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In the magical Blue Ridge Mountains above Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Yonahlossee Overlook, driving up Grandfather Mountain

“Sometimes very strange things happen in the mountains…nothing above but sky…and God.” The Razor’s Edge, Somerset Maugham

I’ve always loved this quote from Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge. And there’s especially something about being deep in the mountains in springtime –the hush of the forests blanketing the slopes, the myriad shades of rustling green, the birds singing so happily now that winter is over, and the air chilly and sweet.

Lesley and friend deep in the mountains

A short trip to reconnect with Lesley, a friend I’d known since I was a child – whom I hadn’t seen for over 50 years – was four days of inhaling great beauty in the great and glorious Blue Ridge Mountains.

 

Wednesday

Lesley lives atop one of the mountains – in a home with 360 degree views that take in the surrounding ridges and deep, pine-strewn valleys.

It is so quiet, all you hear are the music of the birds and the wind soughing through the trees. Charlie, Lesley’s cat, agrees!

At the base of a twisty, gravelly trail is the small (three blocks) mountain town of Blowing Rock,

I love this Harley Davidson sign in the magical little town of Blowing Rock!

where we went for dinner at the Storie Street Grille that first night … a small, delightful restaurant (aren’t they all?) at which we had – a first for me – fried asparagus. Yum-o! Followed by a perfectly prepared filet with polenta that was absolutely delicious.

After dinner, we ambled around the town, looking at the small shops and cobblestone paths, churches, vine covered houses, restaurants and pubs in the still sunlight deep in the mountains. Already I’m in love!

Thursday

I woke up around 10AM after a great night’s sleep, which I’d needed after a busy work week back home.

The weather continued to be glorious – 70 degrees. I love sitting on the deck in the mornings, inhaling the view with my coffee!

We drove to Boone for breakfast at a farm-to-table restaurant, where we sat on the café’s deck and kicked back. Allie, Lesley’s beautiful Golden Doodle, joined us, good as – well – gold.

Boone, named for Daniel Boone, is a college town, home to Appalachian State University, and the main street was awash with students everywhere. I love the old stonework that is part of so many houses and buildings here…

It was time for some much-needed walking on the trails so we wended our way to Cone Memorial Park, a Blue Ridge National Heritage area that is truly exquisite and beautifully maintained. Lots of trails. Canadian geese on the lakes.

Our hike took us around Trout Lake

Trout Lake

and up through woods into the mountains, passing an old apple barn and a sign by the side of the road that said “Due to past pesticide use in apple orchards, some soils on the Cone Estate will contain high levels of arsenic and or lead. Do not dig or allow children to dig in soils…” Really brings you up short with an appalling reminder of the harm done in the past to these wonderful orchards.

Beautiful dry stone walls…always a favorite…

The trails were dotted with dry stone walls and old buildings, and everything was green green green. There are about 25 miles of trails – we did five!

Friday

Sunrise high in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Woke around 9 in the morning…I’d actually waked at sunrise, which was so beautiful from the bedroom window, I had to jump from the bed to take a photograph. Morning has broken (thanks Cat Stevens)!

Our first stop of the day was an English café called Eat Crow – we had English pasties, and I bought a bumbleberry pie for that night’s dessert. I had never tasted one before. It was delish!! From there, we took a circuitous route up Grandfather Mountain, stopping at various outlooks on the way to the summit. Glorious!!!

Driving to the summit of Grandfather Mountain

Once we summited and parked, the next big challenge was opening the car door! The wind factor was “only” 18 mph” but it felt like 100… Lesley had to hang onto the door handle while I exited.

Woof! Some wind!

Allie held me down so I didn’t blow away…isn’t she gorgeous?!

But the views! Unbelievable, and so elemental….I just loved it…I think it was my favorite adventure out of all the wonderful treks around the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Once we got back home, we drove into Blowing Rock for a concert at the Inn at Ragged Gardens (don’t you love the names)…which Les attended,

and I, needing a bit of a rest, found the SixPence Pub where I had a quiet corner to put my feet up and drink my Boddington’s. Loved it! Wrote my journal and just enjoyed the surroundings.

Saturday

As we drove down and up the mountain from the house to various ports of call, I’m noticing the houses, barns and farms that hang precariously from the mountainside or plunge into the valley. Here is one beautiful image.

A home with a view

On this day, we drove back to the Cone Memorial Park, and wandered around Mildred the Bear’s Environmental Habitat, found secret side paths and dry stone walls, and stopped at overlooks to take in the unparalleled views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Secret pathways…love them!

Blowing Rock was just two miles away, so we ate lunch at the tiny Blowing Rock Grilled Cheese Café.

We both had the French Grille. It encompassed Brie and Gruyere cheeses with pear and fig dressing on a grilled sourdough pannini! Heaven on a plate!

The town was awash with flowers…which always makes me happy!

Buttercups!

This was my last day, the end of a very special trip: reconnecting with my long-time family friend in the beauty of the mountains…many thanks to Lesley for a splendid respite. Doesn’t seem to get any better than this! Time just seems to go so quickly when you are visiting these wonderful places… All my visits to the mountains – the Smokies, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Shenandoah – are a marvelous build up to the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is just something about the Blue Ridge…but then, I seem to say that about them all!

