Sunday, August 5, 2012

Day 8 and 9 - The End

Days 8 and 9 consisted of hanging out in Blacksburg (alas no tubing due to a monsoon) and the ride home.  We made the jaunt from Blacksburg to Richmond is about 3 hours which is great time. It was a beautiful day and allowed time for your Ramblers to reflect on their first Ramble.

In all respects the North Carolina Ramble 2012 met and exceeded expectations.  We have never been on an outing this long and we wondered several things going into it: will we be able to fill the time, will we get bored halfway through, will we miss the family, etc. The answers were resoundingly yes, no and definitely.

In total we rambled over 1,700 miles during our nine days, climbed to the two highest points in two states, explored two other 5,000+ ft mountains, got lost in the wilderness, learned a lot about not getting lost again, saw some really cool Americana machinery, ate at a bunch of great local restaurants (see below), pushed The Truck to new performance heights on a classic road and generally forgot about the world for awhile.

The planning for the next Ramble will begin soon and we will keep you informed as we move into 2013.

Till then....keep rambling.

The Ramblers


Here is the official North Carolina Ramble 2012 Restaurant Guide. These are only the opinions of two non-foodie eaters so take it for what it is worth.

Star Guide 
*****          The rare find with food and service so awesome it leaves an incredible memory
****            Great food and good service
***              What you expect
**                Substandard food and/or bad service
*                  Even we wouldn't eat this shit

Banner Elk Cafe - Banner Elk, NC   **** Quick service, great atmosphere, very good breakfast. Outdoor seating is great.

Sunrise Grill - Boone, NC  **** Quick service, quirky atmosphere, killer pancakes.  2-2-2-2 is a great combo - ask for cheese on the eggs.

Joey's Pancake House - Maggie Valley, NC ****  You know a place is good when only open 7-12, has a massive waiting area with coffee and full of seniors (they know value). Only thing keeping from 5* is menu is pretty plain vanilla.

Lefty's - Blacksburg, VA   **** Unusual menu, great homemade breads, Outdoor seating available.

Gillies - Blacksburg, VA   ***+ Very good eggs, pancakes a little too thick, negative points for no bacon or sausage but you like it if your vegan.

Our Daily Bread - Boone, NC  **** very good sandwiches with some unique twists.

Webo's BBQ - Asheville, NC ****+ Great! pulled pork, moist, great smoke flavor, great sauce selection. Might have gotten a higher rating if able to taste their chicken and ribs. Don't let the gas station location be a deterrent.

1861 Farmhouse Market - Boone, NC  **** - very good sandwiches but when touting "the world's best sandwiches" the bar is set very high and contributes to negative points. Well worth the stop though.

San Dees Cafe - Newland, NC *** about what you expect but solid basic food.

Hurley's - Maggie Valley, NC *** solid attempt at prime rib, decent but not overwhelming service, creekside seating a nice plus.

Six Pence Pub - Blowing Rock, NC  ***+ good British pub food selection but let's face it the Brits aren't known for their food.  Fish and chips are a solid choice.  Good beer selection.

The Woodlands Barbecue Restaurant - Blowing Rock, NC  ****+ very good chicken and ribs (what pig has ribs this big???), great blue grass music. Bring an appetite and a bib.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Day 7 - Back to the Commonwealth

Day 7 saw your Ramblers leaving North Cackalacky and returning to the Commonwealth for an extended homeward bound journey. We made the short jaunt from Boone to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area by 11:00 am. After a short stint in the visitor center and talking to a ranger about various hiking options we set out from the Massie Gap area and the Rhododendron Trail which quickly turned into the AT. We saw lots of the famous wild ponies and the terrain is much more open than most mountain areas with flat pasture type settings filled with blackberry and blueberry bushes offset by rocky outcrops. We were determined to hit the peak of Mount Rogers at a little over 5,700 ft and the highest point in the Commonwealth.  The trail from Massie Gap to the Mount Rogers summit is about 4.5 miles and very rocky in places.  We completed the 9 mile circuit in about 4 hours and have to admit the feet are tired. If  you come to this area bring the sturdy shoes.

No matter where I go I can't get away from wild ponies


Your Ramblers went into today without a lot of expectations but came away very impressed. The scenery is different with horses and some long(er) horn cattle grazing openly, the terrain is very open and there are lots of trails.  After Monday's collective brain farts we were well prepared with water, gels and Cliff Bars that came in handy at the turn around. Lots of great camping is also available and would be worth a return trip.

