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Archive for the 'Driving' Category

9. How to find a remote cabin on a gravel road in the mountains at night, or: “Veer right where the old Citgo used to be”

Friday, September 7th, 2007

After hiking Whiteside Mountain, Sarah and I continued toward Franklin to find the cabin we had reserved for this night and the following night. The guy who owns the cabin had given us some directions, but we were having trouble figuring out from what direction he assumed we were coming. We stopped at a gas station and got some gas, beer for later (a semi-local extra pale ale from Atlanta, the name of which I’ve forgotten), and a map of Macon County, where Franklin is located. The map purchase ended up being a smart move, as we would have had a lot of difficulty finding the cabin without it. In fact, it also had bicycle routes marked on it, which would prove useful later on.

We decided to grab some food in Franklin before heading to the cabin, not having much of an idea how far it was, or how long it would take to find it. I was already nervous about finding it in the dark, and trying to get my 1996 Ford Taurus up the gravel road the owner said goes up the side of the mountain to the cabin. We almost got to a barbeque restaurant before it closed, but it was a little too late. We ended up eating McDonald’s, which was fine with me. We were hungry, and just glad to find some food.

By the time we got back on the road, it was completely dark. We found our way out of town to Highway 28, which is similar to 64 in its windiness and even joins with 64 for a while. It was a fun road to drive on, but in the dark, it was very challenging and a bit nerve-wracking. I got a lot better at driving on roads like this one over the course of the trip, but it was scary at first. We couldn’t really see the mountains, or much of anything, but we found ourselves pretty far out of town, in an area that felt very remote. This was what we wanted, but it was hard to find at night. We put in a Mercury Rev album, perfect for a warm summer night drive through unfamiliar country.

The directions got more obtuse, saying to veer right after Citgo station on the left. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but as we passed the landmarks on the map, and then something that looked like what the owner described, only with a BP station, we figured that must have been the turn we needed. It turned out to be the right road; apparently, the Citgo was turned into a BP station. I cracked a joke about the directions saying to “veer right where the old Citgo used to be,” referencing an 80s comedy (bonus points if you can guess the movie).

We followed this road which I believe was Cowee Creek Road (there were also Cowee Valley Road, Cowee Vista Road, Cowee Lane, and other variants) and came to the Cherokee Ruby Mine. We turned left on the gravel road there as instructed, drove over a creek, and the road became very steep, went through several 180-degree switchbacks, and eventually came to the driveway to the cabin. After making that probably 150-degree turn, we drove up the driveway and saw the cabin!

The Taurus had performed admirably in conditions it wasn’t designed to handle. I was impressed. The cabin stood before us, illuminated only by the headlights of the car, but it looked impressive to my eyes. It was a real, honest-to-goodness log cabin. I sort of expected a quaint, small house that was only actually a cabin in name, but this was the real deal, as far as we could tell. We found the key under the mat, as promised.

We got inside and were even more impressed. The cabin had one large room that functioned as living room/dining room/kitchen, a loft, a bathroom, and one bedroom. The bedroom and large room had window AC units, so we turned those on. It had been a long, hot day in an un-airconditioned car. We had to turn on the circuit breaker to the water heater.

We drank some beer and attempted to write in our journals before bed. It was really difficult to do, though, and we soon gave up and went to bed. We were anxious to see what the cabin actually looked like, the promised mountain view out the gazebo in back, and what the area looked like, but those things would have to wait until morning. There wasn’t enough light to see any of it.

7. US Highway 64; 8. Whiteside Mountain

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Saturday night, after hiking at South Mountains State Park, we headed back to Charlotte and got some German food for dinner. German food isn’t something I normally seek out, but I always enjoy it when I eat it, and this restaurant was particularly good. Sunday morning, we went to breakfast and Michael and Laurel gave us a brief car tour of Charlotte. We hadn’t seen any of Charlotte yet, so it was cool to get a tour, but I still didn’t get much of a sense of what it’s like there. Maybe next time, we can do some things in Charlotte.

Sunday afternoon, Sarah and I headed out to go to the cabin we rented in Franklin, NC. We were on interstates for about half of the way, but we got tired of that and really wanted to see the area more, so we ditched the interstate for U.S. Highway 64. This turned out to be an excellent choice, because it was the coolest road I had ever driven on, winding through mountains with a lot of switchbacks and sharp turns, ups and downs, and a whole lot of beautiful scenery along the way. In fact, it’s part of a scenic byway of some sort (I’ll have to look up exactly what) and followed a river for a long while, also going near many waterfalls. This route took a lot longer than the interstate would have, but it was so much better that it was well worth it.

