Road's End Workshop, with Paige and Corey: Travel Log No. 8

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Our goal during our year on the road was to chase the best weather we could as we traveled across the country. We spent the spring in California, the summer in the Northwest, and enjoyed the colors changing in New England as fall arrived. Once the cold chill of the winter winds began to hit us, we began our adventure south. The East Coast has been our home for all of our lives, and it felt good to be back on familiar turf. As we traveled in and out of the Eastern States, we made a point to stop in new locations and experience entirely new places.

North Carolina

We’ve always been drawn to the state of North Carolina. We even toured wedding venues here when we were first considering where to get married. I know the state is full of beautiful sights and welcoming communities, but we’re always heading toward the western side to explore the mountains and enjoy our time in Asheville. We spent a decent amount of time in the city but we were desperate for a new adventure. We never properly experienced the Blue Ridge Parkway and decided to change that.

The Blue Ridge Parkways is 469 miles long as it winds through mountainous areas, dense forests, and past stunning waterfalls. People have been exploring along this route since 1935 and I don’t think it could ever get old. After months on the West Coast of the United States, being humbled by the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, and Washington, we almost forgot what the East Coast can offer us. Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park, but I find the parkway offers some truly incredible hidden gems that are definitely worth mentioning!

Our first stop was probably one of my absolute favorites… Black Balsam Knob. I’ve only seen images shared online of this stunning area, and knew we had to see it for ourselves. The trailhead is one of many spots along the parkway; it’s just a matter of knowing where you want to explore. You could easily spend weeks stopping and finding trails along your route, but we happened to have a predetermined destination. The same general area and parking lot for Black Balsam is also used for the Art Lobe Trail. If you take the road to the parking lot at the end, you’ve gone too far and passed the Black Balsam trailhead. We made the mistake of taking the Black Balsam hike on Black Friday, and it quickly became apparent to us that we were not the only ones with this idea. We scouted the area at sunset the night before, and there was barely a car on the road. Now, the day after Thanksgiving, we could barely find a parking spot! The access to Black Balsam is just off the road, so nearly everyone was simply pulling off and trying not to park on the edge of a cliff. The weather was quite cold but the dense population of evergreens and the mostly vertical hike helped to keep us warm. The hike is technically 1.5 miles, but the views are incredible from almost anywhere along the path.

A bit off the beaten path is another hike with sunset views that took my breath away. Max Patch is approximately a 1.5-mile-long hike along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, in the Pisgah National Forest. This area was originally charted by the U.S. Geological Survey, and markers from their explorations are still visible. There’s not a very easy way to access this location, and we’re glad we had a 4 x 4 vehicle with us. The road is dirt, but it’s pretty well packed. Most vehicles seemed to have little trouble, but we came from our campground, which required some backroad maneuvers. Once parked, you have the option to head left or right, on two different paths. The route to the right is much quicker, but it ascends quickly and isn’t the easiest. If you head to the left, you’ll add some time to your walk, but it ascends at an easier pace. Heads up, though! We had a lot of gear with us and a friend with a broken foot. Even the easier route was still an uphill adventure. Once we made it to the top, we were slapped in the face with some brutal winds, due to a snow storm developing overnight, but still! It’s good to be prepared and we had hand warmers ready and waiting! The 360-degree views at Max Patch are absolutely stunning, and a photographer’s dream. We shared the area with many camera enthusiasts and saw a wedding party battling the wind for some beautiful images. We recommend this area for sunset, but be aware of timing because not all areas of Max Patch will have even light. Also, be prepared to drive that twisted dirt road in the dark!

Photo Tip: Don’t believe your weather app when it tells you the time of sunset! In mountainous or hilly areas, that sun can easily be hidden by the landscape far before you expect it to set. We use the app PhotoPills to determine accurately where the sun will be in the sky and at what exact time. Wondering how much time you have before the sun is gone? Hold up your hand, fingers together. Each finger represents approximately 15 minutes! 

The Parkway isn’t the only place with incredible views, however. We managed to take the drive to Chimney Rock and explore the surrounding area. Winter hadn’t fully taken over yet, so we were still able to see the lush and dense greenery along our route. We stopped any time the sun peeked through the fog and celebrated even the most obscure locations. North Carolina is full of hidden gems and we couldn’t get enough! Chimney Rock is a 535-million year old monolith standing almost 315 feet tall. It’s just under 30 miles southeast of Asheville and certainly worth a stop. Once you arrive at the state park, you’ll follow the sidewalk, through a corridor blasted through rock, and up an elevator. We visited on an extremely foggy afternoon and could barely see a thing, but it was still a beautiful sight and fun adventure.

