(NOTE: This is a 'Classic Trip.' Prices and other details have probably changed in the intervening years.)
After the race and another night, we caught the train to Washington, DC (which will be covered in another trip report) and took a week's break there before returning to Charlotte.
Now, we have 8 more days, no plans, no reservations, nothing in mind but we do have a rental car for the duration. We check in to a La Quinta Inn and press on.
We pull out a map and look for somewhere to go. We see that the town of Hickory is within a couple of hours drive so off we go.
Being October, the leaves are putting on a show and what a show it was. The hills and mountains were literally ablase with color. Vibrants yellows, flaming reds, glowing oranges. A SoCal boy like me never sees anything like this. We were extremely lucky to hit right at the peak of color (we've been back since and have not been able to time it just right as we did on this trip).
On top of the fall color, the countryside scenery is straight out of Norman Rockwell or Mayberry...which of course is set in North Carolina to begin with. Thousands of little country roads criss cross the state with breathtaking views around every corner. Heading up to Hickory, we round a bend and are hit with a view straight off of the cover of the Saturday Evening Review, Murphy's Mill.
We pull off to take a look at this historic grist mill. We later learn that the state is dotted with such mills. The banks of the placid mill pond with it's rushing waterfall are too much to resist picnicking at.
No lunch? No problem, turning around we see this pleasant little country store across the street with all the supplies we need.
At this point, may I just say that the people in the state are also top-notch. You hear about Southern Hospitality but it's something else to experience it first hand. The people here are very friendly and are a pleasure to deal with.
Arriving at Hickory near dinner time, we find another charming little Mayberry-like town that the state is full of. Now Mayberry is, of course, an unobtainable fiction and all towns have problems. But the towns we've seen are beautiful examples of small town America populated by some very friendly folks.
We pull in for dinner at the Hickory Station, a nice dinner and steak house set in the restored railroad depot. As my wife dines on some savory shrimp, Tim on a nice juicy burger, and me on a tender rib-eye, we enjoy the wonderful view of the twinkling lights of downtown and the hills beyond. After dinner, the host invites us into the kitchen to meet the chef and after a nice chat we head on back to Charlotte.
The next day, we head over to the hometown of Elizabeth Dole, Salisbury. Here, we ride on the historic restored steam train at the railroad museum. The coal fired locomotive gives us a clue as to why it's not used as a fuel on modern trains anymore. Our skin, hair, and even teeth are filled with a fine, gritty soot as the smoke from the burning coal settles over the entire train.
The town offers a self guided tour of its magnificent old homes, some dating back to the 17th century. We marvel at these grand old buildings and head back for another night in the big city.
For our last day in Charlotte, we head over to nearby Morrow Mountain State Park and Lake Tillery. We rent a rowboat at the bargain rate of $2.50 an hour a take a leisurely cruise to the other side of the lake, watching the fall leaves drift down to the surface and the snapping turtles drift up. A wheelchair accessible platform hovers over a prime fishing spot on the lake. A few bucks for a license and a cheap rod and reel from Wal-Mart is all that's needed to dip a line here (licenses are free for disabled persons).
For a change of pace, we head to the hills for the rest of our trip. Our home is now the beautiful Pinebrae Bed and Breakfast just outside another charming North Carolina town, Rutherfordton. We arrive at 9:00pm hungry. After checking in and unpacking, we head into town to see what's for dinner. Not much at that time of night.
The only place open (and for only a few minutes more) is a barbecue place just outside of town on the road to nearby Spindale. I'm sorry to say that North Carolina barbecue and me just don't get along...just way to vinegary. The food was atrocious but luckily, it's the worst we would have to endure.
The Pinebrae is a antebellum style mansion situated on 15 acres of prime western North Carolina countryside with woods to wander through, great expanses of lawn, and many wild furry visitors popping through.
The owners, Alan and Charlotte, tell us it used to be a home for troubled youths back in the depression years. Now it's a beautiful home with four guest rooms for travelers. And fellow travelers here tend to be nice and quiet since most of their guests are visiting doctors working at the hospital down the road.
A great home cooked breakfast awaits everybody each morning and guests eat at a common great table in the massive dining room with Alan holding court leading the conversation. He also tells us of the sites nearby, off the beaten path, that lead to spectacular waterfalls and mountaintop views. This luxurious and homey retreat costs us a grand total of $69 a night including breakfast.
Travelling through the countryside towards nearby Asheville, we stop at roadside stands to pick up home made jams, jellies, and preserves to take back with us.
We travel over to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and hike up to the top of Clingman's Dome, the second highest point in the state and the highest point of neighboring Tennessee (the state line bisects the peak).
A note here for wheelchair users: although there is a smooth, paved path leading up from the parking lot to the top of the lookout tower with no steps whatsoever, the trail is very steep. A strong power chair with lots of traction and a full charge will probably make it. Be sure to bring a very strong pusher or be in extremely good physical shape if you attempt this in a manual chair. I pushed my son up to the top in his manual chair and was having some very serious doubts as to if I would make it to the end of this half-mile trail without suffering a coronary. It is exceedingly difficult for a manual chair and should be attempted with caution...remember, even if you do make it up, you have to negotiate that very steep downhill slope with a chair that wants nothing more than to break loose and make a mad dash for the fall line.
We did make it after much effort and the view into neighboring Tennessee is astonishing. After a hair-raising walk 'n roll back down to the parking lot, we head over to Dillsborough to board the Great Smokey Mountain Railroad.
Here, we board a wheelchair accessible coach - with an onboard accessible restroom also - and take a 2 hour ride up the Tuckaseegee River and marvel at the countryside views of tobacco farms, villages, and the river itself. Just before a tunnel, we are treated to the spot where Hollywood created that fantastic train wreck scene from the Harrison Ford movie, "The Fugitive", complete with the destroyed locomotive and prisoner transport buses.
The train makes it back to Dillsborough at 6:00pm and after browsing through the few shops still open at that time, we have dinner at the unpretentious Dillsborough Steak and Seafood house for a delicious dinner before heading back over to Rutherfordton.
We spend our last full day here shopping for souvenirs in town and taking one last drive through the countryside. The next day, after having one last hot southern breakfast we say goodbye to our hosts and take that 2 hour drive back to Charlotte for the most regretable part of our trip...going home.
Copyright 2000 - Darryl Musick
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