Spontaneous Asheville…August/September 2016

It was feeling like summer was ending & I had no fall trips planned.  In my dreams I’d wanted to do the whole East Coast this September & October…but it was just a dream.  I had a couple of things I had to do this fall & no money to do another big trip.  I’d been home a couple of weeks & had three weeks until I needed to be here.  It was Sunday morning & my little fingers went to the keyboard & typed in Asheville, NC.  I looked at the mileage, the events, the art, the hikes & the breweries.  I kept the tiny idea in my head while I spent 3.5 hours mowing the grass.  But travel ideas grow faster than grass when going around & around in circles & by the time the yard was mowed, my trip was planned.  I discussed it with Danny, packed my car & was on the road about 6am on Monday.  Yippee!!!  Another road trip!

day 1
I just drove & drove yesterday & landed in Smoky Mountain National Park just as it was getting dark.  I headed to the campground, found a free spot (which I was skeptical it was really free, but it was after work hoursdidnt guess the Rangers or Hosts would be out), read my guide book, looked at the topo map & then promptly fell asleep.  Its so weird that it feels good to be sleeping back in the 4Runnerbut it does (most especially when I have an nice place to camp!)

On my way up the road to the campground, I must have passed 50 cars coming down the opposite way.  I kept wondering on a Monday night what was going on?  A big wedding just ended? Bear scare evacuation?  Ummm…right before the entrance to the campground I passed a turnoff for Cades Cove, which was spilling out cars…at least now I knew where they were coming from.  Last night I looked it up in the guide book & read a crazy stat…Cades Cove gets more visitors annually than all but 10 of our National Parks.  Not the Park, just the 11 mile loop!  Holy Crap!  I knew this park got more visitors than any national park, but that stat blew me away & made me question if I should even go there or not…but I was curious.  I was up super early & did some more reading.  Then about 6am, still in the dark, I drove down towards the Cove…at least I could beat the crowds.  There was a gigantic parking lot with information signs & brochures, but the main gate was locked…& there was one car idling in front of the gate.  I got out & read over all the info (no time mentioned on when they opened) but it looked like there were several old buildings from early days & short walks & info about each one.  I like history…especially Pioneer history, but looking at old buildings doesn’t usually do it for me.  So, I left the Cove & started my drive through the park.  And, just as I thought would happen, I began passing the parade of cars on their way UP to the Cove.  I stopped at a couple of roadside pullouts, but mostly just followed the river winding my way through this park of a million trees.

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NOTE:  So, a little history of my own with this area.  For our 30th anniversary, Danny & I had planned to backpack for four days through Smoky Mountain National Park…neither of us had been to this part of the country before.  It was late fall, the leaves would be beautiful & we were excited.  As we were on the trail the first day we hiked by one of the tallest waterfalls in the park.  They’d had a drought all summer long as was evident by looking up at the waterfall, which had the flow similar to that of a guy peeing over the top.  We noticed as we were on the trail that first day, the trees are sooooo thick, you can rarely see out while on the trail.  That first day, I think we got about three big views of the colorful trees…mostly it was hiking in a forest.  The very next morning, our second day on the trail, the drought broke & it was torrential rain…constant, massive amounts of rain!  The trail was trench-like so it was like walking through a river….slick as snot & rocky.  We spent that first soggy night in an AT shelter…glad to be out of the rain.  The next day, as we continued to slide & hike on the slick muddy trail, we approached one of the highest places in the park where you could climb a lookout tower to see big views.  I passed on the tower, but Danny trudged up the stairs…the view around us was totally white…you couldn’t even see the tops of the trees, much less a view.  We packed out that day, cursing the trail & hoping we’d get out without breaking a leg or ankle on the ever so slick trail.  But when the weather turns bad, Danny & I go chasing beer.  And even 9 years ago, Asheville had a great craft beer scene.  So, we drove into Asheville looking for beer.  We stayed in a really cute cabin with a fireplace…I have great memories of that place.  We tried to drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it was foggy & they were closing it.  While the hiking & scenic drives were a bust, the beer & of course traveling with Danny was just wonderful!

