Day 4: Pilot Car
For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end. Psalm 48:14 (NIV)
Monday morning, we left our truck at Vicki and Rich’s and headed onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our destination was Blowing Rock. One of our goals this trip, besides resting and doing some great motorcycle riding was to complete the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Two summers ago, we rode from Roanoke, Virginia to Blowing Rock, North Carolina. This year, we wanted to pick up in Blowing Rock and ride south to Cherokee. One day, we hope to complete riding the parkway’s northern route including the Skyline Drive. When I planned our route and made our reservations for accommodations, I relied upon MapQuest to help me gauge how many miles and how long hours each leg of our trip would take. Generally, we prefer to ride no more than four hours a day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, but in the mountains, we cut that time back to no more than three a day. It is just too tiring on the hills and curves and we want to enjoy our travels and not exhaust ourselves. Unfortunately, I did not realize that MapQuest predicts travel time based on an average speed of sixty miles per hour. That is unrealistic in the mountains particularly when you get behind a tourist from Florida or road construction. We had both so what was supposed to be a six hour ride took about five. We knew we were in trouble as soon as we left Asheville and realized we were in the middle of a convoy of dump trucks. Commercial vehicles are not normally allowed on the parkway. Their smelly fumes not only from their exhaust, but also their cargo were hard to ride behind and occasionally husband pulled off to an overlook just so we could catch our breath. Soon, we came upon signs that said, “Flagman, 1500 feet,” “Flagman, 1000 feet,” “Flagman, 500 feet.” Then, the flagman finally appeared. Usually the flagman was a bored man or woman, leaning upon their flag, sometimes, smoking a cigarette. If we were the first in the line to come upon him, he waved listlessly in our direction to signal that we needed to stop. Other vehicles came behind us as we waited. And waited. We got used to sitting on the side of the road waiting for a “pilot car” to come and on occasion found that our fellow travelers, particularly other motorcycle riders took advantage of the delay to strike up a conversation, find out where others were traveling to and from and exchange road information. Until another stream of cars following the pilot car came towards us from the opposite direction. Then, the pilot car turned around and we followed him around the one lane mountain road across fresh asphalt and past construction machinery and workers repairing guard rails and roadway to safety. In life, like on those mountain roads, we always need a pilot. Thankfully, we have one and He is always available. No waiting needed.
Day 5: Mountain Highs
Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Psalm 71:3 (NIV)
On Tuesday, we set out on the motorcycle to ride to Linville Falls and Grandfather Mountain. I do not know why I always plan these trips that involve high altitudes when I am so afraid of heights. I do not think about it normally. I go through my day to day life in the flatlands of Florida and unless I have to climb a ladder to paint a room or change a light bulb, I can forget about this paralyzing fear that comes over me when more than two feet off the ground. At Linville Falls, I was okay for the first leg of the hike to see the falls. I managed to climb onto some rocks to see the upper falls as long as I stayed in the middle of the landing and didn’t go near the edge. Husband insisted that I sit on the wall overlooking the falls to get my picture made. All I was thinking was, “Please just take the picture so I can move back to solid ground.” Not that the rocks were not solid. It was my knees that were weak. We climbed up to another level for a view of the lower falls and the same situation was repeated. Husband encouraged me to pose for a picture when all I wanted to do was get down off the ledge. He told some other tourists who were there that he didn’t understand why I was so afraid. He added, “She didn’t use to be this way, it just came on in the last couple of years.” True, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I am afraid. After we left Linville Falls and headed to Grandfather Mountain, I was feeling a little woozy and a lot afraid. The woman at the ticket booth made us read a warning about riding a motorcycle on all the switchbacks of the mountain. Going up wasn’t too bad. I could look away from the mountainside. But after we parked and I had to get off the bike and walk over to the area where the mile high swinging bridge was located, I was having trouble breathing and it was not because of the altitude. I found a bench and sat still while the world seemed to spin and husband couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to even look at the bridge much less walk over it. I had to close my eyes; I couldn’t even bear to see him near it. He coaxed me back down to the parking lot where I looked for another way off the mountain than riding back down on the motorcycle. There was no escaping it so I dug my finger into his side, closed my eyes and alternated between praying and cursing as we headed straight down into what looked like the ends of the earth. We made it to the bottom, but I vowed never to do that again. At least until the next vacation.
Day 6: Not all BnBs are alike
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1-3 (NIV)
When we travel, we like to stay at Bed and Breakfasts. It is a good way to learn about the area where we are and to meet interesting people along the way. Husband, who has never met a stranger, enjoys talking to the other guests at breakfast. The Innkeepers are always friendly and great conversationalists. Usually, the Bed and Breakfasts are located in historic homes, and I enjoy seeing them and their furnishings. I often find places to say on the Internet doing a search for historic inns that cater to motorcyclists. It is always nice to have a place to park the bike while we sleep. To say that the bed and breakfast we stayed in at Blowing Rock was a disappointment is an understatement. It was not at all what was described on the website, an elegant room with antique furnishings in a historic home. It was more shabby chic with the emphasis on shabby. The furniture was worn and creaky and the bedding frayed. There were cobwebs in the corners of the ceilings, the blinds were dusty, and the rugs not vacuumed. It turns out that the owners of the inn did not live on site and instead, left its management to some college students. Not only was the room not to our expectations, but the breakfasts were lousy. Always served cold. The first day the sausage was burned and the eggs were runny. The second day, all that was offered was more burned sausage with fruit and banana bread. We won’t be going back there. Thankfully, the Andon Reid Inn in Waynesville restored our faith in Bed and Breakfasts. Located in a 1902 mansion on a hill overlooking the valley and ringed with mountains, the inn was everything a bed and breakfast should be. The innkeepers were delightful people who greeted us on our arrival with homemade cookies. We stayed in a two room suite that was once the parlor and the library. Our bed was in the parlor and the library with its mahogany walls and ceiling had been covered to our bathroom. The room was huge with both a walk in shower and a giant Jacuzzi tub. It even had two fireplaces, once in the bedroom and one in the bathroom! The innkeepers provided a garage to park the motorcycle and the next morning, cooked a three course breakfast that included dessert! They spent time with us getting to know us and exchanging stories about the mountains, life and raising children. Such a contrast in experiences! The difference came because the innkeepers lived in the house and made it a home, not just a place to spend the night. They cared about meeting our every need and paid attention to the details. Sometimes, we settle for just okay in this life when God wants us to live life to the fullest. Like a good innkeeper, He cares about every aspect of our lives as well. We can trust Him to provide the very best.
