Tag Archives: driving in America

Asheville: driving home via Charlottesville

Sunday came too soon. I gave my conference paper, changed into more comfortable clothes, and we were on our way.

Even though we were taking a quicker route of main roads, the first hour or so out of Asheville was still beautiful, as we drove through some of the eastern ridge of the Blue Mountains, into Tennessee briefly, and down again to Johnson City. We took the I-81 back to Fort Chiswell and from there we were retracing our steps. But we weren’t done with sightseeing yet.

On the way down we had been intent on getting to the Blue Mountains, but now we had a bit of time to stop for a much-needed break at an attraction near Roanoke called the Natural Bridge. The weather wasn’t great, but we still enjoyed our little walk down a gorge to see the ‘bridge’. It’s even possible to walk underneath it, or sit and take in a lecture about the natural wonder – or a sermon…

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Past the bridge there are various nature walks and things to see, including a recreation of a native American village. We figured that this was probably one of those places that Virginian school children get taken to on geography and history school trips.

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Jefferson once owned the land that included the natural bridge, and he began the custom of a guest book that the Virginia State Park authorities keep up to this day. As we learnt about the bridge we became aware that we had maybe seen paintings of it before – maybe at Monticello? I’m not sure.

Talking of Monticello, we had decided that we might as well drive home via Charlottesville and have dinner there. This probably wasn’t the most time-efficient idea, but we hadn’t felt that we had enough time at Charlottesville the last time we were there (I’ll write about this trip another time), and we had been thinking about it ever since. It has a really nice downtown mall (which we would call a pedestrianized high-street in the UK), with lots of really nice places to eat.

So we went for dinner at Bizou in Charlottesville, and it was lovely. After a few days of brew pubs, it was a nice contrast, and we loved the decor. Some of the tables were old-style diner booths with the old juke-box selectors at the table, and the walls were covered in framed old movie posters – I especially liked the one for The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. It was the kind of place that, if you lived in the town, you’d take people there all the time.

But, sadly, we didn’t live in Charlottesville, so we had a 2.5 hour drive home! It was a busy long weekend, but we were happy we’d managed to cram in as much as we had.

(And just in case you thought you’d escaped the country music this time – here are two of our favourite tracks from this trip!)

(Do read the comments on You Tube – predictably, she comes in for some criticism from Christians!)

I think the basic inspiration for this is One Man went to Mow…

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Asheville road trip: the Blue Ridge Mountains

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.

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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.

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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.

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