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Monday, November 23, 2015

The Great Smoky Mountains & Asheville

I left Staunton/Walnut Hills KOA at 10:30 AM. I traveled 81 to 40 to 74 to 441 and arrived at Smokemont Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains at 6:30PM. The drive was very pleasant with very little traffic and no delays. I stopped often. I don’t push it. It was a long day in the car, but I’ll be here for six days enjoying the park and the AT as well as drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway and of course all the breweries in and around Asheville. One of my favorite breweries, Innovation, is in Sylva, which is 20 minutes away. It is at least 10 degrees warmer here. I’m comfortable in a t-shirt.
I didn’t have a fire, because instead I crashed. Eight hours in the saddle demands sleep. First I ate, drank and was merry. I didn’t unhook the trailer from the car, because tomorrow I will find a better site. This one is in direct site line of the lights in the bathhouse. The sites here are backwards. The fire pit and table are on the driver side of the camp, which means they are on the backside of campers, whose p-doors open on the passenger side. At daybreak, I made some tea and walked the campgrounds. I found a perfect site, which would allow me to use the Scamp to block the bathhouse. I did the switcher-ohh and set up on B-29 for the next five nights. Done! After setting camp, I drove up to Clingmans Dome. Halfway up I was in the clouds. I turned around and saved this for another day, I have five more. I set off on a brewery tour. I first stopped at Food Lion to do some shopping. My first stop would be The Lazy Hiker Brewing Company in Franklin, NC. It was a nice drive on familiar roads, then new ones to Lazy Hiker, a neat setup with a food truck, an outside band shell, ample parking, and outside seating. I had a flight. I took a growler of their Amber Ale.  I drove this far distance so now my trip is home and I have another stop, Innovation Brewery, one of my faves. I found it easily as I came in from another direction, but immediately recognized where I was. I had come out this way once before on my way to Atlanta. Parking and walking into Innovation was like walking into Burley Oak. I was home. I immediately asked if they had any smoked beers. “No” was the barkeeps reply and “sorry about that” he added. “I have missed it too,” he added. I got a flight and took the un-smoked rye home. Their midnight rye is to die for. While at Innovation the other bar patrons provided great conversation and the name of a new brewery down the road, The Sneak E Squirrel Brewery came up. I remember driving by it and chuckling about the name. I didn’t get to the part of brewery and pub below. I saw this on my second passing and looking for it, since I had just heard about a new brewery in the Asheville area, surprise, not. I got a flight. Yes, I’m flying. I’m having a great conversation with the barkeep when the two of the guys from Innovation come in. We acknowledge our mutual surprise at seeing each other again. They are opening a new brewery soon, a year or two, and are doing research. They had been to OC and had missed the whole RT 50 brewery collection.  One of the things I live about touring is visiting breweries along the way. By the time I got home it was 6:30, twenty-four hours later. I set my trophies, the three growlers, on the picnic table.  Yes, three growlers. I know I came with two. At Lazy Hiker, they wouldn’t fill my growler, so I had to buy one of theirs. I have to remember to carry the growlers of the places I will be visiting. Or not. It was dark when I got home. Since I forgot to get something out of the freezer for dinner, I made a chopped salad. It’s time for a fire and a growler.
