We've been warned about Poison Ivy and Poison Oak,
both of which are apparently widespread around these parts.
"How will we recognise it if we see it" we asked. Our
informant took a mere six steps from our cabin door and said,
"this here one's Poison Ivy", took another two
steps and said " and this here's Poison Oak with the
pinkish tips". Apparently they're easy to recognise because
the leaves are in groups of three. What a joke.... we're
surrounded by acres of creepers and weeds all of which seem to
have their leaves in groups of three.
Today we are
committed to resting. That's provided one overlooks the fact
that Lynn is doing a heap of laundry and Brian is catching up on
a week's worth of neglected Dinkum Dixie journal. Uploading the
updated journal will be a major challenge because there's
terrible noise on the phone line and we're lucky if we even get
a 14 k connection to the web from our mountainside cabin.
It was such a lovely
afternoon that we decided to walk around some of the more civilised
local bush tracks where one didn't need to brush any foliage. There
are heaps of beautiful trees and interesting birds. We surprised
a number of rabbits which darted across our path when we got too
often seen by the edge of the
road but a lot of them seem to end up as road kill.
There seems to be a
lot of groundhogs around here as well, although we've seen more
dead ones than live ones. Lynn and I have seen these
possum-sized critters a number of times during the last week or
so but we've only just figured out what they were.
turkeys seem pretty similar to domesticated
Staying on the local wildlife theme
the surrounding forest also has a lot of wild turkeys and small
numbers of deer. There are squirrels in the trees by our back
deck. Brian's quite fascinated by these tiny little acrobatic
creatures and loves to watch them skipping about the branches.
turkeys and have no similarity to the Australian bush turkey
There's a railway crossing about
a mile away down in the valley. Two or three times a day a goods
train comes through. And although there's no bells on the
crossing, the train makes up for it by sounding a horn on and
off for about minute before passing through. The rather romantic
sound drifts up to us quite eerily, mildly disturbing the peace
in a temporary fashion until the train enters a cutting leaving
us just with a faint click clack as scores of goods carriages
Lynn has planned
for us to drive up Roan Mountain today. It's almost 7,000 feet
high and just over the State line in Tennessee. We get a good
view of its summit from the back deck of our cabin.
The road up Roan Mountain is
quite steep with a minimum of bends or flatter stages. We've
been told that we are about three weeks too early for the wild
flowering rhododendrons which cover vast expanses of Roan
Mountain. However, because the summer heat has arrived early
this year we are hoping we may be lucky enough to find them
flowering ahead of time.
Half way up the mountain we do
encounter flowering rhododendrons but at this point they are not
so numerous as they are higher up. As we reach the last 500 feet
of elevation we can see that rhododendrons literally cover
the entire top of the mountain. They're cheek by jowl for a
square mile or more but not quite flowering yet. What a show it
will be here in a few weeks time!
drifts of tiny blue flowers on Roan Mountain
Lynn has packed a very nice
picnic lunch and as it is past 2.00 pm we have the picnic area
completely to ourselves. In fact there seems to be only a
handful of people here on the mountain today.
We drive down Roan Mountain and
deeper into Tennessee. Entering a small village grocery store we
are surprised to encounter an entirely different culture. The
people seem far more gregarious, they laugh a lot and have
really broad hillbilly accents. Brian, who absolutely loves
these brushes with colourful local culture, lingered on in the
store just eavesdropping on the interaction between the
customers. He really loves it and finds it hard to leave.
Another reason for Brian's
fascination is that we are now deep in bluegrass music country.
Most of you do not know that Brian was a member of a
bluegrass folk group called "The Lincoln Trio" during his late
teens and early 20's. If you find this hard to believe you can
view some proof by clicking Lincoln
A bluegrass group
normally comprises guitars and
banjo and possibly a fiddle. These instruments are
often augmented by double bass, dulcimer and jug
The Lincoln Trio sang all over
NSW, had a number of television appearances and a record
contract on the RCA label. The mere mention of the Appalachian
Mountains or Bluegrass Music induces great nostalgia in Brian so
today is kind of special.
It turns out that we are somewhat further away from
the Blue Ridge Parkway than we had imagined when we booked our
cabin. However this has been both an asset and a liability. It
takes just over an hour to reach the Parkway but it is a
picturesque drive in itself.
through the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway
runs for over 400 miles through several States. It is extremely
picturesque, especially in Summer and Fall. All commercial
activity is banned along the Parkway and there is a strict speed limit of 45
mph so the driving is quite easy and leisurely.
The key features are
stunning canopy roads through arbours of lime green trees,
roadside rhododendrons, tiny bright green grassed meadows and spectacular
look-outs (they call them "Overlooks" here).
It's been pouring rain all night and the dawn brings no signs of respite. Brian suggests that it might be nice to take
the lid off the hot tub and enjoy a spar bath in the rain. Lynn is
not so smitten with the idea but reluctantly agrees.
It's kind of nice
sitting in our forest tub surrounded by trees and swirling fog
with the sound of heavy rain smashing the leaves overhead. After a
while we get a bit sick of the icy raindrops pounding our scalps
so we raise an umbrella and huddle in the hot water up to our
chins with an umbrella full of steam protecting our heads.
And now for some
cranberry juice, bacon, eggs and sourdough toast.
Around mid morning
there are signs of a weather improvement so we decide to head for
the Blue Ridge Parkway again. We no sooner get onto the parkway
when we find ourselves in VERY thick fog. For about 40 minutes we
alternate between walking speed and 10 mph but then conditions
improve allowing us to enjoy a scenic drive southwards along the
Parkway towards the small city of Ashville.
