Ten Years Later: Walking the Blue Ridge Parkway, Again

first_imgIf you visited the Blue Ridge Parkway anytime between April 8 and May 12 this year, you might have seen an odd sight – a man backpacking its entire 469-mile length in a northerly direction. I say odd because most people visit this national treasure via car, RV, motorcycle or bicycle.He would have been toting an ancient, green, external-frame backpack which, if closely inspected, was still functional only through the assistance of duct tape and parachute cord.Except for his snappy-colored aluminum trekking poles, you might have mistaken him for a reincarnation of pioneering backpacker Colin Fletcher, author of 1960s-era books like The Thousand Mile Summer and The Man Who Walked Through Time. He would have been wearing a similar brown fedora and walking that same slow, deliberate gait.The man you might have noticed during your unseasonably cool spring visit would have been me.I can further confirm – with permanently wrinkled hands and feet – that it was also an unseasonably wet spring, as in seven inches of rain during the section between Roanoke, Va. and the Peaks of Otter.And why would one choose to walk that far down a ribbon of asphalt famous for seemingly unending steep grades and ankle-grinding, super-elevated curves rather than drive it?Simple. Ten years ago I tested and proved my theory that the most scenic drive in the world was also the most scenic walk in the world. Permit me to briefly rewind back to 2003.I had been retired from federal service only a year, and a book idea was rattling around in my head. The stories and experiences of having worked two summer seasons as an interpretive ranger and twelve years as a protection ranger on the Parkway were screaming to be published. It would be my first book, and I had to find it.So, on September 1 of that year, I strapped on the same old backpack loaded with the same old sleeping bag and tent and other necessities and began a sentimental journey down the Parkway southbound from Milepost 0 near Waynesboro, Va. looking for a unique backpacking experience and forgotten memories.Three days later I found the book at Boston Knob Overlook. What a story unfolded as I continued a 41-day, random interaction with Parkway visitors, employees, neighbors, wildlife and weather.By the time I reached the end of the journey at Milepost 469 near Cherokee, N.C., my head was about to explode with a book already written inside it. The Blue Ridge Parkway by Foot: A Park Ranger’s Memoir hit the shelves in 2007.By the time 2013 rolled in, I was getting a little anxious for another mega-mile hike and began toying with the idea of a second, ten-year anniversary hike of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This time, however, the thought came to walk it in reverse – northbound – during the spring season rather than fall.Left: Author on 2003 Parkway trek near Pineola, N.C. Photo: Travis Proctor. Right: Author on 2013 Parkway trek near Hillsville, Va. Left: Author on 2003 Parkway trek near Pineola, N.C. Photo: Travis Proctor. Right: Author on 2013 Parkway trek near Hillsville, Va.I would witness the season of rebirth this time rather than the season of decline, the fresh bloom of serviceberry instead of the musty bloom of goldenrod, bold springs versus those nearly dry. Rather than staring into the sun, I’d have it mostly to my back.Mere days before beginning, I accidentally learned that my plan coincided with the 25th anniversary of Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Executive Director Susan Mills and I quickly agreed to a hasty marriage of the two anniversaries and set up my journey as a per-mile fundraiser for their organization. Pledges can still be made at www.friendsbrp.org.As I began the murderous climb out of Cherokee, fully supplied, I shuddered at a statistic I had computed ten years earlier – one climbs a vertical distance of about nine miles over the full length of the Parkway. The downhill muscles would also have to brake the same distance. My dogs were already starting to bark.One could drive the full length of the thing nonstop in less than twelve hours at an average speed of 40 mph. So much easier, I thought. But such a visit would offer only visual treats that would disappear in seconds.Not content with a mere baptism by sprinkling, I was going again for the complete immersion experience. I wanted to hear again the lone coyote howling in the night. I wanted to smell again the sweet aroma of the teaberry leaf. I wanted to taste again the pure mountain water. So off I plunged into its very heart.Again came the random surprises, trail magic, observations, realizations and revelations I knew would come to a sojourner moving at a whopping average speed of 1.5 mph.For the first time in my life, I was struck by lightning while camped near a place called, of all things, Graveyard Fields. Fortunately, a tree next to my tent took the direct hit, but a root must have routed some of the current my way. Until a quick assessment determined that my heart was still beating and no body parts were smoking, I was ready to forsake the Great Outdoors.I saw some snow this time – at least the remnants from the last winter storm on Apple Orchard Mountain, the highest point on the Parkway in Virginia.Remnants of snow on Apple Orchard Mountain – the highest point on the Parkway