For the windy 96 miles between Blowing Rock and Asheville, N.C. I recently enjoyed perhaps the most pleasant automobile ride imaginable.
It’s a journey many before me have taken, but it wasn’t as hyped up as it probably should have been. Having been on my radar since I moved down South, I finally had my chance.
After an exploratory day with friends in Boone and Blowing Rock, my wife, trusty companion, Windsor — a nearly two-year-old mostly Golden Retriever with a splash of Border Collie — and I decided to take the long way home, as was always the custom in the Casey household. I grew up bouncing around the backseats of our family cars, exploring my surroundings with the company of my parents, brother and sisters, not realizing we were learning about both local history, geography, math and more, just by paying attention.
This recent journey drove home the point. I can’t think of a more effective way to see what the world has to offer.
Presented with an opportunity as golden as Windsor, we decided to take the famed Blue Ridge Parkway the entire way. A bit of a competitive speed demon, I was up to the challenge of not so much making time between the two spots on the map as I was to take in the beauty of those North Carolina mountains with my two favorite travelers. Having had both married a person and rescued a pup with similar interests, each time I looked over to the passenger’s and back seats, I saw an ear-to-ear smile on both of them. There’s no place they’d rather be either than dashing through the mountaintops.
Cool breeze and a million smells an hour, dancing in and out of the canine’s nose with the company of his humans, Windsor was in that special place we humans go to when we’re filled with the best drug of them all, endorphins, a legal high my father referred to as “high stepping.”
It’s safe to say Ashley and I were on the same drug, watching the trees get bigger and smaller depending on the elevation.
Each green tunnel, each climb and descent gave way to breathtaking, world-class views. The highs really couldn’t have gotten much higher, with my car getting extremely close to the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi, and the lows, still high compared to other parts of the country, “down” in the forests at about 2,700 feet above sea level. As bright as the trip was, with the sunlight making the Spring greens as bright as can be, we also temporarily found ourselves in the darkest of spots as we literally passed through the sides of the mountains by way of several tunnels, only to be sent out on bridges which felt like they were miles above the valley bottoms below.
Knowing there are road races up Grandfather Mountain, ranging in distance from five miles to the marathon, I salivated at the chance to tackle such a foot race. Hearing the car groan under me, I could only imagine how much my body would groan, trying not to walk the entire way up.
Though both my hands resided exactly where they should have, well in control of the vehicle as we whipped about the mountains, the only thing that could have enhanced our experience would have been three soft-serve chocolate and vanilla twist ice cream cones, as were the norm on the summer drives of my youth to accompany the Rolling Stones on the radio.
A fist bump wouldn’t do. Nor would a bear hug. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his eager public works crews in the mid-1930s deserve a medal for their hard work and vision in putting together the Blue Ridge Parkway, giving us non-helicopter owning citizens the second-best possible way to explore Western North Carolina.
Lofty gas prices aside, especially in the Tar Heel State, this adventure that will stay with me for a long time cost me exactly nothing aside from the best two hours a person could spend behind the wheel. Ticking off the old school mile markers, keeping an acceptable but not too swift pace up and down the mountains, as Morgan Freeman’s character “Red” said in the Shawshank Redemption, we three felt like the lords of all creation that afternoon. The good news is, this was just a quarter of the mileage of the Blue Ridge Parkway and there’s much more to see.
If you’ve made this journey, do it again. If you haven’t, then get on your horse and get ready for perhaps the ride of your life.
Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.