We’ve lived in Lewisville, NC for over three years now and every other week for all three years I’ve heard the following from Celeste: “We’ve lived here for ‘fill in the amount of time’ and we haven’t really explored the mountains.” So earlier this week I decided to plan a family outing to the mountains on the last official day of the kids’ summer break, which was yesterday (Friday, August 23, 2007). Well, let’s just say we ended the summer with a bang.
First we rousted the kids from bed at about 7:00 so we could be on the road at 8:00. We hit the road on time, a miracle in and of itself, and stopped at the McDonald’s in Yadkinville for a utilitarian breakfast that we could eat on our way to our first destination. Keep this in mind as it becomes significant later in our story.
After leaving McDonalds we headed northwest to the town of Damascus, VA where we planned to rent bikes for our entire family plus Michael’s friend Daniel. Although the mileage between Lewisville and Damascus wasn’t too significant it still ended up taking us over two hours to get there because it was mostly two lane mountain roads and we must have been behind every driver in Appalachia that preferred driving 15 miles under the speed limit.
Upon our arrival in Damascus we found Adventure Damascus where I’d made our reservations. For $23 a person they rented us bikes and provided a shuttle to the top of Whitetop Mountain where we could ride our bikes almost entirely downhill for 17 miles back to town on the Virginia Creeper Trail. And they throw in a bottle of water!
They wouldn’t let me have my first selection for a bike (see picture at left) but after they found an appropriate ride for all of us they loaded us into their van (see picture below) and took us on a 40 minute ride up the mountain. At the trail head we disembarked and made sure we all knew how to shift gears, which really wasn’t necessary since we pretty much coasted almost the entire way.
Like I said we had about a 17 mile ride back to town. After about three miles I started hearing complaints about butts hurting and thought, “This may not have been the brightest idea”, but the kids and Celeste motored on and half way through the ride Celeste told me she thought it was a fantastic way to spend a day. Score one for dad/husband!
The ride down the mountain really was great even though we picked a day of record high temparatures to make the trip. The trail is an old rail bed that was converted over to use for bikers, hikers and horseback riders. It’s fairly wide, has almost no major obstacles, runs by a stream which provides a kind of natural air conditioning and is shaded almost the entire way. Even better the grade is very gradual so it doesn’t take a lot of skill on a bike to navigate it. There are also plenty of places to stop and wade in the stream if you like. In it’s entirety the trail is about 37 miles long and ends in Abingdon, VA so if you’re up to a more strenuous ride you can find it there. We were happy to do the 17 mile coast.
After we got back to Damascus we decided to step into Damascus Eats for some lunch. It’s a nice little joint with sandwiches, burgers and such that we all found to be tasty. Celeste opted for the daily pulled pork BBQ special and it was really quite good. The kids and I went for burgers and sandwiches and all of us finished off our meals. None of us saved space for banana pudding, but it looked good.
Unfortunately this is the point in the story where the import of our decision to stop at the Yadkinville McDonalds for breakfast became apparent. To avoid embarassment I will simply say that two of the kids and one of the adults had the same thing for breakfast and all three began their suffering here. One of the adults had to make two quick trips to the facilities before leaving Damascus for our next destination, which was to be the aptly named (for us) Blowing Rock, NC. With the adult feeling much better we hit the road and headed south on VA-91 and made our way into Tennessee.
About 15 minutes into Tennessee one of the kids in the back of the van started groaning. I, being your average Dad, ignored the growing sounds of discomfort. Celeste, being your average Mom, whipped around and asked what was wrong. The afflicted child said, “My stomach is burning really bad.” Celeste gave me a knowing look, so I piped up with “If you’re gonna blow chunks let me know so I can pull over.” The afflicted child simply said, “It’s not that end Dad. I really need to go to the bathroom so can you find one fast?” At that point another of the kids said “I really gotta go too.” That’s all I needed to hear.
Fortunately we came upon a promising little establishment on the side of the road with a sign that said “Flea Market”. I pulled in to the gravel lot doing about 30 and spit gravel as I slammed to a stop in front of a door that identified the establishment as a bar. The kids jumped out and did that little dance we all know too well and then made their way with Celeste inside. A minute or two later she came back out and asked me to go in and check on them.
Once inside I realized that we’d hit the mother lode of honky-tonks. The place smelled of stale beer and the indefinable stench of ne’er-do-well drunks. Fortunately the place didn’t have any customers yet as it was still mid-afternoon and apparently the locals don’t believe in starting their weekends early on Fridays.
I found the proprietor lounging on the back deck of the bar and asked the way to the bathroom. He pointed me in the right direction and I found the kids in the ladies room since the men’s room was standard honky tonk fare and had two malfunctioning urinals and one barely standing toilet. Both kids seemed to be doing okay considering the circumstances and I made my way out to the bar to thank the owner for letting us use his facilities. That’s when things got real interesting and I’ll relate the conversation as best I remember it.
