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vacation

Monday morning we woke up early and said goodbye to Sadrah and Mike and drove the 2.5 hours back to the Charlotte airport. This time we made sure to leave ourselves pleeennnnntttyyyyy of time to get there. We got there with 2 hours to spare instead of 1 minute. I wondered around the gift shops at the airport looking for a toddler sized Charlotte tshirt for Charlotte and sadly could not find one.  Then we got on the plane and headed back to Boston where we had to find where we dumped our car in our haste and see what the damage was for parking in central parking vs economy parking (hint: double the price).

Sunday was our last day in NC. Seth, Rebecca, and Sage had spent the night and we were all going to the Biltmore for the day. Mike could get us in for free since he works there which was great because it’s REALLY expensive to go there. Before heading out we were going to have a cousin photoshoot. Sadrah is also a professional photographer and was going to take pics of the two girls together. When we came upstairs for the morning I saw Sage was wearing some Osh Gosh overalls and I had just happened to have packed Charlotte’s Osh Gosh overalls so I ran downstairs and put them on her. For the photoshoot Sadrah also put on overalls to be all cute and match matchy. I tried to stay inside for the photoshoot cause I know Charlotte does better around others when barnacling to mama is not an option. I waited awhile then peaked outside and asked if I could come out. Josh said no and then I said “ok Im going back in” and apparently that is when Charlotte heard me and the photoshoot was pretty much over if it had begun at all.

After the photoshoot we all got ready and headed out to the Biltmore. The Biltmore is really cool. I didn’t even know it existed before I heard Mike worked there and then I just knew it was a fancy hotel I didn’t really know anything about it until we planned our trip and I looked it up online and saw it was a GIANT CASTLE. It’s basically the American Versailles. I still don’t know tons about it. Usually when we go places I like to read about the history of where we are going or specific locations but my little friend Toodles doesn’t allow much for that anymore. And when we were there it was hard to learn about it with toddler in tow. Sadrah and Mike came with us to the Biltmore estate but left us at the house in favor of going hiking on the grounds so me, Josh, Charlotte, Rebecca, Seth, and Sage went into the house and tried to do the self guided tour.

We did as best we could with 2 toddlers in tow. Sage was super bored with the whole experience and Charlotte was ok for about 3/4 of the tour then started to get squirmy. Both girls were getting tired but at the same time wanted to run around on the big lawn. The great dichotomy of toddler life. What we were able to take in was pretty cool. The place is crazy enormous and ornate. Historically all I got out of it was it was built by the Vanderbilts and eventually turned into basically a museum. For some reason you aren’t allowed to take any photographs inside. I took a few pics with my cell phone until I got yelled at. After we finished with the house we took about 5 minutes to look at the walled garden and realized we would need an entire day to even make a dent in viewing the gardens so we went and looked at a fish pond with the girls then we all headed back to meet Sadrah and Mike in the parking lot and went to lunch.

We went to Wicked Weed Brewing again, this time to eat. When we got there both girls were asleep after their big morning. Sage is obviously a much better sleeper than Charlotte (doesn’t take much) and was just passed out on the bench at our table. Charlotte I strapped to the front of me in the ergo and tried not to move. It made for some difficult eating but it extended her nap for quite awhile. Both girls woke up at various times during our meal and after we were done eating it was time to say goodbye to Seth, Rebecca, and Sage who were headed back home. We had to get back to Sadrah & Mike’s house to attempt to actually pack up all our junk that was spewed everywhere for our flight home the next morning.

Saturdays Mike and Sadrah spend their morning at the North Asheville Tailgate Market selling their seitan so they were already there when we woke up. We met them there later and wandered around looking at all the various things for sale. There was even a lady selling vegan baked goods. They were gluten-free vegan baked goods which is not really what Im into since I don’t really like the taste of gluten free baked goods but they were vegan so yay for that. I got a muffin and it was quite good. We were on the hunt for coffee and we did find some but inexplicably no one had any almond or soy milk. And I thought this was a hippie market. Charlotte thought the market was great because she basically just tore around toddling here and there. I tried to navigate her so she wouldn’t mow people down but mainly I just let her go. We were going to be going to a beer and music festival later so I needed her to nap beforehand for it to be at all successful so I need her to wear herself out. After the market we stopped at a botanical gardens at the entrance of UNC Asheville which is where the tail gate market was held. We let her toddle around there for awhile too.

