October in Asheville: Becoming “Almost Locals,” Part One

We visited (and thoroughly enjoyed) Asheville some years back. We stopped here again, along with nearby Black Mountain, this summer, which reinforced our love of the region. And most recently, as part of our work camping gig, we lived in the area for nearly three months. Having been there a while we spent part of October very consciously acting a bit more local, while continuing to embrace the touristy sights and experiences of the region as well.

I get how those two things, tourist attractions and local favorites, often exist in noticeable conflict. In our travels Rose and I have found what we see as an unnecessary chasm between the them; locals too often dismiss the fantastic aspects of their town, particularly those that draw in the dreaded tourists, while the latter rarely dig below the easy and obvious tourist attractions.

Graveyard Fields Falls along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Our recommendation for locals everywhere is to embrace being a tourist in your own town, and for visitors anywhere to actively seek out those things that keep people living there. As locals, it is what we tried to do during our last year in Miami Beach. As tourists, particularly during our longer and subsequent visits to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Canada’s Nova Scotia, and now North Carolina’s western region, we have embraced this same dual perspective.

Geocaching within the North Carolina Arboretum grounds. This one was attached to an inconspicuous chain and dropped down a tree hole.

One thing I think locals along the entire East Coast Middle States and New England take for granted is the fall changing of the leaves and the explosion of natural color that results. With our campground just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, Rose made sure that we took advantage of such a serendipitous combination of timing and location.

We made multiple short day drives both north and south along the parkway, enjoying an ever greater proliferation of leaf hues and contrast with each passing week. Things peaked in the third and fourth week of October, just before an extended mild freeze and associated heavy rain, after which one could sense true winter approaching.

If that sounds a little too touristy for a supposed balanced regional view, consider the aggressive fungus hunting we did while in the Asheville area. It started harmlessly enough, with Rose downloading a mushroom ID app that we enjoyed consulting as we wandered and hiked around the southern Appalachian Mountains region.

This casual pursuit turned serious once we stumbled across a woman foraging a rather sought after shroom, a Blue Indigo, right beside the main road in our campground. We met this forager later that day at the local West Asheville Farmers Market on Haywood Ave where she got a positive ID from the local mushroom farmer and vendor.

In addition to buying from this helpful and knowledgeable vendor every other week (with particular enthusiasm for his King Trumpets) Rose was inspired to forage a bit herself, and within a week had found a couple of her own Blue Indigos! Very lightly battered and sautéed in butter in a manner similar to what we witnessed with Morels in Indiana, they were quite tasty!

Slices of Blue Indigo next to Beefsteak.

Thus further motivated, Rose discovered a significant cache of Hen of the Woods, or Maitake, polypores located at the base of a group of White Oaks behind one of our campground loops. This multi-pound, bigger-than-your-head fungus, once positively identified by our friendly neighborhood mushroom farmer, fed us for a week, either as a side dish or enhancement to main servings.

It wasn’t all easily found and edible foraging; the vast majority of what we discovered was barely edible at best to highly poisonous at worst. Regardless, we found the variety in shapes, textures, and color endlessly fascinating, and look forward to more wild foraging in future seasons and regions.

Per our mushroom ID app, these are highly toxic Jack-O-Lantern shrooms.

Next up: Quasi-Locals in Asheville, Part 2: Restaurants, Breweries, and Shops.

A Bit More from our September at Lake Powhatan

Having remembered a few more details and found a few more crucial photographs from the month, we were faced with the prospect of either editing and adding to our two September posts (edits that would likely go unnoticed by our tens of readers) or just putting up an addendum. We have chosen the latter.

Back in that first September post we told the tale of Mom and Tim’s visit to Lake Powhatan’s glamping tents for a two day stay, and yet could not prove, at least with photographic evidence, that it actually happened. So here is a relevant picture from that time. Granted, I don’t have them actually sleeping in a tent, but I assure you it happened. The weather was a bit brisk, but we still made it down to Lake Powhatan’s lakeside “beach.”

Back in Spartanburg we suffered a bit of a tragedy when I managed to partially smoosh Rosemarie’s lovely ukulele while opening a rear slide. A local luthier in Black Mountain quoted us a repair price well in excess of the uke’s purchase cost. During our trip to Wilmington in July, however, Mom and Tim’s neighbor, Thomas, a part time and highly skilled instrument repair craftsman, offered to take a hard look at getting the uke back to playable condition.

