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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Oops Montgomery, AL, Wednesday, 27 July 2016 10:32pm

Adrienne noticed that I'd missed a day (Day 4) in the travelogue. It looks like I've also lost the actual GPS track for that day. Oops.

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Road Trip day 11: Congaree Congaree National Park, SC, Tuesday, 26 July 2016 6:52pm

We spent the morning doing a six mile hike around Congaree. We saw a fairly large heron, alligator, frogs, blue-tailed skinks, snouted fish, yellow-throated warblers, downy woodpecker, white tailed deer, lots of completely uncooperative swallowtail butterflies, a red fuzzy ant, and a puddle full of tadpoles.

We had dinner in Columbia.

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Road Trip day 10: Maymont to Congaree Congaree National Park, SC, Monday, 25 July 2016 10:11am

In the morning we went back to Maymont and saw the bald eagles and gray fox. Anaka did a training session with Monty the bobcat, who was remarkably well behaved and did all of his trained behaviors with only a grumble. We also got to see a turtle feeding before saying our goodbyes.

The rest of the day was spent driving to Congaree National Park in South Carolina. We stopped in Sumter at a brand new deli serving New York style food. A definite oddity to find here. They seemed surprised that we were in Sumter and had managed to find out about them (Yelp).

We have a very noisy campground, but unlike the one at Shenandoah, the noise here isn't people, it's frogs and insects. Something sets off the frogs every half hour or so and they all croak in unison for a minute before quieting down again. The insects are a constant buzz.

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Road Trip day 9: Shenandoah to Richmond Richmond, VA, Sunday, 24 July 2016 11:03pm

Adrienne and I got up at 7 to go on a nature walk. It was not as difficult to wake up as is have expected, since we didn't put up the rain fly on our tent last night and the sky was pretty bright by then. We saw a variety of birds and chipmunks on the nature trail, and Adrienne has become such an expert on the local wildlife that she was able to recognize a bird by its call alone!

After the hike, we had breakfast and broke camp, and then headed out on another hike. This was one that someone at the ranger station had recommended as an easy waterfall hike. If we'd tried it yesterday, we'd have been cursing his name. It was not an easy hike. It was manageable today, though, since we're merely tired from our climbing, rather than totally exhausted.

It turned out to be a nice, if steep hike. The waterfall was picturesque, and there were pretty plants along the way. I was sad that we didn't get to see the stream crayfish or Shenandoah salamander, but we stopped at a pool on the way back that had a number of brook trout swimming in it. As we were about to move on, Anaka called out that she'd seen something. Sure enough, in the next pool up the were both tiny crayfish and miniscule salamanders!

After lunch, we set out for Anaka's place. She took a quick route, while Adrienne and I drove the remainder of Skyline Drive out of the park. We kept going to the first Visitor's center on the Blue Ridge Parkway to pick up some stickers and postcards before hopping on the interstate to Richmond.

Anaka took us by her work: Maymont, a former Victorian estate that now hosts a wild animal facility showcasing animals found in this area. We saw, fed, and petted some sika deer, and met a bobcat and various birds of prey.

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Road Trip day 8: Seneca Rocks to Shenandoah Shenandoah National Park, VA, Saturday, 23 July 2016 11:00pm

We decided to take a less direct route to our next campground than either my GPS or my phone wanted, in order to see more of Shenandoah. The park is organized around the Skyline Drive, so we aimed for the town of Front Royal, just north of the start of Skyline. We had lunch at a cute little cafe there.

Once in the park, we got tips from the rangers for a few easy hikes (this should be a rest day after climbing all day yesterday). The first was a nice walk to a lovely historic viewpoint, the Stony Man summit on the forehead of a hillside that looks like a sleeping giant.

We drove the rest of the way to our campsite and set camp, then Adrienne and I walked over to the camp store to pick up a few groceries. That turned out to be an accidental 2 mile walk.