When she seemed good and toddled out we headed back to Sadrah and Mike’s house to see if we could get her to nap. I kept her awake in the car as the whole point was for her to sleep in the bed so I could get stuff done while she was napping and get ready for Brewgrass which was the festival we were going to. She *really* wanted to fall asleep in the car but I managed to keep her awake. Once back at the house in true form she completely refused to nap. This is pretty much how she operates. At my wit’s end we finally put her back in the car and drove around Sadrah and Mike’s neighborhood. She fell asleep and when we got back to the house I sat in the car while she slept. That is called being “nap trapped.” We let her sleep and eventually left again with her still asleep and made our way to Brewgrass which was being held at a baseball stadium. It’s basically exactly what it sounds like. It was a beer festival with various local breweries handing out samples and brew grass musicians playing. I bought a designated driver ticket since a full price ticket would be pretty much wasted on me. I don’t like beer and am not really a big drinker anyways and in fact SOMEONE would have to drive home. It was much cheaper and I got some cool straight edge X’s on my hands to show how badass I am.

We met Sadrah, Mike, Seth, Rebecca, and Sage there and we all pretty much hung out for the afternoon. Josh, Sadrah, Mike, & Seth sampled the brews and Rebecca and I chased our toddlers around. Brewgrass was a great spot for toddling. It was flat since it was a baseball stadium or football stadium or some sort of sporting place and that made it great for the toddlers. Charlotte has only been walking for maybe a little over a month so it was great for her to just speed around mowing people down. Sage has been walking for quite awhile so she got her dance groove on. The two of them aren’t quite at the age where they are super interested in each other yet other than Sage kept wanting to hug Charlotte. It was the sweetest thing ever except Charlotte wasn’t having it. We joked that Sage was the typical southerner who was super friendly and wanted to hug everyone and Charlotte was the typical northerner and needed her personal space. The afternoon was pretty fun and I wasn’t even drinking. It got a little old that every five minutes someone would tell me my stumbling toddler was drunk but at the same time it was kind of expected. After several hours in the direct sun my toddling toddler started to slow way down and at the same time the music all of a sudden got a lot louder so Josh and I decided to take Charlotte back to the house where everyone would meet us later. She took another nap and awoke around the time when everyone else got back. We hung out at the house for the night and celebrated Mike’s birthday with cupcakes and cookies. We sat around and watched the little ones toddle around, Sage was still trying to get her cousin hug. When she realized she wasn’t going to get a hug from her cousin she climbed right up into my lap to snuggle with me which was all fine until Charlotte noticed SOMEONE ELSE was sitting on her mama’s lap. That didn’t end well. Eventually we all called it a night and went to bed.

Friday morning we woke up early since we wanted to spend the whole day in the park and then be in a remote eastern part of it by 4 to see the elk rut. The hotel we were staying in had free continental breakfast so that was our plan. Most continental breakfasts I have been to usually have hash browns, sausage, eggs, maybe waffles, fruit, muffins, bagels, etc. I can usually cobble something together to at least get something in my stomach. I was not prepared for a southern continental breakfast which consisted of biscuits, gravy, sausage, eggs, and fruit in syrup. I deemed none of it to be edible so we left. We found a coffee shop and got some insanely expensive coffee and muffins and left Gatlinburg and headed back into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We stopped at two different visitor’s centers to collect passport stamps, the Gatlinburg one and then one called Sugarlands visitor center. I don’t remember at which one but in one of them it took me literally 20 minutes to get the stamps for our passport books. Not because there was a line but because that is how long it took the lady to figure out whether the correct date was on the stamp or not, then change the date, and then stamp my book and the stamps ended up being upside down in the end. *sigh* Behind the Sugarlands visitor center were some walking/nature trails. It looks like a relatively flat and easy spot for toddling so we went and took a walk to a waterfall and let Charlotte toddle the whole way there. She is quite the mini celebrity when she’s out and about on her own. People kept stopping to watch her toddle around.

