Action-packed Asheville, NC

We made the short drive (yay!) from Burnsville to Asheville and settled in our new digs, a rustic cabin complete with fantastic host and two fluffy kitties.  Once again, the drive up to our lodgings made me break out in a cold sweat just a bit.  There are some seriously steep, shoulder-less roads in North Carolina.  The journey was worth it, though – just take a look at this view!

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The Blue Ridge Mountains, as seen from our back porch (VRBO #374415 – tell George we sent you!).

Eric had visited North Carolina several times before, on various camping and cycling trips with buddies.  Asheville in particular is a great destination – the town itself is vibrant, with a tinge of hippy-ness, but its proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway is the key.

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The Pride of North Carolina.

469 miles of pristine roadway, closed to commercial traffic, makes this stretch of blacktop a cycling mecca.  Eric’s friend, Randy, was able to spend some time with us in Asheville, so he and Eric road lots during the day (back-to-back centuries with thousands of feet in elevation gain), and I mostly studied for final exams.

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The boys’ bikes atop Mount Mitchell.

Together, the three of us ventured out to the traditional Friday night Drum Circle in Downtown Asheville.  There was a huge group of drummers, many dreadlocks, and some questionably legal smoke in the air.  People-watching at its best!  Here’s a video of the Circle just a couple of weeks after we visited.

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Randy and Eric, enjoying the entertainment.

We strolled around town and discovered a plethora of micro-breweries and interesting shops.

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At Bruisin’ Ales.

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I don’t care for beer, but I can appreciate a good liver joke.

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Local carvings. Eric is starting to resemble them.

Saturday morning, the three of us drove along a portion of the Blue Ridge, and hiked at one of Randy’s favorite spots, Skinny Dip Falls.  It was a moderate hike, with a spectacular descent and waterfall at the end.

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Randy had to go to home to work (poor guy!), while Eric and I stayed in Asheville a few more days.  On Sunday, Eric took part in his first mountain bike race ever, the River’s Edge Mountain Bike Marathon, a 50-miler through the Uwharrie Forest near Abermarle, NC.

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Eric arrives at the vehicle for his first pit stop during the race. He consumed mass quantities of trail mix, PB & J and Coke that day.

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Mid-race, complete bad ass.

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A mere six hours later, Eric is finished! He rode so quickly on his last loop that I missed him finish – he arrived ten minutes earlier than I expected!

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Somebody found out that he won first place in the amateur division!

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Eric atop the podium, prizes in hand.

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During the drive home, Eric models his newly-won SRAM hat.

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And an awesome trophy, to boot!

The race was Eric’s first taste of mountain bike competition, and another step in his journey to Leadville later in the year.  He put in hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of training this year, and had some fantastic results!

Taking a couple of days off of biking for recovery, we did more sightseeing, and hiked a tiny portion of the Appalachian Trail.  The following set of photos was taken in the area of Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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Beautiful stonework by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

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Taken from the top of it, this walkway curls even higher, for panoramic views of the surrounding area.

It’s no more than a mile hike from the parking lot, ending in this walkway, but it is seriously steep.  Take a bottle of water and maybe a snack with you, and woe to the elderly and the littles.

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Eric descends, as I brave my fear of heights to release a hand from the handrail and snap this shot.

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From Clingman’s Dome, we revisited some of Eric’s favorite places, from previous camping trips.

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At a riverview burger joint in remote western NC.

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Next up: Fontana Dam.  There was no dam tour, but we had a dam good time.  The Appalachian Trail crosses the roadway around the dam, making it a popular spot for overnighting backpackers.  Ample restrooms and showers are a friendly sight to those sore eyes.

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Overlooking Fontana Dam.

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Surrounding scenery.

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Like the Hoover Dam, you will have vertigo trying to look down the 480-foot-high Fontana Dam.

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The azaleas were a-bloomin’.

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The flame azalea.

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Dogwoods of NC.

Eric continued biking the Blue Ridge in solitary.  One day, he rode from the cute town of Little Switzerland, while I (you guessed it!) studied some more.  The Switzerland Cafe is a great place for free WIFI, coffee and snacks (or pumpkin pie, as Eric will tell you).

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Study snack at the Switzerland Cafe.

An absolute must-see, ladies, is the J. Crew Factory Clearance Center in nearby Arden.  It has no website, and is not advertised, but I stumbled onto it, and I highly recommend a visit – there are deals to be had, and college students get an extra discount.

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We will wrap this one up with some pictures from Eric’s lone rides and my lone strolls about the mountain.  Adios, amigos.

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