Since I’m in the western part of the Eastern Time zone, my sun in the morning appears later and sets later. I’m quite a distance from Berlin. I woke at 6:30, it was dark and very lightly sprinkling, barely noticeable. I went back to sleep. I woke to harder rain at 10:45. I guess everything is catching up to me.  Went back to bed and stayed there in the warmth till 12:30. The rain had stopped and I needed breakfast. I put on water for tea and went to put up the awning so I could sit outside. It is balmy and comfortable, except the light misty rain or heavy mist. I have breakfast clean up in the breaks of rain. Accompanying the rain has been at times heavy winds that swirl around driving the leavers this way and that way. A pile of leaves over there in a few minutes is now in another location. Tree twigs are everywhere, so I walk around a gather them and fill the fire pit.   I eventually have more than can fit so I make a pile next to the pit. As I’m sitting under the awning reading, the rain gets heavier. I cover the wood and fire pit with a tarp and repair to the Scamp. I get back into my PJ’s and get into bed to read. I read, I nap, I read, I nap. This is a very civilized day in spite of the rain and wind.  I grill a trout and have some asparagus and potatoes to accompany the fish. No fire as it is pouring now. I can hear the stream even more and the rivulets by the Scamp and off the Scamp provide a jazzy percussion. In bed I read and turn out the lights and lay there. Maybe I sleep, maybe not. It is dark. The sound of the stream is melodic and hypnotizing; and oh so soothing. Since I’ve left the curtain open the sun wakes me at 6:45. It’s not up but it light is present and the sky is clear. I bound out of bed and go outside. WOW!  Wet but warm and the sky is clear. This is going to be a good day. I clean last night’s dishes, clean the Scamp, hang the rugs on the line, hang the tarp, and the rope mat in front of the Scamp. I put the awning away and have breakfast outside. After cleaning up, I take off on a pretty little hike behind the campgrounds along the Oconaluftee River. I feel as if I’m walking on the set of The Last of the Mohicans, which was filmed here in the Smoky Mountains. The melody of the river, newly swollen from the heavy rains that started at 4 and ended at midnight. The birds skittering about and the ubiquitous rhododendron played beautifully with the music of the river. After this invigorating 2 hour sojourn, I came back replenished the water and then took a shower. It was early as I headed up Newfound Gap Road, the road that goes through the Smokies from Cherokee to Gatlinburg. I stopped along the way. I had abandoned this trip on Tuesday because of the fog. No fog today. The vistas were spectacular. The road was a good NP road like all of them. Logging was a blight on the Smokies until they became a NP, just like out west. We may be getting better about commerce and the environment, or least more aware. Today I was headed to Clingmans Dome. The seven-mile ride from the main road was a roller coaster ride. The hike and I mean hike up to the Dome from the parking lot was killer. It had to be ¾ of a mile at an 8% grade. There were many benches along the way for the wayfarer to rest weary legs. I enjoyed the task as I had already had a good hike, so I was warmed up. I kept a steady pace all the way to the top and to my surprise the Dome, which looked very much like the platform at Shark Valley in the Everglades. I walked the circular ramp to the ultimate goal, the Dome and the 360 view of the Great Smoky Mountains NP. I picked the perfect day to be up here. I could see forever. Since it was getting crowded with all the folks I passed on the way up, I descended. I continued on the Newfound Gap Road until I came upon a gaggle of cars whose occupants were pointing and oohing and aahing about something, so I stopped. A bear was foraging in the woods. I chuckled as I had stopped to see a bear as people in Assateague stop to see the ponies. I drove to Sugarlands, which is the Tennessee side of this road. I turned around and drove home.
The night sky was full and the fire warm as I killed the three growlers. Friday was another glorious day. I did some chores in the morning and then headed down the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Smokies to Asheville, 87 miles away. It took me 2 ¼ hours to get to 12 Bones, which was my first stop for lunch and their great ribs and sides. I love the ambiance, too and the crowds always out the door. I headed to Wedge, just across the river and again the place was closed. Their hours suck, for me anyway. I’ve only been to Wedge once and like the whole atmosphere, but it is on the outskirts of town and not walkable. I drove into town and found a 24 hour parking lot for three dollars across from the bus station. First I went to Cucina24 to make dinner reservations for 7:30 at the Chef bar. From there I walked to Wicked Weed and sampled a few new brews and grabbed a four pack of Tyranny. From there I found the bookstore and got George Ted Koppel’s new book, Lights Out for his birthday. After that I headed to Lab, one of Cait’s favorite spots and enjoyed a flight there. Nothing to take with me from there. After that I was heading to the car when I saw that Thirsty Monk was open, so I went in. Downstairs was a Belgium tasting room, while the ground floor was NC and American brews, and upstairs a specialty cocktail lounge where the bartender made her on tonics and sodas and wild drinks, a true mixologist. I enjoyed an excellent flight and found the Rye on Rye dynamite. Unfortunately for me, they did not allow growlers and didn’t have what was on tap in bottles. The Thirsty Monk is an all day kind of place with the three floors of distinct beverage offerings. It was my first time there. It was across the street from Jack in the Woods a bar with good music I was going to after dinner at Cucina 24. I dropped my goodies off in the car and watched the dramas unfold at the bus station. Asheville is an interesting