Me: “Hey, thanks alot for letting us use the bathrooms. The kids were really hurtin’.”
Bar owner: “No problem. Been there plenty of times myself. So where you from?”
Bar owner: “You got blacks down there?”
Me, just a tad surprised: “Uh, well yeah.”
Bar owner: “We don’t got them up here. Well we got one black in town but he’s been here his whole life so he don’t count. I’m from the Keys and found this place by accident; me and the wife took a wrong turn on one of our trips and we found this place. Down in Florida we got lots of Cubans and blacks and I got tired of all the crime. Up here I don’t have to worry about my wife getting mugged walking to her car. Anyway, when I saw how much land I could get for my money I decided to move here and open up my own place. It’s great. You know you can get a three bedroom house around here for $60,000?”
Me, wondering if this is some kind of setup: “Huh.”
Bar owner: “Yeah it’s real nice around here.”
At this point I was still waiting for the kids and didn’t really know what to say so I figured I’d ask him something to keep him talking.
Me: “So how’s the bar doing?”
Bar owner: “Ah man it’s great and it’s only going to get better. You see this was a dry county not too long ago but I was able to open up selling beer only and this place just rocks at night. They still don’t allow bars to sell liquor by the drink but I found out that I could sell it by the drink if I was classified as a resort. To get a resort classification all you have to do is have eight hotel-like rooms and 13 camping lots. So I put eight rooms upstairs and I got 13 camping spots out back. Come on let me give you a tour.”
That’s when I really thought I was being set up. I didn’t have that tingly feeling on the back of my neck like I was about to get my bell rung, but I was having a hard time believing this was real. I mean he didn’t know me from Adam but he’d jumped to the conclusion that I was in the big white boat with him. I’m thinking “this just doesn’t happen anymore” and I’m wondering if he’s just feeding me crap as the price for letting the kids use his john and I’m also wondering what the punch line is going to be.
I’d already decided that now wasn’t the time to break out my rhetorical arguments like “So you don’t have any white folks ripping each other off around here?” since my kids were at the mercy of his hospitality, but I wasn’t sure if I was pushing my luck by following him outside. Eventually I figured if he really wanted to mess with me he could just as easily do it inside as out so I followed him behind his building. Sure enough he had a spot out back for thirteen campers (only one was being used).
Bar owner: “I’m putting another 40 camping slots up the hill and it’ll get a lot busier once I have that done and put out some signs. I’m also getting close to finishing up a fine-dining restaurant next to the bar.”
At this point we headed back inside to wait for the kids.
Bar owner: “You got a trailer?”
Me: “Naw, we’re just on a day trip to check out the area.”
Bar owner: “Well, you ever come back with a trailer you should camp her here and check out some of the land. I had a good ol’ boy who came in and got drunk last week. He’d just inherited two acres riverfront with 11 cars on it that he wanted to sell me for $60,000. Can you believe that? Really the only problem I had was when I was still driving my Hummer. That stood out around here so something that would normally cost $100 was suddenly costing me $300, so I just went out and got me a GMC like everyone else and that stopped happening.”
I thought about pointing out that price gouging was a form of mugging but discretion being the better part of valor I just said, “Huh.”
Bar owner: “Now the education here ain’t much. I got two little ones and we home school them, but with what you can get for the dollar here it’s worth it. You oughta come on up here and check it out. Like I said we got no crime here. We’re startin’ to get Hispanics but not like down there in North Carolina.”
Bar owner: “Yeah you should definitely think about it.”
At that point the kids came out and we were ready to go. I thanked the bar owner again and he again extended the invitation to come back. Then we were gone.
Feeling exhausted and wondering if the day could possibly get any weirder Celeste and I agreed that we’d do Blowing Rock another day. We found 421 south and started home.
Of course Boone was one big traffic jam so we were stuck there for about half an hour and then when we got through that mess we were able to see thunderheads in front of us. At Wilkesboro the heavens opened up and started pelting us with hail. Celeste was a little freaked, and the kids were quiet for once which was weird in and of itself, but I decided to see if we could get through it and by the time we reached North Wilkesboro the skies had cleared.
We made it all the way back to Forsyth County before we were confronted with the coup de grace of weirdness for the day. Just past the Shallowford Road exit we found a barn in the right hand lane of 421. It had slipped off the trailer being used to haul it and stood not so majestically on the highway with the haulers and a couple of state troopers looking on with befuddlement in the case of the former and be-pissed-off-ness in the case of the latter. I decided that was a fitting end to our escapade, so after dropping the kids off at the house Celeste and I circled back around to get a picture for posterity’s sake. And with this picture our tale ends: