A Week in North Georgia

Due to the incredible generosity of our friends, we were able to spend a week staying in our friends’ family’s vacation condo in the North Georgia mountains.  It has been the most relaxing week I’ve had in a long time, and I expect it may be the most relaxing week of our journey.  We were able to receive mail via general delivery at the local post office, wrap up some of the loose ends associated with moving and getting on the road, and catch up on journaling and writing these posts.  We’ve done a lot of cooking (pancakes almost every day!), checked out the local fitness center most days, and visited a number of magnificent waterfalls, including two that we were able to walk behind.  It’s also given us the opportunity to reassess what we brought with us and cull through our belongings, sending some back to Colorado, getting rid of some, and using up our excess consumables.  It’s a good idea to have a roll of toilet paper – four is completely unnecessary.  The same goes for the massive quantities of sardines and herring that we brought with us.  Now you know what we’ll be eating for lunch in the coming weeks!

We’ve also had to send home some of the books we brought with us.  We both love to read, but I think we were overly optimistic about the amount of reading we’ll be getting to do while one the road with a toddler.  Alan took it upon himself to read as much as he could this week and we both sent a number of already read and not-yet-read books back to Colorado so we can refresh our book supply when we get there in a couple of months.  That being said, if you have any book suggestions that you think are appropriate for our journey, we’re all ears.  I recently started reading Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat Moon about the author’s cross-country travels along the back roads of America in the 1970s.  I’ve been enjoying reading about his ambitious road trip as we make our way along the back roads several decades later.

Without further ado, below are a few highlights from our week in northern Georgia and southwestern North Carolina.

View from Rabun Bald, the second highest peak in Georgia

View from Rabun Bald, the second highest peak in Georgia

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls near Highlands, NC

Watching the water fall

Watching the water fall

Dry Falls near Highlands, NC

Dry Falls near Highlands, NC

Dry Falls

Dry Falls

Dry Falls

Dry Falls

Train Tracks Along the Nantahala River

Train Tracks Along the Nantahala River

Yogurt?!?!

Yogurt?!?!

Yes, yogurt!!!

Yes, yogurt!!!

Excitement on the Nantahala River

Excitement on the Nantahala River

Excitement on the Nantahala River

Excitement on the Nantahala River

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Hiking

If you’re anything like me, you have a long list of things you’re interested in, many of which you hope to get around to learning or doing one day when you have time.  That list can be inspiring, but it can also make you feel guilty – like you’re not doing enough.  Gretchen Rubin discusses this in her popular book, The Happiness Project.  In it, she asks you to consider your life and what you actually make time for right now.  Those are the interests that are most important to you.  This  point has stayed with me since I read her book over a year ago.  My answer then is the same now and would be the same five years ago or ten years ago – hiking and reading.

In our many discussions leading up to this journey, Alan and I talked about how excited we were to be able to go hiking more often than once a week.  I (foolishly) thought that maybe we could go hiking every day.  This might be doable if was just me and Alan, but taking Van hiking every day would be a recipe for disaster.  Van loves to hike – loves it – and I don’t want to ruin it by turning it into a chore.  I also spent a lot of time before we left thinking about the many books I would bring and read during our journey.  We sent some ahead to Colorado to trade out when we arrive and left some with my parents in case we need a resupply when we see them in Arkansas.

Hiking and Reading.  So far, it seems that we’ll have a lot of opportunity to do the former, but less opportunity to do the latter.  I suppose that comes with the territory when you’re camping with a toddler.

We had our first opportunity to go hiking on this journey when we arrived in the Boone area.  We were lucky enough to spend three days in a row traveling on some magnificent trails.  Our first day took us to Linville Falls and Moses H. Cone Park, both on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Van spent most of the hike to the falls on Alan’s back (yelling “more, more” every time Alan would brush against leaves) and enjoyed the hike/walk along the carriage roads in Moses H. Cone Park in his stroller.

Linville Falls

Linville Falls

Butterfly at Linville Falls

Butterfly (or is it a moth?) at Linville Falls

View from Moses H. Cone Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway

View from Moses H. Cone Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Moses H. Cone Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Moses H. Cone Park

Moses H. Cone Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Moses H. Cone Park

Our second day of hiking took us to the resort town of Blowing Rock.  Before heading out on a hike, we went to see Blowing Rock itself, a cliff above Johns River Gorge that got its name from due to the current of air that flows upward due to the shape of the walls of the gorge so that if you throw very light objects off of Blowing Rock (emphasis on very), they’ll return to you.  I tested this with some pine needles and they boomeranged right back to me.  Not the same with the small pebble that fell into the gorge below.

