocket of my jacket – had smashed against one of the boulders. Thankfully, it had a protective cover, so although it looked bad – actually it looked like a splash of guano – it still worked, and the camera wasn’t damaged. Ergo…it continued to take great photographs.

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All around us were spectacular waterfalls, boulders and cliffs…it was here we lunched, with a weather eye out for snakes, and then got on with our hike. Spectacular is the only word for it.

IMG_0294.jpg PALOUSE WATERFALL CROPPED VERTICAL

 

And then it was on our way back to the house – a drive of about two hours through farmland full of beautiful green fields, yellow wheat fields, rapeseed and countryside. What a great day!

Green, green fields on the way back to Spokane from Palouse Falls

Green, green fields on the way back to Spokane from Palouse Falls

We ended it by stopping to pick up a marvelous crispy crust Meditteranean pizza filled with spinach, chicken, cheese and garlic sauce –why does food taste so much better on trips?

In Couer d'Alene, Idaho

In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Our next little adventure, on Friday, was into Idaho – Coeur d’Alene – which has always sort of fascinated me (the name)….the only day it rained. Since it rained and kept on raining – in Houston, you’d barely call it rain, but it did pretty much soak the area – we didn’t have a chance to hike. So we stopped in at a beautiful hotel, the Dockside Resort,  and had a yummy lunch: salmon, Golden Four-Cheese Dip, and quesadillas! Guess you could say eating and hiking our way through this trip – totally worth it! The restaurant overlooked the water and one of the world’s largest floating boardwalks. A lovely afternoon was had by all!

The water treatment plant walk

At the Cheney Water Treatment Center

Two short hikes and a quick walk through one of Spokane’s beautiful parks was on the agenda for Saturday. The Cheney Water Treatment Center may not sound like much of a walk, but we were surrounded by such beauty…ponds and small lakes, reeds, trees, flowering plants and wildlife aplenty.

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After an hour wandering around the center, we drove to Hog Lake – not a particularly appealing name, but actually a very pleasant walk on trails through leafy green country.

Start of Hog Lake hike

Start of Hog Lake hike

On the way back to the house, we noticed a small grass-green park that looked as if it had a lot of promise. Fronted by a wide grassy stretch of lawn, the trails led through tree-shaded paths, up inclines bordered by huge boulders, and through flower-filled glades. Just beautiful…a fitting end to the day. After which, we drove to a small neighborhood restaurant for dinner, and an early night back home.

 

Fronting the park

Fronting the park

Saturday in the Park with Ro and Lee

Saturday in the Park with Ro and Lee

 

Sunday it was back to reality…an early plane ride, and a full day’s travel through Chicago until my toes touched the Houston earth. From the cool green of Spokane to the heat of Houston’s summer. Thank god for air conditioning!!

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