North Carolina

Green Knob Overlook

Saturday, October 24
Virginia State Line to Concord, NC

    Into NC and the Yadkin Valley at 1:00. US 52 is the Andy Griffith Highway. At Mount Airy, there's the Mayberry Motor Inn, the Mayberry Flea Market, the Mayberry Water Works, and the Mayberry Mall, which is across the road from Little Richard's Lexington BBQ and a McDonald's brick building next to an ordinary McDonald's. I go into the mall. An old guy has a southern accent so thick I can hardly understand a word he said. I could get a BLT for $2.59.
    US 52 merges with NC Route 8, becoming the Pilot Mountain Parkway, 2 lanes divided by a Jersey wall. It passes by Winston-Salem, which has a huge thumb of a building (rounded dome on top) and other high-rises with nothing of any particular note to distinguish them.
    I take I-40 and US 31l to Greensboro, getting off at Randleman Road, where I had stopped so many times heading north from Florida or South Carolina. I have been breaking my interstate rule but there's really not much choice. The north side of Greensboro is similar to what I remember, although I'm sure many of the names have changed, but the south side is hoppin', built up with a lot of new high-rise franchises. Gas prices here are all over the lot, $2.099 at an Exxon, $1.999 at a Valero, $2.259 (!) at a Cities Service, $2.199 and $2.059 at other places, but mostly $1.999. I stop at a Scottish In, where a sign high over the highway says $33.99 for a single but it's homecoming weekend so it's 70 bucks.
    On down I-85, smashing my internet rule as well as the 5-hour rule. (If I'd been able to get a room in Greensboro for a decent price, I wouldn't have smashed either of them.) $24 for $2.099 gas at Thomasville NC. It's now sunny, in my face, the east clear, up ahead in the south a lot of cirrus but still a lot of blue. The temp is up to 73. There's a slowdown on I-85 near Kannapolis. I get off at US 29 at Concord, trying to find America's Best Value Inn. Once again, I go way too far down the road and I have to go all the way back to I-85, getting to the inn at 5:00, 107589 on the odometer. There's a white old DeSoto in parking lot. The guy at the counter says there's an old car show at the racetrack this weekend.

    The room has a couch with a small table in front of it, a kingsize bed with lamps and small tables on either side of it, against one wall is a small bench wide enough to put stuff on, a dresser with 3 drawers, an open space under the top, and a desk with a chair, a TV on the wall, wall lamp, an ironing board, a sink alcove with a refrigerator and microwave, shelf above hangers, a sink with a wide counter. The bathroom itself is small with all it needs.
    Later I went down to the Concord Restaurant for a "small" chef salad, coffee, and raspberry cheesecake (tasted like regular cheesecake).

