Where I’ve Been
Oops. I was going to journal into this weblog as I went along. That hasn’t
worked out. Sorry.
Here’s a brief summary. I have about 10 gigabytes of photos to process, and
the laptop screen isn’t really suitable, so expect pictures to trickle out
after I get back to San Diego.
- Thursday, March 26
Flew from San Diego to Greenville-Spartanburg airport. Picked up by the
hotel in a BMW 5-series, very luxurious even in the back seat. Dinner on BMW
in the hotel restaurant; fair. Stayed in the BMW-supplied Marriott in
- Friday, March 27
Delivery day! Breakfast at the hotel’s buffet, then BMW shuttle bus to the
Performance Center with several others who are also picking up cars. After we
sign the waivers of liability, they break us up into three groups to do the
activities in various orders. I am designated to take delivery of my car first,
then get the factory/museum tour, and finally take the driver training. The
delivery associate has all the literature and keys and so forth neatly laid
out on a table next to the car in the special delivery bay. She goes over
everything with me, and then I drive the car out of the bay and into the
parking lot. Move my luggage into the trunk, and that’s the delivery.
The factory tour is next, but the Performance Center is about a mile
from the factory. So everybody in my group grabs a Z4 from the parking lot,
gets a quick lesson in how to drive the SMG transmission, and we convoy
over to the factory. It takes about an hour to walk through the factory.
There are a lot of robots hard at work there, along with
fewer people than you might expect. Many of the robots are working with no
human supervision at all. They have built-in quality control checks, and
if they start detecting a problem they automatically page the engineer in
charge of that station, and display boards throughout the factory floor
give a concise summary of what problems are holding up the line. Other
display boards show how well they’re doing compared to the target quota
for the day (96%). If they run behind, it means overtime. Unfortunately
we weren’t allowed to have cameras on the factory tour, so no photos.
The driving lesson was a little rushed but fun. Each person was driving
a car similar to the one they bought, so I had a Z4, but with SMG instead
of the manual stick I bought. We had a little road course run, some
skidpad work to demonstrate the amazing computerized skid control features,
a rapid lane change and some panic braking. All pretty much designed to
build confidence in the car’s ability to save your ass in a pinch.
That was the day at BMW, over at about 4 pm. I got back into my new
Z4 and told the navigation system to take me to Kristy’s apartment in
Savannah, using the “avoid highways” routing preference. And
boy, did it ever avoid highways. It took me on a great backroads route,
one that would have been nearly impossible to navigate solo without a
lot of prior planning (and luck). But with the nav system, easy as pie.
It was still a little late by the time I got to Kristy’s, but we
still went out for a drive before even unloading the car.
- Saturday, March 28
Kristy gave me the grand tour of the Photo building at SCAD, where
she spends most of her class time. Then we took in a great exhibit of
photos of jazz musicians at the African American Cultural Center. Back
at the apartment parking lot, I tried to install the magic iPod adapter
which is supposed to work with the Z4. I got my hand
chewed up by wedging it into cramped spaces with sharp corners, and we
both got bitten by a bunch of small flying things too small to be
mosquitoes, and the damn thing never did work. Sigh. So maybe I got a
dud unit. The manufacturer has yet to return my email. Dinner and a
trip to Walmart to get a wrench I needed to try one last thing with
the iPod adapter. We whiled away the evening with Kristy’s portfolio.
- Sunday, March 28
Tried again with the wrench, no luck. Lunch, and then bid Kristy
adieu and told the navigation system to take me back to Greenville.
- Monday, March 29 – Tuesday, March 30
The BMW two-day car clinic. Let me put off describing this in detail
until another time. After school on Monday, I wandered around downtown
Greenville shooting photos. On Tuesday, I went up to Paris Mountain in
Greenville and hiked one trail before running out of light. Stayed over
- Wednesday, March 31
Headed toward Cherokee, SC to find the southern end of the Blue
Ridge Parkway. It started to rain. As I climbed into the mountains
on the route chosen by the nav system, the rain turned to sleet, and
then to snow, with fog. The chosen route was supposed to join the Parkway some
miles north of the end, and backtrack down the Parkway to the end.
But the Parkway is closed in this weather. In fact, the signs on the
road I just came up suggest avoiding that road during this kind of
weather, too. Now they tell me. I continue over the ridge on the same
road, driving carefully in really crummy conditions. Eventually the
road descends out of the snow, through the sleet, and the rain lets up.
