Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Summer is Here: A Blowing Rock Trip

Every year, no matter what additional travel plans I must have, I have to see the mountains and I have to see the Ocean… It’s a must! I see the Ocean for the deep and wide thinking experience that I need every once in a while, and I see the mountains for the peace, and the wilderness, for the freshness that recharges every pore in my skin and neuron in my brain!
This past weekend my friend and I decided to take a day trip to Blowing Rock and thereabouts … Not having done that trip before, my friend had some doubts that we can do this in one day, but I paid no attention to the worries, since I have done it a million times before, and almost every time it’s been a success.
Our first stop was in Blowing Rock where we made it just in time for lunch. Although adventuresome and always ready for trying new things, there are some things that I will always keep on doing, as old habits die indeed hard. I always have lunch at the ‘Speckled Trout’, a downtown fixture in the small mountain town, where they make the fishiest, most delicious, and freshest trout there (of course, if you drive towards Celo, ‘Albert’s Inn’ is a fierce competition, but… ). So, I had my trout, and I felt like my batteries are already starting to fill up…
We walked around the town, mostly window shopping in craft and décor stores, dreaming of what stuff might go well in our own abodes…Just soaking our retinas in cottage-style furnishings and local crafts. The weather was hot, and there is no other word to describe it! HOT! And steamy, or rather sauna-y: very few white puffy clouds, but the Carolina blue sky was letting the sun scorch us while stewing us in the humidity! The town was hopping: sidewalks were overflowing of people , no places to park, bands playing in the central park area, tens of kids swinging, playing ball, biking, kicking off their shoes and playing hide-n-seek and screaming and announcing that the summer is indeed here!
When hot and thirsty, we headed for ‘Kilwin’s Ice Cream’ parlor; we were horrified at the line! It seemed like everyone in town had the same thought as us: the line was endless, and the heat too scorching; we needed A/C and we needed cold liquids or foods, and we needed them fast! So, we opted for a cold brew at the ‘Six Pence Pub’, next door… That place was packed, too, but we managed to work out a table at the bar! A chatty waitress and $10 later we felt a bit better and ready for another stretch of the journey…
After a relatively short drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway (amazingly empty… I guess all the travelers stopped at Kilwin’s!), we got to the Grandfather Mountain Park… The steep drive is always fun, as are the “native” animals in the zoo, and the Forrest Gump Curve, and of course, the “piece de resistance”, the swinging bridge. My friend is somewhat queasy about heights, so he kept saying “I wish they stopped calling it the ‘swinging’ bridge”… I smiled. Actually laughed. There is something about grown men being nervous about seemingly little things that I find endearing… Last time I visited the “swinging bridge” the winds were 60 mph, and the gusts were 78 mph; at 80 mph constant winds they close it down. This time, the wind was probably, with no exaggeration, 0 mph! Not even a breeze! Peaceful, and hot, and close to the scorching sky! Some clouds let the sun go through, making for a great effect of sun poured into the valley below! The vista was superb and peaceful… Like a green blanket covering a sleeping body, unmoved … Peaceful that is, if it were not for the handful of very chatty (and loud) Japanese tourists nearby, that somewhat spoiled the whole effect! Still, there is something majestic, royal, and uplifting about being at the top of the world! For a short person, it’s the ultimate conquest! That’s one moment when I always think two things: I know there is God, because the world below me is such pure perfection, and second: now, I know what it feels like to be a bird: free!
With very little daylight left (one and a half hours was pushing it!), we headed towards the Linville Falls, further South even. After a wrong turn, and a walk deep in the quiet, tall woods, for about half an hour, we were back in the car looking for the right trail. We parked, and this time, we paid attention to the signs! After a 0.6 mile hike, we walked up, breathless, to the Chimney View that gave us an opening of both the Upper and Lower Falls, and we remained breathless indeed! The Upper Falls are smaller but wider, only to open up in a huge, narrow plunge into the Lower Falls, which in turn gets lost in the woods, and then falls quiets down into the bed of the stream in the valley.. My friend, a kayaker and rafter, could not help but exclaim something similar to this: “Wow, that would be a great drop on a boat!”… I didn’t agree…I guess each of us has our phobias as well as rushes!
After several minutes of ultimate pleasure, and wonder, again, in the face of Mother Nature, and Father God, we decided that no matter how peaceful the water sounded, and how hypnotic, we were not equipped for camping the night, and we had to return to the car, since our camera flash starting going off: the first signal the sun was turning in for the day… We both agreed we’re mountain people. How can we not be? So humble and small and overwhelmed and yet protected in the face of the Universe?! And we both knew that no matter where we ended up living, the woods and the mountains will always hold the key to the silence and the serenity we needed so, from time to time, to move on …
The hike back seemed shorter, but that was maybe because we were again eager to know whether we took the right trail: on the way back, we came to a fork in the road, which we hadn’t notice the first time, that lead to 2 different parking lots. We had no clue which one was ours, but I am a trusting nature (not!), and I trusted my friend’s instinct… It was a good decision…
The light was barely in the sky at 8.30 when we got to the car, and we were starved, too!
After a NC BBQ dinner in Boone, we headed home, tired, feet tingling with exhaustion, tummies full of mountain food, and pores filled to the brim with freshness and peace! Mission accomplished, I should say!
We locked the treasure box in Boone, and headed home, on 421! The treasure will be there, locked, for freshness, next time when the “city” will become once again (it never fails!) too claustrophobic and too polluted for our souls…
The trip was 13 hours and a half, but we could do it in one day! And what an accomplishment: huge mountain vistas, opened up into Eternity, clear Carolina blue skies, and sticky Southern humidity, cold brew with my part-Irish friend, fresh, fishy trout in the middle of a quaint town, gorges filled with raging water that allow themselves to be tamed into a stream at the end, delicious North Carolina BBQ and everywhere, the all-encompassing, ever-present purple rhododendron, bordering the Parkway and every valley … It’s good to feel at home and at peace!
For a visual peek:

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