Lather was sixty years old today
And Lather came home from his cage.
He looked at me eyes wide and plainly said
Is it true I’m no longer middle aged?
And I should have told him “No, you’re not old.”
And I should have let him go on…smiling…babywide.
— Apologies to Grace Slick
So I am officially old now, and to console myself and demonstrate that 60 really is the new 59, I took the day off and rode. I rolled up to Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The weather was perfect and traffic in this most-visited national park is still relatively moderate in early May. The ride followed the Little River, which is a serious of cascades and pools carved into bedrock and boulder. There were also cascades of penstemon and maiden hair fern, and the mountain laurel was just coming into bloom. The odometer read 99 miles when I got home after about nine hours on the road, including a stop for pretty good burger at the Riverstone in Townsend on the return leg.
A couple of weeks later, a change of travel plans created an opportunity for a camping trip to Citico Creek.
So I loaded up the touring bike and headed out. The plan was to follow the proposed route of USBR-21 (with minor deviations) from Knoxville, south to Vonore. There, my route takes a left off of USBR-21 (which is on the wide shoulder of US-411 at this point) and onto SR-360. I went straight where 360 turns right, and it becomes Citico Road. This road rolls eastward for a few miles before picking up Citico Creek, which it follows into the Cherokee National Forest. The pavement ends at about mile 70 on this route, measured from my house. There are no major climbs, but it is all hilly, and there are some steep climbs.
Camping on the Citico Creek corridor is limited to areas specified by signs, and the two developed campgrounds have limited services. Most notably, they do not have water, so a bike camper needs to be prepared to filter a lot of water. If that does not sound appealing, Indian Boundary Campground is available further on down the road and up a significant climb. The bike camper can skip the Young Branch Horse Camp, where a premium is charged for the extra facilities to support horses. But I find it worth the $6 per night at Jake Best (mile 75) for a table to sit at, and the pit toilet beats finding fresh spots in a field of TP flags. I have been in this area on busy summer weekends when it was difficult to find a camping spot, so arrive early or visit at off-peak times if you want your choice of a spot.
The ride started with pleasant, cool temperatures, but there was some storm activity approaching and scattered showers during the day. I was not feeling that great, and after about 50 miles, I considered the alternative of a shorter trip to Abrams Creek Campground on the southern edge of the Smokies Park. I found a place where I had a connection on my cell phone (which was being charged by the dynohub). I discovered that, as I feared, Abrams Creek would not open until the next weekend (Memorial Day). So it was back to plan A.
The rest of the ride was slow but uneventful until it started raining lightly. For the last fifteen miles or so, there was a light intermittent rain, necessitating bringing out the raincoat. Being a wool guy, I was comfortable, even when a little soggy.
I set up camp mostly between showers. A serious thunderstorm came through at about 4:00 AM. I could feel a light mist through the rainfly of my MST Hubba tent at the peak of the storm, but I just got damp.
After the storm passed, the weather got very pleasant. I spent most of day 2 hanging around camp, including a short ride to enjoy the scenery. For the fluvial geomorpholy geeks out there, Citico Creek goes through the sequence of Rosgen A, B, and C classifications in about 10 miles.
Different route choices on the return trip on day 3 added close to 5 miles. The weather stayed pleasant but breezy.
I was remarkably slow on this trip. In the past, I could figure on a net average speed of about 10 mph, including stops. I was just over 8 mph on this trip. The weight of all the food I could eat in three days might have been a factor. I was not in great shape, and of course I am now old. This was the first time I have traveled with front and rear panniers, and the wind was against me in both directions — the wet weather was coming from the south and southwest and the fair weather was from the north. The bike handled the weight and the distribution of the weight well; it felt solid with no handling quirks.
Wildflowers, wildlife (deer, turkeys, coyote) and great scenery made this a wonderful trip for a long weekend.