Archive for category Trips

Lather and a camping trip

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.


citico bike

On arrival at Jake Best Campground


Citico Creek


Small tributary




Galax (Galax urceolata)




Chainguards protect the chain from the elements, as well as protecting the rider from the chain.  I do not know why the software insists on turning this image upside down.


Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) and Indian Pinks (Spigelia maralandica).  These are in my home garden, but I saw both on the trip.


Copper iris (Iris fulvens) and Christmas fern (Polystychum acrostichoides) also in my home garden. I have not seen these in the wild.






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A Visit to Portland

Portland is a wonderful place. Everybody knows it is the one of the best (link) cities if not the best city (link) in North America for cycling. The relatively compact development patterns (for a US city) means that distances between trip generators and destinations are small enough to make cycling practical for a lot of people. And there has been a lot of effort expended to create bike-friendly infrastructure.

It’s also one of the best cities for mass transit (link), and includes real trolleys (with real steel rails) in the transit mix.

There is a little bit of a potential conflict here, as I discovered on a recent visit.

My wife and I visited Portland recently, arriving May 19 for a two week visit to various Oregon destinations. I grew up Oregon, and some of my old friends have ended up in Portland, so I was planning to do some visiting, in addition to getting reacquainted with the city.

The first full day there, my wife was suffering from the remnants of a sinus infection and jet lag, so I left her at the hotel (recommended) and took the trolley to walking distance from the nearest bike rental shop . They set me up with a serviceable hybrid, and I took to the streets.

It was a short ride to the river. After rolling along at the riverfront MUP for a while, I got onto the street again. I made a left turn onto a one-way street, looked over my right shoulder to check traffic before getting into the right lane, and Crunch! I was down hard. I failed to notice that there was a trolley track in the street that I just turned onto. I somehow made it to the sidewalk and called 911. It was clear that my left arm was broken.

Surgery to install plates and screws and two nights in Good Samaritan (also recommended if you have the misfortune of needing their services) later, I was back on the street. The rest of the Oregon visit was less active than originally intended, but visits with family and friends (through the pain-med fog) meant that it was far from disappointing.

The hard cast came off July 11, the eighth week after the incident, and I wore a brace and did physical therapy for few weeks. I got permission to get back on the bike after eleven weeks (August 5). I am now in the 16th week of recovery, and things are getting back to normal. The arm still ain’t quite right, but it’s getting there.

I love Portland, and I even love the trolleys.  The bike/trolley conflict is an open issue. For a first step, a little more warning would be nice.  A few more signs like this might have saved me some pain and suffering.  If you visit (or if you live there) just be real aware of where the tracks are.

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Bike camping in the Great Smoky Mountains

I was planning a four-day trip.  The original plan was to ride to Big Creek campground (on the northeast corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park) on the first night, then ride in to Cataloochee for the second night.  The third night would be back to Big Creek after a relaxed afternoon and morning exploring the Cataloochee area, then back home on the fourth day.

Bad weather and a persistent cough put the trip off until later in the week and cut it down to 2 days.  Rain pretty much came out of the forecast for Friday and Saturday after a very wet Wednesday and Thursday. The new plan was to just head for Big Creek, spend the night and head home on Saturday. 

Ready to go

Ready to go

I set out under a cloudy sky.  My route took me out Sevierville Pike to Seymour.  The original plan was to take back roads around Seymour, but I decided to brave Chapman Highway.  There was at least minimal shoulder most of the way, but lots of traffic, lots of fast traffic, and some of the shoulder was actively hostile, with nasty rumble strips.  Past Seymour, the shoulder was consistently wide (except some narrow bridges) until Sevierville, with steady traffic.

Hostile rumble strip

Hostile rumble strip

Sevierville is the county seat of Sevier County, which is the official sprawl laboratory of Tennessee (motto: how badly can we screw things up?).  Traffic is always clogged there.  Past the intersection where 441 and 411 split (I stayed on 411, aka Dolly Parton Parkway), the shoulder disappeared, but traffic was not too fast and the lanes were wide (and there were not many trucks) so it was tolerable. 

I turned right onto state 339, which was narrow, shoulderless, and busy.  Finally, about 35 miles out, I turned onto Jones Cove Rd (still 339), where the traffic volume dropped and I finally felt like I was in the country.



Jones Cove

Jones Cove

The rain started in here somewhere, first as a light drizzle.  I made Cosby, where there was nasty heavy traffic, and started up the road to the Park Service picnic area to dig my rain jacket out of the bag under the shelter of a picnic pavilion.  A park ranger stopped me to talk (probably thought I meant to camp at the currently-closed Cosby Creek campground) and let me know that Big Creek was already full.  So on to plan C, the commercial campground, where I went directly.


So 52 miles and just over five hours (I took my doctors seriously when they said not to push) from home, I pitched my tent at a funky commercial campground. 



Then I took a slow contemplative ride up Cosby Creek to the picnic area (farther from the highway than I thought), which turned out to be the only real contact with the Park I had on the trip. 

Cosby Creek

Cosby Creek

 I cooked dinner in the campground’s pavilion.  I went to bed, a little cold and wet, but slept warm and snug.

In the morning, I started to ride back the long scenic way through Gatlinburg and up Little River Road, but the cold, rain, and incessant weekend traffic made me think better of it.  I turned off on 416 through Pittman Center.  The road was narrow but traffic was light and the scenery was good.


Near Pittman Center


Traffic picked up again as I neared Sevierville, but the rain finally stopped.  I ate an Italian sausage sub at a strip-mall restaurant on Dolly Parton Parkway, and rolled on home, bypassing Seymour this time.   The return trip was a little longer, about 62 miles.


So nothing went according to plan.  I suffered from heavy traffic, weather, and did not make it to the really beautiful places I meant to go.  But I did get out and explore, tried some new roads, and had an adventure.  There were no major dog episodes, and in spite of all the traffic, no harassment or close calls, and the bike worked great.  This was not the kind of trip that you brag on to someone who is thinking about trying bike camping, but if there were no chance of problems, it isn’t really an adventure.

Back towards the foothills from Black Oak Ridge near Seymour

Back towards the foothills from Black Oak Ridge near Seymour

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