Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Festive Day in Greenville, South Carolina

Since we only had a three day reservation at Table Rock, we had planned to spend all of our time inside the state park. But when we heard about all the activities in Greenville on Saturday, we just had to go see this little city. After a full day of activities, we are now a fan! We started the morning at the Saturday morning Farmer's Market on Main Street.

Main Street is closed to allow the vendors and the vendees plenty of room. Tents are provided, and they line both sides of the road. We enjoyed the samples, and purchased some home-made walnut apple bread because Mark loves bread. We also bought some farm-raised and milled corn grits, because Denisa loves eating like the locals while we are traveling. (We had the grits for breakfast, but Mark still prefers cream of wheat instead of this "cream of corn." He must be a yankee.)

Speaking of food, Greenville was also hosting Greek Fest this weekend. So that was another reason for us to make the trip to town. From the farmer's market we walked north to the Greek Festival at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral. We ate a satisfying lunch of Pastichio, Keftedes, Manestra, Spanakopita, and Athenian Chicken. For those readers that don't know their Greek food (and who don't have the menu with definitions of each in front of them), we ate "Layers of macaroni, cheese, sauteed ground beef and cream sauce"; "Greek meatballs"; "Mediterranean rice pilaf"; "Triangles of filo pastry, feta and spinach"; and "Delicately seasoned chicken with Greek lemon-butter sauce". We forgot to take a picture of our plates before we gobbled down all that food. We got to eat our meal beside a local couple that has helped with the festival since its inception. She had been cooking Greek food for weeks, and was working in the kitchen all day today. She was now leaving to work in their restaurant that evening. 

But we did remember the camera when we approached the dessert table. We ordered a generous serving of Galaktoboureko (baked custard dessert with a puff pastry top) and chocolate Baklava (layered filo with nuts, baked to a golden brown and covered with spiced syrup and chocolate). We were so satisfied with our Greek meal!

Besides feeding thousands of people each day of the three-day event, the Greek Orthodox church also offer tours of their cathedral. The front of the sanctuary is decorated with the icons so important to their church, including their patron saint--Saint George.

The dome had a mosaic of Jesus at its pinnacle. When sitting in church each Sunday, Jesus is looking over this congregation.

We certainly needed to walk off some calories, so we headed south to the city's Fall Park. Just as the name would suggest, Reed Creek tumbles across the beautiful rock falls downtown.

This area used to be covered by a highway bridge that intersected Greenville, and the falls were hidden under the busy road. But in 2002, the city leaders voted to remove the bridge and create Falls Park. Now instead of a busy highway, there is the lovely Liberty pedestrian supension bridge.

We were amazed by the number of people walking the park this beautiful Saturday afternoon. Besides walking, there is also a biking trail that goes through this downtown area. The "Swamp Rabbit Trail" goes all the way from downtown Greenville to the little town of Traveler's Rest ten miles away. We normally would be riding our bikes on a trail like that, but there were too many other things to do today.

There were plenty of people walking their dogs at the park. But this guy was causing quite a stir with his pet pig. He even brought snacks to the park, and we have to say that his pet was eating like a pig.

We had the most fun, however, watching a family of ducks at the park. Mother and Father duck were parading their large family around the falls area.

Even the ducklings were used to the crowds of people, coming quite close to a crazy woman sitting on the ground with a camera in her hand.

Meanwhile, Mark is sitting comfortably on the bench, getting a front row seat for the duck parade.

Sorry for all the duck pictures, but they were so darn cute that the crazy lady with the camera took way too many photos.

Falls Park was well landscaped, and the hydrangeas are finally blooming in this part of the country.

We noticed a group assembling at the park. They held strange looking instruments playing even stranger music. The group formed a circle, with two people in the center jumping and doing hand stands and cart wheels. We talked to one of the participants, and this is a form of Brazilian martial arts. 

We are getting more and more impressed with this little city of Greenville. There are nice crowds of people walking on Main Street and in the park. There is a good number of restaurants with outdoor seating and they all seem to be busy. There are also interesting statues and sculptures on Main. This would be an interesting bronze statue of a famous Revolutionary War hero--General Greene. But it's made even more interesting by something close to his boot.

That's one of the little mice statues found along Main Street. There are hints to find all nine of the mice, and it would be a great scavenger hunt for children (and people like us).