Alan on the Blowing Rock

Alan on the Blowing Rock

Stacey on the Blowing Rock

Stacey on the Blowing Rock

Van blowing our cover - our ascent to the top of the Blowing Rock was so easy a toddler could (but should not) do it

Van blowing our cover – our ascent to the top of the Blowing Rock was so easy a toddler could (but should not) do it

After a picnic lunch, we set out for the Glen Burney Trail, which leaves right from the downtown of Blowing Rock.  It was a great trail that followed the river and took us to the ruins of an old sewage plant from the early 1900s and to two beautiful waterfalls.  Thankfully we had water for the uphill hike back – though we experienced snow just a few short days ago, it was pushing 80 during our afternoon hike.

We spent our third day of hiking at Stone Mountain.  It was a bit of a drive from our home base, but it was completely worth it.  We opted to do the four and a half mile loop trail, which took us up to the summit of Stone Mountain, down and around the other side by a waterfall.  We unknowingly took the hard approach, climbing a steep ascent for the first one and half miles, which allowed for a much more gradual descent over the last three miles.  As the signs below show, they take their warnings very seriously in this park!

One of many, many signs like this that we saw in the park.

One of many, many signs like this that we saw in the park.

Danger!  Danger!

Danger! Danger!

The view from Stone Mountain

The view from Stone Mountain

Our Little Hiker

Our Little Hiker

While getting our feet back on the trails was exciting, the highlight of our time in the Boone area was staying with a friend who I haven’t seen since college!  She and her family were kind enough to welcome us into their home and life for a couple of nights.  There is nothing better than spending the evening with friends after a long day outside, especially when those friends are excellent cooks who happen to cook the kinds of foods that you love.  A huge thank you to Sarah, Tom, and Carter – especially Carter who was great about sharing his toys with Van and didn’t mind having a superfan who followed him around everywhere.  It was truly an honor to get to spend a few evenings together and to witness the beautiful life that they’ve created in this corner of North Carolina.

Escape to Boone

We weren’t planning to enter North Carolina for a couple more days, but we ran into a number of closed campgrounds due to visiting southwestern Virginia too early in the season (and, in a couple of instances, due to the sequestration).  We did stay at a small, beautiful campground in Grayson Highlands State Park, but it wasn’t until we set up our site that we learned that the water spigots were not yet on for the season and the inviting restrooms with showers were locked. Lack of naps, cold nights, and too much car time led to some truly terrifying screams throughout the night.   After our first (and at this point, only) hellish night on the road, we opted to turn south and find a motel for the following night. The upside to the night was that during one of his screaming fits I slipped out of the van to use the restroom.  The stars were absolutely incredible.  The campground was on the top of a ridge, the sky was clear, and the smattering of tall trees seemed to form a cathedral through which glowing stars were visible in all directions.

Our night in the motel was much less eventful (thankfully) but our dinner left many things to be desired.  We had some eggs that we needed to use and instead of setting up our camp stove on the lawn of the Super 8, we decided to try microwaving them.  I now know that you can microwave eggs, as long as you don’t mind your eggs tasting like cardboard.  After being treated to a “free” breakfast full of things with much too much sugar in them, we spent the day wandering around Boone and Appalachian State College.  It was an awesome day to be in a most excellent town.

Boone, North Carolina

Boone, North Carolina

While Alan ran to the laundromat, Van and I spent a leisurely couple of hours in town and on campus.  Van enjoyed rearranging sticks and pine cones while I caught up on my journaling and watched the students relaxing in hammocks and the happy-go-lucky guy dancing around campus with a large white boombox on his shoulder.  We met Alan for a late (and great) lunch in town and then headed off to our campsite for the next two nights.  It was our first night with a campfire, and we didn’t even need a match to light it!  The ash was still so hot from the last campers that once we set up our sticks and logs, they started smoking and eventually caught fire.  Van got right into the spirit of camping and spent the entire evening collecting sticks for the fire.  He now thinks that he is perpetually on fire duty and continues to collect sticks for us, even when we’re far away from a campsite or a campfire.

The Crooked Road

I like bluegrass music.  Scratch that, I love bluegrass music.  I could listen to bluegrass or old time music 24/7 and not get tired of it.  Yes, I test that hypothesis on Van and Alan regularly.  Luckily (and due to a lot of exposure in utero and while breastfeeding), Van is a fan as well.  It was only natural then, that we would check out The Crooked Road in southwestern Virginia (www.thecrookedroad.org).  The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, which winds up and down and around on beautiful (and often crooked) roads, past a number of towns that have contributed to and continue to contribute to bluegrass and old time music.

