Bryson City

I’ve holed up for a few days in Bryson City, NC, that state’s entryway town to Great Smokies National Park. I let my legs rest – they felt fine pretty quickly – and my knees, which are still a little mad at me. I got some work done (reading, writing), and have been nursing Hops’s eye (so far, so good). We didn’t do much at all, but we did take a drive up the Road to Nowhere.

This is an interesting story, and you can read the tourism version here. (Atlas Obscura does a less rah-rah version.) In a nutshell, the federal government by way of the TVA flooded out a former town and had to offer its displaced residents access to the cemeteries where their families were buried. A new highway was begun, but never completed. A sign leading up the road (formally, Lakeview Drive) reads “The Road to Nowhere – A Broken Promise 1943-??” The Park Service, according to the above link, still shuttles residents to the old cemeteries for family reunions and Decoration Day (which is the term used for Memorial Day especially where folks are thinking of Civil War veterans). The road ends in a generously graffitied tunnel nearly a half-mile long: sources recommend a flashlight for the dark, but on a sunny day I had no need.

I was reminded, of course, of Cooley’s song “Uncle Frank.” And I was struck by the strange and wasteful tragedy – leaving aside the question of dams, of towns submerged and residents moved out of their homes, of environmental destruction – of this road in particular. The tunnel at road’s end is a feat of engineering: what did we pay for this? For the road itself – and now for its upkeep? My drive was interrupted by maintenance crews; the road and its verges are nicely kept up. A tourist attraction is worth something, yes. But it’s a strange statement, to see government workers out there on a road to nowhere, a promise (so says the sign) broken.

I am back and forth, some days, between observing the unbelievable beauty of this world and its clear crumbling before my eyes.

To perk us all up, here’s a little photo pack of the Road to Nowhere, Foxy in her natural habitat, and the tunnel at the end of the road.

day four, Asheville and out

My last day in Asheville, I got some work done, walked Hops around near the campus of UNC Asheville, and met up with some of my favorite people in the world, from my most recent grad school program: director (and my thesis advisor), the deeply talented Jessie van Eerden; and poetry professor and dear friend Doug Van Gundy. I bought a ticket to a local play that turned out to be so, well, bad that I left at intermission. I love the theatre – including less-than-professional productions – and have never walked out of one before; it makes me sad. Then I took off for my next stop late in the night. But I’ll be back, Asheville. Thanks for everything.

day three, Asheville

I saw a beaver at a brewery. Right at that boundary line between urban and natural settings, roadside parking meets a steep slope down to a river, and I saw a flash of his fat little butt and I went closer to look and he had the same instinct – came back to look back at me. It’s not the greatest picture, but here he is.

Then I did some more walking around town including a purposeful visit to Malaprops – I had passed by during my walk on the urban trail, but this time I went sans Hops. I just wanted to look around. They have this great idea, though –

so I wanted to reward it. I bought a book. It turned out I had already read that book; I exchanged it for another book. I had already read that one, too. I picked out a third and approached my new friend at the register, and asked her, what happens if I go three for three? And she replied with her sweet Southern accent, “Well ma’am, we will just have to escort you from the store.” Luckily, third time’s the charm. This just tickled me. As she pointed out, I’m their people.

Hops and I enjoyed a little evening time at Green Man Brewing while waiting for the night’s big event. This was a pleasant place to sit and enjoy a beer or two – dog friendly – and I showed the bartender my green man tattoo, which however I cannot show you here because I don’t seem to have a picture of it. Hmm. Here are some Green Man pics from the brewery, though.

Then on to The Orange Peel for Tank and the Bangas! I was super excited about this happy coincidence, that they fit my schedule so nicely. I’ve never seen them live. But first, I enjoyed opening sets by Maggie Koerner and, especially, Alfred Banks – I bought a cd by the latter. All three acts come out of New Orleans. Now, when Tank and the Bangas came on, I was really stoked. In part, I have to hand it to this Asheville crowd. They responded when asked to sing along, to respond, even just to crowd into the stage for the first opener’s first song. I think a Houston crowd would have been too cool. Anyway, the energy was great, and that is completely true of Tank and the Bangas as well: ten members onstage, all of them moving and shaking and dancing and jamming along in their own ways. It was an energetic, upbeat, gorgeous show. I’m so glad I got to see this!! Do make it a point if they come your way.

best I could do with my phone

day two, Asheville

I can see it’s going to take me some time to take this town in.

