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Folk Alley Man Attempts to Summit 2nd Highest Peak East of Mississippi on Bicycle with Rescue Dogs Trailing Behind.

April 23, 2006

The tune that best showcases Doc Watson's dexterity with a flat pick is probably the Black Mountain Rag. The Black Mountains are the highest mountains in the eastern US, of which Mt. Mitchell is the highest at 6684 feet. Once you're in the Black Mountain region off the Blueridge Parkway north of Asheville you can easily see why music is written about them. They are inspirational peaks to be sure, despite the haze that surrounds them and the pollution that has damaged most of the trees up there.

I could never figure out why singer Jim Pipkin (find him in the Open Mic) left Carolina for Arizona. He explained his reasons to me over some of his Honey Mead, and they are thoughtful and sound, but I'm from Ohio. I've always wished our ravines were a little deeper, our mountains higher, our music festivals a little more accepted, and the trails more plentiful (and less rocky than West Virginia). And I like lots and lots of green. Even blue-green. That's North Carolina.

After Merlefest, it seems fitting to go where Doc Watson grew up, the North Carolina backcountry. One can drive off the Parkway straight to the top of Mt. Mitchell. I've done it, with a milkshake in hand. There's an observation tower which allows you to clearly see the J-shaped range.

OK, so if I can drive up it, why would I climb it on a bicycle? The answer is I wouldn't. However, Wood Mountain is across the valley. That one has no road but there is a bike trail right to the top. Very few smart people attempt this route, but I am taking one with me - a left handed fiddler named Ed Eakin. I made him buy a full suspension mountain bike and agree to the terms: We take our time; we take two rescue dogs (Kali and Harriet); and we turn around if we want to. As Loreena McKennitt relays - it's not the destination, it's the journey, right?

By the way, Ed pointed out that "rescue dogs" are dogs I'VE saved; he suspected that you might would think that the dogs were insurance, ready to rescue us. Umm... Now that he's made me think about it, every dog and cat I've saved has given way more back to me in return. I guess I had the term right and the definition wrong. I AM the one getting rescued, daily.

Anyway, Ed agreed to all the terms, and we're going. Joe Ebel and Annie Lalley, Folk Alley Musicians extraordinare will put us up. (or put up with us) Joe's Mom is visiting at the same time we are, so Mrs. Ebel gets the guest cottage, Ed gets the sewing room, and I get the van. I'm betting that Kali (Austrailian Shepherd mix) and Harriet (Chihuahua Terrier mix) will choose to share the cottage with Mom. Mrs. Ebel is probably figuring they'll sleep with me, but the dogs are doing the route finding and they'll need the desk and lights for nighttime study with the topo maps and trail guides. I just wanna ride.

That brings up a key point. Why a bicycle? Here's the answer: You get a free ride back down. In all my earlier backpacking journeys out west as a kid, I wished I could be riding my bike. Mountain Bikes didn't exist at that time, but I dreamed about them. Today there are two types of mountain bikers: There are the high-tech athletes who love the steeps and deeps, the rocks and racing, and they never get off the bike. That mandolin player in the Bearfoot Bluegrass band from Alaska is one of those guys (Jason Norris). Then there's me. I like to ride quietly through the woods on a bike with my puppies (and sometimes with one smarter person than me). I can't ride on the road with dogs, and hiking is too hard on the knees. I'm quite sure that the Dalai Lama owns a suspension Mountain Bike. I'll have to ask Richard Shindell, he would know for sure -- except he'll be visiting our studios at the same time that I'll be in the wilderness asking questions. I better take him next time.

Though there may not be a free lunch in life, there is a free ride - - when there's a hill. And who needs a free lunch? I'm happy with endurance bars, trail mix, and an long as I have the one thing which I value more and more these days - TIME. Wanna go? Better yet, invite me on YOUR next trip. Since the dogs do all my planning, I have to keep replacing the smart people (don't tell Ed...)

Jim Blum

Posted by Jim Blum at April 23, 2006 10:55 PM

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