Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas in Southern Appalachia

While tiny tots lay in bed dreaming of a white Christmas, Art and I dragged ourselves out of bed on Christmas morning at 3:45 a.m. to start our journey south to the land of verdant Christmas. I gave a little nod to the five-foot snowman on the neighbor’s lawn, knowing that he may be just a memory when I make it back to New Jersey again. Slipping away unnoticed in the darkness at the start of this 12 hour journey, but as the sun rose, we spotted other traveling souls on the road …. some in cars filled with gifts and some wearing Santa hats.

The Appalacian mountains greeted us with a welcoming 58 degrees and a beautiful sunny sky above. Although with a close look into the woods, I could see moisture weeping out in every tiny gap. This was a sure tell tale of the weather that lay ahead, and as expected, the next few days would bring rain and mist that make these mountains what they are: “The Smokey Mountains”.

After a combination of cabin fever and an optimistic moment in the sky, we saddled up for a bike ride from the in-law’s house, where country dirt roads wound around the mountains. Within minutes and a wrap around the first mountain, we rode into a misting rain, but around the next curve, we warmed up with the first real climb in the forest, and soon the mist was forgotten.

The rhododendron along this stretch were probably the tallest I have ever seen, and once we reached a certain elevation, the sides of the road were lined with galax. Around every bend, crevasses wept and you could hear falling water. A few breaks in the foliage offered views of glassy top mountains in the fog.

After about five miles, we reached Panthertown National Forest. The trails seemed to be in good shape regardless of the rain, so we rode them as well. We visited a waterfall and some single-track, and then started heading back. The ride was short, but enough to stretch our legs and have a brief moment to commune with nature and be outdoors.

With only a few days to this trip, and a visit long overdue, we spent most of the weekend visiting with Art’s family. It was a good time for all, and a very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Snow in NJ

Friday the snow fell, and I sat at the computer, with the frustrating thought of not being able to ride my bike. I heard some laughter, and when I went to the window, the neighbor’s daughter lay in the snow, arms and legs flapping. She made the shape of a tiny purple angel. It looked so simple and she so happy. There is something special about snow near Christmas…. kids making snowmen and snow angels, smiles and laughter are in the air. When and how did I loose that feeling inside me?

Sunday morning I was headed back up to Harriman for another XC Ski with my cycling buddies, that I secretly call “Team AARP Extreme”. The weather was not looking great, as the snow had turned to rain by the time we left the house. Half way up, it turned back to snow. I was half expecting an abbreviated ski, but I don’t call these guys extreme for nothing. They know how to ride with what’s thrown at them and make something good of it, and so snow fun is what we were going to find.

Starting in warmer than expected temps, the guys called a re-wax. Now dealing with some sticking, we forged up hill to where we found better snow. Temps were dropping and the snow was falling hard. Gliding along, it was beautiful indeed. At one point it was snowing hard and became dark and ominous, but yet silent with only the sound of my breath. Each cold crystal against my face reminded me of being alive, and gave me strength to forge on.

Before we got back, the sun peeked out and I found myself striding in rhythm with my shadow. Down the long hill with the sun on my cheek, I was smiling inside. I ducked under the last log and found myself gliding right into the sun down a tunnel of pricker bushes. The ski tracks caught the glimmer of the afternoon sun like a pair of ribbons. The bushes sparkled like Christmas trees. It was a magical sight and made me feel more like five than fifty. It was a perfect ending to a pre-Christmas ski.