As if there wasn't enough happening in Greenville today, it was also Armed Forces Day. There was special music downtown, a classic car show, and a parade at 5:00. We watched as the military representatives presented the colors at the beginning of the parade.

This being the south, we also had a section of military re-enacters flying the confederate flag.

When we pulled into town this morning, we parked in a free space a couple blocks off Main Street. We attended all these events without ever moving the car all day. We had walked for miles, so we thought we deserved another dessert from the Greek Festival. Mark had seen the Baklava Sundae booth earlier.

So we finished our fun day in Greenville with ice cream topped with a rich mixture of the same ingredients found in those wonderful baklava triangles. That special dessert was a great ending to a great day in a special little city in South Carolina. Instead of saying it was our "icing on the cake," today we will say it was our "baklava on the ice cream!"

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A New State and Conquering Table Rock Mountain

We crossed another state line! We are now residing in South Carolina--in Table Rock State Park. We are in the northwest corner of our new state, residing in the mountains of upstate South Carolina. It was cloudy on our first day in the Palmetto state, so our first picture of Table Rock Mountain is shrouded in clouds. But we could still see that famous rock face peeking out over a sea of South Carolina trees.

This is a nice state park, with two different lakes. We have put our bikes away, however, because the park roads have wicked inclines and lots of curves.

We have been watching for black bears since we got to the mountains, and today we saw one--crawling into a truck camper in our campground.

We had to make a double-take on that "bear" that turned out to be the truck camper's overgrown black dog instead.

There are nice trails in this state park, and we are taking the signature trail on this blue-sky day. The stone face of Table Rock Mountain is a little hazy in the distance, and we are climbing there today for a closer look.

We start at some easy falls, but we are prepared for a tough hike. We're both wearing backpacks, complete with our camelbacks filled with water to get us through the 8 mile mountain hike.

It's going to be in the 80's in the park, but we will be shaded until we get to the top. This trail gains lots of elevation in a hurry, and it feels like we are on a three-hour stair-master climb.

Occasionally we break out of the trees for a look over the surrounding valleys, and we use that for a good excuse to rest our weary legs.

After just visiting Black Rock State Park with so many flowers, we realize that we are seeing almost no flowers on this hike. So when we did spy this curious-looking red bloom, Denisa had to take a picture.

After over two hours and over 2,800 feet in elevation gain, we break out onto a big slab of granite known as Governors Rock.

We were back in the forest when we came upon a bird, flitting frantically across the trail. She looked like she had a broken wing, but she was moving so fast it was hard to photograph. Then we realized that her "broken" wing changed from one side to the other.

That's when we heard the frantic chirping on a low branch, and spotted this fuzzy-headed baby bird. Mother bird was obviously trying to distract us away from her fledgling that might be leaving the nest a little early.

Another thirty minutes, and we arrive at the summit! This should be the moment of accomplishment and celebration--but is that the trail continuing onward? And after all this climbing up, why are we going down in the other direction?

Because the real climax of the trail is reaching that big open granite face that we could see from the bottom when we started. People don't make this hike for the summit, they take it for this view from the wide open granite top.

We swapped taking pictures with another couple to prove that we both made it to the top (and we both still like each other).

Even though his parents won't want to hear this, Mark went down to the edge of the granite lip. He just wanted to see that vertical drop-off that would insure a deadly plunge if he should slip. Denisa is going to have to get a leash for him!

After our long climb, we deserved the lunch we had packed. We had a great view for our picnic. Even though it was 80 degrees in the valley, it was chilly in the shade at the top of the mountain while we were lunching.

By the time we took this break at the top, we had been on this hike for three hours. So it was time to head home. The good news is that the trip down the mountain is much easier and goes faster. It took almost no time to get back to Governors Rock, where Mark took a panorama of the wide expanse of granite framed with the green mountains beyond.

Denisa even had enough energy to scoot up to the top of this boulder on the trail. Normally this is Mark's job. But living in a motor home with someone 24/7 can lead to mimicking their bad behavior.

So, five hours after we started this adventure, we were back home. That was a work out, but we have conquered one of the epic hikes of South Carolina. Our legs weren't sure we could climb the steps up into the motor home, but we think we're going to like our new state.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Brush with the Appalachian Trail

Rain has followed us to this tip of northeastern Georgia. So we planned shorter hikes around forecasted rain showers. We took the advice of another hiker, and found the Panther and Angel Waterfall Trail near Rabun Lake. We started in a forest of twisted tree trunks.

