October 24 – Slow Drive to Ashville
We broke up our drive to North Carolina with a couple stops. In Farmville, Jennifer took me to a store with gorgeous Amish furniture; I’m temped to order a chest I saw there. We walked through the historic section of Winston-Salem and drove through the Wake Forest campus where one of my niece’s attended college. By the time we got to Ashville, it was dinnertime. We managed to get one of the last tables available at Blackbird, where we had the best meal I’ve eaten on this trip, a vegetarian farm dish with mashed sweat potatoes, grilled Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and asparagus, with each item deliciously prepared. Our airbnb, the basement of someone’s home, was cute and comfy, but we both felt that one of the closets was haunted.
October 25 – Train Ride through Nanthala Gorge
In the morning, we returned to Biltmore Avenue and got in line at the Green Sage Café so Jennifer could get coffee. We then visited the Folk Art Store on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which had a great variety of beautifully crafted items by local artists. Afterwards we drove to Bryson, where we had pre-purchased tickets for ride with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad through Nanthala Gorge.
Our slow half-day train ride wasn’t as scenic as either of us anticipated. There were nice views of the river and some colorful foliage, but nothing that wowed us. (The views were a bit better on the left side of the train). However, it’s a pleasant ride for train buffs. The weather was perfect and we kept the windows open; the same type as the yellow school buses from my high school days. When we took an hour break at the Nanthala Outdoor Center, I went for a short walk on a segment of the Appalachian trail; I’d like to hike more of it some day. A guitarist played blue grass music on the train and at our rest stop.
Back in Bryson, the restaurant was crowded so we shared a table with a young couple from Tennessee. Our lively conversation covered many subjects, from atheism to politics, child rearing, and the benefits of travel.
October 26 – Blue Ridge Parkway
The morning started our cool and foggy, but soon cleared and warmed up to t-shirt weather. After another stop in Ashville for coffee, we spent much of the day driving a 100-mile segment of the parkway, something best done with someone more patient than my sister. It’s a beautiful drive, especially at this time of year. At the beginning, it felt like we were driving through a colorful tunnel with an amber glow. The trees were a mix of yellow, ochre, and orange with a splash of red now and then. As we climbed in elevation, there were more brown leaves and at the highest point, near Mount Mitchell State Park, the trees were barren. At one stop, overlooking a multi-colored hillside, a local told me that this is not a good year, with much less color than usual.
We took a break for a two-mile round-trip hike to see Linville Falls. It felt good to stretch my legs, but the trail was quite crowded with people and dogs (that’s what we get for selecting one of the shorter hikes and going on a Sunday). Our last stop before departing the parkway was the crafts center at Moses Cone Memorial Park. It was a smaller, less impressive one than the Folk Art Store, though I bought a handmade wooden spoon.
We had planned to stop in Roanoke or someplace else along the way, but instead decided to drive all the way back to Powhatan, covering almost 1000 miles in three days. We stopped for dinner along the way and listened to the fifth game in the World Series on the static-filled radio. Go Giants!