To ease into our journey, we started off by retracing some of our cross-country route from last spring. Revisiting places gives us the chance to do things we missed the first time around. For example, the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tennessee, where we discovered the bicycle to outer space pictured in the header of this post.
But First, A Note From The Present Moment
In writing this blog, I’ve tried to avoid “catch-up” posts that threaten to overwhelm me and you with a tidal wave of information. But the reality is that despite paddling as hard as I can, my life doesn’t currently allow for much blogging time. Managing my parents’ situation has become a part-time job, and occupies a huge amount of real estate in my brain.
Why not just return to Florida, you ask? 1) Because the temperatures have been in the 100s. 2) Because the humidity is about 800 percent (a bit of an exaggeration, but not much). 3) Because this is yellow fly/mosquito/horse fly/chigger and every other horrible biting bug season. 4) Most important, because I can manage the situation with more sanity from a distance than I can in the midst of the tempest, where I don’t have one moment to myself to rest and regroup.
As an aside, I just found out that July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month. Oh god. As if I didn’t already feel uncomfortable about my current cell phone behavior. I spend several hours on the phone every day managing my folks’ situation. I take calls while hiking, in restaurants, in museums, and on one memorable occasion recently, as the Maid of the Mist tour boat was approaching the base of Niagara Falls. “I’ll call you back!” I yelled to my mom’s nurse, just as the spray drenched me and my phone. (To be clear, I do exercise the basic courtesy of moving outside or away from other people when taking a call, but still…)
We are hoping that we can keep my folks relatively stable until we return in December. Despite the many distractions, we’re managing to (mostly) enjoy every day.
We fell in love with the languid southern charms of Savannah on our first visit last spring. This year, we returned specifically for the Savannah Music Festival, a two-week extravaganza of all kinds of music that takes place in early April each year. We attended several music performances and spent the rest of our week wandering the town squares and visiting a few of the sites that we missed the first time around, including the trio of Telfair Museums (a random mix of classical art, a historic home and slave quarters, and a modern art museum); Civil War-era Fort Pulaski; and historic Tybee Lighthouse. And we ate. Savannah has great food choices. And we walked and biked the trails at Skidaway Island State Park, which once again, was a lovely place to stay for our visit to Savannah.
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Aiken, South Carolina
In a former life, Eric was a golf pro. Although he gave up golfing many years ago in favor of hiking, biking, kayaking, and birding, he still harbored the desire to someday attend the Masters Golf Tournament. In April, his dream came true when our friends Martin and Julie invited him to a day at the Masters. He had a blast—although the tournament doesn’t allow photos, which in my mind defeats the purpose of going, LOL.
As for me, I enjoyed a delightful tour of Aiken with Julie, including an afternoon stop for Southern sweet tea at the gorgeous Willcox Hotel. We spent a fun couple of days with our generous friends, and are looking forward to when our paths cross again in our travels.
Greenville, South Carolina
We spent a couple of days in Greenville last year and really liked it. We returned this spring specifically to bike the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a rails-to-trails path that travels along the Reedy River, including views of the beautiful downtown falls. Greenville is a cool little town, the biking trail is excellent, and Paris Mountain State Park is sweet, with miles of ruggedly pretty hiking trails.
Asheville, North Carolina
We loved our week in Asheville last year and we were looking forward to returning this year, where we again spent a week at Mama Gertie’s Campground in nearby Swannanoa. We tried a variety of hiking trails recommended to us by the National Park for early spring beauty, including the Pink Beds Loop Trail, the Graveyard Fields Trail to a waterfall, the Craggy Pinnacle Trail (which would be amazing when the rhododendrons bloom in May), and a hike to Black Balsam Knob with wonderful views.
As we discovered last spring, the hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway are mostly views of stick covered mountains in mid-April. We want to return in the fall one of these years to see the mountains in their most colorful clothing, or in June when the rhododendrons are blooming. But we did discover the fabulous University of North Carolina Arboretum, with acres of beautiful botanical gardens and miles of natural trails. We enjoyed it so much, we went twice.
We really like Asheville. Excellent food, good music, cool architecture, great bookstores, friendly locals. I like to take photos of the restaurants we discover so that I can remember them. Getting Eric to hold still when food is in front of him is always a battle of wills.
Just like last year, we stopped at Norris Dam State Park for a couple of nights between Asheville and Nashville. The network of hiking trails is decent, but the main attraction is the nearby Museum of Appalachia. It’s one of the most unusual museums we’ve visited. (Seriously, where else are you going to see a bicycle intended for the moon? Or a guitar made from a toilet seat?)
The Appalachian Museum is a Smithsonian affiliate, but it started off as the single-handed effort of John Rice Irwin, a native of the area and cultural historian who spent half a century collecting historic buildings and artifacts, along with the stories of the Appalachian people told in their own words.
For example, the work of Brother Harrison Mayes, a coal miner and evangelist who was inspired to create two-ton concrete signs promoting God, with the intention of planting them in every state, country, and on the moon and planets. He managed to get about 2000 of them completed (although he never did make it to the moon). Here’s the part I love—Brother Mayes believed in the equality of all people, religions, and races (although he did plant his signs along highways without permission, and left notes warning people that they would go to hell if they removed the signs).
We visited Nashville last year and had a great time, despite the crowds. This time, we made sure we planned our visit when there weren’t any big events going on. Unfortunately, it made no difference in terms of crowds or traffic. Nashville is undergoing some obnoxious growing pains.
But we persevered, and visited the excellent free Tennessee State Museum, the Parthenon, which houses the city’s art museum (and where we caught the wonderful show of International Mosaic Artists), and enjoyed a fun evening of music at The Listening Room, which showcases local singer/songwriters and is removed from the insanity of downtown.
We only spent one day in Nashville this time and spent the following day hiking the trails at beautiful Radnor Lake State Park where we soothed our spirits in nature. And somehow, we managed to score a premium lakefront site at Seven Points COE campground. The only drawback about the campground is that there are no hiking or biking trails.
Last spring we spent a few days in Louisville, bourbon tasting and attending the Kentucky Derby festivities. This year, we spent several days in Bardstown, visited a couple of distilleries, and spent an afternoon with our delightful friends Greg and Lori, who have recently built a beautiful home in nearby Danville. Greg’s lovely mother Barbara joined us for a fabulous dinner of fish tacos and mango slaw.
As for our bourbon tasting, we enjoyed our tour of Maker’s Mark but didn’t care for their bourbon. We loved the bourbon made by Bardstown Bourbon Company, though. We had a tasty lunch at the sleek new Bottle and Bond Kitchen (associated with the distillery) where we had a fun conversation with the master distiller and came away with a souvenir bottle of smooth, delicious bourbon. That has come in handy on a couple of occasions when I’ve needed to add a shot to my morning coffee to fortify myself for the day ahead (just kidding). Although it does sound mightly appealing some mornings, which always start off with a couple of hours of parental care phone calls. (For our adventures in Bardstown, we stayed at the pretty little My Old Kentucky Home State Park.)
Eric read over this post before I hit “publish” and said, “Wow, I’d forgotten about some of the things we did!” An unexpected benefit of this blog is being able to look back on the past few months and to realize that we have, indeed, had many great times along with the challenges.