We toddled to Cataract Falls which was quite pretty and we even saw a cool little salamander sunning himself on a rock. Afterwards we toddled back and then got back in the car. We stopped to talk to a ranger about our afternoon plans to make sure our directions were correct since our cell phones were completely useless inside the park. He gave us a suggestion for an easy hike with a baby so we set off to go back through the park the way we had come in yesterday. We were going to stop at Chimney Tops picnic area where there would be a good easy hike for us. When we got there however Charlotte was passed out asleep in her carseat and we didn’t want to disturb her. Instead we stopped and ate our leftover pizza then hit the road again. There is one main road that goes through the park called Newfound Gap Road and we were heading back out. We stopped at Newfound Gap (the overlook). Charlotte was still asleep so we took turns getting out and checking out the overlook. It’s a big huge parking lot and lots of people were there.

Considering that I was disappointed in the view. It’s not a bad view by ANY means you still see the beautiful Smoky Mountains but you are looking from one side of the road across the road to the other side and it’s not quite the grand vista as many of the other smaller overlooks. There was a sign saying you were on the NC/TN line but other than that I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. I have since learned it is the lowest gap along the spine of the mountains which allowed for the construction of the road through the park. I’ve also since learned it is where FDR presided over  the dedication ceremony for the park in the 1930s and since the small road to Clingman’s Dome we had done the day before is closed most of the year it’s a good stopping point in the middle of the park for people to view the main ridge of the mountains. We crossed the line and went back into NC and drove onwards. We drove back out of the park with a brief stop at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center again for a bathroom break and to confirm the directions of where we were going since our phones were useless inside the park. Directly outside the park inside an Indian reservation called Cherokee we drove to a waterfall called Mingo Falls. We drove by it the first time around and had to double back to see the teeny tiny sign pointing to the parking lot. We got out of the car and put Charlotte on my back again. I couldn’t remember what I had read in regards to how long the hike was but I knew it wasn’t long. It wasn’t long at all but right at the end of the parking lot we were greeted with the sight of a giant staircase going up. There was 160 stairs we had to climb up then a very short hike to the falls. Once again I powered through and the view of the falls was worth it. It’s a very pretty view as you stand on a bridge overlooking the falls.

After Mingo Falls we drove through the town/reservation of Cherokee. We didn’t stop anywhere as there was nothing there that made us want to stop. It was very touristy but also very rundown and a lot of what looked like they were once souvenir shops were now just empty. There was one giant casino we drove by and everything else was pretty rundown. Next up we stopped at a little turnout for Soco Falls. This time we had to hike DOWN a steep staircase then to an overlook. The overlook wasn’t super great but there was a very steep and slippery looking spot where you could hang on to some ropes to go down further for a better view. Since I had a baby strapped to my back we passed on the crazy rope climb.

After both our waterfall stops we kept driving until we reached the Cataloochee area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cataloochee is a remote valley in the park that has some old buildings that are examples of how people used to live in the Appalachians. Elk were reintroduced into the Cataloochee valley in 2001. To get there you had to drive this crazy windy narrow road through the mountains. It’s basically big enough for one car and eventually it turns into a gravel road. In our tiny Prius we wound around this road for what seemed like forever. I believe it’s about 10 miles until you get to the valley but since we had to drive so slow it took us awhile to get there. Once in the valley we were immediately rewarded with the site of a bunch of cars pulled over and people watching some elk across the field. The fall is elk rut season when bull elks amass a harem of lady elks. They make a crazy noise called bugling that sounds nothing like what you would expect an elk to sound with. Over in the field was a bull elk with a ginormous rack and two cow elk with him. We heard him bugle several times. I tried getting a video but was only mildly successful. After watching them for awhile we drove up the road a bit and in the field on the other side of the road was another bull with about 5-6 cows.

More and more cars were coming and although I can’t say there was *a lot* of people since there was next to no room it was hard to navigate around. We traveled further up the road where it got even more crazy narrow. We were happy to have our tiny Prius. Even though we didn’t have the power of the pick ups and SUVs everyone else had we could navigate much easier than them. We went up the road a bit and pulled over and there were some cow elk RIGHT next to the road so I got out and stood by the car and got some photos. The road continued but we had already had such issues navigating around other cars we decided to just turn around and head out. We stopped by Palmer Chapel which was built in 1903. There was a big field in front of it so we let Charlotte toddle around for awhile and then we got back in the car and headed back out of the valley.