 

If you’re looking for something a bit more structured, you have to check out the Biltmore Estate, just outside of Asheville. We wanted to see the gardens and enjoy some manicured landscapes for a change. The extensive area at the Biltmore allows you to adventure for hours, if not days! The Biltmore Garden was one of our favorite stops and the history of the area was so interesting. The build was finished in 1895 and is still the largest privately owned house in the United States, at almost 179,000 square feet. That’s approximately the size of 746 Airstream trailers. The garden comprises multiple facets, such as an Italian Garden, Rose Garden, Shrub Garden, Palm Rooms and Conservatory, sprawling over more than 30 acres of land. Your ticket gains you access to the entire estate, including the magnificent mansion, the gorgeous gardens and a complimentary wine tasting.

Nashville, TN

We love Nashville. We even decided to host our inaugural retreat there because we love the energy of the city and the strong art culture that seems to be thriving among everyone, especially young people. We spent almost a full a year camping in National Parks, boondocking in National Forests and adapting to campground life at KOA’s. We were finally ready to pamper ourselves with a touch of city life, and Nashville was the perfect place to do just that. We stayed off the beaten path and found some great places away from the boot stores and concert halls that make up most of the downtown area.

A younger crowd seems to navigate toward the 12 South district and I don’t blame them. On a perfect summer day, the streets are filled with young new families, college students, and visitors who knew they’d find like-minded people and shops in this area. The whole street has great shopping and food opportunities but these are our favorites. We usually start the morning with coffee from Frothy Monkey or Portland Brew. From there, it’s easy to get lost along the street. White’s Mercantile has everything you didn’t know you needed for your home, especially your kitchen and dining areas. You might even catch the Amelia's Flowers VW bus in the parking lot, creating custom bouquets and floral arrangements! If you’re looking to update your wardrobe, stop over at imogene + willie for vintage threads and quality denim. There are plenty of photo opportunities in the area. The iconic “I believe in Nashville” mural is even located here and makes for a great backdrop for those touristy images (no shame). I’m sure you’ll work up an appetite with all the shopping and walking, and if there’s one place I recommend for lunch in the 12 South district, it’s definitely Taqueria Del Sol. All their dishes are spectacular but this southern girl loves her fried chicken tacos, and I might order chips and queso just so I can drench my tacos in their queso. It also doesn’t hurt that Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream is right across the street.

We didn’t spent all of our time in 12 South, however! The city has a lot to offer and we found ourselves wandering through different areas. One of the coolest places we went was Pinewood Social. This place has delicious meals but it’s their early morning coffee that called my name. We were able to sit with our computers and get work done while sipping our latte. If you’re more of a night owl, no problem! The back of Pinewood Social is an amazing retro-styled bowling alley. It’s a coveted location so do your research first about what times are best to grab a lane! Need some hot chicken in your life? That’s pretty customary for Nashville. Hattie B’s was the place constantly recommended to us and it certainly didn’t  disappoint. The line wrapped around the building but the employees and cooks are masters of their craft and we easily made our order and found a place to sit. Next on our list was music related, as most things in Nashville are. But we aren’t big country music fans, so instead we ventured away from the crowds and went to Third Man Records, owned by Jack White of the White Stripes. We had a great time listening to stories from the employees and finding obscure records. With only a little time left in Nashville, we prioritized two more locations that we had to see and experience. If you’ve ever been in a National Park visitor center or store and seen those vintage inspired posters, magnets and postcards, you’ll be excited to know that Nashville is the home base for this company! Anderson Design Group is headquartered here and originally started by making designs that celebrate the “Spirit of Nashville.” We left with more things than we expected, so be prepared to drop a dime if you love the National Parks!

Our last Nashville experience is one I feel truly compelled to mention here. We had many goals for our road trip, more than just hosting workshops. We want to minimize our footprint (yay for solar power!), positively affect others, and start conversations about conservation. Along our route, we met many people who have a passion for these concepts, and I’m proud to mention Elizabeth Suzann, a clothing company based in Nashville. I went to college with Liz, and she even sponsored our workshop tour. She’s an advocate for issues much larger than just one person, and she deserves to be celebrated. Her slow fashion line encompasses all the ethics and morals previously mentioned, and she created an incredibly successful company to help promote those concepts and put them into action. I always have to stop in to see her, catch up with how her warehouse and team has grown, and hear about her impressive plans for the future. If you’re looking for a women’s clothing company that truly cares about its global impact, this is it!

On a final note, we would like to say that our hearts go out to the community of Nashville after the terrible tornado that struck on March 2. Remember to tell your loved ones how much they mean to you and never take anything for granted. We thank Nashville for all the incredible memories it has offered us and wish its citizens well as they rebuild through the strength of their community.

Have questions? We have answers!

We’ll be taking questions over the next couple months and addressing them in a special blog post! Send us your question at this link and check back to see if your inquiry is picked for our blog post!

And be sure to check back every month for a new episode of the Road’s End Workshop, with Paige and Corey

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