Road Report #18 – North Carolina

On Friday, April 13th, I pushed off from Clayton, GA to start making my way to Asheville, NC.  Before getting to North Carolina, though, I was going to make one more stop in northwestern South Carolina for more sheep herding.

Along the way, Roo and I stopped to check out Toccoa Falls, GA.

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Toccoa Falls, GA

That afternoon I arrived at Red Creek Farm outside of Townville, SC, owned and operated by Carol Anne Bailey, the daughter of Mr. Hubert Bailey, who Roo and I had just done some sheep herding in Dawsonville, GA.

Roo and I had our sheep herding lesson that afternoon and then set up camp on the farm and watched as Carol Anne and friends prepared for sheep herding demos they would lead at the local Tractor and Car Show the following day.

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Carol Anne and Brian prepping for a herding demo as the sunsets at Red Creek Farm.

I loved hanging out on the farm.  It’s a wonderful menagerie including sheep, herding dogs, guard dogs, chickens, a pig, cats, peacocks and Turk, the tame wild turkey.   Turk is hilarious.  She has a TON of personality.    There are two peacocks on the farm and the alpha peacock has claimed all of the peahens for himself so the other peacock has decided that Turk is his lady and follows Turk everywhere, much to her disgust.  She’s very curious and friendly and likes to hang out with people and dogs, perhaps to get some buffer from the attentions of her peacock suitor.

 

On Saturday, April 14th, we headed down the road to the local Tractor and Car Show, a fundraiser for the local fire department.  I watched as Carol Anne and team put on herding demos with the dogs and ducks and sheep.

Here is Brian during one of the demos.  FYI, each dog is trained to a unique set of whistles.  That’s how he’s able to give commands to multiple dogs during the same session.

 

Between demos we walked around and checked out the very cool collection of old tractors and cars.

 

I really enjoyed hanging out with everyone and taking in the scene at the show.  Carol Anne and crew are just the nicest bunch of folks.   I reluctantly pushed off that Saturday afternoon to make my way towards Asheville, NC.

I headed north and the drive got a little crazy as the road wound up into the mountains through National Forest land.   Brevard, NC  was my next stop,  a super cute little town, set in the mountains of western North Carolina.  Brevard is a mecca for outdoor activities, music and art.  After strolling around downtown Brevard and grabbing a bite for dinner, Roo and I headed to Davidson River Campground in the Pisgah National Forest, just outside of Brevard, for an evening hike and a night of camping.

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Hiking along the Davidson River in Pisgah National Forest outside of Brevard, NC.

Sunday, April 15th, after packing up camp, Roo and I got on the road and drove into Asheville, NC.   I was excited to finally be rolling into Asheville.  EVERYONE I had met along the way had told me how much I’d like Asheville.

As I drove around, getting the lay of the land, on first impressions I was reminded of old Seattle.  A little gritty and industrial in parts; scruffy, fit, outdoorsy folks roaming around; brew pubs galore; good restaurants and little coffee shops easily found.  The city exudes a laid back and liberal vibe.  Geographically it’s quite hilly and deep gullies run through some neighborhoods.   Little craftsman style cottages line winding streets and perch on the rims of the ravines.   Like Seattle, Asheville’s become very popular and everyone in town I talked to was struggling with the rapid growth, rising real estate prices, increasing traffic congestion.

I gravitated towards the River Arts District,  an area of old brick industrial buildings along the river area taken over by artists.  The Grey Eagle Taqueria caught my eye and I popped in for lunch and found that I landed at a staple of the Asheville music scene.

From the RAD district, I wandered over to West Asheville and found a hip little main drag lined with coffee shops and restaurants and bars.

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Roo enjoying one of the many funky murals to be found in Asheville.
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Roo thinks West Asheville rocks!

I arrived at my AWESOME Airbnb later that afternoon.  Miriam and Jake were my hosts and they were amazing.   The property was tucked away down a gravel road and they had built the house themselves using almost all recycled and reused materials.  Roo loved roaming their property and got along with their dog, Stinky, just fine.

Monday,  April 16th,  the first task of the day was to drop off Greta at Westy Motorwerks. Greta had been making an awful knocking noise periodically and the brakes were feeling a little off.  Fortunately Asheville is VW van territory and I had excellent resources at hand.

I picked up a rental car and set out to explore Asheville over the next few days.  Weather was nuts!  That Monday was bitterly cold and it actually snowed.  It was just plain uncomfortable to be outside which gave me a  good excuse to hunker down and warm up with good coffee and food. (Not that I need an excuse.)

 

West Asheville became my go to neighborhood.  Morning’s started with a latte and bagel at  Izzy’s Coffee Den.   Gan Shan West, with really good Asian fusion, was my go to for a warm bowl of ramen or dumplings.  Asian fusion isn’t so easy to find on the road so I was taking advantage while I could!

The weather took a dramatic turn on Wednesday, April 18th and temperatures were already in the 70’s before noon.   Roo and I started the day by checking out the Biltmore Estate.   WOW!  Built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800’s, it’s the largest privately owned house in the US at 178,926 square feet and the estate is a whopping 7,000 acres.   The entry fee of $65 is a little shocking but if you are ever in the Asheville area, it’s worth a visit.

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Biltmore House – stupid big.
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Visiting the Walled Garden on the Biltmore Estate.
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The Italian Garden at the Biltmore.
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Looking out over a portion of the estate from the Biltmore House.

From the Biltmore Estate, Roo and I drove back south, down to Brevard area again, to meet up with Mr. Dwight Parker for more sheep herding. (Yea, I’m addicted.)