I drove through the park & caught this view of the sun coming up!

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I drove into Gatlinburg, looking for coffee & of course, ice.  I drove round & round looking for a parking spot…it was still early & the hotel crowds hadn’t emerged, but there’s NO street parking.  Just pay by the day parking lots.  I pulled into a motel lot near Starbucks wondering if I could make a quick coffee run without being towed.  I saw a guy there cleaning the pool & asked him where I could buy ice (I hadn’t seen anywhere on my parking space hunt).  He said I could just fill up my cooler at their ice machine.  Yeah!  I thanked him, parked & filled my stupid-ass cooler.  But I also noticed, the front desk person come out & asked the guy what I was doing.  A conversation began & I decided I’d get my ice fast, gave a thank you wave on way out & headed back into the park.  I made a brief stop at the Visitors Center to ask about a certain trail I wanted to hike.  Then I headed to the trail head, up on Newfound Gap road…it was a really pretty drive!  Such beautiful mountains with their early morning milky veil which always seems to be present.

But, as I climbed higher, the fog was thicker.  The Ranger had told me I might not get to see any view on my hike…..umm…8 miles in the fog?…not sure I was doing that.

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I wanted to hike the Charles Bunion trail…one of the best views in the park.  It’s also along the AT…(love the sign below) & the state border between Tennessee & North Carolina.

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But, this was my view from the trailhead & the trail itself would take me higher & into more fog…so, I got back in the car & kept on driving.

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The southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway begins at the park…85 miles & three hours to Asheville, but I wanted to see it.  The Parkway is listed as one of the best scenic drives in the US.  It was magnificent & I quickly fell in love with this drive.  The road goes up, goes down, & winds & twists & is just wonderful.  The skies were always foggy the higher up you went, but seem to begin clearing as the morning wained into early afternoon.

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I could easily understand while during the fall, when leaves are a thousand different colors, this parkway is bumper to bumper with cars…the views from here are outstanding!

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What an awesome place for a coffee break (who needs Starbucks?)

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There are a gazillion view points & pullouts along the parkway…all nicely signed both before & at the sight.  Otherwise it’s just you & the trees.  Motorcyclists love this drive & there were a lot of them.  It wasn’t crowded this morning, but all the pullouts made it easy to let some fast moving vehicle or cycle go by…I was not in a hurry & loving this place!

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There’s a ton of tunnels to drive through (oops!  picture taking while driving not recommended)

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This is Looking Glass Rock.  There’s a hike to it (from a different road)…not sure if I’ll do it or not, but this landmark really stands out amongst the trees.

I made it into Asheville & decided it was time to try out one or two of their breweries.  I think there are like 16 or 20 breweries in & around Asheville…I couldn’t hit them all, but I could give a really good try!  I started at Wicked Weed…AWESOME beer!  I tried a couple but ended up with a glass of Oh My Quad! (love the name)…it was outstanding!

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Wicked Weed also brews beer for the Funkatorium, which serves all sour beers…this was my next stop.  I tried a flight & really liked their beer too.  I also had a yummy fancy grilled cheese sandwich.

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I stopped by the Visitors Center & asked about several things:  breweries, dispersed camping, hiking, waterfalls, & art.  The sweet older woman at the counter had a brochure or hand out for everything I asked for.  Easy-peasy.  Now it was time to find camping for the night…ummm…always an unknown when I travel. I drove about 30 miles out of Asheville towards Brevard & the Pisgah National forest.  I had a hand-drawn map of “roadside” camping, but it wasn’t easy to read.  The bartender at the Funkatorium told me about his fave dispersed camping spot in Pisgah & so with sketchy directions I made my way there.  After Mapquest toyed with & teased me for a few miles, I found the forest (shouldn’t be hard to find, right?…my directions were sketchy…as stated earlier.)  Once in the forest, I was trying to find this random road before it got dark.  What I did find was Looking Glass falls….just a pullout & short walk off the road….it was beautiful!

