A Celebration in Asheville, NC: The Ithaca of the South

22 Apr

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Oh what a treat. I recently returned from a great trip to Asheville, NC with my (big) little broski. He even earned a trail name on the trip. I’ll reveal that in a minute. The trip feels like a blessing now, considering the past year’s events…

Why Asheville, you ask?

We’ve both been told for years, “Ya know what town you’d really like? Asheville. It’s like the Ithaca of the South.” So about a year ago, we planned a trip, just for fun. Our sis had a companion flight she donated to the cause and we booked an airbnb. Then the unthinkable happened and one year ago today, little bro got in a really, really brutal car accident. He teetered on the edge of survival and was in the hospital and rehab for months. He underwent surgery after surgery and my family took turns manning his bedside. On top of repairing damage to internal organs, he had extensive, complicated orthopedic reconstruction in his hip and ankle (which he’d previously had reconstructed after jumping off the 2nd story porch onto a trampoline. lovable idiot.).

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Anyway…our trip was cancelled and we thought no more of it…until recently. My sister Bells, noting the AMAZING, miraculous recovery our brother has made in the year since the accident, recently asked me what ever happened to our plane tickets to Asheville. She’d been the one to call and alert the airline that we wouldn’t be flying and apparently, she was able to talk them into deferring the trip for up to a year. She reminded me of this early this year and our campaign to reschedule began. Bro said he was game, as long as I gave him as much time as possible to “train” to hike with me. After all, hiking was a main draw to this town surrounded by mountains. I sought out hikes and activities that he would feel physically comfortable doing that would allow us to taste all that the area offers. We hiked for food, beer, little bit of wine, more food and had a blast.

We arrived and the airbnb apartment we rented was PERFECT. The coffee mugs were even right on point.

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First full day we took the AMAZING, windy Blue Ridge Parkway to Graveyard Fields and did a just under 4 mile hike with great waterfall feature payoffs (and that’s coming from two Ithacans who are familiar with gorges). The first half of the hike felt almost prairie-like…then the return half of the loop felt like the temperate rainforest that it is…great diversity in one manageable hike. Bro had an…ahem…incident with a tree (evidenced in the battle wound photos). Thank goodness his glasses saved him from blindness.

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We decided to drive on a bit further because the Blue Ridge Parkway was JUST THAT beautiful and we happened upon a super short hike I’d also read about the night before, the Devil’s Courthouse. Now, my bro is not the type to pass up a chance to meet with the devil face-t0-face, so it took no convincing to get him to add another 1.5 of steep climbing to our day’s mileage to get some killer views. The Native Americans in the area say this is where the Devil comes to do his business, in the caves deep within this jutting rock formation. It’s also a protected area because of the wealth of alpine wildflowers and mosses, etc—not that you’d be tempted to wander from the trail with the dramatic dropoffs. From the top of Devil’s Courthouse you could see the Smokies, Blue Ridge Mountains and more. It was truly spectacular and photos don’t do it justice.

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We couldn’t pass up stopping at an overlook to take pics for Bells, our sis who HATES people who do yoga poses in front of scenic vistas. Lil’ bro clearly taught himself yoga just for the occasion. Guess which pose he calls “the pretzel”?

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Hiking Day 2 we went North. I’d been reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods about his 1993 Appalachian Trail thru hike and when I found myself reading about the section of the trail that straddles the Tennesee/North Carolina line, while sitting on a couch in North Carolina, the AT just started calling my name. We decided to head to Max Patch, recommended by some websites, guide books and friends on Facebook who noticed we were in Asheville and were quick to make recommendations (a true sign of a visit-worthy town, enthusiasts!). It proved to be exactly as described, a reasonable hike (2.4 mile distance) with stunning 360 degree views.

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Little bro was so excited to meet a real-life, smelly, dirty thru hiker. Introducing himself with his real name, he was delighted when the hiker stuck out his hand and said “Blackbeard, nice to meet ya.” (yes, he had a scruffy, dirty black beard). He told us how he’d been on the trail since January (an early start!) and asked me if he could take a peek at himself in the reflection in my sunglasses, saying “I haven’t seen myself in months.”

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Don’t judge, everyone needs treats at the top!

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“This way to North Carolina!” We’d walked into Tennesee for a bit. Very cool.

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Being on this gorgeous, gorgeous stretch of AT and—seed planted—after meeting Blackbeard, I knew my bro was itching for a trail name. As a result of his car accident, his hip and ankle are mostly titanium, compliments of Dr. Simpson at Upstate Medical Center. He was actually disappointed when his metal body parts didn’t set off the metal detectors in the airport. #firstworldproblems

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So on this trail, Iron Man was born.544848_10101546923928910_1188436753_n

Hat mountains, meet real mountains.

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Iron Man liked the shotgun holes in the sign. I was just confused.

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Those Smokies do look smoky…

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And as usual, we hike so we can eat.

Let’s see what I can remember of our delightful tour de food…

One night we made dinner at the apartment we rented (sweet place!!), so that was great, but we were too hungry and tired to document what we made. It had something to do with sweet potatoes, bbq pork and kale.

We had delish sandwiches at the City Bakery. The smell in that place immediately reminded both of us of the Ithaca Bakery. Sourced locally, made fresh, yada, yada.

I also snagged an organic cookie treat the French Broad Co-Op, the hippy dippiest, most expensive health food lover’s mecca in Asheville. We deemed the co-op too expensive for “normal” shopping and ended up at Amazing Savings, a strange semi-organic market in a warehouse. A mistake, as we were later told be locals that Amazing Savings tends to also reflect a motto of “amazing that everything in the store is expired and somehow we are still selling it!”.  Well, we survived. And honestly, it was attached to one of the wildest, weirdest and best thrift store experiences I’ve ever had. Imagine 300 garage sales with ONLY interesting and vintage items all crammed together and strangely merchandised, with a coffee shop attached. That’s the Downtown Market. I don’t know what to say, just check it out. You might end up with a very serious vest, a house dress or an antique pram.

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We ate at the Wicked Weed gastropub and brewery one night…whoa delicious. I actually ate a burger with lobster salad and avocado on top. I can’t think of a more gluttonous concoction, that’s why I look crazed. And this Henry VIII themed establishment named beers after both of us, Sir Ryan the Pounder and the Lunatic Blonde. Impressive.

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We had a great hipster brunch out on the patio at The Southern. Iron Man loves shrimp and grits, pecan buns, biscuits with gravy, mimosas. Uh huh.

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And breakfast our last morning at Tupelo Honey was beyond good, too. Look at this meal and tell me you wouldn’t hike 10 miles for that. I actually impulse bought the cookbook at the airport, so, I guess it made an impression.

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And we hike so we can drink. Beer, specifically.

So, always wanting to do competitor research on behalf of Bacchus Brewing, in addition to the Wicked Weed, we also visited Wedge Brewing Co. in the River Arts District, where there was a great outdoor, family fun vibe and steampunk style recycled decor. It made us want to drink and chat all day and play games with good friends.

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Oh! And the Thirsty Monk was a fun one too. TONS of beer choices…and a throne for the king of beer.

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It’s fair to say that this trip to Asheville was just the first of many. I was so happy to share the time with this beastly brother of mine…and get him outfitted with his very first hiking socks, a sweet rain coat, an Asheville Tourists local baseball team tee and a badass trail name. A southern success.

Love, love, love.

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