The Crooked Road

The Crooked Road

Barr's Fiddle Shop in Galax, Virginia

Barr’s Fiddle Shop in Galax, Virginia

Goofing around in Abingdon, Virginia

Goofing around in Abingdon, Virginia

Caboose in Abingdon, Virginia

Caboose in Abingdon, Virginia

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The trail took us through some beautiful areas, including the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, and some great towns I’ve been wanting to check out for years.  The funniest thing we spied on our journey was a couple of official signs letting travelers know that there was a roadside table in a 1/4 mile.  The very presence of the sign caused us to laugh, but then we spied the tables.  They were not the picnic tables we expected, but dilapidated folding card tables with no seating!  And yet they had official road signs advertising their presence.  Unfortunately, the road was narrow by the signs so we did not get a photo.

We passed through a number of towns, including Galax, Damascus, Abingdon, and (the following day) Floyd.  I’ve been excited to see Floyd for years and I was not disappointed.  It’s a small town, but it was still larger than I expected.  We had a great time listening to Americana music at The Floyd Country Store and enjoyed a picnic lunch on a grassy hill in the center of town.  Though we missed the Friday Night Jamboree (purposely – given Van’s bedtime), we were still able to enjoy some live music before hitting the road for North Carolina.

The Floyd Country Store

The Floyd Country Store

Listening to Americana Music on a Saturday Afternoon at the Floyd Country Store

Listening to Americana Music on a Saturday Afternoon at the Floyd Country Store

Friends, Vacuums, and Wal-Mart

Our first couple days on the road largely consisted of driving and visits with good friends.  We decided to begin slowing down our journey once we reached southwestern Virginia, which meant Van had to suffer through two longish days on the road.  Luckily, these two days were broken up by visits to dear friends.  We spent our first night just an hour south of where we left, visiting Brian, Amy, and their two spunky daughters, Mary and Zoe.  I’m not sure whether Van liked the spontaneous dance parties to pop music (his favorite) or their play kitchen the best, but I know we had a great time seeing Brian and Amy.  I realized that this will be the longest I go without seeing them, which makes me sad, but motivated to plan a longer visit with them next time.

We spent our second night down in DC, which gave Van the opportunity to have some final play time with his best bud Liam before hitting the road, and us some time to enjoy the company of Lauryn and Brendan.

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After hitting the road and heading south, our first night camping in the van was a success!  We were feeling like we were in the groove when we headed down to Blacksburg to have lunch with an old friend Cara and her husband Ean.  During lunch we chatted about the area and I asked about snowfall.  They mentioned that it hasn’t snowed a whole lot in the area over the past decade, but when it has, they’ve lost power for extended periods.  With this information fresh on our minds and weather reports calling for another cold but likely dry night, we headed towards our intended campsite for the evening.  Van fell asleep on the way and instead of stopping at the campsite, we decided to drive around for a while to give him a longer nap.  Unfortunately, he tends to wake up when we stop the car.  Along the way we spotted a collection of vacuum cleaners alongside a barn.  This was not a yard with a lot of other random objects, so we could only guess why they had so many vacuum cleaners and, more importantly, why they were stored outside instead of inside the nearby barn.

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During our drive it started to drizzle and then to sleet.  There weren’t a whole lot of inside options to wait out the rain, so we made for a Wal-Mart and took a stroll up and down the aisles.  Next thing we know, we’re looking out the front door at large snowflakes quickly covering up the cars.  What?!?!  This was not in the weather report and, judging from everyone else at the store, was not expected by anyone.

It has been years since I’ve been to a Wal-Mart, but in our trip planning we discovered that the company is very friendly to RVers and others on the road.  Company policy allows folks to spend the night in their lot as long as you introduce yourself to the manager and the individual store doesn’t have a policy against it.  Alan and I had discussed this at some length before we left, each of us with very different degrees of comfort over doing this.  I figured that at some point along the way this would be the best option, but I did not think that would happen on our second night of camping.  After some discussions over the fruitlessness of making our way to the campground and the bad road conditions given that no one was expecting this storm, we decided to stay put.  We parked ourselves near a cart return and set up for our first free camp at a Wal-Mart.

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Early in the Snowstorm

All things considered, the night was better than I expected, which may be attributed to my low expectations.  However, I didn’t give too much thought to how the lot would be plowed until I was awoken at two in the morning to feeling our van shake.  I peeked out from behind the curtain and saw three small pickups, not much larger than my former pickup, driving very quickly and straight for us as they pushed the snow towards the edges of the lot.  Over and over and over again they were inches (or less) from the van.  Even though Alan and Van are lighter sleepers than me, they managed to miss all the action while I kept a lookout until our section of the parking lot appeared to be clear.

I eventually fell back asleep to the distant sound of plows and we awoke dry, warmish, and to clear roads in the morning.  Our unexpected night was a success, but not one I’m hoping to replicate very often over the next year.