Unemployed software engineer. "What is that?", you may ask. It's someone who has time to blog about the weather...
By: Bogon , 7:54 PM GMT on October 19, 2009
Well, I tried.
Mom needed help with moving unwieldy parcels and cleaning long-neglected corners, so I'm back in the mountains this week. On the way up I detoured via Banner Elk to visit the Woolly Worm Festival. I have uploaded a few pictures from the trip.
Alas, I arrived too late. By the time I got there the woolly worms had all gone home. Purveyors of souvenirs, handicrafts and funnel cakes were packing up and striking their tents. It's a long story, but (Trust me!) it's weather-related.
Yesterday (Sunday) morning I awoke to learn that a frost advisory had been posted for my area. For those of you who may reside far from eastern North America, I should explain that in my neck of the woods we have been experiencing an unusually early autumnal cold snap. Accuweather advertised snowfall in central Pennsylvania. The National Weather Service predicted snow in the southern Appalachians. Normally we wouldn't expect snow to enter the picture until after Thanksgiving (late November), even in the mountains. In October we look for some of the best weather of the year: warm, dry and sunny days with cool nights. We call it Indian Summer.
I had already decided to delay my departure one day because of the snow forecast. The Woolly Worm Festival is a two day event. I figured I could accomplish everything I wanted to do on the second day. In the interim I could evaluate the developing weather situation, because even a little snow can adversely affect driving conditions. Mountain roads are often steep, narrow and twisty, especially remote back roads. My route was going to take me well off the beaten track. For about thirty miles (fifty kilometers) the road past Boone through Banner Elk to Elk Park climbs in excess of 3,000 feet (a kilometer) elevation. I didn't want to risk an accident on a slick road, and I didn't want to get stuck somewhere in a motel.
By Saturday night it was clear that the snow was light and patchy, confined to lofty summits, and that it would be ending soon. In order to allow enough travel time I was going to need an early start. The late-breaking frost advisory sabotaged that. I spent a couple of hours moving houseplants inside from the back deck, and by then it was time for lunch. I figured I needed about three hours to drive to Banner Elk. The festival closes at 4:00 PM. It was going to be close.
I almost called it off. I had an hour between Burlington and Winston-Salem to make up my mind, before the road forked and I had to choose. Normally I would follow I-40 west by southwest to Asheville. That route is smooth and fast, and I've probably driven it a hundred times. The woolly worm way would actually be a bit shorter, but the unfamiliar back roads are winding and slow. The worst part is Boone, where you have no choice but to drive through town while contending with red lights and traffic. It's not a big town. It's mostly a personal problem: I'm not the sort who handles traffic congestion with equanimity. There are signs on a section of road near Wilkesboro proclaiming it the "Junior Johnson Highway". I like that.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The thing that tipped the scales was the advice of a friend. When I told her I was thinking of going to the Woolly Worm Festival, and that I really couldn't think of a good reason why I should do such a silly thing, she said something like, "Once in a while you need to let your fancy run free. Sometimes it's important." Okay, sez I, follow your bliss. My bliss led me straight on westward.
When I left Burlington the trees were green and the skies were cloudy. By the time I reached Yadkinville the sun was beginning to sift through rifts in the overcast. Patches of blue sky beckoned me onward. I began to spot red leaves of dogwood among the green.
It wasn't until after I had ascended the plateau near Boone that widespread signs of autumn appeared. At that altitude most of the trees wore bronze or russet. That was also where I began to see hoary white peaks gleaming in the distance. Ahead on the left stood the jagged profile of Grandfather Mountain, one of the most distinctive landmarks in the state. My route took me directly beneath the western face of old Grandfather. Where the road crests the Continental Divide it was time to take the turn for Banner Elk.
It was about 3:45. I arrived in Banner Elk just as everyone else was leaving. I couldn't blame them. Two days is a long time to party. It was windy and cold, and as the sun sank the chill was getting worse. I took a turn around the festival grounds to see what I had missed, then joined the exodus, still headed west.
Thus the journey became the destination. The good news is that I avoided the rush and saved myself a $5 admission fee. The sad part is that the ever elusive woolly worm continues to evade my grasp.
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