Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway, Days 5-8.
Day 5: Getting to Asheville: Check out my road cycling activity on Garmin Connect. https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1802569317
Day 8: Leaving Asheville and riding the Blue Ridge Parkway: Check out my road cycling activity on Garmin Connect. https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1805806759
It was a delightful climb out of Marion past Mt. Mitchell on highway 70 to Ashville, and involved a few surprises.
Box turtles have fascinated me since I was a kid. At one point my brothers and I owned five or six of them that we brought back from a canoe trip in the Ozarks. When I cycled through western Louisiana a few months ago I became quite intrigued with how many box turtles cross roads, and how so many of those are unsuccessful. Riding long distances on a bike reveals just how perilous roads are to animals in their necessary migrations, and I cannot help thinking how much harder we have made life for animals as we have made life easier for ourselves. In any case, I gave this lovely little guy a lift to nearby grasses before he was turned into roadkill.
I wasn't aware that a section of highway 70 is now closed to non-motorized vehicles. This happens near Mt. Mitchell and drops into the famous old town of Black Mountain (at 6684 feet, Mt. Mitchell is the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River.) The road is long, windy, shady, and quite lovely. The only other people on this trail were a group of boys who appeared to have ridden up to the top, and were flying down on their bikes while I slowly ascended. Several of them whistled a note of "awesome" in seeing my gear and bags. It took several hours but I finally got the crest of the trail, and made my way into town.
The next morning I went to visit the Grove Park Inn (aka, GPI) in Asheville. This amazing establishment is built entirely of locally sourced rocks put together like a jigsaw pizzle, and no two stones are alike. Notable people have stayed here - Obama, F Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Edison, Firestone, Henry Ford and others. There are a handful of outer buildings on the property that once were filled with craftspeople, some of which are now museums and open to the public.
Pottery, furniture making, weaving and textiles have had a presence in Asheville for generations. Like the Biltmore Estate (built and run by the Vanderbuilts) which is also in Asheville, the GPI was a home for these industries and although their economies were replaced long ago through industrial mechanization, GPI still supports local artisans through their stores and museums. At one time the GPS housed a weaving factory.
The Folk Art Museum off the Parkway just outside Asheville has a fantastic exhibit of furniture and weaving artifacts. I was enchanted by these chairs because I own some that are similar and I never knew where their design had originated.
There's a section of Asheville called River Arts that is well known for the graffiti on its warehouses. Asheville has 22 craft beer breweries now and one of them (The Wedge) has two bars and a restaurant in this area in two different locations. The beer is sublime - I sampled several different kinds.
I heard Asheville compared to Boulder and the comparison is apt. In fact, one might say that Asheville is to the Appalachians what Boulder is to the Rockies. The town is small enough to be very livable, and large enough to have a lot going on. It's situated in a beautiful setting and natural beauty is abundant everywhere. But Asheville is also a bit like New Orleans, in that there is a vibrant music scene. I was lucky enough to be downtown on a Friday night and street musicians were on every corner. And in the center of town a community drumming circle was underway, apparently a regular ritual. The picture above is the drumming circle - drummers on the right, revelers to the center and left.
But all good things must come to an end. After two fantastic days in Asheville, I rode out of town to begin my trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Washington, DC. What a delight when one must leave something wonderful for something else quite remarkable! Only 6.5 miles up a very steep hill I was rewarded by my first of countless extraordinary views on the Parkway. The ride north lasted for 50 miles before I could find more amenities than drinking water, so it was a challenging first day. But you will see the rewards were superlative. This Parkway is a gem, and so far, very rideable on a bike. The road surface is excellent, and drivers actually obey the speed limit and are reasonably courteous to cyclists. Later in the day, when I remarked to a local shopkeeper that I was impressed the drivers in the Parkway actually obeyed the speed limit, she replied, "Well that's a government road, and you don't mess with that!" As glad as I am that's true about the Parkway, it would be nice if that was true on all other government roads - which is, of course, every other road out there (except for a few private driveways).
The pictures below were all taken on the Parkway between Asheville and Little Switzerland, 50 miles to the northeast.
More to come,