Expedition 2023, part 2, week 6: North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway

We got our exercise the week we stayed in North Carolina, carrying gear and food from the van, seen below, parked half-way up the drive, to the cabin, up behind the trees to the right. Judy is visible at the top, near the next switchback that leads to the cabin.

With a few days downtime, we rested up from many trips on foot up and down the mountain between the van and the cabin, catching up on visiting and Internet.  Judy spent a day helping with a sewing project, and I roasted up a pan of vegetables to get back to real cooking.  We had to move the van to make room for the power company crew that came in to reset the guy wires on the power pole we parked next to.  The tires spun as we backed up into the next leg of the switchback, but far enough.

Mid-week, we made a trip into town, with much rocking back and forth to turn around and aim down the mountain, following instructions to swing wide at the last switchback, barely clearing the edge of the road.  The paved road seemed even steeper, descending into the touristy strip town and again down to the next town, where we refueled and did a bit of shopping before climbing back up to the mountain and once again skidding through the switchback and positioning the truck at the small parking area at the next, too steep switchback. Loading our purchases into a backpack, we trudged up the next two switchbacks to the cabin. That evening, the rains came, as predicted, promising to continue into the next day, when we hoped to help with the building project in front of our van.

The safari tent platform, torched to accent the grain.

With Matt home, and the rain stopped, the safari tent platform project began again.  A few last minute major design changes ended up with a rectangular platform 14′ x 16‘1“ (Matt assumed the boards were exact length…).  We took time out to attend our Thursday Yoga session with the Mason County Senior Activity Center at home, via Zoom.  The plywood flooring got put in, but the rains came again overnight, making it necessary to screw down several panels that started to delaminate.  So much for outdoor rated plywood.  But, all was well and square, and the dynamic duo fired up a propane torch, the kind used to kill weeds, to scorch the flooring to bring out the grain, a nice effect.

The guest safari tent, up on the platform. The next week, they put on the rain fly and deck.

Friday, the tent went up, taking all four of us to spread it out, rig the steel tubing frame, and raise it up.  Wow!  This tent is huge!  A quick call to the manufacturer to clarify some issues about how the “porch” was attached, and all was well, ready for the assembly of the porch and rain fly on Saturday.  

But, Saturday was our time to move on: we packed out early while the team made yet another lumber yard run and were ready to ease the van down the mountain by the time they returned.  I had carefully turned the van around to face downhill the previous afternoon, a tricky maneuver, to say the least.

The view from inside the tent. This will be a wonderful vacation getaway in the Smoky Mountains when completed.

Down off the mountain in one piece, we headed back up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and wound around the northbound path, which first took us far south, over the highest point, and then north to Ashville, three hours later.  Ashville is about a 40-minute drive had we taken the highway.  

Back on the Blue Ridge Parkway, near the viaduct between Linville and Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

By this time, Judy had had enough of white-knuckle hairpin turns with no guardrails and sheer drop-offs thousands of feet to the valley below, so we consulted with the rangers at the visitors center and chose to jump around the Parkway, skipping 150 km of winding ridge-running, and resuming the tour before the famous viaduct that suspends the Parkway out from the cliffs.  Soon after, we came to a detour necessitated by a bridge repair far ahead.  Instead of returning to the Parkway at the end of the detour, we continued on the parallel valley back roads that led to our destination for the night, as the Parkway route would have necessitated backtracking several miles.  We put in just at sunset and just over the Virginia border.

On Sunday, October 1, we awoke early to thick fog. We packed up in the dark and drove over the Ridge to the New River valley, where we broke out the tandem bicycle for the first time since the Cades Cove run in the Great Smoky Mountains.  We had read another couple’s story of their journey on this famous rail trail, and were anxious to try a short section of it.  However, in the week or so since their report, the very section of the trail we wanted to ride had been closed for bridge repairs.  Undaunted, we elected to ride the scenic section before that, from Foster Falls to the settlement of Austinville, a short five-mile segment, but entirely along the river and through one of two tunnels on the 57-mile trail.  The fog was still heavy, so we had a wet passage upriver to Austinville, but it lifted enough we had some views of the other side of the river on the way back.

After finishing our ride, we resumed our trip on US 221, which parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway, but through the valleys, heading north, ending up near I-66, the route to Washington, DC.