Saturday night the weather took a turn for the worse. Sometime in the middle of the night the rain began to fall. Let me tell you, thereís nothing like bringing a wet dog into the tent. The rain had stopped by Sunday morning, but it was still foggy. We decided not to hike up to Blackstack Cliffs. The weather didnít look like it would improve, and Bob and Christy were nursing sore knees. Instead, we decided to do an easy valley hike along Big Laurel Creek.

We left the trailhead at Hurricane and followed an old railroad grade downstream. Along the way, we passed numerous rapids and more swimming holes than I could count. In many places, the sheer walls of the gorge dropped straight down to the water below. We saw all kinds of fall wildflowers, and the ground was covered with buckeyes.

Even better was the wildlife. We saw 2 snakes. One slithered right towards my feet, which inspired me to invent a high-stepping dance reminiscent of a German polka. This was apparently quite entertaining for everyone else. We also saw a box turtle, several wooly worms, some millipedes, a snail, and a newt. The best though, came as a huge surprise. We were in the depths of the gorge when I heard Christy and Laura shout, "Bear!" I heard the bruin crashing through the woods as it fled up the hill on the far side of the river. However, only Christy, Laura, and Saucony were lucky enough to see it before it disappeared.

We arrived at the French Broad River in time for lunch. We relaxed at an ideal fishing spot and watched 2 Great Blue Herons search for trout. Afterwards, we took a slightly different route back. We hiked up the railroad tracks a short ways, and then followed a faint path into the woods. We followed this to the remains of the old sawmill town of Runion. We took a few minutes to explore the old buildings and a bluff towering over the river.

The return hike was uneventful but pleasant. A brief shower had struck before lunch, but the sun was out that afternoon. The humidity was so bad that the swimming holes were looking better at every turn. We all refrained though, except for Saucony. She exhausted herself swimming after sticks.

This has always been one of my favorite hikes, and it didnít disappoint us today. We got in 7 miles, though the flat grade made it seem like less.

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