A lot of people were now coming in since it was closer to dusk and it was fun navigating around them and the windy roads. We got out of the valley and hopped on the highway and headed back to Asheville. We met Sadrah back in Asheville for dinner and went to a Nepalese restaurant for dinner. It had a lot of Indian food on the menu and the Nepalese cuisine was very similar to Indian cuisine as well which confused me until I looked on a map to find Nepal nestled right on top of India on the map. Having a public school geography education (ie 1 class in seventh grade) I couldn’t remember exactly where in Asia Nepal was. Anywho the food was really good but Charlotte was not having the whole “let’s sit down at the table” thing and squirmed and freaked out through most of dinner. She would only sit with me and even then would not stay still. Normally she is really well behaved pretty much anywhere we take it so I could tell the long week and lots of overstimulation and tons of time in the car was getting to her. After we finished eating we walked up the street to the Friday night drum circle they have in Asheville. It’s *exactly* what it sounds like. It’s a bunch of crazy hippies in a square beating on drums and doing weird dances. We tried to get Charlotte to dance but mainly she just wanted to toddle around so we let her do that for a bit. 

Once we were done with the drum circle we walked back up the road a bit to a bar called the Thirsty Monk so Josh could sample some more local brews. We went to the downstairs area which was more open and there happened to be a ramp in the back and Charlotte spent the entire time we were there racing up and down the ramp. It apparently was good fun times for toddlers. 

Afterwards we went back to the Hop for more vegan ice cream. There are two different locations in Asheville for the Hop and we went to a different one than we had been to previously. I was disappointed with their variety of vegan ice creams. At the previous one I had gotten really yummy salted caramel ice cream. At this one apparently they thought that all vegans only like weird flavors. There was an avocado banana one which would have been ok if bananas weren’t disgusting. There was a matcha one i think which is a type of tea. There was a horchata one which at the time i was thinking was either a type of mushroom or pepper only later to be told it’s a Mexican hot chocolate drink which I had known and forgot. I should have asked because that actually sounds yummy. I ended up with the least offensive sounding one which was blueberry lavender which honestly still isn’t really something to get excited about in my book. After our ice cream we headed home for the night.

Thursday Sadrah and Mike spend all day in their rented commercial kitchen cranking out their vegan sausages so they would not be around to hang out with us that day. Since they lived so close to the Smoky Mountains I thought it would be a shame to go all that way and not check out the park. So we were going to spend Thursday and Friday exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I was excited! We both love hiking and nature and national parks and we were excited to start passing this on to our daughter. We got up early and went into Asheville for breakfast at Sunny Point Cafe again. After breakfast we stopped quick at a grocery store to get some snack type foods and headed back to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had a bit of an issue finding it. It’s not really labeled well on google maps unless you zoom way in and it’s kind of weird to navigate to a road instead of an address or destination. We tried navigating to the park via the Blue Ridge Parkway but it got us on at a weird spot that was pretty far away. Google really wanted to take us the fastest possible way and for once that was not our goal. In the end we remembered the day before when we went hiking we had gotten on the Parkway near an Arboretum so we navigated to the Arboretum, got on the Parkway there and then argued about which way to go (of course as usual I was correct). Finally we were on our way (the right way) at about 11:30 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Charlotte fell asleep and we just cruised taking in the view. Such beautiful mountains. Im not sure any of my pictures can do the scenery justice but it really is beautiful and vast.

We stopped at a few overlooks to take in the view. We drove through 1-2 cloud banks but overall the weather was beautiful. Sunny and clear with a few dark clouds visible but no actual rain. We made it to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at the beginning of Great Smoky Mountains National Park around 2:30ish.

We stopped and stretched our legs, went to the bathroom, changed a diaper, and walked around inside. We collected some stamps for our National Parks Passport Books which I had bought as a fun thing to do with Charlotte. She’s too young right now to understand but I think she will think it’s fun when she gets older. So right now it’s mainly fun for me since I am a nerd. Right behind the Visitor’s Center is the Mountain Farm Museum which basically is a preserved settlement from the early 1900s. It was flat and grassy and a great place for Charlotte to toddle around so we set her loose as we walked around looking at the various buildings and enclosures. She even found a chicken to befriend.

After Mountain Farm Museum we went up the road a tiny bit and stopped at Mingus Mill which is an old grist mill. The inside was not terribly interesting as it was so sort of hard to figure out how everything worked (at least to me) even though they had signs explaining everything but the outside was really cool. They have a long flume that must have been hand dug that goes way back into the woods and it brings the water down to basically a shoot that powers the turbine that runs the mill. It was really interesting to look at.

