I couldn’t have been happier with the way May 2015 turned out. (I know… it’s the end of August but better late than never right?) In addition to some fairly epic adventuring, I got to spend some time back home and be there for my little sister’s high school graduation. Aside from feeling old, witnessing my sister’s transition from high school kid to young adult spurred a little reflection in my own milestones and life choices. I remembered people asking me, like I asked her, what do you want to do? And I remember answering, like she did, with a bit of hesitation and uncertainty. When I was in Catie’s shoes I had no idea I would be doing what I do now. Life is an adventure and you should live it everyday.
On Earth Day with a week left in April and the heat and bugs making their way back into the Florida Everglades Leigh and I sat down to layout some plans for the month of May. We were preparing to leave South Florida, and our winter kayaking gig, for Northwest Montana, Glacier National Park, and another summer season in the mountains. The only requirement we had for the whole month was to get our home and ourselves to Glacier in time for Leigh’s first day of work, leaving ample time for what Leigh and I longed for, a “fairly epic” adventure. So with that as our guideline we went to work and by the end of the day produced an itinerary that was exactly that: 10 days of hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, rafting, fly fishing and birding in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah National Forest (NC, TN), 5 days of canoeing and fishing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (MN), and 2 days of hiking, wildlife viewing and birding in Theodore Roosevelt National Park; plus plenty of time to attend my buddy’s wedding reception, see my sister graduate, hangout with family and friends and take a mini vacation from our vacation. That was the plan and we couldn’t have been more excited to execute it!
On May 1st we pulled out of our winter spot at Chokoloskee Island Park and Marina (FL) a little later than planned after a fun night with a few too many beers. We were planning to be in Ashville, North Carolina on the 2nd to take a look around. I have always heard that Ashville was a pretty cool town so we though we would check it out. We had no real plans for a place to stay and honestly didn’t know what to expect out of Ashville. We originally thought we could crash at the local Walmart but discovered the night before that wasn’t an option. Most Walmarts across the country allow RVs to park overnight but in some places, especially around popular camping destinations, it’s restricted which was the case in Ashville. So we went searching for another option and found Bent Creek Campground in the Pisgah National Forest just outside of town and by “just outside” I mean pretty much in town! So that is what we aimed for the next morning.
On the morning of the 2nd we got an early start from the rest stop we crashed at the night before near Jacksonville, Florida. We rolled into Ashville and Bent Creek Campground in the early afternoon and were able to grab the last available campsite. Apparently with its convenient location and ample recreation opportunities this is a popular campground (we were learning as we went). We were really happy with this find and super happy we were lucky enough to get a site. After we got set up in our site, we headed into Ashville to see what all the hype was about. We had dinner and beers at Wicked Weed and unexpectedly caught the Kentucky Derby and then, after walking around down town, checked out Green Man Brewing Company for a few more local beers. Ashville is known for it beer scene and I must say the beer here is pretty good especially if you like hoppy IPAs (which Leigh does not). After a couple pints and a few tasters we bought a six-pack from Green Man and took the party back to Bent Creek.
The campground had some pretty extensive mountain biking trails near by so the next morning we paid for another night and got on our bikes to clean the cobwebs out of our Florida lungs. We got our butts kicked on the climbs but the down hills made it worth it! After a few hours we called it quits and went for a drive along a few gravel back roads and a short section of the Blue Ridge Parkway on our way to the store for some provisions for the days to come.
The next day we pulled out of Ashville and drove around to the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We entered in through Gatlinburg and got a nice site at the Elkmont Campground right along the Little River. We got established quickly and then jumped in the car to drive the Little River Road to Townsend where there was a fly shop I had wanted to check out. We got our fishing licenses and a few flies and then headed back the way we came and fished the Little River for the rest of the afternoon. We didn’t catch many fish but the drive along the Little River Road was without a doubt worth the time.
On the morning of the 5th we paid a visit to the Sugarlands Visitor Center to pick up our backcountry permit for later in the week, which we reserved back on Earth Day. We also chatted with the Ranger at the info desk and not surprisingly we had a mutual friend or two, which is commonly the case in the small NPS world. After Leigh bought her souvenir sticker we headed out for the highest point in the park, Clingmans Dome. We hiked about 5 miles from the parking area to Andrews Bald and then back and up to Clingmans Dome via a short stretch of the Appalachian Trail. At the top there is an observation tower that both Leigh and I agreed had a strange similarity to the one in Shark Valley in the Everglades National Park (FL). The view from the top was awesome, we had a few clouds but it is the Smoky Mountains after all!
After 2 nights at Elkmont Campground we relocated to Cosby Campground but along the way stopped in Greenbrier for a hike to Ramsey Cascade. The hike was 8 miles round trip with about 2400ft of elevation. I brought along my fly rod but didn’t get to use it much. For once I wasn’t that disappointed by that, the hike was pleasure enough, in fact Leigh and I agreed it was our favorite day hike of the trip.
The next day after getting settled into Cosby Campground and prepping for our extended hiking trip to come we met up with Justin and Alli, our bosses and friends from the Everglades. They led us to a rafting company on the Pigeon River that they both used to work for and we borrowed a raft for the afternoon. The Pigeon is a dam-controlled river and the put in was directly below the dam itself. We got on the water and had a blast taking turns on the guide stick. After the float we said goodbye to J and A (our short hand) and returned to the Wildthing to finish gearing up for our 3 day backpacking trip, which started the next day. More on that trip to come…