“I’m singing in the rain…”

It’s getting colder here in our part of the world and in Asheville, the rains are simply sporadic and forever. I can tell that Asheville is ready to kick us out too because every time my hubby and I have a day off together, it rains and rains and rains with no signs of letting up for the day. What is there to do when the weather is wet?

You can either stay at home, watch netflix forever and ever and cuddle over coffee or tea or… you enjoy the outdoors! Why not?

Yes, the outdoors, rain or shine. That’s what we decided to do one gloomy, cloudy rainy day. For those who have been reading our (mis)adventures in Asheville, we have been doing mostly outdoorsy stuff, exploring and adventuring wherever our feet lands us. This time, I let hubby pick the trail we were going to hike on.

So we donned our hiking and rain gear and braved the weather. Today, we bring you Looking Glass Falls. It is about an hour’s drive from Asheville headed South and into Pisgah National Forest through the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. It is a beautiful drive as always with the trees in full fall color despite the wetness of the environment making the leaves look dull with the grey skies overhead.

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Can you imagine if this were a sunny day?

Looking Glass Falls is one of the popular waterfalls in Western North Carolina due to its easy accessibility from the roadside. You can see it driving along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. There is a small parking space along the side of the road and stairs to bring you down closer to this 60 foot waterfall. No hiking involved. DSCN0593.jpgDSCN0589.jpg

When the water flow is lower, you can wade over the stream and swim by the waterfalls but be careful because the rocks can be slippery. Heavy rains can bring about such a high volume of water over the falls that it would be too dangerous to even come close to the edge.

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No swimming today!

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After spending a few minutes here, taking photos and gingerly climbing over rocks, we decided to move on to another “secret” destination my hubby had planned. Take note, there were only about eight people here and most of them from Florida! I guess it is practical to sightsee when it is raining. You don’t have to push and shove to get a good picture.

A couple of miles down the road, there is another hiking trail that leads to another waterfall. Moore Cove Falls is not as popular as Looking Glass Falls but is pretty in its own unique way. It is an easy 1.5 miles roundtrip hike. There are no signs along the road but there is an information board and a stone bridge near the small parking lot.

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The stone bridge over Moore Creek

The trail head is just past the information board crossing a wooden walkway before hitting the dirt. It was covered with leaves in different shades of gold that day.

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In full rain gear

The rain poured harder this time so we were rushing a little bit. I still managed to sneak in a shot or two using my handy dandy Nikon coolpix water proof, shock proof, freeze proof camera! Perfect for this kinda weather.

Upon reaching the end of the trail, there was a viewing platform and if you are adventurous enough, you can step around it and actually come closer and get BEHIND the waterfalls!

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How cool is that?!?

The waterfall is 50 feet high and its stream is greatly affected by the weather. Heavy rain means pouring water while drought could slow its flow down to a mere trickle. Hence, my hubby picked this one on this particular rainy day.

Take note again. We had this place all to ourselves.

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Under and behind the waterfalls

My camera actually ran out of battery after this shot. A few more minutes of exploring the nooks and crannies of this somewhat cave-like place then we went back in a hurry. At the back of my mind, I had visions of the stream rising fast and flash floods following suit. No, we are not going to be in some news story about two Asian hikers lost in the woods or worse, washed away by the floods. Meh. I just have an overactive imagination.

We get back to the car wet and cold and safe.

Next on our agenda was to find the nearest Starbucks. Quick!

Fall is Corn “a-Mazing” Time!

The first time I have been on a corn maze was a couple of years ago in Connecticut. We were visiting my best friend and her family and to them, a yearly trip to the corn maze and join in all the fall festivities is like a family tradition. I have never heard of such a thing before in my life so naturally, I was all game. It was a full day of playing with the kids, apple picking, eating kettle corn popcorn and whatnot. I enjoyed it so much! To this Florida girl, I felt like we were missing out on all the fun fall stuff the rest of the country was doing.

