We left Colonial Beach, VA as early as we could manage knowing we were in for the longest single day of driving yet for our trip. We did it to ourselves, though. We wanted to be near my Mom for Crayton's birthday on Thursday and Pam's nephew was getting married in Asheville, NC on Saturday. That left us just Friday to get from the former to the later, a 440 mile jaunt. I've driven much farther than that before, but this would be the longest while towing our beast of an RV. It's mentally exhausting to tow with so much to keep an eye on. I have a lot of sympathy for long-haul truck drivers.
Fortunately, other than some rain early in the day, the weather cooperated and we hit very little traffic. We pulled into Mama Gertie's Hideaway in Swannanoa, NC by 4pm. One of the things I was looking forward to here was the view from the campground as it sits on the side of a mountain. The reviews said the roads were steep, but navigable. We have brand new brakes and a strong truck, so I wasn't worried... until I was actually chasing the golf cart leading us up to our site. Turns out it is steep, with sharp turns and lost of dips/humps. Dips and humps are a problem because the electric stabilization jacks on the camper hang down fairly far even when fully retracted and pose a danger of scraping or catching on the ground. Sure enough on one turn/hump going up the hill, one of the jacks drug through the road shoulder digging a nice furrow through the dirt and gravel. No harm done to the camper, but it was nerve-wracking and left me wondering how in the heck we were going to get down. The views, though, as promised, were amazing. The campground is short on things to do for kids, but is really well kept and the views are gorgeous. We were only going to be here for three nights, though as we were here for a wedding!
Perched on the side of the mountain
The groom, Pam's nephew Chris, and I actually met on Pam and I's second date, ten years ago. He had just turned 21 and happened to be passing outside the window of the restaurant we were in, having just got off shift at the coffee shop he worked in down the street. I was impressed with his easygoing, friendly demeanor then and years later I'm still impressed with what he's accomplished and who he's become. He's known his fiance Sam since they were kids and it's clear these two know each other like the backs of their hands. It's fun to watch them interact. For 30ish, they act like they've already been married 30 years and it's a sure sign of a strong relationship. They own and run the Foggy Mountain Brewpub in Asheville and in the three years or so they've owned it, have built it into a thriving business with a focus on community, music and great food. If you're ever in the area, drop in and say hi. We were here for the weekend, to witness them getting hitched.
After our arrival Friday, we drove over to the cabin resort where Pam's family and most of the wedding party and out of town guests were staying for a bit before heading into town to Foggy Mountain to see the place, watch the band play and enjoy some time unwinding from the day's drive. The place was PACKED. I'm generally not one for really crowded, loud bars, so hung out on the back patio most of the night. Crayton was loving the attention, the music and the activity. Eventually, though, exhausted from a long day, I begged Pam to let us go back to the camper for some rest and we went home.
Saturday we lazed about in the morning and eventually got ready for the ceremony. I misjudged how far it was to the location and we left in a hurry, fearful that we were going to be late. As it turns out, we got there with a few minutes to spare, but frankly we should have known better and not worried as the ceremony didn't actually get rolling for another 45 minutes or so. The location was amazing. On a low ridge-top on a small farm set up for events like this. The ceremony itself was awesome and uniquely Chris and Sam. Sam had arranged for a local brass band, the Empire Strikes Brass, to play during the processional and recessional. After the super-short ceremony, the band played a full set before dinner. After dinner, a second band, who's name I didn't catch, but is a local Grateful Dead cover band, played a great set as well. Crayton was beside himself getting to play with his cousins and other kids at the wedding, getting attention from aunts, grandparents and strangers alike. It was a bit warm early in the day, but they really couldn't have asked for better weather and it all came together to make for a very memorable day.
Brass band starting the recessional
Anybody want to play? I've got an alligator!
Pam and Crayton dancing!
