Road Trip VIII, Days 19-23, Nashville to Asheville: Don’t You Westerners Start With Your “These Ain’t No Mountains”

We’ve made it to North Carolina, my home state. But not, as yet, to my hometown. For once we aren’t fleeing weather on this trip, which means we’ve been able to slow down and enjoy time with friends in the Blue Ridge.

That means lots of walks and hikes on steep, rocky pieces of earth which, to me, are most definitely mountains, thank you very much, but to my Californian Mate…not so much. Please ignore him. These mountains are old, they’re beautiful, and they’re full of old, beautiful music, songs full of references to valleys and hollers, songs I can’t get out of my head when I’m here. I love these mountains.

Sunrise from the front porch, up on Butler Mountain

But I’m not about to set up a head-to-head beauty contest between them and my beloved Cascades or Olympics. I mean, let’s be realistic, okay?

So on our hike yesterday, I went small, ignoring huge oaks and laurel thickets and waterfalls for something subtler…and also very welcome, after all the desert we just crossed: fungus.

The first I came across are what’s commonly known as a British Soldiers. Usually their heads are bright red; I’ve never seen pink ones!

Maybe they’re all wearing their Pussy Hats!

Then there were these beauties on a fallen tree:

Who knew decay could be so lovely?

And this little guy, doing a good impression of a tide pool creature:

Sea slug? Chiton? Nope—fungus.

Finally, on our way back, these fragile white fans:

I know, I know. We have pretty mushrooms in the northwest too. But let the east shine for now, ok?

Since I mentioned Nashville in the heading I should mention that, yes indeed, the Mate and I paid our respects to Music Row, and ate some kick-ass ribs at Acme Feed and Seed (which I did not take a picture of ’cause I already felt conspicuously touristy).  But neon and cowboy boots are not our thing. I’m happy for those who love Nashville and all it stands for, but we were just as glad to get back to our motel and watch the Tarheels play. 😊

And speaking of Tarheels…next up, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the ACC tournament! And…where will Traveling Avocados #5 and 6 find their destiny?

Road Trip V, Days 12-14, Cookeville, TN-Asheville, NC: Counting Blessings

I realize that the topic of traffic accidents may be painful to some, so—fair warning. We just walked away from one, and I want to write about it.

For the record, I lost both my uncle and my grandmother in separate auto crashes (the former, before I was born; the latter, when I was fifteen). But I’m willing to bet most families can list one or more members lost that way. There’s a reason so many of us sign off our conversations and emails, “Drive safely!”

The Mate and I were heading east on I-40 in the middle of Tennessee in a blinding rainstorm. We had just stopped for a satisfying bike ride (Mate) and run (me) on a rail-trail along the Cumberland River outside Nashville. (For most folks, Nashville = Grand Ol’ Opry. For the Wings, Nashville–or any other city–= “Where do y’all keep your bike paths?”) We had changed into dry clothes, and were looking forward to an arrival in Knoxville early enough that we might even take in a movie. I was on the iPad, checking dinner options.

Both of us noticed that Red Rover felt a little…squiggly. I tapped on the iPad. The Mate drove.

Suddenly, crossing a bridge over a flooded creek, Red Rover was skidding sideways. Her left rear slammed into the concrete divider, bouncing us back across the freeway with such force that the right-side slam spun us 180 degrees. When the entire slo-mo sequence ended, we sat staring the oncoming traffic in the face from the safety of the shoulder.

Of course it wasn’t safe. I was convinced that the next second would bring another car, or one of those semis, hydroplaning right through our windshield. But Red Rover re-started, and after only a few moments–though it felt endless–the traffic parted enough for The Mate to do a U-turn and rejoin the eastern flow.

~A rest area appeared in the next two miles.
~A nice man inside showed us on a map where we could find a good mechanic in the next town, Cookeville.
~Red Rover showed barely a scratch.
~The Mate and I suffered only shaky knees.
~Cookeville was 20 miles away. We spent that drive marveling at our blessings.

I won’t bore you with the details of what we learned from the mechanic about the probable cause of our skid. Suffice to say we’ll be visiting a Subaru dealer when we get to my hometown, Durham. And our poor ol’ bike rack needs some first aid. But this post is about blessings.

We were able to drive away from an accident that could have killed us in several different ways. We were able to afford new tires, and a night in a motel a little nicer than our usual Super-8 level. (They gave us milk and warm cookies when we checked in.) I posted about our accident on Facebook and received dozens of caring responses. The next day we drove safely out from under Winter Storm Thor and made it to the home of our friends in Asheville, who spoil us rotten.