Two months later Tim presented us with exactly that: a fully functional, structurally sound uke with nothing but cosmetic remaining issues. The before picture does not show the real extent of the damage and subsequent repairs; the lower portion, the side perpendicular to the face, was partially crushed, and needed extensive reinforcement and repair. Thomas delivered for such an affordable “friends and family rate.” Now we just need to get back to unlimited free wifi so Rose can take advantage of her Fender.com online lessons.

Next up we move on to October: the leaf changes, mushrooms, and other local preoccupations.

69 Months Full Time RVing: September 2020 Report

The Distance: Zero miles as we continued our work camping gig at Lake Powhatan. Our total for the year remains 2,481 miles.

The Places:  We remained at Lake Powhatan National Campground and Recreation Area for the entire month of September. That means 30 days at a (national) public park, with full hook ups the entire time.

The Budget: 50% under budget this month! That’s what happens when you have a free camp site, an extra paycheck, and zero spent on RV gas. The great thing is that October should be, financially, an excellent month as well.

The Drama and Improvements:  Not hugely important, but we finally got around to constructing a combination storage area/day bed where our sleeper couch used to be. No pics until we get it looking right and topped with an actual mattress.

Next up: October in Asheville.

September at Lake Powhatan: Exploring Asheville and the Surrounding Area

We spent nearly 2 1/2 months at Lake Powhatan, but so far have only discussed our work camping gig there.  Managing the glamping tents, however, has hardly been our only activity: we spent a lot of time exploring the area, especially once the additional pay checks started dropping.  There is no doubt we loosened the purse strings a bit, though I think we were still reasonably conservative in our spending.  1-local-art-2

We started September with a visit to the North Carolina Arboretum, which is a fancy name for a botanical garden focusing on trees and other woody plants.  The one near Asheville is fantastic, containing beautiful gardens and extensive walking or biking trails.  2-lego-1

We chose that first day in September for our initial visit because they offer half priced admission on the first Tuesday of every month, and even though we could be living large with our giant additional pay check from our glamping gig, we are, by usual necessity, pretty frugal RVers.  The fee structure for the NC Arboretum applies solely to vehicles and parking (usually $16 per car or truck, a lot more for RV’s and buses) while pedestrians and bicyclists get in for free.  3-lego-2

In addition to doing a bit of light hiking and geocaching, we also enjoyed the seasonal art display: large scale Lego structures depicting scenes from local nature.  We got rained out and left earlier than anticipated, but would still strongly recommend the place, especially for families, and particularly on the first Tuesday of each month.  For a full day of entertainment at only $8 for the entire car load, it is hard to beat.  4-lego-3

With a near complete lack of cell service in the park we were often unable to take advantage of our “unlimited” Verizon data plan to keep up basic internet functions, much less download TV shows and movies.  A bit of an aside here: I put “unlimited” in quotes because it is not truly unlimited.  Despite the pricey monthly fee, each of our three connected devices (two mobile phones and one mifi hot spot) have a 15 gigabyte per month limit, after which that device gets “strangled,” i.e., the download speed reduced to a nearly unusable crawl.  I digress.  5-local-art-4

Bottom line: the need for connectivity gave us an excuse to do even more exploring in and around Asheville, focusing on places that not only provide good food and drink, but free wifi as well.  Asheville is known for having a plethora of excellent craft breweries, apparently owing their existence not just to the foodie/hipster/cool vibe of the town, but also to the pristine mountain water supply.  6-lego-4

Though we intended to revisit several breweries in the downtown area that we enjoyed from our visit years back, the crowds and associated lack of social distancing pushed us towards the outskirts of Asheville instead.  Fortunately we stumbled upon Archetype Brewing in West Asheville, a place offering fast complementary wifi, carefully enforced mask, sanitation, and distancing protocols, and excellent beer (Rose was a huge fan of seasonal offerings such as Thick Rick or The Sage, while I preferred the full on IPAs Cue The Sun and Lunar Effect.)  7-archetype-brewing

With our improved financial situation (along with an admitted pent up desire for restaurant food after six months of COVID-influenced semi-isolation) we hit a few local establishments.  We focused on a limited combination of local icons, variation in offerings, outdoor seating, and firmly enforced mask and distancing policies.  8-local-art-1

One of our first discoveries was Pizza Mind, which we found next door to Archetype Brewing.  We had a fantastic white pizza, which we enjoyed with the optional (and highly recommended) sesame seed crust.  I am not sure what they do to this pizza, but there seems to be some sort of interesting olive oil addition which lends the white pizza an interesting aroma and delicious taste, though it might not be for everyone.  9-pizza-mind