After Mingus Mill we headed up Newfound Gap Road which is the main road that runs through the park. We continued driving and stopping at overlooks and just basically enjoying the scenery.

Around 4:30 we made it to Clingman’s Dome which is down a road off Newfound Gap Rd. Clingman’s Dome is a short but very steep hike on a paved road up to an observatory where you are at the highest point on the Appalachian trail which crosses through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I knew ahead of time that the hike was very steep but short but it didn’t make it any easier as I once again strapped Charlotte to my back and went up. I hate climbing up. I’m not very good at it but at least it was a good cardio workout. Once you get to the top of the road you go up a twirly concrete road going up to the observatory tower. There you are rewarded with a breathtaking 360 view of the park. Or if you are me and have a cute baby strapped to your back you get accosted by a crazy lady who gets all up in your baby’s face and pokes at them and then tells you how cold the baby’s hands are as you’re standing there 6000 feet up in the wind waiting just to look at the scenery so you can go back down out of the wind.

My original plan was to hike a trail at Clingman’s Dome called Andrew’s Bald that is part of the Appalachian Trail so we could say we had been on the Appalachian Trail but it was already getting late and we still had a ways to go. Instead Josh had overheard a ranger telling another person that a small chunk of the Appalachian Trail was basically parallel to the paved road we just walked up. It was about .3 miles longer. We decided to do that instead.

The paved road was about .5 miles so adding in the extra .3 miles it really should have been less than a mile but it felt like about 5 miles. I swear we were on that trail literally forever and I really started to think we had gone the wrong way and would never see the parking lot ever again. Im guessing it was mostly in my head because I was tired and wearing tevas instead of my hiking shoes and had almost 20 lbs of lead on my back. Eventually we came to the end but only after having to hike UP several staircases to get back to the parking lot. Pretty sure the world is trying to kill me. We got back in the car and headed to Gatlinburg, TN which is at the end of the park and where we would be staying for one night. I had read online stuff about Gatlinburg and it seemed basically like a tourist trap and sounded similar in that regard to Orlando, FL. Places like that just aren’t my thing. As we drove out of the beautiful lush green trees of the park it was literally as if we passed some invisible line and all of a sudden it was just WHAM! tourist hell. Bright lights, flashing signs, traffic, people everywhere. It was awful. It was so incredibly abrupt. People also just seemed to be wandering into the street without looking as to whether there was cars coming so that was a bit disconcerting. We drove through Gatlinburg a bit as I had one more thing I wanted to do. There was supposed to be a “motor trail” called Roaring Fork Motor Trail that went back into the park and was supposed to be a nice drive. We found it and started along it but quickly realized we were totally done with being in the car and it was 6:30 and we really hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast that morning. So we ended up cutting off the trail around Rainbow Falls and heading back to Gatlinburg and our hotel. The hotel was actually quite nice for a $94 hotel. I was a bit worried it was going to be a dump but we had a spacious room with 2 big queen beds and everything was clean and in working order. The one “issue” was that the AC unit was floor level and as soon as Charlotte discovered the buttons on it it was all over. Very soon she had our room set to like 65 degrees. Josh was able to turn it off and distract her but we knew it was just a matter of time before she found the on button. Since we were starving we quickly looked up some food places. I was pretty much ready to starve as I did not think Gatlinburg, TN was going to be a hub of vegan or even vegetarian food. I expected to be similarly horrified as I was in Jackson Hole, WY where they have an outright hostile attitude towards vegetarians. Josh found that there was a Mellow Mushroom in Gatlinburg so off we went. Mellow Mushroom is a pizza chain that I knew had a couple restaurants in Asheville and at least one had even put a special on their menu with Sadrah & Mike’s seitan sausage. I knew you could get Daiya cheese (vegan cheese) on your pizza, so at least I could eat something. In my mind Mellow Mushroom was a hole in the wall place similar to a sub shop. Boy was I ever wrong. It reminded me of the Senor Frogs’ that are ubiquitous in Mexico. There was a souvenir shop on the first floor, the restaurant was the second floor and was brightly, if a bit garishly, decorated and GINORMOUS. Then when our waitress came to our table we got an entire history lesson on Mellow Mushroom which seemed a bit unnecessary but it was obvious she had to do it as part of her job. Apparently she also had to come and check on us every 5 seconds as well. I don’t know if that was southern hospitality or just overkill in customer service but she literally would not leave us alone. Charlotte sat in a big girl booster seat in the booth next to Josh for the first time and seemed rather proud of herself. We both got our own pizza with the idea that our leftovers would be lunch the next day since we had no real food for the entire next day and didn’t expect to find much in the way of breakfast. My pizza was actually quite good and in the end I managed to convince myself to save a bit for lunch the next day.