There are many
"Lookovers" along the Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway
is a very attractive place. The natural scenic beauty is of course
superb and the fact that there are no towns or commercial activity
allowed along the Parkway is a huge asset. The other impressive
feature is the excellent level of maintenance. Grass verges and
adjacent meadows are
neatly slashed and almost devoid of weeds. Picnic locations are
carefully hidden just off the Parkway and located in charming
bushland often beside streams. There are excellent barbeque
facilities and very clean flushing toilet amenities.
We enjoyed a very late
picnic lunch beside a shallow stream then headed off to an arts
and crafts centre which had been highly recommended to us. It was
well worth the effort because this craft centre contained a
diverse range of items and all were of the absolute highest
quality, better than any modern craft work we have encountered
anywhere in the world.
You may care to visit
the craft centre's website at http://southernhighlandguild.org/
Most of the displayed items were for sale and the prices were
reasonable given the high quality. Various crafts people demonstrate their
craft each day and on this occasion we were able to watch a
glassblower, a leatherworker and a lady making decorative wreaths
from dried nuts, pine cones, vines and similar forest materials.
Before we knew it the
day was gone so we turned homewards and on nearing the cabin we
surprised a pair of deer who were grazing beside the track. Our
sighting was brief however and they soon dashed across the road
and up the mountain into thick forest.
Today is "what can we do with all this stuff day"
here in our North Carolina mountain cabin where we are now facing our
moment of truth.
We haven't really done any serious shopping here in the USA
(neither of us are into that particular sport). However Brian
bought a little something here and Lynn bought a little something
there. Over the space of a month all these "little somethings"
can really add up.
figure it all out and one way or another we will condense a dozen
plastic carry-bags of assorted paraphernalia into our two main travelling
We sadly say goodbye to our cabin at "Carolina
Keep" and jump into the journey soiled Ford Taurus for the
last leg of our tour down to the city of Atlanta in Georgia. We
seem to have a drive of about 275 miles which doesn't sound so
much at first. However when one converts those miles into
kilometres it puts things into a different perspective as we have
discovered numerous times in the last month.
We will be entering
Atlanta from the north but the airport and our nearby Holiday Inn
Hotel is in the south of the city. We've been endlessly advised to
beware of something called "Spaghetti Junction" which is
some kind of horror intersection of a thousand freeways
which we will have to traverse as we drive across Atlanta.
Apparently only the Atlanta locals can pass through it without
taking a wrong turn. This is news we don't need.
Today we wish to get
the journey over and done with as soon as possible. We have
therefore decided to take Interstate 85 for most of the way even
though we have come to detest Interstate Highways and the cowboy
attitudes they seem to engender in those who opt for this form of
The highway gets
busier and wider the closer we get to Atlanta. With 50 miles to go
is 12 lanes wide (6 in each direction) with all lanes pretty
packed. Even so, the slow lane is going 73 mph whilst those in
other lanes are closer to 80 mph. Given the speed and density of
the traffic Brian has to stay right on his toes and avoid lapses
in concentration. Six abreast at this speed is quite
uncomfortable, especially if you have semi trailers on all four
sides or giant motor homes towing SUV's behind them.
We reach the outskirts
of Atlanta, roar through Spaghetti Junction and head right across
the downtown area still doing around 70 mph. In due course we come
to our exit, leave the freeway and pull into our hotel with some relief.
The Hertz Airport
depot seemed to have thousands of vehicles. Avis and Budget had
almost as many. We expected huge delays whilst we were processed
through the system but were amazed at how efficient the handover
turned out to be. A guy pounced on us as soon as we came to a
halt. He scanned our contract on a hand held wireless terminal,
charged the extras to our credit card and completed the handover
in less than two minutes. Pretty impressive!
Today is our day of dread. We'll travel from Atlanta to
Nambucca Heads, a journey of approximately 34 elapsed hours including lots
of lounge squatting in assorted airports along the way.
The first leg takes us
to Denver Colorado where we arrive in 97° F heat. A little over two
hours later we take another flight to Los Angeles CA where we must
kill 7 hours in the airport lounge before our 11.00 pm flight will
leave for Sydney. What a drag!
At last we board our
United Airlines flight to Sydney. Brian is unlucky enough to be seated beside a
middle aged woman who is loaded with some kind of throat and chest
infection. It has her gurgling, rattling and coughing.... right
on his shoulder.... all night long. YUK! When she's not coughing
her heart out she is popping bubble gum. "Pop, pop, pop.....
it's driving Brian crazy!
A 13 to 14 hour trans
Pacific flight is always a big drag but if you've already been on
the road for 16 hours before you start the big leg..... well it's
Cross International Dateline in westerly direction
and lose a day.
At last the long night is over and eventually we land
in a wintry Sydney. Brian looks a little off the pace in crumpled
summer shorts and T-shirt but he's so relieved to escape the
United Airlines Jumbo, to say nothing of his gum popping germ-bag
companion. After a two hour stopover at Kingsford Smith Airport we
step onto a diminutive Qantas Dash-8 aircraft for a one hour
flight to Coffs Harbour. Our spirits are lifting and what a joy it
is to be almost home again.
The weather was mildly
warm and perfect at Coffs Harbour and we were strongly motivated
to kiss the tarmac. Our friend John Tait kindly drove us home to
Nambucca Heads where both Brian and Lynn fell into a very deep
This tale ought to finish with a summary but frankly we're
too tired to tackle it now. Let it wait for a later time. Was the
trip a success? Yes, without a doubt. Are we ever going abroad
again? No, never..... but it seems we've made the same statement
multiple times in the past. Maybe this time we'll stick to our
guns or maybe we'll simply limit ourselves to a five hour flight radius
in future. Damn, that probably eliminates Antarctica!
Thanks for your
company, it's been great to have you along for the ride. And thank
you for your email messages. They often came at just the right moment
to lift our spirits and give us a few laughs. We appreciated them very much.