I wander around a little on the far side of the Parkway, and end up
stopping at one of the string of motels in Maggie Valley, where the
season will be starting in a few weeks.
- Thursday, April 1
The weather is still lousy. The clouds still enshroud the ridge,
so I don’t even try to go up there. I go around to Cherokee for lunch,
but skip the tribal museum and knickknack shops. Back in Maggie Valley
I tour Wheels Through Time,
a motorcycle (American iron only) and automotive museum with a rather
impressive collection. Many of the vehicles are kept in running condition,
which means that the whole place smells like a garage.
Driving around after that, I end up in Waynesville, and find the
weather has broken and it’s sunny. I walk around downtown Waynesville,
shooting various scenes including a hillside cemetery. When the light
fails, I return to the Maggie Valley motel.
- Friday, April 2
The weather looks a bit improved, but still iffy at altitude. I go for
it. It turns out the end segment of the Parkway is always closed this year,
due to some tunnel work in progress. I drive back and forth on the cross
roads over the ridge, looking for where the Parkway opens. Answer: nowhere.
Apparently they are a little conservative about opening the Parkway as
soon as the weather breaks. After a few zigzags, I give up and head for
lower altitudes. End up at the Wildlife Education Center, which is the
center for a number of nice trails at mid-altitude, where it’s sunny and
mid-50′s. Hike the Cat Gap Loop trail, 4.4 miles and 1000 feet of elevation
gain. By then it’s getting dark, so I head for Asheville, which according
to the tourbooks is the cultural center of the whole area, such as it is.
I try to find an interesting downtown hotel, but end up with one on the
fringe of downtown outside the walking zone. The cellular data connection
works in the evening, but barely.
- Saturday, April 3
By morning, the cellular data connection doesn’t work at all. Waste
time on the phone with Verizon tech support, but they can’t help. Arrgh.
I backtrack to Dillsboro, SC to catch the weekly run of the steam
locomotive on the Great Smoky Mountains
Railroad, from Dillsboro to Bryson City, and back. I reserved a seat
in the enclosed Crown Coach, since I figured the weather would still be
nasty, but the weather was gorgeous the whole way. So I spent almost all
the trip in the open car, shooting the scenery. More on that when I get
home and process the photos. Back to Asheville, find a different hotel
that offers high-speed Internet access.
- Sunday, April 4
I finally find some open Parkway, northbound to Mt. Pisgah. I hike
a few trails on the way up, and eat lunch at the Mt. Pisgah Inn (lousy
food but with a great view, except that it’s still mostly obscured by
fog). Unfortunately the Parkway is only open as far as the Inn. Past
that a short segment near the summit remains closed, so I have to
backtrack again and go around.
- Monday, April 5
Found the Parkway open north of the Pisgah summit, and hike some
more. One hike takes me to the gate where the summit is closed, and
while I’m there getting ready to turn around the rangers come and open
the gate. So when I get back to the car I can continue backtracking
to the Inn to complete my coverage of that part of the Parkway. Then
I continue toward Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Rockies
(and thus another likely candidate for a Parkway closure). Sure enough,
the part of the Parkway that goes to the summit from the south is
closed. The Parkway information line says that Mt. Mitchell is still
accessible by a certain numbered road. I never did find that numbered
road, but I followed signs to Mt. Mitchell and got there somehow. You
can drive to within a couple hundred yards of the summit, where the
parking lot has been snowplowed enough to be accessible. I hiked up
to the summit, where it was windy and cold. Photos to follow. Then
on the way down I took the “easy” one-mile Nature Walk
through the forest. Judging by the footprints in the snow, I was only
the second one to go that way since the snow fell. A mile is a lot
longer in the snow. Drove back down the non-Parkway roads and ended
up in Boone, NC, where the tourbook led me to the Broyhill Inn on
the campus of Appalachian State University.
I thought there would be some cool campus atmosphere, but it turns out
the Inn is way up on a hill away from everything else.
- Tuesday, April 6
Rejoining the Parkway and continuing north, I visited
a privately held nature park. Photos.