Afterwards we decided to wonder around the tourist cesspool that is Gatlinburg, TN. It’s basically the same thing as downtown Orlando, FL except it’s got a southern and rather religious bent to it. We also noticed that if you want to cross the street you literally just walk out into the road and people magically stop for you. There were crosswalks but there were no blink WALK signs. This baffled me and made me rather uneasy. While New England isn’t exactly NYC you still don’t just walk out into the road with the assumption someone will stop for you. In fact you’re basically volunteering yourself as target practice at that point. We watched people wander into the road and cars stop for them but couldn’t quite bring ourselves to do it for awhile, especially with a baby in tow. Finally after standing there like dolts for awhile we just did it. And guess what, not only did cars stop, they didn’t seem pissed off about it! Maybe THAT is that southern hospitality. As we wandered around we came across a few stores selling moonshine so we wandered in to check it out. One was giving out samples so Josh went up to try some. Neither one of us realized that he was basically committing like 45 minutes of his life to a sales pitch and several samples so I went across the street (!) to kill what I thought would be 5 minutes in a souvenir shop. When I realized what I thought was a souvenir shop was actually a religious souvenir shop I just left and Charlotte clearly wanted to toddle around but also didn’t want to hold my hand and also wasn’t interested in not mowing people down or staying on the sidewalk and not the middle of the street so I took her back to the moonshine shop which was actually quite large and let her toddle there. Completely blitzed out on overstimulation she took off on basically a wild bender. She tore around the store like a crazed maniac mowing people over left and right and basically just racing around as fast as her tiny legs would take her. I ran behind her trying to steer her out of peoples’ paths which was not easy. Thankfully she’s not interested in touching things, just in tearing around like a wild hellion. Every now and then she would pause by the back door where there was some sort of bluegrass type band playing on a patio and she would watch them for a bit giving me a small breather. This went on for quite awhile as apparently to get a sample of moonshine you need to commit three hours of your life. Everytime I tried to pick her up she freaked out and went into toddler tantrum mode so I just let her run around crazed. Finally Josh was done and we left (but not without one mason jar of moonshine as apparently the sales pitch had worked). I picked up Charlotte when we got outside and that’s when we realized not only was the night SO OVER but it had been over long ago. I tried to wrangle my flailing screaming toddler as we walked down the street but she wasn’t having it. We got her briefly to hold both of our hands til she went into meltdown mode again because she didn’t want to hold our hands. Josh tried to wrangle her for awhile and eventually she relented into just sniffling and pouting while being held and eventually we made it back to the hotel for the night. It had been a long day.

Wednesday we were all planning on doing some hiking on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sadrah made us some spicy chilequiles for breakfast and I added some pulled “pork” made out of their seitan and we filled up with delicious food for the big day ahead. After pondering which specific spot to go to we decided on Black Balsam Knob which was mile marker 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There was a website online saying the road to it was closed but we could only find this info on one page so we thought we would go there and check it out and if we couldn’t do that trail we would do Graveyard Fields which was mile marker 419. Sadly Mike ended up getting called into work but Sadrah came with us for the hike.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is beautiful. It runs pretty far through several states. It starts in Virginia and winds its way all the way down to Tennessee where it ends at the beginning of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We wound through the mountains taking in the beautiful views. We didn’t stop at any of the overlooks only because we had a sleeping baby in the car that we wanted to get a good nap in before we started hiking. We figured we could stop later on our way out. We didn’t expect to be hiking for terribly long or on a very difficult trail since I would be toting a 16 lbs sack of lead known as Charlotte on my back. We got to the road for Black Balsam and it was indeed closed but many cars were parked right at the end of the road to it or across the street on the side of the main road. It was a mile way up the road to where the parking lot was. We decided this was not to bad and joined the other cars parked in random spots on the closed road. I immediately regret this decision since apparently we literally had to walk UP the road. I wear Charlotte on my back quite often and obviously carry her a lot so I am used to toting her around but apparently I don’t walk up hills with her on my back at higher elevations. I thought I was going to die and kept making everyone stop. When we got to the parking lot we found construction crews repaving it and there was a bathroom hut they had built. I got really excited about this as I had to pee but then discovered it was right where they were paving and was most likely not open. I figured I would survive since we weren’t planning on any crazy hikes. We set off down the road and decided to go on the more flat trail instead of the Art Loeb trail which said it was “difficult” and had a crazy jagged symbol next to it that didn’t make me feel good about doing it with a baby on my back. So off we went in search of the Black Balsam Knob.