town with an obvious gulf between the haves and the have-nots. With all the breweries and restaurants and fancy shops, it is bizarre seeing so many homeless and down and out in the streets too rubbing elbows with the musicians who are everywhere. The whole inner town reminds me of Times Square, but with hills. It is action filled, busy, at times loud, but always going. The other thing I will never get used to about Asheville, is that when you immediately leave the town you are on a two or three lane highway going 70 MPH. I can only reiterate I’m glad I didn’t retire here, I couldn’t have stood the NYC atmosphere. It is certainly a great place to visit. After a quick rest, I walked the block to Hi-Wire and walked away with a couple of 750’s of the Russian Imperial Stout and a six-pack of the Rye IPA. Instead of walking with them, I took them back to the car and grabbed a bag to carry my loot from the next four breweries I was heading towards. My first stop was Twin Leaf Brewing, which I had visited just after it had opened. I got a growler of their Old Gaffer, English style ale, which is very good. From there, I walked down the block to a new brewery for me, Catawba. It was quite the place, huge and packed. The only thing I could get there was a six-pack of White Zombie, a satisfying white ale. I walked around the corner and there was Green Man, a real hippies kind of place with International soccer on the televisions screens. Slim pickings in the carry out area, so I just got a three-pack of their Leaf Blower. My last stop before dinner was Burial, another new brewery for me. This visit was a total leap of faith in that I couldn’t taste a beer that looked intriguing, Scythe, Rye IPA, while I did have a taste of the Hermit Saints Saison. One note was the labeling at Burial was brilliant and worthy to show the gang at Burley. It was seven and I walked back to the car, deposited my loot and changed for dinner and the music club afterwards. Cucina24 is a lovely restaurant and I was seated at the Chef bar by the open fire pit, warm and cozy. I could see the whole operation from my seat and that was fun. I saw a head chef, a sous-chef, a salad and cold plate chef, and a pizza and brick oven chef. The coordination was superb. A waiter took my order and I had a Tyranny from Wicked Weed. I started with a local duck country pate, followed by a local beet salad, and finally a rabbit for dinner. Dinner was fabulous. I walked around the corner to the Jack in the Woods and got a seat at the bar at 9. I ordered a Rye Girl, one always needs a Rye girl. A female singer was warming us up for the band. She had a guitar that looked as if she should be playing Bonnie Raitt music, but instead she was wailing and moaning through songs like a weak Joni Mitchell. Not the stuff you need to hear, unless you want to slit your wrists. Disappointment was further met by the main group that took forever to get ready and then get their beers. I left, knowing this was not going to be good, especially from what I was hearing as they warmed up. Since I had a long drive home, about 1 ¼ hours, so instead of one more, I left and got home at midnight and had a fire and enjoyed the last of my Bunker C from Burley and then headed to bed as the moon descended behind the mountain on another clear sky filled with stars.
It has been so nice returning to the Smokies every night. The cars on the road can’t be heard because of the roaring stream and they look like fairies with the white lights passing along and broken by the trees and adds to the magic. Saturday was another glorious start. The sun cleared the eastern mountain at 9AM. Being in the valley provides protection but not full light since it goes down the western mountain at 4PM. Not much sun during the day, like Yosemite. I had decided to tour breweries west of Asheville. I drove to the furthest destination, Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City. I liked the brown ale and Spearfinger, which I took with me. I had a good conversation with the brewer and we discussed their expansion and plans. I have loved the positive attitude these small businesses have.  I still have a bottle or two of their Trail Magic Belgium ales, so I just tasted them this trip. Potent beers these Trail Magic Belgiums.  I headed back to Sylva to get a couple of growlers of Innovation’s Rye and an elk burger and another growler of Prison Shank from Sneak E Squirrel. I drove to Waynesville and started my tour at Frog Level Brewing, which has a beautiful location on a river and they use the backyard fantastically. I took Nutty Brown Ale and Salamander Ale with me. From there I headed into town to visit Tipping Point and Boojum. At Tipping Point I had a flight and left with their Rye IPA. I walked down the pretty Main Street to Boojum, a new brewery for me. They had lots of experimental beers and stouts. All were good. I took the Imperial Pumpkin Ale and the Dark Zone Milk Stout. My last stop was BearWaters Brewing where I had a lovely Sunburst beer and took a growler of it home. Beer touring was done and it was time to go home. I decided to take the Blue Ridge Parkway back to camp, thus avoiding Cherokee. I love driving this road as I feel as if I’m in a low flying plane as I look down into the valley. I got home in the dark, made a fire and sat and had a beer, Innovation’s Rye. That’s why I got two growlers. I prepared dinner and did some clean to start my departure for Cait and George’s house Sunday morning. It was cold and even colder when I woke up Sunday morning. I quick and easy pack up and sorting of beers and I left camp at 9:30. I took a road that had me drive through Nantahala National Forest and a gorgeous white water rafting river. The drive the Marietta was easy and I was at Cait’s house by 1:30. My daughter looks so beautiful and pregnant. It was good to be with them and share our stories of their trip to Thailand and with the elephants and me and my trips to the Great Lakes and this current one.

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