motor road in Virginia. Remnants of snow on Apple Orchard Mountain – the highest point on the Parkway motor road in Virginia.Mr. Bear made an appearance at close range – about fifty yards from my tent near dark one night. Two claps of the hand and a blood-curdling yell sent him running, and I quickly ate the last two slices of pizza that surely attracted him. I had known better but thought it a safe bet so close to the city of Asheville.Ten years ago I kept a road kill log. Live wildlife sightings seemed a more refined approach this time around. Some favorites I chose to count included: 44 red efts, 3 indigo buntings, 5 rabbits, 11 grouse, 11 turkeys, 40 deer and 2 bears.In the category of strange, I witnessed three sizeable rocks fall from cliffs onto the roadway, heard two large trees fall in the woods and found two waterlogged cell phones, one active debit card, one dollar bill, one nickel and five pennies.Some things had changed in ten years – some for the better, some for the worse.At several points along the way, I told people it appeared that the Parkway corridor had experienced a fair amount of seismic activity since 2003. To their puzzled looks I noted that many of the grades seemed steeper, then quickly offered that it probably had more to do with me knocking on the door of early Social Security retirement.Ten years ago the stately hemlock tree adorned the rich coves throughout many sections of the Parkway. Today they are gone, gone, gone, victim to a tiny bug known as the hemlock woolly adelgid. It’s as sad a story as the loss of the chestnut tree in the Appalachians a few decades ago.In better news, a new large mammal is being sighted on the southern end of the Parkway near Cherokee and Maggie Valley thanks to a successful elk reintroduction program in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As the elk population continues to increase through natural reproduction, the migration could very well continue far enough to return validity to places along the Parkway like Elk Pasture Gap.Playing ranger again, I observed far fewer skid marks, gouge marks in the pavement, impacted guard rails and bits of glass and chrome – evidence of motor vehicle accidents. Chief Ranger Steve Stinnett later confirmed that the accident rate on the Parkway had, in fact, declined by about 50% over the past ten years. Stinnett also said that better signage had virtually eliminated fatalities in several “trouble curves.” Good news for all.The impact of sequestration this year adds more woe to a park which has already experienced a debilitating decline in its annual operating budget. Many facilities will have delayed openings. Some, like Smart View Picnic Area near Floyd, Va., will be closed the entire 2013 season. Several family reunions – held in this beautiful place for decades – will now have to convene elsewhere.Lack of funding equals lack of manpower equals milepost markers out of plumb and grass unmowed. Lack of funding equals lack of manpower equals milepost markers out of plumb and grass unmowed.Thank goodness the natural water supplies were plentiful this spring; hardly a facility was open whereby I could obtain tap water. I and thousands of other visitors found even fewer places to use the bathroom. Where I did remains classified.Closed restrooms at E.B. Jeffress Park.Closed restrooms at E.B. Jeffress Park.Ten years ago, Bunnie and Russell Richards of Boone, N.C. read of my walk in their local newspaper and speculated I would be hungry. Of meager means themselves, they tracked me down and offered gifts of cheese, crackers and a large homegrown tomato. I had never been more humbled.The natural course of life has taken both of them but, as I passed by Lost Cove Cliffs Overlook, I could feel their gentle spirits again in the wind.It’s the people, you see, that make the Parkway experience the ultimate it can be.Take J.C. Thompson, for instance, of Check, Va. When he rolled up one morning in his truck and asked if I needed anything, I replied boldly, honestly and forthrightly.“Yes. I could use a cheeseburger and a Mountain Dew.”A bit puzzled, he scratched his head and then smiled.“Don’t have them with me but jump in. I know where to find them.”Ten minutes later we pulled into a country store, and I concluded that moment that being homeless was not so bad when equipped with a credit card and a concealed gun permit, and in the company of trail angels like J.C.There were other times when just a few minutes of conversation and the exchange of something as simple as a banana was all it took to reconfirm one’s faith in the goodness of people. Carter Krewson did that for me one afternoon. His bicycle journey had begun months earlier from his home in Redding, Ca. The Parkway was going to be his final leg.Bicyclist Carter Krewson from Redding, Ca.Bicyclist Carter Krewson from Redding, Ca.I thought it pretty cool what he was doing at his young age. He thought it pretty cool what I was doing at mine.As I sputtered the final mile into Rockfish Gap with only a few Reese’s Pieces remaining in my food bag, a Joni Mitchell song came to mind, and I realized there were really two very different Blue Ridge Parkways – the one northbound and the one southbound. From both sides now, I had seen it all.Parkway entrance sign at Rockfish Gap.Parkway entrance sign at Rockfish Gap.© 2013 Timothy Pegramlast_img read more

