What’s that? She hadn’t posted any Voyages since New York City in 2017, and now we have two in the span of 2 months? Has she quite lost her mind?
Well, joke’s on you, dear reader. I never found my mind to begin with!
I will admit that this is a bit of a cheat because technically the Biltmore Estate trip and the Blue Ridge Parkway trip were one and the same. Said trip also happened back at the end of September, so I’m going to need you to hold your judgment on how long it has taken for me to write this up.
As with part one of this adventure, I want to take a quick moment to acknowledge that I am currently writing this from my home built on Catawba and Sugaree land. The parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway that I travelled stretched through Yuchi, Cherokee, and Moneton lands. I urge you to please continue to use Native Land to research the places where you live, work, vacation, and visit.
Now, even though I live in North Carolina and the BRP isn’t very far from my home, I rented a car for this excursion because as much as I love and adore Linus, my car is not really up for long trips that require traveling at speeds higher than 60mph anymore. At least, not without a substantial tune-up beforehand and strict confinement to the right lane while on highways, which I absolutely will not do. Living relatively close to the airport makes it easy for me to pick up rental cars whenever I’m in the mood to take a little voyage, and wow oh wow did I luck out on the selection this time around.
That’s right, reader. My rental for this trip was none other than… a Jeep! The (Un)Official Adventure Car of Tales of Cass! If you’ve been around here for a while then you know that I cannot resist trying out a Jeep whenever they’re available to me. Patriot. Compass. Cherokee. Grand Cherokee. I think a Renegade at some point, too? But this time we got the top of the pops, the crème de la crème, the adventure car to end all adventure cars. You guessed it. We got the Wrangler. I’m not sponsored by Jeep (hard laugh, I’m not sponsored by anyone), I just really like how they make me feel like I can go anywhere and do anything at any given time. Go right ahead and lie to my face and tell me those X Ambassadors commercials didn’t get to you too.
My time spent on the Blue Ridge Parkway was split up into a few different days, with a wide range of weather across them. We’ll pick up exactly where we left off with part one, which is to say with me ripping the windows off the Jeep in the Antler Hill Village parking lot and driving away from the Biltmore Estate in search of the nearest on-ramp.
The driving force behind my coming up to the mountains was the cooler temperatures. These extended North Carolina summers have really been making me batty over the past few years. (Cue all of my friends in the Northeast rolling their eyes as they currently brace for snow battles.) After visiting Biltmore, the afternoon sunshine quickly ditched the milder temperatures in favor of low 80s. I hadn’t been planning on driving the BRP until the following day, but I was tempted to give it a test run for an altitude cool down. Not to mention that tried and true serotonin-releasing feeling of driving with the windows down and the tunes way up.
Another driving force behind my coming up to the mountains was seeing the leaves change colors. Unfortunately, I was a few weeks early. It harkened back to my disappointing arrival a few weeks late to see the leaves change on the Kancamagus Highway back in 2015. The best the BRP could do for me was some early yellowing, and this particular patch of road that was lined with the first mover dearly departed.
As you can see, the gap between the clouds and the mountains started to close as I wound my way up. My goal was to drive about an hour northeast, then pull off into a lookout and turn back around for Asheville.
You know I can’t resist a framing opportunity. I don’t know why I even call it out to you any more. After all of these years, I’m sure you take one look at photos like this from me and think to yourself “that’s our Cass, she can’t resist a framing opportunity!” I believe that’s Burnett Reservoir in the distance? Needless to say, the serotonin was spiking way up at this point. I gleefully watched the temperature gauge drop steadily as the altimeter climbed higher and higher.
As I got further away from both Asheville and my usual 761 feet above sea level, the temperature hit the low 60s and trended towards high 50s. The clouds began to grow darker and denser, which I have to admit started to kill my windows down sunny day drive vibe.
And then I reached Green Knob Overlook! With absolutely nothing to look over! The Jeep and I pulled up just in time to be completely swallowed by a cloud. According to Google, this overlook put me at about 4,700 feet in elevation. Feet fly when you’re singing along to Edie Brickell at the top of your lungs in the middle of God Knows Where, North Carolina. Picture me doing that in the next photo, rip roaring my way through the mountains. You’re welcome.
