Page 11 of our daily Tour Journal   

1st June 2004
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 close.

Groundhogs are 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.

American wild turkeys seem pretty similar to domesticated
turkeys and have no similarity to the Australian bush turkey

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.

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 follow on.

2nd June 2004
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!

Surrounded by 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 Trio photos

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.

3rd June 2004
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.

Typical road 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).

4th June 2004
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.

5th June 2004
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.

Somehow we'll 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 bags.

6th June 2004
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 travel.

The highway gets busier and wider the closer we get to Atlanta. With 50 miles to go the I-85 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!

7th June 2004
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 the pits.

8th June 2004
Cross International Dateline in westerly direction and lose a day.

9th June 2004
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 sleep.

In Summary
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.

 

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