After leaving Mount Rogers we setoff for Mecca (Blacksburg) and made pretty quick work of the trip via I81 and the 70 mph speed minimum.  We thought Rambler Jane was joining us tonight but alas that is tomorrow. After a week away it was nice to have some amenities like a washer/dryer, great showers and a big screen to relax around. Tomorrow is tubing on the New River with Rambler Jane and Rambler Trainee Sir Alex.

Till then....keep rambling.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Day 6 - Grandfather Mountain

Day 6 kicked off with breakfast at Sunrise Grill around 8:00 am with the 2-2-2-2 (our go "2" pick). Two eggs, two strips of bacon, two sausage links and 2 pancakes - $5.89 -- What a country!  We left there for the day's objective - Grandfather Mountain.  It is literally within sight of The Lodge so today was a very low mileage outing. Grandfather Mountain was long thought to be the highest mountain in North Carolina until that was debunked in the mid-19th century and Mount Mitchell took its place.  However, of the two in many ways it is the more impressive. There is a state park area that surrounds the mountain but the mountain proper is held in trust by a foundation and thus your two Ramblers had to part with $36 to get in. They do provide a nice CD describing the mountain as you drive to the top. We skipped ahead to the summit in order to visit the mile high swinging bridge - literally in the middle of the bridge is a 5,280 ft. marker.

One thing that makes Grandfather Mountain a better trip than Mount Mitchell is the multiple rock outcroppings to wander onto.  Here are a couple.  One has to appreciate some Ramblers natural aversion to heights and the personal sacrifice required o bring these pics to you.  Enjoy.

We also did one of the short hikes.  After our experience Monday you would have thought we were summiting Everest - packs, water, food, compass, satellite phone etc.  It had some great overlooks as well with ladders and cables to help the climb.

We also visited the nature center and saw the bears and otter which were cool.  All-in it was a good spot to visit and worth going back.

We left the mountain and headed to a place with the label "World's Best Sandwiches" - which I admire for the extremely high bar they set for themselves but it is a hard standard to meet.  The sandwiches were very good (World's Best??? I don't know) and then went to visit the original Mast General Store in Vale Crucis.  That pretty much sums up the day except for the killer nap I took.  We are headed out to dinner in a few. Tomorrow we have decided to begin the journey home via Mount Rogers and Mecca (Blacksburg, VA).

Till then...keep rambling.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Day 5 - Back on the Horse

Day 5 shaped up as a hybrid day. We got up around 7:30am with designs on heading down the Blue Ridge Parkway to points south. We decided branch out in the food department and since we needed to head towards the Boone/Blowing Rock area used Rambler Hance's Urban Spoon IPhone app to find a local establishment. We located the Sunrise Grill based on its 95% favorable rating on Urban Spoon which is a practically unheard of rating (1 out of 5 people tend to be like Mikey and hate everything).  After eating our fill for $16 we headed to the Parkway for a leisurely ramble the 70ish miles to Mount Mitchell.  It was a gorgeous clear day in Western North Carolina and the views were fabulous.

We arrived at Mount Mitchell in a little less than 2 hours and began the climb up the hill.  This is my second trip here but the temperature change from the upper 5000s of altitude to the 6600 level at the summit never ceases to amaze with a 10 degree drop in thermometer each time.  We did the little museum tour and walked to the summit observation deck.  The story of the mountains exploration and the demise of Dr. Mitchell is pretty interesting.  Here is a more detailed link (Elisha Mitchell) and the story of the Big Tim Wilson is amazing as well. He tracked his trail a week after his death and led searchers to the body. The logging exhibit here is amazing as well. Much of this area was destructively clear cut in the late 19th and early 20th century. When your blogger thinks of Big Tim and looks at the hand saws and axes used by loggers then he a girly man.  Here are a few more pics from the top of the mountain.

Onward to Asheville we did a little driving tour of the city hitting the arts district and visiting the Grove Park Inn.  Love to stay here sometime.

On the way into Asheville we ate some AWESOME pulled pork at Webo's BBQ.  It is located in the corner of a Shell station but the 'cue was extremely good. Another good pull from Urban Spoon. Your Ramblers recommend the sweet sauce as the best complement to the pork.

After a motor tour of Asheville we hit the big roads (I40 and US 221) back to Banner Elk and The Lodge. We arrived in time for an excellent nap before heading back to the Banner Elk Cafe for supper (hey why mess with perfection). Supper was as good as breakfast with monster burgers and steak sandwiches all around.   After a little blog updating (.....and we're done) your Ramblers intend to finish the Long Way Round movie and hit the sack.  Tomorrow is a trip to Grandfather Mountain (sans 911 calls we hope).

