There is something stimulating about taking on a quest. It gives you a sense of purpose. Teaming up with a pal to plan and complete the goal lends an air of comradery and builds an energy level which sustains the pair through all the joyful and miserable moments of the journey. This joining of forces operates efficiently through supportive optimism and shared delusion. Both are willing to believe this project can be completed no matter what is thrown in their path while simultaneously agreeing to bail if things go very wrong.
As Tee, Cricket and I continued the La Avenida walk, we learned about the machinations of maintaining a busy city. Our stroll on a Monday, the first day of the work week, led to a few encounters with the labor that goes on in our fair city at a time other than the weekend (when we did all our training walks). This education continued. Once exiting the Hominy Creek Greenway, the only walkable route available down to the French Broad River is a two-lane, curvy corridor trailing under a couple bridges following the flow of the creek. At the top of this road, on previous treks, we noticed the sign for the “transfer station.” I spent the majority of my life in a very large city and yet, had no clue what this was. It never occurred to us to look it up, investigate the meaning and potential consequences upon our tranquil sojourn.
It took only a few steps down this narrow, curvy road to find out. It’s where the garbage trucks go to deposit their detritus. It’s where large and stinky garbage trucks go very dangerously fast, sending any hikers traveling that path into the weeds and dirt which line the sides of the road, seeking safety. As we dodged truck after truck, as the temperature of the day was increasing and my heart was racing in fear, my specially-made La Avenida t-shirt began to sag with sweat. Cricket, who had taken a dip in the creek, was rapidly turning from a white dog into a brown dog. We crossed the street a few times to avoid being caught in a blind corner and ending up as road kill. The menacing sound of numerous oncoming, barreling behemoths propelled us as far off the pavement as we could manage along that slender corridor until we finally reached the odiferous destination where the trucks pulled off the road. The place had looked so benign during the course of our training treks.
Right in front of the transfer station, we encountered an actual sidewalk. A ludicrous addition installed after the entrance, past the point of possible death and destruction, for no reason we could surmise. It ended as quickly and unexpectedly as it started. Peace eventually returned to our souls as we left that superfluous stretch of concrete on that road to hell, relieved to be leaving the potential final resting place of our flattened carcasses. Our heartrates decelerated. Our breathing eased. We made our way down to the river where we knew there was a decent porta-potty of which we could take full advantage.
Once at the crossroads of creek and river, we enjoyed a paved, traffic-free trail. One which would follow the river all the way back to our destination…with a few exceptions. With only three miles to go, our enthusiasm kicked up a notch. The finish line did not seem so far away and we joyfully looked forward to our next rest stop. Most of the trail at this point along the river is a quiet, tree-lined path. We caught a gentle breeze off the water as it flowed past us (and we it). Cricket, our official mascot and all-around good dog, said hello to his fellow canines, allowing Tee and I to smoothly exchange a few greetings and amiable, dog-related conversations with our fellow humans.
At the point where this trail detours into an RV camping area, we once again found ourselves next to the freeway. I wondered which came first, the campers or the cars. I wondered why anyone would park a campsite just below a busy highway. Maybe it’s a convenient overnight stop off the freeway for travelers on their way to our more scenic mountain vistas. Maybe the people who choose to stay there, distracted by its riverside location, aren’t concerned by the roar of the adjacent autobahn. I wouldn’t camp there, but I was happy to be passing through on our way to Carrier Park.
The busy motorway veers away from Amboy Street and a stretch of the French Broad River lined with a couple of Asheville’s most visited city parks. Carrier Park is a combination sports park/tree-lined river path that offers diversions to the active citizens of our fair city. The cycling velodrome, volleyball courts, lawn bowling and picnic areas are usually crammed with people looking for fun on the weekends. On the Monday of our quest, the park was strangely quiet. We ambled down the trail next to the water looking for a bit of afternoon shade to cool us off.
The trail eventually led us back to the street and Home Ground Coffee Bar and Deli, 1.5 miles from our finish line. Home Ground is an indoor/outdoor facility featuring a large yard with picnic tables, a fire pit and bistro style tables and chairs in its paved areas. Tee and I moved a table off the pavement into the shade of a nearby tree, then took turns going inside to order our sustenance. It felt so good to sit down with a cup of iced tea and a muffin and to allow my aching feet some respite. I posted a few photos on Facebook and updated our progress to my husband and pals. I did not want to get up again. We joked about calling for an Uber driver to ferry us the last stretch of distance back to Tee’s car. No one would ever know.
Putting my feet up and closing my eyes in the warmth of the afternoon seemed like a perfectly sensible thing to do. Getting up and continuing the journey fell to the bottom of my priority list for the moment. I resoaked the bandana I had tied around my neck and looked at Tee. We knew it was time to move on. In a mind-willing/flesh-weak scenario, my hip joints made an actual creak as I unfolded into a standing position. We had one more bridge to cross to reach the end point of this mega-walk, so we pushed ourselves onward until the leg muscles found their rhythm in smoother forward locomotion.
After passing through Riverside Park, another trail along the river, we arrived at bridge #3. I considered this to be the last hurdle to conquer before we could feel like we were home free. Crossing the Amboy Street Bridge on foot is a bit like scampering across a tightrope suspended next to an airport runway. The bridge crosses the river and ends at a crossroad which leads back to the River Arts District. It’s a busy intersection catering to the needs of cars and is not pedestrian friendly. There is a very narrow walkway where humans and dog must stride single file, and when someone is coming from the opposite direction, some poor soul has to opt for hopping down onto the street to pass when traffic allows.
We had strategized for avoiding this bridge, but doing so would send us through a construction zone to a bridge further down Riverside Drive. On our training walks we had casually ignored the signs for the construction along a new trail above the river, but on a weekday, there were too many men and machines for us to get away with it. We had to take this bridge. But weekday quest-making turned out to be an advantage for this river crossing. No one else was out walking midafternoon on a Monday. The traffic was light. And little Cricket, after miles of hiking, seemed content with walking between Tee and I across the bridge to the final ½ mile stretch of our journey.
We arrived at Summit Coffee, where we had left Tee’s car some 7 hours before. Body-tired, but ego-inflated, we asked a young woman to take our victory photo. We did it! We sat for a while before we climbed into the car for the drive to my house where we received our trophies and homemade vegan chocolate chip cookies. It wasn’t until later that we discovered we each had a rash on our lower legs. Being tied together in an agreed-upon bondage of scheduling, training and completing this quest brought us closer together as friends. Nothing says bonding like a mutual, inexplicable rash. And 12 miles of nonstop conversation.
Cheryl & Tee