A fine morning: I put in some work, and then headed into the woods. Hops and I took a short hike and I rode some trails in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, which (as far as I can tell) is part of Pisgah National Forest. The trails were not terribly technically challenging, but the climbing was a challenge for me. And descending so fun!

climbing in Bent Creek

For comparison I went back and looked up a similar picture I took in 2015 or thereabouts…

in the Chuckanut Mountains of Washington state, near Bellingham

I put in some more time reading (oh, this life) and then met up with some friends for dinner and drinks – Larry, from just last week, and our friend Velicia are in town for a conference this coming weekend.

And I spotted this list of live shows coming up, which is part of what’s making it hard to leave town.

Lucinda! Todd Snider! Tank and the Bangas! (as always, click to enlarge)

Good problems, friends. Good night for now.

trail’s end

day one in Asheville

We woke up near Catawba Falls in the Pisgah National Forest and so started our day with that hike, a 2.5-mile round trip gently up to the falls, where the air got cool and crisp – it was a perfect day.

Driving into Asheville, we started with a walk around Biltmore Village. The Biltmore Estate itself is supposed to be a sight to see, but at $65 to enter, I feel like the old class struggle the place represents is being perpetuated. No thank you. The Village is free to walk around, so we did. It’s nice enough, with old brick sidewalks and some fine architecture, but it’s all retail now, of the Brooks Brothers – Ruth’s Chris – Lululemon variety. We had a little dog walk and moved on again.

Lunch was the Purple People Feeder food truck at Wedge Brewing – I was delighted with my veggie-and-rice plate, and Hops got some steak fat (!) on the house; the beers were delicious, and it was a really fine outdoor space. I’m sorry I didn’t get any pictures! From there, we felt replenished to move on to Asheville’s Urban Trail, a historic walking tour of downtown. I used this map on my phone, cross-referencing with Google maps. It’s not the best guide; we definitely missed some of the sites, and some of them were a little underwhelming. My advice to future travelers would be to use this tour as a vague guide, but feel free to roam around. Some of what I found on my own was cooler than what was on the list of sights to see. That said, Asheville does have a rich historic downtown, teeming with people on foot (I love it!), and I’m glad we spent a little time.

By the time we finished, though, Hops and I were both pooped. I don’t know how many miles we walked today, between the Falls hike and the Village and this Urban Trail, but it was enough (Asheville’s downtown is not flat). I wanted to hit one of the downtown breweries but got frustrated looking for parking (tired, hungry), and ended up heading back to the River Arts District, where we visited Wedge earlier. This time we landed at New Belgium’s Asheville location. I’ve visited them in Fort Collins, and found this one very similar in layout (that was 15 or so years ago, so take that as you will). It’s well designed for visitors, with a large, glass-walled taproom, decks with views, a huge park space out front filled with dogs and kids and bikes as I arrived around 6pm on a sunny day. The brewery is a separate space; they do tours but they keep it a bit apart, which seems like a good plan to me.

I had another fine vegetarian meal from Bun Intended food truck, and slaked my thirst.

it was a long and thirsty day, but a good one.

Boone and on

A new state!

Hops and I rolled into Boone, NC in the afternoon, checked out the town a bit before bed…

And the next morning, I rode the gorgeous trails at Rocky Knob.

By the time I finished, though, I was very dirty and very cold. We fled to lower elevations, finding a perfectly lovely spot in the Pisgah National Forest.

While I enjoyed Boone very much, the presence of ski equipment (cold!!) and lack of visible diversity make this a place I’d visit, not live.

Asheville tomorrow, though…

good night. (night sky near Catawba Falls)