We are settling in quite well here in Franklin, NC. October is a fantastic time to be here. The weather is still mild, and the landscape changes daily as the leaves turn from green into a kaleidoscope of colors. It has been quite rainy, and the natives claim we have brought the rain with us from Michigan. Fortunately, it rains only a short amount of time and returns to sunshine. Or one can just drive over to the next mountain, and the weather may be just fine in that location. But like with all weather, there are exceptions…
Yesterday it rained non-stop from about 3am to 6pm. And I am talking buckets of rain. Not much of a chance to do anything outdoorsy, so we opted to do laundry and meet Shauna and Josh for lunch. After lunch we stopped in at a very cool outdoor store, Outdoor 76. This store caters to backpackers and fisherman mainly. Being a day-hiker, not a bonafide backpacker, I was not in need of any essential outdoor items. But there was one thing in this store I might need, a beer.
Outdoor 76 has a small room in the back which serves some very good microbrews. One has to be a member to enjoy a taste here, and fortunately for us, Shauna and Josh are members, so we can drink as their guests. The walls of the pub space are autographed with the names of backpackers who have hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT). Crazy trail names like Redfoot. I pondered adding my name, as I have hiked a bit of the trail myself, but I am pretty sure this is honor is reserved for above-mentioned serious backpacker types. I have only put in maybe 10 miles of the AT, and it is somewhere around 2000 miles stretching from Georgia to Maine. So I’d better wait til I have a few more miles under my belt! Should one find oneself in Franklin, NC, Outdoor 76 is a must-see.
Upon leaving the store/pub, the rain continued on. Off to Kmart for some long needed rain ponchos. Now we can play in any weather.
As I mentioned, we have trekked a few miles on the AT. Just a few (in North Carolina distance!) miles down the road from our campground, there is an area in the Natahala National Forest called Standing Indian Campground. From this area you can access several trails. And lay claim to the fact you were on the AT!
Hike #1 was Winding Stair Gap. It was a doozy! Thank goodness it was cool that particular day. It had a very big up to begin, and then leveled off, which allowed us to catch our breath, and take in some very nice views. Most of the wildflowers have disappeared for the season, but we found a few. The trail crossed the main road and then lead us in another big up on starting on a very skinny ledge. Coming back down on the same skinny ledge, I found a note written on the road. It said “Good Job,” I think it was referring to the fact that I did not fall off! Hike time 2:05.
Hike #2 took off from the same trailhead, but in a different direction. Big Spring Gap. This day was much warmer, and although the trail was longer, it was not quite as steep. The sunny day provided more spectacular views over the ever-changing landscape. Upon completion of this hike we took a small trail toward Wasilik Poplar, the second largest yellow poplar in the United States. We never actually found it (maybe we did, the poplars look a lot alike) but I did find this cool zebra-looking caterpillar. Hike time 2:10.
Hike #3 found us venturing a bit farther down highway 64 to Jackrabbit Mountain Recreation Area near Hiawassee, NC. The area here is for hikers and mountain bikers. The trails here reminded me of the trails at Fort Custer Recreation Area in Michigan. Although it was not an overly strenuous hike, it was the most visually spectacular thus far, with great views of Chatuge Lake. The sun was shining brightly on the way home, casting it’s rays on the colorful mountains. Hike time 2:20.
But there is so much more to do around Western NC than hiking. Saturday we spent some great family time with Shauna, Josh, Brent, and Josh’s parents. Brent had a soccer game (they won!), followed with lunch at Western Carolina University, and a good old college football game (they won!) The game was fun, but the marching band was spectacular! The choreography was simply amazing. The band will be marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Check them out!
Total hike time 6:35. Total fun time: lots! Tomorrow we intend to add to both times with hike #4! See you soon…