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The Blue Ridge Mountains, NC – To Hike or Not to Hike

Zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

I was really looking forward to hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains – and also whitewater rafting, zip lining (a first) and a bit of rapelling. I arrived in Asheville the evening before joining the group, got a good night’s sleep at the hotel, and met Deb, one of my hiking friends, the next day for lunch. Then we were on our merry way to the William Black Lodge at Montreat, North Carolina.

Immediately on arrival, we booted up and made our way up the Lookout Trail and Mountain, which was a lot more challenging than originally thought…As the rest of the group galloped ahead, I made it slowly to the top without any seeming problem.

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It was on the way down that I really got into trouble. My new boots, despite the use of well padded hiking socks and liners, suddenly became way too big as with every step down, my feet began slipping, banging against the toe of the boots.  By the time I was halfway down the mountain, I could barely walk…the pain was intense. I managed to make it to the van, and have never been so glad to get hiking boots – normally the most comfortable of shoes – off my feet!! Tender is not the word…I spent the rest of the evening barefoot, hoping this was simply a bruise that would wear off.

The next day I spent at the lodge, resting up – while my hiking sisters took the next great hike.

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Then it was time for the big adventure. The following morning, I was able to put on my tennies, and hobble to the van, where we drove to our meeting point for whitewater rafting. What a joy! Having done this once before, I was looking forward to the challenge. We read all the documents on the pros and cons of the rafting; elected to sign off despite the dangers of death or worse; and then clustered around the rafts as our guides told us what to expect.

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The day was absolutely beautiful – as was the weather on the entire trip, despite the onslaught of Hurricane Matthew along the coast. We separated into two rafts, and our guide explained that because the water was low, we’d probably be bouncing off more boulders than usual, as well as negotiating pathways through them. All of which was true.The river was placid when we embarked, and our guides shouted orders as we moved out into midstream. What a rush when we encountered our first whitewater, zipping easily around boulders embedded in the sandy floor.

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At one point, where the river was a little rougher than usual, we bounced off a boulder – and Deb bounced right out of the raft! Having been indoctrinated as to what to expect should that happen, after the first shock, she floated easily on her back until Ruthven grabbed her by both straps and hauled her back into the boat. Scary – but definitely something to write home about!

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Halfway through our little odyssey, we pulled our rafts onto the riverbank and stopped for lunch – which consisted of some of the best burgers known to man…yum-o! Then it was back into the rafts, and another hour of pure bliss down the stream….about a couple of hours all told. Such a rush!!

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Our next foray (the same day) was zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We were vanned to our starting point, went through the usual machinations of the danger, the signing and so forth. Then we wriggled into our safety harnesses, helmets and gloves, as well as donning the leather glove used to slow the flight down should our stop arrive too quickly….

Zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

And there we were, high on a three-sided platform above the forest, the fourth side open for the zip line. One by one, we were hooked to the cable, sat back and swung out onto the line – the highest rate of speed between platforms was about 30mph. The leather glove worked beautifully, slowing us as we reached the next stop. Half the time we didn’t quite make it to the platform. I usually ended up with a foot or two between me and the platform; at which point, you swivel around on the line and basically crawl backwards, hand over hand, to the waiting guide who pulls you to safety.7

We ran ten of these zip lines.  We traversed a very wobbly suspension bridge to one of our platforms…that was more nerve-wracking than the zip lining!

At two stops, after first being hooked to the cable…we planted our feet on either side of the platform, and swung into the void, then rapelled our way down ropes hand over fist,…another first, another rush! Loved every minute!!

Both the whitewater rafting and the zip lining were courtesy of the French Broad Rafting & Zip Lining company – http://www.frenchbroadrafting.com/ – absolutely terrific in every way.

Then it was off to dinner, and a celebratory drink to finish off the day’s adventure.

Our next foray, the following day, was a visit to the Biltmore Estate, 8,000 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds and over 178,000 square feet of floor space in the mansion. Amazing!

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We took a guided tour of the house, had a picnic in the picnic area, and then stopped inside the wine room for a pleasant hour of wine tasting.

The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate

Then Karen (one of the trip participants and a lovely person) and I wandered the grounds, where the flowers, shrubs, trees and pathways were a delight.

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Unfortunately by this time, my toes were beginning to make themselves known, as the drubbing they’d received on the first day’s hike had not gone quietly away and I could see I was going to have a problem.

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By the time we made it back to the lodge, it was obvious I could not continue to hike, so I cut my visit short, left for Asheville early the following morning, and so made it back home before my feet fell off. Just kidding!! But it certainly makes me realize the importance of ensuring a well-fitting hiking boot before embarking on challenging trails.

That being said – I wouldn’t have missed the whitewater rafting, rapelling and zip lining for anything. I thought I’d be extremely afraid, looking down down down and knowing I’d be out there, swinging my way across and through the trees like Tarzan. I thought I’d be frozen with fear…but I never felt fear for one moment. That was the greatest thing this trip gave me…who knew!