Appalachia had been on my radar for some time. It has such a likable culture: the fried chicken, the music, the biscuits, the accent, the sweet tea… Oh, and they have mountains too, the highest east of the Mississippi, no less. That’s always appealing for up them mountains, especially when people there might actually say “them mountains”. They also have Asheville, the US’ microbrewery capital – or one of them -, as the American Airlines magazine on the flight to Raleigh reminded me.
The drive from Raleigh to Asheville through Charlotte was a good indication of things to come, at least from a culinary standpoint. Signs advertising southern-style bbq, fried chicken, fast-food joints, churches and gun shows littered the highway.
Nestled in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has a cool rugged vintage look. It prospered in the early 20th century, but the Depression hit hard and its economy stagnated for the next 5+ decades. Things have picked up since, but the city kept its 100-year old look, tin ceilings included, making it a neat architectural destination.
Eating and drinking Asheville
It’s 9 or 10am. We walk into a restaurant for breakfast, one that has taken over an old building in West Asheville, and get handed a menu. We glance at it quickly and look at each other. It basically only has variations of two things: chicken and waffles.
-“Is it frowned upon to have fried chicken and waffles for breakfast?” we ask.
-“No, it’s actually highly recommended,” answers the slightly surprised waiter.
Well, fried chicken and waffles it was. Best breakfast in a long time. Belgians might have something to say about the waffles, but I assume few of them ever make it to those parts, so let’s forget about Belgium until we get into the beer.
On our way back from Sassafras Mountain, South Carolina’s highpoint, we set out to check out a few of those microbreweries that are making Asheville famous. New Belgium Brewing was the first of five we’d visit (the others were Wedge, Wicked Weed, Burial and Oyster House). We were a bit disappointed when we found out New Belgium is actually from Colorado, but the beer was good. Belgians would likely approve. Oh, and they had a ping pong table too, so we soon started smacking the ball around. The rivalry would culminate with a showdown at the US national ping pong training center in Raleigh.
This wasn’t a hiking-only trip, but we did squeeze in an ascent of Mount Mitchell. While it is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi, there’s dense vegetation, so views are sadly few and far between. There’s a parking, a tower and buildings on the summit, and several neighbouring summits suffered the same fate. On the bright side, the tower meant we got a view. I much prefer the mountains of the northeast.
I’d read Mitchell had gotten 60+ inches of snow the week before, so we brought our full winter gear and I was ready to break trail. There was nothing at the trailhead, but it’s over 3,000 feet below the summit, so I assumed it had melted. We brought all the gear on the hike and never saw more than 4 inches of snow. I checked again when we got back to the house; it turns out the article I’d read was from 2016. We’re kind of in 2017..!
We also went to a “cave” in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park after an underwhelming drive through Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It’s hard to believe that’s the city in Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue. If the main street is not an example of capitalism gone wrong, I don’t know what is. Tourists seemed to enjoy the dull stores and cheap attractions, but I thought it was a waste of good nature.
The Smokies get their name from the dense fog that hangs around. It limits views, but makes a nice undercast effect when you get high enough. It was definitely worth a visit.
My flight was during the Super Bowl, so I missed the Patriots’ comeback, but who cares about football, right?!
Next up: More Northeast and a cross-country roadtrip.