Mr. Parker has a farm with sheep and cattle tucked up in the hills outside of Brevard.  These were the feistiest cattle I had ever seen.  They were running around in the pastures, chasing the sheep.  Spring fever, I guess.

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Cattle at the Parker farm.  Feisty!

It was a great herding lesson.  We focused on trying to teach me how to ‘bend’ Roo away from me and the sheep.  Roo’s been trained to come towards me when I’m giving her commands so this was difficult for both her and me.  Once she settled down and I got relaxed enough to give her some space to work, she did really well.

Thursday, April 19th, Roo and I strolled through the the Montford Historic District  to admire the beautiful big old houses and wonderful gardens.  Dogwoods, cherry trees, daffodils, tulips, etc were putting on a show and the neighborhood was infused with the scent of blooming viburnums and lilacs.

That afternoon, I picked up Greta from the Westy Motorwerks.  After some work on her rear axles and a replaced master brake cylinder she was road ready again!  Thank you Wes, Nathan and Zack!

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Friday, April 20th, I set off north from Asheville and on a tip, stopped at a tiny mountain town on a river that I may need to call home in the future.  It was awesome.  I can’t tell you the name out of respect for the person who gave me the tip and wants this place to remain off the radar as long as possible but I’ll share a photo from the brew pub’s deck.

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From the tiny mountain town on the river that will remain nameless I pushed on to Hot Springs, NC, another beautiful tiny mountain town on a river.

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I checked into the Hot Springs Resort for a soak and massage and then got settled into the riverside campground.

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Hot Springs, NC – riverside campground off to the right.

 

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View from my hot tub at the resort.

Roo and I wandered into town after setting up camp and walked around admiring the old houses built of stone.

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Old rock house and bridge in Hot Springs, NC.

 

The Appalachian Trail literally crosses right through town and the town provides services to the thousands of hikers that attempt the trail each year.  It’s a fun scene in town with people swapping travel and hiking tales over beers at the local pub or over breakfast at the cafe.  I found myself checking out real estate and fantasizing about running a bakery/coffee shop to fuel the hordes of hungry hikers.  Hmmm…

Saturday, April 21st I set off south from Hot Springs along route 209.  The road wound up and down through the mountains, periodically running parallel with the burbling clear waters of Spring Creek, and through these incredibly beautiful farmland valleys, dotted with old wooden barns.

My target destination was Cataloochee Campground in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The narrow, windy, gravel 11 mile long approach road was a bit intense at times but it was worth the effort and Greta tackled it like a champ.

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View of the Smoky Mountains on the way to Cataloochee Campground.

The Cataloochee Valley, surrounded by 6,000 foot peaks, is absolutely beautiful.  When the park service took over the area in the 1920’s, the valley was home to approximately 1,200 people and the park service has worked to preserve buildings from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Walking around and checking out the old structures, sort of felt like stepping back in time.

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The park is a great place to see wildlife.  The elk are not shy!

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This guy came running through the campground during cocktail hour.

Roo and I had a great time at Cataloochee campground.  It was a really friendly scene, with folks walking around, chatting each other up, swapping travel stories.

FYI – This is what dinner time generally looks like in Greta lately.  Triscuits, summer sausage, horseradish cheddar cheese and sweet gherkins with a Manhattan side. The pickles count as my vegetable, yes?

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Sunday, April 22nd, I set off from Cataloochee Campground towards Cosby Campground. The drive was INTENSE.  28 miles mostly on steep, narrow windy, gravel roads.   April was proving to be a great time to visit.  Trees hadn’t fully leafed out yet and I had views of the valleys and mountains.  I couldn’t get over the variety of wildflowers lining the road and kept stopping to jump out and snap pics.

At about the 16 mile mark, the road drops down into Big Creek and I took a break from the drive at the country store.   The woman at the store couldn’t have been nicer.  She brewed me a fresh cup of coffee and she invited Roo in for a visit.  Love that southern hospitality!

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Roo wasn’t sure what to make of the mounted black bear at the country store.

From Big Creek, I pushed along the crazy windy steep road and finally arrived at Cosby Campground where I intended to spend the night.   As I set up camp I discovered that something had come loose during the drive and I had developed an electrical issue and had no power connection to the auxiliary batteries which power the refrigerator and furnace when the van isn’t running.  After an hour of tracing through electrical connections, trying to find the root cause, I was still at a loss.  Out of cell phone range and unwilling to run the risk of waking up in the morning to find the van wouldn’t start, I headed back towards Asheville, back into cell phone range.

Fortunately for me, my mechanic in Seattle was kind enough to answer my call on a Sunday and helped me identify the root cause of the problem.  A quick run to an auto parts store and a replacement of a broken battery cable and all was right again.

By now, rain had started and I wasn’t feeling up to retracing my steps back into the national park so I found a campground near Asheville with hot showers (heaven) and settled in for the night.

And that bring us to today, April 23rd.  Ha! I’ve finally caught up on blog posts! Roo and I woke to pouring rain so we’re taking it easy today.   I’m back at Izzy’s Coffee Den in West Asheville enjoying lattes as I type this.  We’ll push on to Cumberland Gap this afternoon and then onto Charlottesville, VA and Monticello and Shenandoah National Park later this week.  That is, if Greta stays healthy.  Fingers crossed.  Stay tuned.

 

 

One thought on “Road Report #18 – North Carolina”

  1. Ahhhh, Asheville. My favorite town during my time at USC. In fact I was already thinking of setteling down there for a while….. but things turned out differently. I visited the Biltmore Estate twice. Once with a close friend at december 31th with music and fireworks….. just awesome.

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