May 4, 2005
Newberry South, Carolina to Asheville, North Carolina
I'm up early and greeted by a clear runway with no fog. It's still
before sunrise and it looks like I might get an early start for a change and
avoid flying in the gusty mid-day winds. For most of the trip it has
either been too cold in the morning or foggy so I've rarely had the pleasure
of early morning light.
It's a bit chilly so I dig out my gloves and hat which I have not used in
several weeks. I fire up the engine and wait patiently while it warms
up before taxiing out and lifting into the beautiful morning. I've
planned to follow the highways again but there are areas with fields below
instead of forests so I'm able to fly a more direct course and not feel so
Flying is partly about the freedom to go wherever you want and having to
follow the roads certainly crimps my style. The countryside below me
is spectacular in the sharp slanting rays of the early morning sun.
Today's flight climbs into the Appalachian mountains at Asheville, North
Carolina, gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I departed from
500' above sea level but will climb to over 3,000' before the day is
As I fly North I climb with the terrain until in the distance I see the
mountains and despite the clear day and 30 mile visibility I can immediately
see why they are called the Smoky Mountains. I can see several ridges
with the more distant ridges appearing as a layer behind the ones closer to
me. Each ridge is more grey and washed out appearing than the one in
front of it and it reminds me of the mountains I had seen near Guilin, China
which are made famous in so many Chinese paintings.
I have been over mixed open fields and forests since leaving the road 15
miles back but now I want to rejoin the highway before I climb up into the
mountains themselves. I am now freezing cold in my open cockpit with
the outside temperature at 50 degrees. After 10 more minutes of flying
I see where the road is marked on my GPS yet in front of me I see nothing
but unbroken expanses of forests. I see no likely path for a
road at all just a steep shoulder of the mountain before me so I add power
and keep climbing.
The highway is in such deep trees that I am right on top of it before I
even see it, and it looks like an impressively steep climb for the cars
below me. I wonder how Dee is doing on the first big hills we have
seen since leaving New Mexico so many miles ago.
In minutes I reach a level plateau with the road running into a
beautiful broad valley surrounded on both sides by higher mountains.
I'm very close to the busy Asheville airport but they still have not
answered my radio calls and I cannot enter their airspace until I have made
radio contact. I circle once just on the edge of their control area
but now I am really freezing, have a ferocious need to pee and am getting
frustrated that no one is answering my radio calls. Rather than mess
with the radio or climb higher to assure they can hear me I decide to land
at an airport I had just passed a moment ago. I crank a steep turn,
announce my arrival and in minutes am on the ground at tiny Hendersonville
As I taxi up to the building two men come out full of questions about the
gyro but I rush past them headed for the restroom. After a long break
I answer all their questions and tell them about our trip. When the manager
learns we are getting ready to leave the gyro in Asheville to explore the
Smokys in our motorhome for a few days he suggests we leave the gyro in a
hangar here instead of 10 miles away at the big airport. It sounds
like a fine plan so I call Dee on her cell phone and give her directions to
the new destination. She arrives 40 minutes later by which time I am
just beginning to warm up.
After a bit further drive we spend the day enjoying downtown Asheville.
One of the locals had described it as, "a place where the kids have tattoos
and piercings in places you don't even want to know about." Dee and I
however found it wonderful. The downtown is exciting and vibrant.
We followed a walking tour from a brochure we had that took in dozens of
pieces of urban sculpture, historical landmarks, parks and interactive
exhibits. We enjoyed seeing purple, orange and green hair and it was a
real pleasure to find a city with its own character rather than another
small town defined by strip malls and Walmarts.
From this Yankee's viewpoint, Asheville provides a much needed balance
for the conservative south.
Neither of us had ever seen this part of the country and we greatly
enjoyed our week hiking the Appalachian trail, mountain biking in the
Smokys and driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway.