Asheville Greenways – present and future

Sulphur Springs

Today’s Carolina Mountain Club hike was billed as an almost flat, almost seven-mile hike. It barely seemed worthwhile to put on your hiking boots. But it promised a walk through current and future greenways. I was curious, so I put on my boots – low boots.

Marcia Bromberg, former CMC president, is very active in Friends of Connect Buncombe, the Buncombe County Greenway movement. Unlike hiking trails, greenways connect people to places they might want to walk or bike to. In Buncombe County, at least, the goal is to pave greenways, allowing more people to use them. They have a long way to go.

We started our walk in front of the remains of Sulphur Springs. What was a tourist attraction in the 19th century is now just a concrete pavilion around the well. The pictures may look unexciting and brown but we’re in the January thaw.

Opposite there’s a right-of-way through a private tract owned by the Myrtle Vrabel Estate. Vrabel, who died in 2007, owned a tract of land which is still laying dormant through Canie Creek ten years later.

Brother Hug and Marcia

I learned all of this from Doug Barlow, known as Brother Hug, a community organizer in the Canie Creek area.

He and other activists are working to get Riverlink, a conservancy, to buy the land from the estate, so it can be preserved and saved from development. To my untrained eyes, the land in a floodplain can’t be worth very much.

We walked through the Hominy Creek Greenway, which is an official greenway with maps and plans. It even has a beach – see the photo above dubbed the West Asheville beach.

Then to Carrier park and the French Broad River Park. The Asheville Camino used some of the same route, though of course, the Camino hike is over sixteen miles.

But honestly, it was difficult to figure out where one greenway or proposed greenway started and another ended. Buncombe County has approved a master plan for greenways, so this is a big, big important step in the future of greenways in our area.

In the meantime, we can study the greenway map, support the Friends group and most importantly walk or bike the greenway.

Thanks to Marcia and Brother Hug for leading the hike and making the Buncombe Greenways come alive.

Camino Meetings – Of rocks and shells

On Monday, I went to the monthly Asheville REI meetings of the American Pilgrims on the Camino. At this point, I don’t go to these meetings to learn more practical stuff – though I always do. I go for camaraderie, support and plain entertainment. Mark Cobb, the evening’s moderator, said that there are now over forty American Pilgrims chapters, a far cry from when these meetings started.

Karen and Dan

Karen and Dan presented their trip from Porto, Portugal to Santiago, along with another couple that didn’t want to be part of this blog. Starting from a picturesque fishing village, Karen and Dan walked 140 miles to reach Santiago and get their Compostela. You need to prove that you’ve walked at least 100K (60 miles) to get your certificate. To do that, you need two stamps per day, along the way. You get stamps at your lodging, bars and even churches.

Their slide presentation showed a compilation of farmland, stacked hay, and grapes ready to be harvested. They also talked about the reality of walking every day, such as sore feet that needed Compeed and long lines at the albergues (hostels).

Their beautiful food photos showed only fish, bread, and baked goodies. Where were the fruit, vegetables, and even grain? I need to get those from grocery stores because restaurant and snack bars aren’t going to offer anything fresh. In these small towns, fresh fruit and vegetables are the luxury items since there isn’t much traffic.

On the Camino

Karen and Dan took a rock from home and carried it to Santiago. They also put a shell on their backpacks. Supposedly, leaving a rock behind is symbolic of leaving a marriage, a job, a burden that you’ve been carrying. The shell is for keeping something (I’m not quite sure what) close to you.

This presentation made me wonder about pilgrims in the Middle Ages. What did they wear? What did they eat? Were there women pilgrims? It’s time for me to do some research.

Exploring Molokai with Doreen

In the early 1990s, Paul Theroux wrote The Happy Isles of Oceania about paddling the Pacific islands. I found it a seminal book. I had just come back from working in New Zealand and had kept a good diary. For the first time, I understood modern travel memoirs. Maybe I too could attempt to write in that genre. Hah, Hah!

Everywhere that Theroux went, the locals asked
“Where is your wife?” She had recently left him.

In this regard, things haven’t changed much. Polynesians have large extended families. I was also asked,

“Are you traveling alone? How brave!” This is the United States, I felt like replying, but I accepted their compliments.

I came to Molokai, a small Hawaiian island between Oahu and Maui, to see Kalaupapa National Historical Park which I did on the first day. Details later.

Now I’m seeing the rest of the island with Doreen, my local guide, driver, and soon, friend. Doreen, who was born and bred in Molokai, can talk. Her life is like a soap opera. I learned about her children in detail, her cousins, and her friends.

We visited two churches built by Father Damien, a Catholic priest from Belgium, who came to Molokai to work at the remote Kalaupapa leper colony.

On the way, we spotted several nenes in a field. Nenes, the Hawaiian goose is said to be endangered. In Volcanoes National Park, we saw many signs for nenes but no bird. My granddaughters kept giggling that nene means “breast” in Chinese.

Then the tour really began.

I had casually mentioned that I was curious about the taro fields mentioned on the Molokai map.

“You want to learn about taro?” Doreen asked. “I can take you to someone who really knows taro.” And we were off to the extreme east end of the small island in the Halawa valley. By now, the road was down to one lane and the driver has to honk her horn to come around a curve. We saw few cars in the Halawa valley.

We parked and walked a path, clearly marked “private.”

“Doreen,” I said. “I’ll follow you anywhere on this island until I see dogs.” Sure enough, we did but they were tied up.

“Pilipo,” she kept yelling. “I really want you to meet Pilipo.”

Pilipo Solatorio in Halewa

She found his house and Pilipo Solatorio, a handsome 78-year old man, dressed in a colorful sarong over surfing shorts.

Pilipo grew up in the Halawa Valley, had a conventional career with various island resorts. Now he and his family run a cultural hike and tour of the valley.

“I was chosen to keep the family culture,” Pilipo said. He shows us newspaper clippings of various happenings on the island, including the life-changing 1946 tsunami that moved houses and cleared the valley of trees.

Pilipo tends several taro fields. He explains that the taro leaf is called luau.

“Taro is like a woman. What does the leaf look like?” He asks.

“A vagina?” That was the wrong answer.

Halawa Valley

“A heart.” Pilipo said. “It’s connected to a long stem like an umbilical cord to the young root, the baby.”

We walked down to his taro patch. He takes off his sandals to wade in the mud and pulls out a taro. He cuts off a chunk with a sharp knife.

“My youngest son came back from Honolulu to learn and keep the family culture.” He now leads visitors through the valley to the waterfall.

“Is he married?” I asked.

“Yes. His wife is still in Honolulu. She has an important job. I don’t know if she’d want to live here.”

It’s tricky. Women don’t follow their husbands anymore. How can his son balance his duty to his ancestors with his duty to his spouse and nuclear family?

Doreen and I took off to the western end of the island, the more “touristy” end. Nothing is touristy in Molokai; it only has 7,000 people. No chain restaurants, motels, not even a McDonald.

How do you find Doreen?

Doreen works for Molokai Day Tours. If the website doesn’t specifically mention Halawa, ask for it and for Doreen. Be flexible, be adventurous, and enjoy.