If you haven’t read the first part of our road trip story, check it out here. We left off in Roanoke, VA heading down the Blue Ridge Parkway at the end of day one. On the second day of vacation, Kyle and I woke up early to drive south on the BRP to our first hiking destination, Smart View.
We threw some snacks and water in our packs and suited up for the moderate 3 mile loop that promised an amazing view at the end of the climb. We were surprised to find three separate mountain vistas along the way to reward us for our hard work. There was also an old cabin built in the 1890’s to explore while resting at one of the overlooks. The trail was well-maintained with benches along the way for taking in the scenery. With temperatures hovering around 65 degrees F, we had a very nice trip up the mountain, over the creeks and back to our car.
After completing our hike and scarfing down some granola bars and fresh fruit, we got back on the parkway to drive to North Carolina. Our goal was to make it to Asheville, NC by the end of the day, driving over 250 miles in an afternoon along the winding mountain roads on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We saw some interesting sights along the way, like a treble clef made out of shrubbery…
Mabry Mill, an iconic landmark along the parkway…
And the North Carolina state line! The National Parks Service had actually painted a line across the road to signal our arrival in the beautiful state of NC.
We soon arrived in the adorable town of Boone, NC for a 3:00 lunch.
Boone is the home of Appalachian State University. Remember when I told you to seek out college towns for vegetarian dining while traveling? Boone did not disappoint. We found a very veggie-friendly dining scene with several options for us to try.
We settled on Black Cat Burrito, which makes all of their enormous burritos meatless upon request. We could substitute tofu for meat on anything, and they even offer a separate vegetarian grill to ensure that none of the components of your burrito touch residual meat grease on the main grill. Black Cat Burrito also has amazing salsa that is packed with delicious fresh cilantro. Along with my “Don’t Be A Jerk Burrito,” I enjoyed my fist Magic Hat Vinyl of the season. Man do I love this beer. I was happy to embrace the fact that Kyle would be taking a turn with the driving soon.
After lunch, Kyle and I walked around the town and picked up a few souvenirs from the Mast General Store. I brought home a coffee mug (you can never have too many), a jar of local concord grape jam, and a bumper sticker that reminded us of canoeing on our summer 2010 trip to the Shenandoah Valley: “Paddle faster, I think I hear banjo music.”
We left Boone, NC and continued our journey along the BRP, passing several beautiful overlooks along the way. We stopped at a few to stretch our legs and take some pictures, but the third leg of our journey on the second travel day was a little more rushed than the first two in the morning. I wanted to get off the parkway at milepost 385 before it got dark, because the mountain roads can be dangerous to drive, especially while tired and driving with limited visibility. As the sun started to set and we hit milepost 350, we stepped out of the car to take a few more pictures, knowing that our drive on the BRP was almost over.
And then our trip took a crazy turn. As we prepared to complete the last 35 miles of our drive, with about a quarter tank of gas (4-5 gallons in my SUV), we did a few quick calculations and determined that we would get off the parkway in Asheville in less than an hour, with enough gas to get us to the hotel for the night. I started daydreaming of Asheville vegetarian eateries and planning our dinner as I drove.
As we came upon milepost 350, the parkway was barricaded with a sign that said “Parkway closed.” There was a nearby entrance to state park that closed at 8:00 PM. It was 7:45. We had no choice but to turn back. We couldn’t get a signal on the GPS and the next major road was about 12 miles behind us. As the sky grew darker, I drove back to the last sign for a major road that I had seen, passing the overlook that was the site of our last photo op, and praying for some guidance to get us off the mountain without running out of gas.
We got a signal on the GPS when I exited the parkway and it instructed us to take the exit road 10.5 miles down the mountain before we hit the next intersection. It got very dark and the road snaked its way down the mountain, as our ears popped, my fuel gauge came dangerously close to “E” and the constant braking sent a strong burning smell into the air vents. I remember telling Kyle “if I get you off this mountain alive, you better never let me go.”
Panic and threats. Qué romantica.
We passed shacks of homes, broken down trucks and, surprisingly, several “trout farms”. Hm. All I could think of was passing black bears, shotguns and locals who had little appreciation for my high beams streaming into their living rooms. I made Kyle count down the miles left until we hit the main road. When my low fuel light had not come on yet, the brakes had not failed yet, and we had just one mile to go, a huge wave of relief washed over me. Of course when we got to the “main road” it was several more miles before we saw houses, businesses, and a gas station that didn’t take cards at the pump. Thank goodness there was a friendly attendant inside who helped us out.
We made it to our hotel in Asheville, with a little assistance from the GPS, in about 45 minutes to an hour. Kyle and I dragged all of our stuff into the chic, modern lobby of the Courtyard by Marriott, still dressed in our hiking clothes. After throwing all of our stuff into the room and changing into clean clothes, we realized it was a few minutes til 10:00. All of my daydreams of vegetarian havens in downtown Asheville went out the window with our plans to drive the last 30 miles of our journey on the BRP. We slipped on our flip flops and walked a quarter mile to the closest sports bar for some grilled cheese sandwiches, dragged ourselves back to the hotel, and got a good night’s sleep.
The next day held all the creative vegetarian food our little hearts desired, along with beautiful scenery and relaxing activities for the whole day.