Forrest attempted to fix our lingering minor clutch problem by replacing the master/slave cylinder in the Jeep but, as he suspected, it didn’t fix the issue. Nevertheless, I headed up to Shenandoah National Park to hike Old Rag Mountain. Forrest stayed behind to nurse his calf and the Park Service forbids my fuzzy friend from joining me so I went alone.
The hike was pretty nice although it was really foggy. I was excited for the rock scramble that was supposed to be at the top which turned out to be fun (although the fog kept making me think it was over before it was). I really missed having F around for the scrambling part! I don’t mind hiking through the woods alone but it’s just not as fun to play on the rocks alone.
Back at the house, we all relaxed and watched The Motorcycle Diaries. It was a really good movie (“I knew you’d like it, it’s…complex…”). I did some more looking around for jobs while F planned our route to Pennsylvania.
Sprocket and I leaped out of bed and took a nice run back down the road. Forrest picked us up about halfway down the road and we all headed for Culpeper. We took some back roads through the countryside which were quite pretty. We found ourselves back at I-81 which we used to get to Buchanan, an access point to the Blue Ridge Parkway and a very cute little town.
Virginia was deemed our favorite part of the Blue Ridge–there were many more access points and the hills were more rugged. We had breakfast at Peaks of Otter, the restaurant was pretty cute with a nice view of a little pond and Sharp Top. The Parkway lead us to the southern end of Shenandoah. We decided to forgo driving the Skyline Drive as driving almost all of the Blue Ridge had satiated our need to drive the ridge tops.
From there we drive straight to Culpeper where Gwynn welcomed us all. We had thai for lunch and Forrest discovered that he actually DOES like thai food (“Just not thai soup.”) Back at Gwynn’s house we relaxed and watched Sprocket terrorize Brutus. I spent some time applying for jobs and F, Gwynn, and Steve watched “Avitar.”
This morning started with a nice leisurely breakfast with Chris before hitting the road bound for the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had a long coffee break at Doughton Park complete with yummy buttermilk biscuits (the cafe was really old complete with retro lunch counter in front of the grill). Leaving the cafe we were pretty excited to check out the music center but as has been typical of our Parkway experience it was closed. This left both of us feeling quite fed up with the park service (again).
A quick jaunt to the west on I-77 brought us to Pulaski (BFE). The first thing we saw driving into town was the home field of the Pulaski Mariners–the short season A-club for Seattle! This made my first order of business finding out whether they were in town. Sadly, their season won’t start until next week. Another bag of dog food and we were on our way to Virginia 730 and the lovely community of Eggleston. Further north, along highway 42, we crossed the Appalachian Trail where Sprocket and I took a short walk (F rested his calf) then we drove through Mayville. Just past the booming metropolis of Sinking Creek we spotted a turn off for a road into Jefferson National Forest. After the longest three miles ever there was a road to something knob (the sign was broken off) in 4 miles–we followed that over an even longer four rocky miles to our campsite for the night. When it’s really quiet we can hear the banjos.
After getting to bed at 2AM we were still up nice and early. F got up with Sprocket at 6:30(!) and I wasn’t too far behind. We relaxed with some coffee while waiting for the rest of the house to start moving. Sprocket was ecstatic to find that there were children to play with! He spazzed out with Olivia and Andrew before sleeping the rest of the morning.
The morning’s activities were quite simple: F and Chris discussed motorcycles, Chris and I engaged in a heated political discussion, I worked on the puzzle they had going, Baja was discussed some more, and Sprocket slept. Eventually, we all loaded up in the Sprinter van (Forrest and I are writing this from the back of the Cherokee and are dreaming of owning one…much more space, same gas mileage!) to drive to a friends house for a Mother’s Day BBQ. It was nice to just relax and have bacon (Forrest didn’t eat the dates it was wrapped around…he was interested in the idea of bacon ice cream though).
