Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 7 – movie marathon

It was supposed to rain on our last day of our trip to South Carolina. Our plan was to spend the day inside playing games and watching movies. It took us all day, but we managed to finish all of the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is close to 12 hours of content.

We also got everything packed up so we could make an early start the next day. With some careful planning, we were able to make it from Pickens, SC to Tampa with just two stops to charge the car and were home in the early evening. This was a delightful trip. We’ll definitely consider doing something like it again.

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 6 – Table Rock

We saved our longest hike for last. Perhaps the most well-known and scenic hike in the area near our cabin is Table Rock Trail. This leads to the top of a mountain and then, just past the summit, to a beautiful overlook. Despite the trail being well-worn and marked with red blazes, we actually lost the trail twice on the way up and had to backtrack a little bit each time to find the main trail (marked in the map below). The hike is a good one with some pretty rugged, steep terrain at times.

The view from the overlook is quite impressive:

Per my watch, the hike was 6.79 miles round trip with 2,439 feet of elevation gain. With a stop at the overlook of about 30 minutes to eat some fruit and snacks, it took us just under 4 hours.

Toren ended up doing an advert for Nature Valley on the overlook:

Here are a few videos from the hike:

This is one of the small waterfalls you pass early on the hike.
This is another small waterfall right at the beginning of the hike.

We headed back to the cabin and continued our movie marathon, finishing The Hobbit series and beginning The Lord of the Rings series, each of which is almost 4 hours long. We only got through part of the first one but were committed to finish them during our South Carolina trip.

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 5 – Falls Creek Waterfalls

Our friends left early in the morning so it was just the three of us again. We opted for a hike to another waterfall – Falls Creek Waterfalls. It’s not the best name, but the waterfalls were, again, quite beautiful. Some of the trip reports for this hike suggested the trail was quite steep and challenging. That is an accurate portrayal of parts of the trail. If you’re not in good shape and willing to traverse some rugged and steep terrain, you shouldn’t attempt this trail. Even so, most of the trail was of an easy grade.

Here’s the route:

The round trip distance was 2.46 miles with 1,114 feet of elevation gain.

Here is a video of the upper falls:

Here’s a photosphere of the upper falls:

And here’s a photosphere of the lower falls:

Even though this hike was a decent workout, the hike was relatively short. We decided as a result to stop by a roadside hike on our way back to the cabin, the Wildcat Wayside Nature Trail. Meh. Probably a mistake. There is a cute little waterfall right by the side of the road maybe 50 feet from where you park. There were kids playing here as there is a nice, shallow pool below the waterfall. But this was the most scenic element of the hike. We ended up following the roughly 1-mile nature trail. It was fine. It eventually reaches a cliff face that had a trickle of water coming down it. Perhaps during a rainstorm there would be a decent volume of water coming down the cliff face making another waterfall. But it really was a trickle dripping down into a small puddle and about half a dozen young kids were playing in that puddle. The trail is pretty level and not at all rugged except for one spot where you have to work your way over some roots. So, if you’re looking for a nice, easy trail, this is the one for you.

After our hike, we headed back to the cabin, cleaned up, had a nice lunch, then began what would turn into a fairly epic movie marathon. We watched the first two movies in The Hobbit series. I have extended versions of all of these, so each movie is at least three hours long. We got through two of them the first day we started it, with a good game in between them.

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 4 – Rainbow Falls

Following the same pattern, we got up fairly early to do another hike – Rainbow Falls. This one was in the Jones Gap State Park, which does require a $6 parking fee per person (kids and seniors are less). The hike was to Rainbow Falls. Here’s the route:

Per my watch, the route was 5.01 miles round trip with just under 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s a fairly rugged trail at times but quite a pleasant hike and the waterfalls at the top were very pretty. Here is a photosphere showing the falls:

We didn’t stay very long because the forecast called for rain in the early afternoon. We got a little sprinkle on our way down but it was quite light.

Here are a couple videos of the falls:

These are the upper falls at Rainbow Falls.
One of the lower falls at Rainbow Falls in Jones Gap State Park.