Sunday, October 25
Concord to Asheville
    47 years ago, I went to The Bent Card for the first time.
    Got up at 8:40 and left the motel at 9:30, temp 62, 107592 on the odometer, another gray overcast day. Danish and coffee at the motel, which I immediately spilled in the car. I-85 south to get off the next exit at NC 73. No slowdown on I-85 today since there's no construction on Sunday morning (apparently they're adding another lane each way). 73 is your standard 2-lane country highway, speed 55, but a lot of traffic, with 2 people in front of me, 4 in back, and a lot of people going the other way. The scenery is nothing special, the Howell Reservoir, going through a forested area, an exit to a nuclear power plant, a lake off to my left through the trees, a highway plaque: "The Battle of Cowen's Ford." Cornwallis is mentioned, so it's for the Revolutionary War. A dam, leaving Mecklenburg County. The town of East Lincoln.
    On to Route 27 at Lincolnton. US 321 north at 10:30. I had thought of continuing on 27 then up 18 to Morganton and 181 but decided to take the highspeed highway instead. The country just wasn't that interesting. Definitely a lot of color now, that golden amber yellow, some reds. Welcome to Catawba County. Mostly pines on my side of the highway, fair amount of red on the other side, orange, not much yellow in this area for some reason, a flat area to my right, a field of some kind, irrigation machines, a small wooded hill, pretty much the same to my left but more rolling. Town of Newton. Rolling country, lots of trees in color, even if not spectacular color, a tree with some green, some red, some amber. More interesting country than that along 73.
    I-40 at 10:47, temp 65. Sun breaking through the haze overhead. "Burke County Welcomes You." Rhodhiss, Icard, Granny's Country Kitchen, Fall Color Report Updated Daily. (Originally I read Rhodhiss as Roadhiss or Roadkiss.) Rolling mountains to my left, 4-5 towers on the highest mountain, another tower to my left just off I-40. Into Morganton at 11:02, temp 69.
    From I-40 to Route 18 to 181 at 11:08, nice residential district, lots of small brick houses, a brick church with a small steeple, 3 stone houses, a 2-story gray house with a gable on the front, an ugly business section, Hardee's (don't see many of those much up north), Bojangles, Oishii Japanese Restaurant, The Montana Mexican Restaurant (tilde on the 2nd n).
    Again it's your standard issue 2-lane country highway with not a hell of a lot to recommend it, not particularly interesting or pretty or picturesque. Bethel Baptist Church, about 100 cars in the parking lot. The Table Rock Baptist Church (doesn't seem to be anyone there). A small log cabin alongside the road (posted). The Blue Ridge Mountains looking very blue ridge-y, one rising to a sharp peak, a little hump before the peak, one rises up like a western mesa though tilted, a sharp rise to the mesa which then continues up at a shallower angle before dropping off sharply, to its right one of your standard issue peaked mountains, not like the rounded ones we're used to in the East. A ramshackle house with a porch and a rusting tin roof, not quite falling in on itself. Passing by the town of Joy--I seem to have missed a lot of good towns on this trip, Joy and Desire. Pisgah National Forest, Smyrna Baptist Church (a small number of cars), Horseshoe Bend Swimming and Camping. 181 becomes a very windy road, first left then right then left then right, on and on, for quite some distance, going up past red and orange trees. I could have stayed on I-40 all the way to Asheville but this seemed like more fun and it definitely is, curving left and right, a wonderful road, at least 5 miles of curving roads. Lots of people at the Brown Mountain Overlook, really quite spectacular with a broad expanse in front of me, a ridge with several colored trees (a lot of yellow, some red), a couple of big yellow trees in front of me, behind the ridge to my left a mountain rises, another ridge rises to my right with an other ridge behind it, another ridge behind that, still another ridge behind that, and the ghost of a mountain behind everything. It's pretty damn spectacular, sun trying to break through the clouds—you can at least see where it is. Behind me is a really sharp peak that rises up. Fair amount of red, fairly bright, a bunch of yellow amber, red and orange gold on the same tree. The colors may not be as spectacular as in New England but they're still pretty damn good. Orange and yellow and dark red ahead of me, a really dark red. Ginger Creek Acres, Upper Creek Acres.
    Finally on to the Blue Ridge Parkway at noon, temp 62. A lot of the trees seem to have lost their leaves, not a lot of color but some. Lot of dead trees at a couple of places. Linville River Falls. The Linville visitor center jammed with cars, no place to park. US 221. Beautiful view of the mountains to my left, the east, with the tilted mesa formation viewed from the other side. Another incredible vista mountain overlook with a massive amount of cars (it's Sunday and the colors are out). A couple of pictures at North Cove view. Crab Tree Falls--incredible vista of the mountains and the mountains behind the mountains and the mountain behind the mountains behind the mountains, a lot of orange in the valley below. Buck Creek Gap, Twin Tunnels. More incredible vistas where you can't pull over and look at, much less take a photo. Looking to the west, golden trees in front of me, pale white flowers, ridge full of color, another ridge behind that, then the mountains with clouds at their tops. Just before mile 348. Curtis Valley Overlook. Drop off below is orange and yellow, bright red tree to my left, pine below me. Mount Mitchell gets more and more awesome the closer you get to it, another vista to my left, another mountain rising high, lower mountains. The mountain rises immediately to my right (I find this rather oppressive). To my left mountains rise high across some valley, a lake down there. The sun is out with some blue patches, fluffy cumulus with ragged edges ahead of me. Graybeard Mountain Overlook, another incredible vista, not worth taking another picture, again and again and again. Never ending vistas. Oh, God, look at that over there.