The next day we didn’t do much but somehow it took all day. We had so-so BBQ in High Point (the hush puppies were pretty good though!), got a part for my Jeep at the Napa DC, and bought some beer. Back at the house the boys all played with the big bobcat and ripped down some trees (“Big Lincoln logs!”). Forrest even found time to fix Andrews “Mammoth 90” mini Chinacycle. We made some yummy hamburgers, burned the giant pile of logs and went to bed.
Waking up, the trees were whipping around and Sprocket hardly got in a sniff and some water before we threw him back in the car to find a less tree debris laden area to get things packed up. We found a viewpoint and watched the clouds roll in. I started to recalculate a possible route if the weather didn’t improve–there isn’t much to do along the parkway if you can’t see the views! We drove up Mt. Mitchell in the fog–at 6,684′ it’s the highest point in North Carolina…and the highest one east of the Mississippi. It was foggy and cold so we just touched the top and ran right back to the car.
Once we got back down the mountain the fog was lifting and it actually turned into a beautiful day! Just as the road was getting really boring Little Switzerland popped up to give us a break. Although the Little Switzerland Cafe doesn’t open until 11, they poured us some coffee and let us check our maps. We decided to continue up the parkway for awhile but to bail and take US 221 if things got really boring.
We saw the North Carolina minerals museum and used their internet connection to research dirt tracks to catch a race. We took US 221 at Linville Falls after hiking out to the falls and traveled up to Linville before we got back on the Parkway to see the Linn Cove Viaduct, a 1,243′ viaduct that was completed in 1983 finally completing the whole Blue Ridge Parkway. We took the first possible exit after the Viaduct because we’d enjoyed going through the smaller towns. We followed 221 all the way up to Blowing Rock where I found some more free internet. I finally located a race track not too far from Chris’s house.
We got right back on the parkway and took it up to US 421, sometimes 45 MPH is the fastest way when you never have to stop for anything! We drove up through Winston-Salem where we made a brief stop at the Food Lion to buy some dinner before going to 311 Fastrack in Pine Hall. Forrest was very happy to go to a race! It was the “Carolina Clash” where the Carolina class circuit came to the 311…yeee haw! They were a lot of fun to watch, “very professional” Forrest noted. Chris and his son Andrew joined us just after the Carolina class qualifying was over. As fun as the big cars were to watch, I think the overall favorite class of the night were the “U”-cars: picture Geo Metros and Dodge Neons racing. Fabulous.
After the racing was over at midnight, we headed back to Chris’s house. We were rather in need of gas, our trip odometer was reading 421 but when we filled up we found that we’d gotten 24 MPG and weren’t even empty. Up and down mountains, cruising at 45MPH my jeep is a happy camper!
After the last bits of packing, we had coffee with Rick and Roxanne, gave Sprocket a bath, and hit the road. We headed up the Foothills Parkway towards Great Smoky Mountain National Park. When we stopped for gas in Townsend we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the park roads through Cades Cove were not closed for repaving as we had thought.
Having plenty of time to kill before arriving at Chris’s house in North Carolina, I convinced Forrest to drive the 11 mile loop road. I really enjoyed seeing the old cabins and fields. The Cable Mill grist mill was really cool–they still actually make corn meal there and sell it in the gift shop. After we (finally?) got out of Cades Cove we took the winding road up the river to the main entrance at Gatlinburg. We decided to check out Gatlinburg before heading up the mountain. Gatlinburg is a tourist trap to end all tourist traps–but it’s kind of a sight to see. We grabbed a loaf of bread and some chocolate milk and headed for the hills.
The road to Newfound Gap (5,084′) was pretty unremarkable. The view from the top was pretty but my visit to that parking lot was made by the older couple who walked up to congratulate us on keeping our Cherokee in such nice shape. We did cross into North Carolina though, another new state for me! Cruising down the other side of the mountain, we found the entrance to the 469 mile Blue Ridge Parkway. We cruised along the parkway and stopped to hike Waterrock Knob and pick up a map at it’s visitors center. After that, we kept on rolling up towards Mt. Pisgah.