Brisbane house prices have hit a record high

first_imgBrisbane’s property market performed well in the past quarter with median house prices reaching a record high. Picture: AAP/ Ric FrearsonBRISBANE’S house prices have hit a record high with new figures revealing the median had now hit $670,000.While the property market continued to cool in southern states, new figures released by the Real Estate Institute of Queensland showed the median house price within the Brisbane local government area was 3.1 per cent higher in the March quarter.REIQ CEO Antonia Mercorella said the growth demonstrated “admirable resilience’’ in the local market.She said the price rise was buoyed by steady population growth and strong demand and a lack of new listings. LANDMARK HOME HITS SALE HIGH Stock on market was down to just 6.1 per cent — the lowest in the state.As a result Ms Mercorella said buyers had to act fast if they wanted to snare a property with days on market now at just 32 days.Matt Lancashire of Ray White New Farm, said the past quarter had been a strong one for the Brisbane market“Our last quarter was the most positive quarter in this financial year for us,’’ he said.Mr Lancashire said the unit market in the inner city was starting to fire again and importantly Brisbane’s property market including the luxury end, was seen as really good value.He said in the past couple of months there had been a huge amount of interstate interest in the market. SUN AND SAVINGS LURE SOUTHERN BUYERS The report said the outlook for the house market in the Brisbane local government area remained solid while parts of the unit market continued to face difficult conditions because of oversupply.“We expect to see greater equilibrium between supply and demand over the next 12 to 24 months,’’ it said.More from newsNew apartments released at idyllic retirement community Samford Grove Presented by Parks and wildlife the new lust-haves post coronavirus18 hours agoREIQ chairman Peter Brewer said the figures showed that Queensland was a “safe haven’’ for property investment.“Interstate migration is still strong, that helps give us stability around prices as well,’’ he said.Mr Brewer said with pledges for spending on infrastructure through Federal and State governments on things like Queensland roads, property was becoming more attractive here.“Overall it is a pretty healthy report for Queensland compared to other states,’’ he said.Mr Brewer said growth in Brisbane and Queensland was “steady, nice, comfortable and sensible’’ and that wasn’t a bad way to be.“Real estate is still the number one spectator sport and people still watch it with passion and we are very, very, safe.’’Video Player is loading.Play VideoPlayNext playlist itemMuteCurrent Time 0:00/Duration 13:43Loaded: 0%Stream Type LIVESeek to live, currently playing liveLIVERemaining Time -13:43 Playback Rate1xChaptersChaptersDescriptionsdescriptions off, selectedCaptionscaptions settings, opens captions settings dialogcaptions off, selectedQuality Levels576p576p480p480p256p256p228p228pAutoA, selectedAudio Tracken (Main), selectedFullscreenThis is a modal window.Beginning of dialog window. Escape will cancel and close the window.TextColorWhiteBlackRedGreenBlueYellowMagentaCyanTransparencyOpaqueSemi-TransparentBackgroundColorBlackWhiteRedGreenBlueYellowMagentaCyanTransparencyOpaqueSemi-TransparentTransparentWindowColorBlackWhiteRedGreenBlueYellowMagentaCyanTransparencyTransparentSemi-TransparentOpaqueFont Size50%75%100%125%150%175%200%300%400%Text Edge StyleNoneRaisedDepressedUniformDropshadowFont FamilyProportional Sans-SerifMonospace Sans-SerifProportional SerifMonospace SerifCasualScriptSmall CapsReset restore all settings to the default valuesDoneClose Modal DialogEnd of dialog window.This is a modal window. This modal can be closed by pressing the Escape key or activating the close button.Close Modal DialogThis is a modal window. This modal can be closed by pressing the Escape key or activating the close button.PlayMuteCurrent Time 0:00/Duration 0:00Loaded: 0%Stream Type LIVESeek to live, currently playing liveLIVERemaining Time -0:00 Playback Rate1xFullscreenPrestige property with Elizabeth Tilley13:44Other council areas outside of the Brisbane area also performed well during the quarter. The Logan local government area delivered one of the strongest performances during the quarter with its median house price up 4 per cent to $395,000.The report found the “lifestyle markets’’ of the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast had continued to drive the growth of sales and rentals.The Gold Coast median house price was down by 0.3 per cent in the quarter, but grew by 6 per cent in the past 12 months to $620,000, the highest growth in the state, while on the Sunshine Coast the median house price rose by 2.3 per cent for the quarter and 5.2 per cent for the past 12 months to $576,250.last_img read more

