Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Parkway

We have been quite slow at starting this blog, partly because of no internet access in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but also partly because we have been trying to do things that are worth blogging about. We have a lot to catch up on. Let’s start at the beginning:

Our cross-country adventure began on June 12th at the ungodly hour of 6 AM, in torrential downpour on the New Jersey turnpike – the most beautiful part of America. After 6 hours of steady rain all the way down route 70 and through Pennsylvania and West Virginia, we made our way into the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. The sun finally came out as we mounted the brim of the Shenandoah Valley, just in time for us to descend into the Luray Caverns. Pretty cool caves in all as we found ourselves 16 stories underground surrounded by stalagmites and stalactites on a 1 mile walking tour.

After the caverns, we headed into Shenandoah National Park to a campground called Big Meadows – which we soon learned was built on a swamp. I guess the clue was in the name. The campsite was surrounded by roaming deer and supposedly a few bears, though we were hoping not to see too many of those. We cooked dinner, struggled to make a campfire and had way too close of an encounter with a raccoon.

Hiking along the Appalachian Trail

For the next 3 days we meandered down the stunning Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), going through Virginia and North Carolina (the photo at the top of our blog was taken here). Neither of us have ever been on such scenic roads. These roads were built before skyscrapers and air travel were common, and were created to give people the opportunity to rise to the top and look down from places higher than many had ever seen.  It rarely dropped below 3,000 feet and the views both east and west were incredible. Here are some of our highlights on the BRP:

Lexington, VA:  home to Washington and Lee University, Virginia Military Institute and Confederate Army general Stonewall Jackson (for those of you who are interested). We couldn’t have met more friendly people here…. One man even crossed over the street to tell us that there was no need to lock up our bikes, since “no one would care to bother them”. Overall, Lexington is a beautiful, quaint and intellectual town. It seemed that at every café we walked into, people were deep in conversation, scribbling on yellow legal pads in front of them.

Floyd, VA:  Defined by a general store, a country store and a few odd shops (which surprisingly sold a vast collection of British beer), it was a nice stop on our drive down the BRP. A seemingly traditional small town, Floyd sets itself apart by its Friday night traditions. Every week, the local country store cleans out its shelves and merchandise to make room for a full out dance party. It features several local “jam bands” and draws crowds of locals and visitors alike. Unfortunately we were not there for the spectacle, but Dicken decided to partake in the music festivities by buying his own harmonica… which he has no idea how to play. This should make for interesting camping, as Torrey has brought along her guitar… which she also doesn’t really know how to play!

Floyd Country Store getting ready for the Friday night jamboree

Bluegrass Music: Bluegrass came about in the 1940’s and began as concert music primarily meant for listening and storytelling. Ballad style vocals are mixed with instrumental solos on the fiddle, mandolin, dobra, banjo or guitar. In the 1970’s bluegrass fell by the wayside to more popular “country” music, which it heavily influenced. It still has a strong and popular following today, especially in the mountain region. We stopped to listen to some of this local music at the Blue Ridge Parkway Music Center, where daily concerts are put on by local musicians. We heard two incredible musicians named Scott Freeman and Willard Gayheart- you can check out some of their music here:

Scott on the mandolin and Willard on the guitar

Asheville, NC: A park ranger described Ashville to us as “the San Francisco of the East” and we found this to be a pretty good description. Ashville is  fun-loving, liberal and young town full of, in Dicken’s words,  “hippies”. We went there in search of two things: southern BBQ food and the England vs. Sweden match, and luckily we found them both at Moe’s Original BBQ. We both had  pulled pork with cornbread, mac and cheese and collard greens…fantastic food and great result! [We will write more about BBQ food later on when we write about Tennessee.] At Moe’s we met two locals named Lynn and Allison who informed us of Asheville’s “Downtown After 5”.  The town closes down it’s main street and sets up local food stands, beer tents and features two main stage performers. This week’s was a funk/soul band named The Secret B-Sides, they were pretty good! The vibe downtown was great. People of all ages were in their own worlds dancing to the music, drinking local beer and hanging out with friends and family on this sunny, Friday evening. The area was filled with organic markets, open bars and packed restaurants. We could have stayed for the weekend! Definitely a place to check out again in the future.

View from North Carolina stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Mount Pisgah, NC: really cool campground. Beautiful early morning hike up the mountain with amazing views of the Great Smokey mountains.


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