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I hopped back in the car & drove farther into the forest…then backtracked to the entrance after not finding my road.  I finally found it & drove up the rustic road.  I passed a pullout & then found the camping spots…all full.  Some of these campers looked like they’ve permanently moved in…one even had a stationary bike outside several tents & tarp structures.  I kept driving up the road as it narrowed & got rockier…then I saw a big black blob running up the road ….a black bear out before night fell.  My camera was next to me, so I took this really really bad shot while driving, through the windshield, as the road was getting narrower…to say the least one shot was enough.  I didn’t want to ‘chase’ the bear, so I stopped the car & let him move on.  Since I didn’t really know where I was going, it was going to be dark in a few minutes & the road was getting worse, I made like a 12 point turn around & headed back up the road.  (I wish I had a dollar for every time I backtrack or make a U turn…it would pay for campground fees!  But this is one reason I like traveling by myself…it would drive anyone with me crazy!)

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By the time I got back to the pullout, it was pitch black.  In the forest, once the sun goes down, it’s dark fast & the sky overhead is a tiny speck through all the trees.  I thought maybe I’d just park in the pullout for the night…but 30 minutes later I changed my mind.  A couple of cars had gone up the road with loads full of guys & well, I just chickened out…or listened to my intuition, if you want to put a big girl spin on it.  I drove back out, down to the entrance to the park to a big pullout where I had cell service.  

I was considering staying in the pullout for the night, when a cop showed up & parked head to head with me, blinding me with his lights.  I smiled & looked friendly as he approached my 4Runner with his flashlight & all his weapons hanging off his belt.  He looked like he was 12.  Then he began to visit with me.  I told him of my looking for a campsite & that they were all full & now I was checking for places on my phone since that’s the first place I had service.  First he asked me if I was armed; any way to protect myself?…gun or knife?  I told him neither…just bear spray, which I could easily use on a human….but mostly I’d decided if I felt threatened, I’d just run over them with my car. (I do carry a knife…but the blade is about 1” long…use it to cut rope & cheese & peel apples mostly.  I didn’t want him laughing at me so soon in the conversation.)  He suggested I go to the Walmart parking lot….you’d think I’d been offered a room at the Ritz. I hadn’t passed a Walmart…didn’t even know one was in the area.  And while I’d rather sleep at a campsite, it was late & there didn’t seem to be other options.  I was glad he’d showed up when he did, & not later.  I’d have freaked out having him knock on my window & wake me up.  But, before I left, he told me he’d been a guide before he was a cop. So, he told me of several hikes I should do while in the area.  It’s rare I have a good interaction with law enforcement…chalk this one up to ‘good’.  So, I found one of a few trees (planted in concrete) in Walmart’s parking lot & parked under it, updated Danny (I had good cell service here!) & tucked in for the night with one last look at the night sky.

day 2
My first hike of the day was called the Triple Falls hike in DuPont State Forest.  Danny & I had done this hike when we were here before, but I wanted to re-visit the falls.  The park is out of Brevard, so I was close.  I stopped for a scone at the Bracken Mountain Bakery downtown on my way to the hike.it was good!

The Triple Falls hike begins at a super-nice Visitors Centerthis place has totally changed since I was here last.  The trails are all wide & so well marked.  The first fall you come to is the 120 High Falls.  

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From this shot through the trees, you can see the covered bridge that sits on top of the falls.

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Triple Falls.

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Hooker Falls.

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On the way back, I hiked up to the covered bridge.  You cant see the top of the falls from here, but it was still a nice hike.

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After the hike, I drove back into Brevard & went to the Hub..a combination bike/gear shop & craft beer bar….super combination.  The bartender asked me if I wanted a beer while I shopped…yes, just because I could!  I also had one shrimp taco from the food truck outside….it was sooooo good!  

