Friday, May 17, 2013


Day One
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
nearly rear-ended a slow-moving pickup truck that we didn't see until we were almost on top of the vehicle.   Believe it or not,  but this was my second attempt at traveling this scenic route that is aptly named one of the most beautiful drives in America,  but both times I  had to get off the parkway because of bad weather and poor visibility.   The words to Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you,  a popular early American folk song, popped into my head as we drove back down the mountain and got on the Interstate.  

Day Two

Thunder, lightening, and the kind of heavy rain that soaks through to your skin in 20 seconds was in the forecast, but Bruce was optimistic and thought that once we left Roanoke, the fast food capital of Virginia, and headed south on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), the weather would improve.   He was partially right.  The sky was foreboding.  There were dark clouds everywhere.  The fog hovered above us, but at eye level, the scenery was pretty good although not great light for taking pictures.   The forest was alive with spring color.   Newly-leafed oak, beech and maple trees glistened after the early morning rain.   The dogwood and wild cherries were blooming, and it was really beautiful except there were no sweeping views of the mountains or the scenic valleys below that we hoped for.  Sporadically, it rained so hard that we couldn't hear each other talk.   

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
Laughing at me like I was a city slicker dressed in a designer gown and wearing  high heeled shoes, one of the guys said in a thick Southern drawl,  "Sure 'nuff,  honey, you go right ahead.  We are dying to be famous."   Here you go fellas.  Your pictures are now on Biker Chick Gone Crazy, your claim to fame!

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),  
hail started bouncing off the windshield, making so much noise that I pulled out my iPhone to record it.  We stopped the car for a few minutes because the accumulated hail on the road looked like snow, and the idea of needing chains momentarily crossed our minds.   

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.

Day 3
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 
making his dream come true in Asheville.   For a couple of years He and Mike worked hard and shed a few tears of frustration in order to bring the mansion to its lovingly restored state.  He now sees his first responsibility as a steward of the mansion's history, and his second is to continue to provide exceptional service to his guests.  There's much more information about Reynolds Mansion if you click on the link and also look on TripAdviser, where it is rated the number one bed and breakfast in Asheville and the second best in the country.   P.S.  I told Bruce that I hoped he wouldn't mind, but I'd adopt Billy in a heartbeat, if he'd have me.

Day 4
The Biltmore House, 175,000 square feet

I was craving exercise,  especially to burn off the gazillion 
calories I'd consumed the previous four days, and six hours of walking through one of the world's grandest estates was a perfect way to do it.  If you have never been to the Biltmore House, located a few miles outside of Asheville, please put this historic landmark on your list of special places to visit.  I could write an entire blog post on our tour of this 175,000 square foot house, but words wouldn't do it justice.  You have to see it to believe it!   Here are some facts:   The 250 room house was built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt, a descendent of one of the oldest and best known American families, and modeled after a 16th Century French chateaux by architect Richard Morris Hunt.  
Pam and Bruce in the Biltmore Gardens
The gardens and immense grounds of the 125,000 acre estate were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who is also well known for creating Central Park and other famous historic landscapes,  such as parts of Stanford University and the beautiful Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. 

Day 5

"Love my moonshine"
Asheville is one of those unique towns where there is style, sophistication, and Southern charm, but there is also a culture based on the stereotypes of Appalachia and hillbilly life.  The best way to observe this is to stroll the streets, talk to the locals and listen to their stories.  A man covered with tattoos told me he lived on the streets because his mother kicked him out of the house for making moonshine.  He claimed to be a musician but that may have been a euphemism for panhandler. 

Street Musician in Asheville
It's easy to pick up a Southern accent if you stay long enough.  A one syllable word is pronounced like two.  For example, my name is Pa-am, and some two syllable words are pronounced like there is only one.  Ben in Tennessee told us that the word owl, as in bird, which we Yankees would pronounce with two syllables -- Ou-wel, they pronounce with one, like Aul, if you follow me.  

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.  

Great music

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
miles alongside a rushing creek with several one-hand rail bridges. One hiker warned us about a coppermouth snake he saw near an old house along the trail, but we never saw any copperheads nor any cottonmouths,  and we never saw elk either.   On the other hand outside the park on some of the back roads we did see blatant signs of extreme poverty and residential decline, and we were genuinely appalled.

Meaner than a junk yard dog

Day 8

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

Roadside Attraction

Another Roadside Attraction

God provided parking at a reasonable price in Tennessee

Next time I will bring my bike


  1. One place with boiled peanuts, country ham, and cider? You missed out if you didn't get to try all three. They sound like stuff you know but trust me - it's different than the peanuts, ham, and cider you get anywhere else. I'm obviously jealous and missing for the trappings of my native turf :)

    That said - I know nothing of "rat cheese" and don't particularly want to.

  2. You get better and better, Pam. I loved this. Sorry I missed you the other day. I was plugged into head phones recording where's Emma

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Pam. I was planning to ride Skyline Drive and BRP this fall as my first solo bike trip, but opted to hike to Macchu Pichu instead. Now I know I need to keep the trip on my agenda for sometime in the next year or two. The only problem I see with it is that I understand most of the neat little towns are downhill several miles from the BRP, requiring a ride back UPhill to get on the road again. I'm not sure how many of them I'll actually see.

  4. Oh yeah, I want to know what rat cheese is, too!

  5. "Rat cheese" is rat trap cheese.
    It usually means that processed cheese product unfortunately often called "American Cheese" but not legally sold as "cheese". Suitable only for rat bait.
    Still, it is often ordered in hamburger bars, but the correct way to order it would be something like "May I have a processed cheese product burger? Rare, please."
    More charitably, "rat cheese" could be taken to mean any cheap cheddar, a real cheese.

  6. When prominently displayed on a shop sign with other edibles, I simply must assume rat cheese is edible for humans. Hmm, I wonder if your answer, Sahlqvist, demonstrates a bias against "American cheese?" It's my understanding that it's just made from the leftovers after other types of cheeses are pressed or cut into their neat little blocks. Whatever it is, rat cheese makes an amusing addition to the character of the shop.