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What is fall without pumpkins and pumpkin patches.. bales of hay and hay rides.. cinnamon flavored coffee and cinnamon cakes.. apples and apple picking.. corns and corn mazes.  All these are activities that one can enjoy only during this time of the year. Add to that the crisp cool weather, dress up in layers and bring out those boots and scarves and you are ready to go!

This year, we went to the Eliada Corn Maze, Western North Carolina’s largest corn maze. This is an annual event organized by Eliada Homes, a non-profit orphanage located in Asheville, North Carolina. Proceeds from the corn maze benefit these kids and other high risk children. What a way to have fun and help out at the same time!

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I see pumpkin men!
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Getting ready to do some “corn-y” stuff
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There were actually four mazes side by side. This one was the biggest (and supposedly hardest) one. The next one was shorter and easier. The third one was like a storybook for the kids and the last one was for the tractor rides.
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Glad I didn’t get to see “the Children of the Corn” in here else, I would have freaked out!
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Checking in
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Which way please? Now, we are lost!
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Fun tractor ride

So if you are in the area next year, maybe for some fall leaf color viewing, check this place out too. It’s fun for everyone in the family!

My Favorite Hiking Trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Part Two

In every walk with nature,
one receives far more than he seeks 
~ John Muir

I have a long list of favorite hiking trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway. They range from easy to moderately strenuous. To put them all down in a single post would be too lengthy (you all know how much I love to take photos!) so I decided to break them up into sections. I guess I would consider this post or series of posts a work in progress because we will forever be hiking trails when we are around this area.

If you missed the first part, please click here.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is touted as one of America’s scenic roads spanning between two states and runs for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It is a part of the Appalachian mountain range connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Along with that you can find more than 100 trails for all skill levels from Virginia to North Carolina. How incredible it would be to do at least half of them!

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Over the years, so far, these are what we have accomplished.

Linville Falls

Our very first major road trip was in 2009. We took nine days off work and our goal was to see the Niagara Falls. We stopped at different states along the way and made sure to visit and explore a couple of cool and interesting tourist spots.

Cruising along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we chanced upon the Linville Falls sign along Mile Marker 316. I wanted to do something spontaneous and unplanned so we stopped to take a quick look. We had no idea at that time that the Linville Falls is the most popular waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains because of its accessibility along the Parkway. We just wanted to see some waterfalls.

Because this was a detour, we took the shortest and easiest trail which ended up in the first overlook with the small double falls. From the double falls, the water came in a swirling gush through a narrow channel of rocks down to a foaming pool. We didn’t know there was another big one after that! Take note, this was before smart phones so researching stuff on the internet was pretty much basically done at home on your desktop.

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So, fast forward 2013, my parents came to visit us for three months. On one of our trips we took them to Asheville, North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway was on our list. Naturally, we had to stop at Linville Falls again.

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My mom doing the hiking thing with us
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The parents at the first overlook

We followed the same route. This time we were more prepared gear wise but we couldn’t go very far because of my parents. They weren’t really physically prepared for this activity and we didn’t want to tire them out or much worse, get them sick! But if you want to hike some more, there are more beautiful trails where you can see the river, the falls from different angles and the Linville Gorge.

I couldn’t help but try to compare photos taken from the very first hike. Spot the (obvious) differences if you will.

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Grandfather Mountain

Seventy miles North of Asheville, Grandfather Mountain is one of the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. Like Mt. Mitchell, you can also drive up almost to the top. It is close enough from Linville Falls so if you simply plan to sightsee and not to do some serious hiking, then you can probably do both attractions in one day.

When we came to Grandfather Mountain, hiking was not on our itinerary since we brought our parents along. We just decided to check this place out and after crossing the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge, we found out that they have a short “challenging” rocky trail to the very top of that peak.

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Mile High Swinging Bridge

Challenging because my mom can only see with one eye making her vision not as good. Eventually, all three of us ended up coercing her to go with us despite her unheard pleas of staying behind and waiting. My hubby promised my mom he wouldn’t let her hand go and guide her every step of the way.