We hiked and hiked and hiked. It was a pretty pretty hike through green trees and every now and then we would get a view of the mountains. We hiked for quite awhile when we decided to let Charlotte toddle around a bit when we came to a spot that was a little more flat and had less roots and rocks sticking out everywhere. Plus I still had to pee. So we took her down and I went to pee in the woods on what looked like a potential bear path hoping I wouldn’t get attacked when I literally had my pants down. After much relief we ventured onward. We literally hiked for what seemed like way longer than we should have been to find the Knob. None of our phones worked so we couldn’t look at a map to see where we were and around every bend was just more of the same.

Finally we found a sort of open area with a big rock and even though we knew it wasn’t Black Balsam Knob we declared it Black Balsam Knob and turned around. When we got back near where the Art Loeb trail met up with the trail we were on we decided that that would be a shortcut. It was a more difficult trail but was shorter and we would get back to the car sooner. This was a great theory of course but in practice it never works out. I was starting to feel bad we had dragged Sadrah with us as this was pretty typical of hiking adventures with me and Josh. We have one idea in mind and then wander greatly off path taking way longer than we ever anticipated. So up and down mountains we went. I thought we were supposed to be generally going down on this trail but somehow around each bend we would go up again.

At one point were were back in the clouds, visibility of the scenery around us became nonexistent and we just hoped it wouldn’t rain. We hiked and hiked and hiked. I was tired and sweaty from lugging a 16ish pound baby on my back for so long. We tried switching her to my husband’s back but we had been out so long she was hungry and tired and during those times only mama will do. She cried and fussed until we returned her to my back where she was suddenly happy again. The strange thing about hiking in this area was nothing was really marked all that well. There was nothing to tell us we were on the correct path other than we were following a path. Every now and again we would come across something that looked like another path and we just had to stand there a tad stupefied and hope we found the correct way to go. There had been no maps at the trailhead like every other place I’ve ever hiked.

Finally we came across an area that was a big rock and kind of a wide open area that we all decided was the fabled Black Balsam Knob. We had long ago given up the idea of finding it and had just wanted to find our car but we sort of stumbled across what we think was the Knob. We aren’t 100% sure as there was no sign but it looked like it. We had basically circumvented it by taking the easy trail and had gone backwards back to it. However we still were far from our car. I honestly thought we were going to still be looking for the parking area when night fell but we started to hear the distant rumble of the dump trucks who were working on the Black Balsam parking lot. Since we had taken a different route out  we came out past the parking lot and onto the road we had walked up. We were almost there! We walked back down the road and FINALLY found our car!!! When we got there I looked at my FitBit and it said I had walked over 8 miles and 19000 steps that day. All with 16+ lbs on my back. It had actually been a good day even though we had gotten deviated. It was a great hike and we all survived.

However, we were tired and hungry and my husband said he was “beersty” which was a term he coined right then.  We were at least done hiking but we still had to drive back down the Blue Ridge Parkway in dusk and back to Asheville. We drove and drove and the farther we drove the cloudier it got. For awhile the visibility was nil. This made our ascent out of the mountains 10x slower than normal. At least we were sitting! We had plenty of time to discuss what we wanted to eat and pretty much all of us just wanted to cram as much food as possible into our mouths. Some good fatty, carby, comfort food was what we needed. We ended up at a place called Rosetta’s and we shared nachos then all ate our own dinners too. I got a really good curry and basically just shoveled it in like I was eating at a trough. After stuffing our faces silly we were going to go and try another brewery. We headed to the Wedge and there was even a nice outdoor large patio type area for Charlotte to toddle around in. When we got there it was about 8:15 and as Josh and Sadrah tried to order beers the server was obviously distressed and informed us we could not have a baby there after 8. I think she thought we were going to yell at her. Apparently this was a brand new rule as Sadrah said she had seen plenty of babies and kids there before. I said I would just wait in the car with her if they wanted to have a beer so that is what me and Charlotte did. After that it was most definitely bedtime for the wee one so we head back home for the night.