Crossed the mile-high swinging bridge, which is a little scary, and which
leads only to some rock outcroppings you can climb out onto, which are
much scarier. I shot a 360-degree panorama from the outcropping, but
putting it together would be too painful on this little iBook, so you’ll
have to wait for that one. Back on the Parkway, I found
a few miscellaneous trails to hike before stopping for the night
in Jefferson, NC.
- Wednesday, April 7
More of the same: random trails on the Parkway. There’s nothing to
eat on most of the Parkway, so around lunchtime I have to wander off at
some crossroad and see what I can find. Today I find Stuart, VA, including
the official designated Lover’s Leap there. More photos. I end up in
Roanoke, VA for the night.
- Thursday, April 8
Up to Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where I spend the night
and hike some short trails near the Lodge. No phones, no cellular service,
no TV, and the machines are all out of Diet Coke. By me this is roughing it.
- Friday, April 9
The weather doesn’t encourage me to do the summit hikes at Peaks of Otter,
so I hit the road. But I do find some more trails, including the Fallingwater
trail to a nice waterfall. End up in Buena Vista, VA. I did not ask a local
to confirm the guidebook’s claim that it’s pronounced byew-nah.
- Saturday, April 10
I drive the final segment of the Blue Ridge Parkway and begin on Skyline
Drive, which is to say on Shenandoah National
Park. One of the hikes I pick for today is the Bearfence Mountain summit.
The trail is only 0.8 miles long, but a section of it is a rock scramble. The brochure
says “This hike is for the sure-footed and those not afraid of heights.”
The sign at the trailhead uses sterner language, but concludes “The climb
is not dangerous if caution is used.” I pay enough attention to these
warnings to leave the big camera in the car and only wear the little one on
my belt, and set off onto the trail. It started out easy, and snuck up on me,
until pretty soon I’m clambering over rocks I would have considered impassible
except for the clearly marked trail blazes, patches of blue paint leading me
over boulders and skirting narrow ledges, up and around to the very tippy top
of the huge pile of rocks on top of the ridge. I almost turned back a couple
of times, and then it seemed easier to go on through the loop path. I didn’t
fall, but I sure scared myself. A good hike.
Not too far past that is Skyland Lodge, the highest point on Skyline Drive
and the only year-round lodging. I checked in and spent the night, along with
a mess of Easter weekenders.
- Sunday, April 11
Unfortunately the weather was crappy again, so I had to skip all the rest
of the great trails on Skyline Drive. I finished out the drive to the northern
terminus of Skyline, and then headed toward Dulles Airport to visit the
Udvar-Hazy Center, a
new facility of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum with room for lots of
aircraft and spacecraft they’ve been unable to display in the main museum,
including the Space Shuttle Enterprise, a Concorde, a U2, a SR41 Blackbird,
and many others. An amazing collection. When the museum guards kicked everybody
out, I headed toward Washington on the theory that non-airport hotels would
be cheaper, and ended up in Fairfax, VA. Not sure if the theory worked, as
hotels there were also pretty pricy.
- Monday, April 12
Smithsonian day, and raining. Instead of fighting the mass transit system
in the rain, I drove downtown and paid a fortune to park in one of the
underground garages. Got soaked walking to the museum anyway. Visited the
Natural History Museum (good) and the American History Museum (better).
Lacking much of a plan beyond this point, I ended up sleeping in Silver Spring, MD,
with the idea of visiting the AMSAT office in the morning.
- Tuesday, April 13
Visited with Martha at the AMSAT office for a while, then went back downtown
to visit the main facility of the Air and Space Museum. It’s less crowded than I
remember it; maybe they removed some stuff when they opened the Udvar-Hazy Center.
The hands-on science exhibit showing aeronautical principles is far and away the
best “Exploratorium-style” display I’ve ever seen. Lots of really cool
stuff to try. When the guards kicked everybody out of that museum, I put the
navigation system into “fastest route” mode and dove south to get out
of Dodge. Ended up in Fredericksburg, VA.
- Wednesday, April 14
Spent a couple of hours in the morning getting caught up on computer work
for the AMSAT web site, and barely got out by checkout time. After lunch, it
was still rainy and cold, so the goal for the day was to cover some miles.
Still not sure whether I’m headed for Texas now or going to the Sun’n'Fun
Fly-In to drop in on the Express Aircraft booth, but for now I’m heading
south. Ran out of steam in Lumberton, NC, where I sit typing this when I
should be sleeping.