Sometimes I get bored and need a project to occupy my imagination and stimulate my sense of accomplishment. Ever since my friend Linda divulged her plan to walk the El Camino trail in northern Spain, I have been itching to try a similar yet more diminutive pilgrimage closer to home. The real motivation comes from making the commitment with another person. It’s harder to be a weenie on those mornings when you would rather do nothing more than make a smoothie to drink while binge-watching some steamy, historic soap opera all day, when someone else has taken the appropriate steps toward fulfilling that day’s plan. You just can’t indulge in your weenie-dom if you are expected to show up and do the thing you agreed to do.
So, my local pal, and walking phenom, Tee and I teamed up to devise a route to trek in the name of sacred pilgrimage and temporary bondage. We found a local hiker’s map online specifically dubbed an El Camino-type walk. With a little tweaking and strategic planning, we plotted out the trail we would take and named it La Avenida just to make it uniquely ours.
I designed an official t-shirt we could wear on the special day. Tee arranged for some rewards we could receive after we collapsed at the finish line/sacred destination. Over the course of our training treks, we left little trinkets for casual walkers to find in places throughout our intended pathway. We increased our milage with each pre-event walk and scoped out the interesting sights, nourishing food stops, possible pitfalls and all the bathrooms along a 12-mile length of track which would bring us back to the place we began. It was shaping up to be less of a lark and more a well-thought-out adventure.
Once we decided on a week in which we would take our journey, we kept watch over the weather forecasts for the ideal conditions. We wanted coolish temperatures with a slight breeze and low chances of rain. Trying to get all three of those conditions at the same time was difficult in that all the days had one thing or another we did not want. So, we opted for the day with the least chance of rain since being soaked from above during the course of a long day of walking, stopping to eat and potty scouting, would make for a pretty miserable experience. The date was set for May 1, a Monday.
It was to be a warmish day—pushing 80° with more humidity than desired. But no chance of rain. I choreographed my couture for maximum comfort and minimum torture. I would be traversing the urban outdoors for pretty much the whole day. If I wore my backpack, I could carry all sorts of necessary items: lip balm, granola bars, first aid kit, bus passes, face mask, toilet paper, ace bandage, camera, sunglasses, wallet, hat, bandana, hand sanitizer, water bottle, keys, phone, pen and paper, trail trinkets, and sunscreen. The last was an agonizing decision. My scant tube of Banana Boat, spf 30, had expired two months ago. I had a new tube of Native Sunscreen of the same strength but I truly hated using it on a hot day. It works well, but once applied to bare skin, feels like wearing a full deep-sea diving wetsuit. No sun can get in, but no sweat can get out either. Did I want a sunburn or a layer of epoxy on my skin? It was an agonizing decision. I packed about half what I planned to bring with me into a good-sized fanny pack and tossed in the full tube of Native. I dug out my lightweight, long-sleeved, sun-defying REI shirt figuring I could wear it for at least half of the day.
The remainder of my clothing took some careful consideration. Long hiking pants with leg pockets (no sunscreen on these legs), light wool socks for max sweat wicking, poly-pro underdrawers for same quality and my La Avenida de Asheville t-shirt. I tied the traditional clam shell on a rope around my neck and topped it all off with my Friends of West Asheville Library ball cap. Good thing my adventure would last only one day. Confidence was high. At that point anyway.
It was a coolish 60 degrees when we started out a 7:45 am on a day with a sunny sky and light breezes. We set out with our official mascot Cricket, Tee’s well-behaved and friendly pooch. Strolling up the riverwalk, we soon found out who else occupies the outdoor spaces early in the morning. Grass mowers. Many of them. With big, loud machines that blew grass and dirt in every direction, including ours! We had done our training walks on the weekends, so we had missed all those people who diligently perform the noisy, dirty work of keeping our city looking its best, including road construction workers and trash haulers. We met them all on an early start of the work week. Once we maneuvered past the lawn clippers, we barged our way up Hill Street, which runs parallel to the freeway and is not Asheville’s finest roadway. Scattered piles of trash line this steep, but not too long, stretch of street from the river all the way up to Montford Avenue. At the top, we took our first rest stop at the Visitor Center, which had the nicest restrooms along our route.
After some water and selfies, we continued over the freeway via the bridge which had been on the news. There are cones which divert traffic from the lane on that side of the bridge which had been hit by a moving vehicle from below. This was the side we walked on. Tee wondered if bus drivers held their breath as they drove their two-ton busses over that now-questionable structure. I quickly snapped a picture of the freeway below before scuttling to the other side for a nice downhill stroll skirting the west side of downtown.
We made our way into the RAD (River Arts District), where murals and funky art projects abound. Since our path was a bit convoluted (much like the city of Asheville itself!), we had passed this way once already. Now our path took us over the river and the trail where we had started. Construction on the bridge brought us into contact with another busy morning work crew. I had to don my N95 mask to keep from inhaling the concrete grit they were generating but once again, stopped mid-bridge to fumble with my phone’s camera in order to capture the scene below us. This was the second of three bridges we crossed on our journey. All of these crossings were a bit intimidating.
At last, we hit my favorite stretch of our route, Haywood Road! But first we had to climb the long hill up into West Asheville. This is where having Tee along for the ride paid off. She knows how to keep a conversation going even when huffing and puffing up a long incline. The distraction worked so well, we made it to the top in good form and spirits. Everything from there on was either flat or downhill, and our minds were free to enjoy the funkiness of this part of town. Haywood Road through West Asheville is a mix of old and new, trendy and trashy, brightly painted public artworks and long-abandoned eyesores. We passed a few of our favorite coffee shops on our way to our chosen destination, Sunny Point Café. Delightful patio and garden, inspired menu, friendly waitstaff. And popular, even at 9:50 on a Monday morning. A 50-minute wait for a table drove us further down the road to another perennial favorite, The West End (formerly West End Bakery).
We ate like bears after a long winter. I drank my weight in water and prepared for the longest haul between bathrooms. I reported our progress to my husband and pals via text. As we proceeded on to our next road crew encounter, we dropped off Haywood Road into the only section of our route which was purely residential–hence the lack of comfort stations. This downhill trek was well pre-planned. We had to get those sluggish muscles started again after our rest stop. We already knew about the massive road/sewer pipe construction since we were only ½ mile from my house and walked this way often. I had my mask at the ready to protect my breathing apparatus from the dust. Once past it, everything was quiet again as we made our way through the neighborhood streets leading down to Hominy Creek.
Hominy Creek Greenway is a lovely little woodsy 12-acre space with a trail along the creek that we frequently hike since it is not far from my home. It’s only a 2/3-mile stretch of unpaved path, but a green and serene walkway enjoyed by many in West Asheville. As we sauntered through, we noticed some man-made amendments to the land on the other side of the creek. I later learned this was development for housing. Its presence felt like a rude invasion on a tranquil, secluded area. We stopped at the end of this too-short greenway to take a break before we risked life and limb on the scariest part of our journey.
We were not prepared for Hominy Creek Road on a weekday. We could not possibly have covered all the conditions we would encounter along a 12-mile route. We survived, of course, to tell the tale and you will learn of our harrowing trek down this particular pathway despite our meticulous plotting and planning. We were determined to make it safely to our intended destination. Needless to say, I was not the least bit bored.
Next week: Quest Fulfilled,