The bottom part of the trail is the main trail in Jones Gap State Park, which follows a very scenic river:

After the hike, we headed back to the cabin, cleaned up, and then followed your daily routine – eat, play games, and relax. We ended the night with Deadpool 2!

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 3 – Twin Falls Trail

With our friends from North Carolina joining us, we headed out for our second hike – Twin Falls Trail on Reedy Cove Creek. This one was a little weird as it isn’t part of a state park, so the parking for the beginning of the trail was really just a pull out on the side of a road with room for about 3 cars is all.

The trail was pretty well-maintained and included some nice elevation gain, which was great coming from Florida where the only elevation gain we have involves stairs and buildings! The trail ends at the upper falls of a two-stage set of waterfalls. The upper falls aren’t very large but they are elongated and quite beautiful. Here are some videos of the upper falls:

The upper falls on Twin Falls Trail
The upper falls in slow motion

Just below these is the main waterfall, which is probably 70 to 100 feet tall. We were able to very careful work our way to the top and sit there and enjoy the view while we had a snack. Getting to the top of the falls where we were is a bit treacherous and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who isn’t sure-footed. A small slip and you’d be in trouble quickly there.

While we were at the top of the falls we saw people at the bottom who were swimming in the pool. We thought it might be nice to see the falls from the bottom and even tried a side trail off the one we had followed but it didn’t lead to the bottom of the falls. I marked that on the map. I spent some time bushwacking off that side trail to see if I could connect to the other trail but ran into two creeks and actually fell into one. It wasn’t easy hiking and I didn’t want to make everyone else have to work their way through brush, so we ended up just heading out. Here’s the hike:

The hike was about 3 miles and took us about 2 hours, but with a solid 30 minutes or so enjoying the views at the top (and another 20 minutes wandering off the trail). The total elevation gain was about 1,000 feet.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing and playing games. Just before bed, we decided to watch a movie. The choice we came to was Deadpool, which is always fun!

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 2 – Raven Rock Loop Trail

The plan was to do a hike every morning while it was cooler, then head back to the cabin and relax, playing games, watching movies, cooking, and chatting. We also had some friends who live in North Carolina who were going to visit for a couple of days.

Our first hike was the Raven Rock Loop Trail, which is a nice ~4 mile hike that extends the Keowee-Toxaway Natural Bridge trail to Lake Keowee. There are some small waterfalls on the Natural Bridge trail. Past that, it’s a nice hike up and down some hills and down to the lake, but no additional waterfalls. Here’s our route:

Here is a short clip of the waterfall:

And another short clip of the bubbling little brook:

Our total distance on the hike was 4.53 miles and it took us just over 2 hours.

After the hike, we headed back to the cabin, got cleaned up, then made a list of food. I headed into the nearest town to buy the food while Debi and Toren got everything ready for our friend and her kids. I arrived back at the cabin just before they did. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening chatting, playing games, and cooking.

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 1

Since March 2020, we have been cooped up pretty consistently thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have gone out to shop and exercise, but that’s about it. After nearly 5 months of hardly leaving the house, we were getting a little antsy. We eventually came up with a trip that we thought would work well given the current situation and the emphasis on physical distancing – a road trip to the mountainous region of South Carolina where we could go hiking and still stay physically distanced from people.

We found an amazing cabin (really a home) in Pickens that wasn’t all that expensive to rent for a week on AirBnB and I spent a few days looking at hikes in the nearby area. We also spent some time thinking about what we wanted to eat, what else we were going to do, and the trip itself.

August 7th

We left Tampa fairly early on the 7th. Since we drove my Tesla, we had to map out superchargers to make it to the cabin but it worked out well. We traveled from Tampa to Jacksonville and hugged the coast to avoid Atlanta, which has the worst traffic. We ended up stopping three times to charge, though we could have made it with just two stops. We had lunch during one of the stops. We arrived around 6:30 pm and brought enough food that we were able to get settled in the cabin and make dinner, then go to bed.

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Europe Trip – Barcelona (Day 10)

This was the last day of our Europe trip. We enjoyed one last breakfast on the cruise ship before disembarking. We went straight from the cruise ship to a guided tour of Barcelona, visiting two sites we had not visited at the beginning of the trip: Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia.