Shortly after passing through Highlands, NC, which seemed to have a huge golf resort, we happened to a sign for the Whiteside Mountain trail, which we had on our list of possible hikes in the Franklin area. We decided to stop and hike it right then. This would probably mean trying to find the cabin in the dark, which concerned me, but I wanted a break from driving, and this was probably the only way we could fit in a hike on Sunday.

Whiteside Mountain wasn’t the longest hike, or the most difficult hike, but it turned out to be our favorite hike of the whole trip. It’s about a 2-mile loop, and the description we read said that it was a little better to go up the steeper way and come back down on the more gradual part of the trail. So that’s what we decided to do. It was fairly steep, with rocky sections and steps through part of it, but it wasn’t too bad.

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Sarah on the Whiteside Mountain trail

After climbing for a while, we found ourselves at an overlook with a rock surface onto which I climbed a bit.

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Rock wall on Whiteside Mountain. I climbed out for a better view.

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The view from the wall

As we were admiring and photographing the view and I was on the rock wall, Sarah dropped her camera bag. It rolled a bit down the mountain. I climbed back down from the wall and found a good path to her camera case, and retrieved it. We continued hiking, and saw a small trail going off to the right. We followed it and found another overlook, with a place you could go out onto the rocky face of the mountain. We worked our way out there and took a break, drinking some water and sharing a granola bar.

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Sarah at the second overlook

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Sarah, by the edge

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View from the second overlook

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A rock “face”

We went back to the main trail, hiked some more, and saw another side trail. There were probably 5-7 of these overlooks, and each one had a significantly different view. Here are some more photos from the other overlooks.

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The coolest thing about these overlooks was that on most of them, you could go right out to the edge of the mountain, with no railings or anything like that. You had to be careful, but these were some of the most spectacular views of our entire trip. Not only that, the feeling of being on top of the world, and being right on the edge, is incredible.

The hike down the side of the mountain was pretty easy, part of it taking an old road. Supposedly, there used to be a post office at the top where you could mail postcards to people. That sounds convenient, but I was glad it wasn’t like that. We only saw a few other people during this hike. It was our mountain.

4. The Blue Ridge Parkway

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

After lunch on Friday, we got on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Almost immediately, we saw an overlook and stopped to check it out and take some photos. We were overwhelmed with what we saw, and that was just the beginning.

Blue Ridge Overlook VII

Us, along the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is not an efficient way to get anywhere, with a parkway-wide speed limit of 45 mph, and many sections where it’s not safe to go that fast because it’s a winding mountain road. But our friends in Charlotte had to work that day anyway, so we figured we’d take our time getting there. The section we were on had numerous tunnels, which were pretty cool. We saw a few cyclists, and I have to admit I was tempted to get the bike off the back of the car and start riding.

It was a very hot day, but we didn’t care. I was still in awe that I was in the presence of so much beauty. Then again, that’s a feeling I get every day with Sarah. The mountains were nice, too.

The Blue Ridge Parkway has overlooks very frequently, and we had to resist the temptation to stop at each and every one. Driving on it is almost like being immersed in a gigantic slideshow, passing overlooks on both sides. Looking back at our photos, they all seem to run together now, but when you’re there, the feeling is intoxicating, and each overlook takes on its own personality.

Blue Ridge Overlook V

Sarah along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Overlook VIII

Blue Ridge Overlook II

Blue Ridge Parkway - Sarah and car

At one overlook, I stood on the roof of the car (much to Sarah’s dismay) to get a better angle. You can see a photo of me on the car on Sarah’s blog.

I experimented with some infrared photography at some of the overlooks. Here are a few examples.

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Infrared Blue Ridge

Infrared Blue Ridge II

After a while, we stopped taking photos and mostly drove through. We played some Telefon Tel Aviv in the car, which is one of our favorite groups. They also happen to make incredibly gorgeous music, which was a perfect backdrop for the scenery.

We hadn’t had enough, but we had spent so much time gaping and taking photographs that if we needed to get moving. We ended up driving about 90 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and even that drive itself takes a long time.

Blue Ridge Panorama

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