Till then....keep rambling.

Day 4 - Spa Day

After Day 3's frivolity the Ramblers scaled things back on Day 4 and took, as lady Ramblers would say , "a spa day".  Good timing on our part since it rained most of the day as well.

Our spa day let us sleep a little longer but we still got out by 9:00am with a trip to our breakfast place - the Banner Elk Cafe for a solid meal. After our return to The Lodge we lounged in the lobby in front of the big screen and worked on updating this blog and otherwise surfing the 'net and being lazy.  Around noon we headed out to The Spa (aka The Lodge pool and hot tub) for a relaxing and invigorating session of hot/cool water therapy. It really helped our legs and feet which were a little beat up from our Joyce Kilmer outing.  A nap then ensued.  Post-nap we decided on an early supper and rode into Blowing Rock passing the funeral route for a slain young police officer.  It was an impressive turnout for a 23 year old.

We had a good dinner at the Six Pence Pub with some fish and chips and several local libations (ok one of us had libations). We returned to our abode and watched the first half of the ultimate ramble Long Way Round  with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman.  The movie profiles the planning and execution of an around the world motorcycle trip the two took in 2004 (something for your Ramblers to aspire towards).

All in a very low key day with only 50 miles of local terrain covered.  Things pick back up tomorrow with a trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mount Mitchell and Asheville.

Till then...keep rambling.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Day 3 - Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest 1 - Ramblers 0

Day 3 - The most epic day yet for a host of reasons. Typical start, get up, pack, checkout, and eat in under an hour. Hit up Joey's Pancake House in Maggie Valley for a great breakfast (that would come in handy later).  Rambler Restaurant Tip - You know a place must have good food when it is only open from 7-12 everyday, has a waiting lobby with 20+ chairs and a coffee station for the waitees.  Rambler Rating 5 stars.  We exited Joey's headed for the Nantahala Outdoor Center ("NOC") where our reserved mountain bikes awaited.  Instead of bringing our own bikes I took Rambler Darryl's suggestion to rent bikes and he was right. We got some awesome Specialized dual suspension 29'ers and headed out to the Tsali Recreation Area considered some of the best mountain biking on the East Coast. After a little struggle to find it (a precursor for the rest of the day) we unloaded, geared up and set out on the trails. They did not disappoint with excellent single track and beautiful scenery along Fontana Lake.

It was kind of hot and since we had not  been mountain biking in awhile the steepest climbs took a lot out of us (some more than others).  We did not have a map got a little disoriented (a theme will develop here) but we completed an 11 mile loop in about 2 hours. We pounded some Powerade and headed back to the NOC to return the bikes and take a look around. The NOC is definitely on the list for a more extended stay.  Here is the center of it.

Nantahala River Runs right through the NOC
After a respite and a little shopping at the outdoor gear store we filled The Truck with petrol and took off to complete the final two items on the day's agenda - a short hike through the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and a drive on the Cherahala Skyway. Simple right??? Not for your Ramblers.

We parked at the designated spot in Joyce Kilmer and left for what we thought was a quick half hour loop to see some old growth timber. Gilligan and the Skipper have nothing on us. Of course with such a short trip we did not take water or any other gear other than Rambler Darryl's IPhone (bless you Steve Jobs and Alexander Graham Bell). What transpired is a six hour slog complete with a dehydrated Rambler (Clydesdale Class), 10+ miles of ground traveled, 3500 feet of elevation gain (and loss), realizing we are lost in a real wilderness (U.S. Gubment designation not your editor's) with night falling, a 911 call, assistance by Graham County's  GREAT rescue squad and a march out of the wilderness in the dark complete with drinking out of streams.  I can see our Master Card commercial: Osprey backpack with room for lots of stuff - $99, a water pack with pockets for tools, knives and 80 ounces of water - $69, a real map - $5,  IPhone flashlight app and getting 3G service at the top of the mountain PRICELESS.  Anywho, after entering the forest at 4:00 pm we left the parking lot at 10:00 pm and decided to make the haul back to The Lodge a mere 3.5 hours away (bad day in the decision Olympics for your Ramblers) and arrived as Garmin predicted at 1:40 am (Tuesday) tired, wiser and hurting.  Day 4 is shaping up to be a rest day.

The tally for the day:

16 hours
One meal (Breakfast), one snack (Cliff Bar)
300+ miles in The Truck
11 miles/2 hrs of mountain biking
One awesome forest seen
10+ miles and 3500 feet of hiking
A mild case of "Sh** we're lost"
One 911 call
5 rescuers
And technically we did make it to the Cherahala Skyway

As always, keep Rambling (but take water and an iPhone).