Our guide drove us to Park Güell where we spent a little over an hour exploring the park. Debi was particularly impressed by the Modernist architecture and design of Gaudí that incorporated so many elements of nature and tried to blend in with nature, like this tunnel designed to look like a wave:

Toren surfing a Gaudí wave at Park Güell.

Pretty much everywhere you looked there was something amazing to see with stunning attention to detail.

Toren and Debi at Park Güell.

I shot a photosphere in Park Güell but it doesn’t really do the park justice:

After Park Güell, we headed to La Sagrada Familia, the famed, unfinished, Modernist church of Antoni Gaudí. A friend had recently visited Barcelona and told me that she was overwhelmed by La Sagrada Familia when she first saw it. Having visited lots of churches, mosques, and synagogues, I was skeptical that I would have the same experience, but rounding the corner the first time I was close to it, I was genuinely impressed. The soaring towers and the contrast with the surrounding city are stunning:

The two finished facades were both fascinating to explore. I could have spent a lot more time just taking in all of the architectural details:

Debi and Toren in front of La Sagrada Familia.

But the exterior facades were nothing compared to the interior. Walking inside for the first time and seeing the soaring, vaulted ceilings with the amazing pillars and supports was breathtaking. Perhaps the most beautiful building I had seen previously, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, paled in comparison to the brilliance of La Sagrada Familia. Everywhere you looked there was something fascinating to see. The colors, the shapes, the design, all were truly marvelous. I’d love to spend an entire day inside the building watching the colors shift and exploring every detail.

Alas, we didn’t have all day, just about 30 minutes inside the church. Even so, I did my best to capture some of the amazing views:

The stained glass windows on one side of La Sagrada Familia

I’d really need years of additional photography training, hours of time, and probably better camera equipment to do this place justice. It was a moving experience to see this masterpiece of design.

After La Sagrada Familia, our guide drove us to the AirBnB we were staying in and helped us get checked in (some minor complications, but it worked out). We were outside of the main tourist area in some very nice apartments. As a result, we got off the beaten path a little and found a nice restaurant that served tapas:

Enjoying tapas in Barcelona!

Since we had skipped lunch, our tapas meal was like an early dinner. Some of the family had a very early departure the next morning to catch their flights home. Others had a somewhat later departure. Even so, we decided to walk down to the Gaudí buildings we had missed and spend a little more time enjoying Barcelona. We ended up stopping for smoothies and a hot chocolate that was like drinking chocolate sauce you’d put on ice cream it was so thick and rich. On our way back to the apartments, people were starting to set off fireworks as it was the night of a major festival in Barcelona, the festival of Sant Joan (Bonfires of Saint John) that celebrates the summer solstice. We also happened by a churro shop and stopped to enjoy Nutella-filled churros as our last meal in Barcelona:

Toren enjoying a Nutella-filled churro in Barcelona.

Finally, on our way back to our apartment, Toren was jumping posts, something he loved doing all over Barcelona.

Wrapping up: I would definitely like to travel to Rome, Cinque Terre, and the Amalfi Coast again with more time in each location to really appreciate them. I could also see myself vacationing in Barcelona when I just want a place to get away and relax. It was a busy vacation but we got to see and do quite a bit and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Europe Trip – Sea Day (Day 9)

Our last day on the cruise ship was filled with activities on the ship as we didn’t have a port of call. We enjoyed a nice breakfast in the dining room then most of us went swimming. I took along a fantasy novel that I spent quite a bit of time reading. Debi went to the spa for a free session, which turned into a sales pitch for pseudo-science spa treatments.

At one point there was a call for participants in a belly flop contest. The announcer seemed to suggest that no one had signed up, so I went over to sign up. It turns out, there were 5 other people who had signed up, all of them rather large individuals (i.e., upwards of 220 pounds). I looked tiny compared to them, but I had a secret weapon: I can jump. Most of the guys had large bellies, but one was a big guy (6′ 3″) from South African who was ripped. I was the last contestant and managed to get some air and slap the pool very hard. It stung for about a minute but the red helped me win votes. I ended up taking second place behind the South African!

We also went to another diving show in the afternoon and several people went ice skating. We ended the evening with a family-friendly comedy show by the same comedian I had seen a couple of nights earlier.

