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.