Mini Spring Break in the Mountains

We were once again lucky enough to have been able to escape from our house for a quick trip up to the NC mountains for a socially-distanced, pandemic friendly long weekend.  My daughter’s spring break, coupled with a growing need for fresh air, with inspired us to head up to Asheville for a few days to enjoy some patio dining and a couple of refreshing hikes.  Of course, the trip was not without some adventure, as what’s the point of traveling and getting out into the world (even if just in small ways) without injecting some craziness.

We rented a beautiful apartment right on Broadway Street in Asheville, so we were in the center of the action, and thankfully other than our hiking trips, the car could stay parked for the weekend.  I am a city boy at heart, as nothing says vacation more to me than a complete lack of need for a car and getting to explore by foot or public transit.  The apartment was spacious and beautiful, and provided the perfect base of operations for our little weekend trip.  We headed up Thursday afternoon as soon as we could sneak away from work and while we grabbed a quick bite of lunch before leaving most of the drive was taken up by discussions of where to hike and most importantly where to eat.  Normally, I would have some firmer plans, but it felt like a weekend to just go with the flow and see what we could find.

After arriving and getting quickly settled we headed out to Catawba Falls for a nice easy hike, but with some truly beautiful waterfalls and a chance to clamber over some rocks and trees following the stream directly as it criss-crossed the trail.  We did get one elusive sighting of the Appalachian Pygmy Yeti, who I wrote about last summer, during the hike but for the most part the afternoon was serene and relaxing.  While not a strenuous hike by any stretch of the imagination, it did help build up a bit of an appetite, and we rewarded ourselves with dinner at Farm Burger.  Always one of the best burgers going, I cannot recommend it enough, and when you couple it with their fries it is as good as a simple meal can be.  We were able to enjoy sitting in their outside area enjoying the late day sunshine and some truly great burgers.  

We were up early to look after some things first thing the next morning as we still had a couple of appointments and meetings to look after, but it was still somewhat “vacationy” as it was nowhere near the normal hustle and bustle.  We decided that we would spend Friday afternoon wandering around Downtown Asheville, checking out some of the various shops and galleries, and scoping out some new places to eat.  For lunch, we went with the tried and true Mellow Mushroom with it’s excellent outdoor patio.  Always a good choice, and for dinner we found a small, Japanese restaurant, Heiwa Shokudo, tucked at the end of some shops.  They had an awesome outdoor seating area, and it was a glimpse of their ramen which got our attention.  My daughter is a fiend for ramen so we had to stop.  The menu was great, but I ended up going with their version of “Hot Pot” which brought back great memories of a meal I had in Kyoto a few years ago.  I was lucky enough to get to spend a week in Japan for work back in 2015, and pretty much ask at every opportunity for the chance to go back on a return trip.  We summed up the day with a stop at Kilwin’s and grabbed an assortment of treats and headed back to the apartment to catch up on some reading and relaxing.  The dark chocolate covered Oreos are just too good to resist.

Saturday brought some rain, so we decided to push our hiking trip to Sunday morning, but still went out to explore Asheville further, as a bit of rain never hurt anyone.  That exploration led us to Vortex Donuts and a relatively new area that is being developed.  As per Asheville regulations, even in this area every third business needs to be a craft brewery.  The yeast based donuts at Vortex are incredible and I highly recommend the signature Vortex Donut which is a cinnamon sugar donut with a swirl of chocolate on top.  Reminded me of the chocolate cinnamon buns you find everywhere in Scandinavia.  I like it so much, that I went back Sunday morning and got another one.  From there we did a bit more shopping and a lot of walking, and just enjoying the simple pleasures of looking for new things while enjoying some quiet time as a family.  For lunch we hit Red Ginger Dimsum and Tapas, and had an absolutely incredible meal out on their patio protected from the light rain at that point.  Most of their dishes are small plate, so you are encouraged to try a lot of different things.  Some of the highlights for me were the fried bao buns, chicken yakitori and the salt & pepper prawns may have been the best shrimp that I have ever eaten.  We have all agreed that our next trip to Asheville needs to include a full dinner at Red Ginger, as lunch just didn’t allow us to try enough things.  After a bunch more walking, we ended up back at Farm Burger for dinner, which I will completely take the blame for, as I truly needed another hit of that amazing burger and fries.  It was a fantastic day that we topped off with some great gelato and a movie on the couch.

The best part of the day, however, may have been what I can only describe as a weird game of Marco Polo being played by the vehicles of the Asheville Fire Department.  At one point, there were four different trucks, going in seeming circles, but in separate directions, with random sirens and lights.  And that went on throughout the day, so I’m pretty sure they were just bored and having some fun.  At least until the battalion commander hunted each truck down.  A week later and we are still having to stifle a giggle at the sound of a fire truck.  Sometimes you have to look for the comedy around you, and sometimes it just jumps up and smacks you in the face.

Sunday morning we packed up and made our way from Asheville, but before heading home we decided we wanted to try out a new trail (or at least new for us).  We jumped on the Blue Ridge Parkway and made our way to the trailhead for the Graveyard Fields Trail .  This is a great, relatively flat trail, that takes you past a couple of water falls and through some fairly open fields before diving back through some trees.  There were times when it completely reminded me of the highlands of Scotland, (it didn’t hurt that there was a fair bit of wind that day).  Our only complaint is that there are a number of side trails, but little in the way of clear markings, so it’s easy to get a little turned around and travel in some circles.  The initial waterfall is amazing, and provides a great opportunity for some rock hopping if you are a little adventurous and that leads to some amazing views.  It’s a little out of the way, but it’s a great trail for novice and experience hikers alike.

Finally, I wanted to share that a friend of mine has written an incredible book – Know, Grow and Show Your Grit! (Self-Discovery Made Simple) by Haze Schepmyer.  You can check out her website here.  She is an amazing person and author and was very kind to allow me to contribute a very small section to the book.  Thankfully she edited it incredibly well, so I actually sound like I somewhat have a clue.  That book is going to be traveling with us this summer, as unfortunately Haze cannot travel with us, as she is up in Canada and we aren’t quite sure when the border might reopen.  I look forward to sharing more pictures of the adventures that Haze gets up to in book form as we slowly get to start exploring more and more of the world again.  In the meantime, check out the book and let me know what you think.  And if you ever get a chance to meet Haze in person, be sure to ask her about the inflatable obstacle course and the elusive black rope.  It’s a great story, and I totally won that race.

The Free Range Viking

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