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.
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.