After we got back, we went with Anaka to check out the Big Meadow that this park of the park is named for. It was a lovely sea of tall grass and wildflowers, with lots of unconcerned deer snacking away. We walked along the fire road all the way across the meadow and continued into the adjoining woods. We walked a ways into the woods, and were about to turn back when Anaka noticed a bear nearby. The bear took off pretty quickly, but was in fairly open terrain for a little way, so we got a pretty good look at it, and a few pretty bad pictures.

Somehow we managed to walk about 8 miles on our rest day.

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Road Trip day 7: Climbing Seneca Rocks Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, WV, Friday, 22 July 2016 11:00pm

My sister Anaka met up with us this morning (she arrived last night, but we were already asleep). We met up with our climbing guide at 8:30 and spent the whole day climbing.

It was amazing. I've been climbing outdoors a handful of times, and, while it's been fun, this was the first place I've felt like I would come to regularly if it were reasonably close. The quartzite feels really good on the hands (solid, but rarely sharp), the formations have a lot of variety, and the views are spectacular. We couldn't have had a better day, weather-wise. Warm, but breezy, so we didn't get too hot, but had lots of sun for views across the valley.

This was my first time doing multi-pitch climbing, where you climb partway up a rock face, stop on a ledge, pull your ropes up, and climb further. We did two three-pitch climbs with a short scramble between them, which got us up to the summit of the south peak (also a first for me to reach a summit!).

The first set of three was pretty straightforward, so we opted for a slightly more difficult set of three for the second. That turned out to push us pretty well. There were a few spots where it took several tries to figure out how to do it. That's pretty routine for us in the gym, but it's a different feeling when you're halfway up a mountainside. We all made it through, though.

We rappelled down the east face (another first!) to a larger ledge where Anaka did a couple more climbs (and I tried one, but couldn't get the first few moves), and then hiked out. The only downside was that, due to a misunderstanding early on, Anaka and I had left our comfortable shoes on the west side of the mountain, so we had to hike out to the road in our climbing shoes, which is bad for the shoes and very painful for the feet.

We picked up some pizzas at one of the general stores in Seneca Rocks, and returned to our cabin and had a well-earned soak in the hot tub. Great day overall.

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Road Trip day 6: Great Smoky Mountains to Seneca Rocks Cabins, WV, Thursday, 21 July 2016 10:17pm

It takes us about an hour and a half to make and eat breakfast and break camp. We hit the road before 9 am (!) and headed north into Virginia. After crossing the border we decided to grab a pastry. We accidentally found a little Balkan bakery (with the Republic of Macedonia flag hanging on the wall) that sold us some tasty bureks and sweet pastries (not sure the powdered sugar over the icing was actually required...).

After a fairly nice drive, we stopped in Blackburg, to visit Lifto, Liz, and Sarah. We helped walk a windhound, saw a community garden, had delicious french food, visited a kitten who's being fostered, and had some time to catch up.

The road north into West Virginia was gorgeous. Smooth curves through pastureland and forest. We passed cattle, goats, sheep, and a field full of deer (and one on the road), and spotted a goldfinch and a blue bunting. We're now in a cabin, a little way north of Seneca Rocks, where we'll be rock climbing tomorrow.

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Road Trip day 5: Great Smoky Mountains Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN, Wednesday, 20 July 2016 10:35pm

We started the day out with a hike to Hen Wallow Falls. On our way to the trailhead, we ran across a gaggle of wild turkeys in the campground.

Adrienne's big hope for Great Smoky Mountains was to see a bear. Amazingly, about a mile and a half into the hike we did! We were walking along, taking pictures of the abundant fungi growing along the sides of the trail (so many shapes and colors), when we turned a corner and heard a rustling in the underbrush ahead of us. We saw something moving, and I joked that it was probably a bear. Adrienne thought it was more likely to be a wild pig... until she saw its ears! Totally a bear. We slowly backed off a few hundred yards and sat on a log for ten minutes or so before continuing along the trail. As we passed the area where we'd seen it, we could hear it breathing and disturbing underbrush a ways away. It looked like it had eating some raspberries that were growing at the edge of the trail.

