A few places in the U.S. pop up over and over in conversations with other travelers: The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Asheville, NC. Two are National Parks and that makes sense, but Asheville is a city where people live – where they create art, craft beer and do every manner of outdoor activity. The whole area was talked up so much to me that I couldn’t help but have my doubts. But you know what? The hype is real.
I avoided Asheville on my way east from Tennessee by heading up through Johnson City (cue “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show) – I wanted to see it for the first time with my girlfriend who was flying into Raleigh. New places are best experienced with someone you care about – take it from someone who mostly travels alone.
To be fair, it’s Spring in the States, so as we started driving west on I-40, the hills and mountains were exploding with green! There are so many kinds of trees too; a very different feel from the forests in the Northwest. We drove to the Blueridge Parkway en route to a free campsite (if you’re not using Freecampsites.net, you’re missing out – you can find several of my reviews under Drifting_Drew), but a wreck had occurred in the mountains and the road was blocked for almost an hour. When we started moving again, we were driving through clouds and it started pouring down rain, so we headed back down to a state park.
Unending rain for the next two days. That explains all the green. Despite that, we still explored downtown shops, heard street musicians, and had a pint at an Irish pub. We bailed on touring The Biltmore mansion because of the rain and the $65/adult admission (for comparison, the Hearst Castle in California is $25 to tour).
One rainy morning, we drove to Black Mountain and stopped for coffee at the Dripolator. There’s a certain magic in reading a book, drinking coffee, and occasionally glancing out the window at steady rainfall while holding your girl’s hand. Of course, after the caffeine, we needed mead to wash it down – good thing Black Mountain Ciderworks and Meadery was nearby (try the Boudica if it’s available!).
When the sun finally appeared, we drove to Brevard and ate lunch at Rocky’s. This is where we learned that white squirrels are a thing here – the whole town references them in statues and menu items, etc. We saw one on the college campus and it’s not albino, just pure white fur and black eyes, like some arctic version of the species but completely too far south.
But we actually went to this quaint town for the surrounding waterfalls. Looking Glass Falls, Triple Falls, Turtleback Falls – there are so many. Some right off the road and others that require a few miles of hiking to discover. I’ve come to believe that because we’re sight-animals (our attention is drawn to things that move…like T-Rex in Jurassic Park), waterfalls fascinate us with their constant motion, and after all the rain, these cascading falls were nothing less than moving art.
Camp was made in the Pisgah Nation Forest off Avery Creek Road. I stayed here 10 days and could easily go back for more. It’s a hotspot for mountain bikers so after taking Stevi to the airport in Spartanburg, SC, I came back and rented a bike from Sycamore Cycles. The guy there sent me on a 10-mile loop that immediately put me to shame – but I finished it! I crossed paths with a 3.5′ rattle snake, walked my bike up the most technical, root-covered trail I’ve ever been on, and took a tumble over the handlebars on the descent – but once I hit the smoother downhill section, it was incredible!
While camping, I made friends with my neighbor, Tom, and his pitbull, Mars. Tom is a fellow wanderer who looks like GQ Jesus. He’s a street musician who plays a banjo while trying to figure out life. When he wasn’t sunning himself or playing bluegrass, he was working out – doing push-ups, squats, and dead-lifting sections of tree trunks. Meanwhile, I ate pizza and drank beer under the Casita’s awning and wondered why I’m pale and out of shape.
Mars, Tom’s dog, is a fan of spaghetti sauce and bratwurst, especially after a black bear came to the site and stole his 10-lb bag of dog food. I bought Mars a can of Alpo the next night, but while Tom and I were cooking on the campfire by his tent, I heard twigs snapping off to my right. I grabbed my flashlight and saw two glowing eyes staring back at me from a big, furry head about 30′ away. I said, “Uh, it’s a bear!” which was enough to send the beast back into the woods. I watched it move, it was full grown – I’m guessing over 250 lbs., but at the time, it was a 1,000 lb. grizzly. I gave Tom my bear spray, wished him luck, and got inside the Casita. Luckily, for all parties, the bear stayed away.
I finished my time in this wonderland by driving back to Asheville and doing a bit of lazy kayaking down the French Broad River, tasting some beer and playing some ping-pong at the New Belgium Brewery (makers of Fat Tire), and eating one more Pimento Burger at Rocky’s.
On account of a rainy forecast, I decided to move on down the road, but this area of the country will always stand out in my mind as a place filled with possibilities for adventure – a place that is perfectly hyped.