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Then I drove to Brevards tiny downtown.  When I was at the bakery this morning, all the shops on either side of it looked pretty funky & interesting.

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I went in & out of the shops…it was a pretty funky quirky strip.  I looked for clothes & toys for Claire (it was a super cool toy store) but in the end didn’t make any purchases.  My next hike for the day was a drive up a windy road to Gorges State Park…another three waterfall hike.  The Visitors Center is HUGE!  & really beautiful, but there weren’t any other cars in the lot.  I went in & got a map.  The volunteer told me there are two waterfalls on Forest Service Land on this hike & how to see a third one, but not to go out to it since it’s on private property.  I’d never thought about waterfalls being on private property, but I guess if the river runs through your property, you get to own the waterfall.  I drove down to the trailhead & got on the trail.  About a 1/2 mile in, the trail leaves State property & enters NF property.  

The first falls are Rainbow Falls..super beautiful & BIG…but no rainbow today.  The skies had been way more overcast than normal…looking like it was going to bust out & rain at any moment.  I’d made sure I had my rain jacket in my pack before I left the car.

The next set of falls about 1/2 mile up the trail was called Turtle Back falls.  I’d read that there’s a swimming hole (there are a ton of swimming holes in this area!) at the bottom & sometimes people slide down off the falls.  I’d also been told there had been 5 deaths on waterfalls (all tourists) since Spring…that’s a huge number of fatalities.  Below is Turtle Back Falls…& yes that’s a young boy headed out to slide down.  Those of you who know me or have read my past writings, know I can’t stand to watch stuff like this.  I wished I could look at it & think…’wow…what fun!”.  Instead, I look at it & think “I hope he doesn’t die!” (my kids will all tell you I’m a worrier—MOSTLY when kids are involved.  I don’t even read fiction that involves the mere possibility of a kid getting hurt, threatened, kidnapped, etc.  You get the idea.)  I had climbed off the trail (safely off the trail) to take this photo & before I could get back…he went down!  He sort of screamed all the way down, but made it out just fine.

Here’s the pic sans brave little boy (or boy with stupid Mother or fun Mother….guess it’s all how you look at it).

The trail to the privately owned waterfall was fenced at one end with super threatening signs!  If you wanted a good photo, you’d need to wade out in knee high swift water…which I wasn’t going to do; so this was as good as it gets.  It’s a impressive looking waterfall even from a distance.

My next stop after driving back to Brevard was at Oskar Blues new brewery.  I’ve been to the restaurant & two different tap rooms in Colorado & enjoy some of their beer which we get back in Kansas.  They had a couple of experimental beers, so I tried them in my flight.  I met a really cool couple sitting at the bar.  We visited for quite awhile ending our conversation with her handing me a note with their names & phone numbers & an invitation to stay at their guest house while I’m in town.  They’d just moved here last fall & were loving Brevard.  I think it’s a really cool place too.  Closer to the forest, so many bike groups for every age & ability, lots of activities right outside your door.  

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I’d asked the couple for a recommendation of where to eat & their first one was “Magpie plus three”  I love local’s suggestions, so after I finished my beers, I took off to eat some dinner. OH MY GOD!  The food was amazing!  It was a huge portion & I was sure I couldn’t eat it all.  I hate taking food back to my crap-ass cooler & I can never get it to taste as good as when it’s first served, but I also rarely leave food on my plate or waste it  (right, Jill?)  The concept in this place is to choose a meat & three sides.  They also had a really good beer selection, but I said no to more beer…the food was going to be plenty (of calories & of money).  I chose ribs, potato salad, mac & cheese & fried squash (which I’d never had).  They had three kinds of BBQ sauces.  It was all super fantastical delicious!  About the best potato salad I’ve ever had; the mac & cheese just perfect & I loved the squash.  And, I ate almost everything…leaving just a few pieces of the squash on my plate so I didn’t die right there on the barstool.  (It’s okay to be jealous…but I’m going to come back big as a barn!)

