|Grilled Cheese Mania Food Truck, Harrisonburg, VA|
Eating a grilled cheese sandwich in our rental car in a parking lot in Harrisonburg, Virginia was not how I expected to spend my first day on our driving trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains, but due to poor visibility because of nasty fog, we were forced off Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Thank heavens for the TripAdviser app on my iPad because they rated Grilled Cheese Mania as the number one eatery in Harrisonburg. This was not your typical American-cheese-on-white-bread grilled cheese, but a sandwich called Mama Mia made with fresh mozzarella, tomato slices, basic pesto, sriracha hot chili sauce and grilled on rye bread. Bruce loved his Triple Lindy -- cheddar, colby, monterey jack blended with baby spinach and topped with crisp bacon crumbled and grilled golden on sour dough. We were enjoying Southern comfort food prepared in a dainty little food truck parked permanently at 1321 South High Street, just on the outskirts of town. Emily and Jordan, our charming chefs, told us that when owner Kathleen moved to Harrisonburg last year, her daughter came up with the brilliant idea of a grilled cheese food truck, and in just six short months, the reviews have been nothing short of outstanding.
To give you some idea how foggy it was on Skyline Drive, we
|Meadows of Dan, Virginia|
Around noon I was thinking about lunch, so I said to Bruce "Let's pull off the Parkway and see what there is to eat." The turkey and cheese sandwich for $3.06 at Poor Farmer's Market, an iconic general store in very small town called Meadows of Dan, was the only healthy item on the menu. I'm not sure it was real turkey or real cheese, but I ate it anyway.
|The guys from Meadows of Dan|
I looked around the store and thought Wow,what great photo ops, so I asked a few of the locals, who were drinking beer and rocking away by the warm wood stove, if I could take their picture to publish on my blog Biker Chick Gone Crazy.
|Posing for photos in Poor Farmer's Country Store|
|Just because I didn't think you believed me.|
I called our Tennessee friends Anne and Ben and told them we were only 79 miles from their home in Bristol, where they kindly invited us to spend the night. "So, we should be seeing you pretty soon then, right?" Anne queried, but once Ben heard we were driving on Route 58, he knew we'd be a while because of all the switchbacks on the steep mountain road. Our first hint at the slow ride ahead was a sign that said Trucks and Trailers not Advised for the Next 50 miles.
When we reached a town called Mouth of Wilson (I kid you not),
|The purple asparagus turns green after it is steamed|
In Bristol we were greeted with hugs from Anne and Ben. Their property is lovely, and everything was green and lush unlike California which is brown and dry this time of year. Besides riding bicycles (they are about to embark on a self-supported cross country bicycle trip on the Northern Tier in June), Anne makes prize-winning quilts, tends a hearty garden, and Ben, a retired oncologist, keeps honey bees and makes a variety of beers, including a porter, which I loved. I met Anne in 2009 when we both rode the Northwest Loop, a 1500 mile bicycle ride through Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Ever since I saw photos of her garden on Facebook, I've been dying to taste home-grown asparagus, and after the exciting drive through the mountains and the surprise hail storm, Bruce was eager to relax and drink some of Ben's home-made beer. Everything was delicious. Thanks, Anne and Ben. We had a great time.
|The beautiful dining room at The Reynolds Mansion|
Billy Sanders was out front picking weeds when we drove up the hill to Reynolds Mansion three miles outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Billy greeted us as though we'd been friends for years, and showed us through the beautifully restored colonial revival mansion, which is also the home he shares with his partner Mike and two English bulldogs named Rhett and Scarlett. We immediately felt right at home and loved that, in addition to the historic features of the house, Billy and Mike have added mementoes of their own family history, like painted portraits of their mothers that reside over the fireplaces in two of the mansion's well appointed rooms. The elegantly furnished house was built in 1847 and is steeped in elaborate history that involves Senator Rice Reynolds and has ties to the Hope Diamond. Billy, displaying his Southern charm, explained that becoming an innkeeper was a dream he'd had since high school, but he got caught up in the corporate world before
|The Linda Room where Bruce and I stayed at The Reynolds Mansion|
|The Biltmore House, 175,000 square feet|
I was craving exercise, especially to burn off the gazillion
|Pam and Bruce in the Biltmore Gardens|
|"Love my moonshine"|
|Street Musician in Asheville|
|Listening to local stories and Blue Grass music on the street in Asheville|
Residents of Asheville exude Southern hospitality in the shops and in restaurants, as they are warm and welcoming people. The food is excellent, and the executive chef at Curate, where we had a delicious dinner one evening, won a James Beard award and has been nominated again this year. Asheville's many art galleries and shops were fun to explore, even those selling kitsch, but what we loved most was talking to street musicians and listening to great blue grass played on a washboard, harmonica, and banjo. As I listened to the local music, I thought about our visit to Oman and conversations with the Bedouin people just six weeks before, and I marveled at the amazing differences in our world and my good fortune to be able to experience both.
Day 6 and 7
|A permanent resident at Cataloochee Ranch|
Bruce read about Cataloochee Ranch in National Geographic Traveler magazine and thought we should stay there for a couple of nights. The ranch is still owned by the descendants of the Alexander family who developed the beautiful property in the late
1930s with a main guest lodge, dining facilities and several deluxe
cabins scattered about, all with beautiful views overlooking the Smokey Mountains.
|The view from our room at the ranch|
As described in the article, the ranch had an authentic wrangler feel, but since we are not horse people, our plan was to hike, enjoy the scenery, and take photos of wildflowers. But that was not to be because the weather was cold and foggy, and the hiking trails were muddy. From the map it looked like our best bet was drive into Smokey National Park not far away and check out Cataloochee Valley, where one might be lucky enough to spot elk, and we hoped to find the Boogerman trail which friends had recommended. The drive through the park was spectacular, and although we never found Boogerman trailhead, we did hike four
|A beautiful trail|
|Meaner than a junk yard dog|
With only one day left of our trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains, we didn't want to waste time lingering over breakfast at the ranch, so we checked out early to drive another route through Smokey National Park that Bruce sketched out when he planned our itinerary. Richard at the Ranch told us that the Southern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway was, in his mind, the prettiest of the 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, and I must say I have to agree. Maybe it was because the weather was sunny for a change, and the visibility pretty good.
|Now I know why they are called The Blue Ridge Mountains|
The early evening light was ideal for taking pictures, so we lost track of time, and suddenly it was 7:30, and we were still on the Parkway when we should have been down the mountain looking for a place to spend the night. At mile marker 412, we exited the BRP and entered Pisgah National Forest, which led us to the charming town of Brevard, North Carolina, described in a brochure as one of the coolest small towns in America. And we thought so too. "Let's try and find a reasonably priced motel where we can park our car out front and not have to drag luggage through a lobby and take an elevator to our room," Bruce said, and I happily agreed. When I did a Google search on the iPad for motels in Brevard, Sunset Motel popped up. Cruising through town we saw a drive in restaurant straight out of the movie American Graffiti and the Sunset Motel was out of the 50s with a double room that rented for $79 per night. The rooms were recently updated, and we had free wi-fi. A sign at the check-in desk said their rooms would not be available for people living within a 35 mile radius. Hmmmm?
|The sign at the Sunset Motel|
Now that we're home, memories of this trip will remain vivid when we listen to the bluegrass CD we bought and hum along with our favorite tunes like Blues in the Bottle and Turpentine Farm.
|Woolworth's Luncheonette, Asheville|
|Another Roadside Attraction|
|God provided parking at a reasonable price in Tennessee|
|Next time I will bring my bike|