Fury, Wilder trilogy fight may hold in China

first_imgTyson Fury against Deontay Wilder could be heading to the Chinese gambling mecca of Macau.The third fight between the heavyweight pair was pencilled in for Las Vegas on July 18 before the coronavirus pandemic. But with fears growing mass gatherings will be banned in the US and UK until next year, the trilogy clash could now be heading to the “Las Vegas of Asia” in November or December.Fury’s UK promoter Frank Warren revealed over the weekend that there is interest from a Far East territory in hosting the fight.Daily Star Sport understands that has come from Macau and those involved in the fight are awaiting an official offer.The financial deal will have to be at least an eight-figure one to tempt the organisers into bringing the bout to the region.But concerns have been growing about the loss of revenue if Fury and Wilder was staged behind closed doors in the US should crowds be banned until 2021. Fury’s seventh-round stoppage win over Wilder to win the WBC title took in £13.8 million at the MGM Grand Garden Arena gate.That broke the record for a heavyweight fight in Las Vegas and was a huge chunk of the money earned for the fight.So now organisers are open to taking the bout on the road and, with China more likely to allow mass gatherings at sporting events before the US and UK, they have made an initial move.Fury’s US promoter Bob Arum informed Warren of the interest late last week.Arum has staged fights in Macau before as he took Manny Pacquiao there to fight Brandon Rios and Chris Algieri in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The US promoter was also due to bring WBO and WBC light-welterweight champion Jose Ramirez against Viktor Postol to Hainan in China on February 1 before the virus shut down the country.Fury is contractually obliged to face Wilder in a third fight owing to the agreement before their second meeting on February 22.Wilder’s camp have dismissed any talk of taking a financial offer to step aside to allow Fury to take on WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua next.So Fury’s team are keen to get the third Wilder fight on for this year despite the uncertainty around the sport due to coronavirus.RelatedPosts Tyson Fury to Anthony Joshua: Don’t risk fighting Usyk China waste treatment plant fined $16m for dumping untreated waste Anthony Joshua wants Tyson Fury, Wilder fight Tags: ChinaDeontay WilderLas VegasMacauTyson Furylast_img read more

USC planning to switch student health insurance providers

first_imgIn an effort to increase efficiency and cater health care more toward students, USC has decided to switch its student health insurance plan from Anthem Blue Cross to Aetna Student Health insurance beginning in the fall.In good health · Officials from the University Park Health Center re-evaluate student health insurance every five to six years. – Courtney Sandlin | Daily Trojan All students at USC are required to have health insurance, but those who can show proof they have other insurance do not have to get insured through the university.Student health insurance at USC is offered through a third-party health insurance provider, and officials at the University Park Health Center re-examine the university’s health insurance plan every five or six years, according to Cathy DeFrancesco, senior clinical administrator for the UPHC.“The reason we wanted to shop the market was because it was time and we listened to our students’ feedback about Anthem,” DeFrancesco said. “Some students complained that they didn’t feel that the customer service was student-oriented.”Aetna, Anthem and three other health insurance companies pitched their plans last month to a student health advisory committee comprised of health administration officials, graduate and undergraduate representatives and USC officials.In the end, DeFrancesco said, Aetna’s health insurance plan stood out as the best option for students.“One of the reasons I think they did so well in the [bidding] process is that all the customers are students, and that’s a big change from Anthem,” DeFrancesco said.While Anthem is a large health provider for both individuals and groups — such as universities — Aetna Student Health serves only students and is more familiar with the ins and outs of a college, DeFrancesco said.With the switch to Aetna, however, the health insurance rate will jump from $985 to $1040 yearly. This rate increase, however, also comes with an increase in the yearly coverage limit, which will grow from $500,000 under Anthem to $750,000 with Aetna.Also new with Aetna, referrals to doctors outside USC will be electronic and immediate so students will not be left hanging if their paper referral doesn’t come through, DeFrancesco said.“Right now, sometimes students will show up at the specialist’s office and the carrier does not have record of the referral in place,” she said.Working with Aetna’s advanced information technology, the UPHC also hopes to institute an online waiver system to help students speed up the process of opting out of USC student health insurance.“Getting the waiver done was a bit of a pain,” said Jessica Hsueh, a sophomore majoring in business administration. “It took a while for my parents to mail me all the paperwork, and I was afraid I wasn’t going to get my insurance waived on time.”In choosing the new plan, administrators also considered health insurance for graduate students, which has been complicated in the past, according to Jenny Farah, the graduate student representative on the student health insurance advisory committee.“A lot of the concerns that I got from students that were graduate student-specific were the costs of adding dependents to their plan, and if many of them have children and they are reliant on the school’s plan,” Farah said.Based on input from graduate students and the committee, the new plan will allow dependents to join Aetna Student Health for 60 percent less than what Anthem had charged, DeFrancesco said.Robert Ward, a junior majoring in computer science and business administration, said any change in health care efficiency will help both graduates and undergraduates.“Health care is obviously a big issue right now, and if USC can do anything to make it easier for students to get access to medical services, it’s a good thing,” Ward said.last_img read more