The steady and at times heavy rain yesterday morning (no WiFi last night; had to wait until this afternoon to post yesterday’s entry) made the early part of the day a day focused mostly on driving as I wound my way up Highway 276 through Pisgah Forest back toward the Parkway from Brevard. As I left Brevard, I noticed a large contingent of highway patrol people scattered along the road. It was not long before I found out why they were there; Brevard and nearby Hendersonville were the terminus of an early leg of a massive annual Cycle North Carolina mountains-to-coast ride.
I talked to a few of the bikers at one of their way-stations and learned that their ultimate destination was Oak Island (I drove through Oak Island last month but didn’t write anything about it in the post for that day). The scope of their tour certainly puts some of my drives into perspective. The stream of bikers seemed endless at times; there were clusters of cyclists all along the 15 or so miles between Brevard and the Parkway, and even as I turned off 276 and back on to the Parkway, they were still coming in groups of three or four over the ridge from Waynesville.
The heavy rain gave way to lighter rain but much heavier fog as I made my way along the Parkway from Brevard to Asheville, with the fog at times so thick that I could see only a few dozen feet in front of me. It made me much more aware of the numerous tunnels all along this stretch of the Parkway, primarily because driving through those tunnels provided my only break from the fog.
At the end of this stretch of the Parkway is the Folk Art Center (MM 382.0; link), which displays (and sells) a wide array of hand-crafted art and furniture from several active Appalachian artists — none of which I can afford but much of which is quite impressive. (Sorry, no pictures — photography is not allowed inside.) More interesting to me, however, was the Center’s exhibit on the construction of the Parkway. It reminded me that all of those tunnels (and bridges and waysides and interchanges) were not the product of modern excavation equipment but instead of a much more labor-intensive Roosevelt-era Works Progress Administration process begun during the Depression. The Parkway is not only a visual marvel but also an impressive feat of engineering.
(A quick note for people traveling with children: The Folk Art Center is not particularly kid-friendly; almost everything there is fragile and very expensive, and there are few opportunities for younger hands to explore the art. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but do be aware if you plan to stop accompanied by little people with wandering hands.)
I ended the day in Asheville, only a few weeks after my previous visit during the minor league baseball drive. I think I may like Asheville better in a cool rain; slowly sipping a rye beer in Lab‘s open-air bar this time around, accompanied by the sound of a steady drizzle and the lighting of an overcast sky, felt very different from my previous experience at the height of the hottest days of the summer. I strolled around downtown for a few hours before making my way to my final destination for the night.
* * *
Unfortunately, tonight’s Super Moon Eclipse, which at the recommendation of my Asheville friend, Chris, I had planned to watch from nearby Buzzard Rock, was completely blocked out by the persistent cloud cover that has followed me all along the Parkway. I guess that will just give me something to look forward to when I’m 63 — the age I’ll be when the next one comes around.
* * *
Featured Hike — Elk Mountain Scenic Highway (MM 376.6)
Not really a hike so much as a stroll, and not technically on the Parkway (this trail runs behind the Sourwood Inn, where I stayed for the night; see below), but this stretch of the Blue Ridge is a little thin on hikes, and I passed what few there were during the heaviest rains I have seen so far — heavy enough to discourage me from stopping and braving the weather. The wide and well-cleared trail I followed in the late afternoon descends slowly from the Inn to a small mountain stream-cut valley. I stopped at the lowest point of the trail, but it continued on beyond my stopping point.
I ended at a small pond that had been created by damming the mountain stream at the bottom of the valley.
As has been true all week, no one else was around, and the only sounds were the calls of several songbirds out braving the rains.
* * *
Accommodations: Sourwood Inn, Asheville — An inn in the classic sense of the word: A large greatroom with a fireplace, a separate wing of guest rooms, a game room downstairs (also with a fireplace), a rustic yet modern exterior that blends in to the surrounding mountainside, warm wood and Mission-style furniture throughout, and very attentive and warm hosts.
After my hike, I sat down near the fire in a comfortable leather chair and read the first few chapters of the Dashiell Hammett book my colleague, Shaun, loaned me.
Dinner: Sourwood Inn — Rather than returning to town, I opted to stay at the Inn for dinner. A spinach, walnut, blueberry, and goat cheese salad was followed by herbed penne with shrimp scampi. I brought a bottle of French Broad Wee-Heavier from Asheville to accompany the meal (Sourwood does not yet have an ABC license, so remember to bring something with you if you’d like a bottle with dinner; the staff will chill it for you ahead of time).
Drive music: “Redbud Tree,” Mark Knopfler — Seemed to be a good fit for a rainy Parkway day, with redbuds a-plenty still bearing leaves and sheltering me from the rain. As it turns out, the proprietress of the Sourwood Inn also is a Mark Knopfler fan; I ate dinner to the familiar strains of Get Lucky.