The next day we spent hanging out with Pam's family back at the cabins. Crayton got to open his birthday presents and we all just enjoyed each others company and getting caught up, not having seen each other in some months. By mid-afternoon folks started to head out to catch planes or start the drive back to Wisconsin, so we went back to the campground and started to settle in for a quiet night of watching the original Adam West Batman movie from 1966. We weren't 20 minutes into the movie when Crayton spotted the family camped next to us out playing with a ball. They had two kids a bit older than Crayton, so he announced he was heading out to meet his 'new best friends' and marched out of the camper. Bemused, we watched from the window as he walked over and watched them play. The mom asked if he wanted to play, too, and that was all the invitation he needed, jumping right in. I went outside to introduce myself and keep watch, but they had a great time playing until dinner time. After dinner, they had a fire and invited us over where we enjoyed a beautiful mountain evening campfire and fellowship with new friends. Much better than Batman.
Monday morning it was time to pick up and start (finally) heading north. Our original intention had been to be in New England by now missing much of the southern and mid-Atlantic summer heat, but we needed to be here for the wedding, so it's now time to make tracks north. Our next stop was Natural Bridge,VA for an abbreviated work week. First, though, we had to negotiate our way down this mountain... We went slow, kept our eyes on the stabilization jacks and managed to get down without incident (whew!). Some hours of uneventful driving later we pulled into the KOA in Natural Bridge to find an older, but still nice, park with sites plenty big enough for us and lots of stuff for kids. We picked the Roanoke area both as a halfway point between Asheville and southeastern Pennsylvania, but also to visit my nephew Jacob and his wife Tara who you may remember from our time getting our pictures taken in Northern Virginia. However, it was surprisingly hard to find an RV park near Roanoke that wasn't a glorified trailer park with a 1-star rating. So we had to stay a little further up the road at this KOA.
Tuesday after work, we drove down to Roanoke to see Jacob and Tara. We took the 'long'way down the Blue Ridge Parkway. One of these days we want to drive the entire length of it and Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, but that will have to wait for another time. We met Jacob and Tara at a little restaurant called Fork in the Alley and enjoyed a nice meal with them. The food was pretty good. Nothing to write home about, but good. They had nice outdoor seating and a decent beer selection. I had the house-made veggie burger, but wonder if I should have ordered something else as everyone else was raving about their food. We enjoyed chatting with Jacob and Tara for a bit before having to head back up the highway to camp.
View from the Blue Ridge Parkway
Wednesday after work we drove over to the Natural Bridge State Park. I'd seen pictures of it before, but I was unprepared for the sheer scale of it! It's huge! For a place that had been a tourist destination for 300 years, though, it was surprisingly vacant for an evening in the summertime. Likewise all the motels and shops nearby seemed run down and closed. I wonder what caused such a drop in visitorship? We noticed as well that the park was established in 2016. A little Googling revealed that it had been in private hands, but was failing as a business so was put up for sale. The Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund bought the property to prevent it from being sold off piecemeal to investors, but they were unable to make the loan payments so the state stepped in to run it as a park. I'm guessing that whatever led the original tourist business here to fail probably also caused other local business to fail. Still, the feature itself is breathtaking and worth a visit if you're in the area.
Natural Bridge, VA
Crayton at the falls a mile or so upstream of the bridge
Thursday night, Jacob and Tara came up our way for a night out. First we went to the Great Valley Farm Brewing Company. It's a small, farm-based brewery in the country, just up the hill from the campground. They really should have a walking path between the two. We'd have been there every night if they did! The beer was great and the company even better. We then went down the hill for dinner at the Pink Cadillac Diner where we all pigged out on fried foods and ice cream before we left the old Wisconsin RV plates we were still carrying around for their collection of old license plates and headed back to camp. They hung out with us for a bit at camp before heading back to Roanoke. We really our time with them and getting to know Tara better.
Great Valley Farm Brewing
View from the brewery
Friday morning we said goodbye to Virginia and headed further north. We left early to get there in plenty of time for the coming holiday weekend.