Go F****** Left


For those interested, below is the map at the Joyce Kilmer trailhead. The red "loop" at the far left of the page is the trail we started on - The Naked Ground Trail.  Below is the description of the trail we ended up on with editor's comments in RED

  • railhead: Take the right fork of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Trail from the parking area.  At about three-tenths of a mile you will come to the Naked Ground Trail junction.  It ascends to the right onto the Naked Ground Trail designated by a wooden trail sign. There is also a trailhead out of the Rattler Ford Campground.
  • Distance: This is a 5.7 mile backtrack trail and is well used and easy to follow. (OH ITS EASY TO FOLLOW ALRIGHT)
  • Difficulty: It is rated as a moderate to strenuous hiking trail with shallow stream crossings. 
  • Use Guide: The Naked Ground Trail is highly recommended for novices or experienced hikers who are in good condition. It would be a challenge for smaller children. With a group at a casual pace, allow 6-8 hours for the round trip. For the more aggressive hiker, 5-6 hours should be sufficient time. Bring water and protective clothing if your trip is going to be more than a few hours.  Hollow Poplar Tree  
  • Description: Follow the signs from the information shelter and you will soon cross the Little Santeetlah Creek footbridge and begin an ascent into an old growth forest. There are benches along the route where you can stop to admire this untouched forest. At about two miles there is an alternate trail.  It is recommended that you stay on the main Naked Ground Trail at all times. On portions of the trail there are may stands of yellow poplars, rhododendron, and hemlock. There are several stream crossings, many with foot bridges in place. On the lower two-thirds of the trail there are campsites available. The upper portion of the trail turns into a switchback and is quite a steep grade. The trail terminates at Naked Ground Gap (YEA WE MADE IT).  There is overused campsites, spring water and the junctions for the Stratton Bald Trail, Haoe Lead Trail, and the Slickrock Creek Trail.  Camping at the Gap can be a rewarding experience. However, be prepared for the possibility of high winds and cooler temperatures any time of the year.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Day 2 - "Where Can I Park My Car?"

Day 2 kicked off after a less than great night's sleep at The Lodge. Most of the fault is mine. I have never slept well before a trip - I guess it is the anticipation. However, another day, another efficient takeoff. Get up at 7:45, pack stuff for overnight trip, grab a cup of coffee, talk to registration gal for a pancake place recommendation and get there. There being the Banner Elk Cafe in quaint downtown Banner Elk, NC. Great (Ramble Staff 5 Star) place. All three meals, great food, outdoor seating with heaters (if needed) and live music.  Check it out if you are in the area.  After pounding a mega-breakfast  (more later) we headed out  in The Truck at 9:20 for our trip to Maggie Valley. It was a great day for a drive in the mountains.  It took us about 2 hours to reach our destination.

Maggie Valley is a town right off US 74. We arrived here to visit Wheels Through Time an amazing motorcycle and car museum.  It has amazing models of motorcycles from Harley Davidson, Excelsior etc. dating from 1910 up to the 1980s.  AND ALMOST EVERYTHING RUNS!.  They have the rarest motorcycle in the world the 1917 Traub which was found bricked into a wall in a Chicago house in 1967. No evidence of the company exists anywhere!  The American machinery on display is fascinating and recalls and era when we could make the best of just about anything. Well worth the visit even if you aren't a motorcycle aficionado.

Before departing we got some directions (the long way it turned out) from a helper at the museum on how to get to our next stop The Tail of the Dragon.  Deals Gap is a section of mountain road in North Carolina and Tennessee beloved by motorcyclists for its 312 curves in 11 miles.   Before we got there though we took a long route (scenic though) on the Blue Ridge Parkway and managed a stop (longer than expected) at Waterrock Knob Overlook.

We hiked from the parking area where the sign is up another several hundred feet on a very steep climb to get the following shot.  As evidenced by photos in this blog endless supplies of Hokie shirts exists in my closet.

After climbing down we set out again for Deals Gap getting there around 4:00 pm which was much, much later than planned. We made one stop for gas and grabbed iced tea and Cliff Bars (blueberry - yum).  Sorry paleo friends I had to do it. It was a cheat day and I was starving with limited choices. The  number of motorcycles at the base of Deals Gap was impressive though Rambler Darryl says lower than normal. We posed for the typical tourist pictures under the Tree of Shame which consists of motorcycle parts from wrecked motorcycles (wrecks are pretty frequent - Google Deals Gap and watch some youtube).