So this was how it basically started and ended.

My dad and my hubby, both of them guiding and guarding her step by step till she reached the very top of the rocks.

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By the looks of this photo, my mom was mighty proud of herself for getting up here, that is, after giving my hubby a very tight death grip which almost hurt his shoulder. Regardless, it was an accomplishment since she was never an adventurous person and led a very sheltered life growing up. So all these outdoor stuff is unfamiliar territory for her. We were all glad she came even if it was against her will initially.

Okay, so there was no true hiking done here to say the least but there are a couple of very challenging (for real this time) and strenuous trails going up to the mountain. Maybe, one day we happen to pass this way again.

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Update:

**Is it legit to say that we adore Linville Falls so much that a couple of days ago we hiked it again? But this time it was totally different. We were there for the leaves. Plus, we got to go all the way up the overlooks!

Stay tuned!

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I didn’t have a tripod with me and we were too shy to ask strangers for a photo of us with our backs turned away, so the old photos of us walking together were not recreated!
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Just had a hoot sitting on almost the exact same spot again, for the third time! It was a challenge this time though with the hordes of people around.

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Week Fourteen: Don’t Rain on my Parade!

Our last week in Asheville. And it’s raining.

Looking back when we first started out here, we have definitely come a long way, both professionally and individually. After all the initial stress and adjustments we had to do, I can’t believe we made it all the way still standing strong and with our sanity intact. And its not even officially the end of this contract yet because we like it here so much that we are extending for seven more weeks!

That’s right. Seven more glorious weeks in Asheville. In Autumn. Do you see where I’m going next?

The Leaves. The North Carolina mountains are famous for the fall leaf color show that they turned it into a whole different kind of science with leaf forecasts and predictions, which area goes first and which one goes last. Oh, the photos I will take!

Here is a sneak preview of what is soon to come. It is only September and the leaves are already changing.

In the meantime, we drive back home to Florida next week for a couple of days. Packing has already commenced and our cozy little rental is already a mess of luggages, clothes, boxes, books, paperwork, kitchen stuff.

We were supposed to have our last hike last week but then it started to rain. And rain and rain. And it never stopped raining and weather forecasts predict rain until next week. No outdoor activities for this nurse! What a bummer! So I was stuck at home for three days on my day off doing nothing. Not really, but you know what I mean. I was never a rain and cloud kinda girl. It gets me depressed and lethargic and moody. Gloomy weather never did me any good. My hubby thinks I have seasonal affective disorder, whatever, so what, I need my sun and blue skies. Going home is the perfect remedy.

Our last week in Asheville and it rained.

My Favorite Hiking Trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is touted as one of America’s scenic roads spanning between two states and runs for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It is a part of the Appalachian mountain range connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

That’s a lot of mountains in between.

There are numerous references and information you can read about the Blue Ridge Parkway online not to mention hundreds of free tourist brochures on display in rest stops, visitor centers, restaurants, gas stations and hotels along the way. They even have a Blue Ridge Parkway app! So if you are in the area, there is never any reason you stay uninformed about this pretty popular drive. Take a quick detour and go on a few miles along its winding roads. Whats more, there is also never any shortage of fun stuff to do.

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There is something for everyone along this long stretch of concrete and its nearby areas. From the adventure seekers to the quiet creative ones. You can joyride with your car/truck/motorcycle/RV (traffic can be slow at 45 miles/hr specially during peak season in Fall), take thousands of pictures, camp at private or BRP designated campgrounds, take a hike, bike, view/swim/play in waterfalls/rivers/streams, visit museums/vineyards/wineries/farms, enjoy whitewater rafting/kayaking/canoeing/stand up paddle boarding/tubing/horseback riding/zip lining/canyoneering, go on a hot air balloon, attend festivals/flea markets/farmers’ markets, you get the idea… The.List.Is.Endless.