Tuesday morning we went out to breakfast at Sunny Point Cafe with Sadrah and Mike. There was a cool garden behind the restaurant and even some springy animals for kids to ride but Unimpressed Baby was unimpressed with that. We stuffed ourselves full of breakfast then Mike had to leave us to go get ready for the Farmer’s Market where they sell their homemade seitan. It’s really really delicious. Their business is called No Evil Foods and if you live in the Asheville area you should check them out.

unimpressed with being made to wear cute hats

unimpressed with being made to wear cute hats

Sadrah took us on a tour of part of downtown Asheville. We walked around and went to some shops and checked out some local crafts. Sadrah took us to a kombucha bar because I have never had kombucha before and as a vegan apparently I should have had kombucha by now. It was ok. I thought it tasted fine but I don’t think I will be going crazy buying it or trying to brew it on my own. 

Then we went to Wicked Weed brewing where Josh sampled some of their beers while Charlotte toddled around their downstairs/outside area. Cause all the cool parents bring their toddlers to breweries right?

Afterwards we headed back to their house. Sadrah had to take one of their cats to the vet so we just chilled out at their house and lounged in the hammock on their deck. We were going to be meeting Mike at the Farmer’s Market but Charlotte hadn’t napped yet. I call her “non-sleeping baby” because she is a horrible sleeper. After Sadrah returned from the vet we toddled around their yard and met their chickens.

After we left to go meet up with Mike she of course fell asleep in the car on our relatively short drive to the Farmer’s Market. On the drive there we had an exciting animal siting. As we were driving down the highway a bear cub came out of the tree line and started coming down the hill but had the unmistakable “oh shit” look on it’s face like it didn’t want to be near the highway. It had a ginormous radio collar on. Sadly I didn’t get a picture because we were driving but we had seen a bear! It was Sadrah’s first bear siting since moving down here. We had seen both grizzly and black bears when Josh and I were in Yellowstone. We also have black bears in New England, and my parents even have one that eats their bird seed in their backyard, but we’ve never seen one at home.

go back to sleep!

go back to sleep!

When we got to the market I put Charlotte in my Ergo baby carrier and she promptly fell asleep again which was actually pretty surprising for her. When we got to the Farmer’s Market it was pretty much over so we backed up their stuff and piled into our car and headed in search of food. We decided on Mexican since it was $2 taco night at Mamacitas and we all gorged ourselves on tacos and burritos. We also got to see a prime example of the fine driving skills people in Asheville possess. Apparently people in the Asheville area just can’t drive and we have seen numerous distressed motorists on the side of the road. On this particular evening while we were trying to park in the parking lot of Mamacitas we watched some girl just ram her car into a van and then sort of just like idle in the parking lot in our way while she contemplated what she should do. Then after much painful maneuvering she managed to park and then got out and basically picked up the pieces of the broken reflector from the other car and just put it on its bumper and as far as I could tell just walked away. Maybe she left a note. Im not sure.

all the cool parents bring their babies to the bar

all the cool parents bring their babies to the bar

After we gorged ourselves on Mexican food we went to Green Man Brewing to sample more local beer. Me and Charlotte toddled around and then we all moved outside to an outside area with tables and chairs and she basically toddled around in circles while the rest of us just hung out. Eventually she found what was basically a not very full parking lot in the back of the brewery and she and I wandered around there. Cause all the cool parents have their toddlers toddling around behind breweries late at night right?

i took this picture so one day i can tell her i let her toddle around by a bar in the dark late at night

i took this picture so one day i can tell her i let her toddle around by a bar in the dark late at night

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After Green Man Brewing we still weren’t done. I could care less about beer but Asheville is a very veg friendly city and I wanted vegan ice cream. We went to a place called the Hop and I got a vegan sundae. I was hoping they had vegan whipped cream and chocolate sauce but the kid that was working there didn’t seem to really know much of anything so I settled on salted caramel ice cream with peanut butter sauce and oreos. It was delicious. It’s been so long since I have had an ice cream sundae so it was a glorious moment for me. After that it was definitely toddler bedtime (and probably adult bedtime too, at least for me) so we headed back to their house for the night.