I stated on my Facebook page that the most recent trip to the mountains was my first in 25 years. Upon reflection, perhaps this is a bit inaccurate as I’d gone to Denver in 2008. It is easy to forget the altitude of that city, because I had flown in. Also, Denver is definitely more level than Asheville, so I guess that would be another reason not to count it.
Well to generate a more correct statement, this was my first time riding into the mountains since October of 1991. On that trip, I had gone into the Smokies where North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee converge. I believe I even stood in all three states simultaneously. I walked a fun Braille Trail, which my orientation and Mobility teacher claims to have happened upon by accident but am not sure about that. I also stayed in a log cabin, ate at a fascinating country restaurant where a horse hit me in the head with its teeth as we cavorted around the barn area while awaiting our meals, and was entertained by an auction. SOLD!
One thing I had forgotten was how that drive uphill feels. As we speed away from my apartment, I key up the GPS app to monitor elevation. Durham is at approximately 500 feet above sea level. We take I-85 till it merges with 40; which, after splitting off toward Charlotte in Greensboro, pretty much carries us all the way to Asheville. Around Catawba, we are about 1200 feet above sea level. Our next major ascent occurs as we approach the edge of McDowell County, from approximately 1500 feet till about 2200 in three minutes or so. Whew! I feel this in my stomach and, more importantly, in my ears. I don’t know if the issue is permanent, but this seems to have caused my right-side hearing aid to fade out periodically until I lodge it back into my ear canal. It continues to do this throughout our stay, but (I think) is slowly returning to normal now that I am back down low. Needless to say, I dread this as a possible disaster that can ruin my weekend with her. Because it was on the right though, it was more endurable than it would have been on the left.
We level off a bit, as nothing is really level up there, in Black Mountain, and roll on into Asheville. As we arrive at our hotel, Baymont Inn and Suites, the sun is tentatively out with temperatures about 12 degrees below what they had been at our outset. She hops out to see if we can check in at the early hour of 1 PM, and is given a room. On further inspection, she discovers that this room is located near the laundry, with the sound of banging washers, dryers, and ice machines to accompany us to sleep. She rejects this location before even entering, and we are re-assigned to a better spot right near the elevator on the second floor.
After a brief respite, we decide to attempt to catch the Asheville Trolley Tour, which I discover can be done by trekking to the Asheville Visitor Center. We make the second-to-last departure, at 3 PM, and sit on slightly uncomfortable seats in a fairly open bus to take in the sights.
Don’t fear my starter,” the driver says as he hops aboard and shuts the door. I do not understand what he means until he keys the ignition and we hear what sounds like an engine that isn’t going to turn over. “It always does that trust me” he says as the vehicle finally roars to life.
It is an interesting tour, much of which I of course cannot now recall. We do pass the swanky Grove Park Inn and Spa, and I joke that I’ll check us into that one instead. We learn a lot about Thomas Wolfe, especially that he had initially been rejected by the town due to his dark portrayal of Asheville in Look Homeward Angel, a book I am slowly making my way through now. Funny though how becoming a bestselling author will change perceptions,. Now he has a plaza named after him, and tours of his residence are also available. He died of tuberculosis at a relatively young age, sadly.
The driver is humerous, and very willing to take questions. He also notes a restaurant, Little Pigs, a local BBQ joint where we opt to eat. People do indeed “hop on hop off” as you are able to do. We do not do this because the last tour has already passed, but if you can get on earlier I would highly recommend walking around downtown. They get a look at the Biltmore, but are not allowed onto the property. Finally, we roll through the campus of UNC Asheville, during which he asks us about our feelings regarding the UNC Duke rivalry. When I note that I am a Tar Heels fan and she a Blue Devil supporter, the driver says “And you’re sitting next to her?” I know, still working on correcting that minor error.
Toward the end, we discover that we could have boarded near the Doubletree Inn within walking distance of our hotel. They do note on the site though that it is best to start at the Visitor Center anyway, so I suppose all is well.
Back at the original location and having mostly missed a downpour as we schlepped along, we make the spot decision to head to Little Pigs, where we both get fried chicken legs and thighs, hushpuppies, slaw, and I think another vegetable I can’t recall. The chicken and Southern sweet tea hit the spot! I learned later through the reviews on Google Maps that they have Key Lime pie as well, and am disappointed I didn’t get a piece of that.
To wrap up the evening, we make a quick trek downtown to the music festivel that takes place every Friday at 5. The streets in that immediate area are blocked off, and the crowds large. There are a few food vendors, the the emphasis is on alcohol consumption as one can buy arm bands for $2 that allow for as much as one can handle. It does not take long for her to determine that this is not a good atmosphere for us, so we make our way back to the parking deck to head over to the hotel. This is pretty much the end of Friday. I will post about Saturday’s estate tour later.
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