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Yes, I was stuffed!  I drove back up to the forest road determined to find the pay-for campground I’d missed the other night.  I was actually looking for the ‘roadside’ camping the other night, but at one point, after it was dark I could see tents & campfires across the river, but the only entrance I found was gated & locked.  Several people had told me the entrance was obvious & wondered how I could have missed it…I wondered too.  So, I drove back into the forest & the entrance to the campground, complete with sign, was right there.  I don’t know how I missed it either!  So, I drove in & bought a campsite…so untypical of me.  I was a sticky sweaty mess from hiking 8.5 miles today in this humid air & was ready for a good nights sleep.  My site was assigned to me in a generator-free area (YIPPEE!!!!…I don’t like camping by RV’s) which was super beautiful.  I rolled down my windows & let the cool air in…all was wonderful in my not-free site!

day 3
I slept great!  I could get soooo very very used to this, however, my trips would end up being just a few days long instead of the weeks that they generally are; or I could give up beer…but that would cut my travel interests greatly; & more importantly…all campgrounds are not like this one.  A great deal of the time, you’re lined up like sardines & you can hear, smell & see a bunch of other campers.  But this morning, I was relishing in this place.  I took a wonderful shower & then made coffee.

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My campsite was surrounded by these little orchid-like flowering bushes. I was trying to decide if I was going up into the forest on the Looking Glass trail or spend the day in downtown Asheville.  I did a brief cleaning of the 4Runner then headed out.  I was sitting in the same spot where the cop found me the other night, checking my phone when Claire’s nanny called & invited me to a tea party that would start in 30 minutes!  YEAH…I was headed to Asheville for sure…couldn’t be out on a no-service trail & miss a Facetime tea party with Claire!  I made it to Asheville in 35 minutes, found a parking lot & had tea with Claire & Rose, Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Minnie Mouse & Owl….it was the best way to start the day!  I sooooo very very much love that little girl!

Asheville is filled with funky one of a kind shops, restaurants & art.  I was all clean & sweet so I went to my favorite downtown place to eat (Ive eaten here about three times before on the one trip we came to Asheville) the Tupelo Honey Cafe.  I ordered the chicken & biscuits for breakfast.  Seems weird but its like biscuits & gravyonly with fried chicken & bits of southern ham in the gravy.  WOWZA!  Another fantastic meal!  

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Now I definitely needed to walk & walk & walk off this gazillion calories I just joyfully ate!  Here are some of the sights from downtown Asheville.

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One of the places I really enjoyed was this outdoor space artists display their goods (see pics below).  I visited with one artist who carved & painted on dried gourds, Diane Brandt.  The process was fascinating to me & she was super interesting to visit with.  I really wanted one of her pieces, but I’m trying to stay minimal.  You can check out her art on her Facebook page…Dancingmoon Gourds.  I moved on to some other shops, saying NO NO NO to myself.  (And to one over the top Christmas outfit for Claire too.)  Then I went into a shop that sold Kantha quilts.  I’ve been looking & looking at these quilts online, but hadn’t ever seen or felt one.  They’re made in India using old Sari’s & feel thin…almost like there’s no batting.  Also the quilting is different than our American traditional quilting…it’s large running stitches.  And they had them on sale…NO NO NO.  I said to the sales clerk,  "I might be back”.  I continued my perusing of the shops.  I’d read a must stop was the Bee Charmer & it was really awesome.  Wished Danny was with me…he loves bees!  This shop was all things bees & honey…except no mead…but their working on getting their license to sell it. How cool would that bee?