In the “Iconic Asheville Restaurant” category, we returned to the White Duck Taco Shop, a place that we had fortuitously stumbled upon during our four days in Asheville in 2018, and thus it was on our list for a return visit.  Featuring a rotating menu of more than a dozen interesting gourmet tacos, you might find offerings riffing on lamb gyros, Korean bulgogi beef, pork belly, jerk chicken, bahn mi tofu, Thai peanut chicken, oysters, or mole duck.  We strongly recommend the Riverside Arts District location for the excellent outdoor environment on the banks of the French Broad River.  10-white-duck

Having driven by it multiple times during our outings to West Asheville, in our fourth week in the area we had a Tuesday brunch at Biscuit Head.  If you are a fan of that lovely overlap between breakfast to lunch, whether of the Denny’s Grand Slam variety or something extravagant like Camille’s in Key West or The Court of Two Sisters in New Orleans, we think you will enjoy the offerings at Biscuit Head.  When my Mom and Stepdad Tim visited us in late September, this is where we went for their final day in Asheville.  11-pkm-bed

Speaking of which, we celebrated my birthday in late September with a modest family gathering when the aforementioned Mom and Tim stayed two days in the glamping tent next to our host site.  Brother Jason and sister-in-law Emmie, residing in the nearby town of Black Mountain, came as well for a glamorous outdoor dinner of Chicken Cordon Bleu, enjoyed outdoors around the campfire (recipe a loosely modified version of several combined options I found on line, but I think it came out pretty damn good.) 12-centipede

Our second month in the Asheville area started to hammer home how much this location sucked us in.  It offered us nearly everything we look for in our longer stays: a combination of nature and community.  We enjoyed a beautiful camp site under a full forest canopy, replete with deer, bear, centuries old oaks and clear running streams.  13-site-2

And yet fifteen minutes away, in the narrow corridors between rural Buncombe county and urban Asheville, we found such a wide variety of interesting local crafts, art, food, and sights.  With the omnipresent street art and fantastical graffiti, the cute shops of West Asheville, the seven days a week Western North Carolina Farmers Market or the one evening a week market on Haywood Ave, the hundreds of fantastic restaurants (with rarely a national chain option among them) and the dozens of craft breweries; this place has it all, at least as far as our preferences go.  14-local-art-3




68 Months Full Time RVing: August 2020 Report

The Distance: A modest 254 miles, most of it driving back from our second Tennessee state park to our work camping destination, Lake Powhatan Campground and Recreation Area. Which means our annual mileage will remain at 2,481 until mid November when we complete or time at Lake P and work our way back to Florida for the winter.

The Places:  We started the month with eight days at Cumberland Mountain State Park (completing a, for us, lengthy 12 day visit) and then hit our second Tennessee state park, Fall Creek Falls. Two weeks into August we made the run back east to Lake Powhatan, where we remained for the rest of August.

We spend all 31 days of August at public campgrounds (14 at state parks, 17 at a national recreation area). We had full hook ups for the 17 days at Lake Powhatan, and partial (electric and water) for 14 days at both of the Tennessee state parks.

The Budget: We finally broke our string of over budget months by coming in just under in August, and w did so despite having to pay our annual motorhome insurance bill. Granted, we were not even 2% under budget, but after three months significantly over, we will take it, especially since we are confident things will only get better over the next few months.

We were aided in our budget austerity by a limited amount of mileage (which required only one full fill up for Serenity) and free camping for 17 days at Lake Powhatan (which lowered our daily camping fee average to $15 for the month, compared to between $48, $31 and $28 in May, June, and July, respectively.) We also derived some benefit from being in remote areas or near only very small towns which offered limited temptations for unnecessary expenditures, at least until we got back to the Asheville area.

The Drama and Improvements:  Nothing significant to report this month.

Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee: Bridges, Waterfalls, Geocaching, and Managing the TN State Park Camping Fee System.

Let’s start with the last of those first: reducing the camping fees for TN state parks as much as feasible. While comparing and contrasting our TN park options and finalizing our stay at Fall Creek Falls I noticed that the TN state park camping fee schedule, in addition to adding a couple of bucks to weekend versus weekday costs, was charging an extra $7 to $9 per day for sewage hook ups. Most parks have a pretty big jump in price from dry camping to serviced sites, but this is the steepest I can recall for simply adding sewage on top of electric and water connections.

I didn’t notice it while making reservations for our first TN state park, Cumberland Mountain, but having spotted it here we ended up saving about $50 for our six day stay at Fall Creek Falls. For anything under a week, I don’t see much value in constant sewage connections when I can just dump at the station on the way out of the park; either way I have to connect and disconnect the big hose once.

