Read on as we explore the cities of Asheville, Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis.
Day 4: Asheville, NC
- States: North Carolina
- Breakfast: Mosaic Cafe
- Lunch: Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company
- Dinner: Jack of the Wood
We woke up late, exhausted from a very full day before, and headed off to grab brunch and explore Pisgah National Forest. We chose the Mosaic Cafe, which was a little out of the way but had the best meatloaf sandwich I’ve ever tasted.
Then, we drove up in to the hills of the forest and re-joined the Blue Ridge Parkway. In the forest, we hiked Mount Pisgah: only a 1.6 mile climb, but it sure is steep. At the top is a hideously ugly TV tower and a fantastic view of the Smoky Mountains. True to their name, the persistent haze gives the appearance of clouds of smoke. This was the first exercise we’d had in days, and doing it in the high humidity weather
made it even more of a surprise.
After the hike, it was time to go and see what downtown Asheville had to offer. Asheville has recently gained a reputation for a funky city, focused on art, culture, and excellent beer, so we were quite excited. Our first stop was the downtown branch of the Asheville Pizza and Brewing company, for post-hike fuel. I got the “Old School”, a British style pale ale with lots of extra flavor.
Next we went to the main streets of downtown Asheville. The sidewalks were full of tourists, ducking in and out of the many, many shops and occasional gallery. We joined our fellow tourists, visiting the Victorian shopping arcade, art supply shops, and lots of clothing stores. Also, I completely forgot to take pictures, so you’ll have to take my word for it. At first, we both hadn’t realized what made Asheville so special. To my eyes, it seemed like quite a few other former mill-focused cities that had turned in to slightly-funky, upscale shopping districts. However, I’d missed the mark on Asheville. First of all, the variety there, in such a small city, was really quite unique. It’s also the only city of its kind for hundreds of miles. But, lastly, we didn’t have the time to visit the converted furniture factories near the river. Low rents and easy space have transformed the area into a hive of breweries, studios, and space for all stripes of creative types.
After a few hours, the sky darkened and a rather large thunderstorm started to creep in to view. We decided to be clever and beat the inevitable crowds that would head for dinner when the rain started. We picked Jack of the Wood, a brewpub with a great beer menu and great prices. Walking in, the hostess saw my Barcade T-shirt and remarked, “Oh, I used to live in Williamsburg!” Our bartender was also a transplant, having moved from New Hampshire. It turns out, too, we weren’t as clever as we’d thought. Asheville is famous for thundering for hours, with very little rain falling. Oh well. That explains why nobody else was in a hurry to get off the streets.
Molly drove home. I didn’t think to write down what beers I got. The only thing that really stuck out in my mind was that they actually had, on tap, a few beers from a different Asheville brewing company. Awesome.
Day 5: Knoxville, Nashville
- States: Tennessee
- Lunch: Swett's Soul food
- Distance: 500 miles
I hope the biscuits and gravy at that hotel breakfast were sub-par. Otherwise, Scottish food has nothing on the south.
The first part of the drive took us through the Smoky Mountain National Park. Here we realized that mount Pisgah was practically a foothill. Then it was on to Knoxville, where we checked out the pleasantly busy downtown and got some sweet tea. Folks seemed to be staring rather bluntly at my “Ride it like you stole it” T-shirt; that was the wrong choice for a Sunday. People seemed to be more shocked than offended, but it definitely was out of place. Knoxville looked fun, but not much seemed to be open on Sunday morning. So, off we went!
The next stop was Nashville. On the advice of roadfood.com, we headed to a soul food establishment called Swetts. It was clearly the place to go, as most tables were full with families dressed in their Sunday finest. Neither of us had the nerve to get the fried chicken, but we both decided to go for fried cornbread and collard greens. My rotisserie chicken was fantastic, and Molly’s turkey was pretty darned good. There was just way, way too much to eat. Naturally, I cleaned my plate and helped Molly with some of hers, too.
We decided to tour Vanderbilt before hitting the road. Good thing, too, as we were in no state for highway travel. It sometime in this period that we realized sweet tea is not a substitute for proper hydration, no matter how tasty it is. We drove through Vanderbilt, then through downtown Nashville (visiting, of course, Beale Street) before getting back on the road. We made a quick detour to pick up a tent, intending to camp in Memphis.
By the time we reached Memphis, it was well after dark. We started to have second thoughts as we drove the surface roads to the campsite. The houses looked poorly maintained, and the second stray dog didn’t help either. Nonetheless, we made it to the campsite and successfully pitched our brand-new tent (in the dark!). The gnarled old camp host drove up to collect the camping fee, and uttered this pearl of wisdom: “Y’aaall [unintelligible] dem buuuuuugs.” Molly, thinking on her feet, just smiled and said “Okay!”
Before we could sleep, though, I had to make it past the Fierce Bathhouse Guard: