It’s very hard to not be able to do the things you once loved to do. Age, injury, and illness will put us all down at some point but you never want to stop going out and exploring. Winter trips are no longer possible for my dad, my mom can’t get in and out of a kayak easily, and after a ladder broke out underneath at work 2 years ago my father in laws hiking days are over. Despite all of that, there’s still plenty of adventure. Now, there really isn’t anything to stop you from going and seeing cool places as the National Park Service has done an incredible job in providing access for everyone to certain places
A big reason for this is actually due to F.D.R who, during the enormous CCC effort during the 1930s, quickly approved and supported any project in the National Parks that would allow him to see a beautiful sight from the comfort of his car. Polio had left him unable to stand without the use of heavy metal braces, so he enjoyed sitting in the back of his touring car and driving across scenic vistas. There’s a great debate that some areas have become too accessible, and at times I feel that’s the case when I go to a place in the middle of nowhere and find myself all alone with 30 strangers. The fact of the matter is that the National Parks are for all people, so sometimes you have it make it so all the people can get there.
Also, since the American’s with Disabilities act in 1990, all public facilities are now required to have all reasonable efforts made to be handicap accessible. Many facilities have undergone the process of being made handicap accessible, and everything from trails to cabins are easier to get to and use than ever before. For example, if walking doesn’t sound bad as long as it’s along flat ground, Congaree National Park is just about as flat as you can get. Less than an hour and a half from Rock Hill, it’s the only National Park in South Carolina and is more than just a boring swamp. 2.4 miles of raised boardwalks allow you to walk through the cypress knees and see the birds, lizards, alligators, and animals that call Congaree home. They also have primitive camping that is free, but you do have to walk a short distance and there are only portajohns (no flush toilets). Winter is also the best time to visit, when the legendary mosquito population is dormant.
I decided to plan a roadtrip that would be perfect to take with my father in law: higher elevations, no mosquitos, and scenic views were on my agenda so I spent last weekend revisiting a few places I hadn’t been to in years while also getting to some things I’d never had the chance to see before. This accessible adventure thing is new to me so I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to take him on the most boring trip in history.
Leaving Rock Hill with my wife at 9am on Saturday, I punched Brevard NC into the GPS and followed it all the way to Pisgah National Forest. Since riding for 150 miles straight is rather tiring, I found a few interesting places to stop along the way. Saluda off of I-26 has some interesting sights including the old highway 176 bridge that’s right next to the current one. I took highway 64 through Hendersonville to enjoy the back roads and the interesting houses all along the road. Once in Brevard, I followed 276 into Pisgah National Forest to an overlook of Looking Glass Falls and stopped at Sliding Rock to watch people scream like howler monkeys at a Justin Bieber concert.
Once I stopped laughing, a quick backtrack down 276 and I hung a right on the road to the fish hatchery. It’s a great place to stop for lunch and look at where fish are made; if you’re feeling adventurous, there’s a tough hike up to John’s Rock that has great views of Looking Glass and the valley below. Hanging a left leaving the fish hatchery, we followed the forest service roads to highway 215. While gravel, they’re actually better than most of the roads around my house but I wouldn’t risk it in icy or extremely wet conditions unless you’re properly setup for off road adventures. There are also plenty of good campsites all along the road which I might have to revisit sometime.
Once on 215, we turned north towards Waynesville which cuts through Pisgah, Shining Rock, and Middle Prong Wilderness areas. In the fall you’re treated to huge vistas of fall color, and in the winter you can see waterfalls through the naked trees and see huge sheets of ice lining the road; because the highway has communities on it, it is regularly plowed during the winter and is open even when the parkway isn’t so it’s worth the trip at different times in the year. The colors were just starting to turn at 6000 feet though, so we were somewhat cheated.
Further north we came to Lake Logan, which is as close to a northern woods lake as you’ll find in the south, before finally reaching Waynesville. At this point we were tired of driving and decided to crash at a hotel somewhere since we were being lazy. Next time, I’d rather take the option to push a little farther to where we went the next day: into the Smokies to Cataloochee Valley. It takes nearly an hour to go the 20 miles from Waynesville to the campground in Cataloochee, and it’s very steep with plenty of twists and turns. Driving that road in the dark would be horrifying so if you’re getting near dark prepare for some extra adventure.
We went to Cataloochee early the next morning so I could finally see the elk in rut, driving through to the old homesteads on the far end of the valley where all of the elk were roaming and grazing. We sat watching a small group of young males and finally settled on the edge of the valley near the school house. A large bull elk and his harem grazed and occasionally the bull tried to turn on the Marvin Gaye music, but the cows wouldn’t have anything of it. We walked through the old houses and watched a dozen or so brook trout swimming in the stream before packing up and starting the 3 hour ride home. While there was a lot of driving involved, I think this road trip is something my father in law will love.
Adventure is anytime you leave your door. Whether it’s going down to the Catawba for a quick fishing trip, kayaking down the Chattooga, or taking a safari through the Smoky Mountains, getting out there at any speed should be the goal.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.