"Goin' back to Carolina, bless my soul, bless my soul..."

“Goin’ back to Carolina, bless my soul, bless my soul…”

Me & The Mate, happy to be alive in the Blue Ridge.

Me & The Mate, happy to be alive in the Blue Ridge.

At this point, all I can do is borrow from Anne Lamott one of her three favorite prayers: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”*

(Courtesy Indiebound.org)

(Courtesy Indiebound.org)

(*Lamott’s other two prayers are, “Help me, help me, help me,” and “Oh, wow.” I’ve borrowed those plenty too.)

What else is there to say?

OK, I’m Home–Now How Do I Hang Onto All Those Memories?

10,000 miles. 20 states (OK, 19 plus Puerto Rico). 60 close friends and family members. 23 local, state and national parks. 

We’re home. Time to caption & share the photos. That should do it for capturing memories, right?

For any normal person, maybe. But for capturing the full vibrancy of a past moment, I like to play “Best of.” It’s a game we started with our kids when they were small, and I think it rubbed off more on me than on them. Here’s how it works:

Best Hike of Trip: Nevada Falls in Yosemite (3/28). (I mean, really, how could anything in Yosemite NOT win Best Hike?) Eating an orange way too close to the edge with my son who’s about to disappear into Central America for 2 months…

Casey

Runner-up: El Yunque Peak, Puerto Rico (3/7) Getting drenched with The Mate on the way down…after all, it IS a rain forest…

Honorable Mention: Nevada Falls again (3/27). Yup, I went up twice in a row. Didn’t have enough time the first day.

Best Bike Path: Turtle Bay, Redding, California (3/29). An old favorite, not a new discovery, but nothing beats this wonderfully curvy path with its little roller-coaster section, wild bunnies, blooming redbuds…

Runner-up: Provo River, Utah (3/23). Exercising nervous tension before Carolina’s final NCAA game…

Honorable Mention: Bettendorf, Iowa (3/20). Who knew the Quad Cities were so into fitness?

Best Dinner: That little hamlet near Ceiba, Puerto Rico that served fish with sauteed onions and lime (3/6). Giant as-yet-uncaught fish patrolled the waters beneath the restaurant deck, probably scarfing the entrails of our dinner.

PR

Runner-up: a tie between Mama Dip’s Fried Chicken in Chapel Hill (3/14) (Mama Dip catered our wedding back in 1986!) and our friend Ben’s braised lamb shanks in Asheville, NC (3/1). Ben OWNS lamb.

Honorable Mention: fried pork and plantains, El Yunque (3/3 and 3/4). Good thing we got out of there; that diet would have killed us. But we would’ve died happy…

Best Lunch: Allen & Son’s BBQ with fixins (3/13). OOOF. No possible runner-up.
image

Best Breakfast: El Yunque Inn’s creamy oatmeal with fresh mango (3/4). Since all our other breakfasts were cereal, that one kinda stands out…

And, lest you think with me and The Mate it’s all about exercise and food…well, it is. On road trips, we are rarely in Museum Mode. But we do branch out occasionally.

Best Cultural Experience: Bluegrass & Beer at Asheville’s French Broad Brewery (3/1). It’s the name of the river, silly, not some Parisian chick…

Runner-up: My own (first!) author reading at The Regulator Bookshop in my hometown, Durham, NC (3/11). 🙂
20140317-135105.jpg
Best Unexpected Find: Great Basin National Park, Nevada (3/25-6). Aspens. Quiet. Wild turkeys.

Runner-up: Rock Canyon, Provo, Utah (3/22). Whoa, those rock climbers are all so happy!

Honorable Mention: Tie between the Ceiba Country Inn, Puerto Rico (3/5-6)--all those dogs!--and the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 100-acre sculpture woods (3/19). Is that a spaceship sinking in that lake?

Notice a pattern here? The bolded words are the real memories. The whole “contest” is just an excuse to push my brain to run through all those thousands of possibilities, reinforcing the synaptic connections of every single one of those 49 days. 

Oh, and the dates? That’s just my nerdiness. See, my grandma lived to be 103 and kept a razor-sharp memory till the end. Just in case I’ve inherited her longevity genes, I’m keeping my own brain in SHAPE.

So that’s how I remember good times. Do you have other tricks? Memorabilia? Rock collections? Or are you so glad to be home you just let it all go and move on to doing laundry?