My husband and I both love nature so every chance we get, we like to go out hiking. Over the years, we have been coming back to this part of the country to stay for a few days. You could say we can’t help but fall in love with this place every time we visit. It just keeps on getting better. When we landed this travel nurse opportunity this year, we grabbed it head on.

We’ve done a couple of hikes here and there along the parkway. So far, we haven’t been on one that we didn’t like. Each trail offers something different hence, every experience is different. However, some of them were way off the parkway so I am not including them on my list here.

Craggy Gardens 

From Asheville, head up North along the Blue Ridge Parkway till you reach Mile Post 364. (Tip: Mile Post 0 starts in Virginia, so the further North you go, the lower the Mile Post will be) There is a visitor center once you get there, bathrooms and drinking water. Picnic areas can also be found close to the visitor center.

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The weather can quickly change up in the mountains, as you can see in the photo above. Fog and clouds can creep up as quickly or as slowly and the next thing you know, it is a few degrees cooler than the city. Or worse, it could rain. So, bring a jacket!!!

I didn’t. It was a nice warm sunny day in June in Asheville. Who needs a jacket? You will be hiking and sweating anyway. Boy was I wrong. Good thing my hubby left his sweat shirt hoodie in the car. He didn’t need it. He doesn’t get cold right away, unlike me.

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My oversized instant cold weather gear. Thanks to hubby. And no, I wasn’t doing any business behind that rock.

Now that we got the essentials out of the way, there are two trails here. Craggy Gardens Trail, which we took, the shorter one since we were pressed for time and Craggy Pinnacle Trail which boasts of panoramic views at the top.

Check out this old post about this hike.

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This was the end of the trail, a “bald patch” on top of the mountain.

Mt. Mitchell

The highest peak east of the Mississippi River with an elevation of 6,684 ft. This one is a few miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway laying Northeast of Asheville and is part of the Mt. Mitchell State Park.

There are several trails leading to the top of the mountain ranging from easy to strenuous. Heck, you can skip walking and just drive up to the peak, well, not to the very peak since you have to park your car and then walk a short distance uphill on a paved road to get to the summit.

We took the Old Mitchell Trail which was marked as moderate to strenuous. It was a 4 mile roundtrip hike starting at the Park Office.

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Lots of beautiful flowers along the trail. The bees were busy pollenating and there were even raspberries that my husband was snacking on as we walked. Eventually, the trail got steeper and steeper, the woods denser, lots of roots and rocks to watch out for and to make matters more exciting, we “almost” got lost when we missed the switchback.

I had a bad feeling about the path that we took because it was just so many trees in front of us, they were literally in your face. We were climbing straight up the mountain with no clear marked trail until we got to a fallen tree that looked as if it was there forever with moss and lichen covering it when I insisted we go back track to the last trail sign we saw because my gut tells me that this is just wrong.

Further, to make matters worse, upon turning back because it was so steep, my husband slipped and almost hurt himself because he was hurrying to get to that trail sign.

It couldn’t be that hard. All we need to do was follow the yellow dots.

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Suffice it to say, I was more or less huffing and puffing most of the way up. Thank God for hiking poles! Not to mention I was scared shit from that earlier wrong turn we took. I didn’t want to run into any bears (hikers reportedly heard someone seeing a bear in the area) nor did I want us to fall off an unseen cliff or something horrible like that. 

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Two hours later, we get to the top along with several others who either hiked a different trail or drove up.

After all our efforts, we were rewarded with this.

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After a few minutes of breathing in the summit air while enjoying the breathtaking 360 degree scenery and at the same time taking some photos, it was time to go back down again.

Can’t we just hitch a ride back to the parking lot, I say out loud? Fat chance, hubby gave me that look. But I knew going down is much easier than going up so off we went to finish our hike for the day.

Not that we were warned to begin with.

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For more hiking stories, stay tuned for Part 2.

Week Ten: After the Gran Fondo, Now What?

