BY: PETER CONWAY
In my mind I’m gone to Carolina
Can’t you see the sunshine?
Can’t you just feel the moonshine?
Ain’t it just like a friend of mine
To hit me from behind?
Yes, I’m gone to Carolina in my mind.
Even though we have finished the ride, I have yet to finish blogging about it. We have North and South Carolina to cover, so here goes!
It felt mighty fine to cross the line from Tennessee to North Carolina. As Scotty put it; “It is great to be in a state that has the word Carolina!” It had rained the night before so the roads were slick and narrow, but our spirits were high. We could smell the finish line a week away. Just a few pesky mountains to summit and then we would be back in our beloved low country.
We powered over two mountains to get out of Tennessee and wound our way through heavily wooded glades and along meandering brooks. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I doubt that this northernmost part of North Carolina has changed much in 100 years, except perhaps that it is more heavily forested now than it was back then. A few hardscrabble farms hugged the stream banks. You can tell they are barely hanging on; a good push might topple most of the barns. Yes, James, we can feel the moonshine.
Our destination was the first mountain town of any size, Asheville. It feels like home to us. It WAS home to my family for six years, and everyone in our peloton has a friend or two who has left the low country’s heat and humidity for Asheville’s clean air and pure water. We connected with some of those friends. One is Robbie Denson, a pastor from Charleston who is part of a church plant called the Gathering. We worshipped with them on Sunday. Bob and Cathy Walters, who worked with me at Christ School, welcomed us into their home for some wonderful barbeque served up by their grown sons Seth and Jeremy. Seth is a chef of local renown and Jeremy is a gourmet cook in his own right. It beat even Chick-fil-A, the Parker kid’s first choice in every town.
We had a rare morning off the next day and chose to visit the Biltmore House. This home should be on everyone’s bucket list. Everything about the estate is larger than life: it covers 6,950 acres, while the main château is a modest 178,926 square feet, (four acres). Imagine cleaning 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, 3 kitchens, 35 bedrooms, and 43 bathrooms. Anyone over 60 gets excited at the prospect of 43 bathrooms. Alas, none of these are open to the public. One must go to the horse stables to do one’s business.
Our morning at the Biltmore House was followed by two TV interviews for Scotty. These were in depth and resulted in our bike ride of a mere 30 miles being conducted in rush hour. Like Charleston, Asheville’s road network has been overwhelmed by the influx of new residents and tourists. Like Charleston, the main roads have tiny or no shoulders, so you share the lane with impatient motorists itching to get home. And there were hills to climb. Our 30-mile ride was the most unpleasant section of the whole trip. We were treated to honking horns, one finger salutes and epithets shouted out of car windows that would make a sailor blush. We prayed they were not James Taylor fans; “Ain’t it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind….”
We finally arrived much the worse for psychic wear at the lovely golf resort of Etowah where the staff was expecting us and made up for our less than hospitable North Carolina welcome. Over one more massive mountain, Cedar, South Carolina awaits!