Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Anniversary... Happy Birthday

This past week has been full of milestones: on June 10th, Todd's parents rang in their 50th wedding anniversary. Two days later, Todd welcomed his 40th year of life. We will celebrate his parents anniversary later this summer when the whole family gets together in NJ, but we did go ahead and celebrate Todd's birthday in a unique way this past weekend.

We rented a 3 bedroom timber-frame house up in the NC mountains and invited some friends and their kids to join us. We ate and drank a lot of good food and wine including several of Todd's favorite foods. We went to the nearby downtown of Bryson City to see what it was all about. We were there on a Sunday and most everything was closed. But - the area around the train station was hopping... and apparently this is a big thing for Bryson City - train rides for kids and adults through the Smoky Mountains.

We went for a hike in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On this relatively short hike (1 mile +/- each way), we came across two waterfalls - including a spot in front of one of them where there was a shallow pool. The kids - Lily, Mercer, Alex, and Aaron - had a great time dipping their toes in the cool mountain water. This particular area was very populated with a lot of people walking up the trail with inner tubes and floating down the river. Perhaps one day we will partake in this, as it looked like a lot of fun. The kids also spotted different kinds of bugs along the way - interestingly - there were a lot of little purple butterflies there.

The following day, as everyone was leaving the rental house, Todd and I were preparing for another adventure to tackle on our way home: to go on a hunt for a letterbox hidden in the nearby Nantahala Village. (Here, Mercer is sporting his letterbox bag, hat, and sunglasses in hand. The sunscreen & bug spray have been applied.) He is officially ready for "the hunt" which led us through a complex of cabins and by an old working farm-turned day spa. Then we continued toward some horse stables and into the woods. It was a nice walk at first, but as the hike continued, we started to wonder how much longer the journey would take. The trails were walking / horse trails. Unfortunately, we never got to see any horses - but we saw lots and lots... and lots of horse poop along the way. Because of that, Todd carried Mercer for much of the hike so he would not hit any of the targets. Finally (after 1 1/2 hours of walking) we followed the last clue to the hidden letterbox. After so many paces... there is a large vine-covered tree on the left. Look across the path from the tree to a group of rocks knee-high and the box is under the rock on top. Well, there were several vine-covered trees and groupings of rocks, but we did it... we found it! It was pretty rewarding because we weren't even sure if it was there -- it had been several years since anyone else had logged its find. Mercer had fun exchanging stamps in the stamp book.

The clue also said there was a nice picnic spot, so bring a lunch. Well, it wasn't obvious at first. We were surrounded by tall trees, lots of foliage, lots of vines climbing ever upward. It was actually dark in the woods, but about 20 yards further down the path we could see a clearing... and... it was gorgeous. We had our own little private picnic spot in a cove off of the beautiful blue-green waters of Lake Fontana. We watched little fish swim by at the clear waters beneath us and dragon flies playing and flitting around us. There were some spiders on the rock where we perched, but Mercer didn't notice those thankfully. In the distance, we could hear a woodpecker. Above us, a hawk was flying. It was absolutely stunning. It made up for the dark, damp, horse-poop-filled trail!

Once we were finished eating our lunch and taking it all in, we decided to make our way back to the car. Thankfully, the directions to get back took us a different way -- a much shorter route to the lodge where we parked. And - as a bonus, it took us by this beautiful weeping tree and stone ruins.

It was a tough hike. It was one of our most challenging letterbox adventures, but perhaps our most rewarding? We persevered. We didn't give up. We found the stamp, a gorgeous picnic spot, the tree and stone ruin... as well as a part of the NC mountains that we want to go back and explore more!