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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.