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Europe Trip – Amalfi Coast and Pompeii (Day 8)

Our fifth port of call was Naples. However, we didn’t actually spend any time in Naples. Instead, we took a bus through Sorrento to the small town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. We stopped briefly to get some photos of Sorrento before continuing to Positano.

Debi and Toren with Sorrento in the background.

Positano was similar to the other villages in Cinque Terre, but the mountains here were even more rugged. Positano was also substantially larger than most of those towns, though Monterroso del Mar may have been similarly sized. It was really picturesque, with a beautiful waterfront and colorful houses working their way up to the cliffs.

Our tour bus parked in about the middle of the village in terms of elevation – about halfway between the cliffs and the water. Debi, Toren, and I quickly made our way down to the water and walked along the waterfront, taking some fun photos along the way:

We walked from one end of the waterfront to the other, enjoying the views.

Debi and I on the waterfront in Positano.

As I had done in the towns in Cinque Terre, I thought it might be fun to see the city from higher up. This time, I convinced Debi and Toren to join me. We moved up the town pretty quickly as we were pressed for time, going from the very lowest point in elevation, the waterfront, to just below the cliffs in about 20 minutes. (An estimate via Google maps suggests the elevation just below the cliffs is about 130 meters; another website put it at around 150 meters; somewhere around 400 to 500 feet above sea level.) On the way, I snapped a photo of Debi and Toren crossing a bridge:

You can see we’re getting closer to the cliffs at this point.

We did make it to just below the cliffs, but were running out of time to get back to the bus, so I snapped a picture or two and then we headed back down. We actually got back to the bathroom with 10 minutes to spare, but the line was huge, so we ended up getting back to the bus late (the only time we were late) by about 5 minutes. Everyone but our guide was cool about it. Our guide seemed bothered, even though I was technically there on time and told him that Debi and Toren were in the bathroom and were coming as quickly as they could. Oh well, no one will remember that but me and I only remember it because our guide was annoying about it.

From Positano, we took the bus back to Sorrento where our guide gave us about an hour and a half to explore the city. We walked down to the cliff edge overlooking the bay and took in the view, then found a nice place for lunch where I split a Napolitano pizza (cheese and anchovies) with my brother-in-law. I also tried the local beverage, limoncello, that had a very high alcohol content level. We all enjoyed our meals, I think, and followed up lunch with a trip to a gelateria:

Debi enjoying her gnocchi in Sorrento.

We made our way back to the tour bus and then headed to Pompeii where we got an archaeological guide who took us through the ruins. As I’m keen to do, I walked by the guide most of the time and peppered him with questions: Why was Pompeii so diverse? (Answer: It was a prominent port.) Didn’t anyone survive the explosion? (Answer: Yes. Some were not in the town when the explosion occurred; others were able to run away, but most were not.) Where are all the items they discovered in the ruins? (Answer: Almost everything is in a museum in Naples. Very few artifacts remain in Pompeii proper.)

Our guide seemed informative if a little impatient. However, I checked on a few of the things he claimed after the trip and he wasn’t always accurate. For instance, he claimed that the word “spa” derives from the Latin, salus per aquam or “health through water.” A little digging illustrated that is a backronym and was not an acronym invented by the Romans (the word “spa” comes from a town in Belgium). He also claimed that the roads in Pompeii didn’t have sewers underneath because they were built on tough volcanic rock, so they made the roads into the sewers. I’m a little more skeptical of this claim now, but it was cool seeing the ruts in the roads made by ancient Roman wagons.

I’m sure it would be fun to walk through Pompeii slowly with an actual archaeologist rather than a pseudo-archaeologist tour guide. And, I think the ideal way to see Pompeii is really to go to the ruins and then go to the museum in Naples that houses all the artifacts. Even so, I’ve always been fascinated by Pompeii and it was nice to see the site in person.

We spent about an hour and a half in Pompeii and that wrapped up our tour for the day. We took a few minutes to get some drinks at the entrance of the site (lemon-flavored again, and very over-priced), then boarded the bus and headed back to the cruise ship.

Debi and Toren in the Forum at Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

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