Confession: I was too afraid to take the top off. When I came out to the car in the parking lot of Antler Village, I kid you not when I say that the feel of that early afternoon sunshine made me not spare a second thought towards ripping the plastic back windows off of the Jeep. Did I read any instruction manuals to do this? No. Did I pay attention to how I was clawing them off the car so I could replace them in the same general set up? Absolutely not. It wasn’t until I climbed cartoonishly through the open passenger window to try and unlock the roof to take that off too that it registered to me… I have no idea what I’m doing.
So, needless to say, I got sufficiently nervous about not being able to find all the king’s horses and all the king’s men and I left the roof alone. Not pictured? My descent and arrival at the BRP Visitor Center parking lot where I broke every single one of my nails figuring out how to put the windows back on before driving back to the hotel.
While Day One was a flirtation with the BRP, Day Two was a three hour meander on it up to Todd, North Carolina. The rain was an absolute deluge for most of the trip. Visibility off the roads was next to nothing on the drive, so I contented myself with the autumnal spooky season vibes and did not remove a single window from the car.
The roads were pretty much empty, which could have been due to the weather or could have been because it was mid-morning on a random Tuesday. Hot tea accompanied me as I retraced my path from the prior day then forged ahead well past Green Knob.
There was one stretch of road that looked like it emerged right out of a fairy tale. The forest teased me on either side with falling leaves in autumnal reds and golds, despite the vast majority of the view being green and grey. I half expected an old crone to step out and offer me a poisoned apple.
A pair of absolute beauts. I love Land Rovers. Can’t imagine there’s anyone on the planet who doesn’t. (If you don’t, I don’t want to know.) It’s difficult to see, but there are letters on the back window of the orange triangle Land Rover that say “Finding Oxford Expedition.” There’s a whole story about the Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition where students (one Oxford guy, let’s be clear, mostly Cambridge) travelled in 1956 Land Rover Series I Station Wagons from London to Singapore. These two fellas that I came across seemed to be doing a modern reproduction of the journey, but traveling the TransAm Trail instead. I’m not going to say that I’m stealing their idea to do this some day, but I’m stealing their idea to do this some day. Let’s see if we can get a Jeep sponsorship for it, shall we?
From one adventure car to another, much cooler adventure car – sorry for getting up on your tail at some points in our collective climb.
Just as I was nearing the end of my time on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the rain gave us a bit of a break. I think this must have been Price Lake if I got this close to it? The Jeep and I turned off the parkway at Blowing Rock to head north for Boone, where I’d be stopping to gather some provisions before continuing on up to Todd for a few days.
Welcome to Todd, North Carolina – a place that’s vying for capital of chilly late September sunshine. Unclear who the competitors are, but Todd has a good shot as far as I can tell. When I got here on Day Two, the rain was absolutely hammering. It stormed all night but then I woke up to these gloriously clear skies.
The rain and wind left lots of fallen buddies all around the place. I was staying in a, and I quote, “tiny bunker” that was so comfy and cozy it made me genuinely contemplate making an offer to purchase it from my Airbnb hosts. I’m still seriously considering.
I spent, and I’m only minorly exaggerating when I say this, an entire day in this spot. Many cups of hot tea were made and much enjoyment was had from the perfect sweater weather I had been gifted. It isn’t often that I get to finish a book in one sitting, but when I do, I prefer to do it in the perfect nature soundscape of the top porch on a mountain getaway bunker.
Check out all of the greenery in that view! The other half of the top porch featured a cute table and chairs set that I moved to when I needed to switch things up. This porch basically functioned as the living room / dining room space, since the interior was mostly the bed, kitchen, bathroom, and storage. Not pictured is the bottom porch, which had a high top bar situation (which I did not use), a fire pit (which I did), and a hot tub (which, again, I did not). I could have genuinely spent weeks, and maybe even months, here.
Unfortunately, this leg of the trip was only a handful of days long so I had to get ready to pack up and head home in the morning. As the afternoon sun wore on, I swapped out my tea mug for a wine glass and sat down by the fire pit to greet the return of colder temps at night.
Time was well spent on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a whole host of new adventure ideas were added to the books. Here’s hoping you don’t have to wait too long for my next Voyage, dear reader.