We then took off to attempt The Tail of the Dragon in The Truck with Rambler Darryl at the helm. While we did not scrape our kickstand we did about as much as I want to do in a very tall, 4x4 with off road style tires.  In fact I have to say I am pretty proud of how well it handled.  I took us back down after we completed the eleven mile outward bound trip. (Editors Note - it is easier to be a driver in this type of situation than to be the passenger. Now I now how Rambler Jane feels most of the time I drive. As we headed home we took the more direct route and went through the Cherokee Indian Reservation which is non-descript except for the massive new hotel next to their casino. WOW!

We got checked into our Ramada abode and dealt with the sarcastic front desk lady.  When I asked where I could park The Truck her answer was "in the parking lot".  After no lunch, 300 miles of driving including a bunch on twisty mountain roads I was not in the mood for 70 year old sarcasm. Is it morally wrong to smack an elderly lady????

Enough for today. Tomorrow is busy with mountain biking in the Nantahalla National Forest, a visit to a virgin timber stand in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and a run across the Cherohalla Skyway before returning to Banner Elk.

Till then.....keep rambling.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Day One - God Loves Soul Food

Day 1 of the inaugural Ramble has been a success. 350 miles traveled, two very cool towns discovered (Boone and Blowing Rock) and one sight seen (The Blowing Rock).

The day started on time when I met fellow Rambler Darryl at his house around 8:15. By 8:20 we were in "The Truck" and on the road - amazing the speed that can be obtained by the unconstrained (re: no wives or children) male with a goal.   We hit the NC/VA border about 10:00 am and hit the first NC rest stop.  A coffee removal exercise and a pamphlet heist from the Chamber of Commerce office later we were back on the road.  The Chamber of Commerce office is very nice and offers pamphlets organized by areas of the state and we hit it hard. We also managed to procure a NC road map from the lovely ladies manning the office.  We rambled through the state for the rest of the morning before Hance demanded a food stop (breakfast actually) at the Henderson Chick-fil-A.  I know they have issues with gay marriage but the people are so polite and the establishments always clean. Chicken strips, coffee and a chicken biscuit to go and we were back on the road. Again, the speed and efficiency were stunning in their beauty.  We continue our unimpeded rambled until the gas light lit up before  the gas gauge hit "E" at about mile 300. Anyone that has been in "The Truck" knows a gas light is not a trivial matter especially in hilly country so a brief backtrack was in order to the last gas station seen. It is about this time we saw the first memorable sight of the day.

I am sure God is in everything but didn't know he was a soul food fan.

The Ramble rolled into Boone, NC about 1:30pm which was close to what Garmin said it would be. How does she know that??  Boone was bigger than imagined having visualized a quaint little hamlet with the ASU campus and very little else. While ASU is clearly there and very pretty, the town proper is larger than I ever imagined, very prosperous looking with a certain crunchy granola vibe that is to be expected in a mountain college town with tons of outdoor activities all around.  As always I check local real estate when traveling (nothing says how things stack up more than the price of a 3 bed, 2 bath abode).  In short, Boone ain't cheap.  Chic is winning over granola I guess.  We ate stupendous sandwiches at a place called Our Daily Bread and ambled about the town getting an early feel before departing for Blowing Rock.

Blowing Rock is the NC equivalent of Tiburon/Sausilito. Alpine village feel and architecture, strict guidelines for building, charming little "shoppy" downtowns and high price real estate (though less high than it formerly was based on the "now marked down to.... lines on the listing sheets in real estate firm windows).  We walked around and took a self guided tour of this charming church (Episcopal of course)

before moving on to the actual Blowing Rock.

While The Blowing Rock entrance is a little annoying - through a gift shop and $6 later the views don't disappoint nor does the wind at that level.  Here is the sight of Grandfather Mountain in the distance.

Here is a picture of your intrepid Ramblers at The Blowing Rock

We finally left to find and check into our hotel. The Smoketree Lodge near Banner Elk.  It is an older place with amenities and "character" that always make trips memorable but it has the two essentials for any Ramble - good air conditioning and decent cable TV.  We got settled in, downloaded the days pictures and set out to find an eating establishment.  (Earlier in the day we established the first rule of the trip - No eating at chain establishments unless absolutely necessary).  We made it into Newland and hit up San Dee's Cafe for a burger and hamburger steak (ummm - nutrition).  We also visited the local grocer for room essentials --water, beer, donuts, beef jerky and other snacks.  All in all a very good start to the week.

Tomorrow we are off to Maggie Valley.

Until then....Keep Rambling!