You can drive to Asheville, NC, from DC in roughly 7 and a half hours. That decided the matter – rather than flying, I would enlist R as a co-driver and we would take the Thursday to drive down to my conference, via the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Departing from the interstate and winding our way along the Blue Ridge Parkway obviously added a few hours to the journey time, so we started early and left DC before the morning rush. In about four hours we were having an early lunch (at a Chik fil A just outside of Roanoke, VA), and then it was on to the Blue Mountain Parkway. We came off I-81 at Fort Chiswell and found the Parkway from there, after driving through some tiny Appalachian towns with great names like Independence and Sparta.
Very soon we realised that the Blue Ridge Mountains are far wilder, bigger, and higher than those that make up the range around Shenandoah. The parkland was also more varied, with more dwellings and communities visible in the form of rather ramshackle houses and farms. The valley the interstate runs through had already shown itself to be pretty poor, full of trailer homes and scantily clothed children – a rural poverty that made me think of that drawn by Barbara Kingsolver, of families struggling to pay the bills. It was also full of evangelical churches – some in the valley had been huge modern buildings like airplane hangers, but the ones in the mountains were smaller, some quite ramshackle, and with traditional white spires.
As we wound along the parkway we gained ground steadily and were soon higher up than we had ever been on the East Coast. The mountains were truly blue and smoky looking, but once we were in them there was no sign of smoke or vapour. Apparently the blue haze is caused by isoprene, released into the atmosphere by the trees.
We were lucky that as much of the parkway was open as it was – a few weeks before many stretches had been closed because of snow, and we kept seeing the remnants of snow piles on the side of the road and on the tops of mountains. Unfortunately though, the road around Mount Mitchell, the highest peak on the East Coast (at 6,684 feet) was still closed and we had to drop down and rejoin main roads to finish our trip to Asheville.
Read the next posts in this series:
- Eating and Drinking in AshevilleEating and Drinking in Asheville
- The Vanderbilt Estate
- Driving back via Charlottesville