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There were two young guys in the store encouraging me to try honey from their tasting bar.  I tried the Tupelo honey & learned how difficult it is to make this special kind of honey.  The conversation went from bees, to the environment, to gasoline, to single use plastics (my soap box) & on & on.  They were fun to visit with & gave me an idea to pursue when I get home.  Dannys always wanted beesbut Lord knows he doesnt have time or energy to take care of one more thing & Im not signing up to be responsible for a thousand little bees.  But maybe there is someone in the community that just needs the space to pursue a beekeeping hobby. As of now, we definitely have the space & I would gladly exchange it for a little bit of honey once in awhileummmhave to run this past Danny but it might be a way he can be involved without being responsible?  It’s a thought.

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Signs….gotta love Asheville!

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There’s an old Woolworths store here that houses lots of artists work…each one has their own space.  There’s also an old soda fountain counter that was packed with a lunch time crowd.  I super enjoyed walking around looking at all the art.  And, I found a piece of pottery I wanted; one that would replace a piece I broke last year (that one from a Florida trip with Luke).  I kept walking in & out of all the different stores for blocks…just getting my soul filled up with all the creativity of so many people here.  I miss creating.  And while I’d like to think I ‘just haven’t found my medium yet’, I pretty sure I don’t have the talent of most of these artists & I so wish I did!  I’d walked away from all three things I’d wanted to buy, so being the bad girl that I can be, I bought 2 of the 3…the pottery glass & a small carved/painted gourd piece.  I did go back two more times to look at the quilts, but they were the most costly & I really didn’t need any of these things.  I left the beautiful wonderful quilts for someone else to buy.  It was so hot out today…90 degrees which I’m told is unusually hot for this time of year.  I was sure sweating up a mess while walking blocks & blocks for four hours!  

Shopping time was over & it was time to check out more breweries.  Several people have suggested I not miss Burial Brewing & Green Man Brewing.  I found Green Man first, but passed on drinking any beer there.  Danny would have loved it though…they make his kind of beer…mostly German style Pilsners, Lagers, Wits, & all those heavily malty beers.  I found Burial right around the corner, but not until mapquest sent me around the block a couple of times…however I noted after driving around in circles, that there were more breweries in the same few blocks.  When I finally found Burial, it wasn’t opened & wouldn’t be for another hour.  So, I went to Twin Leaf which had just opened.  I wanted their Bourbon Barrel Aged beer they had listed on the board, but the bartender told me they couldn’t sell it until 6pm…thats when their special release party started.  I ordered two tasters of other beer & started visiting with a couple of Cape Girard MO who were sitting next to me at the bar.  They were on their own brew tour & heading to Burial as soon as they opened too. We had a nice conversation at both breweries & Scott bought my beer both times…trip magic!  They had trailered their motorcycle down here & were day tripping up on the parkway & on some of the other scenic roads around here & having a blast.  They called it a night (they’d been to 5 breweries that day) but I headed back to Twin Leaf for the release party.  The place had only a few people there when I’d originally gotten there, but now it was packed with people.  I was disappointed in the beer though…glad I’d only bought a small pour.  Oh well, you can’t love them all!  Guess what was right across the street from Green Man?  ENO….the camping hammock company!

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I had one more stop to make for the evening.  EVERYONE has told me to go see Sierra Nevada’s new brewery (besides Oskar Blues & SN, New Belgium has also built a new brewery here in the Asheville area).  Just like with New Belgium, I dont love Sierra Nevadas regular beers, but I do love NB Lips of Faith beers & Id been told SN served some special beers on tapthats what I was chasing tonight. WOWIEtheir place is beautiful, huge & really cool.  I sat at the bar & ordered a flight of their special beersone pepper beer & three bourbon barrel aged beers.  I loved three of the four & ate the juiciest hamburger I’ve ever had.  While I was there it began pouring rain outside…a downpour!  It didn’t last long, so I took a stroll out among the sprinkles & toured the wonderful grounds, gardens & stage area.

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Asheville has a big homeless problem, but so do many other places too.  They also have a very artistic, quirky, hippy & super adventurous way of life here…it’s all pretty cool & it’s been so much fun to be here! It’d been another good day & a beautiful night sky to end it on.

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