Kurt and Gail Rheinheimer
Kurt and Gail Rheinheimer
Bicycling from the boat launch area of Carvins Cove to the base of the Sawmill Branch Trail; hiking up Sawmill Branch to the Appalachian Trail and then south to Lambert's Meadow Shelter and back. 13.5 miles total (about 9 on bicycles).
We hadn't done this bike/hike package in so long that we'd forgotten how demanding/excruciating the bicycling part is. You'd think a ride on a forest road around a reservoir would be easy enough, but what it is really is a series of ups and downs, the ups of which take you to the lowest gear of your bike and even then the occasional need to stand.
A little context before starting the ride: The boys at the Official Check In Station at Carvins Cove are, on a coldish December midday Sunday, collectively so totally bored that one comes rushing out of the door as you drive up. Another follows soon, and as you go in to pay your $2/person day fee, two more are hanging out and glad to see the customers.
But back to the excursion. Maybe it's the extra weight of full day packs; maybe it's that we're OLD and don't really ride bicycles all that much. Whatever it is, it was a minor highlight of the day to pull the bikes off the trail, lock them to a tree and get to start walking, even if it was up a mountainside. The Sawmill Branch Trail, which begins as part of the Arrowhead bike trail, follows what was on this day a healthy-flowing Sawmill Branch, which provided hope that the broad tan banks of the reservoir might soon be covered again with water. Once the foot-only trail departs from Arrowhead, the climb becomes steeper and the trail much less used, to the point that The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All and I joked, as we kicked our way through previously undisturbed leaves, that we might be the only ones who use it. I'd teased her a time or two on the bikes, when I got up a hill before she did, and so she did not miss the opportunity to bury me on the trail, as of course she can do whenever the fancy strikes her. The walk up the east side of Catawba Mountain is a relatively easy one, and the short distance on the AT – down into Lambert's Meadow – is truly easy and pleasant.
The reason for the shelter as a point for lunch was to use the fire pit, and after a false start or two, we got the damp wood we gathered from around the shelter to burn sufficiently to warm The Day Hiker's hands to the extent that the whitened-finger Raynaud's effects were minimal and short-lived.
The walk back down the mountain was easy and quick, but infused with shared dread over getting back on the bicycles. Once on we did, as The Day Hiker is wont to do, attack the road on the return ride, but by the time we were in sight of the parking lot, we agreed on two things: To throw the bikes into Carvins Cove when we got off them; and that we understood completely how those guys who ride the Alps want and need performance enhancers.
Hikers, The Day Hiker and I, not bikers.
December 14, 2008