We continued riding on these gravel roads. Contentedly.
And climbed higher. Stopping for a break and a photo op here and there.
The storm the day before had watered the gavel down really well. Everything was still moist, if not wet. My nose was inundated by moist earth and leaves. Debris scattered the roads here and there, several trees had blown down but were already cut and moved. A few mudholes appeared but nothing unnavigable. Best of all, dust was non-existent. This was the first day off-road I wasn't eating dust; I rode in the rear all the time, which I prefer to do. Then I can go at my own pace. It was only the last day off-road (Saturday) that my speed picked up; I wasn't in a hurry, I felt full of it (playful) for some reason.
Gravel roads snaked up mountain sides as if they were snake tracks in between giant trees. Occasionally a gap would present a view.
And then we rode the snake roads down. All through the week riding in these forests, I was amazed and enchanted by the dense stands of rhododendrons. Only in the Doug Fir forests of the Oregon mountains have I seen them so large and densely packed. They are easily distinguished by their large broad evergreen leaves, but clusters of their wonderful flowers were elusive. That day, we caught sight of a few, but they were difficult to photograph: either too deep in the forest, down or up a hillside, or way up high in the canopy. Finally Jack was able to bend one branch to his will, offering me an opportunity to capture their large flowers.
I love these forest roads. These back country roads here, and those in the desert, are really why I ride a bike. It's not the speed, the chase, or to see how many miles I can cover in a day. It is the ability and opportunity to immerse myself in the surroundings. To take the road or trail that is less traveled. To go where few wheels go. It's the stillness, the solitude, the remoteness and serenity, the pastoral and sublime. The only better way to traverse these trails is on a horse. And, in some respect, my two bikes are my horses.
Eventually we rode down near Citico Creek and Indian Boundary areas. These areas were once hunting grounds for Cherokees of the Overhill Towns. Many of the sites upon which those towns stood are now under water. Yet soon we would be riding on an old Cherokee trail, later used by the British and revolutionaries, the Unionists and Confederates, and now spinning wheels from all over the country.
Soon we would leave the forests and gravel for tarmac and history.