The view from Craggy Gardens.

    Craggy Pinnacle Tunnel, Craggy Gardens, Craggy Flats Tunnel. The North Carolina section of the BRP is absolutely spectacular, more spectacular in its way (mountain after mountain after mountain until they're blue in the distance, 3 or 4 ridges or ranges of mountain, sharp peaks or rounded, a lake or river beneath me). Lots and lots of traffic, 2 cars ahead of me, 7 or so going the other direction, a lonely leafless tree standing alone in silhouette. Craven Gap. Folk Art Center, temp 70.
    70 west to Asheville at 3:11, temp 71, not terribly impressed by the Museum of Folk Art despite a recording of "Solid Gone" being played over the audio system. At Asheville, $2.229 for of gas! Also $2.109 and $2.059. Stopped at the Econolodge (a bit more expensive than I would like) at 4:00 after going up and down US 70 several times. A reuben at the Village Delicatessen & Grille. Bed at 12.

Monday, October 26
    Didn't get up till 9:15. Cereal, juice, toast, tiny donuts, coffee at the motel. Added another day and the price went up $10! "Leaf-peeping season." A chilly rainy day. Looks like rain tomorrow and maybe Wednesday. Spent most of the day in the motel. Walked across the street for coke and biscuit at the Waffle House. Wanted to go to the Thomas Wolfe House but it's closed on Mondays. I hate Asheville.
    Around 4:30 I went to the Waffle House again for coffee and a waffle. Then I tried to find the open mike at 185 King Street. Although I found the area where it should have been, it was a residential area with no businesses. The other open mikes were farther away and harder to find on a rainy night where I had no idea where anything was. Street signs were also very hard to read.
    All in all, Asheville was an unmitigated disaster and this time it wasn’t because of my impatience. I decided not to come on the weekend because there were no open mikes. If I had, it would have been more expensive. As it was, these were two of the most expensive nights I’ve spent on the road. Then, when I get here, after killing time outside Charlotte, the Thomas Wolfe House is closed, it rains and is chilly, and I can’t find where the open mikes are. The only good part about the whole thing is that I managed to catch up on most of the work I needed to do. Even with all this, if the motels were reasonable, I’d probably stay another day and try another open mike. But tomorrow, rain or no rain, I’m getting out of here and heading back to my old stomping grounds in Augusta. I may spend two days there. Or not.
Tuesday, October 27
Asheville to the Georgia State Line
    Up at 7:30. Had a dream about ALOC and Nancy. It hurt when I woke up. Breakfast at the motel—coffee, juice, cereal, a couple of small donuts, a small bagel with cream cheese.
    Leaving the motel at 8:38, temp 48, raining (definitely an interstate kind of day), odometer 107819. On to I-240 at 8:41. Over the Swannanoa River. I-40 with the nearby mountains shrouded by clouds. Goodbye to the Blue Ridge Parkway. NC 191 to I-26 East at 8:54. Traffic not too bad, at speed, people behind me, people way ahead of me, a lot of traffic going the other way. 11+ gallons of gas at $2.599 ($25) at a Shell station in Arden, NC. Trucks lined up at the weigh station going the other way. Flat Rock, the home of Carl Sandburg. Gas down here at $2.069. The signs down here leave a great deal to be desired, showing you the turn you’re in the wrong lane to take just when you reach the turn. If there’s any sign at all. In mountain country again, first up then going down, the tops of the mountains shrouded in clouds. The ridge ahead of me is clear, the one behind it is gray and ghostly. Steady rain begins to fall as I hit the city limits of Columbus. An overpass with some kind of shrubbery with a lot of red on it, flowers or leaves? I don’t know. Welcome to South Carolina at 9:46, temp 48.

Just before Mile 348