The parkway was closed due to a rock slide just north of Mt. Pisgah, so we took North Carolina 151 out towards Asheville. In Asheville, we found some internet and decided to hit up the Wedge Brewing Co. It was this fantastically funky brewery with some pretty darn good beer. We had their Iron Rail IPA and Payne’s Pale Ale. Both were quite good and we enjoyed hanging out on the patio and making friends with the locals!
After our beers we headed back towards the parkway and camped out just north of US 70.
Forrest left me to douse the fire and read Ghost Rider while he went for a real ride. Sprocket and I pretty much took the day easy as I couldn’t drag him out of the cool cabin and I couldn’t put down the book.
Forrest went riding with Rick and friends. “It was fun. It was 160 miles of dirt all mixed up.” In the evening, Roxanne made a fabulous BBQ dinner with pasta salad, chicken, and corn on the cob. Everything was fantastic! Forrest and I headed back up to the cabin later and packed the jeep to move on to the Blue Ridge Parkway!
Sweetwater IPA (Atlanta, Georgia): We were pretty impressed with Sweetwater’s 420 and the IPA did not disappoint!
Highland Brewing Co. Black Mountain Bitter (Asheville, North Carolina): We found this pretty thin and not too amazing for a pale ale.
Cottonwood Brewing Endo IPA (Mooresville, North Carolina): It was pretty unremarkable. Once I looked up their website and found that Cottonwood had been bought out by Carolina Brewing I had to wonder if it had once been good… Yazoo Brewing Pale Ale (Nashville, Tennessee): Drinkable. Nothing special. The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery’s Milk Stout (Farmville, North Carolina): Milk stout is a unique drink. I wonder how much my opinion of Left Hand’s milk stout was affected by it being on nitro? Terrapin Beer’s India Style Brown Ale [apparently now known as Hop Karma IPA] (Athens, Georgia): Honestly, I don’t remember having an opinion on this one.
We spend cinco de mayo hanging out around the cabin. We had hoped to go kayaking on the lake in the morning but the wind was blowing pretty hard. We settled for a hike through the property. It was fun until we found ourselves turned back by an onslaught of bugs. Sprocket ran along with us gamely even though he had already gone on a long walk with Roxanne, Black Dog, and Girl Dog earlier!
Back at the cabin, Forrest cut down some more trees which meant piling up branches to be burned and moving around the trees that he’d felled into ditches. Wielding a chainsaw on property where he was allowed to build trails was entirely too much for Forrest so “we” built a trail to the top of the hill behind the cabin (I moved sticks and supervised Sprocket). There wasn’t much up there but Forrest’s trail building appetite was temporarily sated so it was a success.
We hung out with Rick a bit more and then took a drive. We drove up along Chilowee Lake to Happy Valley Road with a brief detour through the tiny town of Tallassee. At the “Top of the World,” we turned south on the Foothills Parkway and headed for Rick’s. We made a brief stop at Alex’s house but found he wasn’t home. Nevertheless Forrest fixed his riding lawnmower for him before going up to Rick’s.
After dinner and another selection from the fun 6-pack we assembled at the store a few days back (see next post), we took the golf cart back over to Alex’s and hung out with him and his son Eric for a while.
In the morning, F did some work on the jeep, just checking things out at the halfway point in our trip to prevent problems down the road. I took that opportunity to do some more job searching. After he’d finished with the jeep, we headed back up to the cabin. We put in the AC unit, changed out the shower head, washed the windows, and just did some maintenance that needed to be done. We also did some rearranging to make it feel a bit more spacious. Forrest also fired up the chainsaw and cut down some dead trees on the property.
After all that work, we loaded up Sprocket in the golf cart and headed over to the lake for some swimming. Sprocket walked right down the dock, got to the end, saw the water and walked right in. He panicked a bit when he realized he couldn’t haul himself out but once he realized that’s what we were there for he gladly jumped off the end to fetch sticks! I jumped in and had kind of forgotten how cold lakes can be–took my breath away for a second!
In the evening F helped Rick with some of his bikes and then we headed into town to pick up some groceries for the next couple of days we’re here and some more snack/camp food for when we hit the road Friday morning. Back at the cabin, I made some pasta on the campstove before we crashed.