I haven’t posted anything in a long time. I have been so behind on my weekly travel nursing updates that I feel like my blog has gone into hibernation. Maybe, this is just one of those “blogger’s block” spells one encounters once in a while. Maybe, because I’m just too busy with Asheville. Maybe, I’m just a lousy blogger.

Tonight, I had to literally force myself to sit down and continue writing this Week Ten post which I started a few weeks ago and was just sitting in my drafts folder patiently waiting for me to notice it and pick it up again. It is actually Week Twelve now in real time and I have been tempted to just lump it all up into one post. Will I be able to ever catch up? Is my enthusiasm to write going to last me for a few more weeks?

Looking at my stats (yes, I admit I do that as some of you may do too), it closely resembles that of an atrial flutter, nurse’s lingo here and that means that it is abnormal! Needs some sort of rapid response treatment otherwise this blog would flatline and I don’t want that to happen (yet?) so I need some quick resuscitation efforts. And I think one of which is forcing myself to sit and write. Find my space again. If not for my “Haiku Fridays”, my blog wouldn’t probably survive this lull. 

On the other hand, it is also exciting to say that our travel contract is almost over and I can see the end coming up around the bend. Woot woot! But wait, did I tell you the real reason why we chose Asheville as OUR first travel assignment together?

Let’s get back to the meat of this post.

The Gran Fondo. It is a type of long-distance road bicycle race, in which riders are individually chip timed and have the right of way at all intersections. The original race was held in Italy. Today, different versions of the original one is held all over the world. (source: Wikipedia)

I don’t know if I have mentioned in the past that my hubby is an avid road biker. His bikes are his first  second love. Notice a rivalry here now? He has biked thousands of miles in Florida, New York and Asheville.

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New York 5 Borough Bike Race

If I wasn’t limiting the number of races he would join, he would probably join ALL OF THEM! But, he has to spend time with me first and foremost. That is the deal we made when he bought his first bike. You know men when left alone to their big boy toys, they can be lost in their own world forever.

So, technically this post isn’t really about me, this is about him conquering the Gran Fondo Asheville the second time around.

The first time he did it was last year and he trained for months back home in Florida. And you know what North Carolina has that Florida doesn’t have? Mountains. So even if he biked all the bridges and causeways available to him, it still wouldn’t do to prepare himself for the real mountains of North Carolina. Don’t forget the altitude is a whole different ballgame too. Thankfully, I was able to convince him not to do the 100 miles.

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Asheville Gran Fondo, 2014

He finished the 60 miles, safely, thank God, but not without suffering from severe cramps twice that he was close to pulling out from the race if not for the poor AT&T reception high up in the Blue Ridge mountains, he would have called for help and would not have finished it. But because there was no cellphone service, he had no choice but to keep on going. How’s that for motivation!

After that, he was determined to do another Gran Fondo. So this year, he decided he wanted to do the Asheville race all over again and was aiming to do the 100 miler.

July comes and we decide to start a new life by travel nursing together and then, bam, which state should we go to first? North Carolina, of course. As luck would have it, there was also a job available for both of us. It became a no brainer. The race was scheduled in Asheville in August, what perfect time!

So he got introduced (again) and got well acquainted with the hills and valleys of the Blue Ridge mountains. He loved doing his thing that the stress of the new job and new environment didn’t affect him as much. That is why I have this love-hate relationship with his bikes. He gets recharged and de-stressed when he is on the road flying on his bike that when he comes home, he is ready to do anything for and with me. I guess the man’s gotta have his me time too!

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Minutes just before the race started. Gran Fondo Asheville 2015

He changed his mind the day before the race and decided to do the 60 miles instead. Whatever he wants, I support him all the way. Who am I to question his physical and mental readiness, much less all the bike technicalities that come with it. All I know is that I will be there with him at the starting line and will be proudly waiting for him at the finish line. No cramps this time.

And that my friends, is what marriage is all about.

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Gran Fondo Asheville 2015