We have totally lost count of the number of waterfalls we have visited since we came to the Georgia mountains 10 days ago. We also know there are many, many more that we won't have time to see. Is it appropriate that we took a picture of Mark standing beside the vicious Panther Falls . .  .

and a picture of Denisa in front of the gentle Angel Falls?

Once we got in a 3+ mile hike, we did some driving to other points of interest. We went to the Georgia state fish hatchery. We found this facility uses these long troughs of water to raise brown, brook, and rainbow trout that will be released in 100 different cool water streams in Georgia. It was interesting to see a bird swoop down out of the trees to grab one of the smaller fish for an easy catch.

Another state facility actually hatches the eggs and grows them to about four inches. Then the fish are transported here for six months to grow to nine inches before they are released. The different troughs had different sizes of fish, but there was one container with trophy size fish that were well over that nine-inch size.

When Denisa was looking at the map, she realized that we were very near to part of the Appalachian Trail (AT). For those that have never heard of the AT, it is a hiking trail that stretches through the Appalachian Mountains over 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine. We were close to this famous trail when we visited Amicalola State Park with Blake last week. We took a picture at the "approach trail" made famous by a Robert Redford/Nick Nolte movie, "A Walk in the Woods." The movie is based on a book of the same name that chronicles the true story of two men's journey on the Appalachian Trail. This approach trail is eight miles away from the actual start of the trail. But many start here because of better parking and it's easier to get a ride to this state park. And when you are hiking over 2,100 miles, what is an additional 8 miles anyway?

Denisa started reading the book, and we definitely need to watch the movie. It peaked our interest about the people that think it's fun to walk through the woods from Georgia to Maine. The logistics are interesting, so it was fun to find an AT trail head at Dicks Creek Gap, about 80 miles from the beginning of the trail.

We decided to hike a bit of the trail, following the white blazes on the trees that run those 2,100 miles. This section is completely canopied, so it was a cool hike, but without any views of the mountains around us. This is called "the green tunnel" and it goes on for many miles (and many days) on this trail that rarely breaks into the open.

For those traveling the entire AT, hiking between ten and twenty miles each days means camping in the woods 150 times. There are camping sites throughout the trail, and we found several on our little hike.

This camp site even had a bonus--some flame azaleas still blooming right overhead!

As we hiked, we tried to pretend that we were ten days into a hike that usually takes a total of 5 months. When you see sign posts in the woods like this, do you try to determine how much further you can hike before you need to set up your tent and cook something to eat? We asked ourselves empirical questions like, "Will we make the 4.5 miles to Plum Orchard Gap before dark?"

The trail was up-hill much of the mile we hiked today. Then we turned around and walked back to our car and civilization. We also weren't carrying the 40-50 pound backpack that hikers need to carry all their shelter, bedding, cooking utensils, food, water, and clothing.

As we were contemplating the logistics of making such a hike, we met a family of four in the parking lot. They were taking an eight-day vacation to hike the 80-mile Georgia section of the Appalachian trail. They were leaving their car at this parking lot, and a shuttle driver picked them up to drive them to the beginning of the trail at Springer Mountain. Their children were around 11 and 14, and we will be thinking about them this week.

We were just leaving the trail head parking lot when we saw another couple coming out of the woods across the road. Seeing that they had very heavy backpacks, we stopped to chat. We found they were 80 miles into their Appalachian Trail hike, fully intending to walk all the way to Maine this summer. After 11 nights in a tent, they needed to do laundry and buy more food to continue down the trail. They had a guide book with detailed trail information, including the nearest hotel, and the phone number for a shuttle driver that could pick them up and take them 11 miles to the nearest town. When we asked if we could take them into town in exchange for more details of their trip, they happily agreed. 

So we came to find out that Erin and Willis just graduated from college and are taking the trip of a life-time down the Appalachian Trail before they start graduate school. They told us about foods they have packed, and apologized that they hadn't had a shower in over a week. They have a GPS device so their parents can track their progress, and an external battery pack to keep their phones charged for a week. They are keeping a journal, and will perhaps write a book at the end of their journey. They also told us about "trail angels" that help hikers along the way by leaving fresh water on the trail, or offering support in other ways. We never know what we will learn and who we will meet each day. But we got to be a "trail angel" today and our little brush with the Appalachian Trail was fun!