Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All stories start with a beginning, this one starts with a road trip. To be more specific a 12 hour drive to the Smoky Mountains and Lake Fontana. I had been home way to long. Something like three weeks of computers, the noise of a city, and the schedule of a middle aged father. It was time for wandering, exploring, paddling new rivers, and getting lost in small towns far from the interstate.
As I neared my first destination, cable cove, I passed a guy walking the side of the road playing a banjo and singing. He looked like he needed a ride so I stopped and offered. He smiled and accepted. The first thing he said said was how much easier it was to get a ride playing the banjo than carrying a chainsaw. Now as a former hitch hiker I know the first thing your supposed to do when you get a ride is convince the driver that your not a psycho killer and they have made a great choice in picking you up. This guy hadn't figured this out yet. He introduced himself as Tracy Melton and mentioned he was an artist. I told him I was traveling and camping at Cable Cove. He nodded and said great thats where he was camping and had been for the last month, or so.

After a few days of paddling around solo and grocery shopping the first group of friends showed up. We originally planned on camping in the backcountry and moving camp everyday. This changed when I called the rangers to make reservations. The ranger explained that a few sites were closed due to a lady camper being munched on by a bear and a few sites we might want to avoid because of recent maulings. Everyone agreed camping at cable cove for the week was a fine idea.

Even with changed plans everyone had a wonderful time. We paddled Eagle Creek, Hazel Creek, Lake Fontana, the Little Tennessee River, the Tuckasegee, and the Nantahala. We never spotted any bears. Other than paddling we spent most days playing on rope swings, jumping off anything higher than the lake, and feasting around the nightly fire. Most nights Tracy would show up and perform a John Hartford song, drink a few beers, and then leave into the darkness strumming on his banjo. I know other campers ass cheeks must have tightened hearing banjo music floating out of the dark forest in Lower Appalachia. I found comfort in the sound.

John Hartford river songs performed by Tracy Melton.
Kristen getting crazy on the rope swing.
The love of my life, Ms. Kathy. 

Jan catching some sun on Hazel Creek.
Grahm and Rosie enjoying each other and the river.
Rosie and Peter having fun running the many rapids on the Little Tennessee.

After two AIF outings I took a long weekend off from guiding and drove the short distance to visit my great friend Grahm and his beautiful girlfriend Rose. Grahm works as a guide on the Suwannee River and also at the Canoe Outpost. As an experienced guide he knows when to get out of Florida and head to the mountains. Rose is a college professor in North Florida and is addicted to Florida's history as much as she is with its rivers.
I ended up celebrating the fourth of July with Grahm, Rose, and their family. It was great company, excellent food, cold beer, real bluegrass, and killing time at the swimming hole.

After the fourth I headed north a bit to Lake Santeelah to visit Aunt Sue, Uncle Wendal, and Grandma Stewart. It was nice to be around family to get a bit grounded. It was really good enjoying garden fresh veggies and southern fare at every meal. It was also nice to wake up to the sound of birds and knowing I didn't have to get up and cook for a large group.

I managed to control my urge to wander for an entire two days before leaving out for Asheville and a new pub with a hostel above it named the LAB. I wont go into any details about the LAB and I learned a long time ago not to take photos in bars, call anyone after spending a long time at a bar, and never blog or Facebook after a good binge. I will encourage you to visit Asheville and the wonderful establishment "the lab".
I continued my journey north stopping to visit some trail towns I have not seen since thru hiking the Appalachian trail way back in 1995. I visited Damascus, Erwin, Hot Springs, and Blacksburg. It was fantastic and made me want to drop out of society, grow my hair long, light up a joint, and get hiking. Instead I spent the night in my van along Skyline drive.
I made one more stop before going on to Front Royal, Virginia for a Sierra Club meeting, it was the town of Stauton, Virginia. I stopped in only to pick up a friend who was also going to the meeting. I ended up staying two days out of sheer facination with the town and my hostess.

The first night in town dinner was had at the Mocking Bird.
It was a terrific venue with awesome food. I got to see a band I had heard of before, Chatam County Line.
It was a fantastic show.
Spent the next few days checking out some rivers, hiking a few trails in the George Washington National Forest, and playing in and around waterfalls. Ann my Sierra Club guide and ambassador to Virginia showed me the most picturesque backroads imaginable.

My last night camping was on the Shenadoah river near Front Royal. My last day not driving was spent paddling it.

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