Every state or county campground system has idiosyncrasies and rate variations, but some are more impactful than others, and I find it worth my time to pay attention and learn a few of the ins and outs of new systems, and revisit those from which we have long been away. Long time readers of this blog may remember when we discovered the Texas State Park “Gotcha” Fee, i.e., the camping costs did not include the actual per person entry fee, thus turning the actual rate from $20 into $30 a night.

Or you might recall Michigan’s even more egregious “double double fee system” in which the camping fee did not include the $9 per day vehicle “passport” cost for out of state visitors, a fee which applied to both the motorhome and our tow vehicle! Of course, both Texas and Michigan offered annual passes that, with enough additional visits, would “pay for themselves” and thus incentivize follow on stays at their state parks. We went with that option in Texas, but Michigan’s system seemed so unfair (and a bit predatory) that we went the opposite route: Grand Haven is the last Michigan State Park at which we have stayed.

Let me be clear: Tennessee’s fee structure is not unreasonable or surprising, but it does reward a bit of research and planning. Moving on…

Waterfalls! Truly one of nature’s coolest displays, and something Rose and I regularly seek out in our travels. Fall Creek Falls has dozens, several of their best readily accessible from the campground, while others require a significant hike for the right overlook.

We satisfied ourselves with some of the easier to access, particularly the park’s name sake, a set of consecutive falls near the visitor center. Turn left behind the center and you end up at a nice set of cascades good for swimming, a bracing “shower” or just photo ops. Turn right and it’s a longer hike down hill to the base of the main falls and a nice swimming pond. We opted for the former, but also made a day trip along with a short hike to one of the secondary falls in the park.

Fall Creek Falls also has a good number of structures dating back to the Civil Conservation Corps era, and we visited several of them during our drives and hikes. We also ran across several structures during our geocaching outings, of which there were several during our stay.

Our trusty Geo Tracker, Loki, came in quite handy, again, during one such venture that took us up some fire trails, ending in a short hike to one of the areas remaining fire towers. I’m not gonna lie: I bet this structure gets condemned or at least blocked off to the public within a few years since parts of it are getting pretty crusty. The girders, stairs, and landings are in solid shape, but the rails at the top and wooden cabin at the top are probably unsafe. We avoided those sections.

The climb rewarded us with a fantastic unobstructed view over the tree canopy. Oh, and a completed virtual geocache, of course.

Another cache outing took us into the woods behind an old CCC pump building, if I recall correctly, while another took us for a hike along the river, and then across via swinging cable bridge.

Given the size of the park and the wonderful things we saw during just a few outings and with little effort, I believe we barely scratched the surface of what Fall Creek Falls has to offer. I would recommend the place as either an excellent detour along the way to other places, or a regional destination on its own.

67 Months Fulltime RVing: July 2020 Report

(Yes, I know it’s November right now; we are gonna play “catch up the blog” again this month.)

The Distance: 1,441 miles as we really kicked the travel into top gear after months in pre-COVID Key West and post-COVID Sanibel. Though we long ago abandoned our Western US circuit plans, we put in some miles bouncing around the Southeast as far as North Carolina and Tennessee. This month’s mileage represents nearly two thirds of our 2020 total of 2,227.

The Places:  We finished off our stay at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park before heading north to the outskirts of Atlanta to see Rose’s cousins. From there we spent five days outside Spartanburg, SC to visit Dad and Marcia, and then headed for Black Mountain, NC and hoped for relief from the summer heat. We made a lengthy side trip to Wilmington on the North Carolina coast to see Mom and Tim before heading back to Black Mountain and nearby Asheville. We continued west with a week in Waynesville, NC before closing out July at Cumberland Mountain State Park in Tennessee.  

July gave us 12 days in public parks (2 in a national forest, 10 in state parks,) 10 in private parks and resorts, and 9 staying with family. We had full hook ups for 12 days, partial for 15, and stayed in a house for 4.

The Budget: Continuing an unfortunate trend from May and June we were once again significantly (25%) over budget this month. Like last month we suffered from a lack of market experiences, and then aggravated the budget with a lot of gas for our 1,441 miles of travel, along with relatively high campground fees for most of the month. And again similar to last month, we still would have been well under budget if not for an unexpected big expenditure, this time we had to replace the front rooftop air conditioner. Ah well, we remain moderately under budget for the year.

The Drama and Improvements:  As mentioned above, we had to completely replace our front A/C, during which process we elected to have preventive maintenance done on the rear A/C as well.

Next up: Fall Creek Falls State Park, TN.