The rest of the hike was nice, but not as exciting. We saw lots more mushrooms and some forest wildflowers, and ended up at a pleasant waterfall.

We were pretty hungry when we got back to camp, so we decided to head over into North Carolina and get some lunch. We ended up in Asheville, had some tasty sandwiches (Adrienne had an eggplant gyro, which surprised me with how gyro-like it was) and local micro brews.

We decided to take the scenic route back: the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was a lovely drive, with lots of nice curves and turnouts with great scenery: long views over forests to distant mountains and meadows full of wildflowers. The Parkway ends near a different entrance to the National Park, and shortly after returning to the park proper, we saw a small herd of elk, including several calves in a large meadow and stopped to take some pictures and watch them through the binoculars.

On exiting the park, we found ourselves in Gatlinburg, which reminded me a lot of the parts Cancun that I do my best to avoid.

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Road Trip day 4: Mammoth Cave to Great Smoky Mountains Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN, Tuesday, 19 July 2016 11:23pm

This morning we went on a four hour Intro to Caving tour, walking, crawling, and occasionally scrambling through Mammoth Cave. It was fun, but not nearly as strenuous as the description had led us to believe. It was pretty leisurely, and even the harder parts were very short. I would have liked to do more climbing. We saw more cave wildlife than I've seen in the past: blinds cave beetles and lots and lots of cave crickets. But there was less cave decoration than on most tour routes I've been on, probably because we novice cavers would have damaged it accidentally, or deliberately, like one of the annoying tweens on the tour.

Afterwards, we drove back into Tennessee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We didn't hustle enough to arrive before sunset, but that meant we had a beautiful drive along a curvy road as an enormous full moon was rising. It had just rained, and mist was rising off of the road like smoke. There were both lightning bugs nearby and flashes of actual lightning in the distance.

We set up camp with our headlamps and camp lantern, and enjoyed some hot chocolate.

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Road Trip day 3: Nashville to Mammoth Cave Mammoth Cave National Park, KY, Monday, 18 July 2016 10:08pm

Pulled pork on pancakes. I wouldn't have thought it would work, but overall? Pretty good. It was sweet potato pancakes with pan fried apples, topped with an egg over easy, which added in some sweetness and moisture to what would otherwise have been overly dry.

Those of you who avidly follow my online journal (ha) may have noticed that I haven't posted anything about this road trip so far. That's because my laptop has been non-functional. It would get partway through the login process, fail a filesystem check, and crash. Of course this happened just after we left, rather than just before... So we took a couple of hours to go to a mall, take it to the Apple Store, have them try to fix it, give up, and erase the disk. I should be able to restore it from a backup when I get back, but for now I've installed just the essentials.

Back in downtown Nashville, we stopped in at the Frist Center which has an interesting exhibition on right now of post-war Italian cars (and a few motorcycles) The exhibition starts with some Fiat prototypes that showed how the designers and mechanics adapted what they learned from building airplanes for the war effort, and traced those design ideas through the 1970s. There were some fantastic Maseratis and Ferraris, but my favorites were a Lamborghini and a Bizzarrini.

We had a tasty lunch at a BBQ place in what looks to be a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in East Nashville. There were two craft breweries and a taproom/beer shop within a half block, and we passed an organic restaurant, a juice bar, and a high end butcher before making our way back to the road. We passed through more farmland, and made our way to Kentucky, where the major activity on a Monday afternoon seems to be mowing lawns. There was a truly staggering number of enormous (acres), very well kept lawns, and a corresponding number of people out on riding mowers keeping them.

We're at the Mammoth Cave Hotel, in preparation for our Intro to Caving tour tomorrow morning. There are lots of not-at-all-skittish deer here, along with lightning bugs and bats.

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