Road Tripping– Off the GPS!

Filed under: Blue Ridge Mountains, Hiking, Nature, Outside Asheville, Things to Do

Table Rock Parking lot, Gingercake Mountain

Table Rock

Nine inches of rain in Asheville since July 3rd, coupled with my inability to get around due to my ankle injury, has made me distinctly grumpy.  After doing what I can to help at our Asheville Bed  and Breakfast I’ve been sitting with my foot up, scouring Pinterest for ideas, reading  books and playing games on my I-Pad until I see little red, green, yellow and orange  candies when I close my eyes.  Meanwhile James has worked overtime doing both his job and the bits of mine I can’t do, so when the sun finally came out we grabbed the chance to get out of the house and go somewhere.

Most of my audience will understand what I am going to say next but some, especially the younger ones, may not.  I love maps.  By the time I was twelve my Mother had given up the navigator’s seat in the car as I guided my father on our road trips.  This was not without consequence as my father had little patience for wrong turns (which might have something to do with my mother’s eagerness to change seats) but the pleasure of seeing the world laid out on a grid in front of me made up for the occasional fracas.  Later, when we lived in the UK, I found a soulmate in a British friend.  He and I would each have our UK AZ maps (known as the “A to Zed”) and would race to find the best route.  These maps were memorable for their detail, sometimes going so far as to show a phone box as a landmark.

Maps show me where things are and I can pick and choose how to get there. And sometimes serendipity  come into play:  searching for one thing I may find something better, or more interesting, or unusual.   People who have grown up with the GPS system rarely get this experience.  A GPS will get you exactly where you want to go (most of the time) but you will go the same way as everyone else and you will not be able to see how the location you are seeking fits into the surrounding area so you won’t really learn anything more than one road and one site.

A couple of years ago we had some guests at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast who liked to explore back roads and they recommended a book to us, Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads.  Yesterday, James and I pulled it out and flipped through until we found a likely looking route, then we left the GPS behind and drove off.  We were headed for Table Rock, a rocky mountain peak near the Linville Gorge.  Obviously we weren’t going to make the hike which is a strenuous 2 mile climb from the Table Rock parking lot but the drive to hike’s beginning was through Pisgah State Forest and culminated in a four-five mile dirt road with a final ascent almost straight up.

Here is another difference between maps and guidebooks and a GPS:  it’s a whole lot easier to update your GPS than a guidebook.  The world changes pretty quickly these days.  Roads get paved, landmarks get torn down and things just plain disappear. The book we were using was first published 13 years ago.  It is surprising how accurate it still is. And when it isn’t?  Well that’s when the adventure comes into play.  More importantly, the author includes stories and history of the people from the area.  I have no idea where she found them or even how accurate they are.  But they do add to the experience.  For example, in order to get to Table Rock you have to drive up Gingercake Mountain.  It’s called Gingercake Mountain because of a rock formation called “Sitting Bear Rock”.  The rock supposedly looks like a bear sitting on its haunches but early settlers thought it looked like a gingercake. (Spend some time trying to imagine what these settlers were eating and what their cakes must have looked like.) Not being able to make the hike to this rock, we are unable to weigh in with an opinion but someday I’m going back!

Call it Gingercake, or Sitting Bear– the community built on the side of the mountain consists of a number of lovely homes in a variety of different styles, all positioned to take advantage of the stunning view.  While we didn’t see any real bears we did see a number of wild turkeys,

Gingercake Mountain "Bear"

Clearly you need a sense of humor to live on Gingercake Mountain. (Zoom in)

all of whom were too fast for me to get a picture.  But mostly we just enjoyed riding with the sunroof and windows open.  There are numerous picnic areas along the way and it’s hard to beat a great sandwich eaten at 4000feet!  One side note:  my family drove from one side of the United States to the other at least twice while I was growing up.  We always stopped at a road-side picnic table and my father always took a picture of it. Somewhere there is a drawer filled chock-a-block with unidentifiable picnic tables from the 1960’s. So to honor my parents, I took a picture of this one at the overlook for Brown Mountain.

Picnic on the raod in Western North Carolina

James enjoys the sunshine at our picnic spot

As a drive, this one was only so-so.  The ascent up Gingercake Mountain is mostly on dirt roads.  The recent heavy rains left deep gulleys in the surface and driving is difficult and riding uncomfortable.  I think I would feel differently if we had been able to get out of the car and make the hike to both Sitting Bear and Table Rock. Nevertheless it was a beautiful day to be high in the mountains of Western North Carolina!


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