Day 7: Memory Lane
I am my lover’s. I’m all he wants. I’m all the world to him! Come, dear lover— let’s tramp through the countryside. Let’s sleep at some wayside inn, then rise early and listen to bird-song. Let’s look for wildflowers in bloom, blackberry bushes blossoming white, Fruit trees festooned with cascading flowers. Song of Solomon 7:10-11 (The Message)
Almost thirty years ago, husband and I stayed at a small motel in Flat Rock, North Carolina. We were young and in love and the little motor court on a lake was wildly romantic and quaint. I believe that is the first meal that husband cooked for me as we took advantage of the barbeque grills located around the lake. I still remember the menu. He grilled steaks and baked potatoes in the efficiencie’s oven. We visited the Carl Sandburg House which is owned by the National Park Service who purchased it from his widow shortly after the poet’s death. She took only a few personal items and left the house exactly as it was when he lived and worked there. I remember being fascinated because the house was frozen in time with the year being 1967. It was like recreating a piece of my childhood. And since Carl Sandburg looked something like my own grandfather, I felt right at home. A month or so ago, husband and I were talking about that trip. He said, “Remember when we stayed at that motel where they had the old mill and how much fun we had?” I was surprised when he said that trip was one of his best memories of our early marriage. Knowing that we would be in the area of Flat Rock on our trip this week, I started doing some research and found the motel. Though its name was slightly changed, I knew from the pictures on the website it was the right place. When I called and talked to the owner, he confirmed the details that confirmed my hunch. He also helped me figure out what part of the lodge would have been in existence when husband and I stayed there and so, I reserved a room as a surprise. Husband was surprised and pleased that I had gone to so much trouble to recreate a memory. When we arrived at the Old Mill Lodge in Flat Rock, it looked just as we remembered it. As we sat on the front porch of our room, it was as though time had stood still as we reminisced about “the good old days.” Though much has happened over the years, some of which I would not want to live through again, in general our marriage has been good and is even stronger than it was way back then. This time, we didn’t bother to cook out, but dined at a really nice restaurant in Hendersonville. Having the money to go out for dinner is one of the things that has come with age. As has wisdom to know how to fight fair and when to back off and let things be. The next day, we toured the Carl Sandburg House once more. It is still stuck in 1967 and was as interesting to me as it was so long ago. But, unlike the house, I am glad that husband and I have been able to change and grow.
Day 8: Sugar Hollow
Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them. Hebrews 11:13-16 (The Message)
We put almost 400 miles on the motorcycle in four days. Much of that was up and over mountains and switchbacks. In fact, we traveled on so many curves, that the tires on husband’s motorcycle are starting to wear on the sides! From Asheville to Blowing Rock to Boone to Waynesville to Cherokee to Flat Rock and back to Asheville, we did a lot of riding and saw some beautiful country. We saw rocky peaks, forested mountainsides, waterfalls, both big and small, rivers, animals and birds. We met some interesting people and heard some great stories. It makes me so appreciative of the beauty of this country and also of the kindness of its people. It seemed fitting while at the Carl Sandburg House we witnessed a Naturalization Ceremony for new United States Citizens. They were of all nationalities, Spanish, Mexican, German, Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Middle Eastern, but all had worked long and hard to pass the citizenship test and fulfill the requirements to make it to this milestone day. All but a few came with families to cheer and take pictures. They were dressed in their finest and stood proudly as they received their papers and posed for pictures. Carl Sandburg himself would have been proud as he was the descendant of immigrants and his whole life fought for the rights of freedom and equality. With that final destination, our road trip through the mountains came to a close as we traveled back to Rich and Vicki’s lovely house in Sugar Hollow. It is truly a place where all guest are welcomed and made to feel like home. We could not wait to get back to the lovely views and the restful atmosphere to enjoy for a few more hours before we begin to make our way back to our own home so far away. It made me think about what really makes a place a home. Carl Sandburg said that all he needed was a quiet attic and some paper upon which to scribble. Vicki and Rich wanted a place full of light and beauty where they could entertain and practice their crafts. Our island house is home because our hearts are there, our children and family, the memories and the activities that keep us busy and alive. For the newly created citizens, their home will be anywhere they chose to settle, with all those things that all of us humans desire: love, family, a job that makes them feel fulfilled and the opportunity to improve their lives both for themselves and for the next generation. All of us really want to have a place we can call our own, our own version of Rich and Vicki’s Sugar Hollow. But, this earth can only offer us a glimpse of our eternal home. God gives us just enough to know the pleasures of this earth, but that there is something better around the bend. For we are just strangers passing through and Heaven is our eternal home.